Water Lines: May rains & cooperation benefit endangered fish — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

May rains not only greened up lawns and gardens across western Colorado, but also significantly increased runoff forecasts from Upper Colorado River Basin rivers and streams. The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center increased projections of inflows to Lake Powell from 3 million acre-feet forecast on May 1 to 5 million acre-feet forecast on June 1, up to about 70 percent of average. In the Colorado River’s headwaters, moisture accumulations for the year rose to “normal” and even above average in some locations.

That was good news on two fronts for the four species of endangered fish that dwell in the 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River between Palisade and the mouth of the Gunnison River: the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, boneytail and razorback sucker. In the short term, the fish are benefiting from coordinated releases from reservoirs upstream to maximize peak flows in this critical habitat area. In the longer term, the increased flows help keep Lake Powell above the level needed to keep generating hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam, which in turn generates revenue for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

High peak flows improve habitat by cleaning sediment out of gravels and connecting the river to its floodplain. As reported in the Summit Daily News on June 4, this was the first time in five years that reservoir releases were coordinated to benefit the fish. In the dry years of 2012 and 2013, not enough water was available to release extra water for the fish without compromising storage needed by water users. In 2011 and 2014, conditions were so wet that enhancing peak flows could have caused flooding.

Coordinated reservoir operations are just part of the Recovery Program, which also includes screens to keep the fish from getting stranded in irrigation canals; fish ladders to reconnect stretches of habitat; technological improvements to keep more water in the river while still maintaining deliveries to water users; raising fish in hatcheries; and managing populations of non-native fish that prey on the endangered species.

The recovery program, initiated in 1988, has a lot moving parts and a lot of partners. As stated on its website (http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org), the program is “a unique partnership of local, state, and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups working to recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.”

The recovery program provides Endangered Species Act compliance for over 2,000 diverters, meaning that they don’t independently have to take action to protect & recover the fish.

In the Grand Valley, the recovery program has funded fish screens, which keep debris as well as fish out of irrigation canals, fish ladders, and a series of check structures in the Grand Valley Water Users Association canal. This enables full service to water users without having to divert as much “carry water” from the river to keep water levels high enough to reach headgates. Similar improvements are underway on the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District system.

According to Mark Harris and Kevin Conrad of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the technology installed through the recovery program has generally been a benefit to their system, and they would keep most of the upgrades even if the program ended — provided that the maintenance costs were not prohibitive.

The efforts to provide adequate base and peak flows for the fish also involve significant coordination and communication among the entities that divert water above the 15 Mile Reach and other stakeholders. Throughout the irrigation season, weekly conference calls are held to share information on the latest weather forecasts, reservoir levels, and irrigation needs. These calls aid in optimizing river flows to meet multiple needs, not only those of the endangered fish.

So how are the fish doing? According to the program’s 2015 Briefing Book, progress is being made with flow and habitat restoration measures, as well as stocking from hatcheries, but predation by nonnative fish is a growing problem. This has led to setbacks for the Colorado pikeminnow and Humpback chub in recent years, after having previously neared recovery goals. Northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass are among the non-natives impeding recovery.

The boneytail was essentially absent from the wild when the recovery program was established. Survival rates for stocked boneytail are low, but appear to have improved since 2009. Razorback sucker stocking efforts appear to be more successful.

The goal of the program is to recover all four species to the point where they can be removed from the Endangered Species List by 2023.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Future Lower Dolores management topic of meeting

David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.
David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Forty agriculture and political leaders and Robbins met Tuesday about issues on the Lower Dolores River that have made for rough water lately.

Forest Service and mostly BLM land below the dam are being considered for additional federal protection, including designating separate areas as the Dolores Canyon Wilderness Area and Dolores River National Conservation Area. The proposal in the form of a draft bill was released last month.

Feds control river

Other preservation measures are also on the horizon.

Struggling native fish in the shallows of the Lower Dolores could be listed under the Endangered Species list, which would trigger federal action. Sections of the river are poised to become a National Wild and Scenic River if Congress so desires. Or the area could be named a National Monument by President Barack Obama.

Local ag officials and water managers want to know how each of these scenarios could impact rights to water stored in McPhee Reservoir.

“A legal review can tell us what we are doing wrong, what we’re doing right, or if we should even do anything,” said Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams. “I believe some kind of action is needed to protect Dolores and Montezuma County water.”

Agriculture and water interests in Dolores and Montezuma County are negotiating with Robbins to conduct a legal analysis.

One key message is that agencies including the BLM, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Bureau of Reclamation are mandated by Congress on how to manage lands.

Agencies have discretionary power on how to carry out Congressional direction. But limiting that power is possible through the carefully crafted laws drafted at the local level.

“We get mad at local fed officials for implementing laws we don’t agree with, but after all it is Congress who told them what the standards are they need to follow,” Robbins said. “I encourage all of you to find ways to pass a law that constrains the otherwise open discretion of federal officials to manage the federal lands and water running through them.”

Implied water rights

There has been much speculation on which special federal designation — a monument, an NCA, a Wilderness Area, a Wild and Scenic River, or an ESA listing for native fish, could force more water out of McPhee Reservoir.

According to Robbins, they all could, unless federal legislation passes that prohibits it for an area.

“Whenever the government reserves land for a purpose, there is potential for reserving sufficient water to fulfill that purpose whether or not water is mentioned in the withdrawal,” he said.

A Wild and Scenic River designation typically comes with a federally reserved water right.

A 108-mile section of the Dolores from McPhee Dam to Bedrock is considered “suitable” for Wild and Scenic. A draft NCA bill proposes to drop the suitability status as a compromise for prohibiting new dams or mining.

If one of the struggling native fish on the Dolores River is listed under the Endangered Species list, it triggers a recovery plan that could force more water downstream.

Another perplexing issue: Sections of the Dolores below a proposed NCA from the Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock are also eligible for Wild and Scenic. If they became designated, would McPhee Reservoir continue to a target for additional water?

Robbins has been successful drafting legislation on Sand Dunes National Park and the Rio Grande River that protects agricultural water rights along with native fish.

He said he’s willing to research the issues regarding the Lower Dolores River, and is expected to submit a bid for a review. A public meeting is planned once it is completed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Ute Water hopes to lease 12,000 acre-feet of water stored in Ruedi for endangered fish

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Aspen and Pitkin County officials are raising questions about plans to send more water from Ruedi Reservoir down the Colorado River to benefit endangered fish.

The water is owned by the Ute Water Conservancy District, which purchased 12,000 acre feet of Ruedi water in 2012, in anticipation of growth and as a backstop for its more than 80,000 customers and others in the Grand Valley should Grand Mesa supplies dry up in a drought year.

With no need for Ruedi water this year, Ute approached the Colorado Water Conservation Board about leasing the water to benefit four endangered species of fish in the Colorado — a project that the state agency is considering.

“This is Ute trying to do something for the environment,” Ute General Manager Larry Clever said on Friday.

Aspen and Pitkin County officials, however, have questions about the deal and have asked the conservation board to explain it in a meeting Tuesday in Carbondale.

Aspen and Pitkin county officials want to know more about how the lease would affect the level of the reservoir, electricity generation for Aspen, and the Fryingpan River angling industry below Ruedi Dam, among other concerns.

Ute paid $15.5 million for the unclaimed water in Ruedi and, Clever said, can call it down the river anytime it wishes.

“We knew there would be outrage at the Aspen Yacht Club” when Ute told the water conservation board that water for the fish might be available if needed, Clever said.

“You know why they’re against it,” Clever said. “If I pull water out (of Ruedi), the Aspen Yacht Club wouldn’t be able to float so well.”

There’s more to it than that, said Mark Fuller, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

“We’ve worked for years with the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service to handle releases in a way that is compatible with the recreational use on the river, and that’s worked out fairly well under normal circumstances,” Fuller said.

“Depending how these supplemental releases get managed, that could all go out the window.”

The Ruedi Water and Power Authority supplies electricity generated at Ruedi Dam to Aspen and other communities. Fluctuating levels in the Fryingpan River also could make it impossible for flycasters to wade into the Gold Medal waters, officials noted.

Releasing Ute’s water from Ruedi would have another benefit, Clever said.

“My goal was to put the water in Lake Powell,” which some fear could drop so low as to hinder electricity generation at Glen Canyon Dam.

That could require the Bureau of Reclamation to take action to lower Upper Colorado River reservoirs to maintain the dam’s generating capacity.

“If I can put water in Powell, the whole upper basin is in better shape,” Clever said.

Generating capacity at Ruedi also weighs on his mind, Fuller said. “We would like to be able to work in a proactive and synergistic relationship on how to make different pots of water work together so the Fryingpan doesn’t just become a flume,” Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards said.

The water conservation board remains interested in reaching a deal with Ute.

“We applaud Ute Water’s willingness to work with us on an approach benefiting a recovery program that helps water users throughout the Colorado River Basin,” CWCB Director James Eklund said in an email. “We’re all connected throughout Colorado by our most precious natural resource as demonstrated by this important recovery program.”

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

USBR: Additional FY 2015 Funding of $96.9 Million Available


From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López today released the spending plan for $96.9 million provided to Reclamation in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015. The funds will go toward Western drought response and rural water projects, among other important activities.
“Reclamation and its partners are confronting a growing gap between supply and demand in river basins throughout the West,” López said. “The funding released today will help us meet immediate needs and support long-term infrastructure and environmental needs of key water projects.”

The funding is divided among six areas:

  • Western drought response ($50 million),
  • rural water projects ($31 million),
  • water conservation and delivery ($8 million),
  • fish passage and fish screens ($4 million),
  • facility operation, maintenance and rehabilitation ($2.9 million),
  • environmental restoration and compliance ($1 million).

Extreme and prolonged drought has gripped major river basins across the West. In many areas, mountain snowpack is far below average for this time of year. The $50 million provided for Western drought response will address seven projects:

  • Central Valley Project, which includes funding for the Delta Division, Friant Division, Shasta Division and water and power operations, California ($19.9 million);
  • WaterSMART Grants, Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, and Drought Response and Comprehensive Drought Planning ($14 million);
  • Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Response Action Plan, California, Arizona and Nevada ($8.6 million);
    Native American Programs ($4 million);
  • Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, Washington ($2 million);
  • Lewiston Orchards Project, Idaho ($1 million);
  • Carlsbad Project, New Mexico ($500,000).

Reclamation based its Western drought funding on a thorough review at national, regional and program levels, to ensure a balanced approach. In some cases the funding allows Reclamation to accelerate selected projects to meet high-priority needs sooner than it would in absence of the new funding. In other cases it allows Reclamation to respond immediately to many of the West’s most critical drought-related needs.

Reclamation is also advancing the completion of its authorized rural water projects with the goal of delivering potable water to tribal and non-tribal residents within the rural water project areas. A total of $31 million will go toward five projects:

  • Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program – Garrison Diversion Unit, North Dakota ($10.3 million);
  • Rocky Boy’s/North Central Montana Rural Water System, Montana ($6.8 million);
  • Fort Peck Reservation/Dry Prairie Rural Water System, Montana ($6.6 million);
  • Lewis and Clark Rural Water System, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota ($6.6 million);
  • Eastern New Mexico Water Supply, New Mexico ($700,000).

The remaining $15.9 million will go toward nine projects:

  • fish screen and restoration projects in the Central Valley Project, California ($2.5 million);
  • Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project at Cle Elum Dam, Washington ($1.5 million);
  • agricultural water use efficiency projects within the Central Valley Project, California ($5 million);
  • Endangered Species Recovery Implementation Program on the Platte River, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming ($2 million);
  • water conservation projects on Rogue River Basin Project, Oregon ($1 million);
  • water leasing for supplemental water on the Middle Rio Grande ($1 million);
  • rehabilitation work at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery and Keswick Dam Powerplant in the Central Valley Project, California ($1.3 million);
  • renovation of the Olmsted Powerplant, Utah ($1 million);
  • repairs on the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Project, ($650,000).

Visit http://www.usbr.gov/budget/ to view a summary of all the projects in this spending plan.

President Obama’s proposed budget includes $1.1 billion to fund Reclamation water projects

President Obama at Hoover Dam
President Obama at Hoover Dam

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget request released today identifies a total of $1.1 billion for the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, continuing the President’s commitment to be prudent with taxpayer dollars while setting consistent spending priorities for Reclamation. The budget would provide robust investments in the safety, reliability and efficiency of America’s water infrastructure and in conservation, reuse and applied science to address the nation’s water supply challenges, especially in the West.
As the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier and second-largest producer of hydroelectric power, Reclamation’s projects and programs are critical to driving and maintaining economic growth in the western States.

“President Obama’s budget for Reclamation reflects a strong commitment to our ongoing mission of effectively managing water and power in the West,” Commissioner Estevan López said. “Reclamation and its partners provide water and clean hydropower for communities across 17 states. With the resources provided in this budget blueprint, we can continue to be an engine of progress across multiple sectors of the western U.S. economy.”

The proposal for Reclamation’s Water and Related Resources account of $805.2 million includes $367.4 million for resource management and development activities. This funding provides for planning, construction, water conservation activities, management of Reclamation lands—including recreation— and actions to address the impacts of Reclamation projects on fish and wildlife. The request also emphasizes reliable water delivery and power generation by requesting $437.7 million to fund operation, maintenance and rehabilitation activities at Reclamation facilities, including dam safety.

The budget emphasizes Reclamation’s core mission to address the water demands of a growing population in an environmentally responsible and cost-efficient manner; and to assist states, tribes and local entities in solving water resource issues. It also emphasizes the operation and maintenance of Reclamation facilities in a safe, efficient, economic and reliable manner—ensuring systems and safety measures are in place to protect the public and Reclamation facilities.

Reclamation’s funding request addresses Administration, Interior, and Reclamation priorities. The budget supports water rights settlements to ensure sufficient resources to address the requirements of legislation passed by Congress to settle litigation. The request includes increases for specific Indian water rights settlements that support the goal of strengthening tribal nations.

The FY 2016 budget proposal also balances needs for climate variability adaptation, water conservation, improving infrastructure, sound science to support critical decision making and ecosystem restoration.

Reclamation’s challenges – The extreme and prolonged drought facing the West affects major U.S. river basins in virtually every western state. The effects of the current drought on California water, its agricultural economy and its communities are topics of nationwide concern and extensive media coverage. The Colorado River Basin—crucial for seven states and several Tribes, in addition to two countries—is also enduring historic drought. About 33 million people rely on the Colorado River for some, if not all, of their municipal needs.

Reclamation’s dams, water conveyances and power generating facilities are critical components of the Nation’s infrastructure. Protecting and extending the lives of these structures are among the many significant challenges facing Reclamation over the next several years and beyond. They present major hurdles to achieving progress on water supply confidence, sustainability and resiliency. Reclamation’s water and power projects and activities throughout the western United States are a foundation for essential and safe water supplies, provide renewable hydropower energy and sustain ecosystems that support fish and wildlife, recreation and rural economies. Climate variability and competing demands are increasingly affecting already-strained systems. The Bureau of Reclamation’s FY 2016 budget addresses these challenges and reflects a very deliberate approach to accommodating mission priorities.

WaterSMART Program – The President’s proposed budget for Reclamation calls for $58.1 million for the WaterSMART Program – Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow — to assist communities in optimizing the use of water supplies by improving water management. The WaterSMART Program components include: WaterSMART Grants funded at $23.4 million; the Basin Studies Program, $5.2 million; the Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Program, $20.0 million; the Water Conservation Field Service program, $4.2 million; the Cooperative Watershed Management program, $250,000; the Drought Response program $2.5 million; and the Resilient Infrastructure program, $2.5 million.

Strengthening tribal nations – To meet trust and treaty obligations, Reclamation’s budget request makes Indian water rights settlements among the highest priorities. The FY 2016 budget proposes $112.5 million for a new account entitled Indian Water Rights Settlements to ensure continuity in the construction of four of the authorized projects and to highlight and enhance transparency in handling these funds. The budget includes $89.7 million for the ongoing Navajo-Gallop Water Supply Project (Title X of Public Law 11-11) as well as $22.8 million to continue implementation of three settlements authorized in the Claims Resolution Act of 2010. These settlements will deliver clean water to the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico, the Pueblos of Nambe, Pojoaque, San Ildefonsi & Tesuque in New Mexico named in the Aamodt case and the Crow Tribe of Montana.

Specifics of the budget request include:

America’s Great Outdoors Initiative – Reclamation has a responsibility to focus on the protection and restoration of the aquatic and riparian environments affected by its operations. Highlights of Reclamation’s ecosystem restoration activities, many of which support Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery programs, include:

$16.7 million is for the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program to provide long-term Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance for river operations.

$24.4 million for ESA recovery implementation programs, including $17.5 million to implement the Platte River Endangered Species Recovery Implementation Program and $4.4 million for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Programs. $6.8 million of the $18.0 million Klamath Project supports wildlife refuge and environmental needs, the remainder supports studies and initiatives to improve water supplies to meet the competing demands of agricultural and tribal and facilities operations and maintenance activities.

$37.0 million for the California Bay-Delta Restoration, equal to the FY 2015 budget. The account focuses on the health of the Bay-Delta ecosystem and improving water management and supplies. The budget will support the co-equal goals of environmental restoration and improved water supply reliability, under the following program activities: $1.7 million for a Renewed Federal State Partnership, $7.2 million for Smarter Water Supply and Use, and $28.1 million for Habitat Restoration. These program activities are based on the Interim Federal Action Plan for the California Bay-Delta issued December 22, 2009.

$49.5 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund to continue funding a variety of activities to restore fish and wildlife habitat and populations in the CVP service area of California.

Within California’s Central Valley Project (CVP), $11.9 million and an additional $1.5 million in the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund are for the Trinity River Restoration program.

$9.5 million, as part of the Middle Rio Grande Project budget, targeted to support environmental activities developed through an Endangered Species Act Collaborative Program.

$18.0 million for the Columbia and Snake River Salmon Recovery Project for implementation of the biological opinions for the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Other project highlights –

$123.0 million to operate, manage, and improve CVP. More than one-half of that amount provides for operation and maintenance of project facilities, including $20.3 million for the Replacements, Additions, and Extraordinary Maintenance program which provides for modernization, upgrade, and refurbishment of facilities throughout the Central Valley. The remainder supports studies and initiatives to improve water supplies and environmental needs.

$36.5 million for rural water projects to undertake the design and construction of five projects and operation and maintenance of tribal features for two projects intended to deliver potable water supplies to specific rural communities and tribes located primarily in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.

$12.8 million for the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, which will continue funding grants to implement conservation measures and monitor the effects of those measures on the river diversions. Funding is also included to continue construction on fish passage facilities at Cle Elum dam.

$88.1 million for the Dam Safety Program to continue dam safety risk management and risk reduction activities throughout Reclamation’s inventory of dams. Corrective actions are planned to start or will continue at a number of facilities. A focus continues to be modifications at Folsom Dam (California).

$26.2 million for site security to continue Reclamation’s ongoing site-security program, which includes physical security upgrades at key facilities, guards and patrols, anti-terrorism program activities and security risk assessments.

The Bureau of Reclamation, throughout the 17 western states, is committed to helping meet the many water challenges of the West. A driving force behind bureau initiatives is resolution of water issues that will benefit future generations and providing leadership on the path to sustainable water supplies.

CPW: Elkhead Reservoir and native fish to be discussed at open house in Craig

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Residents of Craig and the surrounding areas will have the opportunity to discuss the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and Elkhead Reservoir fish management with several key partners during an open house, Thursday, Feb. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. at Craig City Hall, 300 West 4th Street.

The open house format will allow program representatives to answer questions and provide information about the multi-faceted program and its goals of protecting four endangered native fish – the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail and razorback sucker – found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

“People who attend will learn what they can do to help us achieve what we all want, that is to bring this recovery effort to a successful conclusion,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We understand that people have questions and concerns, so we welcome this opportunity.”

Among the various topics up for discussion will be how Elkhead Reservoir’s predominantly non-native fishery affects local native fish populations, and actions that Recovery Program partners are taking to manage non-native fish populations in the Yampa River and throughout the upper Colorado River basin.

According to principal investigators working on native fish recovery, escapement of non-native fish such as northern pike and smallmouth bass, found in significant numbers in Elkhead Reservoir and several other waters in Western Colorado, are among the primary obstacles to the full recovery of the endangered fish.

“Non-native fish often escape from reservoirs, ponds and other bodies of water into rivers where they not only compete with natives for available habitat, they also eat them,” said Hebein. “Based on years of data analysis, we have determined that non-native predators are the main reason we have yet to fully recover our native fish populations. It’s a major problem that we can overcome, but it will take significant effort from the partners and cooperation from the public.”

Recent reports that the reservoir might be drained and chemically reclaimed to remove the non-natives led to much discussion and concern in the community; however, at a joint workshop with Moffat County Commissioners and the Craig City Council last December, Hebein announced that CPW and its partners are implementing the installation of a net across the reservoir’s spillway to reduce the number of northern pike and smallmouth bass that escape into the Yampa River. Netting the spillway would provide time to implement other non-chemical management actions to reduce the numbers of smallmouth bass and northern pike in the reservoir.

“We anticipate that there will be many questions about the net and Elkhead’s future,” said Hebein. “We look forward to the opportunity to explain the complexities of the issue to the public.”

Hebein says that the public will have the opportunity to provide both written and verbal comments during the meeting.

For more information about the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, visit http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org/

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.