Runoff/snowpack news: Good year to fill storage — if we had it to fill

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

Flooding along the Cache La Poudre River damaged nearly two dozen homes and businesses in Greeley last week, and according to officials at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Poudre River does not have any dams or reservoirs specifically for flood control. But there is an effort underway to change that.

The Poudre River is full of melted snow — so much so right now that levels are well above average in Larimer and Weld counties, spilling over banks, and flooding homes and businesses.

“We could fill a reservoir in a year like this,” Brian Werner with the Northern Colorado’s Water Conservancy District said.

He points out farmers’ irrigation dams inside the Poudre Canyon, but says water cannot be diverted to those to prevent flooding. He says there is no reservoir along the river because the idea was unpopular in the past.

“I think the general public is more aware when they see these flows and saying, ‘Boy, couldn’t we just store a little bit of that?’ Which is what this proposal does,” Werner said.

Northern Water wants to build two reservoirs off stream that could store water during high flow times. Planners estimate the project would cost $500 million, including $40 million to re-route Highway 287 to make room for Glade Reservoir, and build a smaller one north of Greeley…

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

“We’ve been working on this in some form for over 20 years, taking some of the flood flows here on the Poudre and storing it,” Werner said.

They do expect to get some news on the status of studies being conducted on the project by the end of this year. It’s unlikely building would start before 2018.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Several of the reservoirs that feed Northern Colorado are full, or approaching overfull, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the reservoirs. Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland, is full, and Lake Granby near Rocky Mountain National Park is about to overflow, Werner added.

“We wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years a year ago,” Werner said Tuesday. Only a month ago, it was fifty-fifty if the reservoir would spill. “Now it looks like it will spill.”

Horsetooth is just 2 feet shy of being full, the highest the reservoir has been in late May and early June in the past six years.

The reservoir can hold enough to submerge 156,735 football fields in a foot of water. As of June 3, Horsetooth was holding 154,480 acre-feet of water, putting it around 98.5 percent full, said Zach Allen, a spokesman for Northern Water.

But what happens if Horsetooth does get full? The answer, Werner said, is basically “nothing.”

“We can control all the inflows to Horsetooth,” he said. Flatiron Reservoir and the Big Thompson River feed Horsetooth, and Northern Water controls all the outflows and inflows to the reservoir; Horsetooth’s water level can’t get higher than Northern Water wants it to, Werner said…

Lake Granby, on the other hand, is fed with snowmelt straight from the mountains. It’s levels are uncontrollable, and it could spill over any day now, Werner said.

“You can’t control what nature is going to do” with Granby, he added…

Northern Water for years has pursued an expansion of its water storage capacity to take advantage of plentiful water years. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build a reservoir larger than Horsetooth northwest of Fort Collins. The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental groups and is in a yearslong federal review of its potential environmental impacts expected to be released late this year…

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack, around 200 percent of normal levels after an early May snow, has yet to melt, which brings the potential for much more water to come down from the mountains in the coming weeks.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have seen the water level at Green Mountain Reservoir rise to the spillway gates as snow melt runoff inflows continue to come into the reservoir. As a result, we were able to increase the release from the dam to the Lower Blue River by 300 cfs today [June 9], using the spillway.

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weekend went pretty smoothly for runoff here on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Thunderstorms boosted runoff to the Big Thompson River slightly with inflow into Lake Estes peaking early this morning around 721 cfs. But this is still a downward trend.

As a result, outflow through Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon dropped today down to about 125 cfs. As we move into the rest of the week, visitors to and residents of the canyon will continue to see nightly flows rise with snow runoff, enhanced some by rain runoff, just as they have seen for the past week.

Deliveries to the canal that feeds Horsetooth Reservoir have brought Horsetooth back up to full. Its water level elevation has been fluctuating within the top foot of its storage between 5429 and 5430 feet. With it back up near 5430, we have curtailed the canal to Horsetooth and increased the return of Big Thompson River water to the canyon at the canyon mouth using the concrete chute. By 5 p.m. this evening the chute should be running around 300 cfs.

The drop off in snowmelt runoff inflows will allow us to begin bringing some Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope water over again using the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We anticipate the tunnel coming on mid-week and importing somewhere between 200-250 cfs.

Once the tunnel comes back on, we will also turn the pump to Carter Lake back on, probably on Wednesday of this week. Carter’s water level elevation dropped slightly during runoff operations. It is around 95% full. Now that Horsetooth is basically full, Carter will receive the C-BT water. Turning the pump back on to Carter means residents around and visitors to the reservoir will see it fill for a second time this season.

Pinewood Reservoir, between Lake Estes and Carter Lake, is seeing a more typical start to its summer season. It continues to draft and refill with power generation as it usually does this time of year. This is also true for Flatiron Reservoir, just below Carter Lake and the Flatiron Powerplant. Both are expected to continue operating this way through June.

That is the plan we anticipate the East Slope of the C-BT to follow the rest of this week, June 9-13. We will post information if there is a major change; but as it stands now, I do not plan on sending an update again until next Monday. The state’s gage page is always available for those wishing to continue watching the water on a daily basis.

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

Word on the street this spring was that Blue Mesa Reservoir would be bursting at its banks this summer. Predictions were based on official and unofficial reports of above-normal river flows. However, a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has changed how local dams are operated in wet years, in deference to endangered fish species downstream. This new operational protocol will preclude the reservoir from filling this year.

“The reservoir is now only scheduled to reach a maximum storage of around 80 percent capacity in 2014,” said Upper Gunnison River District manager Frank Kugel. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began blasting water through Blue Mesa Dam last week, with simultaneous releases happening at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs, a trifecta of water storage and management that makes up what’s known as the Aspinall Unit.

The Record of Decision (ROD) states, “The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and duration necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.”

Given this new norm of operations adapted by the bureau during wet years, will Blue Mesa ever fill again?

“That’s a valid question, since the reservoir often does not fill in dry years due to lack of supply, and now with the Aspinall EIS, it will have trouble filling in wet years,” said Kugel.

“We all signed onto this because we agreed it’s important to save these fish,” said Colorado Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Species coordinator Harry Crocket.

According to the BOR’s website, an update written by hydraulic engineer Paul Davidson, unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa is 126 percent of normal this year, April through July. That’s 850,000 acre-feet of water entering the lake during the runoff months. “This sets the senior Black Canyon Water Right call for a one-day spring peak flow of 6,400 cfs, the Aspinall 2012 ROD target at a 10-day peak flow of 14,350 cfs… Reclamation plans to operate the Aspinall Unit to meet both the water right and ROD recommendations,” said Davidson.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker are the fish that stand to benefit. The big flows are expected to improve the fishes’ critical habitat, at a time when the fish will be looking to spawn. Water will inundate otherwise shallow or dry riverbank areas, creating calm, sheltered spots for hatchlings, and heavy flows will wash the larvae into those areas.

The Gunnison River, said Crocket, was “mostly omitted” from the EIS as critical habitat. However, he said, “Historically, it was home to at least a couple of these species.”

“It’s a highly migratory fish,” Crocket said of the Colorado pike minnow. “It’s adapted to this big river system.”

It’s a system irrefutably changed by humans. Critical habitat for the Colorado pike minnow includes 1,123.6 miles of river, to include stretches of the Green, Yampa and White rivers, from Rifle to Glen Canyon, and the Yampa River to its confluence with the Colorado River.

“They [US Fish and Wildlife] did designate critical habitat [from the mouth of the Gunnison] to the Uncompahgre confluence [at Delta],” Crocket said.

The Colorado pike minnow called the Gunnison River home through the 1960s. “After that,” said Crocket, “it blinked out. It’s not been possible for it to be re-colonized.” A new fish passage at the Redlands structure, two miles upriver from the Gunnison-Colorado River confluence at Grand Junction, allows fish to make their way around the barrier and upstream, marking the first time in more than 100 years for those downstream fish to gain passage to the Gunnison.

Meanwhile, upstream, a form of collateral damage resulting from the big water releases at Blue Mesa worries Fish and Wildlife personnel. The number of fish sucked into and blown out through the dam is staggering. The technical term for this is entrainment.
“Bigger water years mean more water through the dam, and more fish entrained,” said Gunnison area Colorado Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Certainly, loss of kokanee with those releases is a concern.”

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Water levels and snowpack are 121 percent of normal, with as much as 40 percent yet to melt at some higher elevation areas, according to Snotel data…

Snow water equivalent at the Fremont Pass Snotel site, the headwaters of the Eagle River, had 15.1 inches of snow water equivalent on Friday morning still to melt and run into the river. It hit 17 inches on March 18 and kept piling up until May 17 when it peaked at 25.6 inches. It usually doesn’t melt out until June 18, Johnson said.

Streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon may have peaked on May 30, when the daily mean discharge was 4,110 cubic feet per second, which was 249 percent of median for that date. Thursday’s daily mean discharge was 3,650 cfs, 197 percent of normal for Wednesday.

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

“Having 20 to 40 percent of the total snowpack remaining in higher elevations in the Colorado Basin is good overall. It should help sustain streamflows through the month,” [Diane Johnson] said…

Copper Mountain still has 4.1 inches of snow water equivalent. That would normally be melted out by now, Johnson said…

Reservoir storage in the state is running 95 percent of normal and 62 percent of capacity. That, however, depends on where you are.

It’s O-fish-al, Federal Dams Ramp up River Flows to Benefit Endangered Fish on the Gunnison River — WRA

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From Western Resource Advocates (Bart Miller):

It was a snowy year in the upper Gunnison River basin. With high temperatures this week, snowmelt is accelerating fast. The roar of the river is back. Thanks to a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation two years ago, river flows now help improve the health of the Gunnison River.

Late last week, spring flows began to ramp up as did releases below reservoirs at the Aspinall Unit, in an attempt to meet target flows that will benefit endangered fish species in the lower Gunnison river. Western Resource Advocates supported the federal decision in 2012 that changed reservoir operations at the Aspinall Unit to increase river flows, and is excited to see the benefits that will result.

”The Bureau of Reclamation is doing a great job under the new reservoir operations plan,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “This year is a real test of the Bureau’s ability to make good on their commitment to get the river back into balance. So far, they’re passing the test with flying colors.”

The Bureau projects that, on June 2, 2014, flows through Black Canyon will be around 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This will serve key functions like maintaining the river channel in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In the lower Gunnison River, near its confluence with the Colorado in Grand Junction, flows may reach as high as 14,000 cfs, a target developed by scientists to benefit federally endangered fish.

As WRA posted on a blog last week: “Colorado now has a water-based recreation industry that—on the West Slope alone—is responsible for 80,000 jobs and over $9 billion in revenue each year. We have deeper knowledge of how essential water is for native fish and wildlife species, national parks, and other irreplaceable treasures. We want to continue to provide for resilient and profitable agriculture and communities, but not at the expense of recreation, tourism, and the environment.”

“Improving flows in the Gunnison is emblematic of what should be done in the Colorado Water

Plan and through each river basin’s own water planning: re-assess how we meet the needs of Colorado residents while protecting the environment and a growing river-based recreation economy,” says Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news: Reclamation plans releases from Flaming Gorge Reservoir for endangered fish #ColoradoRiver

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

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Lisa Iams/Heather Patno):

Above average snowpack in the upper Green River Basin will enable Reclamation to increase the overall duration of the planned temporary increase in releases from Flaming Gorge Dam to benefit endangered razorback sucker in the Green River below the dam.
Scientists have detected the presence of larval razorback sucker in critical nursery habitat in the flood plains in the Green River which is the ‘trigger’ for increasing releases from Flaming Gorge Dam. Beginning Monday, June 2, 2014, flows will increase to powerplant capacity 4,600 cubic-feet-per-second for approximately 14 days or until the flows in the Yampa River decrease to between 12,000-13,000 cfs. Bypass releases from the dam will then be initiated to support a total downstream release of 8,600 cfs for another 14 days to maintain the desired total flow in the river of 18,600 cfs at target locations.

Flows from Flaming Gorge Dam have been temporarily increased during the spring since 2011 as part of a multi-year cooperative experimental program to benefit the endangered razorback sucker. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is expected to receive 135 percent of average inflow volume this year supporting a longer increased release period.

Scientists have been monitoring the critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a ‘trigger’ for an experiment being implemented by Reclamation in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the experiment is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitat which exists in the floodplains along the Green River downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. This nursery habitat connects to the river at flows at or above 18,600 cfs, which is the targeted flow this year with the above average hydrology. The increased releases from the dam combined with the Yampa River flows will provide the maximum possible flow to transport the larval fish.

Current projections are for the Yampa River to reach at least 16,400 cfs this Friday, May 30, and for flows to remain elevated between 15,000 to 16,000 cfs through June 5. The projected peak at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of the Yampa River and Flaming Gorge releases is approximately 20,000 to 22,000 cfs.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been consulted concerning the impacts of the releases to the rainbow trout fishery below the dam. While releases during this period will make fishing the river more difficult, no adverse impacts to the fishery are expected.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Cooler temperatures in May and recent storms have prolonged snowpack in the Rockies, but spring runoff has begun in earnest. Arkansas River levels were consistently above average for the last week, as warmer days and some showers over the weekend contributed to the flows.

“We saw the snow melt and start to run early, but then there was a cooling spell,” said Roy Vaughan, Fryingpan-Arkansas Project manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. “Now, we’re looking at everything running later.”

The Fry-Ark Project already has brought 12,000 acre-feet (3.9 billion gallons) through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Reservoir. It’s expected to bring in a total of 60,000 acre-feet over the next few weeks.

“We’ve reached the peaks at the Boustead Tunnel, and we’re meeting all the minimum flow requirements (for the Fryingpan River),” Vaughan said.

In order to move water across the Continental Divide, stream flows have to be supported on the Western Slope. With the delayed snowmelt, there is about twice as much water as usual tied up in the snowpack for this time of year.

Statewide, snowpack was at 189 percent of median Tuesday, with the South Platte at 265 percent. Snow is heavier in the northern part of the state, while lagging in the south.

For the Arkansas River basin, that works out to 131 percent of median, but only because snowpack is so heavy near the headwaters of the Arkansas River.

In the Rio Grande basin, snowpack is at 32 percent.

It was never great this year, and now mostly has melted.

Flows in the Upper Arkansas River increased by 2 feet in the last week, with flows at 2,500 cubic feet per second as of Tuesday — significantly higher than normal for the end of May.

Fountain Creek has been up and down, increasing by a foot or more at times as storms hit El Paso County. Locally, heavy rains of up to 2 inches fell in the area from Friday to Sunday.

The Arkansas River at Avondale also climbed a foot over the weekend, and was flowing at about 2,800 cfs Tuesday.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

The swollen Poudre River this week surpassed peak runoff levels for the past three years, even though high snowmelt season has yet to hit Northern Colorado…

The deep snowpack in Northern Colorado’s mountains has yet to melt away, meaning the runoff season and higher river levels are still yet to come. The forecast for Fort Collins this week is for summer-like temperatures, which could jump-start the runoff.

“It’s all going to be really driven by the temperatures this week,” said Wendy Ryan, the assistant state climatologist. “With that much water still in the high country, it’s definitely not time to forget about snowmelt. At least, not yet.”

Still, U.S. Geological Survey data indicates the river has a long way to go before it reaches September 2013 flood levels.

The river has been running higher than normal since the September floods, and high snowpack levels and recent rains have further elevated the flow. At its highest point on Monday, the river measured at 7.2 feet, just barely below the flood stage at 7.5.

The river reached its peak flow around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, when it measured 4,900 cubic feet per second, of cfs, at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. One cubic foot per second is equal to one basketball floating down the river every second. The flows have been lowering since Monday, and the peak was well past by Tuesday afternoon.

The river measured 10,000 cfs at its peak during the September floods…

The full-fledged runoff season has yet to really get started along the Poudre, but this week could be one of the first of consistently higher temperatures that melt snowpack.

There has been little runoff from the mountains west of Fort Collins to date, said Ryan. The Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snowpack throughout the winter in Colorado and takes snow water equivalent measurements, showing how much water is in the snow.

At a Joe Wright reservoir measuring point, NRCS measured a peak of 32 inches of the snow water equivalent. Only two inches of that has run off.

Rain has created runoff from the lower elevations, specifically over the High Park Fire and Hewlett Fire burn scars along the Poudre Canyon.

This week, temperatures in the 70s and 80s are expected to cause snowmelt, but the National Weather Service is not predicting serious floods along the river. The river is forecast to slowly rise throughout the week.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

One of 411 state highway bridges bruised by September flooding got a once over Wednesday by a small group of state inspectors who aim to pinpoint structural problems before a big spring runoff.

A swollen Little Thompson River caused some erosion under the bridge, which spans southbound Interstate 25 just south of Johnstown. But it’s not known yet how much bolstering the bridge needs, said Joshua Laipply, state bridge engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“We’ll review the data and make some decisions depending on what we see,” said Laipply, who quickly pointed out the bridge currently doesn’t pose any danger to motorists. “Bridges like this one, have foundations all the way to bedrock. “It’s perfectly stable now.

“But, if we had another 500-year storm now, then I’d be worried.”

At least four teams from CDOT, as well as bridge consultants hired by by the agency, are examining the 411 bridges through June. They hope to discover and fix any safety and structural woes before high temperatures prompt mountain runoff, CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said.

Most of the bridges are in the Denver-metro area and got tagged with minor damage during the flood. They were inspected shortly after the flood waters receded and deemed drivable with the idea they would get more attention this spring, Laipply said.

In all, about 1,000 bridges from Colorado Springs to Sterling were damaged in some way by the flooding with the most severe getting immediate work, Laipply said.

Bridges in Colorado are inspected every two years, but the flooding meant that schedule had to be moved up.

“These are what we call ‘event inspections,’ ” Laipply said. “So far, what we’ve seen has not been a surprise to us.”

Many of the bridges have seen plenty of “scour” — water flow that takes soil from a bridge’s foundation and moves it downstream. Crews will likely apply rock to make bridge foundations stronger. The crews will have to take into account the changes in river flow and channel elevation caused by the surging water, Laipply said.

CDOT design engineers Scott Huson and Tom Moss each took measurements of the Little Thompson as morning traffic zoomed over their heads. At one point, the river was chest-high to Moss.

“It can get interesting for us out there in the water,” Huson said, “but it’s a job has to be done.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

The Poudre River height near Greeley reached nearly 9 feet Tuesday afternoon, topping its flood stage of 8 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service forecasts were calling for the river to peak at 9 feet that afternoon or in the evening, then gradually fall to below the 8-foot flood stage by early Thursday morning and stay there through the end of the week.

“We anticipate seeing it crest pretty soon, for now,” Eric Reckentine, city of Greeley deputy director of water resources, said Tuesday afternoon. “But we don’t expect this to be the last time we see high water during this run-off season. We’ll keep monitoring it.”

In addition to having high water levels, the Poudre River near Greeley was also moving fast on Tuesday.

Flows at the Greeley gauge at 3:30 p.m. were at about 3,100 cubic feet per second. The historic average is at that measuring point is about 300 cfs.

From KREX (Jacklyn Thrapp):

Recent warm weather melting mountain snowpack prompts dangerous water levels on the Colorado River. According to the National Weather Service, the current flow of the Colorado River is dangerous, quick, cold and strong. The river in Grand Junction is close to bankfull, meaning it’s close to overflowing.

By this weekend, there’s a chance local water levels will be above bankfull, which may cause floods.

Rifle Gap Reservoir proposed management plan undergoing review process #ColoradoRiver

Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group
Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has submitted its Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed Lake Management Plan to several of its partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the wildlife agencies of the States of Utah and Wyoming. Approval by these partners is the last required step to establish future stocking plans for the popular fishery.

Lake Management Plans describe objectives for specific fisheries, including which species will be stocked and managed. The Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan was crafted in accordance with the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’, a cooperative agreement between program partners.

The goal of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is the recovery of four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the razorback sucker, bonytail chub, humpback chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.

“We developed the management plan with input we received at a public meeting in 2010 and comments we have received since then,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “Public feedback was critical to form what we feel is a very good vision for future fisheries management of Rifle Gap.”

Rifle Gap Reservoir currently features both cold and cool/warm water species, including rainbow and brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and black crappie. Walleye and smallmouth bass have self-sustained in the reservoir since they were stocked by the former Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1972, prior to the existence of the Recovery Program. No additional smallmouth bass, walleye, or any other cool/warm water species have been stocked by state wildlife managers since the initial introduction.

Until the proposed LMP is approved, CPW may not stock any fish species other than trout into Rifle Gap Reservoir, under the terms of the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’.

“CPW will remain judicious in terms of which sport fish species will be stocked and managed as we continue our native fish recovery efforts,” said Northwest Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein. “That is our responsibility as partners in the program.”

As currently written, the proposed LMP allows for the introduction and management of black crappie, yellow perch, rainbow and brown trout and triploid walleye, all non-native sport fish which are compatible with Recovery Program goals. The triploid version of walleye is sterile and typically grows faster than non-sterile walleye because energy is devoted to growth rather than reproduction. This makes the species attractive to many anglers as well as the Recovery Program.

Because of their severe impacts to native fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike are considered ‘non-compatible’ with recovery efforts. Further introduction or stocking of these species in the Upper Colorado River Basin is strongly discouraged by the Recovery Program.

“This is a good proposed plan and has the potential to lead to an even better fishery than we have now,” said Rifle Gap State Park Manager Brian Palcer. “CPW manages our parks and our wildlife together with the public’s input and cooperation and that worked well as the plan came together; however, we will also need cooperation from the public into the future to maintain Rifle Gap as a destination fishery.”

CPW officials add that the public’s support will not only help with recovery efforts for native fish, it will also facilitate continuing efforts to bring quality sport fishing to Western Colorado.

“We have a biologically sound LMP proposed for Rifle Gap,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “We thank everyone that has contributed to this plan. We are doing what we can to give our anglers a variety of opportunities while simultaneously meeting the requirements of the Recovery Program.”

The Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed LMP will undergo a 60-day review process. During this time period, Recovery Program partners will have the opportunity to add comments and revise as necessary before granting final approval.

For more information about the Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan, visit http://www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/RifleGapReservoirManagement.aspx, or contact CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin at lori.martin@state.co.us.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Releases from the Aspinall Unit to Increase Temporarily to Benefit Endangered Fish #ColoradoRiver

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation will begin increasing releases from the Aspinall Unit, consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal reservoirs on the Gunnison River, on May 23, 2014, as required by the Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement. The increased release will attempt to meet flow targets on the Gunnison River, designed to benefit endangered fish species downstream while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.

Beginning on May 23, 2014, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will begin increasing at a minimum of 500 cubic-feet-per-second a day resulting in flows through the canyon of around 9,000 cfs on June 2, 2014. Flows will remain at or above 8,000 cfs for 10 days before incrementally decreasing toward a range of 4000 cfs to 5000 cfs by the middle of June 2014.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Blue River “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

Blue River
Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

About 80 people — water managers, weather experts, government officials and interested community members — attended the event hosted by the Colorado River District at the Community Center in Frisco Tuesday, May 6. Discussion revolved around snowpack, runoff, flooding and the state water plan…

[Joanna Hopkins, board president of Blue River Watershed Group] spoke about the group’s restoration project of Ten Mile Creek, impacted by decades of mining, railroads, highways and development, and presented before and after photos of the work. The group will now focus attention on restoration of the Upper Swan River Watershed, where dredge boats in the early 20th century mined for 2 miles and the group and its partners will work to turn the river “right side up.”[…]

[Troy Wineland, water commissioner for the Blue River basin] pointed to a graph and asked the audience to consider this year’s snowpack levels. “What does that surplus, that bonus, that cream on the top, what does that mean to you?” he said. Better rafting, some said. Fishing. Full reservoirs…

Bob Steger, water resources engineer with Denver Water, discussed Dillon Reservoir operations. The utility’s main priorities for the reservoir are maintaining its water supply and reducing flood risk, he said, but it also considers boating, rafting, kayaking, fishing, endangered fish and its upcoming construction project.

The utility began lowering the reservoir level in late February, just like in other high-snowpack years, he said. Going forward, the reservoir will start filling in mid-May or June, depending on whether the spring is wet or dry.

The Roberts Tunnel, which brings water from Dillon to Denver, won’t be turned on until mid-June or July, he said, and the utility will replace the large gates that control outflow to the Blue River likely sometime between August and October…

Ron Thomasson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who oversees Green Mountain Reservoir operations, said he expects to fill that reservoir in mid-July.

He talked about how more runoff will improve habitat for four endangered fish species in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River and showed his “obligatory snowpack graph.” Then he presented spaghetti plots to explain that when experts say “most probable scenario” what they really mean is, “It’s actually no more probable than any other scenario. It just happens to be in the middle.”[…]

explained the rare conditions that combined to cause record-breaking flooding in the Boulder area in September. Then he switched to the “crazy winter that you just lived through” in Summit and what to expect in the six- to eight-week runoff season produced by seven months of snow.

He joked about the polar vortex, a phenomenon that’s been around forever but didn’t make the media until this winter, and he showed more spaghetti plots saying, “Those averages are beautiful. They give us something to think about. They never happen.”

Those excited about a surplus should remember the rest of the state is experiencing drought conditions. “You fared well,” he said. “It’s not always going to work that way, so please be grateful.”

Then he asked for volunteers to help collect real-time precipitation data with rain gauges for http://cocorahs.org.

Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable that represents Summit and five other counties, emphasized problems with low levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and focused on the state water plan, which the roundtable is helping to create.

Of the 14 states in the West, Colorado is one of four without a water plan. The other three are Washington, Oregon and Arizona…

“Transmountain diversion should be the last tool out of the box,” he said. “Conservation and reuse needs to be hit hard.”

If a new transmountain diversion must be constructed, it should be done along the lines of the recent agreement between West Slope stakeholders and Denver Water.

One audience member asked why reducing population growth wasn’t one of the considered solutions. Most of the projected growth “is us having children,” Pokrandt said. “It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s the one that you really can’t touch.”

He said in some parts of the Front Range, the untouchable issue is green grass.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Rio Grande Basin: Water Managers Cooperate to Create Beneficial River Flows, Albuequerque to Elephant Butte #RioGrande

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

Silvery minnows were seen doing backflips over the news that their reach of the Rio Grande is going to get an extra drink.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

Flows on the Rio Grande from Albuquerque to Elephant Butte Reservoir will increase this week in a coordinated effort aimed at triggering a spawn of the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow. This pioneering effort by federal and non-federal water managers will create conditions that haven’t naturally occurred over the last four years due to drought.
The April forecast data released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows snowpack volumes well below average throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The inflow at El Vado Reservoir is expected to be about 64,000 acre-feet of water or about 28 percent of average. This type of coordinated effort is needed to attempt to cue a spawn, as minnow numbers in the critical habitat from Cochiti Dam to just above Elephant Butte Reservoir are at their lowest since populations have been monitored.

The release out of Abiquiu Reservoir increased to about 1,500 cubic-feet-per-second today to begin moving water toward the Middle Rio Grande. The flow out of Cochiti Reservoir will increase to as high as 2,000 cfs, doubling the current release. It will continue for a week, and then be stepped down to the current release. The goal of this flow is to mimic a natural spring runoff peak to encourage the Rio Grande silvery minnow to spawn while still meeting the irrigation needs of the middle valley. The water for this action is being released from reservoirs and will not diminish the available water supply for Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District irrigators.

“This release is the result of focused planning and coordination among water management agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Mike Hamman. “It was a tremendous effort by all involved to use what limited water that is available to help create an artificial pulse flow that we hope will trigger a substantial spawn, which hasn’t happened naturally in the last few years due to the severe drought conditions in New Mexico.”

This multi-agency effort was between Reclamation, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, who agreed to an exchange that provided the largest portion of the water, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, the city of Albuquerque, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. The Middle Rio Grande Pueblos Coalition is also working closely with Reclamation to assist in this effort.

“Creating a successful spawn of silvery minnow while still meeting the needs of our farmers and cities is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Estevan Lopez, Director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission. “We are proud of this innovative effort and the hard work of all the people involved. This success was only possible through collaboration in the middle Rio Grande valley and demonstrates New Mexico’s ability to work through another summer of drought.”

The approximately 18,000 acre-feet of water to be used for the peak flow came from two sources. About 12,000 acre-feet came from an exchange whereby water held in storage last year on behalf of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos that went unused and would have been released last fall was exchanged at Elephant Butte with the Water Authority for San Juan-Chama water. Updated sediment studies at Abiquiu Reservoir led to the discovery of an additional 6,000 acre feet of water which must now move down to Elephant Butte.

Water managers and biologists have been preparing for this since the beginning of the year. A similar effort was underway in 2013, but could not be attempted due to extremely low river flows. Conditions are now more favorable and recent meetings have focused on the logistics of the release for the best possible timing. It is important that river temperatures are warm enough to allow for minnow spawning and that there is enough natural flow in the river to allow the majority of this water to reach Elephant Butte. Crews will be in the river to gather some of the minnow eggs as part of the FWS’s Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources & Recovery Center propagation program and for the city of Albuquerque BioPark. Other eggs will hopefully hatch in the river to help maintain the wild population. MRGCD is coordinating with egg collection crews and adjusting its intake structures as necessary to avoid accidental entrainment of eggs it in its system.

A similar high flow was released from El Vado on April 25-28 for overall ecosystem improvement on the Rio Chama. In that case, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District agreed to allow its water to be moved down and held at Abiquiu Reservoir for use in the Middle Rio Grande in the coming months. ABCWUA allowed MRGCD to use some of its storage space in Abiquiu. The flow reached 2,000 cfs for about 24 hours before being gradually reduced.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.