#Runoff news: Flaming Gorge Dam to Increase Water Releases Tuesday — USBR


From email from Reclamation:

Spring snowmelt runoff in the Colorado Rocky Mountains has triggered the spawning and emergence of endangered razorback sucker fish populations in the Green River downstream from Flaming Gorge Dam, Utah. Larval emergence in the river was observed on May 28, 2016.

To assist the survival of this endangered fish population, Bureau of Reclamation officials will gradually increase water released from Flaming Gorge Dam from the current flow of 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 8,600 cfs beginning Tuesday, May 31, 2016. The rate of release will reach 8,600 cfs on Friday, June 3, 2016, and will remain at that flow rate until further notice. However, Reclamation officials anticipate the release to remain at this rate for only 7 to 14 days beyond June 3.

At the highest rate, Flaming Gorge reservoir will release approximately 4,600 cfs through the Flaming Gorge Dam powerplant, allowing power generation to reach its full capacity of approximately 150 megawatts. Another 4,000 cfs will be released through the dam’s bypass tubes to reach the total of 8,600 cfs.

Projected peak flow on the Green River at Jensen, Utah, resulting from the combined flows of Flaming Gorge Dam releases and the Yampa River, will be approximately 22,000 to 24,000 cubic feet per second. These projections are close to flood stage and Reclamation officials urge caution while recreating or farming along the Green River during the next few weeks.

Scientists monitor critical habitat to detect the first emergence of razorback sucker larvae as a “trigger” for this type of release by Reclamation in cooperation with the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. A major purpose of the higher release is to transport as many larval fish as possible into critical nursery habitats located in the floodplains along the Green River, downstream of the confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers. The increased releases from the dam, combined with the Yampa River flows, will provide the maximum possible flow of water to transport the larval fish.

Reclamation consulted with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources concerning possible 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.

Meanwhile, Granby Reservoir should fill and spill this year. Here’s a report from Lance Maggart writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Things look to be shaping up nicely in terms of water levels for 2016. The Colorado River District recently hosted a “Grand County State of the River” meeting at Mountain Parks Electric in Granby. During the meeting representatives from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation informed attendees their prediction models indicate Granby Reservoir will physically fill again this year, sometime around the second week of July at which point those administering the water flows will begin bypassing additional water downstream.

Officials expect the massive reservoir to spill slightly, around 1,700 acre-feet of water, right at maximum flow times. Bureau of Reclamation representatives said that if Granby does spill they anticipate moving the excess water through the outlet works for the reservoir’s dam.

So far 2016 has been a fairly average year in terms of precipitation. Reservoirs along the eastern slope of the continental divide are mostly full and transmountain diversions will likely be diminished because of storage levels in places like Horsetooth and Carter Lake Reservoirs.

Willow Creek Reservoir, a relatively small reservoir located just a few miles directly west of Granby Reservoir has seen high levels of runoff already and officials anticipate pumping roughly 40,000 acre-feet of water from Willow Creek into Granby Reservoir this summer. Because of storage limits water from Willow Creek Reservoir is already being bypassed downstream.

Because of the high water levels anticipated for Willow Creek Reservoir and the rest of the Three Lakes Colorado River Collection System officials do not expect to pump any water up from the Windy Gap Reservoir, located west of Granby on US Highway 40 and downstream from Granby Reservoir.

Existing directives from the US Secretary of the Interior require at least 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water be released from Granby Reservoir throughout the summer. The Bureau of Reclamation will maintain releases of 75 cfs from Granby Reservoir through October this year as part of the ongoing Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Higher water release will benefit silvery minnow — The Albuquerque Journal

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

From The Albuquerque Journal (Ollie Reed Jr.)

Spring runoff pumped up by water released from El Vado Reservoir today [May 25, 2016] will push flows on the Rio Chama and Rio Grande up to as much as 4,000 cubic feet per second, the swiftest rate in recent memory, in a multiagency effort to benefit the environment and boost silvery minnow spawning.

“Today will be our high-flow day,” said Carolyn Donnelly, water operations supervisor for the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “We are going up to 4,000 cfs out of El Vado for the first time since I don’t know when.”

In 2014, the spring peak flow was only 1,500 cfs, and last year, the best flow year since 2010, the rate at Albuquerque’s Central Avenue bridge was measured at just under 3,000 cfs.

Donnelly said this week’s fast-moving water on the Rio Chama between El Vado, 80 miles northwest of Santa Fe, and Abiquiu Dam, 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe, will break up channel vegetation that is harmful to the ecology.

“When the channel is static, native species, small invertebrates such as snails, for example, don’t do well,” she said.

The one-two punch of spring runoff and released storage water will provide the robust flow that cues the spawning of the endangered silvery minnow, found in the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam, 50 miles north of Albuquerque, to Elephant Butte Reservoir, five miles north of Truth or Consequences.

Donnelly said the release from Cochiti Dam will be about 3,300 cfs for about two weeks. That rate will benefit the entire ecosystem as well as the minnow.

“The timing of the release is important to the minnow,” Donnelly said. “Conditions are looking really good. We had more snow in April in the Rio Chama watershed and also up in Colorado on the Rio Grande. We are going to start seeing high water from Colorado real soon. And since it’s late May, the water is warmer and the fish (minnow) like that.”

Agencies collaborating with Reclamation in the project are the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the Rio Chama Watershed Partnership and the Rio Grande Compact Commission, which represent the compact states of New Mexico, Texas and Colorado.

A resolution approved in March by the [Rio Grande] Compact Commission made this week’s high-flow push possible by allowing the storage of about 40,000 acre-feet of water in El Vado between May 2 and May 20.

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

CMC Edwards: May 16 State of the River Public Meeting

Eagle River
Eagle River

From the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Click through for the agenda):

Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, in partnership with the Colorado River District and the Eagle River Watershed Council, is hosting the Eagle River Valley State of the River community meeting, Monday, May 16, at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards.

All members of the public are invited to hear about issues that affect Gore Creek, the Eagle River, the Colorado River, Western Colorado’s changing climate, local water supply, and streamflow and runoff projections. A reception with food and soft drinks will be held at 5:15 p.m., with presentations scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact Diane Johnson, Communications and Public Affairs Manager, at 970-477-5457.

President Obama signs bill declaring the bison the national mammal — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

From USA Today (Gregory Korte) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law Monday, two weeks after both houses of Congress approved the bill by what appeared to be unanimous voice votes.

Sponsored by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., the bill has just one purpose: To declare the bison the national mammal of the United States.

The law also makes clear that it’s entirely a symbolic action: “Nothing in this act or the adoption of the North American bison as the national mammal of the United States shall be construed or used as a reason to alter, change, modify, or otherwise affect any plan, policy, management decision, regulation, or other action by the federal government,” the last clause of the bill reads.

The bison was nearly wiped out during the westward expansion of the United States, as part of a deliberate policy of depriving Native Americans of a significant source of food, clothing and shelter. But a concerted effort by conservationists in the early 20th century brought the bison back from the verge of extinction.

The bill, which recognizes the bison for its historical, cultural significance, contains the following facts about the bison:

► A bison is portrayed on two state flags;

► The bison has been adopted by three states as their official mammal or animal;

► A bison has been depicted on the official seal of the Department of the Interior since 1912;

► The buffalo nickel played an important role in modernizing the currency of the United States;

► Several sports teams have the bison as a mascot, which highlights the iconic significance of bison in the United States.

Rebuilt Green River dam allows movement of boats, fish — The Salt Lake Tribune

Courtesy | Tim Gaylord The Natural Resources Conservation Service has completed reconstruction of the century-old Tusher Dam across the Green River, upstream from the river's Utah namesake town. The $7.7 million project includes fish ladders and a safe boat passage that river-running community has sought for years.
Courtesy | Tim Gaylord The Natural Resources Conservation Service has completed reconstruction of the century-old Tusher Dam across the Green River, upstream from the river’s Utah namesake town. The $7.7 million project includes fish ladders and a safe boat passage that river-running community has sought for years.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

To the delight of river runners, federal authorities agreed to include a boat passage, as well as fish ladders, on the new Tusher Diversion, which becomes operational this week. Recreation advocates hope the project will enable more boaters to float the dozen miles upstream from the river’s namesake town and increase take-out traffic at Green River State Park.

However, the state Department of Natural Resources has concerns about the passage’s safety and wants to study how it performs before encouraging the boating public to run it, particularly at high water.

But melon growers and endangered fish don’t have to wait to benefit from the rebuilt dam, the fruit of a multi-agency collaboration covered mostly by federal dollars.

In a public ceremony Wednesday, the state and federal agencies behind the $7.7 million project will remove the coffers and dedicate the dam. The event is at 11 a.m. on the river’s west bank, accessed from Long Street, north of town.

“This dam will provide a secure supply of irrigation water for the many farmers, ranchers and secondary-water users in this area well into the future,” said Utah agriculture commissioner LuAnn Adams. “Water in the West can make or break a community, and this dam literally keeps the green in Green River, Utah.”

It will also keep the green in farmers’ wallets, since the river supports Grand and Emery counties’ $20 million agricultural industry. The Tusher Diversion waters 5,300 acres that produce many of the cantaloupes, casabas, honeydews, canary and other melons for which the Green River is known.

Settlers built the U-shaped rock-and-crib weir more than a century ago to divert some of the Green’s flow onto fields. But the low structure also obstructed the movement of boats and various fish species that have since come under federal protection. Most boaters had to portage the dam or take out at Swasey’s Beach, a few miles upstream. Intrepid boaters could run over the weir at certain water levels, but such a move was perilous, as the right side of the channel is littered with rebar-studded concrete and the left side is strewn with boulders disgorged from Tusher Wash.

High waters following the wet winter of 2011 hammered the aging dam, putting it a risk of a failure that would have dewatered the three canals exiting the river. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, targeted it for reconstruction under its Emergency Watershed Protection program, which has committed $93 million in recent years to fix and build dams and catch basins damaged in the wake of Utah’s wildfires, floods and other disasters.

The initial Tusher plan did not call for a boat passage and river runners quickly mobilized, lobbying for features that would enable boaters to replicate the Green River portion of the 1869 expedition led by John Wesley Powell.

Officials agreed a boat passage was warranted and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (FFSL) put up the $153,000 to help cover increased costs. As a result of such investments, the replacement diversion is far superior to the historic structure.

“That shows the benefit of taking time. It was over two years. Some might look at it as a downside, but the positive is it allows partners, community and interest groups to express their interests and allows us to incorporate it into our design,” said Dave Brown, the Utah conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We showed up and participated in the discussion,” said Nathan Fey of American Whitewater. “The state advocated for boater safety. It was no longer an issue of fish versus boaters.”

An archaeologist monitored the historic dam’s demolition in an effort to document its construction and design for an exhibit proposed for Green River’s John Wesley Powell River History Museum.

The new design also features screens to keep fish out of the diversion canals, as well as three fish passages — one for upstream swimmers and two for downstreamers — equipped with readers to count fish that have been injected with tiny electronic tags. This aspect of the project was funded and designed by state and federal wildlife agencies hoping to recover native humpback chub, Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker and bonytail.

The state secured water rights that should ensure that water passes through the 25-foot gap at a rate of at least 147 cubic feet per second.

Now that the project is complete, however, the passage does not appear to be functioning as hoped, according Jason Curry, spokesman for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

“Something about the dam looks a little more treacherous than intended,” Curry said. “It doesn’t look like it’s 100 percent safe for all boats. We would like it to be negotiable for all traffic. The main thing was to make it safe. We will do test runs to see how the hydraulics work. … It might need some modifications.”

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

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

#ColoradoRiver: Bonytails reproducing in the wild — #Utah DWR #COriver

Wild bonytail chub
Wild bonytail chub

From the Utah Division of Wildlife via The Deseret News:

For the first time since work to recover bonytail started in the 1980s, they’re raising their own young in the wild, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources say.

Bonytail are the rarest of the endangered fish that live in the upper Colorado River system.

“This finding represents a major step forward in recovering the species and ultimately getting it removed from the federal endangered species list,” Krissy Wilson, native aquatic species coordinator for the DWR, said in a statement.

In spring 2015, researchers with the DWR found adult bonytail in Stewart Lake near Jensen. The lake is a managed floodplain that’s connected to the Green River. When the floodplain was later drained in the fall, the researchers found 19 young-of-the-year native chub.

As the researchers analyzed their data, they expected the young-of-the-year chubs to be roundtail chubs. But they realized the size of the chubs did not fit with the timing of when the roundtail chubs would have spawned.

“That’s when the researchers got excited,” Wilson said. “Were the specimens they were examining the first documented evidence of bonytail reproducing in the wild?”

The researchers sent the preserved specimens to the Larval Fish Laboratory at Colorado State University. There, scale and body measurement analysis was done. Next, the specimens were sent for genetic testing. Both analyses confirmed what the UDWR researchers were hoping: the specimens were bonytail.

Wilson says the last wild adult bonytail were collected in the late 1990s. Since then, bonytail have been reared at the DWR’s Wahweap State Fish Hatchery at Lake Powell. The bonytail are reared to 12 inches long before being stocked in the upper Colorado River system.

Wilson says for the past four years, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and its partner, the Bureau of Reclamation, have coordinated spring releases from Flaming Gorge Dam to connect floodplain habitats along the Green River near Jensen. Connecting the floodplains provides important nursery habitat for the endangered Colorado River fish.

“So far,” Wilson says, “razorback sucker is the species that’s benefitted most from the releases. It’s exciting to see that the releases are also benefitting bonytail.”

Along with bonytail and razorback sucker, humpback chub and Colorado pikeminnow are the four fish the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is working to recover. More information about the program and its work is available at coloradoriverrecovery.org.

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