#ColoradoRiver: Appeals court backs nuke plant water supply from Green River — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Green River Basin
Green River Basin

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.

A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.

The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.

“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.

HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.

Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”

Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”

He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…

The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”

It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”

Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.

It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.

Wild River – The Yampa: Dave Showalter Nature Photography

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.
Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

Click here to go to the website for the cool photography and story. Here’s an excerpt:

Wild River. What comes to mind? It’s a trick question because there aren’t many wild rivers. The Yampa River, which begins as a trickle from melting snow high in Colorado’s Flat Tops Wilderness is the only remaining wild river in the Colorado River watershed. The Yampa flows freely to the Green River, a major tributary of the Colorado River, so the Yampa has a big role if we’re ever to reach some measure of stream flow sustainability in a watershed that runs from Wyoming’s Wind River Range to the Gulf of California – it doesn’t make it that far today. Colorado’s thirsty Front Range cities that surround Denver are calling for transmountain diversions from the Colorado River watershed – importing 195,000 acre feet for growing cities and 260,000 acre feet for irrigation. I wonder, does irrigation include growing Kentucky Blue Grass to be installed and watered forever? An acre foot is as it sounds, one acre that is one foot deep. Drought is the new normal, rivers are over allocated, people are flooding in, and there’s this one wild river in northwest Colorado. Logically we must have the courage to let the Yampa run free.

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

razorbacksucker

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.

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

#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

Interior official looks toward Roan — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Roan Plateau is high on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s list of issues to be resolved in the remaining months of the Obama administration.

Jewell recently discussed the next 100 years of conservation and a “course correction” before the National Geographic Society.

The Interior Department has “some work left to re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn’t,” Jewell said. “Or where science is helping us better understand the value of the land and water and potential impacts of development. Places like Badger Two-Medicine in Montana, or the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, or the Roan Plateau in Colorado.”

Jewell’s comments, however, left some Colorado officials questioning whether they signaled a change in the direction of the management of the Roan.

The Bureau of Land Management is completing an environmental study of the area. BLM, industry and environmental groups and local governments in late 2014 reached an agreement to cancel 17 of the 19 leases issued on the plateau in 2008. The remaining two leases on top and 12 leases at the base of the plateau were to remain in place.

Jewell was referring to the plan now under study by the BLM, the Interior Department said…

The Roan Plateau was managed by the U.S. Department of Energy as an oil shale reserve until 1997, when President Bill Clinton signed legislation transferring the area to the BLM.

The act required the BLM to manage the area for multiple use and instructed the agency to begin leasing it for oil and gas development.

“We hope the secretary’s mention of the Roan Plateau bodes well for the future of the area,” said Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy director for Conservation Colorado, urging the BLM to complete the management plan “to protect the pristine lands, rare species, and remarkable habitat on the Roan.”

The directive to lease the area, however, remains, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

Jewell’s “policies may contribute to compliance with that law taking decades rather than years,” Ludlam said, “but for the benefit of future generations we will never stop advocating for the responsible development that must and someday will occur on the Roan Plateau.”

#Wyoming’s Role In Conserving #ColoradoRiver Water In Times Of Drought — @WYPublicRadio

From Wyoming Public Radio (Melodie Edwards):

“This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States,” a voiceover tells us. “This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control.”

But where it starts in Wyoming as the Green River out of the Wind River Range, it is still wild, flowing down to feed an elaborate canyon ecosystem, not to mention several thirsty states.

But the question is, what’s the responsibility of headwater states like Wyoming to keep that river ecology healthy as the climate gets hotter and dryer?

Rancher Eric Barnes and his family live on Fontanelle Creek near Kemmerer in southwest Wyoming. It’s a ranch his father built in the 1950’s.

“It’s a really beautiful place because it’s kind of in the foothills of the desert.”

And it backs onto the mountains where the creek flows down to join the Green River in Fontanelle Reservoir. While droughts have devastated crops in the southwest over the last few years, Barnes was having the opposite problem.

“I had been needing to rebuild all my diversions because they’d been blowed out, just from high water in the last few years,” he says. “And I didn’t know how I was going to afford to do all these projects because all the diversions needed worked on.”

And those flood-damaged irrigation gates were expensive to replace. So he turned to Trout Unlimited who helped him turn his surplus irrigation water into a money maker. They helped him apply for a new multi-state pilot program through the Upper Colorado River Commission that pays water rights holders like Barnes not to irrigate.

Wyoming Trout Unlimited water and habitat director Cory Toye says while more flow in the stream will help droughts downstream, it’ll also help Wyoming’s wildlife that have suffered from the last 15-years of drought.

“There are tributaries where we’ve seen extended low flows over the last couple of years,” Toye says. “If there’s low conditions or tough habitat conditions in particular areas, the more we can do for trout to move around and find better habitat, the better we do.”

Lower Green River Lake
Lower Green River Lake