The Ouray County Water Users Association hopes to score $50,000 in grant dough for engineering #ColoradoRiver

May 17, 2015

Ouray

Ouray


From the Ouray County Plain Dealer (Sheridan Block):

Making an effort to be prepared for the state’s uncertain water future, Ouray County water users are taking necessary measures to protect their supply.

In a joint discussion on the state of local waters last month, local water user groups left with a general consensus of pursuing a water engineering analysis, which would analyze data for the Upper Uncompahgre Basin and ultimately provide options for solutions to future water needs.

The analysis is estimated to cost about $50,000, and last week county attorney and representative on the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Marti Whitmore, submitted a grant application for a joint project to the Roundtable.

“In talking with other people in the region, including people in the Colorado River District, everyone is supportive of such a widely supported and cooperative effort among many water users in Ouray County,” Whitmore told the Plaindealer. “This cooperative effort will benefit everybody. It’s a positive step in a positive direction and I’ve gotten a lot of favorable feedback.”

According to the grant application, the county (which for the project will also include the City of Ouray, Town of Ridgway, Ouray County Water Users Association and various Log Hill water user entities) is requesting $25,000 from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and $25,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

More Uncompaghre River watershed coverage here.


Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases increasing to meet Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 2,054 cfs

May 8, 2015
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Significant rainfall in the North Fork of the Gunnison basin has changed things considerably over the last 24 hours. What was predicted to be a 1,500 cfs peak at the Somerset gage turned into a 2,600 cfs peak last night, with over 4,000 cfs in the North Fork at the confluence gage. This resulted in flows reaching 5,800 cfs on the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage, above the peak flow target of 4,991 cfs.

Currently flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 1,050 cfs so release at Crystal Dam will continue to be increased in order to reach the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 2,054 cfs. The peak release for the Black Canyon Water Right will be maintained for 24 hours before releases are ramped down, starting late Saturday night, May 9th. The updated release schedule is shown below:

aspinallunitreleaseschedule0507thru05132015


Colorado: Water sharing a good deal for rivers

May 2, 2015

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

State water board, conservation group team up to create innovative new water rights agreement

By Bob Berwyn

Photos courtesy Colorado Water Trust

* Tools like the Little Cimarron agreement could be used to improve environmental conditions in many of the state’s rivers, and the evolving Colorado Water Plan can help identify places where deals like this could be used. Read more about the Colorado Water plan here.

FRISCO —For thousands of years, the Little Cimarron River trickled out of the snowfields of the San Juan Mountains, coursing unimpeded through steep alpine canyons and rolling sagebrush foothills before merging with the Gunnison River.

That changed when European settlers arrived in the region. Eager to tame the rugged land, ranchers and farmers took to the hills with shovels and picks, diverting part of the river’s flow to water hayfields and pastures. The back-breaking work brought the imprint of civilization to the area…

View original 990 more words


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 29, 2015
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 1150 cfs to 1250 cfs on Wednesday, April 29th at 9:00 AM. This release increase is in response to an increase in diversion to the Gunnison Tunnel. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 450,000 acre-feet which is 67% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for April and May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 800 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


‘Split season’ approach to water use could benefit state’s rivers, including the Crystal River — Aspen Journalism

April 28, 2015

littlecimarronriver2022cwt
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

An innovative deal put together by the Colorado Water Trust to leave more water in the Little Cimarron River, a heavily-diverted tributary of the Cimarron and Gunnison rivers east of Montrose, could serve as model solution to the low flows that often plague the Crystal River in late summer.

“Any new tool coming online that can help agriculture and the environment share water could be useful in the ongoing conversation about the Crystal River,” said Amy Beatie, the executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring streamflows in Colorado.

The “new tool” is a recognition that under current state law an irrigation water right can be changed to also include a late-season instream flow right, at least if the Colorado Water Conservation Board has an interest in the water right.

Under such a “split season” approach, water can be diverted as normal to, say, grow hay in June and July. But in August and September, when river levels typically drop, water normally diverted for irrigation can be left in the river.

In the case of the Little Cimarron River, it will allow 5.8 cubic feet per second of water to flow past a diversion headgate in late summer down nine miles of river, including 3.3 miles of the Little Cimarron normally left nearly dry.

Rick Lafaro, the executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, which is working to find solutions to low flows on the Crystal River, said he thought the Little Cimarron deal was “pretty exciting.”

And Beatie of the Water Trust said the concept has statewide application.

“If there is anybody who would be willing to forgo irrigation later in the irrigation season, and would be interested in a payment from us to do that, and then would allow us to take a water right through the water court process in order to protect it for instream flow, then it works anywhere in Colorado,” Beatie said.

But such arrangements can be complex.

“These water acquisitions all require a confluence of a lot of variables,” said Linda Bassi, the head of the CWCB’s instream flow program. “You have to find a water right that is available, and it has to be in a place where it will benefit a reach that needs water.”

ranchpropertylittlecimmaronrivercwcb

ranchalonglittlecimarronrivercwt

Streams dry from diversions

Sections of the lower Crystal River often run dry, or nearly so, in the late summer months, due in large part to a number of irrigation diversions on the river.

A similar situation has existed for years on the Little Cimarron River. It flows pristinely out of the Uncompahgre Wilderness but is often left nearly dry below the McKinley irrigation ditch.

In an effort to leave more water in the Little Cimarron below the McKinley Ditch, the Water Trust signed a contract on April 23 with the CWCB that allows for 5.8 cfs of water to be left in the stream in late summer.

“As a result, the Little Cimarron River is expected to remain a live stream during the irrigation season, and no longer experience dry-up conditions below headgates,” a memo prepared for the CWCB’s September 2014 board meeting states.

The memo also notes that the “split season use of the water is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river.”

The water left in the Little Cimarron will also benefit a reach of the main Cimarron River, which runs into the Gunnison River below Morrow Point Reservoir.

littlecimarronrivervicinitymapcwcb

Deal took years

The Colorado Water Trust has been working on the deal since 2008, when John Shephardson contacted the Trust about buying his water rights.

Shephardson had subdivided his scenic 214-acre ranch along the Little Cimarron into 35-acre parcels and wanted sell the land and the associated water rights.

Shephardson owned 1.5 shares, or 18.75 percent, of the shares in the McKinley Ditch. His shares gave him the right to use 5.8 cfs of water to irrigate 194.5 acres of land, where he grew hay and raised cattle.

The McKinley Ditch as a whole has rights, with appropriation dates ranging from 1886 to 1912, to divert up to 31 cfs of water from the Little Cimarron to irrigate 947 acres of land.

Shephardson was ultimately not successful in developing his property and Montrose Bank foreclosed on it.

In 2012 Western Rivers Conservancy, which buys land to help preserve rivers, purchased both the property and the water rights from Montrose Bank.

In January 2014 the Water Trust bought the 5.8 cfs of water rights from the Conservancy for $500,000.

In September 2014 the CWCB board agreed to purchase a permanent “grant of flow restoration use” from the Water Trust for $145,640. The CWCB is the only entity under state law that can hold an instream flow right.

The state’s purchase price was based on an estimate of the loss of agricultural revenues that would come by leaving the water in the river in late summer.

“We’re purchasing a right to use the water that would have been used to produce a second cutting of hay,” said the CWCB’s Bassi.

littlecimarronrivercwt

The water court process

On Dec. 31, 2014 the CWCB and the Water Trust filed an application in Div. 4 Water Court in Montrose to change their water rights on the McKinley Ditch to add an instream flow right.

To date, only two statements of opposition have been filed in the water court case, and both are from neighboring landowners (David Taylor, Wayne Mauer) making sure their water rights are not injured by the change of use, said Beatie of the Water Trust, who believes the water court process will go smoothly.

Beatie said no part of Colorado water law needs to be changed to make the deal happen.

“All we’re doing is transferring a water right to instream flow purposes and making sure in our application that there isn’t injury to other water users,” Beatie said. “We took a customary transfer process and applied it to the outcome that we wanted, which was partial irrigation and partial flow restoration.”

Bassi, of the CWCB, said that creating a “split-season” use of water for both irrigation and instream flow has long been possible under Colorado water law, but such a use just hasn’t been applied for until now.

“This is the first time we’ve done it and we’re hoping it will create a template for more partnerships with agriculture and environmental interests,” Bassi said.

James Eklund, director of the CWCB, says the effort on the Little Cimarron is evidence of a “mindset shift” he’s seeing among irrigators, environmentalists and water regulators in the state.

“The idea that you can use a split-season concept exemplifies the potential for people to get over the perception that a water right can only be used for one thing,” Eklund said. “It is representative of a very big change that I think we’re going to need to see more and more of going forward.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published this story on Monday, April 27, 2014.

More instream flow coverage here.


“This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work” — Amy Beatie

April 26, 2015
Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

[The Colorado Water Trust] has collaborated with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to restore late summer flows to a 5-mile stretch of the Little Cimarron River in the Gunnison River Basin by sharing an agricultural water right.

Water Trust Executive Director Amy Beatie told Steamboat Today this week the agreement is the first of its kind, allowing agricultural water rights holders to use their water to raise a crop in early summer and then choose to be compensated for leaving it in the river in late summer and early fall. Compensation can be in the form of a lease or sale. It’s a model they hope to see replicated around the state.

“How to meet the ecological needs of streams while keeping water in agriculture is a discussion happening at every level of water policy in the state,” Beatie said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Agriculture is an essential part of Colorado’s economy. So are recreation and the environment. This project is a great new example of how water sharing can work on the ground within the state’s existing laws to bring together what are usually seen as incompatible uses.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Linda Bassi/Amy Beatie):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board (“CWCB”) and the Colorado Water Trust (“CWT”) today finalized an innovative agreement under which the same water rights will be used to both restore stream flows and preserve agriculture in the Gunnison Basin.

The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold instream flow water rights to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Under its Water Acquisition Program, the CWCB can acquire water from willing water rights owners by donation, purchase, lease or other arrangement to include in Colorado’s Instream Flow Program. The CWCB and CWT partnership has resulted in many significant water acquisitions for instream flow use.

Under the agreement, up to 5 cubic feet per second of water that was historically diverted by the McKinley Ditch out of the Little Cimarron River (a tributary to the Cimarron River and Gunnison River in Gunnison and Montrose counties) will continue to be diverted and applied to the historically irrigated ranch until mid-summer. At that time, the water will be left in the river for instream flow use by the CWCB on a reach of the Little Cimarron River that historically saw low to no flows due to water rights diversions, as well as on the Cimarron River.

“Our rivers and our farms are at the heart of what makes Colorado so special,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “This agreement is a model for future agriculture and conservation partnerships.”

The Little Cimarron River originates in the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area and is managed as a wild trout stream by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for several miles above the area where agricultural uses have occurred for more than 100 years. Restoring flows in the Little Cimarron will re-establish habitat connectivity, an important component of a healthy river.

“This permanent, split use of an instream flow is distinctive because it acknowledges and preserves the value of irrigated agriculture as well as the value of restoring flow to a local river,” said Linda Bassi, chief of the stream and lake protection section at CWCB.

Additional information on the CWCB’s Water Acquisition Program is available on the CWCB web site: http://cwcb.state.co.us/StreamAndLake/WaterAcquisitions/

More instream flow coverage here.


Aspinall Unit operations meeting Thursday #ColoradoRiver

April 21, 2015
Aspinall Unit dams

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Unit Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, April 23rd, at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction, starting at 1 PM.

The address of the WCAO is 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite #221

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


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