Aspinall Unit Spring 2016 forecast #ColoradoRiver

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The February 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 640,000 acre-feet. This is 95% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently 110% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 582,000 acre-feet which is 70% of full. Current elevation is 7490.1 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 640,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be equal to 5,102 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 515 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 640,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Average Dry. Under an Average Dry year the peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.

Projected Spring Operations

During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7517.5 feet with an approximate peak content of 812,000 acre-feet.

#COWaterPlan: The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference, January 20

Ridgway via AllTelluride.com
Ridgway via AllTelluride.com

From The Montrose Daily Press (Devin O’Brien):

The Shavano Conservation District will provide an opportunity for area residents to slake their thirst for information about the Colorado Water Plan and water management.

The Irrigation and Water Efficiency Conference will address the recently adopted plan as well as management methods, Colorado water law, funding for irrigation improvements and wildlife habitat, according to a press release. Shavano Conservation District President Ken Lipton said information about the future of water use in Colorado is applicable to those whose interest is agricultural, environmental or otherwise.

“It’s important that every citizen understands the Colorado Water Plan,” Lipton said. “It’ll affect everyone.”

One of the areas the conference will cover will be small acreage management, which, according to Lipton, is growing in popularity in Montrose and Ouray counties.

John Rizza, a Small Acreage Management Specialist, is one of the speakers at the event. Water rotation among small farms and crops able to withstand drought are among the subjects he will address.

Oftentimes small acreage farms are formed by dividing land from a larger farm. In terms of water, this means a source is being used by multiple people for the first time, according to Rizza. Communication with other landowners is necessary to ensure a water source isn’t compromised through multiple people watering their fields on the same day. This is especially important in areas prone to droughts.

Another method of small acreage water management comes in the form of the perennial farm system. Perennial crops, such as the feed crops of Needle and Thread, Blue Grama, Indiana Rice Grass and Wheatgrass, are able to adapt to waterless conditions by hibernating. What results is a crop that is able to thrive until precipitation returns to an area.

“They can handle a little bit of drought and still produce a well for landowners,” Rizza said…

Other speakers include Special Policy Advisor to the Governor for Water John Stulp and former Division Four Water Court Referee Aaron Clay.

The conference is sponsored by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resource Conservation Service in addition to the Shavano Conservation District…

The event will be 2 p.m. Wednesday Jan. 20 at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP by calling (970) 249-8407, or emailing mendystewart@co.nacdnet.net

Crested Butte Outdoor Irrigation Improvements through Community Collaboration are a Model for the Region — Jorge Figueroa

From the Western Resource Advocates blog (Jorge Figueroa):

A recent voluntary effort in the Town of Crested Butte to improve water use is a great example of a community taking steps to protect its creeks and rivers.

While there can be controversial issues related to water management, water efficiency is one of the solutions where many community members can find common ground. A recent voluntary effort in the Town of Crested Butte to improve water use is a great example of a community taking steps to protect its creeks and rivers.

In October, the Town of Crested Butte, High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), and Western Resource Advocates (WRA) collaborated to replace an open ditch from 6th to 7th Street in town (called the McCormick Ditch) with a pipe. The ditch takes water from Coal Creek to be used for various community irrigation uses, including irrigating the local Gothic Ball Field. Piping the unlined open air ditch reduces water loss to seepage, evaporation, and water-sucking weeds. This in turn reduces the amount of water being diverted out of the creek, leaving more water in the creek for fish and wildlife. In addition, piping the ditch makes maintenance easier and cheaper for the town, lowers the occurrence of blockages caused by flooding, and makes it safer for children playing in the vicinity.

This 6th to 7th Street piping project is part of a larger effort by the Town of Crested Butte to improve water efficiency along the entire McCormick Ditch and in town irrigation systems.

In August the Crested Butte Parks and Recreation Department also partnered with WRA and the Center for Resource Conservation to complete a comprehensive audit of the Town’s outdoor irrigation systems to maximize irrigation efficiency once water reaches irrigated parks. The assessment found irrigation systems to be in overall good condition and identified minor retrofit improvements.

HCCA and WRA staff helped secure grant funding from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District for the 6th to 7th Street McCormick Ditch piping project. WRA also provided funding for the water audit of the Town park system, and for the irrigation retrofit improvements recommended in the audit. The willingness of the Town of Crested Butte to champion water efficiency and work with local organizations is a model for other communities – showing how efficiency investments meet community needs while also helping keep more water in creeks and rivers to support fish, wildlife and recreation. It’s not just the technical efficiency that is important to highlight, but how conservationists, local government, water conservancy districts, and other community stakeholders can voluntarily collaborate on projects benefiting everyone.

HCCA and WRA commend the Town of Crested Butte on these voluntary efforts to improve water use and look forward to future partnerships throughout the region.

Crested Butte
Crested Butte

Registration now open for the 4th Annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum

View along Main Street in early Montrose (between 1905 and 1915). Shows a horse-drawn carriage, bicycles, and two men talking. Signs include: "The Humphries  Mercantile Co. Dry Goods, Clothing, Hats & Shoes" "Montrose National Bank" and C. J. Getz, Pharmacist, Druggist." via http://photoswest.org
View along Main Street in early Montrose (between 1905 and 1915). Shows a horse-drawn carriage, bicycles, and two men talking. Signs include: “The Humphries
Mercantile Co. Dry Goods, Clothing, Hats & Shoes” “Montrose National Bank” and C. J. Getz, Pharmacist, Druggist.” via http://photoswest.org

Click here to register for the forum. From the Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum website:

The conference has a wide array of breakout sessions which convey vital, regionally specific agricultural information in areas including maximizing crop and livestock production, innovative agricultural marketing and management strategies, and specialty crops. Please join us in improving the sustainable production, marketing and consumption of local food.

The conference is for anyone with an interest in the future of agriculture, including: ranchers, farmers, gardeners, students, and ag professionals. Whether you’re looking to improve or innovate on your existing practices, the forum has myriad resources and networking opportunities.

Upper #ColoradoRiver Endangered Fish Recovery Program update

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

From KUNC (Laura Palmisano):

It all started in 1988 when the federal government signed an agreement with Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, establishing what’s called the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Endangered fish at various stages of development can be found at the Colorado River Fishery Project, a national fish hatchery in Grand Junction, Colorado. Right now, the hatchery is home to two species, the endangered razorback sucker and the bonytail.

“Back when I first started, pikeminnow were probably doing better,” said Dale Ryden, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “There were more big fish throughout the [Colorado River] basin. I had worked here for four years before I ever saw a razorback sucker out of the wild. They just weren’t around anymore. Same thing with bonytail. Bonytail were extremely, extremely rare.”

The recovery program includes federal and state agencies, environmentalists, hydropower associations and water user groups. Unlike some efforts to conserve other species, it hasn’t involved litigation.

“Working toward the same goal of recovering the fish, while allowing water development to continue… those two at first blush don’t seem to go together,” Ryden said. “But they actually work together very well.”

Just to the south of town on the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado, sits a diversion dam built in the early 1900s. It blocked fish from traveling upstream for nearly 100 years, until Ryden said, they put a fish ladder on the dam.

“It goes up and around the Redlands Dam and provides upstream fish passage for native and endangered fish.”

The ladder is a selective passage. Biologists use it to trap fish traveling upstream. Then they hand-sort them so only native fish can continue up the Gunnison River. Two similar ladders have been installed along the Colorado and another is in the works on the Green River in Utah.

Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF
Fish ladder at the Redlands diversion dam via KVNF

The ladders might help fish get to their upstream habitats, but water levels also matter.

Brent Uilenburg with the Bureau of Reclamation said there is some recognition that “the dams and canals we operate that take water out of the Colorado River Basin have contributed to the decline of the species.”[…]

The bureau is also the largest single source of funding for the conservation program. States, water developers, and hydropower associations also contribute, totaling more than $350 million over the past 25 years.

That funding helped the Grand Valley Water Users Association in Grand Junction optimize its system. Before, said Kevin Conrad, the association’s operations manager, they diverted more water than necessary.

“Whatever they weren’t using, it went out through spillways on the canal back to the river, but it was below a point where the fish couldn’t benefit from it.”

Conrad said the upgrades also help conserve water and keep it in place for the fish.

The ultimate goal of the recovery program is to remove the fish from the endangered species list. Biologist Dale Ryden said habitat restoration, water flow improvements, hatchery programs, and invasive fish removal are helping the fish rebound.

“Probably the biggest star in terms of recovery prospects is the razorback sucker,” said Ryden. “Bonytail are really doing much better with the really robust stocking program.”

Humpback chub seem stable, but Ryden said questions remain about the Colorado pikeminnow.

This story comes from ‘Connecting the Drops’ – a collaboration between Rocky Mountain Community Radio and the Colorado Foundation for Water Education. Find out more at http://cfwe.org.

Mt. Emmons treatment plant deal in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

In what has been described as a “serendipitous” and “interconnected” moment, there could be real headway in a permanent solution to the Mt. Emmons water treatment plant and overall molybdenum mine situation.

While very preliminary, the signals are good that this new path with new players, in part spurred by last summer’s dramatic Gold King Mine release into the Animas River, could bring about substantial changes to the Red Lady situation.

Gunnison County, the town of Crested Butte, several departments in the state, mining giant Freeport-McMoRan and U.S. Energy, the company with rights to the local molybdenum deposit, appear to be headed toward a collaborative deal to upgrade and permanently fund the water treatment plant on Coal Creek and address the idea of a potential mine.

This most recent chapter in a very long story started late last August when the county and the town sent a letter to the state and feds expressing serious concern over U.S. Energy’s ability to maintain the water treatment plant, especially if an accident occurred at the plant. U.S. Energy had been taking a giant financial hit with the decrease in energy prices and it has only gotten worse, with its stock selling this week for under 30 cents a share.

The two local governments sent a letter saying that the environmental and human health consequences of any release of untreated mine drainage are beyond the governments’ response capacity. They asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Division to reopen a permit renewal process for the mine’s discharge permit, which regulates the water treatment plant.

Several state agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the State Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, set up a meeting in October. Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin, Gunnison County attorney David Baumgarten and special counsel for the town, Barbara Green, met with them to discuss concerns about U.S. Energy and its financial ability to continue operating the plant. By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.

Shortly after that, Freeport-McMoRan, a renowned international copper, gold and molybdenum miner that operates the Climax and Henderson moly mines in Colorado, also came into the picture. While it never had an interest in the molybdenum beneath Mt. Emmons, the company bought Phelps Dodge in 2007. That mining corporation had acquired the company that originally built the water treatment plant. Freeport in essence became tied to the site through a connection of mergers and acquisitions.

Watering the West: How pioneers built local towns through irrigation — The Watch

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

From The Watch (Regan Tuttle):

Telluride’s early days, survival depended dearly on water. The enterprises that built the region — farming, ranching and mining — required irrigation from rivers, and lots of it. Of course, water becomes scarcer the farther one moves from the mountains or from the San Miguel River.

For the pioneers, creating an infrastructure that could sustain them in the short term and withstand the march of progress was no easy task. Suffering cold conditions, subsisting on biscuits and beans, laboring with shovels, axes and other hand tools, pioneers worked to channel water from its source to where they needed it.
Back then, this was legal. Just decades ago, as the old-timers established our local towns, “Water could be diverted from the stream, and ditches built across public and private land to convey water to its place of beneficial use,” the Colorado Foundation for Water Education reported.

“In a dry and thirsty land it is necessary to divert the waters of the streams from their natural channels,” Colorado Chief Justice Moses Hallet said in the late 1800s.

Telluride

During Telluride’s early days, water was hauled from the San Miguel River and from springs on the east side of town. Wilson Rockwell said in his book “Uncompahgre Country” that a man named Dutch George in the late 1800s delivered five-gallon buckets of water from the spring at Cornet Creek to saloons and businesses on what is now Colorado Avenue for 10 cents each, two buckets at a time, balanced by a yoke around his neck.

When attorney L.L. Nunn needed water for his commercial bathhouse on the east end, he ran a garden hose from Cornet Falls. Later, in 1886, H. H. Corbin constructed a 370-foot vertical pipeline that transported water from Cornet Creek into town.

Though people then said it couldn’t be done, high pressure water was flumed from Trout Lake to help establish the Ames power plant, and later the Ilium plant, that would put Telluride on the map as the first city in the world to be powered by alternating electric current. Of course, the purpose was to support the mining industry.

Nucla

For some, creating access to water was more difficult. The Town of Nucla, formerly Tabeguache Park, was founded by a socialist organization whose members wanted to escape their greedy landlords in Denver. By accident, they discovered the location that provided everything they desired: mild winters, ample sunlight, virgin soil — but no water.

Called the Colorado Cooperative Company, the members, or comrades, set up camp in the late 1800s in what became the second largest city in Montrose County to bring water to the homesteads for which they’d filed claims.
They were told their task was impossible.

“I believe [that] actually helped build the ditch. When you are told you can’t, you’ll bust a tug to do it,” Leonard F. Zatterstrom said in a memoir published in Marie Templeton’s book “The Visionaries.”

The Colorado Cooperative Company constructed a 17-mile-long wooden flume, called the CC Ditch, built along the wall of the San Miguel River canyon. David Lavender in “One Man’s West” writes that those who worked on the ditch were compensated by “credit at the commissary for food and supplies, plus water credits toward the purchase of ditch rights. The canal succeeded, and several prosperous farms sprang up.”

People like Zatterstrom worked eight-hour days building the flume, sleeping in the bunkhouse, buying their food through the company store and receiving rations of milk from the cooperative’s dairy cows.

Nucla was born when the project was completed in 1904, and “Piñon became a ghost town practically overnight,” Zatterstrom said.

But the hard work didn’t pay off for everyone. Mary Rogers was a 9-year old girl during the CC Ditch project. Because both her parents died, she went to live with her grandmother and uncles, the Heinemans, who worked on the CC Ditch. Like others, the German family came to Piñon in search of a better life, and hoped to one day own a farm.

“My mother worked in the garden and did dishes,” Norma McKeever, now 88, said. According to her, the conditions were not pleasant, especially in the winter. Rogers said the food was terrible, just biscuits and beans at the camp’s boardinghouse in the cold season. But it was worth it to the family. They’d filed a homestead claim with hopes that when the CC Ditch was done, they’d have irrigation water and could build a life.

Rogers was in her teens by the time the CC Ditch was completed. But the water didn’t reach the Heineman’s farm in 1904. The majority of the CC Ditch workers had accomplished what they’d needed for their own homesteads, and they weren’t willing to extend the project. What can you do with a farm that has no water?

Grandmother Heineman went to work as a washerwoman and housekeeper for those who owned prosperous farms. Mary Rogers got a job at the Western Hotel in Norwood. One of her uncles moved to Nevada and never came back.

McKeever said the Heinemans, buried in the pauper site at Nucla Cemetery, weren’t the only ones to feel cheated out of their homestead dreams.

Though socialism failed, the town has not. Water still serves Nucla to this day, though the wooden flume has mostly been replaced by more practical means. The town celebrates the water victory every July with their Water Days celebration.

Norwood

Wilson Barrett of Redvale is the ditch rider — the patroller or inspector — for the waterway that is the lifeblood of Norwood, the Gurley Ditch. He is the only employee of Farmer’s Water Development, the stock company that “owns” the Gurley and divides its shares of water. But nobody really owns the water in Colorado, he said, just the rights to use it. According to him, life in Norwood wouldn’t be possible for anyone if the old-timers hadn’t dug the ditch.

In the late 1800s, when pioneers began settling Wrights Mesa, Rockwell said Ed Joseph — of the Joseph family, one of the first to settle the area — began construction of a reservoir east of the Lone Cone in the high country.

Some people disagree as to who later built the Gurley Ditch and finished the reservoir above it. Barrett said it was Naturita Land and Cattle Company. Regardless, whatever company worked on the project went bankrupt. One of the owners in that outfit was named Charles Gorley. Over time, the spelling of “Gorley” evolved into “Gurley,” which is used today.

To avoid losing the rights to use their water, local farmers and ranchers on the mesa decided to purchase the floundering company, buying it out of bankruptcy, and then established Farmer’s Water Development.

Now irrigation water runs from the dam through Beaver Park and to Wrights Mesa, mostly for agricultural purposes, but a small percentage is used for domestic water in town.

Barrett’s great uncle, Gordon Barrett, was one of the first workers to help dig the Gurley.

“They came in 1914, and they worked on the ditch in the fall. If you worked in the fall, you could get shares in the company,” Barrett said. “He was nominated to work on the ditch as part of the family so they could get more water.”

Recently, going through old paperwork, Barrett found one of the original invoices for equipment. He discovered a purchase order, sandwiched between old papers, for picks, boxes of dynamite, shovels and other tools that made the Gurley.

Without the ditch, Barrett said, Norwood would not have survived.

Ridgway

Most people probably don’t know that Ridgway almost didn’t survive. Years ago, in the 1960s, there were plans for a dam to be constructed just north of where Ridgway now sits. Had the original plans been executed, Ridgway would now be under water.

Some refer to it as “the town that refused to die,” and Ridgway lucked out when officials in the 1970s decided to move the dam farther north. Now, the Ridgway Reservoir, constructed in the late ‘80s, covers what was the old ghost town of Dallas.

Though Ridgway is situated on the Uncompahgre River, that stream is not the town’s source of water. Sometimes running yellow or orange, the Uncompahgre is known as a “dirty river” due to the minerals it contains. The town of Ridgway sourced its water in the late 1800s from Hartwell Lake, now Lake Otonowanda, below Mount Sneffels.

Ridgway completed a major expansion of its reservoir last summer.

Today

Today, being on town water is a luxury most people probably don’t think much about. While just 100 years ago we were hauling water and digging ditches through the local mountains, most folks now just turn on the tap. Our pioneers have made it possible for us to have access to water even in places where water didn’t naturally occur.

Those who live further out in the country have other water issues, and real estate in many parts of Colorado becomes complicated when water rights enter the picture. Sometimes water rights are a part of landownership; sometimes they’re not. Water is overseen by water commissions and boards in various regions.

These days, one cannot simply dig a diversion ditch from an existing stream or take water from a manmade ditch. Now, water projects involve planning, permits, engineering work and financing. The Colorado Doctrine, a set of laws pertaining to water use and landownership, has been in place since the 1860s.

Some producers, especially the new farmers without water rights, have trouble wrapping their heads around the laws.

Last July Leila Seraphin, formerly of California, bought a property in Norwood that the Gurley Ditch runs through. She said she wishes she could use some of that water for her own farming and gardening, but she knows it’s against the law.

“We were told right when we moved here water was a big issue and taking from the Gurley was not allowed, and that all the water was owned,” she said.

Building a life as a new producer on Wrights Mesa, she has learned a lot about where her water comes from.

“It’s hard to imagine water being free to use, as every drop has a price tag,” she said.

Barrett said people living in this region should be grateful for their water.

“The water we have — 99 percent of it was done with a shovel and a pick. Without the pioneers, there would be nobody here,” he said.

He believes that is especially true for Wrights Mesa, as he said that before the Gurley ditch, life didn’t exist in Norwood.

“The early homesteaders had to go clear into the San Miguel River or into Naturita Creek with wagons and barrels to haul it to have any water at all,” he said. “I’d say for most people [this] is new information.”

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south