Twenty of the West’s Leading Water Managers Raft Colorado’s Yampa River — Smithsonian

July 7, 2015
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Smithsonian.com (Heather Hansman):

We had come to the canyon that the Yampa carved through ancient Weber sandstone on a raft trip, to talk about the future of wild rivers, and rivers in general. Advocacy groups Friends of the Yampa and American Rivers decided that the best way to talk about water issues was on the water. So they pulled together 20 people who have been making decisions about water in Colorado, and in the West, for the past 30 years—the head of Denver Water, former Deputy Secretaries of the Interior, ranchers, power plant managers and environmentalists—and a few journalists like myself. They tempted them with the idea of running an untapped river, and then stuck everyone in boats for five days so they had to talk to each other.

The Yampa flows from the high country near Routt National Forest, past power plants and ranchlands, into Dinosaur National Monument where it joins the Green River at Echo Park. It hits the main stem of the Colorado just over the border in Utah. Even though it’s not dammed anywhere, it’s used by almost all the major groups who depend on river flows: farms, fish, cities, industry, recreation and power. The coal-fired Craig Power Plant is its major consumptive user. Endangered fish like the Colorado pikeminnow depend on its flow. Along the way it irrigates pasture lands and provides flows for kayakers. And, if it continues to run free—hence the flow-dependent bathtub ring—it can be a model for fish habitat and smart agricultural use…

On the river, as we floated through the folded geology of the canyon and stopped to scout rapids, we talked about those questions. At night, people pulled up chairs around the fire, cracked beers and tried to explain their priorities. We talked about risk management and sharing the burden of drought. The most heated topic was transmountain diversions of water across the Continental Divide, and how to avoid them.

The Yampa, and with it the state of Colorado, is a microcosm of river management. Colorado has to send almost half of the water that falls in the state downstream. To complicate things, the state’s water law is legally layered and hard to change. This spring, a bill that would allow Colorado residents to collect rainwater failed to pass, because it was argued that it could injure downstream water rights.

“It’s just like balancing a checkbook,” says Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Based on the last 16 years, nature has provided a flow of about 13 million acre feet of water at Lee’s Ferry [just below Glen Canyon Dam], and our estimate is that we’re using about 15 million. Since then, we’ve overused the system by 30 to 32 million acre feet, which we know because we’ve drawn down storage by that amount. We started with 50 million in the bank, now we have about 18. The system is heading for zero.”[…]

Water rights are also based on a use-it-or-lose-it principle of beneficial use. In theory, or maybe in the 1920s, that sounds good, because it implies that if you’re using a lot you must need a lot. But now it means that senior rights holders—corporations, irrigation districts, water departments and others with earlier and higher priority rights that get their share of water first—are unlikely to use less water than they’re allotted, for fear they’ll never get it back. It makes conservation unappealing, because by using less, you could be selling your security blanket down the river.

“Everybody is trying to pressure dreams from the past,” says Jay Gallagher, from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, after the boats were pulled up on the beach one day. “They want security for today and something left over for tomorrow. That’s the root of the emotion around water, the fear of losing it.”

That’s particularly true on the Yampa, which feels like the last of a dying breed. The Colorado itself has been so allocated that it no longer flows to the Pacific, and other western rivers, like the Dolores, in southern Colorado, are considered dead, because only a trickle flows past the dam. The Yampa is the only one that has remained untouched despite proposals to siphon off or dam up its flow.

Conservation across all facets of the water system, from farming to lawn watering, could stanch the bleeding, but it’s tricky to ask people who have a legal right to a certain amount of water to give it up. To change both perspective and use patterns, you have to make the greater good also good for the individual. Kuhn says that basically comes down to money—you have to make it financially smart for water users to conserve…

Kuhn is trying to outline the clearest ways to make conservation financially appealing. There is talk of setting up a water market, where willing sellers and buyers can trade water rights. “Those plans are moving at a snail’s pace, but the conversations are happening,” he says. People on the trip are also working together on smaller, creative projects. Blakeslee is fallowing parts of the ranch he manages to try to conserve, while American Rivers is working with ranchers to create manmade riffles—small rapids where fish can find food—on streams to build trout habitats without diverting any water.

On the Yampa, despite the disparate intentions, there was more teamwork than infighting. “Overall the average amount of water we recieve each year is still below our needs,” Kuhn says. “What we need to figure out how to do is live within our means.”

One evening on the banks of the river, Matt Rice, the director of American Rivers’ Colorado River Basin Program, brought out a bottle of beer he’d been saving. “It’s called ‘Collaboration Not Litigation,’” he said. “And I think we should all have some.”

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Springs, Walker settle for $7.1M — The Pueblo Chieftain

July 3, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs Utilities and Gary Walker have reached a $7.1 million settlement for the damage to Walker Ranches from the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

The pipeline crosses 5.5 miles of the 63,000-acre property on its route from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs. The $841 million SDS project is scheduled to go online next year and will supply water to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

On May 6, a jury awarded Walker $4.75 million, which included a $4.665 million judgment beyond the $82,900 stipulated value of the easement across Walker Ranches. Damages plus interest would have brought the total payment to $5.78 million, according to a joint press release.

Utilities disputed the amount, and filed an appeal on May 7. Walker Ranches appealed the decision on May 14. Those appeals were dismissed as part of the settlement reached June 16, but announced on Thursday.

The final agreement resolves all claims for $7.1 million, the press release said.

Utilities will also install fencing on Walker Ranches to prevent cattle from entering the area of the SDS pipeline scar that is being revegetated, and will work with Walker to erect berms on the property to reduce erosion.

The agreement also commits both parties to work together in the future to protect the right of way.

Utilities said the settlement provides more certainty about the ultimate cost of the project, reducing the possibility of an expensive appeals process.

“It has always been our intent when working with property owners to use the court process as a last resort,” John Fredell, SDS program director, said in the news release. “By successfully resolving these issues with Mr. Walker, we can focus on completing the required revegetation on his property and finishing the SDS project on time and under budget.”

Walker, when contacted by The Pueblo Chieftain , declined to comment because of the conditions of the settlement.

During the trial, Walker claimed the SDS project had compromised a $25 million conservation easement on 15,000 acres he was negotiating with the Nature Conservancy. He has used about $13 million from past easements to expand the ranches, which is part of a long-term plan to prevent further urban sprawl in northern Pueblo County.

Ray Petros, Pueblo County’s special counsel, said he has not seen the settlement agreement, so he is uncertain about how the county’s 1041 permit for SDS would be affected. The county is teeing up compliance hearings later this year on revegetation and Fountain Creek flood control, which are referenced in conditions that are part of the 1041 permit.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases from Crystal to be lowered to 2000 cfs #ColoradoRiver

July 2, 2015
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 3700 cfs to 2000 cfs between July 2nd and July 6th. Releases will be decreased by 200 cfs today, and then by 400 cfs each day over the next 3 days, with a final decrease of 300 cfs on the morning of July 6th. This reduction is in response to the continuing decline in runoff to the Aspinall Unit reservoirs. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is now 700,000 acre-feet which is 104% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 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 1500 cfs for July.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 2800 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


UGRWCD: Morrow Dam spilling — beautiful

June 25, 2015

(If the Tweet above does not display correctly use your browser refresh button. There are timing problems with content between WordPress and Twitter at times.)


Thank God we have a #colorado because we have a chance to have a snowpack above 8,000 feet — Greg Hobbs #martz2015

June 13, 2015
Greg Hobbs at the 2015 Martz Summer Conference (Of course there is a projected image of a map -- this one was the division of Colorado into water divisions heeding the advice of John Wesley Powell)

Greg Hobbs at the 2015 Martz Summer Conference (of course there is a projected image of a map — this one was the division of Colorado into water divisions heeding the advice of John Wesley Powell to organize by watershed)

(If the Tweet above does not display correctly use your browser refresh button. There are timing problems with content between WordPress and Twitter at times.)

In Colorado we have prior appropriation, the anti-speculation doctrine, and a long-lived and active water market, that have managed to keep the wolf at bay. Maximizing shareholder value is the wrong goal for the public’s water. Most water in Colorado is provided by local government entities.

Municipal use is a small part of the overall pie but large amounts of water are necessary for agriculture and the environment. You don’t want to squeeze either one too much. We’re not that good at forecasting the consequences of our engineering.

I asked Brad Udall if he thought the Colorado River Basin was in collapse. He said no, even in the worst case we should have 80% yield from the system. He said we have to use the water more wisely.

That is the definition of collapse: There is not enough water to stay status quo in the basin. This is at the same time that the environment requires that we undo some of our damage and share some water.

Click here to read my notes (Tweets) from the conference. (Scroll down to the bottom and read up from there. Tweets are published in reverse-chronological order.)


2015 Martz Summer Conference #martz2015

June 11, 2015

I’ll be live-Tweeting the 2015 Martz Summer Conference today @CoyoteGulch. I’ll try to keep up but it is a full agenda.

2015martzsummerconference


Granby: “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

May 29, 2015
Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

During the meeting, officials from the Upper Colorado River Basin’s biggest water interests including Northern Water, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spoke about some of the basin’s biggest issues, including the state of runoff and snowpack in the region and the movement at Ritschard Dam on Wolford Mountain Reservoir.

Though snowpack seemed to falter during what proved to be a rather dry March, it’s been building steadily over the last three to four weeks, explained Don Meyer with the Colorado River District.

The variations in snowpack have pushed the basin into “uncharted territory,” he said.

“I think the message here is think 2010 in terms of snowpack,” Meyer said.

Though he added that snowpack is not analogous to runoff, Meyer said 2015 “will likely eclipse 2010 in terms of stream flow.”

Victor Lee with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation echoed Meyer, adding that recent cold temperatures across the region have allowed snowpack to persist.

Though snowpack is currently below average, it could linger past the point at which the average snowpack tends to drop…

If the current snowpack does translate into high runoff in Grand County, there may not be anywhere to put it, Lee said.

Front Range reservoirs are full, and storage in Lake Granby is the highest it’s ever been for this time of year, according to Lee’s presentation…

Though it could be a good runoff year for Grand County, Meyer said that snow-water equivalent above Lake Powell is still well below average, making it a dry year for the Upper Colorado River Basin overall.

RITSCHARD DAM

Officials aren’t sure when the settling and movement at Ritschard Dam will stop, but it poses no threat to safety, said John Currier with the Colorado River District.

“We really are absolutely confident that we don’t have an imminent safety problem with this dam,” Currier said…

ENDANGERED FISH

The Bureau of Reclamation will increase flows from the Granby Dam to 1,500 CFS around May 29 and maintain those flows until around June 8, Lee said.

The releases will be part of an endangered fish recovery program and will be coordinated with releases from other basin reservoirs to enhance peak flows in the Grand Valley where the plan is focused.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir will also participate in the coordinated releases, Meyer said.

The program hopes to re-establish bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and humpback chub populations to a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River above Grand Junction.

WINDY GAP FIRMING

After receiving its Record of Decision last year, the Windy Gap Firming Project’s next major hurdle is acquiring a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, said Don Carlson with Northern Water.

The permit regulates dredged or fill material into water as part of the Clean Water Act.

Northern Water hopes to acquire the permit this year, with construction possibly beginning in 2016 or 2017, Carlson said.

The project seeks to firm up the Windy Gap water right with a new Front Range reservoir. The project currently stores water in Lake Granby.

Because it’s a junior water right, yield for the project is little to nothing in dry years.

Northern Water also hopes to establish a free-flowing channel of the Colorado River beside the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass Project.

The new channel would allow for fish migration and improve aquatic habitat along the Colorado River.

That project still needs $6 million of its projected $10 million cost.

MOFFAT TUNNEL FLOWS

Moffat Tunnel flows are hovering around 15 CFS as Denver Water is getting high yield from its Boulder Creek water right, said Bob Steger with Denver Water.

The increased yield from that junior water right means flows through Moffat Tunnel will remain low through early summer, Steger said.

“The point is we’ll be taking a lot less water than we normally do,” he said.

Denver Water expects its flows through the tunnel to increase in late summer as its yield from Boulder Creek drops, Steger said.

Williams Fork Reservoir, which is used to fulfill Denver Water’s obligations on the Western Slope, is expected to fill in three to four weeks, Steger said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,251 other followers

%d bloggers like this: