Snowpack/runoff news: McPhee spill looking iffy

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From the Cortez Journal (Shannon Livick):

“If there is going to be a spill, it is going to be small and short,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District. The Dolores River peaked at 2,530 cubic feet per second Monday and then dropped to about 1,810 cfs Tuesday along with the cold weather. McPhee Reservoir was at an elevation of 6,917 feet Wednesday. When full, the lake is 6,924 feet. In the 24 hours previous, the lake rose about 8 inches. So if there is a spill, so that rafters and kayakers can enjoy the Lower Dolores, it will be within a week or so, but only if the weather cooperates. “It really depends on the temperature,” Preston said. “And the wind, too.” Wind blows snow up in the air, and the snow evaporates, Preston said. Wind also creates a dust layer over the snow that can make it melt faster…

Preston said he hopes, if there is a spill this year, to be able to give community members 48 hours notice so they can plan any rafting trips accordingly. To keep tabs on this, go to and click on “releases” to the left of the page. If the cool weather continues and irrigation use goes up, there likely won’t be a spill…

Last year, there was a 10-day spill with an average flow of 1,400 cfs. On Wednesday, the Lower Dolores was running at about 60 cfs.

From The Summit County Voice (Bob Berwyn):

[Blue River Basin water commissioner Scott Hummer] said the snowpack at lower elevations is going fast, with automated SNOTEL sites in the Blue River Basin reading 69.5 percent of average basin-wide. Above Dillon Reservoir, the snowpack is about 77 percent of average, but a station at Summit Ranch, in the Lower Blue, is only reading at 4 percent of the historic average. Streamflows in the basin are also below average because of the cool weather, Hummer said, adding that there is very little chance of runoff flooding this year. But as always, flash flooding can become a concern if there is a big rain event while streams are running high. Despite the low snowpack, reservoir storage in Summit County and across the state is higher than average, so Hummer is not expecting any severe shortages this summer. Right now, most of the water from the Blue River Basin is being captured for storage in Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, which should help bring both the reservoirs up to optimum levels for recreation as the summer boating season approaches…

Ron Thommason, of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, explained how Green Mountain Reservoir fits into the overall water management scenario in Colorado. “When we divert water out of Granby and Willow Creek … we offset the amount with water from Green Mountain Reservoir,” Thommason said, adding that one-third of the water in Green Mountain is set aside for that purpose. Green Mountain was built specifically as a storage bucket to help water managers meet all the diverse needs at the right time, including irrigation and domestic use, and even upstream snowmaking at Summit County’s ski areas. Some of the reservoir’s water is also used to enhance habitat for the Colorado River’s endangered fish in what’s known as the 15-mile reach near Grand Junction, he said…

We’re getting close to where we need to be for me to feel comfortable releasing a little extra water from Green Mountain,” he said. “We’ve got another couple of weeks to see what happens … For the near term, we’re going to be releasing about 100 cubic feet per second from Green Mountain,” he said, adding that outflows will likely be ramped up as runoff increases. “We’re going to plan on filling the reservoir by the end of June. I usually aim for July 4,” he said. After that, a gradual draw-down begins. By the end of the fishing season in late October, the reservoir will have dropped by 45 feet, he concluded…

Denver Water’s Bob Steger said he’s confident that Dillon Reservoir will fill this spring. Six of Denver Water’s 10 major reservoirs are already full, Steger said. “They’re all going to fill, that’s the good news.” Water levels in Dillon Reservoir already are high enough to allow full marina operations as soon as the ice melts, Steger said, adding that it should be great year for flat-water recreation on the reservoir.

Conditions for rafting and kayaking below Dillon Reservoir are still weather-dependent, Steger said. “If things dry out, we’ll start spilling sooner,” he said. If the weather is dry the next few months, there will only be a window of a few weeks with raftable flows in the Lower Blue, he said. If the weather is wet from now on, the rafting season could be extended by several weeks, he said, explaining how Denver Water tries to balance various factors, including optimum flows for fishing, protecting Silverhorne from potential flooding and making sure storage in Dillon Reservoir stays at an optimum level.

Bureau of Reclamation: Rural water program funding opportunity now available

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Here’s the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of the funding opportunity announcement for the Rural Water Supply Program to assess their potable water supply needs and identify options to address those needs. The grant announcement is available on using funding opportunity number R10SF80458.

Reclamation will make at least $2 million available for conducting appraisal investigations and feasibility studies through grants and cooperative agreements. For this fiscal year, Reclamation anticipates awarding grants to initiate one or two feasibility studies and five to eight appraisal investigations.

Eligible applicants include states and political subdivisions of states, such as departments, agencies, municipalities, counties, and other regional or local authorities, Indian tribes or tribal organizations, and entities created under state law that have water management or water delivery authority such as irrigation or water districts, canal companies and any combination of the entities listed above.

Reclamation’s work with the selected entities is on a cost-shared basis. For an appraisal study, Reclamation will pay 100-percent up to $200,000 and 50-percent for all costs above that amount. Funding for feasibility studies is cost-shared with Reclamation paying 50-percent of the cost to complete the study. The non-Federal cost-share may be provided in the form of money or in-kind services that Reclamation determines are necessary and reasonable for the conduct and completion of the investigation or study.

A statement of interest is due by May 28, 2010, at 4 P.M. M.D.T., and if it is determined that you meet the eligibility and prioritization criteria, full proposals are due by July 13, 2010, at 4 P.M. M.D.T.

To learn more about Reclamation’s Rural Water Program and this Funding Opportunity Announcement please visit

More Reclamation coverage here.

Beaver numbers are up across the Rockies

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Julie Sutor):

By the mid 1800s, American beavers were on the brink of being wiped out, and their salvation and eventual recovery hinged on the whims of fashion: In the 1840s, silk top hats replaced beaver-felt hat as the must-have headwear. By the 1870s, beaver populations began to slowly rebound in Colorado. However, their return was slowed by mining and agriculture, which infringed on their habitat and diverted and polluted their waters. “Beavers have always had a tough time in Colorado, whether from trapping for their pelts or from development,” said Randy Hampton of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In the last 50 years, as environmental regulations improved water quality and habitat, beavers at last staged their comeback in the Rockies. “Beavers have responded fairly well, and now they’re found pretty much everywhere around the state where there’s water,” Hampton said.

Beavers are a keystone species, meaning that their presence will dictate the overall health of their ecosystem. Their incessant activity in creating dams along streams and rivers fundamentally alters riparian areas, leading to the formation of pools, ponds, wetlands and meadows, which all serve as habitat for other species, including fish, plantlife, amphibians, deer and other wildlife on up the food chain. Without beavers, fish lose important breeding and spawning areas, as waters run too cold and fast for reproductive activity. That impact to fish then cascades throughout the entire ecosystem. “Beavers do more to shape their landscape than any other mammal except for human beings,” [Alice Outwater] wrote.

More conservation coverage here.

Mesa County: Residential irrigation workshops May 18, May 20 and June 8

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Curtis Swift):

We will be conducting a workshop on May 18 from 9 to noon at the First Congregational Church at 5th and Kennedy designed to teach you how to identify and correct sprinkler system problems. Low head drainage, spacing of sprinklers, using the correct nozzles, correcting the arc and throw, replacing heads and correcting broken pipes will all be covered. You can register by calling 244-1834. Registering will ensure we have adequate handouts and staff available for the workshop. You can either pay the $5 per person registration fee at the CSU Extension office at the Mesa County Fairgrounds or when you show up at the workshop.

On May 20, we will be doing a workshop at Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta for those who want to learn how to properly water their lawns. You will learn how to determine the water pressure at critical locations in your system, and how to determine the proper irrigation schedule for each month of the season for each sprinkler zone in your system. We will conduct an audit of a sprinkler zone so you will know how to audit your own lawn. This session will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 at the Rec Center. Preregister is through the Delta CSU Extension office on Dodge Street – 874-2195. A $5 registration fee is being charged for this session.

An even longer and more in-depth session on how to audit your lawn will be held in Grand Junction on Tuesday, June 8 at the Sagebrush Room at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. We’ll start at 9 a.m., break for lunch between noon and one and continue until 3. If you install sprinklers, work for a municipality, school district, college or other agency and are responsible for sprinkler system maintenance and scheduling or simply want to learn more about how to conduct irrigation audits and develop a watering schedule this is the session you should attend. We will show you how to audit your system to determine water application rate and efficiency and how to use that data so ensure your lawn receives the proper amount of water for each month of the season. We will provide everyone who attends this session a CD containing a program you can use to develop a watering schedule based on an audit. The June 8 session will cost $10 to attend. Please register by calling the CSU Extension office in Grand Junction at 244-1834. Irrigation audit kits will be available for rent at the CSU Extension offices in Grand Junction, Delta and Montrose for those who want to conduct lawn irrigation audits.

If you are interested in learning more about drip irrigation we will be conducting a workshop on this topic at Pioneer Village in Cedaredge on Saturday May 29, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While this session may not take all this time, I want to ensure we cover everyone’s questions. We will cover the different types of drip tubing and which one should be used based on soil texture. How to determine the water holding capacity of the soil, how much water plants use and how often and how long the system should be run will be covered. We will be testing several different types of drip systems to determine pressure needs, filtration requirements, emitter spacing and flow rates and spacing between drip lines. For our hands-on exercise we will design and install a drip system in one of the flower beds at the village. A $10 per person registration fee is being charged for this session. We will take time out for lunch. You may want to bring your own lunch or eat at one of the local eateries. I would appreciate it if you would register for this session by calling the Delta Extension office at 874-2915. Paying ahead of time is preferred but you can always pay the fee when you arrive at the site.

More Mesa County coverage here.

Gunnison high flow regime through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park update

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Remember trout have dealt with high water for millennia. They probably don’t like high flows, preferring to minimize energy spent and maximize calories gained, but they still need to eat. The flows wash more feed into the stream, which can make terrestrial insect patterns more effective for fly anglers. The faster water and the debris carried along also tend to dislodge aquatic insects, and on the Gunnison that means tossing a large nymph, especially something resembling a large stonefly nymph, during high water.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: The San Luis Valley Irrigation District is looking at a hydroelectric retrofit for Rio Grande Reservoir

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From The Mineral County Miner:

“We wanted to ask the basic questions first,” Irrigation District Superintendent Travis Smith told the Rio Grande Interbasin Roundtable on Tuesday. He said the results of two previous hydro feasibility studies completed on the reservoir in the last 40 years showed that hydro would not pay for itself without reservoir repair and other changes…

Technical Consultant Kelly DiNatale discussed the hydropower feasibility analysis performed so far. He looked at the potential for generating 500 kilowatts and 2 megawatts . The 500 KW hydro generation would supply enough power for the local area through the existing transmission line while 2 MW would provide for local needs plus power that could be exported via Rural Electric Cooperative, DiNatale said. He said the Rio Grande Reservoir has about 90 feet of net head to work with when it is full (54,000 acre feet), and if 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) were released from the reservoir at that capacity, it would generate 500 kilowatts. Releasing 300 cfs would generate 2.1 megawatts…

To get that kind of flow, the reservoir would need to be full, and the reservoir reach its full capacity without rehabilitation, DiNatale explained. Increasing the amount of water in the reservoir would take cooperation from various entities, he added. For example, the reservoir could store water for the Rio Grande Compact, Division of Wildlife, sub-districts and other groups. Reservoir rehab would cost about $22 million, Smith said. Reservoir rehabilitation would involve construction of a new outlet, enhancement of the spillway and correction of a seepage problem. With another approximately $8 million the rehabilitated reservoir capacity could be expanded by another 10,000 acre feet, according to Smith.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Victor: New water meter installations should be finished by the end of June

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From the Pikes Peak Courier (Norma Engeberg):

We have a large number of broken meters in this town and we’re losing a lot of revenue,” said City Clerk Sandy Honeycutt. The new meters will be read using radio signals and utilities workers will be able to drive around and read meters in 45 minutes without getting out of their vehicles. Honeycutt said it used to take workers several days each month to read meters. The meter work is being paid for in large part by a state grant. Work is also continuing on the installation of back-flow preventers for commercial water meters as required by state law. The installers are finishing surveys and will be ordering the types of back-flow preventers needed by each business.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Taylor River: Rafting rift leads to agreement for this season

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From the Associated Press (Steven K. Paulson) via the Summit Daily News:

Property owners have declared a temporary truce in a dispute with commercial rafters and will allow rafting on their property this summer. Jackson-Shaw, the company that owns the Wilder on the Taylor fishing reserve, said Friday it will grant the two Taylor River rafting companies, Three Rivers Outfitting and Scenic River Tours, permission to float through its property this summer…

Lewis Shaw, chairman of the company, said it will take time to work out a permanent agreement and he wanted to give rafters a chance to begin their season. “While mediation between Jackson-Shaw and the two Taylor River rafting companies continues, Jackson-Shaw recognizes that Three Rivers and Scenic are at the threshold of their commercial rafting season and that it will take time to finalize any formal agreement. Accordingly, as a show of good faith, Jackson-Shaw has decided to give Three Rivers and Scenic permission to float through Wilder on the Taylor this summer,” Shaw said.

Bob Hamel, chairman of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, said it was a nice gesture but rafters believe they don’t need Shaw’s permission to raft the river. Rafting companies were already going ahead with their new season, he said. “Jackson-Shaw is not entitled to grant permission. The permission is in the Forest Service permit. I think this is premature because we’re still in negotiations,” Hamel said.

Mediation between the two rafting companies and Jackson-Shaw began on April 22 and remains ongoing. Both sides have agreed to keep the details of their negotiations secret. Shaw imposed several conditions, including limits on rafting between May 15 and Aug. 15 if there is sufficient water. The companies will be allowed four trips each day between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. so fishermen can also enjoy their sport. Rafters will be allowed on the property to carry their rafts across a bridge…

Rep. Kathleen Curry, an unaffiliated state representative from Gunnison, said she believes voters will side with rafters, who have exercised their rights to use Colorado rivers for decades and have become a symbol of Colorado’s outdoor life. Eric Anderson, who represents a coalition of property owners, including fishermen who barred rafting this year on their property, said he believes fishermen will win in the court of public opinion because their property rights are being threatened.

More coverage from the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams). From the article:

The company that prompted one of the more hotly contested bills of the legislative session – House Bill 1188 dealing with commercial river rafting – announced Friday it would allow two outfitters to float the Taylor River through its property this summer. Officials for Jackson-Shaw, owner of the Wilder on the Taylor fishing reserve, said they will continue mediation efforts with Three Rivers Outfitting and Scenic River Tours while allowing the two companies to continue navigating the river through the private property…

Jackson-Shaw won’t allow rafters to fish the Taylor through the preserve, but they can portage a bridge (go around on land) as long they are “respectful” of the property, and the boaters must also limit the number of trips and stick to certain times and dates. “We believe that these rules are reasonable and will allow the rafting companies to meet demand, operate profitable businesses, and conduct far more commercial trips through the property this summer than last summer,” Jackson-Shaw Chairman and CEO Lewis Shaw said in a release.

Gov. Bill Ritter Thursday said he will work with landowner groups and the commercial rafting industry to resolve differences and avoid a looming ballot measure on the contentious issue.

More HB 10-1188 coverage here. More 2010 Colorado elections coverage here.