Runoff news: The Dolores Water Conservancy District says that McPhee Reservoir started spilling Monday — get your raft out

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From the Cortez Journal (Kimberly Benedict):

The spill, which began at low levels Monday, was expected to reach raftable flows near 800 cubic feet per second by noon Wednesday. “The reservoir is near full,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy. “We are on for rafting flows of 800 cfs through Friday. We’re anticipating that we are going to be able to extend rafting into the weekend, although we may have to start ramping down flow Sunday night or some point during the weekend.”[…]

“For a while the irrigation demand had overtaken the inflow of the river, but now that we are near full and warming up we are going to have some water to spill. We just don’t know how much.”[…]

“We started with a reservoir elevation that was lower by over 30,000 feet as compared to last year,” Preston said. “We were filling a bigger hole, and we didn’t have the early warm weather. Fierce winds during the past few weeks also impacted river flows. High winds speed the evaporation of high altitude snow and dry the soil, forcing water into the ground rather than rivers. “Every year is different,” Preston said. “That is what I’m learning. In the good year, like 2008, we’re going to be spilling over a long period of time. A year like this, we don’t know what is up there and how fast it is going to come down.” The Upper Dolores is flowing above 1,500 cfs into McPhee. Upper flows should continue into early June. Up-to-date release information is available at

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Meanwhile, the Avon whitewater park is open according to a report from the Snowmass Sun. From the article:

Avon’s whitewater park is open and the rapids are flowing perfectly for surfing and play time. The Eagle River is currently flowing at approximately 1,080 cfs.

More whitewater coverage here.

From Steamboat Today (Mike Lawrence):

The city of Steamboat Springs’ Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department has closed some sections of the Yampa River Core Trail because of seasonal high water. As runoff-fueled flows surge and abate in local waterways, additional closures and trail detours could occur.

The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission has scheduled a rulemaking hearing in Denver on June 7

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From The Crested Butte News (Mike Horn):

The majority of the revisions to Regulation No. 31 are being proposed by the Water Quality Control Division, with the Colorado Mining Association and the Colorado Wastewater Utility Council submitting additional proposals. The proposed revisions include changes to criteria for, among others, dissolved oxygen, E. coli, and molybdenum. Temporary modifications of standards and anti-degradation to protect high-quality waters are also on the docket, as is adoption of new provisions authorizing variances to water quality standards in limited circumstances.

More Colorado Water Quality Control Commission coverage here.

Pagosa Springs: The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners talk shop

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Here’s Part I of Bill Hudson’s series PAWSD Makes an Apology, Of Sorts. From the article:

Last night, the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District board and staff made a lengthy presentation for the benefit of the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners. The meeting had been requested by the BoCC, and was destined, I think, to set Archuleta County on a new path. Either the BoCC and PAWSD would enter into a dialog about the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir and begin to work collaboratively in deciding the future of the county — or the BoCC would begin to exercise its statutory oversight powers, and start intervening in the water district’s financial decisions.

Here’s Part II, Part III and Part IV. More Pagosa Springs coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: Water court approves rules for groundwater Subdistrict No. 1

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It’s been a long time coming but the rules designed to protect senior rights holders in the San Luis Valley from groundwater pumping (along with idling 40,000 acres of irrigated farmland) received Judge O. John Kuenhold’s blessing in a ruling released yesterday. The plan is an alternative to state imposed regulations. Here’s a report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Should it make it through an anticipated appeal to the state Supreme Court, the plan for Subdistrict No. 1 would take in roughly 174,000 acres of irrigated farmland and 3,000 irrigation wells. The plan would institute a tax on its members to pay for replacement water to compensate senior surface water users harmed by depletions exceeding 50 acre-feet per year. It also would use those proceeds to retire at least 40,000 acres over a 10-year period to restore the unconfined aquifer, a move the ruling called, “an important and courageous milestone in water development in this state.” The unconfined aquifer is the shallower of the valley’s two main bodies of groundwater and the court has found that both are connected in some degree to the area’s surface streams.

David Robbins, the lead attorney for Subdistrict No. 1, was heartened by the ruling. He pointed specifically to the judge’s decision that replacements wouldn’t go into effect until 2012. The extra year will give the subdistrict time to collect sufficient funds to meet its water replacement obligations…

The objectors gained some consolation when the judge ruled that the subdistrict must replace past depletions from well pumping, which can have an effect on surface streams for up to 20 years after the pumping has taken place. Evidence at the trial pegged the amount of injury from past depletions to amount to 48,993 acre feet through 2028. The court rejected proposals from supporters that compensation for past depletions go back only to 2005, noting that senior surface water users have gone four decades without having their rights fully and fairly protected. “This is not the time for a half-step that would be viewed by many as simply another delay tactic,” the ruling stated…

The plan would rely on the Rio Grande Decision Support System, a computer modeling system, to determine both future and past impacts from pumping. Should water users object to any components of the plan from year to year or of the Engineer Office’s handling of the plan, the court would retain jurisdiction to hear their complaints.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.

Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area proposed instream flow right

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From email from Peter Roessmann (Western Resource Advocates):

FYI, the New York Times reprinted an article published in Land Letter about the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area’s proposed instream flow right. As you know, the CWCB voted last Thursday to initiate work on a state ISF for the wilderness to preclude the need for federal intervention. A group of organizations working on this resolution issued a statement last Thursday afternoon about the CWCB’s vote (pdf).

Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times (Phil Taylor):

In a decision hailed by environmental groups and supported by BLM, the Colorado Water Conservation Board last week advanced an unconventional plan that would be one of the first variable water rights ever granted in the state. The plan — modeled after a proposal BLM pitched to the board earlier this year — would protect the seasonally changing flows in the canyon while balancing the needs of upstream landowners who depend on the same source of water to graze cattle. While typical in-stream water rights in Colorado assign fixed flow rates for specific periods of time, the Dominguez proposal would allocate a fixed amount of water for upstream users and send all remaining water — regardless of volume — to Big Dominguez and Little Dominguez creeks. “The board’s decision is great for Colorado,” said Bart Miller, water program director at Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “Declaring an intent to appropriate water is the first, most important step in protecting streams in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness that sustain the area’s beauty, wildlife and recreational value. These streams are the lifeblood of this very special place.” Barring any significant opposition, the Water Conservation Board could finalize the proposal at its July 20 hearing, triggering a formal water rights filing before a state water court.

The proposal would be the first in the state to ensure flows for a federal wilderness area, said Steve Smith, assistant regional director for the Wilderness Society in Colorado. “I’m delighted that we were able to team up with water developers and local governments to craft the federal legislation [creating Dominguez] in the first place,” he said. “It directed the BLM to negotiate with the state over a water right for the wilderness.” If finalized, the water right would be owned by the state and would eliminate the need for the Interior Department to declare its own water right — a politically contentious move in water-strapped Western states.

More instream flow coverage here.