Missouri River Basin: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mainstem management public hearing recap

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From the Associated Press via the KansasCity.com

More than a dozen people testified during a public hearing in Jefferson City hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for managing the 2,000-mile-long river. Congress has authorized a five-year, $25 million study to determine if changes are needed to the management strategy outlined in a 1944 law.

Residents said the river was vital to Missouri’s economy, from providing drinking water to helping cool power plants, and flood control must be a priority. Some feared that the recreation interests of states upstream could take precedence and curtail barge traffic along the river. “The upper-states will never stop until they do away with navigation,” said Dan Kuenzel, 45, who raises hogs and grows corn and soybeans on river bottom land in Washington, Mo.

The Missouri River begins in Montana and flows into the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis. Upper basin states generally want water levels to rise or remain stable to help with fish reproduction and to keep reservoirs created by dams full for summer recreation. Lower basin states, including Missouri, want reliable flood control and a steady water flow for barges and drinking water or commercial water uses.

Many people at the hearing questioned why the Corps was studying river management priorities, citing another study completed in 2004. The current study focuses on a federal law approved in 1944 that makes the Corps responsible for managing the river for flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, water quality, and fish and wildlife.

More Missouri River Basin coverage here.

Runoff news: Green Mountain Reservoir operations update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are starting to see some spring run off come down from the mountains. As a result, yesterday and today we are bumping up releases at Green Mountain Reservoir to the Lower Blue. Yesterday afternoon, we bumped up releases to 500 cfs. This morning, we bumped releases up again to 600 cfs.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here and here.

American Rivers: Upper Colorado is sixth most endangered river

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From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

The scenic Upper Colorado River between its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park and its confluence with the Roaring Fork River has landed the sixth spot on the America’s Most Endangered Rivers list

The national nonprofit group, in concert with other conservation groups such Colorado Trout Unlimited, is calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to require conservation and efficiency measures in the Final Environmental Impact Statements (FEIS) for both the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project. “We can’t continue to take and take water from the Upper Colorado without accounting for the serious impacts to fish and wildlife habitat,” Colorado Trout Unlimited’s Ken Neubecker said in a release. “This is a river on the brink. A vibrant, healthy river system in the Upper Colorado is every bit as important to the future of Colorado as the water it supplies to our farms and cities.”

Recent media coverage has also focused on the growing demands on the Colorado for energy production, including hydroelectric in Glenwood Canyon and oil and gas development further downstream in Garfield and Mesa counties.

The Upper Colorado, though, is a recreational paradise, with world-class whitewater and gold-medal trout fishing. It runs through the heart of the state’s most popular mountain resorts from Grand County to Glenwood Springs, with its tributaries supplying water to ski towns like Breckenridge and Vail. It’s a perennial candidate for federal Wild and Scenic River designation.

More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

“The most endangered river listings get the attention of media and policy-makers,” said Randy Scholfield, spokesperson of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project. “It does help to highlight some of the threats facing these rivers and helps them get the grassroots support they need.”

The Upper Colorado considered in the listing flows from about Granby to Dotsero…

The Upper Colorado fit the organization’s criteria for being the subject of major public decisions pending in 2010, specifically the Moffat Firming Project proposed by the Denver Water Board and the Windy Gap Firming Project proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Water Conservancy District. The Upper Colorado, especially the stretch from Granby to Kremmling, can lack healthy peak flows and baseline flows…

Without river protections from cumulative impacts outlined in draft Environmental Impact Statements, advocates fear the river could suffer from further detriment despite on-the-side negotiations for enhancement being conducted by river stakeholders.

“They didn’t consider the accumulative impacts at all like they were supposed to,” Neubecker said of those reports pending Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval. Instead they were saying “that the flows in the river right now are the way they always have been since the beginning of time. We have to be honest with ourselves and everyone on how we use the river.” Neubecker hopes the American Rivers listing can help inform Front Range water users, some of which have little idea “about the connection between what comes out of their faucets and the river resource,” he said.

From 9News.com:

“We really are concerned about destroying the essence of Colorado which includes world-class recreation and beautiful rivers like the Upper Colorado, so we want to make sure there is an appropriate balance struck between the needs of supplying citizens on the Front Range with water and the importance of those benefits of Colorado’s heritage,” [Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president of American Rivers] said…

Currently, meetings between headwater counties and major diverters have the potential to restore river health while also fulfilling domestic and agricultural needs in the state.

From KUNC (Erin O’Toole):

The threat of water diversion from the state’s namesake river has landed the Upper Colorado at number 6 on this year’s list, as compiled by the conservation advocacy group American Rivers. Spokeswoman Amy Kober says they’re primarily concerned about two new proposals – the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project. She says both could lower the river flow to the point of threatening its prized trout fisheries “Excessive diversions upset the natural balance of the river, increase water temperatures, and destroy the natural patterns of reproduction for endangered species.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Runoff news

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Advisories for the roughest reaches of river — Pine Creek, Numbers and Royal Gorge — were in effect Tuesday, and probably will remain for most of the week, as temperatures climb after a brief cool-down today. “Experience tells us that at those levels and above, people should consider not running the river if they don’t have the expertise and skills,” White said. “But the river is not closed.”[…]

Water levels in the Upper Arkansas River were over 3,000 cubic feet per second after Saturday, roughly double the median flow for early June. The snowmelt came later this year than in the past decade, but typical for historical conditions. The Arkansas River swelled to 4,000 cfs at Avondale by Tuesday, again roughly double the median average for the date.

The snowpack for the state is only 57 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel sites, with the Arkansas Valley at 45 percent. Meanwhile, the Upper Colorado River basin, where the water imported into the Arkansas River Basin through tunnels and ditches originates, is at 59 percent of average. “We’ve brought over about 12,000 acre-feet so far,” said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. “It’s coming off hard, the way we don’t like it to. If it comes too fast, we leave some of our yield on the other side.” The project should bring over about 54,000 acre-feet, even though the snow sites show a dwindling snowpack, Vaughan said…

Some localized rainstorms last week also boosted moisture for the Arkansas River basin. In Pueblo, rainfall for the year is almost 6 inches, well above the normal of 4.3 inches

Aspinall Unit update

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users will be changing diversions at the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning, June 2nd and Crystal releases will be adjusted accordingly. This operation may cause the Gunnison River to “bounce” slightly. Flows should be stabile again by afternoon at 650 cfs. If you have any questions please contact Dan Crabtree at 970-248-0652.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

National Integrated Drought Information System: Upper Colorado Basin Pilot Project’s ‘Summary of Weekly precip and water supply’

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Henry Reges has graciously allowed me to post his notes from yesterday’s webinar:

Much of the Upper Colorado River Basin received very little moisture last week, with only spotty areas of precipitation in the Yampa-White and Green River basins and northern Utah. For the month of May, the majority of precipitation was focused over the northern region of Colorado and along the Utah-Wyoming border. After a wet start to the water year, the south has quickly begun drying out. Small decreases were seen in the water-year-to-date precipitation percent of averages from last week with the driest areas showing up in northeastern Utah and western Wyoming. Temperatures for the last week were near average to slightly cooler than average for most of the UCRB. However, since the average temperature this time of year is quickly warming up, much of the snowpack is melting and streamflows are again picking up. Less than 30% of the streamgages in the area are reporting below normal (below the 25th percentile) 7-day flows, compared to nearly 50% last week. Much below normal flows are mainly seen in Wyoming, where even though much of the snowpack has melted out, the very low peak snowpack values resulted in only minor increases in streamflow. Minor improvements in northeastern Utah streamflows were primarily the result of drainage from the south slopes of the Uinta mountain range, but are not expected to have any long term impacts, and streamflows will probably deteriorate again in the coming weeks. Reservoir levels continue to rise with the meltoff. Reservoir operators in the Colorado basin have coordinated their releases to match the natural peak flows in order to boost streamflows and mobilize sediment, as there is now extra water and no more concern that the reservoirs will not fill for the high demand season.

The forecast for the region is pretty quiet with some chance of precipitation in the next 1 to 3 days. The next weather system to move through looks to drop most of the moisture over western Wyoming with some chance in the plains of northeastern Colorado. After this, conditions will dry up as the area will be dominated by zonal flow with a building ridge to the west.

After looking at percentile rankings of snotel precipitation across the basin, one of the areas of biggest concern is northeastern Utah, which has been in D0 for quite some time. The percentiles suggest that some of the region could possibly be in D1, though it was recommended to defer to the U.S. Drought Monitor author (and other experts in the region who were not on the call) on any possible changes that should be made to the region. Due to continued poor conditions in the Green River basin (and feedback from local irrigators), Wyoming experts on the call wish to remain status quo for the D2 in the region, with the possibility of adjusting the D1 in extreme southwestern WY to better reflect conditions there, though they also defer to the Drought Monitor author on that particular change. Due to the persistent drying occurring in the four-corners region, the suggestion by the Drought Monitor author to expand and connect the D0 in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, was met with no arguments. The author did suggest though that most of these changes would be focused on NM, so it’s possible that the expansion in southwestern Colorado will not happen for this week’s map.

Meanwhile, American Rivers has designated the Upper Colorado River the sixth-most endangered river in the U.S. Here’s a report from The Denver Post. From the article:

New water-diversion projects could sap the life from the river — threatening fish, boating and long-term water supply for the region, the group said in releasing its annual American’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The river begins in Rocky Mountain National Park and flows southwest toward Utah through a region inhabited by 93,000 full-time residents. “The key to a reliable and predictable water supply is a healthy river,” American Rivers president Rebecca Wodder said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.