Energy policy — hydroelectric: DARCA Low Head Microhydroelectric Workshop Feb 16, 2010

A picture named microhydroelectricplant.jpg

From the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance website:

A Colorado State University engineering professor is collaborating with an engineering firm, Applegate Group Inc., to review the potential power that could be generated by “low-head” turbines in irrigation canals. Lindsay George, water resource engineer in the Glenwood Springs offices of Applegate, and Dan Zimmerle, a research scientist and adjunct mechanical engineering professor at Colorado State, received a $50,000 grant this year from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to study canals in Colorado. The grant is part of the Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy (ACRE) Program to promote energy-related projects beneficial to Colorado’s agriculture industry.

Zimmerle will speak about the project on Feb. 16 in Berthoud at a full-day workshop, “Low Head Hydroelectric Opportunities for Ditch and Reservoir Companies,” sponsored by the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. DARCA is a resource for networking, information exchange and advocacy among mutual ditch and reservoir companies throughout Colorado.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Forecast news

A picture named plowingsnowsanjuans.jpg

From The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The National Weather Service says the top of the Grand Mesa and areas around Crested Butte above 9,000 feet could have 6 to 8 feet of snow by Thursday afternoon. The weather service news release says to expect snow of “epic proportions.”

From The Aspen Times:

Heavy snow is possible at times in the mountains surrounding Aspen, with accumulations of 4 to 8 inches, according to the weather service. West winds of 15 to 25 mph, gusting to nearly 50 mph, will reduce visibility.

From The Durango Herald:

According to the National Weather Service, a moderate La Niña cycle began developing in the ocean in late May and has gathered strength in recent months.

Here’s why predicting La Niña is so tricky:

“Colorado is sandwiched between the area to the south where odds favor below-normal precipitation and the area to the northwest that favors above-normal precipitation,” said Jim Pringle, the warning coordination meteorologist with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, This is how we ended up with blockbuster snowfall in the winter of 2007-2008, despite it being a La Niña year.

From The Denver Post (Kieran Nicholson/Joey Bunch):

The highest snow totals are expected over the Grand Mesa and the Elk and San Juan mountains, the weather service reports. Residents in isolated towns, including Silverton and Crested Butte, should be prepared to stock up on food supplies and other necessary items, the weather service said.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Armstrong):

Snowpack in the area [Winter Park] has already reached more than 125 percent of its 30-year average as of Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

Snow is expected to increase later this evening with temperatures hovering around freezing, and snow will likely continue to fall on and off through Wednesday with a total storm accumulation in the northern mountains of 1-3 feet and accumulations of 15-30 inches in the central mountains. A winter storm warning for areas above 9,000 feet is in effect. “This is going to be a pretty good winter storm,” [Todd Dankers of the National Weather Service] said.

From the Vail Daily:

Three to six feet of snow are expected to fall above 9,000 feet by Thursday afternoon, with some areas getting 8 feet, the service said in its winter storm warning. The warning covers Vail, Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride and lasts through Tuesday night. Snow is expected to be most intense from Sunday night until tonight. The highest amounts of snow are expected in places other than Eagle County — the Elk and San Juan mountains and the Grand Mesa. “If you reside in these areas, consider stocking up on needed supplies for the next days,” the warning said. For areas between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, total snowfall of 1 to 3 feet is expected, with a mixture of rain and snow possible at times. The town of Vail is at 8,150 feet. For areas between 7,000 and 8,000 feet, 6-12 inches are expected.

From Steamboat Today (Jack Weinstein):

After getting more than a foot of fresh powder this past weekend, forecasters say Steamboat Ski Area will get more — a lot more. “It’s going to be a heavy snow week,” said meteorologist Chris Cuoco, of the National Weather Service’s office in Grand Junction.

The Grand Junction office is forecasting 3 to 6 feet of snow by Wednesday morning at the ski area, Cuoco said. He said most of the snow would fall at elevations higher than 9,000 feet. “You can probably look at a lot of snow in the mountains, but it’s probably not cold enough to get a lot of snow accumulation in Steamboat proper or places like that until late Wednesday when it cools off,” Cuoco said.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

A picture named coloradobigthompsonmap.jpg

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Just in time for the holidays, annual maintenance on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project is wrapping up. Today, Friday December 17, we started running water through the southern power arm of the C-BT. We will continue to “water up” the east slope portion of the system through next week.

Lake Estes, which has remained fairly static through our maintenance projects, will drop a few feet over the weekend as we begin delivering water to Pinewood Reservoir. The release from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River remains unchanged at about 20 cfs.

By Monday, December 20, Pinewood Reservoir should be back to a few feet below full capacity. We have completed our work on the Bald Mountain Pressure Tunnel and started moving water to Pinewood this morning.

We are still drawing some water from Carter Lake to generate at the Flatiron Power Plant, but anticipate that to end by Tuesday, December 21. At that time, we will begin to refill Carter for the 2011 water year.

Inflow to Horsetooth has remained around 100 cfs for the past couple of weeks. It will bump up slightly later next week to around 120 cfs. It is currently at a water level elevation of about 5387 feet.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is going to equip Colorado-Big Thompson facilities with additional hydroelectric generation capability

A picture named gravitationalvortexplant.jpg

From the Loveland Reporter Herald (Pamela Dickman):

The water conservancy district, which distributes all Colorado-Big Thompson Project water, plans to build a hydroelectric power plant at Carter Lake to turn water flow into actual power on the grid. Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association is negotiating with Northern Water to buy the water-produced power to add to its mix from Tri-State Generation. “We’re definitely interested,” said Rick Johnson, a Loveland resident who serves on the board for the power company that serves portions of Larimer, Weld and Boulder counties…

If built, the plant could produce 2.6 megawatts of power, roughly enough to power 1,000 homes — a drop in the bucket for Poudre Valley REA, which serves more than 35,000 customers. But every little bit helps, Johnson said. “The water is going to go down the pipeline regardless of whether it becomes energy,” he said. “We’re always looking for opportunities…

If the two agencies can finalize an agreement, Northern Water will order the equipment in February, Brouwer said. Construction of the equipment and necessary building would take about a year.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Colorado State University, Applegate Group Collaborate on State Grant to Investigate Hydropower in Irrigation Canals

A picture named microhydroelectricplant.jpg

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Trevor Hughes):

Zimmerle said generating power from the flowing canals hearkens back to the time when millers diverted streams to turn waterwheels to grind grain and power sawmills.

“I think there is a good picture of ‘back to the future’ here,” he said. Zimmerle added that even small hydroelectric projects can generate greater amounts of power than photovoltaic systems, and they generate power more consistently.

Zimmerle will speak about the project Feb. 16 in Berthoud at a full-day workshop, “Low Head Hydroelectric Opportunities for Ditch and Reservoir Companies,” sponsored by the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. DARCA is a resource for networking, information exchange and advocacy among mutual ditch and reservoir companies throughout Colorado.

For decades, projects such as these have posed a difficult challenge because even small hydroelectric installations have to undergo virtually the same permitting process as something on the scale of the Hoover Dam. But an agreement between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Gov. Bill Ritter’s office is expected to speed up the process for such small projects, George said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Lake Mead: Mexico and the U.S. ink deal for storage

A picture named hooverdamspilling.jpg

Here’s the release from Secretary Salazar’s office:

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada today announced the successful completion of an agreement, known as ‘Minute 318,’ to adjust water deliveries on the Colorado River to areas damaged by a devastating earthquake on April 4, 2010.

Following their meeting in Mexico City, the Secretaries also announced a commitment by the two governments to initiate, in January 2011, high-priority discussions on a comprehensive long-term agreement between the U.S. and Mexico on the management of the Colorado River.

“Through this water agreement, the U.S., Mexico, and the seven Colorado River Basin states are bringing resources together for our mutual benefit and for the benefit of our neighbors whose irrigation systems and livelihoods have been damaged by the Easter Sunday earthquake,” said Salazar, who is in Mexico City to discuss water, conservation, and natural resource issues with President Calderon and Mexican government officials. “Minute 318 is a remarkable achievement from a humanitarian perspective, but it also lays important groundwork for a much-needed comprehensive water agreement with Mexico on how we manage the Colorado River.”

“Water users and stakeholders up and down the Colorado River have a strong interest in a comprehensive water agreement that would enhance reliability, certainty, and efficiency of water deliveries,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, who coordinated with the seven Colorado River Basin States and the International Boundary and to reach the Minute 318 agreement. “The good faith negotiations that resulted in Minute 318 will help pave the way toward the comprehensive agreement for Colorado River management that is so needed on both sides of the border.”

Secretary Salazar and Secretary Elvira commended the work by the U.S. and Mexican Commissioners of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), Edward Drusina and Roberto Salmon, who led their respective nation’s negotiation teams for Minute 318.

Under Minute 318, Mexico will be able to temporarily defer delivery of a portion of its annual Colorado River water allotment while repairs are made to the irrigation system in the Mexicali Valley of Baja California as a result of an April 4, 2010 earthquake. This agreement is founded on the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.

Under the 1944 Water Treaty between the United States and Mexico, Mexico is allotted a guaranteed quantity of Colorado River Water each year. Absent surplus or extraordinary drought conditions, Mexico’s annual allotment is 1.5 million acre-feet (maf).

Minute 318 allows Mexico to defer delivery of up to 260,000 acre-feet of its annual allotment through December 31, 2013. Beginning in 2014, Mexico could begin recovery of the amounts of Colorado River water deferred during the three-year period, subject to the progress of reconstruction of the Mexican irrigation system and the status of Colorado River reservoirs.

In their meeting today, Secretaries Salazar and Elvira, Commissioner of Reclamation Connor, Director General of the Mexican National Water Commission Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, and IBWC Commissioners Drusina and Salmon discussed the need for a comprehensive agreement on Colorado River water management issues, particularly in light of ongoing drought conditions and the prospect of continuing declines in reservoir levels.

Secretaries Salazar and Elvira identified the negotiations on a comprehensive agreement as a top priority for 2011. The leaders said they would direct their representatives to begin negotiations of the comprehensive water agreement in January, 2011.

Commissioner Connor noted that a comprehensive agreement is of particular importance in light of ongoing, historic drought in the Colorado River Basin:

– Since 2000, Colorado River basin reservoirs have dropped from nearly full to approximately 55% of total storage.

– Lake Mead currently stands at 39% of capacity, lower than it has been since it was filling in the 1930s.

– The last 11 years have been the driest in a century of recorded history, and among the driest 1% of periods in over 1,000 years.

– Current projections show that if current drought conditions persist, the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada) may be subject to the first-ever domestic shortage declaration on the Colorado River as early as 2012; the likelihood of shortage conditions by 2014 is approximately 35%.

To read Secretary Salazar’s statement, click here.

Here’s a release from the Environmental Defense Fund:

A bi-national pact announced today to allow Mexico to store a portion of its annual allocation from the Colorado River—up to 260,000 acre-feet over three years—in the largest U.S. reservoir—Lake Mead—sets the stage for progress on environmental issues in ongoing talks between the two countries, according to Environmental Defense Fund.

“As Lake Mead water levels continue to drop, a bi-national agreement to store water there that Mexico can’t use—until it repairs the damage from last April’s earthquake to its irrigation systems—is the logical solution for both countries,” said Jennifer Pitt, director of EDF’s Colorado River Project. “Secretary Salazar’s announcement today proves that diplomacy deployed to create additional flexibility on the Colorado River has great potential. It can improve water supply reliability for water users in our country and Mexico, and protect our invaluable environmental resources.”

The water level of Lake Mead—located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas—has been dropping steadily for the last decade due to drought and now is nearing the elevation—presently at 1082 feet above sea level or 39% of capacity—that will trigger shortages in Arizona and Nevada.

This U.S.-Mexico accord, known as Minute 318, follows two previous deals between the two countries:

1. Under the terms of Minute 317, the United States and Mexico are exploring how to improve Colorado River management, including: water supply management in dry times, bi-national conservation and desalination projects, and the delivery of water for environmental flows in the Colorado River delta.

2. Under the terms of Minute 316, the United States and Mexico agreed to dedicate water to the largest wetland in the Colorado River delta—the Cienega de Santa Clara—during pilot operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant in Arizona. The treated water is intended for inclusion in water deliveries to Mexico, and preserving the like amount of water in Lake Mead.

“For the first time in decades, the United States and Mexico are working productively towards mutually beneficial changes on the Colorado River,” Pitt concluded. “Given dire predictions of drought in this region, today’s agreement is a critical step in building the mutual trust and confidence we need to craft additional agreements that deliver a more sustainable water supply for our communities and for the environment.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

IBCC strategy report

A picture named ibccroundtable.jpg

Here’s the release from Governor Ritter (Alexandra Davis/Eric Hecox/Todd Hartman):

Gov. Bill Ritter today praised the work of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) in making great progress toward outlining a path forward for Colorado to achieve a sustainable water future. In a letter and accompanying report to Governor Ritter and Gov.-Elect John Hickenlooper released today, the IBCC called for shared responsibility and varied approaches to ensuring our growing state can provide the water needed to support agriculture, cities and homes, industries, recreation and our natural environment.

“I applaud the hard work of the IBCC as it begins to tackle the difficult challenge of planning how to ensure increasingly scarce water supplies are available to meet Colorado’s diverse and numerous needs,” Gov. Ritter said. “The IBCC’s collaborative, common-ground method asking all interests to share in the responsibility to map out a way forward is crucial if Colorado is going to maintain its economic and environmental quality of life.”

The IBCC’s report includes a summary of the past five years work by the IBCC, nine Basin Roundtables and the support of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The report results from a request by Gov. Ritter in January for the IBCC to add additional meetings in 2010 aimed at reaching agreements and report to him on its progress before the end of his term.

The report includes several key findings, including that a “status quo” approach to water planning will inevitably lead to the dry-up of significant agricultural land in Colorado and potential harm to the environment. To avoid this, the IBCC concluded that Colorado will need a mix of solutions, which include water conservation, the implementation of local water projects, agricultural transfers and the development of new water supplies.

The IBCC report also emphasizes that resources spent on various water interests fighting one another instead of working collaboratively will lead to further splintered, and ad-hoc decisions about water resources, one of Colorado’s most valuable assets. The IBCC considers the need for a mix of solutions an important part of this report, and understands that different stakeholders benefit from individual parts of this package and could take issue with other parts.

“We are looking for a more comprehensive policy approach through which to share the benefits – and burdens – across user groups,” said IBCC director Alexandra Davis. “This is the beginning of creating a framework within which more comprehensive decisions about water resources may be made. It’s a start to a broader grassroots conversation with roundtables and stakeholder groups.”

The report can be downloaded from the IBCC webpage. The Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) was established by the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Act in 2005 to facilitate conversations among Colorado’s river basins and to address statewide water issues. A 27-member committee, the IBCC encourages dialogue on water, broadens the range of stakeholders actively participating in the state’s water decisions and creates a locally driven process where the decision-making power rests with those living in the state’s river basins. For more information, click here.

I read the report over the weekend and a few things stand out:

– According to the recommendations it seems that recreation and the environment (non-consumptive needs) will get a seat at the table in the planning process:

…it is important that addressing non-­‐consumptive needs  becomes integrated into larger planning efforts on future water supply projects and processes, even though it may not be possible to protect and restore all environmental and recreational values. Providing proponents of water supply projects and processes with accepted methods to determine non-consumptive flow needs, sound information about stream flows in a larger geographic area, and reach-­‐specific data can help inform water supply project siting and design to facilitate the development of water supply projects and processes…

– The IBCC and all involved realize that ag to urban transfers are a way of life in Colorado’s water world. The goal is to minimize impacts to the ag sector and local economies from ‘buy and dry’ scenarios.

– The 800 pound gorilla in the room on the Front Range is the need to replace 35,000 acre-feet of non-tributary Denver Basin groundwater while also accommodating a few million more Coloradans.

– While being hard to quantify it is the IBCC’s hope that conservation make up a good share of the municipal and industrial water supply gap by 2050.

If only it was irrigation season so you could curl up under the cottonwoods down by the creek to read the report.

More IBCC coverage here and here.

Arkansas River Basin: A look at the history of water in the basin along with current challenges

A picture named arkansasriverbasin.jpg

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Miles of irrigation ditches would be dug to create a carpet of fields on what once had been called The Great American Desert. There would not be enough water for all of them to operate as planned in the great vision of the time: a patchwork of family farms stretching to Kansas. There would be epic fights inside and outside of courtrooms to claim the water under Colorado’s constitutional provision that water first put to beneficial use has top priority. The rights to use the natural flows of the basin — other than spring runoff and floods — were pretty much spoken for by 1884.Water rights junior to that date are less often in priority, usually in times of high water. Ideas such as storage, importing water from the Colorado River and temporary sales of water have stretched the supply. There also would be a century-long tug-of-war between Kansas and Colorado over the amount of water that Colorado, the upstream state, was entitled to use…

As the region continued to grow, the pressure on its water resources would become ever greater and scarcity more evident. Several grand-scale projects — the Twin Lakes Tunnel, Homestake and the Fryingpan Arkansas Project — and many smaller transmountain diversions staved off the thirst by bringing new water into the basin.

But over time, even with the additional water, the cities and farms of the Arkansas River basin have had to stretch the supply. Incredibly, the booming city of Aurora in the South Platte basin, came hunting for water — and found it — in the Rocky Ford area in the 1980s, taking water from a basin that already had lived through a century of shortages.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Of the snow and rain that annually falls in the Arkansas River basin — 6.2 trillion gallons — less than 10 percent is used by man. “More than 90 percent is lost through evaporation or through transpiration,” [Pat Edelmann, who heads the Pueblo office of the U.S. Geological Survey] said…

Over the last 30 years, the need for good information about the river and its tributaries has increased. Cities and power companies have stepped up demand for water that once irrigated crops, and storage has shifted toward municipal needs. A rafting industry has been created on the Upper Arkansas River. Kansas sued Colorado over expanded use of water, prevailing in its U.S. Supreme Court claim that it was being shorted at the state line. “The USGS tries to provide the facts, as well as useful interpretation so the best decisions can be made,” Edelmann said.

Some of its current efforts include a basinwide water study for a water resources group formed under the 2003 Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District agreement with Aurora, a Fountain Creek flood control study and a better understanding of how snow melt affects streamflow in the Upper Arkansas. The agency also is involved in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s decision-support system that will attempt to link numerous other investigations in an effort to describe what’s about to happen when you move the water from Point A to Point B…

Reservoirs constructed over the last 100 years capture that flow for use later in the growing season. The great majority of storage at high-mountain reservoirs, where it is most valuable, has been taken over by cities. At Lake Pueblo, the switching yard for water as it travels in the basin, cities are increasingly using the space they are entitled to each year.

Imports from the Western Slope add the greatest amount of water to the supply, increasing flows in the Arkansas River at Canon City by 25 percent, according to a study by the Bureau of Land Management in 2000…

Since 1990, there has been a voluntary agreement among water suppliers to keep flows higher during rafting season and optimal for fish at other times of year in the Upper Arkansas River basin.
The agreement is made possible by controlling when releases are made from Twin Lakes to Lake Pueblo each year in order to make space for the next year’s imports.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

In a typical year, the flows of the Arkansas River are enhanced roughly 25 percent by water brought in from the Colorado River basin. The great bulk of the water is brought over by cities to supplement supplies they own within the basin.

Colorado Springs brings water from the Blue River in Summit County and as partners with Aurora in the Homestake Project in Eagle County. El Paso County’s largest city also is the largest shareholder in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Ditch Company and receives 25 percent of the water brought over by the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. About 80 percent of its supply is imported…

Pueblo gets about half of its total supply from transmountain diversions. Over the years, the water board has formed working relationships with Colorado Springs, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Aurora and, perhaps most importantly, the Western Slope. “Pitkin County and Aspen are more aware, so taking more water out of the Roaring Fork watershed is difficult,” [Bud O’Hara water resources chief for the Pueblo Board of Water Works], said. “I think we need more of a cooperative effort with the Western Slope. Storage will be a big factor, but it gets back to cooperation.”

The earliest water projects were largely a proposition to take water from one side of the mountains to the other. Over time, compensatory storage in the basins where water was delivered from became the typical mitigation. Today, there are social and economic issues that are rooted in the attitude that Colorado River users need their own supplies to meet future needs.

More Arkansas River basin coverage here.