Denver Water: Williams Fork Dam valve testing, flows to fluctuate May 3-4

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Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Denver Water will be testing the new valve system at Williams Fork Dam, located about 20 miles west of Granby, May 3 and 4. During the testing, the flow in the Williams Fork River below the dam will fluctuate from about 110 cubic feet per second to about 540 cubic feet per second. Denver Water is coordinating the testing with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in order to protect downstream fisheries.

The new valves were installed earlier this year as part of Denver Water’s two-year, $17 million project to install a new hydro turbine and expand and repair the valve system at Williams Fork Dam.

The dam’s valve system controls the amount of water flowing from the reservoir into the Williams Fork River. After valves are tested and any adjustments are made, the utility will have the ability to release much greater amounts of water than is currently possible. With this year’s heavy snowpack, it will be important to have a fully functional valve system to minimize the amount of water passing over the spillway. A prolonged spill period will inhibit the remaining construction on the downstream side of the dam due to the spray and mud that spilling creates.

The Williams Fork Dam valve system was installed during the dam’s original construction in the 1930s. Making repairs to the building’s aging electrical and mechanical systems, as well as to the 50-year-old valves, will bring the valve system up to current state standards and help it run more efficiently.

Later this year, crews will install a new 0.5 megawatt hydro turbine, which will increase the power plant’s generating capacity to 3.6 megawatts — enough electricity to power about 3,000 homes. The new turbine also will allow Denver Water to generate electricity during the winter, when the release rate from the reservoir historically has been too low to generate power.

The original dam at Williams Fork Reservoir was built in the 1930s. In the mid-1950s, Denver Water raised the dam — building it up to its current height of 209 feet — and installed a hydropower plant at Williams Fork, making it the first hydropower plant in Denver Water’s system.

The construction work should be finished in 2012.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: Should the agreement have included more from a fisherman’s point of view?

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The Fraser River was a favorite fishing hole for President Eisenhower whose wife had Colorado roots. The stream has changed much since those days and more changes are coming. In today’s Denver Post Scott Willoughby tempers his enthusiasm for the landmark agreement by asking the obvious question. Where do Colorado-Big Thompson diversions fit in? From the article:

If we can dismiss politics for a moment, the fisherman’s perspective might help simplify things. And by simplify, I mean, point out the obvious flaws in the plan before uncorking the champagne.

For starters, this so-called “global” pact regarding future use of the Colorado River was designed to push Colorado away from trans-basin water diversions, yet it failed to include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the single largest user of Upper Colorado River water. Northern’s Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap trans-mountain diversions are responsible for removing more water from the Upper Colorado than anything else, and Northern currently has plans on the table to take another 30,000 acre-feet per year through its Windy Gap Firming Project. Yet, during the course of the five-year negotiation, Northern wasn’t at the table.

Denver Water was. And among the greatest rewards it received for playing is a tacit approval of the proposed Moffat Collection System Project that will draw another 18,000 acre-feet annually from the Colorado headwaters and move it to an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder…

The Windy Gap Firming Project alone is likely to decrease water level in Lake Granby, reduce trout habitat and food sources in the Colorado River and impose challenges to boaters floating the river at certain times of the year.

And, it seems, the Ute Water Conservancy District is not on board with the agreement. Here’s a report from From the article:

The Grand Junction-based district is concerned about its water rights if the Shoshone Generating Station stops operating. The water right for the station is among the most senior on the Colorado River. Ute Water also doesn’t like the way water stored in Green Mountain Reservoir in central Colorado would be accounted for.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The agreement does not involve water from Southwest Colorado, although it will help the entire western half of the state by creating a new culture that requires agreement from everyone before water can be pumped east, said Eric Kuhn, head of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “The West Slope’s interests were very simple and that is to preserve what makes Western Colorado special and unique, and that is the ecosystem, and the Colorado River is key to that,” Kuhn said.

Denver and 33 Western Slope groups, including towns and ski areas, signed on to the agreement. But other major Front Range utilities did not join in the accord.

Under the agreement, when water is scarce, Denver Water agrees not to use its legal right to draw down streams in Grand County unless Denver has banned residential lawn watering. In return, Denver secured Western Slope agreement to expand its service area by providing recycled water to its suburbs. The southern suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas of the country the last 15 years, but they lack a reliable long-term water supply. Denver also agreed not to drain Lake Dillon – its main reservoir – too low, and to support a kayak park in Glenwood Springs that would require water to flow downstream, away from Denver’s system of pumps and reservoirs.

Western Colorado has long been wary of Denver because the city owns legal rights to pump Colorado River water east over the Continental Divide. The Denver suburbs are also on a desperate hunt for water, and their high populations give them the money to buy the rights to even more Western Slope water. Thursday’s agreement is historic because Denver agreed to take less water than it has the legal right to use. The city will devote some of its supply to Western Slope ski resorts and communities.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum recap: Some of Fountain Creek’s problems were front and center in the discussion

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While Fountain Creek is a tributary midway between Leadville and the Kansas border, the growth in its basin has had consequences up and down the river. El Paso County has about 80 percent of the Arkansas River basin’s population and Colorado Springs has taken extraordinary measures to move flows from both the Arkansas and Colorado rivers into the Fountain Creek watershed. As a result, the return flows — water that comes out of sewage treatment plants or that percolates off lawns — have increased. Flows into Fountain Creek have been altered as ground where water once soaked in has been paved to accommodate urban lifestyles…

One of the major reasons the [Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.] was formed was a proposal by Colorado Springs to divert even more water for itself and its neighbors through the Southern Delivery System. Leaders in Pueblo hammered out a series of agreements to protect the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek as SDS moved through its permitting. “There are serious questions about how to manage the return flows on Fountain Creek and these workshops have brought out many things that we need to take into account as we develop the master plan,” said Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek district. “I think we have to start with taking care of the eroded areas, and shore up the creek starting from those areas.”[…]

Water rights also will come into play on Fountain Creek as projects progress, Division Engineer Steve Witte said. “Is our prior [appropriation] system flexible enough to accommodate wetlands?” Witte asked, addressing a demonstration project on Fountain Creek in north Pueblo that proposes to create a flood detention pond. “Vested water rights are entitled to a continuation of stream conditions that existed at the time of their water rights appropriations,” he said…

Tougher water quality environmental regulations are coming into play over the next decade that will affect sewage and stormwater discharges into rivers, said Dick Parchini of the Colorado Water Quality Control Division. New standards are being developed for phosphorus, nitrogen and chlorophyll, which are byproducts of both urban and agricultural uses of water. Many come from “non-point” sources which cannot be easily identified or regulated. There are conflicting ideas about what the right standards should be. Water full of nitrogen isn’t good for drinking, but benefits crops. A lake with healthy amounts of algae is good for fish, but too much can choke off oxygen supplies as the algae die, and municipalities like their supplies “gin clear,” he said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.