Runoff/snowpack news: Lake Powell is on the rise

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From (John Hollenhorst):

Forecasters had been expecting a good year at Lake Powell from all the snowmelt heading down the Colorado River. But the latest forecast jumped two million acre feet — enough water to fill an acre, two million feet deep! And that’s just the increase over last month’s forecast. “I was surprised that it went that high,” said Richard Clayton, a hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “I was aware of the snowpack conditions. but I was very surprised that they jumped it up that fast.” In the coming weeks Lake Powell will rise a few inches a day, then nearly a foot a day heading into summer. “It will increase maybe 15 feet in the next month, but then it’s really going to take off in June,” Clayton said. When the last snow melts, Lake Powell will have risen 50 feet for the year, ending up nearly 25 feet higher than last year.

From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

The Green River, infused with the rushing waters of Colorado’s Yampa River, is expected to fill farm fields and damage homes. The Yampa is expected to be 6 to 10 feet above its peak levels.

The estimated inflow into Lake Powell has jumped by 2 million acre-feet of water in just one week, leading the Bureau of Reclamation to revise its estimates on how much the lake will rise. Overall, Lake Powell will receive 11.5 million acre feet because of runoff. Initially thought to fill 10 feet higher, the lake will rise by as much as 25 feet. The BOR’s Ed Vidmar said over the next four to six months, as much water will be released as possible downstream to Nevada’s Lake Mead, and the power plant will run at full capacity. The excess water, he noted, is good news for the Colorado River Basin and for Lake Powell recreationers, with the lake being 45 feet from full by sometime in July.

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The National Resource Conservation Service says a water measuring station near Steamboat reached 73 inches of water content. The previous record for that area was 71.1 inches set back in 1978. There was so much snow that the 16 foot tall measuring gauge had to be extended.

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Snowpack for our area — the Colorado River Basin — is 151 percent of normal and more than twice as much as last year (222 percent), according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service…

Vail Mountain set a new snowfall record with 524 inches for the 2010-11 season. The last time Vail Mountain recorded even close to that much snow was during the 1977-78 season, when the resort had 505 inches. In fact, the ski season ended with a winter storm warning that lasted three days.

Colorado River basin: Anglers are still working on protection for upper basin streams

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Anglers are still concerned with potential streamflow issues at the Colorado River headwaters, in light of the proposed Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming projects, despite the euphoria over the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement announced a week ago. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Altogether, the projects have the potential to reduce Colorado River flows to less than 25 percent of their historic native flows. Biologists and anglers have already observed increases in stream temperatures, algae blooms, and declines in fish populations throughout the Colorado River headwaters. Taking more water out of these rivers could be catastrophic if mitigation efforts fall short, according to Trout Unlimited. Both proposals are currently under review by federal and state agencies, with detailed mitigation plans at issue. The Colorado Wildlife Commission will take input on the mitigation plans Friday, May 6 at a public hearing in Salida, and Trout Unlimited, a coldwater fisheries conservation group, plans to ask the commission to make sure there’s an insurance policy in place for the Fraser River and the Upper Colorado.

“We think what we’re asking for is pretty reasonable,” Whiting said. “This is the only chance we’re going get to address some of these impacts. We need to have an insurance policy,” she added. Whiting said the environmental studies for the Moffat and Windy Gap projects dealt with some of the anticipated impacts in a speculative way, and that there’s no way of knowing exactly how the increased diversions — planned during the peak flow season — will play out. If the money currently earmarked toward enhancements is sufficient, great. But if not, there needs to be a pot of money in reserve to do the needed work, she said. Specifically, Trout Unlimited said that significant restoration work and monitoring will be needed to ensure healthy aquatic ecosystems on the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. The group estimates that it will cost about $14 million for the needed work, yet only a fraction of that funding is included in the mitigation plans…

Trout Unlimited also wants the Front Range utilities to make a commitment to stop diversions when the water gets too warm or flows drop too low. Removing too much water from the river during runoff or during critical hot summer months raises stream temperatures and eliminates flushing flows that are needed to keep river ecosystems alive. If flushing flows are not occurring or if temperatures rise above state standards, fish can die. Water providers need to make a commitment to stop diversions when stream temperatures approach state standards or if flushing flows are not occurring in accordance with the community-led Grand County Stream Management Plan. These commitments, combined with ongoing monitoring, are what is referred to by the concept of ‘Adaptive Management.’

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Arkansas River valley: Irrigators depending on Fryingpan-Arkansas Project flows to hold off this year’s drought

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Storage is the key for irrigators in dry years. Here’s a report about the use of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project transmountain water in the Arkansas River valley this year, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“Fry-Ark water is about what we live on,” said Donny Hansen, president of the Holbrook Canal. “The longer it stays cold in the mountains, the better for us. We have a junior water right, but a senior storage right because early on they realized we would need it.”

Even the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County is looking for a large allocation of Fry-Ark water, and has leased some water from Colorado Springs. “As dry as it is, we ’re really dependent on (Fry-Ark flows) because it just doesn’t seem like it’s going very far,” said Bessemer Superintendent Mike Hill. “The more we can get, the better.”[…]

The Bureau of Reclamation Tuesday announced 94,200 acre-feet of water will be imported through the Boustead Tunnel this year. Of that, a little more than 77,000 acre-feet is expected to be available for allocation, said Bob Hamilton, engineering supervisor for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Requests from municipalities total about 16,000 acre-feet, which would leave more than 61,000 acre-feet for agriculture — about the same amount that would naturally flow into the Bessemer Ditch in an average year. The district will allocate the water later this month.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

CWCB: Alan Hamel — ‘To me, Flaming Gorge needs to be in the top two or three projects we consider’

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Chris Woodka sat down with CWCB member Alan Hamel (Pueblo Board of Water Works) to talk about the future for water supplies in Colorado. Here’s his report from The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“To me, Flaming Gorge needs to be in the top two or three projects we consider,” Hamel said. “I do think Flaming Gorge could take pressure off agriculture in the South Platte and Arkansas basins. It could also eliminate some, but not all, of the West Slope consequences of water projects within Colorado.”

Through the roundtable process, Hamel has been working on a water bank concept with the Gunnison Basin Roundtable that would use Blue Mesa Reservoir as a backstop for junior water rights in the Colorado River basin, rather than piping water from it. Keeping a pool of water available for release during a potential downstream call would prevent the need to curtail transmountain water rights, under the roundtables’ proposal.

Flaming Gorge provides a different advantage by bringing a new source of water into the state, adding storage that could benefit the entire state as well. “With Flaming Gorge, or any new project, we need to prioritize. There are not enough resources to build all of them,” Hamel said.

Hamel, who formerly represented the Arkansas Basin Roundtable on the IBCC, sees a role for both state water agencies in moving a project forward. “To me, the CWCB is the policy side, and it has a talented staff and the expertise to evaluate a project,” Hamel said. “The IBCC can find common ground, communicate and resolve the concerns between the East Slope and the West Slope.”

More CWCB coverage . More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.