From the Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):
This latest argument is as clear as a river during peak runoff.
Idarado announced last Friday it was recalling water rights it conditionally gave to the Town of Telluride in 1992, and that it would use the water to generate power at the Bridal Veil Power Station, a historic hydroelectric powerplant perched above the tallest waterfall in the state. According to an Idarado press release, the move would not adversely affect the flow in the San Miguel River nor would it diminish the current levels of water over Bridal Veil Falls…
The issue is wholly complex, as most water disputes are. In the wording of the 1992 agreement, it’s stated that Idarado must recall the water for “beneficial” use, meaning the water is applied to a recognized public purpose, such as irrigation or hydroelectricity — exactly what Idarado says it will use the water for. Under water law, the town must give the water back if it deems the request “proper,” which it hasn’t yet determined…
The Bridal Veil Power Station is an uncommon confluence in the channels of groundbreaking utility and improbable beauty and is one of the oldest operating AC generators in the country (behind the Ames hydroelectric station, just up the highway).
This morning, May 24, at 8 a.m., we began increasing releases from Green Mountain Reservoir to the Lower Blue. We increased by 100 cfs making the Lower Blue flow around 1100 cfs. This afternoon, we will bump up another 100 cfs putting 1200 cfs in the river.
The reason for the change is the continuing snow accumulation in the high country upstream of the reservoir. We are near record levels for snowpack and the run-off forecast from the Colorado River Basin center continues to go up. We are doing our best to balance inflows, storage and releases with the competing demands served by the reservoir.
Even with this change in releases, the reservoir storage is still increasing. Currently, it is rising at just about a foot a day.
Normally, snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, where Buffalo Pass is located, would be reduced to 55 percent of its maximum moisture content. This year, the basin was at 154 percent the week before Memorial Day.
“Most of the water remains up high,” says Gillespie. “We get these brief dry periods of three or four days and we will start to see the melt occur, and then we see another storm and we rebuild what has been melted off. The net effect is that we are prolonging what we have out there in the snowpack later into spring. And now we are approaching June. This is definitely much later than we would like to be in terms of melt proceeding.”
Cameron Pass, between Steamboat Springs and Fort Collins, also had a record snowpack in early May, while other regions southward to Vail and Aspen had deep snow but not necessarily records. Southern Colorado, as is common in La Niña years, has had subpar snow, with the Sangre de Cristo Range at just 50 percent of average…
The most significant problem [for Routt County] has been landslides blocking local roads, the result of soil being saturated by the intense rains of May. “Everywhere you go you can see a slope that is sloughing or has slid.”
Eighty miles south, authorities in the Vail area are also tracking mudslides. “I worry about the potential mudslide and flood-prone areas of Eagle County,” says Barry Smith, director of emergency management for Eagle County. “It’s sort of my job.”[…]
“I think it’s one of those ‘duh’ moments,” says Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District. “Look at all the water that is going downstream, on both sides of the mountain (Continental Divide).” That is, says Werner, water that could legally stay in Colorado – if it had the necessary dams. “We need to put some more buckets out there, and these are good years to illustrate why we need buckets.”
Almost 5,000 cubic feet of water per second gushed down from the western mountains [last summer], flooding the [Cache la Poudre] river, making trouble for bridges and roads in its path, enveloping streets and inching dangerously close to homes. It was the first time the river stretched its banks with such gusto since 1999, when the Poudre hit its second-highest flow in Greeley of 6,210 cfs. This year, all predictions are that the river will again hit that high point, especially with the rising snowpack in the mountains. Coupled with the rainfall and high temperatures of a typical Colorado spring, most are expecting a mess this year…
In a typical year, flooding occurs mostly in the month of June when the winter snowpack melts under high heat and is helped along the winding river banks by spring rains. But it’s also hit in early May and lasted through June. “I’d say we’re going to start watching closely around Memorial Day and anticipate peak flows will pass by the end of June,” said Dave Bauer, Weld County’s engineer, who must cover extra ground with the confluence of both the Poudre and South Platte rivers east of Greeley. “Last year the high flows continued through the first two weeks of June.”
“It now appears impacts of this project will be quite severe and cannot be mitigated,” said Polly Reetz, conservation coordinator for the Audubon Society of Greater Denver. The new water that would be stored to sustain 15 south-metro suburbs “wouldn’t be there all the time, and you can’t get trees to grow back if you don’t have water all the time. . . . What you’ll have is a big, weedy mud flats,” Reetz said. “If it is a big mud flat, it’s not going to be nice for recreation or anything else.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state water-supply planners support the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project. Some conservationists are also supportive, saying the “reallocation” of Chatfield from flood control to holding up to 40,000 acre- feet of water is less harmful than other projects to supply suburbs.
State environmental overseers acknowledged significant harm — including the reduction of rivers and the creation of mud flats. “One of the identified impacts will be a mud-flats area. We’re working to determine what the best way to mitigate that will be,” said Alex Davis, assistant director of the state Department of Natural Resources.
The project would flood 587 acres of 5,400-acre Chatfield State Park as water levels rise by up to 12 feet. More than 1.6 million people visit the park each year, spending $9.5 million in the process.
Officials say parts of Colorado west of the Continental Divide and most of the eastern plains should expect minor flooding as rainfall and warmer temperatures begin to melt the season’s record snowpack. The Colorado Water conservation board said Monday that minor flooding watches have been issued for the western slope down to Montrose County and the eastern plains.
Chandler Peter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the permitting processes for the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) and other proposed dams and reservoirs on the Poudre River (Halligan and Seaman) have been delayed yet again, now for the third time. The initial release for the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for NISP was supposed to be in June of 2010, and was initially delayed until the summer of 2011, and then delayed again until the latter part of 2011, and has now been delayed “into 2012” with “no refined ETA for the SDEIS” according to an email from Mr. Peter to Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper today. Additionally, the first draft of the EIS for the new Halligan (Fort Collins) and Seaman (Greeley) dams and reservoirs on the North Fork of the Poudre was slated for the summer of 2011, but then was delayed for a half year after the release of the NISP SDEIS, which will now put them into 2012 or 2013.