NIDIS Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment Summary of the Upper Colorado River Basin

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Here are the notes from this week’s webinar, courtesy of the Colorado Climate Center

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Releases from Granby Reservoir are 430cfs

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It’s that time of year we all start looking for snow to melt, rivers to run and reservoirs to fill. While every year here in Colorado presents an interesting run-off season, this one is shaping up to possibly be more memorable than others.

We’re looking at a significant snow pack average on both sides of the Divide. Despite it being nearly the end of May, snow pack continues to hang on. Typically, snow pack is measured in daily averages. So, as long as that snow doesn’t melt, the daily averages climb. Right now, we’re looking at a snow pack in the Blue River Basin up above Green Mountain Reservoir of around 353% of average.

With that in mind, we’ve been generating power at the plant and moving water out of the reservoir in anticipation of the coming snow melt. Releases from the dam of about 1200 cfs will continue through the Memorial Day weekend. The reservoir is also starting to fill, albeit slowly, at a rate of just about a foot a day.

Moving up the Colorado River into Grand County, we’re seeing snow pack in the Upper Colorado River Basin (above Granby and Willow Creek) of around 286% of average. In anticipation of the snow melt run-off, Northern Water has drawn Willow Creek Reservoir down to almost dead storage and has been adjusting releases so that outflow matches inflow. It’s been fluctuating a little bit, getting as high as 900 cfs. We’re maintaining a fairly steady release out of Granby of around 430 cfs.

If all the C-BT’s west slope storage is combined, the average for this time of year is actually up a little bit at about 104% of average.

To date, we’ve been running a full Adams Tunnel, moving water from Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs to the east slope into Horsetooth, Carter, and on downstream. This means that the reservoirs in the middle of the system have been operating pretty normally. Lake Estes, Pinewood, and Flatiron reservoirs are basically full, with some water level elevation fluctuation for hydro-power generation. All three of these reservoirs should operate pretty normally through Memorial Day weekend.

As I’ve mentioned before, Lake Estes is not a regulating reservoir. Flows out of Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding area into the Big Thompson River above the reservoir are largely uncontrolled streams. We have some flexibility at Olympus Dam, which holds back Lake Estes, but we do have to bypass, send on through, native Big Thompson river flows. We continue to balance inflow and outflow there as best we can. Last night, we dropped the releases from Olympus Dam by about 50 cfs. Right now, we are releasing about 250 cfs to the canyon. Flows in the canyon could fluctuate 50 cfs up or down through the weekend.

The pump is on to Carter Lake and its water level elevation is steadily climbing. Today, it is at a water level elevation of about 5754 feet and still going up. We are planning on continuing to pump to Carter into June.

Likewise, Horsetooth Reservoir’s water elevation continues to rise. It’s at an elevation of about 5408. While that elevation is pretty typical for this time of year (we normally start the summer season and Memorial Day weekend somewhere between 5410-5414), it is likely to continue climbing past this weekend and into June.

Meanwhile, the first holiday weekend of the summer season is almost here. I’ve attached a news release Reclamation distributed this week reminding folks to take the proper CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY precautions regarding the invasive quagga and zebra mussels.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: Releases are 300cfs to the Arkansas River above Buena Vista are 300cfs

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It’s that time of year we all start looking for snow to melt, rivers to run and reservoirs to fill. While every year here in Colorado presents an interesting run-off season, this one is shaping up to possibly be more memorable than others.

To date, we’ve been moving water from our upper reservoirs on the Fry-Ark project, Twin Lakes and Turquoise, on down to Pueblo Reservoir. The Fry-Ark release to the Arkansas River above Buena Vista has been around 300 cfs for a few weeks now and looks to stay around that rate through Memorial Day weekend, and possibly longer. We are bypassing, sending on through, any snow melt that comes down Lake Creek and Lake Fork Creek into the reservoirs. But, with the continuing cool weather, rain, and upper elevation snow, that just hasn’t been much, so far.

Meanwhile, snow pack continues to hang on. Typically, snow pack is measured in daily averages. So, as long as that snow doesn’t melt, the daily averages climb. Right now, we’re looking at snow pack in the Arkansas Basin of around 167% of average.

With the snow pack up like it is, and not melting, we’re not doing much importing of Fry-Ark Project water through the Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Reservoir. But there is a lot of snow up the Fryingpan River Basin. Today, snow pack in that basin is looking to be around 388% of average.

With that snow in mind, we’ve pulled Ruedi Reservoir down in anticipation of the run-off. We’re maintaining a release to the lower Fryingpan River of around 340 cfs (the Rocky Fork is kicking in another 20 or so cfs). We’re hoping to maintain that release into the run-off season.

Meanwhile, the first holiday weekend of the summer season is almost here. I’ve attached a news release Reclamation distributed this week reminding folks to take the proper CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY precautions regarding the invasive quagga and zebra mussels.

As we move into the weekend, the water levels at the Fry-Ark Reservoirs, with the exception of Pueblo, are just slightly below average for this time of year, awaiting that melting snow. Pueblo Res, however, has a storage that is above average for late May. Currently, it’s showing an elevation of about 4874 feet.

Durango: The city is tackling the costs of their share of Animas-La Plata project water

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From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

[Jack Rogers, the city’s public works director] said the $3 million, 20-year loan the city needs would have an interest rate of about 2.5 percent. It beats the rate the city would get anywhere else, Rogers said. On the recommendation of a consultant, the city of Durango in 2005 asked the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority to reserve a portion of A-LP water in its name. The city has put down $1 million as earnest money. The deposit leaves the city with a bill of $5 million to $5.5 million. A healthy water fund reserve makes it necessary to borrow only $3 million, leaving money for other water projects, participants said. Because the city has only a week’s reserve of water, 1,900 acre-feet of consumable water from the A-LP would be a comfortable backup for emergencies…

A water-rate increase for city residents will be necessary – but not immediately because of money in reserve.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here.

Runoff news: Officials warning of possible localized flooding on the Colorado River

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From the Associated Press via Fox31:

A report by the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts the chances that the river will flood at Cameo in De Beque Canyon at 90 percent, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

From (Matt Vanderveer):

River levels are high and continue to rise and some parts of the Western Slope are still covered with more than 16 feet of snow; and a spate of warm temperatures in June could send water over the banks…

“Plateau Valley communities up on the Grand Mesa; also in the valleys there has been some concern with Rosevale Road,” says [Mesa County Emergency Manager Andy Martsolf]. The County has already started putting up barricades and sandbags in those areas. [Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey] hopes some future celebrations here in Mesa County won’t be affected by flooding…

If you live in low level areas near Plateau Creek, the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers and haven’t already started a planning process for evacuation or how you’re going to protect your property, the Sheriffs Office urges you to start now.

From (Tami Brehse):

Right now the river [Colorado River at Grand Junction] is at about nine feet. It peaked at 14 feet back in 1984, causing serious flooding…

Most predictions say the river is going to fill the banks the first week of June. Peak levels are expected sometime at the end of next month. Snowpack is currently 243% of average.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The state’s spring runoff normally begins in early to mid-May and peaks by the second week of June, but some parts of the high country are still buried by up to 16 feet of snow. National Weather Service hydrologist Treste Huse said a spate of warm temperatures in June could send water over the banks of many rivers and streams in the week ahead. To help residents and others monitor flooding, the U.S. Geological Survey has established its WaterAlert system, which allows those who sign up to set parameters for specific rivers and receive an alert by text or e-mail when the waterway passes that threshold. The site is at […]

Colorado’s statewide snowpack today is at 232 percent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Snowpack is even higher in the mountains — 261 percent in the Colorado River basin. Meanwhile, runoff is still running late. The Arkansas River near Leadville was running at just 31 percent of normal today, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

AECOM names University of Colorado Boulder winner of water/wastewater design competition

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From Environmental Expert via

AECOM Technology Corporation, a leading provider of professional technical and management support services for government and commercial clients around the world, announced today that a team from the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder), located in Boulder, Colo., won first prize in AECOM’s 2010-2011 Water/Wastewater Academic Design Competition.

In its eighth year, the annual design competition challenges students from post-secondary institutions in North America to develop solutions to real-life engineering problems, then present and defend their solutions to a panel of water and wastewater industry professionals.

“This year, 15 teams from 10 universities across the United States and Canada entered the competition,” said Rob Andrews, AECOM’s global managing director, Water. “It’s really important for today’s youth to think about real-world issues in the industry.”
Six semi-finalist teams were selected for videoconference interviews and two finalist teams from CU-Boulder and McGill University in Montreal were invited to AECOM’s offices in New York for in-person interviews.

The winning team received a trophy and cash award for its proposed design and cost estimate of an expansion to a surface water treatment plant for removal of conventional contaminants and hardness.

The final judging panel included Keith Mahoney of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Dr. John Fillos from the City College of New York, as well as AECOM’s Bill Clunie, vice president, Water, and Bill Pfrang, technical manager, Water.

More coverage from Beth Potter writing for the Boulder County Business Report. From the article:

The CU student team beat out 14 other teams in a competition to design the expansion of a water treatment plant that removes conventional contaminants and water hardness. Students also gave a cost estimate of their plan in the competition, which was sponsored by global support services provider Los Angeles-based AECOM Technology Corp. Now in its eight year, the competition presents a real-life engineering problem. Students then present and defend their solutions to the problem to a panel of water and wastewater industry professionals. “It’s really important for today’s youth to think about real-world issues in the industry,” said Rob Andrews, AECOM’s global managing director, water.

More education coverage here.

Boulder County is regulating the application of biosolids more closely after complaint last year

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From the Boulder Weekly (Jefferson Dodge):

State regulations prohibit biosolids from being applied to lands where the water table is within five feet of the surface. Over the past couple of years, Licul has identified several farming areas where wetlands and other obvious signs indicate that the water table is higher than the five-foot threshold, and as a result, the use of biosolids has been suspended on hundreds of acres of [Boulder] county open space.

[Boulder County resident Elvis Licul] also pointed out last spring that the depth of the water table can vary by as much as seven feet on his own property between the winter and summer months, so he questioned why water depth is sometimes measured in the winter, when it is lowest. His complaints have prompted state and county officials to begin performing depth measurements in the summer, when irrigation and runoff can raise the water level.

County Water Quality Program Coordinator Mark Williams told Boulder Weekly it is now standard operating procedure to measure water depth in the summer before biosolid application is approved in areas where there is any question whether groundwater approaches the five-foot mark. (In some areas of Colorado, the aquifer can be as deep as 150 feet below the surface.) The same approach is implied, if not explicitly spelled out, in state regulations on biosolid use, which say that no one can apply the human waste in areas where the “annual high groundwater table” is within five feet of the surface.

More water pollution coverage here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update: The Corps of Engineers has suspended their EIS efforts for 60 days

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ben Neary):

Rena Brand, project manager for the Corps of Engineers in Littleton, said Wednesday that Million wrote to her agency last month asking it to suspend its environmental review of his pipeline proposal. She says Million wants to consider whether his project could generate electricity and, if so, whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should be leading the review. “The alternative energy produced from the project may become a major focus and benefit,” Million wrote in an email to the Corps of Engineers last month. “Discussions with other federal agencies indicate that there may need to be a realignment of the lead federal agency.” The Corps of Engineers responded to Million early this month and agreed to stop work on the study for 60 days. Brand said that, if her agency doesn’t hear back from Million in that time, it will have to decide whether to drop the study entirely…

[Mike Purcell, director of the Wyoming Water Development Commission] said that the longstanding conceptual design of the pipeline project has called for installing small turbines to generate electricity in locations where the water would flow downhill to help defray pumping costs. “That has been a concept for I believe quite a while,” Purcell said. “But if he’s now saying it would generate power over and above the demands of the project, I would find that unlikely.”

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

“Mr. Million asked us on April 27 to stop work on the EIS for 60 days, because he’s trying to figure out whether his project may take on a hydropower focus,” [Rena Brand, a project manager with the corps’ local office in Jefferson County] said…

Another group representing water providers in Colorado and Wyoming announced in March 2010 they, too, were interested in studying the proposal. The group included public agencies that serve more than 500,000 in Denver’s southern suburbs and El Paso County, as well as towns and counties in eastern Wyoming, Frank Jaeger, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, said in 2010.

That group hasn’t contacted the corps to request an environmental study, Brand said.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Releases from Olympus dam increased to 300cfs

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are starting to see inflows to Lake Estes pick up again–and, as is typical–they pick up at night. As a result, we plan to increase releases from Olympus Dam by 50 cfs tonight [May 25] from 250 to 300 cfs. The change should occur around midnight.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Still waiting for runoff to start, maybe over the next two weeks

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Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for a look at the gage at Gunnison on the Gunnison River from last evening. Flows are 500 cfs below the median value so the runoff really hasn’t started in earnest yet. Below is an update from email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

It appears the runoff in west-central Colorado may finally begin in earnest during the next couple of weeks. In order to share Reclamation’s tentative plans, we offer the following based on the current hydrology and forecasts. Current tentative plans are for releases from Crystal Reservoir to begin increasing from the present release of 3,500 cfs on Friday June 3rd, continuing to increase until reaching a total release of 7,800 cfs on Wednesday June 8th. This should result in a flow of around 6,800 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. Releases would then begin to ramp down on Thursday June 9th with flows eventually stabilizing around 3,000 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. This flowrate (3,000 cfs) is likely to continue through July and possibly into August.

Keep in mind these flowrates are targets. Side inflows and other climatic conditions will cause flows to vary beyond those which can be controlled by release changes at the dams. In other words, as Crystal spills, fluctuations in the Black Canyon will occur. In addition, with this tentative peak flow operation, there is a 50% probability of flows exceeding 11,520 cfs at the USGS gage at Delta, Colorado.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.