Aspinall Unit update: 2730 cfs in the Black Canyon and the Gunnison Gorge

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Reclamation has begun ramping up releases for the peak flow operation at the Aspinall Unit and Black Canyon. This morning flows increased from Crystal Reservoir by 200 cfs bringing the flow in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge to 2,730 cfs. A 300 cfs increase will be made this afternoon bringing flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge to about 3,000 cfs. Flows will continue to increase over the weekend as Crystal Reservoir reaches its spillway crest and begins to spill, probably Saturday afternoon or evening. While spilling, natural fluctuations will be seen in the river system making downstream flows difficult to predict and control. However, below is a table showing estimated flows in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge below the Gunnison Tunnel. These flows should reach a peak of about 6,900 cfs on June 7th and 8th and return to about 3,100 cfs around June 13th. During this operation, combined flows of the mainstem Gunnison, North Fork and other tributaries may result in flows of around 13,000 cfs in the Delta area.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.

Runoff news: Some of the Arkansas basin snowpack is coming off, other streams are getting wild

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The heavy snowpack in the mountains is beginning to melt throughout the state, raising fears of flooding through mid-July in parts of the Colorado River basin. For the Arkansas River, flows are slightly below average for this time of year, but the bulk of the water is still to come…

Flows on the [Arkansas] river Friday were 1,570 cubic feet per second above Pine Creek, which is above the level considered safe for casual boaters. “Usually, in the first two weeks of June, it’s pretty darn sticky at Pine Creek,” [Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area] said…

The Arkansas River in Lake County is expected to reach flood stage in the next few days, according to the National Weather Service, but the floodwater is not expected to affect any populated areas or campsites…

Water diversions from the Western slope also have begun to pick up. The Boustead Tunnel is running at about 90 percent capacity and has brought over 7,500 acre-feet so far, said Roy Vaughan, manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for the Bureau of Reclamation. The imports are expected to be 94,000 acre-feet or more this year, but got off to a slow start because of cold temperatures in the high country this spring.

Meanwhile, state and federal water managers have decided against filling San Luis Lake this season due to the drought on the east side of the San Luis Valley. Here’s a report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The decision means boating and water skiing will not be possible at San Luis State Park, just west of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve…

This year’s runoff will be diverted to Head Lake and wetlands at the San Luis Lakes State Wildlife Area to benefit waterfowl and other bird species. Officials also anticipate the low water levels at San Luis Lake will reduce salt buildup and the carp population.

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

The ranch, which is 99 years old this year, has thus far survived every flood to come down the Upper Colorado. “But I’ve been told that this might be a 500-year flood,” [Jerry Helmicki at the Bar Lazy J] said. “Even in ‘84 the water didn’t get into the cabins.”[…]

Along Willow Creek, which is running at an all-time high, residents are preparing for the possibility of the bridge that crosses U.S. Highway 125 flooding or washing out, which would cut them off from Granby…And, the snow on Willow Creek Pass has hardly begun to melt. Of the 29 inches of water estimated to be in the snowpack prior to the start of runoff, about 23 inches of water remains…

On the Willow Creek drainage, Jensen said, 1500 cfs is considered a 500-year flood event. [C Lazy U Ranch Foreman Bruce Jensen] estimates that 2,000 cfs is flowing past the ranch now, and it could get to 2,800 cfs.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

George Varra, the Poudre River commissioner, said his best source for information is the website maintained by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. The site tracks river activity across the state. For the Poudre, it provides real-time information about flows as measured at several gauging stations from the canyon mouth to Greeley as well as air temperatures at high-country sites that measure snowpack. “I’m as interested in the night temperatures in the mountains as I am in anything else,” he said. “When we get lows of 35 to 40 degrees up there, I know we are going to have a good flow the next day.”

Water from snowmelt at Joe Wright Reservoir near the top of Poudre Canyon takes about 12 hours to reach the mouth of the canyon, he said. By calculating how much water is being diverted by irrigation ditches between the canyon and LaPorte, he can get a good idea of how low-lying areas such as the McConnell subdivision may be affected, Varra said.

Here’s the link to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s online applications Flood DSS. Here’s the link to the USGS’ Water Watch website where you can get a graphical view of all their gages across the state. Here’s the link to the Colorado Division of Water Resources Surface Water page where you can track your favorite gages.

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The latest snowpack measurements and weather forecasts have prompted Denver Water to warn residents of the Lower Blue Valley, below Dillon Reservoir, to be prepared for flooding flows in the Blue River. Combined inflows into the reservoir from the Upper Blue, the Snake River, Tenmile Creek and various smaller tributaries are forecast to peak in the range of 2,800 to 4,100 cubic feet per second. the average this time of year is about 1,700 cfs, and the record peak, set in 1995, is 3,408 cfs.

From The Denver Post (Kyle Glazier):

If the flow reaches projections, [Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney] said, it might be impossible to keep the flow out of the reservoir at or below 1,800 cfs, which is the maximum the Blue River downstream of Lake Dillon can take before it overflows its banks, Chesney said. If the reservoir fills to the top, the water will spill into the river, no matter what dam workers do, she said.

Tom Browning, chief of watershed and flood protection at the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the Elk River west of Steamboat Springs is also poised to meet or exceed record levels as record temperatures melt record snowpack in the Yampa River basin, which this week was still at more than 200 percent of average. On Thursday, snowpack statewide was about 247 percent of average for the date. “There is strong likelihood that the Elk River could reach a 100-year peak flow over the next five days or so and could even experience levels approaching a 500-year event this month, depending on weather conditions,” Browning said.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Heidi Rice):

“In Garfield County, things are OK right now,” [Aldis Strautins, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction] said. “But the rivers are running pretty high and fast and people need to be careful around the rivers.”[…]

Both the Colorado River and the Roaring Fork River are being monitored, but the biggest concern right now is the Colorado River. “We’re watching both rivers and we realize there is more water waiting to come down,” Strautins said. “We’re still going to see some rises this weekend and probably into next week.” Areas currently being watched include the Colorado River, Roaring Fork River, Elk Creek in New Castle and Rifle Creek…

Reports showed that as of Friday, the Colorado River was flowing at 25,000 CFS (cubic feet per second), which is higher at this time of year then in 2010, according to Chris Bornholdt, emergency manager for Garfield County. “It’s supposed to peak by June 9 and next week,” Bornholdt said. “But it depends on the weather and how hot it gets. People who are in affected areas might want to do some preparation. If [the water] was high last year, it will probably be higher this year.”

Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: Trout Unlimited and other groups are going to push for more protection for the upper Colorado River

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“The state’s namesake river is dying,” said Bud Isaacs of the Upper Colorado River Alliance, a local landowners’ group. “We’re asking the governor, state wildlife commissioners and the Department of Natural Resources to uphold their responsibility to protect our rivers.”[…]

Trout Unlimited officials said Thursday that the Denver agreement, lauded by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a “new way of doing business,” does not go far enough to protect the environment. “The present mitigation plan doesn’t get the job done,” said Mely Whiting, lawyer for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “And unfortunately, Denver Water and Northern are not offering adequate protections.”

Specifically, Trout Unlimited and the landowners’ groups want:

A bypass around Windy Gap.
-A halt to diversions when water temperatures are on the verge of state “impaired” standards — warm enough to kill trout.
-Adequate spring flushing flows to keep the river clean and healthy.
-A plan to monitor stream conditions.
– An endowment fund to pay for restoration projects.

“How much will it cost the state not to protect these rivers?” asked Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “We can pay a little now — or a lot later. This is a smart investment in one of the state’s irreplaceable resources and in our quality of life.”

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Vote Slated on Water Mitigation Plans

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife (Theo Stein):

The Colorado Wildlife Commission plans to vote on the adequacy of plans to mitigate impacts to fish and wildlife resources from two proposed transmountain water development projects during its meeting in Grand Junction.

The vote will complete the Commission’s 60-day review of the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans submitted by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the Commission’s April meeting in Meeker.

The Moffat Collection System Project proposes to firm up the yield from Denver Water’s existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by diverting additional water from the Fraser, Williams Fork and Blue rivers to an enlarged Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The Windy Gap Firming Project would firm up Northern’s yield from existing water rights in the Upper Colorado River by diverting additional water to the proposed new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland. The mitigation plan review by the Wildlife Commission is part of each project’s federal permitting process.

Last month, Ken Kehmeier, a senior aquatic biologist with the Division, presented staff’s analysis of the plans during the Commission’s May meeting in Salida. Following Kehmeier’s analysis, Commissioners questioned whether additional protections might be needed to guard against high water temperatures and whether flushing flows contemplated by the plans would be enough to maintain channel health. They also asked for more consideration of mitigation and enhancement funding, and for a clarification of the role that the Division would play in developing and managing restoration projects.

As part of its mitigation package for the Fraser River and upper Williams Fork River, Denver has proposed to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and fund other aquatic habitat restoration work. On the Colorado River, Denver and Northern Water would monitor water temperatures and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish. East of the Divide, Denver would replace wetlands inundated by the enlarged Gross Reservoir and monitor stream channel stability in South Boulder Creek. Denver would also allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water in Gross Reservoir to boost minimum flows in the Boulder Creek drainage during winter.

Northern, for its part, has offered [to] manage their diversions to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and keep water temperatures cool in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern also said it would contribute to water-quality projects designed to reduce nutrient loading in Grand Lake, Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. On the other side of the Divide, Northern would replace wetlands submerged by the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir and enhance nearby wildlife habitat.

Denver and Northern are also voluntarily proposing enhancement plans to improve conditions for fish and wildlife on a roughly 14-mile stretch of river between Windy Gap Reservoir and the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area. The enhancement plans are not required by the Commission’s review process.

Once the Wildlife Commission adopts its final recommendation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board will have 60 days to affirm or modify the state’s position. Governor John Hickenlooper will also have 60 days to affirm or further modify it before it’s submitted to federal permitting agencies.

Recently, Denver Water announced it had reached a complex legal settlement with Grand County and 33 other groups regarding longstanding concerns about the health of the Colorado River. The settlement includes funding for aquatic habitat and for an adaptive management process designed to help maintain river health.

Additional information regarding the Wildlife Commission’s review, including links to the mitigation and enhancement plans being offered by Denver Water and Northern, can be found on the Division’s web site at:

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.