Colorado-Big Thompson update: 780 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As more run-off comes down from the mountains above Estes, more of the east slope water rights come into play for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. We call the east slope water rights “priority” water. As we continue to curtail our imports from the west slope accordingly, we are pulling more priority water into the C-BT system.

Changes to the system will be made late tonight [June 7 or] Wednesday morning around 2 a.m. We will cut back some additional C-BT water imported through the Adams Tunnel and collect a matching amount of priority water here on the east slope. As a result, the Olympus Dam release to the lower Big Thompson River will be cut back from around 905 cfs to about 780 cfs.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Reclamation is ramping down the high-flow regime for Black Canyon, the target is to reduce to 3,100 cfs by next week

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit have begun to decrease this afternoon. Provisional data from the USGS shows the Black Canyon 24 hour peak target flow of 6,793 cfs is expected to be completed by about 7:00 p.m. this evening. Current Black Canyon flow is 7,040 cfs. The Unit will continue to be ramped down over the next several days until reaching a flow of about 3,100 cfs next week. The instantaneous flows at Delta, Colorado reached a maximum of 13,700 cfs this morning inundating small lower portions of agricultural fields west of Delta. The instantaneous flow at Whitewater reached a maximum of 14,900 cfs this afternoon.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Runoff news: The Elk River sets a new all-time record for streamflow

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From the Associated Press via

U.S. Geological Survey official Michael Lewis said Wednesday that the Elk River near Steamboat Springs surpassed an all-time record with a preliminary flow rate of 8,250 cubic feet per second on Tuesday. At that rate, Lewis said the river could fill an Olympic-sized pool in about 11 seconds. Lewis said water levels like that are only seen every 400 or 500 years. The previous record was set exactly one year before when the river peaked at 6,970 cubic feet per second.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The county reported flows of 1070 cubic feet per second on the Big Thompson River in Loveland on Tuesday, and flows were in the mid-700s in Estes Park, with no flooding to report. Additional releases from the dam boosted the canyon flow to around 900 cfs, according to an email from Erik Nilsson, emergency manager with the county. Kevin Gingery, senior civil engineer for the city of Loveland, last week said minor flooding in Loveland won’t be a concern until water levels reach closer to 1,400 cfs…

The level of the Poudre River continues to rise as high temperatures melt the region’s unusually heavy snowpack. By Tuesday afternoon, the river was running at about 2,500 cubic feet per second, or cfs, through Fort Collins…

Near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, the river was running at or above 3,000 cfs much of Tuesday.

From (Cecile Juliette):

According to the National Weather Service, as of 9:00am Wednesday, the Colorado River at Cameo is at 13.2 feet, flood stage is at 12.5. Meteorologists say the level is approaching moderate flood stage. As of 8:45am Wednesday, the Colorado River near the Colorado/Utah border measures 15.05 feet, which is just above flood stage.

From the Pagosa Sun:

At 10 a.m. Monday the stage was 7.8 feet. Bankfull stage is 7 feet and flood stage is 9 feet. The forecast is that the river level will rise to near 8.1 feet around midnight today, Tuesday. Impact is experienced at 8 feet and water is expected to approach the low-lying areas at the River Center complex on the east end of the town of Pagosa Springs.

The [National Weather Service] indicates that snowmelt runoff will increase today along the San Juan River in Pagosa Springs and that the river will remain high and fast. Minor lowland flooding is to be expected.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The water level in Dillon Reservoir reached its lowest level of the runoff season June 1, dropping to an elevation of 8,992.45 feet — about 25 feet below full pool. At that level, the reservoir holds 187,916 acre feet of water. Since then, the water has started to rise again.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Yampa was flowing at 21,900 cubic feet per second at Deer Lodge Park in Moffat County at 7:15 a.m. Monday compared to 4,260 cfs in downtown Steamboat. At 5:15 p.m., it was holding at 21,800 cfs. A significant contributor to the Yampa’s significant volume in far Northwest Colorado is the Little Snake, which was carrying 7,350 cfs at 7:15 a.m., a flow that dwarfed its median for the date of 2,420 cfs. By 5:15 p.m. the Little Snake had slipped to 6,480, presumable before gathering steam overnight as melting snow made its way to western Moffat County.

The Little Snake River measuring site at Lilly Park, just before its confluence with the Yampa, was among five such sites in Northwest Colorado reflecting records for the date Monday morning. The list included the Elk River near Milner, which was flowing at 6,670 cfs late Monday morning after hitting its peak at 6,860 cfs at 2:30 a.m. The flow in the Elk stood at 6,210 cfs by late afternoon…

Other river sites establishing daily flow records today include the Yampa at Maybell, west of Craig, at 15,500 cfs; Slater Fork in extreme northeastern Moffat County, flowing 1,690 cfs (the median for the date is 318 cfs); and the Little Snake River near Slater, flowing at 3,750 cfs.

From Steamboat Today:

A measuring station at the Routt County Road 42 bridge measured the peak at 7,520 cubic feet per second at 4:45 a.m. “Preliminarily, that is a new peak of record,” said Michael Lewis, associate director of the USGS Colorado Water Science Center…

The record is based on about 40 years’ worth of data. The data are from 1904 to 1927 and 1990 to 2010. The gap represents a period when the measuring station was not operated, Lewis said. The record breaks the record that was set last year, when the Elk peaked at 6,970 cfs on June 8…

The Yampa River in downtown Steamboat is expected to remain close to its current Fifth Street Bridge height of 7 feet through Sunday. The river was flowing at about 4,500 cfs Tuesday afternoon, shy of its peak so far this spring of 4,780 cfs at 11:15 p.m. Monday. The record for the Yampa, according the USGS, is 6,820 cfs.

Energy policy — oil shale: Pitkin County wants federal lands to be off limits to oil shale and tar sands development

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The county commissioners have drafted a letter calling for closing public lands to leasing for oil shale and tar sands development, citing the possible impacts on the quantity and quality of water in the Colorado River and the unknown environmental impact of the technology used to turn oil shale into fuel…

Listing possibly dangerous changes to stream and river flows along with increasing toxin levels in the Colorado River basin, the commissioners’ letter calls for a halt to oil shale leasing. “[W]e believe it is premature to lease lands for such development before the impacts to water are determined,” reads the letter signed by commission chairwoman Rachel Richards.

In its call for public comment, the BLM acknowledged the “nascent character” of technology for oil shale and tar sands extraction. The county letter, as drafted, says the feds can’t responsibly allow the use of that burgeoning technology on public lands…

Along with direct impacts to water and the unknowns surrounding untested shale technology, the county letter notes impacts that drill rigs and infrastructure could have on wildlife in public lands OK’d for shale development…

“Consider whether the amount of energy spent in oil shale production, as it compares to the amount of energy it produces, is worth the potential impact to public health and public lands in the form of air and water quality, the overall health of ecosystems and wildlife populations, and tourism-dependent economies of rural Western Colorado,” the letter says.

From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

James T. Bartis of the RAND Corporation testified on Friday (pdf) before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power. He was asked to speak to the alternative fuel provisions in HR 909, the “Roadmap for America’s Energy Future” bill sponsored by Devin Nunes, R-Calif. “Most of the high value resources lie within in a very small area (roughly 30 by 35 miles) within Colorado’s Piceance Basin and within a small portion of the nearby Uinta Basin within Utah,” Bartis said. “Large-scale development of oil shale will cause federal lands to be diverted from their current uses.

“In the absence environmental and economic mitigation measures unprecedented in scope and scale, such development would almost certainly have adverse ecological impacts, and would likely be accompanied by socioeconomic impacts that could be particularly severe, especially in the northwest quarter of Colorado.”[…]

“Section 141(a)(5) makes the claim that ‘Oil shale is one of the best resources available for advancing American technology and creating American jobs,’” Bartis testified. “I have no knowledge of any research that supports this claim. Oil shale has a potentially important role in advancing our energy security and furthering economic progress. I see no reason to promote oil shale as above other promising areas for advancing technology and creating jobs.”

More oil shale coverage here and here.

Runoff news: High water advisories issued for the Pine Creek and the Numbers rapids near Buena Vista, 46,700 cfs in the Colorado River at the state line

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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.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

In the Upper Arkansas River, flows were 3,600 cubic feet per second and climbing Tuesday, making some sections of the river treacherous for boating. High-water advisories were issued for Pine Creek and the Numbers rapids near Buena Vista and through the Royal Gorge. “We don’t close the river, but strongly recommend boating on other sections of the river during the high-water advisory,” said Rob White, manager of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “The river keeps going up. I don’t think we’ve seen the peak of it yet.”[…]

No flooding of populated areas in the Arkansas River basin is in the forecast, according to estimates Tuesday by the National Weather Service. Minor encroachment of water into low-lying areas is seen from Lake County to Canon City over the next few days.

Conditions are great for bringing water in from the Colorado River, as Fry-Ark storage in Turquoise and Twin Lakes was drawn down in anticipation of heavy flows. So far, about 16,000 acre-feet of Fry-Ark water has been brought through the Boustead Tunnel, which continues to run at full bore. To put that in context, the entire Fry-Ark Project collection over the past six weeks amounts to about six hours of the flows going past Glenwood Springs in the Colorado River on Tuesday. Reclamation estimates more than 94,000 acre-feet of water will be brought over this year, and flows through the Boustead Tunnel could continue into early August. Reservoir managers are hard-pressed to keep up with the native flows. Reclamation is releasing almost 1,200 cfs from Turquoise into the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River to reflect native flows…

The Pueblo Board of Water Works also drew down its Clear Creek Reservoir in northern Chaffee County in anticipation of a heavy runoff. It will not be able to release the water quickly enough through its headgates and water will come over the dam when the reservoir fills.

From The Denver Post (Analisa Romano):

Officials closed access to two Colorado rivers Tuesday, citing high water flow dangerous to swimmers and riverbank visitors. The Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins and the Yampa River near Hayden will reopen when water flow drops to a level more typical of this time of year, said Jon Haukaas, a water engineer for Fort Collins…

Near Milner, the Elk River hit a record flow Monday, Lewis said, reaching a level not recorded there since 1904…

Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Mindy Crane said the Glenwood Canyon bike path along the Colorado River and a vehicle bridge on U.S. 6 near Dotsero and the right lane of Interstate 70 headed westbound will remain closed until water levels subside. Amtrack is suspending its service between Chicago and Denver from Thursday through Tuesday in anticipation of flooding in Omaha. Boulder officials are expecting Barker Reservoir to overflow the dam as soon as this afternoon, causing Boulder Creek to rise.


The Colorado Water Conservation board said Tuesday that people in Moffat, Routt, Jackson, Eagle and Mesa counties should all be wary of rivers reaching bank-full or cresting their banks as the warm temperatures create runoff. Flood warnings were put in place for the Elk and Yampa Rivers and along their tributaries.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Elsewhere around Garfield County, CDOT temporarily closed the Bair Ranch rest area in Glenwood Canyon. The Rifle rest area near the main Rifle interchange on Interstate 70 was also closed due to flood waters. Crews were busy there Tuesday building a clay-soil berm to help protect nearby homes against the rising water, CDOT spokesperson Nancy Shanks said. Other flood-related closures in the county included County Road 311 (the Rifle-Rulison Road), Rifle Mountain Park, and Silt’s island park along the Colorado River south of town…

The Colorado River through the canyon, as of Tuesday afternoon, was running more than 4,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) above its average springtime peak, according to CDOT estimates based on readings taken at the Shoshone Power Plant, just west of Hanging Lake Tunnel along Interstate 70. By Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado River was running at 18,100 cfs through Glenwood Canyon. The average springtime peak in that section is around 14,000 cfs, according to CDOT data…

Elsewhere along the Colorado River, below Glenwood Springs, the flow at 4 p.m. Tuesday was 24,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey real-time water data website. That level surpassed the previous maximum flow for June 7 of 22,400 cfs established in 1997. At the Colorado-Utah state line, the river was running at 44,700 cfs [ed. 46,700 cfs this morning]. The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs was also on the rise, topping 8,100 cfs early in the day Tuesday, before dropping to about 6,500 cfs later in the day, according to the USGS data.

From the Loveland Reporter Herald (Madeline Novey):

Though a National Weather Service flood advisory for several Colorado rivers and high flow waters prompted officials to close access Tuesday to the Cache la Poudre, those in Loveland said the Big Thompson River is not experiencing levels that would warrant the same concern or restrict public access…

As of Tuesday afternoon, [Lt. Pat Mialy, with Loveland’s Office of Emergency Management] said the Big Thompson’s waters flowed at 400 cubic feet per second…

At Estes Park’s Olympus Dam, which sits on Lake Estes and feeds into the Big Thompson, the water flow level was at 900 cfs, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. On Monday night, near Glade Road, the river’s levels were at 550 cfs, Mialy said…

Though they were higher Tuesday morning, water flow levels through the Poudre measured in at 2,800 cfs by afternoon, said Rick Bachand, manager of Fort Collins’ Natural Areas Environmental Program. Levels peaked at 4,600 cfs when the Poudre flooded this time last year, he said.

From (Kevin Torres):

Portions of Northern Coloradoremained under a flood advisory Tuesday night as the Poudre River continued to rise by the hour. Emergency management teams have closed down several trails along the swollen river with hopes of preventing anyone from slipping in.

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

The [Cache la Pourdre] river hit its season high Tuesday morning and jumped its banks in a handful of areas in west Greeley and Windsor…

While river flows reached a season high of 3,290 at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon on Tuesday morning, Greeley residents didn’t feel that right away, as it takes 12 hours to get here from the mouth of the canyon. Duran-Blietz was experiencing flows of 3,070 cfs registered Monday…

“It’s all a matter of what’s going on higher up, because all the low snow has melted,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It’s what’s happening at 10,000 feet, because we know there’s a lot of snow up there still, and it’s dense. We just don’t know how fast it will come down.” Werner said there is enough snowpack to create up to 8,000 cfs. That is just shy of what officials consider a 100-year flood event…

Werner, however, said a true peak of water is not expected until Father’s Day — almost two weeks away. “I probably wouldn’t go out on a crystal ball just yet and say 7,000 to 8,000, but we know the water is there if it heats up real quick,” Werner said.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Amy Bounds):

Boulder officials warned Tuesday that, over the next few days, water levels in Boulder Creek are expected to rise and possibly spill over onto underpasses. As high temperatures increase the snowpack runoff, Barker Reservoir is expected to fill and spill as early as Wednesday, officials said. While Boulder County, unlike some other areas of the state, doesn’t have a record snowpack this year, it’s still above average…

The water in the snowpack of the South Platte River Basin was more than three times the amount that’s normally there on May 31 and four times the amount that was there last year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Since Oct. 1, the South Platte River Basin — which includes the mountains in western Boulder County — has received one-third more precipitation compared with an average year…

By the end of the day Tuesday, the flow in Boulder Creek at Broadway was expected to reach 500 cubic feet per second. After the reservoir spill, the flow is expected to increase to 600 to 800 cfs. Scattered thunderstorms, in the forecast for Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday, could bump that up higher.

From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

The U.S. Geological Survey’s online stream tracker showed the Eagle River at Dotsero had passed its flood stage by about 3 inches Tuesday. Elsewhere, water was spreading across the Eaton property across the river from the Eagle River Preserve, which usually is at least partly flooded in the spring. Firefighters from the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District helped put sandbags around Mike Crabtree’s home hard against the river’s banks just east of the roundabout at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and Eby Creek Road…

486: Eagle River flow, in cubic feet per second, at Red Cliff.
5,040: Eagle River flow just west of Wolcott.
5,880: Eagle River flow at Dotsero.
18,400: Colorado River flow at Dotsero.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Madeline Novey):

Out of concern for public safety after the National Weather Service issued a flooding advisory in Colorado today, access to the Cache La Poudre River from various points is now closed.

From the Longmont Times-Call:

By the end of today, water flow in Boulder Creek at Broadway could reach 500 cubic feet per second, up from current flow of 200 cfs, according to the city. After the reservoir spills, the flow could reach from 600 to 800 cfs at Broadway.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

The [Cache la Poudre] river’s flow was 2,790 cfs (cubic feet per second) at 10:45 a.m. today, and in addition to River Place Drive, the Poudre River Trail at 7th Street, Oxbow Disc Golf Course and other portions of the Poudre River Trail going between Colorado Highway 257 and 83 Avenue were also shut down due to high floodwaters…

Last year, the Poudre River, which overflowed its banks in many parts of the Windsor area, peaked at 4,700 cubic feet per second (cfs) on June 12 and was still running at about 3,300 cfs on June 15. This year is anticipated to be worse, with the peak flows expected between 6,000-8,000 cfs, officials say.

Summit County: The first of three events in the series ‘All About Water’ is Thursday night

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From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

“The Science of Watershed Protection” is slated for 7-9 p.m. Thursday at the Summit County Community and Senior Center at County Commons in Frisco. A panel consisting of experts in the field will address how (and if) the limited U.S. Forest Service can allocate its budget to protect both water supplies and homes. The panel aims to address questions of what watershed protection means and looks like, how to achieve a more resilient forest, how best to protect against catastrophic wildfire — and priorities for how to spend limited resources.

More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

A week later (June 16, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), local experts will discuss stream restoration. Brian Lorch will highlight some local success storied, including a project in the Upper Blue near Four Mile Bridge that has helped boost trout populations. Lane Wyatt will give an update on the Snake River Basin, where heavy metals taint the water from Upper Peru Creek all the way to Keystone, and Forest Service hydrologist Cory Lewellen will describe some potential projects on National Forest lands. Clima Mine restoration will also be on the agenda.

The series wraps up with a luncht-time panel on June 23 at CMC in Breckenridge with input from author and water investor Steve Maxwell (The Future of Water) followed by Eric Kuhn, director of the Colorado River Water Conservation District on the looming problems with the Colorado River. Closing with water attorney Barney White on the tools available to solve the problems and are they adequate for the task.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study Interim Report #1 is hot off the press

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An interim report was issued this week by the Bureau of Reclamation in conjunction with states in the Colorado River Compact. The interim report is a step leading to the final report next year. The report says the supply of water in the Colorado River basin could decrease by 10 percent as climate changes continue to alter the hydrology of the river…

Climate change models vary widely in the amount of precipitation, but are consistent in predicting higher temperatures for the region and a shift that will mean less snowpack and more rain…

The Colorado River is important to the Arkansas and South Platte basins because nearly 500,000 acre-feet of water is imported across the Continental Divide each year. A reduction in water availability could mean curtailment of diversions.

More coverage from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. From the article:

Studies using different climate models have shown larger decreases in the mean annual runoff, but the results of this latest study are consistent with a Department of the Interior report that was released in March and quantified climate change effects for eight major river basins in the West. Three of the supply models for this report used combinations of observed hydrological data and historical reconstructions. They showed future conditions hewing relatively close to past conditions in terms of runoff, but with longer dry periods. The fourth model used a down-scaled global projection that takes climate change into account. This made the water supply situation more complex: river runoff would peak earlier in the year, prolonged wet periods would almost disappear, and the occurrence of droughts that last longer than five years would happen 40 percent of the time, resulting in larger water deficits…

But the supply situation is a familiar tale, told by many scientists and policy wonks. The more interesting piece of the Reclamation’s study will come with the demand assessments section and the evaluations for how to close the gap. The latter will address efficiency and conservation, agriculture-to-urban water transfers, and augmentation options that range from respected (desalination) to controversial (pipelines from northern Nevada, or even the Mississippi River) to fanciful (icebergs).

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Drought frequency and duration are expected to increase under a climate-change model, one of four different water supply scenarios used by the agency in an ongoing study of supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin. The report says projected changes in the basin include continued warming in the basin, along with snowpack decreases as more precipitation falls as rain. “Droughts lasting five or more years are projected to occur 40 percent of the time over the next 50 years” under the climate change assumption, the report says.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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

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Here are the notes from yesterday’s webinar from the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s an excerpt:

For the
month of May, most
Upper Colorado
Basin (UCRB)
received near
precipitation. Some areas of eastern
saw over 300%
their average
precipitation. Some
of the
lower elevations
western CO and
southern UT
were a
receiving around
of their average
May. Precipitation was well above average
water year
average. Southeast CO and the San Luis Valley saw less than 50% of their average moisture for the month.