Runoff news: The Eagle River is expected to remain near flood stage

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From the Associated Press from the The Columbus Republic:

The National Weather Service says the Eagle River in western Colorado is expected to stay near flood stage. Record snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, particularly the central and northern mountains, is causing flooding as it melts into rivers and streams.

From 9News.com (Jeffrey Wolf):

The Poudre River has already flowed over its banks in some spots in northeastern Colorado and many homeowners are using sandbags and digging ditches to divert the water…

The Colorado River in Glenwood Springs rose to 10.8 feet on Thursday, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department. That caused some flooding to lower areas, but the river did not reach the peak that was predicted. There was flooding along Interstate 70 east of Rifle and in the Parachute area. Three homes near the river in Rifle had some minor flooding in and around the homes…

Amtrak has temporarily suspended service between Denver and Chicago because of conditions in the Omaha, Neb. area.

From the Loveland Connection:

A link to a Colorado Division of Water Resources graph shows the Big Thompson River flow level at 596 cubic feet per second, or cfs, at 11:30 a.m. today at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon near Drake. The river peaked at about 660 cfs around midday Tuesday, according to the graph, and again around 630 cfs last night.

Moffat Collection System Project and Windy Gap Firming Project: The Colorado Division of Wildlife commissioners approve both mitigation plans

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Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

The Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday endorsed Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans submitted by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to mitigate impacts that would be caused by two proposed transmountain water development projects.

In a series of unanimous votes, Commissioners approved mitigation plans for Denver’s Moffat Collection System project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project and also authorized the Division of Wildlife to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Denver and Northern to help manage a significant restoration project for the upper Colorado River. Three members of the Colorado State Parks Board joined the Commission at the workshop, which was held at the Doubletree Inn on Horizon Drive.

The votes came after Denver and Northern described to Commissioners several new or modified plan elements, which include enhanced temperature and flow protections, creation of contingency funds for unanticipated impacts and enhanced funding for river restoration plans. The restoration plans were not required by the permitting process but were offered voluntarily by Denver and Northern to help address impacts from past water development. The agreements hinge on the water providers obtaining final federal approval for their projects.

Prior to the vote, Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn summarized concerns expressed by several commissioners regarding the complex package of plans and the potential that development of the projects may have unintended consequences for the upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers.

“Is it perfect?” Glenn asked “No. But staff has evaluated it inside and out and I’m confident that it’s better than where we are.”

The Commission’s recommendation will now be transmitted to the federal permitting agency for each project. Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System project would firm up the yield from Denver’s existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by enlarging Boulder’s Gross Reservoir and diverting additional water from the Fraser, Williams Fork and Blue rivers. Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project proposes to firm up the yield from its existing water rights in the Upper Colorado River by diverting additional water to the proposed new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland.

Since last fall, Denver and Northern have been in discussions with Division of Wildlife staff to address concerns voiced by the public and by Wildlife Commissioners. The two utilities have simultaneously been negotiating a complimentary set of agreements with a diverse group of stakeholders, including affected local governments like Grand County.

To further address impacts from its Moffat Collection System project, Denver has agreed to new elements including increased safeguards for maintaining cool water temperatures and minimum flows in the Fraser during high summer and additional funds for aquatic habitat improvements in that river. Denver also agreed to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

This is in addition to Denver’s previous proposal to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work on the Fraser. On the Colorado River, Denver would maintain two water temperature gauges and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish. East of the Divide, Denver would allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water in the enlarged Gross Reservoir for release during winter months, replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability.

In its final proposal, Northern agreed to increase minimum peak flows during drought conditions to maintain fish spawning habitat, to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures and to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Windy Gap being developed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Northern’s proposal included mitigating impacts on the Upper Colorado River system by managing their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and keep water temperatures cool, looking for ways to improve flushing flows in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir and contributing to water quality projects that reduce nutrient loading in Lake Granby, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. East of the Divide, Northern proposed to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow reservoir.

Under state statute, the Wildlife Commission’s authority was limited to mitigating impacts from proposed projects. Restoring the river to a past condition was beyond the scope of Commission authority. However, Denver and Northern voluntarily proposed to help enhance conditions for fish and wildlife resources on both sides of the Continental Divide.

The enhancement plans would support the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project, a collaborative plan designed to re-establish a functional channel system and improve habitat for trout and other important aquatic species on a roughly 14-mile stretch of river between Windy Gap Reservoir and the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area.

In their final plans, Denver and Northern agreed to add $1 million in funding to the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project to $4.5 million and increase money set aside to address future contingencies or operating and maintenance costs on that project to $1.5 million. Denver and Northern also pledged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the DOW to manage the habitat project, and urged that the DOW be given a more direct role in developing and managing stream restoration projects contemplated under the Learn By Doing adaptive management process created by Denver’s global settlement with Grand County and other stakeholders.

That global settlement, announced recently by Denver Water, would address 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.

Northern is also working on similar agreement with communities on the Upper Colorado River.

Senior Northeast Region aquatic biologist Ken Kehmeier said Division staff believes that in total, the agreements, including those made with mountain communities, would not only address impacts from the new projects but also help repair impacts to the Colorado and Fraser rivers caused by previous projects.

Commissioner David Brougham credited the Division, Denver and Northern for negotiating agreements which went beyond the Commission’s limited jurisdiction under the statute.

“I think in looking at this the Division has gone beyond and done more than that statute gives us the power to do,” Brougham said. “Denver and Northern could have said no, but they didn’t and I think that’s telling.”

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: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Water/MoffatWindyGapMitigationProjects/.

During the morning session, North Park District Wildlife Manager Josh Dilley was presented with the 2010 Shikar-Safari Club International Officer of the Year Award. Dilley, who for the past three years has had responsibility for two wildlife management districts in the high mountain basin, was presented with the award by Bob Boswell of Shikar Safari Club International.

Dilley, who was surrounded by his family, said he was honored by the award. “I don’t have to go to work every morning, I get to go to work every morning,” Dilley told the Commissioners. “Wildlife officers in Colorado have a passion like no other. I work with my heroes every day.”

Grand Junction’s Lynn Ensley, who founded the nonprofit Pathways for Fishing, was recognized for his outstanding service in recruiting young anglers in Colorado. “I can’t say enough about Lynn’s continued dedication, his passion and his enthusiasm,” said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. “Since 1995, Lynn has introduced almost 15,000 kids to the sport of fishing.”

Ensley expressed to the Commissioners his appreciation for the Division’s support over the years, adding that he is looking to develop a new program to recruit young deer hunters.

Commissioners also received an update on draft black bear management plans for the northern Front Range, the Sangre de Cristos, the Uncompahgre and the Bears’ Ears area of northwestern Colorado, as well as an update on the impending July 1 merger of the Division of Wildlife with Colorado State Parks.

In other action, the Commission adopted final regulations removing bag and possession limits at Bonny Reservoir State Park and allow the use of trotlines and jugs. This action permanently implements an emergency regulation passed by the Commission at its last meeting in May 2011. Bonny Reservoir is scheduled to be drained in the fall of 2011, and this change is intended to allow the public to use all game fish prior to the draining of the reservoir.

The Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. The complete agenda for the June Wildlife Commission meeting can be found on the Wildlife Commission web page at:
http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeCommission/Archives/2011/June92011.htm.

The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor. The Wildlife Commission sets Division of Wildlife regulations and policies for hunting, fishing, watchable wildlife, nongame, threatened and endangered species. The Commission also oversees Division of Wildlife land purchases and property regulations.

More coverage from Wayne Harrison writing for TheDenverChannel.com. From the article:

Plans for minimizing the effects on wildlife include ways to maintain cool water temperatures and minimum water flows, restoring fish habitat and increasing flows during drought to maintain fish spawning areas. Denver Water planning director Dave Little says the goal is to improve the rivers.

More coverage from the Boulder Daily Camera. From the article:

Members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to accept a plan by Denver Water to mitigate the impacts of a proposed expansion to Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County. The mitigation plan addresses impacts in Boulder County as well as impacts to the headwaters of the Colorado River, where more water will be drawn to fill the enlarged Gross Reservoir.

More coverage from the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which has its headquarters in Berthoud, provides water for agricultural, municipal, domestic and industrial uses in portionis of Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Broomfield, Morgan, Logan, Washington and Sedgwick counties. According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Northern has agreed: to increase minimum peak flows during droughts to maintain fish spawning habitat; to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures, and to reserve a $600,000 “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified in a final Windy Gap environmental impact statement being developed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

USGS Study Finds Recent Snowpack Declines in the Rocky Mountains Unusual Compared to Past Few Centuries

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Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey:

A USGS study released today suggests that snowpack declines in the Rocky Mountains over the last 30 years are unusual compared to the past few centuries. Prior studies by the USGS and other institutions attribute the decline to unusual springtime warming, more precipitation falling now as rain rather than snow and earlier snowmelt.

The warming and snowpack decline are projected to worsen through the 21st century, foreshadowing a strain on water supplies. Runoff from winter snowpack – layers of snow that accumulate at high altitude – accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the annual water supply for more than 70 million people living in the western United States.

“This scientific work is critical to understanding how climate change is affecting western water supplies,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “It helps land managers adapt to changing conditions on the ground, assists water managers with planning for the future, and gives all of us a better understanding of the real impacts that carbon pollution is having on our resources and our way of life.”

USGS scientists, with partners at the Universities of Arizona, Washington, Wyoming, and Western Ontario, led the study that evaluated the recent declines using snowpack reconstructions from 66 tree-ring chronologies, looking back 500 to more than 1,000 years. The network of sites was chosen strategically to characterize the range of natural snowpack variability over the long term, and from north to south in the Rocky Mountains.

With a few exceptions (the mid-14th and early 15th centuries), the snowpack reconstructions show that the northern Rocky Mountains experience large snowpacks when the southern Rockies experience meager ones, and vice versa. Since the 1980s, however, there were simultaneous declines along the entire length of the Rocky Mountains, and unusually severe declines in the north.

“Over most of the 20th century, and especially since the 1980s, the northern Rockies have borne the brunt of the snowpack losses,” said USGS scientist Gregory Pederson, the lead author of the study. “Most of the land and snow in the northern Rockies sits at lower and warmer elevations than the southern Rockies, making the snowpack more sensitive to seemingly small increases in temperature. Also, winter storm tracks were displaced to the south in the early 20th century and post-1980s. Forest fires were larger, more frequent and harder to fight, while Glacier National Park lost 125 of its 150 glaciers.”

USGS scientist and co-author Julio Betancourt explains that “The difference in snowpack along the north and south changed in the 1980s, as the unprecedented warming in the springtime began to overwhelm the precipitation effect, causing snowpack to decline simultaneously in the north and south. Throughout the West, springtime tends to be warmer during El Niño than La Niña years, but the warming prior to the 1980s was usually not enough to offset the strong influence of precipitation on snowpack.”
The La Niña episode this year is an example with lots of snow in the north while severe drought afflicts the south. But, in the north, this year’s gains are only a small blip on a century-long snowpack decline.

In the West, the average position of the winter storm tracks tend to fluctuate north and south around a latitudinal line connecting Denver, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. In El Niño years, winter storms track south of that line, while in La Niña years, they track to the north.

This study supports research by others estimating that between 30-60 percent of the declines in the late 20th century are likely due to greenhouse gas emissions. The remaining part of the trend can be attributed to natural decadal variability in the ocean and atmosphere, which is making springtime temperatures that much warmer.

“What we have seen in the last few decades may signal a fundamental shift from precipitation to temperature as the dominant influence on western snowpack.” Pederson said.

The study, The unusual nature of recent snowpack declines in the North American Cordillera, is online at Science magazine http://www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1201570.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

USGS scientists, with partners at the universities of Arizona, Washington, Wyoming, and Western Ontario, led the study that evaluated the recent declines using snowpack reconstructions from 66 tree-ring chronologies, looking back 500-1,000 years. With a few exceptions (the mid-14th and early 15th centuries), snowpack reconstructions show that the northern Rocky Mountains experience large snowpacks when the southern Rockies experience meager ones, and vice versa. Since the 1980s, however, there were simultaneous declines along the entire length of the Rocky Mountains, and unusually severe declines in the north.

More coverage from Felicity Barringer writing for The New York Times weblog Green. From the post:

On the one hand, the underlying narrative was depressingly familiar, synchronizing with other studies or predictions involving California’s Sierra, the Himalayas and other spots around the world. What drew my attention is the reminder that snowmelt in the Rockies feeds three huge river systems — the Colorado, the Columbia and the Missouri — on which 70 million Americans depend for water.

Not that everyone living along — or flooded out of the communities along — the Missouri River or its swollen tributaries would consider these findings intuitive. But the U.S.G.S. scientists who led the study point out that climate in the Rocky Mountains has for centuries been an either-or proposition.

It works like this. Draw a hypothetical line in your mind from Denver to Salt Lake City to Sacramento. If there is heavy snow to the north of this line, chances are there will be a drought to the south of it. And vice versa. Or, as an Interior Department press release said, “With a few exceptions (the mid-14th and early 15th centuries), the snowpack reconstructions show that the northern Rocky Mountains experience large snowpacks when the southern Rockies experience meager ones, and vice versa.”

More coverage from United Press International. From the article:

The study backs research that the USGS said estimates that as much as 60 percent of the snowpack declines in the late 20th century are because of greenhouse gas emissions, which are linked to higher global temperature averages…Runoff from winter snowpack makes up nearly 60 percent of the annual water supply for people in the western United States.

More coverage from Craig Welch writing for The Seattle Times via the Bend Bulletin. From the article:

Pederson and his colleagues say the findings are important because they suggest the mountain snows that produce the runoff that powers the Columbia, the Missouri and the Colorado river systems will continue to decline as global temperatures rise, even if precipitation increases.

More coverage from Margaret Munro writing for The Vancouver Sun. From the article:

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, says the changes are affecting the Colorado, Columbia and Missouri Rivers, which together supply water to 70 million Americans. And they are also altering river flows in the Canadian prairies and central British Columbia, said co-author Brian Luckman, at the University of Western Ontario.

“Snowpack is essential for water supply to many of these areas,” Luckman said, noting that the Rockies feed rivers flowing through central B.C. and the Bow, Athabasca and Oldman rivers in Alberta. “Between 60 to 80 per cent of the water in those rivers is snowmelt from the mountains.”

Mountain snow records don’t go back far beyond 1950, so the team, led by Gregory Pederson at the U.S. Geological Survey, looked at tree rings at 66 sites from B.C. to Colorado to get a read on snowpack levels over the past 800 years.

They found that the snowpack shrank more during the late 20th century than during any other period since 1200 AD, with more severe declines at the northern end of the range studied.

Luckman says the tree rings track the depth of the snowpack because some species such as the alpine larch tend not to grow well in heavy snowpack years because it takes so long for water to start flowing on mountaintops. Trees like Ponderosa Pines at lower elevations thrive in years of heavy snowpack, resulting in thicker tree rings.

More coverage from Joey Bunch writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

The dire long-term forecast cites warmer springs, earlier snowmelts and shifting winter storm patterns, all possible byproducts of global warming caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the USGS. While that could prove disastrous for Colorado’s ski and rafting industries, it’s too early to say if it means less water overall, said Marc Waage, the manager of water-resources planning for Denver Water, which supplies 1.3 million people in the metro region. “I don’t think from this study you can conclude that the overall amount of water is going to decline,” he said, “because we could be compensating snowpack with rain.”

More USGS 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):

“The report is important because you’re trying to balance higher demand against the available supply,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Colorado is ahead of the other states that receive some of their supply from the Colorado River, but we can still garner important information out of the study.”

The Arkansas Basin Roundtable on Wednesday heard an update on the CWCB’s study of availability of water from the Colorado River. It is important to most of the state, because about 500,000 acre-feet of supplemental water is imported each year to the Front Range communities in the Arkansas and South Platte basins.

There is still frustration because so much information is available, while the changes in climate are uncertain. “The more uncertainty we have, the wider the range of results,” said Matt Brown, a consultant with AECOM engineering…

Hamel and other water leaders have been involved in a water banking plan involving Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River as a way to protect the junior rights in Colorado. Negotiations with Reclamation are still a few years away, he said. In the meantime, more storage is needed on both sides of the mountains within Colorado, Hamel said. “Storage becomes even more important when you talk about climate change,” Hamel said. “We will need more reservoirs to collect rain as well as snow melt, and to balance the cycles between wet and dry years.”[…]

Denver and Aurora have joined Colorado River Municipal Utilities, which includes the largest water utilities in Arizona, California and Nevada. Collectively, they use 15 percent of the river’s water, but have issued a statement that says joint use of the river is required to fill environmental, recreational and agricultural needs.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations: Second power plant back online, 1200 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Late this afternoon [June 8], the crew at Green Mountain power plant returned the second generating unit back to service. We are now ramping up to generate hydro-electric power at full capacity. As a result, releases through the plant from the reservoir are going up in 100 cfs increments. At 4 p.m. today we bumped up to about 900 cfs. At 6 p.m. we bumped up to around 1000 cfs. We will bump up again at 8 p.m. to 1100 cfs. And we will increase one more time around 10 p.m. tonight to 1200 cfs. We will maintain the 1200 cfs from Green Mountain Reservoir and Power Plant to the Lower Blue River until further notice.

More Blue River watershed coverage here.