Runoff news: The Cache la Poudre, Colorado and Yampa are closed to tubing

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From The Denver Post (Caitlin Gibbons):

Officials issued partial-use restrictions for the three rivers, which means kayaks and larger rafts can run the Poudre, Colorado and Yampa, but the water was too high and too fast for inner tubes and air mattresses…

Earlier in the week, access points to the Poudre from city- and state-managed or owned property were closed. Kayakers and commercial rafting companies were not affected by the restriction and could still enter the river from their privately owned access points. The closure was enacted after a trained rescue swimmer was trapped by hidden debris while searching for a stranded person…

On Friday, the Arkansas River was under a high-water advisory, but there were no restrictions on use…

Officials in Golden and Boulder were closely watching Clear Creek and Boulder Creek, but no restrictions had been issued. In Clear Creek, Golden police were recommending that tubers and people without safety equipment stay out of the water, police spokeswoman Karlyn Tilley said.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

While the Colorado River just below Glenwood Springs peaked at more 24,500 cubic feet per second and reached a gage height of about 10.5 feet last Tuesday, the river level has gone down since then. On Friday, the Colorado below Glenwood Springs was running at about 23,000 cfs, with a gage height still around 10.3 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) water data website. “It’s been going down for the last two days,” Anselmo said, adding that it’s hard to predict if the actual runoff peak has occurred yet or not. Given the amount of snowpack still in the high country, most weather observers believe the highest peak is yet to come.

From the Summit Daily News (Janice Kurbjin):

Denver Water’s Bob Steger said inflow forecasts from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center have dropped since last week from between 185,000 and 219,000 acre-feet during the June 1-July 15 period to between 180,000 and 198,000 acre-feet. Still, tributary creeks and streams are swollen with water. “Because of the reduced inflow forecasts, we need to reduce the outflow to assure that the reservoir fills,” Steger said. “We are currently in the process of reducing the outflow from 1,300 cubic feet per second to 1,100 cfs.”[…]

Despite the security the dam provides to riverbank Silverthorne residents, Denver Water officials announced Friday that it might not be able to prevent flooding on the Blue River below Dillon Reservoir as record-high mountain snowpack continues to melt. Using forecasted inflows and draws through the Roberts Tunnel, “we can do some arithmetic and feel pretty confident that we’re going to fill and spill,” Steger said. He added that he anticipates inflows will keep rising. Water has been flowing into the reservoir at a rate normal for early June at about 1,700 cfs, but forecasters say it could grow dramatically in coming days — possibly exceeding the record of 3,408 cfs set in 1995, the Denver Post reported.

From The Greeley Tribune:

The Poudre River remained high Friday, but water flow levels continued to ease slightly with cooler temperatures. A flow between 3,500 and 4,500 cubic feet per second in Greeley could cause flooding in some areas. Last year’s flooding topped out at 4,770 cfs.

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Erica Meltzer):

City and county officials now expect water levels in Boulder Creek to remain relatively stable until late Saturday or early Sunday.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

Forecasters are calling for the high water on the Yampa and Elk rivers to continue for another three to four weeks, creating the opportunity for multiple streamflow peaks. Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said that prediction was stated during a weekly conference call this week with forecasters and emergency managers.

The Yampa is expected to remain steady through the week, but the Elk River was expected to possibly break another record this morning. The U.S. Geological Survey revised its preliminary numbers to show the Elk actually broke the record at 5 a.m. Tuesday with water flowing at 8,250 cubic feet per second, or cfs, and a gauge height of 8.14 feet at the Routt County Road 42 bridge. The forecast Wednesday evening estimated the Elk would reach a depth of 8.2 feet this morning…

The Yampa’s high flow so far this season was 4,820 cfs, set at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday. The record for the Yampa, according the USGS, is 6,820 cfs…

The Tower measuring site located at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass was reporting 150 inches of snow containing 74.4 inches of water Wednesday. That’s down from the May 29 statewide record high of 80.1 inches of snow water equivalent. The site at 9,400 feet on Rabbit Ears Pass was reporting 47 inches of snow containing 27.9 inches of water. The Dry Lake campground site at 8,400 feet was reporting 20 inches of snow containing 11.1 inches of water.

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From the Bureau of Land Management (Shannon Borders):

Effective Wednesday, June 8, the Oh Be Joyful Campground west of the Slate River and BLM Road 3220 (including the Slate River crossing) is temporarily closed to all uses. Undercut banks along the Slate River within the campground are unsafe due to high run-off. Additionally, the flooding caused the Slate River water crossing for vehicles to become unstable and unsafe for public use. The closure is in effect until the area is safe for public use.

From the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

The past several days have brought three peak events on Willow Creek: 1,748 cfs on May 30 and again on June 3, and 1,761 cfs on June 8.

But it’s not over yet. The snowpack at the top of Willow Creek Pass normally peaks in late April, but it’s the beginning of June and we still have more snow up there than the average peak, despite the fact it’s been melting. The forecast calls for cooler weather, which means snowpack will continue to melt – but at a slower, much more manageable rate. Flows are retreating today and will likely hold steady or decline slightly in the next few days. But keep an eye on the skies and thermometers: We are still vulnerable to additional peaking events if there’s a rainstorm or stretch of hot weather.

Our records show that the maximum observed inflow to Willow Creek Reservoir was a daily average of 1,857 cfs on May 24, 1984. In comparison, this year’s three peak flow rates occurred for just a few minutes each; our maximum daily average for 2011 so far was yesterday at 1,652 cfs.

So while we don’t have a flow rate that’s going into the record books, we’re still on track to smash the previous record for the total volume of runoff: 85,300 acre feet from April 1 to July 31 in 1957. This year’s inflows are already 64,600 acre feet, and we still have seven weeks to go!

As the elevation in Willow Creek Reservoir continues to rise, we will pump water into Lake Granby if necessary to help keep Willow Creek Reservoir outflows at or below 1,300 cfs.

From the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

When we expect gigantic runoff, we prefer to keep the Adams Tunnel running full blast, because every acre foot diverted to the East Slope creates room for another acre foot of runoff. With that, we lower the possibility of having to make higher releases out of Lake Granby.

But we have two things working against us. First, East Slope reservoirs are nearly full, and soon we won’t have empty space available for Adams Tunnel diversions.

Second, the water rights system limits our options. Northern Water holds decrees for Big Thompson River water, and when those rights come into priority, we are obligated to use that water, not West Slope water, to fill our East Slope reservoirs and make water deliveries.

Yesterday our East Slope decree came into priority and operators reduced tunnel diversions by 40 cfs. Today, even more East Slope water became available and tunnel diversions went down an additional 125 cfs.

The amount of East Slope water available to our decree varies from day to day and depends on streamflow and other water users’ demands. To keep up to date, you can monitor Adams Tunnel diversions as we move through the warm season.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Lake Granby rising about one-half foot per day

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’ve seen pretty steady run-off inflow and outflow at Shadow Mountain, Willow Creek and Lake Granby reservoirs the last week or two.

Shadow Mountain has seen snow melt run-off inflow pick up. As a result, we are releasing through the dam and over the spillway at times in excess of 2000 cubic feet per second. At the same time, we have also been diverting to the Adams Tunnel. But, as east slope water rights have come into priority, we have had to scale back the diversions. Meanwhile, Shadow Mountain maintains basically a full water level elevation and additional run-off inflow is passed on downstream to Granby.

Granby has seen its water level rise pretty steadily as the snow pack has come down. Right now, it’s rising at a rate of about a half a foot a day.

In a year when we don’t have as much snow pack, we would typically keep the gates to the spillway on Granby Dam closed and let the reservoir fill as close to its full elevation of 8280 as it can. With the exceptional snow pack we’ve maintained this spring, however, we’re operating a little differently. The bottom of Granby’s spillway gates are at an elevation of 8260. Northern Water already has those gates open a little bit so that as more run-off inflow comes into the reservoir this weekend, filling the last two vertical feet below the gates, it will start to push onto the spillway. We anticipate that will happen sometime Sunday.

How much water comes into the reservoir depends on how much more snow melt run-off we see this weekend.

Willow Creek Reservoir, which started the run-off season drawn to almost dead storage, has risen pretty quickly, as well. We continue to pass on through the reservoir about 1300 cfs which is flowing through the dam and down the creek. Once the reservoir fills to an elevation of 8118 (it’s just over 8116 right now), we can pump water out and up to Granby. That could happen as early as next week.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

I’ve gotten some questions about why Pinewood Reservoir is low while snow melt run-off is under way. The reason it is lower is because we need to maintain some operational flexibility as we prepare to finish filling Carter Lake, then switch operations over to finish filling Horsetooth Reservoir.

Because Pinewood sits in the middle of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s southern power system, it sometimes bears the burden of providing the flexibility we need as we move water around. With one unit at the Flatiron Power Plant down below still undergoing maintenance, this flexibility is even more important.

As more of the upper mountain snow pack starts to melt and come down, however, we will see Pinewood start to rise again–that could be as soon as this weekend.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Just a quick note to let everyone know we’ve reached a full reservoir elevation at Carter Lake. The pump will go off tomorrow, Saturday June 11, in the morning. That means a little more water will go into Horsetooth and it will see its water level elevation continue to rise.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

In anticipation of more incoming snow melt run-off, we will increase releases from Green Mountain Reservoir to the Lower Blue river late tonight, June 10. By tomorrow morning, June 11, flows in the Lower Blue should be around 1400 cfs.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Inflow to Lake Estes last night [June 9] peaked around 950 cfs. This morning, it is down to about 879 cfs. We are taking some of that water out via the Olympus Tunnel, generating hydro-electric power and sending it on its way to Horsetooth, via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. We have curtailed project imports from the west slope accordingly. As we continue to balance inflow, storage, and priority water, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon were reduced last night around 2 a.m. by about 90 cfs. As a result, we are currently releasing about 692 cfs.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: Reclamation releasing 700 cfs from Twin Lakes

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As the weather continues to change, forecasts for snow melt run-off across the state change as well. We continue adjusting our operations on the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project reservoirs accordingly.

Since Tuesday, we’ve seen some of the native inflow to the upper Arkansas portion of the Fry-Ark Project (Turquoise and Twin Lakes reservoirs and the Half Moon diversion) drop off slightly. As a result, we have curtailed the native inflow we were sending down the Mt. Elbert Conduit for hydro-power generation at Mt. Elbert power plant.

When native flows diverted via the Conduit declined, the release of native east slope water from Twin Lakes Dam to Lake Creek cuts back as well. As a result, the Twin Lakes release is now around 700 cfs.

With less native flow moving through the Fry-Ark pipe system (the Conduit), we have more room to pipe project water. With both the Fry-Ark project and Busk Ivanhoe pulling imports from the upper Fryingpan River Basin (which is still showing snow pack daily averages well above 200%), we are filling the Conduit with the imported project water. That water pipes to the Mt. Elbert Forebay, generates hydro-electric power at the Mt. Elbert Power Plant and then is deposited into Twin Lakes. The project imports are helping speed up the rise of the water level elevation at Twin Lakes.

Meanwhile, the native east slope run-off we were piping from Turquoise Reservoir to the power plant has to go somewhere as it is no longer going through the conduit and we do not have the right to store it. Native water is owed to the Arkansas River. Consequently, we will deliver that water via Sugarloaf Dam to Lake Fork Creek. Our release from the dam to Lake Fork Creek will go up by 50 cfs today.

By this afternoon, Lake Fork Creek below Sugarloaf Dam should be running at about 250 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkanasas Project coverage here.

Navigating the Future of the Colorado River conference recap: Pat Mulroy — ‘We do not want this resolved in the halls of Congress’

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From the High Country News blog The Range (Heather Hansen):

In their keynote talks, both Michael Connor, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Pat Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority stressed the importance of having people who rely on the Colorado work together to ensure our mutual survival and prosperity. “The solutions are among the people in this room,” said Mulroy.

Mulroy added that the decisions about how the river should be allocated and managed should come from various local stakeholders. “It’s imperative to work from the ground up,” she said. Without agreement among the seven basin states, Mulroy warned of possible federal intervention. “We do not want this resolved in the halls of Congress,” she said.

In that vein, Connor pointed to H.R. 1837, a radical bill pending in Congress, involving California’s San Joaquin River. The bill would turn state water rights upside down by eliminating a century-old requirement that, when possible, the federal government should defer to state water law. The bill also threatens hard-one Endangered Species Act protections, established restoration settlements and collaborative processes. “Trampling on states’ sovereignty is not good public policy,” said Connor.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

Researchers examined tree rings to look at moisture trends going back 500 to 1,000 years, in the first study to examine historic snowpack in this manner. While the northern Rockies have seen the most dramatic loss – less snow, earlier melt-offs – the southern Rockies, including Colorado, have experienced similar trends since the 1980s. That bucks the historical trend, that when the northern Rockies have more snow, the south has less, and vice versa. The recent drops are across the board, 30 to 60 percent of the snowpack.

The study comes at a time of heavy lingering snowpack in Colorado, 248 percent of the average for mid-June. But, said lead author Gregory Pederson, the average is based on recent years; the long view shows this winter may not be as out-of-whack as it seems. “There’s nothing unusual per se about this year, just that it comes in the midst of a lot of low-snowpack years,” he said.

He said the study, along with other research that has shown Western snowpack declines, should be a warning for water suppliers. The only similar periods occurred in the 1350s and 1400s, he said, and these were followed by colder, snowier eras. But, because of the impact of greenhouse gasses, Pederson does not believe that will occur again. “With increased warming, we may now be seeing this temperature impact on the snowpack, more of the precipitation falling as rain rather than snow,” he said…

[Colorado Springs Utilities Water supply planning supervisor Abby Ortega] said the fact the city’s water comes from three different basins insulates it from some of the problems of erratic snowpack. This year, for example, the Arkansas basin has less than half the snowpack of the other side of the Continental Divide, and Pikes Peak has been exceptionally dry.

More coverage from Dan Vergano Sci-Tech Today. From the article:

The historical snowpack reconstruction results, dating to the year 1200 and released by the journal Science, suggest that global warming has broken the normal seesaw pattern of snowpack in the region, in which a down year in the northern Rockies will be offset by a higher snow year in the southern Rockies. Overall, the average yearly snowpack across the northern Rockies directly known from snow records to have dropped 30% to 60% in the past 50 years has fallen more sharply in that time than for any period in the past 800 years, the study shows. “Temperature is the driver here,” says study lead author Greg Pederson of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman, Mont. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if temperatures get warmer, snow and ice melt sooner.”[…]

The Northern Rockies stretch from Washington state to Montana. The study records show two-decade-long drops in snowpack across the northern Rockies in the 1300s and 1500s that resemble the decline seen in the 20th century, but those declines lasted for shorter periods of time and came when far fewer people were dependent on the snowpack. “Water demand, as much as supply, is the problem,” Pederson says. “We have a lot of fisheries and hydropower relying on this water as well.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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

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From The Denver Post (Mitchell Byars):

Now the plan must clear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to release its final environmental impact study later this year. If the Army Corps gives the project the green light, construction on the expansion of Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County could start as early as 2015. The project is expected to take four years. The wildlife commission voted unanimously to accept Denver Water’s environmental mitigation plan. “We take this unanimous vote as an endorsement of our cooperative approach with local stakeholders,” said Denver Water’s planning director Dave Little. “Now we want to move aggressively towards implementing these measures.”[…]

In the mitigation plan, Denver Water agreed to stop diverting water from July 15 through the end of August if temperatures in the river reached levels that could possibly threaten local fish populations. The utility also pledged money to enhance stream habitats in cooperation with local counties and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Make the river better, that’s sort of our mantra,” Little said. “We’ve addressed all of the impacts in the scientific study the Army Corps of Engineers did, which was an exhaustive effort. But we know the Corps did not capture the impacts that some others have brought up and that’s why we went above and beyond in our mitigation plan.”

More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

In a series of unanimous votes, the commissioners approved mitigation plans for Denver’s Moffat Collection System project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project and also authorized the Colorado 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…

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…

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 U.S. 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…

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…

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.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Commissioners were generally still worried about the “unintended consequences for the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers” but felt the revised mitigation plans – including greater temperature and flow protections for aquatic life, more funding for river restoration and a contingency fund for unanticipated impacts – were a lot better than previous plans. “It has always been Denver Water’s goal to go beyond mitigating the project impacts to make the river better than it is today,” Denver Water’s director of planning Dave Little said: “We look forward to working with stakeholders on mitigation for the project and the significant enhancement plan also accepted by the Commission that will improve aquatic habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

The fish and wildlife mitigation plans still must be approved by federal regulators. Also on Thursday, Denver Water provided a statement on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report that includes one scenario in which water levels in the Colorado River decrease by 10 to 20 percent by the middle of this century as a result of global climate change.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Rio Grande River basin: Valley water managers are considering applying for Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program funds to jumpstart the groundwater sub-district #1 process for retiring acreage

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program funds are being looked at by valley water managers to help retire up to 40,000 acres of irrigated land in the north-central part of the valley. “I think it’s something that would be in that priority class for us,” [U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo] said after a meeting with potato farmers Thursday. The first-term congressman had campaigned on cutting the federal budget, but he told the farmers that his spending preferences would be prioritized around energy, self-sufficiency and boosting America’s ability to feed itself…

Tim Davis, a Sterling-based consultant who has shepherded farmers in Nebraska and northeastern Colorado through applications to the program, said that so far there have been no rumblings on Capitol Hill about cutting the program…

Davis is helping Subdistrict No. 1 apply to the federal program, which pays a rental rate to farmers to retire ground…

The district’s assessments of its members would go to compensate for injury caused by pumping and it also would be coupled with the federal dollars to retire ground. But the local dollars likely would be used to sweeten the federal payments and increase the incentive for farmers to retire ground that would more helpful in reducing the pumping of groundwater, said Steve Vandiver, director of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. Vandiver said the subdistrict had yet to decide how much money it would add, and it has not chosen the targeted acreage…

An appeal of a local court’s approval of the subdistrict’s management plan is before the Colorado Supreme Court. Vandiver said oral arguments in the case likely would come in the fall, with a decision possibly by next year. Two other pending subdistricts — one along the Rio Grande between Monte Vista and Alamosa and another that would take in the Carmel and Waverly areas — are also considering applying for the federal funds but have yet to write management plans while the court ruling is pending.

More San Luis Valley groundwater coverage here and here.