The North American Monsoon is upon us

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The North American Monsoon left many soaking wet today. I rode my bike home by the station reading 1.57 inches at Little Dry Creek. What a soaking. Clear Creek was up significantly. Click on the thumbnail graphic to the right for a screenshot of the 6-Hour map from the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District.

More coverage from the Associated Press via The Washington Post. From the article:

A fast moving storm has dumped heavy rain in the Denver area, causing minor street flooding and trapping some people in their cars in high water.

Energy policy — nuclear: Piñon Ridge construction on hold until the Sheep Mountain Alliance lawsuit is resolved

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

In late May, Denver District Judge Brian Whitney ruled for the environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance, saying its lawsuit against the state health department could proceed. The alliance is challenging the state’s issuance of a radioactive materials permit to Energy Fuels. Jennifer Thurston of Sheep Mountain Alliance said the judge’s decision was a big victory. “It was really the first independent review looking at the basic issues in the case,” Thurston said. “He said that there are real issues at stake, and real damages can occur. That was a very important validation for us.”[…]

Energy Fuels is drawing up construction plans, but it will not start building the mill until the legal case is finished, said Curtis Moore, director of communications and legal affairs for Energy Fuels.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

Durango: Hermosa Creek cutthroat restoration open house July 13

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From the Pagosa Daily Post:

The project will be explained to the public at an open house from 4-8pm, July 13, at the Durango Recreation Center’s Windom Room.

What: Open house to explain Colorado River cutthroat trout restoration on Hermosa Creek
When: 4-8 p.m., July 13
Where: Durango Recreation Center, Windom Room
Information: Jim White, (970)375-6712; j.white@state.co.us.

“Upper Hermosa Creek offers an excellent location for a native trout recovery project,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for the Division in Durango. “The area is a big, complex network of tributaries and a main stem river with excellent water quality and trout habitat. The limestone geology is favorable for trout and the area is easily accessible to field crews and anglers.”

Wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration about 20 years ago. In 1992, a similar project restored native cutthroats on four miles of the creek’s upper East Fork.

More restoration coverage here.

Colorado River basin: Demand continues to push the limits of available water in the basin, conservation education seems to be helping

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From The Durango Telegraph (Will Sands):

Last month, the Bureau of Reclamation released an interim report titled “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.” While the report acknowledges a “high degree of uncertainty” regarding future water supplies, the view through the crystal ball is not looking good. Based on continued climate change, the authors predict an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts in the West. Add increases in population into the mix, and the study predicts decreases in the natural flow of the Colorado River of approximately 9 percent over the next 50 years…

Closer to home, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has drawn similar conclusions. According to its Statewide Water Supply Initiative, a report released early this year, Colorado is marching on the path to water shortages. The SWSI finds that if water use follows current trends, large supplies of water will have to be shifted away from Colorado agriculture in order to satisfy municipal needs. The result will be significant loss of farmlands, economic damage to the state’s agricultural regions and potential environmental harm. If Colorado’s appetite for water does not change, anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 acres of irrigated farmland will have to be dried up by 2050.

However, the outlook on this liquid predicament may actually be half-full. A think-tank with offices in Colorado and California has unearthed hopeful findings. According to the Pacific Institute, Western water users are beginning to curb their appetites. The group has found that per-capita usage of Colorado River Basin water has dropped all over the region. Although there are now 10 million more people living in the West than in 1990, the Pacific Institute has documented substantial water-efficiency gains made during the same period.

“Demands for water from the Colorado River basin now exceed supply,” said Michael Cohen, author of the report. “This supply/demand imbalance would be much worse if municipal water agencies across the seven basin states had not decoupled water deliveries from population growth.”

Municipal water deliveries from the Colorado River Basin have increased by more than 600,000 acre-feet since 1990. However, that increase represents a rate that is actually much slower than population growth, according to Cohen. Between 1990 and 2008, per capita water delivery rates declined by a dramatic 38 percent in Albuquerque, 30 percent in Phoenix, and 24 percent right here in Durango.

Aspinall Unit update: Blue Mesa is filling quicker than expected, streamflow was 4,600 cfs into the reservoir yesterday

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

The runoff just keeps coming! This year’s runoff has been exceptionally difficult to predict in the Gunnison Basin. For example, a week ago, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s model predicted inflows to Blue Mesa for July 6th of about 3,200 cfs and declining. Actual inflow today is about 4,600 cfs which is obviously causing Blue Mesa Reservoir to fill quicker than expected.

To compensate, releases from Crystal Dam will be increased by 550 cfs over the next few days. No single change is planned to exceed 200 cfs. In addition, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users have again reduced their Gunnison Tunnel Diversions by 100 cfs due to increased flows on the Uncompahgre River which are meeting their needs. As a result of these changes, the Gunnison River gage located below the East Portal of the Gunnison Tunnel will read about 1,700 cfs by mid-morning on July 9th ; up from this morning’s flow of 1,080 cfs. Additional changes may be necessary next week as conditions are reassessed.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations: 2,800 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Sterling Rech):

The inflow to Green Mountain Reservoir remains elevated, Dillon Reservoir’s release rate is being increased, and rain continues to be in the forecast. In order to slow the rate at which the reservoir is filling, the Green Mountain Reservoir release will be increased by 300 cfs today. This release rate increase will be accomplished in two steps of approximately 150 cfs each. Because the powerplant is currently running at maximum capacity, these release rate increases will be accomplished by raising the spillway gates. With the current release rate being approximately 2,500 cfs, these release rate increases will result in a flow rate of approximately 2,800 cfs at the Blue River gage below the dam by this afternoon.

Green Mountain Reservoir

Wednesday, July 6, 2011, 1300 hours – Increase the reservoir release from 2,500 cfs to 2,650 cfs (accomplished by raising all three spillway gates).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011, 1500 hours – Increase the reservoir release from 2,650 cfs to 2,800 cfs (accomplished by raising all three spillway gates).

Maintain the 2,800 cfs reservoir release until further notice.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Colorado River basin: Salazar Launches Development of a Long-Term Plan for Managing Glen Canyon Dam and Water Flows through the Grand Canyon

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Kate Kelly/Barry Wirth/Maureen Oltrogge):

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service are starting the development of a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP) for Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.
The public process being launched today will be the first comprehensive review of Glen Canyon Dam operations in fifteen years, and will ensure that flow regimes on the Colorado River meet the goals of supplying water for communities, agriculture and industry, and protecting the resources of the Grand Canyon, while providing clean hydropower.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of communities across the West, and its water is vital to the health of our lands and wildlife, to powering our communities, to feeding our families, and to the ecosystem of one of our national treasures,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We need to make use of the latest science to develop and implement a structured, long-term management plan for the Glen Canyon Dam that adheres to the Law of the River, respects the interests of the tribal nations, and sustains the health of the Grand Canyon and the communities that depend on its water, consistent with the Grand Canyon Protection Act.”

The LTEMP, which will be developed based on public input and the latest science, will guide the development of future experimental and management actions as part of the ongoing Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (AMP.) The LTEMP will consider potential future modifications to Glen Canyon Dam operations and other resource management and protection action. It will also determine if a Recovery Implementation Program under the Endangered Species Act will be undertaken for endangered fish species below the dam.

Secretary Salazar noted that considerable scientific information has been developed since the Adaptive Management Program first began in 1996. All scientific studies and experimentation – particularly the new information developed since the AMP – will be considered in preparing the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the LTEMP.

Reclamation and the National Park Service will co-lead the LTEMP EIS. Reclamation has primary responsibility for operation of Glen Canyon Dam and the National Park Service has primary responsibility for Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

“We need to balance a very complex set of interests, but it is essential that we do so in order to protect both the unparalleled resources of one of our country’s world heritage sites and the benefits provided by the Colorado River which provides essential water and power to the American Southwest,” said Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Anne Castle, who chairs the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group. “We will build upon the good science and experimentation that has been ongoing through the Adaptive Management Program and put together a plan that incorporates that knowledge, but leaves flexibility for future adaptation.”

“The LTEMP will incorporate the results of ongoing environmental analyses that establish a protocol for high flow releases from Glen Canyon Dam and investigate alternative methods of non-native fish control,” added Interior’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Rachel Jacobson. “The partnership between Reclamation and the National Park Service is essential as we evaluate the science gathered over the past fifteen years and develop a plan for the future operation of Glen Canyon Dam.”

Federal, state and Tribal governmental agencies will have the opportunity to become cooperating agencies in the EIS. Public meetings will be held later in the year to solicit comments on the scope of the LTEMP EIS and the issues and alternatives that should be analyzed. That information will be added to input received from the Adaptive Management Work Group. The meeting schedule and the period for receiving written comments will be announced at a later time.

Additional information, including a full copy of the Notice of Intent published today in the Federal Register, can be viewed here. The notice includes background information on Glen Canyon Dam, a summary of activities since 1996, the Grand Canyon Protection Act, and the “Purpose and Need for Action” for the upcoming EIS.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Runoff news: Lake Powell is rising a foot a day

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From the Deseret News (Joi O’Donoghugh):

The water is rising at Lake Powell about a foot a day and by mid-August it is expected to reach an elevation of 3,665 feet — a level not seen since 2001. As of Wednesday, the measurements of flows from rivers that feed into Lake Powell show them at nearly 257 percent of average and half the snowpack is left to melt, according to the Bureau of Reclamation…

Overall, the 2011 water year has bumped storage at Lake Powell by nearly 2.2 million acre feet of water and rivers that feed into it are still running high. Measurements at the San Rafael River near Green River, for example, show it flowing at 1,430 cubic feet per second, when the average on July 6 typically is 194 cubic feet per second. That drastic difference puts it at a little more than 742 percent of average.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

If you drive up Pikes Peak Highway and circle the lakes, the dramatic drop in the water level is unmistakable. On the east end of South Catamount Reservoir, the lake bed is bone-dry for hundreds of yards in the same spot where a friend of mine and a buddy of his caught 136 fish on three outings in the first half of June. It’s the lowest my friend has seen South Catamount in at least a decade…

The entire Springs water system, which spans the Western Slope to Pueblo Reservoir and includes Pikes Peak reservoirs, currently is 76 percent filled. While that’s lower than last year’s levels, and also lower than normal levels, the relative shortfall stems from cool May temperatures that delayed runoff, Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Quintero says. That is expected to change soon with the snowmelt…

South Catamount Reservoir, a Great Depression project along with Crystal Reservoir further east, contains only 45 percent of its 848-million-gallon capacity, while nearby North Catamount, added in 1960, stands at 70 percent of its 3.9-billion-gallon capacity, says Abby Ortega, Utilities’ water resources planning supervisor. Both are fed by Pikes Peak runoff and via a pipeline from the Blue River System, near Hoosier Pass. So when Pikes Peak got only half the snow it normally does, the reservoirs took one hit. But the bigger one came from maintenance on Montgomery Dam on Hoosier Pass, which has required draining that reservoir. Ortega says the project is to be completed in September, and the Catamount reservoirs will fill as usual next May and June. In any event, the Catamounts are nowhere near their historic low of 21 percent capacity, which came in December 2002, amid a drought. There’s actually at least one more reason the lakes are lower than normal: lack of rain. Ortega says the city has received only slightly more than 3 inches this year, 30 percent of normal. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Drought Monitor describes portions of the Front Range, including Colorado Springs, as in a severe to extreme drought.