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

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Here are this week’s notes from the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s an excerpt:

For
 the 
month 
of 
June,
 much
 of
 the
 northern 
portions 
of 
the 
Upper 
Colorado
 River
 Basin
 (UCRB)
 received
 between 
100%
 to
 200% 
of
 their
 average
 precipitation. 

The
 Four 
Corners 
was
the 
driest 
region 
of 
the
 basin
 for 
the 
month, 
receiving 
less
 than
 30% 
of 
average.

 The 
San
 Luis
 Valley
 was 
also 
very
 dry
 for
 the 
month,
 only 
seeing 
about 
10%
 of 
its
 average
 precipitation. 

Much 
of
eastern
 Colorado
 received 
between 
50% 
and
 100% 
of 
average 
precipitation 
for
 the 
month,
 with 
parts 
of 
southeastern
 CO
 seeing
 over 
100%
 of 
average 
from
 just 
a
 couple
 of
 storms.

Last 
week, 
the 
heaviest 
amounts
 of 
precipitation 
fell 
over 
northeast
 Utah
 and 
southwest 
Wyoming
 with
 amounts
 totalling 
between 
half
 an 
inch
 to 
over 
2 
inches 
in
 some
 spots
. 

The 
mountains
 of
 northern 
CO
 and
 northeast 
CO 
received 
between
 a
 quarter 
inch
 to
 an 
inch 
of 
moisture
 for 
the 
week. The 
drought 
stricken
 areas 
in
 the 
southern 
portion 
of
 the
 UCRB 
and
 in
 southern
 CO
 remained
 dry,
 seeing
 less 
than
 a 
tenth
 of 
an
 inch
 over 
the 
week.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 950 cfs in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It’s been an interesting week with the snow melt and then the rain. Releases out of Ruedi Dam have been around 850 cfs for the past week. However, rain the last few days has been significant– Ruedi received about a half an inch in precipitation just today. With inflows peaking last night around 1272 cfs, we’re anticipating that not only will Ruedi reach its full capacity late this evening, but it will start to push a little over the spillway. This will probably happen after midnight, maybe around 1 or 2 in the morning. Later Sunday morning around 6 a.m., we will increase releases from the dam another 50 cfs. This, with the contributions of the Rocky Fork still running around 46 cfs, will put flows in the Fryingpan around 950 cfs. We’re still planning on being at the Basalt Town Hall this Wednesday night, July 13, for our annual Ruedi operations meeting at 7 p.m.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s water rights for their proposed project are in question

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From Aspen Journalism via the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“The city of Aspen water department does not have the water rights for a hydro plant on Castle Creek, period,” Dick Butera told Aspen City Council at a June 27 meeting. Butera owns a large home overlooking Castle Creek just below the city’s diversion dam on the stream. He told the council that he and a group of other local landowners are willing to sue the city to prevent the hydro project from going forward.

Butera made his comments at a meeting when council approved increasing the spending authority for the hydro plant and an associated pipeline from $7.3 million to $8 million, and transferring $2.8 million from the water fund to the renewable energy fund to cover the cost. “Two of the leading water attorneys in the state of Colorado have both said to our committee that we have a 90 percent chance of winning the case to prove that the water department does not even have the water rights,” Butera said.

But Aspen’s water attorney maintains that the municipal government’s water rights remain in good standing and the city has never intended to abandon its option to use the water for hydropower. “The city has decreed absolute water rights,” said Cynthia Covell, an attorney with Alperstein and Covell in Denver. “They are decreed for power purposes and they have never been found to be abandoned in any court proceeding. I think that the city can do the project that it wants to do with the water rights it has.”[…]

Sarah Klahn, an attorney hired by Pitkin County to independently review the city’s hydro project, said last week that even if an abandonment lawsuit was successful, the city could still likely obtain new water rights for the new hydro plant. “I know that it is possible to still get a new appropriation, especially on a non-consumptive use,” said Klahn, who is with White & Jankowski in Denver…

Covell, the city’s water attorney, has a different take on the matter. “The fact that the city stopped generating electricity at that time does not mean they abandoned the right to do so,” Covell said. “The city has not intended to abandon. And intent is a piece of abandonment. We think we can defend an abandonment case.” Still, city officials are aware there is a danger of losing all or some of their water rights by not exercising them.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Windy Gap Firming Project/Moffat Collection System Project update: Denver and Northern plan to fully mitigate project impacts

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From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

The developers of the two water projects, Denver Water and Northern Water, say they plan to not only offset any future environmental problems created by their new projects in the upper Colorado River basin, but to also work together to voluntarily “enhance” the existing habitat in the area. “By fully mitigating our impacts, we keep (the basin) the same,” said Denver Water’s Travis Bray. “Through enhancement and through our cooperative efforts we’re making it better.”

But [Kirk Klancke], who works as a water manager in Grand County, and some Colorado environmental groups contend that more aggressive mitigation and rehabilitation plans are needed to save what’s left of the Colorado River. “Both of these (water utilities) wrote an environmental statement that said there would be no impacts,” said Klancke, who also serves as the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “But the third-grade class at Fraser Elementary can tell you what happens when you take 80 percent of a river.”[…]

Because Windy Gap’s water rights are relatively junior, the project only can divert water during wet years. But in wet years, Lake Granby — a critical storage reservoir for the Colorado-Big Thompson system — is often full, leaving no room for the Windy Gap water to travel to the Front Range. This makes the water supplied by Windy Gap to its original participants extremely unreliable…

If approved, the firming project calls for building a new reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir would be able to store 90,000 acre-feet of water, giving the Windy Gap water that can be drawn in wet years a place to go…

In Boulder County, Denver Water plans to offset the impacts of flooding hundreds of acres of land to expand Gross Reservoir by replanting woody riparian vegetation and by buying credits from buying credits from an approved “wetlands mitigation bank” to offset the two acres of wetland that will be inundated…

But what both water providers are most proud of is their cooperatively created “enhancement plan,” which they say will go beyond mitigating the impacts of the new project and actually improve the current conditions in the upper Colorado River basin. The idea is to restore the section of the Colorado River that lies downstream of both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects where the populations of giant stoneflies and sculpins, both of which are food for trout, have declined over the years. Together, Denver Water and Northern Water have agreed to spend $4.5 million on the restoration effort and put another $1.5 million into a reserve fund that can be used to tweak elements of the restoration project that aren’t working as designed. “This is not what we think is required by the state. We are not required to go back and make changes based on the impacts of past projects,” said Dana Strongin, spokeswoman for Northern Water. “This is a benefit — it’s something extra. We don’t have to do this, but we wanted to…

Mely Whiting, senior attorney with Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the plans don’t adequately address stream temperature problems and flushing flows. When the mountain snowpack begins to melt in the late spring and early summer, the influx of water “flushes” the rivers, scraping sediment off the streambed and, in some years, overflowing the banks and recharging adjacent wetlands. Because both of the new projects plan to draw water during the periods of high runoff, Whiting said the rivers are being robbed of the critical flush. When flows stay low throughout the summer, the sediment builds up on the bottom of the rivers and destroys the habitat used by aquatic insects. The low flows also increase the danger that stream temperatures will climb higher earlier in the summer…

The solution proposed by Trout Unlimited is to essentially reconstruct the habitat of the Fraser and the upper Colorado River to create narrower channels that would allow the remaining water to run deeper, faster and cooler…

Trout Unlimited commissioned a study to see how much it would cost to do the work that it believes needs to be done on the Fraser and upper Colorado rivers. According to the study, $3 million to $5 million more needs to be budgeted in the mitigation plan to adequately rehabilitate the Fraser and about $5 million more is needed for the upper Colorado River. Western Resource Advocates then analyzed how much an additional $5 million each from Denver Water and Northern Water would cost their customers. The result is that Denver Water customers would have to pay an additional $0.53 a year for 30 years and Northern Water customers would have to pay an additional $1.60 a year for 30 years. “Is protecting a river worth a dollar a year?” Beckwith asked. “It’s not a lot of money. People lose that much money in the couch.”

But Denver Water’s Travis Bray said it’s not fair to expect his utility and Northern Water to shoulder the entire burden of rebuilding the upper Colorado River basin, which has been degraded over the decades due to multiple projects. “In a perfect world, Denver Water and Northern Water would have unlimited funding and we could just make the whole Fraser River a gold medal (trout) river,” he said…

The final environmental impact statements for both projects are expected to be released late this year or next year. When each statement is released, the public will have the opportunity to give public comment before a final decision is made about whether to give the projects final approval.

More coverage from Laura Snider writing for the Boulder Daily Camera. From the article:

If a Denver Water plan to nearly triple the size of Gross Reservoir gets the final OK, hundreds of acres of shoreline, tributaries, wetlands and vegetated slopes in southwest Boulder County would be underwater. The construction necessary to raise the dam more than 100 feet also would require trucks laden with sand to make 44 round trips up to the reservoir each day during peak construction from sand quarries near Longmont. Denver Water estimates that it will take five years to complete the project. These impacts have raised concerns with the Boulder County commissioners as well as reservoir neighbors…

Earlier this year, Denver Water also released its proposal for how the utility plans to mitigate fish and wildlife impacts for the project. The plan, which was approved in June by the Colorado Wildlife Commission, calls for mitigating the loss of about two acres of wetlands by buying credits from an approved “wetlands mitigation bank.” Denver Water also plans to replant native woody riparian vegetation along the edge of the newly enlarged reservoir to replace the four acres of riparian habitat that would be flooded if the expansion goes forward. Since the reservoir is largely fed from water traveling through the Moffat Tunnel from the Western Slope and emptying into South Boulder Creek, Denver Water would also monitor the effects of a greater volume of water on stream bank stability. The Boulder County commissioners have said that they do not believe Denver Water’s mitigation plan adequately addresses the impacts of the reservoir expansion.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

Flaming Gorge pipeline update: Pikes Peak Water Authority to sponsor $190,000 study of the two alternatives on the table

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Pikes Peak Regional Water Authority will sponsor a $190,000 grant request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to form a task force that water leaders from around the state decided was needed at a meeting in Silverthorne [ed. June 29]. The task force would be made up of members of the state’s nine basin roundtables, along with environmental and recreation interests. It also could include some of the state’s top water officials, and could have 20 to 23 members. The plan, however, still requires buy-in from the roundtables, which were formed by the Legislature in 2005 to sort out state water issues. The needs assessment committee of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable met Thursday and agreed to move the Flaming Gorge task force proposal to the full roundtable at its Aug. 10 meeting. All of the money would come from the water supply reserve account, a program funded by mineral severance taxes. The Arkansas Basin Roundtable would use $10,000 from its basin fund, along with $30,000 from the Metro roundtable. The rest of the grant would come through a statewide account.

“As a state, we need to move forward and identify new projects that bring water into the state,” said Alan Hamel, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the CWCB.

He also is a member of the roundtable’s needs assessment committee. “In order to protect agriculture, we’ve got to be able to move state projects forward,” he said…

The Pikes Peak group, which is managed by Gary Barber, chairman of the Arkansas Basin Roundtable, has an interest in new supply. Like the area served by the South Metro Water Supply Authority, the Pikes Peak region is largely dependent on the Denver Basin Aquifers, a groundwater formation that is being depleted…

The facilitators chosen for the project are Michael Hughes of the Keystone Center and Heather Bergman of Peak Facilitation. Bergman, while working for Keystone, facilitated the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force, which led to the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District by the Legislature in 2009…

“The task force will ask if (Flaming Gorge) is doable and determine how it fits in with the state water supply,” [Jim Broderick, another member of the needs assessment committee] said.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.