Runoff news: Denver Water releases from Dillon Reservoir to push the Blue River over its banks in Silverthorne

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From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

In the wake of a week of thunderstorms, Denver Water is preparing to release enough water from Dillon Reservoir downstream today to overflow the banks of the Blue River in Silverthorne.

“With all the rain we’ve been having it’s causing some extra problems,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “It also causes snow to melt faster. That’s the double whammy of rain.”

Denver Water has kept reservoir levels low all season, anticipating high runoff levels after record snowfall last winter, but heavy rain this week has increased inflows to the lake, raising water levels and leaving Denver Water and Silverthorne with a tough choice: release slightly more water than the Blue River can handle now and buy some time keeping the reservoir levels as low as possible, or keep controlling the outflow from the lake and be faced with a lot more water coming downstream when the reservoir finally fills.

The Blue River, downstream from the dam, can officially handle about 1,800 cubic feet of water per second (cfs). But current inflows to the reservoir are exceeding 2,400 cfs and once the reservoir fills completely, that is exactly how much water will have to be released downstream.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

The Elk River just west of Steamboat peaked for the season at 5 a.m. June 7, when it reached a gauge height of 8.14 feet at the Routt County Road 42 bridge. The water was moving at 8,250 cubic feet per second, breaking the all-time record 6,970 cfs set June 8, 2010. It was a 100-year flooding event.

Aurora: Storage in good shape, Prairie Waters to run all year

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From the Aurora Sentinel (Sara Castellanos):

“Aurora’s water supply is in excellent shape this year,” said Greg Baker, spokesman for Aurora Water. “The heavy snows have helped us quite a bit, and we’ll have sufficient water supply throughout 2011.”

Baker says he doesn’t anticipate any changes in water restrictions this year. Aurora’s water supply across its 12 reservoirs is about 88 percent of capacity this summer, compared with 95 percent during summer 2010. Homestake Reservoir, at more than 10,000 feet, is still generating water run-off from the snowpack levels. The Prairie Waters Project will also be online all year, Baker said.
“We’re running that all year long to test it for warranty purposes,” he said. “We’re going to run it this year as though it were a drought scenario so we can test all the components and make sure we get our money’s worth.”

More infrastructure coverage here.

Denver: Sanitary sewer and stormwater rates go up

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From The Denver Post (Caitlin Gibbons):

The rate hike, effective July 1, reflects the pass-through cost of the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District facility being built near Brighton and the cost of maintaining city sewer lines…

Mix said this is the city’s first sewer-rate hike since 1995. But it won’t be the last: Sewer rates will increase by 15 percent in 2012 and by 10 percent in 2013, and each year thereafter based on the Consumer Price Index. About 59 percent of the average Denver sewer bill is paid to Metro. The rest is used to maintain the sewer system for collecting and transporting waste from homes and businesses to Metro for processing.

Metro’s bill to Denver increased by about 34 percent, utility spokesman Steve Frank said. The city will pay Metro about $45 million this year. Frank said Denver’s bill went up “because of the amount of water and how heavily polluted the water is.”[…]

Denver Wastewater — managed by the city’s Public Works department — is increasing storm-drainage rates by 20 percent.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Reclamation is bumping releases from Crystal Reservoir to avoid a possible Blue Mesa spill

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From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

We continued to be blessed with higher than expected inflows due to late season snowmelt, and now, early season monsoonal moisture. Blue Mesa Reservoir has been rising about 0.7 feet per day and is now at an elevation of 7517.3 feet. Bountiful inflows are expected over the next few days and if releases are not increased there is a definite possibility that Blue Mesa Reservoir could spill. In order to avoid this undesirable event, releases from Crystal Dam will be increased by a total of 800 cfs over the next 3 days. Flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are expected to increase from a gage reading of 1750 cfs to around 2550 cfs by Wednesday, July 13th. Release changes will be done in 200 cfs increments, well below the recommended maximum ramp-up rate of 500 cfs per day, in order to preserve the safety of any potential visitors to the canyon and to provide a smooth flow increase that all fish can enjoy. We are quite fortunate that river flows in this range (>2000 cfs) will actually provide nearly ideal conditions for this year’s late rainbow trout emergence by providing increased fry habitat as the river level exceeds bankfull within the canyon. This should be of great benefit to all recreational users of the canyon – maybe not immediately, but certainly for the future.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Creede: Willow Creek floodplain restoration planning meetings to start this fall

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Strewn with waste rock and mine tailings and largely bereft of vegetation, the 1 1/2-mile stretch that sits astride Colorado 149 is due for a face-lift. The project will take on a number of goals, including the transformation of the creek from a braided channel that races to the Rio Grande to park, recreational and open space for the town’s roughly 300 residents.

But what residents hope to see from the 151 acres in the flood plain recently annexed by the town will be determined, in part, by what they call for during planning meetings that could come as soon as this fall. “The fall planning will be one of the next big hurdles,” said Eric Grossman, a town trustee, who sits on the four-member board of the non-profit that will direct the flood plain’s cleanup…

Grossman said initial ideas have ranged far and wide, including a community garden, open space, a miniature golf course and trails for pedestrians and ATV users…

With public input this fall, the nonprofit also is going to try to nail down the design features for Willow Creek’s new alignment. The stream has run down the flood plain in a braided channel since at least 1939, according to aerial photos that were analyzed in a 2007 study of the flood plain by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The braided structure, in combination with water and soil contamination from nearly a century of mining in the area, has led to poor ecosystem function.

An important solution for water contamination will come when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settles on a cleanup remedy for the Nelson Tunnel, which is the watershed’s largest contributor of pollutants such as cadmium, zinc and lead. Agency officials said last month they are conducting a pair of studies that will help determine the cleanup measure for the tunnel. The tunnel, which sits upstream from the flood plain in the historic mining district, was declared an EPA Superfund site in 2008.

More Nelson Tunnel/Commordore Waste Rock superfund site coverage here and here.

IBCC: Basin roundtables are being asked to create a mix of solutions or a ‘portfolio’ for meeting Colorado’s 2050 M&I water needs, using the board’s portfolio tool

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Here’s the announcement from the Interbasin Compact Committee (Eric Hecox):

Congratulations on your hard work over the past few months. On May 26nd Director Stulp sent out a memo called the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Roadmap outlining the path forward for this process. The Roadmap listed short-term, mid-term, and long-term objectives. The first item under short-term objectives encouraged the Basin Roundtables to complete their basin-wide water supply needs assessments (needs assessments) in the form of the SWSI Basin Reports by the end of June. These Basin Reports are wrapping up and the needs assessments are essentially complete. While the needs assessments are living documents and can always be supplemented, we now are entering a new and exciting phase of our work together.

This phase involves the development of portfolios. As articulated in the Colorado Water for the 21st Century Roadmap the objective is:

· To ensure grassroots input in developing statewide solutions, each roundtable will be asked to develop one or more statewide portfolios using the portfolio tool. This should include at least one mid demand / mid supply portfolio, but some roundtables may choose to develop portfolios for other scenarios as well. CWCB will provide technical assistance in this effort, and IBCC members from one or more basins may go to other basins to support portfolio development.

Over the next six months the Basin Roundtables will be involved in this activity. We will be working with the roundtable Chairs on the logistics of developing portfolios, but an integral part of this effort will be the Portfolio Tool developed by CWCB. We will work with each Basin Roundtable over the next few months to understand and use the Portfolio Tool. However, for those who want to start learning about the tool, you can download the Portfolio Tool and documentation of how the tool works at:

While the tool is essentially finalized, we are still working on one final trade-off. If we can work out the technical details and incorporate it into the tool, we will send out the link to the updated tool.

To remind everyone, the Portfolio Tool allows the user to create a mix of solutions or a “portfolio” for meeting Colorado’s 2050 M&I water needs. The tool also has a variety of trade-offs including the cost of the portfolio, the number of irrigated acres that would be dried up, impact to west slope nonconsumptive needs, etc. These trade-offs will help inform what portfolio each roundtable feels meets their needs as well as the needs of other basins. The tool is also full of new detail, ranging from being able to specify identified projects and processes success rates to seeing portfolios for each individual basin.

I encourage you to spend some time with the Portfolio Tool and look forward to working with you over the next six months to develop portfolios for meeting our state’s long-term water supply needs.

Note: The tool was created with Microsoft Excel and therefore requires a computer running Windows. It seems to work on my Macintosh using Open Office but I’ll have to check it out more closely. It’s a shame that the state of Colorado does not have a commitment to cross-platform solutions.

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

Meant to address the “gap” first identified in the 2004 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, the tool applies hypothetical values for ongoing and proposed projects, conservation and transfers to meeting water supply shortfalls…

IBCC director John Stulp sees value in exposing more people throughout the state to the portfolio tool. “It’s just that, a tool. It gives the roundtables the opportunity to make assumptions,” Stulp said. “If you have a project you’re interested in, you can calculate the yield for the new supply and assign a certain amount for that.”

The important thing is to determine how the remainder of the water needed could be obtained. “I think as people use it, it will send a message that if you do one thing over here, something else has to happen over there,” Stulp said. “It will get people to understand how doing something has consequences.”

The tool can take storage into account by assigning values to identified or proposed projects, Stulp said…

The tool also would show how much of the gap an attainable level of conservation could fill, a position environmental groups favor over building new water projects. It also could identify what sort of impact land-fallowing lease programs like Super Ditch could have versus the permanent sale of agricultural water, Stulp said.

Here’s a nice table of the current supply gaps by basin from The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the Statewide Water Supply Initiative identified municipal needs in 2004, roundtables have spent the past six years refining their needs assessments, and determined the gap in supplies could be as much as 800,000 acre-feet annually by 2050. Some highlights from reports to the Interbasin Compact Committee last month:

– Arkansas River basin: A gap of 36,000 to 110,000 acre-feet per year (af/y), driven by El Paso County growth, is foreseen by the year 2050. The roundtable’s priority is to maintain agriculture while meeting all needs.

– South Platte River basin: Including the Denver metro area, the gap could be 99,000 to 360,000 af/y by 2050. More than half of the need will be in the metro area, and many projects are in competition with each other.

– Rio Grande basin: The Rio Grande basin is showing a gap of 180,000 af/y by 2050, with 160,000 af/y needed to maintain current levels of irrigated agriculture. About 80,000 acres of farm land will have to be taken out of production to avoid further depletion of groundwater in the arid basin.

– Colorado River basin: The Colorado River basin will need an additional 65,000 to 110,000 af/y, and could have a gap of 22,000 to 48,000 af/y by 2050. Oil shale could increase the demand for water.

– Yampa-White basin: There is the potential to increase irrigated agriculture in the state’s northeast corner, but oil shale development could tie up 120,000 af/y, depending on the level of commercial development.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.