The August/September issue of ‘Colorado Water’ from the Colorado Water Institute is hot off the press

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Click here to download a copy.

From email from the Colorado Water Institute:

Climate, weather and water are completely intertwined. It is a fact that the most damaging extreme weather events usually involve water in some form. Already this year, the U.S. has experienced record-setting floods along the Mississippi River, deadly tornadoes in the South, and severe drought in Texas and Oklahoma. We have already seen eight $1 billion-plus disasters in the U.S. during 2011, with total damages at more than $32 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As these statistics indicate, the study of climate and weather is vitally important to society. Weather and climate affect virtually every aspect of our economy and everyday life— how we live, what we grow, our ecosystems, our energy needs, how our buildings and roads are built, the services we require, and how we recreate.

As you will read in this issue of Colorado Water, CSU researchers are currently working to develop improved information in the form of climate forecasts, runoff predictions, drought monitoring, and regional vulnerability assessments needed to assist water resource decision makers.

More climate change coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Pumping resumed September 7 from Shadow Mountain Reservoir into Grand Lake for deliveries to the South Platte Basin

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

In the shallow, “crystal clear” connecting channel of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, “The day after they started pumping, you couldn’t see the bottom,” said Watershed Program Manager Ben Carver, of the Grand County Water Information Network. Secchi disc measurements back up observances…The Water Information Network’s paid field technician has been sampling clarity at 14 sites of Grand Lake three times per week this summer. In mid-July, the measurements averaged around 20 feet (6.25 meters). On Sept. 10, three days after pumping resumed, the clarity on Grand Lake had been cut nearly in half to an average 11 feet (3.25 meters). The channel became “a bottleneck for all the algae coming into Grand Lake” from shallow Shadow Mountain Reservoir, Carver said.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board votes unanimously to fund Flaming Gorge pipeline study, now whittled down to $70,000 with more dough available if project looks feasible

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I just got out of staff meeting at work and I was wondering about the outcome from the CWCB meeting in Grand Junction, so I opened up Twitter. You have to love the Internet.

Here’s a tweet from @beckylong who attended the meeting, “Statements from proponents & Board members on the #FlamingGorge proposal. Say they’ve invited us [ed. conservationists and environmentalists] to dinner. Feel a little like the turkey.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted unanimously to spend $70,000 on a study exploring the idea for a 570-mile pipeline — and $170,000 more if the first study deems the diversion promising, according to participants at a CWCB meeting in Grand Junction…

This morning’s CWCB decision “shows the potential value of the project” for delivering “a new water resource for Colorado,” [Aaron Million] said. “We’ve been watching from the sidelines. The project needs to be studied. This is a move-forward decision.”

Some environmental groups objected to spending state money to explore the project, saying it would hurt the reservoir and the Green River ecosystems. Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based law and policy group, called state pursuit of the pipeline “a colossal waste of time and energy… All interested parties should instead spend time on more realistic means to meet future water demands.”

The CWCB is charged with protecting and developing water resources for the state.

More Flaming Gorge Task Force coverage here.

H.R. 2842: Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011, introduced by U.S. Representative Scott Tipton

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Here’s the link to the bill on Govtrack.us. The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Water and Power from the House Committee on Natural Resources on September 7.

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

This week, Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-R) introduced H.R. 2842, The Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011.

This legislation seeks to streamline the regulatory process and reduce administrative costs for small hydropower development at Reclamation’s facilities while supporting the creation of badly needed rural jobs. H.R. 2842 authorizes power development at the agency’s conduits to clear up multi-agency confusion and duplicative processes and reduces the regulatory costs associated with hydropower development.

“At a time when our country needs to focus on domestic energy production and job creation, hydropower can play a critical role in providing clean renewable energy while expanding job opportunities in rural America,” Tipton said. “Hydropower is the cheapest and cleanest source of electricity available through modern technology, and a key component of an ‘all of the above’ energy platform that I continue to strongly support.”

Hydropower is the highest source of non-carbon emitting energy in the world and accounts for approximately 75% of the United States’ total renewable electricity generation, making it the leading renewable energy source of power. Nearly 37% of Colorado’s renewable energy is hydropower, but only 3.7% of all Colorado energy is hydropower.

“Colorado has a significant opportunity to follow the lead of many of its western neighbors and expand on this clean, renewable source of power while creating badly needed jobs for the Third district and Colorado in the process,” Tipton said.

Background

Many rural water and irrigation districts and electric utilities in Colorado and other western states seek to develop hydropower on Bureau of Reclamation water canals and pipelines, but over-burdensome and unnecessary regulations stand in the way. Increased conduit hydropower serves a number of purposes: it produces renewable and emissions-free energy that can be used to pump water or sell electricity to the grid; it can generate revenue for the hydropower developer to help pay for aging infrastructure costs and water/power facility modernization; and it can create local jobs and generate revenue to the federal government.

One thing stands in the way of such common-sense development: outdated and unnecessary federal regulations. H.R. 795, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Adrian Smith and Jim Costa, provides regulatory reform for non-federal conduit hydropower generation, and I believe it’s time to begin reform for hydropower development on federal conduits as well.

As it stands, federal regulations hinder this development on federal projects and subject job creators to unnecessary requirements which render small hydropower projects economically unfeasible.

H.R. 2842 seeks to remove one major economic handcuff: unnecessary environmental analysis. Even though Reclamation conduit hydropower units would already be on disturbed ground within existing facilities that have already gone through federal environmental review, another National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis must still be done in this case under existing regulations. This is done despite the fact that the Interior Department’s current Reclamation Manual allows for NEPA categorical exclusions for “Minor construction activities associated with authorized projects…which merely augment or supplement, or are enclosed within existing facilities.”

H.R. 2842 also substantially reduces administrative costs so that the projects are no longer cost prohibitive. Instead of the current process where Reclamation must painstakingly analyze each and every proposal for development, the bill gives the first development right to the entity/entities operating and maintaining the federal conduit. Most Reclamation irrigation and water supply projects have an arrangement where operation and maintenance activities are transferred to the local beneficiary as a way to reduce paperwork and other costs. The rationale for the legislation’s first right of refusal provision is that the non-federal operator knows the details of the facility and is locally invested into the project. This provision would significantly decrease conduit hydropower planning costs.

The hydropower development encouraged by this legislation will not harm the environment since the generation units would be placed on already disturbed ground within existing facilities that have already gone through federal environmental review. H.R. 2842 also protects water users by specifically re-affirming hydropower development as secondary to water supply and delivery purposes and ensuring that there will be no financial and operational impacts to existing water and power users. Furthermore, H.R. 2842 protects agreements that the water users have on existing conduit generation projects and provides additional safeguards to ensure such projects do not undermine water deliveries.

H.R. 2842 is supported by the Family Farm Alliance, the National Water Resources Association, and the American Public Power Association, among others.

Here’s a report from Reid Wright writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

The Cortez lawmaker’s proposed legislation, The Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011, seeks to eliminate a second environmental analysis of small hydroelectric projects built within existing water facilities already approved by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The bill is also aimed at reducing administrative costs by giving more authority to local entities and protecting water users by assuring electricity generation is secondary to water delivery.

Under the bill, the secretary of the interior will first offer the lease of power privilege to a local irrigation district or water users association.

Tipton’s bill is related to the Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act of 2011, sponsored by Adrian Smith, R-Neb, aimed at regulatory reform for non-federal hydropower generation.

The Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011 is targeted specifically at federal hydroelectric facilities producing 1.5 megawatts of power or less.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Rio Grande Roundtable recap: Runoff was up and down for the water year, mostly down

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

Colorado Division of Water Resources Division Engineer for Division III Craig Cotten described the roller coaster ride to members of the basin-wide water group, the Rio Grande Roundtable, on Tuesday. “It was kind of a strange year, way below average, above average and then way below average again,” he said…

The annual index supply forecast for the Rio Grande at Del Norte varied up and down, with the latest preliminary annual flow sitting at 505,000 acre feet, quite a bit less than the average 650,000 acre feet, according to Cotten. Of that amount, the Rio Grande will have to supply 128,700 acre feet to downstream states to satisfy Rio Grande Compact obligations. Curtailment of irrigators on the Rio Grande is about 10 percent currently. Cotten said since ditches are not running in the wintertime, curtailment at that time was 100 percent, and when the ditches on the Rio Grande system began diversions on March 28, curtailments were 7 percent, dropping to 6 percent, then back up to 10 percent, 14 percent, 17 percent, 19 percent and a high of 22 percent, as predictions changed with varying runoff flows…

The Conejos had below average flows through half of June. “They were significantly below average, especially during the first part of May, way lower than what we usually have,” Cotten said. Then the Conejos system picked up to above average flows, which remained above average. The annual forecast on the Conejos River system is 245,000 acre feet, which is lower than the average 325,000-350,000 acre feet, according to Cotten. Of that total, the Conejos owes 72,000 acre feet to downstream states to complete its Rio Grande Compact obligation. To meet that compact obligation, irrigators are experiencing a 40-percent curtailment right now on the Conejos, Cotten said.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here.

Milton-Seaman Reservoir outlet works undergoing rehab

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Plans for lowering the water level of the reservoir to provide access to the gates that control flows to the North Fork call for slowly “ramping up” releases to keep too much sediment from getting into the water too fast and discoloring the river…

Seaman Reservoir was built in the 1940s and serves as drought protection for the city of Greeley’s water supply. Releases from the bottom of the reservoir are controlled by five heavy gates near the base of the dam. An inspection of the gates in 2008 found that the hydraulic controls known as actuators on two of the five gates had failed. A project to replace the 65-year-old hydraulic and mechanical systems controlling the gates has begun and is expected to last until April. The actuators currently are near the base of the dam and can only be accessed by divers unless the reservoir is completely drained. Part of the $1.6 million maintenance project will include moving the mechanical systems higher so they are more easily accessible. When full, the reservoir near the dam is 77 feet deep. The water level has been drawn down to 50 feet and is expected to come down another 12 to 11 feet…

Greeley officials have a solid mitigation plan for the project, said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist for the Platte River Basin with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Lowering the reservoir level is likely to cause a fish kill when the reservoir freezes this winter, he said, and some dead fish may end up in the river. The project includes $3,000 for the division to restock the reservoir with rainbow trout, he said.

More South Platte River basin coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter Lake elevation about average, Horsetooth Reservoir a little above average elevation

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

There are a few changes coming up for Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs this week. This is just a quick update on what to expect.

Carter Lake is sitting at a fairly average water elevation for this time of year. Full is around 5759 feet above sea level. Currently, the reservoir is at about 5717 feet. This is largely because we have been delivering water from Carter Lake via both the St. Vrain Supply Canal out of Carter Lake Dam #1 and through Unit #3–the reversible pump unit at Flatiron Power Plant.

Normally, Unit 3 is used to pump water up to Carter, filling it, but it can be used in reverse to generate hydro-electricity and deliver water down the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal, which runs all the way to Horsetooth. For the past month, we have been using Unit 3 to meet some water demands downstream of the canal.

That will end tomorrow. On Wednesday, September 14, Unit 3 will go back into pump mode and the water elevation at Carter Lake will likely start rising again.

Meanwhile, Horsetooth is at a water level elevation that is actually higher than average for this time of year. The reservoir is at an elevation of about 5407. All ramps are still in the water–and that is not usually the case after Labor Day.

When the pump to Carter goes on tomorrow, we will be taking a section of the canal which feeds Horsetooth down for annual maintenance. With little water coming into the reservoir, it is likely its rate of drop will increase. The rate of drop will depend on water demands, which are driven largely by the weather. Visitors to and residents around Horsetooth should anticipate that its water level will continue to go down through September and October, as is typical.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.