Reclamation Announces Planned Test Release from Lake Nighthorse

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Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

Reclamation’s Four Corners Construction Office will conduct a test flow release on July 23, from Lake Nighthorse, to continue evaluating the performance of the improvements constructed in Basin Creek to facilitate downstream water flow.

The flow release test will continue for approximately one week depending on results, as part of the required testing and commissioning for the Animas-La Plata Project prior to the project’s transition to operational status. Released flows will range from 15 to 150 cubic-feet-per-second with the total release of water from Lake Nighthorse not to exceed 500 acre-feet. All flows released from the reservoir will pass through fish nets that ensure no escapement of live fish or eggs to the Animas River that could potentially impact endangered fish in the San Juan River.

The Basin Creek improvements consist of a series of channel improvements and small check dams, or drop structures, and were constructed as part of the Animas-La Plata Project. The purpose of the improvements is to convey water released from Ridges Basin Dam down Basin Creek to the Animas River.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

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

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Here are the summaries from yesterday’s webinar. Click on the thumbnail graphic for the precipitation summary.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 365 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

At about 7 this morning, July 25, we cut back releases to around 365 cfs. The flow in the lower Blue River below Green Mountain Dam will remain at 365 cfs until the next change.

There has been some recent rain in the upper Colorado River Basin and the river’s flows are up slightly. As a result, we cut back on Green Mountain’s contributions to the river system. We, the State, and other reservoir operators will continue responding to Colorado River flows as best we can throughout this water year. So please be aware that there will likely be additional changes.

Colorado Water 2012: Rio Grande Basin is in a severe drought #CODrought

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Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi describes the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s efforts during the current drought. Here’s an excerpt:

While the winter did bring some improvements to the area, it is still quite dry and the 24-month accumulation for precipitation shows that the area is tracking well below normal accumulation for the last two years. A shortage of roughly five inches may not seem like a lot, but in a region where an average year brings just over seven inches that adds up to a noticeable deficit.

These conditions have largely been attributed to La Niña conditions in the equatorial region of the eastern Pacific Ocean. La Niña, is a cooling of sea surface temperatures that influences weather patterns in the southwestern United States, often resulting in drier conditions. Currently, sea surface temperatures have warmed and are now classified as neutral. Continued warming and a full transition to El Niño (a warming of sea surface temperatures) could occur in the second half of 2012. El Niño conditions would favor more moisture for the state.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Happy Colorado River Day

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Today is Colorado River Day and the group is buying lunch in downtown Denver (and elsewhere). The event is for, “Celebrating the river that supplies drinking water for 36 million Americans, irrigates 15% of our nation’s crops, and facilitates recreation that supports a quarter million jobs and contributes $26 billion to our economy.”

From National Geographic (Jennifer Pitt):

If you live somewhere in the United States, there’s a pretty good chance you have ingested Colorado River water, likely in the form of winter-harvest lettuce from southern Arizona or California. There are many reasons to celebrate the Colorado River, and fresh, baby romaine leaves in February is just one of them. Also rafting the Grand Canyon, bathing your baby in San Diego, bird-watching in the Sonoran Desert, fountain-gazing on the Strip in Las Vegas, and watching the cattle roam high mountain pastures in the Rocky Mountains.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Ag Commissioner John Salazar, et al., tour Northwest Colorado to learn about drought effects #CODrought

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From the Craig Daily Press (Jerry Martin):

The group included John Salazar, state agriculture commissioner; John Stulp, policy advisor on water; Al White, former Colorado Senator in District 8 and current director of the state tourism office; and representatives from other state and federal agencies.

The officials made three stops along the tour to meet with local ranchers and agriculture officials.

For White, a Hayden resident, the tour was mostly about showing his colleagues at the state capital what life has been like for ranchers and farmers in the Yampa Valley…

While the conversation at each stop touched on the effects the drought already has had this summer — such as ranchers deciding to liquidate their herds and hay their fields months earlier than normal — both ranchers and state officials voiced concerns about how the effects of the drought could extend into winter and spring…

Aside from voicing concerns, local ranchers also had the opportunity to tell state officials how government can help, a crucial part of the tour, said Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi, drought and climate change technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board and one of the tour’s organizers…

Additionally, local ranchers and agriculture representatives told state officials they could help with irrigation, installment of water tanks, development of new springs and ponds, requests for water from the Colorado Water Trust, and arranging water releases from area reservoirs.

Hutchins-Cabibi said she thought the tour was successful. “(Visiting state officials) certainly felt like they got a really good gauge for what was going on on the ground, and where they could help and where they couldn’t help,” she said.

From The Denver Post (Roxana Hegeman):

…cattlemen throughout the middle and western part of the U.S. also are selling animals they can’t graze or afford to buy feed for. Beef from the animals now flooding livestock auctions will start showing up in grocery stores in November and December, temporarily driving down meat prices. But then prices are expected to rise sharply by January in the wake of dwindling supplies and smaller livestock herds…

It is likely to take the beef industry years to recover. Cows have a nine-month gestation period, and it can take up to two years after calves are born for them to grow big enough for slaughter. The time needed to repair drought-damaged pastures will only extend that timetable because ranchers must have grass for grazing before they can add animals…

Beef prices were already falling after rising 10 percent last year amid the drought in the Southwest. They peaked at an average of $5.09 per pound in January, and then came down to about $4.93 per pound in June. They are expected to increase again, but it’s not clear by how much. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had predicted a 2.5 to 3.5 percent increase in beef prices for the year, but that was before the drought spread and cattle selloffs mounted.

Here’s a release from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union:

“USDA Secretary Vilsack and Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet responded swiftly to a call from the RMFU Board for urgent moves to address the economic disaster for farmers threatened by a historic nationwide drought, but the measures proposed are not addressing the immediate problem, according to RMFU President Kent Peppler, a Mead, Colo., farmer.

“When your house is on fire, it’s great to have insurance, but what you need is firefighters,” Peppler observed. “Senate Bill 3384, which is apparently stalled in the Senate, extends disaster relief programs in the 2008 Farm Bill and reduces the delay in getting payments to struggling farmers, but it won’t help people who are looking at losing their farms in the coming weeks because they can’t feed their stock and their crops are withering in the drought.”

Senators Udall and Bennet called on Secretary Vilsack to utilize all available resources to assist farmers and ranchers who are currently facing drought conditions in Colorado, and the Secretary responded by directing his department to administer conservation and crop insurance programs “with flexibility” to get assistance to farmers and ranchers quickly.

“Our senators for Colorado have demonstrated again that they are thoughtful and conscientious representatives of family farmers and ranchers,” Peppler said, “and we appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s swift response to the drought. But what is needed is a declared emergency disaster relief program, defined broadly enough to help producers not eligible for conservation programs or crop insurance. That means no quibbling over offsets, no political posturing on either side of the aisle, and no delays getting assistance to farmers and ranchers facing losses they may never recover from. For many of them, five or six months from now might as well be never. Corporate agriculture and tax dodge ‘farmers’ may be able to weather this drought, but the families who fire up a tractor every morning are looking at going under, some of them for the last time.”

The Aspen Skiing Company and Snowmass Water and Sanitation agree on deal for storage to extend snow-making season

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From the Aspen Daily News:

“In the past, the Aspen Skiing Co. has paid the district to pump water from Snowmass Creek up the hill for its snowmaking facilities,” said Kit Hamby, Snowmass Water and Sanitation district manager. “Now, we can store water at Ziegler during runoff periods and then make that water available for snowmaking beyond the traditional November and December period. The agreement is a great improvement for the district’s whole water system, and it benefits the health of Snowmass Creek.”

Through past agreements, water can only be pulled out of Snowmass Creek for snowmaking until December 31. Now, all snowmaking water will come from Ziegler Reservoir instead of directly out of Snowmass Creek, allowing snowmaking to be extended past that period. Water is stored at Ziegler Reservoir through a gravity feed from East Snowmass Creek.

“Decoupling snowmaking from Snowmass Creek has been a holy grail of our environmental work at Aspen Skiing Co. for 15 years,” said Auden Schendler, SkiCo’s vice president of sustainability. “This project moves us towards that goal. It will also help us make snow more efficiently and more effectively, using less water and less energy than ever. It’s an environmental victory from any angle.”

The agreement stipulates that the SkiCo will pay the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District $1.25 million down and $100,000 a year for 20 years for a total cost of $3.25 million. The district will use the money to pay down Colorado Water Conservation loans that were made for the purchase and construction of Ziegler Reservoir.

The agreement highlights one of the major benefits Ziegler Reservoir offers. Now, the district has a water management tool that allows it to take water out at high rates for system recovery or snowmaking, and allows the district to store water during high flow periods and use water when the streams are at their lowest.

In the past, water was drawn from Snowmass Creek when temperatures were the coldest and was limited because those are also times that water in the creek is at its lowest. Now, snowmaking can be operationally enhanced because the water will be drawn from Ziegler Reservoir during those coldest times. Making snow during the coldest times makes the snow lighter, creates better coverage with less water, and saves electrical costs because compressors don’t have to be used as much.

From The Aspen Times (Jill Beathard):

Previously, Skico pumped water from Snowmass Creek to make snow and could draw from the creek only until Dec. 31. The $3.25 million deal will allow Skico to make snow past that date as well as decrease the impact to the creek. “This is what we’ve been pushing for in the past,” said Kit Hamby, Water and Sanitation District manager. “The ski company has operated using direct flows from Snowmass Creek. (It would) drop that creek 5 or 6 (cubic feet per second).”

In the early winter, when Skico usually makes snow, the creek is at its lowest, so that would mean about half the flow. “We don’t want to impact the stream, as well,” Hamby said.

Water is stored in Ziegler through a gravity feed from East Snowmass Creek. Skico can access the water at any time during the ski season as long as it was stored as of Dec. 31. “Essentially you’re taking water out of the reservoir that’s stored during runoff and using it when the creek would be low,” Hamby said.

Also, snowmaking is most necessary during the driest times of year, and lower temperatures are more optimal for snowmaking because they make the snow lighter and allow for better coverage with less water.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here and here.

Supporters of the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) rally in Fort Lupton

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From KUNC (Kirk Siegler):

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, this is a Colorado issue,” said Fort Lupton Mayor Tom Holton. The rally under the blistering sun took place at the Fort Lupton Historic site – an adobe replica of a fur-trading post along the South Platte River between Denver and Greeley…

Saving farms is one of the main arguments put forth by cities and districts like Left Hand backing the estimated $400 million NISP project. The idea being that if these cities and districts had their own water supplies, they wouldn’t have to buy up all the farmers’ water…

“There is no water left in our rivers and that’s what we have to come to grips with and find a new path forward,” [Gary Wockner] says…

Backers of NISP say other proposals floated by environmentalists such as water leasing from farms still won’t meet the region’s long-term needs.

From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

The Army Corps delivered its latest assessment in a letter to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who wanted to know when the impact statement would be completed. That’s a sign that Hickenlooper and the cities and towns that would benefit from NISP want the project done…

Northern Water is a chief proponent of NISP, which calls for the Cache La Poudre to be diverted during high-flow periods to fill two proposed reservoirs, Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins and Galenton Reservoir east of Ault. The latest cost of the project is at $490 million. At least 15 northern Colorado water providers also back NISP, believing it will sustain them during times of drought…

However, a comprehensive review of NISP was expected to attract a similar review by the Corps, [Brian Werner] said. “We’ve never been held to a hard and fast deadline,” he said. “What I am hearing from the 15 communities and the governor, is ‘Hey, let’s get this thing done.’ “

From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

“The current drought throughout Northern Colorado has brought home a stark reality – we need more water storage and soon,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway has said. “Without it our children and grandchildren’s future will be at risk.”[…]

Meanwhile, Weld County farmers have struggled to maintain their crops during the drought. Crop insurance claims are up, people in the industry say, despite overflowing groundwater wells that remain shut off to Weld farmers.

The project “would provide the water storage we need to support Northern Colorado’s growing communities and provide protection to economies and families when the weather turns dry,” Rep. Cory Gardner said in a statement.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

During the July 16 work session, the [Windsor] town board spent some time refreshing itself on a topic that hasn’t gotten a lot of traction in the last couple of years: the status of the Northern Integrated Supply Project…

Windsor has been a player in Northern Water since its formation and is currently a 8.25 percent shareholder in the project…

The project will cost an estimated $500 million, and that cost will be borne by participants in the project, in proportion to the amount of water they’re requesting from NISP. Windsor’s share of water is 3,300 acre-feet, which comes to about $40 million. There are, Brouwer said, multiple ways to fund the project, including special bond financing, loans or upfront payment…

In short, [Carl Brouwer] said he hopes the project will be producing water by 2018. “Glade would be built and completed by then, and we’d be completely finished with all construction by 2022 or 2023,” Brouwer said. “We can postpone a phase or two as needed, depending on the financial capacity of the partners involved.”

Thus far, Windsor has contributed about $933,000 to the project. Once the project is online, Windsor and other participants will enter into allotment contracts where the shares of water become tangible assets that can be bought and sold within the boundaries of the Northern Water district…

The 3,300 acre-feet that Windsor is in for in NISP is enough water to basically double Windsor’s water allotment from the Colorado Big Thompson Project and its other water sources, allowing the town’s population to essentially double, as well.

Board member Don Thompson asked whether there were negative implications from buying town water from other sources. “We’re paying other entities to treat the water we already own,” said Dennis Wagner, engineering director. “We’re not buying water from other entities.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.