Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 330 cfs in the Blue River below the dam


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have another change at Green Mountain Dam. As has been typical the last six or so weeks, we are seeing operational changes at the dam about every three to four days.

In collaboration with other reservoir operators, we continue to follow Mother Nature’s storms, adjusting releases as we go. Recent rains have boosted flows in the Colorado River slightly, so we have been asked to cut back our releases from the dam to the Lower Blue.

Around 11 a.m. today, August 13, we cut back by 50 cfs, to about 330 cfs. The Lower Blue River should now be running at about 330 cfs.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Ruedi Reservoir operations update: 213 cfs in the Fryingpan River below the dam


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’ve seen inflows to Ruedi decrease over the weekend as the afternoon storms have slowed. As a result, we have less water to pass on down to the Colorado River. Today around 5 p.m. we will scale releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan back by about 28 cfs. This will put flows past the Ruedi Dam gage at about 213 cfs.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

CWCB: Statewide Drought Conference September 19-20


From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):

The CWCB State Drought Conference: Building a Drought Resilient Economy through Innovation is 5 weeks away! We are pleased to announce that John Paul DeJoria, Global Businessman and Philanthropist & Steve Maxwell, author of “The Future of Water” will be our keynote speakers; and Governor John Hickenlooper will be speaking at the Conference as well.

Here’s the link to the registration page.

More CWCB coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: 100th anniversary celebration of Rio Grande Reservoir August 23


Here’s the latest installment in the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series. Travis Smith writes about the recent 100th anniversary celebration for Rio Grande Reservoir. Here’s an excerpt:

This 100th anniversary is a time to capture for a few moments, the vision of people like Frank Sylvester, David Miles, S.J. Schoonover and Charles Speiser who, in October of 1908, formed the San Luis Valley Irrigation District under authority of the newly created Irrigation District Statute of 1905 from the former Farmers Union Irrigation Company.

The Farmers Union Irrigation Company was formed in the late 1880’s as a mutual ditch company to provide irrigation water to the lands near Center, and extending eastward to Hooper. The Farmers Union Canal is a junior canal, and its priorities did not provide for a reliable water supply. Frank Sylvester and the Farmers Union Board recognized in the early 1890’s the need for a reservoir to provide a more reliable water supply.

Discussions of building Rio Grande Reservoir began in 1892, with a preliminary survey during 1905 -1907; plans of site purchases, reservoir design, and how to finance such a large and bold undertaking. The board of the newly formed San Luis Valley Irrigation District, in 1908, moved quickly to secure funding for the actual construction of the reservoir at the headwaters of the Rio Grande by issuing bonds worth $530,000. The reservoir site was purchased from a Creede entrepreneur named A.V. Tabor.

Engineering work including test pits and surveying began in 1907. The tunnel was drilled and completed by 1910 and the outlet was installed soon after. In June of 1912 the reservoir stored and released water to be used beneficially on District lands while the dam was being completed to establish a storage right.

The 100th anniversary celebrates the successful effort and continued operation of the reservoir by the people of the San Luis Valley Irrigation District, and the dedication of the board of directors, who are landowners elected by the members of the District. 100 Years of Rio Grande Reservoir, guided by the board of directors, is a story of determination and commitment…

There are names which are not often mentioned today, but were very instrumental in the building of Rio Grande Reservoir. The Honorable Charles Holbrook, General Bloomfield, F.C. Goudy and San Luis Valley Irrigation District Attorney Charles Corlett made many trips to Washington D.C. on behalf of the citizens of the San Luis Valley to persuade the federal government to rescind the prohibition on storage projects on the upper Rio Grande. The Chief Engineer J.C. Ulrich from Denver designed and supervised the construction of the reservoir, which took three years and involved 50 to 100 teams working in very harsh conditions…

Rio Grande Reservoir is now preparing for the future by honoring those who made the first 100 years possible. The San Luis Valley Irrigation District is pleased to celebrate Rio Grande Reservoir’s 100th Anniversary on August 23, 2012 at the reservoir.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Western Slope interests are, ‘better off at the table than on the menu’ — Bill Trampe

Here’s a profile of Rancher and water wonk, Bill Trampe, written by Jennifer Bock running in the Grand Junction Free Press. From the article:

Although water is probably more essential to his livelihood than many of us in the Gunnison Basin, Trampe admits that his philosophy on keeping water in the Gunnison Basin has changed over the years.

When Arapahoe County proposed the Union Park project, Trampe recalls that the local sentiment was “not one drop” and no one dared stray from that strict line in the sand.

Today, Trampe thinks that Western Slope interests are “better off at the table than on the menu” when it comes to talking to the Front Range and others about West Slope water. Trampe’s philosophy is tied to real life experience: He has spent the last seven years negotiating with the Front Range to develop the Colorado River Water Cooperative Agreement.

Perhaps characteristic of a rancher’s outlook, Trampe is both hopeful and frustrated when it comes to resolving Colorado’s water disputes.

He believes, as many do, that big, transmountain water projects simply won’t be able to provide enough firm yield to satisfy Front Range interests. In statewide water planning discussions, Trampe has been a proponent of addressing this problem through risk management — the idea that the state must have a comprehensive way to evaluate and guard against the potential consequences of failing to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states as it considers new diversions out of the Colorado River Basin.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.

Colorado River Basin: ‘…last year’s bounty appears to have been little more than an apparition’ — Pat Mulroy


From the Las Vegas Sun (Pat Mulroy):

After last year’s strong snowpack in the Rocky Mountains brought much-needed relief to a rapidly declining Lake Mead, there was optimism that perhaps the devastating drought that has plagued the Colorado River for the past decade was drawing to a close. Unfortunately, this year’s record dry conditions — which have extended throughout much of the continental United States — have dashed those hopes. Just as we have seen through many periods of extended drought along the Colorado River, last year’s bounty appears to have been little more than an apparition, disappearing more quickly than snow on the majestic mountain peaks of Colorado and Wyoming.

If climate scientists are correct, the West has many more such periods ahead. This new reality will fundamentally change the way we manage this crucial resource. This challenge will require a more selfless and fully engaged level of collaboration among communities and states than ever before.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here here.

Drought news: Low streamflow and high water temperatures are tough on aquatic species


From the Summit Daily News (Brian Lorch and Lane Wyatt):

Managing our demand for water by implementing water conservation measures also reduces the stress on the aquatic environment found in the streams and reservoirs that are the source of most of our local water supplies. As the stream flows diminish in a drought, water temperature goes up and habitat and refuge for fish and aquatic invertebrates goes down…

In Colorado, only the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) can hold water rights to protect streamflows for the environment. Individuals, environmental groups and others cannot hold these water rights for instream environmental purposes although they can petition the CWCB to acquire these rights or can donate existing water rights for this purpose. The CWCB will consult with the Division of Parks and Wildlife to quantify an instream flow level that provides only the “minimum amount to protect the environment to a reasonable degree”. This flow is usually enough to provide passage for fish though riffles that may limit connectivity to pools and other safe havens, essentially only about enough to keep the backs of the fish wet in these shallow areas.

Like other water rights in Colorado, the effectiveness of these instream flow water rights to protect stream- flows is based on their seniority within the prior appropriation system. So in order for the instream flow rights to protect streamflows from diversions out of the stream they must be senior, or older than the water right associated with the diversion. We are lucky in Summit County that most of our streams have some instream flow water right for protection. For a description of the instream flow water rights in Summit County and for more information on Colorado’s instream flow program, check out this website: /environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/main.aspx

From NOAA’s State of the Climate webpage:

The May-July months, an important period for agriculture, was the second warmest and 12th driest such three-months for the Lower 48, contributing to rapid expansion of drought. The central regions of the country were hardest hit by the drought, where ten states had three-month precipitation totals among their ten driest, including Nebraska, Kansas, and Arkansas which were record dry.

According to the July 31, 2012, U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), 62.9 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought at the end of July. This is an increase of about 6.9 percent compared to the end of June. The maximum value of 63.9 percent reached on July 24 is a record in the 13-year history of the USDM.

The area of the country in the worst drought categories (extreme to exceptional drought) doubled from 10 percent last month to 22 percent this month. The extreme dryness and excessive heat devastated crops and livestock from the Great Plains to Midwest.

The Primary Corn and Soybean Agricultural Belt, hard hit by drought, experienced its eighth driest July, third driest June-July, and sixth driest April-July (growing season) in the 1895-2012 record.

According to the Palmer Drought Severity Index, whose record spans the 20th century, about 57 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-extreme drought in July. The last drought this extensive was in December 1956 when about 58 percent of the nation was in moderate-to-extreme drought.

From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

In total, $1,865,850 has been made available to Colorado farmers and ranchers through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Colorado farmers and ranchers are experiencing the most devastating drought in decades,” [U.S. Senator Michael Bennet] said. “At a time when our economy is just getting back on its feet, we need all hands on deck to ensure that our rural communities have the tools they need to continue to grow and thrive. I encourage producers across Colorado to take advantage of the resources.”

Bennet’s comments come in a timely way as corn prices hit a record high Friday as the U.S. government slashed its forecast for the drought-damaged corn crop even more than analysts were expecting.

From email from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Jennifer Churchill):

Drought conditions and low water flows throughout the state have Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminding anglers to monitor water temperature when they are out fishing. Several water-specific recommendations have already been released this summer; however aquatic biologists recognize that fish can be stressed due to temperatures in many different coldwater fishing locations.

“Handling fish in waters that are 68 degrees and above can put undue stress on them, causing mortalities and compromising the fishery as a whole,” said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist for the Northeast region. “We ask that anglers keep in mind the production opportunity of a fishery and not solely the fishing opportunity. Get out and fish, but bring along a thermometer and try to fish early in the day for the best opportunities.”

Here’s a release from the USDA:

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to do everything it can to help farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted by the nation’s persistent drought, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA’s intent to purchase up to $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks. The purchase will help relieve pressure on American livestock producers during the drought, while helping to bring the nation’s meat supply in line with demand while providing high quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA’s nutrition programs.

“President Obama and I will continue to take swift action to get help to America’s farmers and ranchers through this difficult time,” said Vilsack. “These purchases will assist pork, catfish, chicken and lamb producers who are currently struggling due to challenging market conditions and the high cost of feed resulting from the widespread drought. The purchases will help mitigate further downward prices, stabilize market conditions, and provide high quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA’s nutrition programs.”

Today, USDA announced its intention to purchase up to $100 million of pork products, up to $10 million of catfish products, up to $50 million in chicken products, and up to $10 million of lamb products for federal food nutrition assistance programs, including food banks. Through the Emergency Surplus Removal Program, USDA can use Section 32 funds to purchase meat and poultry products to assist farmers and ranchers who have been affected by natural disasters. The pork, lamb and catfish purchases are based on analyses of current market conditions. A major factor affecting livestock producers is the value of feed, which is currently running high because of the drought.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchases a variety of high-quality food products each year to support the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. USDA also makes emergency food purchases for distribution to victims of natural disasters. Government food experts work to ensure that all purchased food is healthful and nutritious. Food items are required to be low in fat, sugar and sodium. The commodities must meet specified requirements and be certified to ensure quality. AMS purchases only products of 100 percent domestic origin.

Last week in Washington, President Obama convened his White House Rural Council to review Executive Branch response actions and to develop additional policy initiatives to assist drought-stricken Americans. Following the meeting, the White House announced a number of new measures the Administration is taking, including USDA’s assistance for livestock and crop producers, the National Credit Union Administration’s increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers, and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to drought-stricken communities. President Obama also stressed the need for the entire Administration to continue to look at further steps it can take to ease the pain of this historic drought.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Commercial tubers are required to shut down when the river is below 85 cubic feet per second, and that’s where the town stretch of the Yampa has been during the day since Monday.

The river was flowing at 80 cfs past the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at the Fifth Street bridge at 6:30 Friday morning, and with vacationing families shifting into back-to-school mode, the tubing season is fast dwindling.

The median flow for this date is 165 cfs, but Van De Carr had a positive take on the way the summer has unfolded, calling conservation releases from Stagecoach Reservoir and voluntary releases from Lake Catamount a godsend.

Earlier this summer, the Colorado Water Trust made use of a new state law that allows for temporary leases of stored water rights and consummated a deal with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District to gradually release 4,000 acre feet of water into the river so that a portion of it could reach the town section and beyond. The releases are scheduled to last into September.

The Lake Catamount homeowners association responded in early July by releasing an additional amount that made the river more attractive for tubing.

The Yampa below Stagecoach was flowing at 68 cfs Friday morning, and gauges maintained by the Colorado Division of Water Resources showed that 69.5 cfs was flowing out of the outlet at the Lake Catamount dam and another 13 cfs was coming from the spillway.

Colorado Water 2012: ‘Water truly is the lifeblood of a community’ — Jean Van Pelt


Here’s the latest installment in The Pueblo Chieftain’s series for Colorado Water 2012. Jean Van Pelt describes the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. Here’s an excerpt:

…the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has provided Southeastern Colorado with 50 golden years of benefits. The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project is a transmountain diversion that supplies Southeastern Colorado with supplemental water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, hydroelectric power, and recreational opportunities. The project also provides flood control and is designed to maintain or improve fish and wildlife habitats. The project acquired its name from the fact that it collects about 54,800 acre-feet of water each year from the Fryingpan River basin on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide and delivers it via the Arkansas River to the water-short Eastern Slope…

The North and South Side Collection System and Ruedi Dam and Reservoir are located on the Western Slope in the Fryingpan River basin. Sugar Loaf Dam and Turquoise Lake; Mount Elbert Conduit, Forebay Dam, Reservoir and Power Plant; Halfmoon Diversion Dam; Twin Lakes Dam and Reservoir; and Pueblo Dam and Reservoir are all located on the Eastern Slope in the Arkansas River basin.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Restoration: Woods Lake fish are going to get a dose of Rotenone to pave the way for expanded cutthroat habitat


From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

Over the past year, the lake and its tributaries — located off of Forest Service Road 618 west of Telluride — have been the subject of a Colorado Parks and Wildlife project to eliminate non-native trout, mainly brookies and browns, to make way for native cutthroats. Though the project was supposed to be complete by this summer, an assessment revealed brooke trout are still living the lake.

“Last year we treated the lake and tributaries and then they went back this summer, and we found mainly young of the year — brooke trout,” said John Alves, a Senior aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It looks like some of them might have spawned before we got the project going last year, so there’s some that we have to go hit again this year, that’s going to happen next week.” The lake will be treated Aug. 14-16 with a chemical called Rotenone. Alves said the treatment will focus on areas of the lake where the brooke trout were found.

Another assessment will be done after the treatment via electro fishing and gill netting. If it is then determined the lake is ready for a transplant of cutthroat, the fish could be transported into the area as soon as this fall. If not, the lake will be left barren until next year…

The transplant will involve at least 2,000 cutthroats a year, which will be taken from different brood stocks and hatcheries around the state. Though no specific source for the fish has been determined, Alves said Kelso Creek in the Uncompahgre National Forest is a likely candidate.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here and here.