‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

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Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

Water Wranglers
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

More Colorado River District coverage here.

Drought news: Fall rainfall totals in the San Luis Valley disappoint

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From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

The gauging station at Culebra Creek, outside of San Luis, has recorded water levels below 2002 drought levels for most of the summer…

Where the Rio Grande’s annual forecast was 415,000 acre feet last month, it is now 410,000 acre feet, Cotten reported to the Rio Grande Roundtable, which met in San Luis on Tuesday. Cotten said the forecast has gone down about every month this year. The 410,000-acre feet flow for the Rio Grande this year is 63 percent of the long-term average, Cotten added.

Although Colorado is still delivering some water downstream, its obligation on the Rio Grande is currently zero, so there are no curtailments on the irrigators along the Rio Grande.

The same is true for the Conejos River system, the other main contributor to the state’s Rio Grande Compact. The annual forecast on the Conejos River system is about 180,000 acre feet, or 55 percent of the long-term average, with zero curtailments made at this point and zero obligations required downstream…

Cotten also shared results of Allen Davey’s longitudinal unconfined aquifer study, which reflect a decrease of more than a million acre feet since 1976 to the present. Roundtable member Steve Vandiver said the latest figure is 1.2 million.

When asked if his office has been seeing a large number of applications for replacement wells because of the drought, Cotten said many people had already redrilled their domestic wells to deeper depths in 2002 and 2003 so his office is not seeing that many requests this year. He has had requests to redrill irrigation wells to deeper levels, which his office is objecting to, he said…

CU-Boulder wins NSF $1.4 million award — Sustainability of transbasin diversions part of study

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Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Noah Molotch/Jim Scott):

The University of Colorado at Boulder has been awarded $1.4 million for a new study on how changes in land use, forest management and climate may affect trans-basin water diversions in Colorado and other semi-arid regions in the western United States.

The grant, part of the National Science Foundation-U.S. Department of Agriculture Water Sustainability Climate Program, was awarded to Assistant Professor Noah Molotch of the geography department. Molotch and his team will be identifying thresholds, or “tipping points,” of change in land use, forest management and climate that may compromise the sustainability of the policies and procedures that dictate the timing and quality of water diverted from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range.

Molotch said that in Colorado and semi-arid regions around the world, trans-basin water diversions that redirect water from areas of surplus to areas of demand are based on policy agreements and infrastructure operations made under climatic and land use conditions that may differ considerably from conditions in the near future. Measurements over the past 50 years, for example, suggest a broad-scale reduction in snowpack water storage in the western U.S. because of regional warming temperatures, a trend due in part to a shift from snowfall to rainfall, he said.

In addition, land-cover changes associated with population growth, fire suppression and mountain pine beetle outbreaks have altered the hydrology of mid-mountain ecosystems in the West, said Molotch, who also is a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. CU is teaming up with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder on the NSF-funded project.

The NSF award comes on the heels of a May 2012 agreement between water managers in Summit and Grand counties on Colorado’s West Slope and in the Denver area on how best to share water from the Colorado River basin. “This is a great example of communities that historically battled for water resources coming to the table in a good faith effort to find solutions to water allocation issues,” said Molotch. “These groups have no pretenses about the potential impacts of climate change and realize we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand on this issue.”

Collaborators on the project include Patrick Bourgeron and Mark Williams, fellows at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, and David Gochis, Kathleen Miller and David Yates of NCAR.

A study led by Molotch published Sept. 10 in Nature Geoscience tied forest “greenness” in the western United States to fluctuating year-to-year snowpack. The study indicated mid-elevation mountain ecosystems — where people increasing are building second homes and participating in a myriad of outdoor recreational activities — are most sensitive to rising temperatures and changes in precipitation and snowmelt.

“We found that mid-elevation forests show a dramatic sensitivity to snow that fell the previous winter in terms of accumulation and subsequent melt,” said Molotch, also a fellow at INSTAAR. “If snowpack declines, forests become more stressed, which can lead to ecological changes that include alterations in the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species as well as vulnerability to perturbations like fire and beetle kill.”

As part of the new award, Molotch and his team will evaluate regional climate models in the mountain West developed at NCAR in an attempt to make temperature, precipitation and snowpack projections “more robust,” Molotch said. While the efficiency of water in trans-basin diversion projects in the western U.S. has in the past been enhanced by the natural storage of moisture in mountain snowpack that allowed for a slow, steady delivery of water into the system, warming temperatures are already causing this beneficial “drip effect” to be greatly reduced, he said.

If the winter temperatures are hovering around 15 degrees Fahrenheit and the climate warms by a few degrees, for example, there will be negligible impact on snowpack, Molotch said. But if temperatures hover near freezing, slight temperature increases can trigger earlier snowmelt, and precipitation that used to be in the form of snow turns to rain, significantly affecting trans-basin water diversion activities.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this project to me is the changes we are seeing in the ‘wildland-urban interface,’ particularly in Colorado,” he said. “There is some irony that Front Range people who have built second homes in Summit County, for example, may actually start to have an effect on the water they have relied on to be piped through the Continental Divide to the Denver area.”

In addition to providing land and water resource decision makers with projections on how future water supply and demand will change in the future, the NSF-funded project will provide a unique educational experience for graduate students, Molotch said.

“We have climate change, snowpack, changes in land use, all feeding into the pipeline that is bringing water to Colorado’s Front Range,” he said. “As the two main stressors, climate change and land use increase, there is the possibility of pushing the systems into an unsustainable state.”

More tranmountain/transbasin diversions coverage here.

San Luis to host first ‘Congreso de Acequias’ starting October 19

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From the Valley Courier (Laura Krizansky):

The Congreso will begin on Friday, October 19 with a welcome reception at Emma’s Hacienda on Main Street. Delmer Vialpando and Devon Peña, both of the Sangre de Cristo Water Association, and Costilla County Commissioner Crestina Martinez will kick off the event with hors de oeuvres and music beginning at 5 p.m.

On Saturday, the Congreso will start with a legislative update from Rep. Edward Vigil at 9 a.m. Following the update, acequia farmers from each county will discuss their local challenges and moderator and San Luis centennial farmer Joseph Gallegos will lead a discussion sharing issues and obstacles, such as abandonment and climate change…

The morning session will conclude with a presentation from water law professor Larry MacDonnell. He will discuss the legal challenges acequias face, using a real Costilla County case as an example. Peña and Greg Hicks will give background for and speak about the 2009 Colorado Acequia Recognition Law. Highlights of Peña and Hicks presentation include what the law means to an individual ditch and irrigator and actions that acequias must take in order to be recognized under the new law. Water attorney John McClure will speak about the legal differences between unincorporated ditches, mutual ditch companies and the Acequia Ditch Corporations.

Over lunch, Shirley Otero Romero will moderate a discussion about how to better incorporate women and youth into acequia leadership. Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association board member, Junita Martinez, will discuss her experience; Sandra Santa Cruz, of Sembrando Semillas, will discuss how her program engages youth with agriculture and Bernadette Lucero, director of the Rio Culebra Agricultural Cooperative, will talk about the role of creating economic opportunity to retain young farmers.

Next on the Congreso agenda is a presentation from the Valley’s southern neighbors. Paula Garcia and Janice Varela, of the New Mexico Acequia Association, and New Mexico Legal Aid attorney David Benavides will discuss their work with New Mexico acequias, highlighting their experience organizing at a statewide level, current programs and funding successes in addition to lessons in water rights protection.

The day is scheduled to conclude with presentations from water attorney Peter Nichols and Juan Marinez, of Michigan State University Agricultural Extension. Nichols will discuss the work that he has been doing with University of Colorado law students to create a handbook that includes water rights basics, sample bylaws and other important information for acequias. Marinez will moderate a resource roundtable that will give participants the opportunity to network and hear about programs and ask questions of different government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The final day of the Congreso begins with an acequia tour heading out at 8 a.m. After the tour concludes, Sunday will round out with various sessions discussing the future of Colorado’s acequias and a lunch presentation recognizing winners of the youth essay contest and poster contest. Students will be presented with awards and the first prizewinners will read his or her essay and present his or her poster. Also during this time, Vigil and State Senator Gail Schwartz will be presented Acequia Advocate Awards will be presented.

Registration cost is $20 per person for farmers and ranchers and $100 per person for all others. If cost is a problem, payment options might be available. Visit http://www.sangreacequias.org to register and for more information.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

Aspen’s original (c. 1890) Pelton Wheel now on on display

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From The Aspen Times:

A key part of Aspen’s former hydroelectric plant will go on display Tuesday in the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza.

The Pelton wheel hydroelectric turbine will be displayed starting at 10 a.m. The machinery was used around 1890 to convert falling water into electricity at the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Plant.

The historic equipment will be unveiled by Sam Perry, the great-grandson of DRC Brown, the original owner and operator of the Castle Creek plant. Perry is a Roaring Fork Valley native who is now president of Sollos Energy, which operates hydroelectric plants in other parts of the country.

The Pelton runner going on display is a smaller version of the same type of equipment that would be used in a proposed new Castle Creek hydroelectric plant.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: 50 cfs in the river below Ruedi Reservoir

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We will be cutting releases from Ruedi back again today, this time by only about 25 cfs. This will put a flow of about 50 cfs by the gage below the dam. The change is scheduled for 5 p.m. today, October 9. We are currently bypassing inflow, which is around 39 cfs, plus some contract water. We are no longer delivering water to the endangered fish Recovery Program.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 270 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Earlier this afternoon [October 9], we reduced releases from Green Mountain Dam to the Lower Blue River by about 50 cfs. The reason for the change is because inflows to Green Mountain Reservoir continue to decline. We are doing our best to balance inflow and outflow at the reservoir. The change was made around 1 p.m., dropping releases from 320 to about 270 cfs.

More Blue River Watershed coverage here and here.