‘The Colorado River is at a critical crossroads’ — Amy Joi O’Donoghue #ColoradoRiver

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From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources received their first glimpse of the findings of the Bureau of Reclamation Supply and Demand study of the Colorado River, which projects a shortfall of 3.2 million acre-feet of water by 2060…

Tuesday’s events puts Utah and the other six Western states that draw water from the Colorado River in the center of one of the nation’s key environmental concerns.

U.S Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor said the impacts of a changing climate are being realized in extremely tough ways on the Colorado River, which has experienced 10 of its lowest flow years in the last 13 in more than a century of record keeping.

“Without a doubt there is evidence of increasing temperatures in the basin,” he said, which are being accompanied by diminished snowpack and more rainfall events.

“No single strategy will be enough,” added Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, stressing that the seven basin states will have to work together to find answers.

“These coordinated efforts are not easy, and if the hydrology continues to worsen, the tensions will increase.”

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, who described the water resource challenges that can hit in his state, said it is impossible to underestimate the influence of the river on the Western region.

“Water has literally shaped the West,” he said, pointing to geology carved out of sandstone by the river, the farm fields that have sprung up and the towns and cities that have grown over decades to depend on the Colorado River. “It makes the West, as we know it, possible … when you touch water, you touch everything.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

AWRA Colorado Section: AWRA Summer field trip of the Southern Delivery System — Friday, August 16

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Click here to go to the AWRA Colorado Section website for the pitch and to register.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.

Drought news: ‘We’re [New Mexico] breaking the wrong kind of records’ — Gary Esslinger #COdrought

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From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

…extremely low moisture conditions now grip New Mexico, the new the epicenter of a cell of intense water scarcity that has shifted across the U.S for several years.

The plains states, Nebraska and Kansas, were hit worst last year. Texas was driest in 2011. The Southwest, in fact, has experienced middling precipitation for more than a decade, conditions that set the stage for New Mexico’s year of terrible dry. Some 90 percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought, the harshest categories in the U.S. Drought Monitor. Only a quarter of the state was in such condition a year ago.

Precipitation is also at record lows. The June 2012 to May 2013 period was the driest in the state’s 118-year record. Southern Colorado, whose mountains are the source of the Rio Grande River, New Mexico’s principal source of surface fresh water, has not fared much better. Worst of all is the corridor the river traverses in New Mexico. The central valley and the southern deserts have seen roughly a quarter of normal precipitation since October, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re breaking the wrong kind of records,” Gary Esslinger, who manages the Elephant Butte Irrigation District, in Las Cruces in southern New Mexico, told Circle of Blue.

Esslinger cites his district’s main water supply, the nearly empty Elephant Butte Reservoir, as the most tangible evidence. When the gates at a secondary reservoir just downstream of Elephant Butte close today, the shortest ever irrigation season for the federal Rio Grande Project, which dates to 1915, will end, little more than a month after it started. The Rio Grande Project typically provides sufficient water to irrigate 78,000 hectares (193,000 acres) along the river in New Mexico and Texas.<

Reagan Waskom and Taylor Hawes to testify today at senate hearing about #ColoradoRiver demand

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, and Taylor Hawes, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program in Boulder, will testify on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will chair the hearing. He initiated the hearing to explore the Colorado River Basin’s future.

Released in December, the study forecasts a shortage of at least 2.8 million acre feet in Colorado River water by 2060.

Meanwhile, real estate values in the Colorado River Basin could drop with the streamflow. Here’s a report from Jason Blevins writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

The Department of the Interior’s three-year Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study revealed demands on the river outstripping supply in the coming decades, with a projected imbalance of 3.2 million acre-feet of water by 2060. That amounts to a possible 20 percent decline in Colorado River basin stream flows over the next five decades.

A survey of real estate brokers in the basin estimated that a 20 percent decline in flows would cut riverfront real estate sales prices by an average of 9.5 percent and river-view property values by 5.7 percent.

The survey of brokers in Sedona, Ariz., Aspen and Grand County and Farmington, N.M., showed the price premiums paid for riverfront and river-view property would wither as stream flows dwindled. And any decline in natural amenities — which are intricately entwined with real estate values and the overall economies of many communities in the Colorado high country — could stymie economic growth.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Montezuma Valley Irrigation and the Dolores Water Conservancy District stipulate out of Cortez’s change of diversion case

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From the Cortez Journal (Tobie Baker):

Last year, a Colorado Water Division engineer discovered the City of Cortez never filed an application to officially change its point of diversion from the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Canal to the Dolores Tunnel. In June of last year, the city filed the change application, but the proposal was met with opposition.

According to court documents, the city’s water rights date back to 1892, when the Sheek Ditch, Illinois Ditch, Giogetta Ditch and Dunham & Johnson Ditch were decreed for the town’s irrigation needs. In 1952 and 1953, the city’s point of diversion was changed to the Dolores River through the Dolores Tunnel, now via McPhee Reservoir, but water court officials never approved the change.

Court records show the application filed by the city last summer sought to officially change municipal water rights from the headgate of the Main No. 1 Canal of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company to the Dolores Tunnel via McPhee Reservoir.

The application met opposition from both Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company and Dolores Water Conservancy District, but an agreement has since been reached, said City Manager Shane Hale…

According to the agreement, the city will continue receiving water diverted via McPhee Reservoir through the Dolores Tunnel. The application and the proposed decree do not change the ability of the City of Cortez to continue to use the full 4.2 cubic feet per second it has historically had access to, Krob added.

More Dolores River Watershed coverage here and here.

‘Pueblo Reservoir is quite a home for exotic species’ — Scott Herrmann

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It’s been nearly five years since evidence of invasive zebra mussels was found in Lake Pueblo, setting off a statewide campaign to keep them and their cousins, quagga mussels, from spreading. There has been no confirmation since then that a breeding population of either of the potentially damaging mussels exists in the reservoir, or anywhere else in the state.

But continued study at Lake Pueblo by Colorado State University-Pueblo researchers is turning up more exotic species. “Pueblo Reservoir is quite a home for exotic species,” said Scott Herrmann, an aquatic biology professor at CSU-Pueblo. “It’s surprising what we’ve found.”

Some of those, such as the Asian clam, have been known for years and cause relatively little damage. But others have the potential to displace related native species and harm fish habitat.

The invasive species were found in sampling done from 2008-10 by Herrmann and Del Beaver, an aquatic ecologist in Ohio. A scientific paper has been prepared, but is not yet published.

It’s not known if the populations could become large enough to have either a positive or negative impact on Lake Pueblo, Herrmann said.

A type of water flea has the potential to do the most damage, because unlike native species, it has long spines. Fish feeding on them would be expected to grow more slowly, Herrmann explained.

A type of moss animal, however, is a filter feeder like the invasive mussels, and could actually be out-competing any mussels for resources. Populations of the invasive species appear to peak during late summer and early fall, when the reservoir levels are lowest and warmest. Similar native species peak in late spring.

“Lake Pueblo is unique in that it is a cold-water reservoir in a warmwater environment,” Herrmann said. “There is a diversity of species without one dominating. What you find are rotating occurrences.”

More invasive species coverage here and here.