Aspinall Unit operations update: 1600 cfs in Black Canyon

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From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Rainfall over the last week has helped keep river flows in the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage well above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. Currently flows are over 1,200 cfs and the weather forecast is showing a good chance for a continuation of rain storms into the weekend.

Therefore releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced by 100 cfs (from 1,700 cfs to 1,600 cfs) today, Tuesday July 16, at 5:00 pm. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 600 cfs.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper Colorado River Basin #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for the July 8 through 14 precipitation map from the Colorado Climate Center. Click here for this week’s assessment. Click here to to to the website.

USFWS et al. to provide $12 million for fish habitat conservation projects, Colorado’s share = $1.3 million

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Here’s the release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Laurie Parramore):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are providing $12 million during the next three years to support 75 fish habitat conservation projects in 27 states, ranging from restoring submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster beds in Florida and New York to restoring degraded stream and estuary habitat for native fish in Hawaii.

“Together with our partners, we identified the 75 projects through the National Fish Habitat Partnership, a diverse coalition of public and private organizations that works to reverse declines in fish habitat through voluntary, non-regulatory actions,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “The projects will benefit aquatic species by protecting, restoring and enhancing stream, lake and coastal habitat as well as anglers by improving recreational fisheries. In doing so, they will also give a boost to local communities that benefit from the outdoor recreation economy.”

The National Fish Habitat Partnership helps Service biologists prioritize conservation work to get the greatest benefit for fish and other aquatic resources and ultimately for the American people. The partnership recently completed the first nationwide scientific assessment of the status of fish habitats and identified conservation priorities across the country.

To fund the projects, the Service is providing $3.17 million this year, with nongovernmental organizations, state resource agencies and other partners contributing an additional $9.45 million during the next three years.

Through the funded projects, partners will work in priority areas to restore stream banks, remove man-made barriers to fish passage, reduce erosion from farm and ranchlands, and conduct studies to identify conservation needs for fish and their habitats. Expected results of the projects include more robust fish populations, better fishing and healthier waterways. Many of the projects also are designed to help fish populations adapt to the effects of climate change and other environmental disruptions.

“Better fishing is a big benefit of these projects,” said Kelly Hepler, Assistant Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Chairman of the National Fish Habitat Board. “With better fishing come more tourism, tackle sales and other economic activity, as well as a better quality of life in local communities.”

Projects sponsored by the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership will restore submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster beds in Florida and New York. The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture will remove barriers in Maine and Pennsylvania and remediate acid mine drainage in Virginia. The Western Native Trout Initiative will restore habitat that is crucial to cutthroat trout, Gila trout and bull trout, all of which are imperiled. Projects sponsored by the Hawaii Fish Habitat Partnership will restore degraded stream and estuary habitat for native fish.

The list of projects can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/fisheries/whatwedo/NFHAP/documents/2013_FWS_funded_NFHP_projects_listed_by_State.pdf

For more information about the National Fish Habitat Partnership, visit http://www.fishhabitat.org and connect on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NFHAP.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Colorado will receive $1, 337,100 for three projects this year. They are a fish passage on Fountain Creek to benefit native plains fishes; Phase I of a sediment mitigation project on Bear Creek and a fish passage on Milk Creek for Native Colorado Cutthroat Trout Habitat Restoration.

More conservation coverage here.

‘Mining a $10.2 billion industry in Colorado in 2012’ — Northern Colorado Business Report

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Molly Armbruster):

…concerns over the environmental impact, specifically to water and air quality, of oil and gas drilling continue to plague the industry, and regulations developed at both the state and local levels pose a problem for oil and gas companies.

Several regulations have already been passed in Colorado, including increased setbacks from 350 feet in urban areas and 150 in rural areas to 500 feet. Producers would not be able to operate within 1,000 feet of buildings such as schools, nursing homes and hospitals without a hearing before the commission.

But one of the biggest concerns for the industry are fracking moratoriums that have been discussed in various parts of Northern Colorado, and have been passed in several cities, including Longmont and Fort Collins.

In Longmont, both the city and the voters passed a fracking ban, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and other groups have sued Longmont over the voter- passed ban.

Even temporary moratoriums can be harmful for the oil and gas production companies, according to Brad Miller of Anadarko Petroleum. “Two years, three years, five years, that’s an eternity for our company,” Miller said.

Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, echoed this sentiment, saying that “a ban on fracking is really a ban on drilling.” Stopping drilling operations would mean increased dependence on coal, Lepore said, and would mean higher costs for utilities.

“Fugitive methane,” or gas that escapes from wells, is a “huge point of discussion,” Rueter said, but better data is needed to figure out how to reduce those emissions.

The release of volatile organic compounds, of VOCs, is also a concern, but more for Greeley and Weld County than Fort Collins, according to Fort Collins mayor pro tem Gerry Horak, because Weld County is home to more than 20,000 wells, whereas Fort Collins has fewer than 10.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

Colorado River Basin: Yesterday’s US Senate hearing recap #ColoradoRiver

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From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The hearing was chaired Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, who knows first-hand what is at stake, from the headwaters in the mighty Rockies down to the Gulf of California. Business as usual just won’t cut it, Udall said, advocating for a short-term focus on conservation, innovation and better management of supply. A video of the hearing, as well as the written testimony of the witnesses, is online here.
“These strategies … will help us prepare for the future and reduce the River Basin’s vulnerabilities,” Udall said in a statement released after the hearing. “In the near-term, we need to focus — and I think we must — on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling. In short, we need to make every drop count.”
Udall’s leadership on the issue was music to the ears of conservation advocates, who for years have been urging for smarter water use to help protect the river’s natural resource values…

In late 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study showed that demand in recent years has already outpaced river flows. The future looks even more challenging, with an 8-9 percent reduction in flows forecast by 2060, due to climate change, persistent drought and other factors.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water used to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land and are also the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, seven National Wildlife Refuges, four National Recreation Areas and 11 National Parks.

From the Summit Daily News (Breeana Laughlin):

“Water is literally what makes the West as we know it possible, from our ski resorts in places like Vail and Powderhorn, to cities like Gunnison and Grand Junction to farmers in Utah, California and Arizona,” Udall said during the hearing…

Water experts say it isn’t too late to reverse the trends. The supply and demand study includes costs and benefits of a range of proposals to ensure the region has enough water to support its economy, environment and quality of life. Senator Udall said reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply, will help reduce the basin’s vulnerabilities. He also expressed the need to focus on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling…

Colorado residents will play a large part in shaping the overall health of the basin as the state commences work on the Colorado Water Plan, [Bart Miller] said. The Colorado Water Conservation Board will submit a draft of the plan for the governor’s review in 2014, and will work with the governor’s office to complete the plan in 2015. “There are a lot of interested parties that are going to be engaged in making the plan the best it can be, and reflect the modern values of people in Colorado,” Miller said.

From the Cronkite News (Emilie Eaton):

Kathleen Ferris pointed to Arizona’s years of successful water management policies that have kept water use at virtually the same level since 1957, despite an exploding population. But while conservation and reuse are essential, Ferris said other measures need to be taken, such as the augmentation of supplies…

She was one of several government, tribal and expert witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee on Water and Power to discuss the Bureau of Reclamation’s December study on water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin…

Taylor Hawes, the director of the Colorado River Program at the Nature Conservancy, told the hearing that states in the basin are heading into uncharted territory. “The future will not look like the past,” she said.

Besides the environmental issues at stake, Hawes said the Colorado also needs to be preserved because of the recreation it provides and the jobs that come with that. Hawes said the Colorado River contributes $26 billion to the economy and supports about 234,000 jobs in the six basin states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

She also said famers need to be consulted about prospective solutions. Hawes said that the Colorado River Program works with farmers to ensure that any measures taken to protect the Colorado River do not infringe on property rights…

Witnesses said one part of the solution is conservation – an area that Arizona has been particularly successful at, Ferris said. A large part of the state’s success is due to the Groundwater Management Act, which regulates the use and conservation of groundwater in Arizona’s most heavily populated areas. “Since 1980, Arizona has pursued a comprehensive approach to water management,” Ferris said. “We implemented many programs to reduce consumption and increase efficiency.”

In addition to the conservation of water, Arizona has treated and reused water and required new residential subdivisions to prove they have a 100-year assured water supply.

From The Durango Herald (Paige Jones):

A two-year study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found the river and its tributaries will not be able to provide enough water for its nearby communities in 50 years. The water supply will continue to diminish because of climate change and growing population, the report said. “There’s strong evidence of the increasing temperatures, and these are projected to occur over the next 20 years,” said Mike Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation…

The study also offered possible solutions to address the basin’s future, including water conservation, reuse and augmentation efforts. However, there was some disagreement about these options concerning the suggestion of large-scale augmentation programs, Connor said…

The study cost approximately $7 million, which was shared among the Bureau of Reclamation and other regional agencies, Connor said. “Availability of funding to do studies such as this was extremely helpful,” said Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The Department of Interior allotted $8.2 million to the WaterSMART program, which in part funded the Colorado River Basin study, in May to begin resolving this issue. However, a House bill proposed cutting WaterSMART funding by 53 percent for the next fiscal year, Connor said…

The Colorado River and its tributaries supply water to about 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, the report said. “We use that water to produce food with,” said [Reagan Waskom] of the Colorado Water Institute.

Here’s Reagan Waskom’s written testimony.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

CSU Pueblo Fountain Creek research update: Funding for Fountain Creek studies has all but evaporated

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Research on Fountain Creek could improve understanding in the scientific community of how selenium interacts with living tissues. Through five years of study of plants and fish tissue on Fountain Creek, Jim Carsella of the Colorado State University Aquatic Research Center has made an important discovery about the relationship of pH to selenium. “The bioaccumulation of selenium is highest in the spring, but the levels found in water are highest in the fall,” Carsella said. “That’s not what you’d expect to find.”

The reason appears to be related to higher pH levels when flows are lower in Fountain Creek, he said. Graphs show a strong correlation between selenium uptake in fish tissue and the concentration in the stream when the pH levels are in the neutral range. But when they increase toward base (as opposed to acidic) levels, the relationship is destroyed. “This has implications on a worldwide basis on how selenium affects levels in living tissues,” said Del Nimmo, a researcher with CSU-Pueblo.

It’s also important to ongoing water quality issues on Fountain Creek, which is listed as impaired for selenium by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. Selenium is an element that is necessary for life, but toxic in higher concentrations. Standards are based on the concentration of levels in fish and birds, as well as what is considered safe for humans.

Research by CSU-Pueblo also has shown an inverse relationship between selenium and mercury in fish tissue, meaning that as selenium increases, mercury decreases. There are high levels of mercury loading on Upper Fountain Creek — possibly from atmospheric sources or from former mining activity. Above Pueblo, selenium levels spike on Fountain Creek because of water flowing over layers of Pierre shale, believed to be the chief reason for higher selenium levels.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado State University- Pueblo researchers are continuing to monitor Lake Pueblo, the Arkansas River below Pueblo Dam and Fountain Creek as a result of concerns about water quality that began about a decade ago. “Those are the three areas where we are concentrating our efforts,” said Scott Herrmann, an aquatic biology professor who began monitoring the changes at Lake Pueblo before the dam was built.

Like water levels in the Arkansas River basin, the level of enthusiasm for the research being conducted at the university has seen high and low points, particularly over the past five years. “We have a lot of background data on fish and plant species on Fountain Creek, and in the future, we would be interested in repeating the studies,” Herrmann said.

While conditions have changed on the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek, there still is value in the research that has been done to date. “We’re sitting in the catbird’s seat when it comes to data prior to the (Waldo Canyon and Black Forest) fires,” said Del Nimmo, a biologist with the Aquatic Research Center at CSU-Pueblo. Samples taken shortly after the Waldo Canyon Fire have not been tested because of a lack of funding.

Funding for Fountain Creek studies has all but evaporated as government agencies have pulled back.

The previous studies were funded at first by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, which cut off its support last year after putting more than $400,000 into university studies. The board asked the CSU-Pueblo team to get broader funding contributions last July when it declined to put more money into Fountain Creek.

Pueblo County commissioners have funded about $75,000 per year, while the city of Pueblo and Colorado Parks and Wildlife also have contributed.

The Pueblo Board of Water Works is continuing to fund water sampling in Lake Pueblo and at two points downstream of Pueblo Dam, primarily driven by concern about mussels. The research was helpful in the water board’s recent position on Chlorophyll A levels in Colorado Water Quality Control Commission hearings.

Samples of water taken from Lake Pueblo by Herrmann and Nimmo were used in the discovery of zebra and quagga mussel larvae in 2008, as well as follow-up studies. Most recently, those samples led to the discovery of new invasive species in Lake Pueblo.

More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.