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

Upper Colorado River Basin September 2013 precipitation as percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin September 2013 precipitation as percent of normal

Click here to read the current assessment from the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Reclamation Awards $27.5 Million Contract to Rebuild Four Glen Canyon Generators #ColoradoRiver

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclmation (Lisa Iams):

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a $27.5 million contract to Alstom of Littleton, Colo., to rebuild four of the eight hydroelectric power generation units at Glen Canyon Dam that have reached the end of their service life.

“For nearly 50 years, Glen Canyon Powerplant has generated renewable, hydroelectric power to help meet the electrical needs in the West,” said Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. “The units being rebuilt under this contract have been in service for nearly 30 of those years. Replacing the generation units on schedule ensures continued reliability and optimal efficiency of the powerplant for the next 30-35 years as Reclamation supports the nation’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

The four units to be replaced will have improved generator components – known as ‘stators’ – made from solid copper bars, increasing reliability and extending the life of the units by up to 10 years. Once the work is completed, all eight of the powerplant’s generators will have been rebuilt.

Work is scheduled to begin in the summer and continue through December 2016 with the process to rebuild each generator taking approximately seven months to complete. Only one generator will be rebuilt at a time which equates to 173 megawatt reduction in the total power plant capacity while each unit is off-line.

All power plant maintenance and replacement activities are scheduled in full coordination with the Western Area Power Administration which markets the power sold to municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, Native American tribes, and government agencies in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska, and Nevada.

Glen Canyon Powerplant has a total capacity of 1,320 megawatts and annually produces approximately five billion kilowatt-hours of power to help sustain the electrical needs of about 5.8 million customers.

More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.

Denver Water: The October edition of Water News is hot off the presses

Winterizing irrigation system via KC Irrigation Specialists
Winterizing irrigation system via KC Irrigation Specialists

Click here to read the publication.

More Denver Water coverage here.

NSAA vs. USFS: Reps Polis and Tipton are pushing legislation in opposition to the USFS’s ‘taking’ of water rights

Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com
Copper Mountain snowmaking via ColoradoSki.com

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Scott Tipton and Jared Polis are battling a U.S. Forest Service policy that would force ski areas and other stakeholders to turn over the private water rights that ski areas need to operate. The Forest Service is requiring it before they’ll renew the permits that ski areas need to do business.

Tipton, a Western Slope Republican, and Polis, a Boulder Democrat, introduced the Water Rights Protection Act. Their congressional districts split the valley: Polis in the east and Tipton in the west.

Polis said Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District is one of the world’s most desirable ski destinations. It’s home to Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Winter Park, Loveland, Eldora, Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain. The rest of Colorado’s ski areas are in Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District.

The federal government has already done something similar to one Colorado ski area, Powderhorn on Western Colorado’s Grand Mesa, and may have Breckenridge in the crosshairs.

Vail local Andy Daly is part of the group that bought Powderhorn.

“We were forced to turn over all the water rights for all the water that originates on the forest land,” Daly said. “We’re waiting for a new water policy that hopefully will be negotiated between water users and the U.S. Forest Service.”

The feds have done the same thing to California’s Alpine Meadows and Washington’s Stevens Pass…

“That’s not the system we use out here in the West,” said Geraldine Link, the National Ski Areas Association’s director of public policy. “We were pleased to see a bipartisan bill. To us, this is about one of the most crucial issues in the West — water.”

The NSAA filed a lawsuit in federal court.

No federal statute gives the Forest Service the authority for the water, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that water is regulated by the states, Link said.

“If the Forest Service wants to own water rights, they need to get in line like everyone else and acquire them under the requirements of state law,” Link said.

The Forest Service says the policy is designed to keep ski areas from selling water rights for other purposes. Tipton said that has never happened, pointing out that ski areas use most of their water for snowmaking.

Polis said concern about ski area water rights being sold or moved is misguided. Ski areas have already offered to provide successor owners with an option to purchase sufficient water if that area were to be sold…

A federal judge ordered the Forest Service to take public comment on policy changes. The new Forest Service policy is expected in a month or so, Link said. After that, the public will have 60 days to comment.

More water law coverage here.

CWCB: The September drought update is hot off the presses #COdrought

US Drought Monitor September 24, 2013
US Drought Monitor September 24, 2013

Click here to read the update. Here’s an excerpt:

Extraordinary precipitation along the Front Range of the state in early September has eliminated drought conditions in some areas. However, not all of the state received drenching rains and drought still remains in some regions. While flooding was still severe, water providers were able to capture significant amounts of water in reservoirs during the event which will likely increase overall statewide storage levels. Water providers are also reporting reduced demands, which will further maintain storage going into the winter months.

  • Exceptional precipitation events in Early September coupled with a persistent monsoon season has resulted in significant improvements to drought conditions throughout the state. Currently, 84% of the state is in some level of classification on the US drought monitor. 20% is currently characterized as “abnormally dry” while the majority of the state (67%) is in a D1 or moderate drought conditions. An additional 13% is severe, 2.5% is extreme and only 1.47% of the state remains in exceptional drought.
  • A late month heat wave in August brought temperatures for the month above average, a trend that has continued into the first half of September, with some areas seeing temperatures 8-10 degrees above average.
  • August precipitation was above average statewide at 111% of normal, while September to-date has been incredibly wet at 283% of normal statewide. This ranges from a low of 150% of average in the Gunnison to an extraordinary 536% of average in the South Platte. With these record breaking rains, some areas of Colorado have gone from well below average to near and above average for the water year, which ends September 30, 2013.
  • Reservoir storage as of September 1st remained below average, however it is likely that the recent rains will increase this value on the October 1st reporting date. There are reports of Halligan Reservoir in the South Platte rising 30 feet in roughly 36 hours during the most recent heavy rain event. Not only is this welcome for water providers, but also likely played a role in decreasing flows downstream of the reservoir in the City of Fort Collins. Many providers were able to store substantial amounts of water during this event, still other reported infrastructure breaches.
  • The Climate Prediction Center drought outlook released September 19, 2013 and valid for September 19 December 31, 2013 illustrates persistent drought across most of Colorado with the exception of the Front Range and a portion of the eastern plains where drought conditions have been largely eliminated. Temperatures are also forecasted to remain above average through October.
  • ENSO conditions remain neutral. However, the preliminary snowpack forecast for January 1st indicates the chance of early season snow in the mountains as above average and is better than in the previous two years.
  • The exceptions being in the Yampa and Rio Grande Basins which both show a slightly lower than average forecast.

    Lawsuit filed over Southwestern Willow Flycatcher habitat destruction by the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle

    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
    Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

    From The Los Angeles Times (Louis Sahagun):

    A U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed to control invasive streamside trees by releasing exotic leaf-eating beetles has gone awry and is destroying the nesting areas of a federally endangered songbird, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by two conservation groups.

    The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Maricopa Audubon Society accuses the department and its Animal and Plant Inspection Service, or APHIS, of failing to safeguard the southwestern willow flycatcher from the effects of the release of the beetles imported from central Asia to eradicate tamarisk trees.

    Flycatchers often nest where tamarisks have crowded out native cottonwood and willow trees. About 25% of the birds’ territories are in areas dominated by the tamarisk, a water-hungry tree that grows in impenetrable thickets.

    The department began releasing the beetles in 14 states in 2005 with assurances that the insects would not be introduced within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat. It also said the beetle could not survive in regions south of 37 degrees north latitude, where shorter days suppress its reproduction.

    In an environmental assessment published two years earlier, APHIS officials said the strain of beetle “exhibits a particular life history that will enable its safe release in the 14 proposed states.”

    According to the lawsuit, however, the department in 2006 introduced beetles into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. Now, they are spreading into nesting areas in southern Utah, Nevada and northern and western Arizona.

    “Their agreements were broken,” Robin Silver, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “The beetle is going wild below 37 degrees north latitude.”

    “If we don’t deal with this problem immediately, it will wipe out the middle part of the flycatcher’s range,” Silver said. “Eventually, there may not be enough habitat left to sustain the species.”

    More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

    Ruedi Reservoir’s $34 million debt repaid; water secured for Western Colorado

    Ruedi Dam and Reservoir -- Photo via USBR
    Ruedi Dam and Reservoir — Photo via USBR

    Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):

    The outstanding $34 million construction debt on Ruedi Reservoir has been paid to the federal government and 19,585 acre-feet of previously uncontracted water supply in the 102,000-acre-foot reservoir is secure for the future of Western Colorado.

    The debt was due in 2019 and uncertainty about paying it cast a shadow over how the uncontracted water in the reservoir – intended to benefit Western Colorado –would be used.

    To solve the problem, the Colorado River District for the last two years solicited West Slope interest in the remaining water and put together a package agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, owner and operator of the reservoir straddling the Eagle-Pitkin county line.

    Seventeen entities, including the Colorado River District, stepped up, cumulatively committing to the purchase of all the uncontracted water and full repayment of the outstanding debt. The Ute Water Conservancy District, the Grand Valley’s largest water provider, secured the greatest amount: 12,000 acre-feet at a cost of $15.5 million. The Colorado River District contracted for 4,683.5 acre-feet, at a cost of $6 million. The cost per acre-foot was roughly $1,290. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons of water and is enough water to supply two to four family households for one year.

    Other entities contracting for water include:

    Wildcat Ranch Homeowners Association: 50 acre-feet
    Mid Valley Metro District: 100 acre-feet
    Crown Mountain Park Recreation District: 62 acre-feet
    Owl Creek Ranch Homeowners Association: 15 acre-feet
    Town of Palisade: 200 acre-feet
    Snowmass Water and Sanitation District: 500 acre-feet
    Town of De Beque: 25 acre-feet
    Basalt Water Conservancy District: 300 acre-feet
    Garfield County: 400 acre-feet
    City of Aspen: 400 acre-feet
    W/J Metro District: 100 acre-feet
    Summit County: 330 acre-feet
    Elk Wallow Ranch LLC: 30 acre-feet
    Wildcat Reservoir Co.: 140 acre-feet
    Town of Carbondale: 250 acre-feet

    Ruedi Reservoir is the West Slope mitigation for the federal Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which diverts water from the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek headwaters across the Continental Divide to the Arkansas River Basin. The debt started at $9.3 million when the Bureau of Reclamation completed the reservoir in the early 1970s. It ballooned to $34 million as the government added unpaid interest and operational expenses to the principal – because of unsold water. Absent a deal, the debt would have gone up at an ever-escalating rate.

    Ordinarily, Reclamation reservoirs are approved in connection with an entity to pay for its share of the project. In Ruedi’s case, the 1960s-era deal foresaw an oil shale boom and other energy demands as the means to pay the construction debt, which had not resulted in a full demand for Ruedi water.

    “This is an important milestone for water supply challenges on the West Slope,” said Dan Birch, the Colorado River District Deputy General Manager who spearheaded the agreement. “Water planners who are expected to provide water at the tap every time it is turned on do not like uncertainty about the future. This removes the significant shadow of doubt over Ruedi. As Colorado’s population continues to grow, this helps 17 water suppliers know where their future supplies will come from.”

    Birch pointed out that the water in Ruedi will be largely a backup supply for very dry years. Streamflows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers will look much as they do today.

    Birch added, “We could not have accomplished this without the great help and expertise of Lee Leavenworth, the former special counsel to the Colorado River District and other water users.

    More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.

    Drought news: Lake Powell pool elevation rises two feet in September #ColoradoRiver

    Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall
    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

    From the Arizona Sun (Todd Glasenapp):

    “September’s abundant rains that fell across eastern Utah, western Colorado and northern New Mexico in addition to recent snow in Colorado have helped saturate soils in the Lake Powell watershed,” Page-based Friends of Lake Powell said in a news release Monday. “This is an important factor in setting the stage for more normal runoff in the spring of 2014.”

    Page, located above Glen Canyon Dam at the lake’s southern end, received 2.73 inches of rain in September, more than three times its monthly average. The 4.21 inches that Page had in August and September amounted to half of its annual average precipitation.

    Further north, and in the Colorado River Basin that drains into the lake, the Animas River at Cedar Hill in New Mexico was resembling spring conditions by Sept. 22. The river topped 3,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), a faster rate than the peak of the spring runoff. The river’s normal flow rate for this time of year is 300 to 400 cfs, according to Friends of Lake Powell’s Paul Ostapuk.

    Instead of gradually falling through September, Lake Powell gained two feet of surface elevation. The National Park Service had planned to close the Antelope Point launch ramp on Sept. 23, but called the move off on the 19th…

    Reclamation released 801 thousand-acre feet (kaf) of water through the dam to the Colorado River in August and 600 kaf in September, with plans to reduce even further for October (480 kaf) and November (500 kaf)…

    “This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years,” Upper Colorado Regional Director Larry Walkoviak said in mid-August, before the heavy rains.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.