Republican River Basin: State of the Basin Symposium, March 17

Republican River Basin by District
Republican River Basin by District

From The Yuma Pioneer (Deb Daniel):

The Republican River Water Conservation District along with numerous businesses throughout the Basin are working together to co-sponsor The State of the Basin symposium. During this one-day event speakers will give presentations that will address these concerns. The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and to offer input.

The State of the Basin symposium is free and open to the public. It will be held on Monday, March 17th at the Wray High School auditorium from 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM. RSVP is requested to assist in planning for the meal.

For more information contact the RRWCD office at (970) 332-3552.

More Republican River Basin coverage here.

SB14-007: Gov. Hickenlooper signs bill #COleg #COflood

The Tri-County Water Conservation District is bringing on two hydroelectric generation stations at Ridgway Dam

Ridgway Dam via the USBR
Ridgway Dam via the USBR

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Over the past year and a half, two hydropower generators have sprung up at the foot of the dam: a smaller, 800kV generator that should run efficiently on the low, 30-60 cubic-feet-per-second flows in winter, and a larger, 7.2 megawatt generator to run on summertime release levels.

Next week, on Feb. 24 or 25, the smaller of these two units will be turned on and start producing a steady stream of green electricity, said Mike Berry of Tri-County Water Conservation District, the entity that manages the Ridgway dam and is building the power-generating facility at its base.

The big generator should be ready for testing by April or so, Berry said. When the project goes fully online later this spring or early summer, it will have a total plant capacity of 8 Megawatts – enough renewable power to run 2,250 homes and take the equivalent, in greenhouse gases, of 4,400 cars off the road.

Both units will operate during high reservoir releases in the summer, and only the smaller unit will operate during lower wintertime releases.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the wholesale electric supplier for San Miguel Power Association and the Delta-Montrose Electric Association, has built two short transmission lines at the hydropower plant. One will connect to the existing 115kV line running alongside the highway, and another will connect with the generating station.

Power generation will have to be carefully calibrated in order to maintain historic release patterns at the dam – one of the requirements of the Bureau of Reclamation’s final Environmental Assessment of the project – while maintaining healthy lake levels and maximizing power production.

In times of drought, the water rights of downstream irrigators, industries and municipalities will trump power generation…

Power generated at the hydro plant will be sold to two entities: Tri-State, and the City of Aspen. Tri-County WCD first started discussing a partnership with the City of Aspen in 2002. Eventually, this partnership evolved into a Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA.

In an agreement inked in 2010, Aspen agreed to purchase the wintertime output from the hydropower project, from Oct. 1 through May 31, for 20 years, to help further its goal of powering the city with purely renewable energy. Tri-State has agreed to purchase, for 10 years, the higher summertime output.

If projections hold up, about 10,000 MWh worth of energy will be “transferred” to the City of Aspen through the PPA annually (although it is doubtful that any of the actual electrons flowing into the grid from the new hydropower plant will travel that far). This amount is not set in concrete – Berry emphasized that there will be annual fluctuations in the amount of power that is delivered to Aspen, depending on a number of factors including whether it is a wet or a dry year, the timing of the spring runoff, and the demands of downstream water rights holders.

Tri-County WCD has secured $15 million in financing for the project – including a $13 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and a $2 million loan from Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority – and has sunk an additional $3 million of its own money into the project…

As the new hydropower plant at Ridgway Reservoir prepares to go online, legislation has been introduced at the state capitol to help streamline development of smaller hydropower projects throughout Colorado.

Last week, the Colorado House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB14-1030 by a vote of 62-3. The bipartisan legislation complements the recent streamlining of federal permitting requirements for small hydro through the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act.

HB14-1030 was introduced in the House by Reps. Mitsch, Bush and Coram. Senator sponsorship includes Senators Schwartz and Roberts as well as Hodge.

In essence, the bill “makes it possible to simultaneously complete federal and state review at the same time,” said Kurt Johnson, the president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association. It also seeks to streamline the electrical inspection process for small hydro, using precedents set in the small wind industry decades ago.

The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the pending legislation on Feb. 27.

More hydroelectric coverage here. More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

Summit County Citizens Voice

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado. Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail…

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More quagga mussels found in Lake Powell; Is the Lower Colorado River ecosystem at risk?

Summit County Citizens Voice

Quagga mussels coating a flip-flop in Lake Mead. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE. Quagga mussels coating a flip-flop in Lake Mead. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

National Park Service seeking input on mussel management plan

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The battle to keep Lake Powell free of non-native mussels is tilting toward the aquatic invaders and federal resource managers are concerned the invaders may spread into Glen Canyon.

As of January, the National Park Service reported finding — and removing — about 1,300 hundred adult quagga mussels, and managers at the reservoir said they’re finding more as the season progresses.

In response, the park service is developing a quagga-zebra mussel management plan to help the the agency decide what tools are appropriate to support the ongoing management of invasive mussels in Glen Canyon now that quagga mussels are present in Lake Powell.

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Glewood Springs: RICD application will draw many opposers #ColoradoRiver

City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism
City of Glenwood Springs proposed whitewater parks via Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The city of Glenwood Springs is looking to build on the popularity of its whitewater attractions, both natural and man-made. In doing so, it may have to navigate potential obstacles including another popular local attraction, the Glenwood Hot Springs, not to mention the state’s largest water utility, Denver Water.

A new agreement between Denver Water and Western Slope entities doesn’t prevent the state’s largest water utility from opposing Glenwood Springs’ proposed new recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, water right on the Colorado River. That’s because Glenwood is seeking more water under its proposal than Denver Water agreed to go along with under the new water deal.

Meanwhile, Glenwood also has revived the idea of a downtown whitewater park, which has revived the hot springs’ concerns about potential impacts on the springs’ aquifer.

City officials are hopeful of being able to deal with any concerns from either Denver Water or the hot springs, and building on the success of the park already constructed on the Colorado River near the Interstate 70 interchange on the western edge of town.

“My perception is it has been very successful,” said City Manager Jeff Hecksel.

The big wave that forms at the park during spring runoff draws whitewater enthusiasts from all over the country, he notes.

“It has its own following,” Hecksel said.

Whitewater boating is a major part of the city’s tourism industry, with several outfitters offering guided trips in Glenwood Canyon. The city has identified several proposed locations for a new whitewater park, including the downtown location just upstream of the Roaring Fork River, the Horseshoe Bend area just west of the No Name Tunnels of I-70, and at the No Name I-70 rest area east of Glenwood Springs.

“This is already a very actively used (river) corridor,” said Mark Hamilton, a water attorney representing the city. “I think additional whitewater features will just enhance that.”

The city’s current park has no associated water rights. Flow there is aided year-round because it’s downstream of the Roaring Fork River and benefits from the senior water right of the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon.

The city is requesting a base flow of 1,250 cubic feet per second for the warmer months of the year. That’s consistent with the Shoshone right, and is an amount Denver Water specifically agreed not to oppose as part of the new water deal with the Western Slope.

That deal was announced in 2011 and took effect last fall after resolution of some final issues. It involves more than 30 Western Slope entities, and includes provisions including the Western Slope assenting to certain Denver Water projects involving Colorado River water, and Denver Water committing to develop any further such projects only with Western Slope approval, and also committing more than $25 million to Western Slope projects.

What complicates Glenwood Springs’ water application is that it also is seeking a higher flow of 2,500 cfs during 46 days coinciding with spring runoff, with flows of 4,000 cfs for five days within that period.

“I think some folks may see it as not contemplated by the cooperative agreement but it doesn’t run counter to the letter of the agreement,” said Peter Fleming, who as an attorney with the Colorado River Water Conservation District was involved in negotiating that agreement. Rather, he said, it simply means Denver Water can oppose the RICD filing. He said it just will come down to negotiations, which also will entail convincing the Colorado Water Conservation Board it’s a reasonable request and won’t interfere with things such as water compact requirements.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an enormous problem. I think there’s going to be some negotiations and some restrictions on the exercise of the RICD but there normally are,” he said.

Consultation process

Importantly, Fleming doesn’t consider Glenwood’s request a violation of the deal with Denver Water that could jeopardize terms such as the monetary commitment Denver Water has made to the Western Slope. That deal didn’t limit how much water the city could seek, but simply set a limit to the size of a diversion Denver Water would consent to without being able to object in water court.

“I don’t think it imperils the cooperative agreement at all,” he said.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson confirmed that view Friday.

“The filing of the RICD is not a violation of the (agreement). Because the filing does not meet the provisions in the (agreement), Denver Water is not required to support it as filed,” he said.

As part of the agreement, the city agreed to consult with Denver Water regarding its application, “and through our discussions, they are aware that we will file a statement of opposition,” Thompson said.

But he said the utility is committed to working with the city on the issue.

Opposition statements aren’t uncommon in water cases, and aren’t necessarily intended to outright prevent approval of a water right. Rather, they can represent an attempt by an entity to be able to have a say as an application is considered in court.

Said Thompson, “This RICD is not uncommon, as these filings often involve multiple parties who object, and then these issues are resolved during the court process.”

The river district itself has decided to file an opposition statement.

“From the river district’s perspective we look at the RICD both with a concern to make sure they don’t imperil water usage in the river district but also as a legitimate use,” Fleming said. “We want to make sure the Western Slope recreational economy is supported so it’s sort of a tug and pull there.”

Hamilton said the city engaged in discussions with Denver Water for the water rights filing and those conversations continue.

“This was not an intent to surprise anyone,” he said.

He said the total claims are intended not to exceed half the volume of water typically available in that part of the river.

“Presumably that leaves quite a bit of additional water in the river that could be appropriated for other purposes,” he said.

He said most if not all of Denver’s water rights would be senior to the rights being sought.

“If Denver already has water rights, they’re unaffected,” he said.

Hot Springs’ aquifers

Communities are increasingly seeking such rights in order to create whitewater parks as added recreational and tourism amenities. Carbondale recently was granted such a right and Pitkin County is seeking one. Grand County is seeking Bureau of Land Management approval related to a proposed park on the upper Colorado River in Gore Canyon, after obtaining water rights for it.

Glenwood’s efforts over the years have been a bit more complicated by the Glenwood Hot Springs’ interests. Proponents wanted to build the first park downtown but were thwarted by the concerns raised by the springs, the city’s central tourism attraction. Kjell Mitchell, the attraction’s president and chief executive officer, said the concern is that a park could cause river-bottom scouring that could puncture shallow aquifers and affect the springs. Another concern is that a park could contribute to flooding and harm the springs. He believes the first park site turned out to be a great location for the city, and hopes it will look to the possible locations being considered farther east rather than downtown.

“I hope if the city wants to do something that they would hopefully see the big picture and it would be a win-win situation,” he said.

The pool sent a letter to the city outlining its concerns last year. Asked about the potential of the issue ending up in court if the city pursues the downtown location, Mitchell said, “I hope it doesn’t get to that point.”

Hamilton and Hecksel said the proposed location is downstream of the hot springs.

Said Hecksel, “I think it’s a matter of perception. I don’t think anybody’s going to dismiss what the concerns of the pool are, but (the proposed location) is farther downstream.”

He said the city continues to discuss the matter with the pool.

“The city acknowledges their concerns,” he said.

More whitewater coverage here.

Animas River: E.coli, nutrients, mixed authority complicate water quality picture at the Colorado/New Mexico border

E.coli Bacterium
E.coli Bacterium

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

A study last year found that the level of E. coli bacteria in the Animas River just north of the New Mexico state line met water-quality standards but exceeded them in the New Mexico stretch of the river. E. coli levels in the San Juan River above its confluence with the Animas at Farmington also were above the limit.

The E. coli limit in New Mexico for a single sample is 410 colony-forming units or a monthly average of 126 CFU, said Melissa May with the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District. Colorado uses only the second criterium, she said. The CFU is measured by placing bacteria and an algae extract in a petri dish and counting the number of colonies.

But the results of the survey should be considered preliminary until a follow-up study this year is completed, a report by the San Juan Watershed Group says. The new round of testing, scheduled to get underway in April and run through October, also will look at the level of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – in the rivers…

Colorado has an interim standard for nutrients, but it has been applied only on the upper reaches of the Rio Grande and Arkansas rivers, said Peter Butler a past member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. In New Mexico, limits are water-body specific, May said…

Testing was done last year at four sites, two each on the Animas and San Juan rivers, she said. BHP Billiton paid for the study, which consisted of 40 samples in all. Discrepancies in laboratory analysis of the source of E. coli require a second year of testing, May said. A different laboratory than the one used in previous years did DNA analysis in 2013, she said.

DNA analysis can indicate if the source of E. coli is avian, ruminant (cattle, sheep, deer and elk), equine, canine or human, May said. The absence of equine samples, the low number of cattle samples and a high number of human samples call into question the sensitivity of the probes and the accuracy of overall results, the watershed group report said. Bacteria levels increased the further downstream that samples were taken, both in the San Juan and Animas rivers. The highest level of bacteria was found in the San Juan River at the Hogback Canal, the beginning of the Navajo Nation near Waterflow. Preliminary results of testing at Farmington found that fecal pathogen levels in the San Juan River exceeded the New Mexico standard. A predominant source of the pathogens was human. The finding of human pathogens was unexpected and not consistent with other studies in New Mexico, the report said…

The Animas River is complicated because it flows through three political jurisdictions – Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation and New Mexico – and numerous land uses, Ann Oliver, a spokeswoman for Animas Watershed Partnership, said. The three political jurisdictions answer to different regions of the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.

“While preliminary data indicates a link between high E. coli from human sources in the Animas in New Mexico, this has not been documented by any study of the Animas near the state line,” Oliver said.

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.