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

Upper Colorado River Basin February 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal
Upper Colorado River Basin February 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

The current OWOW newsletter is hot off the presses


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

The One World One Water Center is now accepting applications for the Spring 2014 OWOW Scholarship.

Qualified MSU Denver students must have declared the water studies minor and/or have enrolled in one or more water classes. Scholarship winners can be awarded up to $500! Visit the OWOW website for a full list of requirements and a link to the online submission form.

More education coverage here.

Snowpack news: Reclamation projects 73,000 acre-feet through the Boustead Tunnel

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Winter is growing whiter and whiter in Colorado’s high country, brightening the outlook for a healthy spring runoff. While the normal peak snowpack isn’t typically reached until mid-April, Colorado continues to push the total above that peak already. Snow depths of 6 feet or more with moisture content of 16-18 inches were being reported at elevations over 10,000 feet throughout the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel service. Several places added a foot of snow or more in the last week.

Ski areas also are reporting banner years. In Southern Colorado, Wolf Creek showed a base of 110 inches; Monarch, 93 inches; and Ski Cooper, 77 inches.

As of Tuesday, snowpack was 117 percent of median statewide, with the highest totals in the northern mountain ranges. In the Arkansas River basin, snowfall was 108 percent of median, but ranged from 14 percent of average at the Apishapa site northwest of Trinidad to 156 percent at Brumley, 10 miles west of Twin Lakes.

“We’ve got a lot of snow,” said Rick Sexton, Clear Creek Reservoir caretaker for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “We’re showing 110-120 percent on all of our snow courses (all located near Leadville).”

The real work for water board crews won’t begin until April, when they start plowing out mountain ditches that bring water across the Continental Divide. But the snow already has caused some problems, including the collapse of the roof on the Sayer-McKee Building on Harrison Avenue in Leadville after a 2 foot snowfall about one month ago.

Projections for the Fryingpan- Arkansas Project, the Arkansas River basin’s largest transmountain diversion, were revised upward to 73,000 acrefeet on March 1, which is 10,000 acre-feet more than a month earlier and 20,000 acre-feet above average. The projection by the Bureau of Reclamation is based on current conditions and assumes normal accumulation of snow in the next two months. As the past two years have shown, the estimate can drop dramatically if it Water managers don’t have a crystal ball, but they’re not expecting a disastrous end to winter this year.

Because levels already have reached the normal peak for the year, the Pueblo water board this week decided to make about 5,000 acre-feet of water available to lease on the spot market.

Precipitation at lower elevations remains about average for this time of year, but farmers are still dealing with a soil moisture deficit from extended drought.

I just put 1,000 gallons back in the #ColoradoRiver — Reed Dils

‘State of the Fisheries’ meetings scheduled for Summit, Grand counties


Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

As part of continuing efforts to involve the public in managing their wildlife, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will hold two “State of the Fisheries” meetings this month in Grand and Summit counties. Local anglers, guides and business owners or any interested members of the general public are invited to attend and offer their views about the management goals of several local fisheries.

The first will occur Tuesday, March 18, in the Buffalo Mountain Room at the Summit County Commons in Frisco, followed by a meeting Wednesday, March 19 at the Granby Public Library. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s important for the public to understand that we rely on their input for our wildlife management decisions and strategies,” said biologist Jon Ewert of Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Hot Sulphur Springs. “We anticipate a lively discussion and encourage everyone to come out and participate in the future of their local fisheries.”

Ewert plans the meeting as a ‘data workshop’ which he describes as being effective in encouraging discussion and interaction between the agency and sportsmen.

“As we have done in the past, anglers will have the opportunity to call out a local body of water and then I will provide data, stocking records and future plans about that fishery, followed by an open discussion,” he continued. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds the public that fishing licenses go on sale March 31 and are valid for one year.

Who: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

What: ‘State of the Fisheries’ meetings

Where: Tuesday, March,18 at the Summit County Commons, 37 County Road 1005, Frisco – Buffalo Mountain Room

Where: Wednesday, March 19 at the Granby Public Library, 225 East Jasper Ave., Granby

When: 6:30 p.m. each evening

Contact: For more information, contact Jon Ewert – 970-509-9150

Trout Unlimited, Denver Water, Grand County reach agreement on river protections for Moffat Project #ColoradoRiver

Gross Dam
Gross Dam

From email from EarthJustice (McCrystie Adams):

As Denver Water’s proposed Moffat Collection System Project has undergone initial federal permitting review, numerous stakeholders on both sides of the Continental Divide have raised serious concerns about the scheme to bring more water from the Fraser River to the Front Range. Today, two entities announced an agreement with Denver Water that will lead to what is being termed a Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.

McCrystie Adams, attorney in the Rocky Mountain Office of Earthjustice issued the following statement today:

“We look forward to thoroughly reviewing this private agreement to determine whether it fully addresses the impacts of the potentially river-killing Moffat expansion proposal. Any plan to mitigate additional diversions from this already heavily-stressed river system—or repair past damage—must be independently enforceable and fully funded before a decision to approve the project is made.

“The Fraser and the other streams targeted by this project are the headwaters of one of America’s great river systems, the Colorado, and are of importance far beyond Grand County. We and our conservation partners are committed to keeping these waters flowing. The Moffat permitting process is not complete, and we will continue to evaluate all alternatives to protect the long-term health and preservation of these streams.”

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Three major stakeholders involved in a project to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, as part of Denver Water’s proposed $250 million Moffat Collection System Project, have reached an agreement to protect the Fraser River and its trout population if the project is ultimately approved. Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County were party to the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, which was struck on Tuesday. The three parties have submitted it to state and federal agencies reviewing the project…

The Moffat project is designed to shore up Denver Water’s supply system on the north side of metro Denver, an area that came dangerously close to running out of water during the drought of 2002-2003. Denver Water first proposed enlarging Gross Reservoir, so it can hold more water from the Western Slope including the Fraser River, in 2003.

At the center of the agreement is a program to monitor the health of the stream — including water temperature, aquatic life and plant health, according to the announcement. If problems emerge, Denver Water would provide water, money and other resources to improve the condition of the river, according to the agreement.

“This plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water…

The management team will include representatives from the three parties to the agreement as well as from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District.

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited…

Lurline Curran, Grand County’s manager, said the county reached out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to try to get past previous disagreements about the impact of the Moffat Project.

“To all parties’ credit, this effort has succeeded,” Curran said.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

As long as I’ve been old enough to hold a fishing rod, maybe longer, I’ve heard there’s no substitute for experience. I suppose that’s why the new Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan announced Tuesday for the Fraser River’s Moffat Collection System Project seems to make so much sense at first glance.

The centerpiece of the package of river protections designed to keep the fragile Fraser River and its fish and wildlife populations healthy in the face of Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is a concept stakeholders refer to as “learning by doing.” In the working world, it might be considered on-the-job training, only with the enterprising twist of entering into uncharted waters, so to speak.

The notion behind learning by doing is managing the ecological impacts of diverting a significant slice of the Fraser to Front Range water users on a cooperative basis as problems arise. Should the project permit be issued, a management team that includes Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District will enact a monitoring program to assess stream health based on specific parameters such as stream temperature, aquatic life and riparian vegetation health.

Rather than focusing efforts on finger pointing when the Fraser’s health suffers from water depletion, the plan is to focus available resources on addressing the actual issue at hand. That means water, money and other resources committed by Denver Water through project mitigation, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and other agreements will be deployed to prevent declines and improve conditions as they are identified. Ideally, what’s learned from the experience will help keep the same problems from recurring again and again.

“Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said in a statement released Tuesday. “Since the beginning of our planning for the Moffat Project, we set out to do the right thing for the environment, and we believe coming together with Trout Unlimited and Grand County on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan demonstrates a monumental step in making the river better. It’s satisfying that after more than 10 years of study and discussion, Trout Unlimited and Grand County have stayed at the table with us in good faith.”

Calling the agreement “a victory for the river,” Trout Unlimited said the plan closes discussions over the proposed Moffat project designed to improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system by capturing remaining water rights in the upper Colorado basin. Denver Water, Grand County and TU have submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan to federal and state agencies charged with permitting the Moffat Project and have requested that it be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

Water bank for Western Slope irrigators? #ColoradoRiver


From KREXTV.com (Emily Fredrick):

he Colorado River District traveled to Montrose and Palisade Tuesday to speak with irrigators about the possibility of a water bank on the Western Slope.

The new concept would increase security for the Upper Colorado River Basin water supplies and reduce the potential negative impacts of persisting drought conditions.

“We live in a desert and all the fruit and actually all the houses and lawns and everything that are here in the Valley are here because of the water in the Colorado River essentially,” said Palisade farmer, Guy Parker.

“If Colorado is ever in a situation where we have to curtail our water usage in order to meet our obligations to our downstream neighbors under the compact, under our existing agreements that we could use those pre-compact water rights for post compact critical uses, health and human safety uses,” said Colorado River District’s Chris Treese, “When we go to them and say it’s time, we’d really like you to consider, and we’d like to compensate you, how much compensation will that take what does that market look like and will we have enough water if we put a marketplace out there. We’d like to sign people up on an option basis that you are willing to forgo either in complete or in part your historical irrigation in order to prevent a less attractive situation,” said Treese.

“I think it’s a really good idea to be very proactive because we do live in a desert and there’s not enough water to go around, we really have to be proactive and really have to be creative in our solutions to what we’re going to do,” said Parker.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Arkansas Valley Conduit: Master storage contract next activity for project

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit is years away, but other parts of last week’s federal record of decision to approve the project are expected to move more quickly. But not too quickly, as sponsors are watching to see how pieces fall in place. The record decision by the Bureau of Reclamation also cleared the way for a master storage contract in Lake Pueblo and an interconnection at Pueblo Dam between the north and south outlets.

“Once you have signed the record of decision, those discussions can start,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor for all three projects. “But we don’t want to move too quickly.”

The master contract is likely the first piece to move forward. It will allow communities within the Southeastern District to secure up to 30,000 acrefeet of storage through the year 2060. The storage is possible because Lake Pueblo seldom fills to capacity with water brought across the Continental Divide under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project. So-called excess capacity contracts allow water users to store other water in Lake Pueblo. The long-term contract would provide more certainty that the space will be reserved than one-year contracts as well as flexibility between wet and dry years.

In recent years, 37 water districts and cities indicated they wanted to be a part of the contract — 25 also are conduit participants. The other 12 include water users in Fremont, Pueblo counties aren’t part of the conduit, but anticipate the need for storage. Among them, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain are seeking to partner in the contract, even though they already have contracts under Southern Delivery System.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also wants storage for projects such as the Super Ditch.

“We need to sit down with all of them and say, ‘All right, this is what we studied. Now how much are you going to need?’ ” Broderick said.

Another reason for waiting to begin negotiations is to see how similar talks are progressing. In 2010, Broderick watched with interest as SDS participants, led by Colorado Springs, learned that Reclamation was changing its basis for the contract from cost of service to a market-based approach. Right now, Reclamation is negotiating a similar contract with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Broderick plans to sit in on those public meetings to see what he can learn.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.