Rifle Gap Reservoir proposed management plan undergoing review process #ColoradoRiver

Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group
Rifle Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has submitted its Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed Lake Management Plan to several of its partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the wildlife agencies of the States of Utah and Wyoming. Approval by these partners is the last required step to establish future stocking plans for the popular fishery.

Lake Management Plans describe objectives for specific fisheries, including which species will be stocked and managed. The Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan was crafted in accordance with the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’, a cooperative agreement between program partners.

The goal of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is the recovery of four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River Basin, the razorback sucker, bonytail chub, humpback chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.

“We developed the management plan with input we received at a public meeting in 2010 and comments we have received since then,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “Public feedback was critical to form what we feel is a very good vision for future fisheries management of Rifle Gap.”

Rifle Gap Reservoir currently features both cold and cool/warm water species, including rainbow and brown trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and black crappie. Walleye and smallmouth bass have self-sustained in the reservoir since they were stocked by the former Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1972, prior to the existence of the Recovery Program. No additional smallmouth bass, walleye, or any other cool/warm water species have been stocked by state wildlife managers since the initial introduction.

Until the proposed LMP is approved, CPW may not stock any fish species other than trout into Rifle Gap Reservoir, under the terms of the ‘Procedures for Stocking Non-native Fish Species in the Upper Colorado River Basin’.

“CPW will remain judicious in terms of which sport fish species will be stocked and managed as we continue our native fish recovery efforts,” said Northwest Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein. “That is our responsibility as partners in the program.”

As currently written, the proposed LMP allows for the introduction and management of black crappie, yellow perch, rainbow and brown trout and triploid walleye, all non-native sport fish which are compatible with Recovery Program goals. The triploid version of walleye is sterile and typically grows faster than non-sterile walleye because energy is devoted to growth rather than reproduction. This makes the species attractive to many anglers as well as the Recovery Program.

Because of their severe impacts to native fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike are considered ‘non-compatible’ with recovery efforts. Further introduction or stocking of these species in the Upper Colorado River Basin is strongly discouraged by the Recovery Program.

“This is a good proposed plan and has the potential to lead to an even better fishery than we have now,” said Rifle Gap State Park Manager Brian Palcer. “CPW manages our parks and our wildlife together with the public’s input and cooperation and that worked well as the plan came together; however, we will also need cooperation from the public into the future to maintain Rifle Gap as a destination fishery.”

CPW officials add that the public’s support will not only help with recovery efforts for native fish, it will also facilitate continuing efforts to bring quality sport fishing to Western Colorado.

“We have a biologically sound LMP proposed for Rifle Gap,” said CPW Area Wildlife Manager JT Romatzke. “We thank everyone that has contributed to this plan. We are doing what we can to give our anglers a variety of opportunities while simultaneously meeting the requirements of the Recovery Program.”

The Rifle Gap Reservoir Proposed LMP will undergo a 60-day review process. During this time period, Recovery Program partners will have the opportunity to add comments and revise as necessary before granting final approval.

For more information about the Rifle Gap Proposed Lake Management Plan, visit http://www.cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/RifleGapReservoirManagement.aspx, or contact CPW Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin at lori.martin@state.co.us.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

CWCB: May 2014 Drought Update

Click here to read the May 2014 update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Here’s an excerpt:

Drought conditions remain in southern Colorado, but have abated in much of the northern portion of the state. While April was slightly warmer than normal, May to date has been cool and wet helping to slow melt off, and in some instances improve, snowpack. Reservoir storage is high in the north but well below average in the southern half of Colorado. Agriculture in this region is also struggling to establish a good crop due to lack of soil moisture. Relief is possible as ENSO conditions favor the return of El Nino conditions, which historically has meant increased moisture for Colorado. Water providers indicated that storage levels are decent, and they are not imposing above normal watering restrictions, yet they will continue to closely monitor conditions.

  • Currently, 55% of the state is in some level of drought classification according to the US drought monitor. 22% of that is characterized as “abnormally dry” or D0, while an additional 14% is experiencing D1, moderate drought conditions. 6% is classified as severe, 11% as extreme and 2% of the state remains in exceptional drought (D4). In comparison, this time last year 100% of the state was experiencing some level of classification (D0-D4).
  • Snowpack statewide is at 105% of median. All basins saw some decline in April due to seasonal melt off and below average precipitation. As of May 15, the basin with the highest snowpack is in the North Platte Basin at 126% of median. The Rio Grande has the lowest snowpack in the state at 84% of normal. The snowpack in the San Miguel/Dolores/San Juan Basin is also below average at 88%. The South Platte, Colorado, Yampa/ White, Gunnison and Arkansas are near or above normal at 120, 112, 113, 102 and 97 % respectively.
  • Current streamflow forecasts statewide range from well below to well above average, with the northern portion of the state showing higher forecasts than the south.
  • Reservoir Storage statewide is at 93% of average at the end of April 2014. The lowest reservoir storage statewide is in the Arkansas & Upper Rio Grande basins, with 59% and 67% of average storage, respectively. The South Platte has the highest storage level at 110%.
  • ENSO conditions are likely to transition El-Nino in the coming weeks and are forecast to bring more moisture to the lower elevations during the growing season. The forecast through June indicates that the mountains are less likely to benefit from wet conditions, with the exception of the western San Juan Mountains.
  • The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for the state, which takes into account both reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts, is near normal across much of the state, with an “abundant” index in the northern basins of the South Platte, North Platte, Yampa/ White and Colorado. The lowest values in the state are in the Arkansas and are the result of poor reservoir and streamflow conditions for the Cucharas and Huerfano rivers.
  • Southern portions of the state continue to deal with the effects of a multi-year drought, including low soil moisture and blowing dust. Producers in southeastern Colorado are concerned about how another year of below average precipitation may impact their operations.
  • More CWCB coverage here.

    Water Infrastructure Bill Passed by Senate — The Wall Street Journal

    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art
    Water infrastructure as sidewalk art

    How many projects will actually receive appropriations?

    From The Wall Street Journal (Kristina Peterson):

    The Senate overwhelmingly passed a water infrastructure bill on Thursday, approving the first legislation since 2007 that authorizes new port, dam and flood-protection projects.

    The House earlier this week passed the bill, the product of bipartisan negotiations merging versions passed by each chamber last year. The legislation, one of the rare recent instances of both chambers approving bills through traditional procedures and without the pressure of an imminent deadline, now heads to President Barack Obama.

    The water infrastructure bill, passed on a 91-7 vote, includes a long-stalled project to expand the Savannah Harbor to accommodate bigger ships once the Panama Canal expansion is completed. The bill also authorizes projects deepening and making other improvements to Boston Harbor and Palm Beach Harbor in Florida.

    Congress first authorized expanding the Savannah port in 1999, but the project has stalled and estimated costs have risen in the years since. The water bill authorizes $706 million, of which $492 million would come from the federal government. The next step is for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a project partnership agreement with the Georgia Ports Authority detailing the construction plans.

    More infrastructure coverage here.

    Aspen Journalism: What people are saying about the #COWaterPlan so far?

    @ConservationCO: Congratulations to Melinda Kassen, this year’s Rebel with a Cause

    Denver Water and the DWR reach agreement for Dillon Reservoir to mitigate flood risk along the Blue River should the need arise

    Denver Water employees Rick Geise and Nate Hurlbut assisted in setting the plug, which helps prevent chunks of ice and snow from falling into the spillway. Photo credit: Denver Water

    From the Summit Daily News (Joe Moylan):

    The Colorado Division of Water Resources recently signed off on a first-of-its-kind proposal that could significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding events in Summit County.

    The plan, proposed by Bob Steger, manager of Raw Water Supply for Denver Water, would allow the state’s largest water utility to divert excess flows from Lake Dillon to the Front Range by way of the Roberts Tunnel in order to prevent a destructive water event in Summit County, most notably in Silverthorne.

    Summit County Emergency Management director Joel Cochran said earlier this month during a Summit County Commission workshop that record snowpack combined with unseasonably warm spring and early summer temperatures could cause flooding on a magnitude not seen in two decades in the Blue River Watershed.

    According to data Cochran presented during the commission’s first meeting in May, this season’s total snowpack consists of the equivalent of 17 to 20 inches of rainwater. It’s the highest concentration of snowpack in Summit County since 1995, the last year there was significant flooding in Summit County, Cochran said.

    In addition to record snowpack, Cochran said spring and early summer temperatures are hovering between 6 and 10 degrees above normal throughout the state. Although Summit County last week caught a break from unseasonably warm temperatures, the return of spring has local officials concerned that the runoff could be triggered earlier than usual.

    Historically, runoff in Summit County begins the first week of June, peaks about the middle of the month and ends before early July, Cochran said.

    However, floods aren’t triggered by mountain runoff or even an accelerated runoff, Cochran said.

    “A lot of people remember 2011 when we lost Coyne Valley (Road), but you can’t have (extreme) flooding due solely to spring runoff,” Cochran said. “We lost Coyne Valley because we had a major rain event when the Blue River was at peak water.”

    With this season’s snowpack, it’s almost a certainty the Blue River will reach its capacity of 1,800 cubic feet per second of water at some point in the coming weeks, said Summit County assistant manager Thad Noll. If Summit County receives a significant rain event while the Blue is peaking, the damage could be extensive all over the county, but particularly in Silverthorne.

    “Silverthorne got by relatively unscathed once in the past when the Blue reached 2,100 cfs, but anything higher than that and we’re trying to keep Silverthorne from getting washed down to the Sea of Cortez,” Noll said. “Denver Water’s proposal would relieve that pressure on the Blue by sending excess water to Denver in the event of a flood.”

    That water would be transported by way of an underground aqueduct known as the Roberts Tunnel, which was constructed to carry water more than 23 miles from Lake Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River, where it is then distributed to several other reservoirs in and around Denver. Each year, water from the Blue River and Lake Dillon accounts for about 40 percent of the water annually collected and stored on the Front Range.

    The South Platte’s capacity is about 680 cfs, according to a letter by Steger, which means up to that much water could be sent through the tunnel to the Front Range. Depending on South Platte flows, the water diverted downtown could relieve a significant amount of strain on the Blue River should it reach critical mass.

    However, prior to receiving approval, Noll said the idea sparked an interesting debate among West Slope water advocates who opposed the proposal. Although Lake Dillon is owned and operated by Denver Water, it was previously prohibited from sending water to the South Platte if Front Range reservoirs were full.

    Opponents were particularly critical of the idea to divert water to Denver considering Front Range reservoirs are expected to reach capacity this year.

    “It raises an interesting question because the Blue River’s natural flow is toward the Colorado River,” Noll said. “The debate was whether saving the tiny town of Silverthorne, Colorado supersedes the rights of stakeholders down the line.”

    The Colorado Office of the State Engineer thinks that it does, so long as Denver Water doesn’t cause flooding on the Front Range in trying to prevent the same in Summit County.

    More Blue River watershed coverage here.

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit to Increase Temporarily to Benefit Endangered Fish #ColoradoRiver

    Black Canyon via the National Park Service
    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight/Justyn Hock):

    Reclamation will begin increasing releases from the Aspinall Unit, consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal reservoirs on the Gunnison River, on May 23, 2014, as required by the Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement. The increased release will attempt to meet flow targets on the Gunnison River, designed to benefit endangered fish species downstream while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.

    Beginning on May 23, 2014, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will begin increasing at a minimum of 500 cubic-feet-per-second a day resulting in flows through the canyon of around 9,000 cfs on June 2, 2014. Flows will remain at or above 8,000 cfs for 10 days before incrementally decreasing toward a range of 4000 cfs to 5000 cfs by the middle of June 2014.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

    Northwest Pipe Co. is major supplier for the Southern Delivery System #ColoradoRiver

    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Southern Delivery System construction celebration August 19, 2011 via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Denver Post (Aldo Svaldi):

    Orders at the Northwest Pipe Co. plant in Denver were drying up in 2010 when bid requests started coming for a massive water project linking the Pueblo Reservoir and Colorado Springs called the Southern Delivery System.

    “The start of the SDS project couldn’t have come at a better time,” Northwest’s vice president of sales Eric Stokes said.

    At a cost of $841 million, the water project is the largest the region has seen in decades. Starting in 2016, it will pipe water held in the Pueblo Reservoir to consumers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo West, Security and Fountain.

    “This is our water security for many years to come, 50 years into the future,” said John Fredell, program director of the water services division for SDS.

    Northwest Pipe’s Denver plant won almost all the contracts to supply 50 miles of steel pipe, and the company celebrated the completion of the last piece Thursday afternoon. Northwest produced 7,000 pieces of the pipeline, each averaging 50 feet in length and 66 inches in diameter. The orders allowed Northwest’s employment in Denver to grow from 116 full-time workers to more than 231 at the peak of manufacturing.

    Of about $500 million spent so far on the project, $359 million has gone to 333 Colorado businesses, including more than 75 based in metro Denver, Fredell said.

    Northwest Pipe alone received about $110 million, including $23 million spent on payroll. Given that the next closest competitor was in California, Stokes said Northwest had a distinct advantage.

    “Proximity was part of it,” Fredell said.

    Back in 1997, Northwest Pipe, which is based in Vancouver, Wash., acquired Thompson Pipe & Steel Co., a manufacturer with Denver roots going back to the late 1800s. For decades, Thompson built pipes in the Curtis Park area that continue to help move water across much of the state. Thompson moved its plant to a 45-acre facility at 6030 Washington St., where workers continued to convert steel coil arriving by rail car into water pipes shipped out on trucks.

    Once formed, the pipes are pumped full of water and pressure-tested to ensure there are no leaks. They are moved into a cavernous ⅛ – mile-long warehouse where they are rotated rapidly while concrete is poured inside to make a lining designed to last for decades. In a third building, the pipes are primed, painted and prepared for shipping.

    “It is nice to know you have finished on time,” said Jason Cheng, a welder from Westminster who joined Northwest in October to work on the SDS order.

    Cheng and other workers lined up to sign the last piece of pipe, undeterred as the rain poured down Thursday afternoon. Their signatures, in white ink, quickly smeared down the bright-blue pipe.

    “We want the water on the inside of the pipe, not the outside,” one person commented.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    Northwest Pipe, (Nasdaq: NWPX) is based in Vancouver, Washington. Its Denver manufacturing plant had a $110 million contract to build the project’s 50 miles of pipeline to carry the water. It was the biggest contract for materials under the project.

    Northwest Pipe started making its 50-foot sections of pipe for the project, each section 66 inches in diameter, in 2011.
    And the last pieces are now coming off the manufacturing line and awaiting a truck for transport to the project site.

    “This is one of the largest programs that we’ve seen,” said John Moore, manager of Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing plant at 6030 N. Washington St. in north Denver.

    During peak production, as many as 25 trucks a day left Northwest Pipe’s manufacturing facility.
    Being in Denver meant trucking costs were less and Northwest Pipe could submit a more competitive bid for the project, Moore said.

    And the project meant jobs for Northwest Pipe, which ramped up to 231 people during peak production, from a low of 116 people prior to work on the project, said John Moore, the plant manager. The company currently has 131 people on staff.
    Northwest Pipe, which supplies pipes to carry water and waste water, has delivered pipes to other big water providers, including Denver Water and Aurora.

    More Southern Delivery System coverage here.

    CWCB: Does the draft #COWaterPlan rely too much on unproven alternative ag transfers?

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A state water plan may be putting too much weight on alternative transfer programs that seek to temporarily provide water to cities from farm lands. While the goal of such programs is to reduce the possibility of permanent dry-up of agriculture, there is little evidence to prove they would work, said Patricia Wells, a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, meeting in Pueblo this week.

    “Has any transfer method actually happened with rotational fallowing?” Wells, general counsel for Denver Water, asked during Wednesday’s CWCB meeting at the Pueblo Convention Center.

    The board was reviewing draft chapters of the state water plan being developed by CWCB staff. Other topics included conservation, water quality and project permitting.

    “This chapter paints a rosy picture of alternative transfers,” Wells added. “This doesn’t mean alternative transfer methods can’t be done, but they haven’t been done.”

    The Arkansas Valley Super Ditch formed in 2008, but has had difficulty launching pilot programs because drought reduced water availability, permit complications and farmer participation.

    In 2013, the Legislature passed HB1130, which set up a framework for long-term lease arrangements, and HB1248, which allowed for 10 pilot programs that have not materialized.

    Super Ditch attempted to run a pilot program under HB1248 with the town of Fowler this year, but plans fell through.

    This year, a proposal to create a flex marketing water right failed because opponents said it amounted to legalizing speculation.

    In 2004-05, Aurora and the Rocky Ford High Line Canal engineered a temporary transfer program that was successful, although it raised questions of moving water from one river basin to another.

    Since then, the state has spent millions of dollars on grants to study alternative transfer methods, but large metro providers are reluctant to enter long-term deals without more certainty.

    “Unless we find some way to do this, there are barriers,” Wells said.

    Board member John McClow, a Gunnison attorney, questioned CWCB staff for using language from the Interbasin Compact Committee’s report rather than taking a fresh approach.

    Travis Smith, a board member of both the CWCB and IBCC, responded that the IBCC reached agreement on using alternative transfers several years ago, and thought that should be reflected in the state water plan.

    Meanwhile the Arkansas Valley Conduit was also a topic at yesterday’s CWCB meeting in Pueblo. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

    The state showed more support for the Arkansas Valley Conduit Thursday, pledging cooperation in helping to obtain federal funding for the $400 million project.

    “This is the last piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “It’s been a long wait for something that was promised 50 years ago.”

    Broderick gave an update of the conduit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which met Thursday at the Pueblo Convention Center.

    Contract negotiations will begin later this year for the conduit and two associated federal contracts to provide a master storage lease in Lake Pueblo and a cross-connection between south and north outlets on Pueblo Dam.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here. More CWCB coverage here.