More storage on the horizon? #COWaterPlan

From the Valley Courier (Travis Smith):

Colorado’s water history also involves the development of reservoirs. It was quickly recognized by irrigators and municipal users that having the ability to capture and control available water during times of plenty for a reliable water supply during times of shortage was very important.

The Colorado high country provides the best natural reservoir storage in the form of snow pack. The state’s snow pack accumulates during late fall and continues thru early spring, waiting for warm temperatures . As the spring runoff begins, the available water supply to rivers and creeks continues to increase. Approximately 70 percent of the annual water supply runs off during May, June and early July. Irrigators quickly recognized that the water supply from the natural reservoir did not provide a reliable water supply in late summer, which is much needed to finish crops. Flooding and drought also became a concern in the arid west. The worst flood ever experienced in Alamosa took place in 1884, with approximately 20,000 CFS recorded. The Valley also endured a severe drought between 1890 and 1902.

The water development era in the San Luis Valley began in the late 1880’s to early 1990’s. Major canal systems had been developed and began diverting all available water. The Rio Grande was quickly over appropriated by the late 1880’s. The discussion began around approved suitable reservoir sites and the ability to finance a storage project caused much concern with Valley neighbors to the south, New Mexico and Texas. San Luis Valley water users were prevented from developing any further depletion to the Rio Grande by an order from the Secretary of the Interior in 1896. This Federal Embargo meant no reservoir construction in Colorado and was viewed as “arbitrary and unjust” (an excerpt from the valley water attorney George Corlett).

In the meantime, the people of New Mexico and Texas decided to build the Elephant Butte Dam. The Federal Embargo was partially lifted in 1907, which allowed storage projects on the upper Rio Grande. Reservoir sites had been selected and funding services were secured for Rio Grande Reservoir and Santa Maria Reservoir . With the construction of these reservoirs, the irrigators would have a late season water supply to finish crops. These reservoirs were primary used for agriculture, and at times for flood control. The Rio Grande Compact negotiations contemplated additional storage projects that never came to be due to a variety issues. Terrace and Sanchez reservoirs were also constructed around the same time period. Rio Grande Reservoir, also known as the Farmers Union Reservoir, was primarily built for irrigation use, but was used many times for flood control. In 1952, Platoro Reservoir on the Conejos River was completed.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s 2004 Statewide Water Initiative identified the need to rehabilitate existing reservoirs, and where possible investigate the opportunity for multi use or multipurpose reservoirs. This concept of multipurpose projects is developing for the San Luis Valley’s reservoirs. By rethinking, retiming and reoperation of the Valley’s reservoirs multiple needs could be met. By timing reservoir releases and storage when possible, wet water is available to the Rio Grande for irrigation, municipal augmentation , stream health, recreation and environmental uses. This multi use idea is built around cooperation and partnership opportunities that meet multiple wet water needs with the same amount of water.

The Rio Grande Cooperative Project is the model of the multi-use project concept. A public/private partnership with the rehabilitation of Beaver Park Reservoir, owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Rio Grande Reservoir; the Cooperative Project’s primary objectives are to store and regulate water rights to better meet water demands in the San Luis Valley. The development of the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Water Plan encourage multiuse projects that address the needs of irrigation, municipal, management, augmentation, recreation, and environmental needs. The Colorado Water Plan and the Colorado Water Conservation’s strategic framework recognize the need for multiuse projects, policies and partnerships.

The Rio Grande Basin Water Plan is being developed by members of the Rio Grande Roundtable and other interested citizens. This basin plan supports the continued rehabilitation of the Valley’s reservoirs and encourages the multipurpose objective thru partnerships and cooperation. The Basin Water Plan also recognizes the need for groundwater regulation to manage and sustain the Valley’s aquifers and agriculture economy, as well as the tenet to remain compliant with the Rio Grande Compact. The Valley’s reservoirs offer a bucket in times of plenty and a source of water in times of need. San Luis Valley residents are encouraged to get involved in the water plan by attending the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable monthly meetings held the second Tuesday of each month at the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District office at 623 Fourth Street in Alamosa. The lead consultant and local liaison from DiNatale Water Consultants is Tom Spezze. Tom can be contacted at

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news: There is little space to store runoff in South Platte River Basin reservoirs

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The melt-out is in full swing.

From (Nick McGurk):

“This is one of the best years we’ve had in the last decade or two,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

So good, he said that the state could send out the equivalent of five Horsetooth Reservoirs full of water to Nebraska this year because there’s nowhere to store it in Colorado.

“It’s helping Nebraskans, believe me, but it’s water that we have rights to that we’re not putting to use because there’s nowhere to store it,” said Werner.

It’s why he says Colorado needs more reservoirs. Glade Reservoir has been talked about for a decade. It would take water from the Poudre and store it northwest of Fort Collins.

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake, which comprise Northern Colorado’s share of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, are within about one foot of being full, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Farmers currently are using river water from ditches to irrigate their cropland, but generally use Colorado-Big Thompson project water later in the summer. The project collects water from the Western Slope and delivers it to the Front Range through a 13-mile tunnel the runs beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

When the Poudre River surged after a rainy Memorial Day weekend and took the lives of two Greeley residents, it alarmed residents across the state. But even after a wet spring and this year’s heavy snowpack, the Poudre is a long way from causing Fort Collins stormwater managers alarm during this runoff season…

It can be hard to pin down what exactly makes the Poudre’s levels fluctuate — it can be the weather, an irrigator, snow melt or another river, like the North Fork, dumping into it.

The Poudre has been running about twice its normal level since the September 2013 floods, when a year’s worth of rain fell in just days across Colorado. But this year a few other things could be fueling the river’s rise. Spring rains at low elevations, for instance, caused the river to rise during Memorial day weekend. In big snowpack years, snowmelt can drastically change the river’s flow.

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack in the mountains west of Fort Collins has yet to melt. The force of snow melt-caused runoff all depends on weather — a steady warming trend will prolong the runoff period, where as a rapid rise in heat over an extended period will fill the river quickly.

Peak runoff flows usually hit the Poudre sometime between late May and mid-June…

Fort Collins has several ways of monitoring the river’s power, one of which is using water gauges in Poudre Park, at the canyon mouth, and at the Lincoln Street bridge.

Fort Collins Utilities has a flood warning engineer and other employees who manage a flood warning system around the clock, said Varella. The city has trigger points — threshold measurements for the water — that trigger flood alerts, exactly the same as those used by the National Weather Service to issue flood alerts…

Several things have to fall into place for the river to seriously flood, and the severity of flooding could depend on when those factors come into play.

But as of Thursday, the Poudre’s level’s were forecast to continue to drop, with a possible spike late Friday due to rain. While the river is moving dangerously fast, and is higher than normal, said Varella, all city stream gauges showed only low warning levels.

From the Summit Daily News (Sebastian Foltz):

River accidents are frequently the result of inexperienced boaters getting into unfamiliar situations. This year, with water flows in rivers already climbing toward peak levels because of rapid snowmelt, there’s some concern among those in the rafting and kayaking industry. While it’s safe for professional guiding companies and experienced boaters, those less familiar with how to read rivers and recognize features may struggle in places where they would be fine during other times of the year.

Stretches of water can change dramatically with higher water flows, making ordinarily tame rivers far more challenging.

With flow levels on some rivers currently as much as 10 times higher than what they might be later in the summer, places like the usually tame Upper Colorado River may be far more technical…

The Upper Colorado, for example, now has flow levels approaching 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), when much of the season it runs closer to 500-800 cfs.

From The Denver Post (Tom McGhee):

The Cache la Poudre continues to overflow its banks near Greeley and the National Weather Service has extended a flood warning for the area until further notice.

“That river is expected to stay above flood stage until at least June 3,” NWS meteorologist Todd Dankers said Thursday.

A combination of snow melt, triggered by warm weather, and plentiful rain, has sent water flowing into streams and rivers around the area.

A number of streets, trails and open spaces, are closed near the river, including 71st Avenue, 83rd Avenue and 95th Avenue.

Flood advisories, which are issued when rivers and streams run high, but aren’t in immediate danger of flooding, are in place for the Cache la Poudre at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, and for the South Platte River near Kersey, which is south of Greeley.

The NWS has also issued flood warnings for Jackson and Grand Counties, Danker said. “Snowmelt and these warming temperatures have things right near the top.”

Flooding in Boulder Creek prompted Sheriff Joe Pelle to close the creek to tubing and single chamber belly flotation devices.

The closure will take effect immediately, and will encompass Boulder Creek from Barker Dam east of Nederland to the Weld County line, north of Erie. The closure includes the section of Boulder Creek that flows through the City of Boulder.

A similar ban on tubing is in effect on the Cache la Poudre in Fort Collins until further notice, the Fort Collins police announced.

Afternoon showers are expected through Saturday, and warm nights, in the high country will assure snow continues to melt, Danker said.

“Emergency mangers are keeping an eye on things and we are going to be watching the radar and when things develop we will issue a warning.”

“The urban corridor stands to have the best chance at rain with storms moving off of the nearby mountains,” according to a Colorado Water Conservation Board flood threat bulletin.

With streams and rivers running high, it won’t take much to trigger more flooding, though major floods like those last year aren’t expected, Danker said.

There is a 30 to 40 percent chance of showers Thursday, a 40 to 50 percent chance on Friday, and 30 percent on Saturday. “Showers are coming up from the south. “The showers on Saturday may have a bit more push to them, but it will depend on where they develop,” Danker said.

From Fox21News (Mark Bullion):

About a year ago, Southern Colorado was mostly under an extreme or exceptional drought, which set the stage for the multiple wildfires that happened.

This year, most of the region is out of a drought status with the exception of the southeastern plains, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“They’ve had a few dust storms, a lot of blowing dirt and not a lot of native grasses to hold that soil down,” said Jennifer Stark, NWS Pueblo Meteorologist.

Southern Colorado has for the most part come out of a drought status because of an above average snow pack this past Winter.

But with the above normal snow amounts some areas of Colorado received, there is a concern of runoff into the Arkansas River as temperatures warm and the snow melts.

“That will be the area from Leadville down to the Pueblo Reservoir depending on how the reservoir is filled,” said Larry Walrod, NWS Pueblo Meteorologist. “Also, some of that water will make it east of Pueblo toward La Junta and Lamar.”

Walrod said as of Thursday morning, Fremont Pass still had a snow pack at 147 percent of average.

“The runoff is just starting to peak and it will be in a state of peak here for the possibly two, three or four weeks,” said Walrod.

Stark said the Climate Prediction Center in Washington D.C. is forecasting above normal amounts of rainfall for the next few months, so she is optimistic Southern Colorado will stay out of a drought or where there is an exceptional drought in the eastern plains, the rain will help saturate the soil resulting in the possibility of some areas being changed to a lower drought status.

In addition to Colorado’s water gap we have that pesky old solutions gap, East Slope vs. West Slope

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

From the Boulder Weekly (Bob Berwyn):

When Colorado’s earth cracked open in the great drought of 2002, it may have also cracked open a new corner of consciousness about the finite nature of the state’s water supplies. Spurred by the drought, Gov. Bill Owens and Department of Natural Resources chief Russ George created a series of grassroots river-basin-based roundtables around Colorado and started crafting a statewide vision of how the state will allocate river flows in the 21st century.

Ten years later, the process will culminate with completion of a formal state water plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper — but there will have to be some serious compromise on the “last 10 percent,” says longtime Colorado River advocate Ken Neubecker, an associate director of American Rivers.

But a round of draft documents posted in recent weeks once again raises concern about a host of transmountain water diversion projects that would require huge amounts of energy and disrupt communities and agriculture in the Colorado River Basin.

Some of the projects have been floating around for decades, representing a Rube Goldberg view of the world, where every problem has an over-engineered technical solution: The Big Straw, which would slurp billions of gallons of water from the Colorado River just before it crosses into Utah; the 500-mile Green River pipeline from Wyoming that supposedly would generate hydropower along the way; the Yampa pumpback, the Blue River pumpback and a new Wolcott Reservoir in Eagle County.

“Keeping the idea of these zombie water projects, when there just isn’t any more water to fill those [new] reservoirs doesn’t make sense. … There’s not enough to fill the reservoirs that are here now,” says Save the Colorado campaign coordinator Gary Wockner. The water bosses are missing the big picture by ignoring the fact that Lake Powell and Lake Mead are near or at their lowest levels ever (since filling), Wockner says.

The downstream demand from Arizona, Nevada and especially California throws a huge political monkey wrench into the works that could someday result in a regional showdown, as the Lower Basin cashes in its water chips under the rules of the 1922 Law of the River. Such a so-called Compact Call would require many Colorado water users to curtail their uses.

Developing any new major Colorado River diversions would only worsen the situation, and all of the zombie projects revive visions of the old-school water wars that got Neubecker involved in river conservation back in the 1980s, when Aurora sought to siphon even more of the Eagle River’s flows across the Continental Divide…

The statewide planning push is designed to seek consensus. There’s no question that the basin roundtable configuration has been an improvement over previous tactics, which consisted mainly of “throwing lawyers at each other,” Neubecker says. All in all, the process has been smooth. Each basin — nine, in all — carved out its own vision for Colorado’s water future.

The regional groups have publicly posted “Basin Implementation Plans” for public comment. It’s a key step for the plan, because the final versions should reflect public concerns. In the spirit of the longterm planning initiative, there’s a user-friendly online portal that, for once, doesn’t look like a government website:, literally begging for comment.

Now that it’s time to put it all together, cracks are starting to show along traditional fault lines. Some of the big Front Range communities say the plan must include provisions to shunt more water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range.

“They’re looking for certainty that there will be another transmountain diversion,” says Colorado River Water Conservation District spokesman Jim Pokrandt. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable position is, to the degree that there ever could be one, it’s the last tool out of the box.”

Neubecker goes further to say there simply is no water left to divert in the Colorado River Basin…

The pending showdown over the state water plan (a draft is due in about three months, with a fall 2015 deadline for the final version) shows once again the need to connect the dots between water planning, land-use planning and social, economic and cultural values associated with agriculture — not to mention the ecological values of healthy streams and rivers.

Hundreds of Collbran area residents briefed on mudslide dangers — The Denver Post

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Denver Post (Nancy Lofholm):

“We are trying to outsmart a mountain,” authorities told a crowd of more than 400 who overflowed the Collbran Community Center on Thursday evening looking for answers about what a massive mudslide hanging over the Plateau Valley will do next.

The slide that roared down from the top of Grand Mesa on Sunday, covering nearly 700 acres and burying three local men, is still unstable, still very difficult to predict and still a challenge for those trying to monitor it. Slide experts are still trying to figure out if they can drop monitors into the top of the mass, dangle someone down from a helicopter or risk the danger of sending geologists onto the slide to place the devices.

“There is the potential for another slide,” Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey told the crowd after acknowledging the three local men presumed dead in the slide.

The large team of experts headed by the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service now includes 13 local, state and federal agencies, all working together to try to get a handle on a slide that is unusual in its size and its complexity. Teams are watching for movement from the air, by satellite and from fixed cameras. They are also setting up emergency alert systems for everyone from the 35 property owners below the slide all the way down the valley to where Plateau Creek joins the Colorado River near Interstate 70.

“Gathering data is a big problem,” Hilkey said. “I’ll be the first to tell you we don’t have all the answers for you tonight.”

The U.S. Geological Survey did have better estimates of the size of the pond at the top of the slide and the huge block of earth that is holding it back. The debris block that fell off from the top of the mesa is about 600 feet high and 150 feet thick and spans the nearly ¾-mile width of the slide. Jeff Coe, with the USGS, said he believes there are about 50 million cubic meters in that block, which is holding back a pond now estimated as containing 7 acre-feet of water and being 5 to 7 feet deep. From 15 to 20 cubic feet of water is pouring into that pond each second from the top of the mesa, Coe said, and it is believed to be seeping beneath the slide. That kind of saturated earth is prone to move. He said about 30 million cubic meters of earth have already flowed down the mountain.

The latest seismic information gathered by Colorado Mesa University showed that a first, small slide happened early Sunday morning. The large slide followed at 5:44 p.m. and lasted only a couple of minutes.

Already, sandbagging is going on in Collbran. Plateau Creek has reached its banks — no connection to the landslide — and some of the locals say a third to a half of the snowmelt is still left to come down. Creek banks have already washed out. And rain and warm temperatures forecast for the weekend hold the danger of flooding.

“Collbran is used to water events,” Hilkey said.

Residents filled a box with hundreds of registrations for 911 notifications.

There will be a community service Sunday in Collbran for the three men who lost their lives — Wes Hawkins, Danny Nichols, and his father, Clancy Nichols.

One of Danny Nichols’ brothers drew lengthy applause when he told the crowd that his family would appreciate donations to the University of Wyoming in his brother’s name, so that students from there can come and study the slide, and helpy prevent other deadly slides in the future.