BLM okays Gore Canyon whitewater park

Colorado River in Gore Canyon
Colorado River in Gore Canyon

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

From above and below, it’s easy to imagine how the rapids known as “Fisherman’s Nightmare” got their nickname. The chaotic jumble of rocks and water (also known as “Applesauce”) that serves as sentinel to the Colorado River’s Gore Canyon drops precipitously from the placid, pastoral flats surrounding the Blue River confluence at Kremmling and marks the start of the steepest and most technically challenging whitewater of the entire Colorado River. An unwary angler drifting into the Class V canyon can expect a frightening wake-up call.

Beneath soaring cliffs up to 1,000 feet tall, the river’s gradient shifts radically from a flatwater nature float to an adrenaline-soaked plummet of some 115 feet per mile over the next 4 miles.

It’s a little-known secret that the remote ravine shrouds some of finest fishing along the Upper Colorado, since access is largely limited to the region’s most skilled whitewater boaters. But those in the know will occasionally make their way upstream along a rugged foot path that begins at the Bureau of Land Management’s Pumphouse Recreation Site at the southern edge of Gore Canyon and eventually fades away entirely.

The popular fishing and floating stretch downstream from the Pumphouse boat ramp is known to boast some of the highest fish statistics throughout the river originating in Rocky Mountain National Park, measuring more than 3,500 trout per mile between Pumphouse and the Radium boat ramp 4 miles downstream. While the wild character of the upstream canyon doesn’t lend itself to scientific fish counts, anecdotal evidence suggests that the fish lurking in deep pools below Gore’s steep drops have grown larger and face far less angling pressure than their downstream counterparts.

“I’ve got a photo of the mythological beast that lives below Tunnel Falls (the biggest drop in the canyon) we named ‘General Sherman’ hanging in my garage. He’s just a big, thick, brown trout,” said Ken Hoeve, a Reddington team angler and former pro kayaker who fishes Gore Canyon regularly. “There really are some brutes that live in there, and they’re not very smart because nobody ever fishes for them.”

That’s not to say the fish are entirely devoid of pressures, however.

For two years running now, the Upper Colorado River Basin has earned prominent rankings among the annual ” America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report published by the conservation organization American Rivers. Due to the combined effects of drought, overallocation and transmountain water diversions to meet growing Front Range demand, the Upper Colorado was named the nation’s most endangered river in 2013 and was second only to California’s San Joaquin River this year.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Carbondale resident Ken Neubecker of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”

A basin-wide drought now measuring 14 years has been exacerbated by increasing municipal, agricultural and industrial demands, all of which has led to the lowest 14-year inflow to Lake Powell since the downstream reservoir began filling in 1963.

American Rivers has seen support from conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club and Conservation Colorado, among others, attempting to implement measures to maintain critical river flows for fish, wildlife and recreation in the upper basin. Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District are proposing significant increases in the amount of water pumped from Colorado River headwaters across the Continental Divide through Moffat Tunnel and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project at Windy Gap.

Denver Water’s Moffat collection system expansion ultimately spawned the 2012 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, heralded as a new vision for cooperative water management between stakeholders on both sides of the Divide. Denver Water also entered into an agreement last spring with Trout Unlimited and Grand County known as the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan (MECP) for the proposed Moffat expansion that stakeholders believe can balance municipal needs and environmental health of Colorado River headwaters should it be included in the final federal permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

More recently, the Upper Colorado benefited from another layer of protection when the BLM signed a Decision Record on Aug. 15 authorizing the proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at Pumphouse Recreation Site. Grand County applied to build a riverwide wave feature for recreational use near the boat launch area and was awarded historic water rights for constructing the water park. Construction is scheduled to begin in November.

“The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000 to 70,000 people that visit the area each year,” said BLM Kremmling field manager Stephanie Odell. “It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational float-boating.”

“This area has the potential to be ‘loved to death.’ We are close,” said Thomas Schneider, the owner of Sunrise Anglers fishing guide service in Littleton. “My clients love the remoteness at Pumphouse. It’s such a unique place. Will the added pressure from folks be a detriment to the environs?”

Others see it as a dream come true.

“These whitewater parks work. Not only do they create the best habitat for kayakers and paddlers, but also for the fish that benefit from aerated water and big pools,” Hoeve said. “It’s not like we’re diverting the water. It’s like, ‘Hey, while it runs through here, we’re going to do something good with it that encourages people to come here and fish and paddle.’ It’s another reason to keep water in the river.”

More whitewater coverage here.

Douglas County joins WISE project

douglascounty

From the Parker Chronicle (Mike DiFerdinando):

The Douglas County commissioners took an important step in helping secure the county’s water future at their regular meeting on Aug. 26.

By joining in on the South Metro Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency (WISE) Authority’s agreement with Denver Water and Aurora Water, the county will be the recipient of 2,775 acre-feet of water per year for a 10-year period, starting in 2016…

The South Metro WISE Authority is made up of 10 water providers that are all part of the larger South Metro Water Supply Authority. Nine of those water providers — Centennial, Cottonwood, Dominion, Inverness, Meridian, Parker, Pinery, Stonegate Village and Castle Rock — are located in Douglas County. The 10th, Rangeview Metropolitan District, is located in Aurora.

“This region has been working hard for a very long time to bring renewable water supplies into the area,” SMWSA Executive Director Eric Hecox said. “We have a legacy of developing non-renewable groundwater and the effort for many years has been to transition our current population off of groundwater as well as to provide water for future economic development, and I think this project achieves that.”

The WISE project began in 2008 as a way for members to identify processes, cost, distribution, timing, storage and legal issues relating to distributing treated reusable water return flows from Denver and Aurora for use by SMWSA water users.

The group tasked with utilizing this water is the South Metro WISE Authority. The primary purpose of the authority is to reduce members’ dependence on non-renewable Denver Basin wells and provide reliable long-term water supply for residents.

“While we often refer to the Denver Basin aquifers in a negative way, they do provide an extremely important drought reserve,” Douglas County Water Resource Planner Tim Murrell said. “By reducing Denver Basin well pumping to a secondary source rather than a sole supply, the basin can continue to be a valuable asset in times of drought.”

In 2013, Aurora, Denver and the South Metro WISE Authority finalized the water delivery agreement. As part of the deal, 100,000 acre-feet of water will go to the authority’s providers over a 10-year period.

At the time of the agreement, the authority members were only able to agree on 7,225 acre-feet per year. This left 2,775 acre-feet per year that would be lost if not claimed. Douglas County has been working with the authority members over the last year to reserve the 2,775 acre-feet per year supply for the county.

The WISE members are funding new infrastructure that will move the water from Aurora’s Binney Water Purification Facility to its end locations, beginning in 2016. Water purchased by the county, as well as by some of the other providers, will be stored at the Rueter-Hess Reservoir south of Parker.

The county will pay a $97,125 annual reservation fee through 2020; 2,000 acre-feet of water per year will be available for use and purchase by WISE members, and 775 acre-feet will be available for use and purchase by non-members.

More WISE project coverage here.

“The world is waiting for us to lead [on Climate Change]” — Bill Becker

Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003
Hockey Stick based on Mann & Jones 2003

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Bill Becker was equal parts worried and cheerful when he spoke to the Jefferson County chapter of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society chapter in Golden on Aug. 29.

He’s the project manager for the Powering Forward Plan being produced by the Center for the New Energy Economy, the Colorado State University-based think tank led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. He confided that he’s in the process of writing a book, and shared elements of what will be the book.

Too little is getting done to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, and Washington D.C., the nexus for the nation and the world, is dysfunctional

“The world is waiting for us to lead, and the rest of the world won’t do anything if we don’t,” he said. [ed. emphasis mine]

Right now, he and others are looking at the international meeting on climate change scheduled for December 2014 in Paris.

But he sees climate change returning as an issue of public concern in the United States after several years in which people’s attention was diverted by the economy.

One piece of evidence for his optimism is a poll conducted earlier this year by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan.

A revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which all tax revenue would be returned to the public as a rebate check, got 56 percent support. But even higher support, 60 percent, was found for a carbon tax in which revenues are used to fund research and development for renewable energy programs.

Just 38 percent of respondents supported a carbon tax if the money was used to reduce the federal budget deficit. There was also strong opposition to a carbon tax if the revenue is left unspecified.

“We need to press for a carbon tax,” said Becker, describing it as the single most impactful policy mechanism.

The political alignments Becker described see moderate Republicans now shifting to favor stronger action. He cited the support of both Henry Paulson and George Shultz. Paulson served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush, while Shultz worked for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Becker sees people crossing party lines to support clean energy –with the exception of the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party.

He also said that people committed to change must differentiate between those in what he calls the “denial industry” and those who are skeptics. They have various fears: of change, of conflict, of the Untied States becoming a socialistic state.

“We need to understand where they are coming from and speak to them in the place where they’re coming from,” he said.

People tend to operate in tribes, and they hew to the tribal knowledge, he said. It’s important to understand those tribal values and assumptions.

He also talked about the importance of state and local governments in producing change. Renewable Portfolio Standards, or RPSs, have been powerful in helping push renewable energy and retiring coal-fired power plants. Building codes, land-use zoning and public utility commissions, all at the state or local level, are also important in ratcheting down greenhouse gas emissions.

But ways to finance home and other building energy efficiencies must be stepped up, he said. “We need to get banks to do loans for energy efficiency,” he said.

He ended his talk on an upbeat note. In this time of political dissidence, is there common ground? Look for it, he advises, and he thinks it can be found.

Study: Southwest may face ‘megadrought’ within century

desertcowskull

From the Cornell Chronicle (Blaine Friedlander):

Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decadelong drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

The study by Cornell, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

“For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.

While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said.

In computer models, while the southern portions of the western United States (California, Arizona, New Mexico) will likely face drought, the researchers show the chances for drought in the northwestern states (Washington, Montana, Idaho) may decrease.

Prolonged droughts around the world have occurred throughout history. Ault points to the recent “Big Dry” in Australia and modern-era drought in sub-Saharan Africa. As evidenced by tree-ring studies, a megadrought occurred during the 1150s along the Colorado River. In natural history, they occur every 400 to 600 years. But by adding the influence of growing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the drought models – and their underlying statistics – are now in a state of flux.

Beyond the United States, southern Africa, Australia and the Amazon basin are also vulnerable to the possibility of a megadrought. With increases in temperatures, drought severity likely will worsen, “implying that our results should be viewed as conservative,” the study reports.

The study, “Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data,” was also co-authored by Julia E. Cole, David M. Meko and Jonathan T. Overpeck of University of Arizona; and Gregory T. Pederson of the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Science Foundation, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the research.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Las Vegas: Twitter is the main outlet for news from the #businessofwater conference, so far #ColoradoRiver

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

Newspaper coverage of the conference is pretty light so far. Click here to view the Twitter stream (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23businessofwater&src=tyah) from the conference. Crowd-sourced citizen journalism at its best.

Here’s some video from KTNV:

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.

“I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.

Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.

So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.

Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.

This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.

Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.

Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.

“Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.

Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.

Strong monsoon season

Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.

Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.

Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.

“We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”

Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.

Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.

“We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”

Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.

“It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.

Winter outlook

Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.

A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.

Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.

“These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Ute Water receives the “10 Year Directors Award of Recognition” from the Partnership for Safe Water