Photo gallery from the CWC Summer Conference

Cross it off your fish list: First pikeminnow conquers river ladder — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Colorado Pike Minnow
Colorado Pike Minnow

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A Colorado pikeminnow has become the first of its species to make its way up the fish passage in the Colorado River to the Grand Valley Water Users Association roller dam, where it was collected and released to travel upstream, possibly to the top of the pikeminnow’s range near Rifle.

The fish, which turned up Friday in the collection area of the roller dam, is significant for several reasons, said Dale Ryden, project leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Colorado River Fishery Project.

“Now we know that this particular species can negotiate this particular fish ladder” at the roller dam, Ryden said. “The efforts we have put in to provide passage for this species in the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction have not been in vain.”

The fish passage was completed in 2004 and cost about $4.8 million to build.

The fish, which was about 23 inches long and of indeterminate sex, was estimated to be 5 to 8 years old. It was untagged, meaning it is was wild.

No other pikeminnow have negotiated the path to the roller dam and into the fish passage yet, though three other species — razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub — already have done so, Ryden said.

The so-called 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley up to De Beque Canyon is already well-known as an important spawning and breeding area for the pikeminnow, the largest of the minnows and the top native predator of the Colorado River through its range.

The pikeminnow’s travels into the waters above the diversion dam, which was completed in 1916, will give biologists a chance to learn more about how the fish might have lived in the upper reaches of the range before the diversion dam and the Price-Stubb dam below cut off their access upstream, Ryden said.

It’s hoped that other pikeminnow will follow the example of this first one and find their way through the diversion dam and into the 40 to 60 miles of potential native range unseen by the species for nearly a century. Before the dams were built, only cooler water near Rifle limited the range of the fish.

“Fish tend to find other fish, it’s the nature of the river,” Ryden said, adding that if the fish found on Friday remains above the roller dam, it might emit pheromones that would attract others of its species to higher reaches of the river.

While this marks the first time a pikeminnow has negotiated the Grand Valley fish passage, pikeminnow long ago mastered the Redlands fish passage on the Gunnison River in Grand Junction.

As many as 17 pikeminnow have passed through that collection facility so far this year, exceeding the previous annual high of 12.

“We’re seeing a slug of young fish that are being collected for the first time,” Ryden said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also has noted more than 20 razorback suckers passing through the Grand Valley fish passage. The previous high in any year was two.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

Residents want wild, scenic designation for Crystal River — Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some local residents think protection of the Crystal River south of Carbondale under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is the next logical step for sparing it from dams and diversions.

The effort will likely face political challenges, as was evidenced Monday by the reservations expressed about it by Dave Merritt, a board member of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. That district and the West Divide Water Conservancy District previously abandoned most water rights, including ones for large reservoirs, in the face of opposition including a legal challenge by Pitkin County.

Nevertheless, “We see the Crystal River still as an important water supply for western Colorado,” Merritt said during a Garfield County commissioners meeting.

He worries that a wild and scenic designation by Congress would permanently prevent not just further water development of the river but also other activities such as more home construction in the valley.

But Crystal Valley resident Bill Jochems said a dam would be a far more permanent action than wild and scenic designation, which occurs through an act of Congress and Congress could later undo.

“This act has great flexibility,” he said, adding that advocates have a “barebones” goal of preventing dam-building above where irrigation diversions already occur several miles south of Carbondale.

Advocates say the designation wouldn’t affect state or local land-use regulations.

In 2012, the Crystal made American Rivers’ annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers list. That was after the river district and the West Divide district had agreed to concessions that included giving up some conditional rights for two large reservoirs on the river while still envisioning smaller ones in the valley. The rights for the big reservoirs dated to 1958, and one would have required flooding the village of Redstone.

The U.S. Forest Service has found the river eligible for wild and scenic designation, based on the river’s free-flowing status, valley historical attractions such as the Redstone Castle and the former coke ovens in Redstone, the stunning beauty of the valley especially during fall-color season, and other historical, recreational and aesthetic attributes. The Forest Service now is in what Kay Hopkins of the White River National Forest said is the long process of determining whether the river is suitable for such a designation.

“It’s where all the hard questions are asked” about whether designation is best or there are some other ways to protect it, she said.

“It really is an outstanding river and what we’re doing is try to preserve it as it is today for future generations, and that’s what the act is all about,” she said.

More Crystal River coverage here and here.

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses

Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES
Climate Change in Colorado report for the CWCB from the Western Water Assessment and CIRES

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

In August, Western Water Assessment released its updated “Climate Change in Colorado” report, a sythensis of climate science relevant for water resources planning. According to the report, even if precipitation doesn’t decline, higher temperatures could still increase stress on water resources. You can find the report here.

A wet monsoon season following a solid winter snow season has left most of the Upper Colorado River Basin with above-average precipitation for the current water year, and prospects for additional moisture over the next 3 months are good.

Extraordinary aurora photos from the U.S. and around the world — Washington Post

After the Flood: A year later remembering the September 2013 flooding (CFWE) #COflood

Headwaters cover Summer 2014 via the Colorado Foundation for Water Education
Headwaters cover Summer 2014 via the Colorado Foundation for Water Education

Click here to visit the Colorado Foundation For Water Education website for their radio program look back at the September 2013 flooding.

Click here to go to the CFWE website and the Summer 2014 issue of Headwaters “Flooded and Coming Back Stronger” for their flood reports. Here’s an excerpt (Caitlin Coleman):

For northern Colorado, September 2013 was hell. At the time, the National Weather Service called the flooding “biblical.” For those impacted, it might as well have been. Farmers watched herds of mice scurry across wet fields to reach higher ground and avoid inundation—the first plague. People, too, struggled to survive and protect family, animals and property. Those assisting with emergency response and rescue efforts lived on adrenaline, Snickers bars and without sleep for days. It felt like the rains would never stop. Ten lives were lost. Hell.

Although total economic losses and flood-related damages won’t be known with certainty for years, state officials are estimating the tally at around $3.4 billion. In the end, that number will include damage to agricultural land and production, tourism losses, as well as impacts to homes, businesses, roads and more.

Repairs and rebuilding continue, but less than a year out it’s too soon to say what Colorado will remember and learn from the event and what will become lore.

The storm began forming along Colorado’s Western Slope on September 7. The previous week was record-breakingly hot and dry, says Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s State Climatologist. Tropical moisture heading north from the Pacific coast of Mexico had swept across the desert Southwest, targeting western Colorado. Kevin Houck, chief of watershed and flood protection for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, recalls emailing Doesken after checking the precipitation forecast, hopeful for a few inches of rain—drought relief. At the time, Doesken told him not to get too excited, these storms rarely pan out.

By September 9, that moisture moved to the Front Range. As rain showers began to fall, another mass of soggy, humid air was sweeping up from the Texas Gulf coast pumping water in like a pipeline, says Mike Chard, director of the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. The dew point was 67 degrees, and “everything was just right for this to turn into a bad day,” Chard recalls.

Xcel Energy recovery after #COflood

Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280
Plume of subtropical moisture streaming into Colorado September 2013 via Weather5280

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

“It’s been a year since the floods destroyed a great deal of our infrastructure throughout the affected areas,” said David Eves, president and CEO of Public Service Co. of Colorado, Xcel’s subsidiary in the state.

“At the time we were dedicated to taking care of our customers gas and electricity needs as quickly and safely as possible. The aftermath was about rebuilding the system and that required a great deal of planning, construction and collaboration with local and state agencies to accomplish, the bulk of which will be completed this year,” Eves said.

Xcel on Friday put out numbers for its recovery efforts:

  • $13 million spent to repair damage to the utility’s natural gas system;
  • $2.5 million spent repairing the electrical system, with more spending expected;
  • $10,000 contributed to the Foothills United Way Flood Relief to cover administrative costs for processing and collecting donations
  • More than 400 Xcel employees worked to get the natural gas distribution system operational 37 days after the rain started. It was ready for full winter service by Oct. 31, 2013;
  • About 70,000 Colorado customers that lost electric service, most were restored within 48 hours.
  • More than 4,100 customers were without natural gas service, due to damage on the system.
    Restoration of the natural gas system included replacing about 10 miles of plastic and steel pipe, and replacing about 900 of the 1,300 natural gas meters that were inspected.
  • Xcel also started a program to help customers rebuild and recover from the floods, called the “Bonus Rebates for Colorado Flood-Affected Customers.” The program, to date, has paid out more than $90,000 to 374 customers. About half the money was spent on high-efficiency furnaces and hot water heaters, Xcel said. The rebates went to customers in Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, Estes Park and other areas, Xcel said.

    Weather5280: What hurricane Odile means for the Southwest, Colorado

    “Lots of reds, yellows and orange in NASA’s new August global temp map” — Bob Berwyn

    Fort Collins: #COWaterPlan meeting September 17

    Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County
    Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    State officials will host a meeting in Fort Collins on Wednesday, Sept. 17, to discuss the Colorado Water Plan with residents of the South Platte River Basin, the massive watershed that encompasses Fort Collins and the entire northeast corner of the state.

    The water plan is a statewide initiative to prepare for long-term water use in Colorado, where burgeoning populations along the Front Range will tax Western Slope reservoirs in years to come. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are the headwaters for most major rivers in the West, and provide water to 18 other states. But next to Arizona, the state is one of the last in the West to develop a statewide plan for water use.

    A final draft of the plan is due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by December. However, Nov. 1 is the deadline for gathering public comment on the water plan. The plan is divided into basins, and each basin will have its own plan.

    The Fort Collins meeting will address plans and concerns for the South Platte River Basin, and all residents from Fairplay to Julesberg are welcome to come. The meeting will be from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Fort Collins Senior Center, 1200 Raintree Drive. There is another meeting in Denver on Oct. 1 for the South Platte basin.

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    The question is how to keep farming viable while covering a Front Range domestic supply gap expected to be between 350,000 and 500,000 acre-feet per year?

    The state’s eight water basins are negotiating solutions that will culminate in a Colorado Water Plan for future management due out late next year.

    Front Range metro suppliers say the solution is diverting more water from Western Slope rivers and reservoirs via the 22 transmountain diversions already in place.

    But state water districts west of the Continental Divide are calling foul, and have calculated that if Front Range residents stop watering their thirsty Kentucky Bluegrass lawns it will be enough to make up the supply shortage.

    “Ninety percent of domestic water use — your kitchen, bathroom, showers — makes it back to the river systems and reservoirs through return flows. It has less water-supply impact than watering lawns, which absorb 70-80 percent of it,” said Mike Preston, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservation District.

    Preston is also chairman of the Southwest Water Roundtable, tasked with forming a local strategy for responsible water use and policy.

    “The state proposes a 60-40 standard for domestic water consumption, 60 percent for in-home and 40 percent for outdoor lawns to better conserve water for ag production and population growth,” he said “But we’re getting a lot of pushback from Front Range water suppliers who are accustomed to the 50-50 ratio now.”

    For domestic water obtained via transmountain diversions, the suggested ratio is 70 percent indoor use, and 30 percent outdoor use.

    Furthermore, increasing transmountain diversions have far-reaching consequences. Siphoning off more Western Slope water to the Front Range threatens the state’s water-contract obligations for downstream states like Arizona, Nevada and California who depend on Colorado River basin water stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

    “They’re watching our water polices, more than we look at theirs,” Preston said. “Colorado is the headwaters for a lot of their supply.”

    Meanwhile Western Slope water — especially the Blue Mesa Reservoir complex, near Gunnison, and Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir — are looked at with envious eyes by Front Range water districts.

    But the massive reservoirs are mainly designed to store water for contractual delivery to Lake Powell and Lake Mead relied on by Lower Basin states.

    Colorado is entitled to 51 percent of Colorado River basin water above Lees Ferry, Ariz. Once it is diverted to the Front Range, it is lost to the Colorado River system, eventually draining east toward the Mississippi River.

    To make a dent in unsustainable water demand in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs, they should become more like Las Vegas, local water officials say.

    The city’s successful lawn conservation program has vastly reduced water consumption, and includes strict drought-resistant landscaping regulations for future development…

    “Front Range water district plans all include transmountain diversion as the solution,” Preston said. “We’re saying it won’t be considered until you get more aggressive about domestic conservation by limiting outdoor watering.”

    More education is needed about the importance of responsible water management, said Bruce Whitehead, of the Southwest Water Conservation District.

    “Many people don’t have a clue about the state water plan or the issues we’re facing,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in our basin to educate the constituency.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.