“We need rivers like the Yampa – to remind us how rivers are supposed to function” — Matt Rice #YampaRiver

Here’s a post about the Yampa River from Matt Rice writing for The River Blog. Click through for the photos and video. Here’s an excerpt:

There are simply not that many wild rivers in the Colorado River Basin. By wild I mean rivers that are not controlled or diverted to other basins – rivers that fill with torrents of raging muddy brown water during spring floods providing nourishment to valleys below – rivers that provide a varied, unique and unparalleled recreational experience.

In the Colorado River Basin, there is one river that stands above them all. It is a river that sustains a vibrant agricultural community while providing for world class whitewater boating and trophy trout fishing. Downstream its turbid waters provide life for endangered fish, wildlife, and plants. It is a natural model – a living classroom – a poster child for balance, community heritage, and livability. Despite being the second largest watershed in Colorado, very few people outside of the state know about this river and its importance to the Colorado River Basin, all the way down to Lake Powell.

The wild Yampa River rises in the Flat Top Mountains above Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While it would certainly not be accurate to characterize the Yampa as “undammed” because there are two relatively small storage reservoirs that capture its water in the headwaters, it functions as a wild, free-flowing river. The reservoirs are high in the basin and do not have the storage capacity to capture its powerful spring flows. From Steamboat it meanders through rangeland, past the rural agricultural towns of Hayden, Milner, Craig, and Maybell. Below Maybell, the river flows through the Class V whitewater of Cross Mountain Canyon and into Dinosaur National Monument.

We recently teamed up with our partners at Friends of the Yampa, American Whitewater, and OARS to support a film created by the talented group of artists at Rig to Flip. The film documents the history of Warm Springs rapid, the unique role the Yampa River played in creating the modern river conservation movement, and the importance of keeping the Yampa wild and free.

Click here to view the trailer.

Click here to view the full film.

We need rivers like the Yampa – to remind us how rivers are supposed to function, to demonstrate that it is possible to sustain vibrant agriculture while conserving endangered fish and recreation, and to help us improve the management of other rivers in the Colorado Basin. Unfortunately, because of its abundant water, increased demand, and diminishing supplies in the Colorado River basin due to climate change, the Yampa River will continue to be a target for diversion. This is why American Rivers is actively working with partners across the basin to find solutions that will safeguard the Yampa for generations to come. We will always stand up for the wild Yampa River.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.

Aspinall Unit update: Uncompahgre Water Users scheduled to turn off Friday

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

“Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 950 cfs to 450 cfs on Friday, October 31st between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will be shutting down diversions at the Gunnison Tunnel on Friday. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 550 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs.

Finding Durable Foul-Release Coatings to Control Invasive Mussel Attachment Highlighted in Bureau of Reclamation Study

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a report summarizing six years of testing coatings to control the attachment of quagga and zebra mussels to water and power facilities. Since the study began in 2008, Reclamation has tested more than 100 coatings and materials.

“Controlling attachment of invasive quagga and zebra mussels on Bureau of Reclamation facilities is important to ensure water delivery and hydropower generation,” principal researcher Allen Skaja said. “Though we have tested many different coatings, three durable foul-release coatings are showing promise in managing mussels.”

The Silicon Epoxy allowed mussels to attach but were easily cleaned for the first 12 months of exposure. Two experimental formulations prevented mussel attachment for the first 18 months. These three durable foul release coatings will be tested further.

Silicone foul release coatings are the most promising for deterring mussel attachment in flowing and static water. Though aquatic vegetation and algae may provide a surface for attachment, the coatings can be easily cleaned with no measurable force. Unfortunately, silicone foul release coatings are soft and are easily damaged.

The testing was conducted at Parker Dam on the Colorado River. Invasive mussels at this location reproduce year-round and have a high growth rate. Each coating system was tested in static and flowing water conditions at the dam. Each coating system was evaluated approximately every six months, about every May and November.

The research was funded by Reclamation’s Research and Development Office where research is conducted to develop and deploy successful solutions to improve water management practices, increase water supply and ensure cost-effective power generation operations.

To view the report, please visit Reclamation’s Quagga and Zebra Mussel Website.

Clean water is always good. And a Colorado company is creating a system to provide it to #Ebola stricken countries — Denver Business Journal

A River In Peril: Documenting Damage On The #RioGrande — FronterasDesk.org

From FronterasDesk.org (Lorne Matalon):

…one man wants to advance the conversation about watershed loss beyond platitudes.

He thinks prospective attempts to rescue this vital watershed are stymied by a lack of information, that the general public doesn’t consider the Rio Grande’s fate with the same intensity as it does other major rivers such as the Colorado River.

Colin McDonald calls it a long shot, but he wants to change that perception.
The lanky 33-year-old is on a trip funded by a fellowship from the University of Colorado. 

There are parts of the riverbed that are dry to the point some writers have dubbed it ‘rio sand.’

McDonald wants to gather information that he hopes might frame a substantive discussion on the near-term future of a river that provides water to millions of people in the United States and Mexico.

That data he’s collecting include taking water and soil samples and speaking with people on both sides of the river along the way.

The report concludes that a third of the Rio Grande’s water will be gone by the end of the century.

The U.S. and Mexico have squabbled about the Rio Grande’s water since the creation of the binational International Boundary and Water Commission, which had its genesis in the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo in 1848.

And in the U.S., Texas is grumbling that New Mexico is diverting water it should be sending downstream. Texas has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

McDonald says climate change and drought are hurting the Rio Grande. But he believes the choices humans make about the river also cause damage.

“By far the biggest influence on this river are the decisions we make on how much water comes out and how it’s used,” he said while paddling at a furious pace near the end of day that began in the darkness of early morning and ended at sunset.

“The vast majority is taken out for agriculture, which is what the values were when those dams were built,” McDonald said.

He’s referring to dams such as Elephant Butte in New Mexico built in 1916.

“Endangered Species Act wasn’t even an issue,” he said referring to a controversial law
passed in 1973.

“Ecology wasn’t a word,” he added.

Since then, the population has grown exponentially and that reality has exacerbated the effects of prolonged drought.

Then there’s the Rio Grande’s status as a border.

He thinks immigration and border security are on the front burner in Washington and Mexico City. And that that preoccupation dilutes any urgency to rescue the Rio Grande.

Then he mentions the Hudson River in New York.

“You mess with the Hudson?” he asked rhetorically. “There are a lot of people that are upset. 
You mess with the Rio Grande? I mean, there’s still raw sewage being dumped into this river.”

Results of water samples he is taking are being sent to the EPA’s National Assessment Database. The river receives raw sewage from the U.S. and Mexico in certain spots.

On the Mexican side, Sergio Ramirez said he used to catch a lot of fish. But he says those days are long gone.

Ramirez is an alfalfa farmer. He says he doesn’t understand how decisions are made to hold or release water. 

“I have no idea who control the dams. I’m not sure which country holds authority on this water,” he said in Spanish.

He said he only knows he can’t make a decent living without steady water.

Allen Standen is a hydrologist who has studied the Rio Grande for years. He’s joined McDonald for part of the trip.

“We’ve been floating for probably three hours now. And with the exception of seeing some egrets, we haven’t seen virtually any mammals in this river. We haven’t seen any turtles or anything,” Standen said.

McDonald is also alarmed. And he’s worried that the issue’s been clouded by high-profile disputes that focus on the legal distinctions between ground and surface water. He says these distinctions don’t matter.

“If somebody sucks the aquifer dry, there won’t be water in the river. If someone sucks this river dry, there’ll be less water underground. It’s hard to model and to map. But the physical reality is that it’s the same water,” he said.

That water is the prize in a series of legal disputes. He believes until those local cases are resolved, there won’t an opportunity to craft a truly regional effort to save the Rio Grande.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

[#COWaterPlan] “is either silent or pays short shrift to the issues of paramount importance to the West Slope” — Dan Birch #ColoradoRiver

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Western Slope water official wants to make sure that even if a draft state water plan doesn’t solve conflicts over Colorado River basin issues, it at least fully acknowledges their existence.

Dan Birch, deputy general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, made the request in an Oct. 10 letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. He contended in the letter that in large part the draft plan language “is either silent or pays short shrift to the issues of paramount importance to the West Slope” as articulated in plans prepared by groups representing each river basin. The two largest of these are the related issues of a potential new transmountain diversion of Colorado River water to the Front Range, and the possible implications of such a diversion for complying with the Colorado River Compact, Birch wrote.

That compact governs allocation of the river’s water between its upper- and lower-basin states.

The CWCB is scheduled to act on the draft plan in November before passing the draft on to the governor’s office. Birch said about 80 percent of the draft language is complete and has been posted on the CWCB’s website.

In his letter, he wrote that the plan, “if it is to be true to the stated goal of being a ‘bottoms-up’ plan, needs to be true to the spirit and substance” of all the basin plans.

“The draft plan falls short of this goal, at least with respect to the West Slope basins,” he wrote.

In his letter, Birch wrote that at this stage, while all the draft basin plans around the state “share many common goals, there are vital components that simply cannot be reconciled. The issue of a new transmountain diversion is of course paramount among those differences. We believe that the plan must plainly and accurately recognize these conflicts.”

In an interview, Birch didn’t rule out the possibility that such conflicts might eventually be resolved, but said he just didn’t want them being “papered over.” “We might get there,” he said of a resolution, “but we’re not there now.”

Birch told the river district board at its meeting Tuesday that he thinks that his concerns have been well-received by the state and that some changes in the draft will be made by the time the CWCB takes action.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.