Aspinall Unit operation update: Blue Mesa is being drawn down for winter icing target

Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 650 cfs to 800 cfs on Monday, December 1st at 4:00 PM. This release increase is intended to lower the elevation in Blue Mesa Reservoir to the winter target of 7490 feet by December 31st. 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 zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 700 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 850 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Defense act includes Hermosa bill: Proponents see this as good — The Durango Herald


From The Durango Herald (John Peel):

The Hermosa Creek wilderness bill has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act, again raising hopes among supporters that Congress will pass the bill before the session ends.

The defense act is one of the few remaining bills Congress is expected to debate this year.

“We are one step closer to a big victory for folks in Southwest Colorado who have worked together to get this done,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said in a news release Wednesday. “The Hermosa Creek watershed is one of our state’s treasures and deserves protection.”

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act would grant protective status to more than 100,000 acres north-northwest of Durango.

Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator with Trout Unlimited and a key proponent of the plan, said Wednesday afternoon that “it’s a great sign.”

He said, however, “Until the votes are cast we can’t count on anything.”

The Associated Press reported that quick passage of the defense bill hit a snag Wednesday over public lands, dividing Senate Republicans.

The $585 billion measure authorizing funds for the military includes several bills to expand wilderness areas in the West and expand the program streamlining natural-gas and oil permits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, objected to their inclusion and promised to block any attempt to quickly finish the bill next week in the final days of the lame-duck session, the AP reported.

“A bill that defines the needs of our nation’s defense is hardly the proper place to trample on private property rights,” Coburn wrote in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. “Nor is it the place to restrict access to hunting, fishing and other recreational opportunities on massive swaths of taxpayer-supported lands.”

More Hermosa Creek coverage here.

NWS Pueblo: This graph compares the average annual global temperatures since 1880 to the long-term average (1901-2000)

Colorado River District: Water resources grant program accepting requests for funding #ColoradoRiver

Click here to go to the grant webpage for the application and other items.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Water Diversions, Part One — Pagosa Daily Post #COwaterplan

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From the Pagosa Daily Post (Bill Hudson):

We’re lucky here in Colorado. When we grow weary of ordinary, everyday political controversies — federal immigration policy, perhaps, or governments collecting personal data on private citizens, or another federally mandated standardized test foisted on our children, or more locally, streets and roads slowly crumbling into asphalt dust — we always have one big controversy that can serve as a welcome diversion:

Water.

I attended a couple of diversionary discussions last month in Pagosa Springs, on the subject of Colorado water. The first discussion took place on November 17 at the Ross Aragon Community Center, in the South Conference Room, and was hosted by the Southwest Basin Roundtable.

The second meeting — related in a somewhat diversionary way — involved the elected board members of the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) and resulted, after considerable discussion, in a closed-door executive session. More about that later… we’ll start with a summary of the Roundtable meeting .. which, interestingly enough, was attended by not a single member of the PAWSD board…

The November 17 meeting was sparsely attended — about 24 people, mostly members of various water boards or commissions — even though the subject matter may ultimately prove relatively momentous: namely, the impending Colorado Water Plan, and more specifically the portion of that plan known as the Southwest Basin Implementation Plan. We started the meeting by going around the room and introducing ourselves. I was struck by a comment from one of the non-governmental attendees.

“I’m Donna Formwalt, Pagosa Springs. We’re ranchers here. And I’m very interested in the water takeover by the Forest Service.”

The Colorado Water Plan is an initiative of Governor Hickenlooper’s office, begun as the result of an executive order issued in May 2013. A press release posted on the Governor’s website states:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to begin work on a draft Colorado Water Plan that will support agriculture in rural Colorado and align state policy to the state’s water values.

“Colorado deserves a plan for its water future use that aligns the state’s many and varied water efforts and streamlines the regulatory processes,” Hickenlooper said. “We started this effort more than two years ago and are pleased to see another major step forward. We look forward to continuing to tap Colorado’s collaborative and innovative spirit to address our water challenges.”

But as Ms. Formwalt hinted with her comment about the Forest Service, Colorado’s innovative and collaborative spirit will be challenged, in the coming months and years, by officials serving non-Colorado governments. The U.S. Forest Service, for one. And the governments of the “Lower Basin States” for another.

Are we preparing well enough for that conflict?

From the Colorado Water Plan website:

Colorado’s Water Plan will provide a path forward for providing Coloradans with the water we need while supporting healthy watersheds and the environment, robust recreation and tourism economies, vibrant and sustainable cities, and viable and productive agriculture.

Of course, no one — not even Governor Hickenlooper — can actually “provide Coloradans with the water we need.” Only Mother Nature can actually provide water, last I looked. But what the Governor and the Colorado Water Conservation Board mean to provide is a generally accepted plan for portioning out the limited water Mother Nature provides, in a state where supposedly conflicting interests want to preserve the status quo. History has taught us, you can preserve the status quo for only so long — and then people start fighting.

In the case of an ever-more-precious resource like water, the key battles might be between Rural Colorado and Urban Colorado, or they might be between this state where so many American rivers find their source — Colorado — and the several states where those rivers end up in water taps, a thousand miles away.

The Colorado Water Plan is, I assume, an attempt to keep both types of battles from getting too nasty.

The Southwest Basin — a geographic area defined by the Colorado Water Conservation Board — is located in the southwest corner of Colorado and covers an area of approximately 10,169 square miles. The largest cities are Durango (pop. 15,213) and Cortez (pop. 8,328). The region also includes three ski areas: Telluride, Wolf Creek, and Durango Mountain Resort.

A good deal of water flows through the Southwest Basin, and a good number of people want to get their hands on a share of it — including the people who will likely move into the region over the next 30 years or so. The Southwest Basin is projected to increase in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demand between 17,000 acre feet (AF) and 27,000 AF by 2050, according to Roundtable projections.

From the Roundtable web page:

Southwest Basin’s Major Projects and Programs
Dry Gulch Reservoir
Animas-La Plata Project
Long Hollow Reservoir
La Plata Archuleta Water District

It’s confounding, how that Dry Gulch Reservoir keeps showing up… like a bad penny.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here.

Water Lines: Killing trees with careless conservation — Grand Junction Free Press

Sycamore Tree photo via Wikipedia
Sycamore Tree photo via Wikipedia

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holms):

City foresters came and chopped down the two big sycamores in my front yard recently. It was fascinating to watch the man with the chainsaw go up in a bucket truck and systematically lop off limbs and sections of trunk that were then fed into a chopper. Within an hour, probably less, a tree that took decades to grow was gone.

I lost those trees by accident. I thought I was being a good citizen by giving my front lawn the minimum amount of water needed to keep it somewhat green, and I thought that would be enough to keep the trees alive, too. I was wrong.

I knew sycamores weren’t the ideal trees for Grand Junction’s climate, but they were planted long before my time; and I appreciated the shade they gave to my house and the sidewalk, and then leaves to play in and feed to the compost pile. It will be a long time before replacement trees come close to providing the same service.

Not wasting water is important. The state of Colorado projects a significant gap between water supply and demand in coming decades. Region-wide, for over 10 years more water has been sucked out of the Colorado River and its tributaries for cities and farms than has come back in through rain and snow. That’s why pictures of the infamous “bathtub rings” around Lakes Powell and Mead keep making the news. And water used on lawns is water not available for fish.

For all these reasons and more, it makes sense to use water carefully, making sure every drop counts. What counts will be different for different people, but I believe a lot of water is used in ways that don’t really count for anyone.

However, carelessly cutting back on water use carries costs as well. I liked my trees, and I wish I’d kept them healthy. I probably could have cut back elsewhere and saved the same amount of water without such a high cost.

Going forward, I’ll do better research on how much water my trees and other features of my landscape really need. And, of course, I’ll choose trees better suited to a low-water lifestyle. I’ll study the Colorado State University Extension’s Web resources, such as “Xeriscaping Trees and Shrubs” (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07229.html ) and “Watering a Home Landscape During Drought” (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07240.html ), and I’ll ask a lot more questions at local nurseries.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at http://Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More conservation coverage here.

Farview Reservoir (Mummy Lake) role as storage questioned

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP
Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Was it a reservoir, a ceremonial plaza, a ball court?

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is taking a new look at a ruin known as Mummy Lake in hopes of determining how ancient Puebloans used it, The Cortez Journal reported.

Archaeologists disagree about the large circular depression lined by sandstone walls. Since 1917, the prevailing view has been that it was a reservoir built as early as 900 A.D.

Sediment buildup behind what could have been an intake canal fit the reservoir profile. And a set of stairs into the structure suggested it was used by Ancestral Puebloans to collect stored water. Faint impressions of irrigation canals also pointed to agricultural use.

“It fits nicely into our present-day experience of dealing with drought by storing water,” said Scott Travis, Mesa Verde’s chief of research and resource management. “During heavy rains it does collect some water.”

But archaeologist Larry Benson refutes the reservoir theory in a paper recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Benson hypothesizes that the function of Mummy Lake was for community ceremonies.

He points to previous studies that ancient Southwest cultures periodically relocated ceremonial structures then linked them to newly constructed facilities with broad avenues.

A sturdy staircase, elaborate for its time, descends into Mummy Lake and could indicate it was a ceremonial plaza.

Benson doubts the topography would have allowed for the reservoir to fill because it is on an elevated ridge.

“Within a matter of seconds during a storm, sediment would have filled the hypothetical ditch then forced the water over the cliff edge,” Benson wrote.

Another possible explanation is that Mummy Lake could have been used as an ancient ball court. Such courts have never been documented at Mesa Verde.