Aspinall Unit update: 1150 cfs in Black Canyon

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 800 cfs to 1100 cfs on Thursday, December 11th at 8:00 AM. 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 850 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1150 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Snowpack news: South Platte River Basin drops = 87% of normal, snow south this weekend

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 9, 2014
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 9, 2014

Las Vegas: #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association conference preview

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the High Country News (Matt Jenkins):

As the Colorado River grinds into what could be its 15th year of drought, the West’s biggest water agencies are finalizing a major new agreement to boost water levels in Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada border. Water bosses will likely announce the deal at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference, which begins this Wednesday in Las Vegas.

Under the so-called Pilot Drought Response Actions program, which would begin next year, urban water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada hope to use a number of methods to add between 1.5 and 3 million acre-feet of water to Lake Mead over the next five years. That’s roughly as much water as 3 to 6 million households use in a year. Those “protection volumes” are designed to keep the water level in the reservoir from sinking below 1,000 feet above sea level, at which point Las Vegas will have difficulty withdrawing its share of the Colorado River from the reservoir, which could set off a humongous water fight before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks to increased demand, the drought and climate change, the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada use more water each year than is released from Lake Powell, the major upstream reservoir on the Colorado River. Thus, each year, Mead drops lower.

“That’s the underlying driver to the risk in the Lower Basin,” says Chuck Cullom, the Colorado River Program Manager for the Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to Phoenix, Tucson and Arizona farms. “This agreement is a first step to address that.”

Without it, conditions will likely soon be bad enough that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will have to declare an official shortage, thereby cutting back water deliveries to the Lower Basin states — and perhaps more ominously, effectively taking control of the river there. According to the most recent projections, there’s a 25 percent chance of that happening in 2016, and better-than-even odds it will happen in 2017.

The new agreement is the latest chapter in the ongoing effort to stay ahead of the drought on the Colorado. Back in 2007, the Colorado River states signed a deal for managing shortages if the drought continued. At that time, computer models suggested the risk of hitting critical elevations in Lake Mead “really wasn’t very large,” says Terry Fulp, the director of the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region. “It was in the 1 to 2 percent range through 2026.”

But by May 2013 — when it was becoming clear that this was one of the worst droughts in the past 1,200 years — Reclamation officials realized that the severity of the drought had outstripped the assumptions underlying the 2007 agreement. “We’ve seen a drought much worse than what we had analyzed,” says Fulp. “And when we reassessed the risk, the chance of getting (to critical reservoir elevations) was quite a bit higher.”

At a Western Governor’s Association meeting in Park City, Utah in late June, 2013, government officials met with representatives from the Colorado River states and began what turned into a year-long effort to negotiate the Drought Response Actions program. California’s Colorado River oversight board approved the Memorandum of Understanding for the program this November; the Central Arizona Project board approved it last Thursday. Nevada’s Colorado River Board will vote Tuesday, and the the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies Los Angeles and San Diego, and Southern Nevada Water Authority, which supplies Las Vegas, will vote Wednesday.

Under the program, water agencies in Arizona, California and Nevada will also carry out a series of in-state water swaps and operational adjustments to put more water into Lake Mead. But most significantly, the program provides a framework for farms in the Lower Basin states to play a much bigger role in buffering the cities against deepening drought. In Arizona, nine irrigation districts near Phoenix have already agreed to “forbear,” or give up, 160,000 acre-feet of water over two years — nearly half of the total amount of water Arizona is hoping to put into Lake Mead. The bulk of that farm water will come from the Central Arizona, Maricopa-Stanfield and New Magma irrigation and drainage districts, with the remainder coming from the Tonopah Irrigation District; Roosevelt Water Conservation District; Queen Creek and Hohokam irrigation and drainage districts; and BKW Farms and Kai Farms.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here

The Southern Ute Tribe and Reclamation start negotiations for Animas-La Plata water

Lake Nighthorse via the USBR
Lake Nighthorse via the USBR

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

Reclamation’s Western Colorado Area Office announced today that it will initiate negotiations with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on a proposed contract for the Tribe’s statutory water allocation of the Animas-La Plata Project. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 8, 2014, at 1:30 p.m. at the Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Avenue, Durango, Colorado.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water, and outline the terms and conditions of operation and maintenance payments for the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website under Current Focus or by contacting Ryan Christianson of the Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, Colorado, 81501, telephone (970) 248-0652.

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

Negotiators from the Southern Ute Native American Tribe and the Western Colorado area office of the Bureau of Reclamation opened negotiations Monday on the tribe’s use of water from Lake Nighthorse.

The lake is a reservoir created two miles southwest of Durango as a settlement of Native American water-right claims. The reservoir holds 123,000 acre-feet of water for the Southern Utes, the Ute Mountain Utes, the Navajo Nation and nontribal entities, including the city of Durango.

The tribes paid nothing to build the $500 million reservoir, but they will pay operation and maintenance costs once they start to use the water.

The terms of storing and delivering water and the terms and conditions of operation and maintenance payments are being negotiated.

Ryan Christianson from the Bureau of Reclamation said the session Monday is likely the first of many. The pace of talks and attention to detail Monday seem to bear him out.

All negotiating sessions are open to the public and include 30 minutes for public comment at the end of each session.

More Animas-La Plata Project coverage here and here.

Loveland will increase fluoride in water — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

Calcium fluoride
Calcium fluoride

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

City officials will increase the amount of fluorine added to the city’s water by nearly 30 percent in the coming weeks, according to a release issued late Monday from Loveland’s Water and Power Department.

The fluoridation of city water had come under scrutiny after a resident noted it had been removed for more than two years because of maintenance at the water treatment plant. When fluoride supplementation resumed in 2013, it was at a lower level than when the plant went into maintenance.

In the statement issued Monday, department spokeswoman Gretchen Stanford said Water and Power Director Steve Adams chose to increase the fluoridation rate of Loveland water from 0.7 milligrams per liter to 0.9 milligrams per liter, a 28.6 percent increase, but not to the original levels before 2010.

Costs of the increased supplementation were not disclosed by the department.

In late September, members of the Loveland Utilities Commission took public testimony, both written and verbal, on the desired level of fluoridation in city water. In October, members recommended the city keep its fluoridation, but their decision was not binding.

“(Adams’) decision is based on information provided to the Loveland Utilities Commission from local health and dental authorities, including the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and public comments,” Stanford said in the release.

Currently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other agencies recommend fluoridation levels between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams per liter based on the average air temperatures of the site. Loveland is in the 0.9 milligram per liter area. Fluoride in municipal water supplies is linked to decreases in tooth decay and other dental problems.

The ruling appears to be consistent with a Loveland City Council directive from 1952 that required the city to maintain fluoridation “to proper amounts as recommended by health and dental authorities.”

Loveland is not the only community in Larimer County to have discussions about its level of fluoridation.

In 2005, Fort Collins voters had to decide whether to eliminate fluoridation altogether, based on some reports that link the element with health problems. However, that vote failed on a roughly 2-1 margin on 30,000 votes cast.

Mancos: “It’s a Front Range-Western Slope standoff” — Mike Preston #COwaterplan

Mancos and the Mesa Verde area
Mancos and the Mesa Verde area

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recently in Mancos, the Southwest Basin Water Roundtable met with 30 local residents about the plan.

Front Range water demand was a central topic. The Front Range’s water supply is augmented by 500,000 acre-feet per year of transmountain diversions from the Western Slope. (For comparison, McPhee Reservoir holds 380,000 acre feet.)

“The model we have now is not sustainable, so we’re here to find solutions,” said Ann Oliver, roundtable moderator.

The concern is that as urban areas grow, unallocated water from Gunnison’s Blue Mesa Reservoir and Flaming Gorge reservoir will be drawn into the transmountain tunnels to meet demand. That could put pressure on other basins to meet water and power obligations to lower basin states fed by Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Many say failure to control the situation threatens Western Slope agriculture.

“We depend on the water to grow the food, and the Front Range depends on us to put dinner on the table,” said one farmer.

The state is flirting with conservation mandates to save water, but has run into stiff political resistance from water districts in Denver, said roundtable chairman Mike Preston.

A recent bill by state Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican, would have put water restrictions on the lawns for new Front Range housing development. But the bill was stripped of its teeth in the legislative process.

“It’s a Front Range-Western Slope standoff,” Preston said. “The bill would have been effective, but Denver water is saying they don’t need it.”

Another proposal is to adjust the 60/40 water-use model on residential development to a conservation-minded 70/30 model by 2030. The strategy divides residential water use this way: 70 percent for indoor use and 30 percent for lawn and garden. Reducing outdoor water use on lawns and gardens is seen as a solution because plants consume water, whereas household water is eventually flushed and drained back into the watershed beyond the sewer treatment plants. The proposed 70/30 rule for new development would also help offset the “buy and dry” trend currently happening on the Front Range.

“When municipalities buy up agricultural water for urban growth, that farmland is lost,” Preston said.

When Front Range housing developers tap water diverted from the Western Slope, they should be held to a higher water-conservation standard, he added.

J. Paul Brown, Colorado representative-elect, said Front Range water managers need to come up with options.

“The Front Range should develop their own water before thinking about ours,” he said. “They have water they could legally store on the South Platte River, but let it flow out of state instead.”

Drought and diminished water supply have spurred debate. And that’s a good thing, said John Porter, president of the Southwest Water Conservation board.

“This plan wold not take precedent on water compacts, private water rights, or prior appropriation law,” he said. “Rather this process is recognizing we have a problem and need to satisfy the doubling of our population.”

Public distaste for mandates on water conservation needs to be overcome, said Sam Carter, of the Dolores River Boating Advocates.

“It is up to the state, cities and counties to try and regulate use,” he said. “Why are there not stronger laws for conservation?”

Eric Janes took issue with the water plan for not considering recycling waste water as a conservation measure.

In Southwest Colorado, 55 projects totaling $7 million has been spent including water-management working groups, more efficient irrigation systems, water optimization studies, and drought-resilient agricultural practices and technology.

The final Colorado state water plan is due out next year.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.