John Fleck’s water news is out — California’s great drought experiment #ColoradoRiver @jfleck

Sandhill Cranes making spring migration through the San Luis Valley; Festival this weekend — CPW

Frome email from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The annual spring migration of greater sandhill cranes is in full force in southern Colorado. If you’ve never seen this beautiful event, be sure to put it on your bucket list.

“People in Colorado should take time to see the cranes; the migration is truly one of nature’s wonders,” said Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the San Luis Valley.

The annual San Luis Valley Crane Festival is scheduled for this weekend, March 13-15.

The cranes start arriving in late-February, flying from their winter nesting grounds, primarily in New Mexico. The large wetland areas, wildlife refuges and grain fields in the San Luis Valley draw in about 25,000 birds. The cranes stop in the valley to rest-up and re-fuel for their trip north to their summer nesting and breeding grounds in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Cranes are among the oldest living species on the planet: Fossil records for cranes date back 9 million years. The birds that migrate through Colorado are the largest of the North American sandhill subspecies standing 4-feet tall with a wing-span of up to 7 feet and weighing in at 11 pounds. Besides their imposing size, the birds issue a continuous, distinctive and haunting call. At this time of year cranes are engaged in their mating ritual and the birds perform an elaborate and elegant hopping dance to gain the attention of other birds.

The birds are most abundant at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, located 6 miles south of the town of Monte Vista on Colorado Highway 15. The birds also are easily seen in farm and ranch fields around Monte Vista.

Wildlife watchers can also see the birds at the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge located southeast of the town of Alamosa, and at the Rio Grande, Higel and Russell Lakes state wildlife areas. Plenty of birds can also be seen in the many agricultural fields near Monte Vista and Alamosa.

The cranes are most active at dawn and at dusk when they’re moving back and forth from their nighttime roosting areas. Be sure to dress warm as temperatures can be very cold in the valley.

During the three days of the festival, free tours are offered at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the birds are most active. Visitors take buses to various spots on the wildlife refuge, and local experts talk about the migration and the refuge. If you want to take a tour, be on time because the buses leave promptly.

The festival headquarters and starting point for the tours is the Ski Hi Park building located near U.S. Highway 160 on Sherman Avenue on the east side of Monte Vista. Visitors can pick up maps, schedules and information at the headquarters.

Besides the tours, a variety of workshops are put on by bird, wildlife and photography experts. An arts and crafts fair continues through the weekend at the headquarters building. The crane festival is organized by the local crane festival committee, with help from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rio Grande County, SLV Ski Hi Stampede, Monte Vista school district, and the city of Monte Vista.

The number of cranes in the valley peaks in mid-March and many linger through the month. So even if you can’t go the weekend of the festival there’s still plenty of time to see the birds.

Birdwatchers who travel on their own should be cautious when parking, getting out of vehicles and walking along roads. People are also asked to view birds from a distance with binoculars and spotting scopes, and to observe trail signs and closure notices.

Many other bird species – including eagles, turkeys and a variety of waterfowl – can also be seen throughout the San Luis Valley.

Approximate distances to Monte Vista: Denver, 220 miles; Colorado Springs, 182 miles; Salida, 85 miles; Vail, 175 miles; Durango, 135 miles; Grand Junction, 230 miles.

For more information on the Monte Vista Crane Festival, see:

To learn more about sandhill cranes, see:

For more information on State Wildlife Areas in the San Luis Valley, go to:

For more information about the San Luis Valley wildlife refuge complex, see:

21 Favorite Ways to Save Water – Jain Irrigation Inc. via @DenverWater

Governor’s Ag Forum recap

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed Colorado’s agricultural community [February 26, 2015] in full Western style, donning a black Stetson cowboy hat for the annual Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture at the Renaissance Hotel.

While the variation from the governor’s typical attire lightened the mood, the day touched on some of the most serious issues affecting the future of agriculture.

Water reigned as the topic of the day, carrying through not only Hickenlooper’s presentation, but also the day’s panel discussion led by 7News meteorologist Mike Nelson and the keynote speech by the governor’s water adviser, John Stulp.

Hickenlooper lauded the Colorado State Water Plan as vital to creating long-term security and better preparing the state for the challenges of climate change.

Stulp described the plan as achieving five major goals: fostering collaborative solutions to address the state’s looming supply gap, creating alternatives to the buy and dry of agricultural lands, protecting Colorado’s compact entitlements, pushing federal regulators to move more quickly on approval processes, and aligning state policies with dollars.

Stulp applauded the basin roundtable discussions that contributed to much of the legwork behind the water plan for bringing together diverse state interests that “would have otherwise only gotten together in a courtroom to sue each other.”

With Hickenlooper looking to expand international exports in agriculture, water security will play a key role in establishing confidence and capacity to move forward.

“Ag is one of the leading, if not the leading, industries in the state,” Hickenlooper said.

To bolster the sector further, he encouraged the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to expand export markets for beef and pork. The proposed treaty would expand trade routes for U.S.-made goods in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.

Hickenlooper also praised the Colorado Agricultural Leadership Program for bringing new advocates into the sector, and the Western Dairy Association for its efforts to afford veterans opportunities in agriculture.

Earlier in the day, a lively panel discussion led by Nelson touched on national, statewide and local water challenges, addressed by panelists Robert Sakata, Carlyle Currier, Reagan Waskom, Greg Fisher and Bart Miller.

The panel captured the complexity of Colorado’s state water laws, which often translate to decades of work to conclude infrastructure projects. With concern over excess flows entering Nebraska and potential calls on the Colorado River by western neighbors, one audience member asked why the state is not able to create more storage areas.

Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute, said uncertainty often leads well-intended projects off course.

“We see participants pull out because they’ve been putting money in and they don’t know if they’re going to get the storage in the end,” he said.

Greg Fisher, manager of demand planning for Denver Water, said, while additional storage would help, the state needs to look at supply development holistically.

“Storage will help, but we must take an all-of-the-above approach: conservation, reuse, storage, and you have to do all of it now,” Fisher said.

The panel differed on its opinions regarding the overall water use from fracking operations.

Waskom said the estimated 20,000 acre-feet of water that goes into hydraulic fracturing on the South Platte represents a drop in the bucket for the capacity of the river. Most of the water comes from systems such as Greeley’s that permit multiple use, which avoids additional demand.

One acre-foot of water is enough to serve four homes for a year.

Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates, said while 20,000 acre-feet may not sound like a lot, when compared to the enormous cost of creating storage for such water, the quantity does equate to a meaningful amount in the grand scheme of things.

The panel also turned to the high groundwater levels damaging homes and farmland around Gilcrest and LaSalle in Weld County.

While Waskom said he has been living this drama for a decade, the water expert could not provide an easy solution.

“This is a really hard one to solve without someone getting harmed,” he said. “This is a classic Colorado water fight.”

While unity served as a recurring theme, discussion over Weld’s groundwater headache served as a reminder that on many water issues, cohesive solutions have yet to be found.

2015 Colorado legislation: Microbead ban (HB15-1144) passes on unrecorded voice vote #coleg

Putting the electric harness on old dams — the Mountain Town News

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):


Pueblo dam releases
Pueblo dam releases

State and federal incentives together producing new power from old dams

As with most smaller dams from that era, no hydroelectric turbines were installed in Pueblo Dam when it was constructed during the early 1970s. It’s located in central Colorado, the silvery summit of Pikes Peak in the distance, impounding the Arkansas River as it meanders onto the Great Plains.

The dam’s 191 feet height provides what hydrologists call head, a prerequisite for making large amounts of electricity. Absent, though, are large volumes of water.

Now, with strong financial and other incentives from both the state and federal governments, dam operator Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District seeks to install turbines sufficient to allow production of 7 megawatts.

Five such retrofits in the West have occurred since 2008. Pueblo and 18 others are in the pipeline. Many are in Colorado, which has emerged as a model for how to encourage the retrofitting of smaller, older dams.

Retrofitting Colorado dams and canals

  • Ridgway Reservoir (8 MW): completed 2014
  • Carter Lake (2.6 MW): completed 2013
  • South Canal Drops 1 and 3 (7.5 MW): completed 2013
  • Lake Granby (1.2 MW): underway
  • Pueblo Reservoir (7 MW): underway
  • Shavano Falls (2.8 MW): underway
  • South Canal Drop 2 (1 MW): underway

Michael Pulskamp, who oversees the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s lease-of-power-privileges program from an office in suburban Denver, says the 2005 Energy Bill required resource assessments of federal water infrastructure but the Obama administration delivered the push.

Those studies found great cumulative potential. A 2011 study concluded that one million megawatts of annual production of electricity could be delivered if just the 70 most promising dams, diversion structures, and tunnels were developed. The study had screened 530 federal sites.

Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas, and Arizona have the most sites with hydropower potential.

“That study really laid out that we weren’t tapped out in terms of hydropower potential,” says Pulskamp.

Another federal assessment of 373 irrigation canals, tunnels, and other conduits in 13 Western states found another potential 103.6 megawatts of generating capacity.

Even if all the 1.1 million potential megawatts identified in the two studies get built, the capacity will be dwarfed by existing dams in the West. Grand Coulee Dam, completed on the Columbia River in 1941, produces 21.5 million megawatts annually, tops in the West. Glen Canyon Dam, on the Colorado River, can produce 3.8 million megawatts, followed closely by Hoover Dam with 3.7 million.

Shasta Dam, in California, can produce 1.9 million megawatts and Davis Dam, on the Colorado River in Arizona, produces 1.1 million megawatts.

Ridgway Dam
Ridgway Dam

Colorado’s largest hydroelectric production comes from the three dams on the Gunnison River in what is called the Aspinall Unit. Together, they can produce 826,000 megawatts annually. Hydroelectric capacity installed in several components of the Colorado Big-Thompson diversion project can collectively produce 413,000 megawatts.

In comparison, new turbines on Utah’s Jordanelle Dam can produce 39,000 megawatts annually while Colorado’s Ridgway Dam, which went on line last May, can produce 22,000 megawatts annually.

Pueblo will produce even less, 19,700 megawatts annually. Southeastern Water was prodded into taking on the project only after the Bureau of Reclamation specifically solicited proposals.

“We were afraid if we didn’t pursue it, a private entity might come and develop the project,” says Kevin Meador, project manager for Southeastern Colorado Water. The Pueblo-based agency administers water diverted to the Arkansas from the Aspen area under federal sponsorship in the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.

Colorado’s state government has provided both financial incentives and a market for sale of renewable energy. One of the incentives is a 2 percent loan at 30 percent from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “That is a huge factor in making this project feasible,” says Meador.

The Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority also provides 20-year loans of 2 percent.

In setting a 30 percent renewable portfolio standard for investor-owned utilities and now a 20 percent standard for Tri-State Generating & Transmission, Colorado has created a market for power from smaller dams. No buyers for the electricity from Pueblo have been lined up, but Meador says his agency needs to get 3.5 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour to make the numbers work.

If this were Massachusetts or Hawaii, where electricity prices to consumers run up to 25 cents per kilowatt hour, that would be an easy sell. But in the Rocky Mountains, energy has historically been relatively cheap, observes Meador, “and these hydro projects are capital intensive. They are very expensive up front.”

Seven percent of all U.S. electricity comes from hydropower. In Colorado, it’s 4 percent. Pulskamp says that the greatest hydroelectric potential lies in further harnessing the slow-moving but vast quantities of water in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. His agency, however, has little oversight there.

Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association, says Colorado could serve as a model for other states. He points to efforts begun in the administration of former Gov. Bill Ritter to surmount an often clunky, discouraging federal permitting process. Even more important, Colorado has sweetened incentives with low-cost, long-term loans. Finally, last year it lowered regulatory hurdles.

Two key federal laws passed by Congress in 2013 simplified the federal regulatory process. One law specifically targeted Bureau of Reclamation facilities. Johnson’s organization now seeks to lower the hurdle for other existing but non-federal facilities that must get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Despite the recent growth, however, hydroelectric remains just a small part of new electrical generating capacity, both in the West and nationally. In 2015, gas was responsible for the most new generating capacity, followed by wind and solar. Hydro was just 1 percent of total national production.

Granby Dam via Reclamation
Granby Dam via Reclamation

Yet even with just trickles of water, hydro power now makes sense financially. Consider Granby Dam, which plugs the Colorado River a few dozen miles from the river’s origins in Rocky Mountain National Park. The dam is 298 feet tall, providing plenty of head. Like Pueblo, it lacks water: just 20 cubic feet per second of water gets released during winter months, as required for environmental purposes, and 75 cfs during summer, except in the biggest of runoff years. The rest gets diverted to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide.

With so little water, Granby can generate just 1/800th of the total production of Hoover Dam. That small production, along with competition from cheap power, is why turbines were never installed when the dam was built from 1941 to 1950.

“Probably power sale rates were next to nothing,” says Carl Brouwer, a project manager for Northern Water, the water agency that distributes Colorado-Big Thompson water to the Boulder-Greeley-Fort Collins area.

As with Pueblo, Northern Water had first shot at obtaining the lease to produce power and did so to preclude shared operations. Northern was aware of at least one other bidder, says Brouwer.

Granby also needed the state’s $5.1 million loan at 2 percent interest is crucial in moving the $5.8 million project forward. “That low-interest loan is what makes this project feasible,” says Brouwer.

A smaller revenue stream comes from sale of the environmental attributes of the energy through a financial device called renewable energy certificates, or RECs. Purchaser was Tri-State Generation & Transmission.

Annual revenues, projected to be $375,000, will pay off debt and operations during the first 30 years. But unlike coal-fired power plants, the supply of fuel will always be free.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.