Snowpack news (Part 2): Gunnison and Yampa/White flirt with 2002 numbers, where’s Ullr?

Ullr: Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers
Ullr: Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers

Snowpack news: South Platte Basin drops to 91% of normal (best in state)

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 29, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal March 29, 2015

Gov. Hickenlooper announces more than $34 million in grants awarded to local communities

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Kevin Patterson, interim executive director of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), today announced $34,240,176 in competitive grants has been awarded to 40 projects throughout Colorado through the Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Fund grant program. Projects address key public improvements ranging from public facilities to water and wastewater systems in communities statewide.

“This grant program continues to be invaluable to Colorado’s smaller and rural communities,” said Hickenlooper. “With these funds, communities are able to plan for and implement substantial capital improvements, essential public projects and other services.”

DOLA administers the grant program, which assists political subdivisions that are socially and/or economically impacted by the development, processing, or energy conversion of minerals and mineral fuels. Funds come from the state severance tax on energy and mineral production and from a portion of the state’s share of royalties paid to the federal government for mining and drilling of minerals and mineral fuels on federally-owned land. The program was created by the legislature in 1977.

Types of projects funded by the program include construction of or improvements to water and sewer systems, roads, recreation centers, public safety and other public facilities, fire protection buildings and equipment, and local government planning.

“These dollars strengthen communities and are made possible through well-established partnerships between all levels of government and the energy industry. DOLA takes great pride in being a steward of these funds,” Patterson said.


Aspinall Unit update: The Gunnison Tunnel to turn on Tuesday

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 500 cfs to 600 cfs on Tuesday, March 31st at 9:00 AM. This release increase is in response to the start of diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel. On Tuesday morning, the Gunnison Tunnel will begin diverting 200 cfs. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 590,000 acre-feet which is 87% of average.

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 March and April.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 200 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.

Securing the flows tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant is a clear priority for the roundtable — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

Maintain the big flows on the Colorado River tied to the Shoshone hydro plant.

Upgrade the roller dam on the Colorado east of Grand Junction.

And figure out how much water the rivers and streams in the region need to stay healthy.

Those are the top three basinwide priorities of the Colorado River basin roundtable, a water-supply planning group working under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The roundtable is finalizing a “basin implementation plan” for the Colorado River Basin, which stretches across the state from Grand County to Grand Junction.

Other projects in the plan include enlarging Hunter and Monument reservoirs on Grand Mesa, building a new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek near Camp Hale and constructing Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek south of Silt.

The roundtable’s plan and project list are due to the state by April 17, as are plans from seven other basin roundtables. The basin plans will inform the Colorado Water Plan, which is to be presented to the governor in December.

A draft plan submitted by the roundtable in the summer listed more than 400 potential projects, plans and processes. State officials asked the roundtable to prioritize its list.

Roundtable members presented their top projects at a March 23 meeting. It was the group’s last meeting before the April 17 deadline.

“Being listed is not a ticket to reality,” said Jim Pokrandt, the chairman of the roundtable and the communications director for the Colorado River District. “There will be other ideas, projects and processes not yet known to us that might be better, more feasible candidates.”


Securing the flows tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant is a clear priority for the roundtable.

The plant, just east of Glenwood Springs, has senior rights from 1902 and can demand that 1,200 cubic feet per second of water be sent downriver to produce hydropower.

The facility is owned by Xcel Energy, which firmly said a year ago that the facility was not for sale to either Western Slope nor Front Range entities. Nonetheless, the Colorado River District is working to maintain the flows created by the plant, either by buying it outright or making other arrangements with Xcel.

Downriver, the Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon near Cameo provides water to the four entities that make up the senior Cameo call. The 100-year-old riverwide structure directs 1,332 cfs of irrigation water into the 55-mile-long Highline Canal.

Both the dam and the upper portion of the canal are in need of “extensive upgrading and rehabilitation,” according to a project sheet distributed by the roundtable.

“The Shoshone Call and the Cameo Call are the two main calling rights on the Colorado River, and the whole regime of the river has developed over the years based on these two calls being in place,” said Mark Hermundstad, an attorney from Grand Junction who represents Mesa County on the roundtable. “Both of those calls draw down clean high-mountain water to the middle and the lower reaches of the river, and we think it is important to maintain those flows down the river.”

A third roundtable priority is the development of a basinwide stream-management plan to “help resource managers better understand and manage streamflows” for both ecological and recreational reasons.


Among the sub-basin projects put forward are the enlargement of both Hunter and Monument reservoirs in the Plateau Creek drainage on Grand Mesa, about 20 miles southeast of Collbran.

The Ute Water Conservancy District, which provides water to the Grand Junction area, is proposing to enlarge Hunter Reservoir from 100 acre-feet to 1,340 acre-feet, at a cost of $5 million to $7 million.

The existing 11-foot-tall dam would grow to 37 feet, the reservoir’s surface area would expand from 19 to 80 acres, and it would inundate 32 acres of wetlands, according to a 2007 study by the U.S. Forest Service.

Monument Reservoir No. 1, on Monument Creek south of Vega Reservoir, would be expanded from 573 to 5,255 acre-feet. A new dam would be 69 feet tall and would flood 145 acres. The cost estimate is $20 million, according to Steve Ryken, assistant general manager of Ute Water, who sits on the roundtable.

Another significant sub-basin project is the Eagle River MOU, a 1998 agreement to develop 33,000 acre-feet of new water storage. Of that, 20,000 acre-feet would eventually flow east to Aurora and Colorado Springs, and 10,000 acre-feet would be for use in the Eagle River watershed.

Project components being actively studied include the expansion of Eagle Park Reservoir from 3,300 acre-feet to 8,000 acre-feet or more and the construction of a new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek, near Whitney Creek, that would hold 3,500 to 10,000 acre-feet of water.

“Currently, the project sponsors are continuing investigations to evaluate the ‘Whitney Creek’ alternative, consisting of a surface diversion from the Eagle River to the area of Camp Hale with a dual-purpose storage reservoir/pumping forebay on Homestake Creek to store West Slope yield, and regulate and feed East Slope yield up to Homestake Reservoir,” states a May 2014 draft of the basin plan.

Also on the list is the building of 257-acre Kendig Reservoir on West Divide Creek, 15 miles south of Silt.


Two priority projects, or processes, were identified in the Roaring Fork River watershed, according to Mark Fuller, the executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority and a legislative appointee to the Colorado roundtable.

One priority is an ongoing process led by the Roaring Fork Conservancy to find ways to leave more water in the lower Crystal River, which is heavily diverted for agriculture.

The second priority project is the completion of the 210 action items identified in the 2012 Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, which does not include significant new water-storage projects.

“It’s not like we’re really suggesting that we do 210 projects. We’re suggesting we carry out the watershed plan, including the nine priority projects already identified in the plan,” Fuller said.

Fuller said he did not expect that supporting the city of Aspen’s conditional water rights for large dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks would be added as a third project for the Roaring Fork sub-basin, as Mike McDill, the deputy utilities manager for the city of Aspen, has lobbied for.


In the Middle Colorado region, between Dotsero and DeBeque Canyon, the priorities are, in addition to building Kendig Reservoir, investigating the sources of selenium in Mamm and Rifle creeks, studying the feasibility of a regional water authority to serve Silt Mesa and surveying the region’s irrigation assets.

In the State Bridge region, between Kremmling and Dotsero, the priorities are to designate Deep Creek as a “wild and scenic” river and to inventory irrigation systems around Eby, Brush and Gypsum creeks.

In the Grand County region, the priorities are to repair and restore 10 miles of the Colorado River near Kremmling, update the existing $1 million Grand County stream-management plan and expand a water-district reservoir near Fraser by 80 acre-feet.

In Eagle County, in addition to the Eagle River MOU projects, the priorities include restoring 270 acres of wetlands at Camp Hale to be used for future wetland mitigation credits and five water-quality projects, including one on Gore Creek as it flows through Vail.

In Summit County, the top priorities are to enlarge by 500 acre-feet the Old Dillon Reservoir, a small reservoir next to Dillon Reservoir, restore a 3,000-foot-long stretch of the Blue River in Breckenridge and modify Dillon Reservoir to let warmer water be released back into the Blue.

The third key project in the Grand Valley region, after enlarging Hunter and Monument reservoirs, is the repairing of the Southside Canal owned by the Collbran Water Conservancy District.

The canal was built in the 1950s and has at least two siphon pipes that need replacing. It can normally carry 240 cfs of water and winds 33 miles from Vega Reservoir to Mesa Creek.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of Colorado rivers and water. More at

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

The Fountain Creek District is focusing on maximizing SDS payments from Colorado Springs

Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation
Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Big money for flood control on Fountain Creek would become available in January the year after Southern Delivery System begins delivering water.

But the district that will receive the $50 million in payments over five years wants to make sure the money is safe from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights legislation that could erode the funds.

Most likely, the money would begin arriving in 2017, provided that Colorado Springs meets all conditions of its agreement with Pueblo County.

Last week, the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board asked Pueblo County commissioners and Colorado Springs Utilities to amend the 1041 agreement on SDS to make payments to its newly created enterprise, rather than the district. The resolution passed 9-0.

“The money has to be redirected so we can comply with the TABOR spending limit,” Executive Director Larry Small explained.

The money has to be spent on flood control projects that directly benefit Pueblo County, and the district has studies in progress to determine what sort of projects it could be applied.

The Fountain Creek district is looking at a dam or detention ponds between Colorado Springs and Pueblo to reduce the damage from large floods. It is also tackling the questions of impacts of temporary storage on water rights raised by farmers downstream on the Arkansas River.

TABOR puts limits on how much spending can increase by publicly funded entities in Colorado, year over year. Small gave his board projections that showed the full $50 million would not be available. The district intends to use the money to leverage other sources of payment.

Conservancy districts, including Southeastern and the Lower Ark, have long used enterprises to deal with funds collected and spent on top of property taxes. Under state law, the Fountain Creek district can assess up to 5 mills in property tax with voter approval, but it has never approached voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties to initiate any tax.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.