Jennifer Gimbel and Pat Mulroy are the featured speakers at the 2015 #ColoradoRiver District seminar

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)
Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Here’s the release from the Colorado River Water Conservancy District via Jim Pokrandt:

Two of the most important women in Western water leadership will be addressing the Colorado River District’s popular Annual Water Seminar in Grand Junction, Colo., that takes place Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Two Rivers Convention Center.

Headlining the event are Jennifer Gimbel, the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, the U.S. Department of the Interior; and Pat Mulroy, Senior Fellow for Climate Adaptation and Environmental Policy at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Brookings Mountain West, as well as a senior fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, D.C. She retired in 2014 as General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Ms. Gimbel is well known in Colorado for her work as director at the Colorado Water Conservation Board before she moved to federal positions with the Department of the Interior that culminated with her ascendency to the post that oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado River administration. Ms. Mulroy oversaw the Southern Nevada Water Authority for 21 years where she got results as well as headlines in positioning Las Vegas for growth in the face of limited water supply.

The theme of the seminar is: “Will What’s Happening in California Stay in California?” Cost of the seminar, which includes lunch, is $30 if pre-registered by Friday, Sept. 4, $40 at the door. Register at the River District’s website: http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org. Call Meredith Spyker at 970-945-8522 to pay by credit card.

The day’s speakers will draw an arc of water supply and policy concern from the Pacific to Colorado, looking at the basics of climate and weather generated by the Pacific, dire drought in California and what that means to the interior West, the still-on-the-horizon planning to deal with low reservoir levels at Lakes Powell and Mead, and finally, an analysis of Colorado’s Water Plan, still in draft form.

Klaus Wolter, a pre-eminent analyst of El Nino-La Nina conditions in the Pacific will preview the growing El Nino conditions and what they will mean for snowpack this winter. He is a research scientist at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory’s Physical Sciences Division in Boulder and world renowned in his field.

Also at the seminar, Colorado River District staff will speak to its policy initiative that new paradigm in Colorado Water Planning is how to protect existing uses, especially irrigated agriculture in Western Colorado, in the face of diminishing supplies and potential demand management necessities. Issues of planning for new transmountain diversion (TMD) remains a big focal point in Colorado’s Water Plan, but it is drought and reservoir levels that will command the system before a TMD can be honestly contemplated.

Other speakers will address irrigated agriculture’s role in water planning, efficiency and conservation planning and financing and more.

Fort Collins staff recommends against supporting NISP — Fort Collins Coloradan

nisp
From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The council on Tuesday is expected to consider comments the city would submit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on its draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the project, which would draw water from the Poudre River.

After studying the document, city staff members and consultants concluded the project would adversely impact the river’s ecology and go against the city’s interests if it were built.

A resolution drafted to go with the staff comments proposed to be submitted to the Corps states the council “cannot support NISP as it currently described and proposed” in the document.

The city’s 108-page report details technical issues with the draft EIS as well as impacts NISP would have by reducing the river’s flow levels through town during times of high runoff.

Potential problems cited in the report include degraded water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. The draft EIS does not adequately analyze alternatives to building the project as proposed by Northern Water and 15 participating water districts and towns, according to the report…

In 2008, Fort Collins came out against the project as it was described in the initial draft EIS. After seven years of more research and analysis, the Corps issued a supplemental draft EIS in June.

Comments on the document are due Sept. 3. The Corps is expected to review comments and potentially issue a final EIS next year.

Take part

The Fort Collins City Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at city hall, 200 Laporte Ave. The meeting will be broadcast on cable Channel 14.

#AnimasRiver: EPA documents detail frightening Gold King Mine scramble — The Durango Herald

goldkingspillinitialdelugeepadurangoherald
A large SUV in the upper-left is barely visible because it is submerged in the initial deluge of contaminated wastewater Aug. 5 at the Gold King Mine — photo EPA via The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The EPA-released documents include a detailed chronology of events leading to the Aug. 5 blowout, which resulted in an estimated 3 million gallons of wastewater streaming into the Animas River. An EPA-contracted team was working on reclamation at Gold King Mine near Silverton when excavation work resulted in the disaster.

Stunning photos taken of the incident document how a leak quickly turned into a flood of mustard-yellow sludge flowing into a creek then the river from a hole about 10 feet wide by 15 feet high. The leak was first noticed about 10:51 a.m. The muddy water flowed around trucks and heavy equipment used by the team, clearly taking workers by surprise as they ran for safety and to save trucks and equipment, according to a contractor’s memo of the incident. The name of the contractor was removed from the document.

As the access road washed away, the team realized that a vehicle had been parked in the line of the rushing water. The vehicle would not start following the water damage. Meanwhile, the water continued to pile up.

Some of the team left on foot to get picked up and taken to an area with phone service to notify authorities. It took more than 90 minutes for a team member to get to a location where he could notify authorities. There were no satellite phones at the site, though workers were able to use two-way radios.

Meanwhile, a Flight for Life helicopter flew overhead, photographing the alarming situation. It turned out the helicopter was not there for the incident, but instead was related to a tourist who was injured on Corkscrew Pass…

All the while, pH readings plummeted, leading the team to believe that it had caused a major water disturbance.

It took the team nearly five hours to reconstruct a temporary road to remove equipment and personnel, according to the document.

The event actually began on Aug. 4, when the team was clearing away rubble in front of the “plug” that ultimately gave way. An email released by the EPA describing the chronology states, “Because all this was unconsolidated material it was considered safe to remove, it was not buttressing the plug.

“We were constantly and carefully watching for and closely inspecting the digging for indications of the plug,” the email continues.

The document was redacted by the EPA, removing the name of the team member who sent it. He was described as an EPA on-scene coordinator.

The rock face of the wall was described as a “puzzle,” with the email stating that material had to be removed just to see the plug.

On the morning of Aug. 5, the team saw the outer face of the plug, which appeared dry and solid, but they couldn’t get close because of dirt from overhead. There was no change in water flow at the time, according to the email.

“Keeping in mind that the mine should be assumed to be full of water – that is backed up to the top of the plug or higher – we did not want to get anywhere close to the top of the plug,” the email from the team states.

The team needed to determine where the bedrock was to plan a safe approach to the plug, and that is where the problematic excavation work happened.

When the leak was spotted, the team first assumed it was a rock spring.

“On as close inspection as I dared, I could see that the clear water was spurting up not down. A couple of minutes later red water began to flow out from near that spot. …” the email states. “In a couple of minutes it became obvious there was a lot of water coming.”[…]

“EPA is establishing a longer term watershed monitoring strategy for the surface water and sediments that have been affected by the Gold King Mine spill to identify potential long-term impacts working closely with state and local officials,” EPA officials said in the release.

The iffy fate of the Colorado River — The Colorado Independent

Photo credit: Britt Reints, Creative Commons, Flickr.
Photo credit: Britt Reints, Creative Commons, Flickr.

On paper, the Colorado River is just fine.

In reality, maybe not.

It all has to do with the water levels in two reservoirs that draw their supplies from the Colorado River: Lake Powell, on the border between Utah and Arizona; and Lake Mead, which gets its water from Lake Powell.

Earlier this year, Lake Mead experienced, for the first time, a drop below a critical level. The drop lasted only about an hour, but it is a sign of things to come, and it’s raising concerns for everyone on the Colorado River.

At last week’s Colorado Water Congress, water experts discussed how changes in these two lakes will affect the Colorado River.

“It’s in our vested interests” as well as that of other Upper Colorado River states of Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, to make sure Lake Powell stays full, according to James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Eklund is also the state representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate administrative agency for the four states in the Upper Basin.

The problem: Lake Mead is running a “structural deficit” – it’s tapping about 2.5 million acre-feet of water per year more than it’s getting from Lake Powell. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre of land by one foot, or about 325,000 gallons.

Eklund told The Colorado Independent that differences in legal interpretations of a 1922 interstate compact have led to a disagreement about just how much water the three Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California) should get.

The three Lower Basin states believe they are entitled to more water from Lake Mead, which gets its water from Powell. The Upper Basin states believe the Lower Basin states are getting exactly what they should. It’s a standoff, Eklund said this week. “Everyone’s agreed to disagree.”

That’s been okay in the past, because there was enough water in the system. But years of drought in the West have changed the situation from “more than enough” to “not enough,” according to Eklund.

Eklund pointed out that the Colorado River will send more than 9 million acre-feet to Lake Powell this year, and that happened last year, too. The compact requires only 7.5 million, on average, per year. But the Lower Basin states are still drawing about 2.5 million acre-feet more than Powell can supply. That’s put Mead below its critical levels.

The deficit has led to planning among the seven states along the Colorado to ward off potential critical low levels at Lake Powell. That plan calls for several actions, including moving water from several Upper Colorado River reservoirs to Lake Powell, and stronger conservation efforts.

There are dire consequences for everyone, Eklund told the audience at the Water Congress’ summer conference last week. Should Lake Powell drop below its critical levels, the Glen Canyon Dam could lose its ability to turn its turbines. That would result in less electrical generation, and force rural electric companies that rely on power from Glen Canyon to buy electricity elsewhere.

That leads to less money available for endangered species recovery and a system to control salt buildup where the Colorado River ends, in Mexico.

Since 1988, rural electric revenue has helped pay for species recovery for four endangered fish species on the Colorado: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pike minnow and razorback sucker. “This has impacts for the health of the entire system,” according to Eklund.

Eklund told The Independent that all the stakeholders have seen the modeling for these scenarios.

“Everyone loses if we act in our own self-interest,” he said.

The Lower Basin states have been reluctant to talk about the deficit at Lake Mead, but that’s coming to an end, and everyone is now at the table, discussing how to manage the river system more cooperatively.

Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservation District has been involved with the Colorado River since 1980. He pointed out during last week’s forum that 90 percent of the Colorado River water is in the Upper Basin while 90 percent of the people are in the Lower Basin, including Southern California.

Over the next few years, Kuhn said, they are looking for several solutions, including a “Godzilla El Niño” year in 2016, similar to what happened in 2011, that will help refill Mead and Powell. The El Niño in 2011 provided an additional 4 million acre-feet of water to the lakes.

Kuhn advocates for a solution among the seven states on the Colorado that keeps the parties out of court. That includes building up enough water in the lakes to create a buffer, which he said is essential.

The bottom line, according to Kuhn, is that in theory, the 2.5 million acre-feet deficit in Mead has no impact on the Colorado. Mead’s deficit has existed since the 1940s, he explained. But “in practice, the deficit has a major impact,” he said.

Could it lead to a “call” on the Colorado River? A call is when the Colorado can’t supply the amount of water required under the compact. It would require the Upper Basin states to send more water down the Colorado to Lake Powell, and it would mean less water for the Upper Basin states.

A call is years away, if ever, according to both Eklund and Kuhn. But both say it’s better to plan now when “we’re not in a crisis,” like California.

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

NISP: “There’s communities that are growing that need that water” — Reagan Waskom

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

At the heart of the $500-million plan is the construction of two new reservoirs: Galeton Reservoir, northeast of Greeley, and Glade Reservoir, northwest of Fort Collins. Both are designed to provide water for the growing populations of several communities in Larimer, Weld, Morgan and Boulder Counties. Building Glade Reservoir would also involve the relocation of seven miles of Highway 287, at a cost of $45 million.

“We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to provide water for future generations and these communities – the 11 cities and towns and the four water districts – are taking a very proactive step in planning for their future,” [Brian Werner] said.

The water to fill both reservoirs would come from the Poudre River – diverting away about ten percent of that river’s annual flow and use it to provide water for an additional 80,000 to 100,000 households…

Reagan Waskom is with the Colorado Water Institute at CSU, which has taken no formal position on the project.

“We’re playing out in this one basin what’s going to happen all over the state,” Waskom said. “It’s an urban, environmentally conscious group of folks, that don’t want to see another depletion. There’s communities that are growing that need that water – that’s the tension: how much more can we take out of these rivers?”

The Army Corps of Engineers is taking public comment on the NISP until Sept. 3.

#AnimasRiver: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye OKs resuming irrigation for three chapters — Farmington Daily-Times

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon -- photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin
A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From the Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Farmers in the Nenahnezad, San Juan and Upper Fruitland chapters of the Navajo Nation were cleared Thursday to resume using San Juan River water for irrigation soon.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye gave the directive Thursday night to open the the Fruitland Irrigation canal, which delivers water from the San Juan River to the three chapters. Begaye made the announcement during a meeting with chapter officials and farmers inside the Nenahnezad Multipurpose building.

The chapters have been without water since the canal was shut down in response to the Gold King Mine spill…

In a presentation, Begaye said the entire canal will be flushed before irrigation can start.

“You’ll have water that’s good for irrigation,” the president said.

Begaye added that the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency will continue monitoring the water quality, and collecting soil and water samples for testing.

Shiprock Irrigation Supervisor Marlin Saggboy said flushing could start as soon as he receives the written directive from the president’s office.

Federal judge blocks #CleanWaterRules

Fen photo via the USFS
Fen photo via the USFS

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

A federal judge in North Dakota on Thursday granted a request by Colorado and 12 other states and blocked a federal rule that aims to extend the agencies’ authority to over small streams and wetlands.

The rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to redefine the legal description of the “waters of the United States,” known as WOTUS under the Clean Water Act, to include water that’s adjacent to navigable rivers and also water that may fill a normally dry streambed after a heavy rainstorm — which happens often across Colorado.

The states argued that the rule illegally removed water and land resources from state control. The decision by Judge Ralph Erickson, granting a preliminary injunction against the rule, will stop it from taking effect until a fuller review can be conducted.

The EPA and the Army Corps argued that the new definition would protect streams and wetlands, which the agencies say form the foundation of the nation’s water resources, from pollution and degradation. The agencies also say the new definition is easier for businesses and industry to understand.

“Colorado has primary responsibility to protect and manage its own water resources, and it takes that responsibility seriously,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman in reaction to Erickson’s ruling…

Two other federal judges, in West Virginia and Georgia, had declined to block the new rule.

Colorado joined litigation filed in the U.S. District Court in North Dakota. The other parties in the lawsuit are: North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer.

#COWaterPlan: “Stopping buy-and-dry, that’s going to take agility or flexibility” — James Eklund

Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs
Flood irrigation in the Arkansas Valley via Greg Hobbs

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An agricultural impact statement for water transfers might become a state tool as the result of a state water plan that’s expected to be finished later this year.

“When I’ve talked about it with the agricultural community, they see it like NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and more red tape,” said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “But really, it’s just making sure all information about impact is disseminated.”

Eklund and John Stulp, the governor’s water policy adviser, visited with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board Thursday.

Eklund threw out the idea of an ag impact statement as one way to evaluate how taking water from a community could change it down the road. Like many other parts of the water plan, however, it remains more of a suggestion than a directive.

The CWCB is writing the water plan on orders from Gov. John Hickenlooper, and it is due by Dec. 10. Nearly two years and dozens of meetings and hearings have gone into the document. More than 26,000 comments have been received in a process that Eklund called “unprecedented” for including public comment.

An ag impact statement would help ensure that taking water permanently out of agriculture is a last resort, but there is no way the state can ban the practice, Eklund said.

“If how development occurs becomes a Colorado question, it takes us out of being a local control state,” he said.
Instead, the water plan provides a wealth of options about alternative transfer methods that do not permanently dry up agriculture.

“Where agriculture will keep water, it will buy time,” Stulp said. “If alternative transfers are voluntary, they have options.”

It’s not possible to ban future transfers, because of the nature of water rights in Colorado, Eklund said.

But the flexibility or agility to use water rights in different ways is important. Eklund insisted the water plan does not condone flex water rights that have failed to become law in the last two legislative sessions.

“When we talk to the ag community, you can get nervous looks, and they ask ‘What’s that going to mean to us?’ We can’t say your property right is the subject of our investigation,” Eklund said. “But stopping buy-and-dry, that’s going to take agility or flexibility.” The water plan won’t supersede state water law, but could expand or introduce concepts in much the same way as recent changes like instream flows, recreational in-channel diversions and storage as a beneficial use.

“We’ve done things as pilots like HB1248 (a 2013 bill allowing long-term leasing), and the danger is they become permanent,” Stulp said. “But the purpose is to give generational changes a chance temporarily.”
“We’re looking for that sweet spot where we can keep producers in agriculture,” Eklund added.