#AnimasRiver: The Animas Watershed: A Community Update, April 7


Forecast calls for rafting on Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

McPhee Reservoir managers announced Friday that the forecast calls for a whitewater release below McPhee Dam.

“The forecast shows a 22-day whitewater season,” said Bureau of Reclamation engineer Vern Harrell. “But it is a 50-50 probability, so it is not guaranteed it will materialize.”

Based on this year’s impressive snowpack in the mountains, runoff forecasts show the reservoir will fill, and there will be 68,000 acre-feet available for a spill into the lower Dolores River.

Here is the plan if the snowpack holds:

On May 17, flows below the dam would be increased to 500 cubic feet per second. It would ramp up to 900 on May 18, then 1,300 cfs on May 19, and 1,500 cfs on May 20.

From May 21-25, the plan is to max out the flows at 2,000 cfs, then they will drop slightly to 1,800 cfs from May 26 to June 1 for the Memorial Day weekend.

On June 2 flows will be reduced to 1,400, cfs, drop 1,000 cfs on June 3, to 800 cfs on June 4 and 5, to 600 cfs on June 6 and 7, to 400 cfs for June 8 and 9, then 200 cfs for June 10 and 11.

Minimal rafting flows is 600-800 cfs, and for kayaks it is 300-400 cfs. Tubing could be done at 200 cfs.The boating community is excited, but cautious, said Josh Munson, vice president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates…

There has not been a whitewater release below the dam since 2011.

The surge of water into the lower canyon will benefit the natural environment, Munson said, and create an economic boon to the area as recreational boaters descend to the various launch sites.

2016 #coleg: HB16-1256 — South Platte Water Storage Study update

From the Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland) via The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

The first step to building a reservoir or dam to capture millions of gallons of water flowing down the South Platte River won unanimous approval this week at the state Capitol.

Rep. J. Paul Brown, an Ignacio Republican, has been sounding the siren call on South Platte storage for the past year. It’s an idea area residents have talked about for generations.

Millions of gallons of water have flowed into Nebraska far exceeding the amount required under the Colorado-Nebraska compact that governs South Platte water use. And Colorado wants and needs to keep that water.

The question lawmakers have to answer now is how to store the water and more importantly, where.

A proposed storage project in the Narrows Valley near Fort Morgan won congressional approval several decades ago. But building a dam or reservoir anywhere on the main channel of the South Platte won’t work, said Eric Wilkerson of Northern Water, which is leading the effort to build a new dam on the Poudre River.

The trouble is that there isn’t anywhere to store that water. Existing reservoirs aren’t large enough, and that means water rushing to Nebraska would flood fields and basements along the way.

Water advocates point to several possible methods of collecting and storing that water, including funneling it into underground storage or by expanding existing reservoirs. But there is no silver bullet solution.

Brown’s bill, which was heard Monday by the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Energy Committee, calls for a study to identify ways to store more water.

The bill sailed through the Democrat-controlled Ag Committee, a needed political victory for Brown, whose seat has been targeted by Democrats. The 13-member committee includes Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan.

“We can’t keep depending on the Western Slope for water for Front Range growth,” Brown told the Ag Committee Monday. He warned that without more storage, the Front Range will have to rely on agricultural buy-and-dry, the practice where municipal water providers buy irrigated farmland for the water rights.

These buy-and-dry deals have dried out thousands of acres of farmland, mostly on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.

In Crowley County, for example, buy-and-dry has left this once agriculturally-prosperous county with one-tenth of the farmland it had before the 1970s, devastating the economy.

Colorado faces a massive water shortage. By 2050, due in part to an expected doubling of the state’s population, the state could be short a million acre feet of water a year, according to the 2010 Statewide Water Supply Initiative, a study commissioned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. An acre-foot of water is the amount it would take to cover one acre of land with one foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons.

Finding a way to store excess water on the South Platte would help agricultural production and enhance the state’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act, Brown said. It also would improve migratory bird and wildlife habitats in Colorado.

The bill has the support of the Hickenlooper administration. James Eklund, head of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told the committee the bill would be a step forward in addressing the state’s water needs outlined in the state water plan.

Rep. KC Becker, a Democrat whose district includes Boulder and west-of-the-Continental Divide counties such as Grand and Jackson, pointed out the problems of resuscitating the Narrows idea.

She noted former Commissioner of Ag and state Rep. Don Ament of Sterling gave the project a thumbs down just a few months ago. Ament has been Colorado’s representative on a three-state Platte River recovery program for close to 20 years. The program handles negotiations over the Platte River water supply and how it satisfies environmental concerns, particularly in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Ament told the Interim Water Resources Review Committee last October that storage on the South Platte would take pressure off of agriculture, which faces its own water shortfall in the future.

Two counties in Colorado — Weld and Yuma — are among the top 20 in the nation’s most productive agricultural counties, he said.

In the last six years, Ament said, the South Platte has sent four million acre-feet of water into Nebraska over and above what’s required in the compact.

The Narrows Project would have been the largest earthen dam in the world, and it had strong support for years, including two congressional approvals. But President Jimmy Carter, based on recommendations from the US Fish & WIldlife Service that the project would harm Nebraska wildlife habitats, vetoed the project in the late 1970s.

In the intervening years, some of the land planned for the Narrows site has been developed or turned into agricultural land, although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which acquired land for the project, still owns much of the site and has not declassified the project, according to Ament.

A project as large as the Narrows, estimated at a million acre-feet of water storage, isn’t feasible, Ament said.

Other sites have been identified, even gravel pits. What’s needed are many smaller places to hold water, rather than a massive one, he said.

The study would look at storage possibilities along the South Platte from Greeley to Julesburg.

Ament also discussed the relationship between South Platte storage and the state’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

“When you divert water from the South Platte, you’re responsible for impacts on birds at Grand Island (Neb.),” Ament explained.

The state has no choice but to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act in every possible way, Ament said, because it “trumps everything this legislature does and anything anyone else does, including water users. When they declare we have Endangered Species Act problems in Grand Island, Neb., and we’re big water users, we have to do something.”

Brown indicated Monday any storage solution should take into account a state guarantee of its continued compliance with the Act.

Eklund added the state’s looming water shortfall is most critical in the areas along the South Platte, whose headwaters are in the mountains just south of metro Denver and flow downstream to Julesburg and into Nebraska. “Big gains” in water supply can be made on the South Platte, he said.

The bill, which would study storage solutions, carries a cost of $250,000, to be paid out of a fund under the control of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s basin roundtables, state-authorized groups that work on water issues and include representatives from city and county governments, and agricultural, recreational, environmental and industrial interests.

Eklund said the CWCB, which will conduct the study, will rely as much as possible on existing data rather than reinventing the wheel.

Storage on the South Platte wouldn’t just help with the state’s water shortfall, Eklund said. It also would help people with low-priority water rights who might not otherwise get the water they need.

The only opposition to Brown’s bill came from Trout Unlimited’s David Nickum, who said he sympathized with Western Slope residents who fear the water shortfall will require more diversions of mountain water into the Front Range.

A new dam or reservoir on the main channel of the South Platte would affect water quality and stream habitats, Nickum said, suggesting a better solution would be underground aquifers or storage along South Platte tributaries.

The fear of another transmountain diversion prompted concerns from Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat. She proposed an amendment to ensure the study wouldn’t look at mountain water as a way to fill a South Platte reservoir.

The bill goes onto the House Appropriations Committee for funding approval.

#Snowpack news: Basin High/Low graphs for March 13

#Snowpack news: The Rio Grande Basin drops below avg., big snow central and N. mountains today

Westwide SNOTEL map March 13, 2016 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL map March 13, 2016 via the NRCS.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

A dry and warm February and early March bodes poorly for San Luis Valley irrigators but it may have a slight silver lining if snow returns to the high country later this spring.

Temperatures ranging to as much as 6 degrees above normal in February led to an early thaw on the valley’s creeks and rivers, allowing Colorado to send more water downstream than it might otherwise.

That water goes toward Rio Grande Compact requirements that divvy the river’s water between Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

And the February flows, which were 900 acre feet above normal on the Conejos River and nearly 4,300 acrefeet higher than normal on the Rio Grande, mean curtailments might be 1 to 3 percentage points lower fwor irrigators once they begin watering their crops in April.

“It puts a little smile on our face to get this bonus delivery but we’re more concerned about what’s going to happen for our irrigators,” said Pat McDermott a staff engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources in Alamosa.
The Rio Grande basin’s snowpack, which stood at 126 percent of normal at the end of December, was at 98 percent at the beginning of March.

The dwindling snowpack comes despite an El Nino weather pattern that was expected to favor the San Juan Mountains.

“We all expected this El Nino to come in roaring like a lion and it’s meowing like a kitten,” McDermott said.
Snowpack could still rebound.

The National Weather Service’s forecast still calls for above average precipitation in the region through May.

As of now, the Division Engineer’s office for the valley is predicting slightly more than the 620,000 acre-foot average that annually passes through Del Norte on the Rio Grande.

The valley’s second biggest river, the Conejos, is expecting roughly 290,000 acre-feet, which would mark the sixth year in a row the river has had below-average flows.

#ColoradoRiver: Lake Powell tied at the turbines to ski lifts — The Mountain Town News

How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.
How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Just how much more water can be drawn from the rivers that originate near Winter Park, Breckenridge, and Aspen, as well as Crested Butte, Telluride, and Durango, before the electrical supply powering the ski lifts gets wobbly?

That sounds a bit like a zen koan, but in fact, it’s at the heart of a discussion now underway in Colorado. The Colorado River that originates in those mountain towns is already heavily tapped by local farms. Then there’s the matter of the giant straws that convey 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet per year to Denver, Colorado Springs, and other cities at the base of the Rocky Mountains as well as other farms on the Great Plains.

There’s only so much water in the Colorado River, and its use is strictly governed by interstate compacts: a 1948 compact apportioning use among the headwaters states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. More importantly, those four upper-basin states are obligated to allow roughly half the water in the Colorado River to flow downstream from Lake Powell and through the Grand Canyon, to the lower-basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, as well as to Mexico.

Just how much water remains to be developed in Colorado, whether for ski areas, cannabis farms, or Front Range cities? Nobody really knows.

But an upcoming $50,000 study funded by several organizations from the Western Slope of Colorado aims to get a better answer. Aspen Journalism reports that water organizations on Colorado’s Eastern Slope also want to get involved.

Chris Treese, the external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, recently explained the dynamics. If Lake Powell drops so low it can’t produce hydropower, he said, it also means the dam will not be able to release enough water to meet its rolling 10-year obligation under the 1922 Colorado River Water Compact.

“The earlier crisis point—and I don’t think that’s overstating it – is when Lake Powell falls to a level that is below the point where power can be produced through the dam,” Treese explained. That, in turn, means there’s too little water in Lake Powell to release the 8.23 million acre-feet required to meet the compact obligations.

Aspen Journalism explains that this call for a more definitive study has been spurred by a disagreement among river basins on Colorado’s Western Slope. The Yampa-White River Basin (includes Steamboat Springs) wants to reserve the right to dam and divert more water. The Gunnison Basin (includes Crested Butte) is concerned it will hasten what is called a “compact call,” or reduced water use in all basins.

And about that electricity? The turbines at Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, produce massive amounts of electricity, along with those at other dams in the West. This low-cost (and non-carbon) electricity is then distributed to utilities that serve many of the ski towns in Colorado and other states, too.

The Lower Ark files 2 Rule 10 plans to comply with surface irrigation rules

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Group plans that will help resolve water issues for more than 160 farms were filed this week with the Colorado Department of Water Resources by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Called Rule 10 plans, they give farmers a way to comply with surface irrigation rules put in place in 2010 as a response to on-farm improvements such as sprinklers and drip irrigation. The state went to court to implement the rules to head off future challenges of the Arkansas River Compact by Kansas.

The state must approve the plans and comments are open on them until April 11.

The Lower Ark district filed two plans, one for farmers on the Fort Lyon Canal, the largest ditch in the Arkansas Valley, and another for farmers on other ditches.

The Fort Lyon plan covers 62 farmers and 99 farms. It projects a credit of 639 acre-feet, but because of monthly accounting, will have to provide some replacement water, said Jack Goble, Lower Ark engineer.

The non-Fort Lyon plan covers 46 farmers and 62 farms on 11 ditches: Amity, Baldwin Stubbs, Bessemer, Buffalo, Catlin, Fort Bent, High Line, Holbrook, Lamar, Las Animas Consolidated and Rocky Ford. It projects a credit of 315 acre-feet, but some recharge and replacement water will be provided on a monthly basis.

Among sources of replacement water for the two plans are Lower Ark storage at Lake Pueblo, Fryingpan-Arkansas water, ditch return flows and leased water from Pueblo Water.

Most of the improvements involve sprinklers fed by ponds, and the Lower Ark district sponsored a study over the past three years which showed leakage from ponds is twice the value originally presumed by the state. The new figure, about four inches per day, is incorporated into both plans.

All of the farms are on ditch systems, since water is generally used in rotation.

Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters
Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters