The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from the #Colorado Water Trust

On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.
On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Little Cimarron and McKinley Ditch

Exciting news from the Gunnison Basin this month! A few weeks ago, the Water Trust implemented a unique project aimed at exploring the effectiveness of water conservation tools and voluntary measures to protect Colorado River Compact entitlements.

You may recall that in 2014, the Colorado Water Trust purchased a portion (5.8 cfs) of the McKinley Ditch to restore late summer flows to the Little Cimarron, while keeping agricultural land in production. Earlier this year, the Water Trust received approval from the Upper Colorado River Commission for a Pilot Program project for our water.

Under the project, McKinley Ditch water was used to irrigate approximately 195 acres of pasture grass from April through July 6th. We’re pleased to report that the pilot project was implemented as planned, and on July 7th, we ceased irrigation for the rest of the season. Water is now being returned to the river for the remainder of the irrigation season.

Water conserved by this pilot project will help improve habitat conditions, and ultimately will benefit both the Little Cimarron and Colorado Rivers. We are excited to be a part of this Pilot Program and are hopeful the study results will lead to a more secure future for Colorado’s rivers.

Arkansas River Basin: “Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat” — Alan Ward

Twin Lakes collection system
Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.

River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.

Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.

The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.

Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.

Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.

“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.

NASA: Science flights target melting Arctic sea ice #climatechange

A large pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. During this summer campaign, IceBridge will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds like these to help scientists forecast the Arctic sea ice yearly minimum extent in September. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.
A large pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. During this summer campaign, IceBridge will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds like these to help scientists forecast the Arctic sea ice yearly minimum extent in September. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.

From NASA:

This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.

NASA’s Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.

The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.

Another pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. Scientists have found that formation of melt ponds early in the summer reduces the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.
Another pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. Scientists have found that formation of melt ponds early in the summer reduces the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.

“Although there have been previous airborne campaigns in the Arctic, no one has ever mapped the large-scale depth of melt ponds on sea ice using remote sensing data,” said Nathan Kurtz, IceBridge’s project scientist and a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The information we’ll collect is going to show how much water is retained in melt ponds and what kind of topography is needed on the sea ice to constrain them, which will help improve melt pond models.”

This short flight campaign is operating from Barrow, Alaska. The flights are low at an altitude of 1500 feet (450 meters) aboard an HU-25C Guardian Falcon aircraft from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The plane carries three instruments that measure changes in the ice elevation and surface temperatures and create color maps of sea ice.

Operation IceBridge provides connectivity between the measurements of polar ice between two NASA satellite campaigns: the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite, or ICESat, which operated from 2003 to 2009, and its successor, ICESat-2, scheduled to launch by 2018. The Barrow campaign will give a glimpse into what ICESat-2 will be able to observe in the Arctic in the summertime, since the laser altimeter IceBridge carries is similar to the one that will be aboard ICESat-2.

The HU-25C Guardian Falcon aircraft that Operation IceBridge is using through its Barrow campaign, being tested at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.
The HU-25C Guardian Falcon aircraft that Operation IceBridge is using through its Barrow campaign, being tested at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge.

Kurtz expects that flying in the summer will allow his team to find areas of sea ice not covered by snow, which will let them take direct measurements of the freeboard, the fraction of sea ice that floats above the waterline. This measurement would improve studies of sea ice thickness in the Arctic.

Flights will be shorter than the usual IceBridge Arctic flights, due to the Falcon’s smaller fuel capacity compared to the P-3 aircraft that IceBridge normally uses in the Arctic. In total, IceBridge scientists are expecting to carry out five 4-hour-long flights, each one covering 1000 nautical miles (1150 miles) and focusing on the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Russia, Alaska and Canada.

“The advantage of being based in Barrow is that we’ll be starting the flights right from the water’s edge,” Kurtz said.

For its annual Arctic and Antarctic campaigns, IceBridge flights follow pre-established lines selected by the scientific community. But in Barrow, due to weather uncertainty, the mission will pursue targets of opportunity.

“The day before the flight we’ll be looking at weather imagery and models, and I’ll try to plan a flight line that basically gets into any hole in the clouds there is, rather than following a specific path,” Kurtz said.

NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia provided the laser altimeter and the infrared camera that are being used during this summer campaign. IceBridge’s Digital Mapping System came from NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California.

For more about Operation IceBridge and to follow the summer Arctic campaign, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/icebridge

‘Water Brings Life to Land’ Ebbs and Flows at Denver International Airport

Water Brings Life to Land exhibit July 2016.  Photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport.
Water Brings Life to Land exhibit July 2016. Photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport.

Here’s the release from the Barr-Milton Watershed Association (Amy Conklin):

To help celebrate National Lakes Appreciation Month, passengers at Denver International Airport (DEN) can connect with Colorado’s water through a new temporary art exhibit, “Water Brings Life to Land.”

The exhibit, which can be seen at the southeast end of the Jeppesen Terminal on Level 5 through October, is a collaboration among the Barr Lake & Milton Reservoir Watershed Association and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Display cases feature different educational topics about water, including: watersheds; how too many nutrients degrade water quality; why it’s important to keep Colorado’s water clean; things to do at nearby Barr Lake State Park and other state parks; and different ways to safely enjoy Colorado’s water.

The exhibit seeks to inspire travelers to be aware about living within or traveling to other watersheds, and why it’s important to protect water quality everywhere.

Additional information about Barr Lake & Milton Reservoir can be found at http://www.barr-milton.org/
and Colorado Parks and Wildlife at http://cpw.state.co.us/

See photos of the Water Brings Life to Land exhibit at DEN here.

@USBR Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Tri-Districts Long-Term Excess Capacity Contracts

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Buck Feist):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed Tri-Districts Long-Term Excess Capacity Contracts for public review and comment.

The Draft EA evaluates environmental impacts associated with Reclamation’s proposed approval of 40-year excess capacity storage, exchange, and conveyance contracts between Reclamation and East Larimer County Water District, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District (collectively referred to as Tri-Districts).

“Excess capacity contracts are very important,” said Eastern-Colorado Area Manager, Signe Snortland. “These provide a needed benefit of water management flexibility, so Districts are better equipped to address drought, changes in municipal demand, and temporary changes in the watershed affecting water quality.”

Tri-Districts have annually requested annual excess capacity contracts to mitigate poor water quality conditions in the Cache La Poudre River due to increased particulate matter due to the High Park and Hewlett wildfires in 2012. The long-term contracts would allow Tri-Districts to utilize excess capacity in Horsetooth Reservoir for storage, exchange and conveyance of the Tri-Districts’ water supplies for delivery to the Soldier Canyon Water Treatment Plant. Each district would execute a separate contract with combined total exchange and storage contract volumes not to exceed 3,000 acre-feet (af).

The Draft EA is electronically available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/cbt_tridistricts.html.

Comments on the Draft EA can be sent to: tstroh@usbr.gov; Terence Stroh, Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 West County Road 18E, Loveland, CO 80537; or faxed to 970-663-3212. For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the Draft EA, please contact Terence Stroh at 970-962-4369 or tstroh@usbr.gov. Reclamation requests comments on the Draft EA on or before August 5, 2016.

Denver Water digs into Vasquez Canal Project — The Sky-Hi Daily News

The south portal of the Vasquez Tunnel is shown in this 1957 photo. Via Denver Water.
The south portal of the Vasquez Tunnel is shown in this 1957 photo. Via Denver Water.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe.

Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future.

Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, “funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually”. In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually.

Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services.

Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. “Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece,” stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, “work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system.”

Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out.

The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, “there would be no significant environmental impacts.” Officials from Denver Water went on to state, “They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction.”

The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water’s historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, “we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access.”

In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system.

Water utilized by the Denver Water’s diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range.

Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

New measures could reduce Glen Canyon Dam’s impact on the Grand Canyon — a bit — The High Country News

Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS
Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS

Here’s a report from Cally Carswell writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

If the San Juan River were a freeway, Glen Canyon Dam would be a 50-car pile-up. It forces the river to back up and spread out for dozens of miles. As the river morphs into Lake Powell, the sand in its current settles out. A rock overhang at Grand Gulch where boaters once lounged is now buried more than 30 feet deep.

Before the dam killed the current, the San Juan carried all of this silt to the Colorado, which spit much of it through the Grand Canyon, replenishing hundreds of sandbars. These expansive blonde beaches, which form in eddies, are river runners’ favorite campsites, and they provide backwater habitat for fish. But today, about 95 percent of the sediment that once washed through the canyon sits at the bottom of Lake Powell, and the sandbars have shrunk: The Colorado erodes them, but doesn’t build them back up.

This is one of the problems the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act was supposed to correct. It directed federal officials to figure out how to manage the dam in a way that did less harm and even protected the national park’s assets. In addition to threatened sandbars, three of eight fish species native to the Grand Canyon have disappeared since the dam went up, and two are endangered.

But can altering dam operations really help the river when the dam itself imperils it? Scientists have explored this question since 1992, and their research informs the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft management plan for the dam’s next 20 years, released earlier this year. Conservationists are optimistic that it will yield improvements downstream, but only small ones. “You’re really just trying to make the best of a bad deal,” says Utah State University watershed sciences professor Jack Schmidt…

But there might be other ways to help fish, Kennedy says. Chub spawn almost exclusively in the toasty Little Colorado, then move into nearby parts of the mainstem Colorado, where their growth is inhibited by chilly water. The water does warm as the river twists further from the dam, but though it should be good habitat, few chub live in these downstream reaches.

Scientists think that could be because there aren’t enough bugs to eat there. Aquatic insects lay their eggs at river’s edge, and when the water level drops, as it does daily when water releases fluctuate with hydropower demand, the stranded eggs shrivel and die.

The plan proposes to eliminate flow fluctuations on spring and summer weekends, when electricity demand isn’t quite as high, in hopes of keeping eggs wet and boosting insect numbers. More food might help chub populations colonize and prosper in the river’s lower reaches.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program