Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through July 23, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation through July 23, 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Hermosa Creek restoration update

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace) via The Cortez Journal:

Next week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials will be treating a two-mile section of the East Fork of Hermosa Creek as part of ongoing efforts to eliminate invasive fish species and restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the watershed.

The section, which stretches from below Sig Creek Falls to just above the confluence on the main stem, will be treated with an organic pisicide, Rotenone, to rid the creek of brook trout.

Rotenone poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans, according to a news release issued Monday by Parks and Wildlife. Biologists also plan to use a neutralizing agent just below the treatment area to prevent any fish kills downstream.

“It’s important to do what we can to ensure that we have native trout and they can thrive in Colorado water, because in our age of climate change, our age of forest fires, there is the risk of having them wiped out by catastrophic events,” said Buck Skillen with Trout Unlimited, a stakeholder in the project along with Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.

“This is one step in creating roughly 23 miles of cutthroat water on the East Fork and main stem of Hermosa Creek,” he said.

Signs will be posted at areas closed to the public during the process, which is slated from Aug. 2 to Aug. 3.

As the agency did last summer when this section was treated, Parks and Wildlife crews will use a neutralizing agent, which may cause a rusty discoloration of the water temporarily, below the treatment area to prevent fish kills downstream.

A rock barrier will be installed at the completed section to prevent the infiltration of non-native fish species.

If no brook trout are found in the section when it is checked later this summer, Colorado River cutthroat could be stocked this fall.

Hermosa Creek and the upper section above Sig Falls are open to anglers, but they must release cutthroat trout.

The project is among the largest native trout restoration projects in the state, and it has been underway since the early 1990s. Since then, Parks and Wildlife has been able to restore cutthroat populations to the upper East Fork and the main stem above Hotel Draw.

When complete, officials hope trout are restored throughout the watershed, ending just below the confluence of the East Fork and main stem.

“This project is especially important because it connects several streams in a large, complex watershed,” Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife, said in a statement. “The connectivity provides what biologists call ‘resiliency’ to the system. There are more stream miles available to the fish which allows for more genetic exchange. It also makes the fish less susceptible to disease and to large sedimentation events such as fires, mudslides or avalanches.”


Settlement with the Navajo Nation may quell worries about the San Juan River streamflow

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

From Indian Country Today (Anne Minard):

Congress must still approve the deal, but the key players – the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Navajo Nation and the state of Utah – are in agreement on a settlement they say is both fair and likely to calm uncertainty on a major tributary to the Colorado River. The San Juan, popular with river-runners, traverses 383 east-west miles in the Four Corners area before it empties into the Colorado near Glen Canyon.

Daniel Cordalis, Navajo, is an advising attorney hired by the Navajo Nation to analyze the settlement along with his wife and fellow attorney Amy Cordalis, Yurok. “That analysis led us to believe the settlement is fair and provides the Navajo Nation a favorable resolution of their Utah water rights claims,” he said.

Earlier this month, Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye issued a tentative stamp of approval.

“The Office of the President and Vice President commend the Utah chapters along with their respective delegates for working hard to draft the settlement,” Begaye said in a statement.

The Navajo Nation was established by treaty starting in 1868, long before many of the regional rivers’ current users began drawing water. By law, the reservation theoretically holds rights senior to most competing uses, according to the “first in time, first in right” bedrock principle of Western water law. But for the Navajo Nation, as with many tribes, quantifying those rights – and thereby turning them from “paper” to “wet” water – has meant decades-long slogs through political negotiations and, sometimes, the courts. The Navajo Nation Council first announced in January that it had reached an agreement with the state of Utah and other stakeholders, entitling it to 81,500 acre-feet of water for use on the relatively small part of the reservation in Utah. Based on average per capita water use, 81,500 acre-feet of water could support 300,000 people a year, or irrigate between 25,000 and 40,000 acres.

The settlement includes a waiver of any past legal claims by the Navajo Nation against the state of Utah and the United States within the state of Utah, which is standard in Indian water settlements. In addition, the Utah-Navajo settlement contains an agreement by the Navajo Nation that, if there is not enough water to fill its needs, it will not assert priority over pre-existing, non-Native water users.

This alarms some in the conservation community, who question the value of water rights that can’t be enforced. “It kind of tells me that the state of Utah understands that there’s no water left for the tribes,” said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers, a Utah-based water advocacy group. “They’re first in rights, but last in line for water.”

But Cordalis said while water supplies are questionable by some measures on the Colorado River as a whole, the situation on the San Juan is more nuanced. “The San Juan River is not burdened with downstream water rights such that those existing water rights present a significant detriment to Navajo’s 81,500 acre-feet a year (AFY) right,” he said. “In our opinion, there will be enough water in the San Juan River to achieve the full settlement value on a yearly basis.”

Wayne Pullen, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo area manager and chairman of the federal negotiating team, added that there are few pre-existing uses on the San Juan River. He said small towns like Mexican Hat draw modest supplies, as do some small wells and agricultural irrigators.

Cordalis pointed to state of Utah and Bureau of Reclamation figures indicating that in the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, Utah was apportioned 23 percent of the water available to the Upper Basin, or roughly 1.37 million AFY of Colorado River water. The Upper Basin includes all or part of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming that draw water from above Glen Canyon Dam, while the Lower Basin users draw their water downstream of the dam. In 2009, Utah used just over 1.07 million AFY, leaving about 300,000 AFY in Utah’s Upper Basin apportionment. Navajo’s allocation will be counted against that share.

“What the settlement does is provide that flexibility for tribal members to both use water now and have enough water for future development, which ultimately is most important,” Cordalis said…

“We want to be part of the decision-making, but we are not,” said Anna Frazier, a long-time activist with the Navajo grassroots group Diné CARE. Still, there has not been public opposition to the Utah San Juan settlement as there was to the Little Colorado proposal in 2012.

Leonard Tsosie, a Navajo Nation Council delegate representing the Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, and Whitehorse Lake chapters, has been promoting the settlement among his colleagues and constituents, as a way to support existing and future Navajo communities in southeastern Utah. “We can dream all we want but if there is no water, there is no development,” he said.

In addition to the water rights, the settlement calls for a Congressionally allocated, $200 million Utah Navajo Water Development Fund for Utah Navajo water projects.

So far, all seven Navajo chapters in Utah have approved the settlement, and the Navajo Nation Council voted 13-7 to approve it. President Begaye’s office pointed out that if the Navajo Nation is going to push for a legislative package, it must do so before the September Congressional lame duck session.

The #ColoradoRiver’s unexpected carbon footprint — The High Country News #COriver

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From The High Country News (Lyndsey Gilpin):

…a new study by University of Florida, University of Arizona, Yale University and University of Washington researchers shows the water [from the 2014 pulse flow] also caused the ground to rapidly emit carbon stored for years beneath the riverbeds, which could have an impact on the global carbon cycle and affect future river restoration.

“It’s still a big unknown on the true magnitude of these fluxes, but these large river(beds) are turning out to have really high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane,” says David Butman, an environmental science and engineering professor at the University of Washington who worked on the study. “Looking at the exchanges of carbon gasses between landscapes, the atmosphere, and water as we look to restore these disturbed ecosystems may be important.”

The study, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, is a step toward understanding carbon balance in water systems and the impact it could have on carbon levels on land and in the ocean. It’s still unclear why carbon was released, but the study documented that 30 percent more greenhouse gases came out of the riverbed and dissolved into the water at one site during the Minute 319 flow than before it (they’re still working to determine how much was released into the atmosphere). Several researchers who worked on this study say most of the gas was stored underground in sediment, and sand-dwelling microbes created the rest when the water reached them. The riverbed normally releases greenhouse gases gradually as part of the typical carbon cycle, but the Delta released a significant amount in a matter of just eight weeks during the pulse flow, though the researchers aren’t yet sure exactly how much.

The consequences of that are still tough to quantify, says Karl Flessa, a co-author of the study and co-chief scientist of Minute 319, but he doesn’t think the risks of emitting greenhouse gases outweigh the benefits of watering a parched ecosystem and growing new plant life. Since the pulse flow event, vegetation has thrived in the riparian zone where the land meets the river in the Colorado River Delta – cottonwoods and willows have turned the space greener than it had been in years.

The U.S. and Mexico are currently in negotiations about more restoration efforts when this one expires in 2017. And now, the researchers plan to look into how the duration of floods like this one affects water chemistry, how controlled flooding could support coastal stability, and how the consequences of flood pulses compare to a steady, minimum water flow in rivers like the Colorado.

This study may actually strengthen the case for consistent flow of the Colorado River.

#ColoradoRiver: Appeals court backs nuke plant water supply from Green River — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Green River Basin
Green River Basin

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.

A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.

The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.

“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.

HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.

Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”

Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”

He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…

The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”

It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”

Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.

It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.