@USBR: #ColoradoRiver More Important Than Ever #COriver

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

Ongoing attention to the Colorado River emphasizes its crucial role as the “lifeblood” that sustains millions of Americans across dozens of cities and countless farms in the American West. For the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—the Colorado River has stimulated growth and opportunity for generations. Today it is as important as ever for leaders, residents and visitors to this beautiful and dynamic region of the country.

Westward migration in the early 20th century made the challenge of gaining beneficial use from the Colorado River’s unpredictable and often destructive flows more urgent. The basin’s seven states struck a historic agreement in 1922 and adopted the cornerstone of today’s “Law of the River,” the Colorado River Compact. The Compact divides the basin into two sections—the Upper Colorado Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Colorado Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada)—and established that each basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water annually. It also grants priority entitlement to the lower basin. That entitlement obligates upper basin states to deliver the lower basin’s full allocation as averaged over any rolling 10-year period regardless of annual runoff and hydrology. Follow on negotiations further established minimum objective release criteria wherein an average of at least 8.23 million acre feet is provided to the lower basin annually. Additionally, a 1944 international treaty guarantees 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to Mexico each year.

As the century progressed, Congress authorized several projects to build dependability into the river’s resource and reduce the risk from its erratic and destructive flows. By the early 1950’s, many federal projects were in place in the lower basin—including the All-American Canal, Laguna Dam, Imperial Dam, Parker Dam, Davis Dam and the iconic Hoover Dam.

In 1956, Congress authorized one of the most extensive and complex river resource development projects in the world, the Colorado River Storage Project. CRSP’s purpose is to allow upper basin states to develop their Colorado River water apportionments while meeting or exceeding required annual water delivery to the lower basin. It accomplishes that through four initial storage units—Wayne N. Aspinall Unit in Colorado (Blue Mesa, Crystal and Morrow Point Dams), Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah, Navajo Dam in New Mexico and Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona—as well as a number of participating projects.

CRSP’s key feature, Glen Canyon Dam and its reservoir, Lake Powell, functions like a savings account of water that can be drawn upon in times of drought. With 26.2 million acre feet of capacity, Lake Powell accounts for more than 86 percent of the 30.6 million acre feet of total storage capacity across CRSP’s four main units. That storage is key to ensuring the upper basin can meet its annual delivery obligation to the lower basin without creating shortages for upper basin states. Additionally, CRSP facilities and participating projects provide other valuable benefits such as hydroelectric power, flood control, agricultural irrigation and recreation.

Despite CRSP’s importance to the West generally and Glen Canyon Dam’s importance to the system specifically, it has been a source of controversy from its earliest stages. Balancing the vital need for water and related resources with an obligation to protect environmental and ecological health poses an increasingly complex challenge. The Bureau of Reclamation manages CRSP and other Colorado River projects to develop and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner for the American public. It works actively with federal, tribal, state, local and non-governmental partners to adaptively manage the river system with attention toward greater societal awareness and the importance of healthy ecosystems—particularly downstream of the dam through Glen and Grand Canyons.

Hydroelectric power generation is a very important CRSP benefit and provides major support to the western power grid. Project facilities can generate enough electricity for nearly 5.8 million customers in seven Western states. Reclamation provides electricity from CRSP facilities to the Western Area Power Administration, which markets and delivers the low-cost, reliable hydropower to a variety of cooperatives, municipalities, tribes, publically owned utilities and state and federal agencies. CRSP facility and project costs—including repayment of initial construction, system upgrades, operation and maintenance—are paid entirely from hydropower electricity sales and transmission revenues, rather than from U.S. taxpayers. In fact, each CRSP project is self-sustaining; costs for facilities within each generating unit are paid by that unit, not shared or covered by other units in the CRSP. Power generation revenues also support recovery and environmental programs within the basin, reduce salinity in the river and rehabilitate local irrigation systems.

It has been 60 years since Congress first authorized CRSP and its facilities continue to fully meet its vision and purpose. Storage provided by Glen Canyon Dam in particular has enabled the upper basin to weather prolonged drought successfully, while making consistent full water deliveries to the lower basin without creating shortages for upper basin states.

As western populations continue to grow, so do the challenges and complexities associated with water management. Facilities like the Glen Canyon Dam have been integral to development across the seven Colorado River Basin states and they will continue to play a vital role in the future of the West.

Agencies Help Producer Use Existing Water To Create Electricity — #Colorado Dept. of Agriculture

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Agriculture (James Amos):

The first joint project to help farmers use existing irrigation water to generate electricity has been completed in Colorado. And the Colorado Department of Agriculture is looking for more producers who want to try it.

The installation, near Hotchkiss, Colorado, is the first for the multi-agency Pressurized Irrigation Small Hydropower Partnership Project, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). During the next few years, the program is expected to create 30 on-farm hydropower projects in Colorado.

“This project helps farmers by putting their water to work, creating electricity that lowers their power bills,” said Don Brown, Commissioner of Agriculture. “We are very proud of this project and how it gives producers a way to cut their costs and use their resources efficiently.”

The Hotchkiss installation helps veterinarian and farmer Susan Raymond use water already flowing in her irrigation pipeline to generate electricity to offset that used by her veterinary practice and alfalfa operation. When the water is not being used to feed her three center-pivot sprinklers, it flows through the 8-kilowatt hydropower generator attached to the pipeline.

The $50,000 project was finished in early July with $32,800 in assistance from four funding programs, including the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s “Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency” (ACRE3) program, the NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Rural Development’s (RD) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Delta Conservation District. The project also used local contractors.

The overall hydro program is funded and assisted by 14 agencies and groups, collectively contributing $3 million to the effort for project funding and technical assistance for Colorado agricultural producers.

A second Colorado project is under construction near Kersey, Colorado, to help a farmer there use the energy in his irrigation water to generate electricity. That will help offset the electrical bill for his farm. That project uses “low-head” hypropower technology because the available pressure in the surface-fed water is lower, as is the case with many agricultural water supplies.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is looking for more producers who want to participate. Sam Anderson, the department’s lead official for the hydro program, said the department will help producers apply to the funding programs. Applicants must be eligible to receive funding from the EQIP program. To start the application process, contact Anderson at sam.anderson@state.co.us.

The overall project has 14 partner agencies and groups:
USDA – Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Colorado Department of Agriculture ACRE 3 energy grant program
USDA – RD Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
Colorado State Conservation Board
Colorado Energy Office
The Nature Conservancy – Colorado
American Rivers
Colorado Water Conservation Board
Colorado Association of Conservation Districts
Colorado State University Extension
Colorado Small Hydro Association
Colorado Rural Electric Association
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
Hydro Research Foundation

#ColoradoRiver — Tale of Two Basins — Circle of Blue

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

In Colorado, rivers flow not only down mountain slopes but beneath them, across them, and through them.

Nearly four dozen canals, tunnels, and ditches in the state move water out of natural drainages and into neighboring basins. Some snake across high passes. Others pierce bedrock.

All manmade water courses, meant to supply farming, manufacturing, or household use, eventually become so familiar they become part of the landscape. But old infrastructure can come to life in different form. Recently, Gov. John Hickenlooper cast renewed attention on water supply and growth in the West with a decision in a long-running process to expand a Colorado River diversion.

That diversion is the Moffat tunnel which supplies water to Gross reservoir. From its western portal at the base of Winter Park’s ski slopes the 80-year-old conduit, blasted through layers of gneiss, granite, and schist, sends water from west-flowing Colorado River tributaries to Gross reservoir, east of the Continental Divide.

Denver Water, the public utility that owns Gross reservoir, wants to triple its capacity in order to secure water for one of the country’s fastest growing big cities. The $US 380 million project, under state and federal review since 2003, gained Gov. Hickenlooper’s endorsement on the last day of June, a week after it collected a key state water quality permit. The final piece will be a dredging permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Gross reservoir expansion reflects a fundamental tension for the seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River: how many more diversions can the stressed basin tolerate? The watershed is drying but states in the upper basin still plan to pull more water out of the river. Whether they should — and how much — is a matter of constant debate.

“The challenge becomes reconciling the ability to develop water with the reality that you are assuming a ton of risk,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told Circle of Blue..

A Game of Risk
Some observers say that the risk threshold has already been crossed. A group of respected academics calling themselves the Colorado River Research Group argued in a 2014 paper that the basin must strive to use less water, not more. “Any conversation about the river that does not explicitly acknowledge this reality is not helpful in shaping sound public policy,” they wrote.

Eklund said he understands the sentiment behind the call for restraint. However, Colorado’s constitution is set up, he said, to protect the right to develop water.

“The state is not going to call balls and strikes and say whether a project is a good investment,” he said. “You take it at your peril. You assume the risk.”

The upper basin is starting to think about those risks. Like the lower basin, it is participating in the pilot conservation program. Most of its projects are located in Colorado and Wyoming. The goal is to prop up Lake Powell with the saved water.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

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

Upper Colorado River Basin July 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin July 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal 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.

Why #ClimateChange May Spell Trouble For Rocky Mountain National Park Lakes — #Colorado Public Radio

Loch Vale photo via LandscapeImagery.com
Loch Vale photo via LandscapeImagery.com

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

A U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who also works with Colorado State University, [Jill] Baron has spent much of her professional life collecting data and writing research papers on the Loch Vale Watershed, which includes two glaciers, lakes and streams inside Rocky Mountain National Park…

Back in 1982, Baron set up instruments at the Loch Vale Watershed to measure weather and stream flows. When she first started, she said climate change wasn’t front and center.
“It was acid rain. I think the sheer excitement of discovery got a lot of people into studying acid rain,” she said.

But instead of acid rain, she found nitrogen was falling out of the sky into the park. It was causing changes to the ecosystem.

Over the decades Baron has become a small-but-mighty character in the ecology world. An inch over 5 feet tall, she none the less has chosen a branch of science that’s physically demanding. It takes a lot of work to collect field samples every week. She’s even enlisted her two kids.

The long-term data she’s gathered at Loch Vale Watershed is highly valued because it’s been gathered over such a long period of time. Most recently, the Watershed contributed data to a 2015 scientific paper on global lakes and climate change. It found lakes are warming faster compared to air or ocean temperatures. The paper projected a 20 percent boost in lake algae around the globe in the next century.

“When you warm the water, it makes it easier for algae and bacteria to take up nutrients. So you get more nutrient cycling, you get more productivity,” said Baron.

Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

TAMARISK: A THREAT TO THE RIVER
The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

A MODEL FOR RIPARIAN RESTORATION
“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

Bessemer Ditch farmers say, “Enough is enough,” for business development along the ditch

Bessemer Ditch circa 1890 via WaterArchives.org
Bessemer Ditch circa 1890 via WaterArchives.org

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Bessemer Ditch farmers have adopted a very worthy cause in actively promoting policies and regulations that recognize the paramount importance of irrigated farming all along the ditch.

Spurred by a proposed gravel mining operation in the Avondale area, 25 farmers said enough is enough. They recently wrote a letter to the Pueblo County commissioners asking for a moratorium on such commercial enterprises that would threaten agriculture along or near the Bessemer Ditch.

Of immediate concern is the proposed Fremont Paving gravel pit that would mine 1,500 acres in an area south of Olson Road and east of 40th Lane. Neighbors of the area known as Badger Hills have filed letters of opposition with the state Mined Land Reclamation Board, which oversees mining applications. We hope the neighbors succeed in getting the state board to reject the application.

Of far broader importance is the efforts of the 25 Bessemer Ditch farmers to persuade Pueblo County to stop development that ultimately could do permanent harm to the historically and economically important business of agriculture.

“A lot of us are tired of having to fight to protect our land,” said Dan Hobbs, speaking for the 25 farmers who ask the commissioners for a moratorium on commercial enterprises affecting the Bessemer Ditch. “It seems like an ongoing challenge. It’s really the culmination of 15 years of trying to defend our interests.”

Tom Rusler, a fourth-generation Avondale farmer, said, “This is the third shot at building a gravel pit in the same area and we’ve had enough. We’re farmers out here and this is like an invasion.”

Rusler said other threats to the ecosystem have included Pueblo Chemical Depot contamination of groundwater and a proposed nuclear power plant that was subsequently rejected by the county commissioners.

The farmers want time to develop changes to Pueblo County’s comprehensive land-use plan that would protect farmland.

With help from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and Palmer Land Trust, the farmers plan an agricultural landscape analysis for the county.

We applaud these farmers’ crusade to save Bessemer Ditch farmland, considered some of the best in the Western United States. It’s a worthy cause.

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