From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
Releases from dam help restore ecological health without affecting water commitments
The U.S. Department of the Interior today initiated another high-flow release of water from Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona under an innovative science-based experimental plan. The fourth such release, the goal is to enhance the environment in Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area while continuing to meet water and power delivery needs and allowing continued scientific experimentation and monitoring on the Colorado River.
“Healthy watersheds are critical to the economy and environment, and our science-based approach demonstrates that protecting water supplies alongside other resources tied to the river are not only compatible but instrinsically linked,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “This latest release will provide critical fish and wildlife habitat, reduce erosion of archaeological sites and enhance recreational opportunities while meeting our obligations to water users in the region.”
The 96-hour-release will pick up enough sand from tributary channels to fill a building as big as a football field and as tall as the Washington Monument, all the way to the brim. These hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment will be re-deposited along downstream reaches as sandbars and beaches along the Colorado River, mimicking natural river flow.
The high-volume experimental releases are designed to restore sand features and associated backwater habitats to provide key fish and wildlife habitat, potentially reduce erosion of archaeological sites, restore and enhance riparian vegetation, increase beaches and enhance wilderness values along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. The annual volume of water to be sent toward Lake Mead this year will not change as a result of the experiment – water releases in other months will be adjusted accordingly.
The decision to conduct this experiment followed substantial consultation with Colorado River Basin states, American Indian Tribes and involved federal agencies, including five Interior agencies – Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In planning the release, officials considered the amount of sediment available in the river; the condition of cultural and archaeological resources near the river; biological resources such as endangered species, the Lees Ferry recreational fishery and riparian vegetation; and seasonal demands for water and hydroelectric power deliveries. During and after the release, the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center will gather a variety of scientific data, including how beaches and sandbars change, differences in sediment concentration and composition, and water quality.
Recognizing the importance of annual water deliveries and dependable hydroelectric power generation, the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-575) directed the Secretary of the Interior to manage Glen Canyon Dam in such a way as to “protect, mitigate adverse impacts to, and improve the values for which Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area were established.”
Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar triggered the first release under the experimental long-term protocol in November 2012. The protocol calls for conducting more frequent high-flow experimental releases and timing them to occur following sediment inputs to the Colorado River downstream from Glen Canyon Dam.
Department of the Interior officials remind recreational users to use extreme caution during the high flows when on or along the Colorado River through Glen, Marble and Grand Canyons. Flow-level information will be posted at multiple locations in both Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park.
Additional information about this high flow experiment—including flow information, campsite maps and shoreline modeling—is available at the following websites:
From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
Healthy Rivers and Streams board members recently took a field trip to the construction zone on the Roaring Fork River, where backhoes are digging up the riverbed. By February, this should be a man-made whitewater park with two waves for boaters to surf.
Board chair Lisa Tasker said the ultimate goal of this project is to keep water in the river during low flow years, using a water right designated for recreation.
“When you get a recreational in-channel diversion water right, you have to put structures in, and then you have to prove that people are recreating in there,” Tasker said.
With a price-tag of nearly $800,000, the whitewater park is the biggest project the Healthy Rivers and Streams fund has tackled…
Now it is turning its attention to the City of Aspen, which wants to reserve the right to build reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks. The municipality filed last month with the state to keep its conditional water storage right.
“We’re a healthy rivers board, and we’re going to respond in favor of a healthy river and a healthy ecosystem,” Tasker said. “So, we’re going to come out probably fairly strongly, because that is our mission.”
At a meeting in late October, the river board agreed to urge Pitkin County Commissioners to formally file in opposition to the City of Aspen in water court. Commissioner Rachel Richards is not warm to the idea.
“Just forcing the city to relinquish those water rights actually does nothing to protect the long-term health of the Castle Creek or the Maroon Creek,” Richards said.
Richards said she’d like to see the city maintain the rights while researching alternatives, like digging into a deeper aquifer or working to change Colorado water law entirely.
If nothing else, Richards and Tasker agree, the issue has opened a new conversation and interest in local water issues.
“I think it’s going to cause people to become a lot more creative and a lot more imaginative as to how they’re going to handle a shortage of water in the future,” Tasker said.
The county has until Dec. 31 to file in opposition to the city.
From KDVR.com (Dan Daru):
90-percent of our plants and trees are not indigenous to Colorado, and they’re going to need more water to stay growing. About 20 to 30 inches of moisture a year.
Myth buster: trees and shrubs do not go dormant in the winter. They grow all year long, with spring and fall the most important times of the year. Giving your landscape a good, thirst quenching drink of water right now will give it a fighting chance this winter, and for years to come.
Here’s an interview with Douglas Kenney from Matt Weiser writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
A team of scientists declares in a new report explaining the effects of climate change on the Colorado River that there won’t be any “breakthroughs” to save us from water scarcity.
How low can the Colorado go? When will we get back to “normal” winters? Can we blame it all on climate change?
To address some of these questions, the Colorado River Research Group recently released a concise four-page paper explaining how climate change is affecting the river. It is a remarkably accessible summation of lots of complicated science. The conclusion is that we simply need to adapt to a future in which water scarcity is the norm.
To help illuminate this conclusion, Water Deeply recently spoke with Douglas Kenney, director of the Western Water Program at the University of Colorado. Kenney is also chairman of the Colorado River Research Group, an independent team of scholars from six public universities that explain the river’s challenges in an ongoing series of plain-language policy reports.
Water Deeply: One of the really important statements you make in this paper is that “climate change is water change.” Tell me more about that.
Kenney: We’re certainly not the first people to make that observation or even use that phrasing. Every element of the hydrologic cycle, to some degree, is temperature dependent: when it snows versus when it rains; when it melts, how much evaporates; how much water the plants use; the length of the growing seasons. It’s all temperature-dependent.
Water Deeply: You also write that the effect of temperature “overwhelms precipitation changes.” What do you mean by that?
Kenney: It gets to this point that virtually every element of the hydrologic cycle is very much influenced by temperature. You can get conditions that are maybe a little wetter or drier. But you start running those scenarios through the climate models and what you realize very quickly when you look at the output is that those modest changes in precipitation really pale in significance compared to the impact of temperature. It’s in part because temperature so much drives the natural uses of water, the natural movement of water.
There’s a great observation that two of our members – Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck – have made in recent research: Just a very slight reduction in precipitation, largely because it’s so warm, can lead to a significant 15 percent or more reduction in actual streamflow.