Aspinall Unit operations update

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The May 15th forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 825,000 acre-feet. This is 122% of the 30 year average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 681,000 acre-feet which is 82% of full. Current elevation is 7502.4 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target is listed below:

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow target is equal to 6,427 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.

The shoulder flow target is 831 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

The May 15th forecast of 825,000 af is now in the Average Wet category and the Aspinall Unit ROD flow targets have changed. Based on the May 15th forecast, the flow targets are listed below:

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

The year type is currently classified as Average Wet.

The peak flow target is 14,040 cfs and the duration target at this flow is 2 days.

The half bank-full target is 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow is 20 days.

The spring peak operation has reached peak release level. The release increase made this morning, May 24th, should result in the first day of flows > 14,000 cfs at the Whitewater gage, arriving by the afternoon of May 25th. Today, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon have reached 11,500 cfs. The current rate of release is planned to continue through Sunday, May 28th. At this time it is projected that there is additional water that needs to be released from the Aspinall Unit to prevent overfilling at Blue Mesa Reservoir, therefore the peak release is continuing to meet more than the 2 day duration target.

#AnimasRiver: Heavy metal concentrations meet standards #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

Two studies conducted in response to the Gold King Mine spill show levels for heavy metals in the San Juan River on the Navajo Nation meet water quality standards set by tribal and federal environmental agencies.

Karletta Chief, a hydrology professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a research team to study heavy metals in the San Juan River since fall 2015.

The study — a collaboration between the university, Tó Bei Nihi Dziil, Northern Arizona University, Diné College, Fort Lewis College and the Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives program — is also examining sediment and human health…

For the study, the group focused on lead and arsenic because exposure to both over a long period can be harmful to humans, she said.

Chief explained that 288 water samples were collected from the river, irrigation canals and wells located in Upper Fruitland, Shiprock and Aneth in November 2015, March 2016 and June 2016.

The study used drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and water standards for animals and plants were screened using standards set by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Chief said levels for arsenic and lead were within the standards for drinking water and for plants and animals.

The group is waiting for results for sediment tests. Information from health assessments conducted on 123 participants could be released in the fall, she said.

San Juan River Dineh Water Users Inc. CEO Martin Duncan said after listening to the report that people want to know if the river water is safe to use for irrigation.

“We need to find out if the water is safe now,” Duncan said.

In response, Chief said results show the levels do meet water quality standards for agricultural purposes.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency also has been monitoring heavy metal levels in the river since the spill.

Results from the study were presented by Steve Austin, a senior hydrologist with the Water Quality Program under the tribe’s EPA.

Austin said the program has collected water and sediment samples from 10 locations along the river and from the Fruitland and Hogback canals, which supply river water to farms on the reservation. Samples were collected from August to October 2015 and in March 2016 to April 2017.

Those samples were measured using the tribe’s surface water-quality standards from 2007, which also received approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he said.

“For water quality, none of our irrigation standards have been exceeded since 2013. We don’t see an issue with irrigating from the San Juan River,” Austin said.

Austin said the only time the concentration of heavy metals has exceeded standards for irrigation use was when the Fruitland canal reopened. But levels subsided after the canal was flushed.

He added that program officials will continue monitoring the river, and they are waiting for results for fish tissue testing.

Recent precipitation erases #drought in #Colorado

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Soaking precipitation occurred from central portions of the Rockies and Plains into the upper Midwest, mainly from May 16-18, and in parts of the Southeast starting on May 20. Drought-affected areas of the Southeast, including portions of Alabama and Georgia, experienced substantial relief, with rain still falling when the drought-monitoring period ended on May 23. The drought-easing effects of any rain that fell after 8 am EDT on Tuesday, May 23, will be reflected on next week’s map. Farther west, late-season snow (locally 1 to 3 feet) blanketed the northern and central Rockies, while streaks of heavy rain largely arrested drought development in the south-central U.S. Areas that remained stubbornly dry included parts of the north-central U.S. and Florida’s peninsula, although significant rainfall developed in the latter region after the monitoring period ended on May 23…

High Plains

A stripe of heavy precipitation from the central Rockies into the upper Midwest erased pockets of abnormal dryness (D0) in Nebraska and reduced coverage of dryness and moderate drought (D0 and D1) in Colorado. Rain also trimmed D0 coverage in the eastern Dakotas. However, precipitation mostly bypassed the remainder of the Dakotas, leading to further expansion of D0. In addition a new area of moderate drought (D1) was introduced in the vicinity of the Missouri River. On May 21, South Dakota led the entire northern U.S. in topsoil moisture rated very short to short (29%), as well as rangeland and pastures rated very poor to poor (19%), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…


Concerns in the West remained minimal, with less than 5% of the 11-state area covered by moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D2). Further, storminess across the central Rockies and environs led to further reduction in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1), mainly in Colorado. On May 18-19, Cheyenne, Wyoming, was blanketed with 14.3 inches of snow, while snowfall ranged from 1 to 3 feet at several locations in the central Rockies. Farther south, however, warm, dry, windy conditions necessitated an eastward expansion of D0 across southern New Mexico. On May 21, topsoil moisture in New Mexico was rated 55% very short to short, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On the same date, rangeland and pastures were rated 29% very poor to poor in Arizona, up 14 percentage points from a week ago, and 23% very poor to poor in New Mexico. Near Globe, Arizona, the Pinal fire—started by lightning on May 8—has burned more than 3,500 acres of timber and chaparral in rugged terrain…

Looking Ahead

A storm system in the vicinity of the central Appalachians on Thursday will drift northeastward, reaching coastal New England by May 26. Meanwhile, a low-pressure system will cross southern Canada, with a disturbance along the storm’s trailing cold front affecting the nation’s mid-section during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. On Friday, soaking rains will end across the Northeast, while showers and thunderstorms will develop from the northern Intermountain West into the lower Midwest. Rain will quickly spread eastward and return to parts of the southern and eastern U.S. during the weekend. Elsewhere, mostly dry weather during the next 5 days will be limited to just a few areas, including California and the Southwest.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for May 30 – June 3 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the central and southern Plains to the western slopes of the Appalachians, while warmer-than-normal weather should prevail along the Atlantic Seaboard and across the northern High Plains and much of the West. Odds will be tilted toward near- to above-normal rainfall across most of the country, but drier-than-normal conditions can be expected from the Pacific Northwest into the upper Midwest.

Click on the gallery below to take a look back through time to August 2016 and the start of the recent drought in Colorado.

Is doing good deeds locally enough when Antarctica threats to melt? — The Mountain Town News

Photo credit the City of Aspen.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 2008, Boulder-based photographer James Balog spoke at Telluride Mountainfilm, the festival held every Memorial Day weekend. Even then, Balog was camping out amid the world’s melting glaciers to produce the 2012 film “Chasing Ice.”

“When do you think we will have our Pearl Harbor moment?” he was asked. In other words, when would the United States—and the world, for that matter—accord the risk of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions the seriousness it deserved.

Balog identified several possible Pearl Harbors but paramount would be melting of the West Antarctic ice shelf. “That will be the major oh-shit moment,” he said.

That oh-shit possibility verging on probability was precisely the point of a recent story in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell, himself a Mountainfilm speaker in the past. In the article, “The Doomsday Glacier,” Goodell focused on fresh evidence of the rapid melting of Thwaites Glacier. It’s one of the largest glaciers on the planet and also key to what happens on the West Antarctic ice shelf.

“When a chunk of ice the size of Pennsylvania falls apart, that’s a big problem,” Goodell explained. “It won’t happen overnight, but if we don’t slow the warming of the planet, it could happen within decades. And its loss will destabilize the rest of the West Antarctic ice, and that will go too. Seas will rise about 10 feet in many parts of the world; in New York and Boston, because of the way gravity push water around the planet, the waters will rise even higher.”

If global warming won’t push sea shores to Colorado, there’s plenty to worry about amid the mountains and plains. A conference last Friday in Aspen was devoted to what local towns, cities and counties can—and should—do in the absence of more forceful action at the state, federal and international level.

Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron hatched the conference, motivated by his participation on several panels at the December 2015 Paris climate talks. His comments had elicited invitations to speak in South Korea, Thailand and Dubai. People had heard of Aspen, and he told them about the things a small —if admittedly exceptional—small town can do.

Returning home, he resolved to use the influence of Aspen to help create a new organization to spur broader action within Colorado. An existing organization, Colorado Communities for Climate Action, consists of what might be called the usual suspects: ski and university towns plus Denver and a few others. It lobbies at the state Capitol for policies that make a difference.

The new organization, called the Compact of Colorado Communities, aims for bottom-up action but within a broader coalition. Think of more conservative suburban cities, and even a farm town or two. The key alliance is with the Association of Climate Change Officers. The approach is to integrate consideration of climate and greenhouse gas reductions deep into the operations of local governments. Climate change, the thinking goes, must extend beyond one or two elected officials and the city’s sustainability officer.

Twenty-seven towns, cities and counties sent representatives to the conference. Under terms of the compact, if the boards, councils and commissions of those jurisdictions confirm the continued participation, that will mean 10 from each entity will participate in on-line training in climate-action work provided by the Association of Climate Change Officers.

“That will mean 300 people in the state of Colorado who understand what climate action looks like and how they can incorporate climate solutions into their days-to-day jobs,” said Ashley Perl, Aspen’s climate action manager, after the conference. It will mean that finance managers, city managers, town engineers, land-use planners and other staff members will benefit from the training.

Even in Aspen, she said, climate action will fall short without proper training integrated deeply throughout the city staff. “It will not be for lack of ideas. It won’t be for lack of funding. It will be lack of staff capacity,” she said.

Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Alliance for Climate Change Officers, Aspen climate action manager Ashley Perl, and Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron.. Photo credit the City of Aspen.

Earlier, at the conference, the case was made for what former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter called “upward movement.” Fort Collins, Colorado’s fourth largest city, was a case study. The city has specified the goal of carbon neutrality by mid-century. Mayor Wade Troxell talked about “scaling up practical solutions” and the need to articulate additional benefits of climate action, such as saving money from improved energy efficiency.

“If it’s too top-down, that’s not good,” Troxell advised. “It has to make sense from a lot of different perspectives in your community.”

But were they not all missing the boat? That challenge came from Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones. She cited the evidence of efforts in Boulder County to tame greenhouse gas emissions. They had not really moved the needle, she said. What made a difference were Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard and the federal fuel efficiency standards.

“There are two things not in our local control,” she said. “If we really want to save the planet, in addition to doing all the great stuff at the local level, we really have to band together and work on policy change.”

Advocates of local action stood their ground.

“I think the answer is we need to do both at the same time,” answered Ashley Perl, Aspen’s sustainability manager. “But we can’t speak if we don’t have a soap box to stand on,” she added. “Who will listen to us if we haven’t done this work in our local communities?”

Brad Udall, senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute, also pointed out that local jurisdictions have primacy over buildings. Because of the long lifetimes of the built environment, this sector poses the greatest challenge for greenhouse gas reduction.

“It will take a long, concerted effort to work on that, but that is within your wheelhouse,” he said. Local governments also have much control over transportation, Udall said.

Ritter earlier in the day had noted that transportation has overtaken the power-generation sector as the leading source for greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. “It’s kind of getting away from us,” he said. And Udall said that was another area where local governments could make a difference.

Photo credit the City of Aspen..

Aspen’s Perl, who organized the conference for Skadron, said the crowning moment came at the conclusion of the conference, when representative jurisdictions signed the compact. At that point, the day went from being yet another climate conference to one that will produce “something that is meaningful and lasting.”

People lingered for an hour afterward instead of hastening to get on the road.

And she also noted the comments of one of Colorado’s smaller towns—either Minturn or Manitou Springs—who suggested a new welcome. There was, she said, a wider diversity of people that was “as refreshing for those us who are always in the room—but perhaps also refreshing for those who aren’t always invited to be in the room.”

For a video of the conference and some of the PowerPoint presentations as well as other materials, go to: Photos courtesy of the City of Aspen.

#Colorado Dept. of Agriculture has funding for farm hydropower projects

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

From the Colorado Department of Agriculture via The Fence Post:

The Colorado Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are seeking applicants for on-farm agricultural hydropower projects. The total amount of available assistance for this round is $1,200,000. The funding is available to Colorado agricultural irrigators with appropriate hydropower resources.

The funding is part of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Within RCPP, the Colorado irrigation hydropower program provides funding to agricultural producers to help them add hydropower to new or existing irrigation systems.

“The program addresses water quantity, water quality and energy resource concerns,” said Sam Anderson, CDA’s energy specialist, “by helping farmers upgrade outdated and labor-intensive flood-irrigation systems to more efficient pressurized-irrigation systems using hydropower, or retrofit existing sprinkler systems with a hydropower component.

“Half a dozen projects have already been completed across Colorado, and this year we hope to fund more than a dozen new installations,” he said.

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

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.

CDA is currently accepting applications for the next round of RCPP irrigation hydro projects. Applicants must be eligible to receive funding from the NRCS EQIP program. For more information and to submit an application, visit the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s ACRE3 hydropower website: or contact Sam Anderson at (303) 869-9044 or The application deadline is June 23, 2017.

#ClimateChange and the Arkansas River

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From (Dana Cronin):

The Arkansas River supports economies in Colorado from Leadville to La Junta and beyond. With base industries including tourism and agriculture, southern Colorado depends on the river’s yearly flows. But climate researchers expect declines in those flows over time, leaving the Arkansas River and its dependents at risk of facing a future with less water…

The river’s upper reach supports a booming tourism economy, while agricultural interests dominate the lower basin in Colorado.

[Bill] Banks says snowpack mostly determines a good or bad water year, but there are other factors that can come into play as well…

According to researchers, increased temperatures and earlier spring runoff are already occurring and will continue with climate change. Boulder-based Brad Udall studies the connection between climate change and water resources at the Colorado Water Institute, which is part of Colorado State University.

“There are a whole series of implications that come out of global climate change that directly tie to our water resources, and the two again, they’re joined at the hip,” Udall says. “I say climate change is water change.”

Udall released a study this year on the effects of climate change on the Colorado River. He says his findings can be directly applied to the Arkansas because of the close proximity of their headwaters. Udall says climate change will bring increasing temperatures, which will likely affect stream flow.

“What we predict is that by mid-century, the Colorado River could lose up to 20% of its flow based on temperature influences, and by end of the century up to 35% if we continue to emit greenhouse gases as we currently are,” he says. “And I think those numbers are probably valid for the Arkansas as well.”

Researcher Jeff Lukas is with the Western Water Assessment out of the University of Colorado Boulder. He’s the lead author of a 2014 report, Climate Change in Colorado [.pdf], which looks at how climate and water are connected in the state. The report also examines precipitation, which Lukas says is much more difficult to predict than temperature. He says snow and rainfall could possibly increase as the century unfolds, which could create more runoff, but he says it’s hard to tell.

“My message for the Arkansas and the other basins in Colorado is, we might get bailed out by more precipitation, but we shouldn’t count on that, and we should expect a future with less annual runoff and prepare for that,” says Lukas.

And even though precipitation predictions are hazy, Lukas says some climate models show southern Colorado’s water basins, including the Arkansas, at a higher risk of becoming drier because of their desert environments.

“The northern basins in Colorado, particularly in the northwest, so the Yampa and also to some extent the South Platte basin in the northeast, show somewhat wetter outcomes for future runoff than the southern basins, the San Juan, the Rio Grande, the Arkansas,” he says.

Colorado Water Institute’s Brad Udall says climate change is causing desert environments like in New Mexico and Arizona to creep northward, which could lead to further drying in the lower Arkansas River basin.

“It’s the lower river where there’s 400,000 irrigated acres that contribute a billion and a half dollars to the economy from agricultural production,” Udall says. “That’s the area where I think one has to worry about what happens.”

Udall says the effects of climate change could put pressure not only on agriculture, but also on municipalities and the environment. He says this is a basin-wide issue that all stakeholders should take part in mitigating.

“This is really a question of governance, it’s a question of how do we allocate a precious resource,” he says.

As for his part, Udall is currently working on developing a series of online classes for Colorado State University on climate change and water tailored to the agricultural community.