Aspinall unit operations update: Blue Mesa inflow forecast = 52% of 30 year average

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 350,000 acre-feet. This is 52% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin peaked at 69% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 496,000 acre-feet which is 60% of full. Current elevation is 7478.7 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 and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:

Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow target will be equal to 987 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.
The shoulder flow target will be 300 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
The year type is currently classified as Dry.
There is no peak flow target in a Dry year category
Baseflow targets will continue to be met throughout the year.

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 400 cfs on Monday, May 14th in order to allow the Black Canyon water right to be met. Flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are also predicted to be near peak levels at this time. The resulting flow on the lower Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage is estimated to be around 2500 cfs. On Tuesday, May 15th, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 400 cfs to return river flow to the pre-peak level.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for May and 1050 cfs for June.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. During the 1 day peak flow Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1000 cfs. River flows will return to 600 cfs the day after the peak flow. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#Runoff news: High elevation #snowpack and transmountain water should keep #ArkansasRiver mainstem streamflow adequate for boating season

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

“Much of the state experienced lower-than-average snowfall and snowpack,” said Rob White, park manager for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area which encompasses the Arkansas River from Lake County to Lake Pueblo.

“Luckily, the Upper Arkansas River Valley and the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project area received some of the best snow in the state. This means there should be plenty of water for rafters, kayakers, anglers and all the people who enjoy the Arkansas River,” he said.

Whitewater enthusiasts, who make the Arkansas River the most rafted river in the state, received more good news this week from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages flows in the river.

The bureau’s May forecast regarding the availability of water for releases in July and August indicates a minimum of 10,000 acre-feet of water will be available for recreational purposes.

As part of the Voluntary Flow Management Program, the bureau will use the water to help maintain flows of at least 700 cubic feet per second from July 1 to Aug. 15 which is the peak of the summer vacation season.

That flow gives the river enough volume to ensure plenty of exciting whitewater rapids for both adrenaline junkies and those seeking a calmer family adventure…

Last year, close to 50 different commercial outfitters along the Arkansas River provided trips for more than 223,00 guests who tested the mild to wild waters of the Arkansas through Pine Creek, the Numbers, Browns Canyon National Monument, Bighorn Sheep Canyon and the Royal Gorge. That is big business for the Upper Arkansas River Valley, resulting in $29 million in direct expenditures and an overall economic impact of $74.4 million, according to the annual report complied for Colorado River Outfitters Association.

“The Arkansas continues to be the most popular river in Colorado with a market share of 38.6 percent of all Colorado rafting use. Market share on the Arkansas has been declining, however, primarily due to increased use on Clear Creek and the Upper Colorado,” the report said…

For more information, visit

“We need action” — Brenda Burman #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought #aridification

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

In a pointed message Wednesday, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said drought and low flows continue on the Colorado with no end in sight, so it’s up to those who rely on the river to stave off a coming crisis.

“We need action and we need it now. We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans,” Burman in a written statement. “I’m calling on the Colorado River basin states to put real — and effective — drought contingency plans in place before the end of this year.”

The bureau’s latest projections call for the river to see just 42 percent of its average flow between now and July due to record-low snowpack that has already melted away in parts of the basin.

Federal forecasters now say there is a 52 percent chance that Lake Mead will decline into shortage conditions by 2020. That would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their river use for the first time under shortage rules adopted in 2007.

Nevada, Arizona and California have been working on a plan since 2015 to keep Lake Mead out of shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir, but the talks have stalled in Arizona and California, where water users are arguing over how to share the necessary cuts.

Then last month, a war of words broke out among the seven states that share the Colorado after Arizona’s largest water utility revealed a controversial strategy to keep water levels in Lake Mead high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require upper-river users to send more water downstream to the lake.

The Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to about 5 million people in Phoenix and Tucson, has since issued a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.
Officials for the utility promised “a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future” and said they would do their part to finish the drought contingency plan.

The surface of Lake Mead has dropped by more than 130 feet since 2000, when the current drought descended on the mountains that feed the Colorado. According to the bureau, the river basin is in the midst of the driest 19-year period on record and one of the worst drought cycles of the past 1,200 years.

“This ongoing drought is a serious situation, and Mother Nature does not care about our politics or our schedules,” said John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager and one of several top water officials who signed on to Burman’s call to action. “We have a duty to get back to the table and finish the drought contingency plan to protect the people and the environment that rely upon the Colorado River.”

#Runoff news: The #ColoradoRiver’s peak will be early this year

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Peak flows are expected Sunday on both the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, which will combine to deliver flows of about 8,500 cubic feet per second of water at the Utah state line.

“Definitely, I would say it ranks in the bottom five on record for those peak amounts,” said Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.

This year’s peak at the Cameo gauge is expected to be the fourth-lowest in the 85 years of records kept by the Colorado River Water Conservation District. Only the critically dry years of 1977, 2002 and 2012 stand to be lower than what’s expected this time around.

And it’s early, too.

Should the peak occur on Sunday, it will be the third-earliest ever, according to the River District.

The earliest recorded peak on the Colorado at Cameo was May 10, 1966, when the river was flowing at 8,750 cfs. The latest recorded peak was on July 1, 1957, with flows of 31,400 cfs, according to the River District…

Projections of when the peak, such as it is, will hit remain an imperfect science because of the difficulty of forecasting melting in the high country, especially as it coincides with the timing of releases from reservoirs for the benefit of endangered fish species in the Colorado River basin, Alcorn said.

There could be another bump in the Gunnison about the middle of next week.

“Could there be another, later peak?” said River District spokesman Zane Kessler. “Certainly, depending on weather patterns going forward.”

As it is, though, river managers expect Colorado flows into Lake Powell to be 42 percent of the long-term average, delivering about 3 million acre feet into the lake.

Two companies contact the Dolores Water Conservancy District on potential pump-back hydroelectric power facility at McPhee Reservoir

Pumped storage hydro electric.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Pump-back storage systems utilize two reservoirs at different elevations. To generate power, water is released from the upper reservoir to the lower, powering a turbine on the way down that is connected to the grid.

In 2014, the Dolores Water Conservancy District released an investor’s memorandum on the potential for a project at Plateau Creek to inform energy companies and investors of the opportunity. The canyon’s steep vertical drop in a short distance makes it a good location.

District General Manager Mike Preston, speaking at Thursday’s board meeting, described pump-back storage plant idea as giant battery that is part of a green energy power grid.

When electric prices are high, the water is released from the upper reservoir through a turbine, and the power is sold to the grid to meet demand. When electric prices are low, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir through a tunnel, recharging the battery.

Preston recently toured the Plateau Creek site by plane with Carl Borquist, president of Absaroka Energy, of Montana. The company proposed to build a pump-back hydroelectric facility at Gordon Butte, northwest of Billings, Montana…

The Dolores Water Conservancy District holds the water rights for the potential Plateau Creek project, estimated to cost $1 billion, based on the 2014 study. It would require environmental reviews and approval because it would be on San Juan National Forest land. McPhee could be used as the lower reservoir, with a small reservoir built above Plateau Canyon.

The project needs investors before it could get off the ground, but once online, it would generate an estimated $100 million per year in electricity sales. As the holder of the water rights, the district could benefit financially from the deal.

“We have the site, and if we could realize a revenue stream, it would help the district financially,” Preston said.

Shortly after Absaroka Energy’s visit, the district received a letter from Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy, based in Boise, Idaho, expressing interest in exploring a pump-back storage system at McPhee.

“We recently developed a concept for this site that the district may not have considered before, one which we believe would have greater viability than the prior concept,” he stated. “We believe that the timing for this particular project is promising.”

Pump-back hydroelectric storage is considered a nonconsumptive, green energy power source. Energy companies are potential investors in hydro projects as they expand their portfolios to include green energy. They need supplemental sources to meet demand when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District had obtained a preliminary permit for a facility at Plateau Creek from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it was not renewed in 2016 because the project had not moved forward enough.

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial: Utah’s future is hot, dry and full of ticks #drought #aridification

West Drought Monitor May 8, 2018.

From The Salt Lake Tribune editorial staff:

Utah is still some weeks away from being in the full grasp of summer. But already we are hearing warnings from people whose job it is to know about these things that drought and other weather patterns have several hazards in store for us.

The most immediate and dangerous is the threat of a fire season that will start early — like, now — and be longer and riskier until at least August.

For most people, that means being aware and intelligent. Activities that may seem normal and innocuous — cooking outdoors, target practice, even parking a car in dry grass or tossing a smoldering butt out the window — have the potential to ignite grass and other plants that grew well in a wet winter and spring but will quickly dry out as summer moves in.

Large and dangerous fires last summer in California demonstrate how forest and range fires are not limited to the back country. They can quickly overwhelm urban and suburban areas, causing widespread damage and death.

Experts are also noticing that reported cases of insect-carried diseases, most notably Lyme disease, are up sharply in Utah in recent years. They attribute that to changing weather patterns, which increase the lifespan and geographic range of the ticks that generally are blamed for spreading that malady.

Again, all the individual can do is to be on the watch. Any venture into the woods or other wild areas should include long pants and long sleeves and insect repellent. Symptoms such as a new rash and an sudden onset of flu-like symptoms should signal a trip to the doctor.

And the big picture of the long-term drought that continues to hover over Utah and the West is seen in reports that Mexico, Nevada and Arizona are facing significant cutbacks in their annual allotments of Colorado River water. That’s because the annual runoff from the snows of the previous winter, the primary recharge of the river, is down, because snowfall is down.

It isn’t necessary to accept that changes in our climate are largely caused by human activity (even though they are) to understand that the climate is changing and humans, if they want to continue living here, are going to have to change, too.

That means much greater efforts to conserve water, increasing what people must pay to use it and minimizing anything – like ginormous pipelines or an infestation of dams – that would interrupt its natural flow. It also means being more intelligent about living and building things so that we are less likely to start or feed wildfires.

We’ve seen this coming for a long time, and now it is here. Even if humanity as a whole gets a grip on its carbon-burning ways and stops pushing our climate over the edge, in Utah we will be looking at less water, longer summers and thirstier ticks.

It’s the new normal. Learn to live with it.