@audubonsociety files lawsuit over Chatfield Reallocation Project

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

From TheDenverChannel.com (Marc Stewart):

“Swim, or hike, or watch birds, if you have a boat you can go boating,” said Polly [Reetz].

Yet the couple fears a construction project to build additional areas to hold water will ruin the place in the near future.

It’s a project that supporters argue is necessary in order to store water in a state that is in the midst of a population boom and a drought.

“I think aesthetically, it’s going to be a very different kind of park with mud flats instead of this rich riparian vegetation,” said Gene.

Along with the Audubon Society, they fear that by getting rid of the green space around the reservoir, all of nature will be hurt… including the animals.

“When you destroy the habitat, or alter it, so that it’s no longer usable for them, there really isn’t any other place to go, because other areas are already full too,” said Polly.

Which is why the Audubon society has gone to court.

They want a judge to throw out a previous decision allowing the project to move forward, saying among other things, that it violates the Clean Water Act.

A hearing will take place in September.

The Army Corps of Engineers is not commenting as the case is in litigation

“Audubon recognizes the region is growing, and so were not against developing additional water supplies,” said Gene [Reetz]. He is pushing for more water conservation and alternative storage sites other than Chatfield.

EPA and City of Colorado Springs negotiating end to Clean Water Act lawsuit? — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pamela Zubeck):

Despite protests from fellow plaintiffs, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to revisit a possible settlement with the city Colorado Springs over alleged Clean Water Act violations caused by the city’s longterm neglect of stormwater management, according to documents obtained by the Independent.

The renewed negotiations come as U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch scheduled an August trial in the lawsuit on May 22, the day after the state’s lead attorney in the case was reportedly fired for a reason the Colorado Attorney General’s Office won’t discuss.

Margaret “Meg” Parish, first assistant attorney general in the Natural Resources & Environment Section, wrote several scathing letters to the EPA in recent months, calling the EPA’s action “shocking and extraordinary” and expressing “deep concern and disappointment” that the agency would unilaterally reopen settlement discussion without consulting co-plaintiffs. Besides the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), those include Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

The move was particularly alarming, she noted, because the state and EPA had signed an agreement in which both agreed not to communicate with the city without the presence of the other.

Some who couldn’t comment on the record due to confidentiality rules called the latest moves — reopening negotiations and the firing of Parish — as “pure politics” in an era when the EPA’s reputation is pivoting from protecting the environment to serving polluters.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has long-standing and close ties to the oil and gas industry and is under investigation for multiple alleged ethics breaches, met with the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs in October when the HBA paid for his night’s stay at The Broadmoor.

A few months later, on March 19, the EPA wrote a letter to the city “as a follow up to the City’s recent request to re-initiate settlement negotiations.”

The EPA’s co-plaintiffs were given two days notice that the letter would be sent to the city’s legal counsel, reportedly fueling outrage among those partners. Pueblo County has harbored distrust of the city of Colorado Springs for decades regarding sewage discharges and raging stormwater flows in Fountain Creek, which befouls the creek and threatens levees at Pueblo where the creek joins with the Arkansas River. Farmers in the Lower Ark region have complained for years that sediment blocks their irrigation headgates interfering with raising crops.

#ColoradoRiver: Lower Basin folks hope to solve the #Drought Contingency Plan conundrum #COriver

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The hope is that this will lead to approval by year’s end of a proposed Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, to conserve more water now to prevent catastrophic declines at Lake Mead later.

At stake is the future of your drinking water supply — the CAP’s canals bring river water to Phoenix and Tucson — and that of the 40 million people in seven states and Mexico who also depend on the Colorado River for water.

Here are six things to know about this future:

1. President Trump has called concerns about human-caused climate change bad science. But out West, his Bureau of Reclamation officials are saying the seven basin states must act to avert a crisis on the Colorado that many scientists have traced to climate change…

2. CAP officials are concerned that conserving “too much” water in Lake Mead could trigger a premature shortage in water deliveries first for Arizona farms, and later for Phoenix and Tucson’s drinking water. Others say that isn’t valid…

3. Without a drought plan, the bad tidings that many fear will befall Lake Mead in the distant future could arrive much sooner…

4. The drought’s additional threat to Lake Powell could threaten Western power production as well as Lake Mead, which supplies water to Arizona…

5. Arizona’s water agencies are making nice now, and a top CAP official sounds almost contrite. But approval of a drought plan remains uncertain…

6. The drought plan is only a band-aid, but putting an end to the fighting is considered essential.

Ouray “State of the River” meeting recap: “We can survive one bad drought” — Bob Hurford

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Tanya Ishikawa):

[Bob] Hurford’s general sentiment about this year’s drought was shared by all who presented reports at the Ouray State of the Rivers meeting at the Ouray County 4H Event Center May 16. The presentations came two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector in 34 of the state’s 64 counties, including San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, and Delta counties…

Hurford explained that over half of the Rocky Mountains’ water supply is in its snowpack. As of April 1, Colorado’s snowpack was 68 percent of average and 64 percent of last year’s. Data maps show that the April 1 snowpack was between 50 percent and 69 percent for Ouray and Montrose counties, and below 50 percent for San Miguel County. Division 4, the eastern area around Gunnison, has the most snowpack; the San Juan Mountains have the least, with snowpack above Ridgway Reservoir at just 46 percent of average.

Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California had the lowest amount of precipitation in the U.S. this winter, and those four states — plus Nevada and New Mexico — had the highest temperatures from November 2017 to January 2018, according to statistics in Hurford’s report.

Data from reservoirs in October 2017 show that Colorado had one of its best years with close to 120 percent of average water levels statewide, 100 percent of average in Division 4 and around 116 percent of average in Ridgway Reservoir. Over the last two decades, reservoirs were at or above 100 percent for 11 years.

“We can survive one bad drought. Two bad droughts in a row and that gets us,” Hurford said.

Ridgway Reservoir Dam Superintendent Tony Mitchell, of Tri-County Water Conservancy District, showed National Weather Service forecast data that estimated January-April 1 flows into the reservoir at 88 percent of average in 2016, 111 percent in 2017 and 49 percent in 2018. For the period of April 1 through July, the main runoff season, flow estimates were 92 percent of average in 2016, 96 percent in 2017 and 40 percent in 2018.

Responding to a question about why the reservoir has looked lower than usual this spring, Tri-County Water Conservancy District Manager Mike Berry said late-season releases to the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) were larger than usual last year, precipitation was low last summer and storage levels are kept lower than normal to avoid water spilling over the dam, which would send non-native fish into the Uncompahgre River, endangering the trout there.

UVWUA Manager Steve Andersen, who is also a director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said, “My association will be OK this year. There’s not as much water as we would like to have, but we will be able to make a crop this year.”

However, to ensure its downstream water users have enough water, the association in Montrose may have to put a call on water use later in the season, shutting headgates to irrigators upstream in Ouray County (who have junior water rights). Andersen does not expect to make a similar call on water on the upper Gunnison River side because of better snowpack, which should maintain higher flows there. He said the association would use that Gunnison water before resorting to a call on the Ouray side…

The last time that Ouray irrigators had to shut their headgates due to low stream flows and obligations to more senior water rights holders downstream was in 2012. That is when the Ouray County Water Users Association was founded…

With the drought conditions came concerns about wildfires, and Ouray and Montrose counties implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions on [May 21, 2018]. Stage 1 limits the areas where fires, smoking and spark-igniting activities can take place, according to the State of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention. Stage 2 adds more restrictions, while Stage 3 is the strictest, limiting entry into closed areas and setting fines as high as $10,000 for violators, or imprisonment for six months.

#Runoff news: Boating season — book now for the best water this season

Arkansas River at Parkdale May 28, 2018 via USGS.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Peak flows on the Arkansas River apparently happened May 18, more than a month earlier than usual. The water levels peaked at 1,870 cubic feet per second, far below the average 2,500 to 3,000 cfs and have fallen to 1,500 cfs…

A deal has been done with downriver farmers and cities to help the whitewater industry get through difficult years like this one — by setting up a reserve of 10,000 acre-feet of water held in Turquoise Lake, Twin Lakes and Clear Creek Reservoir.

CPW officials this week said they’ve notified agricultural water users and federal Bureau of Reclamation operators of the reservoirs that rafting companies probably will need to draw on that reserve to keep the river flowing at a level no lower than 700 cfs — crucial for boating — through Aug. 15.

“They said they will have the 10,000 ace-feet available,” White said. “That feels great. It is invaluable. It is the difference between having a lousy summer and having a good summer.”

[…]

Earlier high flows on rivers caused by earlier melting of reduced mountain snowpack — which this year measured as low as 40 percent of normal in some areas — exemplify the changes scientists have linked to a buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere.

“Adapting to climate variability is something we are going to have to wrap our heads around in the future,” American Whitewater president Mark Singleton said Friday in an interview. That group represents boaters nationwide and serves as a central source of statistics on matters such as deaths. (Along the Arkansas River since 1986, only 13 rafting deaths on commercial rafting trips were reported, Singleton said, lauding careful state management of the river under a partnership with the federal Bureau of Land Management.)

“These are all fundamental changes in the river systems,” Singleton said. “And if there’s no water in the reservoirs, there’s no river flow. … What we have seen is these really big swings. In all of our climate systems, we are seeing greater variability.”

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs May 28, 3018 via the USGS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

“I think the main stem of the Yampa has peaked,” forecast center senior hydrologist Ashley Nielson said Wednesday. “There is a chance for some rain this weekend, but it would take heavy precipitation over the Yampa and Elk rivers,” to send them to a new level.

That means the Yampa reached its zenith for the season at 12:45 a.m. May 14, when the flow was 2,570 cubic feet per second. If that figure is confirmed, it would be the lowest peak since 2012 when the river topped out at 1,570 cfs on April 27.