#ColoradoRiver: The entire basin is pretty much in #drought #COriver #aridification

Credit: Wikipedia.org

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

The river’s Upper Basin – generally north of Lake Powell – has been largely insulated from the 19-year drought afflicting the giant watershed, thanks to the region’s relatively small water demand and heavy snows that bury Colorado’s 14,000ft peaks each winter. But this year, there was no salvation in the snowpack.

Several major Colorado River tributaries – the Dolores, San Juan and Gunnison rivers – saw record-low snowpack this winter. Others, including the Yampa River and the headwaters of the Colorado itself, did not break records but saw snowpack shrink to 70 percent or less of average.

As a result, many reservoirs on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains have shrunk to mud puddles. In August, the resort city of Aspen, Colorado, imposed mandatory watering restrictions on its residents and visitors for the first time in its history. And in another first, the state of Colorado curtailed water rights on the Yampa River – which flows through Steamboat Springs – forcing some water users to stop extracting water to protect higher-priority users and aquatic life in the river.

In the Colorado River’s more arid Lower Basin, the chronic drought has received plenty of attention due to the dramatic shrinkage of Lake Mead and the likelihood of water shortages for Arizona, Nevada and California in 2020. But drought in the Upper Basin has gone relatively unnoticed, and in many ways it will be a much tougher problem to solve.

“This is the first time we’ve had to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh my gosh, our lives have changed,’” says Doug Monger, a county commissioner in Routt County, Colorado, home to Steamboat Springs. “It’s scary as hell.”

Mead and Powell are the largest and second-largest reservoirs in the nation, respectively. They’re linked by the Grand Canyon, one of the planet’s most iconic geologic features. Yet while everyone has watched epic drought paint a giant bathtub ring around Lake Mead, Lake Powell has been shrinking, too.

The water elevation at Powell has sunk 94ft since 2000. A big reason is that Lake Powell has been used to keep Lake Mead from sinking to an elevation of 1,075ft, the point at which the federal government must declare a water shortage under a 2007 agreement. This would cause mandatory water delivery cuts to the Lower Basin states, triggering widespread water rationing.

A new report by a team of science and policy experts, known as the Colorado River Research Group, notes that continuing this practice will bring harm to Lake Powell. If the lake shrinks, it could compromise hydropower generation at Glen Canyon Dam and prevent Lake Powell from continuing to backfill Lake Mead.

It could also touch off an ugly dispute between the two basins. To reach agreement on the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Upper Basin states committed to send the Lower Basin states a certain amount of water. As measured at Lee’s Ferry, just below Lake Powell, those water deliveries must achieve a 10-year running average of 75 million acre-feet. If not, the Lower Basin states can declare a “compact call,” triggering negotiations that could subject the Upper Basin states to water rationing.

That prospect, long considered remote, may now be looming.

“The lower Lake Powell gets, the higher the probability that’s going to happen,” says Douglas Kenney, a member of the research group and director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado Law School. “A compact call would be devastating in the Upper Basin. It would be total chaos.”

That’s because there are no hard and fast rules to govern a compact call. There is no clear trigger for the process, unlike the elevation triggers at Lake Mead. And there is no clear process that follows declaration of a compact call, nor any rules about who should cut their water use.

If the Lower Basin declares a compact call, Kenney says, it would surely be contested by Upper Basin water users.

“Some of that could be Supreme Court-type litigation that could come into play,” he says. “If you get to that point, all you’re doing is saying there’s not going to be enough water for everybody, so let’s decide who’s going to get the short end of the stick. You never solve problems when you get to that situation.”

Powell has continued shrinking not just because of drought in the Upper Basin, but because the Lower Basin has benefited from surplus water passed through Glen Canyon Dam – beyond requirements of the 1922 agreement. Through interim rules adopted in 2007, surplus flows in the Upper Basin have been passed along to Lake Mead to keep the latter from falling into shortage. This water would have otherwise stayed in Lake Powell and avoided the decline in water elevation there.

This has amounted to an 11 million acre-feet bonus for Lake Mead since the surplus water began flowing, Kenney’s group found in the new report. And Lake Powell is likely to go on shrinking as long as these water releases continue.

In addition to the threat of a compact call, Colorado now has its own water shortages to worry about from drought and climate change. A new study, for instance, blames 53 percent of the decline in water flows in the Colorado River on warmer temperatures, not just less precipitation. This is likely to continue as temperatures warm, a worrisome trend since the Upper Basin delivers about 90 percent of all the flow in the Colorado River.

West Drought Monitor September 11, 2018.

Sharing my heritage, in my own words (Part 1) – News on TAP

Dr. Selene Hernandez-Ruiz, water quality scientist, shares her background and the cultural experiences that have shaped her life.

Source: Sharing my heritage, in my own words (Part 1) – News on TAP

Splash into National Hispanic Heritage Month – News on TAP

Experts spend time at local Latino community events talking all things water.

Source: Splash into National Hispanic Heritage Month – News on TAP

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#ColoradoRiver District GM unveils manifesto on water-use reductions — @AspenJournlism @ColoradoWater #COriver #crdseminar

A slide presented by Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, on Sept. 14, 2018 at the district’s seminar called ‘Risky business on the Colorado River.’ The slide shows how water from the Colorado River system, within the state of Colorado, is used.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, presented six principles last week to guide an emerging federal and state program designed to reduce water use in order to avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.

Mueller spoke at a seminar produced by the River District in Grand Junction that attracted 265 people. The theme of the seminar was “Risky Business on the Colorado River.”

(Also see, “River planning muddied up?” by Dennis Webb in Grand Junction Sentinel on Sept. 14).

The first two principles Mueller described Friday at the meeting relate to a legal bucket-within-a-bucket that the upper-basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming plan to create through federal legislation in Lake Powell, which would allow the three states to control water that they deliver to the big federal reservoir through a demand management, or water-use reduction program.

The River District’s first principle is that such a storage program in Lake Powell should be “free of charge” and designed “for the benefit of the upper basin to avoid a compact violation.”

The district’s second principle says water stored in Lake Powell from a demand-management program should “not be subject to equalization or balancing releases from Lake Powell.”

That principle stems from a set of interim guidelines approved in 2007 by the upper-basin states and the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that seek to use water from Lake Powell, when it is at certain levels, to keep Lake Mead operational.

Mueller and other upper-basin regional water managers think the guidelines, which expire in 2026, now allow the lower basin to take more water than they deserve under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Mueller told his audience that the demand-management pool to be created in Lake Powell is “for preventing lower-basin entities from sucking too much water down that river.”

So, the second principle is meant to protect the upper basin from the lower basin.

The other principles are designed to either protect the Western Slope from the state, which is discussing potential mandatory cutbacks in water use in order to avoid a compact call, or from the Front Range, which may support such a measure, according to Mueller.

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District, addressing a crowd of 265 water managers, users and stakeholders in Grand Junction on Friday at a River District seminar called ‘Risky business on the Colorado River.’ Mueller spelled out six principles the River District wants the state to embrace as it develops a ‘demand management’ program designed to get the state’s water users to reduce their water use in order to bolster levels in Lake Powell.

Depletions

The River District’s board members are determined to protect agricultural interests on the Western Slope, which use about 1.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system every year, mainly for irrigating alfalfa fields and pastures.

By comparison, Front Range cities use about 360,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River Basin through their transmountain diversion systems, which are junior to the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

And if those cities have that water cut off in the face of a call under the compact, Mueller said they would come buy out willing irrigators on the Western Slope and dry up their fields.

The River District’s third principle is that any use-reduction program in the upper-basin states must be “voluntary, temporary and compensated” and “must reflect proportionate contributions from each upper division state.”

Mueller said the River District supports a “guided market” approach to paying water users to use less water and let it flow instead to Lake Powell.

“What we’re opposed to is some form of mandatory uncompensated curtailment of water rights, whether it is pre- or post-compact,” he said.

The fourth principle is that there must be “no injury to other water rights.”

The fifth principle is that there must be “no disproportionate impacts to any single basin or region with Colorado.”

Mueller said Friday that the demand-management program must “make sure that the pain that comes with the reducing consumption of water is actually equitably distributed and applied to all users, everybody with a straw in the river.”

Mueller explained that the post-1922 water rights in the Colorado River basin are roughly split equally between the transbasin diverters on the Front Range and users on the Western Slope.

“These junior water rights that are diverting significant amounts of water to the Front Range, along with our junior water rights on the West Slope, are the ones that need to be willing to share in this demand-management program, in the intentional reduced use,” Mueller said.

The sixth principle is that a demand-management program must be consistent with what’s known as “the conceptual framework” in Colorado’s 2015 water plan relating to future potential transmountain diversions.

“We’re not going to curtail our uses on the West Slope and send demand-management water down to Lake Powell, only to have another transmountain diversion come in and suck water to the East Slope,” Mueller said. “That’s what the state agreed to when it agreed to the state water plan, and we’re saying that needs to be upheld.”

One of the slides in Andy Mueller’s presentation deck on 9.14.18.

Bar fight?

Mueller’s last slide said “the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state engineer should agree to abide by these principles and not go beyond them without unanimous agreement among those entities charged with protecting the state.”

He plans to deliver that message to the CWCB when it meets Wednesday in Steamboat Springs.

On Tuesday, the River District also released a series of letters and a draft resolution on the issue, including a letter from the River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District to the CWCB board, a draft resolution from the River District and Southwestern they want the CWCB to approve, a letter from the Colorado Basin Roundtable to the CWCB, and a letter from the Front Range Water Council to the CWCB.

The letter from the Front Range Water Council, an ad hoc collection of the largest water providers on the Front Range, was dated Sept. 13. It includes a reference to the possibility of a non-voluntary water curtailment program in the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

“If the quantity of conserved water made available through a voluntary compensated demand management program is not sufficient to ensure compliance with the Colorado River Compact,the state of Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Commission may need to adopt alternative measures to generate water for storage in an Upper Division storage account,” the letter states. “We will work with the state of Colorado to develop an alternative mechanism for generating conserved water for the Upper Division storage account.”

In its letter to the CWCB, the Colorado River District and the Southwestern River District, stressed the need for consensus, and their inclusion, on any sort of mandatory curtailment program.

“We are concerned about recent discussions that a demand management program might morph into a mandatory ‘anticipatory curtailment’ program or something else that has not been publicly vetted,” said the letter. “That is the reason we request that the CWCB adopt of (sic) formal resolution or policy-statement regarding a demand management program, and that the CWCB commit that such a program be consistent in particular with Principle 4 of the Conceptual Framework set forth in the Colorado Water Plan.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and other Swift Communications outlets on the coverage of rivers and water.

#Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: @USBR expects releases to the Big Thompson River to increase significantly

Olympus Dam releases June 2011.

Here’s the release from Reclamation (James Bishop):

The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting a notable increase in releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River beginning on September 20, 2018.

As of today, September 18, releases from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River are at 26 cubic feet per second (cfs). Between September 20th and October 12, releases are expected to rise to approximately 225 cfs.

This forecast assumes native inflows into Lake Estes as well as irrigation demands will not change significantly from our current projections, but both are subject to unexpected fluctuations.

American Water Works Association: Winner of the Best Water in the Rocky Mountain Section- Pueblo Water

Here’s the release from AWWA Rocky Mountain Section (Dena Egenhoff):

Denver, Colorado (September 18, 2018) – The water has been tasted, the water has been tested and the winner of the “Best of the Rocky Mountain Section” water taste test has been announced! Pueblo Water, Colorado took first place with a panel of veteran judges and media reporters evaluating water appearance, quality, odor, and taste, of course. Competition was stiffer this year with 11 municipalities, from Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, competing for the title of the best drinking water in the mountain west during the 2018 annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works (RMSAWWA) in Denver, Colorado. You can learn more about the winner Pueblo Water utility by visiting http://www.pueblowater.org. Second place was awarded to City of Santa Fe Water Division, New Mexico, with Roxborough Water and Sanitation District-Littleton, Colorado coming in third.

Pueblo Water will now go on to represent the mountain west in the national “Best of the Best” water taste test at the American Water Work’s Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE 19) in Denver, Colorado June 9-12, 2019. Over 12,000 water professionals across the country will gather at ACE 19 where best-tasting tap water in North America will be declared.

Judges this year’s event were the voice of the Colorado River basin and water issues in Western U.S. Luke Runyon with KUNC Harvest Media, Jamie Sudler the voice of H2O radio and KGNU that inspire people to connect to water issues, veteran sensory taste tester Jordan Kelly with Odell Brewing, Mark Jockers the Government and Public Affairs Manager for Clean Water Services and brewer of beer from treated wastewater, Pinar Omur-Ozbek an assistant professor of engineering and renowned water expert with Colorado State University, and Alan Forrest, American Water Works Association Vice-President.

The RMSAWWA is the regional section for the AWWA, which is the largest non-profit, science-based organization for drinking water professionals in the world. The RMSAWWA covers Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico and has over 2,400 members, representing water utilities, engineering consultants and water treatment specialty firms.

From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

With high marks for its mineral-rich, clean flavor, Greeley took fifth place Monday in the American Water Works Association’s Rocky Mountain Section awards.

The city, which came into the competition to defend a national title, faced stiff competition this year from three states: Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. Pueblo Water ultimately won the competition, according to a news release, beating 11 other municipalities. The competition was hosted during the 2018 annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works in Denver.

In 2017, Greeley won the award and went on beat out 33 regional winners to earn the distinction of having the best-tasting water in the nation at the American Water Works Association’s annual conference. It also won the People’s Choice Award, making it the first city ever to win both.

In an email, Aaron Benko of Denver Water said Greeley shouldn’t take down billboards that highlight the city’s water quite yet.

“I believe that Greeley is still the only utility to win the Best of the Best and People’s Choice,” he said.