Bill to expand Republican River water district headed to lawmakers — @WaterEdCO

More than 9,000 Landsat images provide vegetation health metrics for the Republican River Basin. Credit: David Hyndman

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Early next year Colorado lawmakers will consider a bill that expands the Republican River Water Conservation District, helping the district pay for a program that ensures the state delivers enough water to Kansas and Nebraska to meet its legal obligations.

Colorado has spent millions of dollars battling lawsuits over the problem and earlier this year agreed to pay Kansas and Nebraska another $4 million in damages.

Last week, the Colorado General Assembly’s Water Resources Review Committee recommended a bill that would redraw the boundary of the Republican River district to include several hundred additional wells whose pumping is reducing the flow of the river.

The bill would allow the district to assess the same fee on those well owners that it does on all irrigators in the district in order to pay for a pipeline that transports additional water to the river.

Water year 2018 comes in as one of the driest in #Colorado history #aridification

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett) via the Vail Daily:

Colorado water managers are saying good riddance to water year 2018. It enters the history books alongside 2002 and 1977 as one of the driest on record for the Upper Colorado River Basin.

According to preliminary numbers from the Bureau of Reclamation, water year 2018, which ended Sept. 30, had the third-lowest unregulated inflow into Lake Powell at 4.62 million acre-feet. That’s just 43 percent of average.

Only 1977 and 2002 saw less water flow into Lake Powell from the upper basin, at 3.53 million acre-feet and 2.64 million acre-feet, respectively.

The average yearly inflow is 10.8 million acre-feet.

The months of August and September 2018 were the third- and fourth-worst months for unregulated inflows into Lake Powell behind only July and August of 2002.

The unregulated flow in August was just 2 percent of average. Lake Powell is currently 46 percent full.

“We know if we have another drought, the risk of draining Lake Powell is real,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District and chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable. “If we have another year as bad as this one, you’re going to see lots of discussions about who’s going to take reductions. We really need three, four, several years of average or above-average snow years to get us out of this pickle.”

Locally, the Roaring Fork watershed was extremely dry this water year. The region was plagued by record-low snowpack — the lowest snow-water equivalent ever recorded for some dates at the McClure Pass and Independence Pass SNOTEL sites — sparse runoff, record-low streamflows and a hot, dry summer.

Low flows were prevalent across Colorado during the last two weeks of the water year, which runs from October through September. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought information system, 30 percent of U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges in the intermountain West reported record-low seven-day-average stream flows for the last two weeks of September, including some in the Roaring Fork watershed.

On Sunday, the last day of the water year, the USGS river gauge on the Roaring Fork at Stillwater Road just east of Aspen showed the river flowing at 19 cubic feet per second, beating the previous minimum flow of 21 cfs in 1977.

Flows on the Crystal River were similarly low. Above Avalanche Creek and above a series of diversion structures, the river was running at nearly 46 cfs, lower than the previous record low of 48 cfs in 1977.

At the river gauge near the state fish hatchery and downstream from several diversion structures just outside of Carbondale, flows dribbled down at just under 7 cfs Sunday.

Colorado Department of Water Resources Engineer for Division 5 Alan Martellaro said the summer’s weak monsoons exacerbated conditions caused by little snowfall.

“We had a bad snowpack,” Martellaro said. “It was not the worst, but then we have had an incredibly dry summer, a total lack of rain. I think when we start analyzing it, we are going to find the flows in late summer are unprecedented. We have done some things we have never done before.”

Martellaro is referring to curtailment on the lower Crystal in late July. Amid rapidly dropping flows, the district 38 water commissioner turned down the headgate of the Lowline Ditch, which he determined was diverting too much water. The ditch diversion did not exceed its legally decreed amount; the problem was that it was violating new state guidelines regarding wasting water.

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, many sites around western Colorado rank as the driest since recording began for water-year precipitation, including McClure Pass, Schofield Pass and Independence Pass.

Statewide, the water year precipitation average at all SNOTEL sites measured just 21.4 inches, which is 64 percent of average — the second-lowest on record behind only 2002.

“It was pretty consistently dry throughout the entire year,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the NRCS Colorado Snow Survey. “February may have been the only month where we had near-normal precipitation across the state.”

In some instances, reservoir releases have come to the rescue of downstream anglers, fish and ecosystems.

Releases from Ruedi Reservoir will continue through October to bolster flows for endangered fish in what’s known as the 15-mile reach, a notoriously dry section of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the confluence with the Gunnison River in Grand Junction.

As of Sunday, Ruedi Reservoir was discharging roughly 300 cfs and the Colorado River below Glenwood Springs was running at 1,360 cfs, meaning Ruedi releases accounted for just over 20 percent of the volume in the Colorado at that location.

Periodic releases from Green Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling also boosted summer flows in the Colorado River. But that water will need to be replaced this winter by snowfall, Martellaro said. Ruedi Reservoir is currently 63 percent full while Green Mountain Reservoir is nearly 46 percent full.

“Where we have large reservoirs that can supplement the flows, yeah, we’ve gotten by,” Martellaro said. “But even that is coming to an end. We are running out. It remains to be seen what the snowpack is like to refill these large holes we’ve put in these reservoirs.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. For more information, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.com.

USFWS recommends “Threatened” status for razorback sucker #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Populations are stabilized due to an off stream hatchery program. From the Associated Press (Dan Elliot) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended reclassifying the ancient and odd-looking razorback sucker from endangered to threatened, meaning it is still at risk of extinction, but the danger is no longer immediate.

The Associated Press was briefed on the plans before the official announcement.

Hundreds of thousands of razorbacks once thrived in the Colorado River and its tributaries, which flow across seven states and Mexico.

By the 1980s they had dwindled to about 100. Researchers blame non-native predator fish that attacked and ate the razorbacks and dams that disrupted their habitat.

Their numbers have bounced back to between 54,000 and 59,000 today, thanks to a multimillion-dollar effort that enlisted the help of hatcheries, dam operators, landowners, native American tribes and state and federal agencies.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. “We get more fish out in the system, they’re showing up in more places, they’re spawning in more locations.”

Chart’s program oversees the campaign to restore the razorback sucker and three other fish, all of them found only in the Colorado River system.

In March, the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended changing the humpback chub from endangered to threatened. It takes 18 to 24 months to complete the process, including a public comment period.

The razorback sucker’s name comes from a sharp-edge, keel-like ridge along its back behind its head. Chart thinks the ridge may have evolved to help the fish stay stable in the turbulent waters of the Colorado.

It can grow up to 3 feet (1 meter) long and live up to 40 years.

Razorbacks have been around for between 3 million and 5 million years, but trouble arrived as the population expanded in the Southwest. State and federal agencies began introducing game fish into the Colorado without realizing they would devour the native fish, Chart said. A spurt of dam-building was a boon to cities and farms but interrupted the natural springtime surge of melting snow, which in turn shrank the floodplains that provided a safe nursery for young razorbacks.

Dams also made parts of the rivers too cold for razorbacks, because they release water from the chilly depths of reservoirs. And they blocked the natural migration of the fish.

By the late 1980s, most of the wild razorbacks were old, an ominous sign they were no longer reproducing, Chart said. The Fish and Wildlife Service began capturing the remaining wild razorbacks and moving them to hatcheries to begin rebuilding the population.

The agency designated razorbacks an endangered species in 1991, although Utah and Colorado enacted state protections earlier.

Biologists began restocking rivers with hatchery-raised razorbacks in 1995. Now, about 55,000 are released into the Colorado and its tributaries annually.

The Fish and Wildlife Service began working with dam operators to time water releases to help razorbacks spawn and restore flood plains for them to mature. Some dams were modified to help razorbacks to get by…

Drought, climate change and increasing human demand are straining the rivers, which makes it harder for fish to survive.

McAbee said the Fish and Wildlife Service took the river’s uncertain future into account before recommending the change for the razorbacks. Their long lifespan helps them endure low-water years when few young fish survive, he said.

Cooperation among water users in 2018, a year of devastating drought in much of the Southwest, shows the razorbacks’ needs can be accommodated, McAbee said.

“Things could have been catastrophic,” he said.

Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity is doubtful about how healthy the razorbacks really are.

The government’s reliance on hatcheries to boost the population shows they are not self-sustaining, he said, and he worries about their future in the overtaxed Colorado River.

“I think the elephant in the room right now with regard to recovery is climate change and river flows and regional aridification,” he said.

“We’re skeptical of the merits of this,” McKinnon said.

Water Education Federation: Teams From University Of British Columbia, University Of Colorado Win 2018 Student Design Competition

Wastewater Treatment Process

Here’s the release from the Water Education Federation via Water Online:

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) proudly announces students from the University of British Columbia and University of Colorado as winners of the 2018 Student Design Competition. The 17th annual competition took place during WEFTEC 2018, WEF’s 91st annual technical exhibition and conference.

The University of British Colombia team’s project, “Ellis Creek Remediation,” won in the Environmental Design category, and the University of Colorado – Boulder team’s project, “Enhancing Nutrient Removal at Boulder’s 75th Street Wastewater Treatment Facility,” won in the Wastewater Design category. This was the third win for the University of British Columbia (British Columbia Water & Waste Association) and the fourth win for University of Colorado – Boulder (Rocky Mountain Water Environment Association).

As a program of WEF’s Students & Young Professionals Committee, the competition promotes real-world design experience for students interested in pursuing an education and/or career in water/wastewater engineering and sciences. It tasks individuals or teams of students within a WEF student chapter to prepare a design to help solve a local water quality issue. Teams evaluate alternatives, perform calculations, and recommend the most practical solution based on experience, economics, and feasibility.

Members of the University of British Columbia team included James Craxton, Johnson Li, Steven Rintoul, Luthfi Subagio, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Noboru Yonemitsu. Members of the University of Colorado – Boulder team included Katie McQuie, Mercedes Kindler, Debbie Cevallos, Feng Xiang, Dome Cevallos, Jackie Kingdom, and their faculty adviser, Dr. Christopher Corwin. Both teams received certificates and their respective member associations will receive a $2,500 award.

Greeley and Hansen, Black & Veatch, CDM Smith, and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation sponsored this year’s competition. Click here to learn more about the WEF Student Design Competition.

About WEF
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization of 35,000 individual members and 75 affiliated Member Associations representing water quality professionals around the world. Since 1928, WEF and its members have protected public health and the environment. As a global water sector leader, our mission is to connect water professionals; enrich the expertise of water professionals; increase the awareness of the impact and value of water and provide a platform for water sector innovation. For more information, visit http://www.wef.org.

@USGS Crews Work Fast to Capture Evidence of Devastating Carolina Floods

Here’s the release from the USGS (Heather Dewar:

To learn more about USGS’ role providing science to decision makers before, during and after #Florence, visit the #USGS Hurricane Florence page at https://www.usgs.gov/florence

The floodwaters that covered wide swaths of the Carolinas’ coastal plain are finally receding, more than two weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall Sept. 14 near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and U.S. Geological Survey hydrographers are moving in rapidly to the areas where the flooding lingered longest. About 30 flood experts are in the second week of a high water mark campaign, traveling from one hard-hit community to the next, searching neighborhood by neighborhood and sometimes door to door for physical evidence of flooding.

Double-checking a high water mark on a church door near Maxton, NC September 2018 via USGS.

The USGS experts are looking for telltale lines of seeds, leaves, grass blades and other debris left behind on buildings, bridges, other structures and even tree trunks as floodwaters recede. Once they find these high water marks, they label them, photograph them, survey them, and record crucial details about them.

The USGS flood experts’ field work is highly skilled and time-sensitive, because high water marks can be obliterated by weather and by property owners’ cleanup efforts. Hydrographers have been in the field collecting high water marks each day since Sept. 18, working mostly in two-person teams and moving as quickly as receding waters and the scope of the work permits. The teams from the USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center, which covers the Carolinas and Georgia, have recorded more than 600 high water marks in North and South Carolina and surveyed at least 365 of those. Field crews expect to record many more as they move into communities like Conway, South Carolina, where the floodwaters have not yet finished their retreat. You can see some preliminary results of their work at the USGS Flood Event Viewer for Hurricane Florence: https://stn.wim.usgs.gov/FEV/#FlorenceSep2018

Why is this fieldwork important? The physical signs of flooding provide valuable information that can confirm or correct other lines of evidence. Among these are measurements from a network of about 475 permanent and temporary river and streamgages that were in place in North and South Carolina when Florence struck; more than 175 stream and river flow measurements taken by field crews after the storm on flood-swollen rivers, streams and even roads; satellite photos and imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones); and computer modelled flood projections. Taken together, all this evidence will allow USGS experts to reconstruct precisely where, when, at what depth, and in what volume floodwaters inundated the region.

USGS hydrologic technician Rob Forde flags a high water mark above the eaves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Spring Hill, NC in the wake of flooding brought on by Hurricane Florence. Credit: Kagho Asongu, USGS. Public domain.

Right after the storm, the USGS’ early information from high water marks can help emergency managers decide where to locate relief centers, so that aid can reach the most severely affected communities quickly, and can help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage flood control.

In the coming weeks USGS flood information can help the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discern the difference between wind and water damage – important information for property owners and insurers. Over the long term, it can help emergency managers plan better for future floods; improve the computer models used by the National Weather Service to forecast flooding; and provide information used by FEMA to update the nationwide flood zone maps that underpin the federal flood insurance program.

“I am proud of the USGS staff’s speed, thoroughness and accuracy as they do this essential work in difficult conditions, and under the pressure of time,” said USGS South Atlantic Water Science Center director Eric Strom. “The team began working well before Florence made landfall, when field crews began installing storm-tide sensors along the coast. Right after the storm passed, we mobilized as many as 60 people at a time to fix or relocate streamgages that were damaged or destroyed, monitor the flooding, and work with forecasters and emergency managers to get them the up-to-date flood information they needed. And now, because the rivers have receded so slowly, we’re in the midst of a long high water mark campaign in two states.

“It’s been a sustained, coordinated effort in response to a hurricane that triggered record-setting floods.”

Preliminary USGS data indicates that Florence’s heavy rains resulted in 19 water level records on rivers and streams in North Carolina and 10 records in South Carolina. Rivers that reached or exceeded the major flood stage heights forecast by the National Weather Service included the Cape Fear, Northeast Cape Fear, Neuse, Lumber, Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Little Pee Dee, Black and Lynches rivers.

This flood event viewer, dated Oct. 3, 2018, shows the extent and type of information collected by USGS hydrologists in North and South Carolina in the wake of historic flooding brought on by Hurricane Florence. Credit: USGS. Public domain.

The flooding in the Carolinas was long-lasting, with several rivers experiencing two peaks of high water flow or flood stage. The first one happened as local rainfall flowed into rivers and streams, and the second one came as rain that fell near the rivers’ headwaters worked its way downstream. In Goldsboro, North Carolina, about 100 miles inland from Florence’s landfall, the Neuse River escaped from its banks, crested at 27.6 feet on September 18, and lingered above the 18-foot flood stage mark for almost a week. The last two rivers to peak were both in South Carolina: the Little Pee Dee on Sept. 25 and the Waccamaw River on Sept. 26.

“Unfortunately, our experience dating back to the 1940s shows that the Carolina coastal plain is a flood-prone region,” said the center’s South Carolina-based associate director John Shelton, who was the on-site coordinator for much of the USGS response. “The scientific knowledge we’re gaining now will be put to good use helping to protect lives and property if and when floods strike this area again.”

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The information is routinely used for water supply and management, monitoring floods and droughts, bridge and road design, determination of flood risk and for many recreational activities.