#WhiteRiver: Wolf Creek Dam update

From the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) is as busy as ever with many projects in the works that affect residents on both ends of Rio Blanco County. District Manager Alden Vanden Brink explained that the board is in the pre-permitting process for the White River Storage Project.

“They are getting organized enough so that they can go into permitting. Their goal is to be in the permitting process at this time next year in 2020,” Vanden Brink said.

According to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy’s website, the Northwest Colorado Water and Storage Project, also known as “Wolf Creek” has been in water resource planners’ sights since the 1940s when it was first proposed. Since then it seems every 10 years or so interest in the project is renewed and a feasibility study is completed. After reviewing all the pieces involved in reservoir construction the Wolf Creek project appears to make perfect sense for a White River reservoir. This is due, in part, to the potential for a significant portion of water to be stored off of the main channel, even with the main-stem White River dam. The geology of Wolf Creek and the surrounding area allows the inundation areas for the main-stem versus off-channel dam to be very similar. The Wolf Creek area also has the advantage of having all necessary raw materials available on site for the construction of the dam.

Estimates of the reservoir’s potential capacity are still in the development stages, but all indications point to a minimum reservoir capacity of 20,000–30,0000 acre-feet (AF) to 90,000 AF of storage with a maximum build capacity of stored water up to 1.2 million AF.

This is the only basin or main tributary to the Colorado River in the state that does not currently have drought resiliency. This project is a response to a developing water crisis for the lower White River including the Town of Rangely. No private lands will be inundated by this project as the location sits on federal, state and private land. That private land belongs to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

Not only will this project help the water storage crisis on the White River, Vanden Brink asserts “the local and regional economy will be enormously impacted and stimulated by the construction of this project.” The public can look forward to updates on the project as they develop.

The popular annual Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Fishing Derby is set for June 1-2 this year. This event coincides with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s free fishing weekend. The conservancy district offers free camping at Kenney Reservoir that begins Friday, May 31 and is honored on a first-come, first-serve basis. The weekend is also a free boating weekend a the reservoir.

“The Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce will be executing a Visit Rangely promotion during this time as well,” Vanden Brink said.

The White River Management Plan is a plan being developed for the endangered species within the White River. The lower White River system, which includes Kenney Reservoir, is a unique Colorado fishery. The Colorado Pike Minnow and the Razorback Sucker are the two endangered species that this plan is targeting for aid. The White River Management Plan puts the state in compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The RBWCD is a cooperating agency along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Colorado, the Colorado Water Users Association, The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, and the Nature Conservancy. Vanden Brink said “his board has been very active with this plan” to ensure that it gets completed.”

The investigation into the problematic algae bloom in the White River is ongoing. A group of concerned citizens and agencies have convened to address the excessive amount of algae in the White River from the headwaters to the Utah state line. The Technical Advisory Group includes the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Rio Blanco County, Town of Meeker, Town of Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, White River Conservation District, Douglas Creek Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Trout Unlimited.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2016 the visible filamentous alga was identified as Cladophora glomerata. All water users on the White River are impacted by this algae growth. It has especially caused intake problems for water users such as The Town of Rangely as well as private land owners. The RBWCD financially contributes to this investigation which hired the U.S. Geological Survey last year to conduct the water quality and stream morphology investigation. Vanden Brink reports that the RBWCD had success in 2018 flushing water out of the dam into the lower White River which helped to alleviate some of the algae problems in that area. They intend to use that method again in 2019 but likely earlier in the year.

Taylor Draw Dam was constructed in 1983 to create Kenney Reservoir. One hundred percent of the dam was funded by the taxpayers of western Rio Blanco County, including the Town of Rangely. In 1993 a 2-megawatt hydroelectric generator was added. The generator is capable of variable power output matching the flows of the White River. At full power production capacity, the hydroelectric facility provides up to 30 percent of renewable energy for Rangely. The energy created goes immediately onto the energy grid.

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District will meet again on Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m.

@DenverWater appeal of @BoulderCounty’s 1041 decision about the Moffat Collection System Project scheduled for March 14, 2019

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Longmont Times-Call (Charlie Brennan):

Thursday looms as an important day for both proponents and opponents of an expansion at Gross Reservoir, as Boulder County commissioners meet to hear Denver Water officials make the case that the massive project should not be subject to the county review process.

Denver Water, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and expend the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.

The project is subject of a federal lawsuit filed by a half-dozen environmental groups, and still must also obtain a licensing amendment at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to go forward.

Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case on Oct. 22 issued a finding that Denver Water’s plans were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process, a decision Denver Water asked without success for Case to reconsider, before finally appealing the question to the commissioners.

Commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a public hearing expected to last at least four hours. It will take place in the commissioners’ third-floor hearing room at 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder.

In-person sign-ups to speak will be taken beginning an hour in advance of the hearing, and commissioners are expected to issue a decision that night.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern #California is moving to shore up #Drought Contingency Plan without the Imperial Irrigation District sign off #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

From the Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the eleventh hour.

IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan from proceeding, and its board president called the latest development a violation of California environmental law.

But Metropolitan Water District of Southern California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger disagreed, and said Tuesday that attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and others in a working group are finalizing new documents to remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.

“The agreement will be rewritten so IID is not referenced at all, and the net effect of that is Met takes on the risk of potentially contributing 250,000 acre-feet that IID might have,” Kightlinger said.

The new deal, without IID, could enable seven states to meet a March 18 deadline set by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to submit a joint request to Congress to authorize the domestic plans and an international one with Mexico. IID has so far refused to sign onto the plan, saying they want a pledge of $200 million in federal funds to restore the also badly eroding Salton Sea.

From The Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels.

With California signed on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the multi-state agreement before it takes effect.

The MWD board took the step over the objections of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.

The sprawling Imperial Valley agricultural district has refused to sign the drought plan until the federal government provides $200 million for restoration of the Salton Sea, and its intransigence has forced California to miss federal deadlines for joining the pact…

MWD executives have said it is vital that the drought plan go into effect as soon as possible to prevent Lake Mead from dropping to levels that jeopardize Hoover Dam’s hydropower production and, eventually, water releases. They worry that if a shortage is declared, the agency would lose access to its substantial Lake Mead reserves.

Under the drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would be the first to reduce their withdrawals from Lake Mead. If the huge reservoir drops farther, California would cut back, spreading its reductions across the MWD, Imperial and other agencies that use the river.
With no federal funding for the Salton Sea on the immediate horizon, MWD leaders said they would assume responsibility for Imperial’s share of the cuts to push California across the finish line.

Imperial protested and raised the threat of legal action in a letter it sent to the board on Monday.

Noting that the MWD’s river rights are junior to Imperial’s, Imperial General Manager Henry Martinez argued that the move amounted to a major change that should trigger an environmental review.

“It is an unbelievable assumption … that only one minor modification will be needed for a lower priority water rights holder to sign multiple agreements on behalf of a senior priority water rights holder,” Martinez wrote. “By changing — in a way that the public cannot readily understand or see — the project description … at the last moment, MWD has violated both the letter and spirit” of California’s Environmental Quality Act.

Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger told the board Tuesday that agency attorneys had reviewed Imperial’s letter and said no environmental review was necessary. Without any discussion, the board then unanimously approved a motion to finalize California’s part of the shortage deal.

“However well-meaning MWD’s action is intended, it is simply unworkable and unacceptable to take the IID and the Salton Sea out of the [drought plan] equation,” Imperial board President Erik Ortega said in a statement after the vote…

In a Saturday letter to the Colorado River Board of California, the six other river states urged California to immediately approve the shortage plan. All six have agreed to it, although Arizona is still completing its documentation. According to Kightlinger, reclamation bureau attorneys said the MWD could sign for California.

Imperial leaders have said they intend to join the pact but won’t ink the final documents until the federal government commits to funding Salton Sea restoration…

If Imperial later signs the shortage documents, the MWD says it would be relieved of picking up Imperial’s share of the cuts.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

As promised, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman on Friday wrote a letter of support to the Imperial Irrigation District, backing efforts to win substantial Farm Bill funds to restore the dwindling Salton Sea.

But she stopped short of linking a pledge of funds to the seven-state Colorado River drought package that she is pushing to complete in two weeks. Instead, she said adopting the drought plan was the single biggest step to both preserving drinking water across the West and to preserving the Salton Sea.

“We recognize the urgency of taking action to protect the Salton Sea given the current and anticipated decline in its elevation,” Burman wrote. “We stand ready to support the efforts of our USDA colleagues as they work to implement the new provisions” of the Farm Bill. that could aid the Salton Sea.

But Burman politely implored the rural water district to first sign on to the drought plan to shore up Lake Mead reservoir.

“Actions are (also) needed immediately to address the risk of Lake Mead declining to low elevations,” she wrote. “We simply must work together as partners …to avoid such a deviating scenario.”

Grown-Ups Get a Scolding on Climate — New York Times #ActOnClimate

Youth activists rally for climate justice in front of the US Capitol in Washington,DC. Across Australia children skipped school as part of the School Strike 4 Climate protests . Image: Lorie Shaull,CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From The New York Times editorial board:

Inspired by a Swedish teenager, students around the world on Friday will protest political inaction.

The girl in long braids and lavender pants was in striking contrast to the rich and powerful adults gathered in Davos in January for the World Economic Forum, and her brief address lacked the usual niceties.

“Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” she said. “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

The applause was tepid.

Hers was not a tone grown-ups welcome from a 16-year-old. But Greta Thunberg is someone they should listen to. In fact, must listen to.

Not because the catastrophe she sees coming is news: The warnings of impending climatic catastrophe are already deafening — in the 2018 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we are less than 12 years away from the point of no return; in the findings of 13 United States federal agencies that describe the grave threats posed by climate change to the nation; in the extremes of weather reported daily; in the vanishing Arctic ice, raging wildfires, violent tornadoes and other consequences of an overheating planet that appear with ever increasing frequency.

The grown-ups should listen because the alarm is being sounded by kids like Greta who, unlike President Trump and other willful deniers of the obvious, have realized that they stand to inherit a wounded world their elders are failing to protect.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” Greta told COP24, a United Nations climate change conference in Poland in December, where the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in watering down a response to the climate change panel’s report. “Even that burden you leave to us children.”

Greta is an unlikely agent of change. She is autistic, diminutive, not given to long speeches. But her decision to regularly skip school to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament since August to demand action on the climate has helped inspire a global movement of young people who share her alarm and anger. Tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and many other countries have followed her lead. A global school boycott to raise climate consciousness is scheduled for Friday.

In the United States, young environmental activists of the Sunrise Movement created a major stir when more than 150 staged a sit-in at Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office a week after the midterm elections. And a video of a youthful delegation delivering a letter to Dianne Feinstein, the veteran Democratic senator from California, in which she tries to school them on the realities of politics while they talk of a dying earth, went viral in February.

The American students have found a strong ally in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic congresswoman from New York who last month introduced a “Green New Deal” resolution in the House. The document sets out not only a remarkably ambitious program for a rapid transfer to renewable energy, but also a broad set of ideas on how society should be fundamentally rebuilt. Not surprisingly, the Green New Deal was gleefully pounced on by Republicans as a “Trojan horse for socialism” and stands no chance of adoption, but it has become something of a litmus test for where Democrats stand on climate change — and something of a manifesto for the rising generation of activists.

@USGS: Significant Milestone in Whooping Crane Recovery

Here’s the release from the USGS:

This week marks a significant milestone in the conservation and recovery of the endangered whooping crane. On March 11 and 13, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center transferred its last two cranes of the approximately 75 that were in its flock to other institutions, closing out more than 50 years of the center’s whooping crane research and captive breeding success.

Researchers at the center pioneered the science informing much of the birds’ recovery to date, including assessing dietary needs, developing breeding methods and techniques for raising chicks, and preparing birds for reintroduction into their natural habitats. Over the years, the program at Patuxent has naturally transitioned to a more operational role of producing chicks for reintroduction. With other institutions capable of filling that role, the USGS has transferred the birds to organizations in North America interested in continuing the captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, allowing the USGS to focus its resources on other species at risk and in need of scientific research.

“Whooping cranes are still endangered, but the overall population has grown more than tenfold in the last 50 years since Patuxent’s program began,” said John French, a USGS biologist and director of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. “The end of the USGS program is an indication of just how far we’ve come in our research and recovery efforts and is a tribute to the numerous researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and numerous collaborators and partners who dedicated five decades to help chart the course for the recovery of this iconic species.”

Whooping cranes are North America’s largest bird and a longtime symbol of the American conservation movement. They are native to North America and their current population is estimated at more than 700 birds. In 1942, the entire population declined to 22 birds. This decline was primarily due to human actions, such as overhunting and the development of shorelines and farmland that led to habitat loss.

Whooping crane adult and chick. Credit: USGS (public domain)

The Start of the Largest Whooping Crane Captive Breeding Program

The captive breeding program began in 1967 when biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured a young whooping crane and collected 12 eggs from the wild in Canada. All were sent to the Patuxent center, which was then under the USFWS. The center was transferred to the USGS in 1996. The overall conservation goal for the species has been to help establish new populations in places where the large, majestic birds once lived. The Patuxent effort became the world’s largest whooping crane captive breeding program, and a model for science-based reintroduction of endangered species.

USGS scientist training whooping crane chicks to follow an ultralight aircraft. Credit: USGS (public domain)

USGS Role in Breeding and Raising Whooping Crane Chicks

“When the staff at Patuxent first got involved in whooping crane recovery, new scientific research was needed on just about every aspect of whooping crane biology,” said French. “That research was used to establish captive breeding programs, to develop methods of reintroduction and, more recently, to assess how the reintroduced populations are faring.”

Scientists sought ways to increase the number of eggs laid and chicks hatched. In the wild, whooping cranes typically lay two eggs at a time and only one clutch (group) per year. If the eggs don’t survive or are lost to predators, a whooping crane may lay a second or even a third clutch that year. In captivity at Patuxent, scientists removed eggs from the parents’ nests for incubation in the lab, which encouraged re-nesting and increased the total number of eggs and chicks produced. Sandhill cranes were often used to incubate the extra eggs.

Methods developed at Patuxent for artificial insemination of breeding females have allowed the production of chicks with a healthy genetic heritage and allowed the preservation of genetic diversity in the captive flock.

From the moment a whooper chick hatched, technicians interacted with them only when wearing a crane costume. Costumed technicians taught the chicks how to find food, purred or played brood calls to the chicks like their parents would, and introduced them to wetland habitats. The costume prevented chicks from imprinting on—or attaching themselves to—humans. This is especially valuable after release, as it is beneficial for the chicks to act as natural in their habitat as possible.

Various methods were also developed for preparing whooping crane chicks for reintroduction to the wild. Federal scientists and partners developed and improved the method of training young crane chicks to follow an ultralight aircraft, which was used to teach the fledglings a migration route south for their first winter.

The Next Phase and Transferring Cranes

Patuxent’s cranes were transferred to other institutions that can produce chicks for reintroduction. These institutions are the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia; the White Oak Wildlife Conservation in Yulee, Florida; the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin; the Dallas, Houston, Abilene and San Antonio Zoos in Texas; the Oklahoma City Zoo in Oklahoma; the Omaha Zoo in Nebraska; the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center in Louisiana; and the Calgary Zoo and the African Lion Safari in Canada.

USGS scientists use a whooping crane puppet to train a newly hatched chick to eat. Credit: Jonathan Fiely, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (public domain)

Conservation and Recovery Plan

Whooping crane captive breeding for reintroduction in North America is one part of the strategy for conservation and restoration of the species. A joint U.S.-Canada International Recovery Team develops and guides the strategy for whooping crane management, which is detailed in the International Recovery Plan for the Whooping Crane. The team also oversees the management of wild and reintroduced populations of whooping cranes.

More Information

Learn more about the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s captive breeding program and role in whooping crane research at: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/pwrc/science/whooping-crane-restoration

Whooping crane standing in shallow water. Credit: Randolph Femmer, USGS (public domain)
Young whooping crane and costumed USGS caretakers at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Credit: Jonathan L. Fiely, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (public domain)

Poudre River Forum recap

Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The North Forty News (Gary Ratham):

It’s important to pick metaphors carefully. Writers try to explain complex subjects in few words and in ways everyone can understand. Metaphors — words or phrases that imply that one thing can symbolically represent another — become one way to accomplish that task. This thought crossed my mind when I attended the 6th Annual Poudre River Forum on Feb. 1. (See http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2019.shtml)

Trying to sort out what allows a river to serve human needs while still providing the ecological services that keeps the world over which it flows alive is about as complex a problem as one can imagine. So, I picked my article title carefully. Rivers do not deliver water like a concrete ditch. Instead, like the arteries and veins of a living organism, they convey not only water, but also oxygen, nutrients and host of microbial servants to needed destinations in the biosphere. As we use a river’s resources for human needs, we should take her pulse regularly to ensure the health of the greater body she nourishes.

MaryLou Smith via the Colorado Water institute.

After attending the forum last year, I wrote a four-month series in the “North Forty News” that ran from March to June 2018. Please refer to that for background information on some of the basic issues of Poudre River ecology and management. This year I would like to focus on some of the people who make the forum work, and the process of talking TO each other rather than AT each other. That process was largely established under the leadership of MaryLou Smith, policy and collaboration specialist with the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University. Since she will retire after this year, someone else must replace her leadership — and her optimism.

John Stokes, head of the Natural Areas Department of the city of Fort Collins, made a special point of highlighting Smith’s optimism. It’s easy to get pessimistic about complex problems with no simple solutions, but Smith manages to stay upbeat. She says she has “devoted her career to encouraging an open dialogue between people.” That was exemplified in 2011 when the concept for the Forum first developed.

In 2011, Ray Caraway, chief executive officer of Community Foundations of Northern Colorado, invited Smith to host a community forum discussing issues relating to NISP — the Northern Integrated Supply Project (https://www.northernwater.org/sf/nisp/home) — a collection of communities along the Front Range intending to build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Opposed by Friends of the Poudre and other conservation groups, Smith felt that a conference built solely around NISP would tend to create more polarization. She proposed the Poudre River Forum instead, with the intent of bringing together a wide swath of people from agriculture, urban planning, recreation, conservation and business — all with a stake in maintaining “a healthy working river.”

This year, approximately 360 people met to have that discussion — roughly, a 17 percent increase over last year. Smith said she was gratified that discussions at the various tables seemed earnest and forthright. They listened to water commissioners, city managers, water lawyers, engineers, ecologists, farmers, conservationists, land developers, and others. The keynote speaker, Professor Edward B. Barbier, from the Department of Economics at Colorado State University, tackled the growing problem of water scarcity. (Yale University Press will release his new book about this problem, “Water Paradox,” in February.)

Another Colorado State researcher, Brad Udall (not in attendance at this conference), highlighted this problem in a 2017 study published in “Water Resources Research.” Colorado River flows in the 21st century are 19 percent lower than those in the 20th. Predicted flows could drop by up to 55 percent by 2100 as a consequence of global warming. (See “Re-engineering the Colorado River” in the February issue of Scientific American.) We can expect similar reduced flows in the Poudre River.

Ecologist Dr. LeRoy Poff from Colorado State said, “We need to face up to the ecological damage our pioneering spirit has caused to the Poudre River.” To do that requires gathering the data necessary to understand just what makes a river healthy. In an online report (https://natsci.source.colostate.edu/sustainable-dams-possible-csu-expert-weighs/) he said, “As a researcher, I am concerned about biodiversity conservation, and about sustaining rivers at a level of functional integrity that enables them to provide both biodiversity support as well as ecosystem goods and services.”