Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Colorado Water Loss Initiative
Stage 1 workshops begin in April. Join the free CO Water Loss Initiative now! Space is limited.
The Colorado Water Loss Initiative (CWLI) is a 4-stage program developed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to train water suppliers on the cutting-edge practices for water loss and revenue recovery. This technical assistance program is being offered at NO COST to your utility, and will run Spring 2019 to Summer 2020. Join your peer systems who have already signed up to learn how to reduce costs and increase revenue!
Register at http://www.coloradowaterloss.org. From there you‘ll receive information on selecting your preferred workshop in Stage 1. A kickoff webcast has also been posted to the program website for additional information.
Officials from Denver, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties met with state and federal officials Thursday to coordinate the repair project, a news release stated. Staff, equipment and material will be on site over the next four weeks as the structure is permanently stabilized.
The dam is in Jefferson County, south of West Bowles Avenue and west of South Simms Street.
To save endangered fish and support healthy water levels, conservationists get creative on the Colorado River’s 15-Mile Reach
The Colorado River—that ancient and mighty flow that has carved the landscape of the American West over millennia—serves as a primary water source for approximately 40 million people. But there is a stretch in the headwaters that at times runs so low and weak it has trouble sustaining some of its oldest inhabitants.
This stretch, known as the 15-Mile Reach, is home to four federally endangered fish species–the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail and Razorback Sucker. In the springtime, when irrigation diversions begin but snowpack runoff is still nominal, the 15-Mile Reach can drop to dangerously low levels.
Now, a groundbreaking deal between Walton Family Foundation grantee the Colorado Water Trust, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Grand Valley Water Users Association and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water and power in the West, have secured a legal mechanism to be able to send more water down the river at critical times through a creative arrangement that both enhances environmental and recreational flows and protects existing water rights.
The deal provides habitat protection for these embattled fish species by bringing more water into the Reach when it is needed.
This mechanism allows water to be protected from the point of conservation all the way down and through any excess capacity at the Grand Valley Power Plant, then provides instream flow benefits down and through the 15-Mile Reach.
The agreement, like many involving water in the West, required resourceful thinking among all participants. That’s because under current state law, there aren’t many options for upstream water rights owners to send some of their water downstream for the benefit of conservation without going through an often protracted water court process.
And some might question whether using a water right, even for this kind of worthy cause, meets the “beneficial use” standard required by law.
Faced with that hurdle, the partners needed to find another path forward that met that strict legal requirement. They found their solution just north of the Reach in the aging Grand Valley hydro-electric facility.
Built in 1933, the plant is now undergoing a substantial renovation with help from the Colorado Water Trust.
The Trust was able to lease excess capacity in the hydropower plant, and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District used these proceeds from this lease to help pay for some of the renovations. This kind of creative win-win solution is a model for how we manage the river in the future.
By bringing clean power into the equation, the deal operates under the umbrella of existing law to give water rights owners the flexibility and go-ahead to support a healthy and sustainable river ecosystem.
“The agreement sends water to a critical reach of the river without requiring a permanent change to those water rights,” explains Anne Castle, a Colorado water lawyer and former assistant secretary for water and science at the U.S. Interior Department.
Anne helped broker the groundbreaking deal.
“This arrangement could set a precedent moving forward,” Anne says, “and it also proves that there is a way for those with water supplies to be able to send water downstream in a voluntary, compensated and temporary manner.”
The final agreement is an innovative “three-fer” that provides multiple benefits.
First, the water is protected for instream flow benefits from the original point of use down to the hydropower plant. Then, the water’s momentum is harnessed by the plant and converted to clean energy. Finally, the water continues downstream, augmenting the 15-Mile Reach and helping the river flow at healthier levels, which benefits the fish.
Water is scarce in the West. Securing the necessary federal, state and local approvals can require a great deal of coordination—and more than a little ingenuity. This is precisely why this nimble approach is such a landmark achievement.
As the health of the Colorado River Basin reaches a critical inflection point, with demand for water now exceeding supply, more agile, innovative projects like what is being accomplished for the 15-Mile Reach offer a new vision for a water-strapped West.
Complex problems often require innovative solutions. As growing populations continue to rely on the 1,500 miles of the Colorado River, this victory proves that progress is possible—often one mile at a time.
Ted Kowalski: Colorado River Initiative Lead and Senior Program Officer
Ted is a senior program officer, leading the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River initiative.
Click here to read the discussion. Here’s an excerpt:
The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) geographic forecast area includes the Upper Colorado River Basin, Lower Colorado River Basin, and Eastern Great Basin.
Water Supply Forecast Summary:
With the exception of the Green River Basin of Wyoming all of the Upper Colorado River Basin experienced an increase in the April-July water supply forecasts between early March and early April. Similarly, much of the Great Basin noted increases with the exception of some of the northernmost sections.
Widespread significant precipitation occurred over most of the area during the first half of March. Storm systems with a sub-tropical moisture source, similar to those that occurred in February, resulted in large precipitation amounts that extended from southwest and central Utah into parts of southwest and central Colorado. In the areas that experienced the heaviest precipitation, snowpack conditions now range in the top three of the historical records dating back 35-40 years.
The largest increases in water supply forecasts between March 1st and April 1st occurred in the San Juan, Gunnison, and Dolores River Basins. Significant increases also occurred throughout the San Rafael and Sevier River Basins in central and southwest Utah. Due to record February-March precipitation amounts in these areas, April-July runoff volume forecasts range from near 115 to 200 percent of average. Currently only parts of the Green River Basin in Wyoming and the northern Great Basin (Bear River Basin) have forecasts below average for the 2019 season.
Very dry soil moisture conditions were widespread entering the winter season. These may have some impact on the overall yield of runoff that ends up in the streams depending on how the snow melt plays out. In areas with significant snowpack or where snowmelt is delayed the impacts of dry soils may be lessened.
April-July unregulated inflow forecasts for some of the major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin include Fontenelle Reservoir 630 KAF (87% average), Flaming Gorge 830 KAF (85% of average), Blue Mesa Reservoir 925 KAF (137% of average), McPhee Reservoir 430 KAF (146% of average), and Navajo Reservoir 920 KAF (125% of average). The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 9.20 MAF (128% of average). [ed. emphasis mine]
The Lower Colorado River Basin also started out March very wet particularly in the Gila, Salt, Little Colorado and Virgin River Basins. These areas were also very wet in February. While this area typically experiences drier weather over the next couple of months, many sites in Arizona and New Mexico have already reached their historical seasonal median Jan-May volumes due to rainfall and snowmelt over the past couple of months. April-July runoff volumes in the Virgin River Basin are expected to range from 115-120 percent of average (175-205 percent of median).
Water Supply Discussion
March Weather Synopsis-Precipitation-Temperature:
Following a wet February across much of the Colorado River Basin, the first two weeks of March were a game changer with significantly above normal precipitation across much of Utah and Colorado. An anomalous trough across the Western U.S. during the first half of March was responsible for bringing multiple, moisture-laden storm systems through the Colorado River Basin. By the end of the month, the highest wet anomalies (in percent of normal terms) were across the San Juan, Dolores, and Gunnison Basins where 200-300% of average precipitation fell. Over
much of Utah and the Upper Colorado Headwaters, 130-200% of average was observed. In general, the only area that saw below normal monthly precipitation was the Green River Basin of Wyoming. Over Arizona, precipitation was mostly near to slightly above normal but increased to much above normal in the Gila River Basin and eastern Salt River Basin. The combination of two successive very wet months across much of the Colorado River Basin (particularly Utah/Colorado) has dramatically improved seasonal snowpack and resulting water supply forecasts…
March was cooler than normal over most of the CBRFC forecast area. This acted to preserve snowpack, even at lower elevations, that will contribute to the overall April-July runoff volumes…
Much above normal (median) snow conditions exist across much of Utah and western Colorado and are generally higher in locations farther south. Currently, the only basin that does not have above normal snow is the Upper Green River in Wyoming which is near normal overall.
The following maps show the SNOTEL sites as a percent of normal (1981-2010 median) and also as a historical ranking for their period of record. The snow as represented in the CBRFC hydrologic model is also displayed.
The image below displays the SNOTEL sites as a percent of their historical median as of April 2nd 2019. Those sites in the dark blue currently exceed 150 percent of median (or normal) for this time of year while those in the dark purple are at 200 percent or more of normal.
The snow percentile image displayed below indicates where the current snow measurement ranks in the historical record (typically 35-40 years) for each site. Those sites in black are the highest on record. Those in the dark blue are in the top 3 of their historical record, while those in the brighter blue are in the top ten. This map helps highlight the areas with unusually high snowpack at this time, such as the San Juan and Dolores basins in southwest Colorado.
Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future
Friday, April 19th
7:30 am to 5:30 pm
Mount Vernon Canyon Club
24933 Club House Circle
Golden, CO 80401
Come join us for an informative day of Colorado water stories and discussions. Speakers will include:
Amy Beatie (Deputy Attorney General for Natural Resources and the Environment)
Becky Mitchell (Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board)
Interactive presentation on conflict resolution by Todd Bryan
Stories from retired State and Division Engineers, moderated by KUNC reporter Luke Runyon
This year’s conference will cover a range of topics from both a technical and policy perspective, including a deep-drill into ASR, geophysical applications, and how Coloradans are reimagining the river. The day will end with happy hour and a silent auction to benefit the AWRA Colorado and CGWA scholarship programs.
Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brian Domonkos):
Snow accumulations between March 1 and March 15 have been the highlight of this winter coming in at near record levels across much of the state. At the end of March, snowpack across the state of Colorado is 136 percent of median up 24 percent from last month. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan Basins posted the largest gain of 35 percent followed by the Upper Rio Grande, Gunnison and Arkansas at 30, 32 and 25 percent respectively. Basin-wide snowpack improvements elsewhere in Colorado were slightly more modest. These improvements through March pushed snowpack past a significant milestone, “All individual major basins in the state are now above the typical annual snowpack peak, which often leads to a favorable water supply in each basin,” notes Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
March snowpack improvements showcase the impressive changes but equally noteworthy are current snowpack totals for the water year beginning on October 1. Snowpack observation points within the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan combined basins indicate 157 percent of median, while snowpack in the Gunnison, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Colorado indicate 150, 149, 145 and 130 percent of median respectively. “Current snowpack values in some individual basins on April 1, 2019 translate to nearly double or triple levels seen during this same time last year,” comments Domonkos. These improvements over last year are welcomed in restoring water supplies significantly depleted after last year’s drought.
Similar to snowpack March precipitation was particularly impressive which amounted to 183 percent of average for the state. Water year to date precipitation across the state is now 123 percent of average. Precipitation totals in the Gunnison and combined southwest basins are no less impressive each at 133 percent of average for the water year to date. By the numbers March is typically the second wettest month of the year in Colorado meaning accumulations this March were particularly impactful.
While reservoir storage levels across the state have seen little increase in recent months current snowpack levels are poised to increase storage levels across much of the state as the snow begins to melt. Most volumetric streamflow forecasts into spring and summer range from 100 to 150 percent of normal. Basins that have the highest forecasts, namely in Southern Colorado, are those that had the least streamflow last year, which should be particularly beneficial for water supply conditions in those areas.