Pueblo Dam power plant begins operations — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The $20 million James W. Broderick Hydroelectric Power Facility at Pueblo Reservoir began operations this week after testing and commissioning were completed during May.

The plant will produce electricity by harnessing flows that pass through the north outlet of the dam into the Arkansas River. Water rushing through the turbines is not consumed during the process, but simply returns to the river.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District signed a Lease of Power Privilege with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in August of 2017, and began construction shortly afterward. Reclamation approved full operations this week.

Mountain States Hydro LLC, of Sunnyside, Wash., was the general contractor for the design-build project, which was financed through a $17.2 million low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the District’s Enterprise.

“This is an important step for the District,” said Southeastern’s Executive Director Jim Broderick. “We envision this as a long-term revenue source for Enterprise programs, such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit. Equally important will be the new source of clean power we have created.”

The Southeastern Board voted in April to name the hydro plant for Broderick. A dedication is being planned, but no date has been set.

The 7.5-megawatt plant will generate 28 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, roughly enough to power 2,500 homes. Three turbines and two generators within the plant can be used individually or in tandem to take advantage of releases from Pueblo Dam ranging from 35-810 cubic feet per second.

The Pueblo Dam Hydro plant was constructed on a dedicated connection to the North Outlet Works, which was constructed by Colorado Springs Utilities as part of the Southern Delivery System.

The genesis of the project came in 2011, when Reclamation published a notice of intent to develop environmentally sustainable hydropower at Pueblo Dam. Southeastern, Pueblo Water and Colorado Springs Utilities partnered in the application for the Lease of Power Privilege.
Southeastern remained as the sole signer of the lease in 2017, after working on a preliminary design with Mountain States. Colorado Springs Utilities, which operates four hydro power plants, is working with Southeastern to provide technical assistance and power scheduling both during startup and operations.

Power from Pueblo Dam Hydro will be sold to the city of Fountain, and to Fort Carson, through a separate agreement with Colorado Springs Utilities for the first 10 years of generation. For the next 20 years, Fountain will purchase all of the power generated by the plant.

“Through this unique partnership, we are proud to assist Fort Carson with its renewable energy initiatives, collaborate with the City of Fountain and strengthen our ties to the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District,” said Colorado Springs Utilities General Manager John Romero. “This project further leverages the investments that citizens of the region have made in both the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Southern Delivery System.”

“We’re very excited,” said Curtis Mitchell, utilities director for Fountain. “This provides us with a source of clean electric power, and it has the added benefit of saving money for our ratepayers.”

CU Boulder’s Mountain Research Station: From base at 9,500 feet, scientists examine climate to top of tundra #ActOnClimate

Professor Frances Ramaley with picnic group. Photo credit: CU Boulder Mountain Research Group

Here’s a report from The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan) via The Loveland Reporter-Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s and excerpt:

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Mountain Research Station, within the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest and situated just a few miles west off of Colo. 72, is the jumping-off point for some of the most important ongoing research into the nuanced and changing dynamics of alpine ecology going on anywhere in North America.

Increasingly, the focus of that work relates directly to the signals and effects of climate change — a problem not even being considered by scientists when University of Colorado biology professor Francis Ramaley launched the Tolland Summer Biology Camp in the vicinity in 1909.

That camp, where primary tools included shotguns, shovels and butterfly nets, closed in 1919, and after the university bought the land to the north, it built what was known as the University Camp.

It was a successor to Ramaley, biology professor John W. Marr, who in 1946 would initiate the Mountain Ecology Project, the Mountain Climate Program, and the East Slope Ecology Project, and who was key to establishing the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Ecology, which would merge in 1952 with the University Camp as the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

The frontier of research into the effects of a changing climate, where animals and plants are living at the extreme limits of environmental tolerance at up to 12,000 feet, has continued to be expanded there — with ground-penetrating radar and drones now displacing shotguns and shovels — for well over half a century.

“The idea that humans could have such a pervasive impact on not just regional environment but the global environment, I don’t think was really understandable back then,” Bill Bowman, research station director for the past 29 years, said of its earliest days.

Now, said Bowman, a professor in the CU Boulder Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, “It is the very theme of research that goes on there, the impacts of humans on the environment.”

An alphabet soup of laboratories and agencies participate directly in research based out of the research station. They include not just INSTAAR, the National Ecological Observatory Network, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Critical Zone Observatory, but also researchers who don’t have weighty acronyms anchored to their curriculum vitae.

“We’ve got everything from individual grad students doing their masters theses, up to the groups that have been working up there for almost 40 years now,” Bowman said. “And so really, anybody can do research up there. We don’t make a distinction about whether they are rich and famous, or just starting in science. We really take pride in that a lot of researchers get their first experience in doing research up there.”

[…]

The Mountain Research Station base facilities, including the John W. Marr Alpine Laboratory, a family lodge with capacity for up to 32 visitors, and the Kiowa Laboratory and Classroom, with meeting space to accommodate 24, are perched at a mere 9,500 feet.

With individual data collection points spread across a challenging terrain topping out with the highest at 12,267 feet, and snow that can pile up in some spots as deep as 15 to 20 feet, simply navigating this living laboratory can be an imposing challenge.

But many of those who work there consider the opportunity to do so a gift. An example would be Duane Kitzis, a senior research associate for CU Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, who works for the Global Monitoring Division of the Earth System Research Laboratory at NOAA. He has been going up Niwot Ridge since 1987, collecting air samples that are used to provide calibration material for the measurement of greenhouse gases at laboratories around the world. He now makes more than 400 standard air measurements per year up there…

Katharine Suding is the lead investigator for one of the major research programs being conducted in the breathtaking landscape above the research station. Known as the Niwot Ridge Long Term Ecological Research program, it’s an interdisciplinary research initiative aimed at building a predictive understanding of ecological processes in high-elevation mountain ecosystems, and contributing to broad advances in ecology.

“We need long-term studying and monitoring of these complex systems to start being able to understand how they work and predict how they’re going to work in the future,” Suding said of the project, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation.

The Niwot Ridge research program has climate records (both temperature and precipitation) dating to 1952 at four places along an elevation gradient topping out at its “D1” site; that’s the one perched at 12,267 feet.

Suding’s project has the regular involvement of about 15 faculty, eight staff members, 25 graduate students and 10 undergraduates at CU Boulder. A few are stationed full time at the research station, and one or two rarely stray from the work under microscopes examining samples at laboratories down in Boulder. Most split their time between the city and the alpine world.

On a recent trip — by snowcat, across the snow that still blanketed the landscape well into May — through her program’s 4-square-mile research area, Suding, a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at CU and fellow at INSTAAR, observed the interplay of snowpack, snowmelt, changes in temperature and air quality impact the fragile ecosystem in myriad ways.

“We know that in the forests, with a longer summer, the forests don’t do as well, because they get really stressed out in July and August, when it’s really hot and they don’t have the moisture,” she said. “We thought this tree line would go up, if the summer was longer and hotter. But it is not going up, because the young trees can’t start growing up here because it’s too dry.”

[…]

Suding’s research territory borders on the westernmost reaches of the Boulder Watershed, where CU Boulder scientists also collect data, only working under permission from city officials. At the top of the watershed, at 12,513 feet, sits Arikaree Glacier, which Suding’s predecessor Mark Williams predicted could vanish completely in 20 to 25 years. That sobering forecast hasn’t changed.

Predicting our climate future, according to Suding, depends on understanding how our ecology has evolved, particularly in response to the dramatic changes wreaked by the Industrial Revolution.

Kremmling “State of the River” recap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The upper Colorado River, looking upstream toward Gore Canyon, near Pumphouse. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Colorado River Water Conservation District via the The Sky-Hi Daily News:

Colorado’s eponymous river is doing relatively well in early June 2019 with significant snowpack still lingering at higher elevations, making the river basin’s water managers cautiously optimistic as they look at the state of one of the nation’s key waterways.

Last Thursday evening the Colorado River District, a special taxing district dedicated to the conservation and management of the Colorado River and its stream flows, held a public forum at West Grand High School in Kremmling regarding the current status of the Colorado River. Each year officials from the River District present a series of public forums called “state of the river” meetings in various communities up and down the length of the basin. State of the River meetings are typically held each year in the late spring prior to the start of high runoff periods and irrigation season.

The state of the Colorado River is relatively strong in 2019 following a solid year for snowfall in Colorado’s High Country but despite plentiful precipitation water managers are struggling against a surprising impediment: low temperatures.

“With this cold and wet weather, the snow is lingering much longer than normal,” Victor Lee, a hydrologic engineer with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, said. “It has not run off like it typically does. We are going into June with a very delayed peak runoff.”

Despite the delayed start to high water season in the Rockies water managers are cautiously optimistic about the state of the river this year and the impacts from this year’s snowpack. Multiple officials presenting at the State of the River meeting noted they plan to fill, but not spill, the major reservoirs in Grand County with the exception of Wolford Mountain, which is expected to spill sometime later this summer. Nathan Elder, with Denver Water, said the entity he works for anticipates reduced diversions out of Grand County this year thanks to predicted higher than average native stream flows in East Boulder Creek.

Even with the improved snowpack in 2019 though officials continue to sound alarm bells about the future of the key waterway of the American southwest, noting the river basin currently consumes more water than Mother Nature replaces, even in wet years. Andy Mueller, General Manager for the Colorado River District, gave a presentation on drought contingency planning for the Colorado and made several sobering statements about the future water in the west.

According to Mueller the Colorado River basin uses up roughly 16 to 17.5 million acre-feet of water each year, though on average the basin rarely receives that much precipitation annually. To cover the gaps between how much water is consumed and how much is received water managers rely on the massive network of reservoirs that dot the western US to provide the supply. That supply is dwindling though as the water deficit continues to grow.

Mueller noted that the 10-year running average for the amount of water deposited by the environment into the Colorado River basin continues to decline. The current 10 year running average is now just above 12 million acre-feet a year. Mueller noted the ongoing impacts of climate change and a warming environment on the water picture in the west and presented a slide showing average temperature data for the Colorado River going back to 1900.

According to Mueller the Colorado River is now, on average, a full two degrees warmer than it was 30 years ago. The slide provided by Mueller shows a marked uptick in river temperatures beginning in the early 1980s. Since 1983 the Colorado River has experienced only three years when river temperatures were below historic averages.

“Recent studies indicate there is a three to four percent decline in annual runoff in Colorado for every one degree of warming,” Mueller said, noting that researches believe the decreased runoff is a result of a longer growing season, allowing vegetation to consume more water naturally.

“The forests are using more water, the riparian area is using more water,” Mueller said. “We have a supply problem. The question is, where are we headed?”

#Drought/#Runoff news: Routt County benefits from the wet weather this water year

Yampa and White Basins High/Low Precipitation Summary May 31, 2019 via the NRCS.

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hasenback):

According to data from a National Weather Service cooperative weather station, Steamboat Springs receives a long-term average of 2.15 inches of water in May.

Data from that station shows the area received nearly double that average, with a total of 4.26 inches in May. This data is preliminary, and the National Weather Service will release its official tally of May precipitation later this month.

Steamboat received 9.3 inches of snow in May, well over the long term May average of 2.8 inches at the station.

That snow hasn’t melted off the mountains, either. The Natural Resource Conservation Services’ snow telemetry site atop the Continental Divide on Buffalo Pass measured 115 inches of snowpack on the ground on Sunday. There were 35 inches at the Rabbit Ears Pass site…

“This has been a pretty active year — a pretty wet winter and spring. … I think that’ll have some influence on the temperatures too because as the sun is melting the snow, it’s not able to heat the ground as much. That could be a reason why our temperatures could be at or below normal for this short-term forecast,” said Erin Walter, a meteorologist at the Weather Service Forecast Office in Grand Junction…

“The warmer temperatures are just going to increase the runoff, so that’s kind of the big threat right now for Western Colorado,” she said.

The river runners’ adage states that the Yampa River peaks when two brown spots atop Storm Peak meet. Those brown spots have yet to make an appearance this spring.

The Yampa River sees an average peak in early June around 2,250 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat, though the peak has ranged from 1,570 to 5,200 cfs in the last ten years.

For much of the last month, the river has flowed relatively consistently between 1,000 and 1,500 cfs through Steamboat, though the Weather Service forecast that the Yampa will rise to about 3,600 cfs later this week amid sunny weather starting Tuesday.

Walters said the forecast for June looks to see average temperatures and a slightly above average chance for “wetter than normal conditions.”

While this year is shaping up to be a good water year so far, climatologists and water managers are still concerned by a trend of drought intensified by warmer temperatures and an earlier spring in the West.

“Just because we have one good year … doesn’t negate the realities we’re seeing with consistent warming trends,” Taryn Finnessey, a senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board told the Durango Herald on Wednesday…

The Yampa River flows into the Colorado River, and then into Lake Powell, where it helps fulfill Colorado’s annual obligation to provide a certain amount of water to downstream states. As of Saturday, Lake Powell was only 43% full, and even with Colorado’s healthy snowpack, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated that Powell would fill to 54% of its storage capacity this water year. The lower Powell falls, the more concerned water managers become about meeting obligations to other states.