On Stressed #ColoradoRiver, States Test How Many More Diversions Watershed Can Bear — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

In the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, you can pinpoint when the lines crossed somewhere around the year 2002. It’s a well-documented and widely accepted imbalance.

That harsh reality — of the river’s water promised to too many people — has prompted all sorts of activity and agreements within the seven Western states that rely on it. That activity includes controversial efforts in some states in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin to tap every available drop before things get worse.

The utility that owns [Gross Reservoir], Denver Water, wants to increase the size of the dam by 131 feet, and fill the human-made lake with more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River via a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide.

Imagine a tractor trailer hauling dam-building materials making this turn, Long says.

“If they truck all of this material up our canyon, people in our community are gonna get killed by those trucks. Period,” Long said. “There’s a lot of other issues here but the safety thing should really be a serious priority.”

Long and his wife, April Lewandowski, live near the reservoir in a community called Coal Creek Canyon. Like many of her neighbors, Lewandowski commutes from the sparsely populated canyon to her job on the state’s dense Front Range. Her daily commute on the canyon’s two-lane highway is the same as a haul route for trucks needed to build the dam addition.

Long pulls up to a small parking area that overlooks the dam. It’s a deep wall of concrete, stretched between the tree-lined canyon walls of South Boulder Creek.

“I mean you look at how the land splays out, you can see why they want to (build it),” Long said. “It’s so much wider all the way around.”

If the expansion goes through, the place where we’re standing will be submerged in water. The addition to Gross Dam will raise it to 471 feet in height, making it the tallest dam in Colorado…

Denver Water first started taking an expansion of Gross Reservoir seriously after the dry winter of 2002. Exceptional drought conditions took hold across the Mountain West. The utility’s CEO, Jim Lochhead, said in the midst of those historic dry conditions, a portion of its service area nearly ran out of water.

“This is a project that’s needed today to deal with that imbalance and that vulnerability and to give us more drought resiliency,” Lochhead said.

Since then, Denver Water has filed federal permits to start construction, and negotiated an agreement with local governments and environmental groups on the state’s Western Slope to mitigate some effects of the additional water being taken from the headwaters.

Before leaving office, former Colorado Democratic governor and current presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw his weight behind the project, giving it an endorsement and suggesting other water agencies in the West take notice how Denver Water approached the process.

But despite the political heft behind the project, it faces considerable headwinds.

Environmentalists are suing, arguing the expansion will harm endangered fish. A group of local activists say the additional water will spur unsustainable population growth along the state’s Front Range. In recent months, the utility began sparring with Boulder County officials over whether they were exempt from a certain land use permit.

Building a 131-foot dam addition does come with baggage, Lochhead said. But he argued his agency has done its part to address some of the concerns, like reducing the number of daily tractor trailer trips up Coal Creek Canyon and planning upgrades to the intersection where trucks will turn onto Gross Dam Road.

“It is a major construction project. I don’t want to gloss over that. It will have impacts to the local community,” Lochhead said.

Denver Water staff are doing more outreach in the canyon as well, Lochhead said.

“We are committed to the project and seeing it through. We’re also committed despite the opposition to working with the local community in doing this the right way,” he said…

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

The latest scuffle with Boulder County has brought the Gross Dam expansion squarely back into public view. At a county commissioner’s meeting in March, residents criticized Denver Water on all fronts, from specific concerns about the construction itself, to broader concerns about water scarcity in the Colorado River basin…

“This project represents an effort by Denver Water … to actually grab water while they can, before federal legislation and management of the Colorado River Basin is imposed,” McDermott said.

What McDermott is referring to is a stark disconnect in the Colorado River watershed. States downstream on the river — Arizona, Nevada and California — signed a new agreement in May called the Drought Contingency Plan that keeps them from becoming more reliant on the Colorado River. It requires cutbacks to water deliveries should levels in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, continue to drop.

Meanwhile, upstream in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, no such agreement was made. Those states wound up agreeing to study the feasibility of a program that would compensate farmers to stop irrigating their cropland if reservoirs dropped, with no solid way to pay for it. They agreed too to better coordinate releases from their biggest reservoirs to aid an ailing Lake Powell. While they figure out how to develop those two concepts, the Upper Basin states keep inching along on their development projects to divert more from the river.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s foundational governing document, gives Upper Basin states the legal cover to continue developing projects like the Gross Reservoir expansion. In the compact, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Over the decades the rapidly growing and intensely farmed Lower Basin has used much more than that. The less populated Upper Basin has never reached its full allotment. Those state have been using roughly 4.5 million acre-feet for the last 13 years, with the rest flowing downstream for the Lower Basin to use as it sees fit…

Conservation programs tend to be less expensive than massive new projects, [Doug] Kenney said. But additional water supplies stored in reservoirs give more security and reliability. It’s why water leaders push for them, even when the economics don’t make sense.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Joint Wolf Creek [Reservoir] work session between BLM and commissioners — The Rio Blanco Herald Times

A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has been using state funds, and their own, to study two dam options for this area between Meeker and Rangely on the White River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

RBC | BLM White River Field Office Manager Kent Walter hosted a work session with the Rio Blanco County Board of County Commissioners, et al. on May 30 to discuss the Coal Ridge boundary map of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project. Rio Blanco County Commissioners Gary Moyer and Si Woodruff were present along with the county’s water conservancy district and natural resource specialist Lanny Massey. Assisting with the BLM’s presentation of the updated boundary map and associated data was Heather Sauls, BLM planning and environmental coordinator. Representatives from the engineering firm EIS Solutions were also present.

The discussion was primarily focused on an attempt to find an agreeable solution to designate a portion of the Coal Ridge area as off limits to motorized vehicles. As presented previously, this restricted area would include a large portion of the shoreline of the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir.

“This lake is going to be a really big deal economically for Rio Blanco County. We’re looking for a guaranteed buffer area along the shore for recreational purposes. This would include motorized vehicle access,” Commissioner Moyer said.

After extensive discussion, an agreement was reached on a proposed border of the restricted area, guaranteeing a minimum of a quarter mile buffer around the proposed reservoir shoreline. It was agreed that a new plan will not preclude or restrict any Rio Blanco County projects around the reservoir perimeter and would grant engineers and construction equipment full access to the dam sites.

#Runoff news: Efforts underway to mitigate Lake City flooding potential from the Hidden Treasure Dam

The historic Hidden Treasure Dam above Lake City on Henson Creek will be removed to avoid a surge of debris which could impact the community of Lake City. Efforts will begin immediately. Hidden Treasures Dam owners, the Hurd Family, made the hard decision to remove the dam after it was determined it would likely not survive the high flow spring runoff. The decision was made following analysis conducted by an advisory group which included the Hurd Family as well as representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, Hinsdale County, Town of Lake City, Colorado Geological Survey and Colorado Division of Water Resources – Dam Safety. All available options to save this historic structure were considered. The Hidden Treasure Dam dates back to the 1890s when both the Hidden Treasure and Hard Tack mines were in operation. Photo credit: Hinsdale County

From The Summit Daily (Allen Best):

Lake City, which got its name in 1873, during the first flash of the mining boom in the San Juans, has a population of 400 people. Its population swells during summer, when it’s a popular destination for Texans but also mountain climbers. Several 14,000-foot peaks, including Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, are located nearby, above Henson Creek.

Henson Creek is what concerns Hinsdale County as well as state and other authorities. There were many avalanches during snow season. One left snow and ice 200 to 300 feet deep and a half-mile wide across the creek. The trees, boulders and other debris in the snow create the makings of a dam. Should the dam back up melted snow and then burst, Lake City could be flooded.

“It is a totally different animal if we’re talking about a debris field of logs and trees as opposed to clear water,” explained Michael Davis, public information officer with the Hinsdale Unified Coordination Group.

A masonry dam, called Hidden Treasure, compounds the problem. Created in 1890 to produce electricity, it lost that function long ago. It has a gaping hole in its face, the result of a breach in 1973.

But a half-dozen experts who gathered to study it this past week concluded that trees and other materials could build up behind the dam. They say complete failure of the dam is likely, which could result in a “catastrophic flood surge,” according to the Hinsdale County website. To avert that possibility, the dam is being preemptively destroyed.

High runoff normally occurs by June 10, Davis told the Crested Butte News, but because of the cool spring, that high runoff as of late May was expected to occur on or around June 18. The snow-water equivalent in the snowpack of the Gunnison River Basin, where Lake City is located, was 727 percent of normal as of June 2, according to the SNOTEL measuring sites. Farther south, in the Telluride-Durango area, the same measuring matrix reported 1,174 percent of average.

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #drought contingency plan depends on rights holders bypassing water #COriver #aridification

The looming possibility of mandatory curtailment of water use has raised concerns among Western Slope water managers, who feel that such cuts could harm Western Slope agricultural, such as this hay filed in the Yampa River basin. However, as water levels continue to drop to record lows in Lake Powell, mandatory curltailments are being discussed as a real possibility, especially by Front Range water managers. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Eleanor C. Hassenbeck):

The collective group of [recently signed] agreements is called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

It aims to raise the unprecedented low water levels in the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to enable them to continue to deliver water and produce hydropower.

In Colorado, it calls for three possible actions:

  • Creating a bank of stored water in federally owned reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell. This water would be released into Lake Powell in order to make sure Colorado continues to meet obligations to deliver a certain amount of water to downstream states under the Colorado River Compact.
  • Increasing cloud seeding and removing deep-rooted, invasive plants that take up a lot of water, such as tamarisk.
  • Creating a voluntary program that would temporarily pay agricultural water users to fallow their land and send water they have a right to downstream. This is called demand management.
  • Of the options on the table, demand management — the option that would pay farmers not to use their water — is the one most likely to impact Routt County…

    Demand management is still only a hypothetical, so the Yampa River Basin could opt out of a program if it doesn’t work for the area.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board has assembled workgroups on topics related to demand management. These groups are now meeting behind closed doors to develop preliminary reports outlining how the program might work.

    Brown said once these reports are completed and released to the public, there will be opportunities for community members to provide input on the idea. She said there will be the “opportunity for a real, thoughtful conversation, especially in the Yampa and White (river) basins.”