Aspinall Unit operations update: 1040 CFS through the Gunnison Tunnel

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased to 1650 cfs on Friday, June 19th. Releases are being increased to maintain flows in the lower Gunnison River. The June 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 59% of average for April-July inflows.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to return to levels above the baseflow target once the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for June through August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 430 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 630 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

Effective Renegotiation of the Guidelines for Management of the #ColoradoRiver Water Supply Necessitates a Wide Range of Scenarios of Future #Water Use — Colorado River Studies #COriver #aridification

From Colorado River Studies at Utah State University (Jack Schmidt, David Rosenberg, Jian Wang, Kevin Wheeler, and Eric Kuhn):

An essential question that drives discussion about the future of the Colorado River is, “How much water do we need?” The human body must have water to survive, and water is needed to grow crops, but the amount of water used by different societies varies greatly. In the Colorado River basin, our sense of the amount of water that we “need” is not just driven by basic survival, but is also affected by our preferences in urban and suburban landscaping, the crops that we grow, the technology and practices associated with irrigation, and the industry that exists. Thus, the question of “need” unavoidably becomes mixed with the question of “want,” and our sense of “want” is strongly affected by our aspirations for the future.

Obviously, any consideration about future water use depends on projections of population growth and anticipated agricultural and industrial uses of water. Depending on one’s vision of the future, including preferences about landscaping, agriculture, and in-stream flows to benefit aquatic and riparian ecosystems and river recreation, one might expect different future water projections in different parts of the Colorado River basin. In planning for future consumptive water use, it is important to distinguish between the amount of water we “need” to maintain the present urban areas and the existing agriculture and industry and the amount of water we “want.”

In the book Science Be Dammed, Kuhn and Fleck (2019) described how the original negotiators of the Colorado River Compact overestimated their projected future needs of water supply from the Colorado River. If one adds together the estimates of future water use made by each state in the 1920s, the total anticipated use in the Upper Basin was 8.1 million acre feet, more than twice the actual amount the Upper Basin is currently using a century later (Kuhn and Fleck, 2019, table 1). We are left to speculate as to whether these were well-intentioned over-estimates or political gamesmanship. Making such overestimates today, regardless of motive, complicates negotiations of the future of the Colorado River, because negotiators must sort need from want. Watershed runoff is decreasing as the regional climate warms (Udall and Overpeck, 2017; Milly and Dune 2020), and the pie that must be divided among the states is getting smaller.

Since the 1980s, Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) have made many estimates of future water use. Sometimes, negotiators treat those projections as if they are precise and accurate predictions. In fact, every estimate is its own scenario—a possible trajectory of future consumptive water use. Each scenario is based on assumptions about population, cities, agriculture, and industry. Despite our best efforts, the scenarios do not necessarily enumerate all possible future conditions.

We see a disparity when comparing past projections to the actual consumptive use in the Upper Colorado River basin (Figure 1, dashed colored lines; UCRC 2007 and 2016; Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) 1981, 1984, 2012). Each recently-proposed scenario of future water depletion was higher than the actual consumptive use reported by Reclamation in its semi-decadal Colorado River Consumptive Use and Loss Reports (Figure, solid black line). In fact, since at least 2000, the actual Upper Basin uses and losses have been stable or slightly decreasing, not increasing. The retirement of thermal power plants and reduced irrigated areas may further decrease future Upper Basin depletions (see the analysis by Kuhn 2020).

Overestimation of future water needs is not unique to the Colorado River basin—many other water systems also have consistently overestimated their demands. Motives for overestimation are many (Heberger and Cooley, 2016; Kindler and Russell, 1984). Water managers may define scenarios of high future use so they can prepare for future unknown demand increases by securing enough water, while simultaneously communicating their political intentions to competing users. Overstated future depletions have the potential to focus attention on new infrastructure needs. However, managers must also avoid building expensive water supply infrastructure that goes unused should future water use be less than was anticipated. If there is a rush to build water-diverting or water-consuming infrastructure that subsequently becomes obsolete due to a changing climate, emerging technologies, or over-anticipated demands, those investments can easily become stranded assets (Kalin et al, 2019).

Scenarios help us plan for a diverse set of uncertain future conditions, even though most or all of the scenarios may never come to pass. Thus, we can consider scenarios that focus on aspirational growth as well as scenarios of continuing stable use or aggressive conservation.

As we move forward in negotiating the allocation of water supply that comes from the Colorado River, Figure 1 suggests that basin stakeholders should also consider scenarios of stable use that reflect continuing historical trends of no growth in total Upper Basin consumptive water use. Basin stakeholders should also consider scenarios where future use of water decreases due to changes in landscaping and irrigation practices.

The question then is: How should Colorado River stakeholders manage the future Colorado River in the face of these water demand uncertainties? For insight, read our white paper “Managing the Colorado River for an Uncertain Future.”

All data used in this blog can be found at Wang (2020). Future of the Colorado River Project. Link:

Bureau of Reclamation. (1981). Projected Water Supply and Depletions Upper Colorado River Basin. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bureau of Reclamation. (1984). Projected Water Supply and Depletions Upper Colorado River Basin. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Bureau of Reclamation. (2012). Colorado River Simulation System Model, Demand Management Input Tool Current Trends and Other Scenarios. v4. Link:

Heberger, M. and Cooley, H. (2016). 21st Century Water Demand Forecasting. Pacific Institute. Link:

Kindler, J. and Russell, C. (1984). Modeling Water Demands. London: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-407380-8 Link:

Kuhn, E., and Fleck, J. (2019). Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River. University of Arizona Press.

Milly, P. C., and Dunne, K. A. (2020). Colorado River flow dwindles as warming-driven loss of reflective snow energizes evaporation. Science, 367(6483), 1252-1255.

Udall, B., and Overpeck, J. (2017). The twenty‐first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future. Water Resources Research, 53(3), 2404-2418.

Upper Colorado River Commission. (2016). Upper Colorado River Division States, Current and Future Depletion Demand Schedule. Salt Lake City, Utah. Link:

Upper Colorado River Commission. (2007). Upper Colorado River Division States, Current and Future Depletion Demand Schedule. Salt Lake City, Utah. Link:

@COParksWildlife Commission Supports Full Funding of Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund #LWCF

Full and permanent funding of the LWCF supports Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mission to conserve wildlife and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Olivia Baud):

On June 12, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved a resolution voicing support for the secure, long-term and dedicated funding for land and water conservation, wildlife management, parks and outdoor recreation. Full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was subsequently granted on June 17 when the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422).

The resolution, presented to the CPW Commission by Outgoing Chairwoman Michelle Zimmerman, supported full funding of the LWCF, federal funding to reduce the maintenance backlog on public lands, and respectfully requested the Colorado Congressional Delegation to support federal legislation that achieves these aims. With the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, the LWCF is guaranteed to receive the maximum $900 million annual allotment advocated for in the resolution.

“We applaud the U.S. Senate for passing this historic act which supports Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s mission to conserve wildlife and enhance outdoor recreational opportunities,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow. “As the resolution highlighted, full and permanent funding of the LWCF is key to helping us manage our state parks and shared wildlife resources so that more people can enjoy the outdoors far into the future.”

Colorado uses LWCF federal funds to increase recreational opportunities for citizens and visitors. Since 1965, CPW has provided over 1,025 LWCF state matching grants totaling more than $61 million to fund local government and state park outdoor investments.

The LWCF program was enacted by Congress in 1965 to create parks and open spaces; protect wilderness, wetlands, and refuges; preserve wildlife habitat; and enhance recreational opportunities. Funds are allocated through both a federal program and a state-managed matching grant program and are derived from offshore oil and gas leasing revenues. While the LWCF program can be funded up to $900 million annually, it has only received maximum funding twice in its history prior to the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act.

To learn more about the LWCF and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, visit our website at

Joe Neguse wants to direct billions to public lands to help Western states recover from #coronavirus — The #Colorado Sun #COVID19

Photo credit: Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation,

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The Boulder County Democrat says it’s time to “go big and be bold” with his sweeping 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act, which provides economic relief from coronavirus shutdown while investing in overlooked forest management, wildfire mitigation and civilian corps.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse on Thursday introduced comprehensive legislation that aims to help Western economies better recover from the pandemic while addressing long standing conservation, forest management and wildfire challenges on public lands.

The Boulder County Democrat’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act is a mouthful and a big ask.

His bill would direct more than $40 billion toward wildfire prevention, bolstering the conservation corps to restore public lands, funding deferred maintenance on U.S. Forest Service land and delivering coronavirus relief for the country’s outfitters and guides. It’s one of the most ambitious public lands bills in recent memory.

Here’s some highlights of his legislation:

  • $3.5 billion for the Forest Service’s hazardous fuels, fire-risk reduction program, which is funded at about $445 million a year, and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management’s hazardous fuels program.
  • $6 billion for the Forest Service’s capital improvements and maintenance program, which also is funded at about $445 million a year. The agency estimates it has a $5.2 billion backlog of maintenance on roads and other infrastructure.
  • $600 million for state and private forests programs.
  • $100 million for Forest Service personal protective equipment.
  • $5.5 billion for the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program that focuses on water infrastructure development.
  • $150 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife habitat conservation program for private lands.
  • $4.5 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program that gives water efficiency grants to farmers and ranchers.
  • $575 million for National Park Service programs.
  • $6 billion for construction and maintenance at national parks.
  • $9 billion for the Civilian Conservation Corps program to hire and train workers for public lands restoration while addressing unemployment during the pandemic.
  • $2 billion for the National Coastal Resilience Fund to restore shorelines.
  • $7 billion for direct payments to outfitters and guides enduring closures from COVID-19.
    Temporarily waives permit fees for ski areas operating on public land and waives fees paid by guides and outfitters.
  • […]

    The American guiding industry saw bookings evaporate in March as the pandemic ground the economy to a halt. The decline in reservations by skiers, rafters, climbers and hunters lingered for three months and only recently have outfitters and guides seen a gradual return of customers, said Matt Wade, the head of policy and advocacy for the American Mountain Guide Association.

    But even as outfitters ramp back up, they are incurring additional costs for protective equipment — think replacing all group tents with single-person tents — and seeing smaller guide-to-client ratios as they keep people distanced.

    Many guiding businesses and outfitters saw business plummet 90% in the spring and the summer season is pacing to be about 50% down, Wade said.

    Neguse’s relief fund would give outfitters the chance to apply for relief payments that would cover the gap between increased costs and declining revenues while keeping guides on the payroll…

    Neguse is not creating new programs. He’s multiplying the budgets of a host of programs — like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration, the Every Kid Outdoors, the Vegetation and Watershed Management, the Landscape Scale Restoration, Urban and Community Forestry, the Firewise, the Regional Conservation Partnership programs and dozens more…

    Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate and Neguse has enlisted support from counties in his Colorado district and a growing list of conservation, outdoor recreation and sportsmen groups. He said his bill “stands a good chance” as both Democrats and Republicans study another round of funding to help the country recover from the pandemic.

    #RioGrande Basin to assist in #COWaterPlan update — The Conejos County Citizen

    From the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Conejos Citizen:

    In 2015, then-Governor John Hickenlooper signed a momentous document into being — the Colorado Water Plan. At the time, decades of analysis concluded that a gap was widening between the limited supply of water and an increasing demand from users.

    This gap in water supply and demand would only grow worse and more insurmountable without decisive action. Simply conserving water wasn’t enough. The drought of 2002 drove home the fact that a decreasing and erratic snowpack would become the norm, wreaking havoc on communities and river systems across the state. Lawmakers, farmers, water managers, and others saw the writing on the wall and determined to be strategic and proactive.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the government agency tasked with overseeing water supply and management and utilizing technical data and analysis to assist decision-making, were key partners in spearheading the unprecedented strategy. They couldn’t undertake the entire process on their own and looked to the Roundtables for on the ground planning.

    Just as in the first BIP process, stakeholders from the Rio Grande Basin are encouraged to participate in subcommittees on each of the five target areas.

    This update process will be facilitated by a local expert who has been trained in coordination with Local Experts from other basins by the state’s general contractor for the 2021 Water Plan. The Rio Grande local expert is the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) staff, with Daniel Boyes as lead expert. The RGHRP was involved in the first BIP and works to improve the health of streams and riparian areas across the San Luis Valley and recently completed Stream Management Plans for the Rio Grande, Conejos River and Saguache Creek.

    Boyes and the other RGHRP staff have begun holding meetings to determine project possibilities and data gaps within the five key areas with community members providing valuable input. These meetings will determine what projects, goals, and objectives represent the Rio Grande Basin’s priorities for each of the key areas, providing once again valuable input to the overall state water plan.

    With a below average snowpack for 2020 and no guarantee of continuing moisture or increased snow in 2021 or beyond, the Rio Grande Basin will face similar challenges as the rest of the state over the coming year: The creation of subdistricts to meet aquifer sustainability requirements, newly approved well rules and regulations for groundwater use, and the new SLV radar are unique local responses to these challenges. Participating in identifying and prioritizing new projects and goals is a simple way for the community to involve themselves with these crucial water decisions. With the help of the community, Rio Grande water leaders are working diligently to ensure our resources are able to meet needs and continue our San Luis Valley way of life.

    The Roundtables, one for each major river basin plus an additional Roundtable serving the Denver metro population, were created in 2004 as a regional answer to address water needs as identified by a variety of stakeholders. All of these partners were needed to become the task force, which created the first-ever Colorado Water Plan.

    These five hundred plus pages of graphs, data, photos, and text combined to tell the story of each of Colorado’s major river basins. But more than that, it creates a compass for Colorado’s basins to identify and implement projects in their region that addressed a multitude of issues such as stream flows, reservoir storage capacity, agricultural sustainability, environmental needs, water administration and even education and outreach on water topics. The Colorado Water Plan includes five major areas of water use: Municipal & Industrial, Agriculture, Environment & Recreation, Water Administration and Education & Outreach. Each of these areas affects all the river basins; however, water leaders recognize that the plan could not be a one size fits all effort. Geography, population, tourism, and other factors affect each region differently, so state officials decided to utilize the leadership of local roundtables. The resulting comprehensive state plan was made possible by thousands of hours of donated time from people in each basin who created an individual plan outlining the needs of their region and highlighting potential projects to address those needs. This basin implementation plan process, or BIP, allowed each basin to prioritize projects and informed the larger Water Plan’s goals and objectives. With many projects completed and numerous goals met over the past five years, new ones are needed to answer the increasingly pressing question of how to adequately meet diverse water needs with an ever-dwindling supply. To that end, the Colorado Water Plan is in its first iteration of updates, scheduled for completion in 2021.

    For the past two years, CWCB staff has worked with stakeholders in all basins, as well as engineering firms, to complete data analysis through Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) using updated data and the most up-to-date modeling tools available. These teams created five potential future scenarios facing Coloradans in the next 20-50 years. Each scenario incorporates existing data from the basins regarding current water use coupled with projected water use, population and economic growth, and, in some scenarios, potential impacts of climate change on water supply and use.

    These technical updates necessitate an updated Basin Implementation Plan incorporating the modeling and identifying where other data gaps exist. In addition, projects which will address the gaps and meet Basin goals and objectives need to be prioritized for the next five years.

    The current Colorado Water Plan can be found at and the Rio Grande Basin Implementation Plan is online at To get involved or receive information about the current Rio Grande BIP process, please contact Daniel Boyes at Any community member from the six counties of the San Luis Valley is encouraged to attend Rio Grande Basin Roundtable’s monthly meetings (currently held virtually, with agenda and meeting information available at , visit the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable’s Facebook page, or sign up for the quarterly Roundtable newsletter at to learn more about upcoming BIP meetings and timelines.

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,”

    #Drought news: One-third of #Colorado now under extreme drought —

    US Drought Monitor June 16, 2020.

    From (Sam Schreier):

    Last week, a quarter of the state (25.49%) was under extreme drought. Now, the percentage has risen to 32.96%, which is roughly one-third of the state.

    Conditions associated with extreme drought include:

  • Pasture conditions worsen
  • City landscapes are dying
  • Large fires develop
  • Rafting, fishing, hunting, skiing are reduced; fish kills occur
  • Grasshopper and insect infestation are noted
  • Reservoirs are extremely low; mandatory water restrictions are implemented; water temperature increases
  • Drought conditions started to develop in the early Spring due to a drier than normal March and April.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 16, 2020.