Celebrating #Colorado’s Rivers on @WorldWaterDay — #Water for Colorado

The Colorado River, which feeds into Lake Powell, begins its 1,450-mile journey in Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, Colorado. Denver Water gets half of its water from tributaries that feed into the Colorado River. Some of these tributaries include the Fraser River in Grand County and the Blue River in Summit County. Photo credit: Denver Water

From Water For Colorado:

Nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, a trickle begins. Humble, quiet, fragile, this small trickle winds and grows — fed by snowpack — into the mighty Colorado River that carved the Grand Canyon. This river and its canyons have been sacred to Indigenous communities for millennia, inspired generations of explorers, and form the lifeblood of the American West.

This water — that flows from the Colorado Rockies and into the dry, red canyons of Western Colorado and Utah, across tribal lands, through Lake Powell and Lake Mead in Arizona, and reaches toward the Colorado River Delta in the Sea of Cortez — is endangered. Like many of the world’s waterways, it faces the growing challenges of climate change and population growth.
But the river has endured. Today, on World Water Day, we take the opportunity to remember that no matter where we live, water is a vital resource to our environment, communities, businesses, families, and everyday lives — and as such, we must work together to protect it.

Water in Colorado impacts people everywhere.

The Colorado River, our state’s namesake river, originates in our high country but it, and its tributaries, directly support the people and wildlife of seven U.S. states, 29 tribal nations and Mexico, with $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity and 16 million U.S. jobs. Not only that, but over 40 million people depend on the Colorado River system for clean, safe, and reliable drinking water. River-related recreation — which contributes $19 billion annually to Colorado’s economy alone — feeds our souls, our lifestyle, and our identity in the American West. If you’ve ever eaten lettuce in the winter, carved down the ski slopes, or cracked open a local beer, you’ve interacted with the Colorado River. Can you imagine living in the West without this hardworking waterway?

Confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Climate change is affecting western streams by diminishing snowpack and accelerating evaporation, a new study finds. Photo credit: DMY at Hebrew Wikipedia [Public domain]

Without our rivers, everything changes.

Right now, the future of the Colorado River is precarious. Water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening impacts of climate change. Today, we both celebrate what water provides us and reflect on what we must do to protect it — here in Colorado, and around the world.

In households, schools, and workplaces water can mean health, hygiene, dignity, and productivity. In cultural, religious, and spiritual places water can mean a connection with nature, community, and oneself. In natural spaces, water can mean peace, rejuvenation, and preservation.

By celebrating all the different ways water benefits our lives, we value water in Colorado and beyond.

Looking down on camp at Big Pine, Red Canyon.
The photo shows the SCREE Powell 150 expdition camp at Big Pine Campground in Red Canyon of the Green River, Utah. The large green tarp was set up to keep the kitchen area and campers dry. Two very large ponderosa pines are in the center of camp, and surely were witness to the 1869 Powell expedition. Photo credit SCREE via the USGS.

Coloradans are taking strides to protect our water.

The Colorado Water Plan recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and has seen huge successes in protecting our waters. The plan has set the first-ever statewide urban water conservation target to be achieved by cities and towns, prioritizing water conservation as never before. Annual funding for healthy rivers and watershed restoration is increasing — but more is needed to ensure that the environmental and recreational priorities in the plan are implemented. And Coloradans have, for two years in a row, voted to fund the conservation of our water through the ballot at both the local and state levels; these are first steps toward meeting a large funding shortfall.

If anything is clear: Coloradans understand the importance of water in our state — more so now than ever before, as the impacts of COVID-19 highlight hardships facing our communities and our water. If we don’t protect flows, the simple and essential act of washing our hands could become costly and uncertain. If we don’t proactively manage resource distribution, the disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic could affect farmers, ranchers, and recreation guides long after life returns to normal.

The work is never done, and the future of the Colorado River is far from certain. It is not the responsibility of one person, one government, or even one state to prioritize water and ensure lasting flow. We each need to take responsibility, and by working together, we can protect not only running taps and irrigated fields but our rivers and the Colorado way of life.

An angler in the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs in early March 2020. Designating part of the Yampa River as over-appropriated would require some water users with wells to have an augmentation plan.

What’s your Colorado Water story?

On World Water Day this year, take a minute to think about your relationship with water in Colorado. On what stretches of riverbanks have you gathered, watched the sun come up, fished in cold eddies, or paddled through aspen groves? How do you honor and protect water in your home and community? Has a project funded by Colorado’s Water Plan come to your area and restored a place you love? Whether it’s for recreation, community gathering, business, or one of the hundreds of other reasons we love water, we hope you can honor and celebrate water in our state today and every day.

Head over to Water for Colorado’s Instagram page and tag us — alongside the hashtag #Water2Me — to share your water story.

Aurora, #ColoradoSprings clear hurdle on Whitney Reservoir in Eagle County — The #Aurora Sentinel #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the cities’ plan Monday to drill into the high-alpine Homestake Valley and test whether the underlying geology could support a reservoir diverting water from the Colorado River to the growing municipalities.

It’s an early, key step in the effort to build the new reservoir, which would be called the Whitney Reservoir, in the National Forest about six miles southwest of the town of Red Cliff.

The cities have long held the water rights to build the new reservoir and divert the water, usually destined for the beleaguered Colorado River, to thirsty residents in Aurora and Colorado Springs.

With approval in tow, Aurora and Colorado Springs have the green light to test for several possible reservoir sites in the Homestake Valley.

Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, told the Sentinel last year the reservoir could be built in about 25 years if the complicated approval process pans out. The new reservoir in the Homestake Valley could hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Forest Service…

Notably, the project requires environmental impact studies and possibly an act of Congress, according to Baker, to shave up to 500 acres from the popular Holy Cross Wilderness. However, he added that the plan is far from set in stone.

The plan has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups concerned about devastating the ancient wetland habitant that retains water — an increasingly scare commodity in the West. Various endangered fish species would be downriver from the dam.

The Colorado River itself has seen reduced flows in recent decades, in part because of human-induced climate change. Many environmentalists argue that as much water as possible should be left in the river, which multiple states and Mexico rely on…

Baker said in an email that the drilling study is “routine.”

“We value the collaborative process involved in exploring alternatives that minimize environmental impacts, are cost effective, can be permitted by local, state, and federal agencies, and which will meet the water requirements of the project partners,” he said.

As reported by Colorado Public Radio, the project has also run into early opposition from central Colorado and Western Slope communities.

Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range,” according to CPR.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth and Jason Blevins):

The decision to let the Front Range water utilities move forward in taking more Western Slope water is only one of countless regulatory hurdles for a future Whitney Reservoir, but conservation groups say they are adamantly against any new water transfers to suburban water users across the Continental Divide and will oppose every approval step.

Colorado Headwaters, which opposes any new dams and water transfers, said it expected the approval but remains steadfast against any progress on the project. “We don’t think it will ever be built,” president Jerry Mallett said. “They haven’t done a transmountain diversion in 45 years. Water on the Colorado River is dropping from climate change. We don’t want to lose those natural resources.”

The decision from White River said the approval applies only to drilling 10 test bore holes the utilities applied for, and does not have bearing on any future decisions should the cities pursue the dam north of Camp Hale. The proposed reservoir would hold about 20,000 acre feet…

The cities partnered with Eagle County, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Vail Resorts and other Western Slope water users in 1998 in a deal that gave water rights to Eagle River communities and developed the 3,300 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir on the Climax Mine property.

The 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding included plans for possible reservoirs along Homestake Creek. The agreement — which brought together a diverse group of downstream users as “Homestake Partners” in the Eagle River Joint Use Water Project — also affirmed that no partner could object to a new reservoir plan if it met the memorandum’s agreement to “minimize environmental impacts” and could be permitted by local, state and federal agencies.

The proposed Whitney Reservoir project is not new and “represents our continued pursuit to develop water rights in existence for many years,” Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said.

Kemp said the cities have developed alternatives to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage but those other options have not been proposed or discussed publicly. The results of the test boring and geotechnical work will help the two cities vet possible alternatives…

Environmental groups oppose new dams on Homestake in part because they would take water out of tributaries that feed the already-depleted Colorado River. But they are also focused on preserving complex wetlands called “fens” that develop over the long term and support diverse wildlife. They say fens cannot easily be recreated in any mitigation work that utilities traditionally include in dam proposals.

The headwaters group also questions why the Forest Service would encourage any steps when completion of a dam appears impossible. The utility proposals include shrinking the size of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to create dam access, “which Congress will never approve,” Mallett said.

Fluoride dosing will be the subject of a discussion Loveland Utilities Commission, Wednesday March 24, 2021

Calcium fluoride

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

The city’s water utility introduces a fluoride compound into its drinking water to raise the concentration of the element to 0.7 milligrams per liter. About 0.2 milligrams of fluoride are naturally present in the water before it passes through the Loveland Water Treatment Plant.

Cities commonly add fluoride to their drinking water because of its effects on dental health. Loveland began fluoridating its water in 1954. Since then, the consensus among public health experts has been that fluoride is not harmful at the levels achieved by fluoridation.

The efficacy of water fluoridation is supported by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dental Association, American Water Works Association, U.S. Public Health Service and other agencies.

In October, Loveland resident Traudl Renner told the council that she and others believe water fluoridation causes various health problems and suppresses the immune system.

Council members ultimately agreed with a suggestion by City Manager Steve Adams that the topic be brought before the Loveland Utilities Commission, which advises the council on matters related to the city’s water and electric utilities.

The commission last addressed the fluoridation question in 2014 — after weighing presentations from health care professionals as well as citizens who voiced concerns similar to Renner’s, it voted to recommend the city continue adding fluoride to its water.

Wednesday’s meeting will be structured in a similar way, starting with presentations from a fluoride-skeptic panel, followed by a panel of doctors and representatives of agencies that support the practice.

Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky said he expects the commission will vote to recommend whether the city should continue fluoridating its water, and he will write a memo summarizing the meeting to be reviewed by the council…

The Zoom webinar will be accessible at http://zoom.us/s/98404604379. To make a video comment, Zoom attendees should use the “raise your hand” feature and wait to be unmuted.

Tuesday’s agenda packet can be viewed and printed at http://cilovelandco.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=339.

Aspinall Unit operations update (March 22, 2021): 400 CFS in the Gunnison Tunnel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel.
Lisa Lynch/NPS

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will be ramping up for the irrigation season and releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 400 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day whenever Tunnel diversions increase.

On Wednesday, March 24th testing of the Crystal powerplant will result in a brief period of high flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. Crystal releases will be increased up to 1700 cfs over a couple hours before decreasing back to the current release rate.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

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 790 cfs for March.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 400 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 400 cfs. As Tunnel diversions increase, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are expected to stay near 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.