The Piedra River near Arboles set a new record low for this date with a flow rate of just 28.9 cubic feet per second (cfs) as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
The previous record low for this date was set in 1990 at 44 cfs.
The highest recorded rate for this date was 490 cfs in 1987.
Based on 59 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 107 cfs. According to the USGS, the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 44.4 cfs in Pagosa Springs as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
Based on 86 years of water records at this site, the lowest recorded flow rate for this date is 34 cfs, recorded in 1976.
The highest recorded rate for this date was in 1987 at 360 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 87 cfs.
According to the U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture (USDA) Na- tional Water and Climate Center’s snow pack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of eleva- tion, had 3.6 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
The San Miguel, Dolores, Ani- mas and San Juan river basins were at 34 percent of the Nov. 17 median in terms of snow pack.
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on Nov. 16.
The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry.
The percentage of the county in a moderate drought is listed at 70.86, which is consistent with the previous report.
The NIDIS website also notes that 47.66 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, consis- tent with last week’s report.
Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 10.33 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought, consistent with last week’s report.
Imagine life as a small fish. Your world is confined to swimming in creeks, rivers and streams searching out food, seeking shelter from predators, finding resting spots and, of course, fulfilling the biological urge to reproduce. For the female, finding just the right spot to lay one’s eggs is instinctual, and mosttravel great distances in search of suitable habitat.
Now image swimming along and encountering a structure the size of the Glen Canyon Dam – relatively speaking. There’s no going further – it’s pretty much the end of the road. This is the dilemma of a small fish as it confronts a water diversion structure.
Today one small fish, a native Bluehead Sucker, has cause for celebration. A completed project on East Divide Creek, a tributary to Divide Creek that flows into the Colorado River south of Silt, has opened up more than five miles of its historic habitat unreachable to the fish before now. Five miles is a considerable distance in which the fish population can expand, increasing resiliency for the species and reducing the risk of local extinction.
The project involved the reconfiguration of a diversion structure to make it easier for fish to swim upand over it. The King Heatherly diversion structure, located on public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Colorado River Valley Office, but owned and operated by the Spring Creek Ranch, is critical for providing water to raise local crops and livestock. The structure needs to operate effectively and efficiently, but if designed properly, can continue to do so while accommodating fish passage. Scott Schreiber, an engineer with Wright Water Engineers (WWE), knows just how to do that.
Scott and his team of engineers and biologists developed a design with a rock ramp gradual enough for fish to swim up. The ramp has a rough bottom, mimicking a natural stream, complete with small boulders for fish to rest behind on their way upstream. The ramp also acts to stabilize the diversion structure and includes improvements to make annual maintenance easier for Spring Creek Ranch.
“The opportunity to connect these habitats provides great pride for WWE and myself as we look for ways to reconnect our sensitive watersheds for future generations. Using creative solutions and advanced hydraulic modeling, my team was able to understand velocity distributions across theproposed rock ramp to verify they were within the Bluehead Sucker’s burst and prolonged speedranges,” Scott said.
Brian Barackman, owner/operator of Diggin’ It River Works, was the local contractor selected to construct the project. His crew utilized heavy equipment outfitted with state-of-the-art electronics and GPS systems that allowed for precision placement of rock, pipe, fabrics, and vegetation. The resulting structures appear natural looking and should blend into the surrounding environment as they revegetate with native willows and grasses.
Bluehead Sucker, along with Flannelmouth Sucker, and Roundtail Chub are imperiled Colorado River basin native fish species. Collectively called “the three species,” their conservation is a cooperative effort across their range which includes New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. The three species currently only occupy a fraction of their historic range in large part due to habitat fragmentation by dams and water diversion structures. Other threats to the species include climate change, altered water quality, introduction of predatory and competitive species, and for the two sucker species, hybridization with non-native sucker species. All three fish species are found throughout the Middle Colorado Watershed and are part of an Integrated Water Management Plan that seeks to restore habitat for these species through projects like the King Heatherly Fish Passage project.
Fisheries biologist from the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will be closely monitoring the success of the project by surveying for fish both below and above the structure, to determine if upstream movement is occurring. Documented successes from the project will be used to inform the design of subsequent projects like this in the watershed and across these species range, of which dozens have been identified.
“King Heatherly is the first project in Colorado focused on fish passage specifically for bluehead suckers. We hope this project lays a foundation to provide a blueprint for future fish passage structures for native fish in western Colorado and illustrates the feasibility of modifying structures to include fish passage,” says Jenn Logan, CPW Native Aquatic Species Biologist.
Also key to the success of projects like King Heatherly is the cooperation of a number of partners from private landowners to federal land management agencies, state resource agencies, and watershed organizations. As Tom Fresques, BLM Fish Biologist, noted “The Bluehead Sucker is a such a cool fish and the BLM is excited to have such a diverse collaborative partnership working to improve and expand habitat for this native species on public lands managed by the BLM.”
Paula Stepp, Executive Director for the Middle Colorado Watershed Council added, “Working collaboratively with local farmers and ranchers allows MCWC, BLM and CPW to enhance the water management capabilities of irrigation systems while providing native species the infrastructure to increase their long-term survival.”
Project funding came from a series of grants from the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, BLM, CPW, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Project management was handled by the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Please contact MCWC for more information or interest in a tour.
Improving the King Heatherly diversion dam for the health of native species
Located south of Silt, CO on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the King Heatherly Diversion Dam is a structure that has operational issues and needs to be improved. The project objectives are to:
Improve habitat connectivity for resident fish by improving upstream passage of the structure during the spring flow regime
Reduce maintenance needs and costs associated with the structure
Demonstrate the viability of projects of this type in the Middle Colorado watershed (Glenwood Springs to DeBeque)
Secondary objectives include:
Enhance hydraulics of the diversion structure, thereby improving width to depth ratios, as well as minimizing plunge pools and undermining of the structure;
Reduce or eliminate entrainment of fish into the ditch during the spring diversion period.
The bluehead sucker is primary native species that will benefit from this structural improvement project. The bluehead sucker has an impressive jump for a sucker, which still isn’t that impressive. They are listed as a ‘sensitive’ species by the Bureau of Land Management for Colorado. This dam is located on East Divide Creek, and would connect three miles of habitat along that creek.
In 2018, the Middle Colorado Watershed Council contracted Wright Water Engineers to make modifications and to improve the structure. The BLM is sponsoring the improvement, as the structure is on public land. Picture updates will be coming soon to document this project.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Dana Dallavalle) and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (Holly Kirkpatrick):
Steamboat Springs, Co., (November 18, 2021) – On Wednesday November 17th, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD) board of directors approved a 10-year contract with the Colorado Water Trust (Water Trust) for the purchase of stored water in Stagecoach Reservoir. The water supply contract, deemed for environmental, instream and recreational use, is the first long-term contract that extends beyond temporary one-year contracts between UYWCD and the Water Trust in years past.
Since 2012, the Water Trust has purchased and released 14,500 acre-feet of water into the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir. Water Trust releases help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperature from Stagecoach Reservoir downstream through the City of Steamboat Springs during hot and dry summer months.
Historically, UYWCD and the Water Trust have worked together to negotiate contract terms as needed on an annual basis using state legislation that allowed for environmental water releases to be loaned for instream flow use in 3 out every 10 years.
In 2020, Colorado House Bill 20-1157 was passed, allowing for the establishment of amended rules governing the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program, previously governed by the 3 in 10 rule. Effective March 17, 2021, the amended rules provide potential for increased flow rates and expand the temporary loan of water rights for instream flow use from 3 years to 5 years out of every 10 in addition to potential loan renewals for up to three 10-year periods.
Renewable loans through the program could allow environmental releases to bolster flows in the Yampa River for up to 15 out of 30 years if needed.
For the past year, UYWCD and the Water Trust have been working towards a longer-term contract that could help support the Yampa River during low flows and utilize the new state legislation. The new 10-year contract ensures 100 acre-feet of water in the general supply pool of Stagecoach Reservoir will be allocated to the Water Trust each year if supply is available. The contract also allows for the Water Trust to purchase additional water from two other contract pools in Stagecoach Reservoir at various volumes as needed. Payment for water contracted outside of the general supply pool will only be collected if the water is released.
“As drought conditions and water scarcity continue to challenge our basin, having this 10-year contract in place will help minimize some of the recurring challenges we typically face each year when we revisit temporary contracts without constraining UYWCD water supplies or Water Trust funds. Developing longer- term solutions frees up time and money for all our partners to be even more innovative in their collaboration to keep the river flowing,” said Andy Rossi, General Manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.
UYWCD and the Water Trust will be one of the first in the state to utilize the newly amended statute and rules when they present the 10-year contract as part of their joint application to the CWCB program, which is anticipated to take place in January of 2022. Following completion of the CWCB application review, UYWCD and the Water Trust hope to secure a loan of water rights for instream flow use by spring of 2022, making the first 10-year contract effective through 2032.
“UYWCD and the Water Trust have forged something new here. It’s a big step forward for the Yampa River Project and collaborative water management in general. We can now focus our efforts on the new instream flow loan application, and if we are successful, to expanding the Project’s benefits downstream of the instream flow reach where it can benefit even more of the river and all those who rely upon it,” commented Alyson Meyer Gould, Staff Attorney for the Water Trust.
The success of the Yampa River Project involves many partners and dedicated donors including: The Yampa River Fund, Yampa Valley Community Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, and individual donors as well as key project partners: The City of Steamboat Springs; Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District; Catamount Development, Inc.; Catamount Metropolitan District; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Colorado Water Conservation Board; and the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of numerous local and statewide entities, water releases to support the health of the Yampa River would not be possible.