Reclamation awards $11 million for Snow Water Supply Forecasting Program

Snow covered mountain range. Photo credit: USBR

Click the link to read the article on the USBR website (Chelsea Kennedy):

Sep 28, 2023

WASHINGTON – Reclamation is awarding $11 million in federal funding to 15 projects to support the advancement of the use of snow monitoring technologies for water supply forecasting.

Reclamation’s Research and Development Office sought proposals for projects that demonstrate and/or deploy technologies in emerging snow monitoring, deploy existing snow monitoring technologies in underserved areas, or improve the use of snow monitoring data to enhance water supply forecasts.

Projects awarded include $11 million in federal funding and $6.2 million in cost share funding, totaling over $17 million in investment for snow monitoring.

Projects awarded funding include:

  • Applied Research Team, Inc.: Mapping Snow Water Equivalent with Weather Radar.
  • Colorado River Authority of Utah: Flakes, Flights, and Forecasts: Snowpack Measurement Enhancements in the Uinta Mountain Headwaters
  • Colorado State University:
    • Integrating field, remote sensing, and physics-based models to improve water supply forecasts in wildfire-impacted basins in the Western United States.
    • Demonstration and evaluation of a Cosmic Ray Neutron Rover as an emerging snow monitoring technology.
  • Hydroinnova LLC: Cosmic-ray snow gauges for monitoring snow water equivalent.
  • Montana State University: Emerging UAV gamma-ray and LiDAR snow observations for improved water supply modeling in the Missouri headwaters.
  • Mountain Hydrology LLC: Airborne Snow Surveys for Water Supply Forecasting in the Wind River Range, WY.
  • Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District: Watersheds through Adapting Blended SWE and Snow Albedo Products
  • The Desert Research Institute: Developing a Cooperative Snow Temperature Survey.
  • The University of Colorado:
    • Does integration of airborne lidar with existing snow monitoring technologies improve water supply forecasts in the western United States?
    • Snow water equivalent data fusion for the Western U.S. to support water resources management.
  • Truckee-Carson Irrigation District: Airborne Snow Observatory Driven Forecasting in the Truckee-Carson Basins.
  • University of Arizona: Improving Water Supply Forecasting in the Colorado Basin with 40+ years of Gridded Snowpack Data.
  • University of Oklahoma: Improving the skill of reservoir inflow forecasts over the Colorado River basin using high-resolution snow monitoring data and Explainable Artificial Intelligence models.
  • University of Wyoming: Seasonal Snow Water Supply Forecast guided by the Climatic Oscillation using the Non-Gaussian Information Metrics for the Inland Basins.

For more information on each project visit the program website. Reclamation’s Snow Water Supply Forecast Program aims to enhance snow monitoring and advance emerging technologies in snow monitoring for the benefit of water supply forecasting. The program activities stand to build climate change resilience by enabling improved water management.

Grand County Irrigators Release Stored Water to Boost #FraserRiver Flows — Colorado Water Trust

Fraser River at gage below Winter Park ski area. Photo credit: Colorado Water Trust

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Tony LaGreca and Mike Holmes):

Granby, Co., (Sept 18, 2023) – On September 18, 2023, the Grand County Irrigated Land Company (GCILC) started releasing water from Meadow Creek Reservoir to boost instream flows in the Upper Fraser River. Releases from the reservoir will be picked up by the Moffat Collection system and in exchange Denver Water will reduce diversions at the Jim Creek collection point. This will boost flows in the Upper Fraser River through the Town of Winter Park and on downstream. This project is part of a one-year agreement between GCILC and Colorado Water Trust (the Water Trust). Both parties hope it can be the first year of a longer-term solution to low flows of the Fraser River.

The added flow from the project, estimated at 3 cfs (cubic feet per second), is intended to support river health during times of low flow. The Water Trust analysis shows that flows in the reach of the Fraser River from Crooked Creek to the Town of Winter Park are regularly below the 8 cfs necessary to preserve the natural environment; and that low flows are most common in September.

To implement this project GCILC and the Water Trust obtained approval for a Water Conservation Program from the Colorado River District. This program allows GCILC to release the stored water for an environmental benefit without impacting the use records associated with those storage rights. GCILC worked with the Learning By Doing group to decide which stream reach would benefit from the project and with Denver Water to move the water through the Moffat collection system to the Upper Fraser.

“Historically the Upper Fraser River near Winter Park has seen low flows, particularly in August and September when resident trout are starting their fall spawning migration. Boosting flows at this time can help those fish have successful spawning runs and keep this valuable recreational fishery healthy. We are fortunate to have an excellent partner in GCILC and we look forward to working with them long into the future to keep the Fraser River flowing strong,” Tony LaGreca, Project Manager, Colorado Water Trust.

“By partnering with the Water Trust, GCILC hopes the releases of water from Meadow Creek Reservoir will, in a small way, help to mitigate the impacts to the watershed from the trans mountain diversions, and be consistent with the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Mike Holmes, Grand County Irrigated Land Company.

Under state statute, Water Conservation Programs can operate in 5 years out of a 10-year period. This is the first year of operation for this project. The parties plan on evaluating the success of this first year of operation before applying for future years of operation.

This is a true, broad collaboration between a local irrigation company (GCILC), a statewide Colorado nonprofit (The Water Trust), and international and national companies providing the funding to help make it all possible (The Coca-Cola Company and Swire Coca-Cola). Thanks to the financial support of the two companies, the Water Trust will reimburse the GCILC for the environmental flow releases.

ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that restores water to Colorado’s rivers by developing and implementing voluntary, water sharing agreements. Since 2001, the Water Trust has restored nearly 21 billion gallons of water to 600 miles of Colorado’s rivers and streams.

ABOUT THE COCA-COLA COMPANY: The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is a total beverage company with products sold in more than 200 countries and territories. Our company’s purpose is to refresh the world and make a difference. We sell multiple billion-dollar brands across several beverage categories worldwide. Our portfolio of sparkling soft drink brands includes Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta. Our water, sports, coffee and tea brands include Dasani, Smartwater, vitaminwater, Topo Chico, BODYARMOR, Powerade, Costa, Georgia, Gold Peak and Ayataka. Our juice, value-added dairy and plant-based beverage brands include Minute Maid, Simply, Innocent, Del Valle, Fairlife and AdeS. We’re constantly transforming our portfolio, from reducing sugar in our drinks to bringing innovative new products to market. We seek to positively impact people’s lives, communities and the planet through water replenishment, packaging recycling, sustainable sourcing practices and carbon emissions reductions across our value chain. Together with our bottling partners, we employ more than 700,000 people, helping bring economic opportunity to local communities worldwide. Learn more at http://www.coca- and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

ABOUT SWIRE COCA-COLA: With revenues of $3 billion, Swire Coca-Cola, produces, sells and distributes Coca-Cola and other beverages in 13 states across the American West. The company’s territory includes parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Employing more than 7,200 associates the company’s headquarters is in Draper, Utah.

Meadow Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Colorado Water Trust

#ColoradoRiver officials to expand troubled water #conservation program in 2024 — Colorado Newsline #COriver #aridification

Confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Climate change is affecting western streams by diminishing snowpack and accelerating evaporation. The Colorado River’s flows and reservoirs are being impacted by climate change, and environmental groups are concerned about the status of the native fish in the river. Photo credit: DMY at Hebrew Wikipedia [Public domain]

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Robert Davis):

Colorado River officials plan to expand a conservation program next year that pays farmers and ranchers to use less water. But questions remain about some of the proposed ideas and the program’s overall efficacy.

The state initially launched the System Conservation Pilot Program in 2015 as a part of a multistate effort to conserve water from the Colorado River, which provides water for millions of residents throughout seven states as well as Mexico. The effort was designed to see if conservation efforts could stabilize the water levels in critical reservoirs along the river, like Lake Powell. 

While there have been some challenges, the project is set to expand in 2024, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Lauren Ris said during the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s Just Economy conference in Denver on Sept. 27. 

Some of the changes the CWCB is planning to implement include making it easier for farmers and ranchers to apply for the federally-funded program, creating a transparent pricing mechanism, and encouraging participants to recommend new technology solutions.

These new efforts could help preserve water resources for about 40 million people across multiple states in the Southwest as they face population increases and the need to build more housing. And Colorado is in a unique position to drive that change because of its status as a headwater state, Ris said. 

“We really rely on water from mother nature. We don’t have the ability to draw water from somewhere else,” she added.

An unparalleled challenge

When the conservation pilot program began in 2015, concerns about the Colorado River’s declining water levels, largely due to human-caused climate change, were already well established. More than a decade of declining snowfall in the Rocky Mountains created record low water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are two of the nation’s largest reservoirs. They also provide water and hydroelectric power to millions of Americans. 

To address the issue, Colorado spent about $8.5 million to conserve 47,200 acre-feet of water between 2015 and 2018, according to data shared about the pilot program during the CWCB’s board meeting on Sept. 21. That’s roughly $180 per acre-foot. One acre-foot can support up to two households for a year. 

But then the program went dark until 2022 when water levels in the Colorado River reached historic lows. The federal government initially asked several Western states including Colorado to reduce their water consumption by up to 4 million acre-feet per year before deciding to allow the states to work out their own agreement. 

From left, New Mexico Community Capital’s Jeff Atencio, Central Arizona Water Conservation Board’s Ylenia Aguilar, Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Lauren Ris, and CPR’s Michael Sakas prepare for a panel on the Colorado River at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s Just Economy conference in Denver on Sept. 27, 2023. (Robert Davis for Colorado Newsline)

By June 2022, the four … Upper Basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—had put together a five-point water conservation plan. The first point of the plan was to restart the SCPP. 

In December, the federal government reauthorized the program and allocated up to $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act for the Upper Basin states to spend on water conservation efforts between 2023 and 2026. 

As of this month, the SCPP has supported 64 projects across the Upper Basin states and conserved about 38,000 acre-feet of water, Amy Ostidek, the water conservation board’s interstate, federal, and water section chief, said during the Sept. 21 meeting. Twenty-two of those projects were in Colorado and they conserved a total of roughly 2,500 acre-feet of water.

Conserving the future

But the program’s re-launch wasn’t as smooth as many had hoped, Ostidek lamented. 

“Getting things kicked-off in December just wasn’t tenable for water users trying to make decisions about their operations,” Ostidek said. “And, frankly, that put all of us in a crunch to do things very quickly, and maybe not as well as they could have been done if we had more time.”

To address these issues, the SCPP will open applications for the 2024 program starting in October. Ris said this will help provide some “operational certainty” for water users.

Another aspect that will be revised is the pricing mechanism. This year’s SCPP is paying ranchers and farmers about $150 per acre-foot of water saved, which was based on the median payments allocated under the pilot program, The Colorado Sun reported. However, ranchers and farmers have been getting paid nearly $394 per acre-foot on average. 

The program is also looking to incorporate more technology to address data and efficiency gaps in the system. Some target areas include creating drought-resilience tools and implementing conservation strategies that address the needs of rural communities along the lower Colorado River Basin, like in northern Arizona. 

“At the end of the day, the people who are most impacted by these decisions are often the most vulnerable members of our communities and the most underserved,” Central Arizona Water Conservation Board member Ylenia Aguilar said. 

Map credit: AGU