This evening, 17 September, 2018, we at Reclamation adjusted releases from Green Mountain Reservoir to the Blue River from 525 to 475 cubic feet per second (cfs). Releases will remain at 475 cfs until further notice.
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Staff at Frisco Bay Marina are trying to keep up with water levels that are dropping about one inch per day.
“And so an inch a day going down means the water line is moving 10 feet out every day, so we have to keep chasing it and moving the docks, which is definitely a lot of work,” said Tom Hogeman, the marina’s general manager…
Hogeman said he hasn’t seen the water this low since 2012 and it will only continue to go down as we head into the fall. The marina is typically open for rentals through mid-October but this year the season could end early.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The Colorado River District has agreed to boost water levels to help fish in the Roaring Fork River watershed while also conserving water for use by local irrigators later in the season and improving the chances for boosting flows this fall for endangered fish.
The action also could help protect water quality in the case of anticipated ash in waterways due to expected flooding and debris flows resulting from the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt.
The river district is releasing water from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to boost flows in the Fryingpan River and Roaring Fork River to help reduce water temperatures to benefit trout. Low flows and warm temperatures in western Colorado have led to Colorado Parks and Wildlife urging anglers to avoid fishing later in the day on numerous western Colorado waterways due to the stress trout currently are facing.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approved the river district releases last week. They are expected to range between 50 and 100 cubic feet per second.
River district spokesman Zane Kessler said the water to be released is owned and managed by the river district’s enterprise…
The water technically is being delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs but is creating environmental benefits on its way there. The water otherwise would have been delivered from Green Mountain Reservoir south of Kremmling.
Kessler said the Ruedi releases will allow for conserving a part of what’s called the historic users pool at Green Mountain Reservoir for use later in the season, which would benefit Grand Valley irrigators. The releases also increase the chances that, despite it being a dry year, that pool can be declared to have a surplus. That surplus could then be delivered in September and October to what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach, a stretch of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley where the flows would benefit endangered fish.
“This has never been done before,” Kessler said of the flow agreement. “But we’ve rarely seen river levels like this before either.”
The potential for easing the impacts of ash flow also could be felt in the Grand Valley. There is concern that ash flows could force the Clifton Water District to suspend use of Colorado River water. Area water providers have an agreement to help each other in meeting short-term water needs should that kind of emergency situation arise, but doing so this year would further deplete drought-stressed supplies.
Kessler said retaining some Green Mountain Reservoir water for release later in the year also could benefit recreational uses of the Upper Colorado River.
Meanwhile, the river district is taking another step aimed at helping ensure that benefiting fish in the Roaring Fork Valley doesn’t harm fish on the Colorado River upstream of the Roaring Fork confluence. The district is currently delivering what Kessler called “fish water” from Wolford Reservoir north of Kremmling into the upper Colorado River because it is having to lower the reservoir’s water level in preparation for doing some work on the dam there.
In that book, working with John Fleck of Albuquerque, he’s trying to make the case that science should not be ignored in figuring out how to manage the Colorado River during the 21st century—as it was when Congress approved the 1922 compact governing allocations among the seven states, Indian tribes, and, somewhat more fuzzily, Mexico.
Kuhn was honored recently in Glenwood Springs by his staff and others from around Colorado for his 37 years of work.
Trained as an electrical engineer, Kuhn had been a naval office on a nuclear-powered submarine before pursuing a career in nuclear power plants. But even in 1981, he could see that nuclear power wasn’t going in the right direction. When he noticed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal for a position at the Glenwood Springs-based water district, he applied.
Obviously, he got the job, moving from energy to water, from California to Colorado.
It was sharp pivot in Kuhn’s life. And Colorado since 1981 has also pivoted hard in very fundamental ways in its conversations about water.
Tom Alvey, who grows fruit and operates a packing shed in Hotchkiss, credited Kuhn with providing transparency and “getting the facts right” during his time as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, beginning in 1996.
Bill Trampe, who owns a ranch that sprawls between Crested Butte and Gunnison, lauded Kuhn for having “the foresight to see where we were headed and what we needed to do to be effective in protecting water for the Western Slope.”
Peter Fleming, the river district’s general counsel, testified to Kuhn’s “highly intellectual approach to negotiations.” As arguments and counterarguments were waged at one session, said Fleming, he observed Kuhn scribbling into a notepad. Peering over his boss’s shoulder, he said, he saw numbers. What did they represent? “He was calculating complex integers,” Fleming discovered. In that scribbling could be seen a larger lesson.
“He wasn’t disinterested in what was going on,” said Fleming. “He just knew that the timing wasn’t right for him to offer what would inevitably be a good solution.”
Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead was also at the gathering in Glenwood, just a few blocks from where he had for many years staffed the “Aspen office” of one of the state’s leading law firms. Lochhead drew attention to Kuhn’s influence beyond Colorado’s traditional Eastern Slope versus Western Slope schisms to the broader seven-state Colorado River Basin. There, Kuhn’s voice about preparing for a warming climate has become influential.
“He is collaborative. He is innovative. He thinks about different solutions. He listens. He tries to find the common ground,” said Lochhead, now chief executive of Denver Water, an agency that provides water to 25 percent of all Colorado residents.
A time of pivots
Nobody, however, spoke directly to the giant pivots in water politics, policies and problems in the 37 years since Kuhn arrived in Colorado.
One of the largest pivots had already begun in 1981. The federal government had spent most of the 20th century building the giant dams, canals and other hydraulic infrastructure in the West. In Colorado, the greatest ambition was evident in the gigantic transfer of water from the Colorado River headwaters near Grand Lake to the benefit of farmers in northeastern Colorado. It’s called the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
The transfer—some would call it a heist — was opposed on the Western Slope, of course. One result of the compromise was a 1937 state law that created the river district and charged it with “conservation, use and development of water in the Colorado River and its principal tributaries in Colorado.” It covers 15 counties, including Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle. Southwestern Colorado has a similar district.
Another outcome was federal construction of Green Mountain Reservoir, on the Blue River north of Silverthorne. The dam had immediate benefits to the Western Slope, helping regulate flows to the benefit of farmers around Grand Junction. Much later, the regulated flows were crucial to providing water for endangered fish species in the Colorado River.
A later enterprise, the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, hewed to the same template: It diverts water from the Roaring Fork drainage to farmers in southeast Colorado. For this, the Western Slope got Ruedi Reservoir. It was completed 50 years ago.
More projects were proposed, but in 1977 President Jimmy Carter announced they wouldn’t get funded. Westerners bristled and ridiculed Carter as a peanut-farmer in rain-drenched Georgia who didn’t understand the West. Ronald Reagan, arriving at the White House in 1981, was heralded as a Westerner who would right things. He only went half-way: Locals would have to come up with half the money for their dams and diversions. For most projects, it wasn’t nearly enough.
Kuhn noted that during his time, two of the five projects on Carter’s hit list in Colorado were eventually built, if not to the sizes originally envisioned. One of them, Ridgway Reservoir (originally called Dallas Divide), provides hydroelectricity that is part of Aspen Electric’s 100 percent renewable portfolio.
Altogether, however, the river district during Kuhn’s time had a hand in building five smaller-size reservoirs. Wolford Mountain Reservoir near Kremmling, by far the largest, is two-thirds the size of Ruedi. It was built in co-operation with Denver Water.
The River District under Kuhn also worked with Denver Water on other projects. But when Kuhn started work in Glenwood Springs, the relations were rocky. Denver wanted to build a giant dam in the foothills southwest of the city. Two-thirds of the water behind the Two Forks Dam was to have come from the Western Slope, primarily Summit County. Water was to go to Denver’s fast-growing suburbs.
Kuhn had been assigned to represent the river district on a task force appointed by then-Gov. Dick Lamm, to help sort through the controversy. The Western Slope task force aligned with the environmental community and together they conceded need for a small Two Forks as well as expanded diversions from Winter Park area for an enlarged Gross Reservoir west of Boulder. In exchange, the task force said, Denver needed to commit to greater water conservation. Denver Water’s leaders, confident of their rightness to the point of cockiness, refused.
The drama was cut short in 1991 when the administration of President George H.W. Bush vetoed the project, which was to be on federal land, based on environmental impacts.
Kuhn points out that the levels of conservation the Western Slope and environmentalists asked of Denver were much less than what has actually occurred. Denver Water now uses the same water for roughly double the number of people it did in 1990. The default expectation of ever-more water supplies has been shattered.
“You have this decoupling of municipal growth and water use, and we really didn’t see that coming in the early 1980s,” Kuhn said in an interview last week.
Denver, Aspen and other communities have been part of a national trend of declining per-capita use of water that may be far from over. It’s a simple matter of economics. Wringing the sponge of water conservation is cheaper. More expensive is buying water from farms on the Great Plains, but it’s still cheaper than developing new supplies.
Still being debated is how much water Colorado has to develop out of its entitlement, under compacts governing the Colorado River. As with Two Forks, a notion that the solution to water shortages is to build more dams and divert more still lingers. It assumes water remains available. A state report issued several years ago concluded that Colorado had as much as 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the Colorado River to develop.
Kuhn scoffed at that estimate. He said then that no more than 150,000 acre-feet remained—and, quite possibly, not even that. Even allocations for existing water uses are questionable because of the dangling uncertainty of the warming climate.
After rummaging around climate change science beginning in about 2000, Kuhn became increasingly vocal through published papers and other work about the need to recognize the profound implications of a warming climate on water supplies in the Colorado River and the demands.
“I was just reading some of the work that was coming out in the early 2000s, and it’s largely proven to be generally correct,” he said last week. “I am surprised how quickly it has come on, because there is so much noise in the system,” he added, referring to the inherent variability of weather, both temperature and precipitation. “Even from one year to the next there can be a lot of noise.”
A cloudy crystal ball
What this means exactly for Colorado is still hard to say. There’s still too much uncertainty about impacts to justify significant infrastructure investments at this time, according to even Denver Water. Kuhn agrees.
“It will take a long time to see how that pattern (of change) sets up,” he said.
Climate modeling suggests—but with low confidence—less snow and precipitation for southern Colorado and more for northern Colorado. The Elk Range between Aspen and Crested butte can be seen as a divide between that wetter and drier future.
“If I were in the southwest, in Durango, I would be a heck of a lot more concerned than if I were in Steamboat Springs, based on what we know now—but it’s still a guess,” he said.
For the broader Colorado River Basin, though, Kuhn expects less water in the Colorado River as it flows into the Grand Canyon past Lees Ferry. In this, last winter was a harbinger of the future. There are profound implications for how the seven states of the Colorado River Basin – plus Mexico—move forward.
And that is the big idea for the book now being written. In it, he and Fleck point to a report issued before the Colorado River Compact was formally adopted by Congress in 1928. The framers of the compact had assumed 16.4 million acre-feet average flows in allocating the waters among the seven basin states — with more yet due Mexico. In fact, flows during 20th century proved to be somewhat less, about 15 million acre-feet. The report provided accurate evidence of lesser flows beginning in 1875 and, more circumstantially, to 1850.
In other words, it was wishful thinking to assume so much water — and based on what is known about global warming, it’s fair to assume even less water in the 21st century. Through the first 14 years of the century, according to the research of Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, flows have declined 19 percent.
“It’s a story about ignoring inconvenient science,” Kuhn said of the book. “If you had accepted the science, it would have made the political job [of apportioning the waters] much more difficult.”
It’s a story from a century ago, he said — but one fully relevant going forward.
The Colorado River District is working with state and federal water managers to increase flows in the Fryingpan River by as much as 100 cubic feet per second (cfs), helping trout in the watershed survive warm temperatures while supplying water for downstream irrigation needs in the Grand Valley.
Anticipated releases are expected to range between 50 cfs and 100 cfs and will be coordinated between the River District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase flows in the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers downstream from Ruedi Reservoir.
“This should significantly benefit flows below Ruedi Reservoir,” said John Currier, chief engineer for the district. “We expect that the supplement flows may also help to mitigate water-quality problems anticipated from fire-related ash and debris flows stemming from the Lake Christine Fire on Basalt Mountain.”
Technically, the water will be delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs while creating environmental benefits as it flows downstream. Green Mountain Reservoir releases will be reduced by an equal amount in order to conserve storage for late-season releases, which in turn will be needed to help endangered fish near Grand Junction.
The coordinated approach was given final approval by the Bureau of Reclamation on Monday. In order to boost Fryingpan levels while the plan awaited approval, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a 50 cfs release from its dedicated endangered fish pool in Ruedi on Friday. Those flows were supplemented by 30 additional cfs Monday, bringing the flow in the Fryingpan to 200 cfs.
Both Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs contribute water to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. In this case, the changed water release plan will benefit trout below Ruedi while endangered fish still receive water from upstream Colorado River reservoirs.
Increased flows of cold water out of Ruedi should also help to alleviate some stress on trout fisheries in the watershed brought on by higher-than-normal water temperatures. Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced voluntary fishing closures earlier this month on sections of the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers.
Despite promises of a wet monsoon season, Colorado’s arid reality has spread into Summit, which is now part of the 60 percent of the state experiencing “severe drought.”
Nathan Elder, manager of raw water supply for Denver Water, said low water levels at the South Platte reservoir in Littleton created a need for a big draw from Dillon. Even though human consumption is Denver Water’s primary use, Elder said they do keep the marinas in mind.
“We are very concerned with how that affects the recreation industry and keeping marinas in the reservoir,” Elder said. “We plan to keep marinas operating from June to Labor Day, but this has been an exceptional year. The water levels won’t go back to normal this year, and what happens next year depends on the snowpack we get this winter.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor, which tracks drought across the country and assigns drought severity based on conditions, assigns dryness levels from D0 to D4. D0 is considered “abnormally dry” but not severe enough to be considered a drought, while D4 is considered an “exceptional drought” that means there is a serious water emergency that causes “exceptional and widespread” crop and pasture losses.
Summit County’s “severe drought” is at level D2. At that stage, crop and pasture losses are likely, water shortages are common and water restrictions are imposed.
Victor Lee is a hydrologist and civil engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Green Mountain Reservoir in Heeney. Lee said that the monsoon is kicking in late due to less-than-ideal weather patterns.
“One of the reasons the monsoon has been slow to start is the high pressure system that normally forms over the southwest needs to be closer to Texas than the four corners region,” Lee said. “The high pressure system we’ve been experiencing is more to the west, and that’s bringing in warmer air but not more of the moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.”
Combined with an early spring, that makes for a long period without significant precipitation. Lee said that there is no threat to water supplies for human consumption, yet. A few years of healthy precipitation has meant that reservoirs across the state have managed to keep healthy levels in reserve and have been steadily releasing water to keep rivers and streams flowing.
“Without the reservoirs in the system, the stream flows we would be seeing throughout the upper Colorado would be much more dire,” Lee said.
If this drought persists into yet another year, the reasons for worry will multiply and tough decisions will be made.
“These are critical times in Colorado and the southwest,” Lee said. “If the drought goes into another year, there won’t be the same amount of carry-over storage, and it will become a much more complicated issue.”
I wanted to let you know that a request has been made to the BOCC by staff and the permit applicant to continue the Mascot Placer hearing to a date certain of July 24, 2018, to allow staff time to further analyze the cumulative traffic impacts this applicant presents for the use of Tiger Road. This request would be granted at the discretion of the BOCC at the meeting on Tuesday the 10th. The opportunity for public comment on Tuesday would also be at the BOCC’s Discretion.
BRWG appreciates your support and we hope, instead of the meeting on the 10th, you can join us at the meeting on July 24th. It is at the same time and place, 1:30pm in the Commissioners’ Hearing Room in Breckenridge.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Blue River Watershed Group
From email from the Blue River Watershed Group (Jennifer Hopkins):
The Blue River Watershed Group (BRWG) is reaching out to supporters and stakeholders of the Swan River Restoration Project to notify you of an upcoming Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) hearing that will have a significant impact on the project. As you know, the Swan River Restoration is a collaborative, multi-year effort to restore sections of the Swan River affected by historical dredge mining. The first section of the river has been restored on Summit County/Town of Breckenridge property. In order for restoration work to continue on additional reaches of the river, dredge rock tailings must be processed and removed from the sites.
The Board of County Commissioners is holding a hearing on July 10th to decide on a Conditional Use Permit that would allow Peak Materials to add a rock crushing operation at the Mascot Placer, located along the Swan River on privately owned land (comprising the third phase of the four-phase restoration project). Peak Materials has been operating a rock screening and sales operation at the site since 2003. BRWG supports the approval of the Conditional Use Permit as it will confer a number of public benefits and allow the Swan River Restoration Project to continue.
BRWG is asking supporters to attend the BOCC meeting on July 10th in support of the Swan River Restoration and approval of the Conditional Use Permit. Peak Materials is offering in-kind donations of significant crushed rock materials and other work at the site needed for the restoration (valued at approximately $1.5 million). Milling these materials on-site will decrease the amount of material taken off-site and reduce the need to import material for the restoration. The 5-year permit will expedite the removal of the dredge rock and preparation of the site for restoration activities. In addition, the private landowner has agreed to grant a public access easement covering a future stream and riparian corridor to perpetually ensure that the corridor remains undeveloped and available for public use. Without the permit, the restoration project would not receive these benefits and would likely not continue to move forward on this section of the river. At best, the restoration effort would need to find an additional $1.5M and at worst the project could be stopped entirely if the owner refuses to grant the easement if the crushing permit is denied.
It is crucial that we show community support for this permit. I would love the opportunity to discuss this issue with you further and to answer any questions you might have. Please let me know if there is a time we can chat before July 10th and I will be happy to call you. And please join us at the BOCC meeting. Here are the details:
Date: July 10th, 2018
Location: Commissioners’ Hearing Room, 208 E. Lincoln Ave., 3rd Floor, Breckenridge, CO 80424
Thank you for your continued support of this important project.