Chimney Hollow, two other projects in Larimer County get state stimulus #water grants — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

Preparing the site of the future construction office complex at Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Photo credit: Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Michael Hughes):

Three water projects in the region will get $4.7 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board’s giving doubled this year due to COVID-related stimulus funds.

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud is getting $3.8 million toward connecting the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County to one at Chimney Hollow in Larimer County…

Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin. Graphic credit: Northern Water

The grant goes for the [bypass] channel, which is still being designed.

“Colorado River Connectivity Channel is a major modification to Windy Gap Reservoir,” Stahla said. He said the channel’s funding is nearly complete. The grant “isn’t the final piece. We anticipate all the pieces coming together” by mid-2022…

Two other area projects got grants.

Bypass structure Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

A “Poudre Headwaters Restoration — Grand Ditch Barrier” effort by Colorado Trout Unlimited in Denver got about $300,000 toward restoring 38 miles of stream and 110 acres of lake habitat.

The specific project involves the greenback cutthroat trout.

Efficient irrigation systems help save water and decrease leaching of salts. Photo credit: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

A $1.2 million irrigation infrastructure effort got half its costs from this round of water board funds. The grantee is Colorado State University, through its Fort Collins campus, to use on work to boost water and energy efficiency and agricultural production.

The specific project is to build storage ponds, upgrade the existing equipment and add irrigation systems and other infrastructure for research on soil and crops and to launch a farm management competition to improve agricultural profitability.

Both projects are in Larimer County.

Dire Federal #Water Projections Demand Urgent Action from State Leaders — Water for #Colorado

The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Here’s the release from Water for Colorado:

The Water for Colorado Coalition today released the following statement in response to the release of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s 2-Year and 5-Year Probabilistic Projections. The projections, which come shortly after the first-ever Tier 1 shortage declaration in the Colorado River Basin, indicate a high likelihood that water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead could reach critically low levels as early as next year, and demonstrate the immediate need for action.

“These latest projections from the Bureau of Reclamation further demonstrate the risk that Colorado faces as water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead are likely to continue to decline. Our state is rapidly warming, and flows in several of our major rivers have dropped drastically in the face of ongoing drought and climate change. Coloradans are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate and today’s projections confirm that incremental solutions to protect the Colorado River and our state’s water future are no longer enough.

“These new projections signal a paradigm shift in Colorado River Basin conditions, and they must be met with bold climate and water management action by leaders that prepare our state for a hotter and drier future. We must improve protection for, and restoration of, our rivers and watersheds through policy change and targeted funding for high-impact water and river pilots and projects. Additionally, Colorado can – and should – implement common-sense strategies that prioritize conservation and efficiency in the near term to help increase our resilience to drought and provide long-term water security for all Coloradans. As Colorado works to update its state Water Plan, leaders must continue to engage with all communities across the state to understand local needs while also planning for how to best deploy any infusion of federal or state funding to support the protection and restoration of working lands and healthy, flowing rivers.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

“As climate change continues to reduce flows in our rivers and threaten Colorado’s water supply, it is time to acknowledge that we are living in an era of less and thus must take meaningful action to improve the resilience of our rivers for all people, wildlife, and economies that rely on them.”

About the Water for Colorado Coalition

The Water for Colorado Coalition is a group of nine organizations dedicated to ensuring our rivers support everyone who depends on them, working toward resilience to climate change, planning for sustained and more severe droughts, and enabling every individual in Colorado to have a voice and the opportunity to take action to advocate for sustainable conservation-based solutions for our state’s water future. The community of organizations that make up the Water for Colorado Coalition represent diverse perspectives and share a commitment to protecting Colorado’s water future to secure a reliable water supply for the state and for future generations.

USBR releases updated projections of #ColoradoRiver system conditions: Modeling results assist drought response planning in the Colorado River Basin #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Becki Bryant and Patti Aaron):

The Bureau of Reclamation today [September 22, 2021] released updated modeling projections of major reservoir levels within the Colorado River system over the next five years. These projections are used by Reclamation and water users in the basin for future water management planning. The new projections show continued elevated risk of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reaching critically-low elevations as a result of the historic drought and low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

Today’s announcement comes as the Administration pursues a whole-of-government approach to drought mitigation via the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group, co-chaired by the Department of the Interior. The Working Group is coordinating with partners across the federal government, providing assistance to impacted communities, and developing long-term solutions to climate change.

Projection of Lake Powell end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Powell Projections

At Lake Powell, the projections indicate the potential of falling below minimum power pool as early as July 2022 should extremely dry hydrology continue into next year. Beyond 2022, the chance Lake Powell could fall below minimum power pool ranges from about 25% to 35%. Elevation 3,525 feet, the target elevation in Lake Powell, has an almost 90% chance of being reached next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “This highlights the importance of continuing to work collaboratively with the Basin States, Tribes and other partners toward solutions.”

After consultation with – and acknowledgement from – all seven Basin States and other partners, under the emergency provisions of the 2019 Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), Reclamation started supplemental water deliveries in July 2021 to Lake Powell from the upper reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo. Those supplemental deliveries will provide up to an additional 181 thousand acre-feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of the 2021.

As the Upper Basin States continue to work towards the development of a Drought Operations plan that will govern potential future supplemental deliveries, previous modeling assumptions regarding any additional or continued DROA releases have been removed to provide a clearer representation of future risk. The removal of these assumptions was the main contributor in the increase in risk between the last set of projections released in June of this year.

Projection of Lake Mead end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Mead Projections

At Lake Mead, today’s projections indicate the chance of Lake Mead declining to elevation 1,025 feet (the third shortage trigger) is as high as 66% in 2025, and that there is a 22% chance of the reservoir elevation dropping to 1,000 feet the same year.

Reclamation continues to work with all seven Colorado River Basin States to address current conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

“This five-year probability table underscores the need for additional actions beyond the 2007 Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan to be taken to enhance our efforts to protect Lake Mead, Lake Powell and the Colorado River system overall,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Most of the flow of the Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average, despite near-average snowfall last winter. Total Colorado River system storage today is 39% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

Today’s release also includes updated presentations that utilize additional forecast information to improve public understanding of Reclamation’s future hydrologic projections. In keeping with its commitment to better inform all water users and the public regarding the hydrologic tools available, Reclamation has added in-depth information on its website about modeling and projections in the Colorado River system. A new interactive tool also allows users to explore projected reservoir conditions under a range of inflow forecasts.

“We’re providing detailed information on our modeling and projections to further generate productive discussions about the future of Lake Powell and Lake Mead based on the best data available,” said Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Regional Director Jacklynn Gould. “Being prepared to adopt further actions to protect the elevations at these reservoirs remains a Reclamation priority and focus.”

To view the most recent Colorado River system projections, visit https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.

USBR announces five winners that will share $200,000 in Imperfection Detection Challenge

Finding new, non-destructive methods to inspect carbon fiber-reinforced pipe is the goal of the Imperfection Detection Challenge. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamtion (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation selected five winning submissions to share $200,000 for phase 1 of the Imperfection Detection Challenge. This prize competition sought new tools to evaluate the condition of fiber-reinforced polymer composite structures non-destructively. These composites are used in pipelines, tanks and other specialized infrastructure components.

The five winning submissions are:

  • Utilizing Space Tech to Detect FRP Damage on Earth, Brownsville, Texas
  • Low-Terahertz Imaging Radar, Netherlands
  • Ultrasonic SH waves imaging FRP structures, Columbia, Maryland
  • Applied Impact Robotics, Inc, Sterling, Virginia
  • Augmented reality system for low-THz inspection, Romania
  • “Composite structures are increasingly used in constructing pipelines, tanks and other infrastructure,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “We are encouraged by the projects submitted and look forward to further development in the next phase of the prize competition.”

    The five winners now move to phase 2 and have 10 months to develop and demonstrate their prototype’s performance. Up to three of the top-performing teams will receive $10,000 each and move to phase 3.

    In phase 3, finalists deliver their prototypes to be evaluated by Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers and affiliated partners. The winner of this phase receives $50,000.

    Submissions receiving a phase 1 honorable mention for this prize competition are:

  • UAX GO, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
  • Multi-modal Ultrasonic Device (MUD), England
  • Reclamation is partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clemson Composites Center, Jesse Garant Metrology, Thompson Pipe Group, NASA Tournament Labs and HeroX on this prize competition. To learn more about this competition, please visit Imperfection Detection Prize Competition Page.

    Prize competitions spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Reclamation supports innovation to target the most persistent science and technology challenges through prize competitions. It has awarded more than $4 million in prizes through 28 competitions in the past six years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

    Aspinall Unit operations update (September 17, 2021) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Navajo Dam operations update (September 17, 2021): Releases to bump to 900 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Friday, September 17th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell. This release change is calculated to be the minimum release required to maintain the minimum target base flow.

    “The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado water managers unhappy with timing of emergency releases

    In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

    That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

    As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

    Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

    Electric costs in #Colorado set to surge as #LakePowell struggles to produce hydropower — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is used to produce hydropower that is delivered over a 17,000-mile transmission grid, reaching six states and 5 million people. Photo courtesy Western Area Power Administration.

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The federal agency that distributes electricity from hydropower plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin will ask its customers, including more than 50 here in Colorado, to help offset rising costs linked to Lake Powell’s inability to produce as much power due to drought.

    The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, is gathering public comments and asking its customers how best to cope with long-term drought conditions that have pushed Powell and other reservoirs to historically low levels.

    As flows in the Colorado River have declined due to climate change and a 20-year megadrought, there is less water in its storage reservoirs and, therefore, less pressure to power the turbines, causing them to generate less electricity.

    WAPA has had to nearly double the amount of extra power it has had to buy this year to ensure it can meet its contract obligations to its customers.

    “It’s all bad news, but it isn’t necessarily unexpected,” said WAPA spokesperson Lisa Meiman.

    WAPA power is among the most sought-after in Western states because it is sold at cost and because it is a renewable power resource, something highly valued in places such as Colorado, where utilities are working to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

    WAPA often buys extra power if for some reason its customers’ electricity needs don’t match up with its hydropower production on a given day. It delivers power over a 17,000-mile transmission grid to six states and 5 million people.

    But as flows in the Colorado River have shrunk, those purchases have become larger and more frequent.

    Last year it bought an extra 413,000 megawatts of power. This year it has already purchased 833,000 megawatts of additional power, according to Meiman, and the agency expects that number to grow this year and likely again next year as the drought continues with no relief in sight.

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    This year, because of the power demands of the West’s growing population and the need for air conditioning to combat ultra-high temperatures, power costs are already soaring.

    Last year WAPA paid $25 per megawatt for its replacement power, Meiman said. This year it is paying $33 per megawatt, a 30% jump.

    In Colorado, WAPA sells power to some of the state’s largest electric utilities, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as cities, small towns and rural electric co-ops.

    “We’re watching the situation closely,” said Natalie Eckhart, a spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities, which is a WAPA electric customer and which also draws a significant portion of its water from the Colorado River system.

    “The bottom line is we care about this on all fronts,” Eckhart said.

    Few expected power generation at Lake Powell to decline so quickly. The Colorado River Basin serves seven U.S. states and 30 Native American Tribes. For months, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been nervously watching what’s known as the minimum power pool level at Powell, the lowest elevation at which power can be produced, which is 3,490 feet. If the reservoir drops lower than that, all hydropower production will stop.

    In July, as water levels at Powell continued to plummet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as part of the Upper Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, began emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs to boost levels and protect Powell’s hydropower production.

    And while those releases are expected to help keep the turbines functioning, the releases won’t be enough to restore them to full production, leaving WAPA little choice but to look at restructuring the way it sells power and to raise its prices.

    WAPA is forecasting a 35% increase in its costs, but is working to minimize the impact on utilities that purchase its power and anticipates a 12% to 14% rate increase as early as December. Some utilities are preparing to buy power elsewhere, when possible, to reduce their costs.

    Holy Cross Energy, a rural electric co-op based in Glenwood Springs that is also a WAPA customer, has spent years converting its power portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources including wind, solar and biomass, as well as hydropower.

    While WAPA electricity comprises just 3% of its power portfolio, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan is worried that this renewable, low-cost power source is in jeopardy if flows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell continue to decline, as they are projected to do.

    “It’s one of the cleanest and lowest-cost sources of power for a whole range of utilities,” Hannegan said. “It’s been a bedrock on which we built the West. For it not to be available … it’s a big deal.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    #ColoradoRiver Forecasts Not a ‘Crystal Ball’: Computer models inform key decisions in the Colorado River basin. But they cannot predict the future — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    Every month the Bureau of Reclamation attempts to peer two years into the future of the Colorado River and its reservoirs.

    Reclamation’s 24-month study is a staple forecasting product for the federal agency that manages a chain of dams in the watershed, including those that control lakes Mead and Powell, the country’s largest reservoirs — and currently two of its most consequential. The reservoirs are a key source of drinking water for about 40 million people, plus they store water that irrigates millions of acres of farmland and generates electricity for the Southwest. The reservoirs are also alarmingly dehydrated right now — about one-third full, the lowest since they were first filled. The entire basin is on alert.

    The 24-month study, in the simplest terms, projects water levels for the next two years at 12 federal reservoirs in the Colorado River basin. Produced monthly, it’s one of several forecasting products that give water managers a sense of possible futures. It is also the foundation of essential water management decisions in the basin. Reclamation’s other forecasts, updated less frequently, look at mid-term (five years out) and long-term (multiple decades) scenarios.

    Typically nested in wonkish obscurity, the 24-month study acquired newfound public prominence in recent weeks. The August results are the most important of all the months because they determine how much water will be released in the following year from Mead and Powell. Because Mead is so low, the August results triggered the first-ever Tier 1 shortage on the lower Colorado River, a declaration that means mandatory cuts in water deliveries in 2022 to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Because Powell is so low, dam managers will release a comparative trickle of water next year, so little that Mead is likely to plunge even lower.

    More eyes than usual on a technical product that was designed to guide reservoir operations means more potential for misinterpretation, especially by people unfamiliar with the study and its assumptions. Carly Jerla, Reclamation’s senior water resources program manager, said that the study has its defined uses but also its limits.

    “It’s important to understand that we’re not saying that this is what we think is going to happen this year,” Jerla told Circle of Blue about the reservoir levels outlined in the 24-month study. “We’re not saying, ‘Plan for this and only this because we have crystal ball knowledge of what is going to happen.’”

    Reclamation’s models, in fact, are not a crystal ball. Critics say that they are not pessimistic enough about the potential for extremely dry years. But as the Colorado River basin dries due to a warming planet, Jerla and others are actively considering how best to convey to the public and water managers alike the looming risks to water supplies and to prepare people, at least mentally, for the possibility that reality could turn out much worse than the forecast had projected…

    Accurate mid-term weather forecasts, those that extend out a couple weeks and up to a year, are notoriously difficult to achieve, said Jeff Lukas, an independent climate researcher in Colorado who has worked in the basin for 20 years. It’s especially true in the mountainous terrain of Colorado and Wyoming, where the Colorado River and its main tributaries have their headwaters. Well-known seasonal patterns like the cyclical warming of the eastern Pacific during El Nino years can indicate wetter or drier, but without substantial precision.

    Because the future is hazy, the models instead rely on the recent past as a guide, Lukas said. “We’re basically saying in the absence of real prognostic information, we’ll substitute history.”

    Here’s how that works. The 24-month study process begins with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, a team of scientists operating within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their task is to assess what the rivers might do.

    The River Forecast Center starts with current land and water conditions: soil moisture, snowpack, stream flow. From that baseline hydrologists feed their model, one by one, with historical weather observations from the years 1981 to 2015. In effect, it’s as if the temperature and precipitation from each year were repeated in today’s world. That produces 35 possible hydrological futures, each representing the past laid on top of the present.

    The Bureau of Reclamation team takes those hydrological futures and uses them in its model of the Colorado River system. The aim of this system model, which includes water inflows and water uses, is to simulate reservoir levels as well as hydropower generation. Fed by the output from the hydrological model, the system model also produces future scenarios, called runs.

    The middle result — the most probable — is the one that is presented in the main 24-month study report. It’s the result that determines how Mead and Powell will be operated. It’s called the most probable because it’s in the middle, if each of the runs was ordered from wettest to driest. It means that historically half the time it was wetter than the middle result and half the time it was drier.

    There are drawbacks to this approach. The runs are not assessed as to how likely they are to occur, which means that a repetition of each of the past years is considered equally likely. The problem: there are more wet years in the 1981 to 2015 period than dry ones. (Runoff in 1983, for instance, was so extremely high that it almost broke Glen Canyon Dam.) Because of this imbalance, the middle result is arguably skewed toward wetter conditions, Lukas said.

    Jerla said there is no scientifically valid way to privilege the likelihood of one outcome over another.

    An update of the River Forecast Center’s data sets will soon help reduce the skew. Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist at the Center, told Circle of Blue that data from the years 2016 through 2020 will be added this fall. Instead of 35 historical hydrologies fed through the models, there will be 40. Adding the drier recent years will push the most probable outcome to a drier result, with reservoir projections in the 24-month study likely pushed downward at the same time…

    The 24-month study is most associated with the most probable scenario. But recently Reclamation has expanded its offerings to include two other reservoir scenarios, now produced monthly: the minimum probable and the maximum probable. The minimum probable is the tenth percentile, meaning the third or fourth driest of those 35 historical hydrologies. The maximum probable is the ninetieth percentile, or the third or fourth wettest historical hydrology.

    For the minimum probable, the tenth percentile of flows is used in the first year of the 24-month study, but the second year of the study is calculated with the twenty-fifth percentile, under the assumption that consecutive extremely bad years would not happen.

    If you look only at the most probable result, you’re not seeing how bad things might plausibly get. Lake Mead today, when it is one-third full, sits at elevation 1,068 feet. The most probable elevation for July 2023 is 1,037 feet, when Mead would be 26 percent full. The minimum probable elevation for that date is 1,027 feet, when the gasping reservoir would be 23 percent full.

    That’s a significant difference in elevation, and if the drier scenario came about it would change basin operations. But even the minimum probable has a flaw. It is not as pessimistic as it could — or maybe should — be.

    “The minimum probable does not represent a worst-case scenario,” Jerla said. “If you wanted to be the ultimate pessimist, which I think probably makes sense given where the system is, things could be worse than what is provided in that minimum probable because it is only the tenth percentile.”

    In other words, the minimum probable is not the minimum possible. There have been years in the last two decades with worse river flow conditions than what is represented by the minimum probable. Things could be drier still.

    As Jerla puts it regarding the minimum and maximum probable: “There is an area above and below those that have futures that folks should be aware of.”

    […]

    Reclamation already runs its five-year projections with what it calls “stress test” hydrology. This scenario is a replication of the years 1988 to 2019, and represents hotter and drier conditions that have settled over the basin. Udall and others argue that Reclamation should consider running its models with an even more stressful test: the years 2000 to 2004, the last time that Lake Powell almost crashed.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    “That five-year period is really unique,” Udall explained. Annual runoff averaged 9.4 million acre-feet, a fraction of what coursed through the river throughout the last century. The average annual runoff in the years for the stress test hydrology is about 13.3 million acre-feet. That makes the first years of this century unique, Udall said. And frightening. “There’s nothing like it in the 20th century. It’s stunning how bad a period it is, and we could be in the middle of that right now.”

    […]

    The next update of the five-year projections will come out in early September. Five years is a tricky time frame to analyze, Jerla said. It’s far enough in the future that current conditions lose their predictive power. But it’s close enough to be relevant for farmers, city utilities, and marina operators — all of whom need to plan for near-term water supply. Jerla and her colleagues are trying to thread that needle, thinking hard about how to “provide the public with a good understanding of future outcomes and future risks without confusing the heck out of them.”

    Blue Mesa Reservoir releases to prop up #LakePowell impacting recreation — @AspenJournlism

    The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

    That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

    As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

    Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

    “There are tons of people who would like to be out here boating and are very disappointed,” Loken said. “Normally on Labor Day weekend, you can barely find a place to park. So it’s definitely been a big hit to us as a business for sure.”

    The Elk Creek Marina and restaurant are closed for the season, although the boat ramp is still open and is expected to be accessible through the end of the month. The Lake Fork Marina is open through Labor Day, but the boat ramp has closed for the season. The Iola boat ramp is restricted to small boats only and is scheduled to close after Labor Day.

    “We are just trying to make it through the holiday weekend and then we will be shutting up this marina too,” Loken said.

    The Bureau announced July 16 that it would begin emergency releases through early October from three Upper Basin reservoirs: 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo, on the San Juan River; 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge, on the Green River; and 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa, on the Gunnison River. The goal of the releases is to prop up water levels at Lake Powell to preserve the ability to make hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam. The 181,000 acre-feet from the three upstream reservoirs is expected to boost levels at Powell by about 3 feet.

    The three reservoirs are part of the Colorado River Storage Project, and their primary purpose is to control the flows of the Colorado River; flatwater recreation has always been incidental. But the releases at Blue Mesa illustrate the risks of building an outdoor-recreation economy around a highly engineered river system that is now beginning to falter amid a climate change-fueled drought.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Timing concerns

    Although the secretary of the Interior can authorize emergency releases without coordination from the states or local entities, Loken, along with some Colorado water managers, is not happy about the timing or the lack of notice from the bureau. Under normal drought-response operations, the federal government would consult with state and local water managers before making releases.

    “We had very little time to handle this decision that was made that none of us have any power over,” Loken said.

    John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, said Colorado should make noise and complain about what he called a clumsy execution of the releases. McClow has also served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is an alternate commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    “There’s no reason they couldn’t have waited another couple weeks or another month to release that water from Blue Mesa to get it to Lake Powell,” McClow said. “It goes back to consultation and timing. Had they even asked, it would have been easy to say, ‘Hey, can you wait so you don’t kill our business?’”

    Last month at Colorado Water Congress’ summer conference — a gathering of water managers, researchers and legislators in Steamboat Springs — Rebecca Mitchell, CWCB’s executive director and the state’s representative to the UCRC, told the audience that the impacts of ending the boating season early at Blue Mesa trickle down to all Coloradoans.

    “That means dollars in Colorado. That is who we are in Colorado,” she said. “It’s definitely had an impact in that local community when we talk about the recreation. That is heavy.”

    Mitchell said water managers in the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Utah) will be carefully monitoring the impacts of the reservoir releases and figuring out how to quantify those impacts, which she called devastating. The states will work with the bureau to develop a plan for how to send water to Lake Powell in future years, taking into consideration the timing, magnitude and duration of the releases, she said.

    “Where can the states and the bureau make the best decisions to lessen the impacts?” she said.

    The National Park Service operates the Curecanti National Recreation area, including the campsites, picnic areas, visitors centers and boat ramps that run the 20-mile length of the reservoir. According to numbers provided by the Park Service, Curecanti gets nearly a million visitors a year. The reservoir is popular among anglers for its trout and Kokanee salmon fishing. Blue Mesa is one of three reservoirs — along with the much smaller Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs — on the Gunnison River, collectively known as the Aspinall Unit.

    Barefoot Dance In The Snow New York, New York March 8, 1916. Girls of the Marion Morgan School of Dance in Los Angeles perform barefoot in the snow in Central Park. Underwood Archives by Underwood Archives

    Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce Director Celeste Helminski said her organization is planning an event later this month: the world’s largest snow dance. A big winter would help refill Blue Mesa.

    “The water definitely has me concerned for the future,” she said. “We see a lot of summer recreationists who come and spend the whole summer at several of the campgrounds. It’s just going to take a lot to replace that water. It’s going to take awhile to get back to levels of what recreationists come for.”

    Bureau spokesperson Justyn Liff could not provide any insight into how the timing decision for the releases was made, but pointed out that although lake recreation was impacted, downstream rafting and fishing in the canyon are getting a boost from the roughly 300 cubic-feet-per-second extra water that the releases provide. The Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel diversion, which takes a large portion of the river’s outflow from the Aspinall Unit for delivery to downstream irrigators, was running around 600 cfs the first few days of September, according to USGS stream gauge data. This is a critical data point for boaters running the Black Canyon or Gunnison Gorge sections of the river, which are below the stream gauge. At 600 cfs, the river is flowing 11% above the median for this time of year.

    “If we had waited six weeks, that would have been six weeks less of commercial rafting/guided fishing on the Gunnison River downstream from Aspinall,” Liff said.

    Some boats were still in the water the first week of September at the Lake Fork Marina. Across Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Elk Creek Marina’s boat slips were emptied early because of declining water levels in the reservoir.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Hydropower production

    Although the local impacts to recreation are acute, the impacts of not being able to make hydropower at Lake Powell would probably be much worse. The dams of the CRSP are known as “cash register” dams. The power they produce is used to repay the costs of building the project, maintain operations and provide power to millions of people.

    The Western Area Power Administration distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, including to some power providers in Colorado. According to Water Education Colorado, electric costs will surge as Glen Canyon Dam struggles to produce hydropower because of declining water levels.

    The bureau’s target elevation for Lake Powell is 3,525 feet, in order to provide a buffer that protects hydropower generation; if levels fall below 3,490, all power production would stop. Lake Powell is currently about 31% full, at 3,549 feet, which is the lowest surface level since the reservoir began filling in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to projections released by the bureau in July, Lake Powell has a 79% chance of falling below the 3,525 threshold in the next year. The emergency releases are intended to address this.

    “A loss of power generation is a pretty significant issue compared to a few months of boating on Blue Mesa,” McClow said. “Locally, yes, it hurts, but in the big picture, I don’t know if you can make a fair comparison.”

    As water levels at Blue Mesa continue to fall, Loken worries that this may be just the beginning of an era of empty reservoirs.

    “(The releases) don’t solve the long-term problem,” Loken said. “We are just going to end up with an empty Lake Powell and a bunch of empty reservoirs upstream. I think the powers that be really need to put pencil to paper and figure this out.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    #Drought-Hit Blue Mesa Reservoir Losing 8 Feet Of Water To Save #LakePowell. A Western Slope Marina Feels The Pain — #Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021 via the Montrose Daily Press

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Climate change is drying up Colorado’s water supply

    Climate change is leading to less snowpack, and warmer temperatures mean less water is making it into the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest reservoir, and it hit its second-lowest level on record for the end of August.

    Parks service officials issued the order because Elk Creek’s floating dock and marina are likely to hit the lake’s bottom. Eric Loken, the head of operations at the marina his family has managed for more than 30 years, said the early closure is cutting six weeks out of his five-month season…

    A 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought has dealt a double blow to Blue Mesa this summer. The dry conditions have led to lower levels directly, but the lake is also hurting from drought problems in other states.

    For the first time, the federal government is taking emergency action by taking water from Blue Mesa to help out another reservoir — Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. Loken said the withdrawals hurt more given Blue Mesa’s low water levels…

    The states that share Colorado River water agreed to this plan in 2019. Low levels in Lake Powell would trigger an emergency release from three reservoirs upstream…

    The water taken from Blue Mesa is being used to make sure hydroelectric power turbines at Lake Powell can keep spinning and generating electricity for millions of people in the West, including customers in Colorado.

    John McClow, a lawyer for the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District, said this scenario is what Blue Mesa and the other reservoirs were built for in the 1960s — drought emergencies, not recreation. It’s a bank of water that states can tap when they need to…

    Although the water in Blue Mesa has always been earmarked for Lake Powell if Colorado needed help meeting its legal obligation to send more flow to downstream states, McClow said the timing of the release was unnecessarily disruptive. He wishes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have waited to take the water until October when lake tourism starts slowing down.

    Erik Knight, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist, said that while the timing of the water releases might have hurt the lake, it improved rafting and fishing downstream of Blue Mesa, including parts of the Gunnison River that were so low that commercial rafting was likely to have been canceled.

    USBR awards $5.5 million to 82 water improvement projects in 16 western states

    The Cimarron River, a tributary of the Gunnison River as seen flowing in late summer. Colorado River Storage Project

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    The Bureau of Reclamation selected 82 projects to share $5.5 million in WaterSMART Small Scale Water Efficiency Grants. These grants will help local communities make water efficiency improvements such as installing flow measurement, automating a water delivery system, or lining a canal section to reduce seepage.

    “Through a relatively small investment, Reclamation can support western communities with grant funding to improve water conservation and reliability,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “These small, community-driven projects help improve water resiliency in these communities as they seek to meet future water needs.”

    The program supports the Biden-Harris administration’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad as it increases a community’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

    Selected projects range from $7,000 to the maximum of $75,000. The City of Fountain in Colorado is receiving $7,053 to upgrade 210 sprinkler heads at Fountain Mesa Park with more efficient ones. The City of Long Beach is receiving $75,000 to replace 50,000 square feet of turf with drought-tolerant landscaping. All projects selected must provide at least a 50% cost-share.

    To view a list of all the projects selected today or learn more about the program, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/swep.

    For more than 100 years, Reclamation and its partners have developed sustainable water and power future for the West. This program is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program, which focuses on improving water conservation and reliability while helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. To find out more information about Reclamation’s WaterSMART program, visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart.

    Ouray County water project faces opposition from state, others: roposed reservoir, pipeline, exchange could have impacts to fish and environmental flows — @AspenJournalism

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build a 260-foot dam at this location on Cow Creek that would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water. One goal would be to lessen daily flow fluctuations, especially during spring runoff.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water users in Ouray County are hoping to satisfy water shortages with what they say is a multi-beneficial reservoir and pipeline project. But the Ram’s Horn reservoir, Cow Creek pipeline and exchange are facing opposition from the state of Colorado and others.

    The complicated, three-pronged project proposes to take water from Cow Creek and pipe it into Ridgway Reservoir, take water from local streams via ditches and store it in the reservoir, and build a new dam and reservoir on Cow Creek. This stored water would eventually be sent downstream to be used by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).

    Ridgway Dam via the USBR

    The project applicants — Ouray County, Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Ouray County Water Users Association and the Colorado River Water Conservation District — say they need 20 cubic feet per second of water from Cow Creek. Cow Creek is a tributary of the Uncompahgre River with headwaters in the Cimarron mountains. Cow Creek’s confluence with the Uncompahgre River is below Ridgway Reservoir, which is why an upstream pipeline would be needed to capture the water and bring it into the reservoir.

    The applicants are also seeking to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reaches of Cow Creek, which would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water behind a 260-foot-tall and 720-foot-long dam. Ram’s Horn would help regulate what are known as diurnal flows during spring runoff — streamflows are higher during the day as the snow melts with warming temperatures, and lower at night as snow re-freezes. UVWUA says they can’t adjust their headgates to capture the high point of this daily fluctuation in flows, leaving the water to run downstream unused. The project would capture these diurnal peaks.

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Colorado Parks and Wildlife opposes the project, in part, because of its potential impact to fish.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Goal to prevent a call

    The goal of the project is to prevent the UVWUA — one of the big senior water rights holders in the Gunnison River basin — from placing a call on the river.

    When the UVWUA, which owns the Montrose & Delta Canal and has a 1890 water right, is not able to get its full amount of water, it places a call on the river. This means upstream junior water rights holders, like Ouray County Water Users, have to stop using water so that UVWUA can get its full amount. According to a state database, the M&D Canal has placed a call three times this summer, most recently from July 12 to 22. In 2020, the call was on for nearly all of July and August. Under Colorado water law, the oldest water rights have first use of the river.

    By releasing the water stored in either Ridgway or Ram’s Horn reservoirs to satisfy a UVWUA call, Ouray County Water Users Association would then be able to continue using its own water.

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is a co-applicant of the project.

    “This (project) is consistent with the River District’s goals and objectives with supporting our constituents and making sure they have a reliable water supply,” said Jason Turner, River District senior counsel.

    Ridgway Reservoir, on the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County, is popular with boaters. A proposed pipeline project that would bring water from Cow Creek into the reservoir is being met with opposition for environmental reasons.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Potential impacts to fish, instream flows

    But some state agencies, environmental groups and others have concerns about the project. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board have both filed statements of opposition to the application, which was originally filed in December 2019, amended in January and is making its way through water court. CPW claims that its water rights in the basin, which it holds for the benefit of state wildlife areas, fisheries and state parks, could be injured by the project. CPW owns nearly a mile of access to Cow Creek on the Billy Creek State Wildlife Area.

    Between August 2019 and January 2020, CPW recorded water temperatures of Cow Creek and found they exceeded a state standard for trout. A report from CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio says that the proposed project would likely cause an even bigger increase in water temperatures, resulting in fish mortality.

    “The flow and temperature analysis for Cow Creek indicates that the water rights application has the likelihood to damage or eliminate the native bluehead sucker population as well as the rest of the fishery in the downstream end of Cow Creek through the degradation of water quantity and quality,” the report reads.

    While less water in Cow Creek could result in temperatures that are too high for trout, water released from the proposed Ram’s Horn reservoir could be too cold for bluehead suckers.

    “There’s going to be some changes to temperature and what our temperature data has outlined is that the species are at their extreme ends,” Gardunio said. “It’s nearly too cold for bluehead sucker and it’s nearly too warm for trout, so changes in temperature are going to have an impact to one or the other of the fishery.”

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board opposes the project because they said it could injure the state’s instream flow water rights. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the CWCB to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Ram’s Horn reservoir would inundate a section of Cow Creek where the CWCB currently holds an instream flow right.

    “The application does not present sufficient information to fully evaluate the extent to which the CWCB’s instream flow water right may be injured,” the statement of opposition reads.

    Environmental group Western Resource Advocates also opposes the project. Ram’s Horn Reservoir, with conditional water rights owned by Tri-County Water Conservancy District, is one of five reservoirs planned as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project, which dates to the 1950s. Ridgway Reservoir is the only one of the five that has been built.

    This map shows the potential location of Ram’s Horn Reservoir, as well as other reservoirs originally conceived as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project. Only Ridgway Reservoir has been built.
    CREDIT: MAP COURTESY WRIGHT WATER ENGINEERS

    Complex exchange

    The third piece of the proposed project is what’s known as an exchange, where water would be conveyed via existing ditches connecting tributaries above Ridgway Reservoir. The exchange water would be stored there and released when senior downstream water users need it, which would benefit upstream water users. In addition to Cow Creek, the applicants are proposing to take water from Pleasant Valley Creek, the East and West Forks of Dallas Creek, Dallas Creek and the Uncompahgre River to use in the exchange.

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 4 Engineer Bob Hurford laid out the issues his office has with this exchange in his summary of consultation. He recommended denial on the exchange portion of the application until the applicants list the specific ditches participating in the exchange and their locations, and agree that they are responsible for enlarging the ditches so they can handle the increased capacity of water.

    “I have to have actual ditch names, the owners of the ditches have to be willing to participate and it has all got to be tracked to a tenth of a cfs,” Hurford said. “It’s not a loosey-goosey thing. It has to be dialed in and defined precisely.”

    Another criticism of the project is that it won’t provide water directly to water users in Dallas Creek, which according to a report by Wright Water Engineers, is the most water-short region of the Upper Uncompahgre basin. Even if Dallas Creek water users participate in the exchange, in dry years still there may not be enough water in local creeks for them to use.

    “This project has been sold as the savior of agriculture in Ouray County but this project will not provide wet water that would not otherwise be available to anybody that is an ag producer,” said Ouray County water rights holder and project opponent Cary Denison. “I don’t know one irrigator who is saying we need to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir.”

    The project application is making its way through water court and applicants say they are continuing to negotiate with opposers. A status report is due in October. Attorney for the Ouray County Water Users Association and River District board representative Marti Whitmore said they want to make sure it’s a multi-purpose project that benefits everyone.

    “Fish flows and recreation uses are important, so we are just trying to work out terms and conditions that are a win-win for everyone,” she said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    #Wyoming preps for less #water as #drought creeps up #ColoradoRiver — WyoFile.com #COriver #aridification

    Photo credit: NPS

    From Wyofile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    As federal water managers declared the first-ever official Colorado River water shortage last week, a top official said he’s confident Wyoming will responsibly implement its plans to store and divert even more flows from the troubled waterway.

    The Department of the Interior on Aug. 16 said it would reduce water diversions to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico in 2022 after a scheduled August review set the restrictive sideboards for releases next year.

    Despite that curtailment, Wyoming plans to corral another 115,000 acre-feet annually by building and modifying dams and their operations to potentially allow more diversions.

    At the same time, Wyoming is fleshing out its Drought Contingency Plan and a “demand management” program that could see voluntary reductions in diversions before users in the state might be cut off. Wyoming doesn’t expect curtailments to happen next year, unless drought, aridification and climate change unexpectedly exacerbate the decline in Lake Powell.

    In a press call announcing the downstream diversion reductions, a regional Bureau of Reclamation director appeared unfazed by the potential impacts of Wyoming’s dam-building plans.

    “Wyoming has exercised foresight in the work of their Wyoming Water Development Commission,” said Wayne Pullan, the BOR’s director for the Upper Colorado River Basin, “and with our long history with Wyoming we’re confident that they’ll pursue any future projects responsibly, fully aware of the context of the hydrology and the difficulties on the Colorado River.”

    Wyoming’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which will decide how any curtailments in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico will be borne, said his cohorts are “very concerned about the hydrology this basin faces.” A Drought Contingency Plan that’s been adopted in skeleton form “does provide the tools to help manage what we’re seeing now, as troubling as that is,” commission member Pat Tyrrell said at the press call.

    Wyo forges ahead with dams…

    Pullan would not comment on specific ongoing Wyoming projects, at least five of which in the Green River and Little Snake River basins would collectively control an additional 115,000 acre-feet at an estimated cost of $123 million.

    “It is worth noting that one of the purposes of the Colorado River storage project is to assist states, making use of their apportionment under the [1922 Colorado River] Compact,” Pullan said. Wyoming has not developed or appropriated its full share of the water entitled under that historic agreement, state officials have said.

    Lake Powell end of month projections from August 2021 24-month Study. Credit: USBR

    The compact and apportionment among the seven states and Mexico, however, is based on an annual supply of at least 15 million acre-feet, an amount experts say the river basin no longer produces. Further, Wyoming believes the lower basin’s Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico have historically overused their share while upper division states have not exploited their full rights.

    At least one group has called for a moratorium on new storage or diversion projects in the basin until the seven states and Mexico can address what’s widely seen as claims to flows that no longer exist. Wyoming still deserves its share, state officials believe.

    “We aren’t obligated to sustain overuse anywhere else,” Tyrrell said in an interview, “to the detriment of our existing demands here in Wyoming.”

    Tyrrell offered one scenario where an ongoing dam project could be immediately affected by less runoff. At the Big Sandy Dam in Sublette County, the Bureau of Reclamation is raising the structure to impound an additional 12,900 acre-feet for irrigation.

    “That’ll come under a more recent priority date,” Tyrrell said, meaning the new storage area will be among the first to be cut off if lower-basin shortages creep upstream. The doctrine of prior appropriation that governs water use in Wyoming recognizes the first-in-time water appropriation to be first-in-right when shortages occur.

    “If we are, for example, under any kind of curtailment,” Tyrrell said, Big Sandy “won’t be allowed to fill.

    “It will put no more additional stress on the system if it’s not allowed to fill up,” he told WyoFile.

    Other new dams, reservoir enlargements or operational changes that would give Wyoming access to more water would be subject to separate sideboards depending on whether they are built, what priority of appropriation they might impound, who owns them and other factors.

    The amount of water involved in the Wyoming projects is “very small in comparison to Lake Powell,” Tyrrell said. Powell holds some 20 million acre-feet of what’s called active storage — the amount that can actually be used.

    The downstream reductions — 18%, 7% and 5% of Arizona, Nevada and Mexico’s annual apportionments respectively — amount to 613,000 acre-feet. That’s about 3% of Powell’s storage or, seen another way, about 10% more than Wyoming’s average annual usage of basin flows.

    The impact of any additional consumptive use in Wyoming — which could approach the 115,000 acre-feet contemplated in Wyoming’s dam plans — “is very, very small in comparison to what might be stored in Lake Powell,” Tyrrell said.

    “I believe the environmental impact statement for Big Sandy found there would be no significant impact to reservoir elevations downstream by an enlargement,” he said.

    Wyoming’s legal team stands behind water developers, assistant attorney general Chris Brown said as he echoed Tyrrell’s overview. “We are certainly not obligated to sustain overuse in other places in the basin on the backs of Wyoming water users, either current or future.”

    Water developers, including Wyoming itself, understand the priority system and risks associated with constructing impoundments to hold back flows. In the face of dwindling supply, some wonder whether new structures might become stranded assets — facilities built under one scenario that can’t be used as intended in a new reality.

    A professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School expressed skepticism about Wyoming’s basin-wide plans. “That seems like a bad investment,” Mark Squillace said in an interview.

    … and plans for curtailments

    Already the Bureau of Reclamation has activated provisions under its Drought Response Operations Agreement to release water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah. Pullan called the action a “small ‘e’” emergency release that will help keep the level at Powell high enough to continue generating valuable electricity.

    The Flaming Gorge releases and others also help the four upper-basin states meet their water-flow obligations under the 1922 compact, Wyoming’s Tyrrell said. The dwindling flows, he said, “threaten to get worse.”

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

    @DenverWater ‘refund’ means a big boost to #ColoradoRiver flows: How the intricacies of Colorado water agreements make for a big late-season liquid pulse in #Kremmling #COriver #aridification

    From News on Tap (Nathan Elder):

    The Colorado River at Kremmling in Grand County will enjoy a big bump in flows from August into October as Denver Water pays off a hefty water debt.

    The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. The river will see additional flows in late summer and fall as Denver Water sends additional water downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The rising flows — an addition of more than 300 cubic feet per second (more on that later) sent from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs — serve as a good example of how Colorado’s intricate system of water rights can drive river flows higher when they might typically be lower as autumn settles in.

    In this case, it works like this: A dry year created conditions that now require Denver Water to “pay back” water to the West Slope.

    Why? Let’s stick with the easy version.

    An agreement that emerged over 50 years of Byzantine legal fights allows Denver to move water from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County to the Front Range when it needs the water for its customers.

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    But — and this is a big “But” — if another big reservoir called Green Mountain (that’s the very long reservoir you drive past as you cruise Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling) — doesn’t fill up in the spring and summer, Denver Water has to make up the difference later in the year.

    Green Mountain Reservoir is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and located in Summit County north of Silverthorne along the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Stay with us here. Take a look at the map that accompanies this story to help.

    Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs are located along the Blue River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River. Water from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs eventually flows into the Colorado River via Muddy Creek and the Williams Fork River respectively. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Years like this, when Denver Water has to refund water, are called “substitution” years. There have been big substitution years, when a lot of water is involved in the refund, in dry years such as 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2013.

    This year is shaping up as a big one, too; one of the largest. In all, the utility expects to release about 37,600 acre-feet from Williams Fork and Wolford to make up what Green Mountain, a reservoir operated by federal Bureau of Reclamation, lacked this year.

    That’s a lot of water — close to the capacity of Gross Reservoir, the big Denver Water reservoir in the foothills northwest of Denver. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to serve three or four households for a year.

    Denver Water owns Williams Fork Reservoir (left) and stores water in Wolford Mountain Reservoir (right.) Denver Water uses the reservoirs to fulfill downstream water rights obligation. The water stored in these two reservoirs is not used for drinking water supplies in the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water and Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    But wait, you say. Water from Williams Fork and Wolford won’t find its way to Green Mountain, since the Green Mountain Reservoir is on the Blue River and those two reservoirs send their water into the Colorado River, not the Blue.

    (Also, water can’t flow upstream from the Colorado River into Green Mountain Reservoir. Take another look at the map in this story.)

    That’s OK, as the point is to make up for flows in the Colorado River that would otherwise be augmented by releases from Green Mountain. In short, the releases keep the flows moving on the West Slope.

    Now, back to those flows. Releases are expected to add an additional 400 cubic feet per second to the Colorado River in August, 320 cfs in September, and then decrease somewhat to an extra 200 cfs in the first two weeks of October.

    The confluence of the Blue River (left) with the Colorado River (right), southwest of Kremmling. Muddy Creek, which carries water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, flows into the Colorado River at this location as well. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    How much water is that?

    Quite a bit. If you think in terms of gallons (think of the gallon of milk at the grocery story), a cubic foot contains about 7.5 gallons. So 300 cubic feet per second means about 2,250 gallons of water per second added to the river flows. (Think about that many milk jugs floating by each second).

    While it’s a lot of water to pay back — and it means Denver Water will need to draw down its supplies in Wolford and Williams Fork quite a bit — it could have been even more.

    But a wet spring on the Front Range kept sprinklers off and demand low. Monsoons returned this year as well, boosting flows on both sides of the Continental Divide. All of that allowed Denver Water to reduce what it moved from Dillon Reservoir, through the Roberts Tunnel, to the Front Range.

    Which, in turn, allowed a bit more water down the Blue River and into Green Mountain and reduced the “substitution” amount to be repaid.

    The Blue River below Dillon Dam in Summit County on Aug. 16, 2021. Denver Water uses the dam to store and release water from the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    If you’ve stuck with us until now, we raise a toast to you, salute your interest in a puzzling topic, and hope that this boost in late season flows in the Colorado River brings a smile to all of us inspired by the beauty of a moving stream.

    #Colorado water policies will reflect first-ever cuts in Southwest U.S. — The #Greeley Tribune

    The rising sun illuminates the desert landscape near Channel Island at the head of Virgin Canyon in Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border (Photo from Arizona). Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry via American Rivers

    From The Greeley Tribune (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado officials plan to measure use more precisely and pay farmers to send more to Lake Powell

    As federal authorities impose the first-ever mandatory cuts in how much water Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take from the Colorado River, the states higher up the river face rising pressure to divert less.

    That has Colorado officials embarking on an effort to install measuring devices across the Western Slope to precisely account for just how much farmers, ranchers and cities siphon out. The state is also developing a program to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less of their allotted shares of river water so that more could be banked in Lake Powell to meet the state’s legal downriver obligations to California, Arizona and Nevada.

    All of this comes after the summer’s emergency draw-down of Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and other federal reservoirs to leave more water in the 1,450-mile river.

    Monday’s [August 16, 2021] declaration by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation orders Arizona to cut the water it draws from Lake Mead by 18% (512,000 acre-feet), Nevada by 7% (21,000 acre-feet) and Mexico by 5% (80,000 acre feet). The cuts must begin next year.

    The feds also declared that Colorado and its upper basin neighbors (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) will be allowed to deliver a little less water next year to Lake Powell, reducing the amount measured at the top of the Grand Canyon from 8.23 million acre-feet to 7.43 million acre-feet. That’s because shrinking mountain snow, drought and heat are depleting headwaters, authorities said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Still, average annual flows of water in the Colorado River Basin have decreased by 19% since 2000, federal records show. And water levels in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been falling steadily for years as 40 million people tap the river. This year’s record low levels (both about a third full) triggered the declaration.

    New projections unveiled by federal hydrologists that the river basin will dry out faster than previously expected may trigger additional cuts before 2025 based on states’ agreed-on operating procedures.

    “It’s all connected, one river system, and we’re just in different points of pain,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy.

    Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch in this August 2020 photo. Compliance with measuring device requirements has been moving more slowly than state engineers would like.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Colorado Division of Water Resources director Kevin Rein met with ranchers and farmers around western Colorado last month seeking guidance on how best to install flumes and other devices to measure how much water they divert…

    Meanwhile, Colorado Water Conservation Board officials have scheduled a working session this month to consider expansion of pilot program efforts to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less water, which analysts have said could cost the state hundreds of millions.

    Board director Rebecca Mitchell, who also represents Colorado in negotiating with other states over the river’s water, said headwaters users “understand the risks and vulnerabilities we face due to severe drought and a potentially hotter and drier future.”

    The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Navajo Unit will be virtual, and is scheduled for Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at 1:00 pm — USBR #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.Photo credit Mike Robinson via the University of Washington.

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Navajo Unit will be virtual, and is scheduled for Tuesday, August 24th, at 1:00 pm. At the meeting time, click here to join the meeting.

    This meeting is open to the public and will be held virtually via Microsoft Teams video. The meeting should open in any smartphone, tablet, or computer browser, and does not require a Microsoft account. If you are away from a computer, you can also call-in at (202) 640-1187 (Phone Conference ID: 460 056 201#).

    A copy of the presentation and meeting summary will be distributed to this email list and posted to our website following the meeting. If you are unable to connect to the meeting, feel free to contact me (information below) following the meeting for any comments or to ask questions.

    The meeting agenda will include a review of operations and hydrology since April, current streamflow and hydrologic conditions, a discussion of hydrologic forecasts and planned operations for remainder of this water year and next water year, planned drought operations, updates on maintenance activities, and the Recovery Program on the San Juan River.

    If you have any suggestions for the agenda or have questions about the meeting, please call Susan Behery at 970-385-6560, or email sbehery@usbr.gov. Visit the Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html for operational updates.

    Navajo Dam operations update (August 17, 2021): Releases to be reduced to 700 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    The City of Farmington Hydroelectric Power Plant will be taken offline today, Tuesday, August 17th, at 1:00 PM for unscheduled work. The Bureau of Reclamation will open the Auxiliary 4×4 release at that time, to 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) (a reduction from the current release of 800 cfs). The Auxiliary will continue releasing for a period of up to a week while work continues at the Power Plant.

    Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell). The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    Navajo Dam operations update (August 17, 2021): Releases to decrease to 800 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach and a forecast wetter weather pattern, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Tuesday, August 17th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    The American West is drying up — The Economist #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    West Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.

    From The Economist:

    The effects of climate change are being exacerbated by a century of bad policy

    There are two main reasons water shortages loom. The first is climate change. Both reservoirs straddle the Colorado River as it meanders from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains down through the desert south-west to northern Mexico (see map). Warmer winters caused by rising greenhouse-gas emissions have diminished the snowpack that melts into the river each spring. In addition, parched soils have soaked up some of the runoff before it can reach Mead and Powell. Since 2000, when the so-called “Millennium Drought” began, the river’s annual flow has shrunk by nearly 20%. Multiple studies in the past five years have attributed up to half of that decline to human-caused climate change.

    Second, poor policy choices 100 years ago all but guaranteed that the water available to westerners could never meet expectations. After laws such as the Homestead Act encouraged white settlers to move West in the second half of the 19th century, the federal government financed the dams and pipelines needed for cities and agriculture to thrive in the desert. “By moving water around from more water-rich areas to water-poor areas, we sort of enabled these people to migrate and settle,” says Newsha Ajami of Stanford University. “Regardless of the fact that it’s dry, or it’s hot—if the water is flowing, you think anything is possible.”

    Boosterism for shiny new reclamation projects in the early 1900s led to dubious decision-making. The Colorado River Compact, which divvied up the river in 1922, used data from historically wet years to estimate the average annual flows. John Fleck, the director of water resources at the University of New Mexico, says a government scientist was ignored when he testified in the 1920s that the river could not meet its projected demands. The compact and its addendums, known as “the law of the river”, hold that the seven states and Mexico are to split 20.4bn cubic metres of water each year (or in American terms 16.5 million acre-foot of water, where an acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to submerge one acre of land one foot deep.) The river has not lived up to those aspirational figures, says Brad Udall, a climate scientist at Colorado State University. Between 1906 and 1999 annual flows averaged 15.2m acre-feet; since 2000 the river has mustered only 12.4m.

    Drought almost seems too puny a word to describe the water scarcity that the south-west is experiencing. “In some ways drought implies that it’s ephemeral,” says Kristen Averyt, Nevada’s climate policy coordinator. But the region’s future could be hotter and drier still, according to the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. When discussing the outlook for Las Vegas, John Entsminger, who runs the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), prefers to talk in terms of aridification, or the long-term drying of the region. “I’m past talking about droughts,” he says.

    The region’s rich cities have been planning for this. Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas all get water from the Colorado River—and all have diversified their water supplies. Investing in conservation, recycling programmes and desalination technology has allowed south-western metros to save water even while their populations have soared.

    Perhaps no place is more spooked by Lake Mead’s decline than the Las Vegas valley, which gets 90% of its water from the nearby reservoir. That dependence has spurred innovation. All water that goes down a drain is recycled, according to SNWA, and the city has ripped out grass in favour of desert landscaping. These measures, along with water restrictions and incentives, helped the valley cut its water use by 23% since 2002 while adding about 800,000 residents to its population. “People always assume that population growth and water consumption is more or less a one-to-one correlation,” says Mr Entsminger. But “you can add more people to the equation and simultaneously use less water.”

    A herd of elk could be seen roaming amid the irrigation sprinklers of Crystal River Ranch on Thursday. Ranch owner Sue Anschutz-Rodgers has told the state she is making progress toward building two dams and reservoirs on the property. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    But cities only account for a fraction of water use on the Colorado. Irrigated agriculture slurps up about 70% of the river each year. Cuts to the water supply may push farmers to grow different crops, fallow fields or return to pumping groundwater to get by. Pumping isn’t a sustainable option either. Years of overuse have depleted aquifers in parts of Arizona and California.

    Meanwhile, some demands on the river are growing. Thanks to generations of neglect, many Native American households do not have access to clean drinking water. Tribes also lack the plumbing needed to take the water they already have rights to. The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last week includes $6bn to help remedy that. As the river shrinks, will such attempts to right enduring wrongs go down the drain?

    Opinion: Yes, we’re facing a water shortage on the #ColoradoRiver. No, it’s not yet a crisis — AZCentral.com #COriver #aridification

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    From AZCentral.com (Joanna Allhands):

    Opinion: A Tier 1 water shortage on Lake Mead might sound scary, but it’s not the problem we should be worrying about.

    There’s a lot of freaking out about the first Tier 1 water shortage at Lake Mead, which is expected to be announced on Aug. 16.

    There has been breathless coverage for weeks in the national press about how bad things are now for those of us who rely on the Colorado River.

    But that’s the thing. A Tier 1 shortage is far from a crisis.

    Pickepost Peak, Pinal County, Arizona. Photo credit: Matt Mets from Brooklyn, NY, USA – Uploaded by PDTillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18072691

    Oh, this level of shortage will be painful, especially for farmers in Pinal County who are losing their only source of renewable water. They have no option other than to turn back to groundwater, which already has dwindled to the point that it cannot meet the long-term demands of all Pinal users. Some farmers are already beginning to make tough choices about which fields to fallow and which of their most productive lands are worth saving.

    But cities in metro Phoenix will not yet feel any ill effects of a Tier 1 shortage (and few will notice the impacts of a deeper Tier 2 shortage, a growing possibility for 2023). And those with the highest priority on-river water are even more insulated from pain, even if things get worse than that.

    A Tier 1 shortage isn’t our problem now

    Arizona has known for years that this day would come. We planned for it in a statewide implementation plan, which provides a complex web of temporary water supplies and compensation to help those who must shoulder these cuts. The plan gets progressively more painful, especially once we hit a Tier 3 shortage that will impact even the largest cities in metro Phoenix, but it’s all spelled out.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    If anything, the measured progression of cuts provides a bit of certainty in the chaos of the hotter, drier, more unpredictable future we face.

    So, while I know everyone will be talking about this first shortage because it’s new, and for those who haven’t been following the situation, reading the words “water shortage” will seem scary, forgive me if I view it as old hat.

    The Tier 1 declaration isn’t our problem. It’s the other numbers contained in the reports that also will be released on Aug. 16, which have turned grim with a speed that has surprised even the experts. The upstream Lake Powell is dropping quickly, thanks to already low lake levels and near-record low runoff this year. The lower Powell falls, the less water Lake Mead gets.

    That’s our problem.

    It’s likely that we are in for multiple years of 7.48 million acre-feet releases, down from the 8.23 million acre-feet (or more) releases on which we have come to rely. This is consequential, considering that until now we’ve only had one 7.48 million acre-feet release in 2014, when Lake Mead was nowhere near shortage levels.

    Lake levels never recovered from that lower release.

    Less water from Lake Powell is driving the tank

    And now Mead, which is V-shaped, is significantly lower in elevation – meaning it takes progressively less water to lower lake levels. Multiple years of 7.48 million acre-feet releases will cause lake levels to plummet (the forecast already says two in a row are likely, and that there’s a decent chance of them continuing through 2025).

    In fact, the latest modeling suggests there may be nearly a 40% chance of Lake Mead reaching a Tier 3 shortage – the most severe for which we have planned – by 2025.

    And if the projections hold, the states that rely on Mead could be meeting as soon as November to decide what other actions we can take (likely, it’ll be even more cuts) to keep the lake from falling below a critically low level of 1,020 feet of elevation. The modeling suggests that if we do nothing additional, the lake could drop to near 1,000 feet in a worst case by 2025.

    Consider that. Arizona could take its worst-case 720,000 acre-feet of cuts in a Tier 3 shortage and still the lake could tank.

    We must conserve – and by “we,” I don’t just mean Arizona. Demand certainly drives part of the equation for why Mead is dropping, which means we all need to use less. Permanently.

    But so does supply, and if the lake could get 750,000 acre-feet less than usual for several years – or maybe from here on out, in an effort to keep Lake Powell from tanking – this can’t just fall on Arizona’s shoulders, even if we are the state with the junior-most water rights.

    Whatever we do, it must be a shared sacrifice

    The good news is that other basin states seem to recognize this, that if the lakes have any hope at sustainability, it’s going to require an additional shared sacrifice to get them there.

    What that sacrifice looks like is anyone’s guess. Everyone knows it will be painful, which also will make it hard for everyone to swallow. The name of the game will be to choose actions that everyone can live with, not one that everyone likes.

    Because we’ve entered a new era of shortage. This is our reality, our new normal – and, in fact, it probably won’t be long before we consider a Tier 1 shortage as a time of excess.

    It can and probably will get worse from here, and yes, we’re planning for that, too. So that when that day arrives, we can say we’ve got this.

    It’s going to hurt. But there is no need to freak out.

    Reach Allhands at joanna.allhands@arizonarepublic.com. On Twitter: @joannaallhands.

    Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

    Reclamation to address 2022 operating conditions for #LakePowell and #LakeMead during virtual press event

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting August 19th, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The next Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting will be conducted using Microsoft Teams (link). We are again using this format as an alternative to allow interactive participation, as we are not yet able to meet in person. No special software is required. Please contact me at rchristianson@usbr.gov or (970) 248-0652 if you have any questions. The proposed agenda:

    Aspinall Unit Operation
    Coordination Meeting
    August 19th, 2021

  • Introductions and Purpose of Meeting
  • Gunnison Basin Water Supply Outlook – (CBRFC)
  • Weather Outlook – Aldis Strautins (NWS)
  • DROA Overview – Ed Warner (Reclamation)
  • Aspinall Unit Operations – Erik Knight (Reclamation)
  • American Whitewater Request
  • Special Flow Requests and Discussion
  • Reports of Agencies and Organizations – All
  • Conclusions
  • (Next meeting date – January 20th?)
  • Navajo Dam operations update (August 12, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Conceptual framework, on the San Juan. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs for THURSDAY, August 12th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    How low can Ruedi Reservoir go? — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The boat ramp at Ruedi Reservoir allows motor boats to access the water. The Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that the reservoir will fall to 55,000 acre-feet this winter.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Bureau of Reclamation warns of potential impacts to Aspen hydro plant, water contract holders

    Water levels at Ruedi Reservoir could fall so low this winter that the city of Aspen could have difficulty making hydro-electric power and those who own water in the reservoir could see shortages.

    That’s according to projections by the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River. At the annual Ruedi operations meeting on Aug. 5, officials estimated the reservoir will fall to around 55,000 acre-feet this winter, what’s known as carry-over storage. According to Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages operations at Ruedi, the lowest-ever carry-over storage for the reservoir was just over 47,000 acre-feet in 2002, one of the driest years on record. Last year’s carry-over was about 64,000 acre-feet.

    At 55,000 acre-feet, the elevation of the water is about 7,709 feet. That’s about two feet lower than Aspen officials would like.

    “We don’t like being below 7,711,” said Robert Covington, water resources/hydroelectric supervisor for the city.

    That’s because the hydro plant needs a certain amount of water pressure to operate. The higher the water elevation, the more water pressure there is.

    According to Covington, power providers Xcel Energy and Holy Cross Energy sometimes temporarily and quickly shut down the hydro-electric plant when there are problems with transmission lines or they need to do repairs.

    “It’s very common for these types of plants to automatically shut down,” Covington said.

    The problem is that restarting the plant requires a larger amount of water than the 40 cubic feet per second that is roughly the minimum amount required to operate the plant efficiently.

    “It’s very difficult for us to get back online so we end up pushing more water through for a very short period of time,” he said.

    If Aspen has to shut down the plant because flows are too low, the city could purchase more wind power to maintain its 100% renewable portfolio.

    “When we go lower on hydro, we go with wind, which is generally the most cost-effective,” said Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city.

    Anglers dock at Ruedi Reservoir on Aug. 5. Bureau of Reclamation officials project that low carry-over storage combined with another low runoff year could lead to shortages for water contract holders.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Shortages to contract holders

    Another consequence of low carry-over storage means that Ruedi will start out even lower next spring when the snow begins to melt and the reservoir begins to fill again. That means if there is below-average runoff again, some contract holders who own water in Ruedi could have to take shortages, something that has never happened before, Miller said.

    There are 32 entities that have “contract water” in Ruedi, which the bureau releases at their request. This is water that has been sold by the bureau to recover the costs of building and operating the reservoir. The contract pool is separated into two rounds and contract holders will take a previously agreed upon shortage amount depending on which round they are in.

    “If we get another similar type of runoff this year, there will be shortages most likely to the contract pool,” Miller said.

    The 15-Mile Reach is located near Grand Junction, Colorado

    But there are still uncertainties in predicting how low the reservoir will go. The biggest of these is how much water will be released for the benefit of the endangered fish in the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    There is a 10,412 acre-foot pool available for the fish, but in dry years entities that store water in Ruedi will sometimes coordinate to release more fish water in the late summer and fall. This would draw down the reservoir even further. It’s still not clear how much water will be released this fall for the four species of endangered fish.

    “The release defines the carry-over,” Miller said.

    Despite initial bureau forecasts in April that projected Ruedi could probably fill to its entire 102,373 acre-foot capacity, Ruedi ended up only about 80% full this year. July 11 was the peak fill date at 83,256 acre-feet and an elevation of 7,745 feet.

    “It was probably a little over-optimistic,” Miller said of the April forecast. “But at the time our snowpack was average. It was a reasonable forecast given the conditions.”

    As climate change worsens the drought in the Western U.S., Ruedi is not the only reservoir to face water levels so low that they threaten the ability to produce hydroelectric power. Last month, the bureau began emergency releases from Upper Basin reservoirs, including Blue Mesa on the Gunnison River, to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam.

    This story ran in the Aug. 10 edition of The Aspen Times.

    A “gut punch” as water rushes from #FlamingGorge to save #LakePowell’s hydropower system — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.

    “It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.

    Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.

    All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.

    Savings accounts

    Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.

    Credit: Chas Chamberlin

    Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.

    Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.

    “It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.

    The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.

    Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.

    Will it work?

    “I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.

    “It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.

    Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.

    On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.

    Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.

    “Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.

    Bleak forecasts

    Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.

    The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.

    Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.

    If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.

    If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.

    “My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.

    “And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”

    Cedar Springs Marina near Dutch John, Utah, on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the early 1960s. In a first, emergency releases are being made under the 2018 Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Photo courtesy of the Rauch family.

    Legal reckoning?

    Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.

    Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.

    “That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.

    Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.

    Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.

    Contingency v. reality

    Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.

    The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.

    “Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”

    Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.

    “We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”

    Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

    @USBR selects Jacklynn Gould as Lower Colorado Basin regional director #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Rob Manning):

    Jaci Gould. Photo credit: USBR

    Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton today named Jacklynn (Jaci) L. Gould as regional director for the Lower Colorado Basin Region. Gould has more than 29 years of experience with Reclamation.

    “Jaci brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this vital position. She will lead a dynamic team of experts in the region who will be tackling a variety of issues in the Colorado River Basin,” said Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “I am excited for her leadership.”

    As regional director, Gould will lead over 800 employees in the region, which encompasses the last 700 miles of the Colorado River to the Mexican border, southern Nevada, southern California, and most of Arizona. She will oversee hydropower operations and maintenance for 15 facilities, including Hoover Dam, as well as the implementation of the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, a multi-agency effort to conserve and work towards the recovery of endangered species and to protect and maintain wildlife habitat on the lower Colorado River.

    “I am honored to be selected for this opportunity,” said Regional Director Gould. “The challenges we face as we address water, power, land and ecosystem resources throughout the Southwest in the interest of the American public are critical. I am committed to collaborative relationships and outcomes.”

    Gould most recently served as deputy regional director, joining the region in May 2016. Prior to that she served in various management positions in Reclamation’s Great Plains Region, Eastern Colorado Area Office. As area manager, she was responsible for all aspects of the extensive Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. Additionally, Gould’s instrumental leadership in Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region’s Albuquerque area office was instrumental in the development of the Middle Rio Grande Collaborative Program.

    Gould’s career in water management began with Reclamation in 1992 after attending the University of Colorado, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in both biology and civil engineering, and a master’s degree in public administration. She is a licensed professional engineer in Colorado. Gould received the Superior Service Award, one of the Department of the Interior’s highest awards for career employees, as well as the Unit Award of Excellence for her outstanding leadership during the Big Thompson Canyon Flood in 2013.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases bumping down, 600 cfs through Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Black Canyon National Park July 2020. Photo credit: Claire Codling/The Department of Interior

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1675 cfs to 1610 cfs on Saturday, August 7th. Releases are being decreased to bring flows in the lower Gunnison River closer to the baseflow target while still providing the additional release volume under the emergency provision of the Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA). The April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 47% of average.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels 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 890 cfs for August and September.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 660 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 700 cfs August 7, 2021

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs today, Saturday, August 7th, starting at 4:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

    The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    #Wyoming looks to store, divert more #water as #LakePowell dries up — Wyofile.com #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

    From Wyofile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    As Lake Powell dropped to its lowest-ever level [July 23, 2021] — a decline that has forced dam tenders to unexpectedly release 125,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir — Wyoming stood behind five projects that could divert tens of thousands more acre-feet from waterways in the troubled Colorado River Basin.

    Powell’s surface elevation dipped to 3,555.09, lower by 12 hundredths of an inch than the previous post-completion nadir of April 8, 2005. The new benchmark is “probably worth noting,” Wayne Pullan, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Region 7 director, said in a press call [July 27, 2021].

    “The fact that we’ve reached this new record underscores the difficult situation that we’re in,” he said…

    Friday’s mark amounts to a 150-foot drop in the storied Utah-Arizona reservoir over 24 years, a decline that’s spurred action to preserve irrigation flows, millions of dollars in hydropower revenue and myriad necessities for 40 million people in the West.

    As the BOR began its “emergency” release of 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on July 15, a coalition of downstream water users called for a moratorium on new dams and pipelines…

    In an era of drought, aridification and climate change, new water projects will be closely scrutinized, Pullan said…

    Meantime Gov. Mark Gordon announced he will appoint a drought working group to ensure “local perspectives on issues that impact our water users and the State” are heard when planning for a crisis that “may last for years.”

    Wyoming will not be deterred from its water development goals that would store, divert or otherwise use another 115,000 acre-feet in the upper reaches of the 246,000-square-mile Colorado River system, top officials told WyoFile.

    “A pure, strict moratorium flies in the face of rights held by all seven [Colorado River Compact] states,” said Pat Tyrrell, Wyoming’s member on the Upper Colorado River Commission. “I would have a hard time recommending that Wyoming get itself in that position.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation has a limited say in what Wyoming can do with its water and development, state Senior Assistant Attorney General Chris Brown said.

    “They certainly don’t get to say ‘no,’” he said. “They certainly don’t have that authority in Wyoming to decide how Wyoming wants to develop its water.”

    Roundtable discussion at @DenverWater focuses on #collaboration in the face of #ClimateChange — YourHub

    Photo credit: Denver Water

    From YourHub (Cathy Proctor):

    Tackling the challenges surrounding climate change and water supply will require collaboration and creative thinking, Colorado’s top water leaders and senior federal officials agreed Thursday.

    More than a dozen state officials and water leaders from across the state met at Denver Water’s Operations Complex with Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the impacts of climate change, the ongoing drought across the Colorado River Basin and how leadership and collaboration at every level will be needed to help address it.

    After the discussion, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager, welcomed the group — which included Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg — to a news conference at the utility’s Administration Building, completed in 2019, that is itself a demonstration of the future of water and water efficiency in an urban setting.

    Graphic via SustainableWater.com.

    Lochhead said the roundtable also included a discussion of the investments Denver Water is making in watershed health, through its From Forests to Faucets program that includes partners at the state and federal level, water conservation, resiliency and sustainability.

    Haaland said she was glad to tour “this beautiful building” and praised the roundtable for bringing a wide range of people together for a thoughtful and important discussion…

    Greenberg said it meant a lot to the people working across Colorado’s agriculture sector to know issues surrounding climate change were “top of mind” at both the state and federal level…

    Attendees at the water leaders’ roundtable discussion were:

  • Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
  • Davis Raff, Chief Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s First Congressional District.
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
  • Colorado Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera.
  • Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.
  • Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
  • Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  • Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water.
  • Christine Arbogast, representing Colorado Water Congress.
  • Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River Water District.
  • Jim Broderick, Executive Director, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
  • Ken Curtis, General Manager, Dolores Water District Manager (retired).
  • Steve Wolff, General Manager, Southwest Water Conservation District.
  • Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society
  • Reclamation’s July 24-Month Study implements contingency operations in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification #GreenRiver #SanJuanRiver #GunnisonRiver

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aaron):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today released the July 24-Month Study, confirming declining hydrologic conditions for the Colorado River system. To protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the study incorporates the implementation of drought operations under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA).

    The July 2021 Operation Plan for Colorado River System Reservoirs 24-Month Study (July 24-Month Study) shows that the Lake Powell water year 2021 predicted unregulated inflow volume has decreased 2.5 million acre-feet in the six-month period between January and July 2021. The current forecast for WY2021 is 3.23 maf (30% of average).

    In addition, 5-year projections released by Reclamation last week predicted a 79% chance that Lake Powell would fall below the DROA target elevation of 3,525 feet within the next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Consistent with DROA provisions to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation, the July 24-Month Study includes adjusted releases from the upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project Act to deliver an additional 181 thousand-acre feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of December 2021. The additional releases are anticipated to be implemented on the following schedule:

    Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) planned releases July 16, 2021. The “Last Flush”. Data credit: USBR

    The releases detailed above are in addition to the already established releases determined by operational plans for each of the identified facilities. The additional delivery of 181 kaf is expected to raise Lake Powell’s elevation by approximately three feet. The additional releases from the upstream initial units do not change the annual volume of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in WY2021, as those volumes are determined by the 2007 Interim Guidelines.

    Reclamation publishes a 24-Month Study for Colorado River System reservoirs each month. The August 24-Month Study will set the operating conditions for Lake Mead and Lake Powell for the upcoming year. Reclamation will also release an update to the 5-year projections in early September.

    Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states continue to work together cooperatively to closely monitor projections and conditions and are prepared to take additional measures in accordance with the DROA.

    Reclamation remains committed to reducing the collective risk of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead falling to critical elevations and will continue to work with entities in the Colorado River Basin to ensure that both facilities continue to function as authorized to meet the natural, municipal and agricultural needs of the basin.

    To view the July and prior 24-month studies, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies.

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Navajo-Gallup #Water Supply Project completion expected to move from 2024 to 2029 — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Pipes are laid for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments via The High Country News

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    Completion of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is expected to move back a few years since the project intends to use facilities at the San Juan Generating Station for its future water delivery.

    Members of a state legislative committee were told this week by a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official that the bureau decided to use the existing system that intakes water from the San Juan River to help deliver water to the Navajo Nation and the City of Gallup once the pipeline is completed and operational.

    Pat Page, manager of the Bureau’s Four Corners Construction Office, explained that among the apparatuses that will be acquired are the diversion dam, pumping plant and reservoir.

    The tribe is the primary beneficiary of the project through its water settlement for the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico. The project will also serve Gallup and the Jicarilla Apache Nation – through a separate lateral…

    Extension of the project’s completion date from 2024 to 2029 is due to upgrades of existing structures and construction at the site, he explained.

    However, it is also viewed as a cost savings because the original plan was to build a new diversion system off an irrigation cancel downstream, Page added.

    The bureau is continuing negotiations to acquire the facilities from the power plant’s owners.

    San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    The #ColoradoRiver is drying up faster than federal officials can keep track. Mandatory water cuts are looming — The #Colorado Sun #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #YampaRiver #GreenRiver

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Plummeting reservoir levels at Mead and Powell solidify Arizona cutbacks next year and near-future threats to all the Compact states, from Colorado to California

    blunt new report based on June runoff conditions from the Colorado River into Lake Powell and Lake Mead shows the reservoirs fast deteriorating toward “dead pool” status, where stored water is so low it can’t spin the massive hydroelectric power generators buried in the dams, and large swaths of Arizona farmland going fallow.

    The enormous, life-sustaining buckets of water in the drought-stricken West are emptying so fast that the Bureau of Reclamation added a new monthly report – on top of three already scheduled this year – to keep up with the dam

    The bureau said the loss of water is accelerating, confirming projections that massive water restrictions will begin in 2022 for the three Lower Basin states in the seven-state Colorado River Compact. Conservation groups believe Arizona will lose more than 500,000 acre-feet of water usually delivered by the Colorado in 2022 through voluntary and mandatory cuts, forcing significant reductions to irrigated farming in the desert state. Some, but not all, of Arizona’s share will be replaced in trades using water already “banked” in the reservoirs.

    The bureau’s report for June, added on to previously scheduled reservoir updates for January, April and August, paints a dire picture. As snowpack runoff disappeared into dry ground instead of hitting the reservoirs, engineers calculated a 79% chance Lake Powell will fall below its minimum target water height of 3,525 feet above sea level next year.

    That minimum provides only a 35-foot cushion for the minimum water level of 3,490 feet needed to spill water into the electric turbines. The bureau said there is now a 5% chance Lake Powell falls below the minimum needed to generate any power in 2023, and a 17% chance in 2024 — the odds are going up with each new report.

    Lake Mead, which feeds the three Lower Basin compact states of Nevada, California and Arizona, is in even worse shape. The compact requires declaration of restriction-triggering “shortage condition” if Mead hits 1,075 feet or lower. Mead is falling now, and the bureau affirmed the shortage declaration will happen in August. Las Vegas, a short drive from Mead and Hoover Dam, hit 117 degrees on July 10, and longtime local users are alarmed at how fast the pool is evaporating into desert skies.

    Mead is also in great danger of hitting “critical” elevations of 1,025 feet, a sort of emergency-stop minimum, and the minimum pool for generating power at 1,000 feet, the bureau’s new report said. The chances of draining past the minimum by 2025 are now 58%, and the chances of falling below a power pool that year are 21%.

    Weather plus climate change

    Long-term climate change is being exacerbated by a short-term drought lasting more than 20 years in the West, scientist and water engineers say. Even with a future snowpack bonanza – not currently in the forecast – the compact reservoirs will remain in deep trouble, said John Berggren, water policy analyst for the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

    The Colorado River basin’s latest snowpack was just about 100% of normal, Berggren noted, but delivered only 50% of normal runoff into the river and the giant reservoirs. Water is soaking into parched ground or evaporating entirely before it can contribute to stream flows.

    “It’s startling how with each new projection, you had thought it can’t possibly get worse,” Berggren said. “Even just a year or two ago, most people would have thought these projections are pretty far away from ever happening.”

    Major water cutbacks for the Lower Basin states are now an unavoidable reality, Berggren said. “This just shows that we no longer have the luxury of thinking it’s a decade down the road.”

    “The June five-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, said in a statement about the latest river modeling. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    The original compact between Upper Basin states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – and the Lower Basin was negotiated in 1922. It was given real teeth in 2019 with a Drought Contingency Plan that first penalizes Lower Basin states if levels and inflows into Powell and Mead fall below trigger points.

    hobbs
    Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    Upper Basin states face future cutbacks in water use as well if they can’t deliver agreed-upon amounts of water to the basin separation point at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, just above the Grand Canyon. Colorado water engineers, agricultural interests and utilities are in ongoing discussions and experiments on how best to leave more in the Colorado should those downstream treaty calls eventually come.

    Mexico is also part of the historic compact. Some states are negotiating with Mexico to build ocean water desalinization plants near the Pacific Ocean, so that Mexico could use that water and the states could keep more river water.

    Stagecoach Reservoir. Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

    Colorado tries to refill the Yampa

    Colorado water managers, meanwhile, are working quickly to mitigate some of the intense near-term impacts of recent drought, including along the severely depleted Yampa River in northwest Colorado, which is a tributary of the Colorado River.

    On July 8, the Colorado Water Trust bought 1,000 acre-feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir, with an option to buy 1,000 more, for releases over the rest of the summer into the Yampa to keep fish alive and keep the river basin healthier in hot temperatures. The Water Trust has made similar purchases in other years, but will likely have to release the water far earlier than usual this season in order to prevent high water temperatures and stagnant flow that stress fish and hurt their spawning chances.

    After spending about $46,000 on the July purchase, the trust has spent just under $500,000 to buy water from Stagecoach’s reserve since 2012. In announcing the deal, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District noted the late-May stream flow into Stagecoach was at less than 10 cubic feet per second, when it should have been more than 100 cfs. The district said it has separately released more than 1,500 acre-feet of its own water from Stagecoach so far this year in order to support river health.

    Cash donors to buy the Stagecoach water include the Yampa River Fund, the Yampa Valley Community Foundation and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, among others. Tri-State operates coal-fired electricity generating units down the Yampa to the west of Stagecoach.

    Bureau of Reclamation Updates #LakePowell’s Status — Lake Powell Life #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From Lake Powell Life (Mike Reilley):

    RECLAMATION RELEASES ADDITIONAL 5-YEAR PROJECTIONS TO SUPPORT DROUGHT RESPONSE PLANNING EFFORTS IN THE COLORADO RIVER BASIN

    As one element of the ongoing implementation of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans for the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation today released additional 5-year projections on the Colorado River System based on June 2021 conditions.

    Five-year projections are typically modeled in January, April and August of each year. The additional June projections will inform the ongoing drought operations planning efforts at key Reclamation reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. These efforts are ongoing among Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement.

    “The June 5-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” said Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    Projections for anticipated runoff in the Upper Colorado Basin have declined over the course of the spring. Using information based on recent hydrology (since 1988 and known as the Stress Test Hydrology), Reclamation notes several key findings for Lake Powell in the June 5-year projections:

    A 79% chance that Lake Powell will fall below its target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet sometime next year.

    Lake Powell’s target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and to meet current operational obligations to the Lower Colorado River Division states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.

    Beyond 2022, Lake Powell’s chances of falling to critical levels also increased.
    There is a 5% chance that Lake Powell will fall below minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet in 2023 and 17% in 2024.

    In the Lower Basin, the updated projections for Lake Mead continue to affirm the high likelihood of a first-ever shortage condition in the Lower Basin in calendar year 2022. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, if Lake Mead’s end-of-calendar-year elevation is projected to be at or below 1,075 feet, Lake Mead would operate in a shortage condition in the upcoming year. The prescribed shortage reductions for Arizona and Nevada would also be coupled with water savings contributions under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Mexico would reduce their allotment and make water savings contributions under Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. Mexico Water Treaty. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 DCP and Minute 323, operational decisions for 2022 will be made by Reclamation in August 2021.

    Reclamation is also concerned with the longer-term projections, which show a higher likelihood of Lake Mead declining to the critical elevations of 1,025 and 1,000 feet by 2025. Based on the June update, the chance of this occurring by 2025 is 58% and 21%, respectively.

    Reclamation provides projections using two future hydrology scenarios: The Stress Test Hydrology based on the last 32 years, and the Full Hydrology based on the last 114 years. The Stress Test Hydrology provides more plausible near-term outlooks because it embeds the recent warming trend and current drought period. It is about 11% lower on average compared to the Full Hydrology…

    For more information, the 5-year projections from June 2021 and prior can be viewed by visiting https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html

    Brad Udall: Second-worst Powell inflows in more than half a century — InkStain

    From InkStain (Brad Udall):

    Brad Udall on twitter yesterday ran through a striking series of graphs of the current state of the Colorado River. With his permission, I’m posting them here along with a slightly polished version of his accompanying commentary. Some key points that grabbed my attention:

  • Second-lowest Powell inflow in a period of record we use dating to 1964.
  • Risk of Powell dropping next year to levels that could jeopardize power production.
  • Risk of Mead dropping low enough in the next 18 months to trigger much deeper “Tier 2” reductions to Lower Basin water users in 2023.
  • Reclamation’s ‘unregulated inflows’ into Lake Powell show that 2021 will be the 2nd worst year after only 2002 going back to 1964. 2021 will be the RED bar most likely. This is a really grim year for runoff.

    Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation via Brad Udall

    2021 inflow will be only ~3 maf, compared to the 1981-2010 average of 10.3 maf or the 2000-2021 average of 8.3 maf (20% less than 1981-2010 average).(maf = million acrefeet)

    Considering that Powell will release or lose to evaporation ~ 8.5 maf, the lake will lose ~ 5 maf this year or ~55 feet of elevation.

    April 2021 snowpack above Powell peaked at ~85% of normal but will generate about 25% of normal river flow. This comes on top of April 2020 snowpack of 100% of normal that generated about 50% of normal flow.

    Declining runoff efficiency has been noted in multiple peer-reviewed studies. For a recent overview of recent climate change studies on the Colorado River see this written with Jonathan Overpeck:

    Jeff Lukas points out that the twitter thread implied that the low runoff efficiency this year as measured by runoff as a percent of snowpack is all due directly to warming. I did not mean to imply that. The low runoff percent numbers are much more a function of (1) very low spring precipitation in both 2020 and 2021 and to a lesser extent (2) low soil moisture from the previous year. It may be that there is a human-caused connection to the low spring precipitation although there’s no real evidence of this yet. Low soil moisture in the springs of 2020 and 2021 is definitely connected to dry and very warm late summer and early fall from the previous years. Teasing this apart to obtain the actual driver(s) is not simple. That said, no one should doubt that climate change is reducing the flows of the Colorado. Multiple peer-reviewed papers have now supported this finding.

    More from Jeff on this here.

    Here’s what’s going to happen to the nation’s 2 largest reservoirs because of this measly inflow:

    Losses to Mead and Powell. Graphic credit: Brand Udall via InkStain

    Note that combined contents will drop below 30% by late next year.

    Here’s that decline for all years back to 1935 when Mead first filled. These two reservoirs will hold less water than Mead did alone in many years before 1964 when Powell was built.

    Combined storage, Mead and Powell. Graphic credit: Brad Udall via Inkstain

    By next April Powell will hit 5.4 maf, ~185 feet below full. See Red dots. This will be the lowest since its initial fill in 1964. Since 1999, Powell will have lost ~18 maf, 75% of its contents.

    Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

    At 5.4 maf Powell could be low enough to lose the ability to generate power. (We’re uncertain about how penstocks operate when lake gets low — water in penstocks can not be aerated or turbine damage will occur.)

    Loss of power, while not calamitous, is concerning. Power revenues fund environmental compliance and other important items in the basin.

    As part of the 2019 agreement, the UB can release flows from reservoirs upstream of Powell to prop it up. But there is only about 5 maf for that all together. It is a one-shot deal.

    We’ll have to wait on next winter to understand what happens after April of 2022. But 5.4 maf is very little water in a 25 maf reservoir.

    So what about Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir?

    Reclamation’s current forecasts show January 1, 2022 elevation at 1065’ feet (8.8 maf) , well below the 1075’ needed to avoid a ‘Tier 1 Shortage’.

    Decline of Lake Mead. Graphic credit: Brad Udall via InkStain

    If it ends up below 1050’ on Jan 1 (as projected in August 2022), that will lead to a Tier 2 Shortage (total cutbacks of 721 kaf). Otherwise, Mead will face a 2nd year of Tier 1 shortages. Either way, this is not good.

    Reclamation releases additional 5-year projections to support #drought response planning efforts in the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

    As one element of the ongoing implementation of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans for the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation today released additional 5-year projections on the Colorado River System based on June 2021 conditions.

    Five-year projections are typically modeled in January, April and August of each year. The additional June projections will inform the ongoing drought operations planning efforts at key Reclamation reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin. These efforts are ongoing among Reclamation and the Colorado River Basin states under the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement.

    “The June 5-year projections for the Colorado River System reaffirm this is a serious situation,” said Wayne Pullan, Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director. “We are actively engaged with the Colorado River Basin states and other partners to respond to changing conditions to avoid critical elevations at Lake Powell.”

    Projections for anticipated runoff in the Upper Colorado Basin have declined over the course of the spring. Using information based on recent hydrology (since 1988 and known as the Stress Test Hydrology), Reclamation notes several key findings for Lake Powell in the June 5-year projections:

    • A 79% chance that Lake Powell will fall below its target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet sometime next year.
    • Lake Powell’s target water-surface elevation of 3,525 feet provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and to meet current operational obligations to the Lower Colorado River Division states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.
    • Beyond 2022, Lake Powell’s chances of falling to critical levels also increased.
    • There is a 5% chance that Lake Powell will fall below minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet in 2023 and 17% in 2024.

    In the Lower Basin, the updated projections for Lake Mead continue to affirm the high likelihood of a first-ever shortage condition in the Lower Basin in calendar year 2022. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, if Lake Mead’s end-of-calendar-year elevation is projected to be at or below 1,075 feet, Lake Mead would operate in a shortage condition in the upcoming year. The prescribed shortage reductions for Arizona and Nevada would also be coupled with water savings contributions under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Mexico would reduce their allotment and make water savings contributions under Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. Mexico Water Treaty. Consistent with the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 DCP and Minute 323, operational decisions for 2022 will be made by Reclamation in August 2021.

    Reclamation is also concerned with the longer-term projections, which show a higher likelihood of Lake Mead declining to the critical elevations of 1,025 and 1,000 feet by 2025. Based on the June update, the chance of this occurring by 2025 is 58% and 21%, respectively.

    Reclamation provides projections using two future hydrology scenarios: The Stress Test Hydrology based on the last 32 years, and the Full Hydrology based on the last 114 years. The Stress Test Hydrology provides more plausible near-term outlooks because it embeds the recent warming trend and current drought period. It is about 11% lower on average compared to the Full Hydrology.

    Assumptions about drought operations are included in these projections; drought response operation plans to protect Lake Powell are being developed by Reclamation and the Upper Division states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Pursuant to the provisions of the Drought Response Operations Agreement and the Companion Agreement, Reclamation will consult with the Lower Division states before finalizing drought response operation plans. If actual hydrology demonstrates an imminent need to protect the elevation at Lake Powell, the Secretary retains all applicable authority to adjust releases from the upstream initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project Act (Flaming Gorge, Navajo, and Blue Mesa reservoirs) before those operating plans can be finalized.

    Reclamation and the Colorado Basin states continue to closely monitor conditions to be prepared to meet the goals of the DROA in the months and years ahead.

    A key component of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin activities is the integration of sophisticated modeling tools and scientific research to inform water management decisions. Through a decades-long partnership with the Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Reclamation hydrologic engineers and hydrologists are actively collaborating with climate, hydrology and decision support scientists to provide advanced modeling tools. Their work is helping Reclamation link advances in science to water resource management decisions in the face of greater uncertainty and increased hydrologic and operational risks.

    Reclamation’s modeling and operations teams further refine these tools, such as the 24-Month studies, to make annual operational determinations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead through close coordination with water and power customers throughout the basin.

    For more information, the 5-year projections from June 2021 and prior can be viewed by visiting https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.

    The #ColoradoRiver Indian Tribes become key #water player with #drought aid to #Arizona — The Associated Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #LakeMead

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca):

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes and another tribe in Arizona played an outsized role in the drought contingency plans that had the state voluntarily give up water. As Arizona faces mandatory cuts next year in its Colorado River supply, the tribes see themselves as major players in the future of water.

    “We were always told more or less what to do, and so now it’s taking shape where tribes have been involved and invited to the table to do negotiations, to have input into the issues about the river,” first-term Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairwoman Amelia Flores said.

    Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border has fallen to its lowest point since it was filled in the 1930s. Water experts say the situation would be worse had the tribe not agreed to store 150,000 acre-feet in the lake over three years. A single acre-foot is enough to serve one to two households per year. The Gila River Indian Community also contributed water.

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes received $38 million in return, including $30 million from the state. Environmentalists, foundations and corporations fulfilled a pledge last month to chip in the rest.

    Kevin Moran of the Environmental Defense Fund said the agreement signaled a new approach to combating drought, climate change and the demand from the river.

    “The way we look at it, the Colorado River basin is ground zero for water-related impacts of climate change,” he said. “And we have to plan for the river and the watersheds that climate scientists tell us we’re probably going to have, not the one we might wish for.”

    Tribal officials say the $38 million is more than what they would have made leasing the land. The Colorado River Indian Tribes stopped farming more than 15 square miles (39 square kilometers) to make water available, tribal attorney Margaret Vick said…

    While some fields are dry on the reservation, the tribe plans to use the money to invest in its water infrastructure. It has the oldest irrigation system built by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, dating to 1867, serving nearly 125 square miles (323 square kilometers) of tribal land.

    The age of the irrigation system means it’s in constant need of improvements. Flores, the tribal chairwoman, said some parts of the 232-mile (373-kilometer) concrete and earthen canal are lined and others aren’t, so water is lost through seepage or cracks.

    A 2016 study conducted by the tribe put the price tag to fix deficiencies at more than $75 million. It’s leveraging grants, funding from previous conservation efforts and other money to put a dent in the repairs, Flores said.

    “If we had all the dollars in the world to line all the canals that run through our reservation, that would be a great project to complete,” Flores said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen in our lifetime.”

    The tribe is made up of four distinct groups of Native Americans — Chemehuevi, Mohave, Hopi and Navajo. The reservation includes more than 110 miles (177 kilometers) of Colorado River shoreline with some of the oldest and most secure rights to the river in both Arizona and California.

    While much of the water goes to farming, it also sustains wildlife preserves and the tribe’s culture…

    The tribe can’t take full advantage of its right to divert 662,000 acre-feet per year from the Colorado River on the Arizona side because it lacks the infrastructure. It also has water rights in California.

    An additional 46 square miles (121 square kilometers) of land could be developed for agriculture if the tribe had the infrastructure, according to a 2018 study on water use and development among tribes in the Colorado River basin.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Unclear waters: How pollution, diversions and #drought are squeezing the life out of the lower #ArkansasRiver Valley — The #Denver Post

    This view is from the top of John Martin Dam facing west over the body of the reservoir. The content of the reservoir in this picture was approximately 45,000 acre-feet (March 2014). By Jaywm – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37682336

    From The Denver Post (RJ Sangosti):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit promises to bring clean drinking water to more residents of southeast Colorado

    n the 1940s, the Arkansas River was dammed south of town to build [John Martin Reservoir], a place locals call the Sapphire on the Plains. The reservoir was tied up in a 40-year battle until Colorado and Kansas came to an agreement, in 2019, to provide an additional water source to help keep the levels high enough for recreation and to support fish.

    Forty years may seem like a long time to develop a plan to save fish and improve water levels for a reservoir, but southeastern Colorado is used to long fights when it comes to water…

    Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

    For nearly a century, leaders in southeastern Colorado have worked on plans to bring clean drinking water to the area through the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit, but progress on the pipeline project stalled after a major push in the 1960s. Pollution, water transfers and years of worsening drought amid a warming climate continue to build stress for water systems in the area. Adding to that, the area continues to see population decline combined with a struggling economy.

    The water needed for the conduit will be sourced from melting snowpack in the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges [ed. and Colorado River Basin]. Under the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, passed in the early 1960s, the water has been allocated for usage in the Lower Arkansas Valley. The water will be stored at Pueblo Reservoir and travel through existing infrastructure to east Pueblo near the airport. From there, the conduit will tie into nearly 230 miles of pipeline to feed water to 40 communities in need.

    Renewed plans to build a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water to the Lower Arkansas Valley are bringing hope for many people in southeastern Colorado. But in an area that is inextricably linked to its water, the future can seem unclear…

    “Deliver on that promise”

    “It was nearly 100 years ago, in the 1930s, that the residents of southeast Colorado recognized that the water quality in the lower valley of the Arkansas River was quite poor,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and a former Bent County commissioner.

    Water systems in the district, which includes Pueblo, Crowley, Bent, Prowers, Kiowa and Otero counties, have two main issues affecting drinking water.

    The first is that a majority of those systems rely on alluvial groundwater, which can have a high level of dissolved solids. This can include selenium, sulfate, manganese and uranium, which are linked to human health concerns.

    Second, the remaining systems in the water district rely on the Dakota-Cheyenne bedrock aquifer that can be affected by naturally occurring radionuclides. Radium and other radionuclides in the underlying geologic rock formation can dissolve into the water table and then be present in drinking water wells, also carrying health risks.

    John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

    In 1962, residents in southeastern Colorado thought President John F. Kennedy was delivering a solution to their drinking water problem during a ceremony in Pueblo. Congress had passed the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, and Kennedy came to Pueblo to authorize the construction of a pipeline to deliver clean drinking water…

    Residents of the 1930s began working on ideas to deliver clean drinking water to southeastern Colorado. By the 1950s, they were selling gold frying pans to raise money to send backers to Washington, D.C., to encourage Congress to pass the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act. But it wasn’t until 1962 that the pipeline authorization became a reality.

    Fast forward 58 years, and two more politicians came to Pueblo to address a crowd about the same pipeline project. This time, on Oct. 3, 2020, it was at the base of Pueblo Dam. Because of funding shortfalls, the Arkansas Valley Conduit was never built after it was authorized in 1962.

    The Colorado communities could not afford to cover 100% of the costs, as initially required, so in 2009, the act was amended to include a 65% federal share and a 35% local cost share. Additionally, in 2020, Congress appropriated $28 million more toward the project, according to the water conservancy district.

    That October day, Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner took turns talking about the importance of the project. They told a small crowd that when the pipeline is built, it will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 residents in southeastern Colorado…

    The water conservancy district estimates the pipeline project’s cost will range from $546 million to $610 million…

    Physical construction of the pipeline won’t start until 2022, according to the water district…

    “The solution to pollution Is dilution”

    A hand-painted sign with stenciled letters welcomes travelers on Highway 96 into Olney Springs. The highway cuts across four blocks that make up the width of the small town with around 340 residents.

    Olney Springs is one of six water systems in Crowley County that plans to have a delivery point, known as a spur, on the Arkansas Valley Conduit. The plans for the pipeline call for two spurs in Pueblo County, three in both Bent and Prowers counties, and one in Kiowa County. Out of the 40 total participants, the remaining 25 are in Otero County…

    Located along the Arkansas River about 70 miles east of Pueblo, La Junta is the largest municipality in Otero County. With its population around 7,000 and a Walmart Supercenter, a Holiday Inn Express and Sonic Drive-In, La Junta can feel like a metropolis when compared to Olney Springs.

    La Junta is one of two Arkansas Valley Conduit participants, along with Las Animas, that uses reverse osmosis to remove potentially harmful and naturally occurring toxins from the water. Reverse osmosis is a process that uses pressure to push water through a membrane to remove contaminants. According to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Arkansas Valley Conduit Environmental Impact Statement, reverse osmosis can treat source water to meet standards, but the brine from the process “is an environmental concern, and operation costs are high.”

    The other participants use conventional methods to treat water. The environmental impact statement said those methods can be as simple as adding chlorine for disinfection and filtration or adding chemicals to remove suspended solids, but that those treatments “…cannot remove salt or radionuclides from water.”

    Tom Seaba, director of water and wastewater for La Junta, said out of a total of 24 water districts in Otero County, 19 were in violation with the state due to elevated levels of radionuclide.

    Four of the 19 came into compliance with the state’s drinking water standards after La Junta brought them onto its water system. The remaining 15 are still in violation with the state, according to Seaba.

    La Junta spent $18.5 million to build a wastewater treatment plant that came online in 2019 to help meet water standards for its community. But the city’s water treatment came with its own issue: selenium.

    After La Junta treats its water using reverse osmosis, the water system is left with a concentrate, which is safe drinking water. However, it’s also left with a waste stream high in selenium. “That wastewater has to go somewhere,” Seaba said. It goes to the city’s new wastewater treatment plant…

    According to the environmental impact statement, “La Junta’s wastewater discharge makes up about 1.5% of average annual flow in the Arkansas River.” The study goes on to say that during drought or low-flow events, the wastewater discharge can contribute up to half of the streamflow downstream from the gage.

    Seaba is looking to the Arkansas Valley Conduit as a possible answer. “The solution to pollution is dilution,” he said. The water from the pipeline will not have a selenium problem, Seaba explained. By blending water from the conduit with the selenium waste from reverse osmosis, La Junta hopes to reduce costs and stay compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards to discharge into the river.

    The environmental review studied a section of the Arkansas River from where Fountain Creek runs into the river east to the Kansas border. The study found that a section of the river was impaired by selenium…

    “I sure don’t drink it”

    The EPA sets a maximum contaminant level in drinking water at 5 picocuries per liter of air for combined radium and 30 micrograms per liter for combined uranium. If contaminant levels are above those numbers, the water system is in violation of drinking water regulations, which the state enforces.

    According to data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Patterson Valley Water Company in Otero County, one of the 40 pipeline participants, had the highest result of 31 picocuries per liter for combined radium in 2020. In that same county, Rocky Ford, another pipeline participant, had a high result of 0.2 picocuries per liter for combined radium. According to the state health department, Rocky Ford’s combined radium sample numbers were last recorded in 2013.

    Manzanola, also in Otero County and a pipeline participant, topped the list with the highest result of 42 micrograms per liter for combined uranium in 2020. In contrast, 19 other pipeline participants, from across the valley, had results of 0 micrograms per liter for combined uranium, according to the most recent numbers from the state health department.

    Levels of the two carcinogens are sporadic throughout the valley. The average of the highest results of all 40 participants in the pipeline for combined radium is roughly 8 picocuries per liter and combined uranium is roughly 5 micrograms per liter. According to Seaba, averaging the members’ highest results might seem unfair to some individual water systems because it brings their numbers up, but what those averages do show is that water in Pueblo Reservoir, which will feed the future conduit, is approximately three times less affected by combined radium and combined uranium than the average of current water used by pipeline participants. In 2020, the highest result of combined radium in the Pueblo Reservoir was 2.52 picocuries per liter, and the highest result of combined uranium was 1.7 micrograms per liter…

    “I sure don’t drink it,” said Manny Rodriquez. “I don’t think anybody in town drinks the water.”

    Rodriquez, who grew up in and still lives in Rocky Ford, was not sure if the water at his apartment was in violation of the state’s clean drinking water act or not. State data showed at that time his water was not in violation. Colorado is required to notify residents if their water system is in violation of the clean drinking water act…

    MaryAnn Nason, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, used an example to show how violations can add up: “If a public water system has two entry points that fail for both combined radium and gross alpha (measures of radionuclides), and they have those same violations for 10 years each quarter, that is going to appear as 160 violations on the website. But really, it is one naturally occurring situation that exists for a relatively long time,” Nason said.

    For some residents like Ruby Lucero, 83, it makes little difference to her if her water is in violation with the state or not. She plans to buy her drinking water no matter what the results say about her tap water…

    Straight line diagram of the Lower Arkansas Valley ditches via Headwaters

    “The struggling farmer”

    In the past decade, Otero County has seen a 2.9% drop in population. Residents have a ballpark difference of $38,000 in the median household income compared to the rest of the state, and the county is not alone. All six counties that are part of current plans for the Arkansas Valley Conduit are seeing economic hard times.

    Adding to those factors is drought. Years of drought keep hitting the area’s No. 1 industry: agriculture.

    The Rocky Ford Ditch’s water rights date back to 1874, making them some of the most senior water rights in the Arkansas River system. In the early 1980s, Aurora was able to buy a majority of those water rights. Over time, Aurora acquired more shares and has converted them to municipal use…

    “We still have a heavy lift before us”

    Planned off the main trunk of the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pump station near Wiley will push water along a spur to support Eads in Kiowa County. Water that ends up in Eads will have traveled the longest distance of the pipeline project. The majority of the pipeline will be gravity-fed, but this section will need to be pumped uphill.

    The journey is a good representation of Eads’ battle with water. Not only is clean drinking water needed, but the area is also desperate for relief from years of drought exacerbated by climate change…

    Long said that Eads is different from a majority of the other participants in the project because it is not located along the Arkansas River…

    The domestic water that will be delivered via the conduit is even more important for a town like Eads, said Long. “It’s very difficult to attract new industry when you have a limited supply of very poor water.”

    Long believes the conduit will make a huge difference to support communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    Long has been working on the Arkansas Valley Conduit project for nearly 18 years.

    “After such a long fight, to finally be where we are feels good, but honestly I can say it doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would. Only because I know we have so much work still to do, and I know how difficult the past 18 years have been,” Long said. “We still have a heavy lift before us.”

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases to bump flows through the Black Canyon to 625 cfs, June 18, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Black Canyon National Park July 2020. Photo credit: Claire Codling/The Department of Interior

    From email from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

    Gunnison River flows have dropped off quickly over the last few days and there is a need for more water in the Gunnison River to meet the target of 1050 cfs, pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD). Therefore, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 150 cfs tomorrow afternoon, June 18th at 2pm.

    Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 475 cfs. After these release changes, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 625 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.