@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions #LakeMead #LakePowell #COriver #DCP #aridification

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From Grist (Nathanael Johnson):

For the first time in history, low water levels on the Colorado River have forced Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut back the amount of water they use. It’s the latest example of climate change affecting daily life, but also an encouraging sign that people can handle a world with less: These orderly cutbacks are only happening because seven U.S. states and Mexico had agreed to abide by conservation rules when flows subside, rather than fight for the last drops.

“It is a new era of limits,” said Kevin Moran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River efforts…

A Bureau of Reclamation study of Colorado River levels, released Thursday, triggered the cutbacks. The Rocky Mountains finally turned white with heavy snow last winter, but despite a galloping spring runoff, drought persists and bathtub-ringed reservoirs in the Grand Canyon are low. In its study, the Bureau highlighted the unique circumstances: “This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record.”

Rising temperatures brought on by rising carbon emissions are partly to blame. “Approximately one‐third of the [Colorado River] flow loss is due to high temperatures now common in the basin, a result of human caused climate change,” wrote scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck in a study published in 2017 that anticipated water will only become scarcer in the future.

But these water-use reductions are also an example of people binding themselves to rules to deal with scarce resources, rather than going to court, or war. The cutbacks come from an agreement hammered out by the Southwestern states and Mexico to impose limits on themselves.

“It’s not necessarily well known or talked about, but this collaboration between the states and Mexico is one of the most successful cross-border water management stories in the world,” Moran said.

From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona and Nevada are faced with the first-ever cuts to their Colorado River water supply in 2020.

But the cuts aren’t expected to be overly burdensome for either state because they’ve been conserving and storing water for years…

Arizona will leave 7% of its allocation in Lake Mead under a drought plan approved earlier this year by several states that rely on the river. Nevada will leave 3%.

Mexico also gives up 3% under a separate accord.

The states and Mexico can recover the water if Lake Mead rises to a certain level.

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

The decision to implement those cuts came on Thursday after federal water managers released a study that serves as a key benchmark for Southwest states. That forecast predicted that Lake Mead would start 2020 at 1089.4 feet above sea level, below the 1090-foot trigger for the cuts.

By forgoing water in dry years, the states store more water in Lake Mead, a reservoir that has decreased over the past two decades because of overuse, drought and climate change. If the reservoir drops further, states would be required to take more cuts to their allotment. When reservoir levels rise, the states are allowed to access the stored water for future use.

In practice, the cuts will have no effect on Nevada’s short-term water security or water management. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is expected to voluntarily conserve about nine times more water this year than the required cuts under the drought plan in 2020. Since 2003, Nevada has used less water than what the state is allowed to take under the river’s interstate compact.

In 2017, the state used about 80 percent of its allotment, largely in part because of indoor water recycling and conservation programs that incentivize removing grass. This year the water authority is on track to use even less. That means Nevada is likely to leave substantially more water in the reservoir this year — as much as 75,000 acre-feet — than what is required by the cuts — about 8,000 acre-feet — next year. (An acre-foot is an agricultural term for the amount of water that can fill an acre to a depth of one foot. Nevada’s allocation is 300,000 acre-feet).

Bronson Mack, a water authority spokesman, said that the agency has cut its Colorado River water use by 25 percent since 2002, even as Las Vegas’ population has grown by 40 percent…

But the cuts are still significant, said John Fleck, a University of New Mexico professor who has a forthcoming book, “Science Be Dammed,” that looks at the history, politics and hydrology of the river. They mark the first time the states have been required to use less than their allocation…

It is also a recognition of a future where there is expected to be less — not more — water to go around. Even though above-average levels of snow fell across much of the West this year, the long-term trend in the Colorado River is toward declining streamflow. Research has found that high temperatures have made runoff less efficient. Scientists say that climate change could further reduce the river’s flow and make managing it more difficult, even as demands grow.

Heavy precipitation made a difference this year. When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its 2019 forecast last year, the study predicted an official shortage in 2020. Water users avoided that declaration, although the federal water agency warned that they are not out of the clear.

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

“This is a big deal for everybody on the Colorado River system,” said Jim Pokrandt, the head of community affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water District.

The study won’t have much of an impact on Colorado, where the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan has water users hammering out the details of “demand management.” Those details include asking for temporary, voluntary and compensated curtailment of water rights to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell before mandatory cuts are imposed by the federal government.

Pokrandt said the dawning of mandatory cuts in the Lower Basin increases the urgency of demand-management talks in Colorado. Without a demand-management plan encouraging water users to volunteer their water rights in Colorado, the state could see mandatory cuts, where “nobody gets paid,” he said.

“The news from the Lower Basin is a reminder that 2019’s snowpack cannot give us a false sense of security,” Pokrandt said, recalling that Colorado’s super-snowy 2011 was followed by an exceptionally dry 2012. “This is a reminder of the importance of what the Upper Basin states have to do for their own Drought Contingency Plan.”

[…]

hat’s called demand management. Across Colorado, water districts and water users are studying whether demand management will work.

“Nobody knows if it will be feasible,” said Pokrandt, whose 15-county district spans the Western Slope, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board just launched its Demand Management Workshop to educate the state’s water users on the idea of temporarily suspending water rights for cash in order to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell. “Determining feasibility will be a long process.”

Lake Powell will enter 2020 in the “Intentionally Created Surplus Condition,” which allows for the release of the usual 8.23 million acre-feet of water in 2020 to fill Lake Mead. It also means the Upper Basin states will increase their own banked storage in the reservoir, enabling them to better weather low-snow years with a protected cache of extra water.

Total storage in both reservoirs is 55% of capacity, compared with 49% at this time last year.

The bathtub ring in Lake Powell in October 2014. Today, the reservoir is under 40 percent full and water managers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are working on demand management programs that would reduce water use and send more water to the big reservoir that sits on the mainstem of the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions: #LakeMead operations = Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020, #LakePowell operations = Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 #DCP #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureaus of Reclamation

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aron/Marlon Duke):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released its Colorado River Basin August 2019 24-Month Study, which sets the annual operations for Lake Mead and Lake Powell in 2020. Based on projections in the 24-Month Study, Lake Mead will operate in the Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020 and Lake Powell will operate in the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020).

The Upper Basin experienced above average snowpack, and runoff was 145% of average this past spring, raising Lake Powell’s elevation by more than 50 feet since early April. Total Colorado River system storage today is 55% of capacity, up from 49% at this time last year. In addition, critical drought contingency plans adopted by the seven Basin States, federal government and Mexico earlier this year are now in place to reduce risks to the system.

“While we appreciate this year’s above average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I applaud everyone who came together this year to get the drought contingency plans done. The additional actions under the contingency plans will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

The August 2019 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2020, elevation to be 1,089.4 feet, about 14 feet above the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet. Lake Powell’s January 1, 2020, elevation is projected to be 3,618.6 feet — 81 feet below full. Because Lake Mead is projected to begin the year below the drought contingency plans threshold of 1,090 feet, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will make water savings contributions to Lake Mead in 2020.

Despite the above average 2019 snowpack, the Colorado River Basin continues to experience its worst 20-year drought on record, dating back to 2000. This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record. The August 2019 24-Month Study can be found at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo.pdf

DCP’s Tier Zero Begins a New Era from the Central Arizona Project (Chuck Cullom):

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its August 24-Month Study Report, a two-year outlook projecting water supply and operating conditions in the Lower Colorado River Basin..

The August Report defines, among other things, the operating conditions for Lake Mead for 2020, and includes the recently enacted Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). At the end of 2019, the projected Lake Mead elevation – the measuring stick for whether there is a shortage declaration on the river for 2020 – is just shy of 1090’. And, for the first time, the Lower Colorado River Basin will formally implement reductions outlined in the DCP at the new Tier Zero beginning January 2020.

What does this mean?

In short, it shows that in its first year, DCP is already working.

While the Basin experienced a stellar snowpack year and subsequent phenomenal run-off, because Lake Mead is projected to end 2019 below elevation 1090’, the Lower Basin States (Arizona, California and Nevada) will be in a DCP Tier Zero shortage condition next year. Under Tier Zero, Arizona’s Colorado River supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet; Nevada’s will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet; and California takes no reductions. In addition, Mexico will reduce its water use by 41,000 acre-feet, due to Minute 323, an agreement under the 1944 Treaty for water users in both countries. [ed. emphasis mine] Because of Arizona’s Colorado River priority system and agreements amongst water users, the Central Arizona Project (CAP) will take 100% of Arizona’s reductions under Tier Zero. CAP’s supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet, representing 12% of its normal annual Colorado River water supply. For CAP customers, this means eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment. Water going toward CAP agricultural uses will be reduced by about 15%.

The Tier Zero reduction to CAP, while significant, is largely equivalent to the amount of Colorado River water CAP has been leaving voluntarily in Lake Mead since 2015 as part of our Lake Mead Conservation Program. In essence, CAP and its water users have been planning and preparing for Tier Zero reductions for the past five years. The difference is that those previous contributions were voluntary – now, under DCP, these contributions are mandatory.

Through the DCP, Arizona continues to prepare for a drier future. This year, CAP, along with the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes, is contributing and storing 236,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead. Next year, even with the Tier Zero reductions, these same water users, along with the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, will continue to conserve and store additional water in Lake Mead. These efforts are part of Arizona’s plan to implement DCP developed collaboratively by the Arizona water community and legislative leaders. The plan balances the impacts of DCP amongst water users and provides additional protection to the Colorado River system, giving us a road map to follow for the next several years.

Tier zero cuts. Graphic credit: Central Arizona Project

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to reduce the risk of a crash.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation activated the mandatory reductions in water deliveries on Thursday when it released projections showing that as of Jan. 1, the level of Lake Mead will sit just below a threshold that triggers the cuts.

Arizona and Nevada agreed to leave a portion of their water allotments in the reservoir under a landmark deal with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which the states’ representatives signed at Hoover Dam in May.

California agreed to contribute water at a lower trigger point if the reservoir continues to fall. And Mexico agreed under a separate accord to start contributing to help prop up Lake Mead, which is now 39 percent full…

Reservoirs were approaching levels last year that would have triggered a shortage and required deeper cuts, but heavy snow across much of the Rocky Mountains this winter boosted runoff and raised reservoir levels. The river’s reservoirs are now at 55% of total capacity, up from 49% at the same time last year.

But Lake Mead is still projected to be just below the threshold of 1,090 feet above sea level at the beginning of next year. That will put the reservoir in a zone called “Tier Zero,” at which the first cuts take effect.

“While we appreciate this year’s above-average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a statement. She applauded the seven states that depend on the river for coming together to finish the set of drought-contingency plans. Burman said the actions laid out under those agreements “will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

Arizona will see a cut of 192,000 acre-feet in water deliveries next year, or 6.9% of its total allotment of 2.8 million acre-feet. Nevada’s share will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet, while Mexico’s will take 41,000 acre-feet less. That water will remain in Lake Mead, and will only be recovered once the reservoir rises above an elevation of 1,100 feet.

The cuts under the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, represent 12% of the total water supply for the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water by canal to Phoenix, Tucson and other areas. Chuck Cullom, manager of Colorado River programs for CAP, said this reduction will mean “eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment,” and cutting CAP deliveries to agriculture by about 15%.

@USBR: The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held on Thursday, August 15th, at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir. Start time is 1:00 PM

Jeff Rieker named Area Manager for @USBR’s Eastern Colorado Area Office

Horsetooth Reservoir

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Great Plains Regional Director Mike Black announced today that Jeff Rieker will succeed Signe Snortland as Eastern Colorado Area Office manager September 15, 2019. Rieker will serve as the Eastern Colorado Area Manager after serving as the Operations Manager for the Central Valley Operations Office where he oversaw the day-to-day water and power operations of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project (CVP), one of the largest water storage and transport systems in the world. The CVP is comprised of 20 dams and reservoirs, 11 power plants and more than 500 miles of canals and aqueducts within California’s Central Valley.

“Jeff brings a history of technical ability and collaboration with regional, local and international parties on a variety of issues that will benefit Reclamation and the numerous stakeholders,” said Black. “Jeff is a great asset to our leadership team and I am confident he will serve the people of Colorado well.”

Rieker joined Reclamation in 1999 as a student hydraulic engineer in Reclamation’s Technical Service Center. Over his Reclamation career, he has served in a variety of positions including Special Studies Division Manager for the Lahontan Basin Area Office, Special Assistant for the Mid-Pacific’s Office of the Regional Director, and the Mid-Pacific Region’s Liaison Officer in Washington, D.C.

Rieker holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a master’s degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in water resources planning and management from Colorado State University, and a Ph.D. in the same subject from Colorado State University.

@USBR/@EPA: Federal Officials Announce Priority Actions Supporting Long-Term #Drought #Resilience

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation and Environmental Protection Agency (Theresa Eisenman and the EPA Press Office):

Today, senior administration officials participated in the Second National Drought Forum where they announced Priority Actions Supporting Long-Term Drought Resilience. This document outlines key ways in which federal agencies support state, tribal and local efforts to protect the security of our food supply, the integrity of critical infrastructure, the resilience of our economy, and the health and safety of our people and ecosystems.

The document was developed by the National Drought Resilience Partnership (NDRP), a federal collaborative formed to promote long-term drought resilience nationwide. While authority lies with the states to manage water resources, federal agencies play a key role in supporting states, tribes, communities, agriculture, industry, and the private sector owners and operators of critical national infrastructure to prepare for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from drought.

The following statements were released after today’s panel:

“Under the leadership of President Trump, we are taking unprecedented steps at the federal level to coordinate and empower states, tribes, local communities, and water users to promote drought preparedness and resiliency and ensure reliable water supply throughout the West. The U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation play integral parts in this, whether it’s the science or infrastructure piece of this equation,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Dr. Tim Petty.

“The Western states have experienced intense drought with the potential to severely impact agriculture, municipal water supplies and hydropower production. We’ve demonstrated that infrastructure investments, innovative approaches to conservation, and collaboration build drought resiliency and reduces risks,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

“We know we can accomplish more when we work together, and the National Drought Resilience Partnership facilitates collaboration among federal partners to help the country respond to drought and to prepare for the future” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey. “These priorities are a large part of our game plan to how we can protect our food and water supply, and to build resilience on our farms and ranches and in our communities and businesses”

“The impact of drought on public health and the environment is far reaching because it reduces both water quantity and water quality,” said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “Through EPA initiatives, such as the National Water Reuse Action Plan, we are working to ensure a sufficient supply of clean water for the American people.”

“Water quality and availability is a national issue and it is one that affects every American. Through this partnership, the data produced by the U.S. Geological Survey will be integrated into a comprehensive framework of information sharing that is flexible and responsive to the nation’s decision-makers, ensuring every community understands drought preparedness, mitigation, and resiliency,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly.

“The National Drought Resilience Partnership is essential to the continued collaboration amongst federal agencies regarding the nation’s water resources. I am committed to this partnership and will ensure the Corps’ support to other agencies as they work drought-related issues and coordinate to reduce duplicative and redundant efforts,” said U.S. Department of Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Ricky “R.D.” James.

“The National Drought Resilience Partnership is inspiring action across the federal government. DOE is pleased to collaborate with other agencies to stimulate American innovation and technology solutions that address drought resilience through the Water Security Grand Challenge and other activities,” said U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons.

The NDRP and the document released today focus on fostering a national dialogue about how federal agencies can support these entities in building a more drought-resilient nation for sufficient water quality and quantity and a vibrant economy at the local level. NDRP categorizes its drought resilience efforts along six goal areas, which provide a framework to systematically address how the federal government supports building long-term drought resilience:

  • Data Collection and Integration
  • Communicating Drought Risk to Critical Infrastructure
  • Drought Planning and Capacity Building
  • Coordination of Drought Activity
  • Market-based Approaches for Infrastructure and Efficiency
  • Innovative Water Use, Efficiency, and Technology
  • Background

    Established in 2016, the NDRP is comprised of federal agencies that work together to leverage technical and financial federal resources, strengthen communication, and foster collaboration among its members to productively support state, tribal, and local efforts to build, protect, and sustain drought resilience capacity at regional and basin scales.

    The NDRP co-chairs are the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. The additional interagency NDRP Member Agencies and offices include the Department of Defense; the Department of the Interior (DOI); the Department of Commerce; the Department of Energy; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; the Office of Management and Budget; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; the National Economic Council; the Council on Environmental Quality; the National Security Council staff; and such other agencies or offices as the agencies set forth above, by consensus, deem appropriate. Currently, other offices include: the Office of Water Prediction, the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Integrated Drought Information System, which all are within the Department of Commerce; the Bureau of Reclamation and the United States Geological Survey, within the DOI; National Aeronautics and Space Administration; DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – National Risk Management Center; the Centers for Disease Control; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Member agencies collaborate to ensure successful outcomes with maximum efficiency and minimal duplication.

    Hydro-Illogical Cycle graphic via the University of Nebraska Lincoln.

    @USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2019 water year.

    The meeting will be held on August 7, 2019, from 6:30-8:00 pm at the following location:

    Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center
    22800 Two Rivers Road
    Basalt, CO 81621

    The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2019 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District lease of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

    For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 461-5494, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions = 950 cfs, Gunnison River through the Black Canyon = 2550 cfs

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit were increased by 500 cfs beginning on Friday, July 26th and are scheduled to continue at that rate into the near future in order to prevent Blue Mesa Reservoir from overfilling. At the current inflow and release rate it is projected that Blue Mesa Reservoir would begin spilling, as the reservoir is now full. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 1,075,000 AF of inflow, which is 159% of average. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for July and August.

    Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 2550 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.