Aspinall Unit Forecast for Operations Spring 2021 — @USBR #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Click here to view the forecast graphics.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases bumped to 500 CFS April 9, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. 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 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, April 9th, 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.

@USBR awards $1.8 million to 11 tribes for #water projects

North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

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

The Bureau of Reclamation announced today that 11 tribes in seven states will receive $1.8 million through the Native American Affairs Technical Assistance to Tribes Program.

“This funding will help facilitate partnerships with tribes and tribal organizations as they develop, manage and protect their water resources,” said Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Reclamation is committed to working with Indian tribes and tribal nations on these important water resources issues.”

The funding will be provided to the tribes as grants or cooperative agreements. The projects selected are:

  • Hopi Tribe-Range Well Assessment, $200,000 (Arizona)
  • Navajo Nation-Leupp Well PW-2B Planning Assessment, $116,951 (Arizona)
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe-Automated Solar-Powered Stock Watering Demonstration Project, $197,143 (Arizona)
  • Elk Valley Rancheria Water Storage Tank Rehabilitation, $200,000 (California)
  • Colusa Indian Community-Potable Water Security & Improved Human Safety Infrastructure, $50,000 (California)
  • Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho-Water Quality and Quantity and Toxic Algal Bloom Monitoring, $200,000 (Idaho)
  • Pueblo of Acoma-Phase 2-Sandoval Ditch Rehabilitation, $200,000 (New Mexico)
  • Ohkay Owingeh-El Guique Water Delivery System Design, $192,524 (New Mexico)
  • Chickasaw Nation-Water Supply, City of Lone Grove, $160,635 (Oklahoma)
  • Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs-Groundwater Assessment for Domestic Water Supply, $99,960 (Oregon)
  • Paiute Tribe of Utah-Domestic Water System Improvements, $200,000 (Utah)
  • The Native American and International Affairs Office in the Commissioner’s Office serves as the central coordination point for the Native American Affairs Program and lead for policy guidance for Native American issues in Reclamation. To learn more, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/native.

    Aspinall Unit operations update (March 22, 2021): 400 CFS in the Gunnison Tunnel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel.
    Lisa Lynch/NPS

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will be ramping up for the irrigation season and releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 400 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day whenever Tunnel diversions increase.

    On Wednesday, March 24th testing of the Crystal powerplant will result in a brief period of high flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. Crystal releases will be increased up to 1700 cfs over a couple hours before decreasing back to the current release rate.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 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 790 cfs for March.

    Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 400 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 400 cfs. As Tunnel diversions increase, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are expected to stay near 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Projects throughout the Western United States receive $42.4 million in grants from @USBR to conserve and use #water more efficiently

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is awarding $42.4 million in grants to 55 projects throughout 13 states. These projects will improve the water reliability for these communities by using water more efficiently and power efficiency improvements that water supply reliability and generate more hydropower. The projects are anticipated to conserve more than 98,000 acre-feet of water per year.

    “Improving water and energy efficiencies is one way Reclamation is using its resources to provide communities in the West the ability to be resilient to climate change, because conserving water is also saving energy,” said Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.

    These grants support President Biden’s new Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. These grants will help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change and conserve water.

    The selected projects are in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Projects include canal lining and piping to reduce seepage losses; installation of advanced metering, automated gates, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems to improve water management; and programs in urban areas to install residential water meters.

    The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation located in central Washington will receive $570,965 to convert more than 15,000 feet of earthen canals to PVC pipe. The project will improve water use efficiency and reliability through optimal flow rates, reduced leakages and operational losses. The project is expected to result in an annual water savings of 1,504 acre-feet remaining in the system supporting the other needs within the irrigation project.

    The Greenfields Irrigation District in Teton County, Montana, will receive $1.9 million to replace a concrete drop structure with an 11-foot diameter penstock and turbine with a planned capacity of 2,400 kilowatts. The project is also expected to save 1,190 acre-feet of water currently lost to seepage. The water saved will remain in the Sun River, improving flows for fish and recreation.

    In California, near the Arizona border, the Bard Water District will receive $1.1 million to complete a canal lining and piping project. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 701 acre-feet, which will remain in the Colorado River system for other uses. Once completed, the project will also better position farmers to work with Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve on-farm irrigation systems.

    Some projects complement on-farm irrigation improvements that can be carried out with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to accomplish coordinated water conservation improvements.

    “Infrastructure modernization is critical to enable agricultural producers to make additional improvements on their land,” said Astor Boozer, Regional Conservationist for NRCS’s western operations. “Using EQIP-WaterSMART Initiative assistance to reduce water losses and use irrigation water efficiently allows farmers to complement WEEG funded projects and to conserve additional water for prolonged droughts.”

    Learn more about all the selected projects at http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/weeg/. For project descriptions click here. Here are a few:

    Colorado River Indian Tribes, 73-19L-1 Canal Lining Project
    Reclamation Funding: $209,182 Total Project Cost: $443,229

    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

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes, located in western Arizona, will line 3,985 feet of the currently earthen 73-19L-1 canal reach of the Colorado River Irrigation Project with a geosynthetic membrane covered with shotcrete. This stretch of the canal has been identified as having the most significant seepage rate of all 232 miles of canals in the Colorado River Irrigation Project. The project is anticipated to result in annual water savings of 267 acre-feet currently lost to seepage. This area of Arizona is vulnerable to drought, having experienced drought conditions for the past 19 years, and the Tribes rely on the Colorado River as their sole source of water. The water conserved through the project will be utilized by the Tribes primarily to meet demands on the Reservation, within the limits of their existing water rights…

    City of Aspen, Aspen Maroon Creek Penstock Lining Project
    Reclamation Funding: $480,232 Total Project Cost: $3,001,452

    A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

    The City of Aspen will line approximately 6,235 feet of existing concrete pipe that carries water from Maroon Creek to its raw water storage reservoir and will also install a 400-kilowatt hydroelectric generation facility. The City does not currently have a large storage reservoir like most local water systems, and supplies are direct-flow water rights which are directly impacted by seasonal fluctuations and environmental conditions. The project will result in annual water savings of 360 acre-feet currently lost through the existing pipeline. Water savings will be used to meet existing municipal demands and to reduce diversions and allow for increased instream flows in Maroon Creek…

    Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District, Superior Canal Delivery Efficiency Improvement Project
    Reclamation Funding: $2,000,000 Total Project Cost: $4,507,591

    Nebraska Rivers Shown on the Map: Beaver Creek, Big Blue River, Calamus River, Dismal River, Elkhorn River, Frenchman Creek, Little Blue River, Lodgepole Creek, Logan Creek, Loup River, Medicine Creek, Middle Loup River, Missouri River, Niobrara River, North Fork Big Nemaha River, North Loup River, North Platte River, Platte River, Republican River, Shell Creek, South Loup River, South Platte River, White River and Wood River. Nebraska Lakes Shown on the Map: Harlan County Lake, Hugh Butler Lake, Lake McConaughy, Lewis and Clark Lake and Merritt Reservoir. Map credit: Geology.com

    The Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District, located in south-central Nebraska, will construct two new diversions for the lower Superior Canal. The District holds storage rights in Harlan Reservoir, approximately 50 miles upstream of the Superior Diversion structure. Currently, much larger than required volumes of water must be released from the reservoir to overcome canal losses incurred delivering water to the users at the end of canal, which results in end-of-canal spills. The District will install two gallery wells in the north bank of the Republican River to supply water to the lower portion of the Superior Canal instead of transporting these supplies through the entire length of the canal. The gallery wells will be linked to the District’s main office through automation for instantaneous control of the pumps to increase system efficiency. Once complete, the project is expected to result in annual water savings of 3,400 acre-feet that will remain in the Harlan Reservoir and be made available in times of shortage, thereby reducing the District’s diversions from the Republican River. The project builds on efforts to more effectively manage operations of Harlan County Reservoir and the overall water supplies of the basin, with the goal of improving the flexibility and reliability of Republican River Compact compliance activities for Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and the various federal and local water interests in the basin…

    Bard Water District, Concrete Lining of the Acoma Lateral & Decommissioning of the Titsing Sub-Main with New Pipeline (Phase 4)
    Reclamation Funding: $1,117,994 Total Project Cost: $2,235,988

    The Colorado River Delta via the Sonoran Institute

    The Bard Water District, located in southern California near the Arizona border, will line 5,550 feet of the currently earthen Acoma Lateral with concrete and decommission the 2.5-mile Titsing Sub- Main to install a 36-inch diameter pipeline. The project is expected to result in annual water savings of 701 acre-feet, which is currently lost to seepage, evapotranspiration, and operational losses. Conserved water will remain in the Lower Colorado River System and can be used by other water users during drought years and in times of shortage, including the Quechan Indian Reservation. Once completed, the project will allow farmers to work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to improve irrigation systems.

    @USBR names Katrina Grantz Upper Colorado Basin assistant regional director #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Amee Andreason):

    Katrina Grantz, Upper Colorado Basin Assistant Regional Director. Photo credit: USBR

    The Bureau of Reclamation is pleased to announce the selection of Katrina Grantz as assistant regional director for its Interior Region 7 — Upper Colorado Basin.

    Grantz, a 14-year Reclamation veteran, began her assignment March 14. As assistant regional director, she will oversee a range of water and hydropower programs in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

    “It is an honor and a privilege to serve with the dedicated employees of the Upper Colorado Basin Region,” said Grantz. “I look forward to working with our partners as we continue to make progress on important issues in the region, delivering water and power for the people of the American West.”

    Grantz began her career with Reclamation in 2007 and progressed through increasing levels of responsibility. She began as a civil engineer in the Upper Colorado Basin Region performing reservoir operations and hydrologic modeling. She has served as the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management program manager and most recently as the Safety and Technical Resources Division manager, overseeing regional issues of safety, security, dam safety, emergency management, water quality and engineering services.

    “I am pleased to welcome Katrina to the Regional Director—s Office as the new assistant regional director,” said Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “With her extensive background and great ability, she will enhance the region—s ability to serve the public now and into the future.”

    Leading the COVID-19 response for the Upper Colorado Basin Region, Grantz ensured employees— safety during the pandemic. She consistently informed employees of changing guidelines, set up protective guidance in offices, and made employee well-being a priority, all of which she will continue in her new leadership role.

    Grantz—s experience includes volunteering for the Peace Corps for three years in Malawi, Africa, teaching math and physical science. She also conducted research in climate variability to improve water management in the American West at the Center for Advanced Decision Support in Water and Environmental Systems at the University of Colorado.

    Grantz is a New Mexico native. She holds a doctorate and master—s degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, as well as bachelor—s degrees in physics and German from Grinnell College, Iowa.

    @USBR: #GlenCanyonDam Spring Disturbance Flow #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Glen Canyon Dam high flow release photo.

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

    The Department of the Interior will conduct a spring disturbance flow release from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona, beginning March 15 at 5 a.m. and ending March 26 at 8 a.m.

    A spring disturbance flow is planned at Glen Canyon Dam from March 15 to March 26. It is expected to maximize ecosystem benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Glen, Marble, and Grand canyons, while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production. The spring disturbance flow will not affect the monthly or annual release volumes from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon Dam.

    The spring disturbance flow capitalizes on a unique low flow of 4,000 cubic feet per second for 5 days, which is needed to conduct maintenance on the apron of Glen Canyon Dam. This low flow will be followed by a gradual increase to higher releases that will culminate in a discharge of approximately 20,150 cubic feet per second for 82 hours. The peak release of the spring disturbance flow will stay within the maximum release levels allowed under normal operations.

    This combination of low and high flows is expected to disturb river bottom habitats and may drive positive aquatic ecosystem responses like increased algae and insect production. This could increase aquatic insect prey available for endangered humpback chub, non-native rainbow trout, an important sportfish, as well as other wildlife. The spring disturbance flow may disadvantage brown trout in Glen Canyon by reducing survival of emerging fry. The spring disturbance flow may also provide new scientific information that can be used in future decision making.

    Recreational users are reminded to exercise caution along the Colorado River through Glen and Grand Canyons during the entire spring disturbance flow period.

    @USBR awards $3.6 million to improve #desalination technologies

    Photo shows the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility – BGNDRF, in Alamogordo, NM via USBR

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is awarding $3.6 million to 10 projects for advanced water treatment research and development. The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program funding seeks to improve technologies for water supply development from nontraditional waters, including seawater, brackish groundwater, and municipal wastewater.

    “Interest in desalination as a water source is growing in the United States,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “Improving technologies to treat water will make the advanced treatment of water more affordable for communities throughout the country and increase water supplies for the nation.”

    The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program supports President Biden’s new Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad as it will help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

    Reclamation selected six laboratory projects and four pilot-scale research projects. The $3.6 million will be matched by $5.3 million in non-federal funding to support the research projects. The selected projects are:

    PILOT-SCALE PROJECTS

    Carollo Engineers, Inc. (Arizona) – $403,002
    Sephton Water Technology, Inc. (California) – $139,968
    Gradiant Osmotics LLC (Massachusetts) – $800,000
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Massachusetts) – $799,989

    LABORATORY PROJECTS

    Yale University (Connecticut) – $250,000
    New Mexico Institute of Technology and Mining (New Mexico) – $249,969
    University of Cincinnati (Ohio) – $249,630
    SolMem, LLC (Texas) – $241,506
    University of Houston (Texas) – $249,466
    William Marsh Rice University (Texas) – $250,000

    A laboratory-scale study involving small flow rates. They are used to determine the viability of a novel process, new materials, or process modifications. A pilot-scale project tests a novel process to determine the technical, practical, and economic viability of the process and are generally preceded by laboratory studies that demonstrate if that the technology works.

    To learn more about Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program and see complete descriptions of the research projects, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/research/dwpr.

    Desalination plant, Aruba

    Aspinall Unit Forecast for Operations, February 19, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    A watchful eye on the ‘Big River’ — News on Tap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Amid dry soils and struggling snowpack in Denver Water’s collection area, longer-term Colorado River challenges also loom large.

    Denver Water’s supply managers are closely attuned to the dry weather, lagging snowpack and poor soil moisture in its mountainous collection area that could mean heightened efforts to conserve water this summer.

    At the same time, the utility is closely engaged with a more persistent and growing long-term challenge: a drying trend across the seven-state Colorado River Basin.

    The Colorado River, which feeds into Lake Powell, begins its 1,450-mile journey in Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, Colorado. Denver Water gets half of its water from tributaries that feed into the Colorado River. Some of these tributaries include the Fraser River in Grand County and the Blue River in Summit County. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The two issues go hand-in-hand.

    While early snowpack has been underwhelming, a few recent storms brought us closer to average in the two nearby basins that matter most to Denver Water: The South Platte and the Colorado.

    Even so, the long-running drought across the southwestern United States persists. And earlier this year, a new warning was triggered after updated projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation suggested poor inflows to Lake Powell could put the reservoir at a level low enough to take new steps.

    In short, the BOR said Lake Powell — the massive storage vessel that serves as the bank account for the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — is at risk of falling below an elevation of 3,525 feet in 2022.

    Watch this 2018 video journey with CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead to see drought impacts on the Colorado River and learn what we’re doing about it:

    That’s important to Denver Water and many Colorado water users as a century-old law requires states in the upper basin to send a certain allotment out of Lake Powell each year to the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

    Under major agreements developed between the federal government and the seven states in 2019 called drought contingency plans, Reclamation’s projection initiates a planning process with water leaders across the upper basin states to address ways to avoid further elevation declines in Powell.

    This is a trigger point to say, “Hey, it’s time to ramp up our monitoring and planning, to be ready to address the potential further decline in reservoir levels,” explained Rick Marsicek, planning manager for Denver Water. “This was a metric, developed to ensure the upper basin states focus harder on next steps should Lake Powell be at risk of hitting that level.”

    Lake Powell ended the 2020 “water year” at an elevation of 3,596 feet above sea level. That is 104 feet below what is considered Powell’s full capacity. The “water year” is a term used by the U.S. Geological Survey to measure the 12-month hydrologic cycle between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30. The October start date is used to mark when snow begins to accumulate in the mountains. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Planners focused on 3,525 feet as a trigger point, so as to have time to act before Lake Powell falls another 35 feet, which would threaten its ability to send enough water through turbines to generate hydropower, another important element of Powell’s operations. Hydroelectricity at the dam provides power to more than 5 million customers.

    It’s an initial step toward drought contingency plans, which could be triggered as early as 2022 in the Upper Basin. The lower basin’s DCP was triggered last year, when projected shortages in Lake Mead, the other gargantuan Colorado River reservoir — a sister of sorts to Powell — required Arizona and Nevada to pull smaller amounts from supplies stored there.

    Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

    All of this movement comes amid other developments important to Denver Water and water interests throughout Colorado.

  • The state of Colorado is working with water providers and users across the state to gauge the potential of a “demand management” plan. Such a plan would compensate water users to temporarily and voluntarily conserve water that would flow instead to Lake Powell as a deposit in a sort of bank account. Such a “pool” of water would maintain critical water levels in Lake Powell and could later be released if necessary to assure Colorado River Compact compliance.
  • Water users kicked off a study related to demand management in 2020. Irrigators in the Kremmling area fallowed some parcels as part of a detailed study on how high-elevation farmland would respond should water be left off the land in some growing seasons.
  • At the same time, the basin states, in partnership with the federal government, are beginning to dig into a new set of guidelines to help manage river supplies that must be complete in 2026, when an existing set of interim guidelines is set to expire. These guidelines co-exist with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and numerous other agreements that make of the “law of the river,” which split the river between the two big basins and the country of Mexico.
  • Closer to home, Denver Water and other metro area and Front Range water providers are coordinating in preparation for a year when they may have to toughen summer watering restrictions to address a dry winter and spring. It’s too early yet to know for sure how supplies will look, but the meetings that kicked off this month are an effort to get ahead of the situation and see where watering and conservation messages can be aligned to help the public understand the potential need to reduce outdoor irrigation between May and October.
  • “There is a lot happening, and that’s a good thing,” Marsicek said. “Far better to overplan and overprepare than to simply hope for the best. We’ve had drought years before, and we have a long-term drought now in the Colorado River Basin. By working together and planning not just for a hot summer, but for a drier long-term future, we can meet this challenge with our eyes wide open.”

    Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #GunnisonRiver

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases bumping to 400 CFS January 9, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, January 9th, 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 outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Ruedi Reservoir operations update: 60 CFS in the #FryingpanPan River starting January 1, 2021

    From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

    Ruedi Reservoir release will increase tomorrow morning by approximately 14 cfs. The flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will increase from 46 cfs to 60 cfs for the next two months. The release increase is due to a contract release, and the goal is to mitigate formation of anchor ice within the Fryingpan River channel.

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    Squeezed by two megafires: @Northern_Water’s race to save #Grand Lake — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The East Troublesome Fire in Grand County burned down to the shore of Willow Creek Reservoir, one of the lakes in Northern Water’s collection system in Grand County. Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Craig Friar and Steve Anderson had seen wildfires smolder and flare before. But they had never seen one run.

    Until Oct. 21 when Grand County’s East Troublesome fire sprinted 17 miles in less than three hours, threatening to engulf communities across the county and giving these Northern Water staffers and others just hours to decide how best to move the water agency’s operations center out of Grand County and over to Northern’s emergency operations center in Berthoud, on Colorado’s Front Range.

    It was unchartered territory. The backup center had never been used before.

    Northern Water is the largest exporter of water from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range, serving farms and dozens of cities from Broomfield and Lafayette to Boulder, Loveland and Greeley.

    As dark, fire-stained clouds billowed over the towns of Granby and Grand Lake that day, Northern’s West Slope team grabbed operation logs from the Farr pumping plant on the banks of Lake Granby. They tracked down the half dozen or so mechanics, electricians and operators who would need to make quick exits, and figured out how to ferry everyone to safety over the Continental Divide.

    The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

    Initially they hoped to keep most of their operators on the West Slope by moving the temporary command center farther West to another Northern operations site. But the East Troublesome Fire, already known for its cranky, unpredictable nature, changed direction, blocking access to the local site.

    “Those [plans] quickly went away,” said Friar, who oversees the utility’s collection system. “When things blew up on Tuesday, we said, ‘Scrap that.’ Wednesday we had a call and began moving everyone over to Berthoud.”

    Spare rooms and horse trailers

    Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind and Director of Administration Karen Rademacher offered their homes to dislocated staffers until hotel rooms could be found.

    West Slope staff who weren’t evacuated offered trailers to those who had been, hauling household goods and horses. They tracked down housing for co-workers who feared their homes had burned.

    They had dozens of calls with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Northern’s system, as well as emergency managers with the U.S. and Colorado State forest services and the Grand County fire and sheriff departments, and county emergency response teams.

    Hundreds of homes and structures in Grand County were threatened or destroyed, and the lakes and reservoirs there that comprise Northern’s water collection system faced the same fate. The agency serves more than 1 million people on the Front Range.

    Since mid-August, Northern’s team had watched the Cameron Peak Fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park just to the north of Grand County, threatening some of Northern’s customers and watersheds, but not the heart of its collection system.

    When East Troublesome exploded eight weeks later, the water utility found itself suddenly squeezed between what have now become Colorado’s two largest wildfires in recorded history, with Cameron Peak consuming 209,000 acres and East Troublesome 194,000, before both were declared contained in November.

    The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

    Beyond bad

    “It was worse than any worst-case scenario we had,” said Northern’s Environmental Services Manager Esther Vincent during a debriefing with the utility’s customers and others post-fire.

    East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

    Water infrastructure in the West is often built in high-altitude mountain ranges in order to collect the winter snows that fall and melt into streams.

    For years, Colorado and other Western States have planned for and dealt with wildfires and their aftermath: the scorched soils and trees that clog their delivery systems, fill their reservoirs with eroded soils, and cloud their once-pristine water supplies.

    But the situation now is much worse. As climate change and searing droughts have dried out the forests that blanket these watersheds, impossibly large, so-called megafires are becoming the dangerous new norm.

    These fires devastated California over the summer and the same phenomenon struck Colorado in the fall.

    That Northern Water found itself stranded between the two fires in hurricane-force winds was something no one had ever envisioned. There was a sense of awful wonder, amid all the emergency phone calls and late-night planning sessions, at the sheer size of the disaster.

    Powering down

    There was also plenty of worry. Early on, as the fire raged, Northern staffers knew power to the Farr Pump Plant would be cut off in order to keep firefighters safe from exploding transformers, falling power poles and downed electric lines.

    The East Troublesome Fire burns near the Farr Pump Plant on Lake Granby October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

    The pumping plant lies almost entirely below the surface of Lake Granby. Without power to run its dewatering system, the plant would flood.

    But there would be an even bigger problem once the electricity was cut. The Adams Tunnel takes water pumped from Lake Granby to Grand Lake and pipes it under the Continental Divide to the Front Range. If they couldn’t get the Adams Tunnel shut down before the power went off, it would continue to deliver water, dramatically lowering Grand Lake in violation of federal law, something that would trigger an environmental, legal and political firestorm.

    The prospect of such an event is unfathomable, Friar said. “I don’t know what would happen. And I don’t want to know. We don’t even go there.”

    They moved quickly to get to the controls that operate the tunnel, successfully closing it down.

    Ten minutes later, Friar said, the power went off.

    For days afterward, they would rotate the chore of going into the silent pumping plant, filling its generators with diesel fuel and checking to make sure the dewatering system was still working.

    In and out

    Roads in and out of the area remained closed and it took close coordination with the Grand County Fire Department and sheriff for Northern staffers to get past the fire barricades.

    “We had to make sure we could get in, get what we needed done, and get out of there,” Friar said.

    If there was any comfort during the tense, fast-changing days that the fires ruled Larimer and Grand counties, it was seeing local residents pulling out clothes and food for those in need, offering up spare rooms, spare trucks and trailers, and extra flash lights, snow plows and generators.

    “I don’t think anyone up here ever felt alone,” Friar said.

    December has delivered more elegant white snows to Grand and Larimer counties since October, when the first winter storm calmed the fires. The white slopes, covered with charred forests that are now stark and black, are a welcome respite from the gray smoke and flames that enveloped the area just a few weeks ago.

    Friar and others know they have four short months, the time until winter snows melt, to engineer and put into action a high-stakes rescue plan for the devastated watersheds and reservoirs.

    Roughly 30 percent to 80 percent of Northern’s four major watersheds have burned, they estimate. Cleaning them up and protecting the lakes from the debris that is sure to come after the snow melts next spring will take one to three years of “acute” work, fire officials said, and decades of additional treatment, a process so expensive that Northern hasn’t yet put a number to it.

    The East Troublesome fire as it tore through the Trail Creek Estates subdivision on Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian White, Grand Fire Protection District)

    A daunting future

    Denver Water, the only utility larger than Northern in Colorado, battled two smaller—but still epic—fires within the past three decades: the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the 2002 Hayman Fire, which until this year had been the state’s largest. They spent $28 million cleaning up and restoring reservoirs in the first 10 post-fire years and continue to spend millions annually planting trees and doing erosion control, according to Christina Burri, a watershed scientist with Denver Water.

    Northern’s Greg Dewey will oversee the fire restoration work. The prospect, he said, is daunting.

    “For years we’ve planned for treatments [for the overgrown forests already decimated by pine beetles]. And the ultimate treatment is a wildfire, but I don’t think anyone could have gauged the extent of this,” he said.

    The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome megafires have blazed permanent images in the minds of people across Grand and Larimer counties.

    What Anderson remembers most now is returning to his Granby home when the evacuation orders were finally lifted. There, he and his family encountered a strange sight:

    The house was unharmed, but the front door stood wide open.

    As they walked warily up the front steps the first thing they heard was the fire alarm, issuing one piercing screech after another, providing a crazy, haunting reminder of those days in October, when two megafires ruled the skies, the forests and their lives.

    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.

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

    #ColoradoRiver tribes seek approval from Congress to put water on the market in #Arizona — Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

    Headgate Rock Dam was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and is located in southwestern Arizona along the Lower Colorado River. It forms Lake Moovalya and provides irrigation supply for surrounding agriculture. The dam has ten radial gates which are each 30 feet wide and 24 feet tall. The scope of this project included performing repairs to the stoplog assemblies, lifting beams, and slings that were required for control of water during construction. Once the stoplog assemblies were repaired radial gate rehabilitation could commence. The work included replacement of trunnion pins and bushings, wallplates, removal of radial gate arms, replacement of gate seals and clamp bars, weld repairs, roller refurbishment, flat wire rope replacement, rehabilitation of the gate operating machinery, hazardous waste disposal of paint removed from the gates, and surface preparation and recoating of the gates. Photo credit: Alltech Engineering

    From Arizona Central (Ian James):

    On the Arizona-California border, where the Colorado River pushes against Headgate Rock Dam, churning water pours into a wide canal and runs across the desert, flowing toward the farmlands of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

    This tribal nation is the largest single user of Colorado River water in Arizona, with rights to divert about 662,000 acre-feet per year, more than double the amount of water diverted for the state of Nevada.

    But unlike other tribes elsewhere in Arizona, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, are legally barred from leasing water to growing cities and suburbs. The reasons go back to a 1964 decree by the U.S. Supreme Court that established the tribal water rights, and to a law enacted in the 1790s that limits tribes’ authority to make such deals without congressional approval.

    Now tribal leaders plan to ask Congress to pass legislation that would allow them to put some of their water on the market by leasing it out. They say their water can help Arizona endure shortages as drought and climate change reduce the river’s flow.

    They’re already leaving some farmlands dry in exchange for payments, helping Arizona deal with cutbacks under an agreement aimed at boosting the water level in Lake Mead…

    Chairman Dennis Patch said the tribe can do more to help as the Southwest grapples with declining water supplies, and in turn would benefit by leasing some of its water. He said it’s also time the Colorado River Indian Tribes gain the ability to use their water as they choose.

    “We did this as a tribe because we wanted to claim our own destiny with our land and our water,” Patch said during a virtual meeting on the proposal earlier this month. “Our water is critical to the state’s water security as the drought continues and possibly worsens.”

    And because CRIT holds the most senior first-priority rights, its water likely won’t be at risk of cuts during shortages…

    Leasing some water would also generate funds to repair and upgrade the aging irrigation system on the reservation, helping its farms use water more efficiently, Patch said. He called the plan “a win for Arizona water users, for the river and for our people and the reservation economy.”

    CRIT has about 4,500 tribal members. In January 2019, members voted in a referendum to endorse the approach of seeking federal legislation to lease a portion of the water for use off the reservation.

    If Congress agrees and passes a law, the legislation would be the first of its kind in Arizona and could clear a path for other tribal governments along the river to seek authorization for similar water deals…

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes’ reservation was established by the federal government in 1865.

    Its members come from four tribal affiliations. The Mohave have lived along the river for thousands of years. They were joined by Chemehuevi people, some of whom were displaced by flooding on their lands when dams were built. Later, in the 1940s and 50s, the U.S. government encouraged Navajo and Hopi families to move to the reservation to farm.

    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Amid Drying Conditions, #ColoradoRiver Basin States Kick Off Negotiations On Future Policies — KUNC

    Glen Canyon Dam aerial. Photo credit: USBR

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    Officials from all seven states in the watershed sent a letter State letter to USBR re: Colorado River 2026 guidelines.[/caption] this week to Interior Department secretary David Bernhardt, letting the federal government know they’re ready to start hammering out details of operating guidelines for the biggest reservoirs in the country.

    Dry conditions made worse from climate change have hit Lakes Mead and Powell hard during the last two decades, leaving them well below capacity.

    But as those talks begin, long-standing tensions remain.

    “The states noted in that correspondence the importance of engaging with water users, tribes, NGOs and Mexico as those discussions progress,” said John Entsminger, president of the Colorado River Water Users Association and general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

    Tribes, environmentalists and recreation advocates have routinely been kept out of past negotiations, and say they’ll be pushing for more transparency in crafting the new rules…

    “Greater inclusion earlier in the processes, will likely lead to more creative solutions, with more buy-in from the affected parties,” said Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman. The agency oversees water infrastructure in the West…

    Current guidelines put in place in 2007 expire in 2026.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    @USBR: Review of the #ColoradoRiver Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2020

    From The Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via U.S. News & World Report:

    A set of guidelines for managing the Colorado River helped several states through a dry spell, but it’s not enough to keep key reservoirs in the American West from plummeting amid persistent drought and climate change, according to a U.S. report released Friday…

    The report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found that the guidelines provided stability, along with other agreements among the states and with Mexico, but they won’t be enough to sustain a region that’s getting warmer and drier and has demanded more from the Colorado River.

    The guidelines and an overlapping drought contingency plan expire in 2026. Officials in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada told the Interior Department on Thursday that they have started talking about what comes next…

    The Bureau of Reclamation was tasked with reviewing the effectiveness of the 2007 guidelines before year’s end to help with a baseline for the new negotiations. The guidelines spelled out the operations of the nation’s two largest manmade lakes — Lake Powell along the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead along the Arizona-Nevada border — outlining what happens when the river can’t supply the water that states were promised in the 1920s.

    The guidelines allow water to be stored in Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam. They set marks for the lake that would trigger water cuts to Nevada and Arizona. California and Mexico have been looped in on possible cuts in other plans.

    The guidelines were meant to be flexible and encourage consensus among states, rather than the federal government dictating management of the river, and to avoid litigation because states were required to consult with each other before suing…

    In comments before the report was finalized, Native American tribes said they largely were left out of the discussions that led to the guidelines and want a bigger role in the next round of talks, with recognition of their sovereign status. They hold the rights to 3.4 million acre-feet of water annually in the Colorado River basin.

    Not all tribes, including the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in northwestern Arizona, have secured the legal right to the water they claim in the basin.

    Burman said the Bureau of Reclamation, states, tribes and others will focus in the weeks ahead on creating timelines for the negotiations…

    When the 2007 guidelines took effect, Lake Powell and Lake Mead together were about half full. Conservation, delayed water deliveries, a balancing act and other measures have kept them hovering at that level.

    States, tribes, cities and other water users are expected to use the Bureau of Reclamation report as a resource for deciding what will replace the guidelines.

    @USBR completes review of #ColoradoRiver operations for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2020

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Patti Aaron and Linda Friar):

    The Bureau of Reclamation today released a report intended to bring partners, stakeholders and the public to a common understanding of the effectiveness of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The technical report documents conservation efforts and operations on the Colorado River since 2007 and provides an essential reference to inform future operations.

    “The report presents a thorough review of operations and highlights that we have experienced historic collaboration among states, tribes, water users, non-governmental organizations and the international community in addressing issues affecting one of America’s most important rivers,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Forty million people across seven states and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for life and livelihood, so it’s critical that our actions protect this resource now and into the future. Today’s report highlights both the historic steps taken in the basin, as well as the need for continued progress to meet the growing challenges in the years ahead.”

    The report concluded:

    – The 2007 Interim Guidelines were largely effective as measured against both their stated purpose and common themes as provided in the 2007 Record of Decision.

    – Increasing severity of the drought necessitated additional action to reduce the risk of reaching critically low elevations in Lakes Powell and Mead.

    Experience over the past 12 years provides important considerations:

    – enhanced flexibilities and transparency for water users

    – expanded participation in conservation and Basin-wide programs

    – increased consideration of the linkage that occurs through coordinated reservoir operations, particularly with respect to the inherent uncertainties in model projections used to set operating conditions

    – demonstrated need for more robust measures to protect reservoir levels

    The report and additional information is posted at https://www.usbr.gov/ColoradoRiverBasin/.

    The screenshots from Twitter are from yesterday’s “Federal Friday” event hosted by @CRWUA_Water in partnership with @usbr. The conference hash tag was #CRWUA2020.

     

     

    #ColoradoRiver Basin Winter Forecast Signals Dry Times Ahead — KUNC #COriver #aridification

    Low flows on the Colorado River. Photo: Vicki Devine (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    All signs are pointing to a dry start to 2021 across much of the Colorado River watershed, which provides water to about 40 million people in the Western U.S.

    A lack of precipitation from April to October made this spring, summer and fall one of the region’s driest six-month periods on record. And with a dry start to winter, river forecasters feel more pessimistic about the chances for a drought recovery in the early part of 2021.

    West Drought Monitor December 15, 2020.

    “We’re starting off water year 2021 with widespread much below-average soil moisture conditions and snow water equivalent conditions,” said Cody Moser, a hydrologist with the Utah-based Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

    Some weather stations in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada have recorded their driest years on record, Moser said. There doesn’t seem to be much relief in sight. Short-term and long-term weather forecasts all point to above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for the foreseeable future.

    Exceptional drought conditions have expanded across 65% of the Colorado River watershed. Low soil moisture heading into winter will also play a role in how snowpack accumulates this season, and how much water will flow into streams and reservoirs during spring runoff, adding pressure to large-scale water users like municipalities and farmers.

    Most major rivers in the basin are projected to flow well below normal levels next year due to extremely low soil moisture conditions, though Moser said there’s significant uncertainty about water supply forecasts so early in the season.

    But given the dry conditions heading into winter, an average snowpack won’t be enough to provide significant relief, Moser said…

    A recent forecast from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that operates Western water infrastructure, showed the Colorado River’s largest reservoirs are likely to drop next year if demands stay the same.

    Without a high snowpack this winter, the agency forecasts the Colorado River system’s biggest reservoirs will be reduced to a combined 44% of their total capacity by fall 2021.

    Today: @CRWUA_Water free live Federal Friday event, 8:30AM PST #ColoradoRiver #COriver #CRWUA2020

    Click here to watch the event.

    Silver lining: Lining canals to cut for salinity also boosts efficiency — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Winter may be the offseason when it comes to a lot of construction work, but for ongoing efforts to line local irrigation canals, it’s the only practical time for further pursuing multi-year efforts to line them.

    Doing so locally helps address salinity problems throughout the Colorado River Basin, meaning that irrigation entities can tap federal funds to pay for much of the work. But it also provides the side benefit of making canals able to deliver water more efficiently, in higher volumes, multiplying the payback for the millions of dollars that get invested in such work.

    In September, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will distribute $33.7 million for salinity control projects in western Colorado over the next three to five years. This includes nearly $4.7 million for the Grand Valley Water Users Association for continued lining of the Government Highline Canal, and about $1.23 million to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company for a fifth phase of lining it has been doing over the past decade or so thanks to Bureau of Reclamation salinity control funding.

    Lining canals limits seepage of water into the ground, where that water can pick up salt before eventually reaching the Colorado River, which is relied upon by downstream states and Mexico. High salinity in the river reduces crop yields downstream for farmers reliant on the river water, and can increase water treatment costs and corrode things such as household appliances, reducing their useful life.

    In Colorado, salinity control efforts by the Bureau of Reclamation also include the operation of a deep injection well for salty groundwater in Montrose County’s Paradox Valley. While that project has been highly effective in salt removal, it is increasingly causing earthquakes and the future of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Paradox desalination program is uncertain as the well nears the end of its serviceable life.

    23,426 TONS OF SALT A YEAR

    In the Grand Junction area, groundwater reaching the river percolates through Mancos shale associated with an inland sea that left salt deposits behind tens of millions of years ago. The Bureau of Reclamation estimates that a total of $37.2 million it will distribute to 11 projects in western Colorado and Wyoming over the next few years will keep about 23,426 tons a year from entering the Colorado River.

    The last lining work the Grand Valley Water Users Association did on the Government Highline Canal was finished last year and ended at 36-3/10 Road in the Palisade area. The work being undertaken now will pick up from there and run to 35 3/10 Road, covering some 6,100 feet of canal length, said Mark Harris, the association’s general manager.

    The canal is operated by the association and owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. The project the new funding will cover most of will take place over three winters, and Grand Valley Water Users Association is covering about 10% of the cost through cash and in-kind contributions.

    The funding the Grand Valley Irrigation Company is getting will be used for work on close to a mile of the Grand Valley Canal over multiple years, on stretches running by Bookcliff Gardens and the Crown Point Cemetery area. Phil Bertrand with the Grand Valley Irrigation Company said the hope is to get about 300 or 400 feet lined in the first phase of that work this year.

    Grand Valley Irrigation’s project involves a little more than $149,000 in matching funding, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Harris said the work on the Government Highline Canal will include restoring its shape where needed. A fuzzy geotextile layer will be laid down to help protect the water-sealing PVC liner that’s put on top of it from the underlying earth and rocks. The PVC liner is covered with another fabric liner, and then three inches of concrete are added on top to help protect the canal from abrasion from sand and silt flowing through the canal.

    A drainage system also is being installed below the canal to help control the accumulation of underlying groundwater that can damage the canal lining when it is drained due to pressure exerted on it. The water in the canal when full otherwise counters that pressure…

    Canal lining also reduces seepage that can impact adjacent private property. In addition, it can reduce the amount of selenium that also leaches along with salt into the river. High selenium levels in soil are particularly a concern in the Gunnison River Valley, and high levels in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers can threaten wildlife including endangered fish…

    Harris said some sections along the Government Highline Canal cause more salt loading in the river than others. Localized levels of salt underground, the underground geological structure in an area and how much water that seeps from the canal actually makes it to the river all can play roles in salt loading, and areas of the canal with a lot of seeping aren’t necessarily where lining results in the most reduction of salt…

    GUNNISON PROJECTS

    The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association got more than $5 million in funding, and Grandview Canal & Irrigation Co. in the Crawford area received more than $6.3 million. Needle/Rock Ditch Company, also in the Crawford area, is receiving about $4.24 million, and Pilot Rock Ditch Company in eastern Delta County is getting more than $940,000. The Turner Ditch Company near Paonia will receive about $6.15 million.

    All of those projects entail installing pressurized pipe. Some involve matching funds and others are being completely paid for by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    A local initiative called the Lower Gunnison Project tries to take advantage of salinity-control funds and leverage them with other funding sources to make projects go further, Kanzer said. That project’s goals are wide-ranging, from reducing salt and selenium loading in the Gunnison River, to pursuing more efficient delivery and on-farm application of irrigation water, to improving soil health and boosting agricultural productivity…

    WETLANDS MITIGATION

    Canal-lining projects also can have wetlands projects associated with them. Where wetland habitat is destroyed as a result of the work, it has to be replaced elsewhere, Harris said. In the case of the Grand Valley Water Users Association project, crews will be creating new wetlands at the Colorado River Island State Wildlife Area south of D Road. Harris said the project will involve some 1,500 plantings and will result in creation of habitat far superior to what is being replaced…

    The Grand Valley Water Users Association’s canal project is occurring as the association also is in the middle of work to replace electrical and operating equipment at the Grand Valley Diversion Dam, the roller dam in De Beque Canyon. Harris said such projects “all kind of fit together” in improving water delivery in the Grand Valley, but are expensive. It’s hard for the association to pay for something like the current lining project internally through assessments, he said.

    @USBR chooses “no action” alternative for the Paradox Valley brine injection well

    From the Paradox Valley Unit website (USBR):

    Environmental Impact Statement

    Because the existing brine injection well is nearing the end of its useful life, the Bureau of Reclamation investigated alternatives for disposing of the brine. Reclamation has prepared and released a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS review period is from December 11, 2020 to January 11, 2021. Alternatives analyzed in the FEIS include a new injection well, evaporation ponds, zero liquid discharge technology, and no action.

    After weighing the benefits and impacts of the alternatives analyzed in the FEIS, the Bureau of Reclamation has identified the no action alternative as the preferred alternative.

    The no action alternative achieves the best balance among the various goals and objectives outlined in the FEIS, including: optimizing costs; minimizing adverse effects on the affected environment; minimizing the use of nonrenewable resources; consistency with Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plans; and being in the best interest of the public, including considerations of health and safety.

    The Paradox Valley Unit injection well will continue to operate until it becomes infeasible. New technically, environmentally and economically viable alternatives may be investigated in the future to continue salinity control at Paradox Valley.

    Milestone #ColoradoRiver management plan mostly worked amid epic drought, review finds — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification

    From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

    Western Water Spotlight: draft assessment of 2007 interim guidelines expected to provide a guide as talks begin on new river operating rules for the iconic southwestern river

    At full pool, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume, but two decades of drought have dramatically dropped the water level behind Hoover Dam as can be seen in this photo. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    Twenty years ago, the Colorado River Basin’s hydrology began tumbling into a historically bad stretch. The weather turned persistently dry. Water levels in the system’s anchor reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead plummeted. A river system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across the West was in trouble. And there was no guide on how to respond.

    So key players across the Basin’s seven states, including California, came together in 2005 to attack the problem. The result was a set of Interim Guidelines adopted in 2007 that, according to a just-released assessment from the Bureau of Reclamation, mostly worked. Stressing flexibility instead of rigidity, the guidelines stabilized water deliveries in a drought-stressed system and prevented a dreaded shortage declaration by the federal government that would have forced water supply cuts.

    Carly Jerla, one of the review’s authors. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    Those guidelines, formally called “Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” are set to expire in 2026 As stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin — including water agencies, states, Native American tribes and nongovernmental organizations — prepare to renegotiate a new set of river operating guidelines, Reclamation’s assessment is expected to provide a guide for future negotiations.

    “We find that the guidelines were largely effective,” said Carly Jerla, modeling and research group manager with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region and one of the report’s authors. However, the Interim Guidelines could not solve all of the challenges brought by what has become a two-decade-long drought in the Basin. Said Jerla: “We saw risk getting too high and needed additional assets.”

    Preserving Lake Mead

    With the guidelines as a foundation, those assets arrived in 2019 through drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Basin – voluntary reduction commitments that built a firewall against the likelihood of Lake Mead dropping to critically low levels.

    Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said the guidelines achieved their objective, considering that the drought has essentially persisted since 2000. Even with the severity and longevity of the drought, the guidelines kept the two reservoirs at about 50 percent of capacity since 2007.

    “To my mind that’s a pretty good marker that we were generally successful,” Harris said.

    Matt Rice, who directs American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, argues that future river operating guidelines should factor in environmental considerations. (Source: American Rivers)

    Reclamation’s review of the Interim Guidelines was released for public comment in October. It is expected to be finalized in December. After that, discussions are expected to begin to hammer out a new set of operating rules that would be ready to take effect when the existing guidelines expire in 2026.

    Reclamation’s review, which was required under the guidelines, focused solely on how effectively the Interim Guidelines managed water shortages and storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. It did not include existing environmental management programs such as the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program that are independent of the guidelines. The 2026 guidelines should take a broader view, said Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado River Basin Program.

    “Not just looking at the two big buckets [reservoirs], but how do we ensure the river is healthy and has water for its environmental needs,” he said.

    “How do we ensure that communities are considered, certainly the tribes, and how do we evaluate additional future demands, projects like the Lake Powell pipeline (a proposed project to deliver Lake Powell water to Southern Utah).”

    Ensuring Tribal Participation

    Tribal water rights are a key consideration to future Colorado River water use. Ten federally recognized tribes in the Upper and Lower Basins have reserved water rights, including unresolved claims, to divert about 2.8 million acre-feet of water per year from the river and its tributaries, according to Reclamation’s 2018 Tribal Water Study. These tribes anticipate diverting their full water rights by 2040.

    Reclamation’s review emphasizes the need for listening to all voices, most notably tribes. Tribal representatives were largely overlooked in the development of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and tribes want to make sure their voices are heard when the next set of operating rules are drawn up.

    “We hope that the review will remind Reclamation of the importance that Indian tribes have played in the stewardship of the Colorado River and underscore the importance of meaningful and sustained participation of the Lower Basin tribes in any future guidelines development regarding management of the Colorado River,” Jon Huey, chair of the Yavapai-Apache Nation in Arizona, wrote in a letter to Reclamation.

    Jerla said Reclamation recognizes how important it will be to include the tribes in future discussions.

    “We definitely heard that loud and clear,” she said. “I think the critical role that tribes have played in the activities since the Guidelines … their desire to be more involved and more included, they will absolutely be a key part of efforts going forward, no question.”

    Balancing Water Uses

    There is inherent tension in balancing Colorado River water uses between the two basins. Part of the problem is users in the Lower Basin can use Lake Mead as a bank account, having water released downstream to them as they need it. Lake Powell, on the other hand, sits at the bottom of the Upper Basin’s drainage and water that flows into Powell is largely beyond reach of Upper Basin users.

    Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    “The guidelines have been partially successful in that they have achieved their principal objective of preventing Lower Basin shortage, as well as establishing a Lower Basin conservation mechanism and avoiding litigation in the Basin,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission. “However, from the standpoint of the coordinated operations of Lakes Powell and Mead, a secondary objective of the Guidelines, they have come up short.”

    Haas pointed out that between 2015 and 2019, Lake Powell was required to release 9 million acre-feet of water annually under the Guidelines, even with poor inflows into Powell and below-average hydrology in the Upper Basin watershed. That’s more than has historically been required.

    “Meanwhile, Lake Mead elevations have not substantially increased under the Guidelines due in large part to overuse in the Lower Basin, also known as the structural deficit,” she said. “These issues must be addressed in the post-2026 operational criteria.”

    Protecting the Colorado River

    Drought wreaked havoc on the Colorado River Basin between 2000 and 2004, with record dryness that depleted the combined storage of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Conditions worsened quickly. At the beginning of the 2000 water year, the review said, the combined storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead was 55.7 million acre-feet. After the worst five-year period of inflow on record ended in 2005, that storage fell to 29.7 million acre-feet – a striking loss of nearly half of the water in the two anchor reservoirs.

    Something new had to be done. The business-as-usual approach of determining drought conditions for the Basin on a yearly basis was not going to provide long-term stability or prevent conflict under such historic dryness.

    “Failing to develop additional operational guidelines would make sustainable Colorado River management extremely difficult,” Reclamation’s review said.

    The Interim Guidelines in 2007 opened the door for Lower Basin water users and Mexico to get creative about how water is managed and used. One example that grew out of the guidelines is Intentionally Created Surplus, allowing downstream parties to bank water in Lake Mead that they could draw upon later.

    “One result of this new flexibility was that critical Lake Mead elevations could be protected through the conservation of this water in the lake,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “The Basin states, meanwhile, continued to seek ways to protect reservoir levels and the health of the Colorado River system.”

    The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey via The Water Education Foundation)

    Saving Intentionally Created Surplus water in Lake Mead turned out to be a critical drought response tool, said Reclamation’s Jerla, ensuring that the lake’s water level did not drop to where water users would be required to take cuts.

    Reclamation’s review of the Interim Guidelines notes that there are other areas of interest beyond its scope that should be considered in future discussions, such as impacts of river operations to environmental, recreational and hydropower resources, and more meaningful engagement of Basin partners, stakeholders, tribes and states.

    The review notes that since the Interim Guidelines were adopted, Reclamation has expanded its long-term modeling assumptions and worked to identify appropriate methods for analyzing uncertainty.

    “Even though the true probability of any combination of conditions … cannot be assessed, a wider range of hydrology and demand assumptions and attention to those ranges … are useful for supporting a common understanding of system vulnerability,” the review says.

    The Next Set of Guidelines

    The 2007 Interim Guidelines have set the table for the next version of a Colorado River operations agreement. In retrospect, things have generally occurred as expected, Jerla said.

    “In terms of where the reservoirs landed, what types of releases Powell made and how successful the Intentionally Created Surplus mechanism became, that is all within the range of what we were projecting,” Jerla said. “It’s informative to know that now and use that thinking about how risk influenced our decisions and how that translates into the next set of action levels.”

    Sustaining Lake Mead for the benefit of downstream water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin has been a key objective of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. (Source: Lighthawk via The Water Desk)

    The Interim Guidelines instilled a degree of greater cooperation and innovation on the river and that has fostered partnerships, initiatives and actions that demonstrate what can be done in a Basin that is steadily getting drier.

    “Those things have to continue,” Jerla said, adding that Reclamation’s review is one of many sources officials will consult as they draft the next set of guidelines.

    Rice, with American Rivers, said he’s optimistic about the prospects of a broad group of stakeholders building the next set of Interim Guidelines.

    “I am not suggesting that it’s going to be easy or straightforward by any means,” he said. “We certainly hope there will be greater participation from more stakeholders. The tribes are at the top of the list, but also nongovernmental organizations, which traditionally have not been part of these interbasin negotiations.”

    The talks are likely to be frank and will explore thorny issues related to equitable water management.

    Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, says the Lower Basin’s structural deficit must be addressed. (Source: UCRC)

    Arriving at a satisfactory operational plan beyond 2026 means the Lower Basin’s structural deficit has to be addressed and balancing releases between Lake Powell and Lake Mead should be revisited to reflect actual hydrology, said Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission. “Also, the new guidelines should contain a mechanism whereby operations can be adapted and adjusted to meet changing conditions, something the current guidelines are not equipped to do.”

    How the next set of river operating guidelines will take shape remains to be seen, but Reclamation’s review suggests the 2007 Interim Guidelines proved their worth in showing how water users can work together and think creatively, lessons that will be invaluable for the future.

    The 2007 Interim Guidelines, the review said, “created the operational stability that became the platform for the collaborative decision-making that protected the Colorado River system from crisis.”

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 400 CFS November 2, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Monday, November 2nd, 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 San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    @USBR seeks ideas to make canals safer to reduce drownings and accidents

    Water from the Colorado River flows through the Grand Valley Irrigation Company’s canal near Palisade, shown in a file photo. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a new prize competition to improve public safety around canals throughout the United States. Reclamation maintains approximately 8,000 miles of canals in the Western United States and more than 1,000 of those miles are in urban areas. These canals in urban areas have higher risk of drownings.

    “Canals look like an inviting place to cool off on warm sunny days, but they pose dangers that we may not be able to see,” said Chief Engineer David Raff. “We are seeking innovative ideas that improve public safety.”

    This competition seeks new concepts, methods and technologies to reduce public safety accidents and drownings in canals. Solutions involving ladders, ropes, signage and educational outreach have been used regarding canal safety. Additional innovative concepts beyond these strategies may further reduce the public risk around Reclamation-owned canals. Proposals that describe the sole use of fencing, ladders, buoys and signage as a solution are not eligible.

    Reclamation is partnering with the Denver Water, Klamath Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric, NASA Tournament Lab and Common Pool. To learn more about this prize competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/canalsafety.html.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 650 CFS October 20, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #SanJuanRiver

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs on Tuesday, October 20th, 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 scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

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

    Aspinall Unit operations update #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

    Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

    As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…

    It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.

    When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.

    Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”

    John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:

    “As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

    Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.

    “It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”

    Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…

    The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.

    Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.

    While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.

    The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

    “It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.

    Happy 85th birth anniversary Hoover (Boulder) Dam

    From Wikipedia:

    Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, and cost over one hundred lives. Originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933, it was officially renamed Hoover Dam for President Herbert Hoover by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947.

    After insisting on expedited review, #Utah now asks feds to delay #LakePowellPipeline decision — The #SaltLake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Salt Lake Tribune(Brian Maffly):

    The state cited as a reason the 14,000 public comments submitted in response to a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released in June.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was supposed to have the final EIS out by November, with a final decision in January, but that ambitious time frame is expected to be pushed back while a “supplemental” analysis is conducted, according to Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

    “The extension will allow more time to consider the comments and complete further analysis, which will contribute to a more comprehensive draft and final EIS,” he said. “When you think about the sheer volume of comments, it’s going to take some time.”

    Among those comments was a bombshell request by the six other states that rely on the Colorado River for water to refrain from completing the EIS until the states work out their differences regarding the legality of diverting the water across major drainages…

    “The Bureau [of Reclamation] comes out with a draft that says, ‘We [in Washington County] need another source of water,’ but they don’t say why. The EIS failed to consider a water conservation alternative,” said Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council

    Frankel and other pipeline critics speculated that commenters or higher-ups in the Interior Department had identified “fatal flaws” in the draft study that could render the pipeline’s approval vulnerable to legal challenges that are sure to follow.

    “The delay of the environmental review affirms that Nevada and the other Colorado River Basin States are having an impact in this process against Utah,” said Tick Segerblom, who represents Las Vegas suburbs on the Clark County Commission. “With climate change and drought threatening us every day, we must be vigilant until the end. We cannot let our water supply be sucked away for golf courses and green lawns in southern Utah.”

    Officials, however, declined to identify any alleged flaws in the draft analysis, but the state’s letter Thursday to the Bureau of Reclamation alluded to the interstate controversy over the project.

    This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Turning down to 1350 CFS September 23, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Blue Mesa Reservoir. MichaelKirsh / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Wednesday, September 23rd. Releases are being lowered while the Crystal powerplant is offline for maintenance. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% 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 after the release change has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    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 September.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 550 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    @USBR awards $37.2 million to 11 #salinity control projects in #Colorado and #Wyoming #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Laying pipe near Crawford, Colorado. Photo credit: USBR

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke)

    The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a total of $37.2 million for 11 salinity control projects in Colorado and Wyoming through its Basinwide and Basin States Salinity Control Programs. When the salinity control features are installed, these projects will prevent approximately 23,426 tons of salt each year from entering the Colorado River.

    “The projects, when complete, will help provide higher quality water to municipal and agricultural water users in Arizona, Nevada, and California, preventing economic damages,” said Kib Jacobson, program manager for Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program.

    Economic damages caused by high salinity in the Colorado River water often means reduced crop yields for farmers, growing a more salt-tolerant but lower-value crop, or extra expenditure of water to remove salt from the soil. High salinity can also shorten the useful life of household appliances and increase water treatment and facility management costs.

    These projects were selected through a competitive process, open to the public. Reclamation solicits, selects and awards grants through funding opportunity announcements to projects sponsored by non-federal entities that control salt loading in the Upper Colorado River Basin. One of the primary selection criteria is the lowest cost per ton of salt controlled. The average cost per ton of salt for those awarded this year is $60.22. This is comparable to average cost per ton of salt of the 2017 FOA that averaged $58 per ton of salt.

    Project proposals often include funding from other sources, and this year an additional $8.7 million in funding will go toward the salinity control projects selected, for a total of $45.9 million.

    Reclamation will distribute the $37.2 million over the next 3 to 5 years: $33.7 million for projects in western Colorado and $3.4 million in southwestern Wyoming.

    To learn more about the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program and Reclamation’s Basinwide and Basin States Salinity Control Programs, visit http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/salinity. To learn more about the funding opportunity announcement process, visit grants.gov.

    A clear warning about the #ColoradoRiver — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    From Writers on the Range (Dave Marston):

    For the West this summer, the news about water was grim. In some parts of California, it didn’t rain for over 100 days. In western Colorado, the ground was so dry that runoff at first evaporated into the air. And in New Mexico and Nevada, the rains never came.

    Bill Hasencamp is the manager of California’s Metropolitan Water District, which provides treated water to 19 million people. What was most unfortunate, he said, was that, “the upper Colorado Basin had a 100 percent snowpack, yet runoff was only 54 percent of normal.” In 2018, a variation happened – light snow and little runoff, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

    What everyone wants to know, though, is who loses most if severe drought becomes the norm…

    What makes the Western Slope of Colorado most vulnerable to drought is a pact among seven states signed in 1922. It bound the states to give priority in a water crisis to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada, potentially leaving the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming high and dry.

    A crisis could be approaching. The two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River are both below 50 percent of capacity. If drought causes even more drastic drops, the Bureau of Reclamation could step in to prioritize the making of electricity by the hydro plants at lakes Mead and Powell. No one knows what BuRec would do, but it would call the shots and end current arrangements.

    Before that happened, California could “call” for the water it is owed — 4.4 million acre-feet annually. In that case, Wockner said, ranches and farms would be forced to go dry before city residents suffered.

    For now, California has avoided flexing its muscle to get its fair share of the Colorado River. To stop the Colorado River’s reservoirs from dropping to “dead pool” where power generation fails, California acts as if serious drought never ended. Since 2000, when the punishing drought began, California has cut annual water consumption by 30 percent, using both carrot and stick.

    California charges the highest water rates in the West and also pays for efficiency. Under a program called Cash for Grass, “A good size lawn removal can net a homeowner $30,000,” said Rebecca Kimitch, who works for the Metropolitan Water District.

    The state also invests in smarter irrigation, piping leaky ditches in the Imperial Valley, the Colorado River’s biggest irrigator. And it invests in desalinization plants and reuses some of its water via a program that was first derided as “toilet-to-tap.” More recently, statewide laws restrict personal daily consumption to a measly 55 gallons, declining to 50 gallons by 2030.

    As for the Upper Basin, states continue to push not for water conservation but for more dams and reservoirs that would drain water from the basin, such as the proposed St. George, Utah, Diversion from Lake Powell. John Fleck, Director of the water resources program at the University of New Mexico said, “it’s not a binary question of: Is there enough water? The way we need to think is that the system is at risk, and every time you take more water you create risks for existing users.”

    Meanwhile, California is king of the Colorado River and wants you to know it.

    “We’ll never give up that right – our first priority among all Colorado River water users — and never say we’ll give up that right,” Hassencamp told me. “ That’s our fallback position, though we’ll set it aside for now and try to work out a solution.”

    For Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, this is a clear warning. As Hassencamp put it: “We recognize the pie is shrinking for good.”

    Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range (writersontherange.org), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

    Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

    Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

    “We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

    As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

    In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

    Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

    The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

    “In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

    Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

    Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

    Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

    But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

    Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

    Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

    “Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

    With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

    Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

    Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

    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.

    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

    Water shortages in West more likely than previously thought — The Durango Herald #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Associated Press (Sam Metz) via The Durango Herald:

    After a relatively dry summer, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released models this week suggesting looming shortages in Lake Powell and Lake Mead – the reservoirs where Colorado River water is stored – are more likely than previously projected.

    Compared with an average year, only 55% of Colorado River water is flowing from the Rocky Mountains down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona line. Because of the below-average runoff, government scientists say the reservoirs are 12% more likely to fall to critically low levels by 2025 than they projected in the spring.

    “This is a pretty significant increase over what was projected in April due to the declining runoff this year,” hydrologist Carly Jerla said.

    The forecast could complicate already-fraught negotiations between Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico over future shares of the river that supply their cities and farms. Those talks will draw up new agreements by 2026 about use of the river that’s under siege from climate change and prolonged drought.

    Some urban and agricultural water users have been forced to conserve water to secure the river long term, but it remains overtapped. And as cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas keep growing, the region is only getting thirstier.

    “We know that warmer temperatures have contributed to the drought of the last 21 years, and we know that they have exacerbated it,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said.

    Unlike the 24-month projections that the agency uses to allocate water to the seven states and Mexico, the models released Tuesday simulate various weather and usage patterns to help water users prepare for different scenarios.

    Scientists use what’s called the Colorado River Simulation System to project future levels of the two reservoirs. They employed “stress testing” techniques based on river flows since 1988 to determine potential shortages if drought conditions persist.

    Arizona, Nevada and Mexico agreed to cuts for the first time under a drought contingency plan signed last year. The water level in Lake Mead sits at 1,083 feet. When projections drop below 1,075 feet, Nevada and Arizona will face deeper cuts mandated by the plan.

    Stress test models suggest a 32% chance Lake Mead will fall below 1,075 feet by 2022 and a 77% chance by 2025. The model’s median estimates indicate Lake Mead will drop by 35 feet by 2026.

    The water level in Lake Powell is at 3,598 feet, and estimates suggest it could drop by 50 feet by 2026.

    @USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

    Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a prize competition to improve short-term streamflow forecasts. Evolving data science such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance computing are starting to be used in streamflow forecasting. The Streamflow Forecast Rodeo competition seeks to spur innovation using these technologies.

    Reclamation is making up to $500,000 available through this prize competition.

    “Streamflow forecasts are integral to managing water,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Finding improvements to forecasting will allow water managers to better operate their facilities for high flows, mitigate drought impacts and maximize hydropower generation.”

    This competition delivers on the Department of the Interior and Reclamation’s commitment to improve water availability. It also supports the goals of the President’s memo on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.

    The competition will begin with a “pre-season” in August, followed by a year of real-time forecasting beginning October 1, 2020. The pre-season will allow competitors to build and refine their forecast methods. The real-time forecasting competition will have solvers forecast streamflow for the next 10 days, updated daily at multiple locations across the West, for the duration of the competition.

    Reclamation is partnering with the CEATI International’s Hydropower Operations and Planning Interest Group, NASA Tournament Lab and Topcoder on this crowdsourcing competition. Partnering with CEATI HOPIG includes a companion project that will provide benchmarks against which the competitors will be evaluated, as well as scoring of solver forecasts by RTI International. Other CEATI HOPIG members making contributions include Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, Tennessee Valley Authority, Hydro-Quebec, and Southern Company. To learn more about this competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/streamflowrodeo.html.

    Reclamation conducts prize competitions to spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Through prize competitions, Reclamation complements traditional design research to target the most persistent science and technology challenges. It has awarded more than $1,000,000 in prizes through 22 competitions in the past 6 years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

    @USBR invests $3.3 million for internal applied science projects to improve modeling, forecasting and data tools

    Photo shows the sediment laden Muddy Creek at its confluence with Anthracite Creek located 16 miles northeast of Paonia, Colorado. The two creeks form the North Fork of the Gunnison River. Understanding and estimating sedimentation in rivers and reservoirs is one of the applied science tools that Reclamation will fund with this announcement. Photo credit: USBR

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that Reclamation will invest $3.3 million in 21 projects for WaterSMART Internal Applied Science Tools that build technical capacity within Reclamation.

    “Information gained from these applied science tools will allow Reclamation and our partners to use best-available science for optimal water management under variable hydrologic conditions,” Commissioner Burman said. “The projects announced today will help inform specific water management decisions throughout the West.”

    […]

    A project will assist New Mexico and reservoirs throughout the West. It will receive $199,764 to implement a known model to simulate regional climate and physical processes to estimate daily, monthly and annual evaporation across Elephant Butte Reservoir. These estimates will be compared to alternative estimates. The results will be used by the Albuquerque Area Office to support operations, to facilitate method comparison and identify future planning, operational and research needs on the topic. It will help with the development of alternative evaporation estimation techniques, production of daily evaporation time series at a reservoir and a broadening of weather prediction modeling capabilities.

    Another project in Arizona will receive $200,000 to enhance precipitation and soil monitoring information in the Aravaipa watershed northeast of Tucson. Currently, there are only two weather stations within the watershed. The project includes the installation of two stations to monitor precipitation and soil moisture, which will better inform the Natural Resources Conservation Service forecasting models and United States Geological Survey surface water models. The work proposed in this project will help Reclamation and local partners predict flood risk, drought, erosion, and water quality concerns and better plan mitigation of these water management issues.

    A third project will receive $120,000 to do predictive modeling to generate maps of invasive quagga and zebra mussel risk. The results will allow Reclamation to dedicate limited resources to high-risk locations and prepare facilities for potential control costs.

    To view a complete list of projects, please visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience.

    Applied Science Tools are part of the WaterSMART Program. Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with states, tribes and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit http://www.usbr.gov/watersmart to learn more.

    @USBR released its #ColoradoRiver Simulation System modeling results [September 15, 2020] #COriver #aridification

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

    Click here to go to the Bureau of Reclamation website for all the details:

    Over the next 5 years, the models indicate continued drought and an increased chance of potential water shortages by 2025

    Projections of future conditions of the Colorado River system are updated at least twice annually in January and August. The modeling approach and assumptions are included below along with the results of the most recent projection.

    The most recent projection of future Colorado River system conditions was produced in August of 2020.

    Navajo Dam operations update: 1,000 CFS in #SanJuanRiver critical habitat area September 16, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Swim class on the San Juan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a cool forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Wednesday, September 16th, 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.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump down to 800 CFS September 12, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to a cooler forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Saturday, September 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

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

    Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aspinall Unit Operations update: Turning down to 450 CFS in Black Canyon September 3, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1500 cfs to 1450 cfs on Thursday, September 3rd. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% 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 after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    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 September.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Aspinall Unit Operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon August 31, 2020 #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 1600 cfs to 1500 cfs on Monday, August 31st. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    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 September.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 850 CFS, August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Monday, August 31st, starting at 12:00 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.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

    @USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

    Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a prize competition to improve short-term streamflow forecasts. Evolving data science such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance computing are starting to be used in streamflow forecasting. The Streamflow Forecast Rodeo competition seeks to spur innovation using these technologies.

    Reclamation is making up to $500,000 available through this prize competition.

    “Streamflow forecasts are integral to managing water,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Finding improvements to forecasting will allow water managers to better operate their facilities for high flows, mitigate drought impacts and maximize hydropower generation.”

    This competition delivers on the Department of the Interior and Reclamation’s commitment to improve water availability. It also supports the goals of the President’s memo on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.

    The competition will begin with a “pre-season” in August, followed by a year of real-time forecasting beginning October 1, 2020. The pre-season will allow competitors to build and refine their forecast methods. The real-time forecasting competition will have solvers forecast streamflow for the next 10 days, updated daily at multiple locations across the West, for the duration of the competition.

    Reclamation is partnering with the CEATI International’s Hydropower Operations and Planning Interest Group, NASA Tournament Lab and Topcoder on this crowdsourcing competition. Partnering with CEATI HOPIG includes a companion project that will provide benchmarks against which the competitors will be evaluated, as well as scoring of solver forecasts by RTI International. Other CEATI HOPIG members making contributions include Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, Tennessee Valley Authority, Hydro-Quebec, and Southern Company. To learn more about this competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/streamflowrodeo.html.

    Reclamation conducts prize competitions to spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Through prize competitions, Reclamation complements traditional design research to target the most persistent science and technology challenges. It has awarded more than $1,000,000 in prizes through 22 competitions in the past 6 years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to turn down to 900 CFS August 29, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Marc Miller):

    In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Saturday, August 29th, 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 has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

    #Drought conditions take their toll on Blue Mesa and other area reservoirs — The Montrose Daily Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Blue Mesa Reservoir September 2017

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    As drought conditions hammer the state, area reservoirs are shrinking, with Blue Mesa predicted to end the year at 23 feet below its winter target.

    Despite the past winter season bringing nearly average snowpack, runoff throughout the Gunnison Basin fell well below average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review, provided Aug. 20.

    Warm weather brought the snowpack off the mountains early and summer monsoons failed to provide much of a meaningful drink, while extraordinarily hot, dry conditions persist.

    For the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s storage accounts in area reservoirs, conditions are mixed.

    Taylor Park Reservoir

    Taylor Park Reservoir, which is at about 72 percent of full capacity, is OK for the association, manager Steve Anderson said. The UVWUA’s storage account there is full, with only about 20,000 acre feet used.

    “That’s not the case with our storage in Ridgway (Reservoir). We’ll use all our storage this year out of Ridgway. We’ll have to replenish that one with the winter,” Anderson said.

    Ridgway Dam

    The UVWUA has been running its delivery of water to shareholders at 80 percent. “Which, in a year like we’ve had, is good,” Anderson said. “With the limited supply, we’ve managed to meet demand at 80 percent.”

    The largest impoundment managed in the Aspinall Unit, Blue Mesa Reservoir, peaked at 604,000 acre feet, which is 25 feet below full.

    As of Aug. 20, the reservoir was at 521,000 acre feet and peak flow targets for the Black Canyon and lower Gunnison River at Whitewater were met, although the base flow targets for Whitewater were lowered under drought rule provisions.

    Aspinall Unit

    Paonia Reservoir had shriveled to 2 percent of full capacity, while Silver Jack was reported at 46 percent of full.

    Paonia is basically empty, but that isn’t unusual, given the dry year, BuRec hydrologist Erik Knight said.

    Paonia Reservoir

    “They chose to use their full supply of reservoir water as best they could, but being a small reservoir, sometimes it only lasts until August. So it’s not surprising, at least to us or them, that it’s gone already,” he said.

    The reservoir is expected to stay empty as long as more senior water right priorities keep the call on the North Fork of the Gunnison, Knight said.

    Other reservoirs in the Aspinall fared better, with Ridgway showing at 71 percent, Crystal at 88 percent and Morrow Point at 94 percent.

    Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review noted the early melt-off of the snowpack. Although rains at the start of June kept flows into reservoirs in the Aspinall Unit elevated longer than was expected, those levels plunged to “much below normal” by mid-month. Monsoon activity was anemic, providing “almost no precipitation this summer,” the report also said.

    Since runoff ended, hot and dry conditions have prevailed, with near-record dry conditions occurring in April and May. Although those actual conditions caused a higher than normal forecast error, actual runoff volume still fell within the lower range of predictions.

    The National Weather Service’s August weather outlook did not hold encouraging news. It found a high probability of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures heading into fall…

    The U.S. Drought Monitor shows all of Colorado in at least moderate drought, with Montrose and surrounding counties in either severe or extreme drought.

    The monitor on Aug. 20 noted temperature-breaking records in cities across the West, as well as massive wildfires that broke out in California. The monitor’s report, too, calls the monsoon season a “bust” for much of the Southwest.

    Study Finds Water Levels Average, Not Enough To Replenish Reservoirs — #Wyoming Public Media #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #LakeMead #LakePowell

    From Wyoming Public Media (Ashley Picco ne):

    A study by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the current water levels in the Colorado River Basin will only postpone water shortages.

    The study found that water levels in western reservoirs this year are similar to the past few years. John Berggren, a water policy analyst at Western Resource Advocates, said the overall trend in water levels over the past 30 years has been downward.

    Because water levels have been in decline, Berggren said one good snow year is not enough to replenish the reservoirs. He said this year will only postpone water shortages by a few years…

    Berggren said dry soil, warmer air, and earlier blooms use up more water that doesn’t end up in the reservoirs.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases to turn down 50 CFS on August 17, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1650 cfs to 1600 cfs on Monday, August 17th. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

    There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 650 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    @USBR announces 2021 #ColoradoRiver operating conditions #COriver #aridification

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation today released the Colorado River Basin August 2020 24-Month Study, which sets annual operations for Lake Mead and Lake Powell in 2021. Based on projections in the Study, Lake Mead will operate in the Normal Condition in Calendar Year 2021 and Lake Powell will operate in the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2021 (October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021).

    The August 2020 24-Month Study projects:

    – Lake Mead’s Jan. 1, 2021, elevation to be 1,085.28 feet, about 10 feet above the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet.

    – Lake Powell’s Jan. 1, 2021, elevation to be 3,591.60 feet — 109 feet below full and 101 feet above minimum power pool.

    Because Lake Mead is projected to begin the year below the Drought Contingency Plan elevation threshold of 1,090 feet, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will make water savings contributions to Lake Mead in calendar year 2021. Those Drought Contingency Plans, adopted by the seven Basin States, the U.S. federal government and Mexico in 2019, continue to proactively reduce risk in the basin.

    “After a promising start to the snow season last winter, spring and summer turned very dry,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Thankfully, our reservoirs continue to do what they were built to do and are providing reliable water by holding it over from wetter years.”

    The Upper Basin experienced a dry spring in 2020, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 52% of average. The projected water year 2020 unregulated inflow into Lake Powell—the amount that would flow to Lake Mead without the benefit of storage behind Glen Canyon Dam—is only 58% of average. Total Colorado River system storage today is 51% of capacity, down from 55% at this time last year. Drought contingency plans are proactively addressing risks to the system from the ongoing 21-year drought.

    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.

    “This scientific expertise is key,” Commissioner Burman continued. “It helps us understand what’s happening in the basin now and how changes to climate and demand are likely to impact the river in the future so we can best operate our reservoirs to protect water reliability for generations to come.”

    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 Study, to make annual operational determinations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead through close coordination with water and power customers throughout the basin.