Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 600 CFS August 3, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Monday, August 3rd, 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 base flows 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. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

A boater, John Dufficy, makes his way down the lower end of the San Juan River toward the take-out, in 2014. Photo Credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

@USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2020 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 5, 2020, from 6:30-8:00 pm using Webex (Webex is a web-based platform that hosts online meetings with HD video, audio and screen sharing.)

To join from a mobile device (attendees only):
Dial: 1-415-527-5035, 1992510741## US Toll

To join by phone:
Dial: 1-415-527-5035 US Toll

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2020 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District and Garfield County leases of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 290-4895, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Navajo Dam operations update: Decrease to 500 CFS July 28, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Tuesday, July 28th, 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 base flows 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. 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: 700 CFS in the #SanJuan River #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Navajo Dam spillway via Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing flows and a forecast wet weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an decrease in the release from Navajo Dam to 700 cfs on Thursday, July 23rd, 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 base flows 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. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 1050 CFS through the Gunnison Tunnel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1550 cfs to 1450 cfs on Tuesday, July 21st. Releases are being adjusted to maintain flows near the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The July 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 57% of average for April-July inflows.

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 550 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.

Grand opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in Colorado 1909. Photo credit USBR.

First public input session for the #LakePowellPipeline recap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Explorer John Wesley Powell and Paiute Chief Tau-Gu looking over the Virgin River in 1873. Photo credit: NPS

From the St. George Spectrum (Sam Gross):

The public on Tuesday had its first opportunity to pepper officials with questions about the Lake Powell Pipeline’s recently-released draft environmental impact statement, a 313-page document from the Bureau of Reclamation examining how the controversial project could impact a myriad of resources in several scenarios.

That draft statement, which will be made final later this year after a period of public comment, looks at two proposed alignments of the approximately 140-mile pipeline that roughly straddles the Utah and Arizona borders.

It also weighs one option where no pipeline is built, and another where water in the Virgin River Basin — Washington County’s only source of water — is managed and stretched to support substantial population growth over the next several decades, possibly to the detriment of the river itself…

Among the questions posed by the approximately 130 participants who logged onto the meeting, held entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many centered on issues of climate change, the project’s impact on the already heavily-taxed Colorado River and how the pipeline would impact sensitive cultural and ecological sites along its 140-mile corridor…

One person asked Rick Baxter, Program Manager with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, if the agency considered “discouraging” the projected population growth driving the need for the pipeline.

Baxter, whose agency is impartial to whether the project gets approved or not, deferred that question to local and state policymakers.

Out of the two alignments of the pipeline being weighed, one, deemed the “Southern Alignment,” is favored by the bureau.

That alignment would begin near the Glen Canyon Dam on the west side of Lake Powell, cross in and out of Utah and Arizona, skirt around the southern edge of the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation and terminate at Sand Hollow Reservoir.

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

Its detour around the reservation means the Southern Alignment also has to pass through the Kanab Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern, a unique and fragile habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.

The Bureau of Land Management’s resource management plan for Kanab Creek currently does not allow for the pipeline to pass through there, so officials would need to amend that plan.

The other alignment roughly follows the Southern Alignment, but passes through the Kaibab Paiute Reservation and avoids the Kanab Creek protected area.

Baxter said the pros and cons of the two alignments are comparable; one doesn’t clearly stand above the other. But the reason the Southern Alignment is favored is because the project’s proponents haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the tribe.

Baxter was also pressed on why a “conservation alternative,” which would implement an aggressive conservation plan and develop local water resources, wasn’t considered.

The biggest reason a plan like that was passed over is it didn’t tap into a second water source outside the Virgin River Basin, which is one of the primary goals of the pipeline project — an effort to protect the water supply in the event something were to happen to one of the sources, Baxter explained.

“You can conserve your way to a certain point,” he said. “And even if you were to try to conserve your way to a certain point, at some point, if anything ever happened to that one source water managers would look for multiple different ways to protect the folks they’re providing water for.”

Map of the Virgin-Muddy River watershed in UT, NV and AZ in the United States, part of the Colorado River Basin. By Shannon – Background and river course data from http://www2.demis.nl/mapserver/mapper.asp, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9917538

Aspinall Unit operations update: 750 CFS in Black Canyon #runoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased to 1650 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th. Releases are being adjusted to maintain flows near the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The June 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 59% of average for April-July inflows.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for June through August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 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 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

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

Navajo Dam operations update

Update: From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Wednesday, July 1st 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 base flows 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. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th 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.

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Aspinall Unit Operations Update

Aspinall Unit April – July, 2020 Forecasted Inflow

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir
Current Forecast (June 1) = 395,000 AF (59% of average)

Blue Mesa Reservoir current conditions
Content = 595,000 AF (72% full)
Elevation = 7491.7 ft
Inflow = 2200 cfs

Crystal Release = 1450 cfs
Gunnison Tunnel diversion = 1050 cfs
Gunnison River flow = 430 cfs

Spring Operations Summary

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

Hydrologic Category = Moderately Dry
Peak Flow = 4510 cfs
Duration at Peak Flow = 1 day

Baseflow Target: June/July/Aug = 1050 cfs

(Point of measurement is the Gunnison River near Grand Junction streamgage, commonly called the Gunnison River at Whitewater)

Black Canyon Water Right

Peak Flow = 2840 cfs (24 hour duration)
Shoulder Flow Target = 300 cfs (May 1 – July 25)

(Point of measurement is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park)

Projected Operations

Gunnison River flows (Black Canyon/Gunnison Gorge)
Currently around 400 cfs, possibly increasing to 600-700 cfs during July-August
Projected Blue Mesa Reservoir maximum fill = 620,000 AF at 7495 ft elevation
Projected Blue Mesa Reservoir conditions on Dec 31 = 473,000 AF at 7475 ft elevation

Click here to read the current Aspinall Unit Forecast.

Aspinall Unit dams

“Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available” — Don Anderson #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Humpback chub are one of four federally endangered fish species that rely on habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Recent abundant flows of Colorado River water between Palisade and the Gunnison River confluence during another spring runoff season weren’t entirely the work of Mother Nature.

They also were the product of a coordinated, voluntary effort by operators of upstream reservoirs to coordinate releases of water into the river to bolster peak flows in that stretch of river and aid in the recovery of endangered fish.

This was the 12th coordinated release since the first one occurred in 1997, and the fifth one in the last six years. The coordinated releases occur as conditions warrant and allow each year, to flush out fine sediment in gravel beds that serve as spawning habitat for rare fish. They also improve habitat for insects and other macroinvertebrates that fish feed on…

The upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are home to four endangered fish. Don Anderson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee who serves as the instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a public-private partnership, said that what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the Gunnison River confluence is primarily used by two of the endangered fish, the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. But a third endangered species, the bonytail, sometimes makes use of the stretch. And a fourth, the humpback chub, which favors deep, rocky, fast-flowing stretches in places such as Westwater Canyon downstream, also indirectly benefits from water releases primarily aimed at bolstering flows in the 15-Mile Reach.

The 15-Mile Reach experiences less of a spring runoff peak than some other parts of the Colorado River because of Grand Valley irrigation diversions just upstream. The goal of this year’s coordinated releases was to achieve daily flows averaging at least 12,900 cubic feet per second upstream at Cameo, an amount that was nearly achieved on some days last week. At times during a couple of days flows exceeded 13,000 cfs, Michelle Garrison, senior water resource specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told entities involved in the coordinated release program in a conference call Wednesday. She said the effort was a success, and Anderson agreed. He told participants that without getting hung up on exact numbers, flows at that level, which meant peak flows of about 12,000 cfs in the 15-Mile Reach, do good work for the endangered fish and their habitat.

The effort involved in part coordinated releases by the Bureau of Reclamation from Green Mountain Reservoir, Denver Water from Williams Fork Reservoir, and the Colorado River District from Wolford Mountain Reservoir. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District also was a participant.

“Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available,” Anderson told reservoir operators…

The coordinated releases can have benefits far beyond the 15-Mile Reach. Anderson said this year’s coordinated releases helped downstream in the Moab area by topping off flows into a wetland that is a potentially valuable razorback sucker nursery. Also, Utah state wildlife officials have reported concerns about seeing smallmouth bass, which prey on endangered fish, possibly spawning for the first time below Westwater Canyon. The coordinated releases may have helped combat that due to the higher and faster flows, cooler water temperatures and increased water turbidity.

Coordinated runoff flows are just one water-delivery effort targeting the 15-Mile Reach. Each year releases of dedicated endangered fish water are made to boost low flows in the reach later in the summer. Also, releases sometimes are made around early April to supplement flows in the reach after irrigation diversions have begun but before the river levels gain from spring runoff. This year was the first year such releases occurred after stored water was specifically held over from last year with the primary goal of possibly serving that purpose.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says various recovery efforts appear to be working, with scientific analysis showing the razorback sucker and humpback chub could be reclassified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

Roberto Salmón, Mexican Commissioner, Steps Down From Mexican Section Of The International Boundary Waters Commision #ColoradoRiver #COriver #RioGrande #aridification

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:

After 11 years of service on the Mexico-United States International Boundary and Water Commission, Roberto Salmón Castelo has stepped down from his position as Mexican Commissioner.

A graduate of the University of Arizona with a master of science degree in agricultural economics, Salmón was appointed to the position of Mexico IBWC Commissioner on April 15, 2009.

In his time with the Commission, which has the responsibility for applying the boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, the two nations have taken huge steps forward in assuring that commitments to the primary binational water agreement in the Southwest – the 1944 Mexico-U.S. Water Treaty – were faithfully upheld.

“It was pleasure working with Commissioner Salmon,” said Jayne Harkins, Commissioner, United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission.

“He was visionary and worked to find benefits to both countries on international projects. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Thanks to a minute to the Treaty backed by Salmón in 2010, Arizona and the other Basin States were able to participate in binational discussions on Colorado River matters. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke observed that the personal relationships that developed from those discussions helped pave the way for future binational agreement.

“Commissioner Salmón recognized the value of personal relationships and worked to develop trust among colleagues on both sides of the border,” recalled Buschatzke.

“That work was a key component in successfully negotiating the minutes and managing the Colorado River.”

Commisioner Salmon with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, at a November 2012 in San Diego (Tami A. Heilemann — Office of Communication, U.S. Department of Interior)

In November 2012, Salmón joined in San Diego with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other representatives of both countries at an official signing ceremony of Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty. The ceremony capped three years of work to reach an agreement on a set of cooperative measures for management of the Colorado River system lasting through 2017.

Commissioner Salmón observed at the time that the agreement paved the way for cooperation that can “guarantee sustainability” in the border region, particularly on future water supply for Mexican border communities.

Salmón again was on hand at the U.S. “entry into force” event in September 2017 in Santa Fe, which constituted the final flourish of the intense binational negotiations over Minute 323, the successor update to Minute 319.

Minute 323 established a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.

Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River system in the U.S.

The updated agreement also opened up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead. ICS is playing an important role in helping to keep the reservoir from descending to dangerously unstable surface levels.

Salmón’s work on the Commission extended to developments that directly impacted Arizona’s capacity to express its interests in Colorado River matters.

In 2010, he participated in treaty negotiations that produced Minute 317, known as the “Conceptual Framework for U.S. Mexico Discussions on Colorado River Cooperative Actions.” It established a binational process for coordination on Colorado River matters and expressly called for Basin State participation.

Also in 2010, Salmón negotiated with his U.S. counterparts on the enactment of Minute 318, which called for the creation of deferred water deliveries to Mexico after infrastructure damage caused by the 2010 Mexicali earthquake.

Minute 318 allowed Mexico to implement a form of its own ICS, then called “deferred deliveries.” Because Mexico could not beneficially use water as a result of extensive earthquake damage, the water was saved in Lake Mead for Mexico to use in future years.

In an interview with the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center published shortly after his appointment to the Commission in 2009, Salmón hailed the level of cooperation on water issues between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly through the IBWC.

“Although there have been rough times in the relationship, the IBWC has been able to succeed, to the benefit of both countries,” he said.

“(T)here is an accumulated knowledge and methodologies developed for dealing with delicate issues that have worked in the past, and still work in the present.”

Salmón replaced Arturo Herrera who died in a plane crash in late 2008 along with his U.S. counterpart, Carlos Marin, while flying over flooded areas near Ojinaga, Mexico.

Salmón’s experience in water and agriculture is extensive.

Prior to assuming his position with the Commission, he served as Northwest Regional Manager of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua), known as CONAGUA, and covering the state of Sonora and part of the state of Chihuahua where the Yaqui and Mayo river basins originate.

His duties with CONAGUA were sweeping. The federal institution deals with all aspects of water in Mexico. Among its many missions, CONAGUA administers water rights, and constructs, manages, operates and maintains reservoirs throughout the country. CONAGUA also manages irrigation districts and units.

The organization also is involved in the extensive negotiations occurring among the many stakeholders and interest groups in Mexico concerned with water issues – tasks that, in later years, would provide great preparation for Salmón’s duties with the Commission.

#Colorado-Big Thompson operations update

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

Olympus Dam near Estes Park, Colorado impounds Lake Estes. The lake is the afterbay for Estes Powerplant, a hydroelectric powerplant that can produce up to 45 MW each hour. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water from the west slope fuels the Estes Powerplant. Project water discharged from Estes Powerplant is diverted from Lake Estes, routed to additional hydroelectric powerplants on the Front Range and is then stored in Carter Lake or Horsetooth Reservoir. Project water is rarely released from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River.

This is the season for snow-melt runoff into Lake Estes. In the past 10 days, natural inflow into Lake Estes has increased from a low of about 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) to a peak flow of about 1,020 cfs. Currently, natural inflow is decreasing (around 700 cfs); however, warmer or wetter days could result in natural inflow increasing again and the recent peak inflow could be surpassed.

Olympus Dam is not an authorized flood control structure. As such, the natural snow-melt or precipitation runoff that flows into Lake Estes is released from Olymus Dam into the Big Thompson River. Under normal operations, Olympus Dam does provide the benefit of shaving off the peak inflow. One way it does so can be explained using recent operations. During two days this week when peak inflow into Lake Estes was about 1,000 cfs, maximum release from the dam was 880 cfs. This is because outflows are generally the day’s average. Outflow does not follow the within-day variation, which ranged from 714 cfs to 1,020 cfs within a 24-hour period. Releases from Olympus Dam in the near term will be driven by whatever Nature provides from the headwaters of the Big Thompson watershed.

As the snow-melt runoff season progresses, Reclamation will provide information to the public regarding expected flows released from Olympus Dam.

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update #runoff #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation [May 6, 2020] (Elizabeth Jones):

Green Mountain Reservoir is decreasing release to the Blue River. Green Mountain Dam will adjust release from 1,450 cfs to approximately 150 cfs in multiple adjustments over the next three days. Green Mountain Reservoir is discontinuing release for support of the Coordinated Reservoir Operations Program. No main stem Colorado River water rights administration is in effect. Green Mountain Powerplant will use all release for power generation while exercising the 1935 Direct Flow Hydropower Water Right. Green Mountain Reservoir is storing water under the 1935 First Fill Storage Right.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you.

Elizabeth E. Jones | Public Affairs | Bureau of Reclamation | Missouri Basin Region | 406.247.7607

Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

#Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Brittany Jones):

The Bureau of Reclamation will increase diversion of Colorado River water to Horsetooth Reservoir at midnight tonight. The change will require a decrease in the Big Thompson River diverted for power generation at Olympus Dam.

Reclamation is currently releasing 125 cfs to the Big Thompson River from Olympus Dam. The flow will increase to 265 cfs beginning tonight. Our current forecast indicates that runoff into Lake Estes will substantially increase over the next week. It is possible the Olympus Dam required release to the Big Thompson River will exceed 600 cfs.

Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

@USBR: Aspinall Unit Spring Operations update

Questions simmer about #LakePowell’s future as #drought, #climatechange point to a drier #ColoradoRiver Basin — @WaterEdFdn #COriver #aridification

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western Water in-depth: A key reservoir for Colorado River storage program, Powell faces demands from stakeholders in upper and lower basins with different water needs as runoff is forecast to decline

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

Sprawled across a desert expanse along the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high bathtub ring etched on its sandstone walls belie the challenges of a major Colorado River reservoir at less than half-full. How those challenges play out as demand grows for the river’s water amid a changing climate is fueling simmering questions about Powell’s future.

The reservoir, a central piece of the storage program for the Colorado River, provides water, hydropower and recreation to millions of people. It was designed to ensure that Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico can meet their legal obligation to let enough water pass to Arizona, California and Nevada, as well as supplying water to Mexico.

But persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin over the last 20 years and the need to keep Lake Mead, Powell’s twin reservoir downstream, from reaching critically low levels have left Lake Powell consistently about half-full. Some environmental advocacy groups, aiming to restore Glen Canyon, have called for the dam’s decommissioning.

Water managers say that’s unlikely, given Lake Powell’s key role in meeting downstream obligations and the interest of some upstream who hope to tap its waters. Recent studies point to warmer and drier conditions ahead, with reduced runoff into the river. A rewrite of the river’s operating guidelines is on the horizon, and already there is talk about how those guidelines could affect Powell.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead currently adhere to an operations protocol that determines release volumes from Lake Powell to Lake Mead and how Lower Basin water users enjoy the benefits of surplus conditions or the shared sacrifice of delivery cuts during shortage. The rules for these scenarios are found in the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans and international agreements with Mexico.

Chief among the Guidelines’ provisions is better coordination of the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead each year.

As key stakeholders prepare to forge the next set of management guidelines that will update those from 2007, there may be a reassessment of Lake Powell’s operations so that it can take on the coming challenges.

“I think an honest and thorough look into the future of Lake Powell is absolutely warranted,” said Matt Rice, director of American Rivers Colorado Basin Program.

Rice, part of a February forum on the future of Lake Powell, said the crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic shows how rare “black swan” events can emerge and shatter existing management plans, such as those for watersheds.

The dry conditions have prompted Colorado River water agencies to undertake unprecedented, collaborative efforts to ensure water supplies are not disrupted. In Las Vegas, for instance, rebates to homeowners by the Southern Nevada Water Authority have converted 193 million square feet of thirsty grass lawns into water-efficient landscaping.

Staying ahead of future crises is critical, and officials are informally discussing the parameters of the next set of guidelines. How those talks affect future water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be significant.

A Reliable Lake Powell

Conditions on the river are never static. In some years, a large snowpack produces voluminous runoff, but the science is showing a pattern of decreased flow from tributaries into the mainstem Colorado River. Earlier this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center projected inflow to Lake Powell from April to July would be 65 percent of average.

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. Bureau of Reclamation via The Water Education Foundation)

Upper Basin users, meanwhile, want to access their share of Colorado River water to meet growing demands. In Utah, a 140-mile pipeline proposal would divert as much as 86,000 acre-feet annually from Lake Powell to growing communities in the state’s southwest corner. Utah officials believe the $1 billion plan is necessary for places such as St. George that are bumping against their limits of water supply.

Furthermore, Utah officials say the state is well within its right to access water it has rights to.

“Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 [Colorado River] Compact signatory states,” Eric Millis, then-director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said in a 2019 statement by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. 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.

Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation is also looking at tapping Lake Powell water via pipeline so it can supplement limited groundwater supplies.

“The continued existence of Glen Canyon Dam is imperative if the Navajo Nation is to obtain a reliable supply of water from the Colorado River,” said Stanley Pollack, an attorney for the tribe. “A water line only works if you have Lake Powell.”

In the Upper Basin, there is concern that Lake Powell has been increasingly called on to help Lake Mead, with not much to show for it.

“We are not improving the health of Lake Mead and … until and unless the Lower Basin addresses its overuse … Mead is not going to improve and it’s just going to bring the elevations of Powell down,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The storage/release paradigm between the two reservoirs has caused the most tension since adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, said Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The Upper Basin recognizes its obligation to let enough river flow pass to the Lower Basin, but occasional machinations with Lake Mead’s storage can be touchy. “Sometimes water is moved from Lake Mead downstream to other reservoirs or water users in a different pattern or timing, prompting concern from people in the Upper Basin that its neighbors seek to game the system,” she said.

Jeff Kightlinger, general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California via Twitter.

The largest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead receives the lion’s share of attention because of the efforts to keep it viable and supplying water to the many farms and urban areas – Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, among them – south of Hoover Dam. In 2015, a third, deeper intake was completed at the lake to keep water flowing to Las Vegas’ 2 million residents and 40 million annual visitors. The lake supplies about 25 percent of the water needs of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – even more during drought.

Having a reliable Lake Powell to back up Lake Mead is crucial especially during a period of uncertainty, Lower Basin users say.

“As we get into flashier, more volatile hydrology cycles with climate change we can likely see the occasional huge storm years with less snow and more rain,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan Water District, the largest supplier of treated water in the United States. “Having readily available storage capacity for the occasional mega year will be extremely valuable.”

‘The Most Wonderful Lake in the World’

Controversial from the start, Lake Powell remains polarizing to some degree. Former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Floyd Dominy, who spearheaded construction of Glen Canyon Dam that created Lake Powell in the early 1960s, said in a 2000 interview that Powell is “the most wonderful lake in the world [and] my crowning jewel.”

At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

Former Reclamation Commissioner Dan Beard, who served in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, opposes the continued existence of Glen Canyon Dam. Because climate change and further reductions in runoff will cause Lake Powell to keep dropping, he said, stakeholders should focus their energy on saving Lake Mead.

“Lake Mead is the heartbeat of the Colorado River,” Beard said. “It is a vital and important part of the delivery system for water to the Lower Basin states and to Mexico. It is a critical facility and yet it continues to decline.”

Beard is a board member with the advocacy group Save the Colorado, which, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers last year sued the federal government to force examination of climate change science in the management of Glen Canyon Dam.

The litigants say Reclamation and the Department of the Interior should conduct a revised analysis and include a full range of alternatives based on predicted climate change-related impacts on the flow of water in the Colorado River.

“Such a full range must include an alternative that incorporates the decommissioning and removal of Glen Canyon Dam because the projections from the best available climate science indicate there likely will not be sufficient flow in the Colorado River to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam operational,” a press release accompanying the lawsuit said.

At capacity, Lake Powell holds more than 26 million acre-feet of water that originates as snowpack from the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. That water gets released to Lake Mead via the Grand Canyon and helps supply the Lower Basin — Arizona, Nevada, California – as well as Mexico.

At 710 feet, Glen Canyon Dam is the second highest concrete-arch dam in the United States. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

However, since 2002 Lake Powell’s water elevation has rarely gone above its historical 50-year annual average of 3,639 feet above sea level, the point at which it contains about 15.8 million acre-feet of water. The operating system is flawed, some experts say.

Two years ago, the Colorado River Research Group, a highly respected group of Colorado River scholars including Colorado State University’s Brad Udall and University of Arizona’s Karl Flessa, produced a publication called It’s Hard to Fill a Bathtub When the Drain Is Wide Open: The Case of Lake Powell. In it, they noted that the system is stacked against Lake Powell in part because of an overallocated Colorado River system.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead operate under multiple laws and agreements that are collectively known as the Law of the River. Under the rules, Lake Powell is obligated to release a certain amount of water each year to Lake Mead for the Lower Basin states.

The Lower Basin states, however, collectively draw about 1.2 million acre-feet more water from Lake Mead than Lake Powell releases in a normal year. The result is a so-called “structural deficit.”

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission, is critical of the 2007 operating guidelines (Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

“The structural deficit is the true villain in this story, mixing with the operational rules to drain Lake Powell,” the Colorado River Research Group publication said. “If storage in Lake Powell cannot rebound in an era where the Upper Basin consumes less than two‐thirds of its legal apportionment, then the crisis is already real.”

Answers, the authors say, lie partly in the ability of Lake Powell storage to recover in wet years, reducing use in the Upper Basin and re-thinking exiting reservoir management. “Lakes Mead and Powell, after all, are essentially one giant reservoir and … thinking of these facilities as two distinct reservoirs, one for the benefit of the Upper Basin and one for the Lower, now seems outdated,” the publication said.

Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission, said the existing operating guidelines leave room for improvement. “I feel very strongly that as long as our reservoir operations are coordinated … the future of Lake Powell hinges on the future of Lake Mead,” she said. “We need to find a more equitable mechanism by which reservoir operations are coordinated.”

Marlon Duke, spokesman with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages the river, acknowledged that Lake Powell draws scrutiny.

“I often get asked, ‘What’s the deal with Lake Powell?’” he said. “Shouldn’t we just drain it or is it really doing what it is supposed to do?”

Jack Schmidt, with Utah State University, analyzed the concept of “Fill Mead First.” (Source: Jack Schmidt via the Water Education Foundation)

The answer, Duke said, means looking at the lake’s performance and how it has met expectations during difficult times. Powell was near capacity in 2000. Then a period of record-setting dryness set in. Through it all, enough water was released to meet the Upper Basin’s obligation to the Lower Basin.

People in the respective basins view Lake Powell and Lake Mead with a certain degree of ownership, and perspectives vary. Upper Basin interests generally want a more robust Lake Powell. South of the lake, the desire to tap into it further is not uncommon in the Lower Basin. The degree of change, ultimately, will likely fall between those sentiments.

All of that notwithstanding, it’s important to understand the two reservoirs are tightly woven, said Jack Schmidt, the Janet Quinney Lawson chair of Colorado River studies at Utah State University.

“It’s one big system and whether Powell [or Mead] goes up or down …those are intentional societal decisions of management that have little to do with climate change,” he said.

Schmidt co-authored a 2020 white paper, Managing the Colorado River for an Uncertain Future, which cautions that future flows will be “lower, more variable and more uncertain.”

Schmidt in 2016 analyzed the concept of “Fill Mead First,” the idea of establishing Lake Mead as the primary water storage facility on the mainstem river and relegating Lake Powell to a secondary storage role when Mead is full. The savings in evaporation and seepage losses would be relatively small, Schmidt said, but the idea shouldn’t be completely discounted.

Fill Mead First “generates passions and emotions,” Schmidt said. It is embraced by some as a restorative opportunity for Glen Canyon. “Then there is the world of traditional water managers who say that’s a ludicrous idea and we don’t pay any attention.”

The disparate views “live in two worlds completely.”

But Kightlinger, with Metropolitan Water District, discounts the idea of draining Powell. “Politically, I don’t see any real support or push for a fill Mead first strategy,” he said. “Powell, even less full going forward, remains a valuable piece of very expensive infrastructure that will remain part of the Colorado River storage pool for decades to come.”

Brad Udall: “…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

A Warmer and Drier Basin

A small army of water professionals and experts constantly analyze the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to 40 million people and fuels a huge agricultural economy.

For years, scientists have looked at the drying conditions of the Colorado River Basin, employing techniques such as tree ring sampling. Analysis of that method has shown that the years 1905 to 1922 – just as the river’s waters were being allocated among the states — were exceptionally wet.

In 2012, Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study confirmed there are likely to be significant shortfalls in coming decades between projected water supplies and demands in the Colorado River Basin. Since the study, a steady stream of research points to warmer and drier conditions.

Pearce Ferry Rapid prevents predators such as catfish, bass and pike from getting upriver and destroying native fish. (Source: Cory Nielson, Arizona Game and Fish Department via the Water Education Foundation)

In April, a study published in the journal Science said the current dry period in the Southwest is one for the record books, and that its “megadrought-like trajectory” is fueled by natural variability superimposed on human-caused warming. Also in April, experts with the Western Water Assessment, whose researchers work out of the University of Colorado, Boulder and several other institutions in the region, noted that the severity and length of drought conditions can be difficult to quantify.

“This is especially true for the Colorado River system, in which total consumptive use plus other depletions typically exceeds supply, such that under even average hydrologic conditions the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell will tend to decline,” according to Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science, the study conducted by the Western Water Assessment.

The continued variability justifies a robust Lake Powell, said Haas, with the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“We know that future flows are going to be more variable and almost clearly lower, but we also need to ensure that our non-depletion obligation is satisfied,” she said. “Powell is our repository for this water. Doing away with the reservoir, in light of our 1922 Compact obligation, is not realistic,” she said.

Furthermore, an improved, more accurate forecasting approach is needed ahead of the next set of operating criteria. “That’s especially true given the vicissitudes of hydrology and the impacts of climate change,” Haas said.

Increasing Lake Powell’s releases is potentially problematic because of the likelihood that predator fish from Lake Mead could make it upstream and devastate native fish in the Grand Canyon.

Matt Rice, director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program, believes an honest evaluation of the future of Lake Powell is needed. (Source: Matt Rice via the Water Education Foundation)

As it stands, Pearce Ferry Rapid, a rugged, impassable cataract located near the downstream end of the Grand Canyon, prevents predators such as catfish, bass and pike from getting upriver and destroying native fish. The rapid exists because Lake Mead, sitting at just 43 percent of capacity, is so low that the inflow to it from the river has carved a new entry where the river plunges over a bedrock ledge.

If Lake Mead ever began to fill again, it would inundate Pearce Ferry Rapid, allowing the non-native fish to migrate upstream and prey on native Colorado River fish. “They would just eat and eat,” said Rice, with American Rivers. “All the recovery of endangered fish could be for naught.”

Playing the Waiting Game

During a period of great uncertainty about what the next water year will bring, Colorado River water users will need to think creatively while using all their tools, including storage.

“Glen Canyon Dam exists because you need all that potential storage,” said Schmidt, with Utah State University. “In some freak years you are going to get really big runoff, and nobody wants to see that go through the system.”

Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. (Source: SNWA via the Water Education Foundation)

Meanwhile, the lake’s future role in the Colorado River Basin is a key topic as Reclamation reviews the performance of the 2007 Guidelines, with results expected at the end of this year at the annual meeting of Colorado River water users.

Pellegrino with Southern Nevada Water Authority said it would be nice to get past the controversy about Lake Powell’s releases and instead find ways to store more water in it. “We have had a lot of consternation … more because of the balancing releases than the actual behavior of any water user or basin,” she said. “Going back to something that’s more constant or more fixed would remove an element of consternation between the Basins.”

What’s likely to happen is an approach that builds upon the years of collaboration and cooperation established between everyone working on Colorado River water management, said Tina Shields, water manager with the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest user of Colorado River water.

“We know how the river works – its incrementalism,” she said. “Nobody wants to make wholesale changes because it’s too big of a deal and what if it went south? We are not quick to change these relationships and negotiations. They took a lot of time.”

Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, said Reclamation’s findings will be key in considering the continued conjunctive management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Certainly, the [2007] Guidelines have shown that managing the reservoirs together has kept Lake Powell from crashing and has kept Lake Mead from a shortage condition,” he said. “I believe that there will be significant interest in evaluating opportunities, including with Mexico, for even more effective management of the reservoir system.”

That process will most likely look at different elevations and trigger points for excess releases from Lake Powell in a manner that’s acceptable to the Upper and Lower Basins.

“The question is, how do you get movement either way without someone saying, ‘That doesn’t work for me,’” Shields said. “Sometimes the status quo is easier to continue than the fear associated with changing those trigger points.”

As with virtually all Colorado River issues, the ramifications of actions can run far and wide. “This sounds like an esoteric argument about something hundreds of miles away, but the reality of it is what happens at Lake Powell affects the amount of water available to the Lower Basin states, Southern California and, indirectly, Northern California,” said Beard, the former Reclamation commissioner.

California’s extensive water plumbing network relies on a careful balance of imports to Southern California from Northern California and the Colorado River.

Even with Reclamation’s review of the guidelines expected to be issued at the end of the year, Schmidt with Utah State University said he believes stakeholders will let multiple years pass before committing to any radical operational changes.

Solutions to Colorado River management are built on the legacy of collaboration and cooperation, said Tina Shields, water manager with Imperial Irrigation District. (Source: IID via the Water Education Foundation)

“Every year that we wait buys a little more information about climate change and decreasing runoff and whether we go into a wet cycle,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that could happen and people will hope that nature provides a favorable condition so there can be a tiny bit more wiggle room and we don’t go into dire crisis.”

Haas echoed the comments of many stakeholders in noting that all options for Powell’s operation should be considered. “It’s not heretical to be thinking outside the norm on things,” she said. “It spurs a more robust discussion and we should not shy away from that.”

Reclamation’s Duke harkens back to Powell’s ability to consistently meet and sometimes exceed its release obligations during severe conditions.

“That is a testament to the people who came before and had to make those tough calls,” he said. “They built that reservoir and it’s done what we needed. Looking into the future, everything’s on the table, but we also need to remember there are 40 million people who rely on water from this river and over the last 20 years, we would not have been able to supply that water reliably without these storage reservoirs.”

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer
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Expected spring #runoff into #ColoradoRiver plunges after dry April — Tucson.com

Graphic credit: Colorado River Basin Forecast Center
>

From Tucson.com (Tony Davis):

May’s monthly runoff prediction for the April-through-July period was 65% of average, or 4.6 million acre-feet. That’s 1 million acre-feet less than the April forecast predicted. Tucson Water customers typically use close to 100,000 acre-feet a year.

While low runoff this year is highly unlikely to trigger the river’s first major shortage as soon as 2021, it raises the possibility of one in 2022. A shortage would fall particularly hard on Central Arizona farmers. Flows of water into Powell that would be low enough to cause a shortage in 2022 are likely to occur about 10% of the time, said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s most recent study of its reservoir operations, published in mid-April.

“This could be the start of a multi-year drought. Last year was a wet year, so one year like this we can handle,” said Eric Kuhn, a retired general manager of a northern Colorado water district and author of a recent book on the river. “One dry year doesn’t usually make a difference if we start in good shape. Two dry years or three dry years is a concern.”

The dry April weather wiped out the benefits of a robust winter snowpack in Upper Colorado River Basin states, federal forecasters said this week. Until now, this year’s forecast had been relatively stable, ranging from 74% to 82% of average runoff since January…

But Brenda Alcorn, a hydrologist for the federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, said that if the dry spell continues, the eventual runoff could well end up lower than what’s now predicted.

It could possibly fall as low as or lower than the 2018 runoff of 36% of normal, “if we have extreme dryness through the rest of the spring,” Alcorn said.

Since the mid-2010s, the Colorado’s spring-summer runoff has done “a lot of yo-yoing,” Alcorn said.

The runoff rose sharply in 2017, fell sharply in 2018 and soared to 145% of the average runoff in 2019.

While these fluctuations have staved off the shortages that most water experts now view as inevitable, the river is clearly more vulnerable to shortages than it was in 2000, when both Lakes Mead and Powell were full or nearly full.

Today, Lake Mead is 44% full, and Lake Powell is at 48%…

This latest bad spring-summer river runoff forecast, however, stemmed largely from dry, not hot weather, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center said.

“April precipitation was generally below to much below average across the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin,” the center said in a report on its latest forecast. “It was exceptionally dry over northern Utah and southwest Colorado.”

A number of sites that measure snowpack in Utah and southwest Colorado showed their lowest April precipitation since officials started recording it up to 35 years ago…

April river flows neared record lows in parts of the Gunnison, Dolores and San Juan river basins in the two states.

April temperatures across the basin were generally near the average. Temperatures fell below average for the first three weeks of the month.

#Runoff news: @USBR is expecting below a normal season on the #AnimasRiver #snowpack

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

“I think, unfortunately, it’s one of those years that’s kind of a bummer,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center. “Everything is going to be below average.”

Animas River Basin SNOTEL snowpack graph May 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains this winter hovered near historic averages, according to Snotel sites, which track snow depth.

But Snotel sites tell only part of the story.

For one, there are a limited number of sites in the basin. And this year, elevations above most Snotel sites around 11,000 feet didn’t receive as much snow as usual.

To make matters worse, drought conditions last summer and fall caused the ground to dry up significantly, so soil likely will absorb more snowmelt than normal, at the expense of rivers and streams.

As a result, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts the Animas River will receive about 70% of the water it usually does in spring, Nielson said.

The forecast center also predicts the Animas River likely will hit a peak flow of 2,300 to 2,500 cubic feet per second, though as much as 3,000 cfs is possible…

As of Friday, Snotel records show Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is melting at an accelerated rate: Snowpack in the San Juans is 70% of normal historic averages for this time of year.

Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, said a heavy snowpack year in the winter of 2018-19 provided good storage for the town’s reservoir, which should help water reserves during a below-normal runoff.

The city of Durango gets most of its water from the Florida River and supplements supply from the Animas River when demand increases…

Water is not being pulled from the Animas River to Lake Nighthorse this year, said Russ Means, general manager of the reservoir, as crews work on the intake structure across from Santa Rita Park.

On Friday, the Animas River was running at 1,700 cfs, which is 25% higher than average for this time of year, said Frank Kugel, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

@USBR: Water experiment to be conducted along the #ColoradoRiver while maintaining hydropower production this summer #COriver #GrandCanyon

Non-biting midges are one of the aquatic insects predicted to benefit from the Bug Flow Experiment. Photo credit: USGS/Freshwaters Illustrated via the Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke, Robyn Gerstenslage):

From May 1 through August 31, the Department of the Interior will conduct a Macroinvertebrate Production Flow at Glen Canyon Dam. This experiment, also known as a Bug Flow, aims to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects, which are the primary food source for endangered and native fish in the Colorado River. This is the third consecutive year for the Bug Flow under the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan.

During the Bug Flow experiment, the Bureau of Reclamation will make targeted adjustments to water releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. That adjusted release schedule will include low and steady flows during weekends, while weekday operations will maintain normal flows to meet hydropower demands. Weekday release rate hourly changes will remain unchanged.

Aquatic insects lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation and other materials near the river’s edge. If flows are too variable, water levels may drop below where eggs are laid, causing them to dry out and die.

Caddis fly hatch photo via http://ValiValleyAnglers.com

“Findings indicate that some aquatic insects are already benefiting from the bug flows, which also benefits fish and other animals that eat them,” said Scott VanderKooi, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “For example, our research suggests that caddisflies, an extremely rare aquatic insect in the Grand Canyon over the past several decades, increased nearly four-fold during the first year of the experiment in 2018, before returning to pre-Bug Flows numbers in 2019. In contrast, non-biting midges, another type of aquatic insect that is a key food source for fish and other wildlife, may have increased, and a third year of Bug Flows should help verify this finding.”

Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

Recreational fishing at Lees Ferry also improved during Bug Flows, with anglers catching an average of 1-2 more rainbow trout per day during Bug Flow weekends, when flows were low and steady, compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated.
“Our current experimental plan initially recommended two to three years of Bug Flows given the complexity of the Colorado River ecosystem, which is constantly changing,” said Lee Traynham, Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Manager. “We’ve already learned a lot about the ecosystem and have observed several resource improvements over many years of experimenting with flows. We are excited to see how the ecosystem responds this year.”

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on technical input and recommendation from a collaborative team of scientists and technical experts from federal agencies and states involved in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. This team includes representatives from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration; Arizona Game and Fish Department, Upper Colorado River Commission and all seven Colorado River Basin States.

Experiments are designed to maximize benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Grand Canyon, while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

This experiment is expected to benefit aquatic insects and the fish, birds and bats that feed on them, while providing valuable scientific information for future decision making.

For more information about the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program and flow volumes below Glen Canyon Dam, please visit the following websites:

Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/amp/index.html

Flow volumes for the Colorado River at Lees Ferry: https://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/station/GCDAMP/09380000

Colorado River Storage Project: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/index.html

Citizen Science Light Trapping in Grand Canyon: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/sbsc/science/citizen-science-light-trapping-grand-canyon?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

Science Behind the Bug Flows: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70170803

Project Management Plan Developed for Arkansas Valley Conduit — Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

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

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a pipeline project that will deliver clean drinking water to 40 communities serving 50,000 people from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads on the eastern plains. This water supply is needed to supplement or replace existing poor quality water and to help meet AVC participants’ projected water demands. The estimated cost of the AVC is between $564 million and $610 million.

“The Project Management Plan is the blueprint for how we will build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, and an important step in the future of the AVC,” said Bill Long, President of the Southeastern District Board of Directors. “The AVC is absolutely necessary for the future water quality and health of the Arkansas Valley.”

“The Department of the Interior and Reclamation are committed to improving the water supplies of rural southeastern Colorado,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I look forward to our continued collaboration with Southeastern to move this long-delayed project forward.”

“The communities of the Lower Arkansas Valley deserve clean drinking water, which the Arkansas Valley Conduit will supply for 50,000 Coloradans for generations to come,” said Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo. “I was proud to secure robust federal funding of $28 million to begin construction for the first time since Congress authorized the project and President Kennedy promised completion nearly six decades ago. The project management plan adopted by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy is another great step forward for this project and I’ll continue to work with local and federal leaders to ensure we deliver abundant and affordable clean drinking water to the Colorado communities in need.”

“This is a significant milestone in our efforts towards construction of the AVC,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager for Reclamation. “This plan will guide design and construction by Reclamation and Southeastern, and streamline our joint efforts to provide clean water to these communities.”

Reclamation and Southeastern have worked together for the past year to envision a layout for the AVC that reaches communities with the poorest water quality most quickly, reduces overall costs, and reduces the need for federal appropriations. Many communities have issues with radioactive elements in groundwater supplies. Others face increasing costs to treat water and to dispose of waste by-products from that treatment.

Under the plan, AVC water will be delivered to a point east of Pueblo by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. A contract among Reclamation, Pueblo Water and Southeastern is in the discussion stage.

From that point, Reclamation will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections. Reclamation and Southeastern continue to meet regularly, using remote technology, to work on activities such as design, land acquisition and environmental review that will lead to construction.

“We’re on a path to begin construction in the near future, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Kevin Karney, who chairs Southeastern’s AVC Committee. “Part of that will be reaching out to AVC participants to help shape how the AVC is developed. Overall, I’m excited to see the AVC moving forward.”

Congress provided additional funds to Reclamation in FY 2020. Reclamation allocated $28 million for construction of the AVC in February, and an additional $8 million for 2021 was requested in the President’s budget. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package that still must be approved by the Colorado Legislature. Other potential sources of funding are being considered.

The AVC was part of the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Project Act, but was never built because communities could not afford 100 percent of the costs. In 2009, the Act was amended to provide a 65 percent federal cost share. Reclamation identified a preferred alternative in 2014, which has been modified in the latest project management plan.

xxx

For additional information, contact Chris Woodka at Southeastern, (719) 289-0785; Darryl Asher at Reclamation, (406) 247-7608.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

@USBR Forecasts “Tier Zero” Shortage On #ColoradoRiver — KNAU #COriver #aridification #runoff #DCP

From KNAU (Melissa Sevigny):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its projections for the Colorado River’s water supply for the next two years. Spring and summer inflow to Lake Powell is expected to be 78 percent of average, due to dry conditions last fall. Lake Mead is projected to fall into “Tier Zero” conditions for 2021 and 2022. That’s a new designation under the Drought Contingency Plan which requires Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take cuts in their water supply. Arizona’s reduction of nearly two hundred thousand acre-feet of water will come from the Central Arizona Project, the canal that serves Phoenix and Tucson. The Tier Zero reduction will affect CAP’s water banking program and agricultural customers, but not cities or tribes.

Upper Colorado, Great, Virgin River Basins: 2018 April-July forecast volumes as a percent of 1981-2010 average (50% exceedance probability forecast)

@USBR Prepares for Below Average #Runoff in the #RioGrande #snowpack

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

On the heels of a banner water year on the Rio Grande, water managers are again preparing to manage through drought as a below average runoff is expected this spring based on the current snowpack in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande today showing below average runoff. While the amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent) measured in the mountains feeding the river was close to average in March, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) warns that runoff may be below average as a result of low soil moisture levels resulting from a dry fall in 2019.

At the end of March, snow water equivalent was 81 percent of average for the Rio Chama Basin, 93 percent of average for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 105 percent for the Sangre de Cristos, and 57 percent for the Jemez. Based on these values, the NRCS April streamflow forecast predicts that Rio Chama flow into El Vado Reservoir will be 56 percent of average with an inflow of about 125,000 acre-feet of water. Water is stored in El Vado for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and to meet the needs of the Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos.

Rio Grande Project storage is currently about 600,000 acre-feet and peaked at about 650,000 acre-feet at the beginning of March before declining as irrigation releases started. The forecast shows that combined usable project storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs is likely to fall below 400,000 acre-feet in late June. This triggers restrictions under the Rio Grande Compact that limit storage in upstream reservoirs such as El Vado.

The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held by WebEx this year in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Those who were not able to attend the meetings can still view the presentation on Reclamation’s website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/albuq/water/aop/index.html or contact Mary Carlson at mcarlson@usbr.gov.

Westwide SNOTEL April 17, 2020 via the NRCS.

Aspinall Unit operations update: April 1st runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 78% of average for April-July inflows

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased to 1450 cfs on Thursday, April 9th. Releases are being adjusted to accommodate the change in diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel, which will occur on Friday, April 10th. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 101% of normal. The April 1st runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 78% of average for April-July inflows.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 720 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 430 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 920 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 530 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

@USBR is prepared for releases from Green Mountain Reservoir for the #ColoradoRiver “15-mile reach” if needed to prevent dryups

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Though it’s looking like it won’t be needed, officials have been standing by with 6,500 acre-feet of water set aside in Green Mountain Reservoir in Summit County. They’re ready to release it if needed in order to avoid what’s referred to as an “April hole” in rivers flows in the Colorado River between Palisade and the river’s confluence with the Gunnison River.

That stretch is known as the 15-Mile Reach, a focal point for protecting flows for the sake of endangered fish in the Colorado River. If flows fall too low between where irrigation water is diverted and the Gunnison flows boost water volume, endangered fish can be left more vulnerable to predators, reduced habitat and potentially less food availability.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Four endangered fish — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker — are the focus of recovery efforts in the Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

A court case and operating policy at Green Mountain, which is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, have resulted in establishment of a 66,000-acre-foot historic users pool there that is available to irrigators, municipal and other water users to replace water that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them due to calls by holders of senior water rights.

Victor Lee, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer, said that as part of another court case, it was decided that when the pool isn’t needed for those other uses, it could be used to augment flow in the 15-Mile Reach, for the sake of the fish. The pool is the largest single source of water for boosting flows in that reach, with 40,000 or 50,000 acre feet sometimes available for that purpose, he said.

Typically that water has helped boost flows in late summer and early fall, but over the last few years its use has been expanded to include the startup of the irrigation season when needed.

Lee said usually that startup can occur without excessively drawing down flows in the 15-Mile Reach. But the “April hole” can develop in circumstances such as when there’s little rain and a cold snap halts the beginning of spring runoff flows.

In recent years user pool managers including the Bureau of Reclamation, irrigators and state started considering how they might use, in April, water they didn’t deliver the prior fall. Last year they went a step further, decided to intentionally hold over some of the water that normally would have been released in the fall and keep it available for use this spring if need be…

The Government Highline Canal, near Grand Junction, delivers water from the Colorado River, and is managed by the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Representatives from the Grand Valley Water Users Association invited members of the Front Range Water Council to discuss demand management, but the FRWC declined. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The goal is to keep flows in the 15 miles at 810 cubic feet per second or more. On Monday the stretch had flows of about 1,440 cfs, but the Grand Valley Irrigation Co. was expected to begin diverting the same day, and the Grand Valley Water Users Association had begun increasing diversion. Lee has been consulting regularly with irrigation entities, weather and runoff forecasters and reservoir managers. While he thinks the flows in the crucial stretch will fall to 850 cfs, it looks like they will increase from there as temperatures warm and more moist weather arrives, likely making it unnecessary to augment flows to bridge the gap before spring runoff season begins in earnest.

Green Mountain Reservoir, on the Blue River between Kremmling and and Silverthorne, was built for Western Slope interests. Photo/Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Mountain Town News.

With Shoshone hydroelectric plant down 2016 agreement kicks in

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A 2016 agreement is helping protect Colorado River flows downstream of Glenwood Canyon despite ice jams from the Colorado River shutting down the Shoshone Hydropower Plant in the canyon.

Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a tax-funded agency serving counties within the river basin in western Colorado, said the problem at the plant occurred around March 1. Xcel Energy, the plant’s owner, says it won’t be using Colorado River water at the plant until it is repaired.

The plant’s operations are watched closely by the water community because it has one of the oldest water rights on the river in western Colorado — a 1902 right to 1,250 cubic feet of water per second.

That right has limited the ability of Front Range water users with more junior rights to divert Colorado River water. It helps keep water flowing down-river not just to the plant, but further downstream because the plant’s water use is nonconsumptive, benefiting municipal and agricultural water users, recreational river users and the environment.

However, the river district and regional water users have worried about the potential impacts on the river and water users whenever the aging plant is out of service and not calling for water under its senior right, such as when it requires maintenance.

To address that concern, reservoir operators including the river district, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation agreed in 2016 to cooperate to maintain river flows at levels mimicking Shoshone’s normal operation, with certain exceptions.

Modified reservoir operations to mimic those flows are now in effect, and will remain so until snowmelt runoff causes the river flow to exceed the current outage protocol target of 1,250 cubic feet per second.

Pokrandt said that among the benefits of protecting flows, more water in the river means lower concentrations of total dissolved solids in the river due to dilution, reducing the need for water treatment by municipal water providers that rely on the river.

Kirsten Kurath, an attorney who represents the Grand Valley Water Users Association, a party to the 2016 agreement, said a big benefit of the Shoshone flows is maintaining flows in what’s known as the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River in Mesa County. Efforts to protect endangered fish in the river focus in part on maintaining adequate flows in that stretch of the river, upstream of the Gunnison River confluence…

While Grand Valley irrigators also have senior water rights on the river, Kurath said the Shoshone water smoothes out the river’s flows, making it easier for irrigators to plan and making water diversions more efficient than when flows are lower. “Everybody downstream always benefits as you keep water in the river,” she said.

The Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Irrigation Co. are among other parties to the 2016 deal. As of late Monday afternoon, Xcel hasn’t yet said how long the power plant may be out of commission. According to the river district, Xcel has said that the COVID-19 outbreak is complicating repair plans…

The current outage agreement is in effect for 40 years. The river district says it and its West Slope partners are exploring ways to permanently protect the river flows.

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project operations update

The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Brittany Jones):

The release from Ruedi Reservoir will increase Friday afternoon by 25 cfs. The flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will change from 135 cfs to 160 cfs where it will remain for the near future.

For any concerns regarding Ruedi Reservoir operations please contact either Brittany or Elizabeth Jones at (406) 247-7611 or (406) 247-7618.

Friday, April 03 2020, 1400 hrs
Increase the reservoir release by approximately 25 cfs (carried out by High Country Hydro, Inc. personnel). After this change, the flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir is expected to increase from 135 cfs to approximately 160 cfs, with a gage height of 1.76 feet.

Reclamation will support #ArkansasRiver forecasting — The Leadville Herald Democrat

Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

From The Leadville Herald:

The Bureau of Reclamation selected the Colorado Water Conservation Board to receive $150,000 in WaterSMART Applied Science Grants to increase functionality of the Arkansas River Colors of Water and Forecasting Tool. This is just one of 19 projects that will receive $3.5 million across the West. Financing of these projects will be supplemented by more than $4.5 million in non-federal matching funds, supporting total project expenditures of $8 million.

“Water managers need the most updated information to ensure they are making the best water management decisions,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Applied Science Grants fund tool development and studies that help make western water more reliable.”

The forecasting tool assists water users in making informed decisions related to water use and management. The enhanced forecasting tool will include modeling capabilities and will serve as a communications tool that will portray a “color of water” which will describe the destination, use, type, or purpose of water for the Arkansas River. The enhanced capabilities will allow for a more accurate capture of reservoir releases, increased efficiency, and reduced potential injury to other users in the basin. The forecasting tool will be generically built to allow for adoption in other basins in Colorado. These other users are contributing $150,000 in non-federal funds to the project.

Learn more about all of the selected projects at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience/.

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.

Aspinall Unit operations update: March 1, 2020 runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 78% of average

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Curecanti National Recreation Area. Photo credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via Wikimedian Commons

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased to 700 cfs on Thursday, March 19th. Releases are being adjusted to accommodate the start of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel and to lower river flows given the below average runoff forecast. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 103% of normal. The March 1st runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 78% of average for April-July inflows. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be at 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Sedimentation problems necessitate diversion structure overhaul for Lake Nighthorse intakes

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

No water will be pumped from the Animas River into Lake Nighthorse this year.

That is because the headgates at the dam southwest of Durango, Colorado, have to be destroyed and replaced, according to Animas-La Plata Project Operations, Maintenance and Repair Association General Manager Russ Howard.

Howard told the San Juan Water Commission on March 4 that the $6.5 million project is needed because the design was not appropriate for the location. This work is being done by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

He said work was also done prior to choosing to replace the gate. Howard said $1.5 million was spent “over the years trying to put a Band-Aid on something that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

When asked about the gate, Howard said the design, known as an Obermeyer, gate is not a bad design, but it was not appropriate for the Animas River.

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Justyn Liff agreed with Howard that the design was a good design but was not compatible with the Animas River’s conditions. She said on another river it would have worked fine, but the bureau had not realized how muddy the Animas River is.

The amount of mud in the Animas River caused problems and filled the pipes with mud.

In addition to the $6.5 million replacement of the headgates, Liff said the the gate’s original construction, retrofits to keep them operational and engineering studies and design cost about $6.2 million.

Aspinall Unit operations update: The February 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 83% of average for April-July inflows

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased to 600 cfs on Wednesday, February 26th. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 103% of normal. The February 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 83% of average for April-July inflows. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 800 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero 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 awards $150,000 to the @CWCB_DNR to develop tool to inform water management decisions in the #ArkansasRiver Basin

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

The Bureau of Reclamation selected 19 projects to receive $3.5 million in WaterSMART Applied Science Grants to develop tools and information that will inform and support water management decisions. These projects will be matched by more than $4.5 million, non-federal cost-match, supporting a total project cost of $8 million.

“Water managers need the most updated information to ensure they are making the best water management decisions,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Applied Science Grants fund tool development and studies that help make western water more reliable.”

The projects selected are as follows:

  • City of Sierra Vista (Arizona), Web-based Hydrologic Information Portal for the Upper San Pedro Basin, $99,000
  • Mojave Water Agency (California), Integrated Model Development and Alternatives Evaluation, $150,000
  • Pala Band of Mission Indians (California), Pala Tribe Innovative Practices in Hydrologic Data Acquisition and Use for Water Management, $55,120
  • Point Blue Conservation Science (California), California Central Valley Wetlands Water Budget Tool Development, $150,000
  • Rancho California Water District (California), Groundwater Modeling Enhancement for the Murrietta-Temecula Groundwater Basin, $195,000
  • University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (California), A California Crop Coefficient Database to Enhance Agricultural Water Demand Estimations and Irrigation Scheduling, $299,627
  • University of California, Merced (California), Defining the Rain-Snow Transition Zone in the Northern Sierra Nevada, $299,976
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board (Colorado), Arkansas River Colors of Water and Forecasting Tool, $150,000
  • The Henry’s Fork Foundation (Idaho), Predictive Hydrologic Modeling and Real-Time Data Access to Support Water Resources Management, $273,211
  • Idaho Power Company (Idaho), Precipitation Modeling Tools to Improve Water Supply Reliability, $300,000
  • Desert Research Institute (Nevada), Quantifying Environmental Water Requirements for Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems, $296,740
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico Water Data Initiative and Regional Pilot Project for Improved Data Management and Decision Support Tool in the Lower Pecos Valley, $300,000
  • Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission (New Mexico), Developing a Projection Tool for Rio Grande Compact Compliance, $141,272
  • Oklahoma State University (Oklahoma), Improving Seasonal Streamflow Forecasts for Irrigation Districts by Incorporating Soil Moisture Information Derived from Remote Sensing, $88,476
  • Oklahoma State University (Oklahoma), Applying Unmanned Systems for Water Quality Monitoring, $150,000
  • Texas Water Trade (Texas), Modeling Aquifer Properties in the Contributing Zone of Comanche Springs, $150,000
  • Gulf Coast Water Authority (Texas), Enhancement of Water Availability Models of the Lower Brazos Basin $30,000
  • Utah State University (Utah), A Platform Toward an Early Warning System for Shortages in Colorado River Water Supply, $91,078
  • Washington State University (Washington), Quantifying the State of Groundwater in the Columbia Basin with Stakeholder-Driven Monitoring, $299,940
  • Learn more about all of the selected projects at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/appliedscience/.

    The Arkansas River, at the Crowley County line. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    @USBR allocates $120 million to tribal #water projects

    Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

    Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman initiated the first annual allocation of $120 million from the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund for Indian water rights settlements. The allocation will provide important funding for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project in northern New Mexico and water projects on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwestern Montana.

    “This funding represents an investment in vital water infrastructure for tribal communities,” said Commissioner Burman. “Reclamation remains focused on meeting our Indian water rights settlement commitments and helping to fulfill the Department of the Interior’s Indian trust responsibilities.”

    Specific amounts under this allocation include:

    Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project – $100 million. The Navajo Gallup Water Supply project is a key element of the Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement on the San Juan River in New Mexico. Construction of the project is well underway, with the first project water deliveries anticipated before the end of 2020. When fully complete, the project will provide reliable municipal, industrial, and domestic water supplies from the San Juan River to 43 Chapters of the Navajo Nation; the city of Gallup, New Mexico; the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry; and the southwest portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation Reservation.

    Blackfeet Settlement – $20 million. The “Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act” authorizes Reclamation to plan, design and construct facilities to supply domestic water and support irrigation—including developing new water infrastructure on the Blackfeet Reservation, located in northwestern Montana. Under the Settlement Act, Reclamation will plan, design and construct the Blackfeet Regional Water System, which at full buildout will serve an estimated 25,000 reservation residents in the communities of Browning, Heart Butte, Babb, East Glacier, and Blackfoot, as well as rural farms and ranches.

    Today’s allocation is in accordance with the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-11), which established the Reclamation Water Settlements Fund, detailed how funding is to be deposited into the fund, and described the way the fund is to be expended.

    Blackfeet country. Photo credit: Beinecke Library [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

    Arkansas Valley Conduit gains federal funding — Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District

    Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

    Here’s the release from Southeastern (Chris Woodka):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit received $28 million in federal funding to finish design and begin construction of the long-awaited pipeline.

    “We are very grateful and thankful for the work of Senator Gardner and our delegation in securing this funding,” said Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the AVC. “This amount of money is a real milestone in the history of the project.”

    […]

    “I think this is a wonderful example of bi-partisan support and partnership of federal, state and local officials that is needed to secure a safe drinking water supply, not only for the people of Southeastern Colorado, but for every rural American,” Long said…

    The AVC is seen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as the best remedy for high levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials in drinking water for about 15 of the water providers. Other communities are also facing issues of expensive treatment for other sorts of contamination.

    The $28 million is the first step in a $600 million project to provide clean drinking water from Pueblo Dam through a 130-pipeline to Lamar and Eads. The Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a $100 million finance package for AVC in November. State legislative approval is needed to finalize the availability of those funds.

    The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Interior worked with other cabinet-level agencies in the past two months as part of an initiative to find efficiencies in construction of water projects.

    The AVC will provide clean drinking water to about 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

    The AVC was first authorized as part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 1962 as a way to provide supplemental water to communities east of Pueblo. It was never built because of the cost to local water systems.

    In 2009, federal legislation made revenues from the Fry-Ark Project available for construction and repayment of the AVC. A 2014 Record of Decision by the Bureau of Reclamation determined the AVC was the best solution for water quality and supply problems in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    Reclamation has worked with the Southeastern District for the past three years in planning efforts to reduce costs and the time needed to reach water systems east of Pueblo.

    Pueblo Dam. Photo credit: Dsdugan [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

    From Senator Bennet’s office:

    Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today released the following statement applauding news that the Arkansas Valley Conduit will receive $28 million of Bureau of Reclamation funding to begin construction on the water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley, which would bring clean drinking water to an estimated 50,000 Coloradans:

    “For more than five decades, Coloradans in the southeastern corner of our state have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to deliver clean drinking water to their communities. Since I came to the Senate, we’ve worked together to pursue any and every avenue possible to ensure we fulfill that promise and build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Bennet. “I’m thrilled this project is one step closer to breaking ground and ensuring that families in southeastern Colorado have access to a safe water supply.”

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit is the final component of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, a water diversion and storage project in the lower Arkansas Valley. Once constructed, the Conduit will deliver clean drinking water to families and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado.

    In 2009:

  • Congress passed legislation by Bennet and former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit.
  • Bennet worked to secure $5 million in funding to begin construction on the Conduit as part of the Energy and Water Appropriations Conference Report.

    In 2013:

  • Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s completion.
  • In 2014:

  • Following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the Bureau of Reclamation to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February.
  • After the President’s budget included an insufficient level of funding for the project, Bennet led a bipartisan letter urging the administration and the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow the Conduit’s construction to move ahead as planned.
  • Bennet successfully urged the Department of Interior to designate $2 million in reprogrammed funding from Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 for the Conduit.
  • Bennet secured language in the FY 2015 Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act that sent a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the Conduit should be a priority project.
  • In 2016:

  • Bennet secured $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation’s reprogrammed funding for FY 2016.
  • Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit as part of the FY 2017 Energy & Water Appropriations bill.
  • In 2017:

    Bennet secured $3 million for the Conduit for FY 2017.
    In 2019:

  • In April, Bennet and Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wrote to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, urging them to prioritize funding for the Conduit.
  • Bennet, Gardner, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO-3), and Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO-4) wrote to the Department of the Interior urging the Department to support the project.
  • Bennet secured approximately $10 million for the Conduit in the December 2019 spending bills for Fiscal Year 2020.
  • From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

    The Arkansas Valley Conduit, a 130-mile water pipeline that would serve as many as 40 communities and 50,000 people east of Pueblo, is receiving a major financial boost to begin construction, decades after the project was authorized by the U.S. Congress…

    The funding will come from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation’s Fiscal Year 2020 work plan.

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

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation: A Joint Commitment to the Nation’s Water Infrastructure — @USBR

    The Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway project is an approximately $900-million cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth and Major Kimberly Farmer Mendez):

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation recently released The State of the Infrastructure: A Joint Report by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The two agencies have a long history of collaboration to construct, operate and maintain the nation’s crucial water-related infrastructure.

    National water-related infrastructure provides water supply, hydroelectric power generation, navigation, flood control, recreation and other benefits. Combined, the Army Corps and Reclamation oversee and manage more than 1,200 dams, 153 hydroelectric power plants, over 5,000 recreation areas, 25,000 miles of navigable waterways and tens of thousands of miles of canals and other water conveyance infrastructure. Those facilities provide enough water for 130 million people and irrigation for 10 million acres of farmland. And, combined hydroelectric power plants generate renewable electricity for 10 million homes.

    “Millions of people rely on this infrastructure for their water, their food, and their electricity,” said Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tim Petty, Ph.D. “This partnership is important; it helps us coordinate attention and resources to ensure that infrastructure is robust and well-maintained. I appreciate the partnership between Reclamation and the Army Corps and look forward to continued success moving forward.”

    The partnership between the Army Corps and Reclamation brings together a wide array of resources that serve to enrich public services as well as water resource management and environmental protection. The agencies regularly assess the health, safety and sufficiency of existing infrastructure and continually work to upgrade aging infrastructure and construct new projects to meet the needs of families, farms and communities.

    “This report provides visibility to the public on the vast and diverse federal portfolio of water-related infrastructure our agencies maintain and their value to the safety and economic prosperity of the nation” said Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) R.D. James. “This is a great example of how the Army Corps’ partners and collaborates with other agencies on water-related infrastructure by sharing challenges, best practices and strategies to utilize resources to most efficiently and effectively maintain this critical infrastructure”.

    Affordable power production, reliable water supply, navigation, flood risk reduction, and recreation have a positive impact on the Nation’s economy and are a daily way of life for countless Americans. The rigorous and systematic maintenance programs both agencies use ensure these precious water-related resources will be available for years to come.

    Ongoing attention to the Nation’s water-related infrastructure will provide maximum value to the American people. The Army Corps and Reclamation are jointly committed to the management and maintenance of this critical infrastructure both today and in the future.

    The report is available at http://www.usbr.gov/infrastructure.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Streamflow forecast for April-July = 87% of average

    Gunnison River Basin High/Low graph January 27, 2020 via the NRCS.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased to 800 cfs on Wednesday, January 29th. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 106% of normal. The Jan 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 87% of average for April-July inflows. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for January through March.

    Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1100 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 800 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. For questions or concerns regarding these operations contact Erik Knight at (970) 248-0629 or e-mail at eknight@usbr.gov

    Colorado Drought Monitor January 21, 2020.

    Center for #ColoradoRiver Studies: “The Future of Lake Powell” February 20, 6:30 pm at Star Hall in Moab, Utah #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell, created with the 1963 completion of Glen Canyon Dam, is the upper basin’s largest reservoir on the Colorado River. But 2000-2019 has provided the least amount of inflow into the reservoir, making it the lowest 20-year period since the dam was built, as evidenced by the “bathtub ring” and dry land edging the reservoir, which was underwater in the past. As of October 1, 2019, Powell was 55 percent full. Photo credit: Eco Flight via Water Education Colorado

    From email from the Center for Colorado River Studies:

    A forum discussion on what politics, policy, and climate change have in store for Lake Powell.


    Thursday, February 20, 6:30 pm
    Historic Star Hall, Moab, Utah
    Free and open to the public!

    Join us, and a panel of experts, to start a conversation about long-term issues associated with management of Lake Powell. Since the Colorado River began filling Glen Canyon in 1963, the future of Lake Powell has been up for discussion. Climate change, politics and water-use policy all now factor into the fate of this vast reservoir in southern Utah.</blockquote>

    Historically Left Out, #ColoradoRiver Tribes Call For More Sway In Western #Water Talks — KUNC #COriver

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

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    “It’s time to protect Lake Mead and Arizona,” the state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said in his state of the state address in January 2019. He spoke to lawmakers in the midst of uncomfortable, emotional discussions at the statehouse in Phoenix about who gets access to water in the arid West, and who doesn’t.

    “It’s time to ratify the Drought Contingency Plan,” Ducey said to a round of applause.

    The multi-state deal was the first issue Ducey brought up in the speech, and indicated it should be the legislature’s first priority. The deal was designed to keep the Colorado River’s largest reservoir — Lake Mead outside Las Vegas — from dropping rapidly and putting the region’s 40 million residents in a precarious position.

    Within weeks Arizona finished its portion of the plan. Tribal leaders in the state didn’t receive any accolades in Ducey’s speech. But a recent Arizona State University report suggests they should have. The report’s authors said without the actions of two tribes — the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes — the deal would’ve likely collapsed.

    “We know that you have to live in harmony with your surrounding community, with the water resources, you have to respect that,” Gila River Indian Community governor Stephen Roe Lewis said after Ducey’s speech.

    To get the deal across the finish line, Lewis’s tribe agreed to lease a portion of its water to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which supplies water for new homebuilding in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. The Colorado River Indian Tribes agreed to fallow cropland on its reservation, which spans the Arizona-California border, and leave the unused water in Lake Mead.

    “This is a legacy, history making moment for all of Arizona,” Lewis said.

    Arizona’s portion of the Drought Contingency Plan became a unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management. Historically, tribes in the Colorado River basin have been marginalized and ignored, left out or outright banned from discussions of Western water development.

    With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their water rights can’t be ignored any longer, and that it’s irresponsible of Western water leaders to leave them out of large multi-state agreements. And a recently finished federal study is amplifying tribes’ call for a seat at the table to negotiate the river’s future.

    “Early on, five years ago, the tribes didn’t think, well, how do we participate in this process?” said Daryl Vigil, member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico, and acting director of the Ten Tribes Partnership, an organization that represents the interests of 10 Colorado River basin tribes.

    “But, I think given the nature of the senior nature of tribal water rights, they absolutely needed to be involved in that process,” Vigil said.

    In December 2018, the federal government released the Tribal Water Study, which looked at water use within tribes, and projected future demands. One big takeaway from the report gained attention across the Southwest: On paper, tribes have rights to about 20% of all the water in the Colorado River watershed. Tribes aren’t using all the water they have rights to, but they plan to, which will have ripple effects throughout the entire southwestern watershed, Vigil said…

    Celene Hawkins, who heads up The Nature Conservancy’s work on tribal water issues in the Colorado basin, said while tribes were largely left out of the negotiating process that led to the 2007 guidelines, the tone is different now. (The Nature Conservancy receives funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also supports KUNC’s Colorado River coverage)

    “I am hearing more conversation throughout the basin about tribal inclusion in the process,” Hawkins said. “I don’t know how it’s going to look yet, but there seems to be a commitment to doing better by having the tribal voices at the table this time.”

    When the tribes show up to negotiate, they’ll be entering the room with some of the most senior water rights in the basin, which comes with their own level of value and power. Selwyn Whiteskunk, who manages water issues for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe in southern Colorado, said he plans to push for more flexibility in the tribe’s water rights portfolio.

    Montrose: Aspinall Unit operations meeting January 23, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be on Thursday, January 23rd, at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose. Start time is 1:00.

    Aspinall Unit

    Montrose Councillors get briefing by @USBR and @BLM_CO regarding future Paradox Valley salinity operations

    Paradox Valley Location Map. Credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    The main injection well for salinity control in the Paradox Valley is hearing the end of its useful life, prompting a draft document spelling out actions to take.

    Montrose County commissioners, who met on Wednesday afternoon with several representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, raised concerns over scenic and recreational values, seismic activity and energy use that would come into play, depending on which of four scenarios the Department of Interior selects to address salt loading.

    “Some of the concerns I have is the aesthetics of it,” Commissioner Roger Rash said, referring to an alternative in the agencies’ draft environmental impact statement that calls for several large evaporative ponds.

    Commissioner Sue Hansen, meanwhile, was concerned about private land bordering the proposed sites for new salinity control facilities, as well as seismic activity…

    Agencies offer strategies

    The first alternative in the Dec. 6 draft EIS is no action: salinity control would stop in the Paradox Valley.

    Alternative B calls for a new deep injection well, under which brine would be collected and piped to the existing surface treatment facility and, from there, piped to a new deep injection well and injected into unpressurized sections of the Leadville Formation.

    Two proposed areas were analyzed as possible locations for the new well. One includes a combination of BuRec land and BLM-administered land on Skein Mesa.

    The second area is on BLM-administered land on Monogram Mesa or Fawn Springs Bench.

    Each site would require rights of way or withdrawals of BLM land and a variety of infrastructure; additionally, the Monogram Mesa site would require BuRec to acquire 49 acres of private land.

    Potential Gunnison sage-grouse habitat implications were noted, although the draft EIS did not deem these to be significant.

    If Alternative B is selected, new seismic investigations would be completed to determine the final site of the well; this would require additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

    Alternative C would control salinity through several evaporation ponds and piping. It would require a 60-acre landfill that could be as tall as 100 feet above ground…

    The draft EIS acknowledges the ponds and landfill would “negatively affect the visual landscape of the Paradox Valley” and would not conform with the BLM Uncompahgre Field Office’s resource management plan, so an amendment to that plan would be required…

    Alternative C would also have the most indirect effect on cultural resources and on wildlife, particularly migratory birds…

    Rash said the proposed mitigation itself wasn’t visually appealing, either, particularly putting netting over the evaporative ponds; McWhirter said that would only be feasible for one of the ponds.

    The draft EIS also looked at zero-liquid discharge technology, Alternative D.

    Under it, brine would be piped to a treatment plant consisting of thermally driven crystallizers to evaporate and condense water from brine, resulting in a solid salt and freshwater stream. The salt would also go to a 60-acre landfill.

    There would be 80 acres of permanent surface disturbance, requiring the withdrawal of 267 acres of BLM-administered lands, further, 56 acres of private land would have to be obtained.

    Alternative D would also use the most energy — 26,700 megawatts per hour for electrical energy use and 4.2 million CCF (hundreds of cubic feet) of natural gas per year.

    Hansen asked about seismic activity related to injection activities and was told it’s not usually significant — although there was a 4.5 magnitude earthquake close to the current injection well — and that seismic activity is indeed associated with the injection drilling…

    Summary of alternatives

    • A (no action): 95,000 tons of salt per year no longer removed from Dolores and Colorado Rivers; induced seismicity; increase in downstream salinity numeric criteria.

    • B (new injection well): removal of up to 114,000 tons of salt per year; induced seismicity; drilling under Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area (if sited on Skein Mesa location); 22-mile pipeline and pumping stations to transport brine with high hydrogen sulfide concentration (if sited on Monogram Mesa location).

    • C (evaporation ponds): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; 540-care surface evaporation ponds; wildlife mortality; non-conformance with BLM’s Resource Management Plan; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

    • D (zero-liquid discharge technology): Removal of up to 171,000 tons of salt annually; significant energy requirement; 60-acre salt disposal landfill…

    The draft environmental impact statement is available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/paradox/index.html.

    Comments may be submitted until 11:59 p.m., Mountain Time, Feb. 4. Those interested may submit comments by email to paradoxeis@usbr.gov or to Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81501.

    Paradox Valley via Airphotona.com

    #LakeMead at its highest elevation since 2014, shortages still loom #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

    Intake towers for power generation at Hoover Dam December 13, 2019.

    From The Boulder City Review (Celia Shortt Goodyear):

    The water at Lake Mead is projected to be at its highest level in years, but the drought is still not over, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Lake Mead’s elevation is around 1,092 feet, which is the highest it has been since May 2014, but it is still only 42% full, said Patti Aaron, public affairs officer for the bureau’s Lower Colorado Basin Region.

    “Drought isn’t determined by the amount of water in Lake Mead,” Aaron said. “We would need to see at least two to three back-to-back years of above-average hydrology, hopefully more, to say we are out of the drought. There isn’t a set definition of when drought ends.”

    There have not been two back-to-back good years since the late 1990s.

    Aaron said the higher water levels are due to a wet November and December, causing an above-average inflow into the lake.

    “Regarding the rising lake levels, this is part of the normal seasonal trend in which cooler weather reduces water orders from Lake Mead,” she said.

    She added that the water level will decline by nearly 20 feet in the spring and summer because water orders will increase before the elevation rebounds later in the year.

    The higher water levels are also due to conservation by the lower basin states and Mexico. The Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which took effect on Jan. 1, requires water savings contributions by the United States and Mexico.

    Aaron said voluntary conservation activities added about 9 feet to Lake Mead’s elevation last year.

    The latest “E-Newsletter” is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

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

    SNOWPACK ABOVE RUNOFF FORECAST

    Official forecasts for spring runoff into Upper Colorado Basin reservoirs are below average, despite an above-average snowpack. This is due to low soil moisture resulting from a dry summer and fall. Details are in this forecast discussion from the Colorado Basin River Forecasting Center.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Blue Mesa Reservoir within one foot of icing target

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit were decreased to 1100 cfs on Thursday, January 2nd. Blue Mesa Reservoir elevation ended the year within a foot of the icing target. Releases will be maintained at this level for the near future with possible adjustments made when new runoff forecast information becomes available. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 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 1050 cfs for January through March.

    Currently, there are no diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1100 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Blue Mesa Reservoir

    Who should pay for water conservation in the West? Water managers wade into discussion — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP #CRWUA2019

    Seen from the air, Glen Canyon Dam holds back the Colorado River to form Lake Powell. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water managers from throughout the Colorado River Basin took the stage at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference earlier this month to talk about conserving water in the face of the twin threats to the river: increasing demand and climate change.

    The state of Colorado is currently exploring a water-use-reduction program that is largely designed to pay farmers and ranchers on the Western Slope to voluntarily conserve water. While there’s still debate whether such a program should be implemented, the first question many ask is how to pay for such a program. In recent months, some water managers have come up with innovative ways to fund the controversial water-use-reduction plan — known as demand management — that wouldn’t rely entirely on taxpayers.

    The drought contingency plan, which water leaders inked at last year’s annual CRWUA meeting, set up a reserve account of 500,000 acre-feet of water that the Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — could use to store water in Lake Powell as an insurance policy against dwindling reservoir levels.

    In November, Colorado voters passed Proposition DD, which is projected to funnel roughly $16 million a year to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, or CWCB, by taxing sports betting. Demand management is one of the two things money from Proposition DD could fund (the other is Water Plan grants).

    However, it’s widely accepted that $16 million is not enough to fund either of those things in their entirety. Demand management needs other sources of money.

    Although the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District still isn’t convinced that a demand-management program is the right approach for the Western Slope, general manager Andy Mueller told the Las Vegas crowd that the Upper Basin has to reduce its water consumption — and explore creative solutions to accomplish that.

    “I often talk about the Lower Basin overuse and how that’s driving the problem, and I will say they in the Lower Basin need to fix that problem,” Mueller said. “I will also say we in the Upper Basin … need to reduce our use. The science is pretty clear. Water we all thought was there even 15 years ago is not going be there. You can’t have water for the environment and the people if we are not reducing consumptive use throughout the basin.”

    General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District Andy Mueller speaks at the district’s annual seminar in 2018. Mueller told the audience the Upper Basin needs to reduce its consumptive use at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Who should pay?

    So, if nearly all water users on the Colorado River, including those in the Lower Basin — California, Nevada and Arizona — would stand to benefit from a demand-management program, who should pay for it?

    Not Colorado taxpayers, Mueller said, at least not entirely.

    “Eighty million (dollars) a year would need to be out there in payments to get the appropriate amount of water in Lake Powell,” he said. “That cost to taxpayers is too high. So you turn to: Who else benefits from us creating a storage account in Lake Powell?”

    One answer: power providers in both the Upper and Lower Basin states, who all need Lake Powell to remain above 3,525 feet, the minimum level required to continue generating hydropower. Some Upper Basin power cooperatives such as Western Area Power Administration, which sell power to local communities, including Aspen and Glenwood Springs, purchase hydropower generated at Lake Powell. Adding a small demand-management surcharge to customers’ bills is something that should be explored, Mueller said.

    “Power customers should share in the costs of us storing for demand management,” Mueller said.

    Another potential source of funds could be nonprofit environmental groups, since sending more water downstream to Lake Powell would also benefit stream health. The federal government, whose Bureau of Reclamation operates Lake Powell and Lake Mead, also has a role to play, Mueller said.

    But no matter where the money comes from, Mueller said it must be channeled through the CWCB in a heavily regulated market to prevent speculation by private buyers.

    “We have been very clear it needs to be a guided market if it’s going to happen, with lots of thoughtful, proactive rules to prevent lots of serious consequences,” he said.

    This field in lower Woody Creek is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state of Colorado is exploring how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    State-led exploration

    The CWCB currently has a workgroup devoted to exploring how to fund demand management. The group has met twice so far, but CWCB facilitator Anna Mauss said the two biggest questions the group is grappling with are these: how much water is needed and what would the cost be. The workgroup, she said, will dive deeper into funding strategies at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of January.

    “We are baby-stepping into this, trying to be diligent,” Mauss said. “It’s really just looking at scenarios at this point.”

    The state is also encouraging innovative ideas from the private sector. The CWCB recently awarded $72,000 to 10.10.10, a Colorado Nonprofit Development Center project that aims to tackle “wicked problems” in water and climate. Under the program, 10 entrepreneurs will, over 10 days, attempt to tackle 10 systemic issues that are not adequately addressed by government, organizations or institutions.

    “Yes, we are looking at demand management, and it could be one of the wicked problems we address,” said Jeffrey Nathanson, president of 10.10.10.

    Water from the Colorado River irrigates farmland in the Grand Valley. The state of Colorado is looking into how to fund a program that would pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Platform for payment?

    While some people work on finding sources of funding, others are already creating a platform to pay irrigators once the money is in place. Southwest Colorado water managers Steven Ruddell and David Stiller think a reverse auction to compensate water users for using less is the best way to go.

    A reverse auction, which features many sellers (farmers and ranchers) and one buyer (the state of Colorado through the CWCB), would allow water-rights holders to set the lowest price they are willing to accept to voluntarily send their water downstream. According to Ruddell and Stiller’s paper on the subject, a reverse auction would remove paying for demand management from a political process and move it into a market-based process that lets water-rights holders bid the fair-market value of their water. It would also keep costs down for the CWCB.

    Ruddell and Stiller presented their reverse-auction idea at the Upper Colorado River Basin Forum at Colorado Mesa University last month.

    “We’ve tried to bite off a small piece of demand management by suggesting we use an auction that people are familiar with,” Ruddell said. “It’s used to determine the value of something, especially in the ag world.”

    There are still many questions surrounding how a demand-management program might be paid for.

    “There are all sorts of options,” Mueller said. “We shouldn’t just focus on raising taxes in our state.”

    Aspen Journalism collaborates with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Dec. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Click here to view the Twitter hashtag #CRWUA2019 from the conference.

    Headwaters Magazine Fall 2019: Contingency Plan — @WaterEdCO #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The construction of Hoover Dam created Lake Mead in 1935, which serves as the primary storage reservoir in the lower Colorado River Basin. Water levels in Mead have declined significantly since 2000 when the reservoir peaked at more than 1,200 feet above sea level. As of October 2019, the reservoir is less than 40 percent full at just over 1,080 feet above sea level. Credit: Jirka Matousek / Flickr via Water Education Colorado

    Click here to read the issue. Here’s Allen Best’s article, “The Great Reconcilliation” from the magazine:

    Standing atop Hoover Dam, peering over the chain-link fence down its 726-foot concave face of concrete, you simply feel impressed. The dam tamed the Colorado River’s floods and created a reservoir, Lake Mead, able to hold 26.1 million acre-feet of water, not quite two years of annual flows, when full at an elevation of almost 1,220 feet.

    But Lake Mead has been nowhere close to full for most of the 21st century. The widening “bathtub ring” of white in the once-black, volcanic rocks of Boulder Canyon documents the reservoir’s 190-foot fall. Despite a rambunctious runoff from the previous winter’s snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, the reservoir was 61 percent empty by mid-August 2019. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that same month projected the reservoir would be below 1,090 feet on January 1, 2020. That finding triggered the first-ever delivery cuts to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, signed by the basin states in 2019.

    It’s a new era in the lower Colorado River Basin. The 20th century was one of engineering triumphs, ever more straws inserted into the river in defiance of geography and the innate aridity of the lower basin, the region below Lee Ferry, Arizona. This includes portions of Arizona, Nevada and California along with the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California but also tribal lands, sovereign yet part of the United States. Water stored in Mead and other vessels gives Las Vegas Boulevard its fountains and faux falls, grocery stores across the country a reliable delivery of broccoli, lettuce and spinach in mid-winter, and Phoenix, San Diego and other metropolitan areas their prosperity.

    Now comes a period of cutting back, pinching water deliveries for a time or perhaps forever. The first rude shock of this new challenge arrived during the first four years of the 21st century, the river delivering only 63 percent of what was then defined as normal at Lee Ferry. During the same period, in 2003, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton ordered annual Colorado River deliveries to California cut to 4.4 million acre-feet, the state’s legal apportionment under the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928. The state had been taking 5.3 million acre-feet. It did so because it could. Nobody was being shorted, save for the river’s delta at the Gulf of California, which has not reliably seen water since the 1960s.

    The Bureau of Reclamation then began working with the seven U.S. basin states to develop a plan if water-short years continued. The result in 2007 was the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lakes Powell and Mead. By identifying cuts in water deliveries to the lower basin keyed to reservoir elevations, the guidelines aimed to keep Mead from falling to worrisome levels. At 1,075 feet, the crisis would become real and deliveries to Arizona and Nevada would be cut. Those cuts deepen at 1,050 feet, when Mead is at 29 percent of capacity and hydroelectric production at Hoover Dam ends. More cuts come at 1,025. At elevation 895, Mead can no longer release water downstream. It’s called dead pool.

    Water levels in Mead have flirted with but never crossed 1,075, the trigger for a shortage declaration under the interim guidelines. In 2013, after two years of exceptionally low flows, the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven states agreed an additional cushion was needed. That’s what the Lower Basin DCP provides, with cuts to lower basin states beginning sooner, at 1,090 feet, and greater cuts at lower elevations.

    The Lower Basin DCP can be seen as part of the broader Colorado River DCP and a 2017 agreement called Minute 323 that was tacked onto the 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty, committing Mexico to deeper shortage sharing.

    Two giant issues still loom, unresolved by the DCP. First, it does not address what experts call the “structural deficit.” Lower basin states have been using 1.2 million acre-feet annually more than the river delivers on average. Evaporation and system losses are not assessed against the lower basin.

    Second, the river will likely deliver even less water in the future. Rising temperatures have been robbing the river of water, part of a climatic shift with no end in sight.

    Belt-tightening identified in the DCP, though temporary, should suffice until a broader reassessment of Colorado River operations is completed. The DCP and interim guidelines expire in 2026, by which time a new river management plan will likely be in effect.

    ARIZONA

    Of the lower basin states, Arizona has the most at stake in keeping Mead above crisis level. The Colorado River Compact apportions the state 2.8 million acre-feet annually, dwarfing Nevada’s allocation of 300,000 acre-feet. The Colorado River provides nearly 40 percent of Arizona’s water.

    The Central Arizona Project, or CAP, delivers 1.6 million acre-feet, more than half of the state’s Colorado River supply. In 1968, when authorizing CAP funding, Congress conceded California’s demand that CAP water be junior in priority to California. That means CAP users take shortages first if Mead levels decline.

    Before signing the DCP, Arizona had to develop an intra-state plan. It was a pained but ultimately self-affirming experience. Arizona began its discussion in 2015 but got little done amid internal squabbling. Then a good snow year in the Rockies caused Mead to rise. One CAP director even wondered publicly whether planning for future shortages was necessary. That myopia was dispelled by the winter of 2017-2018. It was the fifth-driest year on record, with flows from the upper basin, source of 92 percent of the river’s water, just 41 percent of average. As Arizona dithered, Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman warned that if Arizona and other states didn’t take action by January 31, 2019, her agency would.

    With a hard deadline and a sharp decline in river flows, Arizona’s major water agencies, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and CAP, coalesced by June 2018 to lead a transparent and inclusive 42-member task force. The result was 14 distinct agreements that together constitute compromises, payments, and water transfers to reduce use, some temporarily and others permanently. Then Arizona legislators had to approve their state’s drought contingency plan.

    “It was emotionally charged, because not everybody was going to be pleased,” says Rosanna Gabaldón, a state representative whose district straddles Tucson and rural areas. For a time, Gabaldón doubted Arizona could agree on a drought package. But the legislation was signed with six hours to spare. Upon her review, Burman said both Arizona and California hadn’t completed their work, but they met her extended deadline of March 4.

    Arizona’s cuts come almost entirely from the 1.6 million acre-feet pumped from the Colorado River through the CAP. CAP’s 336-mile canal crosses Phoenix and Tucson and reaches farmers in Pinal County, between the metropolitan areas. In 2020, because the Bureau of Reclamation’s August 2019 24-month study projected Lake Mead to fall below 1,090 feet by January 1, 2020, Arizona this year will take 6.9 percent less, or a 192,000 acre-foot cut. If Mead drops to 1,075 feet, as remains distinctly possible, Arizona could lose up to an additional 512,000 acre-feet, though some of that water could be recovered at a later date if storage recovers. At 1,025 feet, it cuts back up to 720,000 acre-feet, or nearly 26 percent of its Colorado River water.

    Cities fare well enough in this squeezing exercise. Phoenix and six of its suburbs will see successive cuts beginning at Mead elevations of 1,075 feet. For Tucson, the spigot tightening begins at 1,045 feet and tightens even more at 1,025. However, only if Lake Mead falls to 1,000 feet would Tucson possibly have to cut water sent to homes or businesses.

    Agriculture takes Arizona’s biggest hit. That was expected. If agriculture was the primary argument for the CAP in the 1960s, it had the lowest priority among the contracts. This use is almost entirely in Pinal County. Flat and mostly rural, most drivers on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson hurry through it. The county’s 200 farms produce 45 percent of Arizona’s cattle, 42 percent of its cotton and cottonseed, and 39 percent of its milk, according to a study commissioned by Pinal County irrigation districts. Cities were unimpressed. The total economic output of these Pinal County farms, they pointed out, was half that of the state’s golf courses.

    Groundwater was the sole source of water in Pinal County from 1940 to about 1990, when CAP water arrived. Farmers, though, couldn’t repay even the subsidized costs of CAP’s capital-intensive infrastructure. In 2004, they agreed to a shorter-term contract for Colorado River water while being relieved of infrastructure costs. This lower-priced water is also subject to availability, however. Irrigators were already scheduled to stop receiving CAP water entirely by 2030. The plan was for farmers to then return to exclusive groundwater use. Arizona’s DCP will cause the farmers to lose a third of their water in years 2020-2022 and lose deliveries altogether in 2023, seven years earlier than previously scheduled.

    Arizona’s compromise yielded the Groundwater Infrastructure Fund, which identifies $50 million—$20 million of it state money—for Pinal County farmers to finance new groundwater-pumping infrastructure. Not all legislators supported the aid.

    “But many of us drew the line at funding groundwater-pumping infrastructure, which to us was going backwards. The last thing we should be doing is returning to depleting our groundwater aquifers”, says Airzon State Rep. Kirsten Engel, a Democrat from the Tucson area.

    Will this cause farmers to pump groundwater below Pinal County to extinction? Probably—assuming that Lake Mead continues to sag. Application of Colorado River water across the cotton and alfalfa fields allowed the aquifer to rise to nearly 1940 levels. With no river water percolating into the aquifer, it will inexorably decline. Other, less thirsty crops have been getting attention: industrial hemp and a shrub called guayle, which produces an alternative to rubber. But these conversations occur in the margins.

    New conservation efforts, including those in agriculture, will benefit from $2 million appropriated by state legislators. Arizona Gov. Douglas Ducey also replaced a council focused on water augmentation with one responsible for studying innovation and conservation.

    New political strength of tribes, particularly those in Arizona, was evident in the drought contingency planning. Arizona tribes get 12.5 percent of the state’s water directly from the Colorado River and another 17.5 percent of CAP water. The Gila River Indian Community alone has 311,000 acre-feet, the largest single contract for CAP water. Their reservation just south of Phoenix was created in 1859, giving it the highest priority. The intra-Arizona DCP gives the Gila River Indian Community $92 million for 200,000 acre-feet lost in the DCP’s seven-year life. They also lose additional water that tribal officials value at $30 to $50 million. For the Gila River Indian Community, the DCP negotiations were something of a coming-out party. With European settlement, the tribe was dispossessed of their water until the Arizona Water Settlement Act of 2004 allowed the tribe to use water rights that had previously existed only on paper. Even so, the Gila were not invited to be at the table at the outset of DCP planning. “Tribes have to be at the policy table,” said Governor Stephen Roe Lewis. Now, they definitely are.

    The Colorado River Indian Tribes—consisting of four distinct tribes, the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo, with a reservation that stretches along the Colorado River in Arizona and California—also played a significant role. They divert nearly 600,000 acre-feet directly from the Colorado River at the border between Arizona and California, with priority dates from 1865-1874. “This is not CAP water. It is not subject to being cut. It is the highest priority water in the lower basin,” explained Margaret Vick, special counsel to the Colorado River Indian Tribes, at the June 2019 Getches-Wilkinson Center Summer Water Conference at the University of Colorado-Boulder. After a history of being taken advantage of, the tribes are now “partners with the state legislative leaders,” she said.

    The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    The four tribes agreed to take 10,000 acres of farmland out of production for three years, allowing the water to instead remain in Lake Mead. In return, the tribes receive $38 million, including $30 million from the state and $8 million from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Walton Family Foundation.

    “I don’t think Arizona could have met their requirements without the water that the tribes put on the table,” says Larry MacDonnell, an adjunct law professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and a member of the Colorado River Research Group.

    CALIFORNIA

    California has different tensions. The state has more Colorado River water, 4.4 million acre-feet, the majority of it claimed for agriculture prior to the Colorado River Compact.

    About a quarter of southern California’s water comes from the Colorado River. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California delivers this Colorado River water, along with water imported from northern California, to smaller agencies that collectively serve 19 million people. Metropolitan’s basic annual apportionment of Colorado River water is 550,000 acre-feet, and it gets about 400,000 of additional Colorado River water through transfers and exchanges, largely from irrigation districts. Under the DCP, if Lake Mead drops below 1,045 feet, California will contribute between 200,000 and 350,000 acre-feet of water a year, depending on the lake’s elevation. Because of the wet year in 2018-2019, Reclamation estimates a less than 10 percent chance that the reservoir will fall to that level by 2026.

    California’s contribution under the DCP is shared by two of the state’s three big irrigation districts and Metropolitan. Initially, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) was also planning to participate. It conditionally approved the plan in December 2018 but in March 2019, just before a federal deadline, IID decided it would not support the DCP as negotiated because one of its conditions—federal funding for the Salton Sea—had not been satisfied. Metropolitan’s board of directors voted to contribute an additional 250,000 acre-feet to Lake Mead if necessary to cover the Imperial Irrigation District’s portion. But these contributions are not permanent. Metropolitan, along with others in California, Arizona and Nevada, can in the future withdraw water left in Lake Mead under a provision in the 2007 guidelines called “intentionally created surplus,” or ICS.

    ICS water is made through projects that create water system efficiency, conservation, or even importation of water into the Colorado River Basin. ICS water temporarily augments reservoir levels but is then available for later drafting by whomever contributed it. The Bureau of Reclamation reported provisionally that in 2018 Nevada had 700,448 acre-feet, California 698,432 acre-feet, and Arizona 343,052 acre-feet of ICS water stored in Mead.

    This water might better be understood as a savings deposit. Metropolitan has stored and withdrawn water three times. But what if an entity wants to withdraw when those savings are most desperately needed? Imagine the scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when the panicked townspeople of Bedford Falls show up at the savings and loan, demanding their C-notes.

    Spray irrigation on a field in the Imperial Valley in southern California. This type of irrigation is a lot better than the extremely water inefficient type of flood irrigation that is popular in this region. Still, in the high temperatures of this desert region a lot of the water evaporates, leaving the salts, that are dissolved in the colorado River water that is used, on the soil.

    Brad Udall, senior scientist and scholar at Colorado State University, told a U.S. House subcommittee in February 2019 that this illustrated an implicit flaw in the concept. “These water storage efforts allowed us to push the problem forward in time, hoping Mother Nature will rescue us,” Udall said.

    Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for Metropolitan, says his agency’s savings balance is responsible for about a 12-foot increase in Mead—contributing significantly to keeping the reservoir out of shortage. But he agrees that the savings device is not the long-term answer to the oversubscribed Colorado River Basin. “Eventually we have to make some permanent cuts in the lower basin, and that’s what we’re gearing up for in 2026 negotiations,” Hasencamp says.

    More tension revolves around the shrinking Salton Sea, located 125 miles northeast of San Diego. It’s an ancient sea bed, below sea level, and filled sporadically through the ages by the Colorado River as it wandered on various paths toward the ocean. Its current iteration dates to 1905, when the river wrestled free of an attempt to channel it into orderly submission. It’s a shallow, salty marvel with twice the surface area of Lake Tahoe that also serves as a major stop for migrating birds, some listed on state and federal endangered and threatened lists, along the Pacific Flyway.

    Water levels were sustained by 1.3 million acre-feet of annual runoff from Imperial Valley farms until 2003, when the Imperial Irrigation District began transferring water saved through conservation measures to San Diego County, Metropolitan, and the Coachella Valley Water District. The sea has fallen 9 feet since those transfers began, the saline water lapping onto shore at 237 feet below sea level in July 2019. As it does, the Salton becomes saltier, some 4 million tons of salt arriving through farm runoff each year, increasing the salinity 1 percent annually.

    The Pacific Institute’s Michael Cohen, whose work for the past 20 years has focused on revitalizing the Salton Sea, identifies two problems. First is the decline of the sea in size and in its capacity for sustaining fish. It has dramatically fewer fish than 20 years ago, which in turn sustain resident and migratory birds. Birds have also lost roosting and breeding habitat.

    A second issue is the human health impact of the wind blowing chemical-laden dust from the receding shores. The 650,000 residents of the Coachella and Imperial valleys already had a high incidence of asthma. The American Lung Association gives Imperial County an “F” score in high ozone and particulate pollution. The county seat, El Centro, is ranked eighth worst among 203 metro areas across the country for annual particle pollution. As transfers from irrigation districts to cities ramp up in the next decade, Salton Sea levels are expected to drop another 15 feet or so, exposing more toxic dust and more chronic respiratory issues. The shoreline by then will have receded 5 miles since 2003.

    A 10-year Salton Sea mitigation plan, approved in 2017, has had stubby financial legs. To implement the phase-one plan requires $400 million, of which $300 million has somewhat belatedly been secured. That’s just the start of a longer-term plan for wetlands restoration and other mitigation.

    For the Imperial Irrigation District, mitigating Salton Sea problems became the defining issue in the DCP. The district has legal rights to 18 to 20 percent of all Colorado River Basin water, 3.1 million acre-feet altogether, including use of 2.68 million acre-feet pre-compact, as of 2019. District directors in December voted to support the overall DCP framework. However, that support was contingent upon the federal government delivering $200 million for Salton Sea remediation.

    Led by Metropolitan, California supported the DCP without the provision of contingency upon the federal funding. In March, Imperial sued Metropolitan and three other water districts, citing absence of a thorough environmental review of the drought plan. “Just as it is hydrologically connected to the Colorado River, the Salton Sea is inseparable from the DCP, and any attempt to sweep it aside or pretend it doesn’t exist is as unsustainable as it is cynical,” said Erik Ortega, president of the district, in a March 1 statement. “We all need to cross the finish line together, in California and across the two basins, but that won’t happen by taking shortcuts, environmental, economic or otherwise.”

    In April 2019, on the day President Trump signed the DCP into law, Imperial asked a California court to suspend approvals of the lower basin DCP until after an environmental analysis was completed. With that, California, the lower basin, and all seven basin states moved forward on the DCP without the Imperial Irrigation District and without solving the problem of the Salton Sea.

    MEXICO

    Mexico is also part of the Colorado River Basin, apportioned 1.5 million acre-feet annually by the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty. It, too, is a partner in the effort to keep Mead from declining. A 2012 binational agreement specified that a shortage declaration under the 2007 interim guidelines would reduce deliveries to Mexico of up to 125,000 acre-feet. That agreement, Minute 319, also produced the historic 2014 pulse flow that used Mexico’s water stored in Lake Mead to wet the delta for the first time in 16 years. Minute 319 has since been supplanted by Minute 323. Signed in 2017, Minute 323 authorizes Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead and also commits the United States to financially support water efficiency projects in Mexico with the goal of leaving 200,000 acre-feet of water in Mead to benefit both countries. It also requires both countries to provide water and funding for delta habitat restoration.

    Looking forward, Jennifer Pitt, director of Audubon’s Colorado River Program, sees need to build on existing binational relationships. “I think Mexico has already demonstrated that they are willing to be a partner in the equitable distribution of shortages, and I don’t think we should expect any different,” she says. Equitable, she believes, means proportionate to the shortages absorbed by the lower basin states.

    Both the DCP and Minute 323 will expire in 2026. Negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico to determine what comes next after Minute 323, the DCP, and the interim guidelines, “will be tied to their implementation and operating experience [of Minute 323] between now and then,” Pitt says.

    Minute 323 identifies specific projects but has no provision for another pulse flow. Pitt sees the river delta being like the Salton Sea: undeniably a part of the Colorado River Basin. The drying of the delta was the first visible signal of water imbalance.

    Point 24 in the Colorado River Delta, September 12, 2016. Photo credit The Nature Conservancy.

    Doing something about it means finding water to create a more resilient ecosystem that can address the habitat needs of birds that used that area as part of their migration path, she says. That this ecosystem is in Mexico also matters. “If the restoration effort were to be abandoned, we don’t know if Mexico would be as willing to share in the shortages with other water users,” Pitt says.

    WHAT’S NEXT?

    Even before the DCP was signed in May 2019, eyes were already on replacement of the interim guidelines and the DCP. It poses a greater challenge yet. The word “drought” probably should be discarded in the 2026 document’s title because the big overlapping issues of climate change and structural deficit that it must address are broader. “Hard issues left unresolved by the DCP will make the coming negotiations even more challenging,” said Udall in his February testimony to the U.S. House subcommittee.

    But the DCP also marks several major achievements. The work was more inclusive, more deliberate in bringing tribes and environmental groups to the table, both of them often overlooked or strictly adversarial in the past. Even where it failed, there was success, as the Colorado River Research Group, in a May 2019 paper, pointed out: “Two of the most problematic features of the current management framework—the inability of Pinal County, Arizona, farmers to easily absorb CAP curtailments, and the environmental and public health challenges associated with limiting Salton Sea inflows—have influenced, and are influenced by, matters that were heretofore considered outside of basin water management planning.”

    The Salton Sea is California’s largest lake, covering 330 square miles, and a major drop along the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. But it is receding, threatening to create a public health and ecological crisis. By NWSPhoenix – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56724223

    Too, the DCP carved a path, concrete in its details and immediate in its consequences, to reconcile reality with diversions. Based on the plan’s provisions, the Bureau of Reclamation in August 2019 ordered reduced deliveries to Arizona of 192,000 acre-feet and to Nevada of 8,000 acre-feet in 2020. In addition, under its supplemental treaty agreement, Mexico gets 41,000 acre-feet less. Those cuts were based on projections that Mead’s water would be below 1,090 feet, the new cushion level, on January 1, 2020. That water must remain in the reservoir until Mead rises above an elevation of 1,100 feet. These are the first, marked acknowledgements of the 21st century hydrologic realities.

    In Arizona, David White, deputy director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, sees the template that emerged dwarfing the details in importance. “That was a very big win for the state,” says White. Creating an open, transparent process for figuring out how to apportion cuts was vital.

    The Arizona Republic was of a like mind. “Let’s be clear. This deal isn’t perfect. It’s costly and painful, and it solves exactly zero of our water problems,” it wrote in a January 31, 2019, editorial. “All DCP does is buy us time. But it showed us how to solve our problems and move forward in a drier future.”

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

    Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

    From the Central Arizona Project:

    Colorado River users – and the 40 million people served by the river – received clarity moving into 2020 at the 2019 Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference in Las Vegas.

    There, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that “the Department will immediately begin work on a new report that will analyze the effectiveness of current Colorado River operational rules to ensure continued reliable water and power resources across the Southwest – a year ahead of when the current rules require the report.” The report will be a review of the effectiveness of Colorado River operations since enactment of the 2007 Guidelines, including the implementation of the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP) in 2019.

    The evaluation of the effectiveness of the 2007 Guidelines is a mandatory first step in what has come to be called the “Reconsultation” – the process that will lead to next set of rules for managing the Colorado River and the River’s major reservoirs when the current Guidelines expire at the end of 2026.

    The Secretary’s comments echoed the remarks made earlier at CRWUA by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, that it was too early to begin work on developing the next set of operating rules – that would get in the way of implementing DCP and the evaluation of the 2007 Guidelines.

    Arizona’s next steps in this process are already underway. Central Arizona Project (CAP) General Manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke began meeting with Arizona’s DCP Steering Committee delegates two months ago to initiate post-DCP discussions. The announcements from the Department of the Interior are consistent with the expectations and approach underway by CAP and ADWR.

    At the federal level, the immediate work is to prepare a report that will analyze the effectiveness of the Guidelines. This will take some time to accomplish, but the early start sets the stage for the second step of the Reconsultation, which will be the development of the next program, which will need to be in place in 2026. The Secretary estimated it would take about a year to complete the new report. The Basin States and other experts would be consulted as part of the report preparation process.

    Said Barnhardt, “This conference brings together the best ideas for managing the Colorado River. This year’s historic agreements once again demonstrated that the best way to protect the Colorado River is collaboration and cooperation, not litigation. Looking ahead, we are eager to complete a review of our current operations by leveraging that collaborative approach to identify lessons learned from rules that have guided our operations since 2007. Thank you to CRWUA for providing the forum for launching this initiative.”

    CRWUA is the only association focused solely on Colorado River issues. It provides an opportunity for those with interest in the river to convene and discuss issues. The CRWUA conference also provides the opportunity for the U.S. Department of the Interior to speak to Colorado River users in one venue.

    This year’s conference featured a resolution recognizing the 130th anniversary of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and the 75th anniversary of the 1944 Treaty Concerning the Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande. The 1944 Treaty established a framework that provides significant and enduring benefits to Colorado River water users in the United States and Mexico and stands as an example of international cooperation and collaboration.

    At this year’s conference, Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Board President Lisa Atkins moderated the Augmentation Colloquium, which featured a panel including CAP Colorado Programs Manager Chuck Cullom. Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke also served on a panel regarding the Interim Guidelines.

    To learn more about CRWUA, visit its website, which was newly designed by CAP.

    From News 3 Las Vegas (Kyndell Kim):

    The annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference started up Thursday at Bally’s Hotel and Casino…

    When it comes to the fight to conserve water, officials at this year’s conference say Nevadans have a lot to be proud of.

    “Southern Nevada is on the cutting edge, you are at the forefront of conservation. What this town, what the water users of this town, have been able to do in the last ten years is really remarkable,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

    The Silver State is regarded as a national leader in the fight to save the resource, citing investments in conservation infrastructure over the last two decades.

    Drought markers along the Colorado River remain; dating back nearly twenty years.

    Officials in Nevada are pushing back though. Working alongside reps from other states, water usage on the Colorado River has declined. Emergency drought plans have also been drawn and agreed on.

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap: “ClimateChange is #water change” — @BradUdall #CRWUA2019 #COriver #DCP #aridification

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

    From The Sante Fe Reporter (Laura Paskus):

    Water wonks, state and tribal officials, attorneys and irrigation district representatives hit the floor at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel last week. Not to shake loose the slots. But to gamble on the future of the Colorado River.

    During the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA), stakeholders from the seven US states that share the river’s water met to talk about everything from interagency cooperation to cloud seeding, forecasting to tribal water rights.

    But even as the impacts of the Earth’s warming are increasingly clear, there’s still a political and practical disconnect between the cause of climate change—the burning of fossil fuels—and the challenges warming poses to water supplies in the western United States.

    That decoupling was hammered home by US Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who spoke at the CRWUA meeting. During his keynote speech, Bernhardt avoided mentioning climate change.

    When pressed by reporters afterwards, he said he “certainly believe[s] the climate is changing.” But he cautioned that forecasting is speculative.

    David Bernhardt answers a question about climate change from Luke Runyon, December 13, 2019, Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

    And he praised the role energy development plays in states like New Mexico.

    “The president was very clear when he ran for office on his position on energy; he’s for an all-of-the-above approach,” Bernhardt said. “In New Mexico last year, we sent $1.7 billion from federal lands to the state of New Mexico that went to schools and other things. So, when people tell me they want to stop oil and gas development on federal lands, I say ‘Call the governor of New Mexico.'”

    Gov Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office could not answer SFR’s questions by deadline about Bernhardt’s claims related to revenues from drilling on federal land in New Mexico and balancing the disconnect between the state’s energy policies—which have spiked revenues—and emissions from that industry, which exacerbate the state’s water challenges.

    The governor’s spokeswoman also could not provide a response to Bernhardt’s statements before deadline…

    Brad Udall: “…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

    In 2017, a peer-reviewed study showed that warming was already causing flows on the Colorado River to decline. Between 2000 and 2014, flows averaged 19% below the 1906-1999 average, and scientists found that one-third of those losses were due to higher temperatures, rather than changes in precipitation. They also wrote that if warming continues, the Colorado River’s flows will drop even more—20 to 35% by 2050, and 30 to 55% by 2100.

    A follow-up study in 2018 showed that even though annual precipitation in the Colorado River Basin increased slightly between 1916 and 2014, flows declined by 16.5 % during that same time period—due in large part to “unprecedented basin-wide warming.”

    “Climate change is water change,” says Bradley Udall, one of the co-authors of both those studies. Udall is a senior water and climate research scientist at the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University.

    In arid landscapes like the US Southwest, warming affects river flows, snowpack, soil moisture and even the amount of water crops and forests need to survive.

    “In our case, [climate change] means these longer, hotter droughts that threaten the Rio Grande and the Colorado River system in ways that are unprecedented,” Udall tells SFR.

    “If you’re going to reduce the risk of water shortages for humans and nature, you’ve got to solve the climate change problem.”

    And, he says, solving the climate change problem means stopping fossil fuel production: “You can’t solve climate change if you’re going to continue to pursue fossil fuel production willy-nilly.”

    And yet, drilling is booming across the world, including in New Mexico. And that development has consequences.

    Per capita annual carbon dioxide emissions and cumulative country emissions. Data from the Global Carbon Project. Nature. Data from the Global Carbon Project

    Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization showed that carbon emissions have continued to increase. According to a story in the BBC, “Using data from monitoring stations in the Arctic and all over the world, researchers say that in 2018 concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million (ppm), up from 405.5ppm a year previously. This increase was above the average for the last 10 years and is 147% of the “pre-industrial” level in 1750.” Not only that, but methane emissions continue to rise, as well—and is now at 259 % what it was before the Industrial Revolution.

    Meanwhile, global temperatures continue to ruse. The latest numbers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the three-month season of September through November 2019 ranked second-warmest on record for the globe—with a global temperature of 1.69°F above average. Already, New Mexico’s average annual temperature has increased by 2°F—just since the 1970s.

    Continued warming will have continued impacts across the US Southwest. And even after last winter’s robust snowpack, the basin’s reservoirs, system-wide, sit at just over half-full. The two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are 52 % and 40 % full, respectively. A second year of good snowpack, Udall estimates, would put the system at perhaps 60 % full…

    Asked to rectify that with the president’s statements about climate change as a “hoax” and his attacks on climate science, Bernhardt reiterated that Trump has been an “exceptional leader on western water issues.”

    “I think it’s very hard to go back and find presidents who have given clear direction in memos to the secretaries, [that] say ‘Get on with it. Solve these situations,'” he said, referring to Trump’s 2018 presidential memorandum on reliable water supplies in the western US. In that memo, the White House directed federal agencies, including Interior, to “work together to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens and foster more efficient decision-making so that water projects are better able to meet the demands of their authorized purposes.”

    Bernhardt also directed the US Bureau of Reclamation to launch its review of the 2007 interim guidelines at the beginning of 2020.

    Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman supports collaboration and cooperation between Basins within the confines of the Compact. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

    From The Las Vegas Review Journal (Shea Johnson) via The Boulder City Review:

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said Dec. 11 that Nevada has been a national leader in water conservation by reducing demand on the Colorado River and investing in infrastructure over the past two decades.

    In Las Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference, Burman declined to say, however, whether she sees Nevada’s share of the river’s water increasing, even though it draws the least amount of water than any other state.

    Instead she said Mexico and seven Southwestern states served by the river were focused on working within the existing rules and regulations, known as the “Law of the River.”

    In an interview with the Review-Journal, Burman said that “desalination is going to be part of the answer” to reducing draws on the river, noting that California has already made major investments on that front, and talks between Mexico and lower basin states have questioned whether desalination is possible in that country.

    “We all really need to be looking at an all-of-the-above approach,” she said about viable long-term solutions to river sustainability…

    The three-day annual conference culminated with a tour of Hoover Dam with federal officials. It followed a keynote speech by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

    #ColoradoRiver Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2019

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    The Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference brings together nearly every municipal water agency, irrigation district, Native American tribe and environmental group that relies on the Colorado River.

    In a room the size of an airplane hangar, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman took the stage to give attendees a congratulatory pat on the back for the recent completion of Drought Contingency Plans, which dominated discussion at these meetings for five years.

    “To all of you in this room, to those of you in the negotiating parties, for those of you who covered for them at home while they had disappeared for months on end, to negotiate, to work, to analyze,” Burman said. “Well done, everyone.”

    […]

    Operation of the Colorado River’s second largest reservoir, Lake Powell in southern Utah and northern Arizona, will be a major piece of negotiations on the river set to start next December. Hoover Dam from the deck of the Arizona power plant December 13, 2019.

    At last year’s meeting Burman’s message was dire. She urged the river’s users to complete their Drought Contingency Plans, or face the federal government’s regulatory hammer.

    With the deals signed earlier this spring, she acknowledged that they’re not a final solution.

    “Since completion of the DCPs in May, I recognize that the hard work of implementation has begun,” Burman said.

    That now includes the plans’ first true test. Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir just outside of Vegas, is still less than half full. Because of that, the drought plan requires users in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take less water from it in 2020. Though, they’re all already conserving above and beyond what the plan requires.

    It’s a different story in the river’s headwaters, where no restrictions were placed on users to take less from the Colorado River and its tributaries. Instead water managers in the river’s Upper Basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexicio — chose to focus on coordinating reservoir operations, and continuing to invest in weather modification .

    Those states also began taking a look at a controversial program that attempts to curb water use in the midst of a crisis. Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s top water agency, said completion of the drought plan kicked off a statewide campaign to study the concept and gather feedback.

    “That is the beginning. That is not the end,” Mitchell said of the Drought Contingency Plans. “And so that’s the process that we’re in right now, is looking at what’s best for the state of Colorado.”

    A hayfield near Grand Junction, irrigated with water from the Colorado River. Under demand management pilot programs, the state could pay irrigators to fallow fields in an effort to leave more water in the river. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    In theory, a demand management program would pay users to conserve in the midst of a crisis in order to boost the river’s big reservoirs. How it would work, who would participate and how it would be funded are still unanswered questions. Another concern is how to make the program equitable — so it doesn’t burden one user over another…

    But for all the hand-wringing, the Drought Contingency Plans brought across the basin, it is a temporary fix for the region’s water problems. As one water manager put it during the Vegas conference, “it simply prevents a catastrophe.”

    The drought plans expire in six years. They essentially give water managers some disaster insurance while they’re hammering out details of an even tougher deal, set to take effect in 2026. They’re known as the river’s operating guidelines, and they were last signed in 2007.

    The renegotiation of the guidelines is set to start by the end of 2020. There’s little agreement about whether the new guidelines should be a big, broad response to the realities of climate change or a more conservative, incremental step toward someday solving the river’s long-term imbalances.

    “There are some much larger challenges that we need to face,” said Jennifer Pitt, the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program director. “We don’t know what the weather will be like in the next couple of decades, but we do know that the warming trend is going to dry the basin out.”

    […]

    The negotiation over the 2007 guidelines left out key players like Native American tribes and environmental groups, Pitt said. Heading into a new round of talks, she said it’s in the basin’s best interest to have different perspectives at the table…

    A long-standing dispute over who’s responsible for delivering Mexico’s allocation of the river’s water remains unresolved. Chatter about a possible water use cap for the Upper Basin states continues to grow louder. And Upper Basin states want to see the risks of climate change more evenly spread across the basin.

    In California, the state with the largest entitlement to Colorado River water, a major sticking point over the last two decades has been the future of the Salton Sea, a huge inland lake that’s shrinking, causing health problems for people and wildlife alike.

    “You know what? Sometimes you gotta throw a little rock or two to get people’s attention,” said Tina Shields, water manager for the Imperial Irrigation District — the sprawling expanse of vegetable and hay fields in southern California, and the single largest user of Colorado River water. The district became the lone holdout to the Drought Contingency Plans.

    Before they sign onto any future deal, Shields said they want a long-term solution for the ecological disaster playing out in their backyard…

    The Las Vegas meeting was also buzzing with grand ideas on how best to fix the Colorado River’s long-standing imbalance — where more water exists on paper then in the river itself.

    Luke Runyon near Hoover Dam power plan February 2018 via Colorado State University.

    From KNPR (Rachel Christiansen):

    KUNC reporter Luke Runyon was in the midst of it all.

    “The Drought Contingency Plan is sort of a temporary patch to some of the Colorado River basin’s long-term water scarcity problems,” Runyon explained.

    The plan took five years to negotiate and was signed by both upper and lower basin states this year. But the plan looks different depending on which basin a state is in.

    The lower basin part of the agreement is based on levels at Lake Mead.

    “The plan really lays out a set of tiers of cuts for states when Lake Mead drops. States like Arizona, Nevada, even California would have to take water cut back deliveries to what they receive from the Colorado River,” he said.

    For the upper basin states, it wasn’t about cutbacks but about managing use.

    “There weren’t any cutbacks spelled out for those states. Instead, they’re focusing on this idea of demand management and what that is kind of code for is basically looking at how, in a crisis, can you ask or force people to reduce how much water they’re using.” Runyon said.

    Runyon explained that the real focus is on farmers and how exactly to cut back on irrigation when reservoirs start dropping quickly. States in the upper basin still have to hammer out the details of that part of the plan.

    Overall, Runyon said water managers along the Colorado River are pleased with the DCP because it provides an orderly cut back of water use.

    “Anytime you’re talking about water cutbacks, people are not going to be happy that they’re receiving less water but when you talk to the water managers what they were really saying is, ‘We’ve created through the DCP a plan where those cutbacks are more orderly, where there’s not as steep of a cliff for water deliveries to fall over,’” he said.

    David Bernhardt answers a question about climate change from Luke Runyon, December 13, 2019, Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Christian Kay):

    Luke Runyon reports on the Colorado river for KUNC and attended the conference last week.

    What are some of the solutions in this drought contingency plan?

    It varies by basin. The Colorado River is split into two basins: an upper and a lower. In the lower basin [California, Arizona and Nevada], the drought contingency plan looks like a series of cutbacks to water users. As Lake Mead, which is just outside of Las Vegas, drops due to climate change or drought, those water users will be forced to take some cutbacks to how much water they’re getting.

    The upper basin looks a little bit different. One of the more controversial parts of the upper basin drought contingency plan was this concept of “demand management,” where basically the states in the upper basin are trying to figure out how to limit water use on a voluntary basis. That could look like paying farmers not to irrigate for a certain amount of time in order to save some of the reservoirs and boost their levels.

    What long-term approaches to water shortages were discussed at the conference?

    Attention is turning to these broader guidelines that are set to be renegotiated over the next several years. The current operating guidelines for the river were put into place during 2007 and they expire in 2026, so between now and [then], these Colorado river water managers have to come up with a broader set of guidelines. Determining what is included in those guidelines, how broad or how narrow they are, how conservative they are or how they might include big ideas, that has yet to be determined.

    #Colorado Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

    From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

    The country’s top federal water manager said it was not time to renegotiate rules for managing water among the seven states and two countries that share the river. The current guidelines for the Colorado River are governed by a 2007 agreement that expires in 2026.

    First, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates a series of dams and reservoirs in the watershed, will conduct a review of how the current rules have worked and report back by the end of next year. That review will encompass input from the states, tribes and other water users. After the review is complete, negotiations for a new set of guidelines are set to begin in 2021.

    “This is an important, foundational task,” said Brenda Burman, who leads the agency.

    But the history of the Colorado River is a history of ongoing deliberation within a legal framework that has traditionally overestimated how much water the river could deliver to farms, cities and businesses from Wyoming to Mexico. Agreements tend to be complex. Although five years might seem like enough time to hammer out a deal, water users expect reaching a deal to be a difficult task.

    “It’s going to be a much more complex set of agreements that we’ve done on the river,” said Bill Hasencamp, who oversees Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

    Even though the negotiations won’t start for at least another year, top water managers were already laying the foundations for future talks last week, or at least identifying the questions that are likely to come into play. How do you prepare for the uncertainty of climate change on a river that is already strained? How do you share risk in a fair way? Who gets to be at the table?

    […[

    ‘Most water secure area’

    Of the seven states that share the Colorado River, Nevada has the smallest share. At the same time, Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.

    In recent years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new infrastructure to ensure that it can access water from Lake Mead, even if the man-made reservoir behind Hoover Dam ever fell so low that other states couldn’t access their supplies. With increased conservation and turf removal, the water authority has also decreased how much total water it removes from the reservoir each year. It consumes less than 80 percent of its total share.

    “Between our physical security and our [conservation efforts], I really do feel that we’re the most water secure area in the Colorado River Basin,” water authority General Manager John Entsminger said during an interview at the conference…

    Who’s at the table?

    In 2007, the 29 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin were largely left out of the negotiations of the guidelines. But several speakers, including Burman, stressed the importance of tribal participation moving ahead.

    Together, tribes are entitled to a share of water equal to about one fifth of the Colorado River, with many of their claims unresolved. Their water rights tend to be the most senior and protected from shortages. Tribal leaders say that it is all the more reason that they should be part of long-term river planning negotiations.

    “Somebody used the word certainty,” Daryl Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, said during a panel discussion on Thursday. “If you don’t include tribes in the conversation, given the nature of the volume of water rights that they have, how is that we start to create certainty if there is a big piece of the puzzle missing in terms of water rights in the basin?”

    He said the track record is that states have not protected tribal rights in negotiations. Not including tribes now, he said, would be “irresponsible.”

    “We have a long way to go,” he said…

    Climate rhetoric and reality

    In addition addressing equity issues in the upcoming negotiations, water managers will be tasked with a new challenge looming over the river: how to prepare for climate change. Warming temperatures and more evaporative demand are expected to decrease river streamflow. River flows could decline by about 20 percent in the middle of the century, according to climate scientists.

    During a panel, Entsminger stressed the importance of being prepared for that.

    “Success is knowing in advance objectively what everyone’s pain is going to be,” he said, when asked how to prepare for a climate change scenario of low river flows…

    Other water managers who were representing Arizona, California and Colorado stressed the importance of addressing climate change, acknowledging a need to use less water. But their direct rhetoric contrasted with the rhetoric from federal officials who spoke at the conference. When one reporter asked about human-caused climate change, federal officials gave non-answers.

    Despite that, Fleck said “Reclamation is taking climate change seriously.”

    Given the administration’s position (President Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Accords), he said that “they use their language with care.”

    In an interview with reporters, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the climate was changing, but his rhetoric about how it fit into the calculus was restrained.

    “I certainly believe the climate is changing,” he said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists and I spend a lot of time with our models. Scientists tell me the best thing we can do is make sure we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model.”

    He added that scientists say it is the most “speculative” part of forecasting.

    Although the negotiations heading into 2026 will encompass more issues, some water managers cautioned against biting off too much at once.

    Ted Cooke, who manages the Central Arizona Project, a canal that runs that delivers water to Tucson and Phoenix, said that the guidelines should not be viewed as the only opportunity to revisit how the Colorado River is managed.

    Click here to view the conference hash tag #CRWUA2019. Click here to view the CRWUA Twitter feed.

    “Friends who have keys to the building showed us around this afternoon” — @jfleck

    Coyote Gulch was lucky enough to get a tour of Hoover Dam on December 14, 2019. Thanks so much to the Bureau of Reclamation folks for arranging the tour. Here’s a photo gallery.