Federal resolution aims to streamline water storage permits

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP)…

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

[…]

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it…

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP).

That proposed water storage project would have Northern Water build two reservoirs, Galeton northeast of Greeley and Glade northwest of Fort Collins. They would provide water to the 15 NISP participants, including the city of Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District.

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it.

“Unfortunately, many water storage projects in my state face significant setbacks in permitting due to a long list of regulatory checkboxes,” he said in prepared remarks. “Much of this delay occurs because each level of government-local, state, and federal-requires (its) own studies and permitting checklists, even though many of those requirements are the same or only slightly different.”

The goal would not be to eliminate environmental or safety requirements for getting the permits, Buck pointed out. Instead it would be to seek to get the “different levels of government to work together so that our water projects can earn the permits they rightly qualify for” during the initial permitting process.

The legislation next faces debate in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but a hearing date had not yet been set as of Monday afternoon. That committee includes Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner as a member.

Department of the Interior Awards $6.9 Million to 17 Projects for Drought Preparation — @USBR

Augmentation pond photo via Irrigation Doctor, Inc.

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

Entities in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma and Montana will receive funding to prepare for and address drought in advance of a crisis

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced today that the Bureau of Reclamation is awarding 17 projects in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Montana a total of $6.9 million to proactively prepare for and address drought in their communities. The federal funding will be leveraged to support more than $47.9 million for the development of drought contingency plans and implementation of drought resiliency projects.

“Drought continues to have serious adverse impacts throughout the West,” Secretary Zinke said. “Reclamation and its partners have been leaders in combating this drought for a hundred years. The newest infusion of Reclamation funds announced today will help communities in five states prepare for and respond to drought.”

Reclamation’s Drought Response Program supports a proactive approach to drought. It aids water users for drought contingency planning. The Drought Response Program also provides funding for the implementation of mitigation actions through drought resiliency projects, giving priority to projects that are supported by a drought planning effort.

Complete descriptions of all the selected projects are available at http://www.usbr.gov/drought.

Five projects in California and one project in Montana were selected through a competitive process to receive funding to develop drought contingency plans. They are:

  • Bella Vista Water District (California)
    Reclamation funding: $86,580; Total Project Cost: $173,160
  • City of Rialto, California
    Reclamation funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $404,474
  • Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
    Reclamation funding: $150,000; Total Project Cost: $300,000
  • Schafter-Wasco Irrigation District (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $456,500
  • Sonoma County Water Agency (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $200,000; Total Project Cost: $501,196
  • Southern California Edison Company (California)
    Reclamation Funding: $100,000; Total Project Cost: $200,000
  • Eleven projects in California, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma were selected through a competitive process to receive Drought Resiliency Project grants. They are:

  • Alameda County Water District (California), Rubber Dam #3 Fish Ladder
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,121,600
  • Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northeast Colorado Walker Recharge Project – Phase I
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,000,000
  • City of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Caney River Water Augmentation and Intake Improvements
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $7,152,097
  • City of Torrance, California, Torrance Van Ness Well Field
    Reclamation Funding: $750,000; Total Project Cost: $16,703,900
  • Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians (California), West Fork Russian River Bank Stabilization and Habitat Restoration
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $600,000
  • Merced Irrigation District (California), Merced River Instream & Off-Channel Drought Habitat Project
    Reclamation Funding: $744,489; Total Project Cost: $2,707,763
  • Mountain Park Master Conservancy District (Oklahoma), Groundwater Supply Augmentation Project
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $618,500
  • Round Valley Indian Tribes (California), Mill Creek Streamflow & Riparian Corridor Restoration Project
    Reclamation Funding: $689,101; Total Project Cost: $1,444,461
  • San Gabriel River Water Committee (California), San Gabriel Inlet Structure Project
    Reclamation Funding: $300,000; Total Project Cost: $689,093
  • To learn more about Reclamation’s Drought Response Program and to see a complete description of all the projects, visit https://www.usbr.gov/drought.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1150 CFS in Black Canyon

    Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The spring peak operation has officially concluded. Due to an issue with the power plant at Crystal Dam, the ramp down was forced to end prematurely. As of today releases are being made through the bypass gates at a rate of 2150 cfs. This has put flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon around 1150 cfs. This release rate is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Further adjustments to this release rate may be necessary to manage the remaining runoff coming into Blue Mesa Reservoir.

    #ColoradoRiver: Forecasted inflows to Lake Mead drop #COriver

    Lake Mead from Hoover Dam December 13, 2016.

    From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly prediction for Colorado River reservoir levels says the lake could drop to 1,076.53 feet by the end of 2018 or Jan. 1, 2019. That would be a foot and a half above where a Central Arizona Project water shortage would be declared. Last month, the forecast for the end of the year was 1,096.77 feet.

    A shortage declaration would cut river water deliveries to Central Arizona farmers and Arizona Water Bank recharge projects. Tucson gets most of its drinking water from CAP but wouldn’t be affected by a shortage declaration at this point — only when and if the lake drops much lower.

    The forecast is down sharply from the bureau’s May 2017 prediction because this spring’s river runoff levels are less than expected a few months ago although still above normal. That means the amount of water to be released from Lake Powell downstream to Mead this year won’t be as much as was thought a few months ago. The prospect of lesser releases from Powell has been known for some time, but the 20-foot-decline in the 2019 forecast was just released.

    “The severe drop-off in anticipated flows into Lake Mead represents a shocking turn-around in expectations for the near-term health of the great reservoir,” said the Arizona Department of Water Resources in an article on its website.

    The abrupt forecast change underscores the need for agreement on a near-term “drought contingency plus” plan for the state to reduce the risk of shortages, Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said Thursday. CAP officials have opposed that plan as unneccessary in light of earlier, more favorable forecasts, leaving negotiations stuck for months. CAP officials weren’t available for comment Thursday on the latest forecast.

    At the same time, Mead’s bad January 2019 forecast doesn’t mean an immediate crisis. The forecast doesn’t take into account already planned water conservation efforts by the CAP that, if carried out, will push the lake up by a few feet compared to what the bureau is forecasting, a bureau spokeswoman said.

    It does, however, take into account 350,000 acre feet that California users and Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community have pledged to leave in the lake in 2017. Lesser amounts are committed for 2018 and 2019.

    The Phoenix City Council added to the conservation push this week by unanimously approving a deal to pay the Gila River Indian Community $2 million to leave 40,000 additional acre feet in the lake for a year. Arizona is spending $2 million. The non-profit Walton Foundation and the Bureau of Reclamation are kicking in another $1 million apiece.

    The agreement isn’t a done deal yet because CAP must approve it. But it’s already being hailed by backers as a prime example of how cooperation among users can boost the lake’s levels.

    The January 2019 forecast could rise or fall later, depending on the weather over the next 18 months, reclamation officials noted.

    “We offer our best projections to help our water users plan, but the hydrology is extremely variable,” bureau spokeswoman Rose Davis said Thursday.

    Who pays for water infrastructure? — @HighCountryNews

    Paradox Valley via Airphotona.com

    Here’s a report from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

    Water infrastructure, for both drinking and irrigation, is especially in need of improvement in the arid West. Amid a wave of aging reservoirs, treatment plants and pipelines, and a Congress unwilling to pony up funding to fix them, the Bureau of Reclamation is considering private investment as a possible solution. While some municipalities in the U.S. have partnered with private companies on water projects, such deals are almost non-existent on the federal level.

    Critics note that there’s a significant potential downside — private companies are beholden to their bottom line, and their goals may not always line up with the public interest. If the company goes bankrupt, for example, public-private partnerships can end up being costly for the public.

    The Bureau of Reclamation recently held a meeting with industry representatives and asked for their feedback on five water infrastructure projects in the West that the agency says might benefit from private involvement or even ownership. The exchange was intended to gauge industry interest in this type of arrangement, and while the Bureau may ask for development bids in the future, it hasn’t yet done so.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 4,500 cfs in Black Canyon — @USBR

    Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The spring peak operation is nearing completion. Releases are currently being made to sustain half bankfull flow levels at the Whitewater gage, as well as to manage the forecasted runoff into Blue Mesa Reservoir. Releases from the Aspinall Unit have been around 5,500 cfs during the past week and that release rate will continue through Sunday, June 11th. Flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are currently around 4,500 cfs and can be expected to stay near this level through Sunday, June 11th. Starting on Monday, June 12th flows will begin to ramp down towards the summertime release level. This should result in flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon around 900 cfs to 1,000 cfs once the ramp down is completed on Monday, June 19th.

    #Runoff news: Coordinated releases for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish #COriver

    From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via The Los Alamos Daily Post:

    Coordinated releases from a series of Upper Colorado River Basin reservoirs began Saturday, June 3, and are anticipated to continue through this week as part of the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations Program.

    The US Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District as owners and operators of upper Colorado River reservoirs have mutually agreed to modify their operations to benefit the endangered fish of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    The Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS) program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The purpose of the Coordinated Operations is to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction, Colo. Determined to be critical to the survival of four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Bonytail and the Colorado Pikeminnow. The higher peak flows remove more fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the endangered fish. In years with sufficient snowpack, surplus inflows to the reservoirs can be passed downstream to benefit these fish without impacting reservoir yields or future beneficial water uses.

    Coordinated Reservoir Operations were most recently conducted in 2016, 2015 and 2010. In 2011 and 2014, wet conditions caused streamflows in certain areas of the basin to approach or exceed levels associated with minor flooding, so CROS was not performed. In 2012 and 2013, reservoirs did not have surplus inflow to contribute due to extremely dry conditions.

    Managers of the reservoirs completed a conference call June 2, agreeing to voluntarily run the program this year. Planned reservoir operations as of June 2 are described below. Release and flow amounts are approximate. Most reservoirs will step up releases over the next several days, hold at a constant rate for 3-7 days, and then wind down releases.

    Green Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, will increase releases from 418 cubic feet per second (cfs) to powerplant capacity of around 1400 cfs. Releases from Green Mountain include inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water, that will be increased by approximately 100 cfs during CROS.

    Denver Water also operates Williams Fork Reservoir, which is releasing 200 cfs. Releases will likely increase to approximately 600 cfs over the coming week to bypass increasing inflows.

    Willow Creek Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is releasing 90 cfs. Releases will increase this week to roughly 600 cfs by curtailing pumping operations to Granby Reservoir and bypassing those inflows instead.

    Wolford Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Colorado River District, is passing inflows of 350 cfs. Outflows will be increased to around 600 cfs for approximately five days.

    Ruedi Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is releasing 182 cfs and will increase releases to approximately 600 cfs over the next few days.

    The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) will incorporate these planned reservoir operations into their streamflow forecasts. Based on weather forecasts and planned reservoir operations, flows in the Colorado River near Cameo (upriver of Palisade, Colo.) are anticipated to be approximately 14,000 – 17,500 cfs, June 7 through June 12, with the highest flows Thursday or Friday June 8 or 9. Flows in the forecasted range are still below defined “bankfull” and flood stages for the area.

    More detailed information about forecasted streamflows in the Colorado River basin are available from the CBRFC website at http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov. A map-based interface allows viewing of hydrographs detailing recent, current and anticipated flows.

    For more information, contact Don Anderson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at 303.236.9883, donald_anderson@usfws.gov, Michelle Garrison, Colorado Water Conservation Board, at 303.866.3441, ext. 3213, michelle.garrison@state.co.us or James Bishop, Bureau of Reclamation, at 970.962.4326, jbishop@usbr.gov.

    The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water developers, power customers and environmental groups established in 1988 to recover the endangered fishes while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.

    From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

    Through both natural and man-made activities, the area’s waterbodies will ramp back up to seasonal heights this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates the Colorado River and its primary Summit County tributaries will reach their highest 2017 levels this Wednesday, June 7.

    The volume-based flow rates, measured as cubic feet per second, on North Tenmile Creek, for example, will rise from about 600 to 900 cfs and the Blue River north of Dillon should grow in the next two days by another couple hundred cfs from its present 600. To offset forthcoming supply, Denver Water, which owns and oversees Dillon Reservoir, stated that it plans to up flows from Dillon Dam into the Lower Blue River from its Monday total of 380 cfs to 600 no later than Tuesday morning, and between 1,400 and 1,800 cfs by the end of the week.

    “The snowpack up on the mountain, it’s now warmed up and is starting to come off,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a public policy agency that closely monitors the region’s major waterway. “It’s fast water, but shouldn’t flood anybody out. All streams will be quicker-paced than people are used to, but the flooding is not the danger.”

    […]

    North of Silverthorne, additional releases at Green Mountain Reservoir also allow the Bureau of Reclamation to increase power plant capacity and generate more electricity. Those levels could reach approaching 1,400 cfs from the current 418.

    Estimating that 40 percent of the winter’s snowpack still remains above Dillon, Denver Water is comfortable increasing the flows from Dillon Reservoir into the Lower Blue River that ultimately head to northern Arizona’s Lake Powell. That result is threefold, preventing wasteful overflow of the reservoir, maintaining ideal recreational heights on the lake, as well as fulfilling the demands of Lower Basin states based on senior water rights.

    “Our experts are monitoring conditions carefully with the goal of ending runoff season with a full reservoir,” Matt Wittern, Denver Water Summit County liaison, wrote by email. “That way, we’re able to meet our customers’ needs while providing locals and tourists alike with valued summer recreation activities that have a positive impact on the local economy.”

    A standup surfer in the Arkansas River at Salida during Fibark, the river celebration held in late June. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Where spring runoff has been something like average—and where it hasn’t

    Spring runoff of the Yampa River likely peaked on May 14 this year as it flowed through northwestern Colorado. That makes it an anomaly in the precipitation-dripping mountains of the West.

    In most other locations, the peak runoff—the time when the largest volume of water in rivers occurs as winter’s snow melts—more normally occurs in early June after temperatures finally warmed. This year looks to be more or less normal, despite a trend to earlier runoff in many locations during the last several decades.

    “The Yampa did have an early runoff, and that was the result of the warm temperatures and below-average snowpack,” said Ashley Nielson, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, when interviewed last week by Mountain Town News. The Yampa, she noted, will probably rise again in the next week or so, if not to the same high mark.

    But elsewhere, the show is now, not a month ago. Peak runoff of the Green River was expected this week or next. It originates in the Wind River Range of west-central Wyoming. Unlike the Yampa, that basin still has a significant snowpack. That was also reported to be the case in Jackson Hole, at the headwaters of the Snake River. The snowpack there was 181 percent of average in late May, not a record but “up there,” in the words of one water official cited by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

    Peak runoff in the upper Colorado River at its headwaters along the Continental Divide in Colorado was also expected to occur in early June.

    Winter had wild swings: barren until late fall, then torrents of snow in December and January. Temperatures were unseasonably warm in February and almost hot in March. It looked like an early runoff everywhere. Then May turned cold and snowy.

    What explains the Yampa’s aberrant behavior? Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said the peak snowpack in northwestern Colorado arrived about a month earlier than usual. That snowpack around Steamboat Springs occurred on March 12, compared a more typical April 10.

    Instead of mid-May for the Yampa, he says that rafters floating through Dinosaur National Monument more often experience the highest water flows of the year in early June.

    The Dolores River in southwestern Colorado on Memorial Day in 2009. Photo/Allen Best

    Flows in the Animas River through Silverton and Durango have had some “pretty wild swings,” Wetlaufer says. The Arkansas River has been slow to get started with runoff.

    The Snake River of Wyoming and Idaho has a very different story than the Yampa, with around 200 percent of snowpack this year. The Snake originates in Jackson Hole and picks up water from the Big Wood River, which originates in the Sawtooth Mountains above Ketchum and Sun Valley, before joining the Columbia at the Idaho-Washington border.

    “My takeaway is that this year is pretty normal” in terms of timing, says Bruce Anderson, the senior hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center, in Portland, Ore. It was cooler and wetter in spring, but the big story was the amount of precipitation that fell during winter. “We are hugely above normal for precipitation.”

    In the Tahoe-Truckee area of California’s Sierra Nevada, the snowpack was among the deeper ones on record after three bad drought years and then a so-so winter in 2015-16. Snowfall this winter was not a record, but it was a record for total precipitation. Being somewhat lower and closer to the coast than Colorado, the Sierra Nevada gets more rain during winter. This year it got a lot of rain.

    Colorado, too, had rain on snow, which is not unprecedented. But it happened frequently this winter. The result was telling for travelers on I-70 who crossing Vail Pass.

    “In general, there was less snow than you would expect,” says Klaus Wolter, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

    Were those rain on snow storms of this past winter a result of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions? Wolter told Mountain Town News that thinks this is “probably partially climate change.”

    Wolter, whose focus is empirical climate research, using statistical methods to solve climate problems, is reluctant to pin climate change on much of what we have seen this year. True, he says, one storm during May left 42 inches of fresh snow in the foothills above Boulder, a storm unprecedented since the 1920s. As extreme as that storm was, proving causality is difficult, he says.

    A scientist in Oregon also shared the difficulty of proving causality. John Stevenson of Oregon State University told the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

    “That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

    That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decade.

    But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 years.

    Warm temperatures in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area were 6 to 13 degrees warmer than normal for early May, producing a flood in the Big Wood River that peaked on May 8. It was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

    But more warm weather was producing another surge in early June that threatened to surpass that peak of a month before, the newspaper reported last week.