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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Monday, November 2nd, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs on Tuesday, October 20th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 85th birth anniversary Hoover (Boulder) Dam

From Wikipedia:

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

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

From The Salt Lake Tribune(Brian Maffly):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release change has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.

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

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

Laying pipe near Crawford, Colorado. Photo credit: USBR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

From Writers on the Range (Dave Marston):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a cool forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Wednesday, September 16th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to a cooler forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Saturday, September 12th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

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

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

Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.

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

Aspinall Unit Operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1600 cfs to 1500 cfs on Monday, August 31st. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

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

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Monday, August 31st, starting at 12:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

@USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Marc Miller):

In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Saturday, August 29th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

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

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

Blue Mesa Reservoir September 2017

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

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

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

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

Taylor Park Reservoir

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

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

Ridgway Dam

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

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

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

Aspinall Unit

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

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

Paonia Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Wyoming Public Media (Ashley Picco ne):

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

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

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

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

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The August 2020 24-Month Study projects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their work is helping Reclamation link advances in science to water resource management decisions in the face of greater uncertainty and increased hydrologic and operational risks. Reclamation’s modeling and operations teams further refine these tools, such as the 24-Month Study, to make annual operational determinations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead through close coordination with water and power customers throughout the basin.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 1,000 CFS August 14, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to decreasing flows and a continued 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 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,000 cfs on Friday, August 14th, starting at 5:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended flows in the critical habitat reach as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to be increased to 800 CFS on August 11, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Susan 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 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Tuesday, August 11th, 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 in the Gunnison Tunnel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1550 cfs to 1600 cfs on Friday, August 7th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

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

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase 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 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 700 CFS August 7, 2020 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Piute Farms waterfall. Photo credit: Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to decreasing flows and a hot and 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 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Friday, August 7th, 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: 500 CFS in Black Canyon starting August 5, 2020

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, August 5th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

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

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase 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 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Navajo Dam operations update: 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
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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.