Upper Colorado River pilot program paying irrigators to leave water for Lake Powell will end after 2018 — @AspenJournalism

Wyoming rancher Freddie Botur walking across rocks that form the diversion structure at his headgate on Cottonwood Creek, a tributary of the Green River. Botur was paid to let water flow past these headgates and down the river system toward Lake Powell as part of the System Conservation Pilot Program. Photo credit: Jim Paussa via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A four-year pilot program that paid ranchers and farmers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico about $200 per acre-foot of water saved by fallowing fields in order boost water levels in Lake Powell will be put on hold after 2018.

On Wednesday, the five members of the Upper Colorado River Commission unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at a board meeting.

“Although the pilot (program) has helped explore the feasibility of some aspect of demand management programs, it does not provide a means for the upper (basin) states to account, store and release conserved water in a way which will help assure full compliance with the Colorado River Compact in times of drought,” the resolution said.

“Demand management” generally means finding ways to save, or conserve, water by paying willing irrigators to divert less water from streams and rivers by fallowing some of their fields for all, or part, of an irrigation system.

The Upper Colorado River Commission, meeting in Santa Fe on June 20, 2018. Don Ostler, seated third from left, gets a round of applause as the outgoing executive director of the Commission, which helps manages the upper Colorado River system for Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. Ostler is leaving after 14 years and being replaced by Amy Haas of New Mexico, who currently serves as general counsel to the commission. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Still interested

This year, $3.9 million is expected to be paid out to ranchers and farmers in the upper basin, which will make it the biggest year of the program, but that will be it for the System Conservation Pilot Program in the upper basin.

The ending of the program in the upper basin does not mean the commission is giving up on getting more water into the upper Colorado River system in order to raise water levels in Lake Powell, as that interest continues to grow as the drought that began in 2000 lingers.

“I view it more of a change in direction rather than a value judgment of system conservation,” said Pat Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the commission and also is the Wyoming state water engineer.

In introducing the proposed resolution, Tyrrell said “there are some things (the pilot program) simply cannot do.”

The pilot program “does not allow the upper (basin) states to sufficiently investigate storage or the additional administrative, technical, operational, economic and legal considerations necessary to explore the feasibility of demand management as part of its ongoing emergency drought contingency planning efforts,” the resolution adopted by the commission states.

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, supported the commission’s decision.

“I think it is an appropriate temporary halt in the Upper Colorado River Commission’s support for the SCPP,” he said after the meeting in Santa Fe. “Mainly because in order for a conserved consumptive use program like this to work, the upper basin needs a pool of water designated in Lake Powell that we can use as a water bank. We don’t currently have that, and until that’s there, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of our of society’s resources on the program.”

A wall bleached, and stained, in Lake Powell. Photo credit Brent Gardner-Smith @AspenJournalism.

Declining levels

Lake Powell is 53 percent full today, and if the water level in the huge reservoir falls much further, it will mean that first, hydropower can no longer be produced by the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, and second, that not enough water can physically be released to meet the upper basin state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to send water to the lower basin states, which include California, Arizona and Nevada.

So while there is room in Lake Powell to hold more water sent down from the upper basin states, there is no way to securely store the water from a legal perspective. Today, any water that reaches Powell is fair game to be sent on to Lake Mead and the lower basin states, which defeats the purpose of sending water there to bolster its operational water level.

But there is a legal way to protect such a pool of water in Lake Mead. It’s called an “intentionally created surplus” (ICS). Water managers in the upper basin states would like to see something similar created in Lake Powell through federal legislation, although they prefer the term “demand management storage” to distinguish it from “intentionally created surplus,” which is a term shaped by, and tied to, the 2007 interim guidelines that currently dictate how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are managed together.

The pilot program began paying ranchers and farmers in 2015 to fallow fields and let water run down the river system toward Lake Powell. Originally set-up as a two-year program, it was extended for one year in 2017, and then another in 2018.

The program has paid for fallowing in both the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and in the lower basin states.

The overall system conservation program initially was funded by an $11 million pool provided by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water, in partnership with Reclamation.

The Walton Family Foundation also contributed financially to the upper basin program through a contribution to Denver Water (the Walton Family Foundation also supports Aspen Journalism), and Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy invested a lot of staff time to help make the program work.

The funding for the program, which includes both a lower basin and an upper basin component, grew over the years, with the upper basin eventually having access to a $9.5 million pool of funds, according to Amy Haas, the incoming executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

(Haas is replacing Don Ostler, who is stepping down into a consulting role after 14 years at the commission. Haas, who is from New Mexico, is the current general counsel of the commission and officially starts as executive director on July 1).

Haas said she expects the system conservation program in the lower basin will continue if pending legislation in Congress is approved to re-authorize the program, and she clarified that the commission’s resolution passed this week only applies to the upper basin program.

In the first three years in the upper basin, 45 fallowing efforts were funded, including 15 in Colorado, at an average cost of $205 an acre-foot of conserved consumptive use — water that would have otherwise been consumed by various crops.

And not all of the funds in the system went to irrigators, as two municipal projects were also involved in the first three years of program, including one with the Pueblo Board of Water Works.

In those three years, about 22,116 acre-feet of water was left in the upper Colorado River system at a total cost of $4.6 million.

Individual contracts in the first three years of the program ranged from $6,300 to $635,000, depending on the number of acres fallowed and for how long.

The 22,000 acre-feet of water sent down to Lake Powell in the first three years of the pilot program represents a tiny drop in a big bucket, as the reservoir holds 24.3 million acre-feet of water when full.

It’s also not clear how much of the non-diverted water reached Lake Powell. Program administrators knew there was no guarantee the water would make it past other diverters without the legal ability to “shepherd” the water downstream.

On the other hand, fallowing projects were chosen in part because of their locations. Water from the Colorado River not consumed in the Grand Valley, for example, has a decent chance of making it through Westwater and Cataract canyons to reach Lake Powell.

However, officials said the experimental effort was not ever meant to physically change the level of Lake Powell, but to see what lessons could be learned from setting up such a program.

According to a candid report on the program released by the commission in February, the lessons learned in the upper basin included that the program was valued by some ranchers and farmers, but distrusted by others, that the program was hard to administer due to the many individual contracts required, and that in order for the program to really make a difference, it would need to be dramatically scaled up, and the resulting saved water would need to be securely shepherded to, and held in, Lake Powell or some other reservoir, and not just sent into the river system.

On June 22, Scott Yates, the director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program, issued a statement praising the program.

“We’re extremely proud to have worked with agricultural producers interested in the System Conservation Pilot Program,” Yates said. “The SCPP has proved the enormous potential for water demand management to address drought and climate impacts on the Colorado River Basin’s water supplies.

“We’ve learned that there is significant interest among ranchers and farmers for a program that compensates them for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use. That was a key question about SCPP — would agricultural producers respond to market-based incentives? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’

“TU believes that the SCPP in the Upper Basin has been successful in allowing producers to explore whether using their water right in this innovative way can benefit their operations. Many participants embraced the SCPP approach, especially if such a program can operate over the longer-term,” Yates said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story in its print edition on Friday, June 22, 2018.

#ColoradoRiver: “…even more problematic is the total water going into #LakePowell” — Victor Lee #runoff #COriver

From Westword (Michael Roberts):

The Colorado River has already reached its peak flow for the season, and that’s lousy news when it comes to fire danger, water supply for farmers and residential users, recreational opportunities and the health of numerous fish species, among other things. And while Victor Lee, an engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, isn’t ready to hit the panic button yet, he concedes that bad can still turn worse.

“If we end up with several dry years, the situation can change pretty quickly,” Lee says. “And even more problematic is the total water going into Lake Powell right now. It’s much less than average, and that could have very severe consequences for the upper-basin states of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.”

Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, notes that the low peaks “are indicative of the poor snowpack and poor runoff this year, and what we’ve got is pretty much what we’re going to get. We’ve reached the bottom line in terms of volume — and we’re not expecting a lot of water to flown down into Lake Powell this year.”

She adds that “this is one of the earliest peaks we’ve seen” for Colorado River flow. “Last year was a pretty good runoff year, but in general during the last fifteen years or so, we’ve definitely been on the dry side, with a few wet years mixed in. It does appear to be a trend, and that leads to earlier peaks and lower volumes.”

A commercial raft on the Colorado River, during 2017 bridge construction in Glenwood Springs. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Lee elaborates on Alcorn’s points.

“Two elements to focus on would be the earliness of the peak and the magnitude of the peak,” he points out. “We’re dealing with the low snowpack, but upstream, in the upper basin, we’re not extremely low. If we move further south in the state, though, the snowpack gets very low. In some places, it’s the lowest snowpack and forecasted runoff in the historical record, as far as the earliness of the peak. And that’s concerning for water management, because it’s an indication there may not be so much water later on in the year that we would normally have — flows that are adequate to meet agricultural demands or biology needs or even recreational needs.”

Potential shortages also exacerbate longtime conflicts within the state over water use, as Lee, who works directly on the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, knows from personal experience…

Low flows also impact the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

“There are four species of fish that are native to the Colorado River that are considered endangered: the humpback chub, the bonytail chub, the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker,” Lee goes on. “And there’s a stretch of water between the Gunnison River confluence in Grand Junction that, if it didn’t have extra water during the September-October period, would be de-watered. That would affect the fish’s ability to move from the lower to the upper portion of the river, so we release water from the reservoirs at different times to make sure that doesn’t occur. But we also need to meet the needs for irrigation and agricultural users, as well as municipal and industrial water users. So there are a variety of concerns over that, in addition to concerns about biology and also water quality.”

The upper Colorado River basin “isn’t in as much pain as other areas of Colorado,” Lee acknowledges. “All of the reservoirs are expected to fill or get near to full, in part because we’ve had several previous years of quite a bit of water — and there’s a lot of water in the system right now. But in the southern part of the state, they don’t have much water at all. They’re definitely in pretty severe-to-extreme drought conditions at this point, which has very significant consequences for what water’s available for a variety of different uses.”

@USBR announces path forward for expanded operational capacity at Fontenelle Reservoir

Fontenelle Dam and power plant. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

On May 24, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, together with Wyoming Governor Matthew H. Mead, Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, and Representative Liz Cheney, announced collaborative plans to expand operational capacity at Fontenelle Reservoir. Governor Mead developed the Wyoming Water Strategy in 2015, which highlighted the Fontenelle Project.

For several years, Wyoming has sought to place riprap (rock or other material that protects against erosion) to expand the operating capacity of Fontenelle. The expansion will increase flexibility in operating the dam and reservoir – bolstering the region’s ability to resist frequent droughts in the arid West – all without increasing the footprint of the reservoir. Additional reservoir capacity will also make possible the creation of new water supplies which would be available for contracting and sale.

“Water is Wyoming’s most important natural resource,” said Governor Mead. “It is critically important to not only Wyoming but to our country. We need to address water challenges using all the best tools – like conservation, planning and infrastructure. As a headwaters state we recognize the need to protect and develop our water.”

“I applaud Commissioner Burman’s announcement that the Bureau of Reclamation will increase operational flexibility at Fontenelle Reservoir in southwest Wyoming,” said Senator Barrasso. “For years, I’ve been working to expand storage at Fontenelle. This announcement brings us one step closer to that goal. In order to start construction on this project, we must pass the Fontenelle Reservoir legislation. As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I included this bill in the bipartisan America’s Water Infrastructure Act. I’m confident we will pass this important water infrastructure legislation and make sure that communities in Wyoming have access to a reliable source of water.”

“I am glad that the Bureau of Reclamation and Wyoming are working together to help expand capacity at the Fontenelle Reservoir,” Senator Enzi said. “Water storage projects like this are vital to meet today’s water needs and keep water supplies secure and flexible into the future. I am also hopeful that Congress will act soon and Pass the Wyoming delegation’s legislation designed to help further along the Fontenelle project.”

“I’m pleased the Bureau of Reclamation is moving forward to expand the operational capacity of the Fontenelle Reservoir to help protect one of Wyoming’s most important resources,” Representative Cheney said. “The Fontenelle Reservoir expansion will help combat the effects of drought, help ensure our water infrastructure is properly developed and provide the potential for new commerce and recreation activity by creating new water supplies to be available for contracting and sale. This decision by the Bureau of Reclamation is an important and welcome step for Wyoming.”

Under existing law, Wyoming can apply for project funding under the Colorado River Storage Project Basin Fund Memorandum of Agreement. On April 30, Reclamation concluded that it would consider funding the project under this authority, and invited Wyoming to submit a funding request. Under the MOA, many Western water storage projects have received funding from Reclamation for operation, maintenance, and replacement activities. This federal funding can only be used to improve Colorado River Storage Project facilities and operations.

As an alternative to expanding operational flexibility under MOA funding, Wyoming is seeking Congressional approval to create additional water supply for contracting. Two bills which would authorize this plan, Senate Bill 199 and House Resolution 648, have been introduced by the members of the Wyoming Congressional Delegation.

“Reclamation is pleased to be a partner in the state and the delegation’s efforts to upgrade crucial water infrastructure at the Fontenelle Project,” said Commissioner Burman. “Improving access to reliable water supplies is a key priority for Reclamation and the Administration.”

“This is a great project,” said Governor Mead. “I am pleased to see it move forward.”

Green River Basin

#ColoradoRiver: Lower Basin folks hope to solve the #Drought Contingency Plan conundrum #COriver

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The hope is that this will lead to approval by year’s end of a proposed Drought Contingency Plan for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, to conserve more water now to prevent catastrophic declines at Lake Mead later.

At stake is the future of your drinking water supply — the CAP’s canals bring river water to Phoenix and Tucson — and that of the 40 million people in seven states and Mexico who also depend on the Colorado River for water.

Here are six things to know about this future:

1. President Trump has called concerns about human-caused climate change bad science. But out West, his Bureau of Reclamation officials are saying the seven basin states must act to avert a crisis on the Colorado that many scientists have traced to climate change…

2. CAP officials are concerned that conserving “too much” water in Lake Mead could trigger a premature shortage in water deliveries first for Arizona farms, and later for Phoenix and Tucson’s drinking water. Others say that isn’t valid…

3. Without a drought plan, the bad tidings that many fear will befall Lake Mead in the distant future could arrive much sooner…

4. The drought’s additional threat to Lake Powell could threaten Western power production as well as Lake Mead, which supplies water to Arizona…

5. Arizona’s water agencies are making nice now, and a top CAP official sounds almost contrite. But approval of a drought plan remains uncertain…

6. The drought plan is only a band-aid, but putting an end to the fighting is considered essential.

@USBR provides $260,000 for two WaterSMART #drought contingency planning projects

Drought impacted corn

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

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that the El Dorado County Water Agency and Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District will receive $260,000, combined, to prepare drought contingency plans. The funding provided is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART initiative.

“Preparing for drought is imperative for communities throughout the Western United States,” Commissioner Burman said. “Through drought contingency planning, communities can reduce impacts of drought, avoid the likelihood of catastrophic reductions and recover more quickly when drought conditions lessen.”

The El Dorado County Water Agency in California will receive $100,000 to create a regional drought contingency plan for the upper American River and upper Consumnes River watersheds located east of Sacramento, California. These watersheds are an important source of water to meet residential, agricultural, recreation and hydroelectric generation water demands. There are numerous small rural communities and several concentrated populated areas within the planning area. The regional plan will build on existing planning efforts, including the on-going American River Basin Study, and the North American Basin Regional Drought Contingency Plan recently completed downstream under Reclamation’s Drought Response Program.

The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in Utah will receive $160,000 to develop a drought contingency plan for its service area in Salt Lake and Utah counties. The district’s service area includes 15 cities and is home to nearly 25% of Utah’s population and is expecting rapid population growth due to a healthy economy. The district will assemble stakeholders from all sectors to identify projects, actions and partnerships needed to prepare for and reduce water shortages and improve drought resilience for the areas water users.

Drought contingency planning is part of Reclamation’s Drought Response Program. It helps communities recognize the next drought in its early stages, learn how droughts will impact them, and protect themselves during the next drought. It is structured to encourage an open and inclusive planning effort to build long-term resiliency to drought. Learn more at https://www.usbr.gov/drought/.

Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with States, Tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart for additional information about WaterSMART.

@CWCB_DNR Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use

The dam that forms Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

DATE: May 16, 2018

RE: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on Fryingpan River, Eagle & Pitkin Counties

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“CRWCD”) to enter into a one-year renewable short-term lease of a portion of water that CRWCD holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Board will consider this proposal at its May 23-24, 2018 meeting in Salida. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:
http://cwcb.state.co.us/public-information/board-meetings-agendas/Pages/May2018NoticeAgenda.aspx

Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.

Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found at:
http://cwcb.state.co.us/legal/Documents/Rules/Final%20Adopted%20ISF%20Rules%201-27-2009.pdf

The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF Rule 6m.(1):
Subject Water Right:

RUEDI RESERVOIR
Source: Fryingpan River
Decree: CA4613
Priority No.: 718
Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

Decree: 81CW0034(Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 Acre Feet

Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 079D6C0106
Contract Use: Supplement winter instream flows in the Fryingpan River
Contract Amount: 5,000 Acre Feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: 3,500 Acre Feet

Proposed Reaches of Stream:

Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.

Purpose of the Acquisition:

The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.

Proposed Season of Use:

Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.

Supporting Data:

Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation of the natural environment, and available scientific data can be found on CWCB water acquisitions web page at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/RuediReservoirFryingpanRiver.aspx

Linda Bassi
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
linda.bassi@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3204

Kaylea White
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
kaylea.white@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3240

“We need action” — Brenda Burman #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought #aridification

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

In a pointed message Wednesday, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said drought and low flows continue on the Colorado with no end in sight, so it’s up to those who rely on the river to stave off a coming crisis.

“We need action and we need it now. We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans,” Burman in a written statement. “I’m calling on the Colorado River basin states to put real — and effective — drought contingency plans in place before the end of this year.”

The bureau’s latest projections call for the river to see just 42 percent of its average flow between now and July due to record-low snowpack that has already melted away in parts of the basin.

Federal forecasters now say there is a 52 percent chance that Lake Mead will decline into shortage conditions by 2020. That would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their river use for the first time under shortage rules adopted in 2007.

Nevada, Arizona and California have been working on a plan since 2015 to keep Lake Mead out of shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir, but the talks have stalled in Arizona and California, where water users are arguing over how to share the necessary cuts.

Then last month, a war of words broke out among the seven states that share the Colorado after Arizona’s largest water utility revealed a controversial strategy to keep water levels in Lake Mead high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require upper-river users to send more water downstream to the lake.

The Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to about 5 million people in Phoenix and Tucson, has since issued a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.
Officials for the utility promised “a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future” and said they would do their part to finish the drought contingency plan.

The surface of Lake Mead has dropped by more than 130 feet since 2000, when the current drought descended on the mountains that feed the Colorado. According to the bureau, the river basin is in the midst of the driest 19-year period on record and one of the worst drought cycles of the past 1,200 years.

“This ongoing drought is a serious situation, and Mother Nature does not care about our politics or our schedules,” said John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager and one of several top water officials who signed on to Burman’s call to action. “We have a duty to get back to the table and finish the drought contingency plan to protect the people and the environment that rely upon the Colorado River.”