Three finalists awarded $150,000 to reduce drownings in canals — USBR

The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Rob Manning):

The Bureau of Reclamation selected three Canal Safety Challenge finalists to test their proposed prototypes that reduce accidents and drownings around canals. The Greenfields Irrigation District, Isotope LLC, and WGM Group, Inc will each receive $50,000 for testing at the Reclamation Technical Service Center’s Hydraulics Laboratory in Denver, Colorado.

The Canal Safety Challenge is a public competition focused on developing solutions to improve public safety and reduce drownings in canals throughout the United States and make egress from canals easier or allow for safer rescue and recovery efforts.

The three finalist’s proposals are:

  • The Greenfields Irrigation District’s proposed solution includes a unique ramp that would use the force of the water to help the individual get to safety. (Fairfield, Montana)
  • Isotrope LLC’s proposed solution includes a partially submerged deck that will allow people to walk, crawl or be rescued from the current. (Medfield, Massachusetts)
  • WGM Group Inc.’s proposed solution includes a unique scoop designed to capture floating objects at a pipe entrance and allow a person to get out or be rescued. (Missoula, Montana)
  • “Reclamation maintains more than 8,000 miles of canals throughout the West, and more than 10% of those are in urban areas.” Chief Engineer David Raff said. “These innovative proposals have the potential to increase public safety in and around canals throughout the Western United States.”

    In addition to the three finalists, Reclamation recognizes two submissions with an honorable mention for their novel solutions, Northern Water in Berthoud, Colorado, and Peltonen & Sardi of Bellevue, Washington.

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

    #LakeMead projected to match lowest water level in history this week — The #LasVegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    US Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Blake Apgar):

    Lake Mead’s water level this week is projected to match its lowest point since the reservoir was formed in the 1930s, federal officials said Tuesday.

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patti Aaron said projections show Lake Mead’s water level reaching an elevation of 1,071.61 feet on Thursday, matching the record low set on July 1, 2016.

    And the lake level decline isn’t projected to stop there.

    “We expect it to keep declining until November,” Aaron said.
    Lake Mead is barreling toward its first federally declared water shortage, a product of a decades-long drought that has left the Colorado River parched. About 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water comes from Lake Mead…

    Under a shortage, Nevada would have its annual 300,000 acre-foot allocation of water from the river slashed by 13,000 feet. That reduction would come in addition to an 8,000 acre-foot contribution Nevada agreed to in 2019 in the event Lake Mead’s water level dropped below 1,090 feet, as it has…

    This year, the Colorado River Basin is projected to experience its second-driest year in more than a century of record keeping. The driest year on record was 2002…

    The declining lake level has also reduced the Hoover Dam’s power generation capacity.
    According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam’s power plant is capable of producing about 2,080 megawatts. Aaron said the current capacity is 1,567 megawatts, enough to power about 350,000 homes…

    Each foot in elevation that the lake level decreases, Aaron said, the dam loses about 6 megawatts of capacity. The lowest water level that allows the dam to continue generating power is 950 feet.

    “But we are not in danger of hitting that point,” Aaron said…

    Even if the state’s allocation is cut, Southern Nevada wouldn’t immediately feel the squeeze. Last year, the region used 256,000 acre feet, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority has about eight years worth of water at that rate of usage stored in Arizona, California, Lake Mead and Las Vegas’ local aquifer.

    Upper Division States and @USBR to Begin Development of #Drought Response Operations Plan — Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission #COriver #aridification

    Current Upper Colorado River Basin Reservoir Status May 12, 2021 via the USBR.

    Here’s the release from the Upper Colorado River Commission:

    On May 14, 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) released its May 24-Month Study (and accompanying narrative) showing the elevation of Lake Powell declining to 3,525.57 feet as early as March 2022 under the Most Probable hydrology forecast. The 24-Month Study is released monthly and projects Lake Powell elevations 24 months into the future. Lake Powell is currently at an elevation of 3,560.60 feet and is approaching its lowest recorded level since the reservoir began filling in the early 1960s.

    Maintaining Lake Powell elevations at or above 3,525 feet promotes the compliance of the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming with a century-old compact and preserves regional benefits derived from hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam.

    Under the 2019 Drought Response Operations Agreement between Reclamation and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, the May 24-Month Study signals the need for the parties to begin the development of a drought response operations plan to reduce the likelihood of Lake Powell dropping below 3,525 feet. Such a plan would first consider the operational flexibilities at Lake Powell, consistent with existing legal and operational constraints.

    f those flexibilities are unable to prevent Lake Powell elevations from falling below 3,525 feet, the parties will consider releases of water to Lake Powell from the upstream reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo (“Initial Units” under the Colorado River Storage Project Act). Releases could be made from some or all of the Initial Units and would likely occur in varying quantities and times but consistent with current legal and operational requirements at the facilities. A plan would also include the recovery of water at the participating Initial Units to restore operating elevations at those facilities to their pre-plan levels.

    Currently, the parties are beginning the process of developing a drought response operations plan in accordance with the Agreement. However, such a plan will not be finalized until Reclamation’s April 24-Month Study Most Probable forecast shows Lake Powell falling to a target elevation of 3,525 feet or below within a 12-month period and after consultation with the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. If the Secretary of the Interior determines that there is an imminent need to protect Lake Powell elevations from dropping below 3,525 feet, she has the discretion to take emergency action after consulting with the Colorado River Basin States.

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

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Sara Leonard):

    Commissioner Mitchell Statement on Lake Powell Elevation Forecast

    May 20, 2021 (Denver, CO) – On May 14, the Bureau of Reclamation released its monthly study showing the elevation level in Lake Powell as critically declining.

    The study predicts a significant probability that Lake Powell will decline to approximately 3,525.41 feet as early as March 2022. Lake Powell, which currently sits at elevation 3,560.60 feet, is approaching its lowest level since it was filled in the early 1960s.

    For more details, read the Upper Colorado River Commission press release.

    Statement from Colorado River Commissioner Rebecca Mitchell:

    “Our team of Colorado River hydrology experts have been closely monitoring conditions and analyzing the impacts on river operations, and are very aware of the daunting projections. Colorado and all of the Upper Basin states are – and have been – experiencing severe water shortages that affect our industries and our citizens. Colorado stands ready to work with our neighboring Upper Basin states to implement all aspects of the Drought Contingency Plan if conditions warrant. As Colorado River Commissioner tasked with negotiating new river operations on behalf of Colorado, I am mindful of the importance of the Colorado River to more than 40 million people and the $1.4 trillion annual economy it supports. I am committed to engaging with our partners and stakeholders across the state and the Basin to work as efficiently and effectively as possible in order to make informed decisions.”

    A conversation with Brian Werner, recently retired from @Northern_Water — @WaterEdCO

    Eric Wilkinson, left, and Brian Werner, on the job. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jacob Tucker):

    Although Brian Werner has served on the WEco Board of Trustees for just over a year, he was involved with helping found the organization nearly 20 years ago. Now retired from his 38-year career as the Communications Department Manager and Public Information Officer at Northern Water, and still a life-long water historian, Brian has written and given hundreds of presentations on the role of water in the settlement and development of Colorado and the West. We spoke with Brian about Northern Water’s storage, the impacts of fire on water storage, permitting, and more.

    How long have you been on the WEco board?

    I’ve been involved with WEco since WEco has been around. I was involved with the first couple incarnations of water education efforts in Colorado in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and then I helped when WEco came into being in 2002. I was never on the board, until a couple of years ago. It was something I wanted to do towards the end of my career and I retired just last year in January 2020. Luckily I was appointed to the board and I’ve truly enjoyed it.

    What kind of experience do you bring to the group?

    I think the fact that I had a 38-year career in the water business with Northern Water is an asset. At Northern Water, I’d established relations with people from all over the state and I also coordinated probably 150 to 200 different children’s water festivals, so clearly I was into education. I’m really a big believer in the trickle up theory of water knowledge. Where if you can educate the kids, that knowledge is going trickle up to mom and dad, and those kids will somebody be parents themselves. Ultimately, I’ve been trying to build that ethic in what I’ve been about for most of my career.

    How would you describe your experience being on the board?

    I’ve really enjoyed being on the board. I’ve watched it and been very much involved for a long time. Both Nicole Seltzer and Jayla Poppleton worked with me at Northern Water, so I have a personal vested interest in them succeeding, and they really have. Nicole moved the organization in a wonderful direction and Jayla has just been top-notch in where she has taken WEco. It has been really interesting because we have a diverse board, and I have enjoyed getting to know people who I didn’t know previously.

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    I understand you recently retired from Northern Water, can you tell me what your role with them was and maybe what Northern Water does in a general sense?

    Northern Water is the largest water conservancy district in the state of Colorado and operates a large Bureau of Reclamation project that is one of the largest in the entire western United States; the Colorado-Big Thompson project. It brings a quarter-million acre-feet a year from the West Slope into Northeastern Colorado to supplement both urban and rural supplies, meaning that it is both a municipal as well as an agricultural water supply. Now there are well over a million people that get a portion of their water supply from that project, but back in 1937, there were only 50,000 people living within Northern Water’s boundaries. So, nobody could have foreseen the growth that occurred since then. This growth has brought all sorts of issues and concerns, but Northern Water is one of the top water agencies in the state and I certainly had a wonderful career there and couldn’t have asked for anything better.

    Personally, I was a public information officer for 35 of those 38 years. My role, in essence, was to be the public face of Northern Water and so I talked about Northern Water and its activities all the time. I was able to use my historical training, I have a master’s degree in history, to discuss the historical background of both water development and Northern Water. I focused very much on education, but ultimately, I spent my entire career talking all things water, which was a lot of fun.

    I was also the manager of our communications department as we expanded and grew. As we grew, we brought on writers and pushed publications and annual reports, and then we got into the social media craze. So, for some time I managed that department. But really, it was about telling people what Northern Water was all about.

    Perhaps a topical question, but how have the numerous forest fires affected the work that Northern Water does in trying to ensure water storage?

    That is going to be Northern Water’s principal focus this coming year. Both of our major watersheds burned last year, the Upper Colorado with the East Troublesome wildfire, and then the Poudre watershed with the Cameron Peak wildfire. And both of these watersheds are where we get the vast majority of our water. Luckily, Northern Water had been looking at forest water management for years. Northern Water has been working with the U.S. Forest Service, the counties, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Parks Service. It wasn’t that these fires hit us and Northern Water had no idea what to do. We learned quite a lot from Denver Water after the Hayman Fire, with all of the issues that they had centering around water quality. Northern Water isn’t pleased, but we are certainly going to see some water quality impacts because of these fires.

    We went in with our eyes open and with some plans in place for post-fire activities. We always said, ‘it’s not if, it’s when those fires hit.’

    What do these fires mean for water supply and water quality now, as well as moving into the future?

    One of the things that we see from these fires is a greater level of awareness in terms of forest management, not just if you have a house in a forest or nearby, but for those people living in major metropolitan areas, too. Those people in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs are all paying attention now, because they saw the two largest fires in Colorado history and what it did to our environment. And I think now there will be a lot more attention focused on the post-fire impacts, which obviously include water. People will certainly be paying attention to the water piece of the post-fire mitigation and clean-up. Overall, I think moving into the future we will have a better awareness, which is always a good thing. There is no way around it, it is going to take money, and where we are at with COVID-19 that discussion is not easy, but the state is making a concerted effort to put monetary resources and people into handling the situation.

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    How the present or future storage planning is different than what the state has done historically?

    One thing I would point out is that the Federal government is no longer in the water storage building business. For years Reclamation, which had been established in 1902 helped jumpstart and build water projects, as they did the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Federal government neither has the resources nor are they paying for water storage anymore. Now, water storage is something that is having to be more or less self-funded. Meaning that the growing cities are trying to figure out how they can finance additional water for their future citizens.

    We are also now looking at the multiple uses of water. Nowadays, water is being used for environmental purposes, which means that we are looking to make sure that there is enough to release into the rivers to help the aquatic habitat. This is a much larger part of the picture today. At a base level of awareness, we want people to understand why we need storage reservoirs. It is a dry year, and it sure looks like we are only getting drier, and when you have the drier years you better make sure that you store when you have the wetter periods to carry you through. I think we are going to have difficulties trying to match up the storage, which we are going to continue to need, with all the environmental issues and issues surrounding the development of water infrastructure.

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

    In the past 20 years, Northern has been in permitting so can you talk about that process?

    We say water project permitting works at a glacial pace. When I started working on the Northern Integrated Supply Project permitting at Northern Water, I told my wife that I thought we would have a permit in around 5 years … I’m now retired. Northern Water is going on 17 years later, and they still haven’t received that permit. That’s frustrating. This wasn’t for lack of energy; I mean we were really working hard to secure that permit. These things take much longer than you would probably expect. You have to have a lot of perseverance because the process can really drive you crazy, but my hope is that in the future this process will become much better for all parties involved.

    Navajo Dam operations update (May 17, 2021: Releases to drop to 300 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan wildflowers.

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery Novak):

    In response to forecast increasing runoff and flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 300 cfs on Tuesday, May 18th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to increase to 500 cfs May 12, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast for increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Wednesday, May 12th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Aerial image of entrenched meanders of the San Juan River within Goosenecks State Park. Located in San Juan County, southeastern Utah (U.S.). Credits Constructed from county topographic map DRG mosaic for San Juan County from USDA/NRCS – National Cartography & Geospatial Center using Global Mapper 12.0 and Adobe Illustrator. Latitude 33° 31′ 49.52″ N., Longitude 111° 37′ 48.02″ W. USDA/FSA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

    Navajo Dam operations update: Temporary increase in releases to 600 cfs May 11, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to a forecast lull in flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a temporary increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, May 11th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Fly fishers on the San Juan River below the Navajo Dam.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    Navajo-Gallup water delay spurs problem solving in arid Southwest — #NewMexico in Depth #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Survey work begins in 2018 for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project on the Navajo Nation. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The High Country News

    From New Mexico in Depth (Elizabeth Miller):

    Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use…

    The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024. The project is also connecting nearby Navajo communities, where many residents lack running water, an issue the Navajo Nation says is long past due and in need of a fix. But now a potential four-year delay could force a growing number of people to rely on these strained groundwater sources. A plan to keep taps from running dry will come with a price tag.

    The situation highlights how precarious water has become for this city of almost 22,000 in western New Mexico and offers a peek inside the complicated mix of relationships, creativity and familiarity with multiple government agencies that’s required to manage water in the 21st century.

    Gallup sits in the high desert along the red sandstone mesas of the Colorado Plateau. For much of its history, it has functioned as an industrial town and a bustling commercial center. Named in 1881 after railroad paymaster David L. Gallup, freight trains and Amtrak still rumble through, in addition to a steady flow of semi-truck traffic around the exits for Interstate-40. Surrounded by the Navajo Nation, on the first weekend of the month the town swells by 100,000 as people stream in for supplies. Those with no running water at home fill water containers. People do laundry, wash cars, go out to eat.

    For decades, the Navajo Nation bordertown has relied on groundwater stored in sandstone layers deep underground. With no nearby rivers, wells tapping that water have been the city’s only option. But because annual rain and snowfall don’t replenish the water, levels have dropped over recent decades. In the 1990s, the city projected shortages by as early as 2010.

    “Not only was Gallup running out of water, everybody was running out,” said Marc DePauli, owner of DePauli Engineering and Surveying, which the city has hired to work on the water systems. About 20 smaller surrounding water systems had “straws in the same bucket,” all leaning on dwindling reserves.

    Help is coming in the form of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, the result of a historic agreement that settled Navajo Nation claims to water in this arid region of the Southwest after decades of discussions.

    Consisting of two major pipelines that run through Navajo communities in western New Mexico, the project will bring water from the San Juan River to within reach of some of the one in three homes without it on the Navajo Nation. One of the pipelines, the Cutter Lateral that branches to northwest New Mexico, is complete. The other, the San Juan Lateral, will move 37,700 acre feet of water each year for 200 miles along the western edge of the state, up to 7,500 acre-feet of which will come as far south as Gallup. In the future, the city will rely largely on water from the San Juan…

    The water was supposed to flow by 2024, but a new design proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation will now likely push that date back by three to four years, putting Gallup in a tight spot, monetarily and water-wise. The construction delay coupled with the city shouldering more demand will require new wells to supply everyone until water from the San Juan arrives.

    May 6, 2021 Water Supply Forecast Discussion — Colorado Basin River Forecast Center #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Click here to read the discussion from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) geographic forecast area includes the Upper Colorado River Basin, Lower Colorado River Basin, and Eastern Great Basin.

    Water Supply Forecast Summary

    Early May water supply volume forecasts are below to much below normal throughout the Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Upper Colorado River Basin water supply forecasts range between 15-75% of the 1981-2010 historical April-July average. Great Basin water supply forecasts are 10-70% of average. Water supply guidance as a percent of average decreased by 10-20% across the majority of the Upper Colorado River Basin and decreased by 5-15% across the majority of the Great Basin over the past month. Many April-July volume forecasts fall in the bottom (driest) five on record. Water supply forecast ranges (percent of normal) by basin are listed below.

    April average temperatures were slightly below normal across the north and slightly above normal across the south. April precipitation was mostly below to well below normal across the Upper Colorado Basin and Great Basin. Several SNOTELs in the San Juan, Gunnison, and Yampa River Basins were below the 10th percentile for April precipitation. Below normal soil moisture and snowpack conditions in addition to below average April precipitation and relatively mild (near normal) April temperatures across the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin lead to mostly below normal and in some cases record low observed April flows (unregulated streamflow volumes) across the region. A number of streamflow sites had record low April flows with many locations falling in the bottom five of their period of record.

    Snow water equivalent (SWE) at the majority of SNOTEL stations across the region peaked between 70-85% of the normal peak SWE. Early May SWE conditions are below to much below normal (median) throughout the CBRFC forecast area. Upper Colorado River Basin SWE conditions generally range between 50-75% of the 1981-2010 historical median and Great Basin SWE generally ranges between 30-60% of normal.

    April-July unregulated inflow forecasts for some of the major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin include Fontenelle 380 KAF (52% of average), Flaming Gorge 450 KAF (46%), Green Mountain 150 KAF (55%), Blue Mesa 340 KAF (50%), McPhee 81 KAF (27%), and Navajo 325 KAF (44%). The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 2.0 MAF (28% of average), a 17% decrease from April.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases = 400 cfs May 8, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, 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 Saturday, May 8th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    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

    Ruedi Reservoir will pay a price for warm, dry April — The #Aspen Times #FryingpanRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    Reservoir expected to reach only about 90% of capacity this summer

    The dry, warm month of April prevented the snowpack from building and sunk the chances to fill Ruedi Reservoir this summer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

    The snowpack in the upper Fryingpan Valley was only about 60% of median as of May 1, he said. Forecasts are for runoff into the reservoir to be only about 55% of average…

    Ruedi Reservoir is at about 60% full right now. It holds 102,000 acre-feet of water. It would need about 42,000 acre-feet to fill.

    Current projections are for it to reach about 90,000 acre-feet this summer, according to Miller…

    The Roaring Fork River basin, like much of Colorado and the Western United States, has been battling a prolonged drought. AccuWeather Inc. reported Wednesday that 75% of the Western U.S. is experiencing drought conditions. About 21% of the areas are facing exceptional drought, which is the most extreme…

    West Drought Monitor map May 4, 2021.

    A lower water level in the reservoir also will mean lower releases into the lower Fryingpan River through the summer. Water levels won’t be as high as usual in late spring and early summer, so there won’t be a disruption to the Gold Medal trout stream.

    However, low water levels and high summer temperatures are a regular cause for concern. The Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy has sounded the alarm in past summers about high water temperatures stressing trout.

    Water releases could increase in June once downstream entities that possess senior water rights make a “call” for water for agricultural uses, Miller said.

    April Long, director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority, said the reservoir is used to meeting numerous water needs in the Roaring Fork Valley and on the Colorado River system. It is hard to know the full impact of the reservoir not filling, she said.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases = 500 cfs (May 7, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, May 7th, starting at 0400 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. Please be advised, due to the dry conditions this year, more release changes than usual may occur.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to drop to 600 cfs May 1, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridifcation

    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 forecast warmer weather and increasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Saturday, May 1st, starting at 0400 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.

    Cuts to Central #Arizona Project #water called “planned pain” — #Arizona Daily Star #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aerial photo – Central Arizona Project. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326265

    From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

    The vast majority of those cuts will fall upon Pinal County farmers who have taken CAP instead of pumped groundwater for 35 years. CAP is the principal drinking water source for Tucson, but the first round of cuts will have no impacts on the city’s CAP supplies.

    At a virtual briefing Thursday, the heads of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project said they’ve known for many years that shortages will be coming and that they’ve stepped up with detailed plans for it.

    They stressed the large amount of negotiation and other work that went into the drought plan. They discussed in detail how a large number of water providers, tribes and other entities offered both water supplies and money to provide relief to farmers and others whose water supplies will be cut.

    Central Arizona farmers, due to lose 320,000 feet of CAP water in 2022, will get about 105,000 of that back in water supplies from other sources. They’ll also get money from a wide variety of sources to drill wells for another 70,000 acre- feet.

    A group of Phoenix-area cities and several tribes, including the Tohono O’Odham west of Tucson, stand to lose 60 percent of a separate CAP pool called Non-Indian Agricultural water, because it used to belong to farmers. They’ll get 75 percent of that back through mitigation approved under the drought plan.

    In response to questions Thursday, Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said they see no reason to plan for additional cuts beyond what the drought plan envisions before that plan expires in 2026.

    There’s no need to limit population growth to hold down demands for the state’s limited and shrinking water supplies, despite calls for that from some environmentalists, Cooke and Buschatzke also said Thursday…

    The cuts are necessary because Lake Mead is forecast to fall to 1,067 feet by the end of 2021. Under the 2019 drought plan, CAP will takes that first major cut in deliveries if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts in August that Mead will fall below 1,075 feet in December.

    At Thursday’s briefing, Dan Bunk, a Bureau of Reclamation official, laid out a series of grim statistics showing the decline in river flows and reservoir levels.

    Today, Lake Mead is at 38 percent of its total capacity and Lake Powell is at 35 percent of capacity, said Bunk, of the bureau’s Lower Colorado River office in Boulder City, Nevada.

    Lake Mead has dropped 15 to 16 feet since a year ago and Powell has dropped 35 feet in the same period, he said…

    Snowpack levels peaked this year at 89 percent of median levels. Soil moisture is at near record low levels in the river’s Upper Basin, he said…

    This year is on pace to be the river’s third or fourth driest runoff season in modern-day records, he said. The 22 years of drought the basin has had since 2000 represents the driest period on record even when looking at longer-term, tree ring and other paleo records dating back 1,000 years, he said.

    Because of these forecasts, and because of continued bleak forecasts for the river in 2023, water researchers Kathryn Sorensen at Arizona State University and John Fleck at the University of New Mexico have said Arizona should start looking now at how to use less water or find alternative sources. Arizona and the other river basin states are gearing up for what’s looming as extremely complex, contentious negotiations for new guidelines for the river system starting in 2026.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Release = 700 CFS April 24, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #SanJuanRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River. Photo credit: USFWS

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 24th, starting at 0400 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.

    April 20th, 2021 Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting slides and meeting minutes #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    Thank you for all who attended the April 20th, 2021 Navajo Unit Coordination Meeting. Please see the links below for the meeting summary and slides. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. The next meeting is scheduled for August 24th, 2021 at 1:00 PM.

    Meeting Minutes
    Meeting Slides

    Navajo Dam operations update (April 21, 2021) #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Wednesday, April 21st, 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.

    #LakeMead likely to drop below elevation 1,040 by late 2023 — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Graphic credit: USBR

    Last week John Fleck took a look at the April 15, 2021 Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s 24-Month Study. Click here to read the post. Here’s an excerpt:

    I’m choosing my words carefully here. The “likely” in this blog’s post’s title means “based on my analysis of the Bureau of Reclamation’s current ‘most probable forecast’ Colorado River water supply model runs.”

    The Bureau’s current “most probable” modeling suggests that in both 2022 and 2023, the annual release from Lake Powell will only be 7.48 million acre feet. This is based on a provision in the river’s operating rules that, under certain low storage level conditions, the Upper Basin gets to hang onto water in Powell.

    The last time and only time we had a 7.48 release, in 2014, Mead dropped 25 feet in a single year. We’ve never had two consecutive 7.48 releases.

    The headline in yesterday’s release of the Bureau of Reclamation’s “24-month study” (pdf here) is that Lake Mead will drop below elevation 1,075 at the start of 2022 (triggering a “Tier 1” shortage) and could drop below 1,050 by the start of 2023 (that’s the trigger for “Tier 2”).

    Tier 1 next year, which primarily hits Arizona with some deep forced reductions, was no surprise. That’s been obvious for a while, and Arizona’s water leadership has been softening folks up for months. The increasing risk of Tier 2 in 2023, which would mean deeper cuts in Arizona, is sorta new, but it’s been foreseeable.

    The real “holy shit” for me in yesterday’s release was the trail of breadcrumbs in the Bureau’s data, pointed out by my co-author Eric Kuhn, leading to a “most probable” Lake Mead drop to elevation 1,035 by the end of September 2023.

    To be clear, the Bureau isn’t saying this yet. The latest 24-month study stops at the end of March 2023. But internally, the Bureau runs the model out farther in order to determine, among other things, how much water is likely to be released from Powell in 2023. And the published numbers clearly show – the Bureau’s “most likely” scenario would call for another 7.48 release.

    From there, it’s just arithmetic. Based on my analysis of the publicly available numbers, the “most likely” scenario puts Mead at elevation ~1035 at the end of September 2023. This is my math, but my understanding is that it’s consistent with what the Bureau’s internal calculations show.

    Lake Powell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question.
    CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

    Eric Kuhn followed up John’s post with one of his own. Here’s an excerpt:

    The release of last week’s Bureau of Reclamation 24-month study felt like very bad news for the Colorado River (See Tony Davis for details.). But a careful reading of the numbers, and an understanding of the process through which they are developed, suggests things are likely even worse than the top-line numbers in the study.

    The problem: the assumptions underlying the study do not fully capture the climate-change driven aridification of the Colorado River Basin. Taking climate change into account, it is easy to find evidence lurking in the report to suggest that, in addition to problems for Lake Mead, Lake Powell could drop below elevation 3,525 in 2023, a level that is troublingly close to the elevation at which Glen Canyon Dam could no longer generate hydropower.

    The 24-month studies are used to project out two years of monthly inflows, releases, storage levels, and power generation from the system’s large reservoirs in both basins as well as diversions by the large water users on the river below Lake Mead, especially the Central Arizona Project and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Reclamation releases a “most probable” study on a monthly basis as well as “minimum probable” and “maximum probable” studies approximately quarterly. These studies are important because they are used to make critical decisions under the 2007 Interim Guidelines and both the Upper and Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs).

    For the first year, Reclamation uses “unregulated” runoff forecasts generated by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) model. Unregulated inflow is not the same as natural inflow. The CBRFC does its best to adjust the forecasts for upstream diversions and for the many reservoirs that are not included in the 24-month study model. Inflow forecasts for the second year of the 24-month studies are not based on the CBRFC model. Instead, Reclamation, in consultation with CBRFC, uses statistics from the past and its judgment. Running the 24-month study model then simulates the operation of the upstream reservoirs such as Navajo, Blue Mesa, and Flaming Gorge, turning unregulated inflow to Powell into “regulated” inflow. For example, from the April ‘21 most probable study, the WY 2021 unregulated inflow to Powell is 4.897 MAF, regulated inflow is 4.908 MAF. These numbers are close, but in WY 2020 regulated inflow exceeded unregulated inflow by about 700,000 acre-feet.

    The media buzz over the April 24-month study primarily focused on the projected Tier 1 shortage for the Lower Basin in 2022 – an event that is newsworthy, but one that also was totally expected. Perhaps more interesting and alarming is what the 24-month studies suggested for 2023. As pointed out by John in his recent blog, the most probable study shows two years of 7.48 MAF releases from Lake Powell, Lake Mead elevations on the cusp of a Tier 2 shortage in 2023, and by inference, Lake Mead dropping to a level of about 1035’ by the end September 2023, which by implication would trigger a third straight shortage year and California’s possible participation sharing shortages under the Lower Basin DCP.

    For Lake Powell, the most alarming results come from the minimum probable study, not the most probable study. Under the minimum probable inflow forecast to Powell, which, in theory, represents an unregulated flow that would be exceeded in 90% of years, by March of 2023 Lake Powell drops well below the 3525’ target that would trigger supplemental releases from the upstream CRSP reservoirs under the Upper Basin DCP. There is also a real possibility that Lake Powell could end up in the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier. If this happens, the April minimum probable study shows that Lake Mead gets more water in the first six months of WY 2023 than under the most probable study.

    The term “minimum probable” implies an outcome that is very unlikely to occur, therefore, why should we be that concerned? My answer is that given the abundance of recent science concluding that the Colorado River Basin is not in a classic drought, but rather, it is undergoing aridification where the flows seen in the last two to three decades may be the new abnormal and may continue to decline (see for example Overpeck and Udall, and the latest Utah State Future of the Colorado River white paper White Paper). The April studies show a most probable Powell unregulated inflow for WY 2022 of 9.998 MAF and a minimum probable inflow of 7.208 MAF. For comparison, the mean unregulated annual inflow to Lake Powell over the last ten years, including WY 2021, was only 8.04 MAF and five of the individual years; 2012, 2013, 2018, 2020, and 2021, were well below the 7.208 MAF. The average of those five dry years was 5.08 MAF, over two MAF less than the assumed minimum probable inflow for 2022. If you take the record back to 2000, the results are similar. In 11 of 22 years, unregulated inflow to Lake Powell was less than 7.2 MAF/year.

    Based on the last 20-plus years and the recent science, I conclude that both the minimum probable and most probable 24-month study year two unregulated inflows to Lake Powell are overly optimistic. The likelihood that in the next few years Lake Powell storage will fall below the 3525’ target or even the minimum power elevation (3490’) and that Lake Mead storage will approach 1025’, the level that triggers the maximum annual cutbacks under the Interim Guidelines and DCP, about 1.4 MAF, is much greater than what is conveyed by these studies.

    In a photo from 2020, a distinct line around the rocky shore shows how much the water level has decreased in Nevada’s Lake Mead. Mead is expected to drop 15 feet in 2021 Photo credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

    Finally, Click here to read Tony Davis’ article at Tucson.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Central Arizona Project seems almost certain to suffer its first significant shortage in water deliveries next year.

    Reservoirs are expected to fall so low by the end of 2021 to warrant cutting nearly two-thirds of the CAP water that Pinal County farmers now get. At that point, CAP deliveries used by the state to store water in the ground for future use by cities and tribes would also be cut. So would CAP water supplies sold to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, an agency that recharges water into aquifers across the state’s urban centers to compensate for groundwater pumped elsewhere for new development.

    The loss for farms has been expected for years. But possible cuts for other water customers now loom sooner than anticipated, as the Colorado River’s situation worsens.

    For the first time, a federal agency’s river forecast predicts that at the end of 2022, the Lake Mead reservoir will be at or very near a point where CAP must cut deliveries to other categories of water users.

    Those cuts would fall upon Phoenix-area cities and on Arizona tribes, including possibly the Tohono O’Odham whose reservation is south and west of Tucson.

    If they happen, the cuts would also start slicing deliveries of relatively small amounts of CAP water to Rosemont Copper and Freeport McMoran Copper in the Tucson area and to Resolution Copper in the Superior area.

    Tucson depends on CAP for drinking water, but its supplies wouldn’t yet be affected.

    The cuts to farmers will be required if Lake Mead falls below 1,075 feet at the end of this year. The Bureau of Reclamation’s new forecast — announced Thursday for the river — puts the expected level at 1,067 feet by then. The bureau will likely decide in August whether to declare a shortage for 2022.

    The additional cuts to tribes and to Phoenix-area cities would be required in 2023, if Lake Mead falls below 1,050 feet. The new forecast is for the lake to be at 1,050.31 feet by December 2022.

    Tucson’s CAP supply wouldn’t be cut unless the lake fell below 1,025 feet.

    ‘We’re making progress’ — Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project moves ahead on Navajo Nation — The #Farmington Daily Times #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From The Farmington Daily Times (Noel Lyn Smith):

    U.S. Bureau of Reclamation construction inspector Kenny Redhouse carefully watched crewmembers install a section of pipe in an area south of Newcomb on April 15 as construction continued on a pipeline that will eventually deliver San Juan River water to Gallup and communities on the Navajo Nation.

    The water will replace dwindling groundwater supplies and meet future demand…

    Project broke ground in 2012

    It was in June 2012 when then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and others broke ground for construction of the first phase of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

    Almost a decade later, construction proceeds on the San Juan Lateral, the largest of two segments that comprise the project. This lateral will eventually pump water from the San Juan River near Waterflow then deliver it south to Gallup and to Navajo Nation chapters along the pipeline and that surrounds the city.

    As the lateral approaches Gallup, it branches east toward Crownpoint while another branch will serve Window Rock, Arizona, and areas along New Mexico Highway 264.

    The bureau marked in October the completion of the Cutter Lateral, which will deliver water to several chapters on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation and to the southwestern portion of the Jicarilla Apache Nation.

    Bart Deming, the project’s deputy construction engineer, said construction of the San Juan Lateral is about 50% complete…

    Seven more years of work

    The total cost of the project is about $1.5 billion, and the entire project will be operational in 2028, he said.

    It is not difficult to notice construction activities alongside U.S. Highway 491 in Newcomb and Sheep Springs.

    Rick Reese, field engineering division manager for the bureau’s Four Corners office, said sections of pipe near Burnham Junction, in Naschitti and portions of Newcomb have been installed within the last year and a half…

    The area of focus now is south of Newcomb into Sheep Springs.

    Completion on this portion of the lateral is on track to end in early 2022, Reese said…

    The bureau awarded in September 2020 a nearly $46 million contract to Archer Western Construction LCC of Phoenix to build the pumping plant and a second one in Twin Lakes.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    With First-Ever #ColoradoRiver Shortage Almost Certain, States Stare Down Mandatory Cutbacks — KUNC #COriver #aridification

    In a photo from 2020, a distinct line around the rocky shore shows how much the water level has decreased in Nevada’s Lake Mead. Mead is expected to drop 15 feet in 2021 Photo credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    The latest Bureau of Reclamation reservoir projections, which take into account river flows in a given year, show a likelihood that Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada stateline will dip below the critical threshold of 1,075 feet in elevation in May and remain below that level for the foreseeable future.

    A first-ever official shortage declaration from the Department of the Interior is almost certain later this year. According to the terms of a 2007 agreement, a shortage is declared by the Interior Secretary after consulting with water users in the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. An August report is used to forecast when Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet at the start of a calendar year.

    Extreme to exceptional drought conditions have blanketed more than 75% of the river’s upper watershed for more than eight months. The majority of the river’s water comes from high mountain snowpack in Colorado and Wyoming. Both states are dealing with drought of varying degrees of severity.

    “Current conditions resemble 2002, 2012, 2013 and the beginning of 2018, four out of the five driest years on record,” the Bureau of Reclamation report notes.

    The Colorado River’s two biggest reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, have been unable to recover from sustained hot and dry conditions for the last 21 years, a phenomenon scientists link to human-induced climate change. Warmer temperatures have increased the amount of evaporation from streams and reservoirs, raised demand for water in forests and on crop fields, and changed precipitation from snow to rain. Snow acts as a large, frozen reservoir that melts slowly over months, while rain is harder to capture and dole out to farmers, cities and other users.

    Top water officials in Arizona and southern California say they are prepared for the coming cutbacks to their water supplies. If the dry conditions hold, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico could take increasingly steep cuts to what they’re allowed to divert from the river. California could also see its river allocation restricted if the declines continue.

    The basin has flirted with a shortage declaration for the last decade but has been aided by short-term boosts in snowpack, coordinated releases of water between Lakes Powell and Mead, and voluntary conservation by Lower Basin water users. Arizona, Nevada and Mexico have already been curtailed due to restrictions laid out in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. A shortage declaration will make those cutbacks even steeper.

    In response to the latest projections, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources issued a joint statement. In it, the agencies assure users the state’s top water officials had been anticipating the news.

    “The study, while significant, is not a surprise,” the statement reads. “It reflects the impacts of the dry and warm conditions across the Colorado River Basin this year, as well as the effects of a prolonged drought that has impacted the Colorado River water supply.”

    Jeff Kightlinger, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said in a statement the watershed so far has been able to avoid a shortage declaration because of voluntary conservation efforts. But climate change is deepening the Colorado River’s supply and demand imbalance to the point where mandatory cutbacks are coming.

    Water Supply Outlook April 1, 2021 via the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

    @USBR and partners manage through consecutive years of #drought #RioGrande

    Rio Grande upstream near Montano, NM. Photo credit: USBR

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

    The Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande [April 15, 2021] showing below average runoff for the second year in a row.

    The amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent) measured in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado feeding the river basin is below average and a below average spring runoff is expected for the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Most reservoirs on the Rio Chama, Rio Grande, and Pecos River are holding between 10% and 50% of their capacity heading into the irrigation season. In addition, the amount of moisture in the soil right now is extremely low, compounded by high temperatures, so much of the melting snow may be absorbed or evaporate before it reaches rivers.

    “We continue to learn more about the Rio Grande and Pecos and the species that rely on them as we manage through extended drought in the region,” said Albuquerque Area Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are in close coordination with water and species management partners to ensure we make the best decisions for all water users and for the health of the rivers in a tough year like this.”

    At the end of March, snow water equivalent was 88% of average for the Rio Chama Basin, 111% of average for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 72% for the Sangre de Cristos, and 65% for the Jemez. Based on these values, the Natural Resources Conservation Service streamflow forecast issued for the month of April predicts that the Rio Chama flow into the El Vado Reservoir will be at 52% of its average, with an inflow of about 116,000 acre-feet of water.

    Information from Annual Operating Plan:

    • Under current Rio Grande Compact storage restrictions triggered by low storage at downstream reservoirs, water can only be stored in El Vado for the Prior and Paramount lands of the six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District began irrigation on April 1, a month later than usual, with the natural flow of the Rio Grande.
    • Due to the expected low runoff, lack of water in storage, as well as a minimal supply of water for Reclamation to lease to supplement river flows, there—s a possibility that the Albuquerque reach of the Rio Grande could experience some drying this summer along with sections of the river in the Isleta and San Acacia reaches.
      • Reclamation is coordinating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue fish from drying portions of the river and coordinating with partners to use the limited supply of water most effectively.
    • Rio Grande Project usable storage is currently about 245,000 acre-feet and is expected to peak at about 350,000 acre-feet before declining as irrigation releases start.
      • The irrigation season is scheduled to begin with releases from Elephant Butte Reservoir in early May and Caballo Reservoir in late May.
      • The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and dangerous and the public is asked to exercise caution around the river channel. Water levels will fluctuate through the rest of the short irrigation season.
    • On the Pecos River, basin-wide snow water equivalent was 57% of average on March 31, and the NRCS predicted 16,200 acre-feet of inflow to Santa Rosa Reservoir from March to July.
      • Reclamation is using a more conservative estimate for inflow, and the Carlsbad Irrigation District has only allocated 0.38 feet per acre, one of its lowest allocations ever.

    The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held virtually this year in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Those who were not able to attend the meetings can still view the presentation on Reclamation—s website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/DocLibrary/Plans/MiddleRioGrande/20210415-MiddleRioGrandeAnnualOperatingPlan_508.pdf or contact Mary Carlson at mcarlson@usbr.gov.

    2021 Annual Operating Plan? April 1 Runoff Forecast

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    Directors Reappointed to Southeastern District Board

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

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

    Five Directors were reappointed to the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and were sworn in on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

    Reappointed are: Seth Clayton, Executive Director of Pueblo Water, representing Pueblo County, and Secretary of the Board; Andrew Colosimo, Government Affairs Manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, representing El Paso County; Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer; and Howard “Bub” Miller, an Otero County farmer and rancher.

    The Southeastern District is the state agency responsible for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Fry-Ark Project includes Pueblo Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Turquoise Reservoir, Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant at Twin Lakes, Ruedi Reservoir, a West Slope Collection System, and the Boustead Tunnel.

    The Fry-Ark Project is designed to import 69,200 acre-feet annually for use by cities and farms in the Arkansas River basin from the Fryingpan River watershed near Basalt. Fry-Ark Operating Principles list environmental conditions that must be met when water is diverted.

    The District also operates the James W. Broderick Hydropower Plant at Pueblo Dam, which was completed in 2019 under a Lease of Power Privilege with Reclamation.

    The District is working with Reclamation to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit, a pipeline that will deliver a clean source of drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

    The District includes parts of nine counties, and has 15 directors who are appointed to 4-year terms by a panel of District Court judges.

    Other directors of the Board are: President Bill Long, Bent County; Vice-President Curtis Mitchell, El Paso County; Treasurer Ann Nichols, El Paso County; Pat Edelmann and Mark Pifher, El Paso County; Patrick Garcia and Alan Hamel, Pueblo County; Tom Goodwin, Fremont County; Kevin Karney, at-large; and Dallas May, Prowers and Kiowa Counties.

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

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Click here to view the forecast graphics.

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs on Friday, April 9th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

    North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

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

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

    Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 790 cfs for March.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Colorado River Delta via the Sonoran Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Glen Canyon Dam high flow release photo.

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

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

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

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

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

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

    @USBR awards $3.6 million to improve #desalination technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

    PILOT-SCALE PROJECTS

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

    LABORATORY PROJECTS

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

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

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

    Desalination plant, Aruba

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

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

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

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

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

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

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

    The two issues go hand-in-hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

    In response to decreasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 400 cfs on Saturday, January 9th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

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

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

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

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

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Spare rooms and horse trailers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Beyond bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Powering down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In and out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A daunting future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From Arizona Central (Ian James):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Glen Canyon Dam aerial. Photo credit: USBR

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Current guidelines put in place in 2007 expire in 2026.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The report concluded:

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

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

    Experience over the past 12 years provides important considerations:

    – enhanced flexibilities and transparency for water users

    – expanded participation in conservation and Basin-wide programs

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

    – demonstrated need for more robust measures to protect reservoir levels

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

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

     

     

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

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

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

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

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

    West Drought Monitor December 15, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Click here to watch the event.

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

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

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

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

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

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

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

    23,426 TONS OF SALT A YEAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    GUNNISON PROJECTS

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

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

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

    WETLANDS MITIGATION

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

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

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

    From the Paradox Valley Unit website (USBR):

    Environmental Impact Statement

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

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

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

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

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

    From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Preserving Lake Mead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ensuring Tribal Participation

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

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

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

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

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

    Balancing Water Uses

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

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

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

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

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

    Protecting the Colorado River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Next Set of Guidelines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

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

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

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

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

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

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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