#ColoradoRiver: Many eyes are focused on the #CO, #UT and #WY #snowpack and the SW #US #drought #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 8, 2018 via the NRCS.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is expected to get 47 percent of its average inflow because of scant snow in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, said Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Smith said there is only a 10 percent chance that enough mountain snow will fall during the rest of the winter and spring to bring inflows back to average. It was the seventh-worst forecast for Lake Powell in 54 years…

Lackluster runoff into Lake Powell this spring is not likely to have an immediate impact on water users because most reservoirs upriver from Powell filled up after last winter’s healthy snowfall, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell, Mead and other reservoirs…

This winter’s snowfall in the mountains that feed the Colorado has been far short of average overall but varies widely. Along the Green River, a Colorado River tributary in Wyoming, the snowpack is 110 percent of average. Along the San Juan River in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico, it’s 32 percent of average.

One reason is a strong winter weather pattern steering big storms away from the Southwestern United States and sending them north, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist and an associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University.

Another reason is exceptionally warm temperatures across much of the Southwest, he said.

About 90 percent of the Colorado River’s water comes from snowmelt in the region known as the Upper Colorado River Basin, a large swath of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and smaller sections of Arizona and New Mexico.

The river system has been stretched thin for years because of a prolonged drought interrupted by occasional snowy years. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, has dropped to 41 percent of capacity. Lake Powell, the second-largest, is at 56 percent.

Some climate scientists say global warming is already shrinking the river. A study published last year by researchers from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University said climate change could cut the Colorado’s flow by one-third by the end of the century.

#Snowpack news: Aspinall Unit operations update — 650 CFS in the Black Canyon

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, February 1st. Releases are being decreased in response to the very dry conditions and forecast for low spring runoff. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is at 64% of normal. The latest runoff volume forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir projects 420,000 AF of inflow between April and July, which is 62% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for January through March.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

@USBR Continues Animas-La Plata Project Contract Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

The Bureau of Reclamation is continuing negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The second negotiation meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 11, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Durango councillors set April 1, 2018 opening for recreation at Lake Nighthorse

Lake Nighthorse August 2017 via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Durango City Council unanimously committed to opening Lake Nighthorse on April 1 and forming an advisory group to help guide the management of the area…

The advisory group, called the Friends of Lake Nighthorse, would likely include people representing motorized boating, fishing, sailing, city advisory boards, governments involved in the lake and the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, among others, Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said…

The recommendation from the advisory group go to both the city of Durango and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the lake.

Big changes in lake management could require an amendment to the lease agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, and that could postpone opening of the lake beyond 2018, Metz said.

None of the councilors supported changes that would require a delay, but they did seem interested in responding to the flood of emails and suggestions they received on the issue…

Councilor Sweetie Marbury supported designating hours for motorized and non-motorized use to help accommodate both groups.

Limiting use at the lake could raise some budgetary concerns, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.

The city and the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to split any budget shortfalls from operating the lake, and the city has only about $153,000 in the general fund that is not already allocated for other uses. The city as already set aside about $400,000 for operating the lake.

A 2010 market assessment found about 32 percent of Lake Nighthorse visitors would be interested in power boating and 33 percent would be interested in nonmotorized boating.

Limiting the uses on the lake or restricting the hours of certain uses on the lake could cut into the revenue the city can earn, he said.

Before the council started its discussion on Lake Nighthorse Jerry Olivier defended motorized use on the lake…

Johnson with the Quiet Lake Nighthorse Coalition, suggested the city consider charging admission to the lake by the person instead of by the carload and to ask residents about the management of the lake in an upcoming Parks and Recreation survey.

@USBR to Negotiate Water Exchange Contract with State of #Utah for #LakePowell Pipeline #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Glen Canyon Dam photo credit Greg Hobbs.

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

The Bureau of Reclamation and State of Utah are initiating negotiations for a water exchange contract, which proposes exchanging the state’s assigned Green River water right for use of Colorado River Storage Project water released from Flaming Gorge Dam. The negotiation meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 4, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at the Dixie Convention Center, 1835 South Convention Center Drive, St. George, Utah.

The exchange will provide Utah with a reliable and certain water supply, while assisting Reclamation in meeting its legal obligations. It will enable part of the state’s Colorado River apportionment to flow from Flaming Gorge Dam to Lake Powell for diversion into Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

The negotiation meeting is open to the public. The public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the exchange during an open house period immediately prior to formal negotiations and during a comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed exchange contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting or can be obtained on Reclamation’s website at: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/provo/index.html, under “News and Highlights”.

After #Oroville, officials across the West review dam safety — @HighCountryNews

New Oroville spillway finish work. Photo credit California DWR.

Here’s an analysis from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

To avoid the risk of further erosion, however, both spillways [at Oroville] needed to be patched up before this winter. By early November, following months of ‘round-the-clock work, the California Department of Water Resources announced that Oroville was ready for the rainy season, though final repairs will take another year. And the consequences of the incident could last far longer: Its sheer scale means it has the potential to affect legislation and policy, as did earlier disasters at other dams. Safety officials in California and across the West are already reassessing spillways, updating disaster plans and refining evacuation maps, hoping to prevent a repeat of Oroville — or worse.

Structural failures were the immediate cause of the Oroville catastrophe. The main spillway has successfully handled larger flows than what it saw last February. While it’s not yet clear exactly why it broke apart, some researchers say part of the blame lies in poor design and shoddy maintenance — and that those problems could have been addressed. An independent group of dam experts is investigating what went wrong, with a final report expected by the end of 2017. An interim report released in September notes that there was preexisting damage and repairs at the area that first crumbled. Weaknesses there could have allowed water to get beneath the spillway, potentially blasting apart the concrete from below.

Administrative failures — problems with inspections or regulations — may share the blame for what happened at Oroville. A patchwork of agencies meant to prevent such problems regulates dam safety in the United States. Federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers oversee inspection and maintenance at their own dams. Dams that belong to the state, like Oroville, or a utility company or other non-federal entity, are typically under the jurisdiction of a state agency; the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is also involved in dam inspections at non-federal dams with hydropower projects they license, including Oroville…

In Colorado, Oroville confirmed that dam safety officials were already on the right track, says Bill McCormick, the chief of dam safety at Colorado Division of Water Resources. There, the big test came in 2013, when widespread flooding in north-central Colorado driven by torrential rain led to the failure of about a dozen small dams. Nobody was hurt or killed as a result of the failures, “but they did get people’s attention,” McCormick says. (Several people died elsewhere during the flooding.) Another wet season in the spring of 2015 made clear the need to plan for different levels of flooding and dam releases. “Our main lesson from Oroville is that we still need to be vigilant,” he says, “but we’re doing the right things.”

Aspinall Unit operations update: @USBR is drawing down Blue Mesa #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 850 cfs between Friday, December 1st and Saturday, December 2nd. Releases are being increased as part of winter operations to lower the level of Blue Mesa Reservoir nearer to the winter elevation target as well as managing releases with consideration to wintertime hydropower demands.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.