Aspinall Unit operations update: 960 CFS in Black Canyon

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 130 cfs on Friday, May 3rd. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon up to shoulder flow levels, as described in the decree for the Black Canyon water right. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 970,000 AF of inflow, which is 144% 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 May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 680 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 830 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 680 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 960 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 825 cfs through 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 increased by 250 cfs on Wednesday, May 1st. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon up to shoulder flow levels, as described in the decree for the Black Canyon water right. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 860,000 AF of inflow, which is 127% 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 April and May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 675 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 575 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 675 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 825 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#Colorado studies options after @POTUS signs #drought contingency plan — @AspenJournalism #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A view of the Colorado River flowing into the still waters backed up by Glen Canyon Dam at the top of Lake Powell. The reservoir is now 37 percent full, but is expected to rise this year as an above-average snowpack turns into an above-average runoff in the Colorado River basin. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

[The President] tweeted this week that he “just signed a critical bill to formalize drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.”

It was the first time that Trump had ever mentioned the Colorado River in a tweet.

And the drought contingency planning, or DCP, bill the president signed Tuesday had been whisked through Congress in just six days.

For water managers used to working in slow-moving “water time,” it was a surprise to see the federal legislation necessary to implement the DCP agreements happen so fast, and compelling for the Colorado River to be in President Trump’s hands, however briefly.

“That did go through fairly quickly, and in a relatively non-confrontational manner,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told the district’s board of directors Tuesday morning during a quarterly meeting.

And by the end of the meeting, Mueller was announcing that Trump had just tweeted about signing the bill.

The brief DCP bill authorizes the Interior secretary, now David Bernhardt of Rifle, to implement the DCP agreements negotiated by water managers in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Perhaps less surprising to regional water managers was that the Imperial Irrigation District, which is the biggest user of water in the lower basin, wasted no time and filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to halt, or at least influence, the DCP agreements. The district is seeking funding to help restore the shrinking Salton Sea and had been vocal in its dissent when the DCP bill was before Congress.

It is not clear yet how Imperial’s lawsuit will affect the still unfolding DCP process, but James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and would sign the DCP agreements for Colorado, said Tuesday he was still optimistic the agreements would be signed this month.

If the DCP agreements are finalized, it means Colorado and the upper basin states could store up to 500,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Powell, and other upper basin reservoirs, and do so in a new regulatory framework that shields the water from the current operating guidelines dictating how Lake Mead and Lake Powell are operated.

Those guidelines, which sunset in 2026, seek to balance the levels of the two big reservoirs, which have been falling due to a 19-year drought, of which this past snowy winter was a welcomed exception. (The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday that it was forecasting runoff into Lake Powell would be 112 percent of average, up from 43 percent of average in 2018.)

In balancing the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the upper basin states feel that the guidelines require the release of too much water from Lake Powell, and they want to create a savings account they control in the big reservoir to raise the surface level and protect against a violation of the Colorado River Compact, which requires the upper basin to deliver a set amount of water to the lower basin.

With the passage of the DCP legislation, that savings account in Lake Powell is almost a reality, as is authorization for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs down the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers to help keep Lake Powell above minimum power pool.

And next comes the part where the upper basin states each have to figure out a demand management, or water-use reduction program, to fill their new water savings account.

The conserved water is supposed to come from the reduction of consumptive use, which in Colorado means it will mainly come from applying less water to fields, pastures and urban lawns.

In Colorado, it is the job of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to figure out how, and if, to start up a demand management program.

To investigate its options, the state agency plans to create eight small working groups to tackle various aspects of demand management, and officials have given people until the end of day Friday to express interest in serving on the various work groups, which are expected to meet throughout the year.

Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River District, has informed the CWCB that the district wants to place a staff member on every one of the eight work groups, given the importance of the potential demand management program to the 15 Western Slope counties the district covers.

The River District’s board wants to ensure that a demand management program is voluntary, temporary, compensated and equitable for water users across the state.

And while the CWCB has adopted a policy that includes those goals, it has confirmed that the state also is studying how an involuntary reduction in water use might happen if necessary to avoid violating the Colorado Compact.

“The state has been working on a study that evaluates the legal elements of compact compliance,” CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell said Thursday. “This is being done through a variety of evaluations that focus on avoiding the need for compact compliance and for options that the state engineer may want to take into consideration in case administration of the compact is necessary to address a compact deficit on the Colorado River.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Friday, April 19, 2019.

America’s MostEndangered Rivers®of 2019 — @AmericanRivers

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

#1: GILA RIVER, NEW MEXICO
Threat: Water Diversion, Climate Change

Flowing out of the nation’s first wilderness area, the Gila River supports outstanding examples of southwestern riparian forest, cold-water fisheries and a remarkable abundance of wildlife. The Gila River provides significant economic value to the region, with superb opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature-based specialty travel and wilderness experiences. It is also important to indigenous peoples who have lived in southwestern New Mexico for thousands of years. Many cultural sites are found along the Gila River and throughout its watershed. Furthermore, the Hispanic community has a culture, heritage and way of life tied to the river and forest, where generations continue to hunt, fish, hike and enjoy family time together.

After more than a decade of planning and more than $15 million spent, a substantial diversion project is in the last year of review under the National Environmental Policy Act. A draft environmental impact statement is expected in April 2019 with a record of decision by the end of 2019. Despite the projected high costs, severe delays in schedule and feasibility issues with multiple iterations of the diversion proposal, this project continues to move forward with likely support from the Trump administration.

In this critical year, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham can eliminate the threat to the Gila River by withdrawing the project from the Arizona Water Settlements Act process and instead spend available AWSA funding on non-diversion projects to meet the water needs of communities throughout southwest New Mexico. Governor Lujan Grisham has pledged to end work on the diversion by using these funds more efficiently on other projects and to ensure that the Gila River is protected by federal law. We urge her to fulfill this promise, saving taxpayers and water users money, providing direct benefits for area farmers and businesses and protecting the Gila River for future generations.

American Rivers appreciates the collaboration and efforts of our partners:

  • Gila Conservation Coalition
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Upper Gila Watershed Alliance
  • One threat down one to go

    From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    Last week, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the last of the bills from the 2019 legislative session, she line-item vetoed $1.698 million in New Mexico Unit funding for the Gila River diversion.

    Tripp Stelnicki, the governor’s director of communications, said Lujan Grisham has been clear about her views on the diversion project. He added that the administration’s opposition to it “does not come down to one veto or one source of funds but rather the policies that will be spearheaded by the OSE and ISC.” The Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission are the state’s two water agencies.

    Since January 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has deposited more than $60 million into New Mexico’s coffers for the project. Already, about $15 million of that money has already been spent (plus about another $2 million in state money), even though plans for the project have yet to be solidified and no one has yet identified buyers for the water, which would cost about $450 per acre foot. (And those contracts would need to be approved by both the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer and the U.S. Department of the Interior.)

    After the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission voted in 2014 to build the diversion, the state created the New Mexico Central Arizona Project. Made up of representatives of local irrigation districts, counties and towns, the entity oversees its construction, maintenance and operation. To receive the full federal subsidy for the project, the entity is supposed to have completed environmental studies and received approval from the secretary of the Interior Department by the end of 2019. But despite the millions of dollars spent, the project is about 18 months behind schedule.

    To see all our past coverage of the issue, visit: http://nmpoliticalreport.com/tag/gila-river/

    @USBR: #Snowpack benefits #ColoradoRiver operations #COriver #aridification #runoff

    A winter wonderland in Winter Park, Colorado, near the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel, which delivers water from the Fraser and Williams Fork River basins, under the Continental Divide and on to the Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water. (Photo taken in winter of 2016-2017.)

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Pattie Aaron/Marlon Duke):

    A monthly study released today by the Bureau of Reclamation indicates this winter’s plentiful snowpack will benefit the Colorado River Basin through increased runoff to crucial reservoirs. With the improved hydrology, Lake Powell’s operation for water year 2019 will shift to a balancing release of up to 9.0 million acre-feet. Snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin is about 130 percent of average, with a forecasted April through July inflow into Lake Powell of 9.20 maf, or 128 percent of average. That above-average inflow projection is due to extremely wet conditions in the basin during February and March. Releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead are consistent with the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

    “This year’s snowpack is welcome news for the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “But one good year cannot reverse the effects of nearly two decades of severe drought. Current total Colorado River System storage is approximately 45% of full capacity.”

    Commissioner Burman continued, “Recent accomplishments like the drought contingency plans provide an important bridge to minimize risks from ongoing drought and gain valuable operating experience during the remaining period of the 2007 operating guidelines.”

    The April 2019 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2020 elevation to be 1,084.27 feet, almost 10 feet above the shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet. The August 2019 24-Month Study projections will be used to determine the operating tiers for Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2020.

    The April 2019 24-Month Study can be accessed at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo.pdf.

    #ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passes through #Congress #COriver #aridification #DCP

    Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

    From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president.

    The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

    Once the bill is signed, and the Drought Contingency Plan enacted, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said it will have long-term benefits for water users in New Mexico, including tribes and farmers, cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and ecosystems and wildlife…

    Over the past years, the [Upper and Lower] basins worked on developing their own drought plans and then came together in a final agreement aimed at ensuring people still receive water, even as flows decline, and making sure Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower and deliver electricity. It’s also meant to make sure water levels don’t drop too low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

    Combined storage in the two reservoirs last year reached its lowest level since Lake Powell began filling in the 1960s. As of April 10, Lake Powell’s level was at 3,569 feet, roughly 37 percent full.

    In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. Models showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 percent to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.

    This winter’s snowpack is anticipated to stave off an emergency.Current forecasts estimate Lake Powell will be at about 3,592 feet, with about 12.89 million acre feet of stored water (and 55 percent full), at the end of this water year.

    NM has learned lessons from drought

    Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allowed 11.25 percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet.

    New Mexico’s share of the Colorado River water is relatively small. On average, New Mexico uses about 410,000 acre feet of water from the basin. Arizona and California, meanwhile, each use millions of acre feet annually.

    In New Mexico, cities like Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield rely on water from the San Juan and its tributary, the Animas River, as do local ranchers and farmers. The San Juan supplies water to cities to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District via the San Juan-Chama Project. And during last year’s low flows on the Rio Grande, it was water from the San Juan-Chama Project that kept the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque. Both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. The Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico has rights to Colorado River water, as well.

    Rolf Schmidt Peterson, Colorado River Basin Manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, explained that as opposed to the Lower Basin states—which are already using all the water they have rights to, and more—New Mexico and other Upper Basin states were in a better position to come up with their drought contingency plan.

    The Lower Basin will have to pull back on uses, whereas the Upper Basin can plan ahead on how to avoid water shortages.

    Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on historic legislation to implement #Drought Contingency Plans #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

    The Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Theresa Eisenman):

    I’m pleased that collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, non-governmental organizations, Mexico and the Department of the Interior to reduce risk on the Colorado River are succeeding. I applaud Congress for taking prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans. This brings us one step closer to supporting agriculture and protecting the water supplies for 40 million people in the United States and Mexico. Working together remains the best approach for all those who rely on the Colorado River.

    Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Air Wolfhound Flickr Creative Commons

    From The Arizona Star (Tony Davis):

    Legislation for the drought contingency plan aimed at propping up Lakes Mead and Powell unanimously cleared the House and Senate Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The bill now heads to President Trump for his signature.

    The plan calls on the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve up to 1.2 million acre-feet of the 7.5 million acre-feet to which they have a right between now and 2026. The cuts will kick in at small amounts almost immediately and will escalate when Lake Mead drops low enough.

    Arizona, whose $4 billion Central Arizona Project will take the first cuts during a Colorado River shortage, would lose 192,000 acre-feet of CAP water at first. (One acre-foot is enough water to serve four Tucson households for a year.)

    When Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet, which could happen by 2021, the CAP would lose nearly one-third of its supply, or 500,000 acre-feet. When Mead hits 1,025 feet, the CAP would lose more than 700,000 acre-feet.

    The plan is aimed at delaying the time when the two reservoirs will drop so low that it will be difficult or impossible to get water and electric power from them.

    Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat whose bill is the one headed to the White House, praised its passage but warned in an interview that it’s only an interim step.

    The seven Colorado River basin states must soon start work on revising guidelines for managing the river that were approved in 2007 and expire in 2026…

    This was “a remarkable chapter in the long story of securing Arizona’s water supplies,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

    In congressional testimony last month, Buschatzke acknowledged the plan isn’t a permanent solution: “We recognize that more must be done by the states to prepare for a drier future.”