#ColoradoRiver: @USBR Lake Estes and Olympic Dam operations update #COriver

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

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

On Monday at 5:30 pm of this week diversions through the Adams Tunnel to the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project began. While this picks up, Lake Estes will rise slightly and is expected to be return to typical levels by next mid-week.

The Olympus Dam slide gate remains set to release low-level winter flows to the Big Thompson River.

This rate of fill will be maintained for several days to ensure safe operations below the Estes Power Plant. The majority of the water in Lake Estes enters through the power plant via the C-BT Project.

Track Lake Estes’ water elevation at our tea cup page: http://www.usbr.gov/gp-bin/arcweb_olydamco.pl

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

The November 2016 eWaterNews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

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

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The C-BT Project water year ended on Oct. 31. C-BT Project storage levels on Nov. 1 were above average for a third consecutive year, with 548,274 acre-feet in active storage. The Nov. 1 average is 444,177 AF. Deliveries increased in 2016 over 2015 levels, with 204,078 AF delivered (including quota, Carryover Program and Regional Pool Program water). Forty-six percent of the deliveries were from Horsetooth Reservoir, 40 percent from Carter Lake and the remaining 14 percent went to the Big Thompson River, Hansen Feeder Canal and the South Platte River. Estimated deliveries to municipal and industrial users totaled 102,157 AF, while agricultural deliveries were approximately 101,921 AF.

Locals await grant news on #ColoradoRiver projects — Sky-Hi Daily News #COriver

Windy Gap Reservoir
Windy Gap Reservoir

From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

The long awaited Windy Gap Bypass Project may begin moving forward in the not-so-distant future.

Officials from Grand County as well as multiple local partnering agencies and groups are patiently awaiting news on a $10 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant. The announcement regarding which applicants will receive the grant is expected sometime in Dec. this year. If the grant award is approved full funding for the Windy Gap Bypass Project will be secured.

WORKIN ON THE RIVER

The RCPP grant is administered by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is given to producers and landowners to provide conservation assistance. The grant application was submitted under a partnership of multiple local organizations and entities including: Grand County government, the Irrigators in the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), the Upper Colorado River Alliance (UCRA), Middle Park, the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and Northern Water.

If awarded the $10 million grant monies will go directly to two specific projects: the Windy Gap Bypass Project and a streambed habitat improvement project in the Colorado River for the ILVK. Additionally CPW is working to secure funding from the States Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to conduct a stream enhancement project on the Colorado River between the Windy Gap and the ILVK lands. If local organizers are able to secure funding for all three projects roughly 33-miles of the Colorado River will see stream improvements.

Lurline Underbrink-Curran is a contract employee for Grand County overseeing much of the County’s efforts on water issues. She worked closely with others to develop the RCPP grant application. “This will be a big deal if we are successful,” Underbrink-Curran said. “We think we have a strong application and we have a very strong partnership collaboration.”

She cautioned against expecting results too quickly though, even if full funding is approved. “The things that happened to the River didn’t happen over night and we won’t fix them overnight. But if we have methods and plans in place we will get them fixed.”

WINDY GAP BYPASS

The total cost of the Windy Gap Bypass Project is estimated at roughly $9.6 million. A total of $4.5 million has already been secured for the project and the $10 million RCPP grant would cover the remainder, with excess funds going to the ILVK Project.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

The Windy Gap Bypass Project is intended to create a free flowing channel for water from the Colorado River to [bypass] the Windy Gap Reservoir. The Windy Gap Reservoir is located just a short distance west of Granby on US Highway 40 and is one of several water storage reservoir[s] that make up the Colorado Big-Thompson Project’s water diversion system.

Water from the Windy Gap is pumped through the Northern Water diversion and pump network eventually reaching Grand Lake before moving across the Continental Divide through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. When the Windy Gap Reservoir was initially constructed no free flowing channel was created. As such the Windy Gap Reservoir divides the river habitat above and below the reservoir, preventing fish and other creatures from migrating freely.

Additionally the Windy Gap causes the Colorado River to lose nearly all of its velocity, allowing for a substantial amount of sediment to develop in both the reservoir and in the river downstream. The sediment buildup negatively impacts bug habitat, which has a domino effect on all other species living in the river.

The work that will be done for the Windy Gap Bypass is fairly simple in concept. Excavators will dig out a channel within the existing Windy Gap Reservoir. The dirt from the excavations will be used to construct a berm inside the Reservoir. The berm will establish a smaller reservoir while also creating a separate channel for the free flow of water down the Colorado.

ILVK PROJECT

The ILVK streambed habitat improvement project seeks to address two concerns: issues with irrigation infrastructure and improvements of streambed habitat for bug and aquatic life.

As Paul Bruchez, one of the ILVK landowners helping to spearhead the project explained, the project hopes to accomplish both goals through the same work; by rebuilding the pools and riffles that create healthy river habitat and focusing most of those efforts on areas where the irrigation pumping infrastructure already exists.

The ILVK is a landowners organization made up primarily of irrigating ranchers near the town of Kremmling. The ILVK holds some of the most senior water rights on the upper Colorado River; their senior water rights are recognized in Senate Document 80 and their rights precede the famous Colorado-Big Thompson Project (CBTP).

Prior to the establishment of the CBTP there were virtually no water storage reservoirs in the high country and no ditches bringing water to the landowners of the ILVK. At that time they were considered as having, “meadows act water rights” meaning they did not irrigate their fields using irrigation ditches, rather their fields naturally flooded each spring/summer as snow runoff from higher elevations made its way to the Colorado River.

When the CBTP was established irrigation pumps were constructed to provide water from the Colorado River to the landowners of the ILVK. As time has passed and additional water diversions and storage projects were undertaken above the ILVK region the flows that provided the ILVK members with irrigation water have diminished, along with the overall water table.

“We have a fixed station (irrigation) pump system with a river that is dynamic and changing,” Bruchez explained. “My neighbors and family struggle with irrigation issues. But I am also watching the regress of the Colorado River from a fishery standpoint. The concept of the ILVK project is to fix and repair our irrigation systems to be sustainable while using construction techniques that will improve the health of the river overall.”

In that way the ILVK project proverbially kills two birds with one stone. But for Bruchez and other landowners along the Colorado the effort isn’t just about improving their ability to access the water that is theirs by right, it is about the broader health of the River as well.

“If we can cut down water temps by even a fraction we are making headway,” Bruchez said. “It almost becomes a water quality issue. We are not just improving segments but improving the whole river system. We can’t look at one part or another as the priority. It is a system that needs a system wide repair.”

Flatiron Reservoir, Marys Lake and Lake Estes drawn down for work — Loveland Reporter-Herald

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Starting Oct. 27, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation turned off the water diversion tunnel from the West Slope to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project that feeds many of the lakes and reservoirs in Larimer County. The reservoir levels have also been lowered through the release of water to storage downstream.

According to a news release from the agency, the shutdown has allowed for the inspection of dams at Marys Lake and Lake Estes near Estes Park, and Flatiron Reservoir west of Loveland.

While the reservoirs are at low levels, crews are also looking at the power generation facilities at the Marys and Pole Hill power plants and the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

According to agency officials, the work will continue on the reservoirs and facilities throughout November, with water diversions through the Adams Tunnel from the Western Slope slated to resume in mid-December.

#ColoradoRiver: Beauty, “It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science” — Esther Vincent #COriver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?

In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.

Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.

The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”

On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.

But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.

Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.

“It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”

The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.

Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.

During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.

Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.

But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”

The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.

Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

The flawed design

But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.

The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.

Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.

From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.

In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul
In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul

The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.

Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.

Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).

Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.

The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.

“I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.

Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.

As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.

The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”

Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.

The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.

The effect of persistence

O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.

He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”

He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.

But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.

This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.

It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.

Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.

There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.

Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?

“I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Longmont water rates keep going up

From The Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):

The Longmont City Council opted for the middle-of-the road option for funding Longmont’s portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project, despite survey responses of residents that indicated most favored an all-cash option.

The decision, along with the March decision to participate in the water storage project at 10,000 acre-feet, will likely mean water rate increases of 8 percent in both 2017 and 2018, above the 9 percent increases in both years that have already been approved.

The council had three funding options to choose from, while many residents in a survey commissioned for the city expressed doubt that Longmont needs the 10,000 acre-feet of water storage instead of the 6,000 that was originally proposed.

The money for the 6,000 acre-feet is already in the bank and the rate increases and debt come into play to pay for the additional 4,000 acre-feet of storage, Longmont general manager of public works and natural resources Dale Rademacher said Tuesday.

Rademacher said the city needed an extra $16 million to pay for the extra water storage. The council chose to raise $10 million of that cost in “cash” that will come from the rate increases. The remaining $6 million will be debt, which will need to be approved by the council but won’t need to go on a ballot like a larger amount of debt would require.

Some council members expressed surprise that of the 848 households who returned a random city survey on the issue, most favored an all-cash option. Survey data was weighted to more closely match Longmont demographic data. The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.

The all-cash option to raise the money would have raised rates 13 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in 2018 above the already-approved 9 percent increases in both years.

Most people who completed the scientific mail survey favored this all-cash option, with 46 percent of respondents saying they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” it.

The city also released a web comment form where any resident — not just the ones who received the mailed survey — could tell the council about their preferences. While not scientific, most people online said they didn’t want any of the three options, but of the three, most supported a high-debt, low-rate increase option.

The third option would have required a vote of the people to issue $16.7 million in debt and mean water increases of 5 percent in both 2018 and 2019 above the already 9 percent increase.

Former Mayor Roger Lange spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting, urging the council to keep water rates as low as they can by reducing the participation in the project back to the 6,000 acre-foot level and use debt.

“It’s surprising that option 1 — the all-cash option — appeared to be favored by the people who got the survey,” Lange said. “In the web response survey, option 1 got the least favorable comments and many said they want none of the options. So it seems these surveys are diametrically opposed.”

Former City Manager Gordon Pedrow also spoke and reiterated that he thought the city should have stayed with the 6,000 acre-feet participation level rather than the increased 10,000 acre-feet level.

“With that rash decision, you have forced upon your residents options along with these horrible rate increases,” Pedrow said. “When residents receive their bills and realize what you’ve done, it will result in a complete loss of trust in you elected officials.”

The Times-Call published a letter to the editor from Pedrow in September that touched on many of the same points, plus urged residents to recall any “draconian” water rate ordinance so it can be put to a general vote. Nine of the respondents in the web survey referenced the letter and said they don’t see the need for the extra 4,000 acre-feet of water storage.

The amount of participation in the Windy Gap decision was strange in that the Longmont water board recommended 10,000 acre-feet while city staff recommended 6,000 acre-feet. The higher participation level passed the council 5-2 with Councilwomen Polly Christensen and Joan Peck dissenting.

Water board Chair Todd Williams spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting on Tuesday, defending the board’s March recommendation.

Windy Gap is a relatively low-cost option to add water to the collector system, plus is the project that is farthest along in the lengthy approval process, Williams said.

“By the time Windy Gap stores one drop of water, it will have been 20 years since the project started because of all the studies and permits associated with starting it. All other projects have much more uncertainty in terms of implementation, cost and timing,” Williams said.

Williams added that the variables determining how much water Longmont will need in the future are not set in stone. If other entities that Longmont trades water with walked away from the agreement, for example, Longmont would lose some sources of water, Williams said.

Mayor Dennis Coombs said if new information becomes available on whether Longmont needs 6,000 or 10,000 acre-feet of participation, he would like it presented to council. Christensen said she didn’t vote for the 10,000 acre-feet and she would be happy to return to the lower level, but none of the other council members seemed to support the idea.

Coombs said he noticed that people older than 55 years old wanted debt while younger people seemed to lean toward cash.

“My job is to do what I think most people in the city want and not favor one age group over another,” Coombs said. “Option 2 seems to thread the needle and satisfies the most people.”

Marys Lake, Lake Estes to be lowered for maintenance — The Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Marys Lake aerial photo via the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, October 2016.
Marys Lake aerial photo via the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, October 2016.

From Reclamation via the Estes Park Trail-Gazette:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it will begin shutting down this week the Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope system for winter maintenance and system inspection.

Peter Soeth, a Bureau spokesperson, said in an e-mail that beginning Oct.27 diversions will first be stopped through the Adams Tunnel followed by the draining of Marys Lake and Lake Estes by the morning of October 31.

Flatiron Reservoir will be drained by November 4.

Maintenance activities include annual maintenance for Marys and Pole Hill powerplants, as well as the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

The inspection and maintenance is expected to last through the middle of December. Once complete, the system will begin diversions through the Adams Tunnel and preparing for the 2017 water year.