South Routt County Water Users Meeting, May 29, 2019 — Colorado Division of Water Resources #YampaRiver

Here’s the notice from the the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Scott Hummer):

South Routt County Water Users Meeting

Bear River at CR7 near Yampa / 3:30 PM, May 16, 2019 / Flow Rate = 0.52 CFS. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Soroco High School / Oak Creek, CO
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Representatives from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (DWR), Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD), United States Forest Service (USFS), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

The agenda will address the agencies specific roles regarding:

Authority and Responsibilities associated with Administration, Management, and Oversight of water matters in the Morrison Creek, Oak Creek, and all Tributary drainages above Stagecoach Reservoir

All waters users are encouraged to Attend

Special recognition to the Soroco High School, FFA Chapter for helping organizing the event!

St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District seeking balance in river basin — The Longmont Times-Call

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

The St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District, whose mission is to protect water rights and improve management practices in the river basin, is in the first phase of developing a stream management plan for the 300,000-acre watershed. Its goal is to align strategies for maintaining the reliable delivery of water to agricultural users while also satisfying ecological and recreational goals, some of which could require higher flows in the main stretches of streams that feed the St. Vrain, such as Left Hand Creek, as well as the St. Vrain itself, which is a key South Platte River tributary.

“Whether you’re a domestic or agricultural water user, you have an opportunity to really be part of a strategic, balanced approach to meeting competing demands,” said Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

But Colorado water law is focused on the use of the state’s most valuable resource, and not on conservation, notes a September survey prepared by a firm hired by the conservancy district for the stream management plan.

“This causes water owners to shy away from change of use, dam modifications or other river improvements, fearing legal or financial challenges and a burden on their time — and farmers do not have time to give away,” the survey states, adding it also will be a challenge to have rights owners “‘open up’ about their decrees or the way they manage, use or store water, and there are sometimes long histories of relationships between agencies or people in how they work together with their water. Overcoming some of these social and political legacies, or positively using these relationships, will be a challenge to the process.”

Seeking balance at what cost?

Diverting water from stream beds through ditch delivery networks has long quenched otherwise dry agricultural lands on the Front Range, but the expansion of the practice over time has led to impacts some are now interested in mitigating.

Boosting the ability for fish and recreational users such as kayakers to pass diversions by altering or replacing infrastructural barriers has consistently been expressed as a priority.

So have improved ability to control timing and quantity of both ditch and stream bed flows, enhancing flood resiliency in the watershed and preventing impacts from municipal development.

“For the most part, this basin wants to work toward finding that balance,” Cronin said. “I won’t say we’re all in agreement of what the balance is, where that pivotal point is to make the balance, and I don’t think we’ll ever get there and that’s fine, as long as folks want to continue sitting at the table.”

While some Longmont-area ditch companies have already designed and implemented more passable diversions or are in talks with local officials about doing so in the near future, a move toward automating the opening and closing of ditch gates that are now moved manually to accommodate water share holders’ calls for supply also could emerge as a consideration for those relying on the watershed.

Being able to remotely open and close gates could help prevent flow heading into ditches when it isn’t needed, possibly allowing higher flows in main stream beds through areas where such water levels could benefit recreation and environmental health.

But doing so could come at a major cost. Terry Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for Left Hand Ditch Co., said the company, for reasons unrelated to stream management, next week will install an automated ditch gate that can be operated remotely in one location on its network at a cost of about $30,000.

If an effort to automate water delivery equipment were applied across the broader watershed, though, it would be needed in dozens of locations, and could require the construction of entirely new diversion structures in some areas, which can run cost hundreds of thousands for just one spot, Plummer said.

“We have no intentions of automating at this point in time,” Plummer said. “It’s just too expensive. The assessments (charged to share holders for ditch maintenance) are so high now because of the 2013 flood (damage) that we would have to raise assessments dramatically, and the farming can’t support that.”

He said grant funding would have to become available, with the right terms, to pursue widespread automation.

A method that helped maintain higher wintertime flows in the St. Vrain is likely no longer an option — for about 20 years until 2013, Longmont released water from its Ralph Price Reservoir storage at a rate of 3 cubic feet per second to maintain a winter flow of 5 cfs along the entirety of the river, according to city Water Resources Manager Ken Huson.

But state officials nixed that practice after changing how they account for water.

“It’s not something Longmont can just do on its own anymore like we used to,” Huson said.

Flow not only way to go

Other opportunities for bettering stream management in the St. Vrain watershed might not address flow, however, and still offer environmental and social benefits.

“What we’re going to come up with are management activities,” Cronin said. “Those could address flow, but it could be that an opportunity area doesn’t necessarily have a flow challenge, but a riparian floodplain connectivity challenge.”

Allowing streams to more easily access the floodplain by preventing their banks from becoming overly incised or congested can help avoid rushing waters during flood events via letting the excess flow spread out over flatland, instead of accumulating in steep, deep channels.

Removing the invasive crack willow tree, which has problematically proliferated across dozens of states, from local stream banks could help achieve that, and has already been worked on in some areas of the St. Vrain basin by the Left Hand Watershed Oversight Group.

“That’s really the issue with the current conditions and why there are disconnected floodplains, because we’ve had this encroachment of this invasive tree that has created a super stable bank, and has allowed incision to happen,” said Jessie Olson, the oversight group’s executive director. “We’ve got a number of places like that throughout the watershed that could use some additional connectivity basically by removing the invasive tree and laying back slopes.”

@CWCB_DNR: April 2019 #Drought Update

Click here to read the update (Taryn Finnessey):

Persistent moisture and near normal temperatures throughout March resulted in significant drought improvements across the region. While April has seen warmer temperatures and decreased precipitation, water year to date precipitation remains above average statewide. This is helping to reduce the ​threat of large wildfires​. We will continue to monitor throughout the snow melt season to determine inflows to reservoirs, streamflow levels. Post wildfire flooding remains a concern and will be closely monitored. The daily flood threat bulletin can be accessed May 1 through September 30 ​HERE​.

Colorado Drought Monitor April 23, 2019.
  • As of April 23, a mere one percent of the state remains in moderate drought and an additional 22 percent is abnormally dry. This represents a 71 percent reduction in D1-D4 conditions since the start of the water year.
  • El Niño conditions are now present, and a weak event is likely to continue through summer (65 percent chance) and possibly fall (50-55 percent chance) of this year. Historically spring & summer during an El Niño are more likely to be wet than dry, and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlooks for May, and for the May-June-July period show increased chances of wetter-than-average conditions.
  • SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 120 percent of median with all basins near or above normal. The highest snowpack is in the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan at 157 percent of median, while the lowest is the Yampa-White at 100 percent of median.
  • Statewide reservoir storage as of April 1, is 84 percent of normal but is expected to increase as the runoff season begins. The South Platte, Arkansas, Colorado, and Yampa-White, are all above 90 percent of average, while the Upper Rio Grande basin has 79 percent of normal storage. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison remain the lowest in the state at 58 and 67 percent of normal, respectively.
  • Streamflow forecasts are near to above normal statewide. Snowpack in the southwestern corner of the state is driving streamflow forecasts greater than 150 percent of average in the Dolores, Surface Creek and Saguache-San Luis Basins. Above average streamflows can help to replenish reservoir storage in these regions of the state.
  • The surface water supply index (SWSI) has improved in recent months with the majority of the state trending to the wetter conditions, this is in part due to strong streamflow forecasts.
  • Yampa River call in 2018 shuts down senior rights without measurement infrastructure

    The Yampa River had almost no flows at Deerlodge Park, at the entrance to Dinosaur National Park, when this photo was taken in mid-August, 2018. Photo/Erin Light via The Mountain Town News

    From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

    When the Yampa River went on call for the first time last year, 65% of water users on the river had to cut back or stop using their water because they didn’t have a measuring device or headgate on their diversion.

    In light of that, Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 6 Engineer Erin Light sent water users on the Yampa a notice earlier this year, requiring that they install these devices.

    Water users must install headgates
    “We know we had a problem with measuring devices … but because of this call and this recognition of a problem of having so many structures without measuring devices, I made the decision to send out notices for the installation of headgates and measuring devices,” Light told the audience at the annual State of the River presentation in Steamboat Springs earlier this month.

    Light is asking users to install devices by July 31 or ask for more time. If someone does not comply with the notice or receive an extension, they’ll receive an order to install these devices. Not complying with the order can result in a locked headgate, which means a user can’t use any of their water, or a $500 fine per day for every day a user continues to divert water without a headgate.

    These structures are required by law, but the Yampa River is still the Wild West when it comes to water use. The Yampa was among the last, if not the last, large rivers in the state to go on call. The area also is among the last in the state to have so many diversions without headgates.

    When the river went on call, even water users who had senior water rights and were using less water than they were legally entitled to were not allowed to use their water because their ditches didn’t have measuring devices that count how much water is used.

    That’s means about 65% of the devices Light and her staff track in the Yampa River basin — about 850 — were shut off.

    A similar notice and order was issued after the Elk River was placed on call in 2010.

    Measuring for the future
    These devices are important, Light said, because, in the state’s eyes, the value of a water right is based on the record of how much water that crops, livestock and people consume.

    Without a way to measure the water, this record is an estimate, with water commissioners — the people charged with monitoring water rights on the ground — taking an educated guess at how much water is flowing based on how quickly a dandelion head floats downstream.

    And how the state values a water right is becoming increasingly important as water managers start to plan for the possibility of an interstate call under the Colorado River Compact, which would require Colorado to cut back use as a state in order to send water downstream. Water managers are already working to balance increased demand for water with less available water…

    The Upper Yampa Water Conservation District, which includes much of Routt County, offers mini-grants for up to half of the project cost or $500 to assist water users with the cost of installing water control and measuring devices. Each device can earn a grant, so if a producer is installing a headgate and measuring device, they can receive up to $1,000, Upper Yampa General Manager Kevin McBride said.

    More information can be found online at http://www.upperyampawater.com/projects/grants.

    @CWCB_DNR: March 2019 #Drought Update

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Ben Wade):

    In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, ​the C​olorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan​ was activated for the agricultural sector​ ​on May 2, 2018​, additional counties in northwest Colorado were added in September and activation remains in effect; information can be found HERE​.

    February and March-to-date have both seen impressive snow accumulation statewide, but especially in the southern half of the state where snowpack is currently above 150 percent of normal for all basins. This persistent moisture and near normal temperatures has resulted in significant drought improvements across the region. We will continue to monitor throughout the snow melt season to determine inflows to reservoirs and streamflow levels. Post wildfire flooding remains a concern and will be closely monitored. The daily flood threat bulletin can be accessed May 1 through September 30 ​HERE​.

  • As of March 19th, exceptional drought (D4) and extreme drought (D3) have been entirely removed from Colorado. Severe drought covers just 0.63 percent of the state while moderate drought covers an additional six percent. Forty percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions, a significant improvement in recent weeks. Most of the western slope has seen three and even four class improvements in drought conditions since the start of the water year (see image below).
  • El Niño conditions are now present, and will likely continue through spring (80 percent chance) and even summer (60 percent chance) of this year. Historically spring during an El Niño event trends toward wetter conditions, and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlooks for April, and for the April-May-June period show increased chances of wetter-than-average conditions, with less confidence in the temperature outlook.
  • SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 142 percent of average with all basins well above average. The highest snowpack is in the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan at 158 percent of median, while the lowest is tied with both the Yampa-White and the North Platte at 128 percent of median (see image below).
  • Many basins, as well as the state as a whole are near maximum observed snowpack for this time of year and short term forecasts indicate that an active storm pattern is likely to remain.
  • Reservoir storage, statewide remains at 83 percent of normal but is expected to increase as soon as the runoff season begins. The South Platte, Colorado, and Yampa-White, all above 90 percent of average as of March 1st. Storage in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins are at 87 and 78 percent of normal, respectively. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison remain the lowest in the state at 58 and 63 percent of normal, respectively.
  • Streamflow forecasts are near to above normal statewide and have been steadily increasing in recent weeks. As a result the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center has adjusted their April-July unregulated inflow forecasts as follows: Blue Mesa Reservoir 960 KAF (142% of average) a 32 percent of average increase, McPhee Reservoir 480 KAF (163% of average) a 51 percent of average increase. The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 9.50 MAF (133% of average) an increase of 2.2 million acre-feet or 31% of average.
  • The ​Drought Visualization Tool​ is now live; please take a minute to provide feedback on this tool ​HERE​.
  • Job opportunity: Professional Engineer 3 level for the Lead Assistant Division Engineer, Division 3 (#RioGrande Basin). Closes on March 22, 2019

    Click here to apply:

    Description of Job
    Although the Division of Water Resources Office is located in Alamosa, the position’s primary duties are performed within 30 miles of the border of Colorado.

    This position assists the Division of Water Resources (DWR) State Engineer in carrying out the statutory duties required of the DWR and any written instruction of the State Engineer within the geographic area of State Division Three; serve as Division Engineer as designated; assure integrity of the Prior Appropriations Doctrine while maximizing beneficial use of water; coordinate the regulation of water within the Division; consult with the Water Court; resolve disputes that exceed the abilities of Water Commissioners; supervise field and office personnel; assist the public through the Water Court process and well permit application process and in the understanding of water law, hydrology and water supply, and other water-related issues; prepare expert witness reports; consult with the Water Court regarding Water Court applications; respond to water user complaints and write reports summarizing the agency’s position; and negotiate or provide expert engineering support / testimony to litigate any conditions necessary to protect existing water rights. Other duties as assigned.

    Governor Polis Announces Water Appointments

    Aspen trees in autumn. Photo: Bob West via the Colorado State Forest Service.

    From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources:

    Governor Polis has announced three new board appointments to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    · Gail Schwartz of Basalt, Colorado, representing the Colorado River basin
    · Jackie Brown of Oak Creek, Colorado, representing the Yampa-White River basin
    · Jessica Brody of Denver, Colorado, representing the City and County of Denver

    In addition, the Governor appointed Russ George as the Director of the Inter-Basin Compact Committee in addition to five gubernatorial appointees.

    · Aaron Citron
    · Mely Whiting
    · Robert Sakata
    · Patrick Wells
    · Paul Bruchez

    “I’m excited to work with these appointments,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Their collective experience is unmatched.”

    Gail Schwartz has spent over two decades serving Colorado in both appointed and elected office. Jackie Brown brings a diverse background in natural resources and is a leader in the water community as the current Chair of the Yampa-White-Green basin roundtable. Finally, as General Counsel for Denver Water and formerly with the Denver City Attorney’s Office, Jessica Brody brings both municipal and environmental law experience.

    “I’m looking forward to working with the newly appointed board and IBCC members to continue implementing Colorado’s Water Plan. They bring valued expertise and leadership to the water community,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director of the CWCB. “We sincerely thank the outgoing Board members and IBCC appointments for their service. Their dedication has been instrumental on numerous policy and planning efforts, including bringing a diversity of perspectives to Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    Russ George is a fourth generation native of the Rifle, Colorado area and brings a depth of state government and public service. Russ was instrumental in creating the IBCC and basin roundtables.

    “As the first champion of the IBCC and roundtable process, there’s no one better equipped to lead the IBCC. We’re embarking on a future of great opportunity in water, and Russ is the perfect choice to navigate the times ahead,” said Gibbs.