Governor Polis Announces Partnership to Manage Sweetwater Lake as Newest #Colorado State Park

Here’s the release from Governor Polis’ office:

New State Park Builds on Polis Administration’s Historic Levels of Direct Investment in Our Outdoors & Lands

Today Governor Jared Polis announced a partnership among Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service (White River National Forest), and Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) to create Colorado’s 43rd State Park at Sweetwater Lake. The partners are now working to develop a long-term management plan to improve recreational facilities and maintain the unique character of the area. This is the second State Park created under the Polis administration, with Fishers Peak in Trinidad officially opening almost a year ago.

“Sweetwater Lake is simply gorgeous, and has great potential for even more recreational opportunities like a campground,” said Governor Polis. “This is the first of its kind partnership in Colorado to create a state park on U.S. Forest Service land, and we look forward to working with our partners and Coloradans with the ultimate goal of adding Sweetwater Lake to Colorado’s world-class state park system for fun, conservation, education, and to support job growth for the region.”

Jacque Buchanan, Deputy Regional Forester, U.S. Forest Service, Jessica Foulis, Executive Director, Eagle Valley Land Trust, Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Jeannie McQueeney, Eagle County Commissioner, and Representatives Dylan Roberts & Perry Will spoke at the event.

The White River National Forest acquired the 488-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Garfield County on August 31, 2021, through a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) purchase. The area had been identified among the top 10 priority LWCF purchases nationwide to increase public recreation opportunities as well as to protect the area’s important wildlife habitat, cultural and scenic values. This LWCF purchase followed the acquisition of the property in 2020 by The Conservation Fund, which was made possible by a loan from Great Outdoors Colorado and local fundraising efforts such as the “Save the Lake” Campaign organized by EVLT.

“Sweetwater Lake has tremendous ecological and cultural values and outstanding opportunities for recreation. This partnership allows the White River National Forest to incorporate the local expertise of the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the recreation management and wildlife expertise of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to best serve visitors to the area,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum.

The acquisition of the 488-acre Sweetwater ranch property significantly increases the existing public access to the lake. However, very little infrastructure is currently in place to facilitate public recreation. Improved facilities, including a new boat launch, will be available to the public by June 1st, 2022. Additional buildout will follow the completion of a long-term plan, in consultation with the public, for expanding and managing the recreational opportunities at Sweetwater Lake while preserving the unique, relatively undeveloped nature of the property.

“Sweetwater Lake is a hidden gem, both as a destination and gateway to the Flat Top Wilderness. The partnership formed to protect and manage this unique landscape is an extension of the state and federal commitment to shared stewardship, which the Governor and U.S.D.A. initiated in 2019,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.”

This summer, Governor Polis was proud to sign several pieces of legislation that provide more opportunities for Coloradans to go out and recreate, as well as key measures to protect the state’s outdoor beauty, and provide sustainable funding for the outdoors. The Keep Colorado Wild Pass bill, signed by Governor Polis in June, creates an optional low-cost state park and public lands pass, cutting the current cost by half or more by 2023. The new pass will make outdoor recreation opportunities more accessible while increasing the state’s ability to conserve, plan and invest in our public lands for the long term. Governor Polis also signed into law the Outdoor Equity Grant Program in June, which will increase access and opportunities for underserved youth and their families to enjoy Colorado’s outdoors.

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is excited to modernize facilities, and provide updated and sustainable recreational services through this partnership. Our main priority is to conserve the unique character of the area while improving access to this incredible property,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow.

“The conservation of Sweetwater Lake is the realization of a community vision decades in the making. EVLT is looking forward to closely coordinating with the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife as we move forward with plans for Sweetwater Lake,” said Jessica Foulis, Executive Director, Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Colorado is home to more than 22 million acres of public lands, ranging from wetlands to forests, canyon landscapes to mountain lakes. Governor Polis is a strong supporter of Colorado’s outdoors and has fulfilled his pledge to double the amount of publicly accessible land trust enrolled in the Public Access Program.

Here are photos of the lake. View the press conference here.

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The White River National Forest took ownership of the oasis adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness this summer after securing $8.5 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Two years ago, The Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust joined to buy the property from a Denver investment group, with a plan to transfer it over to the national forest.

The White River is the eighth owner of the parcel in the last few decades. The remote acreage has been eyed by wealthy investors for development of golf courses, a private community of luxury homes and even a water bottling plant.

Adrienne Brink first visited Sweetwater Lake as a 19-year-old in 1969 on a backcountry horseback trip. She returned a few years later with her husband and bought the horse packing outfitter. They bought the Sweetwater Resort — some cabins, a restaurant, a boat launch and a campground, in the mid 1980s. They’ve been running trips — with a permit from the White River National Forest — and hosting visitors ever since. In that time, she’s seen six owners come and go, not counting the two conservation groups or the Forest Service.

Those investors had big dreams. She’s got maps they sketched of golf courses in meadows where she grazes her horses. The water-bottling planners — “really nice guys,” she said — left her unable to irrigate those meadows as they studied flows from the spring where they hoped to collect water to sell under the name “Vaspen.”

But none of the big dreamers ever made any progress. They never invested in the property. They never even put a shovel to dirt…

Colorado and the Forest Service created a “shared stewardship” agreement in 2019, with a memorandum of understanding that provided the framework for the state and Forest Service to work with local communities, tribal partners and a host of other agencies “to work collaboratively to accomplish mutual goals, further common interests and effectively respond to the challenges facing the communities, landscapes, natural resources and cultural resources of the state.”

That program has led the state and Forest Service to map wildfire hazards and possible mitigation strategies. And now it’s led to a new state park. Dan Gibbs, the director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, said he’s working with the Bureau of Land Management on a similar shared stewardship agreement…

The new park — which has not been officially named but Gibbs said would likely include a nod to the White River National Forest — is a blueprint for state and federal cooperation in expanding Colorado’s state parks. The effort to protect Sweetwater Lake included the towns of Gypsum and Eagle, Eagle and Garfield counties and local residents who led the “Save the Lake” effort to raise local dollars for the transfer to public ownership. The Conservation Fund has given the Eagle Valley Land Trust more than $1 million for the Sweetwater Lake Stewardship & Equity Fund, which will help fund improvement and improve access for underprivileged communities…

The Conservation Fund was first to galvanize the movement to protect Sweetwater Lake after an investment group that took control of the property from the stalled water-bottlers listed the property in 2017 for $9.3 million. The group joined with the Eagle Valley Land Trust and Great Outdoors Colorado and then gathered support from diverse boards of county commissioners, town councils and local residents in addition to state and federal land managers in the effort to protect Sweetwater Lake from yet another developer with big plans.

“It just came so close to being lost to development and being a private high-end resort community,” Spring said. “We were hopeful we would get to his point.”

#Water shortage worsening along northwest #Colorado’s #YampaRiver and #WhiteRiver — The #Denver Post #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This Parshall flume, which was installed in the Yampa River basin in 2020 and is shown in this August 2020 photo, replaced the old, rusty device in the background. State engineers are developing rules for measuring devices, which would apply to the entire Western Slope.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

The White and Yampa rivers traditionally supply a comfortable amount of water compared with other waterways across the state, according to Jeff Lukas, a Lafayette climate consultant and former water scientist with the University of Colorado Boulder. But that’s not as much the case recently.

“The whole Colorado River system is on the wrong side of the knife’s edge in the first part of the 21st century,” Lukas said.

Over the last two decades, the Yampa’s average flow decreased by about 6% from its 20th-century average, Lukas said. And the White’s average flow decreased by about 19%.

So officials with Colorado’s Division of Water Resources want to better track who’s taking water from the rivers — and its tributaries — and how much. Better tracking there would bring the division’s northwest region into line with the rest of the state, where that type of data collection is already more common.

Division officials are hosting stakeholder meetings in the region to develop rules by which water usage will be measured and hope to have the process finished by the end of next year, state Engineer Kevin Rein said. And as more data flows in, the state can better allocate water to those legally allowed to take it, an increasingly precise task as droughts continue to plague the Western Slope.

And in the bigger, and unprecedented, picture, if Colorado is called to work with upper- and lower-basin states because not enough water is passing southwest through the Colorado River, it will need that concrete data in hand, Rein said.

“We just need to know where it’s going,” Brain Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said. “Every drop counts when it comes to water.”

The process underway in northwest Colorado is part of an increasing nationwide trend to better track water use as droughts become more common, Fuchs said…

Drying rivers

One key indicator that water is tighter in northwest Colorado is that senior water rights holders along the Yampa River are more frequently calling state engineers to shut off supply for junior rights holders until their thirst is quenched, according to Erin Light, water division engineer for the region.

The first ever call like that on the Yampa came in 2018, Light said. Another followed in 2020 and then another this year, both of which only ended after Colorado River conservation officials agreed to release water from the Elkhead Reservoir, northeast of Craig.

Water shortages and calls like those can spell trouble not only for those in Colorado but also millions more downstream.

Water from the Yampa and White rivers flows into the [Green River then the] Colorado River and ultimately into Lake Powell, making up to a fifth of the reservoir’s water supply each year, Lukas said.

The reservoir, which sank to its lowest level on record this year, supplies water to about 35 million people, irrigates millions of acres of cropland and generates billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

While calls from senior water rights holders come each year — even in non-drought years — along the Arkansas, Rio Grande and South Platte rivers, Rein said “it’s a new thing to the Yampa.”

[…]

Not only are those rivers drying due to climate change but more water is allocated from them than the rivers actually have to offer. And now the historically water-abundant Yampa, which is also over-allocated, appears to be joining those ranks, Light said…

Accounting for water

As Colorado’s rivers dry up, like the Ogallala Aquifer on the eastern plains…for example, governments across the country are working to take better inventory of their water supply, Fuchs said. When those water shortages arise, people start to ask where the water went and who took it.

“All of a sudden these questions are starting to be asked and (governments) can’t really put those cards on the table because they don’t have them,” Fuchs said.

The same logic applies when states strike deals with each other over rivers that cross their borders, Fuchs added. The states not only want to make sure they’re following the agreements but also that they’re keeping as much water as possible.

Colorado’s northwest region represents a gap in the state’s inventory.

As of April, only about 54% of the structures used by water rights holders in Light’s region, which covers Craig and Steamboat Springs, have devices to measure their water usage.

For comparison, about 95% of the structures in the Roaring Fork and Crystal river basins to the southeast have measuring devices, [Aspen Journalism] reported.

In late 2019, Light ordered hundreds of water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices and then in March 2020 she issued formal notices for others along the White and Green rivers to follow suit, the Summit Daily reported. And Light’s office is now holding stakeholder meetings this month across the region as they look to cement consistent rules for what kinds of devices can be used, how they should be maintained and how they measure water use.

Rein said he hopes that the rule-making process could be finished by the end of next year, but he doesn’t want to rush it.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.
White River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69281367

Vice President Kamala Harris argues for Biden #climate agenda at sinking #LakeMead — KJZZ #ActOnClimate

Kamala Harris at Lake Mead October 18, 2021. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Interior

From The Associated Press (Suman Naishadham):

Vice President Kamala Harris stood before the record-low water levels of Nevada’s Lake Mead on Monday and made the case for the Biden administration’s climate change agenda by warning that “this is where we’re headed.”

“Look at where the water has receded over just the last 20 years,” she said, referring to the “bathtub ring” of minerals that marks where the reservoir’s water line previously stood. “That space is larger than the height of the Statue of Liberty.”

The vice president pitched the administration’s infrastructure and social safety net agenda as critical to tackling the effects of climate change — which scientists say intensify extreme weather events such as heatwaves and droughts.

Democrats have struggled to win support for that plan from some members of their party, who want to winnow down its $3.5 trillion price tag.

Harris made the case for the package by connecting human-caused climate change to the scene she stood near, saying emissions are “part of what is contributing to these drought conditions.”

[…]

Federal officials in August declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water than normal next year amid a gripping Western drought.

In September, Reclamation released projections showing an even worse outlook for the river.

While California is spared from next year’s cuts, the nation’s most populous state has experienced one of its driest years on-record while battling scores of catastrophic wildfires.

In arguing for the $1 trillion public works infrastructure deal, Harris referenced the “good union jobs” that the spending package would create, naming pipefitters, electricians and plumbers as examples. That plan passed the Senate months ago and is awaiting House approval.

It contains roughly $8 billion for Western water projects, including desalination technology to make sea water usable, modernizing rural water infrastructure and building greater capacity to recycle wastewater.

Harris also spoke about the Biden administration’s proposed civilian Climate Corps, which it has said would create hundreds of thousands of jobs building trails, restoring streams and helping stop devastating wildfires…

Harris on Monday met with federal and regional water officials such as Tanya Trujillo, assistant interior secretary for water and science, and U.S. Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford of Nevada.

Passing Biden’s signature social services and climate change plans would serve future generations, Harris said, “in a way that will not only be about life, but about … beautiful places like Lake Mead.”

From The Deseret News (Hunter Schwarz):

Water levels at Lake Mead fell this year to their lowest point since the reservoir was created in the 1930s, and in August, the U.S. government declared the first ever water shortage on the Colorado River.

“When we look at what’s happening here, we know this is about this lake, but it is about a region and it is about our nation,” Harris said.

Harris said Biden’s agenda was “thoughtful and foresightful,” and that along with the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill currently in Congress, would make investments “in things like water recycling and reuse, what we can do in terms of water desalination, what we can do in terms of implementation of drought contingency plans.”

“This is about thinking ahead, recognizing where we are and where we’re headed,” Harris said…

About half of all adults in western states said they’ve seen extreme weather events happening more often in their region, according to a Pew Research survey released Thursday. Currently, 90% of the West is in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and wildfires in California this year surpassed 4 million acres burned earlier this month, a record. The only regions with higher percentages of residents saying they’ve noticed extreme weather events on the rise were the West South Central region, which includes Texas and Louisiana which have been ravaged by hurricanes, and the Middle Atlantic.

Pew found wide support for the federal government to take action when it comes to building systems to make wastewater reusable in dry regions, with 88% of U.S. adults saying it is very or somewhat important. But there was a sharp partisan divide. The poll found 64% of Democrats support the federal government taking action, compared with 36% of Republicans.

What might planning for an 11 million acre foot or 10 million acre foot #ColoradoRiver look like? — @jfleck #COriver #aridification

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck.

From InkStain (John Fleck):

One of the central questions dimly visible in the early discussions around the upcoming renegotiation of the Colorado River’s water operations and allocations rules is the question of how bad a “worst case” scenario should be considered.

This is crucial, because it constrains what sort of questions must then be confronted. The lower the future flows considered, the more likely it is that the negotiators will have to stare down the third rail question of how much water the Upper Basin can delivery hydrologically, and must deliver legally, at Lee Ferry, the dividing point between the Upper and Lower Basins.

For the century since the Colorado River Compact was signed, we’ve avoided dealing with that central question – what happens if the river’s flows are so low that the Upper Basin cannot deliver the 7.5 million acre feet per year (or 8.25 million acre feet, we can’t even agree about which number to argue about) contemplated by the compact’s Article III.

This question is so untouchable that in work done for the 2012 Basin Study, the Bureau of Reclamation’s modelers famously added what came to be called “miracle water” at Lee Ferry every time one of their model runs dropped below the threshold that might have otherwise triggered this legal argument.

Under the low flows possible under climate change, we face a stark choice – either we reduce the Upper Basin’s Lee Ferry deliveries below 7.5/8.25 maf, or we will have to curtail existing Upper Basin uses. Advocates of modeling such low flows in the planning scenarios are essentially saying – Let’s have that conversation now.

At the tale end of yesterday’s (Friday 10/15/2021) House Natural Resources Sucommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, it was California Rep. Jim Costa, a congressman from outside the Colorado River Basin, who asked the question pointed at the heart of the matter – how do we redo water allocations that make no sense in a river much smaller than contemplated in our hallowed Law of the River?

He was addressing a panel of representatives from each of the Colorado River Basin states (his comments start around 2:30 here):

“The Law of the River and the quantification of the Upper and Lower Basin states amounted to some 17 million acre feet of water that was determined at that time was the annual flow of the Colorado River, and we know that in the last two decades its been more like 12.4 million acre feet, and that doesn’t account for other Native American tribes that have reserved water right claims that have yet to be resolved. So there’s just a tremendous amount of demand. And with climate change, we know the yield is only going to decline.

“This is the question I’d like to submit to all of you, and if you want to provide written statement to your answer I think we would appreciate that.

“Let’s say the annual yield over the next 30 years is 10 million acre feet. I don’t know, with climate change, maybe it’s plus or minus. How do we take into account how we got to the original allocation, with the Upper and Lower Basin States and the Native tribes, the sovereign nations, and then reallocate that on a lot less water.”

At this point all we can see through the public windows into discussions about next-step Colorado River management guidelines is shadow boxing on this question.

But testimony yesterday from Southern Nevada’s John Entsminger suggests the public shadowboxing we’re seeing on this question is representative of disagreements in the private discussions. (I quote here from John’s written testimony.)

Climate change is causing the Southwest to aridify. (Left) Since the 1930s, increasing temperatures have caused the percentage of precipitation going to evapotranspiration (ET) to increase at the expense of precipitation going to Colorado River flow, resulting in an unprecedented and still ongoing megadrought (shading) starting in 1999 (8). (Right) Higher temperatures have already reduced Colorado River flow by 13%, and projected additional warming, assuming continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, will increase ET while reducing river flow even more through the 21st century. Data on Left are 20-y running means from ref. 5, and data on Right are calculated from Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) 8.5 multimodel Coupled Model Intercomparison Project–Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble temperature increases projected for the Upper Colorado River Basin combined with temperature sensitivity of −9.3%/°C estimated by ref. 5, assuming no change in precipitation.

“Despite the fervent warnings from internationally renowned scientists like Jonathan Overpeck and Brad Udall that urge us to plan for a future with even less than 12.3 million acre-feet, the river community is far from consensus about how dry of a future to plan for. And, while this panel was asked to talk about drought, on-the-ground evidence suggests the Colorado River basin is not experiencing drought but aridification – a permanent transition to a drier future. If we are to build upon the river’s many successes over the last 25 years, we must confront the magnitude of the challenge in front of us and quickly reach agreement on what future scenario we’re willing to plan for. (emphasis added)”

Speaking two weeks ago at this year’s Getches-Wilkinson Center conference in Boulder, Entsminger put a number to Southern Nevada’s thinking. In the next iteration of its long range water resources plan, Entsminger’s Southern Nevada Water Authority will include a “what if” planning scenario for how the agency would deal with an 11 million acre foot per year Colorado River. This is not to say that Southern Nevada expects an 11 million acre foot river, but rather than it believes it needs to have a plan in place should that happen.

I could be wrong, but so far I’ve seen no public evidence that any of the states of the Upper Basin are willing to entertain flows that low in the planning scenarios to be considered in the modeling done to support the upcoming negotiations. I look forward to seeing the written answers the basin states’ representatives submit to Costa’s question.

Eagle River Watershed Council: A deeper diver into the #EagleRiver MOU — The Vail Daily

Ken Neubecker, formerly of American Rivers, gives a presentation about the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding during a hike and public outreach event organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council. The 1998 MOU, which lays out the amounts of water the signatories are entitled to develop, may be based on hydrology that is outdated due to climate change impacts of the last 20 years.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From The Current (Ken Neubecker) via The Vail Daily:

This is Part II of a three-part series.

In the previous column, we reviewed the history of water development in the Homestake Valley, as well as some of the key points contained in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding that was agreed to and signed by the principal parties in 1998. Of primary interest in this column is what is referred to as “Exhibit 2” in the MOU, and pertains to Homestake Creek-based alternatives.

As a reminder, the Eagle River Assembly and signatories of the MOU were Aurora and Colorado Springs (named the Cities in the memorandum), Colorado River Water Conservation District (River District), Climax Molybdenum Company (Climax) and the Vail Consortium, consisting of Vail Associates, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. The Vail Consortium and the River District together are known as the “Reservoir Company” in the MOU.

The primary objective of the MOU was to create a joint project from one of four options, which were explained in the previous column. The idea was to develop a water supply project that “minimizes environmental impacts, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants…”

The baseline sharing of water would provide as much as 10,000 acre-feet (an acre foot is enough water to cover one acre — about a football field — one foot deep), on average, for the Eagle County participants, 20,000 acre-feet on average for the east slope participants and 3,000 acre-feet average for Climax. These amounts were based on a firm dry year yield, which means the maximum quantity of water which can be guaranteed during a critical dry period.

Ken Neubecker via LinkedIn

There are provisions in the MOU for the range of needs and timelines of the parties. Any party or parties wishing to build a project must seek the participation of all the other parties. If the other party or parties do not wish to participate at that time, then the initial parties may “proceed independently of the others…,” with additional caveats regarding money, infrastructure and “rights of refusal” to water, depending on the final size of a project.

If the proposed project is a joint project, the parties shall all apply for permits as co-applicants for federal, state and county permits. But, what happens if one or more of the parties decline to participate?

The MOU outlines the following: “To the extent that any party exercises its right not to participate… such party shall nevertheless support any application that is consistent with the terms of this MOU.” The non-participating parties will “provide favorable testimony and letters of support in any permit proceedings…” If any party or parties fail to support a proposed project than “the Cities shall have no obligation to subordinate their water rights…”

Such refusal of support would also jeopardize a specific exchange of water.

The MOU considers the need to study and mitigate potential environmental impacts. It is designed to focus primarily on compiling all information on existing wetlands, identifying and quantifying wetlands in the area, estimating mitigation costs and “identifying potential benefits for recreation, fish and wildlife in a qualitative sense.” This last comment is important and reflects a long history of resistance by Front Range water diverters to any quantification of flow needs for environmental protection or recreation.

If any flow rates, seasonal or otherwise, including any range of flows needed for the environment, fish, wildlife and recreation were provided, the diverters might be expected to provide for flows through depletions, or when their diversion is impacting local stream flows.

The MOU calls for an environmental analysis of the various alternatives to identify impacts to wetlands and concerns from inundation, or the flooding of the valley floor and surrounding landscapes. It specifically states that, “If it is found that there are less environmentally damaging practicable alternatives [any of these proposed projects] may prove difficult to permit.”

Now that’s an understatement.

The third column will explore some serious questions brought to mind by both the MOU and the assumptions underlying the work of the Eagle River Assembly. The significant cultural, hydrologic and climatic changes that have occurred since 1998 will also be investigated. The world and problems we face with water and rivers in the West in 2021 are not the same as those the Eagle River Assembly was trying to address in the early 1990s.

Ken Neubecker is a founder of and former board president for Eagle River Watershed Council and recently retired from his position as the Colorado Project Director at American Rivers. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

@DWR_CO Announces Public Meetings on Proposed Over-Appropriation in the #YampaRiver Basin #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

From email from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arend):

The Colorado Division of Water Resources and Community Agriculture Alliance are partnering to educate the community and solicit public comment about the proposal to designate the Yampa River Basin as over-appropriated.

An over-appropriated stream system is one in which at some or all times of the year, the water supplies of a stream system are insufficient to satisfy all the decreed water rights within that system. Two public meetings will be held to outline how the over-appropriation proposal affects new and existing residential well permits.

A recording will be available after the Moffat County event for those who are unable to attend in-person.

For more information on the proposed designation see: https://dwr.colorado.gov/news-article/yampa-river-over-appropriation. To submit comments on or any questions about the proposed plan please contact Erin Light, Division Engineer, Water Division 6, at erin.light@state.co.us or 970-879-0272 Ext. 3.

WHO: Colorado Division of Water Resources and Community Agriculture Alliance

WHAT: Public Meetings on Proposed Designation of Yampa River as Over-Appropriated and impacts to new and existing residential well permits

WHEN/WHERE:

Monday, October 25, 2021, 6 PM to 8 PM, Moffat County Fairgrounds, 640 E Victory Way, Craig, CO, 81625

Thursday, October 28, 2021, 5 PM to 7 PM, Routt County Fairgrounds, 398 S Poplar St, Hayden, CO, 81639

Opinion: The #ColoradoRiver #drought contingency plan is no longer a contingency — The #Colorado Sun #COriver #aridification #DCP

From The Colorado Sun (Rebecca Mitchell):

Seven states will negotiate access to what’s left in the river. My job is to represent all of Colorado’s interests.

Photo: DNR Director Dan Gibbs, Gov. Polis, CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller at Elkhead Reservoir. Photo credit: Colorado Water Conservation Board

If you live in Colorado—you get it. We don’t quit when challenged. Whether you live in a city, on a farm or ranch, in a rural town, or somewhere in between—you are part of the dynamic group of people who call Colorado home; people who understand when it comes to protecting Colorado water, specifically the Colorado River’s water, we must rise together to meet the challenge.

From its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado River flows broadly across 1,450 miles of the southwestern United States, changing elevation by a remarkable 10,000 feet. More than 40 million people rely on the Colorado, the nation’s fifth-longest river, for drinking water and energy through hydroelectric power. In addition, the river supports an estimated $25 billion recreational economy and an agricultural economy of about $1.4 trillion a year.

About 100 years ago, the seven states in the Colorado River Basin created an agreement known as the 1922 Colorado River Compact and divided the seven states into two groups, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming), and the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). It was the beginning of these seven states acting cooperatively to take the lead in managing and allocating the Colorado River’s annual flow of water.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck.

Yet, in the early 1900s, it was impossible to foresee that in the 21st Century, the dwindling supply of water due to climatic forces, coupled with growing demand, would result in the present-day low water levels in our nation’s two largest reservoirs.

Extensive drought that began over 20 years ago in 2000—and continues to this day—has been a major factor leading to Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, reaching its lowest level since being filled. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border, also is at its lowest level since filling.

The state of the river is important to every Coloradan – all 6 million of us. It is critical to providing for the needs of current and future generations of Coloradans. More broadly, it is critical to the 40 million people who directly rely on the water of the Colorado River.

That is why all seven states agree that working collaboratively is critical to solving our own river management issues through cooperative agreements like the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

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

The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan provides that, should Lake Powell’s water levels fall too low, Upper Basin states would release more of the river’s water from other reservoirs, to be stored in Lake Powell as part of the Drought Response Operations Agreement in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The agreement has been activated and the states now are in planning mode.

Demand management engagement pyramid. Graphic credit: The Colorado Water Conservation Board

Another tool could involve an effective demand-management program, which provides compensation for water users, such as farmers and ranchers and municipalities, to voluntarily conserve water on a temporary basis — without the loss of their ongoing water rights — while allowing for more water to be stored in Lake Powell with greater downstream water flow.

So, where do we stand? The seven Colorado River Basin States soon will be negotiating new interim guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to coordinate operations of both reservoirs.

As Commissioner representing Colorado’s interest in these negotiations, I am charged with effectively representing and protecting the state’s water and the water users’ interests, while also working collaboratively with the other six states and the federal government. As a state, we will continue leading the effort in conjunction with all the Colorado River Basin states.

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

Throughout the process, I commit to hearing the voices of tribal nations, key stakeholders, non-governmental organizations, and our fellow Coloradans. To learn how to make your voice heard, visit EngageCWCB.org.

As we continue to face the challenges of climate change, persistent drought, and growing populations, we cannot quit.

Rebecca Mitchell, of Denver, is Colorado commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission.

#LakePowell 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

‘#ClimateChange is fundamentally altering the #ColoradoRiver,’ congressional panel hears — #Colorado Newsline #COriver #aridification

A photo of boaters on the upper Colorado River in Colorado in July 2018. (Bob Wick/BLM)

States in the Colorado River Basin are adjusting to the reality that their rights outstrip the available water by nearly one-third, state and tribal leaders told a congressional panel Friday.

The situation is likely only to worsen as the climate changes, leaving states and tribes in competition for their most vital resource.

Representatives from the seven Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, California, Utah and Wyoming — that depend on the river for drinking water and irrigation said at a U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing that they are preparing for a future where the river and their entitlements do not match.

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State officials and lawmakers emphasized how serious the situation was, but offered few solutions during Friday’s hearing — the first of two the panel plans to hold on the drought in the Colorado Basin — beyond general appeals to conservation and collaboration.

States and tribes in the basin are legally entitled to 15 million acre-feet of water per year, with another 1.5 million going to Mexico, but only about 12.4 million has flowed in an average year over the last two decades. 

The deficit is the result of a years-long drought that was tied to climate change, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat who chairs the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and others said.

“After more than two decades of drought with no end in sight, it’s clear — to most of us at least — that climate change is fundamentally altering the Colorado River,” Huffman said. “It’s decreasing the amount of water available from this key river.”

Ranking Republican Cliff Bentz, of Oregon, said the shortage in the Colorado River Basin could soon be the reality elsewhere.

“This situation the Colorado’s facing is so reflective of what we’re going to be seeing all over the West,” Bentz said, adding that whatever solution was reached could be “a template of some sort.”

Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, chairman of the full Natural Resources Committee, called for “a comprehensive initiative” to plan for lower water levels in the basin.

States preach cooperation

Representatives from the states testified about the challenges the shortfall created, and how they were preparing for a more dire future, though they offered few specific solutions.

“Drought and climate change are presenting challenges that are likely to increase over time,” Tom Buschatzke, the director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, said. 

Buschatzke said the choice was either to cut each state’s water allocation or to conserve use. Arizona was focused on conservation, he said. Partnerships with tribes, neighboring states and other entities would help, he added.

John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said collaborative, regional projects like a water recycling partnership between his agency and one in Southern California, would be needed to deal with the lower water flows.

“We have a simple but difficult decision to make,” he said. “Do we double down on the promises of the last century and fight over water that simply isn’t there, or do we roll up our sleeves and deal with the climate realities of this century?”

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said water shortages were forcing “heart-breaking” decisions for the state’s farmers, ranchers and tribal communities. 

Some residents had decided to sell multi-generational family farms, she said.

“These decisions have significant psychological, sociological and economic impacts to the communities,” she said.

John D’Antonio, the state engineer for New Mexico, said the partnership between states, tribes and the Mexican government had worked for nearly a century and called for that to continue, even as water levels drop.

“Any future decision-making process should consider science, legal and policy aspects concurrently,” he said. “I am confident that all seven Basin states will strive to employ a fact-based approach that considers that holistic vision.” 

Bentz said the ideas of collaboration and conservation sounded good, but raised doubt about what those ideas could do on their own.

Saying he could pose the same question to anyone who had testified, he asked Mitchell how much water conservation measures could save in her state.

Colorado’s water conservation plan could conserve 400,000 acre-feet, Mitchell said, though she said that included areas outside the Colorado River Basin.

Tribal rights

Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, told the panel that her government lacked full rights to its share of the water. More than 70 miles of the river runs through the tribes’ lands in Arizona and California. 

While the tribes are allowed to divert water for their own purposes, they may not lease it to other communities, a right other tribes enjoy, Flores said. A bill to allow the Colorado River Indian Tribes the same right would help their neighbors, she’s said.

“Without the right to lease our water, we can do little to directly assist communities in Arizona,” she said. “We are simply requesting the right to decide for ourselves how best to use our water.” 

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Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Amid a #Drought Crisis, the #ColoradoRiver Delta Sprang to Life This Summer: Thanks to a historic U.S.-Mexico binational agreement, #water flowing this year is providing hope for the future of a key ecosystem — Audubon #COriver #aridification

From Audubon Magazine (April Reese):

After prolonged neglect, Mexico’s Colorado River Delta is teeming with life. This summer, Ridgway’s Rails and Least Bitterns prowled in lush marshes. People jumped into the river’s water to escape record-breaking heat, or enjoyed picnics on the shore. Fish long absent shimmered in sunlit water.

This life aquatic was unthinkable until recently. Beginning in 1922, water-sharing agreements among the seven U.S. states in the Colorado River basin and Mexico claimed nearly every drop of the once-mighty waterway, which begins high in the Rocky Mountains and wends 1,450 miles to northwest Mexico, where it empties into the Sea of Cortez. Over ensuing decades, dams and diversions built to sustain farms and growing cities from Colorado to California left little water for downstream stretches south of the border. By the 1960s, when Lake Powell began to fill behind Glen Canyon Dam, the river no longer reached the sea.

Deprived of nourishment, the Colorado River Delta shrank, becoming a sliver of the expanse of lagoons and braided channels that naturalist Aldo Leopold saw when he paddled through a century ago. Ninety percent of its wetlands shriveled. Migratory birds, arriving to find far fewer places to feed and rest, made do with less appealing alternatives, such as agricultural waste ponds.

This year, however, marks a turning point in the delta’s long-sought revival: From May through October, 35,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water—about 11 billion gallons, or enough to supply at least 70,000 Southwest households for a year—is snaking from the U.S.-Mexico border to the river’s fan-shaped terminus 100 miles away. It is the first time since a brief period in 2014 that the Colorado reached the sea. And thanks to tireless advocacy by Raise the River, a binational alliance of six conservation groups, and a series of delicate negotiations between the two nations, the delta’s future is awash in promise. By 2026 it will receive 210,000 acre-feet of water in total.

The water replenishing the delta takes a circuitous path. A maze of irrigation infrastructure and long-neglected side channels delivers water to the 160-acre El Chaussé habitat restoration site, located 45 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Baja California, and to downstream river segments. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

This moment was a long time coming. After years of talks, the United States and Mexico did a test release, a 105,392-acre-foot “pulse flow” for two months in spring 2014. The surge, along with small deliveries made possible in part by Mexican farmers, helped biologists restore 1,400 acres of riparian systems, which involved planting more than 47,000 native trees and acquiring water rights.

The delta bloomed in response: Bird abundance rose 20 percent and avian diversity increased 42 percent, showing even a modest amount of water can make a big difference. “You almost can’t believe how quickly an area can be transformed from a pretty decimated landscape and disturbed ecosystem into something that really conjures the river of the past,” says Jennifer Pitt, Audubon’s Colorado River Program director. “A lot of hard work in the hot sun made something miraculous happen.”

In 2006, when work began at the 1,200-acre Laguna Grande habitat restoration site in the Colorado River Delta, few native plants hung on amid a tangle of invasive salt cedar. To date, the Sonoran Institute, collaborating with communities, has planted 200,000 trees and restored about 700 acres at Laguna Grande, with hundreds more acres underway. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

“We know that we are never going to have the delta like it was 100 years ago, no,” says Gabriela Caloca Michel, water and wetlands conservation program coordinator at Pronatura Noroeste, a coalition member group. “But we know that we now have more birds, we have restoration, we have people working there—because we have some water.”

Buoyed by the results, in 2017 conservation groups convinced the two nations to ink a longer-term deal to send regular surges downstream and, along with nonprofits, contribute to a total of $18 million for restoration, science, and monitoring. Minute 323, an addendum to a 1944 Colorado River water-sharing accord, was born.

Crucially, the agreement not only allocated water to the delta, but also called for both nations to make voluntary cuts in dry times and required the United States to fund water-efficiency projects in Mexico to ease the way. “Getting the two countries aligned was harder than I ever imagined it would be,” says Pitt. “And keeping them aligned remains complicated. But knowing what that takes makes it all the more special to see.”

A small grey bird is held between the fingers of an avian researcher, who gazes at their hand.
Pronatura Noroeste’s longtime avian researcher Alejandra Calvo Fonseca (with Verdin) saw bird numbers spike during and after the experimental flow in 2014 and expects more wildlife to return after this year’s release. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

The design of this year’s release, the first under the new accord, builds on lessons from 2014. This time, to ensure as much water as possible reaches the delta rather than sinks into the thirsty riverbed on its journey south, the water’s path is diverted near the border through irrigation channels to bypass a 35-mile dry stretch. Some irrigation water, purchased from Mexican farmers, is also sent to the river’s floodplain instead of fields. Overall, the volume dedicated to the delta is less than one percent of the river’s total average flow. But again managers expect a little will go a long way, boosting restoration efforts and transforming desiccated areas into verdant habitat for Vermilion Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and more of the 380 avian species using the delta.

What makes the win even more extraordinary is that it comes amid extreme challenges. The Southwest, and two-thirds of Mexico, is in the grips of one of the most intractable droughts the region has ever experienced, fueled by climate change. This year the Colorado River Basin’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, dropped to record low levels. In August the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced that in 2022, for the first time, it would reduce water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico and may have to impose more cuts in coming years.

Children and adults bathe in river water. In the foreground a child squints as water runs down hair and face. The child is smiling. In Mexico, people say, “El agua es vida.” Water is life. Reviving the delta gives communities along the lower Colorado River, many of them impoverished, a better quality of life and new economic opportunities. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

With hotter, drier times ahead, some advocates worry that water dedicated for the delta and other basin ecosystems could begin to look tempting, as farms and cities try to harness every drop. Yet despite painful shortages, those working to resurrect the delta remain cautious optimists. “The water that we’re putting in the river isn’t only for wildlife,” says Francisco Zamora Arroyo, the Sonoran Institute’s senior director of programs. “It’s for the people, too.” With locals again connected to their river, he says, the case to keep it flowing will only strengthen.

After all, Pitt adds, the same agreements that are re-watering the delta enable Mexico’s commitment to share in shortages. In an exception to the norm, an ecological revival—made possible by sharing rather than fighting over water—has inspired a new way to value the region’s most precious resource. “I see the two countries saying, ‘We need to figure out how to sustain this,’ ” says Pitt. “And that really is so important and amazing.”

This story originally ran in the Fall 2021 issue as “Vital Signs.”​ To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.

The latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the #ColoradoRiver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature — @BradUdall #COriver #aridification

#Colorado Basin Roundtable updates its list of approved projects for the next 5 years: Projects such as the Silverthorne Kayak Park, French Gulch mine drainage cleanup can access state funding more easily — The Summit Daily

Looking West to the Tenmile Range (07/19/2021). Photo credit: Swan River Restoration Project Blog

From The Summit Daily (Jenna deJong):

When environmental projects garner support from the Colorado Basin Roundtable, it’s a sign to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources that they fall in line with the Colorado Water Plan, thus making it easier to obtain grants and other funding. There’s a caveat though: The roundtable only updates its list every five years. If projects want to be added to the list, they must appeal to their representative…

The roundtable’s focus is on the Colorado River Basin, one of nine watersheds in the state and one of the largest, according to the roundtable’s website. The eight counties in the basin that have representatives sitting on the roundtable include Summit, Grand, Routt, Gunnison, Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield and Mesa.

The roundtable completed its own implementation plan in 2015 that outlines specific goals of the Colorado River Basin. Projects must fall in line with both this and the state plan, in addition to one of the roundtable’s six focus areas:

  • Encourage a high level of basin-wide conservation
  • Protect and restore healthy streams, rivers, lakes and riparian areas
  • Assure dependable basin administration
  • Sustain agriculture
  • Develop local water-conscious and land-conscious strategies
  • Secure safe drinking water
  • “If your project is listed on the basin’s implementation plan, then you have a better probability of obtaining the funding,” [Peggy] Bailey said “…Through their vetting process, (the roundtable) looks at what it does for the basin and if it’s in alignment with the interests of the basin’s implementation plan. Then they will put it on this list and they will also write a letter of endorsement for the project. Then that makes it easier for the project proponents to obtain funding.”

    Projects are divided into different tiers. Projects in the first tier are ready to launch, supported by an entity and determined to be of importance to the roundtable. Projects in the second tier are nearly ready to move forward, but still need to be pursued. The third-tier projects have less data, don’t have a clear entity supporting them and need to be fleshed out. Projects in the fourth tier are supported, but need to be tweaked before moving forward.

    Projects in the first tier include the Swan River restoration project and the Blue Valley Ranch fishery restoration on the lower Blue River. These projects are already well underway and have organizations securing funding that are responsible for moving them along.

    Another project in the pipeline is the second phase of the Blue River integrated water management plan. Backed by the Blue River Watershed Group, this was one that Bailey said she helped push forward when the roundtable was updating its list. Formerly in the second tier, this project moved to the first as the group began collecting data over the summer…

    Other projects in the second tier include the Silverthorne Kayak Park, backed by the town of Silverthorne, and cleanup measures in the French Gulch mine drainage, which is backed by the town of Breckenridge and Summit County government.

    Bailey pointed out that all of these projects are meant to protect the natural beauty and splendor of not just of Summit County but the entire basin, and that much of the county’s way of living is highly dependent on this single resource.

    Humpback Chub Reclassified from Endangered to Threatened: Collaboration by Partners Has Improved Conservation Status — USFWS #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Humpback chub (Gila cypha) as seen in the Little Colorado River, Summer 2021.© Freshwaters Illustrated / USFWS

    Here’s the release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Joe Szuszwalak):

    Action follows years of stakeholder collaboration to save this unique Colorado River Basin fish

    Thanks to the hard work of state, regional, Tribal and federal agencies, as well as private partners, significant progress has been made conserving and recovering the humpback chub. Following a review of the best available science, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing that it has reclassified the humpback chub from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Today’s announcement follows the publication of the proposed rule in January 2020 and subsequent public comment period.

    “Today’s action is the result of the collaborative conservation that is needed to ensure the recovery of listed species,” said Matt Hogan, Acting Regional Director for the Service. “Reclassifying this distinctive fish from endangered to threatened is the result of many years of cooperative work by conservation partners in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. We thank everyone involved for their efforts as we look toward addressing the remaining challenges in the Colorado River Basin.”

    The humpback chub was first documented in the Lower Colorado River Basin in the Grand Canyon in the 1940s and the upper Colorado River Basin in the 1970s. It was placed on the list of endangered species in 1967 due to impacts from the alteration of river habitats by large mainstem dams. This fish is uniquely adapted to live in the swift and turbulent whitewater found in the river’s canyon-bound areas. The fleshy hump behind its head, which gives the fish its name, evolved to make it harder to be eaten by predators, and its large, curved fins allow the humpback chub to maintain its position in the swiftly moving current.

    Westwater Canyon, UT – typical swiftwater habitat of the humpback chub.Credit: Brian Hines, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

    The Upper Basin Recovery Program’s conservation and management actions have resulted in improved habitat and river flow conditions for the humpback chub over the past 15 years. These efforts have increased the Westwater Canyon population to more than 3,000 adults and stabilized populations in Black Rocks, Desolation & Gray, and Cataract canyons. All populations in the Upper Basin have stabilized or increased, even as Lake Powell elevations have declined. Flow conditions have also improved during this period, as partners have refined flow management.

    Water releases along the river continue to support this and other endangered species in the basin. In the Lower Basin population, there are now more than 12,000 individuals in the Little

    Colorado River and the Colorado River at their confluence and increasing densities in the Grand Canyon’s western end due to the receding Lake Mead exposing river habitat. Additionally, successful efforts to reintroduce humpback chub into Havasu Creek and upstream portions of the Little Colorado River have expanded their range.

    Ongoing multi-stakeholder partnerships are managing flows to improve habitat conditions for listed and sensitive riparian species in the Colorado River Basin, even as storage in the lakes decline. Drought conditions in 2021 highlight the continued importance of multi-stakeholder partnership programs in managing river conditions for these species and human needs. The final rule to reclassify the humpback chub from endangered to threatened does not relinquish ongoing monitoring or conservation actions; ESA protection to the species continues under this status.

    Humpback chub conservation partners include the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as Tribal agencies, water users, power customers, recreational interests, and environmental organizations. Federal partners include the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, and the Western Area Power Administration. These partners have all played a critical role in reaching conservation milestones for the species.

    Humpback chub occupied range and critical habitat.
    Credit: Julie Stahli/USFWS

    In response to public comments, the final rule includes updated monitoring data demonstrating populations are more resilient than previously described. It also includes updated information on the potential effects of climate change on water availability in the Colorado River Basin.

    Ongoing threats to the humpback chub that Recovery Program partners are addressing include threats from non-native species such as smallmouth bass in the upper basin, uncertainties related to river flow, and the outcomes of a new cooperative agreement among partners in the Upper Basin Recovery Program.

    As part of the final rule reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened, the Service has also finalized a 4(d) rule that reduces the regulatory requirements for state fish and wildlife agencies and other non-federal stakeholders when working to protect and recover the humpback chub. Examples of this work include creating refuge populations, expanding the range of the species, removing non-native fish species and creating catch-and-release fishing opportunities.

    Learn more about 4(d) rules…

    Learn more about the Colorado River Recovery Program.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    A rapids-loving, odd-looking native fish found locally in the Colorado River is now officially considered to be at a reduced risk of extinction.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday said it has reclassified the humpback chub from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act, thanks to significant progress made by conservation and recovery efforts of federal agencies, states, tribal entities and private partners.

    “It’s a major milestone that we feel very proud of,” Kevin McAbee, acting director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, told The Daily Sentinel. “We believe that it demonstrates the collaborative conservation efforts that we’ve been undertaking with our partners over the last three-decades-plus are working. It’s really something that we’ve been working towards for many years and we’re just very excited about it.”

    According to the agency, the fish was first documented in the Grand Canyon in the 1940s and the upper Colorado River Basin in the 1970s, and placed on the list of endangered species in 1967 due to impacts from changes in river habitats caused by large dams.

    Feeding on insects, crustaceans and plants, the humpback chub can live 20 to 40 years, grow up to 19 inches long and produce up to 2,500 eggs per year. A warm-water species, it is uniquely adapted to live in the turbulent whitewater found in rivers’ rocky canyon areas, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Its namesake, fleshy lump behind its head evolved to make it harder to be eaten by predators, and large, curved fins let it stay in place in swift currents.

    These traits have helped it survive in the Black Rocks area of the river in western Mesa County and in Westwater Canyon just across the Utah border, where the Fish and Wildlife Service says the most recent estimates indicate there are populations of 430 and 3,300 adults, respectively. The Westwater Canyon population has been growing and the Black Rocks numbers are stable, but a large number of juveniles may boost the Black Rocks population in the future.

    Other stable populations exist at the Desolation/Gray canyons area on the Green River in Utah and Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River in Utah. The Grand Canyon is home to the largest number of fish, including an estimated 12,000 in a core area in the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River around their confluence.

    Globally, the fish exists only in that handful of core population areas. Another population in Dinosaur National Monument appears to have died out. McAbee said the Westwater and Black Rocks populations combined are the largest population upstream of Lake Powell, making them the home of the largest combined population in the world of humpback chub outside of the Grand Canyon, and an important core population just downstream of Grand Junction…

    Two multi-stakeholder efforts, the Upper Colorado River program and Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, have worked to try to help recover the species. In the Upper Colorado River, these efforts have included protecting river flows; managing and removing predatory, nonnative fish; and installing and operating fish passage structures where dams otherwise can impede fish travel.

    Water-release measures involving upstream reservoirs have helped manage river flows to benefit the fish despite drought conditions that largely have prevailed over the last two decades. The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that current river flows and temperatures are largely adequate despite climate change, so it doesn’t put the fish at immediate risk of extinction, which would mean it’s endangered. But the agency found that uncertainty about the possible severity of future water-supply declines poses a threat to the fish in the future, so it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future — the criteria for determining that it is threatened…

    Some conservationists oppose downlisting of the humpback chub and razorback sucker, based on concerns ranging from the adequacy of current population numbers to declining water volumes in rivers and impacts from nonnative fish. The states of Colorado, Utah and Arizona all support the downlisting of the humpback chub, along with a separate finalized Fish and Wildlife Service rule that will reduce regulatory requirements for state fish and wildlife agencies and other non-federal stakeholders when working to protect and recover the humpback chub.

    That rule allows for some exemptions from a prohibition protecting the fish from “incidental take,” such as death or harm, occurring during activities such as creating refuge populations, moving fish to new waters, removing non-native fish species, and creating catch-and-release fishing opportunities outside of core population areas to boost public awareness about the humpback chub.

    Audubon’s Jennifer Pitt Testifies before U.S. Senate on #Drought and #ClimateChange: Audubon is calling for federal leadership and funds to mitigate current disasters and enhance #climate #resilience in the West #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    People enjoying the water pouring from the Canal Alimentador del Sur into the Chausse Restoration Site, Baja California, Mexico. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

    Here’s the release from Audubon (Jennifer Pitt):

    On October 6, 2021, Audubon’s Colorado River Program Director gave the following testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power. This is slightly edited for length. The full testimony can be found at the bottom of this page.

    Chairman Kelly, Ranking Member Hyde-Smith and members of the subcommittee, thank you for holding this important hearing on drought in the West, it is an honor to testify before you today.

    My name is Jennifer Pitt, I serve as the Colorado River Program Director for the National Audubon Society (Audubon), and I have more than 20 years of experience working on water issues in the Colorado River basin. Audubon is a leading national nonprofit organization representing more than 1.8 million members. Since 1905, we have been dedicated to the conservation of birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the- ground conservation. Audubon advocates for solutions in the Colorado River basin that ensure adequate water supply for people and the environment.

    As you consider options to support drought management in the West, it is important to recognize the consequences of severe drought in the Colorado River basin. The myriad rivers, wetlands, and lakes of the Colorado River basin have extraordinary value, economically, culturally, ecologically, and spiritually. While these freshwater-dependent resources cover only 2% of the landscape, they support 40% of all breeding birds. Water year 2021 is now the worst year on record for many farmers and ranchers, wildlife managers, and businesses and communities who rely on water supply from the basin, putting these irreplaceable resources at risk.

    In the Colorado River basin, like other places across the arid West, climate change and drought are already worsening impacts on freshwater-dependent habitats long starved for water. While we cannot completely stop the impacts that are already occurring, with coordinated efforts and smart investments, we can avoid losing key habitats, and promote a stronger, more resilient basin for the future. In order to avoid the worst outcomes for birds and other species, Audubon has worked to ensure that water infrastructure does no additional environmental damage, worked with water managers to dedicate flows for the environment, and supports investing in habitat restoration.

    Audubon’s Colorado River Program Director, Jennifer Pitt, at the Laguna Grande Restoration Site, Baja California, Mexico. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

    Federal Investment Needed to Help Manage Drought Impacts

    Federal leadership is needed to provide the resources necessary to address this challenge. Congress should use all available options to invest in immediate and long-term solutions to mitigate current disasters and enhance the climate resilience of states affected by historic drought conditions. Audubon supports immediate disaster relief for communities hit hardest by compounding issues of drought, fire, COVID-19, and historic inequalities. Funding for a suite of common-sense strategies including natural infrastructure that creates distributed storage, forest management and wildfire mitigation, ecosystem restoration, upgraded agricultural irrigation infrastructure, binational water conservation and habitat restoration, water recycling and improved science will provide the means to help enhance overall climate resilience for people, wildlife, and economies throughout the Colorado River basin. Audubon’s federal funding priorities include:

    Emergency Drought Response: Emergency drought relief funding is needed to respond to the historic drought conditions affecting tens of millions of Americans. There is no funding provided for immediate emergency response in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, so additional investment is needed.

    USGS Monitoring and Research: Federal investment in monitoring and science, including Open ET, will allow water managers to replace and add new stream gages, comprehensively forecast, model and track water availability throughout the basin.

    Reclamation’s binational program: Minute 323 carries forward the cooperative approach originally forged in Minute 319, and includes binational agreement to invest in agricultural infrastructure improvements in the Mexicali Valley that result in water conserved in Lake Mead and improvements to riparian habitats. Binational investments have proven effective since the United States and Mexico initiated the cooperative process 15 years ago, but much more needs to be done. With conservation opportunities and ecosystem restoration projects demonstrating the wisdom of the initial pilot projects, it is time to increase the scale of our binational investments. All Colorado River water users would benefit from additional investment in binational water conservation and habitat restoration. By doing so, we would continue to see the benefits in the water levels of Lake Mead and help slow the decline of these essential reservoirs. Without this cooperative process, governments and water leaders on both sides of the border would be investing precious time and energy to try to create the system we have in place today. With Minute 323, our existing binational framework for cooperation, water conservation and environmental restoration, it is time to increase investments to meet the challenges of drought and climate change that threaten the Basin.

    Salton Sea Restoration: Funding will help mitigate the environmental and public health crisis caused by the receding shoreline of California’s Salton Sea.

    Indian Health Service Sanitation and Construction Support: Tribal members suffered the highest rates of covid-19 infection and mortality of any ethnic group in the United States, and the fact that thousands of homes on tribal reservations do not have water service is unconscionable.

    Reclamation Water Settlement Fund: Tribal water settlements are urgently needed to address long- overdue promises, to allow tribes to benefit from their water rights, and to reduce the uncertainty that unsettled rights imposes on all Colorado River water users.

    WaterSMART grants, including the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, with a set-aside for natural infrastructure projects: Community resilience to climate change can be improved with funding for nature-based solutions for restoring rivers and wetlands. Natural infrastructure, including irrigated wetlands and restored high-elevation meadows, can build adaptive capacity in ecosystems and ranching operations to cope with ongoing climate shifts. These investments could also mitigate climate change by reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions and increase economic resilience by providing cost-effective mechanisms to restore degraded working lands, improving land value and profitability of operations.

    Reclamation’s Water Recycling and Reuse programs: Technologies are available to help municipal water systems stretch available water supplies through investments in recycling and reuse infrastructure. Federal funding to maximize water recycling and reuse can help maintain the trend already established among municipalities that use Colorado River water whereby population growth is decoupled from water demand.

    Reclamation Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program: Beyond the funding in the Infrastructure Bill, additional funding is needed to restore imperiled ecosystems, especially ecosystems facing significant negative impacts caused by historic drought conditions.

    Reclamation multi-benefit projects to improve watershed health: Beyond what was included in the Infrastructure Bill, robust funding is needed to improve watershed health and resiliency, especially for watersheds facing significant negative impacts from historic drought conditions.

    Ecosystem restoration funding for the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior: Well- managed forests provide numerous benefits, including preventing soil erosion; supporting water filtration and increasing runoff yields; regulating snow melt and water supply; improving water quality; lowering water treatment costs; capturing carbon; and benefiting wildlife habitat and fisheries. Implementing best practices in forest management and forest restoration can help maintain these benefits and mitigate against watershed degradation, severe wildfire, and other climate change impacts. Forest management and restoration can also help in adapting to climate shifts as conditions in the basin change, such as regulating snowmelt runoff and increasing economic resilience through job creation and reduced emergency costs, among other benefits.

    Reclamation funding for Aging Agricultural Infrastructure: Ensuring that agricultural infrastructure and operations are up to the challenges of higher temperatures and reduced flows will sustain the economic resilience of rural communities. Improving agricultural infrastructure and operations can reduce pressure on existing water supplies by making operations more efficient, reducing the potential for over-diversion from streams and rivers, and potentially reducing consumptive use.

    Improvements can also help the basin’s agriculture become more resilient to the effects of climate change such as reduced stream flows and higher temperatures.

    Collaborative solutions are possible in the Colorado River basin

  • Freshwater-dependent habitats can be restored with effort and investment, and in some cases, restoration may be the key to reaching consensus in binational Colorado River shortage-sharing agreements.
  • Water conservation can be implemented with sensitivity to the species that depend on irrigated habitats.
  • Sensible water policies and state-level investments can help improve western watersheds and water supplies, and leverage federal funding.
  • We are all in this together, and cooperation and collaboration are critical.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    Why Action is needed now: drought has launched the Colorado River into crisis, and climate change means this is not a temporary condition

    Climate change has come barging through the front doors of the Colorado River basin. The Colorado River has lost 20% of its historic flows in the past 20 years. Fifteen years ago, water managers pointed to drought, which has recurred periodically over the past century. Today it is clear – and Colorado River water managers understand – that the shrinking water supply is largely due to climate change, with increased temperatures accounting for 33% of the 21st century decline. In 2021, the Colorado River basin snowmelt measured 90% of average, but runoff – the snowmelt that filled the rivers – was only 30% of average. That discrepancy demonstrates an impact of climate change between the ridgetops and the valley bottoms: warm temperatures that drive evaporation, soil desiccation, and increased water use by every living thing.

    What we do know is stark: Climate change and aridification are permanently changing our landscapes, threatening our way of life, jeopardizing our ability to produce hydropower and placing further strain on our communities. The possibility of severe declines at Lakes Mead and Powell should be a wake-up call to anyone who wants their children or grandchildren to be able to survive and thrive in the West.

    Drought is devastating Colorado River habitats and the wildlife that depends on them

    Because freshwater-dependent resources in the Colorado River basin support 40% of all breeding birds, these birds, like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, are telling us that the basin is in trouble. Birds like the Yellow Warbler and Summer Tanager, once familiar sights along the Colorado River, have experienced significant regional declines. The outlook for Yuma Ridgway’s Rail, Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, all listed as federally endangered, is especially bleak if current trends continue.

    Today, rivers in the basin suffer from reduced flow and changed seasonality of flows, resulting in a diminished river, and in loss of much of the native forest that flourished on the river’s banks. The loss of aquatic and riparian habitats has had devastating impacts on wildlife, particularly fish and birds.

    The combination of drought and heatwaves – as witnessed this summer – can push birds to their physiological limits, leading to lethal dehydration. In drought times, birds may also congregate at remaining, dwindling water spots, causing conditions ripe for the spread of disease.

    At the Salton Sea, declining inflows in the wake of the 2003 Imperial Valley to San Diego transfer is resulting in exposed playa, which creates significant air quality problems for communities that already suffer high asthma rates. The shrinking lake impacts wildlife too: colonial seabirds began abandoning nesting sites en masse in 2013, and shallow, marshy habitat areas at the sea’s edge have begun to rapidly vanish. As less water flows into the Sea, it is becoming more saline and inhospitable to birds, fish, and insects. In the Colorado River Delta, the near complete elimination of flows resulted in an 80% reduction of what had been an expansive, 1.5 million acre ecosystem of wetlands and riparian forests.

    In the past couple of years, we have gotten a glimpse of how climate change impacts will compound with shattering consequences for the environment. With the increase in hot, windy, and dry days, fire season has more than doubled since 1973 in many parts of the West. Forests devastated by 20 years of beetle kill, drought stress, and low soil moisture have burned at record rates. In 2020, Colorado’s Grizzly Creek Fire burned more than 32,000 acres on the Colorado River above Glenwood Springs, and in 2021 rainstorms over the burn area triggered mudslides, repeatedly closing Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, interrupting travel and trade, and choking the Colorado River, clogging fish breeding grounds and dumping untold volumes of ash and sediment into the water supply.

    2021 river temperatures up to 80º F impacted numerous recreational fisheries leading to voluntary and mandatory closures. Warm rivers also boost populations of non-native bass and pike, which prey on protected Colorado River native fishes including the razorback sucker and humpback chub. 2021 also saw rivers like the Dolores go completely dry, which is not friendly habitat for any kind of fish.

    This is a sobering and scary time for everyone and everything that depends on the Colorado River.

    Conclusion

    As Congress considers priorities and funding opportunities, Audubon supports increasing federal investments and leadership for the Colorado River Basin and natural resources across the West. After this year’s historic drought and catastrophic wildfires, we urge Congress to ensure that federal agencies receive critically needed resources to prepare now for the effects of climate change by promoting nature-based solutions for restoring watersheds and ecosystems. In addition, Congress has several pending bills with bipartisan support that respond to the many needs of tribal communities and western states’ water supply needs that we are supporting, including access to clean water and water settlements. It is imperative that our communities have the resources they need to prepare for and respond to the drought crisis that touches every living thing.

    Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify and I would be happy to answers your questions.

    Written testimony.

    One Year Later: Partners Reflect on #EastTroublesomeFire Recovery — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    One year ago [October 14, 2020], firefighters responded to a smoke report in the East Troublesome area of the Arapaho National Forest north of Hot Sulphur Springs. Fighting the fire in extraordinarily difficult terrain amidst shifting winds and historically dry and warm conditions with limited resources created enormous challenges, and the fire grew rapidly, repeatedly crossing containment lines as it grew east toward Colo. Highway 125.

    One week later, exhibiting behavior unlike anything scientists and fire managers had ever seen, the fire crossed Colo. 125 and made a 20-mile run across northern Grand County, burning 589 homes and structures and taking two lives before jumping the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and heading toward the Town of Estes Park.

    A winter storm Oct. 25 brought very cold temperatures and snow, resulting in a dramatic drop in fire behavior with smoldering and reduced fire spread on both sides of the Continental Divide. The fire was declared contained on Nov. 30, 2020. At 193,892 acres, East Troublesome is the state’s second largest fire in history. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

    Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

    As Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reflected on the firestorm and resulting devastation from the East Troublesome Fire, he shared, “I am humbled by the strength of the people that make up the Grand County community and their resilience to persevere through the last twelve months of their very personal recovery.”

    In the 12 months since these devastating events, recovery teams, land managers and water providers have turned their attention to post wildfire emergency response and recovery efforts. A collaborative stakeholder group continues to meet monthly to discuss priorities, challenges, and successes; and to protect their critical source water infrastructure. This collaborative recovery group includes Grand County, Northern Water, the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and Bureau of Reclamation among others.

    Aerial mulching. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

    Aerial mulching, water monitoring, utility infrastructure protections, and stabilizing and reopening trails and roads has been a critical part of the work.

    “In the weeks and months following the East Troublesome Fire, Northern Water recognized the significant impacts the fire would have on the Upper Colorado River watershed, which is the source of water for more than 1 million residents in Northeastern Colorado,” said Esther Vincent, Director of Environmental Services for Northern Water. “That’s why we partnered with Grand County to be the local sponsors for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

    Using funds through the federal EWP Program, matched with money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water and Grand County have worked with private landowners and other public agencies to develop projects that would protect human life and property in the burn area. To date, this effort has focused on more than 5,000 acres of aerial seeding and mulching and installing debris booms to protect key water infrastructure during summer monsoon events. More work is planned in 2022, and the effects of the fire on the watershed will be felt for years to come.

    “A vast portion of the burned area was Arapaho National Forest lands that are a critical part of the Grand County tourism and recreation economy,” said acting Sulphur District Ranger Kevin McLaughlin. “Our focus has been on reopening as much of our road and trail system as we safely can.”

    Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews spent the summer working with partners, collaborators, and hundreds of volunteers coordinated through Grand Lake Trailgrooming Inc. and Headwaters Trails Alliance to cut more than 10,000 burnt, broken and fallen trees from 120 miles of trails. Crews also dug hundreds of drainage bars to prevent trail washouts and hundreds of miles of roads were reopened after road crews worked to stabilize them.

    “This has been a truly massive undertaking to this point and there is an incredible amount of work yet to be done,” McLaughlin said, noting that an estimated 50 to 70 bridges, boardwalks and turnpikes burned in the fire and all need to be replaced next year in addition to various campground infrastructure that burned and roads that were impacted by the monsoons this summer. “We wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we have without our partners, and we look forward to continued collaboration on fire recovery in the years to come.”

    The Grand County Board of Commissioners released this statement: “On the anniversary the worst disaster in recent Grand County history, the Commissioners would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the emergency agencies, volunteers, organizations, and companies that helped our community survive, recover and rebuild. While there is still recovery work to be done, we have no doubt the strength and resilience of our Grand community will see us through.”

    To commemorate the anniversary of the East Troublesome Fire, the Grand Lake Chamber has planned two events at Grand Lake Town Park: “We gather to Acknowledge” at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 with a moment of silence followed by the ringing of a bell to acknowledge the night we left our homes; and “We gather to remember” at 11 a.m. Oct. 23, which includes a free Community lunch, local music, a community art piece, and an opportunity to thank first responders over a shared meal.

    Navajo Dam operations update (October 16, 2021): Releases to decrease to 400 cfs for Monday, October 18th, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. 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 decreasing irrigation and 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 for Monday, October 18th, 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). This release change is calculated as the minimum required to maintain the target baseflow.

    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. Be advised, due to low storage and forecast levels in WY 2022, the minimum release of 250 cfs, as documented in the Navajo Record of Decision (2006), may be implemented this winter as long as that release can satisfy the target baseflow.

    #Congress hears from #water experts as #drought continues to imperil #West — KUNC #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    From KUNC (Alex Hager):

    The West’s dire drought issues took a national stage on Friday, as a roster of prominent Western water experts from the region testified in front of the U.S. Congress.

    Water decision-makers representing seven states and two tribes within the Colorado River basin spoke about drought in a virtual hearing held by the Committee on Natural Resources’ subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife.

    This week’s hearing, and a similar set of testimonies in front of the U.S. Senate last week, comes at a time of crisis for water in the West. More than two decades of drought are straining the region’s supplies, and forecasts predict a hotter, drier future due to climate change. Declining levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, have forced mandatory cutbacks for some users and projections indicate that more will be necessary in the next few years…

    As leaders are faced with the challenge of allocating the steadily shrinking resource, many called for collaboration and additional funding for new and improved infrastructure. Some flatly said the only viable path forward includes major reductions in usage…

    Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, touched on the sprawling effects of a drought currently touching 90% of the state, including shortages threatening the livelihoods of farmers, and increasingly frequent and devastating wildfires. She also highlighted the heavy impacts the drought had on the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, where an agriculture-dependent economy has been challenged by shortages.

    Tribal leaders advocated for greater acknowledgement and respect for tribal sovereignty. Darryl Vigil, water administrator of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, urged the federal government to formalize a process for tribal participation in water negotiations.

    “We have experience and knowledge developed over many hundreds of years of sustainable and adaptive living,” Vigil said. “We understand the importance of honoring the very things that keep us alive, that feed us and quench our thirst.”

    He explained that tribes have senior water rights to at least 25% of the current natural flow of the Colorado River, and said they have historically been “excluded from decision-making or consulted” only after decisions have been made.

    “It is my sincere hope that the attention and action of this committee represents the beginning of a new chapter in the management of the Colorado River,” Vigil said. “A chapter in which tribes are treated with the same dignity, respect and responsibility as the other sovereigns in the basin.”

    Amelia Flores, chairwoman of the Colorado Indian River Tribes, emphasized the need for new water infrastructure that would allow tribes to use it more efficiently. That group is Arizona’s largest single user of water from the Colorado river – but is unable to use its full allocation. Flores highlighted proposed legislation that would allow the tribes to lease water to other users.

    Projection of Lake Mead end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    Reckoning time on the #ColoradoRiver (and its tributaries): “Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states” — @BigPivots #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir in September 2021. Dave Bowden/SustainableMedia.net

    From Big Pivots (Allen Best):

    A Colorado water seminar always had climatechange on the agenda, but the tone was different this year, more alarmed, more worried, if still optimistic

    What a flip-flop from 2001. We were going to war in Afghanistan, worrying about terrorists in our midst, and anthrax arriving in the mail.

    The reservoirs of the Colorado River were close to full.

    At the time I had given little thought to climate change, other than to be somewhat skeptical about the alarm. That changed in 2003, when I was given an assignment by the editor of Ski Area Management to round up what was being said. I read a year’s worth of articles in the New York Times and then—my eyes widened considerably—set out to find much more. It has been front and center for me ever since.

    Brad Udall also immersed himself in climate change beginning in 2003. He had been trying to preserve open space in Eagle County for a few years but then returned to the Front Range. There, he directed the Western Water Assessment in Boulder and, more recently, joined the staff of the Colorado State University Water Institute as a scholar and scientist. He has expertise in hydrology but also in crunching numbers.

    Over the years, Udall has distinguished himself as an expert on the effects of the warming climate on the Colorado River. His most prominent insight was a paper published in 2017 by the prestigious journal Science. Udall and Jonathan Overpeck, who also was originally schooled in Boulder and I believe still has a cabin in the San Juan Mountains near Telluride, sifted through the data before concluding that at least a third of the reduced flows in the Colorado River should be attributed to heat, not reduced precipitation.

    The paper was titled “The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future.”

    On Oct. 1, speaking to the Colorado River District’s annual seminar in Grand Junction remotely from Boulder, Udall described the strengthened evidence that half of the reduced flows could be explained by rising temperatures. He calls it aridification.

    Much worse, he said, is yet to come.

    Lake Mead was 40% full and the surface was at 1090 feet in elevation when this photo was taken in December 2019. As of Saturday it had dropped 23 feet. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a model in September that projected a 66% chance that the reservoir level will drop below 1,025 within the next 5 years. That would put the reservoir level 75 feet below what you see in this photo. Photo/Allen Best

    Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based River District, had introduced the session, using words of greater alarm than I had heard at the annual seminar—and I’ve attended most, in person or virtually, since the first session in 2003. He used the metaphor of a train wreck.

    “For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way,” he reiterated afterwards when I spoke to him for a story published by Fresh Water News. “It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years. The question is how do we avert the train wreck (from coming into our station).”

    Mueller had described reduced flows and warm temperatures in the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs that have caused the river to be closed to recreation something like 8 of the last 14 years. There were fish kills in the Colorado River this year. He told of shortening ski seasons and warned lower-elevation ski areas may not make it in the future.

    He had also told the audience in Grand Junction that adaptations to lower flows would be necessary. Farmer and ranchers might have to cut irrigation to marginal areas, forego low-income crops. He vowed that Front Range cities would have to conserve and not expect the Western Slope to bear the burden.

    Climate change has never been a verboten word at River District seminars, even if this is from an area that elected Lauren Boebert to Congress. Udall, for example, has spoken at least three times in my memory and probably more.

    This year’s outlook was different, less cautious, more worried. The tone was reflected in the seminar title: “Wake-Up Call on the Colorado River.”
    National publications this summer brimmed with stories about the distress of the Colorado River, especially after the Bureau of Reclamation on Aug. 16 issued a shortage declaration. Arizona is most immediately affected, but this is huge for the five other basin states, including Colorado.

    Mueller agreed with me when we talked by phone that none of what happened this year was surprising. Most people involved with the river saw it coming.

    I remember talking with Udall in 2019 (for a story in Headwaters, the magazine), when something called the Drought Contingency Plan was completed. That agreement tightened the belt of Arizona but kicked the fundamental decisions down the road to a plan projected to be implemented in 2026. Udall was skeptical that the emergency would be that slow to arrive.

    Now there’s an awareness in the public of the brittleness of the hydraulic empire created in the 20th century in Southwest states, including Colorado. A decade, ago, there was hope that some big snow years like we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s would fill the reservoirs. We’ve had some big snow years, but the runoff doesn’t show it.

    Now, one major question is whether they will go so low as to make it impossible to generate electricity.

    I asked Mueller about his remarks, the tone of this year’s session. “The tone has to reflect the reality on the ground,” he said.

    “I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompahgre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River,” he said.

    “People like Brad have been saying for years that this is coming. I have seen lots of people in power turn their backs to Brad when he’s talking,” he said, likely meaning that metaphorically. “They’re not doing that so much anymore.”

    What is happening is complex but understandable. There is drought, as conventionally understood, but then the overlay of higher temperatures. The warmer temperatures cause more evaporation. They cause more transpiration from plants. More precipitation can overcome this, but particularly in Southern Colorado, there’s actually been less.

    The most interesting slide Udall showed compared the runoff of several rivers over time. The San Juan River—which originates in Colorado, near Pagosa Springs—had 30% less water in 2000-2019 at Bluff, Utah, as compared to 1906-1999. The decline of the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs was 6%.

    Another compelling statistic reported during the seminar was about soil moisture. Dry soil sops up snowmelt before it can get to the stream. Runoff from deep snows can be lost to the previous years’ dry soils.

    In 2020, the snowpack was 100% but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the Trump years operated well, although I do remember a session at the Colorado River Water Users Association in December 2019 of top Trump water officials who sat on a panel and patted themselves on the back for the better part of an hour, seemingly oblivious to the big issue of that day. It was like the famous Trump cabinet meeting where the cabinet heads took turns praising Trump like he was the North Korean dictator.

    Udall, in his presentation to the River District seminar, pointed to the tremendous drop in storage. The two giant reservoirs, Mead and Powell, in January 2020 were 90% full and held 47 million acre-feet. They are projected to fall to 15 million acre-feet combined by April 22, leaving them 30% full.

    This has manifold implications—including for Colorado. In 2009, I wrote my first story about Colorado’s possible need to curtail diversions in order to comply with the Colorado River Compact. That possibility is far more concrete now, and Udall mentioned it in his presentation.

    But even when it was more remote, water managers in Colorado were talking about various programs that could allow cities to pay farmers and ranchers, especially on the Western Slope, to use their water (for a price, of course). The farmers and ranchers tend to have the oldest and most senior water rights; the cities tend to have the more junior rights – almost exclusively junior to the Colorado River Compact.

    Looking around me on the Front Range, I don’t see a response that I think the situation justifies. From Pueblo to Fort Collins, we all depend greatly upon imported water. That will almost certainly change. We’re going to see a very different water paradigm a decade from now. Predicting the changes is beyond me, but the water in the 21st century isn’t there to satisfy 20th century expectations.

    This is from Big Pivots 46, an e-journal devoted to the water and energy transitions in Colorado and beyond. Please consider subscribing or sharing this story with associates.

    There may be implications in other realms. I am reminded what Colorado State Sen. Chris Hansen said at a fundraiser this summer, about the growing room for new alliances with conservatives to move forward on climate action. The evidence—wildfires, heat waves, the drying of the Colorado River – is becoming overwhelming.

    Visiting Greeley to attend the Energy and Environmental Leadership Symposium on Oct 8-9, I was struck by the shift. This is in Weld County, where 90% of oil and gas production occurs in Colorado. The keynote speaker, Chris Wright, the chief executive of Liberty Oilfield Services, downplayed the risks and costs of climate change and emphasized the cost of trying to shift from fossil fuels. This will be a 200-year journey, he said, not something done in 30 years.

    But for the next day and a half, whether talking about fossil fuels or renewables, all the sessions in some way had to do with a carbon-constrained world.

    To modify Mueller’s cliché about the train, it seems like the train has left the station on this energy transition and it’s picking up speed. This train will have to move a lot quicker. Just what value will those giant reservoirs built during the 20th century on the Colorado River have in the 21st century? It’s an open question.

    See also: A deep rethink of the Colorado River

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    Special Report: As #LakePowell hits record lows, is filling a new drought pool the answer? — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Colorado River flows towards Horsethief Canyon west of Grand Junction, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The 96-degree heat has barely broken early on a September evening near Fruita, Colo. As the sun prepares to set, the ailing Colorado River moves thick and quiet next to Interstate 70, crawling across the Utah state line as it prepares to deliver billions of gallons of water to Lake Powell, 320 miles south.

    This summer the river has been badly depleted—again—by a drought year whose spring runoff was so meager it left water managers here in Western Colorado stunned. As a result Lake Powell is just one-third full and its hydropower plants could cease operating as soon as July of 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    “We’re looking at a very serious situation from Denver all the way to California and the Sea of Cortez,” said Ken Neubecker, an environmental consultant who has been working on the river’s issues for some 30 years. “I’ve never seen it in a worse state.”

    The Colorado River Basin is made up of seven states. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico comprise the upper basin and are responsible for keeping Lake Powell full.

    Arizona, California and Nevada comprise the lower basin and rely on Powell’s larger, downstream sister reservoir, Lake Mead, just outside Las Vegas, to store water for delivery to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and more than 1 million acres of farmland.

    These are two of the largest reservoirs in the United States. Few believed Mead, built in the 1930s, and Powell, built in the 1960s when the American West had just begun a 50-year growth spurt, would face a future where they were in seeming freefall. The two reservoirs were last full in 2000. Two years ago they dropped to 50% of capacity. Now they are operating at just over one-third their original 51 million-acre-foot combined capacity.

    First-ever drought accord

    Two years ago, this unprecedented megadrought prompted all seven states to agree, for the first time, to a dual drought contingency plan—one for the upper basin and one for the lower. In the lower basin, a specific set of water cutbacks, all tied to reservoir levels in Mead, were put in place. As levels falls, water cutbacks rise.

    Those cutbacks began this year in Arizona.

    But in the upper basin, though the states agreed to their own drought contingency plan, they still haven’t agreed on the biggest, most controversial of the plan’s elements: setting aside up to 500,000 acre-feet of water in a special, protected drought pool in Lake Powell. Under the terms of the agreement, the water would not have to be released to lower basin states under existing rules for balancing the contents of Powell and Mead, but would remain in Powell, helping to keep hydropower operations going and protecting the upper basin from losing access to river water if they fail to meet their obligations to Arizona, Nevada and California.

    Rancher Bryan Bernal irrigates a field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    The pool was considered a political breakthrough when it was approved, something to which the lower basin states had never previously agreed.

    “It was a complete reversal by the lower basin,” said Melinda Kassen, a retired water attorney who formerly monitored Colorado River issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

    But the idea was controversial among some powerful upper basin agricultural interests. Ranchers, who use some 80% of the river’s water, feared they would lose too much control of their own water supplies.

    Seeking volunteers

    As proposed, the drought pool would be filled voluntarily, largely by farmers and ranchers, who would be paid to temporarily dry up their hay meadows and corn fields, allowing the saved water to flow down to Powell.

    Two years ago, when the drought contingency plan was approved, the four upper basin states thought they would have several years to create the new pool if they chose to.

    But Powell’s plunging water levels have dramatically shortened timelines. With a price tag likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars, confusion over whether saved farm water can be safely conveyed to Powell without being picked up by other users, and concerns over whether there is enough time to get it done, major water players are questioning whether the pool is a good idea.

    “It was probably a good idea at the time and it’s still worth studying,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, the largest water utility in Colorado. “But it can’t be implemented in the short term. We don’t have the tools, we don’t have the money to pay for it, and we don’t have the water.”

    Neubecker has similar concerns. “I fear it’s going to be Band-Aid on an endlessly bleeding problem…we need to do more.”

    Since 2019 the State of Colorado has spent $800,000 holding public meetings and analyzing the legal, economic and water supply issues that would come with such a major change in Colorado River management.

    Still no decisions have been made.

    A call to act

    Becky Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is overseeing the analysis.

    Aware of frustration with the state’s progress on studying the drought pool’s feasibility, formally known as its demand management investigation, Mitchell said the work done to date will help the state better manage the river in a drier future with or without the drought pool.

    “We’re still ahead of the game in terms of what we’ve done with the study. The other states are looking at feasibility investigations but ours has been incredibly robust,” Mitchell said. “If we’re going to do it we have to do it right and factor all these things in. Otherwise we’re going to be moving backward.”

    One example of a step forward is that new tools to measure water saved from fallowing agricultural land are now being developed.

    A large-scale experiment in a swath of high-altitude hayfields near Kremmling has demonstrated that ranchers can successfully dry their fields and deliver Colorado River water to the stream in a measurable way, and the data is considered strong enough that it could be used to quantify water contributions to the drought pool.

    Ranchers Joe Bernal, left, and his son Bryan inspect a feed corn field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    But other regulatory and physical barriers remain.

    Under Colorado’s water regulations, rivers are only regulated where they cross state boundaries when water is scarce and the state would otherwise be unable to meet the terms of agreements with downstream states. But this is not yet the case on the Colorado River and its tributaries, so rules for determining who would get what in the event of cutbacks haven’t been developed.

    In addition, because there has never been a so-called “call” on the Colorado River, the state has yet to require that all those who have diversion structures pulling from the Colorado River system measure their water use.

    The situation is changing fast, though, with the 20-year drought and the storage crisis at Powell and Mead increasing pressure on state regulators to take action.

    Now the state is taking steps to better monitor the river and its tributaries, moving to require that all diversion structures have measuring devices so it has the data it needs to enforce its legal obligations to the lower basin. If, for instance, some water users had to be cut off to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the state could manage those cutbacks based on the water right decrees users hold that specify amount and priority date of use.

    Such data would also be needed to administer a mass-fallowing program to help fill the Lake Powell drought pool.

    Kevin Rein, Colorado’s State Engineer and top water regulator, said what’s known as the mainstem of the Colorado River is fairly well monitored but major tributaries, such as the Yampa and Gunnison, are not.

    “A lot of tributaries don’t have the devices,” Rein said, adding that the state doesn’t know the extent of the problem. “But in important areas a lot of commissioners know there is a significant lack of measurement devices and that makes water administration difficult.”

    Joe Bernal is a West Slope rancher whose family has been farming near Fruita since 1920. He has water rights that date back to 1898 and, like others in this rich agricultural region, he and his family have abundant water.

    Bernal was an early supporter of the drought pool. He and his family participated in an experimental fallowing program in 2016, where they were paid to dry up their fields. He’s confident the problems can be solved.

    But he’s also worried that the 500,000 acre-foot pool may not hold enough water to stabilize the river system and that it may not be done fast enough.

    “We want to be sure the solution does some good, but the clock is ticking,” he said. “We don’t want to change the culture of this valley or our ability to produce food. But I think things need to move faster. We are taking too long implementing these solutions.”

    Checking the averages

    As Powell and Mead continue to drop—they were roughly half full just two years ago— Mitchell and Rein are quick to point out that Colorado remains in compliance with the 1922 Compact, which requires the upper basin to ensure 7.5 million acre-feet of water reaches the lower basin at Lee Ferry, Ariz., based on a 10-year rolling average. Right now the average is at roughly 9.2 million acre-feet, although it too is declining as the upper basin’s supplies continue to erode due to drought and climate change.

    The Colorado River flows past fruit orchards near Palisade, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    Climate scientist and researcher Brad Udall has estimated that the upper basin may not be able to deliver the base 7.5 million acre-feet in a year as soon as 2025. But the upper basin would remain in compliance with the 1922 Compact even then because the rolling average remains healthy.

    Still, if the reservoirs continue to plummet as quickly as they have in the past two years, when they dropped from 50% to 30% full, the upper basin could face a compact crisis faster than anyone ever anticipated.

    Major water users in the state, such as Denver Water, Northern Water and Pueblo Water, have water rights that post-date, or are junior to, the 1922 water compact, meaning their water supplies are at risk of being slashed to help meet lower basin demands.

    The big dry out

    Many river advocates hope the drought pool is approved because they believe it is an opportunity to test how the river and its reservoirs will work as the region continues to dry out.

    “What we knew in 2018 [when the drought pool was conceived] is that we have more to do,” said Kassen. The drought pool, she said, “was a big win and offers a way of testing what the upper basin can do. It’s squandered if they don’t use it.”

    Neubecker and others say it’s becoming increasingly clear that the river’s management needs to be re-aligned with the reality of this new era of climate change and multi-year drought cycles.

    And that means that water users in the lower basin and upper basin will need to learn to live with how much water the river can produce, rather than how much a century-old water decree says they’re legally entitled too.

    “We’re facing a 21st Century situation that was totally unforeseen by anyone,” Neubecker said, “and we no longer have the luxury of time.”

    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.

    Western settlers caused erosion in wet meadows. Now, volunteers are restoring these vital habitats — KUNC

    From KVNF (Laura Palmisano) via KUNC:

    Wet meadows and riparian areas in sagebrush country only account for about 2% of the landscape. Trouble for these systems started when white settlers moved West. Instead of taking their wagons through the sagebrush where it was rocky and rough, they followed the edges of the meadows.

    Seward said the wagon wheels created trenches that were reinforced by livestock trailing between water sources, and eventually off-road vehicles using the same paths. These trenches caused water to pool.

    “When water gets captured in those trails it speeds up and becomes more erosive and it starts to downcut,” he said. “It starts actually washing away the topsoil and working its way until it finally hits the bedrock.”

    Wet meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo credit: The Environmental Protection Agency

    Sawyer said these impacts are being sped up by climate change.

    “We are trying to prevent these systems from disappearing entirely from our landscape,” he said.

    Wet meadows provide critical habitat for deer, elk, migratory birds, pollinators, livestock and the federally threatened Gunnison sage grouse.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there about 3,500 Gunnison sage grouse left, with a majority of the population living in the Gunnison Basin. In 2015, there were around 5,000.

    The species suffers habitat loss due to human-driven growth and development. The birds need large swaths of healthy sagebrush habitat to thrive. Climate change also threatens what’s left of the species habitat. Wet meadows provide sage grouse with important brood-rearing habitat to raise chicks.

    Left: Bill Zeedyk plans restoration work while standing in a head cut prior to treatment at West Flat Top Mountain, USFS; Right: Completed log and fabric structure used to control the head cut post treatment. © Renée Rondeau/CNHP

    The Wet Meadows Restoration Resilience Building Project is a local effort to restore habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. It’s a collaboration by government agencies, nonprofits, private landowners and the public.

    Wet meadows also act as natural sponges, holding water in the soil and slowly releasing it over time. Seward said the restoration work helps build resiliency into the ecosystem. That will only get more important as climate projections indicate the area will get warmer and drier.

    “Everyone knows that water in the West is life,” he said. “All life needs water, so by holding more water here in the Gunnison Basin longer and putting it to good beneficial use for wildlife, for our agricultural industries, like ranching as well — really everyone benefits from this kind of work.”

    Project organizers said the restoration is working in the Gunnison Basin. Overall, they’ve seen wetland vegetation double in treated areas since the program started in 2012.

    This is just one of dozens of watershed restoration projects in Colorado and states across the West. Wet meadow restoration projects to benefit the Gunnison sage grouse are also happening in San Miguel, Montrose, Mesa and Delta counties.

    Last month was the hottest September on record for San Juan Mountains, San Luis Valley — #Colorado Public Radio

    September 2021 Gridded Temperature Percentiles Map

    From Colorado Public Radio (Miguel Otárola):

    The San Juan Mountains and parts of Larimer County also had their hottest September on record, the data shows. Statewide, it was the third-warmest September in Colorado’s history, tying with September 1998…

    It was also a drier month than usual for the Front Range and much of southern Colorado, according to state climatologists. After a wet spring and summer — the result of timely monsoon rains — moderate to severe drought conditions have started to return to eastern parts of the state. A swath of northwest Colorado remains under exceptional drought.

    State officials anticipate fall will be warmer and drier than normal, stressing vegetation and soil that is already parched across the state, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

    San Luis Valley residents are currently fighting about how much water is available to them, McCracken said. Farmers growing potatoes, barley and alfalfa are pumping much of that water from wells, he said, all while the area’s snowpack is melting earlier than normal and evaporating before it can recharge local water sources.

    The #ColoradoRiver is drying up. Here’s how that affects Indigenous #water rights: “The basin is free-riding off of undeveloped tribal water rights” — Grist #COriver #aridification

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    From Grist (Mark Armao):

    The Colorado River Basin encompasses seven U.S. states and supplies water to 40 million people. Over the past two decades, the basin has experienced record-setting heat and some of the driest years ever recorded, which have combined to sap the river of water at unprecedented rates. The largest reservoirs on the river have dropped to alarmingly low levels in recent months, forcing Western water managers to rethink how they operate in the face of scarcity.

    Last month, federal officials sounded the alarm by declaring the first-ever water shortage in the basin. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited “historic drought,” climate change, and low levels of runoff from the Rocky Mountains as reasons for the continued decline of Lake Mead…

    Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

    With every foot that Lake Mead falls, the basin comes closer to triggering substantial cutbacks for certain water users along the river. The first round of reductions, which will take effect next year, will primarily impact farmers in central Arizona. But if lake levels continue to decline, future cutbacks could impact the 30 Native American tribes with lands in the basin…

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

    Indigenous nations have recognized rights to more than one-fifth of the basin’s annual supply — more than a trillion gallons, or nearly enough to cover an area the size of Connecticut in a foot of water. That allocation is likely to increase in the future, because 12 of the tribes in the Colorado River Basin are still engaged in the decades-long process of resolving their water rights claims, according to the Water & Tribes Initiative, a coalition of tribal representatives, water rights attorneys and academics.

    Tribal water rights differ from state-based rights in several ways. Unlike a state or irrigation district, a tribe’s right to water dates back at least as early as the creation of its reservation. Despite having federally reserved water rights, tribal claims were largely ignored until the 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court adopted standards allowing tribes to have their rights quantified, a form of legal recognition that identifies the amount of water to which users hold rights.

    But even for tribes that have resolved their rights, some face significant barriers to fully using their water, including a lack of necessary infrastructure, funding challenges, and limited legal options to put their water to use outside their reservations through leases or other arrangements.

    If a tribe does not (or cannot) use all the water it is entitled to, it doesn’t go unused; thirsty cities and agricultural fields downstream from reservations siphon off the surplus, but with no compensation for the tribe…

    Tribes with substantial diversion rights may remain unscathed by the initial reductions, with some even in the position to contribute water back into the system. But other tribes are less fortunate; in addition to unrecognized water rights, deteriorating infrastructure, and water insecurity issues, some tribes could face cutbacks to their water supply as early as 2023.

    Whether a tribe is flush with mainstream flows or struggling to access clean drinking water, every tribe in the basin must navigate the complicated legal landscape that governs water rights on the Colorado.

    Much of the water that flows through the Colorado River starts as snowpack in the southern Rockies. The snowmelt produced in spring then flows into tributaries in states like Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. These states are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin: The lands fed by waters of the Colorado River system were divided into an upper basin and a lower basin during the negotiations for the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The so-called “law of the river” is an amalgamation of interstate compacts, statutes, regulations, court decisions, an international treaty, and the seminal 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decree in Arizona v. California, which enabled several tribes to quantify their rights.

    In Utah, one of those tributaries — the Green River — flows through the lands of the Ute Indian Tribe, which had a portion of its water rights quantified in the 1920s but is still litigating unresolved claims. Because the Ute tribe has not fully resolved nor developed those rights, much of the tribe’s water goes unused and flows toward Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir on the Colorado River.

    Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

    Despite the declining water levels at the lake, the state of Utah is forging ahead with a proposed $2 billion pipeline that would pump water from Lake Powell to largely non-Native communities near St. George — 140 miles away, in southwestern Utah. Critics blasted the proposal, citing the state’s failure to recognize the tribe’s water entitlements, its refusal to conduct meaningful tribal consultation and, more generally, its antiquated approach to water development in the Western U.S.

    The Ute Indian Tribe has a pending lawsuit challenging the project, arguing that the pipeline would obstruct the tribe’s efforts to fully develop its water rights. (The Ute Indian Tribe declined a request to be interviewed for this article, citing the ongoing litigation.)

    […]

    Battling for water rights is more than just a struggle for adequate water resources; it’s a fight for better health.

    Tribes with unresolved water rights must undertake a convoluted settlement process to have their share of the river quantified. And while every tribe is legally entitled to enough water to satisfy their on-reservation needs, having unquantified rights poses additional challenges for those tribes, according to Bidtah Becker, an associate attorney with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

    The Navajo Nation has extensive water rights in both the upper and lower basins, but the tribe’s claims in the state of Arizona remain unquantified. Proposed settlements negotiated by the tribe a decade ago never materialized. In the coming years, court proceedings are scheduled to resolve the water rights of the Navajo, as well as the neighboring Hopi Tribe.
    Becker said tribes without recognized water rights often face challenges in securing funding for water infrastructure projects, especially in areas where substantial water pipelines and other facilities would be required. The lack of adequate water infrastructure has long plagued the Navajo Nation, where residents are 67 times more likely than other Americans to live without access to running water…

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

    As tribes with unresolved rights fight to settle their claims, the basin-wide shortage is forcing all stakeholders on the river to find ways to conserve water. That scarcity is likely to make striking a deal even more challenging than it has been in the past…

    [Pam] Adams is one of the chief liaisons between the tribes and Reclamation, an agency under the Department of the Interior. Acknowledging the persistent challenges faced by tribes seeking settlements in the past, Adams said resolving all outstanding tribal claims is a priority among the department’s leaders, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. Clarifying the rights of each tribe also gives greater certainty to other stakeholders in the basin, Adams said, adding, “It’s best for everyone to get them settled and this administration is certainly very supportive of that.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation is currently building a 300-mile-long pipeline that will supply water from the San Juan River to portions of the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation. Becker said projects like the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project are significant steps, but that more needs to be done to address the lack of water security in Native American communities…

    Screen shot from episode of “Tom Talks” April 2020.

    Members of the Gila River Indian Community, or GRIC, irrigate thousands of acres south of Phoenix. With a population of more than 13,000 living on the reservation, the tribe traces its roots to ancient cultures that built expansive networks of irrigation canals to support large villages along the waterway. These days, the farmlands are fed by a new stream. The Central Arizona Project, or CAP, completed in the 1990s, is a 330-mile-long canal that conveys Colorado River water from Lake Havasu, on the California border, to central and southern Arizona…

    Because the CAP has some of the lowest-priority rights on the river, the canal is subject to the first round of reductions next year. The basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan established a three-tiered system for imposing reductions in the lower basin based on the level of Lake Mead. Under a Tier 1 shortage (which is triggered when the elevation of Lake Mead falls below 1,075 feet), CAP water supplies will be cut by 30 percent — reductions that will primarily impact farmers in places like Pinal County.

    The five tribes that draw from the CAP have some of the highest-priority rights on the canal, which largely buffers them from the initial round of cutbacks. If Lake Mead were to fall below 1,025 feet in elevation, the lower basin would enter a Tier 3 shortage, at which point Arizona’s diversion rights would be reduced by roughly 45 percent compared to the canal’s current supply…

    Even if continued declines were to trigger a Tier 3 shortage — the direst scenario envisioned in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan — water deliveries to the Gila River Indian Community would be largely the same, according to Jason Hauter, a tribal member who represents the GRIC as an attorney…

    But a Tier 3 shortage is far from the worst-case scenario, because declining streamflows could push the level of Lake Mead below the 1,025-foot mark — a situation left unaddressed by the Drought Contingency Plan. While the chances of Lake Mead reaching critically low levels seemed remote when planning efforts began, projections released by Reclamation last month indicate there is a 66 percent chance the reservoir falls below 1,025 feet by 2025.

    Falling below that level would trigger additional cutbacks, which would likely include curtailing tribal water deliveries from the CAP. And, because tribes on the CAP are allowed to lease their water rights directly to municipalities, future reductions to tribal water could also impact the water-supply holdings of cities and towns throughout central Arizona.

    If Lake Mead were to fall below 900 feet, it would elicit the disaster scenario known as “dead pool,” in which water would no longer flow through Hoover Dam, cutting off the lower basin and shutting down a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity for millions of people in the Southwest.

    Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, said via email that the tribe is committed to working with other stakeholders in the basin to avoid that fate.

    But, as hydrological conditions in the basin continue to worsen, deeper cuts seem inevitable…

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    For thousands of years before the first concrete dams were built on the Colorado, the Mojave people — or AhaMacav, which means “people of the river” — maintained large settlements on either side of the surging stream. In 1865, the U.S. government lumped members of the Mojave and Chemehuevi tribes together to form the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, which later came to include Navajo and Hopi families.

    The CRIT’s water rights were quantified as part of Arizona v. California, the series of U.S. Supreme Court cases beginning in the 1930s that dealt with water disputes between the two states. Along with confirming the rights of the five mainstream tribes in the lower basin, the case also established the standard of determining tribal entitlements based on a tribe’s “practicably irrigable acreage.”

    The tribe’s history of agriculture, including an 80,000-acre irrigation project built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, enabled the CRIT to secure annual diversion rights of more than 700,000 acre-feet, the largest entitlement of any tribe in the basin. Although the CRIT uses a large portion of its water for farming and agriculture, much of its entitlements in both Arizona and California go unused — a fortunate fact for farmers in central Arizona.

    The tribe has employed a number of creative approaches to generate revenue using its reserved water rights, including discontinuing certain existing water uses on tribal land, and using the water that is conserved to prop up levels in Lake Mead.

    The tribe has agreed to fallow a portion of its historically irrigated farmland over the next three years, conserving a total of 150,000 acre-feet of water that will be left in Lake Mead. For its help in minimizing cutbacks for lower-priority users — such as agriculture served by the CAP — the tribe is receiving $38 million, mostly from the state of Arizona.

    Margaret Vick, an attorney for the CRIT, said that although the tribe is well-positioned to contribute conservation water, its ability to benefit from other types of off-reservation uses are limited. Unlike tribes with water settlements, she said, the CRIT’s decreed water rights generally prohibit the tribe from directly leasing its water to off-reservation users. The tribe proposed federal legislation last year that would allow it to market some of its Arizona allocation, but the bill hasn’t been introduced in Congress, Vick said.

    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

    Although the CRIT’s water rights are quantified and it has enough water to contribute to Mead, the tribe has historically suffered from a lack of funding for necessary infrastructure — something that is often negotiated as part of a water settlement, Vick said. According to the Tribal Water Study, parts of the federal irrigation project were built in the late 1800s, and suffer from “design limitations and simple aging problems,” such as unlined canals and deteriorating gates.

    Weiner, the attorney for the Quechan tribe, said that while each tribe is in a different situation, they generally agree on the need for more flexibility in the legal framework that governs the river…

    Despite the challenges facing tribes in the basin, tribal leaders and water managers see opportunities for solutions that would help alleviate some of the water-supply pressures on non-Native stakeholders while enabling the tribes to benefit from their water. And, regardless of the water management decisions that are made going forward, the tribes want a seat at the table.

    Tribal leaders often lament the lack of tribal consultation that occurs when federal or state governments make decisions that impact tribal resources. Secretary Haaland has emphasized the importance of tribal engagement during her time leading the Interior Department, but the level of tribal involvement in the basin’s next round of drought planning remains to be seen.

    Noting the importance of cooperation between basin stakeholders, Becker, the attorney for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said the ongoing shortage should also serve as a reminder that water is not simply a commodity, but a vital substance on which our survival depends.

    #ColoradoRiver #drought conditions spur calls for better #water infrastructure — #Colorado Newsline #COriver #aridification

    A view of Reflection Canyon in Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, in 2013. Sedimentary rock forms the landscape surrounding Lake Powell, on the Colorado River at the Utah-Arizona border. (Gary Ladd/National Park Service/Public domain)

    WASHINGTON — Experts in government, agriculture, water management and the environment stressed during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday the danger that droughts fueled by climate change pose in the West, including the Colorado River Basin.

    During a hearing before an Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel, witnesses said long-term solutions and an investment in water infrastructure are needed to combat the effects of climate change.

    “Water has always been a limited resource in the West,” Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat who chaired the hearing of the Water and Power Subcommittee, said. “We have this old saying in Arizona that ‘whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.’”

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    He said that the issue is a priority for him because Arizona is on the front lines of a major drought, which can increase the risk of wildfires in the West. 

    Tanya Trujillo, the assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, said that “water supply is below average.” 

    She said the federal government should continue to make investments in water infrastructure, and new technology such as water recycling and desalination systems that remove salt from salt water.

    Kelly asked her how the Interior Department will use the $8.4 billion provided for the West in an infrastructure bill passed by the Senate. 

    Trujillo said that by replacing aging water infrastructure, water will be prevented from escaping, and that the bill also invests in technology that can capture water. 

    “We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water,” she said, adding that Interior and its state and local partners “have planned for this by being proactive and fully using the tools we have.”

    We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water.

    – Tanya Tujillo, assistantr secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior

    Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said that Arizona has been under a state of drought emergency since 1999.

    “The past two decades of ongoing drought in the western United States, and in particular the Colorado River Basin, is challenging the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as the Republic of Mexico, to meet the needs of the 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland that rely on the river,” he said in his opening statement.

    More than 40% of country in drought

    Several senators raised their concerns about water availability for farmers, such as Kelly and John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican. 

    Kelly asked what can be done immediately to help those farmers and ranchers. 

    Buschatzke said the state of Arizona has currently made $40 million available for farmers to maintain their infrastructure to help move and use their water supply.

    Kelly had requested a Senate hearing on the drought conditions along the Colorado River after water level projections for Lake Mead and Lake Powell were released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 

    Lake Mead, a reservoir of the Hoover Dam, hit its lowest levels since 1930.

    In a letter to Water and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and the top Republican, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Kelly expressed his concern that the “U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its first-ever drought shortage declaration for the Colorado River.” 

    “More than 40 million Americans rely on Colorado River water to support our cities, tribes, and farms,” he wrote. “As of today, total Colorado River system storage is 40% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.”

    Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, said that 30 tribes also rely on the river.

    “Climate change has come barging through the front doors of the Colorado basin,” Pitt said.

    An August report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that for every 0.9 degree Fahrenheit the atmosphere warms, some regions will experience an increase in droughts, which can harm agriculture production and the ecosystem.

    Droughts, exacerbated by climate change, will likely be more common by 2050, according to Yale Climate Connections, which is an initiative of the Yale Center for Environmental Communication. 

    As of late September, the National Integrated Drought Information System — part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has determined that more than 40% of the U.S., and nearly 48% of the lower states, are in drought. 

    NIDIS flagged the Illinois-Wisconsin border as a new area of concern and the area where the border meets Lake Michigan as being in extreme drought.

    However, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is predicting that “more than half the country, including parts of the West, are favored to have a warmer-than-average October, but for the first time in months, there’s no brown on the map out West, and even a little green. That means the odds of (a) much wetter than average month are as good as or better than the odds of a much drier than average month.”

     

    Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

    Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership plans survey, workshop — The Pagosa Springs Sun #SanJuanRiver

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The Upper San Juan Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson) via The Pagosa Springs Sun:

    This summer, the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) started Phase 3, the last phase of a planning process to develop a local water plan, with potential project opportunities that support river health and our community’s ability to rely on rivers for multiple uses, now and in the future.

    The WEP originally planned to host a public workshop in September to share updates and next steps of this planning process, but our group needed to delay this event due to scheduling challenges, as well as developments on new multipurpose pilot projects along the San Juan River that WEP and our partners have been exploring.

    The WEP hopes exploring project ideas now could address immediate needs revealed through our Phase 2 watershed assessments and stakeholder interests for ecological and recreational improvements on the San Juan River. We hope these will just be the start of many project ideas community members can consider when we all get together again to develop a list of on-the-ground opportunities to support the agricultural, environmental, municipal and recreational water use needs in the San Juan, Blanco and Navajo watersheds.

    We plan to share more about these concept-level projects at our upcoming workshop in October for the community to consider and weigh in on. Projects within the Yamaguchi South area have been publicly shared and reviewed through several town council meetings and http://MyPagosa.org. We hope to share other developing project components very soon, but first, the WEP is connecting with individual landowners adjacent to the project areas to gather their feedback and approval before we open it up to the broader community for input.

    The WEP will announce a new workshop date in the next few weeks and details on how anyone from the public can attend this event. The goal of the workshop will be to share areas that our Phase 2 assessment results identified as highly valuable or areas of concerns for river health and/or our community’s ability to use the rivers we rely on.

    The WEP is also working on drafting an initial list of goals and objectives to help in identifying specific actions or projects to address these broader watershed goals. We need your feedback to refine and add to this initial list, so we hope you all will attend the WEP’s future workshop to share locations, actions and projects you would like prioritized for this water plan.

    If community members cannot attend the workshop, the WEP will offer other options for you to share your feedback and participate. We are currently finalizing a survey that can be done via your computer, phone app or printed options to submit your answers. We also intend to host other public events for stakeholders to help with this planning process.

    The WEP will announce the workshop date and share details on how you can get involved and share your ideas in the next few weeks.

    If you would like to learn more about the WEP and the planning process, visit http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan/smp and contact Mandy Eskelson (mandy@mountainstudies.org) or Al Pfister (westernwildscapes@gmail.com).

    The #PagosaSprings Town Council approves $150,000 for #SanJuanRiver projects — The Pagosa Springs Sun

    View to the south into the snaking West Fork of the San Juan River as seen from US 160, halfway up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. By User:Erikvoss, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61976794

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    At its regular meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 23, the Pagosa Springs Town Council unani- mously approved two resolutions which approved $150,000 in matching funds needed for grants for river improvement projects in the San Juan River along Yamaguchi South Park and a portion of the river northeast of town.

    Planning Director James Dickhoff presented the resolutions to the council, beginning with Resolution 2021-13, supporting submitting grant applications to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for recreational and ecological enhancement of the San Juan River adjacent to Yamaguchi South Park.

    With this resolution, the council approved $96,000 of matching funds needed for the grant.

    Town Manager Andrea Phillips explained in an email to The SUN that the council approved those funds to be taken out of the reserves for the 2021 budget.

    “However, due to the timing of the grant application and notification, it may need to be included in next year’s budget instead. This would require additional council action in the future,” Philips wrote.

    Dickhoff noted during the meeting that the total budget for the project along Yamaguchi South Park is $664,720 and the grant application is for $498,540.

    Dickhoff explained that the Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership ( WEP) has been working on identifying projects that are eligible for grant funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    He noted that the town will administer the grant, if awarded, with help from the WEP…

    The initial proposal presented by Dickhoff was structured in a fashion that contemplates the project over three years.

    However, the council determined that it would have a stronger application for the funds if the entire amount of matching funds from the town is committed up-front…

    Dickhoff explained that a total of $166,180 in matching funds is need- ed for the grant to be awarded.

    Along with the $96,000 committed from the council, the WEP will also be requesting funds from other local entities.

    He explained that WEP is planning on requesting $22,500 from the tourism board, $30,000 from Archuleta County, $10,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation District, $3,000 from Trout Unlimited, $750 from Friends of the Upper San Juan, $750 from Weminuche Audubon, $1,500 from the Nature Conservancy and $2,500 from Great Outdoors Fund…

    The second resolution presented by Dickhoff during the meeting was Resolution 2021-14, supporting grant applications to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for recreational and ecological enhance- ments of the San Juan River upstream of town.

    Dickhoff explained that the WEP is also assisting the town with this grant application as well, and that Trout Unlimited would be the entity to administer the grant “on behalf of the community.”

    With the resolution, the council unanimously approved $56,000 in matching funds to be taken from the town’s 2022 budget and is contingent upon Trout Unlimited being approved for the grant.

    Dickhoff explained that this grant is for river cleanup projects along the section of the San Juan River stretching from Bob’s LP to the Running Iron Ranch…

    Dickhoff indicated that the WEP will also be presenting this opportunity to the other entities for requests for matching funds.

    He explained that the WEP is planning on requesting $86,859 from the RESTORE Colorado Grant; $300,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation Watersmart Program; $22,500 from the tourism board; $30,000 from Archuleta County; $10,000 from the Southwest Water Conservation District; $3,000 from Trout Unlimited; $750 from Friends of the Upper San Juan; $750 from the Weminuche Audubon; $1,500 from the Nature Conservancy at $1,500 and $2,500 from the Great Outdoors Fund.

    Agenda documentation on the topic also indicates funding being requested from the San Juan Water Conservancy District.

    Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District meeting recap — The #PagosaSprings Sun

    Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Terri House):

    The perpetual pump problems that have perplexed the Pagosa Springs Sanitation General Improvement District (PSSGID) continue to persist, with two additional pump failures occurring, leaving the district with no operational backup pump on site.

    Should the pumps go down, there is potential for a sewage spill, with the district looking to reduce the possibility of any sewage going into the river.

    The district’s sanitation system includes “three lift stations, and the pumping stations that transport
    the town’s wastewater to Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) for treatment. There are approximately 835 customers using … the collection system,” according to an agenda brief from Tuesday’s PSSGID meeting.

    “In 2016, the GID and the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to pump the town’s sewage to the PAWSD Vista Treatment Plant,” explains the brief.

    The board discussed the challenge of securing a backup pump in the event of another pump failure at Tuesday’s meeting.

    “There continue to be unsustainable failures with the pumps,” a June board agenda brief reads.

    The root of the issue is the ability for the district to pump poop uphill from town to the PAWSD ponds west of town.

    “Since the last update to the board, we have experienced two more pump failures,” said Public Works Director Martin Schmidt as part of his update on the pump replacement process and the state of the district’s pump stations. “Staff was able to make the adjustments, and move the pumps around to keep the sewage pumping. We are currently out of spare shufflable pumps.”

    “The pumps failed due to a seal failure and due to an electrical failure,” reads an agenda brief for the meeting. “Both were stemming from issues that we are addressing with the replacement pumps.”

    Schmidt noted that an American Technical team from Farmington came up Tuesday to look at rebuilding a pump…

    Schmidt explained they could get the pump to work with bearings and seal replacements. He also noted that it was an older type of pump that has tended to last longer and had the potential to become a spare for the future redesign.
    The downside, according to Schmidt, is that rebuilt pump would not be at 100 percent of capacity. It would take about a month to rebuild the pump at a cost between $10,000 and $13,000. The district has spent approximately $2,000 on investi- gating the potential of the pump rebuild…

    The rebuild project

    The district is in the process of a re-engineering of the pump system. “A $400,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment has been awarded for replacement of the eight pumps at Pump Stations 1 and 2,” reads an
    agenda brief.

    “The cost of the pump replacement project is $800,000 with a $400,000 grant helping to pay for that project,” Martin explained of the rebuild project.

    “Staff is continuing to work with Pentair-Fairbanks on getting the pump engineering complete and all of the orders submitted. Pentair has assured staff that every element of the construction of the pumps is being expedited and and that the last of the submittals for construction are imminent. Once the submittals are complete, a meeting with all involved parties will be conducted to coordi- nate the planning and replacement of the pumps. This meeting will be critical for the smooth transition to the new pumping system because of the complexity of making the change while we are still receiving sewage at the pump station,” reads the agenda brief. “Staff is cautiously optimistic about getting the pumps changed out before the I&I season in the spring, but at this time there is no set schedule.”

    In response to a question from board president DonVolger, Schmidt clarified that the district will be getting eight pumps from Pentair-Fairbanks.

    “We’re hoping that when we take care of the re-engineering and installation of eight new pumps that our system will be pretty much intact, maybe like it should have been engineered in the first place,” said Volger, with Schmidt confirming.
    Schmidt reminded the board that former employee Gene Tautges wrote a grant and the district built a 250,000-gallon overflow tank.

    “Right now, in a 24-hour period, we are anywhere between about 215,000 and 260,000 gallons,” Schmidt said regarding current sewage flows. “That usually holds

    As above, so below: Will woes on the #ColoradoRiver come to roost on the #ArkansasRiver? — The Ark Valley Voice

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Tara Flangan):

    The playground that flows through Chaffee County delivered the goods this summer, with fat waves and tourist dollars churning out what Bob Hamel calls a banner season on the Arkansas River.

    “If it’s a good rafting year, that drives the economy,” says Hamel, Executive Director of Arkansas River Outfitters Association and who sits at the Arkansas Basin Water Roundtable. “Everybody I talked to was up.”

    The number of visitors to the 143-mile Arkansas River Recreation Area was already up 18 percent in 2020. The river economy typically flows more than $70 million a year into local communities.

    But Hamel, like so many in the water community, is acutely aware of potential shoe dropping in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which ultimately plays out on the Arkansas River.

    None of the water in America’s West, or anywhere, for that matter, operates in a vacuum. When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made its historic shortage declaration on the Colorado River on Aug. 16, the famed waters through Browns Canyon National Monument, as well as the local economy and environment that ripple out from them, were arguably in a stranger position than the day before.

    In the words of Federal Water Master John Thorson, “Water links us to our neighbor in a way more profound and complex than any other.”

    Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

    Upon the Aug. 16 announcement, Arizona farmers braced for 512,000 fewer acre-feet in the 2022 water year. The news was no surprise, really; they’d anticipated it for months.

    For now, Nevada will lose 21,000 acre-feet. California, with the most senior water rights among the three states that comprise the Lower Colorado River Basin along with Mexico, has been spared for the time being.

    The situation has players in the water industry girding for more news nobody wants to hear. Lake Mead, the major reservoir for the lower basin states, had hit a historic low of 1,067 feet, threatening the levels for hydropower for 1.3 million people. Without significant changes to two decades of drought driven by changing climate, more restrictions are likely on tap.

    And with that, talk is intensifying in the upper basin, where the Bureau could declare a shortage as soon as 2022. Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico comprise the upper basin states that rely on Colorado River water…

    Just as Lake Mead’s ability to supply water and electricity in the lower basin has been threatened, the levels at Lake Powell and the threshold required for hydropower could trigger cutbacks for the upper states. Glen Canyon Dam generates 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

    Projection of Lake Powell end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

    For the record, things at Lake Powell aren’t great. While Lake Mead is sitting at about 35 percent capacity – a level not seen since it started to fill with the completion of Hoover Dam in 1936 – Lake Powell, which began forming in 1963 with the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, is a scant 30 percent of full pool.

    The reservoir, which straddles Utah into Arizona, is down 50 feet from a year ago, evidenced by a stark white ring against the red desert rock, representing former water levels. Canyons that were once underwater are emerging, and houseboat rental companies cancelled reservations through August. Responding to the historic low water levels, the National Park Service issued a ban on launching the boats in mid-July.

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

    The Hardest-working River in the West

    The Colorado could easily be called the hardest-working river in the West, originating as a modest creek in Grand County and eventually draining a massive watershed that serves 40 million people before it ends, 1,450 miles later, at its battered delta in the Gulf of California.

    A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

    The Upper Arkansas River Basin eventually echoes what’s happening on the Colorado. The Fry-Ark, the trans-basin diversion project originating on the Frying Pan River in Pitkin County, bears notable responsibility for the fun and stream ecology hereabouts, and in turn, the local economy between July 1 and Aug. 15. During that timeframe up to 10,000 acre-feet in supplemental flows are set free from the Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake reservoirs…

    Fry-Ark, short for Frying Pan-Arkansas, was authorized in 1962 and completed in 1981. President John F. Kennedy called what would be a $585 million endeavor a game changer, a model for the future owned by all Americans.

    Not that the proposal rolled in unscathed for a few approval strokes of Kennedy’s pen. A change-up from the considerably larger and scuttled Gunnison-Arkansas proposal, Fry-Ark would not happen easily. Enduring nearly endless political stalling from its genesis – mostly from Western Slope residents who weren’t keen on seeing their water sent to the eastern side of the Continental Divide – it also caught the wrath of California and Arizona politicos, who argued that any water diverted from the Colorado River Basin was ultimately bad news for them.

    During that time, Americans also became increasingly concerned about the environmental issues surrounding the big resource development projects springing up, and Fry-Ark met opposition from groups such as the Sierra Club, Isaac Walton League and the Wilderness Society. But severe drought in the West in the 1950s was close enough to the 1930s Dust Bowl era to gather steam in Congress for water development.

    The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    In the end, after considerable pitchfork throwing, the Ruedi Dam and Reservoir were offered up to the Western Slope as a storage solution and compromise of sorts. Construction began in 1964. The project was the first step of the massive, gutsy Fry-Ark. Its network of storage, tunnels and canals would in time send a reliable supply of water to east slope farmers, industries and cities, plump the summer waves moving through Chaffee County and help support a Gold Medal fishery in the off seasons…

    Editor’s note: In late July, Gates Family Foundation and the Colorado News Collaborative announced that Ark Valley Voice (AVV) Journalist Tara Flanagan was awarded a water fellowship, to participate in a statewide newsroom effort to strengthen water reporting at newsrooms across Colorado. This is the first in a series of stories about the importance of water in the west, specifically focused on the Arkansas River basin.

    West Slope #water officials sound alarm on #ClimateChange, shrinking water supplies — @WaterEdCO

    Colorado River in Grand Junction. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

    Colorado West Slope water officials turned up the volume on the call for action around water and climate change, calling it a “train wreck.”

    Andy Mueller photo credit MountainLawFirm.com.

    At the Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar Oct. 1, Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based district, described climate change as a train wreck that needs to be stopped.

    “For a decade or more, we have seen the train wreck slowly moving this way. It has picked up speed pretty significantly in the last couple of years, and the question is how do we avert the train wreck,” Mueller said.

    He pointed to changes already underway as a result of the warming climate, and those that will be necessary. Uses of the Yampa River as it flows through Steamboat Springs have been curtailed for eight of the last 14 years because of high temperatures and low flows, he said. There have been fish kills in the Colorado River and other impacts to outdoor recreation. Ski areas face a shorter operating season and those in lower elevations may not survive. Agriculture users may need to remove marginal land from irrigation and take stock of their least productive crops.

    “I think at every level our folks who are paying attention to the science and the hydrology, there is an increasing sense of urgency in the Colorado River Basin, and it’s shared by folks on the ground today, from ranchers in the Yampa River Valley to farmers in the Uncompaghre Valley to major urban providers like Denver Water. We all recognize there is something very different going on than there was 10 years ago in the Colorado River.”

    Michael Connor. By Tami Heilemann – doi.gov, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96663218

    “Climate change is barreling through the doors of America,” said Michael Connor, the second-highest ranking official in the Interior Department during the Obama administration and now a Washington D.C.-based attorney.

    Brad Udall, a senior scientist and scholar at Colorado State University, said he began working on climate change in 2003. “I mostly got a lot of dirty looks,” he said. That has changed. “I have decided that misery loves company.”

    Senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University and one of the authors of the National Climate Assessment. Photo credit: Colorado State University Water Institute

    Udall stressed the importance of inflows into Lake Powell from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, the states that comprise the Upper Colorado River Basin. Those inflows have averaged 8.4 million-acre feet since 2000.

    Each year 500,000 acre-feet is lost to evaporation, leaving 7.9 million-acre-feet for release from Lake Powell. That’s less water than is needed to comply with the requirements of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Unless flows improve, said Udall, the Upper Basin states may have to forego use of some of their own Colorado River supplies to ensure Arizona, California and Nevada, the Lower Basin states, receive their legal share.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    How did we get to this point? Several researchers in the last five years have fingered rising temperatures as a crucial factor in creating what Udall and his collaborator, the University of Michigan’s Jonathan Overpeck, in a famous 2017 paper, called “hot drought.” They said temperatures alone explained at least a third of the lesser river flows.

    Loss of snow may further exacerbate warming. A 2020 paper by P.C.D. Milly and K.A. Dunne in Science found a 9.3% loss in Colorado River flows with each one degree Centigrade in warming. A key finding, said Udall, was that as shiny, reflective snow recedes, the amount of absorbed radiation rises.

    A decade ago, there was no clear signal whether a warming climate would affect precipitation on the Western Slope. A picture is starting to emerge, with Southwestern Colorado now at significant risk of precipitation — and runoff — declines, he said.

    The San Juan River near Bluff, Utah, had 30% less water in 2000-2019 as compared to 1906-1999. The Colorado River at Glenwood Springs had a 6% decline.

    Soil moisture also matters. If the soil remains dry from the previous year, it sops up more of the potential runoff. In 2020, the snowpack was 100% of average but the runoff was 50%. That soil-moisture deficit played into this year’s even worse runoff, 30% of average from a snowpack that was 90% of average.

    Gigi Richard via Fort Lewis College

    Dr. Gigi Richard, director of the Four Corners Water Center at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, was asked whether she detects more acceptance of climate change as impacting water.

    “Yes,” she answered. “In Western Colorado, it’s really hard to deny that from day to day, year to year, that we are feeling the impacts of climate change.”

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

    Connor, the former Interior official, pointed out that tribes in the Colorado River Basin have reserved rights, making them superior to the terms of the Colorado River Compact. Because of the sheer volume of those rights, especially in Arizona, many see them as crucial in whatever new Colorado River operating agreements are negotiated going forward.

    “You need to be able to provide the tribes value for their rights,” if tribes are asked to give up use of those water rights, Connor said.

    Muller warned of the need for adaptation and offered a conciliatory approach, saying water interests would need to unite to find solutions.

    The River District, he noted, sought and obtained a tax increase from voters in an election that was supported by both the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Environmental Defense Fund. “When,” he asked, “is the last time you saw those two groups on the same page?”

    Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net.

    Birds Are Telling Us to Act — Audubon #ActOnClimate

    A Vermilion Flycatcher along the Laguna Grande Restauration Site in Baja California, Mexico. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

    From Audubon (Elizabeth Gray):

    The news on climate this summer has been grim. Not only did an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report paint a depressing future, the dire consequences of unchecked emissions are already wreaking havoc across the globe. Those effects include powerful storms across the eastern half of the United States, and brutal heat that seared the West, killing more than 200 people. It did a number on birds, too.

    The temperatures, which exceeded 110°F in places where it rarely gets above 85°F, drove young birds to fling themselves from their nests in a desperate attempt to escape the heat. In Seattle, most of the chicks in a Caspian Tern colony leapt from their rooftop nesting site; Seattle Audubon and Audubon Washington worked with rehabbers to save as many birds as they could, but many chicks died of their injuries. In Portland, more than 100 young raptors—mostly Cooper’s Hawks—did the same, and Portland Audubon Society helped rescue those birds, too.

    Compounding the effects of the increasing temperatures, a long-term megadrought now affects the western half of the United States. Water levels are at historic lows, threatening communities, public health, and birds as well as critical ecosystems. In August the Bureau of Reclamation declared reductions in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada, and the Republic of Mexico. This crisis is urgent for people—their businesses, their families—as well as for birds, a fact that they are telling us loud and clear.

    But birds also tell us when we do something right.

    The first water from the 2021 “pulse flow” is delivered at the Chausse restoration site in the Colorado River Delta.
    Photo Credit: Jesús Salazar/Raise the River via the Walton Family Foundation

    The Colorado River is flowing again in its delta. Thanks to the Colorado River binational agreement with Mexico, Minute 323, more than 11 billion gallons of water will be delivered to the area this year for restored habitat. As the latest issue of Audubon magazine reports, with a relatively small amount of water committed to the delta—less than 1 percent of its former annual flow—more than 42,000 acres of riparian forest and wetlands can be protected and restored. In fact, targeted flows through the delta in 2014 led to a 20 percent increase in bird abundance and a 42 percent increase in bird diversity.

    Our current water and climate crises are decades in the making, but there is still time to take action and reduce the damage. Good planning is critical to maintaining reliable water supplies for people and nature alike. Focusing on policy changes, research, and on-the-ground actions, we can unify the needs of birds with the water needs of cities and agriculture by helping communities adapt to climate change, reducing pressure on water supplies, and investing in natural climate solutions that absorb carbon pollution. By working together with Indigenous communities, governments, water agencies, and landowners, we can collectively protect birds and create an equitable and sustainable future for us all.

    This piece originally ran in the Fall 2021 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.

    #Water year precipitation rebounds with wet #monsoon2021 season — The San Juan Record #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    From The San Juan Record:

    It was a strange water year in San Juan County, with months of deepening drought and three glorious months of rain. The overall result for the water year, which wrapped up on September 30, was remarkably close in some areas to the precipitation amounts for a normal water year.

    For the water year, Monticello received 14.91 inches of precipitation. This is 99 percent of the multiyear average of 15.1 inches.

    The year-end total represents a remarkable turnaround from the year-to-date totals in June, before the arrival of the annual monsoon season. On June 30, Monticello had just 66 percent of normal precipitation.

    Since that time, Monticello has received 8.67 inches of rain, which is 172 percent of the normal three-month average of 5.03 inches.

    In contrast, the monsoon season brought wet weather to other locations of San Juan County, but not in as dramatic a fashion. Bluff finished the water year with 4.53 inches of precipitation, which is just 58 percent of the historic average of 7.76 inches. Bluff received 2.04 inches of rain during the monsoon season.

    Blanding received ten inches of rain for the water year, which is 75 percent of the historic average of 13.3 inches. Blanding received 5.46 inches of rain during the monsoon season.

    For the water year, the Camp Jackson weather station in the Abajo Mountains received 25.4 inches of precipitation.

    The months of wet weather have given a wonderful start to the dryland farmers who plant crops in the fall. The winter wheat crop appears to be green and healthy and gives hope to farmers who have struggled during the drought. Similarly, the landscape is greener than normal, offering hope to the ranchers who rely on grazing for their livestock.

    While the monsoon season has alleviated the stress of the continued drought on dryland agriculture and ranching, the water storage situation remains a major concern.

    The water level in Lake Powell, the massive reservoir on the Colorado River, has fallen to record levels…

    Lake Powell currently holds less than 30 percent of its capacity, with a water level 155 feet below capacity. The water is 50 feet below the level one year ago.

    Similarly, the level of local reservoirs – including Loyds Lake and Recapture Reservoir – is significantly below full capacity and below the levels of one year ago.

    In the past summer, Loyds Lake has dropped ten feet and Recapture Reservoir has dropped seven feet.

    Aspinall Unit Operations update: Releases to decrease to 1050 cfs October 6, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #LakePowell

    Crystal Dam, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, Aspinall Unit. Credit Reclamation.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1315 cfs to 1050 cfs late on Wednesday, October 6th. Releases are being decreased to bring an end to the Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) emergency releases to Lake Powell.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels 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 October and November.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 590 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 325 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    There are a lot of solutions to #drought. Some may work better than others — #Wyoming Public Media

    Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

    From Wyoming Public Media (Ivy Engel):

    Drought isn’t a new thing in the West, but right now, much of the region is gripped in a historic drought. An unusually dry year coupled with record-breaking heat waves has strained water resources in the West this year. In fact, water levels are so low that the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage on the Colorado River basin for the first time ever in mid-August. There are a lot of ideas for how to relieve the drought and ease its impacts—some more feasible than others. But when you think about water in the West, you have to think about scarcity too.

    “You’re really thinking about, well, why is it scarce? Is it too little supply? Or is it too much demand? And in the case of water, it’s both, right?” said Jason Shogren, an economist at the University of Wyoming (UW). “You have a drought, and that is going to restrict the supply of water. And you have an increase in demand because people are moving more and more to the Rocky Mountain region, moving more and more to the west coast.”

    And as Shogren pointed out, a lot of people move to the West and expect to keep parts of their lifestyles from where they came from, like lawns of lush green grass. But those require a lot of water. And Shogren said we have to think about all the different demands.

    “And since we have a lot of demand for water in Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas. We have a lot of demand for water in agriculture production, whether it’s crops, or whether it’s nuts, or whether it’s wine,” he said. “And on the supply side, the question is, ‘Who gets what water? And why?'”

    He added property rights over water are different by state and deciding how water rights are allocated and how they can be used gets tricky fast…

    And with climate change intensifying extreme weather like droughts and flooding, there’s one potential solution that would help solve both problems. Dr. Tom Minckley said it involves moving water.

    Missouri River Reuse Project via The New York Times

    “We could say, ‘Oh, well, the western states are in drought. So we could take water from, say, the Mississippi or the Missouri River, and when it floods, we could capture that floodwater, and then basically return it to the head of the watershed,'” he said.

    Dr. Minckley is a Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming. He studies water in the West and how it’s managed. He said piping water from a flooded place to a place in drought is an idea that’s becoming much more popular. State governments already transfer water between some states in the west…

    But because of Wyoming’s high elevation, moving water here from almost anywhere else would mean fighting gravity. It would require a lot of energy because water is actually quite heavy. Not to mention the logistics of where a pipeline would even go and how much it would cost – water is valued by the acre-foot.

    “On average, it’s about $2,000 per acre-foot. And some of the Colorado River water in the state of Colorado is running for $85,000 an acre-foot. So, like, there’s these crazy, really big numbers out there,” said Minckley. “And the question is if we start moving water from where it is to where we want it to be, how do we pay for it?”

    Graphic credit: USBR Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study

    The idea has been researched and despite its growing popularity, the Bureau of Reclamation found its implementation highly unlikely because of the cost and logistics.

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    Another idea that’s been floated is cloud seeding…

    [Bart] Geerts said farming communities in the High Plains have financially supported seeding operations in thunderstorms for decades, but it can be really hard to prove that kind of seeding actually worked. But, he said it is a lot easier to demonstrate that it worked when they seed winter clouds. Which can be more useful in the High Plains anyway.

    Because there’s natural variability between the years, you can’t pinpoint exactly how much more snowfall there was due to seeding and they work with averages. Geerts said a common belief is that cloud seeding keeps moisture from falling in other places where it’s needed.

    “It’s really not understood. There is that possibility but in general, these wintertime clouds are not very efficient,” he said. “Essentially water vapor condenses, you extract it, make it into snow, and thereby you reduce the downstream amount of water vapor to some extent. But that amount is so, so small, so insignificant compared to the total water vapor content.”

    But Geerts added on the flip side of that, some of the seeding materials may float downwind and increase snowfall on the next mountain range.

    “So it can work either way. We don’t really have an answer,” he said.

    It seems like a lot of ideas and conversations about this topic end with that – “we don’t really have an answer.” But as droughts intensify, driven by climate change, those conversations continue to happen. And some may lead to more viable solutions.

    A Step Forward in Securing #Water for a Drying #GreatSaltLake — Audubon #aridification

    Black-necked Stilt. Photo: Mick Thompson via Audubon

    From Audubon:

    As Great Salt Lake experiences alarmingly low water levels this year—dropping by nearly a foot below its previous historic low, the Utah Division of Water Rights this past week approved applications to deliver water to Farmington Bay of Great Salt Lake via the Jordan River. An innovative partnership is laying the groundwork to voluntarily share water for the lake to meet crucial needs for people, birds, and other wildlife.

    The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Rio Tinto Kennecott, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, and Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission collaborated to achieve this important step in addressing Great Salt Lake’s declining water levels. Through two donations of water rights, up to approximately 21,000 acre-feet of water annually could be delivered to Farmington Bay over the next ten years, subject to seasonal water availability and priority of water rights.

    Ensuring water flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands over the long term is the single most important strategy to prevent further drying of the lake. The state’s 2019 Concurrent Resolution to Address Declining Water Levels of the Great Salt Lake (HCR010) clearly “recognized the critical importance of ensuring adequate water flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands, to maintain a healthy and sustainable lake system.”

    Keeping water flowing to Great Salt Lake’s wetlands and open water habitats is vital to maintaining important natural areas of international and hemispheric importance for birds, while also benefiting people. Recreational opportunities—including birding, hunting, and boating—as well as the minerals and brine shrimp industries that rely on the lake represent nearly $1.32 billion annually in economic activity. In addition to the economic, ecological, and cultural importance of a healthy lake, adequate water levels also protect public health from lakebed dust exposure, and contribute to Utah’s lake effect snow.

    “The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is dedicated to conserving, enhancing and actively managing Utah’s protected wildlife populations, which include shorebirds, waterfowl and other waterbirds,” said Justin Shirley, Director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “We appreciate this donation that represents a significant milestone for the Division and its ability to manage water needs for wildlife in unimpounded areas of Great Salt Lake and support critical wetland habitat around its shores.”

    Rather than leaving the Jordan River at the historical diversion points some 30 to 40 miles upstream, the water will flow down river into Great Salt Lake, where the Jordan River flows into Farmington Bay.

    “The Great Salt Lake sits on Rio Tinto Kennecott’s doorstep. It’s always been essential to our operations and our employees who care about the lake,” said Gaby Poirier, managing director of Rio Tinto Kennecott, which is donating up to 18,387 acre-feet of water annually. “This is a significant win for the health of the Great Salt Lake and a first in water rights history that we’re able to contribute to the lake as a beneficial water use. We’re excited to be part of this collaborative partnership that allows us to share water resources that benefit wildlife, habitats, delicate ecosystems and the whole Salt Lake Valley.”

    Great Salt Lake water levels vary seasonally and from year to year, but overall have been on a steady long-term decline the last 150 years due to water diversions, drought, and a changing climate. Low water flows have particularly affected Farmington Bay, which includes the second-largest wetlands area on Great Salt Lake, covering approximately 121,500 acres. Currently, much of the lakebed in Farmington Bay is dry and exposed.

    The aim is to deliver water for beneficial use into Great Salt Lake through voluntary water transactions while not interfering with other water rights, largely held by duck clubs along the south shores of the lake. Importantly, partners worked to find ways to use existing laws and policies to achieve the transactions.

    “We are pleased to join in this partnership and use some of our water rights to benefit Great Salt Lake and Farmington Bay and its wildlife, while building relationships with organizations that understand the complexities of sustaining both environmental and community water needs,” said Gene Shawcroft, General Manager of Central Utah Water Conservancy District (District), which donated 2,927 acre feet of water annually. “The District has made instream flow commitments in many areas of the District, including environmental flows in the Sixth Water, Diamond Fork, and tributaries of the Duchesne River. This collaboration also helps the District realize its efforts to support environmental needs in ways that can have long-lasting effects on policy and provide avenues for future District projects that benefit nature.”

    Farmington Bay, one of five Globally Important Birds Areas at Great Salt Lake, is a key resource for migratory birds. The Bay provides habitat for a large number of the world’s bird populations, including American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, White-faced Ibis and Wilson’s Phalarope.

    “The health of Farmington Bay is essential to the health and productivity of the adjacent wetlands, including Audubon’s Gillmor Sanctuary, and we are grateful for this collaboration and the generous contributions of our partners,” said Marcelle Shoop, director of the National Audubon Society’s Saline Lakes program. “We also believe this project lays the foundation for future water transactions that can benefit wetlands and open water habitats of the lake. Audubon will continue to look for creative ways to ensure flows to Great Salt Lake and its wetlands.”

    In 2019, Audubon and The Nature Conservancy approached Wildlife Resources, Kennecott and the District to explore opportunities for using Jordan River water rights to benefit Great Salt Lake’s Farmington Bay and correspondingly, the Lower Jordan River.

    “The Nature Conservancy in Utah (TNC) has spent years working to protect the health of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, which provides invaluable benefits to Nature and the people who live and work along the Wasatch front,” said Dave Livermore, Utah State Director for TNC. “Our Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve, located at the edge of Farmington Bay, will also benefit from maintained flows into the Bay, and we greatly appreciate all the contributions of these partners in helping this project come to fruition.”

    The Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission (Mitigation Commission), which is responsible for projects to offset the impacts to fish, wildlife and related recreation resources caused by federal water reclamation projects in Utah, also joined the collaboration.

    “The Commission has implemented important wetlands mitigation and conservation projects on the Jordan River and Great Salt Lake and we are fortunate to have longstanding relationships with all these partners in our efforts,” said Mitigation Commission Executive Director Mark Holden. “We greatly appreciate water right donations from Kennecott and the District, as well as Wildlife Resources’ pivotal management role using the water to benefit wildlife and the public. Likewise, the leadership of Audubon and TNC in their outreach and deliberative approach to water management lays an important pathway for similar efforts to preserve Great Salt Lake’s future.”

    Recent storms help river flows — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Clayton Chaney):

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the San Juan River was flowing at a rate of 41.6 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Pagosa Springs as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29.

    This is up from last week’s instantaneous reading of 22.3 cfs.

    Based on 85 years of water records at this site, the lowest re- corded flow rate for this date is 12 cfs, recorded in 1953.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was in 2014 at 1,120 cfs. The average flow rate for this date is 153 cfs.

    As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29, the Piedra River near Arboles was flowing at a rate of 43.2 cfs, which is up from last week’s instantaneous reading of 32.9 cfs.

    Based on 58 years of water records at this site, the average flow rate for that date is 192 cfs.

    The highest recorded rate for this date was 1,490 cfs in 2014. The lowest recorded rate was 13.3 cfs in 2018…

    Colorado Drought Monitor map September 28, 2021.

    Water report

    The district remains in a Stage 1 drought per its drought management plan, according to the press release.

    Ramsey notes that the primary driver of this drought stage is the San Juan River flow in conjunction with the U.S. Drought Monitor, which indicates our area is in a severe to moderate drought.

    Ramsey notes that PAWSD is continuing to request voluntary odd/even watering days, “requesting that if your address is an odd number only irrigate on odd calendar days and vice-versa for even number addresses.”

    There are no other mandatory water use restrictions in place, besides limiting irrigation to after 6 p.m. and before 9 a.m.

    Drought report

    The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) was last updated on Sept. 21.

    The NIDIS website indicates 100 percent of Archuleta County is abnormally dry. This is up from the previous report of 95.27 percent.

    The percentage of the county in a moderate drought remains at 67.47 percent, consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website also notes that 42.68 percent of the county is in a severe drought stage, which is consistent with the previous report.

    Additionally, the NIDIS website notes that 9.12 percent of the county remains in an extreme drought, mostly in the southwestern portion of the county, consistent with the previous report.

    The NIDIS website notes that under an extreme drought stage, large fires may develop and pasture conditions worsen.

    No portion of the county is in exceptional drought.
    For more information and maps, visit: https://www.drought.gov/states/Colorado/county/Archuleta.

    Steamboat looks to new program to address high river temperatures: Water-quality trading on #YampaRiver and tributaries would create riparian shading — @AspenJournalism

    The far bank of the Yampa near the Flour Mill will get additional vegetation and trees to help cool river temperatures as part of this restoration project that began last week. The city of Steamboat is exploring a water quality trading program that could lower river temperatures and help the city comply with the permit requirements of its wastewater treatment facility.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The city of Steamboat Springs is exploring a way to help it stay in compliance with state regulations and also cool down chronically high temperatures in an impaired stretch of the Yampa River.

    A program called water-quality trading could allow the city to meet the requirements of its wastewater-treatment facility’s discharge permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by cooling other areas of the river by planting trees.

    The Yampa River flows through downtown Steamboat, where several parks and the Core Trail have been built along its banks. The river, a vital and cherished amenity for the Steamboat community, is popular with tubers and anglers. According to a 2017 survey of citizens, 75% of respondents ranked the management and health of the Yampa as essential or very important.

    But low flows and high temperatures, made worse in recent years by climate change, have impacted the public’s ability to use one of their favorite amenities. In July, the city closed the river to commercial use because of high temperatures — over 75 degrees. The city also recommended a voluntary closure for noncommercial users of the river.

    The entire 57-mile segment of the Yampa from above the confluence with Oak Creek to above the confluence with Elkhead Creek often has temperatures that are too high during the summer months, and in 2016 the segment was designated as impaired for temperature under the Clean Water Act. For July, August, September and November, stream temperatures exceed state standards for a cold-water fishery.

    Because the river is classified as impaired, city officials expect that when CDPHE issues a future discharge permit for the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, it will include more-stringent water temperature standards. The wastewater-treatment plant may not be able to meet these standards unless it cools the effluent before releasing it back into the river. The city’s current discharge permit expires at the end of the year.

    According to CDPHE Marketing and Communications Specialist Eric Garcia, Steamboat’s next permit will likely not have temperature limits, but will have temperature monitoring requirements. The soonest the city would have temperature limits for the wastewater treatment plan is Jan. 1, 2027.

    “These monitoring requirements are included so that we have a full understanding of the temperature issues in the Yampa River and at the plant before we set any temperature limits,” Garcia said in an email.

    #ColoradoRiver District report highlights Western Slope concerns with state water-savings plan: Staff will present framework at October board meeting — @AspenJournalism

    These fields just south of Carbondale are irrigated with water from the Crystal River. The Colorado River Water Conservation District recently released a stakeholder report on a potential state program known as demand management that would pay irrigators to leave water in the river to send downstream to Lake Powell.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District staff plans to present its own framework for a water-savings plan — separate from one the state of Colorado is developing — at its October board meeting.

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District undertook its own investigation of a plan — known as demand management — that would pay water users to consume less and send the saved water downstream to Lake Powell. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is currently investigating the feasibility of such a program for the state, but the River District convened its own workgroup, made up of Western Slope water users, to look into the issue. Many of the workgroup’s stakeholders represented agricultural interests.

    River District staffers will come up with their own market structure and rules for demand management to present to the board, according to general manager Andy Mueller.

    “What we are presenting is not something we are necessarily as staff endorsing, but we are going to present more specifics than what the CWCB or our stakeholder group has come up with so far,” Mueller said.

    The framework will incorporate some of the findings and recommendations of the River District’s stakeholder group, which were released in an August report. Among these was the unanimous recommendation that the state not rely solely on a demand-management program as a solution to water shortages in the Colorado River basin.

    “It was recognized that demand management can’t be the only way in which the state successfully handles the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River,” Mueller said. “It may be a component of that, but the state needs to be really looking at conservation in all water segments.”

    At the heart of a demand-management program is paying Western Slope irrigators on a temporary and voluntary basis to use less water in an effort to avoid a Colorado River Compact call. Instead of being spread across hayfields, the water would be sent downstream to a special 500,000-acre-foot pool in Lake Powell, which was established as part of 2019’s Drought Contingency Plan.

    A compact call could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid a compact-call scenario, which could result in mandatory water cutbacks.

    The participation of Western Slope agriculture is key to creating a workable demand-management program, but the report highlights several reasons this may prove challenging. Stakeholders expressed a strong distrust of decision-making and programs driven by state government and fear that Western Slope agriculture will be sacrificed to meet the Front Range’s and lower basin’s urban interests.

    “Many do not view the state as representing the best interest of agriculture on the Western Slope and instead are making decisions that are driven by east slope and municipal interests,” the report reads.

    These fields of the Crystal River Ranch outside of Carbondale are irrigated with water from the Crystal River. The Colorado River Water Conservation District released a report that recommends the state of Colorado not rely solely on a demand management program to address water shortages.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    TMDs in conflict

    Other findings of the report are consistent with what River District and agriculture representatives have been saying since the state began its demand-management discussions in 2019: A program must not lead to the permanent dry-up of Western Slope agriculture, and additional diversions to the Front Range are in direct conflict with asking Western Slope water users to save water.

    “The committee finds it inconceivable that under a demand-management program, the West Slope could work to conserve 25,000-50,000 acre-feet per year only to see the east slope simultaneously increase water diversions to the Front Range,” the report reads. “This situation would be antithetical to the goals of a demand-management program and efforts to prevent a future compact violation.”

    The report says that transmountain diversions — in which Front Range water providers take water from the headwaters of the Colorado River and bring it under the Continental Divide to growing cities — are a driving factor in a potential compact violation. Most water managers agree that water rights that date to before the 1922 compact would be exempt from mandatory cutbacks in the event of a call. Post-1922 water-rights use would fuel a compact violation.

    According to numbers from a previous River District study, 57% of Colorado’s post-compact water use is on the Front Range. Therefore, the report says, the Front Range should contribute 57% of the water to a demand-management pool.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump down to 500 cfs October 4, 2021 #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    View to the south into the snaking West Fork of the San Juan River as seen from US 160, halfway up to the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. By User:Erikvoss, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61976794

    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 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs today, October 4th, at 12:00 PM. During this change, the Auxilary 4×4 release will be closed and all flow will be through the power plant.

    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.