@ColoradoRiver: Expanded funding available for agricultural producers to implement irrigation efficiency projects in the Lower Gunnison Basin

Sweet corn near Olathe, CO. Photo credit Mark Skalny, The Nature Conservancy.

The Colorado River District has announced an additional funding opportunity (up to a total of $1.8 million) to support qualifying applicants for planning and implementation of irrigation efficiency improvement projects in the Lower Gunnison Project area. Applications from landowners that address identified resource concerns within the Bostwick Park, Paonia, Smith Fork, and Uncompahgre project areas will be accepted through July 21, 2017, for funding consideration.

This announcement of funding opportunity is an expansion of on-going, cooperatively-managed activities made possible by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for on-farm improvements, like conversion to pressure-piped sprinklers.

“We are excited to be able to continue to provide this funding that can be used to make our agricultural partners more productive and competitive while helping to meet important water resource management objectives,” explained Dave Kanzer, Project Manager and Deputy Chief Engineer of the River District.

Successful producer-applicants will receive financial assistance to plan, design and install advanced irrigation systems that address identified natural resource concerns. For example, these include projects that improve: 1) water availability (i.e., water use efficiency), 2) water quality (e.g. salinity and selenium loading), 3) soil health (e.g., cover cropping), and 4) fish and wildlife habitat (i.e., projects that benefit water quantity / quality). The Lower Gunnison Project uses an integrated application, contract process and a favorable cost-share ratio.

Interested applicants, landowners, and/or producers are encouraged to attend a Lower Gunnison Project Funding Interest Meeting in their area:

  • Hotchkiss: June 29 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Hotchkiss Memorial Hall, 276 W Main Street, Hotchkiss, CO 81419
  • Montrose: June 28 (6-6:15 pm light food/refreshments; Main program starts at 6:15 pm). Delta Montrose Electric Association (DMEA), 11925 6300 Rd, Montrose, CO 81402

An application and more information can be obtained by visiting the Shavano Conservation District (102 Par Place, Suite #4, Montrose, CO 81401 / Phone (970) 249-8407 Ext. 115) or Delta Conservation District (690 Industrial Blvd, Delta, CO 81416 / Phone (970) 399- 8194). Interested individuals can also contact the Colorado River District at (970) 945-8522 or go to the following website: http://gunnisonriverbasin.org/projects/lower-gunnison-project/

This funding opportunity complies with the rules and regulations of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program and is open to all eligible agricultural producers without discrimination or bias.

#Runoff news

Graphic via USBR Upper Colorado River Region.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area — the last resort still open in the state — reported more than 22 inches of snow over a four-day period to end the week, with the bulk falling very early Wednesday into Thursday and then most of the day Thursday into Friday. That total brings May’s snowfall in the area up to 24.5 inches, just the fifth time it has hit 24 inches or more since the start of the 20th century.

It’s the liquid-equivalent within the snow that matters most for water experts, however, and that remains difficult to determine until it eventually melts and can be properly measured. Even if historically this storm was a bit larger than those that typically descend upon the region in the spring, it is still not expected to represent more than 3 percent of the total moisture for the year.

“The runoff forecast doesn’t look at snow, it looks at total precipitation and the water content of the snow,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “Snowpack doesn’t tell you much, because cold weather can slow it and if it’s warmer it can accelerate it. It is a boost … but it could still end up average (levels) with this storm, it just depends on what happens in the next 10 days.”

[…]

Still, the approaching water year is predicted to remain at or perhaps slightly above average for the Colorado River as it snakes its way through Colorado and Utah (with allotments also for Wyoming and New Mexico) to Arizona’s Lake Powell before concluding in Nevada and California. The annual inflows into Powell function as the gauge of the West’s most recent runoff, and this year stands to be solid, but not considerable.

“It’s one of those years where we’ll take it,” said Kuhn. “It’ll bump Powell up 20-to-25 feet in elevation, which is good, but that’s still a long ways away from being full. It’s still down and there’s a bathtub ring.”

[…]

Another factor for what ends up in Powell, in addition to farther down in lower basin states, is what’s drawn off of it for drinking, recreation and crop irrigation en route. Transmountain diversions, which slurp up water off the Colorado River for the state’s dense population bases in cities like Denver, Aurora and Colorado Springs, are part of the reality, and a new one could soon be added to the equation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers firmed up its approval of the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado to pull at least 30,000 more acre-feet from the state’s headwater region. The venture would construct the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, with a proposed capacity of 90,000 acre-feet, near the city of Loveland, and further expend the Colorado River before fulfilling out-of-state demands guaranteed under federal law.

Aspen City Council reviews report about using network of tunnels and adits as storage

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Building concrete bulkheads in 130-year-old mine tunnels and stopes that connect Aspen and Smuggler mountains underneath town could form storage vaults capable of holding between 1,000 and 2,000 acre feet of water, according to a report from Deere and Ault Consultants of Longmont, presented in a work session to Aspen City Council last week.

The report listed pros and cons of using underground mines, which are an alternative approach to water storage the city is investigating as it looks for options other than 150-plus-foot tall dams creating reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Council also heard a presentation on Monday from Deere and Ault about a preliminary review of “in situ” storage — meaning in lined storage vaults underground where water mixes with gravel and is then covered. The golf course was identified as a site that could lend itself to such a reservoir, the consultants told council.

Deere and Ault’s review of underground mine storage, resulting in a 20-page report, found that the pros of using Aspen’s underground mines for storage — such as proximity to water rights and infrastructure, usefulness as drought hedging and good baseline water quality — to be outweighed by the potential cons.

“Maintaining dominion and control” of stored underground water is first among those concerns, according to consultants. Even with a complex system of bulkheads at virtually every level in the mines, “water could still potentially leak out through the natural faults, shear zones and fracture zones,” the report says.

Constructing the vaults would be hazardous, since water that collects naturally in the tunnels would have to be pumped out. When water is pumped out of old mines, “that’s when collapses occur,” Victor deWolfe, with Deere and Ault, told the council.

Raising the water table — hard to avoid with underground storage — also carries risk. It could create more surface landslides and exacerbates flooding issues. And while water occurring in the limestone layers has tested for good quality overall, raising it and lowering it above the water table could “exacerbate metal leeching and acidification.” That contaminated water could then leak into neighboring freshwater streams.

The city would also have to build an expensive pumping and pipeline system to connect the vaults to the water treatment plant near the hospital. New treatment techniques and infrastructure may also be needed to deal with alternative water storage method.

“We noted that there is no real precedence in Colorado for storing raw water in underground hard rock mines for municipal use,” the report says.

The consultants did envision a possible system, however, where water from the Salvation Ditch is used to fill the Molly Gibson Shaft. Or, bulkheads could be installed to raise water levels beneath Aspen Mountain, and the city could tap water flows coming out of the Durant Tunnel at the base of the mountain, where it owns a 3 cubic feet per second water right.

Aspen’s complex geology is well understood, the consultants note, and their study drew on maps showing the many rock layers and mine tunnels. The pond at the current Glory Hole Park, off Ute Avenue, formed in the mining era when alluvial soils were swallowed by a sinkhole, taking a locomotive and two boxcars with it.

Council members thanked the consultants for the report — the study, which included site visits, cost the city $15,000 — but showed little appetitive for pursuing the issue further. Councilman Bert Myrin said it’s crucial for the city to determine how much water it needs to store before it can make sense of options.

Deere and Ault will continue looking into the “in-situ” reservoir concept, which also could yield 1,000 or more acre feet of storage.

Chimney Hollow reservoir construction may start in late 2018

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ final decision allowing Northern Water to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland, issued 14 years after the federal permitting process began means, that construction could begin in late 2018 and water begin filling in 2022.

That same year, an open space around the reservoir with trails, backcountry camping and boating should open under the management of Larimer County’s Department of Natural Resources.

The permits that allow Northern Water to finish design and begin building the $400 million reservoir on behalf of 13 municipal water providers, including Loveland, require several different actions to mitigate environmental damage or concerns.

[Eric] Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Water, summarized some of the mitigations associated with Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will store water pulled from the Colorado River through the Windy Gap project.

• Maintaining certain water temperatures on the Colorado River to make sure the habitat for fish stays healthy.

• Paying for about $4 million worth of stream channel improvements on the Colorado River for 14 miles ending near the confluence of the Williams Fork River, to make significant enhancements to aquatic habitat.

• Flush flows every six years to move sediment and improve habitat.

• Construct a channel that will carry the water around Windy Gap Reservoir, allowing fish to migrate through that area and improving spawning conditions in the Colorado River downstream of Windy Gap.

• Replace wetlands that will be destroyed by the actual construction of the reservoir with similar acres in another location.

• Conduct stream restoration along the Little Thompson River in two locations to help restore that channel to its pre-2013 flood conditions and maintain those enhancements over the long term.

Chimney Hollow will hold about 90,000 acre-feet of water, enough for more than 90,000 households, that will be pulled from the Colorado River in wet years and stored for use in dry years.

Windy Gap Reservoir

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

The Windy Gap Firming project and its accompanying Chimney Hollow Reservoir has been approved, paving the way for more reliable water across the Front Range while also further draining the Colorado River.

The Windy Gap Project has its roots in the 1980s, and was intended to provide the Front Range with more than 40,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. But without enough storage capacity, municipalities haven’t realized that yield every year.

“We are pleased to make it to this milestone with our partners at Northern Water and all of the other communities involved,” Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said in text message Thursday.

The firming project, centered on the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake, is expected to address that problem at a cost of about $400 million.

The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval Wednesday, and construction should start in late 2018 or early 2019.

It’s a project nearly 15 years in the making.

“We’re ecstatic,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “You get one of these (types of projects) done in your whole lifetime.”

Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.

Greeley is one of 12 beneficiaries of the project, which also will create more reliable water supply for Fort Lupton, Longmont and Loveland.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir will hold 90,000 acre-feet of water, and Greeley will get about 9,200 acre-feet of water per year from the project.

An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or equivalent to a foot of water covering a football field. Greeley residents, according to the city’s new water budget, will use about 20,000 gallons per year.

Sen. Cory Gadner, R-Colo., also applauded the decision, calling the project a major component of Colorado’s longterm water needs.

“Getting to this point has been years in the making, and it is hard to state just how important it is that Northern Water can finally move forward with construction,” Gardner said in a news release.

The project’s approval was met with resistance from some water conservation advocates, though, including Gary Wockner with Save the Colorado and Save the Poudre.

“The Colorado River is on life support right now,” Wockner told the Associated Press. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”

Save the Colorado is opposed to the Windy Gap project, and Wockner told The Tribune it’s likely his group will file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the project.

“Our policy is no new dams and diversions out of the Colorado River system,” Wockner said. “This is a dam and diversion, so we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”

Wockner, who said the Colorado River is being overused, instead calls for more water conservation, including moving away from green lawns, recycling water and managing growth better.

Werner points to the endorsement of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, officials in Grand County on the Western Slope and Trout Unlimited, a trout and salmon conservation organization as proof the Windy Gap Firming project’s strong support.

Before the Windy Gap Firming project, Colorado had never endorsed a water project that has come before the federal government.

Without the project, Werner said municipalities would have to do what they’ve always done in particularly wet years: dump the excess water down the Colorado River rather than saving it for drier times.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” Otto said. “This project, along with the expansion of Milton Seaman Reservoir, are critically important to Greeley’s longterm water needs.”

@USBR Increases Releases from the Aspinall Unit to Meet Flow Targets on the Gunnison River

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Justyn Liff/Erik Knight):

The Bureau of Reclamation began increasing releases from the Aspinall Unit, consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal reservoirs on the Gunnison River, on May 14, 2017. The increased release will attempt to meet flow targets on the Gunnison River, designed to benefit endangered fish species downstream while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.

Flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will increase at a minimum of 500 cubic-feet-per-second a day resulting in flows through the canyon that may reach 12,000 cfs by approximately May 23. Flows will remain around 11,500 cfs to 12,000 cfs for 3-5 days before incrementally decreasing toward a range of 5,000 cfs to 5,500 cfs around May 29.

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee Meeting on Monday, May 22, 2017

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

Here’s the release from the New Mexico Environment Department (Allison Scott Majure):

New Mexico’s Gold King Mine Spill Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), based out of San Juan County, New Mexico, meets Monday, May 22, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in the San Juan College Student Center‐ SUNS Room (accessible through the Henderson Fine Arts Center) in Farmington.

The Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC) is a group of 9 citizen volunteers from Northern New Mexico, including the Navajo Nation, who provide a forum for public concerns while tracking the scientific long‐term monitoring of the Gold King Mine spill’s effects in the state. At Monday’s meeting the group will hear and discuss updates from the Navajo Nation and from the U.S. EPA Region 8 as follows:

  • Presentation by Dr. Karletta Chief, University of Arizona, discussing the impact of the Gold King Mine Spill on the Animas River on the Navajo Nation, and
  • Presentation by Rebecca Thomas, EPA Superfund Project Manager-Region 8, providing an update on the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Project.
  • The meeting agenda can be found at: https://www.env.nm.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/May-2017-Agenda.pdf. The CAC works with New Mexico’s Long‐Term Impact Review Team, established by Governor Susana Martinez, to both monitor and discuss with the public the continuing effects of the August 2015 mine blowout, that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to causing which released over three million gallons of mining wastewater laden with more than a million pounds of metals into the Animas and San Juan River systems.

    For more information please visit the New Mexico Environment Department’s Gold King Mine website ( http://www.NMEDRiverWaterSafety.org ) or at http://NMENV‐Outreach@state.nm.us

    Windy Gap Firming Project gets green light from @OmahaUSACE #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District (Kiel Downing/Cheryl Moore):

    The Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, finalized its Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Windy Gap Firming Project on May 17, 2017. The project is proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Subdistrict) and involves the construction of Windy Gap Firming Project Water Supply facilities for its customers and 13 other Front Range water providers. The Subdistrict requested a Section 404 Clean Water Act (CWA) Permit from the Corps’ Omaha District Denver Regulatory Branch. “Due to the potential for significant environmental impacts to the East and West Slopes of Colorado, this project resulted in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)” said Kiel Downing, Denver Regulatory Office Chief. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) was the lead federal agency preparing the EIS, and the Corps participated as a Cooperating Agency.

    The original Windy Gap Project, constructed in the early 1980’s, was intended to provide more than 40,000 acre-feet of firm yield to the east slope, but due to operational constraints that didn’t happen. The project currently captures water from the Colorado River, pumps it to existing reservoirs on the west slope and moves the water through a tunnel system (the Colorado-Big Thompson Project operated by Reclamation) to the Front Range of Colorado. Because of the historic deficiency in water deliveries and lack of storage, the Windy Gap Project participants have not been able to fully rely on existing Windy Gap Project water for meeting a portion of their annual water demand. As a result, the participants, initiated the proposed construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which would firm all or a portion of their individual Windy Gap Project water allotment units to meet a portion of existing and future municipal and industrial water requirements. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir, as proposed, is a 90,000 AF capacity reservoir that will be dammed at the northern and southern limits.

    Reclamation published the Windy Gap Firming Project, Environmental Impact Statement in November of 2011, and ROD on December 12, 2014. The State CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification began shortly thereafter with the Subdistrict submitting its application to the State in March of 2015. The State issued the Section 401 WQC for the WGFP on March 25, 2016. This determination was necessary for the Corps determination under Section 404 of the CWA. The Subdistrict provided the Corps its Mitigation Plan for permanent and temporary impacts to Waters of the U.S. associated with the WGFP on March 17, 2017 and the Corps with continued agency collaboration, updated study information, and new Federal and State requirements, finalized their ROD shortly thereafter marking the end of the federal approval process.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jeff Stahla):

    Kiel Downing, Denver regulatory office chief for the Corps of Engineers, announced Wednesday afternoon the Record of Decision for the Clean Water Act permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes the reservoir.

    With the final federal permit in hand, Northern Water officials can start planning for construction of the $400 million project, which is set to start in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Northern Water Public Information Officer Brian Werner.

    “We’re smiling,” Werner said. “These things come along once in a generation.”

    Berthoud-based Northern Water will manage the construction of a pair of dams in a valley west of Carter Lake that will hold approximately 90,000 acre-feet of water, or about 29 billion gallons — enough water for more than 90,000 households.

    Water to fill Chimney Hollow will come from the Colorado River basin in years when its flows are above average. The water will be carried through a diversion at Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County to Lake Granby and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Municipalities including Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley conceived of Windy Gap in 1970. The need for storage space for the communities involved to “firm” their ownership of the Windy Gap water rights expanded in later years to include Chimney Hollow Reservoir because in above-average precipitation years, Lake Granby often does not have enough space to store the additional water.

    Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said he was ecstatic when he heard about the Corps of Engineers’ approval, comparing it to Christmas.

    In his time serving on the Loveland City Council and then the Colorado House of Representatives, he has seen how much the storage project was needed…

    For cities such as Loveland, Windy Gap water fills an important role for its municipal users because it is a 365-day-a-year, deliverable water source, unlike in-basin seasonal water offered through local ditch companies. It will join the Colorado-Big Thompson Project shares in the city’s water portfolio…

    McKean acknowledges that because the water has not been diverted before, questions and concerns will emerge from Western Slope water users and communities. However, because the Windy Gap Firming Project water is available only in years of above-average flows on the Colorado River, municipalities on the Front Range won’t be served until water rights holders on the Western Slope get their allocations.

    He said he will be in Montrose this summer at a meeting of the Uncompahgre Water Users Association to talk about the project’s effect on the basins and in the context of the state water plan.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The federal government gave final approval Wednesday for a $400 million dam and reservoir in northern Colorado where 13 cities and water districts will store water from the other side of the Continental Divide.

    The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir in the foothills about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver.

    The corps regulates some of the environmental impacts of big water projects.

    It is the last approval the reservoir needs, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which oversees the project.

    Construction could start in early 2019, after the district refines the plans, hires a project manager and awards contracts.

    Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.

    The 13 water providers own the rights to the water but have nowhere to store it. The project is formally called the Windy Gap Firming Project because it would firm up the water supply.

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir will store up to 90,000 acre-feet (1.1 million cubic meters). One acre-foot (1,200 cubic meters) can supply two typical households for a year.

    New reservoirs are always contentious in Colorado. Water managers and urban planners argue the state needs more because it does not have the capacity to store all the water it is entitled to under agreements with other states. They also say Colorado needs more water for its growing population.

    Some conservationists oppose new reservoirs because of their environmental damage and because the state’s rivers are already overtaxed.

    “The Colorado River is on life support right now,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”

    Wockner said his group will likely challenge the Corps of Engineers permit in court.

    Trout Unlimited negotiated some environmental improvements in the Colorado River near the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the project. Mely Whiting, an attorney for the group, said she had not yet seen the final Corps of Engineers permit.

    Water providers that will pay for and benefit from the Chimney Hollow Reservoir are the cities of Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Superior, Evans, Lafayette and Fort Lupton, as well as the Central Weld County and Little Thompson water districts.