The Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District presents the 1st Annual Upper Gunnison River Basin Water Roundup, Thursday, June 9, 2022

Don’t waste Mother Nature’s gift: Weekend storm was no #drought buster, but it does mean you can turn off your sprinklers for days — News on Tap

Click the link to read the article on the News on Tap website (Denver Water):

The piles of snow left by last weekend’s storm have melted away, but lawns and landscapes are benefiting from the free water the storm brought to the metro area.

That means lawns won’t need extra water, in the form of sprinklers and irrigation systems, for days, even a week as more rain is in the forecast.

Denver Water saw customer demand drop by about half over the weekend as its customers did a great job responding to Mother Nature’s free water by turning off their sprinklers.

Let all that water soak in! And challenge yourself: Don’t water your lawn until it needs it. (Take the screwdriver test.) Photo credit: Denver Water.

In fact, you’re doing your lawn a favor by turning off the sprinklers and keeping them off for several days after the weekend storm — or any upcoming rain. Babied lawns that get too much water too often can have trouble with Colorado’s hotter summer months.

(And watering too much too often will drive up your monthly water bill to boot!)

“Your lawn can last longer than you think,” said Austin Krcmarik, a water efficiency expert at Denver Water. “Challenge yourself, see how long you can keep your sprinklers off.”

An easy way to test for soil moisture is to probe your lawn with a screwdriver. If it goes into the soil easily, that indicates sufficient moisture. Watch the video below to see how quick and easy this test is to perform.

While the storm dumped up to 2 feet of snow in Colorado’s mountains, it wasn’t a drought buster. (And other parts of the state didn’t see much from the storm.) Denver Water’s planners do not expect the utility’s reservoirs to completely fill this season.

“We hope to fill our reservoirs after every runoff season to help supply us through the hot summer months and into next year,” said Krcmark. “We already know that isn’t going to happen this season, but you can help keep water in our reservoirs by keeping those sprinklers off after storms.”

A general rule of thumb is that you can skip a watering day when we receive ¼ inch within 24 hours.

Weather watchers estimate the storm delivered 1 to 1.5 inches of water to the metro area. And, with the potential for more rain in Denver’s forecast, you may not need to water at all this week.

For now, Denver Water’s regular summer watering rules remain in effect, but additional restrictions could be needed if conditions warrant this summer.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is in Denver Water’s watershed where the utility collects water, reported receiving 19 inches of snow from the weekend storm. Lots of snow, though unfortunately it wasn’t a drought buster. Photo credit: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

#Water for the #ColoradoRiver Delta in a Dry Year: Binational agreement a model for river management in a #climatechange world — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Water flows in the Colorado River Delta. Photo: Claudio Contreras Koob

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

The Colorado River is once again flowing in its delta. The flows, which began on May 1, are the result of binational collaboration and deliberate management. The water is dedicated to supporting the ecosystem and local communities in a landscape where the river has not flowed for most years in the past half century. It is a heartening bit of good news for the Colorado River, which earlier this year was designated as America’s most endangered river.

This year’s flow will be very similar to the managed flow in the delta in 2021. The water purposefully bypasses the driest reaches of the delta, diverted from the Colorado River at the border into Mexico’s irrigation system, where it travels via concrete lined canals to be reconnected with the river some 40 miles downstream. From there water flows down the river’s channel, past more than 1000 acres of painstakingly restored riverside forest, towards the Upper Gulf of California. Like last year, this year’s flow is about 35,000 acre-feet of water (11.4 billion gallons), delivered over nearly 5 months from May 1 to September 20. In a year where we cannot seem to escape horrible news about climate change, wildfires, and water shortages, the delta flow is a sign that it is still possible to improve management on the Colorado River. As climate change impacts continue to bear down on the region, this type of management will be more important than ever.

Dozens of scientists are deployed to the field to measure the impact of this water delivery and provide suggestions for how to use a managed flow to improve environmental benefits in a region known to support some 380 bird species including Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Heermann’s Gulls. With continued input of scientists over the years, the design of these flows aims to optimize the location and timing of water deliveries to support restored and remnant river habitats, the birds that use them, and residents of nearby Mexican communities that are rediscovering a river in their midst.

The managed delta flow is the result of improved hydro-diplomacy between the United States and Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, along with federal water agencies in both countries—the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and CONAGUA—today operate under Minute 323, a 2017 treaty agreement that modernized Colorado River management first established in a 1944 Treaty. Minute 323 recognizes the value of water for the environment, for the river itself, a value the original Treaty did not consider.

Minute 323 may sound like an arcane bit of law, but consider its impact: in 2022, for the first time, a shortage was declared on the Colorado River, and Mexico along with Arizona and Nevada received less than its full allocation of water (there is a parallel U.S. domestic agreement, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan). This could have been the beginning of a major international conflict—in the 1960’s more than 10,000 Mexicali farmers protested for days on the steps of the American consulate in response to degraded Colorado River water quality from the United States, and eventually Mexico’s President Echeverria brought the concern to an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. But in 2022, the United States reduced deliveries of Colorado River water to Mexico, and with Minute 323 in place, it was implemented without remark.

As climate change continues to aridify the Colorado River basin, and water availability continues to decline, the provisions in Minute 323 to share water shortages proportionally – equitably – stands as a model of good management. It might even be a helpful model for the seven U.S. states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., N.M., Nev., Utah, and Wyo.) that must develop shortage-sharing agreements among themselves sufficient to adapt to the river’s declining water supply.

The managed delta flow is the result of improved hydro-diplomacy between the United States and Mexico. The U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission, along with federal water agencies in both countries—the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and CONAGUA—today operate under Minute 323, a 2017 treaty agreement that modernized Colorado River management first established in a 1944 Treaty. Minute 323 recognizes the value of water for the environment, for the river itself, a value the original Treaty did not consider.

Minute 323 may sound like an arcane bit of law, but consider its impact: in 2022, for the first time, a shortage was declared on the Colorado River, and Mexico along with Arizona and Nevada received less than its full allocation of water (there is a parallel U.S. domestic agreement, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan). This could have been the beginning of a major international conflict—in the 1960’s more than 10,000 Mexicali farmers protested for days on the steps of the American consulate in response to degraded Colorado River water quality from the United States, and eventually Mexico’s President Echeverria brought the concern to an Oval Office conversation with President Nixon. But in 2022, the United States reduced deliveries of Colorado River water to Mexico, and with Minute 323 in place, it was implemented without remark.

As climate change continues to aridify the Colorado River basin, and water availability continues to decline, the provisions in Minute 323 to share water shortages proportionally – equitably – stands as a model of good management. It might even be a helpful model for the seven U.S. states (Ariz., Calif., Colo., N.M., Nev., Utah, and Wyo.) that must develop shortage-sharing agreements among themselves sufficient to adapt to the river’s declining water supply.

Minute 323’s impact goes further: under its provisions, the United States committed millions of dollars to help upgrade agricultural water supply infrastructure in the Mexicali Valley, and Mexico has conserved and stored more than 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in the United States, helping to prop up water storage in a reservoir that is dwindling too quickly.

Under Minute 323, the United States and Mexico successfully began to manage the declining Colorado River water supply, helping to improve conditions for water users in both countries, while also making environmental water commitments. Colorado River water users and river lovers alike owe a debt of gratitude to the leaders who negotiated Minute 323, and should ask for nothing less from future Colorado River management agreements.

Upper #SanJuanRiver #drought #snowpack #runoff conditions (May 22, 2022) — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

A May 16 press release from Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) District Manager Justin Ramsey urges residents to reduce water consumption due to worsening drought conditions.

It states, “The NRCS SnoTel station reached a Snow Water Equivalency (SWE) of 0” on May 10th a full three weeks quicker than the median. The median date for reaching a SWE of 0” is May 31st.

“Per the Districts Drought Management Plan we would have triggered the Voluntary Drought Stage had the SWE occurred 2 days earlier on the 8th of May.

“Although we are not in a Voluntary Drought Stage, the unseasonably high temperatures and winds will make for a high water use season. Our weekly water use has increased by 2 million gallons over last years weekly usage.

“The District is requesting everyone conserve water and use outside irrigation sparingly. Please do not water between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Watering during the hottest part of the day wastes water as a significant portion of the irrigation water evaporates prior to percolating into the soil, wasting not only water but your money.

Drought outlook

Stream flow for the San Juan River on May 18 at approximately 9 a.m. was 1,120 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geologi- cal Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard, down from a nighttime peak of 1,320 cfs at 2 a.m.

These numbers are down from May 11, when the river flow was at 1,390 cfs at 9:15 a.m. with a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.
As referenced in Ramsey’s press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report at the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had zero inches of snow water equivalent as of 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 18. The report also notes that the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 4 percent of the May 18 median in terms of snowpack.

Colorado Drought Monitor map May 17, 2022.

Photo gallery: Dust on snow event on Big Flat Tops — Scott Hummer

Scott writes in email, “Some locals say it’s the biggest dust on snow event they’ve seen…”

Flat top mountain May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Big Flat Tops May 19. 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Big Flat Tops May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer
Dust on Snow – Flat Top Mountain May 19, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

In case your memory about conditions in the high country has been dulled by yesterday’s beautiful snowfall.

Update: Here’s a photo 24 hours after the dust on snow event in the photos above.

Flat Top Mountain May 20, 2022. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

Is #ColoradoRiver demand management unfair to farmers? It’s complicated — @Land_Desk #COriver #aridification

Sprinklers and Four Corners Power Plant. San Juan County, New Mexico, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

Last week, [a Colorado online daily] ran an opinion piece about the dwindling Colorado River and what role agriculture may or may not play in helping to shore it up. It was written by Don Schwindt, a Cortez, Colorado, farmer, and Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Family Farm Alliance. Along with praising a Southwestern Colorado dam, they argue that agriculture is important and “must be protected by ensuring water remains on-farm.”

They go on to say:

“Now, the narrative in some recent media coverage is even more troubling. For some, the current severe drought provides a platform to advocate taking water from farmers to make more available for cities and the environment.

“The hydrology of the West may be changing, but that should not drive hasty decisions. Agricultural water cannot be simply viewed as the default “reservoir” to meet other growing water demands.”

They are referring to “demand management,” which can include encouraging farmers to plant less thirsty crops, to increasing efficiency, to paying farmers to stop watering their fields and leave the water in the river (either buying water rights and permanently transferring them, or leasing them when needed on a temporary basis).

As I read the piece, I was struck less by the arguments, which were fairly predictable, than by my reactions to the arguments. One sentence would have me scoffing, the next nodding in agreement, and another both nodding and snorting derisively. That’s not because I’m insane. It’s because these issues—the “Law of the River,” agriculture’s role in culture and ecosystems, and the Colorado River system—are complicated as all get out. And that sometimes means that the only workable solutions to the growing problems on the river are not always vary palatable. I like farmers, for example, but I also like rivers and the fish in them. It’s getting more and more difficult to have both.

The following is an attempt at a Data Dump response of sorts to the column.

The Colorado River is facing a serious supply-demand imbalance. A century ago, when the framers of the Colorado Compact got together to divvy up the river’s waters, they made a few mistakes. First, and most egregious, they didn’t include tribal nations in the negotiations, despite the fact that tribes are sovereign nations and collectively are entitled to first rights to all the water in the river. That was just wrong. Second, they overestimated the amount of water in the river, which in some ways was an honest screw up, given the records they had to work from. And, third, they parceled out too big a portion of the water they thought was in the river, leaving too small of a buffer in case their calculations were off (they were).

Natural Flow is an estimate of how much water would have naturally run past Lee’s Ferry if there were no dams or diversions upstream. It is calculated using the actual flow, historic flows, and upstream consumptive uses. Bureau of Reclamation modeling is complete to 2019; I extrapolated 2020 and 2021 based on Lake Powell inflows. The 1922 Colorado River Compact gave 7.5 million acre feet to the Upper Basin, 7.5 MAF to the Lower Basin, and (in the ‘40s) 1.5 MAF to Mexico, based on early 1900s observations. As the graph above shows, the average flows dropped below that level a decade later and stayed there aside from a brief respite in the 1980s. Source: USBR

The result: The river is over-allocated, and would be even if climate change were not a factor. So, supply was already lagging behind demand two decades ago, when the Southwest entered the megadrought in a dramatic way (i.e. 2002, the year of our desiccation). Now the supply is diminishing while demand holds steady, which is rapidly drawing down Lakes Powell and Mead (and other reservoirs). With those huge water “banks” at a critically low level, the Colorado River Basin is at its breaking point. Demand must be slashed, quickly and significantly.

While overall demand on the Colorado River trended upward from 1970 to the late 1990s, it plateaued when the region entered the current megadrought. Although this data only goes to 2010, the plateau has pretty much held. But at over 14 MAF per year, demand is significantly higher than what the river has supplied most years. Note that more water is lost to reservoir evaporation than is sent to Mexico. Source: USBR Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

The logical way to make big cuts in consumption is to go to the biggest consumers. And the biggest user of Colorado River water, by far, is not lawns, not golf courses, not the Bellagio fountain in Vegas. It is agriculture: all of those orchards, cornfields, alfalfa fields, ranches, and so on. It’s true in the Upper Basin, in the Lower Basin, and in each state except Nevada, which uses virtually all of its relatively minuscule portion of the river to keep Las Vegas from shriveling up and dissolving back into the desert.

Please visit this post at http://LandDesk.org to see larger, higher resolution images. Note that in New Mexico energy takes up a relatively large share of water. This is mostly for the coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners region, which use billions of gallons of water each year for cooling, steam-generation and other purposes. In some cases, some of this water is returned to the river, but the San Juan Generating Station—scheduled to close this year—is a zero-discharge facility, meaning all of its water use is “consumptive.” Source: USBR.

Farms’ outsized water guzzling may seem surprising, especially since residential development has been gobbling up farmland in recent decades and ag makes up a smaller and smaller portion of these states’ economies. But crops need water in the arid West and, besides, the farmers tend to have most of the water rights. And Western water law and custom encourage folks to use all of the water they have a right to, conservation be damned—the motto, “use it or lose it,” is pounded into many a Western irrigator’s head: Take all of the water to which you’re entitled and then some, whether you need it or not, or else it might end up on your neighbor’s field or, God forbid, flow back into the river!

Montezuma Tunnel entrance.

Schwindt/Keppen write, in reference to diverting Dolores River water onto the farms of Southwest Colorado’s Montezuma Valley:

“The valley’s irrigated ecosystem also improved, further enhancing critically important environments for wildlife and generating other cultural benefits. Irrigated agricultural lands provide groundwater storage, open space, and riparian habitat and wildlife corridors. They also serve as important buffers between public wildlands and expanding urban and suburban areas.”

And it’s true, kind of. It’s a stretch to say irrigation enhances the existing ecosystem, but it certainly creates its own, new ecosystems which can be quite vibrant and beautiful. Leaky ditches are especially good at feeding new wetlands, willows, cattails, cottonwoods, and birds and other wildlife. But what irrigation bestows on previously arid landscapes, it takes from once wild rivers. That is especially true on the Dolores, where in the late 1800s irrigators began diverting its waters out of the Dolores River watershed and into the San Juan River watershed, meaning the runoff did not go back into the river. That essentially dried the lower Dolores right up.

The same was happening all over the region. In the late 1880s ichthyologist David Starr Jordan surveyed area rivers. Here’s what he observed, not about the Dolores, specifically, but about the general state of streams in Colorado at the time:

Via The Land Desk.

But then came the Dolores Project, McPhee Dam and Reservoir, which Schwindt and Keppen say “put water in the dry Dolores riverbed.” Well, no, not really. What it did is take water out of the river during spring runoff and then release some of it later in the year into the riverbed that had been dried out by irrigation diversions.

McPhee Reservoir. JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

The dam started impounding water in 1983, in the midst of a string of unusually wet years. During that era, the dam did its job. The current irrigators got a more stable supply of water. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe got both drinking water from the project as well as enough to irrigate a major agricultural enterprise near the toe of Ute Mountain, providing much needed economic development. The Town of Dove Creek receives water from the project as do the formerly dryland farmers, allowing them to diversify their crops. And still the year-round flows below the dam were enough to build and sustain a cold-water fishery for trout in the first dozen or so miles below the dam and a habitat for native fish below that. In some ways the dam had set the stage for a win-win-win situation.

The Dolores River shows us what’s at stake in the fight to protect the American West — Conservation Colorado

Until it didn’t. That riverbed below the dam? It’s dry more years than not. Last year farmers had to fallow some or all of their fields. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe received only about 10 percent of its usual irrigation water, forcing it to fallow fields; the Town of Dove Creek faced the prospect of losing its drinking water supply altogether; and releases from the dam for the lower river were cut to 10 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle. For several consecutive weeks in June and July the river gauge at Slickrock registered zero. Fish died off, boating has been nearly non-existent most years, and the dearth of high spring water has allowed tamarisk and Russian olive to proliferate.

This spring’s flows on the Dolores River above the dam have actually been somewhat healthy, peaking out (rather early) at nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second.

And yet virtually none of that is making it past the dam (yes, that flat black line at the bottom represents releases. It’s at about 7.5 cubic feet per second, a mere trickle, and water managers say they will increase it to a whopping 25 cfs later this year, which is about enough to float a stick):

And even with good flows and low releases, Dolores Project irrigators are expected to get only 18% of their allocation this year. That’s up from 10% last year, but still. The dam isn’t doing the job it’s meant to do, which is to insulate users from drought. And yet, Schwindt and Keppen say the solution is not to try to reduce demand, but rather to “seriously assess projects that enhance water supplies.” They and the Farm Alliance suggest forest restoration, as well as building more water storage, i.e. dams. That won’t be enough.

Anyway, back to demand management. I think most of us can agree that farms shouldn’t be dried to allow cities to grow heedlessly, or to allow urban folks to water big lawns or keep parks green. And we can also all agree that everyone needs to manage their own demand, from the coal power plants to cities and towns to ski areas. Cities need to enhance efficiency and incentivize conservation by banning lawns, structuring water rates to discourage waste, requiring water-efficient appliances in new homes, and limiting growth. Reusing treated wastewater should be the norm. Coal plants should be shut down. Data centers, which can use as much as 1 million gallons of water per day, probably shouldn’t be sited in water-scarce areas (i.e. the Southwest).

But as the consumption graphs above make clear, all of that will only go so far. Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water, so demand management in that realm will also pay the highest dividends. This doesn’t necessarily mean fallowing vast tracts of farmland. It might just mean irrigating more efficiently, plugging leaks on ditches, or switching to less water-intensive, more nutritionally dense crops. Land Desk readers will probably know what I’m saying: Maybe plant a little less alfalfa, instead of more of it!

I know, I know, we need that alfalfa to feed the cows to make our cheeseburgers. I get it. But here’s the thing: A lot of that alfalfa is going overseas.

In other words, we are exporting our increasingly scarce Colorado River water—in the form of hay bales—to China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan. I think the agriculture industry can probably handle a little bit of demand management.

Dolores River watershed

“It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the [#ColoradoRiver Compact]…in the most careful way” — Bruce Babbit via The Los Angeles Times #COriver #aridfication

Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of the Interior and Arizona governor, said modifying the Colorado River Compact was not necessary for long-lasting solutions in 2019 but has now acknowledged the need. (Source: Water Education Foundation)

Click the link to read the article on the Los Angeles Times website (Ian James). Here’s an excerpt:

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who oversaw management of the river under President Clinton, said it’s become clear that the 1922 Colorado River Compact should be revamped to adapt to the reduced amount of water that is available as global warming compounds the 22-year megadrought in the watershed. Babbitt said that a few years ago, he had thought the seven states could get by while leaving the agreement unchanged. But the Colorado River Basin has been drying out so rapidly with rising temperatures, he said, that the pact should be updated to allow the states to proportionally scale back their water use to deal with what scientists describe as the aridification of the West.

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.

“While I once thought that these aridification scenarios were kind of abstract and way out in the future, I don’t think that anymore,” Babbitt said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “It’s absolutely urgent that we start thinking now, while there’s time, about how we adjust the compact, the regulations, the necessary reductions, in the most careful way so that we limit the damage, which can really be extreme.”

[…]

Babbitt said problems in the Colorado River Compact include how it was written, based on assumptions of much larger flows, and how certain provisions become unworkable under such dry conditions…One big reason they no longer work, Babbitt said, is that the century-old agreement includes a provision requiring the Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin, the largest share of which goes to California. The Upper Basin states face future scenarios in which they would be required to make huge and disproportionate reductions in water use, Babbitt said.

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

The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
(Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

The #DoloresRiver and the #RioGrande are melting-out quickly (May 17, 2022) — @Land_Desk

#RoaringForkRiver and #CrystalRiver streamflow well above average: Roaring Fork basin snowpack drops to less than 50% of average — @AspenJournalism #runoff

Click the link to go to the Aspen Journalism Data Dashboard (Laurine Lassalle):

The USGS gauge on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen at Stillwater, located upstream of town, measured streamflow at 247 cfs on May 15, which is 148.8% of average. That’s up from last week, when the riveu,r was flowing at 144 cfs. On May 15, 2021, the river ran at 92 cfs.

The ACES gauge, located near the Mill Street Bridge in central Aspen, measured the Roaring Fork River flowing at 223.66 on May 15. That’s lower than the Stillwater reading because the Wheeler and Salvation diversion ditches are again operating for the season. It’s also up from 128.6 cfs last week.

The Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, near Redstone, flowed at 1,340 cfs, or about 195.9% of average, on May 15. The warmer temperatures of the past week increased the streamflow of the river as the Crystal jumped from 1,060 cfs on May 13. The Crystal River at the CPW Fish Hatchery bridge ran at 1,650 cfs on May 15, up from 1,300 cfs on May 8.

Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Basin was at 48% of average, according to NOAA on May 15. It’s been below average since April 20, reaching that designation for the first time this season, the Roaring Fork Conservancy wrote on April 21.

Story map: The #ColoradoRiver is in crisis, and it’s getting worse every day — The Washington Post #COriver #aridification

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Karin Brulliard) and for the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River begins as mere streams in a marshy meadow 10,000 feet high in Rocky Mountain National Park. A few miles south, crystal-clear waters burble through the Kawuneeche Valley, its banks flanked in summer by wildflowers, spiky fallen trees and a dusty hiking trail. Small fish flicker over the stony bottom. The river is ankle-deep and narrow, hardly hinting at its outsize role as it twists down mountains, through canyons and across Southwestern deserts. But climate change, population growth, competition and other threats to the entire waterway are also vivid here in the headwaters region.

As temperatures rise, the mountain snowpack that feeds the Colorado river is diminishing over time and melting earlier. That decreasing runoff is more quickly soaking into Western Colorado’s parched terrain and evaporating into its hotter air. Less water is flowing downriver, depriving the ranchers, rafters, anglers and animals who depend on it.

“It feels to me like the future is accelerating really quickly now,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, which spans 15 Western Colorado counties. “We’ve been talking to our water users about the impacts of climate change and decreasing supply of water on the river for probably eight or nine years now. It’s really kind of hitting home.”

[…]

Middle Dutch Creek near the Grand River Ditch. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

But even before the Colorado lands in the valley, distant demands on its water begin. About 30 percent of the runoff from the nearby Never Summer Mountains, which would naturally flow into the river, is diverted by a channel called the Grand Ditch and delivered to Colorado’s arid and fast-growing east.

It is one of dozens of ditches and tunnels and reservoirs that underlie a common complaint on this side of the Rockies: About 80 percent of Colorado’s precipitation falls here on the Western Slope. About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the other side — and those residents think too little about where their water comes from, people in the west say.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Far from #LakePowell, #drought punishes another Western dam — The Los Angeles Times #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

View below Flaming Gorge Dam from the Green River, eastern Utah. Photo credit: USGS

Click the link to read the article on The Los Angeles Times website (Sammy Roth). Here’s an excerpt:

Flaming Gorge is clearly a marvel of engineering, from pendulum-like “plumb lines” that help Reclamation employees ensure the 60-year-old concrete structure isn’t moving around too much, to “weep holes” that reduce pressure buildup by allowing water to seep through fissures in the canyon walls on either side of the dam. Electric lines extend upward from the blockish power plant, soaring out of the canyon through a series of transmission towers that send carbon-free energy to the Black Hills, Burbank and beyond…

The Biden administration said this month it would release an extra 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir over the next year, as part of a desperate effort to stop Powell from falling so low that Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate power. That’s on top of the 125,000 acre-feet that Flaming Gorge contributed to Powell in a first-of-its kind series of releases last year…

Hydropower has long been a backbone of the Western power grid, with rivers from the Colorado to the Columbia fueling the growth of cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Seattle. And even as some environmental activists campaign to demolish certain dams and restore the ecosystems they destroyed, hydropower turbines have become an increasingly valuable tool for keeping the lights on after sundown, when solar panels stop generating electricity. The threat of power shortages is real — especially on stiflingly hot summer evenings when the entire West is baking, and people have no choice but to keep blasting their air conditioners after sundown. Those are the kinds of conditions that prompted rolling blackouts in California in August 2020, with state officials warning that the potential for outages could be worse this summer.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com
Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

Aspinall Unit Forecast for Spring Operations (May 13, 2022)

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight). Click to enlarge:

Upper #SanJuan River #snowpack, #runoff, and #drought report: The Upper San Juan is pretty much melted-out — The #PagosaSprings Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike). Here’s an excerpt:

Stream flow for the San Juan River peaked on May 8 at approximately midnight at 1,970 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This peak matches almost exactly the timing of last year’s peak flow of 1,280 cfs, which occurred on May 8 at approximately 1 a.m. As of 10:45 a.m. on May 11, the river flow was at 1,360 cfs, down from a nighttime peak of 1,830 cfs at 12:15 a.m.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Water and Climate Center’s snowpack report, the Wolf Creek summit, at 11,000 feet of elevation, had 9.9 inches of snow water equivalent as of noon on Wednesday, May 11. The Wolf Creek summit is at 30 percent of the May 11 snowpack median. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins were at 19 percent of the May 11 median in terms of snowpack.

Colorado Drought Monitor map May 10, 2022.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought, with April 2022 being the eighth driest April in 128 years, with 1.22 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 being the 11th driest year in the last 128 years, with 4.15 inches of precipitation below normal. The NIDIS places the entire county in a moderate drought, which the website notes may cause rangeland growth to be stunted, very little hay to be available, dryland crops to suf fer and wildfires to increase. The NIDIS also shows 18.8 percent of the county, primarily on the southern edge, in a severe drought, which may cause farmers to reduce planting, producers to sell cattle and the wildfire season to be ex tended. The NIDIS also notes that a severe drought is associated with low snowpack and surface-water levels and reduced river flow.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map May 14, 2022 via the NRCS.

As #LakePowell dries up, the US turns to creative accounting for a short-term fix — The #Water Desk #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on The Water Desk website (Jake Bittle, Grist). Here’s an excerpt:

A new agreement calls for Western states to leave their drinking water in the reservoir — and act as if they didn’t.

Late last week, the states agreed to forfeit their water from Lake Powell in order to ensure that the reservoir can still produce power. The deal puts a finger in the metaphorical dike, postponing an inevitable reckoning with the years-long drought that has parched the Colorado River — and a wrenching tradeoff between power access and water access for millions. It does so, in part, through an unusual act of hydrological accounting.

The deal has two parts. The first and more straightforward part is that the federal government will move 500,000 acre-feet of water (about 162 billion gallons) from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir into Lake Powell, bumping up water levels in the latter body. Flaming Gorge, which stretches across Wyoming and Utah, is mostly used for water recreation, so the immediate effects of the transfer will be minimal. The feds could do more of these water transfers later in the year if things get worse, drawing on water from other nearby reservoirs.

The second part is more complicated — and less helpful. In ordinary circumstances, the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Lake Powell into an even larger reservoir called Lake Mead, from which it then flows to households and farms across the Southwest. As part of the deal, the states that rely on Mead water are agreeing to leave about 480,000 acre-feet of that water in Lake Powell, thus lowering the water levels in Mead. (Reclamation already announced earlier this year that it would delay the release of 350,000 acre-feet of water in Powell in anticipation of spring snow runoff.)

Construction kicks off at Gross Reservoir: Denver Water’s critical project to raise the dam by 131 feet gets underway — News On Tap #BoulderCreek #FraserRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Denver Water website (Jay Adams):

Construction began April 1 on Denver Water’s five-year project to expand Gross Reservoir by raising the height of the dam.

The reservoir and dam, located in the foothills west of Boulder, were named after former Denver Water Chief Engineer Dwight Gross. The dam was completed in 1954 to store water from the West Slope for Denver’s growing population.

The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.

Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

The dam was originally designed to be raised in the future when needed.
Now, Denver Water is raising the height of the dam by 131 feet to help ease a storage imbalance in the utilities’ water collection system. Once completed, Gross will be the tallest dam in Colorado.

“We’ve been busy bringing trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment to the site to prepare for construction,” said Doug Raitt, construction manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “A lot has to be done just to prepare the site for all the work that has to happen.”

Crews navigate a winding road near the dam to bring a large crane to the construction site. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Early work involves blasting rock on the sides of the canyon to make way for the additional concrete that will be placed over the downstream face and above the existing dam.

A machine drills holes into the rock above the dam to place explosives for blasting operations. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Crews also are building a walkway on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam to provide access for workers to walk from one side of the dam to the other.

Upcoming work includes hydroblasting 2 to 3 inches of concrete from the face of the dam so the new concrete will adhere to it. Part of the dam’s spillway will also be removed to prepare for the addition.

Early work involves installing walkways on the upstream side, or reservoir side, of the dam. The walkways are needed because the top of the dam will be removed to make way for the addition. Photo credit: Denver Water.

To raise the dam, crews will start at the bottom and extend the base of the dam out. Then they will build a series of steps up to the dam’s new height — similar to what you see on the sides of an Egyptian pyramid.

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

“When it’s done, it will be the largest dam in Colorado and nearly triple the storage capacity of the existing reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, manager of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project for Denver Water. “We’re really excited to begin construction on this important project.”

Doug Raitt, construction project manager for Denver Water, stands next to a 60-ton dump truck at the construction site on April 20, 2022. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Martin said that work conducted during 2022 and 2023 will be mostly site preparation for the on-site concrete production and foundation work on the rock on the sides of the dam and around the bottom.

At the height of construction there may be as many as 400 workers on site at a time, Raitt said.

“Raising a dam is often trickier than simply building a new one,” Raitt said. “We have to continue sending water through the dam during construction while transforming the dam into a new structure.”

Crews remove rock that has been blasted away on the north side of the dam. The area near the red machine at the top of the picture will be the new crest of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Throughout the project, safety will be the No. 1 priority at the site.

“Denver Water and our construction partners have an emphasis on safety for the public and our workers every day,” Raitt said. “We all go through safety training and will continue to evaluate our operations throughout the project.”

Workers take part in safety training with Kiewit-Barnard, the general contractor for the expansion project in April. At the peak of construction, up to 400 workers will be on-site at the dam during the day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Protecting the environment and wildlife is another important part of the project. Denver Water worked with biologists to make sure there were no bird nests in the area before the start of construction and will continue to do so throughout the project.

Additional environmental mitigation efforts were put in place to protect South Boulder Creek and the reservoir from sediment and erosion washing in during the work. These efforts will continue throughout the project.

Erosion control measures are put up around construction areas to protect dirt and rocks from falling or washing into South Boulder Creek and Gross Reservoir. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Denver Water also is spending time updating community members around the reservoir.

“It’s important that we let them know what’s happening with the project,” Raitt said.

“For months, we’ve been doing outreach to the community with public meetings, newsletters and emails. We’ve received a lot of feedback from our neighbors letting us know what’s important to them and we’ll continue to work with them and update them throughout the project.”

Denver Water is hosting community meetings with residents who live around Gross Reservoir to update them on the project and answer questions. Photo credit: Denver Water.

#Aridification Watch: May edition As the snow season wraps up, how are things looking? — @Land_Desk #snowpack #runoff

Click the link to read the article on The Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson) and to drop some dough in the tip jar:

It’s that time of the year, again, folks. Yep, you guessed it, it’s … Yukigata Time! Okay, maybe you didn’t guess it. Maybe you have no idea what the word even means. But I’m willing to bet you are familiar with the concept and, if you are a farmer or a gardener, you probably use a yukigata.

A yukigata is a pattern formed by melting snow on a mountain slope or hillside in the spring. They often serve as agricultural calendars, letting farmers know when to plant certain crops, or when the danger of a tomato-killing freeze has passed. The calendars can be simple: over in the Montezuma Valley gardeners wait until Ute Mountain is free of snow to plant. Or more elaborate: In the Grand Valley of Colorado, it would be foolish to plant before the Swan’s Neck has melted. And in the North Fork Valley of Western Colorado, gardeners wait for the Devil’s Neck on Mt. Lamborn to “break.”

But the yukigatas have been doing their thing, or disappearing, sooner than in the past, tricking people into planting too early and making their crops vulnerable to the inevitable spring freeze. In Durango, Colorado, for example, gardeners once planted according to when the snow melted off the north face of Smelter Mountain. Now that can happen as soon as March—if there’s snow on the mountain at all—which is just too early.

This also messes with plants’ internal calendars, tricking fruit trees into blossoming too early. A study published this spring found wildflowers in the sagebrush ecosystem now bloom weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s. And here’s a cool map from the National Phenology Network showing where trees leafed out earlier (or later) than usual this year.

Clearly the premature melting of the yukigata is caused by less snow to begin with combined with warming temperatures. Dust on the snow causes it to melt faster, too. As does, wait for it, atmospheric thirst! That’s right, the increasing temperatures are making the atmosphere thirstier, and it’s guzzling up snow, drying out plants, sucking up reservoirs, and so on. Last month, scientists from the Desert Research Institute published a study tracking changes in evaporative demand and found it is increasing everywhere, especially in the Southwest.

As evaporative demand increases, it pulls more water from the land into the air via evaporation and transpiration from plants (and snow and reservoirs), leaving less in the streams and soil. In the Rio Grande Basin, the authors say, that means crops need 8% to 15% more irrigation now than they did in 1980. They go on to note, “These increases in crop water requirements are coincident with declining runoff ratios on the Rio Grande due to warming temperatures and increased evaporative losses, representing a compounding stress on water supplies.”

The authors conclude:

“These higher evaporative demands mean that, for every drop of precipitation that falls, less water is likely to drain into streams, wetlands, and aquifers across the region. Soils and vegetation spend more time in drier conditions, increasing potential for forest fire, tree mortality, and tree regeneration failure.”

So the thirsty atmosphere is likely a factor in the catastrophic fires currently burning in New Mexico. The Hermits Peak Fire—in the Pecos River watershed, east of the Rio Grande—has grown to a monstrous 166,000 acres and is threatening Las Vegas, Mora, and Montezuma.

This year neither the Rio Grande nor the Pecos watershed has done all that well, snowpack-wise. Not many watersheds have, although Southwest Colorado is in better shape than it was last year. Snow season is pretty much over. That doesn’t mean it won’t snow any more in the high country. It’s just that the snowpack peak has almost certainly passed, runoff is underway, and many lower elevation SNOTEL stations are registering zero, which can throw off basin-wide graphs. So, below we offer the snowpack season finale with May 1 readings at our three go-to high country SNOTEL , plus the current graph for the Rio Grande Basin.

The bright spot is definitely Columbus Basin, high in the La Plata Mountains. It’s below the average level for the period of record, but still doing far better than 2021. The La Platas feed the Animas, La Plata, Mancos, and Dolores Rivers. Last year the Dolores had an awful year. Things are looking up this time around—relatively speaking. The Dolores River through its namesake town shot up to 1,800 cfs at one point, dropped, then shot back up again, pushing up levels at McPhee significantly. Still, don’t goo excited. McPhee’s only at 59% of capacity and water managers are releasing virtually nothing from the dam.

River runners better get out on the water now, while they still can.

#Drought prompts ‘unprecedented’ Flaming Gorge drawdown — #WyoFile #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Cliffs tower over Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. (RJ Pieper)

Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Dustin Bleizeffer):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release an extra 500,000 acre feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to help maintain hydroelectric generation at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam amid drought conditions that have parched the West for more than two decades.

The action will draw down Flaming Gorge Reservoir’s surface about 10 feet by August and possibly a total of 15 feet later in the fall, according to the BOR. News of the Flaming Gorge release follows calls on two other river systems in Wyoming in April. Those actions were also prompted by “supply side” water shortages due to persisting drought and lower snowpack.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Green River, straddles the Wyoming-Utah border south of Rock Springs. The Flaming Gorge dam, on the Utah side, was completed in 1964 and is a critical component of the Colorado River water storage system. The Green River, the chief tributary to the Colorado River, originates in the Wind River Range, flows to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, then connects with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, on the Green River, straddles the Wyoming-Utah border south of Rock Springs. The Flaming Gorge dam, on the Utah side, was completed in 1964 and is a critical component of the Colorado River water storage system. The Green River, the chief tributary to the Colorado River, originates in the Wind River Range, flows to Flaming Gorge Reservoir, then connects with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the largest in Wyoming with a storage capacity of nearly 3.8 million acre feet of water, is well-suited to provide extra flows to help address supply shortages on the Colorado River, according to former Wyoming State Engineer Patrick Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“There will be no additional regulation for municipalities or irrigators or industry in the Wyoming part of the [Colorado River] basin because of what’s going on at Flaming Gorge,” Tyrrell said. “However, we have to be vigilant.”

‘Unprecedented’ conservation measures

The release from Flaming Gorge is part of an “unprecedented” water conservation effort on the Colorado River, which serves tens of millions of people in the American southwest and northern Mexico.

In addition to the release from Flaming Gorge, the BOR will withhold 480,000 acre feet of water in Lake Powell, while Colorado River Lower Basin users have agreed to increased water conservation measures. The Upper Colorado Basin 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan will remain in effect until early 2023.

“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado River Basin,” Interior Department Assistant Secretary Tanya Trujillo said during a press call on Tuesday. “The conditions we see today, and the potential risks we see on the horizon, demands that we take prompt action.”

Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah side near the dam in September 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

The surface elevation at Lake Powell recently fell to 3,522 feet, the lowest since construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s. Water intake ducts at the dam’s hydroelectric power station would no longer function if the lake’s surface level reaches 3,490 feet, according to the BOR.

The rebalancing of water supplies between the Upper Basin — which includes Wyoming — and Lower Basin stakeholders is necessary to ensure hydroelectric generation and water supply for the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation and the city of Page, Ariz., the BOR said. Stakeholders in all seven Colorado River Basin states, along with partners in Mexico, agreed to BOR’s conservation actions for this year through a process spelled out in the Colorado River 2019 Drought Contingency Plan.

Although the BOR’s authority over the Colorado River water storage system didn’t require Wyoming’s approval for the drought contingency actions, Wyoming supports the effort, said Tyrrell, adding that it is also in the state’s interest.

“We can’t sit by and just keep [Flaming] Gorge full while everybody else below us is drying up,” Tyrrell said. “Protecting the power pool Lake Powell is really an ultimate goal for all of us — from compact compliance, to the power grid, to funding for reclamation, to environmental programs. Lake Powell is a very key component in that river.”

The Highway 191 Cart Creek Bridge spans Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. (RJ Pieper)

#Drought won’t impact #GlenwoodSprings drinking #water supply — The Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

While snow water equivalent, aka snowpack, feeding the basins north of Glenwood Springs is 8% below average, Langhorst said the city’s main water sources — Grizzly and No Name creeks — provide more than enough water to meet the city’s needs, even in the dry years. The first of two primary water sources, Grizzly Creek basin’s lowest snowpack was recorded in 1977, yet the basin still produced more than 4,000 acre feet of water that year. Glenwood Springs uses about 2,200 acre feet of water annually, Langhorst said. Before pulling from Grizzly Creek, however, the city relies on No Name Creek, but no monitors are in place to monitor snowpack feeding the source…

The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)

Ample water supply, however, doesn’t mean water restrictions are off the table. Langhorst said the city’s watering restrictions in recent years were implemented to facilitate repairs to water plant infrastructure and accommodate for historic spikes of sediment flowing into the system as a result of debris flows. To alleviate stress on the system and lessen the likelihood of future restrictions, the city invested about $8.5 million in water infrastructure upgrades in anticipation to and as a result of the debris flows. Following the infrastructure upgrades, the city can treat about 8.5 million gallons a day and store up to 6 million gallons.

On the hottest days, the city typically uses up to 4.5 million gallons a day.

#Water rights secured for #Ouray Ice Park — Ouray County Plain Dealer

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Click the link to read the article on the Ouray County Plain Dealer website (Mike Wiggins). Here’s an excerpt:

Water court referee S. Gregg Stanway approved a conditional water right for the city of Ouray that will provide 1.1111 cubic feet per second of water from Canyon Creek to the ice park, as well as Ouray Silver Mines’ request to effectively convey its conditional recreational water right to the ice park, providing an additional 3.34 cfs of water. District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick confirmed Stanway’s rulings. The granting of the conditional water rights was the lynchpin in an arrangement among the city, the mine and the ice park. The mine agreed to lease to the city a portion of its water rights that are currently decreed to the Revenue-Virginius Mine, with the city paying $1 a year for the lease for a 10-year term that can be renewed. The ice park will manage the lease…

Ice park managers had initially planned to build a 3-mile water line along County Road 361 and use the city’s water rights to obtain water from Weehawken Creek. But that project carried a $3 million price tag and a lengthy timeline for completion, given that the pipeline would have crossed U.S. Forest Service and private land.

Instead, mine officials proposed donating the conditional recreational water right to the park, noting the mine wasn’t using that water. The mine has access to close to another 3 cfs as part of its water right. Water will be pumped out of Canyon Creek into the park. The revised project is expected to cost around $1 million. The ice park currently uses about 350 gallons a minute to create ice in the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water right from the mine will provide three or four times that amount. And more water should allow for the creation of another 25 to 40 climbing routes, joining the roughly 150 routes that already exist in the park.

“We’ll have more than enough water now,” Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil said Tuesday. “The biggest issue is making sure we have cold enough temperatures, but when we do, we’ll be able to make ice like a maniac.”

Graphic credit Xylem US.

With the water rights in hand, the plan now is for the mine to hire a contractor to drill a well in Canyon Creek just upstream from the confluence with the Uncompahgre River and install a vertical turbine pump in the bottom of the creek. Water can then be pumped into the gorge and the pipeline in the park. O’Neil said the timing of the pump installation depends on flows in Canyon Creek. He’s hoping to do it either late this spring or early in the fall. The goal is to have the project finished in time for park employees to start farming ice using the new system in the fall of 2022.

#Palisade hatchery program releases 250 endangered fish into #ColoradoRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021:

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Nathan Deal). Here’s an excerpt:

Students in Palisade High School’s fish hatchery program released the fish at Riverbend Park on Wednesday, the culmination of a full school year of taking care of the fish until they were ready to live in the river.

http://https://twitter.com/LaPolicy/status/1522264296239079425

Some students, as well as Palisade teacher and fish hatchery coordinator Patrick Steele, even planted farewell kisses on some of the Razorback Suckers before releasing them into their permanent home…

At the beginning of the school year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fish Culturist Mike Gross, also the information and education coordinator with Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, brings the razorback suckers to the school, where students care for the fish under Steele’s guidance…

Because razorback suckers are on the Endangered Species List, by law, the Colorado River District and the Upper Colorado River District have to allow a certain amount of water to flow through the river in order to create enough space for these fish to live in a new habitat safely.

“That helps water flow downriver, keeping it out of reservoirs and things like that, being able to then keep our canals full to irrigate and so forth,” Steele said. “It really is a great partnership between our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the fish recovery program they run, our irrigation district, our cultural groups and farmers. It’s pretty neat that all those entities need to get together to keep these endangered species rolling and fish flowing through our river.”

Western river compacts were innovative in the 1920s but couldn’t foresee today’s #water challenges — The Conversation


Colorado River water flows through a canal that feeds farms in Casa Grande, Ariz., on July 22, 2021.
AP Photo/Darryl Webb

Patricia J. Rettig, Colorado State University

The Western U.S. is in a water crisis, from California to Nebraska. An ongoing drought is predicted to last at least through July 2022. Recent research suggests that these conditions may be better labeled aridification – meaning that warming and drying are long-term trends.

On the Colorado River, the country’s two largest reservoirs – Lake Powell and Lake Mead – are at their lowest levels in 50 years. This could threaten water supplies for Western states and electricity generation from the massive hydropower turbines embedded in the lakes’ dams. In August 2021 the federal government issued a first-ever water shortage declaration for the Colorado, forcing supply cuts in several states.

The seven Colorado River Basin states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – signed a water sharing agreement, the Colorado River Compact, in 1922. Some observers are now calling for renegotiating the compact to correct errors and oversights. Nebraska and Colorado are also arguing over water from the South Platte River, which they share under a separate agreement signed in 1923.

A black and white photo shows men in suits gathered around a desk covered with papers
Delph Carpenter, standing at center, at the signing of bills approving the Colorado River and South Platte River compacts in 1925.
Colorado State University Water Resources Archive, CC BY-ND

My work as head archivist for Colorado State University’s Water Resources Archive gives me a unique perspective on these conflicts. Our collection includes the papers of Delph Carpenter, a lawyer who developed the concept of interstate river compacts and negotiated both the Colorado and South Platte agreements.

Carpenter’s drafts, letters, research and reports show that he believed compacts would reduce litigation, preserve state autonomy and promote the common good. Indeed, many states use them now. Viewing Carpenter’s documents with hindsight, we can see that interstate river compacts were an innovative solution 100 years ago – but were written for a West far different from today.

Water for development

In the early 1900s, there was plenty of water to go around. But there weren’t enough dams, canals or pipelines to store, move or make use of it. Devastating floods in California and Arizona spurred plans for building dams to hold back high river flows.

With the Reclamation Act of 1902, Congress directed the Interior Department to develop infrastructure in the West to supply water for irrigation. As the Reclamation Service, which later became the powerful Bureau of Reclamation, moved forward, it began planning for dams that could also generate hydropower. Low-cost electricity and irrigation water would become important drivers of development in the West.

Carpenter worried that downstream states, building dams for their own needs, would demand water from upstream states. He was especially attuned to this issue as a native of mountainous Colorado, the source of four major rivers – the Platte, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande and the Colorado. Carpenter wanted to see upper basin states “adequately protected before the construction of the structures upon the lower river.”

Map of the Colorado River basin
The Colorado River flows through seven U.S. states and Mexico, ending at the Gulf of California.
USGS

Carpenter also knew about interstate water conflicts. In 1916, a group of Nebraska irrigators sued farmers in Colorado for drying up the South Platte River at the state line. Carpenter was already lead counsel for Colorado in Wyoming v. Colorado, a case involving the Laramie River that began in 1911 and would not be resolved until 1922.

Laramie and Poudre Tunnel inlet October 3, 2010.

Carpenter viewed such legal battles as wastes of time and money. But when he proposed negotiating interstate river compacts, he was met with “skepticism, indifference, failure of comprehension or open ridicule,” he recollected in a 1934 essay.

Eventually Carpenter persuaded his Colorado clients to resolve their litigation with Nebraska by negotiating a compact to share water from the South Platte. It took seven years of data collection and discussion, but Carpenter believed the agreement would ensure “permanent peace with our neighboring state.”

Or maybe not. Today Nebraska officials want to revive an unfinished canal to pull water from the South Platte in Colorado, citing concerns about Colorado’s numerous planned upstream water projects. With Colorado officials pledging to aggressively defend their state’s water rights, the states could be headed to court.

Portioning out the Colorado

West of the Continental Divide, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles southwest to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Once, its delta was a lush network of lagoons; now the river peters out in the desert because states take so much water out of it upstream.

In 2014, the U.S. and Mexico started collaborating to restore the ecosystems of the Colorado River Delta.

When settlers developed the West, their prevailing attitude was that water reaching the sea was wasted, so people aimed to use it all. California had a bigger population than the other six Colorado River Basin states combined, and Carpenter worried that California’s river use could hinder Colorado under the prior appropriation doctrine, which dictates that the first person to use water acquires a right to use it in the future. With the U.S. Reclamation Service studying the Colorado to find good dam sites, Carpenter also feared that the federal government would take control of river development.

Carpenter studied international treaties as models for river compacts. He knew that U.S. states had a right under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution to make agreements with each other. And he believed that solving water conflicts between states required “statesmanship of the highest order.”

In 1920, officials agreed to try his approach. After the states and the federal government adopted legislation to authorize the process, representatives began meeting as the Colorado River Commission in January 1922, with then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover as chair. Meeting minutes show that negotiations nearly collapsed several times, but the end goal of rapid river development held them together.

The commissioners reached agreement in 11 months, adopting a final version of the compact in November 1922. It allocated fixed amounts of water – measured in absolute acre-feet, not percentages of the river’s flow – to the upper and lower basins. With water levels in the river declining, this approach has proved to be a major challenge today.

In 2021 the Interior Department declared a water shortage for the Colorado River, triggering supply cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

At their meetings, the commissioners discussed both the variability of the river’s flow and their lack of sufficient data for long-term planning. Yet in the final compact they allowed for dividing up surplus water starting in 1963. We know now that they used optimistic flow numbers measured during a particularly wet period.

A hotter, more crowded West

Today the West faces conditions that Carpenter and his peers did not anticipate. In 1922, Hoover imagined that the basin’s population, which totaled about 457,000 in 1915, might quadruple in the future. Today, the Colorado River supplies some 40 million people – more than 20 times Hoover’s projection.

The commissioners also didn’t anticipate climate change, which is making the west hotter and drier and shrinking the river’s volume. Some water experts say a new agreement is needed that recognizes an era of shortage. Others say renegotiation is politically impossible. The states signed a drought contingency plan in 2019, but it runs through only 2026.

Testifying before Congress in 1926 about the Colorado River Compact, Hoover stated, “If we can provide for equity for the next 40 to 75 years we can trust to the generation after the next to be as intelligent as we are today.” In the face of extreme Western water challenges, it is now up to Westerners to meet – or exceed – that expectation.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Patricia J. Rettig, Head Archivist, Water Resources Archive, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The #ColoradoRiver District (CRD) annual “Middle Colorado State of the River” recap

The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on Sopris Sun website (James Steindler). Here’s an excerpt:

Becky Bolinger, the assistant state climatologist at the Colorado State University Climate Center, was the first presenter. She explained that snowpack determines the rivers’ flows. “Even though we’re doing okay with snowpack, we really needed above average snowpack to get the inflows back to where they need to be,” she stated.

West Drought Monitor map May 3, 2022.

“We are still struggling through this long-term drought situation,” Bolinger stressed. “The summer heat is a big concern and what the precipitation does is also going to be a big concern.”

[…]

[Linsay DeFrates] further stated that with every 1% rise in temperature, streamflow is reduced by 3-9%. “Last year, we ended at 89% snowpack, but we only had 32% inflow into Lake Powell,” DeFrates explained. She referred back to Bolinger’s presentation, stating that “thirsty soils are going to drink the snowmelt first, before it becomes streamflow.”

She continued, “As we go forward, it’s going to take organization nights like this where voices are brought to the table who might not have been there before. … It’s going to take recognizing that we can’t just wish away our reality anymore.”

#Drought news (May 5, 2022): In the #ColoradoRiver Basin, #LakePowell was at 24% of capacity and Lake Mead 31% of capacity on May 3 #COriver #aridification

Click the link to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week was marked by ongoing active weather across areas of the conterminous U.S. including the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rockies, Plains, Lower Midwest, and isolated areas of the South and Southeast. The most severe weather was observed across the Central Plains and areas of the Midwest where numerous tornadoes touched down in areas including eastern Kansas, southeastern Nebraska, and northern Illinois. Widespread heavy rainfall accumulations were also observed, ranging from 2 to 7 inches, with the heaviest accumulations in eastern Nebraska. The rainfall events provided much-needed moisture to the region―boosting soil moisture levels across parched areas from Kansas to South Dakota. In the West, fast-moving storm systems delivered late season high-elevation snowfall to the Cascades of northern Oregon and Washington, the Northern and Central Rockies, and areas of the northern Great Basin. The highest snowfall totals (8 to 12+ inches) were observed in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho, the Ruby Mountains of northeastern Nevada, and the Wind River Range of Wyoming. In California and the Southwest, conditions were dry during the past week with strong winds observed across the region. The windy, dry conditions exacerbated fire-weather conditions in Arizona and New Mexico where several large early-season wildfires are currently impacting the region. In northern New Mexico, the Hermits Peak Fire, situated east of Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, has burned 147,909 acres and is only 20% contained (May 4), according to the National Interagency Coordination Center. On the water-resource front, the Colorado River Basin water situation continues to deteriorate due to the long-term impacts of drought with water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead currently at 24% full and 31% full, respectively. With Lake Powell’s water surface elevation currently at 3,522 feet, it is quickly approaching the 3,490-foot threshold level at which Glen Canyon Dam can continue to generate hydropower. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) announced (May 3) two urgent drought response actions to help bolster water levels at Lake Powell. The plan includes additional upstream releases from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir (~500,000 acre-feet [kaf] of water) as well as reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48-million acre-feet to 7 million acre-feet. In terms of this week’s map, short-term precipitation led to targeted improvements in the Pacific Northwest, Central Plains, South, and the Southeast, while degradations were registered in the Southwest, Texas, Southeast, and the Mid-Atlantic…

High Plains

On this week’s map, widespread improvements were made in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas in response to significant rainfall accumulations that helped to improve soil moisture levels and boosted streamflow levels. Rainfall totals for the week ranged from 2 to 8+ inches with the highest totals observed in central South Dakota, eastern and central Nebraska, and northern Kansas. However, some drought-stricken areas of the region, including extreme southeastern South Dakota, northeastern Nebraska, and central Kansas, largely missed out on this week’s storms. In the eastern plains of Montana, improving conditions (precipitation, soil moisture) led to reduction in areas of Severe Drought (D2) and Extreme Drought (D3). However, it should be noted that recent improvements in eastern Montana are not uniform and many areas are still coping with the impacts (agricultural) of the longer-term drought situation. Average temperatures were below normal across the northern half of the region, with negative departures ranging from 2 to 10+ deg F below normal and the greatest departures observed in eastern portions of the Dakotas. In the southern half of the region, average temperatures were 2 to 8 deg F above normal…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 3, 2022.

West

Out West, several storm systems moved through the norther tier of the region bringing light to moderate snowfall accumulations to the higher elevations of the Cascades, northern Great Basin, and the Central and Northern Rockies as well as light rainfall to coastal areas and low-lying inland valleys of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Improvements were made in areas of Moderate Drought (D1), Severe Drought (D2), Extreme Drought (D3), and Exceptional Drought (D4) in Oregon in response to a combination of factors including normal to above-normal SWE, recent storm events, and improved soil moisture levels and streamflows. Likewise, improving conditions in northern Wyoming led to removal of areas of Extreme Drought (D3) in the Big Horn Mountains where current SWE is 108% of median. Elsewhere, conditions deteriorated on the map in northwestern Arizona and across much of New Mexico. Looking at snowpack data across the West at a regional scale (2-digit HUC), the NRCS SNOTEL network (May 3) reported the following median SWE levels: Pacific Northwest 111%, Missouri 99%, Souris-Red-Rainy 116%, California 60%, Great Basin 62%, Upper Colorado 76%, Arkansas-White-Red 50%, Lower Colorado 36%, and Rio Grande 33%. According to NRCS National Water and Climate Center’s reservoir summary report (April 1), statewide reservoir storage levels were below normal in all western states with exception of Washington state. In California, the state’s two largest reservoirs are at critically low levels moving into the dry season with Shasta Lake currently at 40% of total capacity on May 3 and Lake Oroville at 55% of capacity. In Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced (April 27) that one-third of its users will be subject to restrictions that limit outdoor watering to one day per week as a measure to reduce water usage. In the Colorado River Basin, Lake Powell was at 24% of capacity and Lake Mead 31% of capacity on May 3, according to the USBR. In the Rio Grande Basin, New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir was 13% full…

South

In the South, conditions on the map were a mixed bag of improvements and degradations. In southern Louisiana, isolated areas of light-to-moderate rainfall (2 to 4 inches) improved areas of Moderate Drought (D1), Severe Drought (D2), and Extreme Drought (D3) as well as eliminated pockets of Moderate Drought (D1) in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas. In areas of Texas (Panhandle, north-central, west-central, Trans-Pecos), isolated bands of heavy rainfall (2 to 4 inches) helped to improve drought-affected areas. Conversely, the combination of above-normal temperatures, dry soils, and increased evaporative demand led to degradation in areas of the Panhandle, southeastern Texas, and the Trans-Pecos. In the Panhandle of Oklahoma, small areas of Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded in response to short-term rainfall deficits. Reports in this area include very poor rangeland conditions and local ranchers having to rely on supplemental feed for cattle. According to the latest USDA Oklahoma Crop Progress and Conditions report (May 2), wheat crop conditions were rated 51% poor to very poor and soil moisture was 63% short to very short. For the week, average temperatures were mostly above normal (2 to 8+ deg F) with the greatest positive anomalies observed across Texas and western Oklahoma…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy liquid (liquid = rain + SWE) precipitation accumulations ranging from 2 to 5+ inches across eastern portions of the Central and Southern Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley. In the Lower Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic, precipitation totals are expected to range from 1 to 3 inches. Out West, accumulations ranging from 1 to 5 inches are forecasted for the coastal ranges and the Cascades of western Oregon and Washington. Further inland, lighter accumulations (< 2 inches) are expected in the Northern Rockies of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Further south, conditions are expected to be dry across California, the Great Basin, and the Desert Southwest. The CPC 6-10-day Outlooks calls for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across the eastern two-thirds of the conterminous U.S. with exception of some coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic and Florida. Below-normal temperatures are expected across much of the West with exception of eastern portions of Colorado and New Mexico where there is a low-to-moderate probability of above-normal temperatures. In terms of precipitation, the wetter-than-normal pattern is expected to persist across the northern tier of the West as well as in areas of the Great Plains. In coastal areas of the Far West, near-normal precipitation is expected. Across much of the eastern half of the conterminous U.S., including areas of the Southern Plains, Lower Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and the Northeast, there is a moderate-to-high probability of below-normal precipitation.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 3, 2022.

Just for grins here’s a gallery of early May US Drought Monitor maps from the US Drought Monitor.

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The May 1, 2022 CBRFC unregulated #LakePowell April-July inflow forecast has dropped 300kaf to 3.8 maf #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridifcation

Stumbling Toward “Day Zero” on the #ColoradoRiver: Urgent action needed from seven states and feds to avoid #water crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Common Raven. Photo: Doug Kliewer/Audubon Photography Awards

Click the link to read the call to action on the Audubon website (Jennifer Pitt):

The Colorado River Basin is inching ever closer to “Day Zero,” a term first used in Cape Town, South Africa when they anticipated the day in 2018 that taps would run dry. Lakes Powell and Mead, the Colorado River’s two enormous reservoirs, were full in 2000, storing more than four years of the river’s average annual flow. For more than two decades water users have been sipping at that supply, watching them decline. Long-term drought and climate change is making this issue potentially catastrophic.

Today the entire Colorado River reservoir storage system is 2/3 empty.

Moreover, federal officials project that within two years, the water level in Lake Powell could be so low that it would be impossible for water to flow through the dam’s turbine intakes. When that happens, it’s clear the dam will no longer generate hydropower, but it’s also possible the dam will not release any water at all. That’s because the only other way for water to move through the dam when the water is low is a series of outlet tubes that were not designed, and have never been tested, for long-term use.

What happens if little to no water can be released from Lake Powell? Water supply risks multiply for everyone who uses water downstream. That includes residents of big cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, and farmers and ranchers in Arizona, California and Mexico who grow the majority of our nation’s winter produce, as well as numerous Native American tribes. Some of these water users have alternative supplies, but some—including Las Vegas residents, Colorado River tribes and most farmers—do not. Day Zero for these water users might not happen immediately as Lake Mead, the reservoir fed by Lake Powell still has some water in it. But without flows from upstream to replenish it, Lake Mead would also be at risk of no longer being able to release water.

There is also the river itself. Think of it—no water flowing through the Grand Canyon. No water flowing in the Colorado River for hundreds of miles downstream from Hoover Dam. That’s an ecological disaster in the making for 400 bird species and a multitude of other wildlife, exceeding the 20th century devastation of the Colorado River Delta.

In recent days, state and federal officials have announced plans to address the immediate crisis. These plans will help, but only to avert the immediate danger looming over the basin for the current year. They do nothing to decrease the unrelenting risks of Colorado River water supplies and demands out of balance, because all they do is move water from one place to another. The federal plan to reduce water releases from the Glen Canyon Dam will help this year, as Lake Powell will hold onto water that would otherwise have flowed downstream to Lake Mead. Notably, Lower Basin water users will calculate their uses as if the water was in Lake Mead anyway, delaying deeper cuts and further depleting the reservoir. The Upper Basin states also plan to release additional water from Flaming Gorge reservoir upriver in Wyoming to increase the inflow into Lake Powell. This too will help Powell, but it will reduce the supply in Flaming Gorge reservoir. The plan acknowledges this supply may not be recovered unless and until storage at Lake Powell considerably improves. Both of these plans will move water and help protect the Glen Canyon Dam’s operations in the near-term.

Moving water does not address the fundamental challenge in the Colorado River Basin and does not offer any real certainty for water users or the river itself in any corner of the basin. Colorado River water demands exceed supplies. Audubon knows that fundamentally, because we work on restoring habitat in the Colorado River Delta, where the river has not flowed regularly for half a century. With major reservoirs only one third full, plans that continue to drain them are not sustainable plans.

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.

Climate change is drying out the Colorado River. In the last two decades, the river’s flow has been 20 percent less than the average flow recorded in the 20th century. Hoping for a rainy season won’t fix this. Today’s water supply conditions are likely to be among the best we see over the coming decades.

What’s needed now, urgently, is for federal and state water managers to work, in partnership with tribes and other stakeholders, to take the steps necessary to build confidence in the enduring management of the Colorado River. This will require focus and dedicated resources to develop and implement plans that put water demands into balance with supplies. That means moving beyond year-to-year reactions to imminent risks to engage in planning that promotes water conservation. Water conservation means using less water, preferably managed in a way that both respects our system of water rights and supports society’s 21st century values, including economic stability for urban and rural communities, allowances for Native American tribes to realize benefit from their water rights, and reliable water supplies for nature.

People and birds rely on the Colorado River, and Audubon will continue to work with partners to advocate for and implement solutions. We know what works. Water conservation pilots implemented throughout the basin and across municipal and agricultural sectors have been successful. Investments in infrastructure upgrades have durably made water uses more efficient, and investments in habitat restoration have benefited ecosystems and the birds that rely on them. Flexible water sharing mechanisms have modernized water uses while protecting legal water rights and helped Tribes secure benefits. There is no time like the present to begin implementing these solutions at scale. They should be the foundation for new rules for how we use and protect the Colorado River.

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

Bug Flow experiment to be conducted this summer under the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan — Reclamation #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A rare sight: Water shoots out of Glen Canyon Dam’s river outlets or “jet tubes” during a high-flow experimental release in 2013. Typically all of the dam’s outflows go through penstocks to turn the turbines on the hydroelectric plant. The outlets are only used during these experiments, meant to redistribute sediment downstream, and when lake levels get too high. Spillways are used as a last, last resort. The river outlets may be used again in the not so distant future: Once Lake Powell’s surface level drops below 3,490 feet, or minimum power pool, water can no longer be run through the turbines and can only be sent to the river below via the outlets. This is cause for concern because the river outlets were not built for long-term use. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website:

The Bureau of Reclamation announced today a Macroinvertebrate Production Flow, or Bug Flow, will be conducted this summer at Glen Canyon Dam under the Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan. This experiment is designed to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects that are the primary food source for fish in the Colorado River. The experiment will begin May 1 and continue through August 31, 2022.

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on input from a collaborative team, including the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. Flow experiments are designed to optimize benefits to the Lees Ferry Reach and Grand Canyon’s Colorado River ecosystem while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

“We are pleased to continue our research on the effects of modifying release flow patterns to benefit the Colorado River ecosystem,” said Michael Moran, Acting Chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, which monitors Colorado River ecosystem response to all Glen Canyon Dam flow experiments. “Past research has shown that many different resources have benefitted from previous experimental flows, and we are looking forward to collecting this additional data on the river.”

Bug Flows are a water flow experiment that consists of steady, low weekend releases from Glen Canyon Dam and normal fluctuating releases for hydropower during weekdays. Bug Flows do not affect total annual, monthly or weekly release volumes from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon Dam, but slightly modify release schedules and flow rates. Recreational river users will likely notice steady flows resulting from the steady weekend releases as they move downstream through the Lees Ferry Reach and the Grand Canyon. Dam releases and minimum flows are within the range typically experienced by recreation users (e.g., anglers, boaters, kayakers and campers).

“In this time of unprecedented drought, continuing experiments like Bug Flows in compliance with the Grand Canyon Protection Act is critical,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “At the same time, drought makes assessing and mitigating for the effects of those experiments on other resources like hydropower, water supply and recreation increasingly important.”

The purpose of these experimental flows is to identify whether this type of operation can improve the abundance, diversity and stability of aquatic insect populations, thereby increasing aquatic insect prey available for a variety of wildlife. Insects expected to benefit from this experiment are an important food source for many species of fish, birds, and bats in the canyon. Insects expected to benefit from this experiment are an important food source for many species of fish, birds, and bats in the canyon.

Bug Flow experiments were implemented at Glen Canyon Dam from May through August for three consecutive years: 2018, 2019 and 2020, but were not implemented in 2021. Findings suggest that the previous Bug Flow experiments may have improved conditions for adult insects, increased the abundance of caddisflies river wide, and increased algae production. In addition, anglers captured more rainbow trout on average during Bug Flows than they did during typical fluctuating flow patterns. Contrary to predictions, no increase in the abundance of midge’s flies were observed during the first three years of the experiment. Scientists believe that further experimentation, research and monitoring may help to determine whether the Bug Flows experiment benefits native fishes in the Lees Ferry Reach below the Glen Canyon Dam and in the Grand Canyon. This experiment provides scientific information important to future decision-making.

The Glen Canyon Dam Implementation Team will closely monitor the condition of resources during the experiment and may terminate implementation at any time if unanticipated negative impacts are observed or are likely to occur due to ongoing drought and low lake levels.

Latest settlement involving 2015 #GoldKingMine spill to send $90 million for cleanup: Federal officials say they’ll drop their cases against mining companies with the settlement — The #Denver Post

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

The Sunnyside Gold Corporation and its corporate owner will pay about $45 million under yet another settlement connected to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, which dumped a yellow plume of heavy metals into the Animas River, federal officials announced Friday [April 29, 2022]. The federal government will kick in another $45 million as well. Under the finalized settlement, the company and its Canadian owner, Kinross Gold Corporation, will pay the United States $40.1 million and another $4 million to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for cleanup efforts, Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Rich Mylott said in a release.

Cleanup is needed in the broader Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, in southwest Colorado’s San Juan County. That site includes dozens of abandoned mines, which are polluting the area’s waterways but it’s also the location of the 3-million-gallon spill at the Gold King Mine, which EPA officials triggered…

Already, cleanup efforts have cost more than $70 million, The Denver Post previously reported. Sunnyside also agreed to a $1.6 million settlement in December and agreed last year to pay $10 million to the Navajo Nation and $11 million to New Mexico, downstream of the mines and spill site.

As #drought shrinks the #ColoradoRiver, a S. #California giant seeks help from river partners to fortify its local supply — The #Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

Metropolitan Water District’s advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

Metropolitan Water District’s wastewater recycling project draws support from Arizona and Nevada, which hope to gain a share of metropolitan’s river supply

Momentum is building for a unique interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern California homes and business into relief for the stressed Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water agencies.

Southern California’s giant wholesaler, Metropolitan Water District, claims a multi-billion-dollar water recycling proposal will not only create a new local source for its 19 million customers, but allow it to share part of its Colorado River supply with other parched river partners already facing their own cutbacks. To advance what would become the nation’s largest wastewater recycling facility, Metropolitan is securing financial aid from other major Colorado River users in Nevada and Arizona in return for giving them portions of its river supply. Amid critically low reservoir levels and the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River, water managers and experts are touting the interstate deal as a prime example of the team effort required to safeguard the future of this iconic Southwestern river and the people who rely on it.

“It’s a really interesting and innovative approach around partnerships,” said Heather Cooley, research director with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based water policy center. “Something we haven’t yet seen.”

Thus far the project appears long on support, but there are some potential impediments, such as whether the next set of river operating guidelines due in place by 2026 will allow the partners’ proposed long-term interstate water exchanges. Additionally, California regulators must clear the way for Metropolitan and others in the state to put the recycled supply directly into the drinking water system.

Drought in the Colorado River Basin has pushed the water level in Lake Mead, Southern Nevada’s main water source, to a historic low. (Source: Southern Nevada Water Authority)

Aid for the Struggling Colorado

Metropolitan pitched the ambitious wastewater recycling proposal more than a decade ago, but the project gained steam recently amid increasingly dry conditions across two of its key water sources in California’s Sierra Nevada and Colorado River Basin. Water interests along the lower Colorado River Basin have for several years discussed how they might augment the river’s shrinking flows. As it turned out, the Lower Basin’s next potential augmentation project is being hatched more than 200 miles away near the coast of California.

Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources have agreed to spend up to a combined $12 million to assist Metropolitan with environmental review, almost half of the total planning cost. If the project isn’t built, or if operating agreements aren’t finalized, Metropolitan would refund the agencies’ contributions. However, if the Nevada and Arizona agencies stay on to help build the final project, they will gain to-be-determined slices of Metropolitan’s annual share of Colorado River water.

The partnering agencies are currently grappling with major cuts to their own Colorado River supply, and more are on the horizon.

Last summer, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a first-ever shortage in the Lower Colorado Basin, requiring Arizona to slash its annual take of the river by 18 percent and Nevada by 7 percent in 2022. But the mandated cuts have done little to protect water levels at the river’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and now federal officials are on the verge of implementing a fresh round of unprecedented reductions that stand to affect supply for the Lower Basin states.

Metropolitan’s assistant general manager calls the deal a win-win for Southern California and the Southwest.

“The idea of the program is that in return for their co-investment to make this facility a reality, we would back off some of our Colorado supply,” Deven Upadhyay said. “It becomes one component of potential augmentation on the river to help others out.”

Boosting Water Security

At full capacity, Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant could produce up to 168,000 acre-feet a year. However, Upadhyay said Metropolitan doesn’t plan to make a corresponding amount of its river share available to the out-of-state investors.

But gaining even a sliver of Metropolitan’s Colorado River supply could boost water security for arid Arizona and Nevada.

“We’re at a point in this Basin where we can’t afford to not look at reasonable ideas,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Contract details haven’t been finalized but Pellegrino estimates SNWA could secure between 25,000-35,000 additional acre-feet annually, or around 10 percent of its yearly river apportionment. In Las Vegas, one acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for more than a year, though officials are continually striving to reduce per capita water use.

Meanwhile SNWA, which relies heavily on Lake Mead to serve its more than 2 million customers in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, appears wholly interested in seeing the project through. It has already earmarked up to $750 million for Metropolitan’s proposal or other recycling projects. Such a major investment would require a long-term operating contract potentially in the 20- to 30-year range, Pellegrino said.

The partnership also figures to afford some long-term water security for Arizona, which takes the biggest hit of any state when shortages are declared on the Colorado River. Currently Arizona is grappling with how to cut 512,000 acre-feet and it faces further reductions if Lake Mead’s elevation drops below 1,045 feet and a Tier 2 shortage is triggered, a scenario the Bureau of Reclamation projects could happen by May 2023.

Gaining reliable access to Metropolitan’s river allotment could help Arizona address growing demand from municipal and industrial users, said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. Porter applauded the multi-state collaboration, saying the recycling project and other augmentation ideas, like a proposed binational desalination plant along the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, could add flexibility to a system that serves 40 million people from Denver to San Diego and irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland.

“It’s a huge amount of water,” Porter said of the potential yield of Metropolitan’s project for urban Southern California. “That’s one more community that relies on the Colorado River that has another degree of resilience.”

Graphic showing how purified wastewater is expected to flow to various locations in urban Southern California.
Water from Metropolitan Water District’s Advanced Water Treatment Plant would flow to various sites for use in replenishing groundwater or delivery to water treatment plants for distribution to ultimate users. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

A Promising Leap in Reuse

California already has a rich legacy of turning wastewater into high-quality water suitable for a variety of uses including agricultural, groundwater recharge and outdoor irrigation. In 2020 the state used more than 700,000 acre-feet in recycled water, much of it going to golf courses, farms and some indirect potable uses. But experts say California can greatly expand the output through a recycling technology Metropolitan is currently ginning up support for.

Filtration pipes at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s wastewater recycling demonstration plant. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

Direct potable reuse, however, is not currently permitted in California, but the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to finalize regulations by December 2023. To prove to regulators and the public that the process is safe and viable, Metropolitan has been compiling water quality data from a demonstration facility in Carson since 2019.

The technology is a great match with a county like Los Angeles where most of the treated wastewater currently goes into the ocean, said Cooley, with the Pacific Institute. With imported water becoming increasingly unreliable, she said it was critical for Southern California to pursue new recycling projects, noting the region currently reuses only 29 percent of its effluent.

“There are lots of opportunities if we start thinking outside the box more and really look beyond individual agency service areas,” Cooley said. “We’re going to have to do more of that to address the challenges that we now face.”

Once California gives the green light, Metropolitan says it will build a facility near the demonstration facility in Carson that could produce up to 150 million gallons a day of potable water or enough to serve more than 500,000 households, using wastewater from a nearby plant operated by the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts. Purified water from the new recycling plant would be delivered to four of the region’s groundwater basins for later use and two of Metropolitan’s existing treatment plants via approximately 60 miles of new pipelines for further distribution in its service area.

Metropolitan Water District’s advanced water treatment demonstration plant in Carson. (Source: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California)

Overcoming Sticker Shock

Neither construction nor the new water will be cheap.

In 2018 Metropolitan pegged construction costs at $3.4 billion, but inflation could spike the final price tag to $4 billion by the 2032 projected completion date. As for water prices, Metropolitan currently charges its member agencies around $1,100 per acre-foot of treated water; the new supply will likely run more than $1,800 per acre-foot.

Upadhyay, the Metropolitan official, downplayed the difference by saying cost concerns are relatively minor compared to the damaging effects climate change is having on the Colorado River and Sierra Nevada watersheds it relies on for imported water. He added the agency is hoping to reduce the impact on member agencies with contributions from the out-of-state partners. In addition, it has asked the California Legislature to contribute $500 million. Metropolitan also is exploring the possibility of similar partnerships with users of California’s State Water Project, but no contracts have been signed, Upadhyay said.

“It’s not like we can go out and acquire more imported supply,” Upadhyay said. “Going forward, we really need to be looking here at home.”

That sentiment is shared among some agricultural interests in the basin, including Bart Fisher, vice president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees. Fisher, who farms on the west side of the Colorado River near Blythe, Calif., called urban water recycling efforts the “wave of the future” and noted Palo Verde farmers have been utilizing water reuse techniques for decades.

“These urban projects have major implications for the Lower Basin,” he said. “It will alleviate some of the pressure we are feeling.”

Finding Ways to Work Together

It’s unclear whether current operating guidelines for the river allow the sort of interstate exchange being proposed. But the partners say the concept shares ties with the intent of previously enacted conservation programs like the 2007 Intentionally Created Surplus, a water banking program intended to boost storage in Lake Mead. They hope guidance for interstate exchanges will be explicitly included in the next set of river operating guidelines that have to be finalized by 2026.

“It would behoove all of us to have a candid conversation in the renegotiations about that, make sure we have the rules spelled out,” said Pellegrino, SNWA deputy general manager.

The 20-plus year megadrought is forcing all users in the Lower Basin to get creative in developing ways to stretch their shares of the Colorado River. And the clock is ticking.

Last month water levels at Lake Powell fell to a historic low and are still hovering near the minimum elevation level at which Glen Canyon Dam can generate electricity for more than 5 million homes and businesses across the West. The Bureau of Reclamation expects the combined storage at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to drop below 30 percent by late 2022 due to declining inflows of runoff.

Metropolitan’s wastewater recycling plant won’t cure all the Lower Basin’s myriad water troubles. But Colorado River veterans say the proposal is a welcome sign of progress, nonetheless.

“It’s good to see this multi-state collaboration and that’s what we do need,” said Porter, with Arizona State’s Kyl Center. “It’s better for everyone if we can find these ways to work together.”

Reach Writer Nick Cahill at ncahill@watereducation.org, and Editor Doug Beeman at dbeeman@watereducation.org.

The Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Board of Directors declines to extend lease for Dry Gulch site — The #PagosaSprings Sun #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

San Juan Mountains December 19, 2016. Photo credit: Allen Best

Click the link to read the article on The Pagosa Springs Sun website (Josh Pike):

…as [Justin] Ramsey explained at the meeting, the Webers had recently approached PAWSD again, hoping to reopen negotiations to extend the lease under terms that were similar to the PAWSD counter offer with some minor changes…

PAWSD treasurer Glenn Walsh then raised concerns that he had not seen the terms of the proposed lease and that he would be “ex- tremely concerned” if any lease was approved before its terms had been distributed to the PAWSD board…

[Al] Pfister also mentioned that his priority in considering extending or not extending the lease was its impact on SJWCD’s state park nomination for the site…

He also mentioned that an ex- tension of the mining lease would likely delay reclamation before stating that he would prefer to not extend the Weber lease so reclama- tion could start immediately…

After discussion surrounding the motion’s language, the SJWCD board then unanimously voted for a follow-up motion commanding Pfister to work with Ramsey on de- termining the Weber’s responsibili- ties for reclamation and clarifying the meaning of SJWCD’s potential responsibility for long-term man- agement in the IGA.

Roy Vaughan, who retired as the Reclamation manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 2021, was awarded the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award Thursday at the 26th annual #ArkansasRiver Basin #Water Forum

Roy Vaughan relaxes with his family at the Salida Steam Plant shortly after receiving the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award at the 26th annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum Thursday, April 28, 2022. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

Roy Vaughan, who retired as the Bureau of Reclamation manager of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project in 2021, was awarded the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas Award Thursday at the 26th annual Arkansas River Basin Water Forum.

“I had no idea I would be getting the award,” Vaughan said. “I really need to thank all of the people I worked with for this great honor.”

Vaughan was surprised by his wife, Stasi, and grown sons Chaz and Colton at the event as they walked onto the stage at the Salida Steam Plant, noting that the day was the 38th anniversary of their wedding.

Pueblo Dam

Vaughan began working for Reclamation in 1992 as dam superintendent at Pueblo Dam, which led him to an interest in all of the water operations of the Arkansas Valley, and water operations such as the Fry-Ark Project that import water from the western slope. He became manager of the Fry-Ark Project in 2008.

Last year’s recipient, Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District Manager Terry Scanga, presented the Appel award and read excerpts from 14 people who worked with him during his career in all parts of the Arkansas River basin. He helped bring people together over such controversial issues as the Preferred Storage Options Plan, Southern Delivery System and Voluntary Flow Management Program. He was always eager to patiently explain water operations with a quick wit and great sense of humor.

“He felt the weight of occasionally failing to satisfy everyone’s wishes far more than he enjoyed the buoyancy of the many times he did indeed satisfy them,” wrote Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt. “Perhaps this is the price of being a conscientious public servant. Certainly, it is evidence of a deep regard for all of the envisioned benefits of the Fry-Ark Project.

The Appel Award is named for Bob Appel, who promoted the Arkansas River as coordinator of the Southeast Colorado Resource Conservation and Development Council until his death in 2003.

For more information, contact Jean van Pelt, Forum Coordinator, at arbwf1994@gmail.com.

Salida Steam Plant Arkansas River

Blue Mesa expected to reach only 50% capacity this summer — The #CrestedButte News #runoff #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on The Crested Butte News website (Katherine Nettles). Here’s an excerpt:

The Gunnison River Basin snow water equivalent (SWE) as of April 10 was 96% of normal for this time of year, and the upper basin SWE was 92% of normal. Precipitation has ranged between 69% to 82% of average for the entire upper basin since December and soil moisture varies from 1-31% of normal in Gunnison County, with most areas at an average of 10%.

“The Gunnison River looks like it might be similar to last year, for example the Gunnison River at Gunnison stream gage peaked at 1,720 cfs, but we’re hoping for more as there was more snowpack than last year,” she said. “Storage in the entire Upper Colorado River Basin is 63% of average right now, and Blue Mesa and Lake Powell are the lowest in that system.”

The blue areas in the map above are where the Airborne Snow Observatory flights are scheduled to collect information about the snowpack in 2022. The light tan areas will be flown this summer and fall to collect baseline information about the ground when it is free of snow. Image credit: Lynker.

Richards described a few potential tools being considered in the basin, such as Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s (RMBL) interest in an airborne remote sensing program to track moisture during peak “greenness” from March through October. She said the program would help inform water managers of snow melt timing in the future. Chavez said the UGRWCD is also hoping to work more closely with USGS to increase monitoring frequency in Blue Mesa to understand Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) using satellite and stream and lake sampling and might apply for a grant to aid in the endeavor.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled snowpack map April 29, 2022 via the NRCS.

#Water managers see runoff as positive sign (April 29, 2022): Heading into summer, forecasts aren’t great, but they are slightly better than last year — The #Durango Herald

Click the link to read the article on The Durango Herald website (Aedan Hannon). Here’s an excerpt:

Water forecasts remain below average, but above last year’s troubling lows – a positive sign for water managers adapting to sustained drought in the region. Yet, much will depend on the impact of recent dust events and summer monsoons.

According to SNOTEL data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service, a little more than half of the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins has melted so far. Snowpack is measured using the metric of snow water equivalent, or the water content of the snow.

The Animas River was flowing at 669 cubic feet per second in Durango on Wednesday afternoon, the Dolores River at 556 cfs in Dolores and the San Juan River at 895 cfs, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center data. Southwest Colorado’s rivers have slowed since Friday, but the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center predicts that flows will again increase over the next week and a half. Forecasts show the Animas River will peak at 3,100 cfs in late May or early June, slightly above last year’s peak of 2,910 cfs on June 7. Forecasts project peaks of 1,500 cfs for the Dolores River and 1,600 cfs for the San Juan River also in late May and early June…

Snow is melting earlier than average this year, according to the SNOTEL data, a trend that Wolff and other water managers have noted. Typically, snowpack would peak around April 1 and runoff would last from April through May and even into June, Wolff said…While runoff is happening earlier this year, water supply forecasts suggest more optimism. The Animas, Dolores and San Juan rivers are hovering just above 70% of average, according to Colorado Basin River Forecast Center forecasts…

Ken Curtis, general manager for the Dolores Water Conservancy District, told Wolff the district was hoping to get at least 70% of its average water.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 30, 2022): Bumping releases up to 700 cfs

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 500 cfs to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 30th. Then releases will be increased from 700 cfs to 900 cfs on Monday, May 2nd. Releases are being increased to correspond with the re-startup of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 91% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 80% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 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 890 cfs for April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 125 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 525 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Glenwood Canyon restoration continues, summer closures to be weather dependent — The #GlenwoodSprings Post-Independent

Looking up at the source of the debris flow in Glenwood Canyon August 2021. Photo credit: CDOT

Click the link to read the article on the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent website (Ike Fredregill). Here’s an excerpt:

Repairing Glenwood Canyon, Interstate-70 and mitigating future debris flow damages has cost state, federal and local governments about $27 million so far, a Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson said. Joined by partnering agencies, CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew briefed media outlets Tuesday on efforts to repair the damage done to Glenwood Canyon by wildfires and historic debris flows in recent years…

Work is also expected to begin shortly on a primitive trail to Hanging Lake, Forest Service spokesperson David Boyd said. While the lake itself was spared by the debris flow events, the trail leading to the pristine woodland attraction was all but eliminated. Boyd said a trail reconstruction project is planned to begin Friday [April 29, 2022], which could install a primitive trail leading to the lake by mid-summer…

CDOT contractors Lawrence Construction and IHC Scott continue to remove material from the Colorado River at six locations throughout the canyon. More than 200,000 tons have been removed so far, CDOT Resident Engineer Andrew Knapp said…In addition to debris removal, CDOT is working with contractors and the U.S. Forest Service to build debris flow catchment fences, nicknamed “bathtubs,” alongside the roadways. The bathtubs create a basin where excess debris and water can collect during future events, minimizing impacts to the interstate and travelers, Knapp explained…

This summer, CDOT will be working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine whether the canyon will remain open ahead of potential significant rain events above the Grizzly Creek burn scar. When NOAA issues watches or warnings about potential debris flow events, Blake said CDOT will close rest areas and the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path. If NOAA issues a watch, CDOT staff will head out to closure points along I-70, and should a warning be issued, Blake said the canyon would be closed for the duration of the warning.

#LakePowell dangerously close to dropping too low, Grand County may suffer as a result — The Sky-Hi News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Wildlife biologist Bill Vetter and Western Rivers Regional Program Manager with Audubon Rockies Abby Burk walk along an irrigation ditch in Grand County. An avian monitoring program aims to learn more about how birds use irrigated agriculture.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi News website (Meg Soyars). Here’s an excerpt:

If the lake does drop lower than 3,490 feet, it is uncertain how much water, if any, will be delivered to the communities that rely on it. Lake Powell doesn’t only supply water to millions of Americans, it also provides power through turbines at the Glen Canyon Dam. Below 3,490 feet, the dam will not be able to provide hydropower. All Colorado Basin states receive power from the dam. Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, explained that the emergency at Lake Powell may seem far removed from Grand County, but it’s closely connected. Forty million people, from Wyoming to Mexico, rely on water from the Colorado River, including every Grand County resident. When someone turns on the tap here, they are getting the same water that will eventually get sent down to Lake Powell for a California (or other regional) resident…

Klancke feels the Lower Basin is demanding too much water from Lake Powell, and this may decrease the water supply of Upper Basin states like Colorado.

“My concern for Grand County is that our water rights will be cut into to make up the difference,” he said. “I worry they might go after our agricultural rights first … and (agriculture) makes up a huge part of our economy.”

Report: Insights Gained on Agricultural #Water #Conservation for Water Security in the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin — Hutchins Water Center #COriver #aridification

Photo from http://trmurf.com/about/

Click the link to read the report on the Hutchins Water Center website (Hannah Holm). Here’s the introduction:

A series of hot, dry years in the Upper Colorado River Basin has led to increasing concern about the security of water supplies at region-wide and local scales for the following purposes and sectors:

• Maintaining compact compliance and preventing Lake Powell’s water level from dropping too low to generate power.
• Maintaining agricultural production and the vitality of rural communities.
• Maintaining municipal and industrial water security.
• Maintaining river ecosystems.

Without a strategic, collaborative approach to addressing these issues, there is a risk that individual entities will act independently to secure their water supplies against climate and legal uncertainties. This could lead to more permanent transfers from agriculture, with detrimental impacts on rural communities and unpredictable impacts on river ecosystems.

Over the past several years, there have been numerous explorations into new approaches to meeting community and environmental needs in the Upper Basin, including deliberate, temporary, and compensated reductions in water use in order to help balance supply and demand in the Colorado River system, share water supplies between agriculture and cities, and aid troubled streams.

This report distills insights from these explorations that can help illuminate how such deliberate, temporary reductions in water use could play a role in:

• Enhancing long-term water security for farms, municipalities, industries and rivers in the Upper Basin (upstream objectives).
• Compact compliance and protection of power generation capacity in Lake Powell (downstream objectives).

In this report, the term “strategic conservation” will be used to describe these deliberate reductions in water use to meet specific goals.

The insights covered in this report focus on the following topics:

• Water user interest
• Agronomic impacts of reducing water use
• Monitoring and verification of saved water
• Shepherding and conveyance of conserved water
• Pricing considerations
• Environmental considerations
• Additional considerations

For each topic, key insights and remaining uncertainties are highlighted and illustrative research, experiences and resources are described. Links to documentation are provided wherever possible.

Tattered Cover and Water Education Colorado present: Live Stream with Paolo Bacigalupi #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification @WaterEdCO @paolobacigalupi

Click the link to register and for the inside skinny:

Tattered Cover and Water Education Colorado are pleased to present this virtual event with Paolo Bacigalupi on May 11th at 6pm. This will be live streamed via YouTube Live. A link to view the stream will be emailed to you upon registration…

PAOLO BACIGALUPI is a Hugo, Nebula, and Michael L. Printz Award winner, as well as a National Book Award finalist. He is also a winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and a three-time winner of the Locus Award. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and High Country News. He lives with his wife and son in western Colorado, where he is working on a new novel.

Unprecedented solutions coming to the #LakePowell crisis — 9News.com #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Flaming Gorge Reservoir July 2020. Photo credit: Utah DWR

Click the link to read the article on the 9News.com website (Cory Reppenhagen). Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) identifies an elevation of 3,525 feet as a target level to take action because a level of 3,490 feet would threaten the infrastructure and hydropower resources at Glen Canyon Dam.

“We are concerned, we are watching,” said Becky Mitchell, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Governor Polis’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. “There are significant challenges facing the Colorado River system.”

She said that two unprecedented measures are being taken to help prevent Lake Powell from hitting that critical level of 3,490 feet. One, which has already been approved, is to move an unprecedented 500,000 acre-feet of water out of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in northern Utah and southern Wyoming, into Lake Powell over the next 12 months. A second proposal, which [was approved by the basin states this week], is to withhold nearly 480,000 acre-feet of water that is scheduled to be released from Lake Powell and sent to Lake Mead.

Las Vegas turns on low-level #LakeMead pumps designed to avoid a ‘Day Zero’ — The #Nevada Independent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

To address unprecedented drought conditions and provide long-term protection of Southern Nevada’s primary water storage reservoir—Lake Mead— the Southern Nevada Water Authority constructed a third drinking water intake capable of drawing upon Colorado River water at lake elevations below 1,000 feet (above sea level). Intake No. 3 ensures Southern Nevada’s access to its primary water supply if lake levels continue to decline due to drought conditions. It also protects municipal water customers from water quality issues associated with declining lake levels. Photo credit: Southern Nevada Water Authority

Click the link to read the article on the Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg). Here’s an excerpt:

The country’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead, has dropped to such a historically low level that Las Vegas water officials have completed the process of turning on a pump station that will allow Southern Nevada to retrieve water, even under extreme conditions. The move — to turn on the pump station full bore — is an indication of how low Lake Mead has fallen over the past decade and serves as a bulwark against the possibility of Las Vegas losing physical access to its water as regional issues on the Colorado River become increasingly dire…

Intake #1 exposed. Photo credit: SNWA

Lake Mead is about 30 percent full, and the amount of water stored at the reservoir has ticked down over the last month. As of Tuesday, Lake Mead’s elevation sat at about 1,056 feet above sea level, roughly 163 feet below the reservoir’s maximum capacity. For the Southern Nevada Water Authority, that’s a notable number because the agency’s first pumping station — which removes water from the reservoir and siphons it off to customers in the valley — becomes inoperable when Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet above sea level…

Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

The water authority’s second pumping station allows for the retrieval of water up to 1,000 feet above sea level. But the third pumping station, the one fully turned on this month and known as the “low lake level pumping station,” allows Las Vegas officials to pump out water from even deeper, with the potential to access water when other Southwest cities cannot. Doa Ross, the water authority’s deputy general manager for engineering, said the pump station, which links to a third intake, or “third straw,” at the lake, will now serve as the city’s main pump…

At 895 feet above sea level, Ross said Lake Mead water can no longer pass through the Hoover Dam, a scenario that water managers refer to as “dead pool.” But because Las Vegas’s primary pump now extends to about 875 feet above sea level, the city will still be able to access water. In effect, Las Vegas watched the unfolding crisis on the river and prepared for the worst.

Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law and the former longtime general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, is an advocate for extensively rethinking how the Colorado River is managed. (Image: University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law)

“We invested $1.5 billion in the third intake and the low-level pumping station for a reason,” John Entsminger, the water authority’s general manager said in a recent interview. “We knew very well that this day could come and if lake elevations continue to decline, the people of Las Vegas can take comfort in the fact that they are the most water-secure city in the desert Southwest.”

[…]

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.

“This isn’t a drought any more,” said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. “Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s aridification. It’s the long-term drying and warming of the American West. And it’s going to continue, and it’s going to get worse.”

It’s official – the top of Intake No. 1 is now visible and the low lake level pumping station is now operational — Southern #Nevada #Water Authority #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification