Eco-vandals shut down high country water diversions bound for the #FrontRange, causing $1 million in damage — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Vandals caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage to the City of Northglenn’s collection system on top of Berthoud Pass earlier this month, shutting the system down for several days. As the Grand County Sheriff investigates, Northglenn water officials say they fear the damage is the work of eco-vandals, upset over ongoing diversions from the drought-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

For years, the City of Northglenn has captured water on top of Berthoud Pass and delivered it down to its customers north of Denver.

But on Aug. 2, when water should have been flowing freely, the reading on the measuring gauge on what’s known as the Berthoud Pass Ditch fell to zero. On investigation, the city found the system had been vandalized, with diversion structures torn apart and locks cut, allowing millions of gallons of water to flow back into the Fraser River, a tributary to the upper Colorado River, instead of Northglenn’s ditch.

“It seemed very intentional,” said Tamara Moon, Northglenn’s manager of water resources. “They did a doozy on us.”

Roughly $100,000 worth of damage was done to the diversion system, with another $900,000 in water lost, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s office.

Lesser damage to the structure, part of which can be accessed off a hiking trail near the old Berthoud Pass ski area, occurred in March, Moon said.

But she believes now that both efforts are linked to the political tension over transmountain diversions from the water-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

Two major expansion projects, including an effort by Denver Water to bring more water from the Fraser River and one by Northern Water to bring over more from the upper Colorado River near Granby, have sparked major lawsuits by several environmental groups, including Save The Colorado, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, among others. The lawsuits are pending in court…

Though Northglenn isn’t involved in either project, Moon said the fact that her city’s diversion system is pulling from the same watershed has likely exposed it to the frustration over the diversions.

The week the system was disabled, Northglenn was delivering water to the City of Golden, one of its customers on the system.

Golden lost several days’ worth of water as a result of the incident, but because its system, like most, has benefited from an abundance of water this year, the temporary cut-off didn’t affect the city’s ability to provide water to its own customers.

“It really hasn’t had an impact on us,” said Anne Beierle, Golden’s deputy director of public works. “From our perspective though, it’s a little disconcerting and it’s disappointing. If it turns out to be [eco-vandalism], it is unfortunate.”

The Grand County Sheriff’s office is still investigating the incident.

Grand County, home to Winter Park and Granby, is also one of the most heavily diverted counties in Colorado, with millions of gallons of water from the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers being diverted to the Front Range to serve dozens of communities.

“This was a purposeful, deliberate act,” said Lieutenant Dan Mayer, the Grand County Sheriff’s public information officer.

The four diversion gates that were broken were roughly one-half mile apart, Mayer said. “Somebody wanted to break these gates. You had to [hike in to] find them.

“We have a lot of water agencies running [water] out of here. But we haven’t seen any incidents like this at other systems. It makes it seem as if it could very well be some kind of eco-terrorism, and we would very much like to find out who did it.”

Mayer said the charges any suspect would face include felony theft, felony criminal mischief, and first degree criminal tampering and trespass, all of which could result in significant jail time and fines.

In addition to installing new diversion gates and locks, Northglenn’s Moon said the city is installing remote cameras in an effort to better monitor the site and to be able to identify the culprits should they return.

“We don’t even have power up there,” she said. “There’s not a lot more we can do.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

View down Clear Creek from the Empire Trail 1873 via the USGS

The latest seasonal outlooks released from the Climate Prediction Center: Warmer, wetter that normal, #drought not expected to develop for the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification

Seasonal temperature outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal precipitation outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal drought outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.

@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions: #LakeMead operations = Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020, #LakePowell operations = Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 #DCP #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureaus of Reclamation

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aron/Marlon Duke):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released its Colorado River Basin August 2019 24-Month Study, which sets the annual operations for Lake Mead and Lake Powell in 2020. Based on projections in the 24-Month Study, Lake Mead will operate in the Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020 and Lake Powell will operate in the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020).

The Upper Basin experienced above average snowpack, and runoff was 145% of average this past spring, raising Lake Powell’s elevation by more than 50 feet since early April. Total Colorado River system storage today is 55% of capacity, up from 49% at this time last year. In addition, critical drought contingency plans adopted by the seven Basin States, federal government and Mexico earlier this year are now in place to reduce risks to the system.

“While we appreciate this year’s above average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I applaud everyone who came together this year to get the drought contingency plans done. The additional actions under the contingency plans will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

The August 2019 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2020, elevation to be 1,089.4 feet, about 14 feet above the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet. Lake Powell’s January 1, 2020, elevation is projected to be 3,618.6 feet — 81 feet below full. Because Lake Mead is projected to begin the year below the drought contingency plans threshold of 1,090 feet, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will make water savings contributions to Lake Mead in 2020.

Despite the above average 2019 snowpack, the Colorado River Basin continues to experience its worst 20-year drought on record, dating back to 2000. This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record. The August 2019 24-Month Study can be found at

DCP’s Tier Zero Begins a New Era from the Central Arizona Project (Chuck Cullom):

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its August 24-Month Study Report, a two-year outlook projecting water supply and operating conditions in the Lower Colorado River Basin..

The August Report defines, among other things, the operating conditions for Lake Mead for 2020, and includes the recently enacted Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). At the end of 2019, the projected Lake Mead elevation – the measuring stick for whether there is a shortage declaration on the river for 2020 – is just shy of 1090’. And, for the first time, the Lower Colorado River Basin will formally implement reductions outlined in the DCP at the new Tier Zero beginning January 2020.

What does this mean?

In short, it shows that in its first year, DCP is already working.

While the Basin experienced a stellar snowpack year and subsequent phenomenal run-off, because Lake Mead is projected to end 2019 below elevation 1090’, the Lower Basin States (Arizona, California and Nevada) will be in a DCP Tier Zero shortage condition next year. Under Tier Zero, Arizona’s Colorado River supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet; Nevada’s will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet; and California takes no reductions. In addition, Mexico will reduce its water use by 41,000 acre-feet, due to Minute 323, an agreement under the 1944 Treaty for water users in both countries. [ed. emphasis mine] Because of Arizona’s Colorado River priority system and agreements amongst water users, the Central Arizona Project (CAP) will take 100% of Arizona’s reductions under Tier Zero. CAP’s supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet, representing 12% of its normal annual Colorado River water supply. For CAP customers, this means eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment. Water going toward CAP agricultural uses will be reduced by about 15%.

The Tier Zero reduction to CAP, while significant, is largely equivalent to the amount of Colorado River water CAP has been leaving voluntarily in Lake Mead since 2015 as part of our Lake Mead Conservation Program. In essence, CAP and its water users have been planning and preparing for Tier Zero reductions for the past five years. The difference is that those previous contributions were voluntary – now, under DCP, these contributions are mandatory.

Through the DCP, Arizona continues to prepare for a drier future. This year, CAP, along with the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes, is contributing and storing 236,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead. Next year, even with the Tier Zero reductions, these same water users, along with the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, will continue to conserve and store additional water in Lake Mead. These efforts are part of Arizona’s plan to implement DCP developed collaboratively by the Arizona water community and legislative leaders. The plan balances the impacts of DCP amongst water users and provides additional protection to the Colorado River system, giving us a road map to follow for the next several years.

Tier zero cuts. Graphic credit: Central Arizona Project

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to reduce the risk of a crash.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation activated the mandatory reductions in water deliveries on Thursday when it released projections showing that as of Jan. 1, the level of Lake Mead will sit just below a threshold that triggers the cuts.

Arizona and Nevada agreed to leave a portion of their water allotments in the reservoir under a landmark deal with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which the states’ representatives signed at Hoover Dam in May.

California agreed to contribute water at a lower trigger point if the reservoir continues to fall. And Mexico agreed under a separate accord to start contributing to help prop up Lake Mead, which is now 39 percent full…

Reservoirs were approaching levels last year that would have triggered a shortage and required deeper cuts, but heavy snow across much of the Rocky Mountains this winter boosted runoff and raised reservoir levels. The river’s reservoirs are now at 55% of total capacity, up from 49% at the same time last year.

But Lake Mead is still projected to be just below the threshold of 1,090 feet above sea level at the beginning of next year. That will put the reservoir in a zone called “Tier Zero,” at which the first cuts take effect.

“While we appreciate this year’s above-average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a statement. She applauded the seven states that depend on the river for coming together to finish the set of drought-contingency plans. Burman said the actions laid out under those agreements “will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

Arizona will see a cut of 192,000 acre-feet in water deliveries next year, or 6.9% of its total allotment of 2.8 million acre-feet. Nevada’s share will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet, while Mexico’s will take 41,000 acre-feet less. That water will remain in Lake Mead, and will only be recovered once the reservoir rises above an elevation of 1,100 feet.

The cuts under the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, represent 12% of the total water supply for the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water by canal to Phoenix, Tucson and other areas. Chuck Cullom, manager of Colorado River programs for CAP, said this reduction will mean “eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment,” and cutting CAP deliveries to agriculture by about 15%.

Guest Commentary: A wet year has filled our reservoirs but we must prepare for the drought to come — The Denver Post (@CORiverTed) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: Photos via NASA

From The Denver Post (Ted Kowalski):

Time and water are alike in a lot of important ways. Both are finite resources that we can take for granted, or that we can manage carefully for great benefit.

On Thursday, as the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issues its official projections for water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it’s important to think about where we were a year ago — following two extremely dry years; where we are today, after an extraordinarily wet winter; and, most importantly, where we want to be in another year — or ten years.

In the year since the last BOR report, water security in the West took a huge step forward with the signing of the drought contingency plans (DCPs) — landmark agreements that update how the Colorado River is used, shared and managed across seven states and two countries. These DCPs combined with proactive conservation measures and a year of major snowfall mean that we’ve been able to avert dangerously low water levels at Lake Mead. So it can be tempting to relax a bit — but we have to ask ourselves, “how will we use this moment to prepare for the future?” We have to be smart about using the time and water we have right now.

Common sense tells us that one wet winter does not alter or solve the fundamental challenges facing the water supply across the Colorado River Basin. As a reminder, 2011 was also a wet year in the Colorado River Basin, but it was immediately followed by 2012 and 2013 — the driest two-year period on record — causing rapid drops in water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are the two main water supplies for the Colorado River.

As an additional reminder, approximately one in eight Americans rely on the Colorado River. The stakes only go higher as the water levels go lower. As water usage in the West continues to outpace the supply, we have to continue making bold, structural improvements to our water management strategies and systems.

In Colorado, as well as in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah, a key component of the DCPs is for the states to explore whether, and how to, develop and implement a demand management program. That means that each state needs to thoughtfully agree on how best to conserve while ensuring that there’s enough water to keep communities, farmers, and businesses thriving — now and for future generations. It’s not an easy task.

Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. First, as we saw with the DCPs, it is in our reach to do big, important things. In order to make those agreements possible, leaders from seven states, tribes, cities, advocacy groups, businesses, farmers and others across the Colorado River Basin had to partner with federal leaders from the U.S. and Mexico during some of the most politically divisive times in generations. And even with all of that, they were able to find ways to take care of their own needs while still recognizing the needs of their neighbors.

Looking ahead to demand management planning, that same spirit of innovation, collaboration, and shared mission will continue to serve the people of the Colorado River Basin well.

Demand management programs are being investigated in the Upper Basin. These types of programs involve temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in water use. The water that would be conserved by demand management is water that otherwise would have been used — but is instead conserved and saved. So, for example, demand management means that farmers could opt to fallow some of their fields in the off season in order to conserve additional water (without losing their water rights).

Demand management can offer multiple benefits: it can ensure that there’s enough water in the river to keep the system healthy, it can safeguard the water supply for communities who depend on it, and it can protect our vibrant agricultural communities.

For several years, people all across the Colorado River Basin have been working together to begin testing water conservation projects and their workability. These pilot projects are critically important, as they allow us to learn about the benefits and shortcomings of how a demand management program may work. We cannot wait until all of the theoretical questions have answers. In short, we need to continue to learn by doing.

We are in a moment right now where we have saved enough time and water to buy ourselves the opportunity to make meaningful change. We know that this moment, this time, and our water will not last indefinitely. We have to act fast and together for a more secure water future — our communities and environments depend on it.

Ted Kowalski is the senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative.

Reservoir agreement helps trout by borrowing endangered fish water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Some rejiggering of reservoir operations in the upper Colorado River watershed is taking the heat off trout in Grand County through the early release of water that had been set aside for endangered fish in Mesa County.

The approach is being made possible by storing water elsewhere so it can be released for the endangered fish when they need it later.

Under the agreement involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River District, an additional 35 cubic feet per second of water started being released last week from Lake Granby, also known as Granby Reservoir, in the Colorado River headwaters. That nearly doubled Colorado River flows immediately downstream.

The increased flows help reduce daytime temperatures in the river, which had begun topping 60 degrees and threatening the health of trout. The releases involve water normally stored in Granby for use in boosting flows in the river near Grand Junction for endangered fish such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker.

The endangered fish still will get water under the deal, however. In exchange for the additional water coming out of Granby, the river district is withholding 35 cfs of water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, which sits above Kremmling on Muddy Creek, a Colorado River tributary. That’s below the problem stretch of the Colorado River, thanks to inflows to the river coming from Muddy Creek and other tributaries, so the Wolford water that’s being withheld doesn’t hold the importance to the trout that the released Granby water does.

“There’s plenty of water in the river except for in that stretch below Granby,” said Jim Pokrandt, a river district spokesman.

Pokrandt said the Colorado River is currently a “free river” right now in Colorado. There are no calls on it to meet the needs of senior water rights holders when flows are more limited. But the upper stretch in Grand County in the Hot Sulphur Springs area is depleted due to transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

Withholding the Wolford water means it will be available for the endangered fish during lower-flow periods on the Colorado River in Mesa County, in lieu of the water that is being released from Granby.

Seldom Seen: A Poignant Look Back at Glen Canyon Before the Dam — Yale Environment 360 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Ken Sleight the original Monkey Wrencher photo via Salon

From Yale Environment 360

Ken Sleight remembers the stunning beauty of Glen Canyon before it was flooded by a massive dam in the 1960s. Taylor Graham’s film “Seldom Seen Sleight” – winner of the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest – shows the magnificent landscape lost and offers hope it might someday be restored.

When Ken Sleight first floated through Utah’s Glen Canyon in 1955, he fell in love with its majestic landscape of red rock ravines and lush green Colorado River riverbed. He became a rafting guide, leading trips through a place where, he says, “You were in heaven, actually.”

But even then, the mammoth Glen Canyon Dam was being built downstream in Arizona, and when the dam was completed in 1963, the canyon was flooded. Sleight, now 88, watched as the water quickly rose up the cliff walls, obliterating the riverbanks and side canyons.

Taylor Graham’s film “Seldom Seen Sleight” — the winner of the 2019 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest – focuses on Sleight, now 89, as he describes the Glen Canyon he knew before it was flooded. Using never-before-seen archival footage, the film provides a poignant view of the pre-dam canyon and what has been lost.

Sleight — who was the inspiration for the character Seldom Seen Smith in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang — voices support for a campaign, now gaining interest, to take down the Glen Canyon Dam and restore that stretch of the Colorado River. “I seldom go down there anymore,” he says. “I have it in mind what it all was. We lost most of it. But you keep praying for something to happen, and it’s happening, I think. I just wish they would hurry it up a little.”

About the Filmmaker: Taylor Graham is a multimedia storyteller and National Geographic Explorer interested in water sustainability issues and protecting the world’s free-flowing rivers. Graham recently spent a year in India as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar, where he produced a series of documentary shorts about India’s diverse water challenges. He is currently completing work on a National Geographic Society-funded documentary film, Glen Canyon Rediscovered, for which he and his team completed a 350-mile through-paddle of the Colorado River and Lake Powell.

About the Contest: The Yale Environment 360 Video Contest honors the year’s best environmental films, with the aim of recognizing work that has not previously been widely seen. Entries for 2019 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner.

Here’s a Coyote Gulch post which about Ken Sleight and his views about de-commissioning Lake Powell (Lake Foul).

Heeding a Spiritual and Sacred Call to Protect the #ColoradoRiver — Walton Family Foundation #COriver #aridification

From the Walton Family Foundation (Morgan Snyder):

Native American tribes are seeking a greater voice as stewards of a river that’s been home for millennia

Water is life. Water is the giver and sustainer of life.

For Daryl Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe in northern New Mexico, these words hold deep cultural, spiritual and personal meaning.

They are drawn from a vision statement that Daryl and leaders of the Ten Tribes Partnership, a coalition of tribes in the Colorado River basin, wrote five years ago to guide them in efforts to gain a greater voice for Native Americans in how the river’s water is used and conserved.

Daryl Vigil. Photo credit: Lincoln Institute for Land Policy

“As Native Americans, our traditional interaction with rivers has always been one of reverence,” Daryl says. “We have understood this is the only Earth we have and that water is sacred. So we took what we needed and we made sure that if we took too much, we gave back what we didn’t need.”

It’s an ethos every water user in the basin would do well to embrace. The Colorado provides water for nearly 40 million people and is key to the economic and environmental health of seven U.S. states and two states in Mexico.

It also the lifeblood of 26 federally recognized tribes living on 29 Indian reservations within the basin’s 244,000-square-mile territory.

For millennia, the river has shaped the culture and lifestyle of native peoples.

But as the West was settled and developed – and as demands on the river increased – tribes were left out of water management decisions and have not seen the benefits derived from laws governing water use in the West.

Daryl’s mission is to change that. As water administrator for the Jicarilla tribe, temporary executive director for the Ten Tribes Partnership, and co-facilitator of the Water & Tribes Initiative, he is leading efforts to develop a process for Colorado River water use decisions that is more inclusive of tribes. He is also helping tribes build capacity to develop their own water rights.

Collectively, Native American tribes in the basin have 2.9 million acre feet of quantifiable water rights – roughly 20% of the system’s water – with many water claims still unresolved.

Tribal water rights are also among the most senior in the basin, giving tribes the potential to play a major role in balancing supply and demand for water as well as restoring the river’s environmental health.

In a policy brief, the Water & Tribes Initiative described the exclusion of tribes from decisions about the river’s management as a “socio-economic and environmental injustice.”

“Almost across the board, everyone is now saying tribes need to be at the table,” Daryl says. “If any other entity had (rights to) that volume of water, they’d be at the head of the table.”

Tribes face myriad challenges constraining their ability to develop economic benefit from the river. A lack of water infrastructure – such as dams, reservoirs, conveyance and irrigation – means many are underutilizing their rights on the river, essentially allowing other users to access tribal water for free.

For some tribes, such as the Navajo Nation, one of the Ten Tribes members, it’s a struggle just to provide their own residents with a safe, secure water supply.

“They have to haul water on a daily basis,” says Daryl. “Their development of water rights is really about providing water to their people.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Gila River Indian Community has demonstrated the value tribes can bring to water management decisions. The community played a major role in successful water conservation negotiations for the new Drought Contingency Plan.

Several tribes are actively exploring the potential for developing water markets to share, or lease, water to other river users.

“Our strategy is to help tribes build capacity,” says Daryl.

The Walton Family Foundation, along with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, is supporting the Water & Tribes Initiative in the Colorado River Basin.

The intent of the initiative, which is co-facilitated by Daryl and Matthew McKinney, is to enhance the capacity of tribes to advance their needs and interests with respect to water and advance sustainable water management through collaborative decision-making. This work includes helping the Ten Tribes Partnership write their first strategic plan.

The foundation wants to ensure that the oldest water rights in the basin are well-represented and respected in future basin-wide policy discussions and decisions.

In everything that the Ten Tribes Partnership and the Water & Tribes Initiative is doing, Daryl says they are mindful of their vision as stewards of the river.

It calls on them to “lead from a spiritual mandate to ensure that this sacred water will always be protected and be available” and carry out their “responsibility of protecting the delicate, beautiful, balance of Mother Earth for the benefit of all living creatures” on the river.

“That holds us to account about who we are going to be in this process, as native human beings,” Daryl says.

“We want to make sure the river is available for our children and those who come after us. I think that’s our personal responsibility as human beings, to ensure we protect what it is that gives us life.”