#EagleRiver Watershed Council: Planning for our community’s water future

The Eagle River roils with spring runoff in June 2011 near Edwards, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

From the Eagle River Watershed Council (Lizzie Schoder) via The Vail Daily:

In low snow years like last year, the effects to our community can be felt immediately from the loss of revenue from ski tourism to low flows in our rivers in the following hot summer months leading to voluntary fishing closures and a lackluster whitewater season. Our angling, boating, recreation, wildlife and aquatic communities all feel the impact. While it seems Ullr has different plans this year, as we are in the midst of back-to-back storm cycles refreshing our snowpack and currently putting us at about 136 percent of normal, we aren’t nearly in the clear of the drought in the Colorado River Basin, or its long-term companion, aridification.

Research shows earlier runoff timing, higher ambient air temperatures, the dust-on-snow effect, and lower flows aren’t just periodic concerns, but more a representation of our new normal. The Eagle River and its tributaries support a wide array of uses inextricably tied to the wellbeing of our local economies and our high quality of life, not limited to: drinking water, agriculture, boating, angling, wildlife and biodiversity, aesthetics, lawns and gardens, snowmaking, and industry and power production. The effects of climate change, coupled with increasing demand from our ever-growing population, and the likelihood of future water storage projects, underline the need to plan for our community’s water future.

The Eagle River Watershed Council — with the help of its many community partners and stakeholders — has undertaken an exciting initiative to be on the forefront of water management planning and engage the community through the Eagle River Community Water Plan. While the council has undertaken successful planning and assessment initiatives in the past, including the Eagle River Watershed Plan and the Colorado River Inventory & Assessment, these completed plans have largely focused on water quality issues in our watershed. The Community Water Plan will place a greater focus on future water quantity issues and will address increasing demand shortage scenarios.

What is a community water plan?

Colorado’s Water Plan, adopted by the state in 2015, set a goal of communities implementing community water plans, also known as stream management plans, on 80 percent of Colorado’s locally prioritized streams by the year 2030. The plan seeks to identify the desired environmental and recreational flows in our watershed and will provide the opportunity to safeguard the environmental, recreational, agricultural, tourism, and municipal uses of the river. In other words, the plan will allow for the protection of river health as well as the other uses of water the community values.

Focusing on the entire length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters on Tennessee Pass to the confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero, the plan will consider past, present, and future human and river health values to identify opportunities to correct historical degradation and mitigate against non-desirable future conditions due to stressors such as climate change and population growth.

The plan’s diverse stakeholder group includes: local governments, fishing and rafting guide companies, the Eagle County Conservation District, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, American Rivers, the National Forest Foundation, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, and the Eagle River MOU partners, including Climax Molybdenum Company, Vail Resorts, the Colorado River District, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and the partners in Homestake Reservoir (the cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora).

The plan will culminate in a set of recommendations for projects, policies or management actions that can be used to mitigate stressors and encourage land and water management actions that promote ecosystem health.

The stakeholder group is committed to striving for equitable outcomes through engaging and listening to a broad range of community members. Community meetings will be held throughout the planning process to provide an opportunity for the community to engage in the process. Although the first round of community meetings were held in late February with presentations about the plan and current river conditions, the opportunity to submit formal input through online surveys still exists.

To have a truly representative Community Water Plan, members of the community are encouraged to complete these surveys that inquire about how the community uses the river, and which degraded segments of and threats to the river are most concerning. A recording of the presentations, surveys (in English and Spanish) and more information are available online at http://www.erwc.org. The Watershed Council and its partners encourage the community to make their voice heard in this important planning process and to stay tuned for future community meetings planned for this summer.

Eagle River Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. To learn more, call (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.

#WhiteRiver: Wolf Creek Dam update

From the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) is as busy as ever with many projects in the works that affect residents on both ends of Rio Blanco County. District Manager Alden Vanden Brink explained that the board is in the pre-permitting process for the White River Storage Project.

“They are getting organized enough so that they can go into permitting. Their goal is to be in the permitting process at this time next year in 2020,” Vanden Brink said.

According to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy’s website, the Northwest Colorado Water and Storage Project, also known as “Wolf Creek” has been in water resource planners’ sights since the 1940s when it was first proposed. Since then it seems every 10 years or so interest in the project is renewed and a feasibility study is completed. After reviewing all the pieces involved in reservoir construction the Wolf Creek project appears to make perfect sense for a White River reservoir. This is due, in part, to the potential for a significant portion of water to be stored off of the main channel, even with the main-stem White River dam. The geology of Wolf Creek and the surrounding area allows the inundation areas for the main-stem versus off-channel dam to be very similar. The Wolf Creek area also has the advantage of having all necessary raw materials available on site for the construction of the dam.

Estimates of the reservoir’s potential capacity are still in the development stages, but all indications point to a minimum reservoir capacity of 20,000–30,0000 acre-feet (AF) to 90,000 AF of storage with a maximum build capacity of stored water up to 1.2 million AF.

This is the only basin or main tributary to the Colorado River in the state that does not currently have drought resiliency. This project is a response to a developing water crisis for the lower White River including the Town of Rangely. No private lands will be inundated by this project as the location sits on federal, state and private land. That private land belongs to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

Not only will this project help the water storage crisis on the White River, Vanden Brink asserts “the local and regional economy will be enormously impacted and stimulated by the construction of this project.” The public can look forward to updates on the project as they develop.

The popular annual Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Fishing Derby is set for June 1-2 this year. This event coincides with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s free fishing weekend. The conservancy district offers free camping at Kenney Reservoir that begins Friday, May 31 and is honored on a first-come, first-serve basis. The weekend is also a free boating weekend a the reservoir.

“The Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce will be executing a Visit Rangely promotion during this time as well,” Vanden Brink said.

The White River Management Plan is a plan being developed for the endangered species within the White River. The lower White River system, which includes Kenney Reservoir, is a unique Colorado fishery. The Colorado Pike Minnow and the Razorback Sucker are the two endangered species that this plan is targeting for aid. The White River Management Plan puts the state in compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The RBWCD is a cooperating agency along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Colorado, the Colorado Water Users Association, The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, and the Nature Conservancy. Vanden Brink said “his board has been very active with this plan” to ensure that it gets completed.”

The investigation into the problematic algae bloom in the White River is ongoing. A group of concerned citizens and agencies have convened to address the excessive amount of algae in the White River from the headwaters to the Utah state line. The Technical Advisory Group includes the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Rio Blanco County, Town of Meeker, Town of Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, White River Conservation District, Douglas Creek Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Trout Unlimited.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2016 the visible filamentous alga was identified as Cladophora glomerata. All water users on the White River are impacted by this algae growth. It has especially caused intake problems for water users such as The Town of Rangely as well as private land owners. The RBWCD financially contributes to this investigation which hired the U.S. Geological Survey last year to conduct the water quality and stream morphology investigation. Vanden Brink reports that the RBWCD had success in 2018 flushing water out of the dam into the lower White River which helped to alleviate some of the algae problems in that area. They intend to use that method again in 2019 but likely earlier in the year.

Taylor Draw Dam was constructed in 1983 to create Kenney Reservoir. One hundred percent of the dam was funded by the taxpayers of western Rio Blanco County, including the Town of Rangely. In 1993 a 2-megawatt hydroelectric generator was added. The generator is capable of variable power output matching the flows of the White River. At full power production capacity, the hydroelectric facility provides up to 30 percent of renewable energy for Rangely. The energy created goes immediately onto the energy grid.

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District will meet again on Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m.

@DenverWater appeal of @BoulderCounty’s 1041 decision about the Moffat Collection System Project scheduled for March 14, 2019

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Longmont Times-Call (Charlie Brennan):

Thursday looms as an important day for both proponents and opponents of an expansion at Gross Reservoir, as Boulder County commissioners meet to hear Denver Water officials make the case that the massive project should not be subject to the county review process.

Denver Water, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and expend the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.

The project is subject of a federal lawsuit filed by a half-dozen environmental groups, and still must also obtain a licensing amendment at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to go forward.

Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case on Oct. 22 issued a finding that Denver Water’s plans were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process, a decision Denver Water asked without success for Case to reconsider, before finally appealing the question to the commissioners.

Commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a public hearing expected to last at least four hours. It will take place in the commissioners’ third-floor hearing room at 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder.

In-person sign-ups to speak will be taken beginning an hour in advance of the hearing, and commissioners are expected to issue a decision that night.

Metropolitan Water District of Southern #California is moving to shore up #Drought Contingency Plan without the Imperial Irrigation District sign off #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

From the Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the eleventh hour.

IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan from proceeding, and its board president called the latest development a violation of California environmental law.

But Metropolitan Water District of Southern California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger disagreed, and said Tuesday that attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and others in a working group are finalizing new documents to remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.

“The agreement will be rewritten so IID is not referenced at all, and the net effect of that is Met takes on the risk of potentially contributing 250,000 acre-feet that IID might have,” Kightlinger said.

The new deal, without IID, could enable seven states to meet a March 18 deadline set by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to submit a joint request to Congress to authorize the domestic plans and an international one with Mexico. IID has so far refused to sign onto the plan, saying they want a pledge of $200 million in federal funds to restore the also badly eroding Salton Sea.

From The Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels.

With California signed on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the multi-state agreement before it takes effect.

The MWD board took the step over the objections of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.

The sprawling Imperial Valley agricultural district has refused to sign the drought plan until the federal government provides $200 million for restoration of the Salton Sea, and its intransigence has forced California to miss federal deadlines for joining the pact…

MWD executives have said it is vital that the drought plan go into effect as soon as possible to prevent Lake Mead from dropping to levels that jeopardize Hoover Dam’s hydropower production and, eventually, water releases. They worry that if a shortage is declared, the agency would lose access to its substantial Lake Mead reserves.

Under the drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would be the first to reduce their withdrawals from Lake Mead. If the huge reservoir drops farther, California would cut back, spreading its reductions across the MWD, Imperial and other agencies that use the river.
With no federal funding for the Salton Sea on the immediate horizon, MWD leaders said they would assume responsibility for Imperial’s share of the cuts to push California across the finish line.

Imperial protested and raised the threat of legal action in a letter it sent to the board on Monday.

Noting that the MWD’s river rights are junior to Imperial’s, Imperial General Manager Henry Martinez argued that the move amounted to a major change that should trigger an environmental review.

“It is an unbelievable assumption … that only one minor modification will be needed for a lower priority water rights holder to sign multiple agreements on behalf of a senior priority water rights holder,” Martinez wrote. “By changing — in a way that the public cannot readily understand or see — the project description … at the last moment, MWD has violated both the letter and spirit” of California’s Environmental Quality Act.

Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger told the board Tuesday that agency attorneys had reviewed Imperial’s letter and said no environmental review was necessary. Without any discussion, the board then unanimously approved a motion to finalize California’s part of the shortage deal.

“However well-meaning MWD’s action is intended, it is simply unworkable and unacceptable to take the IID and the Salton Sea out of the [drought plan] equation,” Imperial board President Erik Ortega said in a statement after the vote…

In a Saturday letter to the Colorado River Board of California, the six other river states urged California to immediately approve the shortage plan. All six have agreed to it, although Arizona is still completing its documentation. According to Kightlinger, reclamation bureau attorneys said the MWD could sign for California.

Imperial leaders have said they intend to join the pact but won’t ink the final documents until the federal government commits to funding Salton Sea restoration…

If Imperial later signs the shortage documents, the MWD says it would be relieved of picking up Imperial’s share of the cuts.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

As promised, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman on Friday wrote a letter of support to the Imperial Irrigation District, backing efforts to win substantial Farm Bill funds to restore the dwindling Salton Sea.

But she stopped short of linking a pledge of funds to the seven-state Colorado River drought package that she is pushing to complete in two weeks. Instead, she said adopting the drought plan was the single biggest step to both preserving drinking water across the West and to preserving the Salton Sea.

“We recognize the urgency of taking action to protect the Salton Sea given the current and anticipated decline in its elevation,” Burman wrote. “We stand ready to support the efforts of our USDA colleagues as they work to implement the new provisions” of the Farm Bill. that could aid the Salton Sea.

But Burman politely implored the rural water district to first sign on to the drought plan to shore up Lake Mead reservoir.

“Actions are (also) needed immediately to address the risk of Lake Mead declining to low elevations,” she wrote. “We simply must work together as partners …to avoid such a deviating scenario.”

Webinar: “Know your snow” from the #ColoradoRiver District, April 2, 2019 #COriver @ColoradoWater

Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Andy Mueller):

Please join us for a free, educational webinar hosted by the Colorado River District and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies on Tuesday, April 2nd, from 12:00 to 1:00pm.

“Know Your Snow” will provide important updates on current snowpack conditions, ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin, threats posed to our water supply by dust on snow, and an overview of changing runoff trends important to water users on Colorado’s Western Slope.

PHOTO CREDIT: McKenzie Skiles
McKenzie Skiles (right) measures snow density, which is used to estimate the amount of water in the snowpack.

Click here to register.

As public officials, water leaders and concerned citizens we recognize that you play an important role in educating your communities on important water issues.

#California agencies are holding up the #Drought Contigency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #DCP

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

From The Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands. But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the federal government.

Arizona has some work to do but nothing major holding it back. California, however, has two powerful water agencies fighting over how to get the drought contingency plan approved before U.S. officials possibly impose their own rules for water going to California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water than anyone else.

That agency, the Imperial Irrigation District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake southeast of Los Angeles that has become an environmental and health hazard in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.

The Metropolitan Water District would have to provide what could be nearly 2 million acre-feet of water between 2020 and 2026…

That water would be stored behind Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada line to keep the key reservoir from dropping to drastically low levels. Water is delivered through Lake Mead to Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The more we delay, the harder it is to hold that deal together,” Metropolitan general manager Jeff Kightlinger said.

California isn’t required to contribute water under the drought plan unless Lake Mead drops to 1,045 feet, which might not ever happen. But if it does, the Imperial Irrigation District said the public would likely demand that it contribute as the agency with the largest and oldest rights to Colorado River water.

“The way to arrive at a resilient and durable drought contingency plan is for the parties to work through the Salton Sea issue, not around it,” Imperial general manager Henry Martinez told a Metropolitan Water District committee Monday. “Our two agencies have shown that we can do good things for the river and each other when we take the long view, and that capacity to see past the moment is what’s urgently needed now.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has given governors or their representatives in the seven states until March 19 to recommend the next steps after California and Arizona failed to meet its deadlines.

Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming wrote to the Colorado River Board of California over the weekend, urging California to unite with them in seeking authorization from Congress for the drought plans. Without it, the states won’t be able to implement the plans, Mexico won’t contribute water and the federal government will step in and decide what to do, the states said.

The states and the Bureau of Reclamation said they support Imperial’s call for federal funding for the Salton Sea.

@AZwater releases Preliminary Hydrographic Survey Report for Navajo Reservation

Here’s the release from the Arizona Department of Natural Resources (Sally Stewart Lee):

On March 8, 2019, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) is releasing the Preliminary Hydrographic Survey Report for the Navajo Reservation (Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR) for inspection and comment. The Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR was prepared by ADWR as part of the Little Colorado River General Stream Adjudication (LCR Adjudication), which is pending before the Apache County Superior Court.

The purpose of the Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR is to provide the Navajo Nation, the United States and interested parties with the opportunity to inspect the information that ADWR gathered pertaining to water right claims filed by the Navajo Nation and by the United States (on behalf of the Navajo Nation), and to file comments with ADWR.

In accordance with A.R.S. § 45-256(H), the ADWR Director gives notice that the comment period on the Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR shall extend until June 7, 2019. All comments must be in writing and received by ADWR on or before June 7, 2019 at the following address:

The Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR is being made available for downloading from ADWR’s website at https://new.azwater.gov/adjudications. In addition, an electronic version of the N Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR is being made available for purchase for $20.00. Special arrangements may be made to purchase a hard copy of all or selected portions of the Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR, including appendices. Electronic and hard copies may be purchased by calling (602) 771-8634 or (866) 246-1414 (toll free).

2019 Preliminary Navajo Reservation HSR