#Colorado water policies will reflect first-ever cuts in Southwest U.S. — The #Greeley Tribune

The rising sun illuminates the desert landscape near Channel Island at the head of Virgin Canyon in Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Arizona-Nevada border (Photo from Arizona). Photo by Colleen Miniuk-Sperry via American Rivers

From The Greeley Tribune (Bruce Finley):

Colorado officials plan to measure use more precisely and pay farmers to send more to Lake Powell

As federal authorities impose the first-ever mandatory cuts in how much water Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take from the Colorado River, the states higher up the river face rising pressure to divert less.

That has Colorado officials embarking on an effort to install measuring devices across the Western Slope to precisely account for just how much farmers, ranchers and cities siphon out. The state is also developing a program to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less of their allotted shares of river water so that more could be banked in Lake Powell to meet the state’s legal downriver obligations to California, Arizona and Nevada.

All of this comes after the summer’s emergency draw-down of Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and other federal reservoirs to leave more water in the 1,450-mile river.

Monday’s [August 16, 2021] declaration by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation orders Arizona to cut the water it draws from Lake Mead by 18% (512,000 acre-feet), Nevada by 7% (21,000 acre-feet) and Mexico by 5% (80,000 acre feet). The cuts must begin next year.

The feds also declared that Colorado and its upper basin neighbors (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) will be allowed to deliver a little less water next year to Lake Powell, reducing the amount measured at the top of the Grand Canyon from 8.23 million acre-feet to 7.43 million acre-feet. That’s because shrinking mountain snow, drought and heat are depleting headwaters, authorities said.

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

Still, average annual flows of water in the Colorado River Basin have decreased by 19% since 2000, federal records show. And water levels in the Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been falling steadily for years as 40 million people tap the river. This year’s record low levels (both about a third full) triggered the declaration.

New projections unveiled by federal hydrologists that the river basin will dry out faster than previously expected may trigger additional cuts before 2025 based on states’ agreed-on operating procedures.

“It’s all connected, one river system, and we’re just in different points of pain,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director for The Nature Conservancy.

Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch in this August 2020 photo. Compliance with measuring device requirements has been moving more slowly than state engineers would like.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Colorado Division of Water Resources director Kevin Rein met with ranchers and farmers around western Colorado last month seeking guidance on how best to install flumes and other devices to measure how much water they divert…

Meanwhile, Colorado Water Conservation Board officials have scheduled a working session this month to consider expansion of pilot program efforts to pay farmers, cities and industries to use less water, which analysts have said could cost the state hundreds of millions.

Board director Rebecca Mitchell, who also represents Colorado in negotiating with other states over the river’s water, said headwaters users “understand the risks and vulnerabilities we face due to severe drought and a potentially hotter and drier future.”

Upper Division States and @USBR to Begin Development of #Drought Response Operations Plan — Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission #COriver #aridification

Current Upper Colorado River Basin Reservoir Status May 12, 2021 via the USBR.

Here’s the release from the Upper Colorado River Commission:

On May 14, 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) released its May 24-Month Study (and accompanying narrative) showing the elevation of Lake Powell declining to 3,525.57 feet as early as March 2022 under the Most Probable hydrology forecast. The 24-Month Study is released monthly and projects Lake Powell elevations 24 months into the future. Lake Powell is currently at an elevation of 3,560.60 feet and is approaching its lowest recorded level since the reservoir began filling in the early 1960s.

Maintaining Lake Powell elevations at or above 3,525 feet promotes the compliance of the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming with a century-old compact and preserves regional benefits derived from hydropower production at Glen Canyon Dam.

Under the 2019 Drought Response Operations Agreement between Reclamation and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, the May 24-Month Study signals the need for the parties to begin the development of a drought response operations plan to reduce the likelihood of Lake Powell dropping below 3,525 feet. Such a plan would first consider the operational flexibilities at Lake Powell, consistent with existing legal and operational constraints.

f those flexibilities are unable to prevent Lake Powell elevations from falling below 3,525 feet, the parties will consider releases of water to Lake Powell from the upstream reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo (“Initial Units” under the Colorado River Storage Project Act). Releases could be made from some or all of the Initial Units and would likely occur in varying quantities and times but consistent with current legal and operational requirements at the facilities. A plan would also include the recovery of water at the participating Initial Units to restore operating elevations at those facilities to their pre-plan levels.

Currently, the parties are beginning the process of developing a drought response operations plan in accordance with the Agreement. However, such a plan will not be finalized until Reclamation’s April 24-Month Study Most Probable forecast shows Lake Powell falling to a target elevation of 3,525 feet or below within a 12-month period and after consultation with the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. If the Secretary of the Interior determines that there is an imminent need to protect Lake Powell elevations from dropping below 3,525 feet, she has the discretion to take emergency action after consulting with the Colorado River Basin States.

Lake Powell ended the 2020 “water year” at an elevation of 3,596 feet above sea level. That is 104 feet below what is considered Powell’s full capacity. The “water year” is a term used by the U.S. Geological Survey to measure the 12-month hydrologic cycle between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30. The October start date is used to mark when snow begins to accumulate in the mountains. Photo credit: Denver Water

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Sara Leonard):

Commissioner Mitchell Statement on Lake Powell Elevation Forecast

May 20, 2021 (Denver, CO) – On May 14, the Bureau of Reclamation released its monthly study showing the elevation level in Lake Powell as critically declining.

The study predicts a significant probability that Lake Powell will decline to approximately 3,525.41 feet as early as March 2022. Lake Powell, which currently sits at elevation 3,560.60 feet, is approaching its lowest level since it was filled in the early 1960s.

For more details, read the Upper Colorado River Commission press release.

Statement from Colorado River Commissioner Rebecca Mitchell:

“Our team of Colorado River hydrology experts have been closely monitoring conditions and analyzing the impacts on river operations, and are very aware of the daunting projections. Colorado and all of the Upper Basin states are – and have been – experiencing severe water shortages that affect our industries and our citizens. Colorado stands ready to work with our neighboring Upper Basin states to implement all aspects of the Drought Contingency Plan if conditions warrant. As Colorado River Commissioner tasked with negotiating new river operations on behalf of Colorado, I am mindful of the importance of the Colorado River to more than 40 million people and the $1.4 trillion annual economy it supports. I am committed to engaging with our partners and stakeholders across the state and the Basin to work as efficiently and effectively as possible in order to make informed decisions.”

#Wyoming #Water bills spend millions on dangerous, aging infrastructure — The Wyoming Business Report

The LaPrele dam is an Ambursen style dam, which makes it unique.
CREDIT J. E. STIMSON / WYOMING STATE ARCHIVES

From Wyofile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr) via The Wyoming Business Report:

Lawmakers appropriated $24.3 million for water development, earmarking significant funding to rebuild the old and suspect LaPrele Dam above Douglas and repair a domestic water line to Midwest and Edgerton.

The Wyoming House and Senate both approved two water bills last week despite questions over cloud seeding and whether the state should prioritize water development over other crucial needs amid the ongoing budget crisis. Much of the money, some of which will be spent over several years, will upgrade aging water infrastructure.

In the largest appropriations, lawmakers earmarked grants of $4.3 million to study replacement of the unconventional and suspect Ambursen-style LaPrele Dam and $7.3 million to rehabilitate the Salt Creek water line to Midwest and Edgerton north of Casper.

Underscoring the need to repair aging infrastructure, one provision in the bills would transfer $7.5 million from a planning to a rehabilitation account to help fund the LaPrele reconstruction. The 137-foot high, 325-foot long dam, finished in 1909, may be the poster child for suspect, aging infrastructure.

LaPrele Dam held 20,000 acre-feet for an irrigation district before operators restricted storage because of safety worries. The $4.3 million allocation would help find a replacement for the unusual buttressed concrete-wall construction that blocks a canyon on LaPrele Creek above Ayres Natural Bridge Park, Interstate 25 and the city of Douglas 27 miles away.

The Water Development Office favors building a new dam downstream at an estimated cost of $50-$80 million, according to the Glenrock Independent…

Bust-town blues

Another big-ticket item addresses aging infrastructure and a lack of maintenance in an oilfield boom community north of Casper that’s gone bust. The bills would grant $7.3 million to the towns of Midwest and Edgerton, two Teapot Dome-Salt Creek oilfield communities that rely on a 45-mile water line.

Midwest and Edgerton were home to a combined 1,500 people in 1980, but by 2010, only 600 lived there. There’s no good water to be found in the area, according to a consultant.

The towns built their transmission line in 1996, didn’t maintain it well and corrosive soils have eaten at it. The line connects to the Central Wyoming Regional Water System at Bar Nunn, which draws water from the North Platte River.

Until it recently failed, part of the towns’ water system operated on a Windows 95 program and a dial-up modem, consultants wrote. Now operators manipulate valves manually. Water meters are plagued by freezing, poorly insulated pits and neglect.

Water spends 20 days in the system before reaching the user, degrading quality with “disinfectant residues and byproduct residuals,” the consultant wrote. As recently as 2017, Edgerton violated a water-quality rule limiting coliform bacteria.

Edgerton must monitor for impacts from its system’s asbestos-cement pipes.

The grant would amount to approximately $12,166 per resident. Those residents’ water bills could double from about $50 a month.

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

The legislation’s $24.3-million price tag is a fraction of the roughly $315 million Wyoming has already appropriated for water projects. The water Development Office holds those previously allocated funds in earmarked accounts and is poised to spend them. Those appropriations include $156 million for dams and reservoirs, $36 million for a rehabilitation account and $123 million that’s essentially for planning.

With the bills’ approval, water development will have about $35 million to appropriate going into next year’s biennium budget process, Gebhart told lawmakers.

Laws fund the water office annually with about $23.3 million diverted from mineral severance taxes. Because the diversion comes from the first $155 million of taxes generated annually, the arrangement isn’t threatened by declining revenues from fossil fuels.

Wyoming water development will receive that $23 million whether oil sells for $25 a barrel or $77 a barrel, Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper) told a House committee. Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) told colleagues the most recent estimate put those tax revenues at $500 million a year, well above the $155 million necessary to generate the expected water office funding.

The state has a couple of dam projects under construction and “probably five or six additional projects at various levels of permitting” Gebhart told a committee. “Not many states are able to do what we’re doing,” he said.

Work is completed on the Big Sandy Dam enlargement in Sweetwater County and planning continues to enable Fontenelle Dam in Lincoln County to disgorge an additional 81,000 acre feet a year, Rep. Eklund said. Reconstruction is ongoing on the suspect Middle Piney Dam, partially located on a landslide.

Wyoming rivers map via Geology.com

@USBR completes review of #ColoradoRiver operations for #LakePowell and #LakeMead #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2020

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Patti Aaron and Linda Friar):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released a report intended to bring partners, stakeholders and the public to a common understanding of the effectiveness of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The technical report documents conservation efforts and operations on the Colorado River since 2007 and provides an essential reference to inform future operations.

“The report presents a thorough review of operations and highlights that we have experienced historic collaboration among states, tribes, water users, non-governmental organizations and the international community in addressing issues affecting one of America’s most important rivers,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Forty million people across seven states and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for life and livelihood, so it’s critical that our actions protect this resource now and into the future. Today’s report highlights both the historic steps taken in the basin, as well as the need for continued progress to meet the growing challenges in the years ahead.”

The report concluded:

– The 2007 Interim Guidelines were largely effective as measured against both their stated purpose and common themes as provided in the 2007 Record of Decision.

– Increasing severity of the drought necessitated additional action to reduce the risk of reaching critically low elevations in Lakes Powell and Mead.

Experience over the past 12 years provides important considerations:

– enhanced flexibilities and transparency for water users

– expanded participation in conservation and Basin-wide programs

– increased consideration of the linkage that occurs through coordinated reservoir operations, particularly with respect to the inherent uncertainties in model projections used to set operating conditions

– demonstrated need for more robust measures to protect reservoir levels

The report and additional information is posted at https://www.usbr.gov/ColoradoRiverBasin/.

The screenshots from Twitter are from yesterday’s “Federal Friday” event hosted by @CRWUA_Water in partnership with @usbr. The conference hash tag was #CRWUA2020.

 

 

Seven #ColoradoRiver Basin States Initiate Collaboration on Operational Guidelines — Upper Colorado River Commission

Map of the Colorado River drainage basin, created using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65868008

Here’s the release from the Upper Colorado River Commission (Rebecca Mitchell):

Colorado joined Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to begin preliminary discussions regarding the upcoming negotiations of the Colorado River Basin operational guidelines.

Governors’ representatives from each of the Colorado River Basin States signed a joint letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman requesting technical support from the federal agency as the states move forward with these discussions. Colorado’s Upper Colorado River Commissioner Rebecca Mitchell signed the letter on behalf of Colorado.

Involved states will be considering future recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior regarding operational guidelines for Lakes Powell and Lake Mead beyond 2026.

“Colorado will continue leading the effort with the other Colorado River Basin States on negotiating the next set of operational guidelines to ensure western water is managed effectively and sustainably, and during the process will engage with all groups invested in the outcome including water users, the Tribal Nations, Mexico, and non-governmental organizations,” said Commissioner Mitchell. “As we continue to face climate change impacts, including persistent drought, working together to find solutions to our water challenges is more important than ever.”

Lake Powell Pipeline hits ‘an important milestone’ with roll out of environmental study — The St. George News

Click here for all the inside skinny and to read the EIS:

The public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project will close at 11:59 p.m. MDT on September 8, 2020

The Bureau of Reclamation, on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has issued a Notice of Availability of the draft Environmental Impact Statement/draft Resource Management Plan Amendment for the Lake Powell Pipeline Project, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The Department is seeking public comment on the draft EIS/draft RMPA during a 90-day public comment period that will close at 11:59 pm MDT on September 8, 2020.

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

State and local water officials are pleased with the results of the draft environmental impact statement, more commonly referred to as an EIS, while opponents of the project carry a different view.

“(This) is an important milestone because we can get a permit,” said Brock Belnap, an associate general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District overseeing the Lake Powell Pipeline project. “The law requires the federal government to study all the various impacts on the environment the project might affect.”

Based on those environmental impacts, the federal government must establish whether a proposed project is warranted…

“We’re very pleased that the environmental impact statement recognizes that Washington County has a need for the project,” Belnap said.

The EIS also finds Washington County is able to pay for the pipeline project as long as the projected growth continues, Belnap said…

There are two courses recommended for the Lake Powell Pipeline to take. One is the Southern Alternative and the other is the Highway Alternative. While both routes start at Lake Powell and end at Sand Hollow Reservoir, they also either pass through or close to lands held sacred by Native Americans in Arizona.

The Southern Alternative, which is the preferred alternative, travels south of the Kaibab Paiute Reservation along a preexisting utility corridor. The Highway Alternative would take the pipeline along Arizona 389, which cuts across the reservation…

The Kaibab Band stated in the supplement that the Lake Powell Pipeline will create an imbalance by “moving the Colorado River from where the creator placed it across a hundred miles of landscape and depositing it where it does not belong. … This action will make the river angry and confused, the results of which are unknown but clearly a source of imbalance in the world.”

[…]

There is currently a water rights change application before Utah’s state engineers that would allow just over 86,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River above the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to flow down to Lake Powell.

Utah already has rights to that water, Belnap said. If the application is approved, the point of diversion – the location where the state would be allowed to draw water from – would shift from the Green River to Lake Powell…

The Utah Rivers Council, along with over environmental advocacy groups, have sent petitions to Teresa Wilhelmsen, the state engineer, asking her to deny the application.

“Climate change is reducing the flows of the Colorado River because it’s reducing the snowpack of the entire Colorado River Basin,” Frankel said. “As the flows of the river drop, it means that there is less water available to divert. This draft EIS totally shirks the responsibility to determine whether there’s water available in the Colorado River to put in a pipeline.”

There are many peer-reviewed studies available that state there won’t be enough water in the Colorado River to support the pipeline due to climate change, Frankel said. Climate change data used in the draft EIS concerning the subject either ignores these studies or takes from a study that is at least a decade out of date, he said.

As for the pipeline’s pending diversion, it would take less than 6% of the state’s 1.4 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council