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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jeff Stahla):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mesa “State of the River” meeting recap

Colorado River Trail near Fruita September 2014

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The Colorado River is a still largely unrecognized asset that could flood the Grand Valley with economic opportunities, speakers said at a State of the River conference Monday.

“We’re not maximizing use of the river from a commercial perspective,” Sam Williams, general manager of Powderhorn Mountain Resort, told about 50 people at the conference at the Avalon Theatre in downtown Grand Junction.

Williams spoke on a panel with Palisade-area fruitgrower Bruce Talbott, Grand Junction Economic Partnership Executive Director Kristi Pollard, Alpine Bank Senior Vice President David Miller and Sarah Shrader, owner of Bonsai Design in Grand Junction and a founder of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition.

“We sell lifestyle” when trying to attract businesses to the Grand Valley, and a large part of that is the presence of “this amazing asset we have,” the Colorado River, Pollard said.

Shrader, whose company is developing an outdoor-recreation business park along the river, noted that other cities that have taken advantage of the river through town to use as an attraction have seen a turnaround in the business climate to one of optimism and activity.

“This community is poised to do something really fantastic,” Shrader said.

Involving businesses and people in the river can aid with the recovery of the four endangered fish species in the Colorado River Basin, as well as others, such as the Western yellow-billed cuckoo, by encouraging an ethic of stewardship, Shrader said.

All of Alpine Bank’s branches sit on or near the banks of the Colorado or one of its many tributaries, Miller said.

That has served as a reminder that the health of the river is directly tied to the health of the businesses along it, Miller said.

Alpine Bank has moved to reduce its water use by 40 percent and has saved $12,000 annually in doing so, he noted.

Agriculture in the east end of the Grand Valley — peaches and grapes specifically — has served to make his family business “the darling of the valley,” Talbott said.

It’s been successful on the financial score, as the 2,500 acres of fruit lands generate some $60 million in ultimate retail sales, Talbott noted.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that fruitgrowers and others are well served to look out for their water supplies because, “We farm at the consent of the public,” Talbott said.

“We have to grow (crops) as inexpensively as possible” while looking to assure long-term water supplies, Talbott said.

The meeting was sponsored by The Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and the Business for Water Stewardship. Alpine Bank, the Tamarisk Coalition and Club 20 also supported the conference.

From NBC11News.com (Carly Moore):

There were many speakers at the ‘State of the River’ event, taking a critical look at the resource flowing through the valley. They explained the challenges the water supply faces…

Experts are concerned because they believe the river is operating at a long-term deficit, meaning more water is used than the amount we gain from rain or snow.

“Water is really important in Colorado because we are an arid state,” said Aaron Clay, a Delta water law attorney. “It takes water to make any economy run, whether it’s agriculture, manufacturing or municipal.”

“So between people and industry asking more of the river system — and this is all states states on the river — and warming temperatures, that has put a burden on supply,” said Jim Pokrandt, the community affairs director of the Colorado River District.

Gigi Richard, faculty director of the CMU’s Water Center, said the only source of water is precipitation. With a third of the Colorado River Basin getting fewer than 10 inches of rain each year on average, the Colorado River relies on melted snow pack.

“In a sense we’re snow farmers,” Pokrandt said. “While some people may paying attention to commodity prices, our commodity is snow pack.”

Richard said more than 80 percent of Mesa County’s water is used for agricultural irrigation.

Though it’s valuable for family homes to conserve water as much as possible, Clay said that doesn’t put a dent in it.

Rifle “State of the River” recap

Rifle Falls back in the day via USGenWeb

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Alex Zorn):

The State of the River featured several presentations. Speakers included Scot Dodero, who discussed the Silt Water Conservancy District and its upcoming $3 million upgrade to its pump house, and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, who focused on big picture questions facing the Colorado River.

The Colorado River District started these meetings 24 years ago. Kuhn sees exports as a potential issue in the future, for every drop of water is used from the river.

“If California is in a drought and they can’t export more water from northern California, they will take more from the Colorado,” he explained.

He compared it to a rubber band being pulled on both sides; eventually it is going to snap.

Kuhn listed demand management and cloud seeding (or snowmaking) as potential solutions in contingency planning, but admitted it was a complex issue.

The evening’s final presentation looked at the Grand Valley water banking experiment, which will test how conserving consumptive water use by agricultural fallowing will send more water to Lake Powell to help bolster low reservoir levels.

“Water banking is the practice of intentionally foregoing diversion or consumptive use of a water resource and banking the conversed volume for use at a future date or different purpose,” said Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

In 2017, 10 farm operators across the valley, each committing a minimum of 60 acres, will participate in the pilot program to reduce water consumption. The program will ensure that agricultural water users would have a seat at the table if and when water rights becomes more of an issue. In turn, they won’t be expected to shoulder the burden in drought conditions.

For more information, specific questions or concerns, visit http://midcowatershed.org or http://crwcd.org.

#ColoradoRiver District Second Quarterly Board Newsletter Summary #COriver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click here to read the summary. Here’s an excerpt:

What are the State of the River Meetings?

Each spring, during snowmelt runoff, the River District organizes informational “State of the River” meetings across parts of the Western Slope of Colorado to help educate the public and water users. Meeting speakers offer up-to-date information on snowpack figures, water supply forecasts and anticipated stream flows and upcoming conditions.

Specifically, reservoir operators and climate profession will discuss the amount of water expected to flow into the local reservoirs due to melting snow and will forecast how conditions may affect the rise and fall of reservoir levels and the amounts and timing of water to be released to the rivers over the upcoming season.

Mesa State of the River, May 15, 2017 #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From the Colorado River District via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Learn more about the Colorado River

The public is invited to a free day of learning about the Colorado River at the annual Mesa County State of the River meeting from 3:30 to 8 p.m. on May 15 at the Avalon Theatre.

The event is organized by the Colorado River District, Business for Water Stewardship and the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. The event is supported by Alpine Bank, Club 20 and the Tamarisk Coalition.

For more information, contact Jim Pokrandt at the Colorado River District at 970-945-8522 x236, or edinfo@crwcd.org; or Molly Mugglestone of the Business for Water Stewardship, molly@businessforwater.org.

#ColoradoRiver District: “State of the River” meetings — @ColoradoWater #COriver

Silverthorne via City-Data.com.

From the Colorado River District:

Date, times and places for ALL Public Meetings

What are the State of the River Meetings?

Each spring, during snowmelt runoff, the River District organizes informational “State of the River” meetings across parts of the Western Slope of Colorado to help educate the public and water users. Meeting speakers offer up-to-date information on snowpack figures, water supply forecasts and anticipated stream flows and upcoming conditions.

Specifically, reservoir operators and climate profession will discuss the amount of water expected to flow into the local reservoirs due to melting snow and will forecast how conditions may affect the rise and fall of reservoir levels and the amounts and timing of water to be released to the rivers over the upcoming season.

Here’s the release for the May 4, 2017 meeting in Silverthorne:

Top researcher on rising temperatures speaking at Summit State of the River meeting

Brad Udall, renowned climate researcher with the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, will keynote the Summit State of the River meeting set for 6 p.m., Thursday, May 4, 2017, at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water officials will discuss reservoir operations at Green Mountain and Dillon.

Learn about the health of the snowpack and what it forecasts for river flows and reservoir operations at the 24th annual Summit State of the River meeting set for 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion. This free, public event is sponsored by the Blue River Watershed Group and the Colorado River District. Finger-food and refreshments will be served.

The special guest keynote speaker will be Brad Udall of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, who recently co-authored a study that describes how rising temperatures are as villainous in reduced Colorado River flows as the drought itself between 2000 and 2014.

In this time period, flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average, the worst 15-year drought on record. At least one-sixth to one-half of this loss is due to unprecedented temperatures (0.9°C above the 1906-99 average). This confirms model-based analyses that continued warming will likely further reduce flows, according to the paper.

Another top speaker is Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn, who is retiring next year. Kuhn has been a leader in the Colorado River Basin in cautioning that low reservoir levels at Lake Powell threaten dire consequences for the entire basin unless water management policies change.

Summit County Water Commissioner Troy Wineland will discuss local water supply and streamflow predictions. Also, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and Denver Water will be on hand to detail operations this year at Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs, two key water bodies in Summit County.

For more information, contact Water Commissioner Troy Wineland at 970-355-4516 or Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District at 970-945-8522.