Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Taryn Finnessey) and the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Tracy Kosloff):
In order to respond to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector on May 2, 2018 , in the following counties:Montezuma, La Plata, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Las Animas, Baca, Prowers, Bent, Otero, Huerfano, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Mineral, Hinsdale, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Saguache, Custer, Pueblo, Crowley, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lincoln, El Paso, Elbert, Gunnison, Mesa, Delta, Garfield and Rio Blanco. All of these counties are experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought as classified by the US Drought Monitor , and many have already received some level of drought designation from USDA . If present trends continue, other regions and sectors of the state’s economy may also be affected. Those areas will continue to be monitored closely.
■ October 2017 through April 2018 was the 5th warmest and the 5th driest on record for the state as a whole. Some locations throughout southern CO have experienced their driest and/or warmest Oct-Apr period on record.
■ Most regions of Southern Colorado reached their snow accumulation peak two to three weeks early and have experienced rapid snowmelt, resulting in melt out occurring three weeks earlier than normal.
■ Streamflow forecasts in the southern half of the state are extremely low, with multiple sites showing below 15 percent of normal.
■ Demand is increasing and reservoir storage in the most heavily impacted areas, the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan have seen significant decreases in reservoir storage over the last two months. This combined basin currently has 91 percent of normal storage, the lowest storage levels in the state.
■ Isolated cattle sell off and prevented planting of some acreage has been reported. Due to high hay prices we anticipate additional cattle sell off, and unless conditions improve additional prevented and failed crop acres are likely.
■ Windy, dry conditions fueled fires in April leading to numerous large wildfires on both the west slope and the eastern plains. Current forecasts indicate above average potential for large wildfires through June (see image on reverse side) with late summer fire potential dependent on monsoon conditions.
■ As of May 15, exceptional drought, D4, continues to affect southwest Colorado and has also been introduced in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, covering eight percent of the state. Extreme drought, D3, covers 23 percent of the state; severe drought 20 percent and 14 percent is classified as moderate drought. An additional 14 percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions (see image on reverse side).
■ Reservoir storage statewide is at 111 percent of normal, with all but the southwest basins above average. The Arkansas basin is reporting the highest average storage at 129 percent. Front Range water providers mainly draw water resources from areas of the state that received near normal winter precipitation, and are therefore expecting reservoirs to fill, and are not anticipating any water use restrictions outside normal operations.
■ The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) values have declined slightly May 1, with much of the western slope classified as extremely dry. These values are largely driven by below average streamflow forecasts. The sub-basin with the highest value includes Lake Granby, a large reservoir.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
DATE: May 16, 2018
RE: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on Fryingpan River, Eagle & Pitkin Counties
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“CRWCD”) to enter into a one-year renewable short-term lease of a portion of water that CRWCD holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Board will consider this proposal at its May 23-24, 2018 meeting in Salida. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/public-information/board-meetings-agendas/Pages/May2018NoticeAgenda.aspx
Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 079D6C0106
Contract Use: Supplement winter instream flows in the Fryingpan River
Contract Amount: 5,000 Acre Feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: 3,500 Acre Feet
Proposed Reaches of Stream:
Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.
Purpose of the Acquisition:
The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.
Proposed Season of Use:
Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.
CRAIG — Three variations of a potential dam that could someday sit astride the main stem of the White River between Meeker and Rangely have been examined by the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely.
Last week in Craig, Steve Jamieson, a principal engineer and president at W.W. Wheeler and Associates, told the members of the Yampa, Green and White river basin roundtable that an 80-foot-tall dam built across the main stem of the White River at Wolf Creek could store 68,000 acre-feet of water.
He said a 104-foot-tall dam across the river could store 138,000 acre-feet.
And a 290-foot-tall dam across the valley floor could store 2.9 million acre-feet of water.
“The maximum you can get here is 2.9 million acre-feet in this bucket,” Jamieson said. “It’s a big bucket, and you can do that with a dam that it’s about 290 feet high. It would be a very efficient dam site, but you need to have the water to fill it.”
About 500,000 acre-feet of water a year runs down the lower White River each year, flowing through Meeker and Rangely and into Utah and the Green River.
And between 1923 and 2014, the annual flow in the White River at the Utah line ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million acre-feet, according to Wheeler and Associates.
The potential White River Dam would be located 23 miles east of Rangely, along Highway 64.
The existing Taylor Draw Dam, which forms Kenney Reservoir on the main stem of the White River, is six miles east of Rangely.
That reservoir was built in 1984 to hold 13,800 acre-feet of water, but it’s gradually silting in, as was expected in a 1982 EIS done for the project. The surface area still “available for recreation,” or boating, is now less than 335 acres, down from 650 acres when the reservoir opened.
The dam’s hydro plant, however, is still generating about $500,000 a year in electricity revenue for the Rio Blanco district in a run-of-river setup.
Jamieson also has been studying an off-channel dam in the Wolf Creek drainage, which is a broad, dry valley on the north side the river, just upstream of the proposed White River Dam site.
The Wolf Creek Dam would be located 3,000 feet back from the river and 170 feet above it.
An 80-foot-tall version of that dam could store 41,000 acre-feet of water, a 119-foot-tall dam could store 130,000 acre-feet, and a 260-foot-tall dam could store 1.6 million-acre feet, Jamieson said.
“This is really good dam site here, I like this,” Jamieson said. “It’s very flexible.”
However, the off-channel Wolf Creek Dam would require that water be pumped up from the river, at a high cost, or delivered via a 40-mile long canal or pipeline starting near Rio Blanco Lake — closer to Meeker than Rangely.
“It’s going to be a very long and expensive canal,” Jamieson said.
The pumping facility for a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir, which was studied in 2014, was estimated to cost $18.2 million build and up to $1.1 million a year to operate.
Jamieson said Highway 64 would need to be moved to accommodate the biggest White River Dam option, which requires a 500-foot-wide spillway on one side of the river valley.
The river itself would also have to be moved during construction.
“You’d be constructing two to three years at least,” Jamieson said. “So what we looked at is actually building a tunnel around into this abutment that we would divert the White River through during construction.”
Jamieson said the district started studying the maximum size of the potential reservoirs after Sen. Cory Gardner asked during a site visit, “How big can you make this reservoir?”
During his presentation Jamieson repeatedly referred to Sen. Gardner, using phrases such as “this is the maximum Cory Gardner reservoir.”
A roundtable member asked, “Did the senator promise the money for this?”
The basin roundtables operate under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and review grants for water projects.
“No, he did not, unfortunately,” said Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions, a public affairs consulting firm retained by the district. “We asked.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board also wants to know what the maximum reservoir size is.
“Based on recent comments from some stakeholders, it may be beneficial to build the largest possible reservoir at Wolf Creek,” the scope of work for a 2017 grant from the board to the district states.
It also says “a much larger reservoir … could have additional benefits to the state.”
One of those benefits could be helping the state avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.
“Part of the Phase 2A study is to determine if the project may have the potential to provide Colorado compact curtailment insurance during periods of drought,” the 2017 grant application from the district said.
Since 2013, the district has received three grants totaling $500,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for its White River project, and the potential benefit of compact compliance has been mentioned in all three grants.
20,000 or 90,000
On Wednesday in Craig, Jamieson downplayed compact curtailment and focused on the district’s goal of creating a 20,000 or 90,000 acre-foot “working pool” of water inside larger potential reservoirs.
For example, it would require a 138,000 acre-foot on-channel reservoir to establish a 90,000 acre-foot working pool for the district, after allowances for a recreation pool and a 24,000 acre-foot sedimentation pool — which would fill in over 50 years.
To establish a need of the stored water, Jamieson cited a 2014 study showing demand in the basin at 91,000 acre-feet in 2065.
That’s on the high end, though.
The low-end need in 2065 was 16,600 acre-feet.
The district filed in water court in 2014 for a 90,000-acre-foot storage right at both the on-channel and off-channel locations.
But Erin Light, the division engineer in Div. 6, told the district in July 2017 “this application continues to contain aspects that are speculative and this is concerning to me.”
She questioned the district’s use of the highest estimates for such potential uses as oil shale production and flows for endangered fish.
The water attorney for the district, Ed Olszewski, responded to Light in August.
He said the district “disputes that any portion of the application is speculative” and the application is intended to be “as flexible as possible.”
As Jamieson wrapped up his presentation, he said the Rio Blanco district plans to “initiate project permitting” in 2019.
“I know we’re very aggressive,” Jamieson said. “We’re making progress.”
Aspen Journalism is covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Monday, May 14, 2018.
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
On May 2, 2018, in response to persistent and prolonged drought in portions of Colorado, the Governor activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector in the following counties:
Montezuma, La Plata, Archuleta, Conejos, Costilla, Las Animas, Baca, Prowers, Bent, Otero, Huerfano, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Mineral, Hinsdale, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Saguache, Custer, Pueblo, Crowley, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Lincoln, El Paso, Elbert, Gunnison, Mesa, Delta, Garfield, Rio Blanco. [ed. emphasis mine]
All of these counties are experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought as classified by the US Drought Monitor, and many have already received some level of drought designation from USDA. If present trends continue, other regions and sectors of the state’s economy may also be affected. We will continue to monitor conditions in those areas.
As a result of this activation the following actions will be taken:
1) The Drought Task Force will be activated under chairmanship of directors from the Departments of Natural Resources, Local Affairs, and Agriculture. The first meeting of the Task Force was held on May 7th.
2) The Agricultural Impact Task Forces (ITF) will be formally activated. The Ag ITF chairpersons have scheduled a call for the 16th of May. All other ITFs should be on notice should conditions deteriorate.
3) All agencies will assign: (1) A senior level manager who can commit the resources of the department to act as a drought coordinator and (2) Task Force chairpersons and participants as indicated in the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.
4) Lead agencies will be prepared to take action for drought response and to mitigate drought impacts as appropriate.
Should you have specific questions about the activation please contact Taryn Finnessey, Sr. Climate Change Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-868-5302.
KEYSTONE – Representatives of various water providers in the South Platte River basin said Wednesday they intend to develop a new water-storage project that includes 175,000 acre-feet of storage at three locations on the South Platte River system.
The potential project would store 50,000 acre-feet of water in Henderson, just north of Denver, 100,000 acre-feet in Kersey, downstream of Greeley, and 25,000-acre-feet further downriver on the Morgan County line at the Balzac Gage, east of Snyder.
By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County holds about 257,000 acre-feet.
“We think we have something that could help the Front Range and the South Platte, and the state as a whole,” said Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District.
The proposal, which does not include a new transmountain diversion, is coming from an informal and collaborative working group that included officials from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water, along with officials from other water providers and users, such as Yahn.
The group called itself the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, which rhymes with frog.
Now a new regional water organization is expected to be formed to guide the proposal toward permitting and funding, said Lisa Darling, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.
Darling was on the working group and she was presenting the project to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, in Keystone on May 2.
She said the various water providers in the South Platte realized that “not unifying was not an option” and that the group developed “a series of projects that could be linked together to benefit everybody as a whole.”
Darling also said, “We have to be able to maintain control of the supply, and not have it leave the state unnecessarily.”
The South Platte River rises in the mountains west of Denver, runs through the city north to Greeley, and then turns east toward the Nebraska line.
According to slides presented to the IBCC, the reasons to do the big project because it would “maximize use and effectiveness of available water on South Platte” and “minimize traditional agricultural ‘buy and dry.’”
“There is no choice,” Darling told the IBCC. “We have to work together to do this, and we really don’t have a choice.”
The project, which would provide 50,000 acre-feet of “firm yield,” is based on capturing water in the river at times when it is physically and legally available, such as in wet years, and then storing it for release as needed in a regional water re-use system.
New facilities would include off-channel reservoirs, reclaimed gravel pits, and underground storage facilities, at the three strategic locations along the river to give providers more flexibility. There might also be some storage at Julesburg, near the Nebraska state line.
A key component of the project is a long pipeline and pump system from the lower river back to the metro area north of Denver, in order to re-use the water released earlier from the upstream storage facilities. Each time the water went through the system, up to 40 percent could be re-used, Yahn said.
“It’s a big one,” said Yahn, of the project. “It doesn’t fulfill all the needs, especially on the other basins, but on the South Platte it could be a pretty big deal.”
He also said the storage and re-use project would be in addition to all the other planned water projects in the South Platte basin, as listed in the “basin implementation plan” developed by the Metro and South Platte basin roundtables.
“It’s not in place of anything,” Yahn said. “It’s not in place of NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project). It’s not in place of Gross (Reservoir) enlargement. It’s not in place of any of those other things that all of our entities are trying to do on the South Platte to meet some of our water demand.”
The project also builds upon a recently completed study of available storage sites in the lower South Platte basin. That study found there was available water to store, and a “long list of possible storage sites,” as well as a wide range of types of facilities, and costs.
Help ag, and cities?
Yahn said that storage on the river upstream of irrigators on the lower South Platte would allow farmers to sell their water to cities in a more flexible way. They could, for example, fallow a portion of their fields instead of selling the whole farm.
He also said that would spread the potentially negative economic impact of “buy and dry,” which can change the economies of agricultural communities, across a bigger area in the South Platte basin.
“You’re not hurting, economically, any one area,” Yahn said. “You’re spreading it out and farmers are getting a little bit of extra money for their water, using it a little differently, treating it as a commodity, getting some interest out of it. But really, to do that, you need storage.”
Yahn also told the IBCC, “Basically, we’re trying to give farmer’s options. But you’ve got to have a place to put the water.”
Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, also served on the working group, which was formed after the 2015 Colorado Water Plan was completed.
“I want to emphasize how significant this analysis and this effort has been, because it’s really a fundamental shift in how the South Platte was thinking of things at that time,” Cronin told the IBCC members. “It was told ‘you need to get your house in order.’ And this is very much in that vein, of getting the South Platte’s house in order.”
He also said “there is a sense of urgency for this. If you’ve traveled on I-25 between, say, north of Thornton to Ft. Collins, there is an absolute crazy boom going on right now in that corridor.”
The project proponents did not provide a cost estimate during their presentation on Wednesday.
“As for costs, the number is, gazillions,” Darling told the IBCC members. “It is a very, very large number.”
But not large enough that the working group thought state funding would be needed.
“That was never really talked about at SPROWG, as to where the funding was coming from, or whether there was going to be state funding,” Cronin said. “In fact, it was sort of a presumption that the individual water providers would find enough value in this on a cost per acre foot that they could collectively get there and pull off a project. But we didn’t get there. There was no cost-benefit analysis.”
He said water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which serves the northern Front Range, was now “going for $38,000 an acre-foot, and developers aren’t even batting an eye, because houses are now going for $400,000. So, it is on in the South Platte.”
He said the storage and re-use project might actually take pressure off of water supplies from the Western Slope.
“The urgency for what we’re trying to do I think helps, ultimately, the West Slope because these guys are going to be scrambling for buy-and-dry, and when that’s all done they’re going to be looking elsewhere,” he said.
The Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, operates under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is charged with sorting out potential conflicts between basins, especially those brought up by transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.
It includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governor’s appointees and two members of the state legislature.
The South Platte project does not include new sources of West Slope water, but concerns were still raised by West Slope interests on the IBCCC last week that the South Platte project could eventually draw more water through existing transmountain diversions.
Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who remains a governor’s appointee to the IBCC, suggested that the West Slope might want to see “some protections that these reservoirs don’t end up sitting there empty for a long time and that it doesn’t just drag additional transmountain water over the hill.”
T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher along the Green River, also serves as a governor’s appointee on the IBCC.
“I think the South Platte is clearly demonstrating what many around this table has asked, in the context of fully utilizing your own resources,” Dickinson said. “But I have a concern that the project could in fact pull water through existing projects – more water across the divide.”
Bruce Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango, commented on the South Platte basin’s apparent stance that the project was happening regardless of what the West Slope thought.
“I’m a little concerned about ‘we’re moving forward, with or without you,’” Whitehead said. “I’m not sure that’s the way we’re going to get cooperation.”
He also suggested the West Slope might embrace the project if it also included “an acknowledgement there won’t be any more development of water from the West Slope.”
That drew a chuckle from some IBCC members, as Front Range water interests have said they do not intend to walk away from the Western Slope as a source of water.
There are two “water development concept workshops” set up for the public to learn more about the South Platte project, one on May 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Water’s headquarters in Denver and one on May 15 at 3 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud.
Yahn said the two meeting locations does not mean the project is coming from Denver Water and Northern Water.
“Denver and Aurora were part of it, and Northern, but it wasn’t them,” Yahn said. “It was all of us just thinking outside the box together. And taking off our agency hats.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and waters with The Aspen Times. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Monday, May 7, 2018.
The county commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract to work with the nonprofit river coalition on continued revegetation in key areas of the flood-damaged canyon with a $175,342 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. To match the grant, the county and watershed coalition will put in $175,386, part in cash and part in staff and volunteer resources.
Commissioners Donnelly and Steve Johnson voted 2-0 at their weekly administrative matters meeting to approve the contract, allowing county resources to be used for the project. Lew Gaiter, the third commissioner, was absent.
The county’s in-kind contribution will be worth $23,490, including work by weed specialist Casey Cisneros, and its cash share will be $94,797 from the Larimer County Disaster Fund. The watershed coalition will pitch in $7,250 in cash and $49,849 of in-kind help, including volunteer labor.
This project will focus on the Big Thompson River near Drake, Cedar Cove and Jasper Lake as well as the North Fork of the Big Thompson from Drake all the way to Glen Haven.
Restoration projects have focused heavily on both private and public land along these areas, but additional work is needed for continued weed management and erosion control, said Shayna Jones, coalition director.
“These are areas that received a lot of time and effort in the past,” said Jones. “This is about making sure those improvements are maintained and stay on the right trajectory. … We’ll be able to identify the key focal areas that need a little more attention.”
This work, Donnelly said, is important to the fishery of the river, which is an economic driver for the region, to recreation along the river and to the quality of water that the river delivers to residents, including those who live in Loveland. These projects, he said, help restore the ecosystem and all river functions.