Denver’s project to ensure at least some water for fish in a 40-mile urban stretch of the South Platte River — even during the winter low-flow months when people practically drain it — is gaining momentum.
A fundraising goal has been met to buy space in Chatfield Reservoir, southwest of Denver, to store an “environmental pool” of water – about 500 acre-feet (163 million gallons), Denver Water officials confirmed last week.
Starting next year, state aquatic biologists plan to release that water strategically, concentrating on 65 or so low-flow days each year. The South Platte still will be one of the world’s most tightly controlled rivers, unable to be a natural river that meanders through a flood plain moving sediment…
Water releases will begin “after the completion of the Chatfield Reallocation Project,” Denver Water officials said, with the water moving from Chatfield through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery. Fish grown there, including rainbow trout, may be used to stock river pools where fish currently struggle to reproduce on their own.
Storing water at Chatfield, built for flood control but now in the process of “reallocation” for water supply, costs $7,500 per acre-foot (325,851 gallons). Denver Water officials agreed to spend $1.8 million and match 19 contributions made by metro county and municipal governments, the Greenway Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. “The pledge drive was successful and complete,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said…
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will serve as the owner of the water held in Chatfield for environmental purposes. Water rights owned by the agricultural Central Colorado Water Conservancy District are being used to create that pool.
Aquatic biologists say that, by putting more water into the river, river managers can mimic natural flows, lost after the channelization of the Platte following a ruinous 1965 flood that destroyed structures built in the floodplain.
By Heather Sackett, Aspen Journalism
EAGLE — The Eagle River Watershed Council is moving ahead with an environmental and recreational needs assessment for the Eagle River basin as part of its effort to create an integrated water-management plan for the river and potentially its tributaries.
To do so, the organization is pulling together disparate groups for some difficult conversations about how the river is used — a requirement of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan.
“We decided the time is right to call all the people into the room,” said Holly Loff, executive director of the Watershed Council.
The Eagle-based nonprofit organization wrapped up meetings last week with representatives from stakeholder groups such as river guides, private land owners, conservation groups, local governments, federal and state agencies, ranchers, water commissioners and trans-mountain diverters in the Eagle River basin, which include the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Representatives from each of the groups are scheduled to participate in a joint meeting this week.
The goal of the talks is to understand the concerns of stakeholders, which will help develop the objectives for the integrated water-management plan. Such plans are also often called “stream management plans.”
In addition to input from stakeholders, a study of the Eagle River basin is also compiling previously collected water-quality data. This information will guide future river-management efforts, as well as permitting and approval processes for future water projects. Loff described the project to members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Monday, Sept. 25, at a meeting near Kremmling.
Studying the river
Loff said the study area would include the length of the Eagle River, from its headwaters at Tennessee Pass to its confluence with the Colorado River at Dotsero. And the two-year planning effort will include a look at the prospect of additional storage in the river basin, as envisioned by a project described in the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, which includes a potential new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek below the existing Homestake Reservoir.
The Eagle River watershed plan, which was drafted in 2013 by the Watershed Council, lacks an understanding of environmental and recreational water needs, Loff said, a void the new effort seeks to fill. Carbondale-based Lotic Hydrological will be the hydrological consultant on the project and will perform field data collection and analysis.
The 2013 plans noted that “significant concerns were voiced” about conditions of streams in the Eagle River basin, including “continued impacts from mining, damage to riparian habitats, increasing demands for water, the lack of adequate in-basin storage, impacts from untreated urban and road runoff, the possibility of climate change and the prospect for future population growth and development.”
In addition to its work with various local stakeholder groups, the Watershed Council will soon be seeking input from residents of the Eagle River basin about its river-management plan.
“We do want this to be something the community feels they have a voice in,” Loff said. “The community will most certainly be asked to be involved.”
The Boulder-based River Network has selected the Watershed Council as one of four organizations in Colorado to receive direct support and assistance in applying for state funding of the project.
Loff said funding for the study would come from the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program, which is overseen by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with matching funds coming from a variety of sources, including stakeholders. But it is too soon to put a price tag on the project. Loff said the current process with stakeholder groups is helping to determine the scope of work. Only then can the Eagle River Watershed Council create a budget.
“It is unfortunate that we don’t have the scope, objectives or budget complete yet, but when you consider the fact that those are being established with the help of all of the stakeholders from the various groups, I think most would agree that it is the best approach and a good investment of time if we want this to be a strong plan with buy-in from all parties,” Loff said.
Plans for other rivers
The Watershed Council’s integrated water management plan for the Eagle River is one of many such stream management plans in development across the state. In 2015, the Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by stream management plans that address the needs of diverse stakeholders.
The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, for example, is working on a river management plan for 75 miles of the Colorado River from above Glenwood Canyon to DeBeque, according to the council’s executive director, Laurie Rink, who also briefed the members of the Colorado Basin Roundtable on Sept. 25. The plan will also include tributaries to the river along that stretch, but not the Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, as the Roaring Fork Conservancy has previously studied it.
Link said Middle Colorado Council’s effort was also “very much a stakeholder driven process” and that there would be a “very heavy push on stakeholder agreements” as part of the planning process. Rink also said that her group’s aim is to eventually thread together the various river-management plans being developed in the Upper Colorado River basin, including the Eagle River plan.
Roaring Fork advisors
In the Roaring Fork River basin, City of Aspen officials and a technical advisory group are working on a management plan for the upper reaches of that river above its confluence with Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village.
Aspen’s technical advisory group is made up of roughly 25 stakeholders and includes Pitkin County officials, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Salvation Ditch Company, among others.
April Long, an engineer for the City of Aspen whose title is “clean river program manager,” is overseeing the Roaring Fork River management plan. Long said the group met twice during the summer. The meetings with the technical advisors were not open to the public, but Long said the city will seek public feedback as the plan progresses.
Lotic Hydrological is also the consultant on the Roaring Fork plan. Long said officials are using a hydrological simulation computer model, as well as historical data from river gauges, to predict and evaluate different flow scenarios with and without certain diversions.
“You can turn those diversions on or off and see how the river responds when you manage flows differently,” Long said about the model, and can ask, “If you wanted a certain type of ecosystem, what sort of flow do you need?”
Long expects a draft plan of the Roaring Fork River plan to be released in late November.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily News, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Vail Daily published this story on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. The Glenwood Post published the story in its print version on Monday, Oct. 9.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
It’s clear that there is great interest and support for implementing alternatives to permanently drying up irrigated agriculture. This is not only true to maintain the bounty of locally grown food and feed products that come from the lower Arkansas River Valley and other farming locations throughout Colorado, but also to preserve all of the other consequential benefits that would be lost.” – Jack Goble
Western Weather Consultants has applied for a permit to perform cloud seeding intended to increase snowfall in the Central Colorado mountains, including parts of Lake, Chaffee and Summit counties.
Sponsors of the application include the Colorado River Conservation District, the Front Range Water Council and the ski areas of Keystone, Breckenridge and Winter Park.
Western’s proposed weather modification program would use silver iodide crystals from ground-based “cloud nuclei generators” to seed clouds favorable for precipitation increases.
Information on the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) website indicates that precipitation from some clouds is limited by a shortage of “natural ice nuclei.” Silver iodide crystals seeded into the clouds become “artificial cloud nuclei.”
Ultimately, that enables clouds seeded with silver iodide “to grow larger, process more water vapor and yield more precipitation.”
The program goals, as stated in the legal notice, are to increase precipitation, snowpack and snow-water content “to benefit natural habitat, agriculture, municipal water, stock growers, recreational and tourism interests and the local economy.”
The American Meteorological Society and the World Meteorological Organization support the effectiveness of winter cloud-seeding projects, indicating that between 5 and 20 percent more snow is produced in target areas.
Data from Western’s operations show precipitation increases ranging from approximately 10 to 20 percent, and the company has operated cloud-seeding programs for more than 40 years in the San Juan and Central Colorado mountains.
During the 2011-12 season, Western’s data show increased snowfall from its cloud-seeding operations of 8 to 16 inches, resulting in an additional 55,253 acre-feet of water.
According to the CWCB, Western has previously held two sequential five-year permits for cloud seeding in this target area, which is generally above an elevation of 8,500 feet.
Western proposes to operate the cloud-seeding program from Nov. 1 through April 15 under another five-year CWCB permit.
According to Western and the CWCB, safeguards will limit weather modification operations based on daily monitoring of the snowpack’s snow-water equivalent, avalanche hazard levels and National Weather Service severe weather statements.
According to Western’s operational plan, “No seeding will be initiated during a period of ‘high potential hazard.’”
Complete details of the operations to be conducted are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org…
Anyone unable to attend the public hearing can submit comments by email through Oct. 2 at email@example.com. Written comments may also be mailed by Oct. 2 to: Joe Busto, CWCB, 1313 Sherman St. No. 721, Denver, CO 80203.
All public comments will be considered for the record of decision.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):
Under a bill approved by the Legislature in 2014 a year before the plan was implemented, the committee that reviews and suggests new legislation dealing with water issues is required to review specific elements of the plan.
Although it is not required to, the committee then can suggest bills altering that plan, but such measures would require the full approval of the Legislature and the governor.
The committee is scheduled to vote on final recommendations on the plan on Oct. 5.
The current plan, called for by Gov. John Hickenlooper back in 2013, sets a number of goals for water basins in the state to meet by 2050 in order to ensure there is enough water for a growing population, while still maintaining adequate in-stream flows for environmental and recreational purposes.
A new report released earlier this month updating how the plan is being implemented says those goals are being met.
GRAND JUNCTION — Bringing more certainty to an unruly and unpredictable Colorado River system was a common theme among water managers speaking at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday.
Although the drought that has gripped much of the Colorado River Basin for the past 16 years has eased up a bit, population growth and the long dry spell have pushed the river’s supplies to the limit, with every drop of water in the system now accounted for.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on the Colorado’s future flows are still a big question mark, and it could mean wide variability in the years to come, with periods of punishing drought followed by a sudden record-setting wet year, as California recently experienced.
Bill Hasencamp, general manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, described how in April 2015, snowpack in the Sierras was at an all-time low. But by this spring, it was at an all-time high, after a winter of heavy precipitation.
The change in snowpack eventually led to huge fluctuations in water prices – from $1,800 per acre-foot at the height of the drought to just $18 per acre-foot this year, Hasencamp said.
That kind of turbulence places enormous pressure on the Colorado River Basin’s big municipalities, which must secure their water supplies for millions of people, said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and helps protect western Colorado’s water resources.
Kuhn is retiring next year and was making his last formal presentation as general manager of the river district. As he heads into retirement, he’s working on a book with author John Fleck about the history of managing the Colorado River and the creation of the Colorado Compact.
“The reality is — and we all have to accept this — big-city providers need certainty,” he said. However, Kuhn said he didn’t think that means more transmountain diversions from the Western Slope.
The most obvious source of additional water for cities is agriculture, which holds the lion’s share of senior water rights on the Colorado River, but no one is eager to see rural areas sacrificed for urban growth, Kuhn said.
So, he added, water managers throughout the basin are figuring out ways to adapt 19th-century water laws to a 21st-century reality.
Cooperative agreements between irrigators and municipalities are one option, providing cities with additional sources of water during dry periods.
Already, a three-year pilot initiative called the System Conservation Pilot Program has shown that farmers and ranchers are open to using less water in exchange for compensation.
Beginning in 2014, four of the big Colorado River Basin municipalities and the Bureau of Reclamation contributed $15 million to fund water conservation projects throughout the basin.
The program was in limbo after this year while officials worked out some issues, but Hasencamp said Friday that the funders have agreed to continue the pilot program for another year, in 2018.
For water managers, these kinds of flexible arrangements, along with rigorous water efficiency, recycling, and reuse efforts, are the key to finding “certainty” on an inherently volatile river system.
Still, those solutions will not be easy.
As Bill Trampe, a longtime rancher from Gunnison County, explained, less irrigation often comes with unintended consequences such as diminished return flows to the river and nearby fields.
And as Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, described, efforts to heal the destructive impacts of existing water diversions on the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado, means accepting that future diversions will in fact take place.
“We tried to form friendships that would help us do more with what we had,” she said.
California’s Salton Sea presents another dilemma, which reaches back up into Colorado River system.
The salty inland lake, created by an accidental breach in an irrigation canal, is drying up.
Since 2002, the state of California has been paying the Imperial Valley Irrigation District to keep the Salton Sea on life support by delivering 800,000 acre-feet of water, but that initiative expires at the end of this year.
Continuing the water deliveries means using up more of the Colorado River’s dwindling supplies, but letting it dry up means exposing local residents to a lakebed full of toxic dust.
None of these problems is new, but as many of the speakers at the river district’s annual seminar explained, water managers now have more tools than ever before to address those challenges — and new urgency with which to apply them.
Recent successes include the successful negotiation of an updated binational water agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 232, that is expected to be signed this month. It will outline how the two countries share future shortages on the Colorado River.
“We’re at a point where we can work together, and the success we’ve had is from collaboration,” said Becky Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado River Conservation Board. “It’s really all hands on deck.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story in its print edition on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. The Aspen Times published it in its print edition on Monday, Sept. 18, 2017. The Vail Daily published it in its print edition on Sept. 18, as did the Summit Daily News.
Here’s the update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Taryn Finnessey/Tracy Kosloff):
Following cooler than average temperatures in August across much of the state, September has been hot and dry. Consequently, both abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions have expanded across western Colorado. Reservoir storage is well above average, and municipal water providers have no immediate concerns with levels of supply and demand in their systems.
After receiving only 69 percent of statewide average precipitation in August at SNOTEL stations, September precipitation to date remains low at 30 percent of average as of September 14. The South Platte was the only basin to receive normal precipitation levels in August (100 percent); while the Arkansas is the only basin to receive above normal precipitation (122 percent) September to date. All other basins are experiencing well below average precipitation for the month, ranging from zero (Yampa/ White) to 44 percent (Upper Colorado).
Reservoir storage statewide is at 120 percent of normal, with all basins above average. The Rio Grande basin is reporting above average storage (133 percent) for the first time since 2009. The Colorado and Yampa/ White basins have the lowest storage levels in the state at 110 percent of normal.
31 percent of Colorado is classified as abnormally dry (D0), while 4 percent is classified as experiencing moderate drought, predominantly concentrated in Rio Blanco and Garfield Counties.
Warmer than normal temperatures have affected Colorado over the last few weeks, with western slope temperatures averaging as much as eight degrees above normal.
Temperature departure from average Colorado month to date through September 12, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Colorado Drought Monitor September 12, 2017.
ENSO-neutral conditions remain, but a La Nina watch has been issued by NOAA with more than 50 percent likelihood of a La Nina developing. Short term forecasts show that temperatures should cool off, with parts of the west receiving significant precipitation. This is a welcome change for those areas currently battling forest fires.
Long term forecast shows no major indication towards wet or dry in the upcoming months. If La Niña conditions set in, mountain snows are often enhanced during the winter season, but fall and spring tend to be dry.