Center for #ColoradoRiver Studies: Fill Mead first — A Technical Assessment #COriver

fillmeadfirstatechnicalassessment

Click here to the Denver for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University for all the inside skinny on the report. Here’s the executive summary:

The Fill Mead First (FMF) plan would establish Lake Mead reservoir as the primary water storage facility of the main-stem Colorado River and would relegate Lake Powell reservoir to a secondary water storage facility to be used only when Lake Mead is full. The objectives of the FMF plan are to re-expose some of Glen Canyon’s sandstone walls that are now inundated, begin the process of re-creating a riverine ecosystem in Glen Canyon, restore a more natural streamflow, temperature, and sediment-supply regime of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon ecosystem, and reduce system-wide water losses caused by evaporation and movement of reservoir water into ground-water storage. The FMF plan would be implemented in three phases. Phase I would involve lowering Lake Powell to the minimum elevation at which hydroelectricity can still be produced (called minimum power pool elevation): 3490 ft asl (feet above sea level). At this elevation, the water surface area of Lake Powell is approximately 77 mi2, which is 31% of the surface area when the reservoir is full. Phase II of the FMF plan would involve lowering Lake Powell to dead pool elevation (3370 ft asl), abandoning hydroelectricity generation, and releasing water only through the river outlets. The water surface area of Lake Powell at dead pool is approximately 32 mi2 and is 13% of the reservoir surface area when it is full. Implementation of Phase III would necessitate drilling new diversion tunnels around Glen Canyon Dam in order to eliminate all water storage at Lake Powell. In this paper, we summarize the FMF plan and identify critical details about the plan’s implementation that are presently unknown. We estimate changes in evaporation losses and groundwater storage that would occur if the FMF plan was implemented, based on review of existing data and published reports. We also discuss significant river-ecosystem issues that would arise if the plan was implemented.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Making Lake Mead the primary water storage facility on the Colorado River isn’t as simple as it might seem and would require more study than it’s been given so far, says a study released Thursday.

Backers of the Fill Mead First idea said the study underscores the need to move ahead with studies and a spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District said the discussion ignores a significant element: the need for Colorado and other states to save water in Powell.

The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University said more study of evaporation from Lake Powell is needed, as well as a study of groundwater into the reservoir and of the fine sediment that would be released should Lake Powell be drained.

That would be a good start, said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute, which drafted the idea of filling Lake Mead instead of storing water in Powell so as to reduce water lost to evaporation.

The Interior Department has so far “written off” the idea, Balken said.

“Now is the time to initiate new measurement programs of (evaporation) losses at Lake Powell and Lake Mead so that future policy discussions have access to less uncertain data regarding evaporation and groundwater storage,” Balken said in an email.

The idea ignores Lake Powell’s “primary purpose,” which is to serve as a savings account for the upper Colorado River Basin states to deliver an average 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin, said Chris Treese of the River District.

The amount is set in the 1922 compact that governs the use of the river, which provides water to millions of people in the arid Southwest.

Advocates of draining Lake Powell tend to write off the upper basin concerns by saying it’s “with a wave of the hand that you’d have to ‘make a few changes’,” to the compact, Treese said, “As if it’s simple and desirable to open up the Colorado River Compact.”

The Fill Mead First idea proposes draining Lake Powell in a three-stage process and storing the water in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream.

“It is surprising how much uncertainty there is in estimating losses associated with reservoir storage,” said Jack Schmidt of the Center for Colorado River Studies, who served as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Research and Monitoring Center from 2011 to 2014.

Evaporation losses at Lake Mead are measured by the U.S. Geological Survey in a state-of-the-science program, but there have been no efforts to measure evaporation at Lake Powell since the mid-1970s, Schmidt said.

Using the most recent data, researchers showed the Fill Mead First plan might reduce evaporation losses slightly, but noted that such a prediction is uncertain.

The Interior Department should conduct a thorough scientific investigation of evaporation and seepage losses at lakes Powell and Mead, as the Utah State study suggests, Balken said.

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

#ColoradoRiver: High Flow Experiment at Glen Canyon Dam — @USBR #COriver

November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows
November 2012 High Flow Experiment via Protect the Flows

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

The Bureau of Reclamation will increase water releases from Glen Canyon Dam beginning on Monday, November 7, 2016 to support a high flow experiment (HFE) in partnership with the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. This high flow experiment will include a peak magnitude release of approximately 36,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for 96 hours to move accumulated sediment downstream to help rebuild beaches and backwater habitats. The decision to conduct this HFE was made following substantial consultation with Colorado River Basin states, American Indian tribes and involved federal and state agencies.

Reclamation and National Park Service officials remind recreational users to use caution along the Colorado River through Glen and Grand Canyons during the entire week of November 7. Flow level information will be posted at multiple locations in both Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. Note that it will take several hours following the beginning and end of the HFE for high flow waters to reach and then recede at downstream locations in the canyons.

High flow experiments benefit the Colorado River ecosystem through Glen and Grand Canyons by moving sand in the river channel and re-depositing it in downstream reaches as sandbars and beaches. Those sandbars provide habitat for wildlife, serve as camping beaches for recreationists and supply sand needed to protect archaeological sites. High flows may also create backwater areas used by young native fishes, particularly the endangered humpback chub.

The HFE will not change the total annual amount of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. Releases later in the water year will be adjusted to compensate for the high volume released during this high flow experiment.

Members of the media who wish to view the high flow experiment should contact Marlon Duke at 385-228-4845 or mduke@usbr.gov.

Additional information about this high flow experiment will be posted and updated online at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/gcdHFE/index.html.

Humpback chub
Humpback chub

Dolores River: @CWCB_DNR instream right calls out Groundhog Reservoir diversion until November 1

View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via dcasler.com.
View to southwest, looking down on Groundhog Reservoir. Photo via dcasler.com.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The call was initiated to satisfy in-stream flow rights below McPhee Dam of 78 cubic feet per second, but local water managers say the water will never get there.

In-stream flow rights are administered by the water board to preserve the natural environment in state rivers to a reasonable degree. They are a priority water right senior to some, but junior to others.

A call is made to maintain a water right’s priority in the Colorado system of prior appropriation, commonly referred to as “first in line, first in right.”

Because of the call initiated this month, a man-made ditch diverting water from Little Fish creek and Clear creek to Groundhog was shut off, allowing the creeks to flow naturally into the Dolores River via the West Fork.

Marty Robbins, District 32 water commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources, said the call caused water administrators to enforce Groundhog’s one-time fill system that legally allows the reservoir to only fill from Nov. 1 to May 1. Groundhog Reservoir, owned by the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., typically diverts the streams into the reservoir year-round.

“Just because it has been done before, does not mean it can when there is a call,” Robbins said. “These calls may happen more regularly.”

On Nov. 1, the reservoir will go back on priority for filling, and the diversion ditch will be reopened, officials said.

The administrative call sends the creek water into the upper Dolores River and McPhee Reservoir, managed by the Dolores Water Conservancy District.

But Dolores Water Conservation District general manager Mike Preston says the extra water will stay in the reservoir and not flow through the dam to the lower Dolores River.

“McPhee’s water rights are senior to that in-stream flow right, and we have a storage right that allows for refill,” he said.

The in-stream flow water right on the Lower Dolores River is intended to preserve habitat for native fish, including the round-tail chub, bluehead sucker, and flannelmouth sucker. Federal and state biologists have reported that an increase in flows below the dam is needed to improve native fish habitat.

But the unexpected call by the state for delivery of in-stream water rights had an unintended consequence of threatening trout elsewhere, said Montezuma County Commissioner Larry Don Suckla.

The diversion ditch from Clear Creek to Groundhog Reservoir supports trout population, he said, but they became doomed when the water was cut off.

“Explain to me how water can be diverted for native fish, but is allowed to hurt trout?” he said.

Brandon Johnson, manager for the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., said the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s administrative “call presents issues at Groundhog we were not anticipating.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also made administrative calls for in-stream flows rights on other rivers in the state to establish that the rights exist and to reveal if any water users are out of priority, officials said. The calls were made after irrigation season so they would be the least disruptive.

The additional water flowing into McPhee as a result of the call will be divided among allocation holders in 2017, Dolores Water Conservation District officials said.

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed

Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan update

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Several hundred public comments were received regarding a resource management plan for the Hermosa Creek Watershed Management Plan, U.S. Forest Service district ranger Matt Janowiak said Wednesday.

“This is one of the first NEPAs (National Environmental Policy Act) that I’ve been a part of where I’ve seen people really take the time and tell us what they think,” Janowiak said.

On Wednesday, Janowiak, along with Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell and Trails 2000 executive director Mary Monroe, took a tour of the Hermosa Creek watershed with Republican Congressman Scott Tipton.

“The volume of public comments really speaks to how engaged this community is,” said Churchwell.

In 2014, after six years of negotiations, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act was signed, a bipartisan effort that designated 37,400 acres as a wilderness area and 70,600 acres as a Special Management Area in the San Juan Mountains, north of Durango.

Lauded as a landmark collaborative victory, the Forest Service is drafting a management plan for the special-use area that would allow a range of recreational uses that include hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV and other motorized use. A draft plan was released in July and comments were taken until Oct. 1…

The tour showcased the cutthroat reintroduction programs in the watershed that, once complete next year, will create the longest continuous stretch of cutthroat habitat in the United States, Churchwell said. The group also stopped at the facilities and campgrounds proposed for changes in the draft plan throughout Hermosa Creek, which Janowiak said is the second-most used area in the Forest Service’s Columbine District with thousands of visitors each year.

Janowiak said the Forest Service will review public comments and make any necessary changes to the environmental assessment, which will again be up for public comment in the spring.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 700 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation
Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Green Mountain Reservoir continues to release 700 cfs to the Blue River to meet water delivery obligations. It is expected to continue for at least the next couple of weeks. Green Mountain Reservoir release includes storage water to support the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, contract obligations and replacement water for the Colorado River Collection System.

Native Americans and Conservationists Collaborate to Return Vital Flow to the #RioGrande — National Geographic

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins
Rio Grande and Pecos River basins

From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

The first time I saw the channel of the Rio Grande completely dry, I was stunned. Here was the second largest river in the Southwest, which flows through three U.S. states and Mexico, and instead of water between its banks there were tire tracks. And I wasn’t standing at the tail end of the river, but rather on a bridge in central New Mexico, in the Rio Grande’s middle reach. For a freshwater conservationist, it was a sad sight.

Even worse, it was not an aberration. Each year, portions of the Middle Rio Grande dry up when its flows are diverted into irrigation canals for delivery to farmers in the valley. A few miles of the channel might dry up for a couple of weeks, or, if the monsoon rains are disappointing and irrigation demands are high, the dry stretch might extend thirty or more miles for much of the summer. Either way, for a time the river is no more.

So earlier this year when I learned about an innovative idea spearheaded by Audubon New Mexico to return some flow to the Rio Grande at its driest time of year, I felt a surge of hope for the river and the life it supports—from native fish like the Rio Grande silvery minnow to birds like the Southwestern Willow flycatcher, both federally endangered and dependent on the Rio Grande for habitat.

Audubon New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based non-profit conservation organization, had reached out to Native American tribes in the Middle Rio Grande Valley with a proposition: if the tribes transfer to Audubon a portion of their allotted water from the San Juan-Chama diversion project, which brings New Mexico’s share of Colorado River water into the state, Audubon would ensure that the water benefits the Rio Grande and seek funding for habitat restoration on tribal lands.

The idea struck a positive chord with a number of the tribes, and a unique partnership was born. Two pueblos, Isleta and Sandia, decided to donate their water, while Cochiti and Santa Ana agreed to a transactional transfer. Before summer, the 400 acre-feet from the four tribes was augmented by a nearly equal donation of surplus water by the Club at Las Campanas, a private Santa Fe golf club, bringing the total volume of water to benefit the Rio Grande to nearly 800 acre-feet, or more than 260 million gallons (980 million liters).

“We will increase flow in the river channel for a 35-mile stretch for nearly 24 days,” said Julie Weinstein, Audubon New Mexico’s Executive Director, in a statement earlier this month. The organization worked closely with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to determine the best sites to deliver water back to the river to maximize ecological value.

The Rio Grande’s corridor through New Mexico supports over 200,000 waterfowl and 18,000 greater sandhill cranes. It provides the largest number of contiguous breeding territories for both the endangered flycatcher and the threatened Yellow-billed Cuckoo in their entire range.

With over 80 percent of the wetland and riparian habitat gone along the river in New Mexico, sustaining and rebuilding habitat is crucial. As part of this collaboration with Audubon, the Pueblo of Santa Ana is planting trees and restoring habitat along the river.

Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia
Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia