@USGS: Say Hello to the 150th Anniversary of the Powell Expedition website

The Powell-Ingalls Special Commission meeting with Southern Paiutes. Photo credit: USGS

Click here to visit the website.

Welcome to the Powell150 education and outreach site! Bookmark the page now and check back soon for additional resources and information about upcoming events related to the 150th anniversary of the 1869 Powell Expedition.

#Snowpack news: The #YampaRiver Valley is seeing earlier snowmelt as #Colorado warms

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 31, 2019 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C Hassenback):

An earlier spring
Though having a lot of snow is generally good for the water year, the type and timing of the snow also impacts the western cycle of water.

“It’s not just amount of snowpack we have that is critical, it’s also the type of precipitation we’re receiving, especially in the winter — whether we’re getting rain or snow,” said Orla Bannan, in a Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Talking Green event. Bannan works with water scarcity as strategic engagement manager for the conservation organization Western Resource Advocates in its Healthy Rivers Program.

She added when snow melts is critical, and “we’re seeing changes there.”

Springtime has sprung earlier and earlier in the Yampa Valley, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ snow telemetry sites. Snowpack is reaching its peak and melting off earlier in the season. Dust on snowy, windy and sunny days can all increase how quickly snow melts off the mountains.

When that early snowmelt runs off into the streams that feed into the Yampa and Elk Rivers, the rivers also peak earlier. This has impacts to everyone who uses Yampa water.

When the river peaks early, flows can rush by before producers’ crops are ready to use them. The river level appropriate for river recreation in town can fall by early summer, closing the river at the hottest time of the year when many would like to be paddling, fishing or tubing down it. When flows are low, the river is also more likely to warm to temperatures that are unhealthy for trout and other aquatic species.

These changes are forecasted to continue, largely driven by warming global temperatures as human impacts continue to create a hotter atmosphere, according to the 2019 National Climate Assessment, a report authored by several federal agencies and reviewed by members of the National Academy of Sciences.

“In the last 50 years, Colorado has seen greater amounts of precipitation as rainfall as opposed to snowfall, and then snowmelt and subsequent peak flows have shifted by weeks,” Bannan said. “So, we’re already seeing those changes.”

Across the West, states with water cycles reliant on snow are seeing smaller snowpack, with a greater decline at lower elevations, Bannan said. Higher temperatures also intensify droughts as more water evaporates from streams and both crops and wild plant species use more water to grow in hot sun.

Longterm drought
One good year is not enough to mitigate the impacts of a decade of dry years, Bannan said.

Locally, Routt County was only pulled out of drought conditions last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor. Before snowmelt hits the streams, it will first soak into dry soil. While snowpack is above average, river forecasters are still predicting near-average flows in the Yampa.

As of Sunday, snowpack in the Yampa Valley contained 125 percent of its normal snow water equivalent, according to the NRCS, but the National Weather Service is forecasting flows in the Yampa River in April through July to be much closer to average — 91 percent of average at Stagecoach Reservoir and 100 percent in Steamboat Springs.

The Yampa is also part of a much larger watershed, flowing into the Green River and then the Colorado River, and then into Utah, Arizona and Mexico. Colorado is legally obligated to send a portion of its water — including Yampa River water — to downstream states in the form of an annual contribution to Lake Powell.

In recent years, below average water years have increased concern that Colorado won’t contribute enough water to Lake Powell to meet its legal obligations. Should that happen, an interstate call would be administered, requiring water users in Colorado to reduce use to send more water downstream to meet its obligations.

Just as upcoming flows in the Yampa are predicted to be slighter than its snowpack, flows in the Colorado River are predicted to be slighter than its snowpack, meaning the state needs several more good years to soothe water managers worries for Lake Powell.

“We’re going to have a normal year for Lake Powell,” Bannan said. “It’s going to go up a little bit, but it’s not going to go up a lot. It would take an awful lot of wet years for that reservoir to really recover.”

Statewide, water managers are working to plan how to divvy up water should Colorado be required to curtail water use due to an interstate call.

On the Yampa, the city and other partners are working to make the river more resilient to a changing climate. Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, explained programs to restore trees along the riverbanks will eventually help shade the river, preventing evaporation and temperature increase due to the heat from the sun’s rays. This will allow more of that water to make it downstream.

The city has also partnered with the Colorado Water Trust to increase flows in the river, and a new endowed fund set to launch later this year will help fund river management in the future.

“When it comes to the Yampa River, we don’t exactly know what to expect year-to-year, but we know that if we give the Yampa the ingredients it needs — like conserved lands, flowing water, restored riparian forests — then we’ve done the best we can do to at least help our rive buffer our self against the extremes we have coming our way,” Romero-Heaney said.

#WhiteRiver: Wolf Creek Dam update

From the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District (RBWCD) is as busy as ever with many projects in the works that affect residents on both ends of Rio Blanco County. District Manager Alden Vanden Brink explained that the board is in the pre-permitting process for the White River Storage Project.

“They are getting organized enough so that they can go into permitting. Their goal is to be in the permitting process at this time next year in 2020,” Vanden Brink said.

According to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy’s website, the Northwest Colorado Water and Storage Project, also known as “Wolf Creek” has been in water resource planners’ sights since the 1940s when it was first proposed. Since then it seems every 10 years or so interest in the project is renewed and a feasibility study is completed. After reviewing all the pieces involved in reservoir construction the Wolf Creek project appears to make perfect sense for a White River reservoir. This is due, in part, to the potential for a significant portion of water to be stored off of the main channel, even with the main-stem White River dam. The geology of Wolf Creek and the surrounding area allows the inundation areas for the main-stem versus off-channel dam to be very similar. The Wolf Creek area also has the advantage of having all necessary raw materials available on site for the construction of the dam.

Estimates of the reservoir’s potential capacity are still in the development stages, but all indications point to a minimum reservoir capacity of 20,000–30,0000 acre-feet (AF) to 90,000 AF of storage with a maximum build capacity of stored water up to 1.2 million AF.

This is the only basin or main tributary to the Colorado River in the state that does not currently have drought resiliency. This project is a response to a developing water crisis for the lower White River including the Town of Rangely. No private lands will be inundated by this project as the location sits on federal, state and private land. That private land belongs to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District.

Not only will this project help the water storage crisis on the White River, Vanden Brink asserts “the local and regional economy will be enormously impacted and stimulated by the construction of this project.” The public can look forward to updates on the project as they develop.

The popular annual Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District Fishing Derby is set for June 1-2 this year. This event coincides with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s free fishing weekend. The conservancy district offers free camping at Kenney Reservoir that begins Friday, May 31 and is honored on a first-come, first-serve basis. The weekend is also a free boating weekend a the reservoir.

“The Rangely Area Chamber of Commerce will be executing a Visit Rangely promotion during this time as well,” Vanden Brink said.

The White River Management Plan is a plan being developed for the endangered species within the White River. The lower White River system, which includes Kenney Reservoir, is a unique Colorado fishery. The Colorado Pike Minnow and the Razorback Sucker are the two endangered species that this plan is targeting for aid. The White River Management Plan puts the state in compliance with the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The RBWCD is a cooperating agency along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Colorado, the Colorado Water Users Association, The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, and the Nature Conservancy. Vanden Brink said “his board has been very active with this plan” to ensure that it gets completed.”

The investigation into the problematic algae bloom in the White River is ongoing. A group of concerned citizens and agencies have convened to address the excessive amount of algae in the White River from the headwaters to the Utah state line. The Technical Advisory Group includes the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Rio Blanco County, Town of Meeker, Town of Rangely, Meeker Sanitation District, White River Conservation District, Douglas Creek Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Trout Unlimited.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in 2016 the visible filamentous alga was identified as Cladophora glomerata. All water users on the White River are impacted by this algae growth. It has especially caused intake problems for water users such as The Town of Rangely as well as private land owners. The RBWCD financially contributes to this investigation which hired the U.S. Geological Survey last year to conduct the water quality and stream morphology investigation. Vanden Brink reports that the RBWCD had success in 2018 flushing water out of the dam into the lower White River which helped to alleviate some of the algae problems in that area. They intend to use that method again in 2019 but likely earlier in the year.

Taylor Draw Dam was constructed in 1983 to create Kenney Reservoir. One hundred percent of the dam was funded by the taxpayers of western Rio Blanco County, including the Town of Rangely. In 1993 a 2-megawatt hydroelectric generator was added. The generator is capable of variable power output matching the flows of the White River. At full power production capacity, the hydroelectric facility provides up to 30 percent of renewable energy for Rangely. The energy created goes immediately onto the energy grid.

The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District will meet again on Wednesday, March 27 at 6 p.m.

White River Algae Technical Advisory Group meeting recap

Picture taken 6/25/18 from the Miller Creek bridge. Unfortunately, the algae is coming on early this year. We are looking forward to finding the cause(s) of this algae in the near future. Photo credit: White River Algae
​Technical Advisory Group

From the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group via The Rio Blanco Herald Times:

Members of the White River Algae Technical Advisory Group (TAG), met Feb. 13 to discuss the 2019 plans to ascertain what is driving the algae growth in the White River to improve the overall health of the watershed. Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts facilitated the meeting.

USGS provided a review of 2018 studies and planned 2019 activities. Ken Leib, Western Colorado Office Chief, stated their goal is to document and understand benthic algal occurrence, characteristics and controls at multiple locations within the White River (WR) study area and described the study design and approach. Cory Williams, Western Colorado Studies Chief, reviewed the historical analysis, water quality trends, algae sampling and isotope sampling. Key takeaways are as follows. Historical streamflow analysis showed a decreasing trend in flow patterns since 1900 while available high-resolution water temperature data indicates increasing daily mean temperatures during May-September between two more recent time periods (1979-84 and 2007-17). Little to no change has been shown in the mean, annual concentration of kjeldahl nitrogen while total phosphorous showed a substantial increase in concentration and flux between 1999 and 2017. Concentrations in phosphorous increased during snowmelt-runoff (high flow) and decrease during fall and winter months. Several types of algae were present at each study site and Cladophora was found at all 19 USGS study sites. Water samples were collected and analyzed for nitrate concentrations at six locations but, concentrations were too low for isotope analysis. Isotopic analysis is an aspect of the study intended to aid in identification of sources of nitrate in the watershed. Sampling and nitrate analysis are ongoing and USGS is exploring alternative sampling approaches to meet target concentration ranges. Historical analysis and literature review, physical and chemical characterization/data collection, algae sampling and isotope sampling will all be continued in 2019.

Tyler Adams, project manager, and Susan Nall, section supervisor, with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) reviewed permitted activity in the recent past. They described their regulatory authorities and explained how to know when a project is regulated and when it may qualify for exemptions. Available permits vary from Nation Wide Permits (NWP) to Regional General Permits (RGP) to Individual Permits (IP). Permitting history in the Upper White River total 53 permits (NWPs=38, RGPs=14, IP=1), about 866,939 acres, from 2008-2018.

Matt Weaver, 5 Rivers Inc. gave a presentation on a local project proposal that is currently in the application process with the ACE. The proposal is to enhance fish habitat in the White River. The plan is to create 18 pools in which Weaver will remove material from the pool area and add it to the bank to leave everything functioning as a pool-bar sequence. Weaver and the landowners are communicating with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife to avoid disrupting crucial times such as spawning season, etc. One USGS study site is encompassed in the project area. The landowners/managers are willing to work with the TAG and USGS to do their best not to affect the ongoing study.

Several discussion items were identified at the last TAG meeting as potential changes to the USGS 2019 Scope of Work (SOW). Items such as monitoring growth of the algae using pictures, isotopic analysis, water temperature monitoring, taxonomy, capturing the impacts of stream structure changes, water clarity (turbidity) and quantitative mapping were reviewed to make decisions on how the TAG would like to move forward.

After this discussion, the TAG reached a consensus that the White River Conservation District should move forward with the original agreement with USGS to continue the 2019 SOW for the White River Algae project. That SOW includes the workplan elements: Scouring flows and analysis and Pre, peak-, post-algae and water quality sampling events.

See http://www.whiterivercd.com/white-river-algae-working-group.html for Power Point Presentations and meeting notes.

The Sesquicentennial #ColoradoRiver Exploring Expedition: Say hello to Powell150.org #Powell150 #COriver #GreenRiver


Click here to go the website. Click here to view all the cool planned events, it should be a hoot:

Vision and Place

Human visions have shaped fundamental contours of the sui generis place in western North America called the Colorado River Basin. Diverse and often conflicting, such visions have been held collectively and individually, embodying wide-ranging aspirations and imaginings as to how the basin proper and its vast outlying areas should be inhabited. One-armed Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell was a seminal visionary in this realm—leader of the 1869 Colorado River Exploring Expedition, author of the 1878 Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States, Founding Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology (1879-1902), and Second Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (1881-1894). It would be difficult to overstate the influence of Powell, his ideas, and successors thereto on the character of the basin. For good or ill, it bears his name with Lake Powell, as just one testament.

2019 marks the sesquicentennial of Powell’s epic 1869 Expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers—a celebratory occasion for both a Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition (SCREE) and earnest scholarly revisitation of Powell’s legacy. Powell regarded the 1869 Expedition as a journey “into the great unknown.” Yet myriad aspects of how the basin and adjacent environs are currently being inhabited suggest this phrase applies with equal force to the basin’s future and our navigation of it. This basic premise underpins the multi-author volume being prepared in conjunction with the SCREE project—tentatively entitled, Vision and Place: John Wesley Powell and Reimagination of the Colorado River Basin. It is a multi-disciplinary collaboration involving 16 authors, 6 visual artists, and 2 cartographers hailing from the Colorado River Basin states and beyond. The volume aims not only to shed light on Powell’s visionary ideas upon the sesquicentennial, but also to consider the contemporary influence of those ideas in and around the basin, and ultimately to prompt dialogue about what we wish this beloved place to become.

Click here to go to scroll through the list of contributors. Friend of Coyote Gulch, Patty Limerick, and Amy Cordalis show up as does Robert Glennon.

#Snowpack news: All basins above 100% of median for now

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From The Craig Daily Press (Sasha Nelson):

Precipitation in the Yampa and White River basins was surveyed at 106 percent of average as of Sunday, Feb. 10, according to data reported by U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Colorado Snow Survey Program.

Statewide, mountain snowpack improved from 94 percent of normal Jan. 1 to 105 percent of normal Feb. 1.

The result was attributed to “a consistent pattern of weather systems throughout much of January (that) brought snow to the state, particularly, storms during the 15th through 24th of January,” said Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor.

The southern mountains have fared even better.

“Southern portions of the state currently show more than twice the snowpack present at this time last year, a stark contrast to last year’s shortage,” Domonkos said. “Double the snowpack of last year is a step in the right direction as reservoirs remain low.”

Precipitation in Northwest Colorado has been high for three of the past four months.

According to the most recent NRCS Water Supply Outlook report, “Water year 2019 got off to a great start with all major basins receiving above average precipitation in October. This ranged from a low of 109 percent of average in the combined Yampa, White, and North Platte basins to a high of 144 percent in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins of Southwest Colorado. November precipitation displayed notable differences between the northern and southern parts of the state. Northern Colorado continued to receive well above average precipitation …”

December was not as strong, with precipitation falling to just above 60 percent of average before rising in January.

Streamflow forecasts Feb. 1 point to a much more positive runoff season than last year’s forecasts, however, with nearly one-third of the usual snow accumulation yet to fall, conditions may change.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

#Runoff in #ColoradoRiver basin likely below-average, @usbr official warns — @AspenJournalism #snowpack #COriver #aridification #cwcac2019

A big beach on the banks of the Green River in September 2018, one of the lowest months on record for inflow into Lake Powell. Runoff is 2019 is expected to be better than 2018, but still below average due to dry soil conditions in the area drained by the Green and Colorado river systems. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The regional director of the Upper Colorado River Basin for the Bureau of Reclamation told water managers and users last week to expect below-average runoff this year, despite encouraging snowfall this winter.

Brent Rhees — who oversees the federal reservoirs in the upper basin for the Bureau of Reclamation, including Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa — said that although this winter’s snowfall, or “snow water equivalent,” in the upper basin above Lake Powell was now above average (109 percent on Feb. 7) the parched ground left in the wake of a hot, dry 2018 likely would soak up a lot of the resultant moisture in the spring.

As such, this year’s runoff is not expected to reach the average level, although storms in February and March could push it up to the 80 percent range.

“What we’re suffering from is last year’s dry year,” Rhees told the members of the Colorado Water Congress on Feb. 1. “And so, the runoff that is forecast is not that great. Last year, you all remember, it was the third-lowest on record inflow into Lake Powell. So, it’s not looking really good.”

Since Rhees’ remarks, it has been snowing a lot in Colorado, and the snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin was at 115 percent of average on Feb. 6. But, again, Rhees was looking at future runoff over a thirsty landscape.

The inflow into Lake Powell during water year 2018 (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) totaled about 4.5 million acre-feet, or MAF, while about 9 MAF was released from Glen Canyon Dam to run down the Colorado River and into Lake Mead, Rhees said.

“So, the math is pretty simple, isn’t it?” Rhees said. “More went out than came in. And so, we saw a significant drop in reservoir elevation.”

As of Jan. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation forecast that 6.98 MAF, or 64 percent of average, would most likely flow into Lake Powell, but releases from Lake Powell are expected to be about 8.6 MAF.

“We’re going to release a little bit more than comes in, likely this year,” Rhees said.

That means Lake Powell is expected to continue to shrink in 2019.

On Feb. 3, the elevation of the reservoir, as measured against the upstream face of Glen Canyon Dam, was 3,575 feet above sea level, or 39 percent full, and held 9.6 MAF.

A diagram showing the intake structures on the upstream face of the Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell.

Three efforts

The first ongoing effort to bolster water levels in Lake Powell is weather modification in the form of cloud seeding.

Rhees said the federal government’s position on funding cloud seeding has moved from funding only research to funding active operations, too.

“That’s good news from my perspective,” he said.

The second effort is “drought-response operations,” which will begin if Lake Powell drops to the triggering elevation of 3,525 feet, or 35 feet above minimum power pool (which it is not yet forecasted to do in either 2019 or 2020).

But should the reservoir hit 3,525 feet, the drought-response operations will entail releasing up to 2 MAF of water from federal reservoirs in the upper basin, primarily from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River, which can hold 3.7 MAF; Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River, which can hold 829,500 acre-feet; and Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River, which can hold 1.69 MAF.

Rhees said Flaming Gorge is “the one that can have the biggest impact, (but) all (federal) reservoirs can participate in propping up that minimum power pool of 3,490 (feet).”

He also said the releases from the reservoirs would be “indiscernible” to river users and the water would not come down the river in a big wave of water, as some might imagine.

“You won’t know, if you are on the river, that it’s even happening,” he said.

The third effort to add more water to the river system is “demand management,” or a purposeful reduction in the amount of water diverted from rivers and put to a consumptive use, such as growing a crop or a lawn.

Voluntary demand-management programs are now being investigated in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, and the water saved by irrigators fallowing fields — for money — is to be stored in a new regulatory pool of up to 500,000 acre-feet in Lake Powell.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2018.