Aspinall Unit operations update: @USBR is drawing down Blue Mesa #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 850 cfs between Friday, December 1st and Saturday, December 2nd. Releases are being increased as part of winter operations to lower the level of Blue Mesa Reservoir nearer to the winter elevation target as well as managing releases with consideration to wintertime hydropower demands.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Water Update — Colorado Central Magazine

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine

MINUTE 323

Several tributaries of the Colorado River get their start in the crags of the Central Colorado mountains. Storied rivers: Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and the powerhouse Gunnison. They’ve all faced the footstep of humankind. The mines dotting the slopes, hay fields, ranching, orchards and cornfields bear witness and are now part of the allure of the high country. Folks cast a line, shoot rapids and enjoy the scenery of those waterways.

On September 27, 2017, the International Boundary and Water Commission, United States and Mexico inked Minute 323, the amendment to the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty for Utilization of Water covering operations on the Colorado, Rio Grande and Tijuana rivers. (The Rio Grande is another of Central Colorado’s contributions to the Western U.S. economy.)

An important part of Minute 323 are environmental flows for the Colorado River Delta. Most everyone knows the river doesn’t reach the sea any longer. Environmental streamflow was initiated under Minute 319 signed by then Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

In March 2016 a diverse group of conservationists, biologists, irrigators and government officials effected a release of 100,000 acre-feet of water from Morelos Dam into the dry Colorado River Delta. There was a line of vehicles racing point to point along the river to witness the river’s front. At San Luis Rio Colorado, most of the residents went down to the river to celebrate the return of the river although many had no memory of running water in the sandy channel.

There was a great deal of success from channeling some of the streamflow to restoration sites in the Delta. Within weeks, new growth sprouted – cottonwoods and willows. Much of the diverted water served to replenish groundwater supplies. Wildlife immediately started using the habitat.

There probably won’t be a repeat of the Colorado River once again reaching the sea. The environmental flows in Minute 323 are planned to be set to work in the restoration of the Delta. It was great to see the river reach the sea but the conservationists want to concentrate flows like irrigators do for maximum yield.

Another feature of the deal allows Mexico to store water in Lake Mead to better manage their diversions for agriculture. The U.S. is also helping to rebuild and upgrade Mexican infrastructure. Under Minute 319, Mexico was allowed to continue storing water, and that water was used for the pulse flow. The idea is that greater efficiency in Mexico will lead to more storage in Lake Mead.

Currently, Arizona, California and Nevada are working on a drought contingency plan to stave off a shortage declaration in Lake Mead. Arizona’s Colorado River allocation takes a big hit under a declaration. Mexico’s water in Lake Mead will help. Negotiations about the drought contingency plan will now move forward with greater certainty with the signing of Minute 323.

The final signatures for the Minute came from Roberto Salmón (Mexico) and Edward Drusina (U.S.). There were several officials from President Obama’s administration in attendance, including Jennifer Gimbel and Mike O’Connor. The negotiations started before last year’s election but did not conclude before the inauguration.

Minute 323 is an important piece of the puzzle for administering the Colorado River.

Central Colorado is joined at the economic hip with the Colorado River. A lot of transbasin water flows down the Arkansas River from the Twin Lakes and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects. Some is pumped over to South Park by Colorado Springs and Aurora but most of it goes down to Lake Pueblo and the Fry-Ark partners. Colorado Springs, Fountain and Security pump some back north in the Fountain Valley. Cities along the river divert and treat the water for their populations. The water also is used to grow the famous crops in the Arkansas Valley: Rocky Ford melons, Pueblo chile, corn and others. Timing the releases from Twin Lakes and Turquoise Reservoir also contributes to the rafting economy. 100 miles of the Arkansas River are designated as gold medal fisheries. Transbasin flows help the riparian habitat.

SHORT TAKES

• Comments about managing the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area are due by November 10, 2017. Check out the AHRA Plan Revision page on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website.

• Congratulations to Wet Mountain Valley ranchers Randy and Claricy Rusk for winning the Dodge Award for a lifetime of conservation from the Palmer Land Trust.

• Congratulations to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife folks at the Roaring Judy Hatchery for successfully spawning the line of Cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during the Hayden Pass Fire.

• James Eklund has moved on from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Becky Mitchell is the new director.

• Coloradans cam now legally collect rain off their roofs. Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1005 in May.

• R.I.P. Gary Bostrom. He was one of the driving forces behind Colorado Springs’ $825 million Southern Delivery System.

John Orr works for a Front Range water utility where he keeps one eye on the sky to monitor Colorado snowpack. He covers Colorado water issues at Coyote Gulch (www.coyotegulch.blog) and on Twitter @CoyoteGulch.

Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions ending for season

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

On Wednesday, November 1st, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will end for the season. Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted in coordination with the ramp down schedule for Gunnison Tunnel diversions in order to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 750 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day until the Gunnison Tunnel is completely shut down.

On Thursday and Friday, November 2nd and 3rd, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be reduced to 300 cfs during the day time hours in order to allow for completion of the sonar survey of the Crystal Dam stilling basin. Gunnison River flows will drop down towards 300 cfs during the day while returning to 750 cfs during the non-working hours. After the sonar survey is completed at the end of the day on November 3rd, river flows will return to the current level of 750 cfs.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel and completion of the Crystal stilling basin sonar survey, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will return to 750 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Paonia Reservoir sedimentation update #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

Here’s an in-depth look at the sedimentation problem at Paonia Reservoir from Emily Benson writing for The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

The root cause of the problem at the reservoir had been building since the dam was finished in 1962. Year by year, sediment quietly collected on the reservoir bottom, gradually raising its floor. Once the sediment was level with the dam outlet, where water is released downstream, any debris that washed into the reservoir threatened to clog the opening and make the dam inoperable. In the fall of 2014, personnel worked 10-hour days for two weeks to clear logs, branches and dirt from the outlet, by hand and with an excavator. Some of the workers stood directly on waterlogged sand, digging out the grates with pitchforks. When the dam was newly built, they would’ve needed a crane 70 feet tall to reach the same spot.

Silt, sand, gravel and clay are accumulating in nearly all reservoirs in the West, leaving less room to capture water for storage or for flood prevention. Behind many dams, space is starting to run out. Ignoring the problem could jeopardize the West’s water supply in the coming years. To avoid that, water managers are dredging behind dams, retrofitting outlet works and looking for ways to safely pass sediment downstream. “It’s not an immediate crisis,” Randle says. “But it is sort of a ticking time bomb.”

Sneffels Creek water quality concerns delaying Ouray County mine

Mount Sneffels

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

Ouray Silver Mines wants to reopen a mine that produces silver, gold, lead and copper and would bring 152 jobs to Ouray County, along with, its proponents say, a 10 to 20 percent boost to the county’s tax base.

But that mine is on hold, due to issues with water quality at a nearby creek tied to the mine that the mine owners say they have worked on for 18 months without any concerns raised by CDPHE until now.

Sneffels Creek, the surface water source near the mine, is about halfway between Ouray and Telluride, as the crow flies. The creek has a long history with mining, going back 140 years.

The mine dates back to 1876 and ran until its mill burned down in 1912. During its early operations, the mine produced 25 million ounces of silver.

Sneffels Creek joins up with another creek and then into Canyon Creek downstream, and then into the Uncompahgre River. Briana Greer, an environmental consultant with Ouray Silver Mines, said when the water originating in Sneffels Creek reaches the Uncompahgre, water quality in that river improves by 50 percent. It’s better water quality than area drinking water, she told the committee.

The idea of starting the mine back up for its silver, gold, zinc and copper began in the 1980s. The mine passed through numerous hands until 2014, when Fortune Minerals of Canada bought it hoping to mine its silver veins. But the company couldn’t sustain production and defaulted on its loans. The chief investor, Lascaux Resource Capital of New York, took over the mine and renamed it Ouray Silver Mines.

Mine CEO Brian Briggs told the General Assembly’s interim Water Resources Review Committee Wednesday that the company has invested $70.5 million to get the mine up and running, and it will take another $36 million to get up to full production. The payoff? Fourteen million ounces of silver, which costs $7.89 per ounce to mine and can bring in about $17 per ounce on the market. The mine also has rich veins of gold, lead and zinc, and the company expects a net a profit of around $76 million, along with 152 well-paying jobs for experienced miners, according to Briggs.

A fifth-generation Ouray native, Briggs has several decades experience in mining, called Ouray “a very, very good mine, the best I’ve every worked on for economic results.”

Ouray County could benefit more than just how the mine will improve its tax base. Briggs explained that Ouray has no gravel pits or other sources for road base. So mine tailings and waste rock, which metallurgical tests show are “benign,” are ground up by the company and provided to the county for road base.

Starting up an old mine has not been without its problems. According to a chart from the company, lead, zinc and cadmium discharges briefly exceeded state standards in 2014, leading to a violation notice last year from CDPHE. Lead discharges exceeded the standards again this past summer due to the failure of a lining in a mine tunnel that is being replaced.

Then there’s the water quality issue, and that’s delaying the mine’s startup.

The mine’s previous owner had a permit to discharge water to Sneffels Creek. The new owners set up a passive water system that could discharge either to surface or to groundwater (underground) water sources.

Briggs explained to the committee that the passive system is not only one for today’s mining but for 50 or 60 years from now. Briggs said the system, which has been piloted in Wyoming, for example, should prevent the kinds of problems that happened at the old Gold King Mine near Durango two years ago, when contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released more than a million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River.

In the mine’s passive system, used mining water is passed through a clay liner that contains fabric with peat moss to absorb metals and then a layer of topsoil. “It makes a tremendous impact on the three metals we’re concerned about: cadmium, lead and zinc,” Briggs said.

The hangup has been just who’s in charge of making sure the system is in compliance at the CDPHE. Briggs said the mine had provided quarterly updates, explaining the passive system, to CDPHE’s enforcement division. In November 2016, the mine owners applied for a termination of its surface water discharge permit, believing it was no longer necessary since the passive system was discharging its water into underground water sources.

In July, CDPHE denied the request, stating the surface water interacts with groundwater sources. “We can’t confirm” whether that’s true, Briggs said.

That left the owners in a pickle – tear up the previous system? Install a new one? “If they want us to discharge into surface water we’ll do that,” Briggs said. But he also appeared to be frustrated that after 18 months of telling CDPHE what they were doing that the agency came back and said that system doesn’t work.

Installing another system will take another year, Briggs said.

The story from CDPHE is a tad different. In a September 3 letter to Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, CDPHE’s Karin McGowan said the mine had an active permit for a surface water discharge. “They are not waiting for a new permit, but may be frustrated because they have not been able to successfully modify their permit because they have not provided the necessary information needed to execute a modification. We are currently working with them to get the necessary information needed,” McGowan wrote.

McGowan further added that the mine changed its manner of discharge, from surface to groundwater, without notifying the division.

The September, 2016 notice of violation was for discharging to a new location without a permit, effluent violations, and administrative violations, McGowan pointed out. “The facility has consistently failed whole effluent toxicity testing permit requirements,” she wrote. The 2016 notice pertains to a 2014 discharge, when the mine was owned by Fortune Minerals, in which water contaminated with lead, cadmium and zinc was dumped at a rate of 400 gallons per minute into Sneffels Creek for about 18 hours.

Briggs told the committee CDPHE has never even visited the site, despite numerous requests by the mine owners…

In a statement, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley told Colorado Politics that most enforcement is completed through evaluations of self-reported data. “Resource limitations makes it impossible to visit every site on an annual basis and hence permittees are put on a schedule for inspection,” he said.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Lower Gunnison streamflow above baseflow target

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, October 12th. Diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will be reduced by 100 cfs on Wednesday, October 11th so there will be a short period of flows over 1000 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon before the river returns to a flow of 950 cfs by late Thursday morning.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 975 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 950 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be about 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be around 950 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

@COParksWildlife opens new State Wildlife Area east of Montrose

Joel Evans, an outdoor writer and angler from Montrose, holds the first tiger trout caught at the new Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area located east of Montrose. He caught the fish on Sept. 29. Fishing at the area is catch-and-release only. Photo credit Colorado Parks & Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Joe Lewandowski):

An innovative project developed cooperatively by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the city of Montrose has resulted in the establishment of a new state wildlife area for CPW and a new park for the city

The Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area, a 162-acre parcel that includes a 40-acre reservoir, opened on Sept. 29. It’s located about 15 miles east of Montrose just off U.S. Highway 50.

“This is a win-win-win for the public, the city and CPW,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager in Montrose. “This is a great example of what can be done by some out-of-the-box thinking.”

CPW operated Chipeta Lake State Wildlife Area, located just south of Montrose, for many years. As the city grew it became obvious that the Chipeta Lake parcel would be more valuable as a park. DelPiccolo proposed to Montrose leaders that the Chipeta Lake property could be turned over to the city in exchange for using the Cerro Summit area as a state wildlife area.

City leaders and CPW negotiated an agreement that will protect the reservoir’s water quality and keep the property in city ownership. The reservoir is the city’s emergency water supply. CPW will regulate use at the state wildlife area, and the public will gain limited access to a property that has been closed. The agreement was signed in the fall of 2016.

No money needed to be exchanged to complete the agreement.

Patt Dorsey, southwest regional manager for Colorado Parks and wildlife, praised the deal.

“In the era we’re living in, we’re not going to get projects like this done unless we have great partnerships,” Dorsey said. “The city of Montrose has been a great partner; this wouldn’t have happened without the city’s leadership. We hope we can do more projects like this throughout Colorado.”

Also helping to assure the success of the project was Montrose Mayor Judy Ann Files, State Senator Don Coram, Montrose County Commissioner Glen Davis, and the Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District.

The new wildlife area is open for fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing. To protect water quality, dogs are not allowed on the property. All fishing is catch-and-release by artificial lures and flies only.
The reservoir was stocked last fall with fingerling tiger trout that have already grown to 12 inches.

The property is also open to big-game and small game hunting during regular seasons. Because the area provides excellent winter range for deer and elk, and Gunnison-sage grouse habitat, the property will be closed seasonally from Nov. 30 through March 31.

DelPiccolo explained that state wildlife areas are managed differently than other public lands, such as U.S. Forest Service or BLM property. The areas are paid for by revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and the properties are managed only for wildlife conservation and wildlife-related recreation. Access to Cerro Summit State Wildlife Area is by foot only; it’s an easy half-mile walk to the reservoir.

“At Cerro Summit we’re protecting important wildlife habitat and providing an opportunity for people to hunt, fish and view wildlife in a beautiful setting,” DelPiccolo said.

An entry sign is posted on the north side of U.S. Highway 50 at the entry that leads to the parking lot. The trail to the wildlife area is well marked. Visitors are asked to be sure to read the regulation signs before entering.