The latest “Gunnison River Basin News” is hot off the presses from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Snow Melt Promises to Fill Reservoirs

While it is mid-July, when you look to the mountain peaks, you will likely see snowcaps – another reminder of the extraordinary winter Colorado experienced. We saw huge storms well into spring and cooler than average weather which kept snow on the ground longer than usual. In particular, cold temperatures in April and May helped boost snowpack levels to record highs. The snow and the resulting runoff is filling the reservoirs across Colorado.

As reported on The Denver Channel.com, “The snowmelt boost couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. There’s a big sense of relief this year that we’ve kind of rebounded.” The forecast center’s conditions map indicates above average water supply forecasts for reservoirs.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 2150 cfs expected in the Black Canyon

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 650 cfs between Tuesday and Wednesday, July 9 and 10. This release increase is necessary to prevent Blue Mesa Reservoir from overfilling. At the current release rate it is projected that Blue Mesa Reservoir would spill within 2 weeks. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 1,060,000 AF of inflow, which is 157% of average. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 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 1500 cfs for July and August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 2150 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Joellen Fonken the new representative on the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) has a recreation background

The Tomichi Water Conservation Program involves regional coordination between six water users on lower Tomichi Creek to reduce consumptive use on irrigated meadows as a watershed drought management tool. The project will use water supply as a trigger for water conservation measures during one year in the three-year period. During implementation, participating water users would cease irrigation during dry months. Water not diverted will improve environmental and recreational flows through the Tomichi State Wildlife Area and be available to water users below the project area. Photo credit: Business for Water.

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

A representative with a “recreational” background will replace the former manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD), who had been a board member for the last five years. Joellen Fonken will take the seat of Kathleen Curry as the Tomichi Drainage District representative.

Board members are appointed by the Gunnison District Court and judge Steven Patrick made four appointments to the board on June 20. In his order of appointment Patrick said all the applicants to the board were well qualified.

Patrick, along with 12th Judicial District judge Patti Swift, conferred and agreed on the appointments. The incumbents with no competing applicants were all reappointed and included Michelle Pierce, Rebie Hazard and Rosemary Carroll.

Curry is a rancher and was the incumbent in the Tomichi Drainage District, and was a previous manager of the UGRWCD, a former Colorado state representative and a local businesswoman.

Fonken is also a local businesswoman, as well as the director of the Gunnison River Festival and has served on several recreational boards including the Gunnison County Trails Commission.

Ridgway RiverFest June 29- River races, Sugar & the Mint, and more — The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership

Sneffels Range Ridgeway in foreground. Photo credit: SkiVillage – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15028209 via Wikiemedia

Here’s the release from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):

Sweetwater revival: High water and Sugar & the Mint return to 2019 Ridgway RiverFest

Festival goers and river racers are in for a sweet time this Saturday at the 12th annual Ridgway RiverFest due to high river flows and the return of 2018 crowd-pleasing band, Sugar & the Mint. Plus, Ute cultural presenter Regina Lopez-White Skunk, the River Rat Marketplace (silent auction) with great deals, snow cones by Voyager Youth Program, beer from Colorado Boy Brewery, margaritas from The Liquor Store, and all the food and fun of past festivals will be back at Rollans Park in Ridgway.

One of the RiverFest’s highlights is the Junk of the Unc homemade watercraft race, at about 1:30 p.m. when competitors build and ride their crafts down a short stretch of Class I river with style, ingenuity and speed. Competitors will be eligible to win as long as they start and end the race on their crafts, and awards are given to fastest, most original design, best use of recycled materials, and best in youth.

The River Races from the park to the Ridgway Reservoir will be particularly exciting this year with the increased runoff from the record-breaking snowpack this year. River runners are encouraged to come compete in the hard shell, inflatable and stand-up paddleboard categories. The top team that finishes the fastest in each category will be awarded one of the coveted RiverFest trophies, with a new design this year created by Ridgway artist Joann Taplin.

“The high river flows mean less rocks to navigate around but more large rapids over the top of rocks. We won’t be allowing inner tube entries this year due to the high, swift water and the still very cold temperatures,” said RiverFest Coordinator Tanya Ishikawa. “We welcome kayaks and rafts. Canoes and SUPs are also allowed this year, but we recommend only advanced riders on those due to conditions. Wet or dry suits are also a good idea this year. You can see race rules at ridgwayriverfest.org.”

Another planned river activity is the Safety Rope Bag toss contest where a “willing victim” hangs out in the middle of the Uncompahgre as contestants attempt to toss a safety rope bag to them, practicing an important river rescue skill. This event as well as the Rubber Ducky Race may be cancelled if conditions are deemed too difficult to keep the “victim” safely in the water or to capture all ducks at the end of the race.

“The Ouray Mountain Rescue Team will be on boats in the water and on the banks, ready to assist as necessary, but we want everyone to practice safe river etiquette, so we continue our accident-free festival record,” Ishikawa added. “Parents need to watch their children at the river’s edges. Anyone getting in the river must have a PFD (personal flotation device aka life jacket) and helmets are recommended (as well as being required of racers).”

Besides the river activities, the live band performance from 3 to 6 p.m. is always a highlight of the RiverFest. The 2019 headlining band, Sugar & the Mint from Prescott, Arizona, is being brought back by popular demand. The five-piece band’s music is informed by everything from bluegrass to baroque to current pop and country. It was the first-place winner of the Band Contest at the 2017 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and were invited back to perform at the 2018 Bluegrass Festival. Since then, they have been traveling nationally and recorded a second album.

Ute Mountain Ute Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and her father Normal Lopez will provide a cultural presentation from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Lopez-Whiteskunk advocated for land, air, water and animals from an early age, and has traveled extensively throughout the nation presenting and sharing the Ute culture through song, dance and presentations. Lopez, her father who will play flute, has been a student of life and carries great respect for the land, environment and Ute way of life. He learned to make flutes by his grandfather and uncles from the hearts of the cedar trees, has played the traditional style, from his heart. The birds and wind inspire his unique sounds.

Festival sponsors include Double RL Ranch at Class V and five Class IV sponsors: Alpine Bank, BEP EarthWise Foundation, Ridgway Mountain Market, Town of Ridgway, RIGS Adventure Co., and San Miguel Power Association. The radio sponsor is MBC Grand Broadcasting: 92.3 The Moose, Magic 93.1, KNZZ, 96.1 K-star, The Vault 100.7, 95.7 The Monkey, The Team Sports Radio 101FM-1340AM, and 103.9 The Planet

Festival information: https://ridgwayriverfest.org

@USBR selects 18 projects to receive $9 million in WaterSMART grants to prepare and build resilience to drought

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The drought resiliency grants will help communities in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that 18 projects will receive a total of $9 million to prepare for drought. These projects will provide more flexibility and reliability for communities while reducing the need for emergency actions during a drought. The funding provided is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program.

“While the water supply in the western United States improved this year, it’s important for communities to remain proactive in building long-term resiliency to drought,” Commissioner Burman said. “These projects help communities protect themselves from the next drought by increasing water supply reliability and improving operational flexibility.” There were 18 drought resiliency projects selected in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas to receive funding. They will be leveraged with local cost-share to fund $166.2 million in projects.

The A&B Irrigation District in Idaho will receive $250,000 to implement, in coordination with the Twin Falls Canal Company, the Mid-Snake Recharge Injection Wells Project near the cities of Paul and Murtaugh, Idaho. They will construct six deep injection wells to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The project will protect against drought for groundwater and surface water users and enhance the storage availability in Reclamation’s Minidoka and Palisades projects.

The Pueblo of Zia located in Sandoval County, New Mexico, will receive $750,000 to modernize the Zia Flume over the Jemez River and install associated buried PVC pipe. The Zia Flume brings irrigation water from Zia Lake to the Pueblo’s agricultural lands. It is critical infrastructure for the Pueblo and has experienced damage in the past that was exacerbated by an extreme flood event in 2016. This project is also supported by the Pueblo’s Drought Contingency Plan.

The Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, California, will receive $749,999 to install pipe in residential streets and easements, upgrade an existing pump station, repurpose an existing force main, and upgrade 35 existing water meters. This project will allow recycled water to be used instead of potable water for irrigation. It is supported in the district’s 2015 Urban Water Management Plan and an adaptation strategy identified in Reclamation’s Santa Ana Watershed Basin Study.

The other projects selected are:

California

  • Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, Santa Barbara ($750,000)
  • City of Fullerton, Orange County ($300,000)
  • Long Beach Water Department, Los Angeles County ($750,000)
  • Pala Band of Mission Indians, San Diego County ($298,380)
  • Rancho California Water District, Riverside County ($750,000)
  • San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, San Bernardino ($750,000)
  • Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, Ceres and Turlock ($750,000)
  • Colorado

  • Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Ouray County ($106,000)
  • [ed. emphasis mine]

    Idaho

  • Snake River Valley Irrigation District, Basalt ($299,910)
  • Nebraska

  • Lower Loup Natural Resources District, Eastern Nebraska ($750,000)
  • New Mexico

  • City of Las Cruces ($262,453)
  • Santa Fe County ($291,520)
  • Oregon

  • North Unit Irrigation District, Jefferson County ($122,485)
  • Texas

  • City of Celina ($750,000)
  • Texas Water Development Board, Austin ($360,631)
  • To learn more about the projects selected, please visit Reclamation’s drought website at https://www.usbr.gov/drought.

    Reclamation’s drought resiliency projects are a component of the WaterSMART Program.

    Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with States, Tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart for additional information about WaterSMART.

    One Small Colorado Town Ran Out Of Water. How Did It Happen? — KUNC

    Paonia. Photo credit: Allen Best

    Here’s a report from KUNC (Luke Runyon). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    One morning in mid-February, David Herz went to turn on the faucet in his farmhouse outside the small western Colorado town of Paonia, and nothing came out…

    Herz is president of a small water company that purchases treated drinking water from the town for him and a few of his rural neighbors. Small outages are common enough not to raise alarm. Herz started calling around to see what was happening…

    “We usually we average about one (outage) a year on the line,” he said. “Something breaks, and you have to turn the water off. So it’s not uncommon.”

    He quickly found he wasn’t the only person reliant on Paonia’s water with a dry tap. What he didn’t know at that point was how long the shortage would last. From mid-February to early March most of the town’s about 1,600 water customers were issued boil notices, and eventually saw their water turned off for a combined 13 days…

    “What do we want growth to look like? Do we at some point in time put up the barricades and say not here?”

    Those questions led to even tougher ones like whose water use is more important? And with projections for a hotter, drier Southwest, is a town like Paonia ready for climate change?

    [Ken] Knight said they don’t yet have all the answers, but he’s committed to taking steps to prepare for future shortages.

    “Water is the oil of the 21st century. People don’t quite understand how difficult it is to run a water system so you have clean drinking water,” he said.

    If other small towns in the West aren’t prepared to handle a combination of drought and leaky infrastructure, he said Paonia’s story is a warning of things to come.

    More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, and here.

    #Runoff news: Lake City prepares and waits, so far so good

    The historic Hidden Treasure Dam above Lake City on Henson Creek will be removed to avoid a surge of debris which could impact the community of Lake City. Efforts will begin immediately. Hidden Treasures Dam owners, the Hurd Family, made the hard decision to remove the dam after it was determined it would likely not survive the high flow spring runoff. The decision was made following analysis conducted by an advisory group which included the Hurd Family as well as representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, Hinsdale County, Town of Lake City, Colorado Geological Survey and Colorado Division of Water Resources – Dam Safety. All available options to save this historic structure were considered. The Hidden Treasure Dam dates back to the 1890s when both the Hidden Treasure and Hard Tack mines were in operation. Photo credit: Hinsdale County

    From The Denver Post (Elise Schmelzer):

    Lake City, the only town in remote Hinsdale County, is one of many rural Colorado communities working to prepare for potential flooding as the winter’s epic snowpack begins to melt. Mountain towns across the state are preparing sandbags and warning visitors about high water…

    Although numerous mountain towns have prepared for high water, Lake City’s predicament was particularly dire and threatened lives before the emergency crews arrived, state officials said.

    More than 60 avalanches, some more than a half-mile wide, pushed mountainsides of trees, boulders and snow to the floors of the two river valleys surrounding the town, which sits at the confluence of Henson Creek and the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River…

    Authorities feared a wall of water could build if the logs jammed or blocked one of the two historic dams. If the debris jam or dam were to break, the surge of water sent downstream could send feet of water into some of the low-lying areas of town within 15 minutes.

    At a town meeting Tuesday, officials estimated there was a 10 percent chance that the worst-case scenario could happen if weather conditions aligned perfectly and predicted that high water could begin as early as this weekend. Federal, state and local officials have worked in the city for a few weeks to mitigate the chance of such a surge, including partially deconstructing one of the dams…

    Lake City residents knew the avalanches around their town of about 400 people this past winter were unprecedented. The avalanches in February and March caused voluntary evacuations and flattened the Hinsdale County sheriff’s house outside town.

    But it wasn’t until crews in April started exploring the two mountain roads along the river valleys that the size of the avalanches became apparent. Piles of centuries-old trees, snow and boulders covered sections of roads up to a half-mile long…

    Mitigation efforts have been broad. Personnel from the group of agencies built a berm along one of the rivers in town. They partially destroyed one of the historic dams so water could flow better. They also placed additional sensors along the rivers so the flows could be monitored in real time. They helped organize the filling and deployment of more than 18,000 sandbags around town to protect important buildings. Crews surrounded the most vulnerable homes near the confluence with 3,000-pound mega sandbags…

    Engineers recommended that the town demolish the 129-year-old Hidden Treasure Dam because they worried that avalanche debris could block the dam and cause it to fail, sending a rush of water toward town. Contractors used a remote-controlled jackhammer suspended on a sling to chip away at the top of the dam and small explosives to blast away the bottom.

    But engineers later determined the new gaps at the top and the bottom were big enough to avoid a jam…

    Signs along the Rio Grande on Wednesday prohibited anybody — or any boat — from entering the raging water. Along Colorado 149, the river overtook tree trunks and washed out boat ramps, but left houses untouched. Campgrounds and some roads in the area remained closed.

    Mineral and Rio Grande counties, as well as sections of Conejos and Saguache counties, remained on flood watch Thursday. Officials in Chaffee and Summit counties, as well as the towns of Silverthorne, Buena Vista, Avon and Ouray, have opened sandbag stations…

    In Creede, about 50 miles southeast of Lake City, waters have taken over the floodplain but haven’t threatened any structures, said Kathleen Murphy, director of the town’s chamber of commerce. The city worked last week to widen a concrete flume that directs water through town. A road north of town washed out after avalanche debris built up, releasing a surge of water. Some lower-elevation hiking trails were flooded as well.

    From The Summit Daily News (Allen Best):

    In Colorado, where snow still blankets the San Juan Mountains, the Durango Telegraph has proclaimed El Niño as the winner of this year’s Hardrock 100. The race was scheduled for mid-July.

    Organizers canceled the 100-mile foot race among the peaks of the San Juans around Silverton owing to “unprecedented avalanche debris, unstable snow bridges and high water” that compromised 40 miles of the race course.

    It was the third time in 27 years that the race had been canceled, the first being in 1995 because of too much snow and then in 2002 because of forest fires.

    At the California Weather Blog, meteorologist Daniel Swain suggests a big view of weather extremes across North America: floods in Nebraska, tornadoes in Oklahoma, a massive forest fire in Canada and record heat in the Arctic. They’re all connected, he points out.

    Emerging evidence suggests that such weather extremes may be occurring with greater frequency and intensity as the Arctic continues to warm faster than the rest of the planet.

    “Interestingly, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the impacts we experienced in 2019 will be exactly the same the next time this pattern repeats,” Swain wrote on his blog. Every iteration of the “wavy jet stream” produces new patterns of warmth vs. coolness and very wet vs. very dry.

    From KOAA.com (Tyler Dumas):

    The Arkansas River keeps rising in Fremont and Pueblo Counties.

    10 feet is considered flood stage in Canon City and the river reached that level at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Minor flooding is expected in flatter areas, like along Raynolds Ave.

    In Avondale, flood stage is considered 7 feet, which was reached around 11 p.m. Friday night…

    Parks and Wildlife has closed off the river below the dam at Lake Pueblo State Park to swimmers and all non-whitewater boats, including inner tubes and kayaks.

    Law enforcement in Pueblo has also closed off the river east of Pueblo Blvd. to the Otero County line because of fast-moving water.

    From InkStain (John Fleck):

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly storage model runs, based on the latest Colorado River Basin runoff forecasts, show Lake Powell ending the water year (Sept. 30) at 13.8 million acre feet. That’s an increase of more than a million feet over the May estimate, and 2.8 million acre feet above the Sept. 30, 2018 number:

    From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    Releases from Green Mountain to the Blue River will increase according to the following schedule starting at midnight [June 15, 2019] (cusp between 15 and 16 June):

    12:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1100 cfs to 1200 cfs
    3:00 a,m. Adjust release from 1200 cfs to 1300 cfs
    6:00 a.m. Adjust release from 1300 cfs to 1400 cfs