BLM, nonprofit partner on land acquisition along #GunnisonRiver — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Click the link to read the article on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb):

The Bureau of Land Management and a nonprofit entity have teamed up once again on an acquisition by the federal agency of land along the lower Gunnison River, this time involving a 26.32-acre parcel in Mesa County. The BLM’s Grand Junction Field Office partnered with the Western Rivers Conservancy on the acquisition of the Meridian Junction property, on the east side of the river just north of the Mesa/Delta county line. The acquisition furthers partnership efforts to conserve and protect resources for future generations, the agency said in a news release. The land is within the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, and was bought with money from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Deep winter storms in ’22-’23 helping above average #snowpack — The #CrestedButte News #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Crested Butte

Click the link to read the article on the Crested Butte News website. Here’s an excerpt:

It is too early to draw definitive conclusions in terms of the Gunnison Basin’s water situation even given the consistent snowstorms we have experienced recently. But it is currently in a good spot. While the Gunnison Basin is recording snowpack that is significantly above average and is about even with where were last year at this time even after a 99-inch snowstorm barreled through the area in late 2021 and early 2022, it takes more than good December and January snow to ultimately fill the reservoirs.

“It’s too soon to say what our water year might look like,” cautioned Upper Gunnison River Water Conservation District (UGRWCD) general manager Sonja Chavez. “As we saw last year, we had a great snowpack through January and then it stopped snowing. We didn’t see any significant storm events the rest of the winter season. Then, wind and dust on the snowpack was a problem, and our snowpack disappeared before our eyes.”

According to UGRWCD water resource specialist Beverly Richards, last week the area in general was recording 140% above average snowpack and that has dropped a bit this week to 133%. The water content is at 129% of average, which is a good sign…

Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

 “This winter is doing quite well especially after a very weak start,” he reported. “The snowpack is well above average, though the past week’s snow was much lighter in water than everything earlier. That means it is still settling and catching down to the average. But this is a good winter, if not anything overly special. Last year’s end of December storm was big, but that was pretty much the winter while this year has been steady, which is more like it tended to be in the past.”

Study finds complexity to climate changes underway at 9,500 feet in #Colorado — @BigPivots #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Broad-tailed hummingbird visits flowers of the dwarf larkspur. Photo courtesy of David Inouye

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Changing climates have started disrupting schedules of almost everything everywhere. As temperatures rise, spring snow in the Rocky Mountains melts earlier. How has this changed the dance between birds and bees, flowers and the trees?

Plenty, according to a new study of research conducted in Colorado during the last half-century, and in far more complex ways than you might think.

Published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal of papers in life sciences, the study examined the voluminous evidence accumulated by 15 scientists since 1975 at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte. The scientists have studied plants, insects, and birds in the outdoor laboratory amid the forest and meadows at an elevation of about 9,500 feet.

Gothic mountain shrouded in clouds behind several cabins. Site of the Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory. Gothic, Colorado, USA. By Charlie DeTar – Own workby uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4795644

RMBL, pronounced “rumble,” also has a continuous record of temperature and other weather data beginning in 1975. Average summer temperatures at the lab, which is headquartered at the old mining hamlet of Gothic, have increased 0.4 degrees C each decade. Those in autumn rose 0.2 degrees per decade.

Something similar is happening with snowmelt. The date of bare ground has arrived an average of 2.4 days earlier per decade. With this earlier snowmelt, first spring activity advanced significantly across all the species examined except migratory birds. This makes sense because bird migration is determined by cues along their travel from winter grounds farther to the south and not solely by conditions in their breeding grounds in the Gunnison River Basin.

The study found that this shifting climate has not had uniform effects on the plants, insects, and birds that have been studied since Gerald Ford was president. Some interactions, such as those between particular wildflowers and pollinators, may no longer occur. Hummingbirds may no longer arrive while glaciers lilies are in bloom, for example. And, taking cues from the shifting climate, new species may be entering into the mix in different ways.

Rebecca M. Prather, one of four lead authors of the study, compares what has been observed at RMBL to the dining schedule of two people who had habitually gotten together for lunch at a restaurant for a long time. Suppose one of the patrons had a disruption, causing the person to cancel their noon get-togethers. The second person might take up with others, and the one with the disruption might instead arrive in evening.

In the natural world, the warming climate is changing the timing of interactions — or causing missed dates.

Prather explains that a specific flower can rely on a specific pollinator. And if the flower starts flowering before the insect arrives—well, the flower may not be able to reproduce, because it needs that insect to help it accomplish that task.

The study also emphasized the importance of examining which cues are driving a species’ entire distribution of seasonal activity. For example, first date of flowering by a wildflower may not be a good predictor of its peak flowering.

The study yielded some surprises, said Prather, a post-doctoral researcher at Florida State University’s Department of Biological Science who first studied the effects of changing climate on prairie ecosystems in Oklahoma.

Before the data collection began in 2021, she says, researchers assumed the earlier snowmelt in spring and the accompanying warmer temperatures mattered almost entirely in determining how the birds, insects, and plants interact. They do matter, but the study instead found that other things were also at play. For example, precipitation and temperatures from up to 18 months before can alter interactions among actors in the natural world.

“While we didn’t test the mechanisms for why climate in both short and longer time frames matters, we do know that cues can accumulate over time and interact with an organism’s physiological demands,” Prather explains.

“Extended lag times may be more common at high altitudes or latitudes because there is a shorter growing season, or time for organisms to obtain and store energy. An example that we use in the paper is that alpine bistort pre-forms its leaves and inflorescences four years prior to blooming.”

The study was not focused on quantity, such as the number of bees or flowering lilies, but only the timing of their interactions – and, on the flip side, non-interactions.

Scarlet gilia, blue flax, and other wildflowers make for a happy midsummer setting at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory near Crested Butte. Photo courtesy of David Inouye

David Inouye, another of the study’s authors, began spending his summers at Gothic in 1971 studying bumblebees, flies, and hummingbirds, as well as their interactions with the plants that can, in extremely warm years, such as was the case in 2022, flower in the high mountain meadows into October.

Now living in semi-retirement in Paonia after a teaching career at the University of Maryland, Inouye similarly stresses the greater complexity of interactions that the study found. “Individual species do not all respond in the same way,” he says.

For example, migrating hummingbirds might arrive after the flowers, blooming earlier than before, have disappeared.  Bumblebees wintering underground might also have jostled timings relative to their vegetative hosts.

“This points to a more complicated picture than we assumed at first,” he says. “It makes it more complicated, but also more interesting. It also points to the need for detailed long-term studies, to tease apart these interactions.”

Why might somebody in Boulder or Durango care about this?

“A lot of people, no matter where they live, have an appreciation for nature and a curiosity about how nature works and curiosity about how things are changing due to climate change,” he says.

“Anybody who spends time outdoors and has done that for a decade or more has a personal understanding that nature is changing. And I think they will also have an appreciation for learning some of the details about how it is changing that we have gained from decades-long studies like ours and with a variety of species.”

Ian Billick, executive director of RMBL, said the study demonstrates how the laboratory is uniquely positioned to provide a systems-level understanding of how ecosystems around the world will respond to a changing climate.

In terms of climate, the lab’s 45 years of data is but a glimpse. Other records go back much further, especially when considering ice cores and coral reefs.

“But from an organismal perspective, this is the gold standard,” he explains. “There are very few organismal studies that go back 50 years.”

Billick also emphasizes the importance of the study at two levels. If not the first such study, it nonetheless provides a “powerful example of how we can start to integrate across individual studies to develop and better predict how species will respond to climate change.”

Second, he says, this study will help climate scientists broaden their understanding of what lies ahead. Today’s climate change models focus on atmospheric conditions. They must also include earth-system models. In other words, they must incorporate what is happening on the ground—and underground, too—and the interaction with the atmosphere.

“Organisms are a huge driver of carbon cycles, and there are strong feedback loops between organisms and carbon/climate,” Billick explains. “We’ve made a lot of progress on climate models abstracting away the organismal component, but bringing biology back into those models will be very important to reducing uncertainty.”

This paper, while not focused on climate models predicting the future, “is a step in harnessing that complexity in the service of more predictive earth-system models,” he says.

#GunnisonRiver, #TaylorRiver earn Gold Medal trout fishery status — #Colorado Parks & Wildlife

A rainbow trout is pictured during survey work of the Taylor River below Taylor Park Reservoir. (Jerry Neal/CPW photos taken from video)

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website (John Livingston):

Years of consideration and conservation work all led to a golden moment for two pristine rivers in central Colorado.

During its meeting Jan. 18 in Colorado Springs, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission welcomed the Gunnison and Taylor Rivers as the newest Gold Medal trout fisheries in the state. CPW’s Gold Medal Program showcases the most elite fisheries throughout the state.

The stretches nominated and approved include 20 miles of the Taylor River below Taylor Park Reservoir and 12.5 miles of the Gunnison River starting west of the town of Gunnison at Twin Bridges extending up to the town of Almont.

“I’m pretty excited to be able to announce these two waters into our Gold Medal Program,” said CPW Assistant Aquatic Section Manager Josh Nehring. “It’s an achievement that came about by a lot of work by a lot of people over a number of decades. It’s amazing to see the quality of fisheries that we have here.”

Fisheries in Colorado may be designated by CPW as “Gold Medal” if they meet two qualifying criteria. The standard is 60 pounds of fish per acre along with at least 12 quality trout of 14 inches or greater per acre.

With the addition of the Gunnison and Taylor Rivers, Colorado now boasts 19 Gold Medal sections on 13 rivers that total roughly 362 miles. The state also has three lakes that have earned Gold Medal designation.

While the Gunnison and Taylor are newly-designated Gold Medal streams, CPW aquatic biologists believe the rivers have produced Gold Medal quality trout fishing since the 1990s. 

CPW Aquatic Biologist Dan Brauch said that while the rivers had met the biological criteria for designation for decades, it was important to ensure the streams provided long-lasting fish habitat for all life stages of trout.

“Significant work went into maintaining conditions on the Gunnison and Taylor Rivers to allow those fisheries to continue to persist,” Brauch said. “We have sampled the rivers quite a few times in the last 10 years, and we continued to see good numbers of quality-size trout and abundant trout.

“The Gunnison and Taylor Rivers really represent a successful conservation story with lots of partners that have made this fishery what it is today.”

CPW surveys streams regularly through the process of electrofishing. Fish are collected, weighed, measured and returned to the water. Data collected through these surveys provides invaluable data for CPW to assess the health of a fishery and to determine waters worthy of Gold Medal nomination.

“It does take quite a bit of work to get fisheries to this standpoint,” said Nehring, who grew up in neighboring Montrose and has enjoyed fishing the two rivers since he was a child. “Just the habitat that goes into it, the monitoring of the fisheries, making sure our regulations are appropriate and we aren’t getting too many fish harvested. There are a lot of things that go into making sure the system is healthy.”

Brauch and Nehring thanked a multitude of public and private partners that have come together throughout time to support the Gunnison and Taylor fisheries as work has been done to improve and protect trout habitat through the Gold Medal stretches.

While celebrating the conservation success story that has led to Gold Medal status for the rivers, CPW Area Wildlife Manager Brandon Diamond encouraged anglers to help protect these resources for generations to come.

“It’s extremely important right now for all water users and conservation-minded people, including anglers, to view these incredible resources through a stewardship lens,” Diamond said. “And I strongly encourage all of us to evaluate how we can contribute to the long-term conservation of these waters and how we fit in as stewards of the land and river resources.

“The Gold Medal designation is certainly something we are locally proud of. The Gunnison Valley has always been very supportive of wildlife conservation values, and we hope to continue that relationship moving forward.”

Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting January 19, 2023 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, January 19th, start time 1:00pm

The meeting will be open to in-person attendance at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction.

445 West Gunnison Ave

Grand Junction, CO

The meeting will also be available to attend virtually via Microsoft Teams.  Please click on this link to attend the meeting virtually.

This link should open in any smartphone, tablet, or computer browser, and does not require a Microsoft account.

The meeting agenda with handouts will be emailed out prior to the meeting.

For any questions please email or call at the number below.

Erik Knight

970-248-0629

WCAO-GJ

 Aspinall Unit operations update: Coordination meeting January 19, 2023

Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Aspinall Unit is scheduled for Thursday, January 19th, 2023 at 1:00 pm

As of now, the meeting is planned to be held in person as well as virtually. 

The meeting is planned to be held at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction, CO. Even if the in-person meeting needs to be cancelled, the meeting will still be held via webinar.

Information for connecting to the meeting virtually will be emailed out prior to the meeting, along with the agenda and handouts.

A #Water War Is Brewing Over the Dwindling #ColoradoRiver — ProPublica #COriver #aridification

Known for its breathtaking scenery, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a fine example of the spectacular canyon country of Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. Red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years, as well as many cultural and historic sites. The Ute Tribes today consider these pinyon-juniper–covered lands an important connection to their ancestral past. The Escalante, Cottonwood, Little Dominguez and Big Dominguez Creeks cascade through sandstone canyon walls that drain the eastern Uncompahgre Plateau. Unaweep Canyon on the northern boundary of the NCA contains globally significant geological resources. Nearly 30 miles (48 km) of the Gunnison River flow through the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, supporting fish, wildlife and recreational resources. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail, a 19th Century land trade route, also passes through it. A variety of wildlife call the area home, including desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagle, turkey, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and the collared lizard. There are 115 miles (185 km) of streams and rivers in the NCA, and there is habitat suitable for 52 protected species of animals and plants. By Bob Wick; Bureau of Land Management – Dominguez-Escalante NCA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42092807

by Abrahm Lustgarten

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Series: Killing the Colorado

The Water Crisis in the West

On a crisp day this fall I drove southeast from Grand Junction, Colorado, into the Uncompahgre Valley, a rich basin of row crops and hayfields. A snow line hung like a bowl cut around the upper cliffs of the Grand Mesa, while in the valley some farmers were taking their last deliveries of water, sowing winter wheat and onions. I turned south at the farm town of Delta onto Route 348, a shoulder-less two-lane road lined with irrigation ditches and dent corn still hanging crisp on their browned stalks. The road crossed the Uncompahgre River, and it was thin, nearly dry.

The Uncompahgre Valley, stretching 34 miles from Delta through the town of Montrose, is, and always has been, an arid place. Most of the water comes from the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, which courses out of the peaks of the Elk Range through the cavernous and sun-starved depths of the Black Canyon, one rocky and inaccessible valley to the east. In 1903, the federal government backed a plan hatched by Uncompahgre farmers to breach the ridge with an enormous tunnel and then in the 1960s to build one of Colorado’s largest reservoirs above the Black Canyon called Blue Mesa. Now that tunnel feeds a neural system of water: 782 miles worth of successively smaller canals and then dirt ditches, laterals and drains that turn 83,000 Western Colorado acres into farmland. Today, the farm association in this valley is one of the largest single users of Colorado River water outside of California.

I came to this place because the Colorado River system is in a state of collapse. It is a collapse hastened by climate change but also a crisis of management. In 1922, the seven states in the river basin signed a compact splitting the Colorado equally between its upper and lower halves; later, they promised additional water to Mexico, too. Near the middle, they put Lake Powell, a reserve for the northern states, and Lake Mead, a storage node for the south. Over time, as an overheating environment has collided with overuse, the lower half — primarily Arizona and California — has taken its water as if everything were normal, straining both the logic and the legal interpretations of the compact. They have also drawn extra releases from Lake Powell, effectively borrowing straight out of whatever meager reserves the Upper Basin has managed to save there.

This much has become a matter of great, vitriolic dispute. What is undeniable is that the river flows as a much-diminished version of its historical might. When the original compact gave each half the rights to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, the river is estimated to have flowed with as much as 18 million acre-feet each year. Over the 20th century, it averaged closer to 15. Over the past two decades, the flow has dropped to a little more than 12. In recent years, it has trickled at times with as little as 8.5. All the while the Lower Basin deliveries have remained roughly the same. And those reservoirs? They are fast becoming obsolete. Now the states must finally face the consequential question of which regions will make their sacrifice first. There are few places that reveal how difficult it will be to arrive at an answer than the Western Slope of Colorado.

In Montrose, I found the manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Steve Pope, in his office atop the squeaky stairs of the same Foursquare that the group had built at the turn of the last century. Pope, bald, with a trimmed white beard, sat amid stacks of plat maps and paper diagrams of the canals, surrounded by LCD screens with spreadsheets marking volumes of water and their destinations. On the wall, a historic map showed the farms, wedged between the Uncompahgre River and where it joins the Gunnison in Delta, before descending to their confluence with the Colorado in Grand Junction. “I’m sorry for the mess,” he said, plowing loose papers aside.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

What Pope wanted to impress upon me most despite the enormousness of the infrastructure all around the valley was that in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River system, there are no mammoth dams that can simply be opened to meter out a steady release of water. Here, only natural precipitation and temperature dictate how much is available. Conservation isn’t a management decision, he said. It was forced upon them by the hydrological conditions of the moment. The average amount of water flowing in the system has dropped by nearly 20%. The snowpack melts and evaporates faster than it used to, and the rainfall is unpredictable. In fact, the Colorado River District, an influential water conservancy for the western part of the state, had described its negotiating position with the Lower Basin states by claiming Colorado has already conserved about 28% of its water by making do with the recent conditions brought by drought.

You get what you get, Pope tells me, and for 15 of the past 20 years, unlike the farmers in California and Arizona, the people in this valley have gotten less than what they are due. “We don’t have that luxury of just making a phone call and having water show up,” he said, not veiling his contempt for the Lower Basin states’ reliance on lakes Mead and Powell. “We’ve not been insulated from this climate change by having a big reservoir above our heads.”

He didn’t have to point further back than the previous winter. In 2021, the rain and snow fell heavily across the Rocky Mountains and the plateau of the Grand Mesa, almost as if it were normal times. Precipitation was 80% of average — not bad in the midst of an epochal drought. But little made it into the Colorado River. Instead, soils parched by the lack of rain and rising temperatures soaked up every ounce of moisture. By the time water reached the rivers around Montrose and then the gauges above Lake Powell, the flow was less than 30% of normal. The Upper Basin states used just 3.5 million acre-feet last year, less than half their legal right under the 1922 compact. The Lower Basin states took nearly their full amount, 7 million acre-feet.

Colorado River Basin Plumbing. Credit: Lester Doré/Mary Moran via Dustin Mulvaney and Twitter

All of this matters now not just because the river, an unwieldy network of human-controlled plumbing, is approaching a threshold where it could become inoperable, but because much of the recent legal basis for the system is about to dissolve. In 2026, the Interim Guidelines the states rely on, a Drought Contingency Plan and agreements with Mexico will all expire. At the very least, this will require new agreements. It also demands a new way of thinking that matches the reality of the heating climate and the scale of human need. But before that can happen, the states will need to restore something that has become even more scarce than the water: trust.

The northern states see California and Arizona reveling in profligate use, made possible by the anachronistic rules of the compact that effectively promise them water when others have none. It’s enabled by the mechanistic controls at the Hoover Dam, which releases the same steady flow no matter how little snow falls across the Rocky Mountains. California flood-irrigates alfalfa crops destined for cattle markets in the Middle East, while Arizona takes water it does not need and pumps it underground to build up its own reserves. In 2018, an Arizona water agency admitted it was gaming the timing of its orders to avoid rations from the river (though it characterized the moves as smart use of the rules). In 2021, in a sign of the growing wariness, at least one Colorado water official alleged California was repeating the scheme. California water officials say this is a misunderstanding. Yet to this day, because California holds the most senior legal rights on the river, the state has avoided having a single gallon of reductions imposed on it.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

By this spring, Lake Powell shrank to 24% of its capacity, its lowest levels since the reservoir filled in the 1960s. Cathedral-like sandstone canyons were resurrected, and sunlight reached the silt-clogged floors for the first time in generations. The Glen Canyon Dam itself towered more than 150 feet above the waterline. The water was just a few dozen feet above the last intake pipe that feeds the hydropower generators. If it dropped much lower, the system would no longer be able to produce the power it distributes across six states. After that, it would approach the point where no water at all could flow into the Grand Canyon and further downstream. All the savings that the Upper Basin states had banked there were as good as gone.

In Western Colorado, meanwhile, people have been suffering. South of the Uncompahgre Valley, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe subsists off agriculture, but over the past 12 months it has seen its water deliveries cut by 90%; the tribe laid off half of its farmworkers. McPhee Reservoir, near the town of Cortez, has teetered on failure, and other communities in Southwestern Colorado that also depend on it have been rationed to 10% of their normal water.

Across the Upper Basin, the small reservoirs that provide the region’s only buffer against bad years are also emptying out. Flaming Gorge, on the Wyoming-Utah border, is the largest, and it is 68% full. The second largest, Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico, is at 50% of its capacity. Blue Mesa Reservoir, on the Gunnison, is just 34% full. Each represents savings accounts that have been slowly pilfered to supplement Lake Powell as it declines, preserving the federal government’s ability to generate power there and obscuring the scope of the losses. Last summer, facing the latest emergency at the Glen Canyon Dam, the Department of Interior ordered huge releases from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and other Upper Basin reservoirs. At Blue Mesa, the water levels dropped 8 feet in a matter of days, and boaters there were given a little more than a week to get their equipment off the water. Soon after, the reservoir’s marinas, which are vital to that part of Colorado’s summer economy, closed. They did not reopen in 2022.

South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

As the Blue Mesa Reservoir was being emptied last fall, Steve Pope kept the Gunnison Tunnel open at its full capacity, diverting as much water as he possibly could. He says this was legal, well within his water rights and normal practice, and the state’s chief engineer agrees. Pope’s water is accounted for out of another reservoir higher in the system. But in the twin takings, it’s hard not to see the bare-knuckled competition between urgent needs. Over the past few years, as water has become scarcer and conservation more important, Uncompahgre Valley water diversions from the Gunnison River have remained steady and at times even increased. The growing season has gotten longer and the alternative sources, including the Uncompahgre River, less reliable. And Pope leans more than ever on the Gunnison to maintain his 3,500 shareholders’ supply. “Oh, we are taking it,” he told me, “and there’s still just not enough.”

On June 14, Camille Touton, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Interior division that runs Western water infrastructure, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and delivered a stunning ultimatum: Western states had 60 days to figure out how to conserve as much as 4 million acre-feet of “additional” water from the Colorado River or the federal government would, acting unilaterally, do it for them. The West’s system of water rights, which guarantees the greatest amount of water to the settlers who arrived in the West and claimed it first, has been a sacrosanct pillar of law and states’ rights both — and so her statement came as a shock.

Would the department impose restrictions “without regard to river priority?” Mark Kelly,, the Democratic senator from Arizona, asked her.

“Yes,” Touton responded.

For Colorado, this was tantamount to a declaration of war. “The feds have no ability to restrict our state decree and privately owned ditches,” the general manager of the Colorado River District, Andy Mueller, told me. “They can’t go after that.” Mueller watches over much of the state.Pope faces different stakes. His system depends on the tunnel, a federal project, and his water rights are technically leased from the Bureau of Reclamation, too. Touton’s threat raised the possibility that she could shut the Uncompahgre Valley’s water off. Even if it was legal, the demands seemed fundamentally unfair to Pope. “The first steps need to come in the Lower Basin,” he insisted.

Each state retreated to its corners, where they remain. The 60-day deadline came and went, with no commitments toward any specific reductions in water use and no consequences. The Bureau of Reclamation has since set a new deadline: Jan. 31. Touton, who has publicly said little since her testimony to Congress, declined to be interviewed for this story. In October, California finally offered a plan to surrender roughly 9% of the water it used, albeit with expensive conditions. Some Colorado officials dismissed the gesture as a non-starter. Ever since, Colorado has become more defiant, enacting policies that seem aimed at defending the water the state already has — perhaps even its right to use more.

For one, Colorado has long had to contend with the inefficiencies that come with a “use it or lose it” culture. State water law threatens to confiscate water rights that don’t get utilized, so landowners have long maximized the water they put on their fields just to prove up their long-term standing in the system. This same reflexive instinct is now evident among policymakers and water managers across the state, as they seek to establish the baseline for where negotiated cuts might begin. Would cuts be imposed by the federal government based on Pope’s full allocation of water or on the lesser amount with which he’s been forced to make do? Would the proportion be adjusted down in a year with no snow? “We don’t have a starting point,” he told me. And so the higher the use now, the more affordable the conservation later.

Colorado and other Upper Basin states have also long hid behind the complexity of accurately accounting for their water among infinite tributaries and interconnected soils. [ed. emphasis mine] The state’s ranchers like to say their water is recycled five times over, because water poured over fields in one place invariably seeps underground down to the next. In the Uncompahgre Valley, it can take months for the land at its tail to dry out after ditches that flood the head of the valley are turned off. The measure of what’s been consumed and what has transpired from plants or been absorbed by soils is frustratingly elusive. That, too, leaves the final number open to argument and interpretation.

All the while, the Upper Basin states are all attempting to store more water within their boundaries. Colorado has at least 10 new dams and reservoirs either being built or planned. Across the Upper Basin, an additional 15 projects are being considered, including Utah’s audacious $2.4 billion plan to run a new pipeline from Lake Powell, which would allow it to transport something closer to its full legal right to Colorado River water to its growing southern cities. Some of these projects are aimed at securing existing water and making its timing more predictable. But they are also part of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s vision to expand the Upper Basin states’ Colorado River usage to 5.4 million acre-feet a year by 2060.

It is fair to say few people in the state are trying hard to send more of their water downstream. In our conversation, Mueller would not offer any specific conservation savings Colorado might make. The state’s chief engineer and director of its Division of Water Resources, Kevin Rein, who oversees water rights, made a similar sentiment clear to the Colorado River District board last July. “There’s nothing telling me that I should encourage people to conserve,” Rein said. “It’s a public resource. It’s a property right. It’s part of our economy.”

In November, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis proposed the creation of a new state task force that would help him capture every drop of water it can before it crosses the state line. It would direct money and staff to make Colorado’s water governance more sophisticated, defensive and influential.

I called Polis’ chief water confidante, Rebecca Mitchell, who is also the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. If the mood was set by the idea that California was taking too much from the river, Mitchell thought that it had shifted now to a more personal grievance — they are taking from us.

On a day in late May [2022] when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Last month, Mitchell flew to California for a tour of its large irrigation districts. She stood beside a wide canal brimming with more water than ever flows through the Uncompahgre River, and the executive of the farming company beside her explained that he uses whatever he wants because he holds the highest priority rights to the water. She thought about the Ute Mountain Ute communities and the ranchers of Cortez: “It was like: ‘Wouldn’t we love to be able to count on something? Wouldn’t we love to be feel so entitled that no matter what, we get what we get?’” she told me.

What if Touton followed through, curtailing Colorado’s water? I asked. Mitchell’s voice steadied, and then she essentially leveled a threat. “We would be very responsive. I’m not saying that in a positive way,” she said. “I think everybody that’s about to go through pain wants others to feel pain also.”

Here’s the terrible truth: There is no such thing as a return to normal on the Colorado River, or to anything that resembles the volumes of water its users are accustomed to taking from it. With each degree Celsius of warming to come, modelers estimate that the river’s flow will decrease further, by an additional 9%. At current rates of global warming, the basin is likely to sustain at least an additional 18% drop in its water supplies over the next several decades, if not far more. Pain, as Mitchell puts it, is inevitable.

The thing about 4 million acre-feet of cuts is that it’s merely the amount already gone, an adjustment that should have been made 20 years ago. Colorado’s argument makes sense on paper and perhaps through the lens of fairness. But the motivation behind the decades of delay was to protect against the very argument that is unfolding now — that the reductions should be split equally, and that they may one day be imposed against the Upper Basin’s will. It was to preserve the northern states’ inalienable birthright to growth, the promise made to them 100 years ago. At some point, though, circumstances change, and a century-old promise, unfulfilled, might no longer be worth much at all. Meanwhile, the politics of holding out are colliding with climate change in a terrifying crash, because while the parties fight, the supply continues to dwindle.

Average combined storage assuming drought conditions continue Average end-of-year combined Lake Powell and Lake Mead storage is shown, assuming hydrologic conditions of the Millennium Drought continue. Results show combined reservoir contents using a range of Upper Basin consumptive use limits (colored ribbons) along with a range of Lower Basin maximum consumptive use reductions (line styles) triggered when the combined storage falls below 15 million acre-feet (MAF). The status quo lines use the 2016 Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) projections and existing elevation-based shortage triggers. All water use and shortage values are annual volumes (MAF/year).

Recently, Brad Udall, a leading and longtime analyst of the Colorado River and now a senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, teamed with colleagues to game out what they thought it would take to bring the river and the twin reservoirs of Mead and Powell into balance. Their findings, published in July in the journal Science, show that stability could be within reach but will require sacrifice.

If the Upper Basin states limited their claim to 4 million acre-feet, or 53% of their due under the original compact, and the Lower Basin states and Mexico increased their maximum emergency cuts by an additional 45%, the two big reservoirs will stay at roughly their current levels for the next several decades. If the basins could commit to massive reductions below even 2021 levels for the Upper Basin and to more than doubling the most ambitious conservation goals for the south, the reservoirs could once again begin to grow, providing the emergency buffer and the promise of economic stability for 40 million Americans that was originally intended. Still, by 2060, they would only be approximately 45% full.

Any of the scenarios involve cuts that would slice to the bone. Plus, there’s still the enormous challenge of how to incorporate Native tribes, which also hold huge water rights but continue to be largely left out of negotiations. What to do next? Israel provides one compelling example. After decades of fighting over the meager trickles of the Jordan River and the oversubscription of a pipeline from the Sea of Galilee, Israel went back to the drawing board on its irrigated crops. It made drip irrigation standard, built desalination plants to supply water for its industry and cities, and reused that water again and again; today, 86% of the country’s municipal wastewater is recycled, and Israel and its farmers have an adequate supply. That would cost a lot across the scale and reach of a region like the Western United States. But to save the infrastructure and culture that produces 80% of this country’s winter vegetables and is a hub of the nation’s food system for 333 million people? It might be worth it.

A different course was charted by Australia, which recoiled against a devastating millennium drought that ended 13 years ago. It jettisoned its coveted system of water rights, breaking free of history and prior appropriation similar to the system of first-come-first-served the American West relies on. That left it with a large pool of free water and political room to invent a new method of allocating it that better matched the needs in a modern, more populous and more urban Australia and better matched the reality of the environment.

In America, too, prior appropriation, as legally and culturally revered as it is, may have become more cumbersome and obstructive than it needs to be. Western water rights, according to Newsha Ajami, a leading expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the former director of the urban water policy program at Stanford University, were set up by people measuring with sticks and buckets, long before anyone had ever even considered climate change. Today, they largely serve powerful legacy interests and, because they must be used to be maintained, tend to dissuade conservation. “It’s kind of very archaic,” she said. “The water rights system would be the first thing I would just dismantle or revisit in a very different way.”

This is probably not going to happen, Ajami said. “It could be seen as political suicide.” But that doesn’t make it the wrong solution. In fact, what’s best for the Colorado, for the Western United States, for the whole country might be a combination of what Israel and Australia mapped out. Deploy the full extent of the technology that is available to eliminate waste and maximize efficiency. Prioritize which crops and uses are “beneficial” in a way that attaches the true value of the resource to the societal benefit produced from using it. Grow California and Arizona’s crops in the wintertime but not in the summer heat. And rewrite the system of water allocation as equitably as possible so that it ensures the modern population of the West has the resources it needs while the nation’s growers produce what they can.

What would that look like in Colorado? It might turn the system upside down. Lawsuits could fly. The biggest, wealthiest ranches with the oldest water rights stand to lose a lot. The Lower and Upper Basin states, though, could all divide the water in the river proportionately, each taking a percentage of what flowed. The users would, if not benefit, at least equally and predictably share the misery. Pope’s irrigation district and the smallholder farmers who depend on it would likely get something closer to what they need and, combined with new irrigation equipment subsidized by the government, could produce what they want. It wouldn’t be pretty. But something there would survive.

The alternative is worse. The water goes away or gets bought up or both. The land of Western Colorado dries up, and the economies around it shrivel. Montrose, with little left to offer, boards up its windows, consolidates its schools as people move away, and the few who remain have less. Until one day, there is nothing left at all.

‘Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Cloud seeding adds to local winter — The #CrestedButte News

Graphic credit: “Literature Review and Scientific Synthesis on the Efficacy of Winter Orographic Cloud Seeding” — CIRES

Click the link to read the article on The Crested Butte News website (Katherine Nettles). Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Gunnison Basin Cloud Seeding Program started in the 2002/2003 winter season, following a feasibility study the year prior funded by Gunnison County in response to significant drought in 2002. After the program’s first year, the UGRWCD took over and in the time since it has grown to 15 generators, on both public and private land. The UGRWCD wants to add more generators in other qualified locations, starting with one on private land on Black Mesa.  According to the UGRWCD, cloud seeding is one of the cheapest forms of augmentation water for the river basin at an estimated $0.53 per acre-foot annually. And it can provide critical water to support Gunnison River basin flows, Blue Mesa Reservoir and the local economy.

“Typically, what we plan for is that in the last five years or so the programs run at about $114,000 to $118,000 per year,” says Sonja Chavez, general manager for the UGRWCD. 

The Colorado Water Conservation Board gives anywhere between $67,000 and $94,000 and the UGRWCD covers the remaining $20,000 to $45,000. Chavez says that program costs are increasing, however. “We are adding a new generation site, and we are going to be looking for new funding partners,” she says…

Cloud seeding cannot create a snowstorm, but it can increase the precipitation from a storm that already exists. Cole Osborne, project meteorologist for NAWC, explains how the process works using manual and remote-controlled generators and propane tanks to blast a mix of silver iodide and sodium iodide into the atmosphere. 

“The solution attracts liquid particles in a cloud, and the water molecules develop into ice crystals…so you can speed up the process and make a cloud more efficient at producing precipitation,” he says…

The UGRWCD and NAWC believe a remote generator placed at Black Mesa between Crested Butte and Gunnison will do more than any other program enhancement, in terms of water augmentation in the Gunnison Range and to Blue Mesa Reservoir. The UGRWCD, with financial assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has decided to fund the initial set-up and infrastructure costs for the remote generator for approximately $67,600.  Osborne says there’s a huge area they are trying to target to lead to increased spring runoff and rises in reservoir levels. According to a memo from the UGRWCD earlier this month to potential funding partners, “NAWC analysis indicates that the generator will have significant direct benefits to northern and southern tributaries to Blue Mesa Reservoir and to eastern tributaries due to positive downwind cloud seeding impacts. The remote generator would permit cloud seeding during almost all storm periods that impact the Upper Gunnison River watershed. Seeding could occur during periods with winds ranging from northerly to southerly. 

Project 7 wins grant funds — The #Montrose Press

Sneffels Range and Ridgway Reservoir. CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56735453

Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Press website. Here’s an excerpt:

Project 7 Water Authority scored another grant to help it add critical infrastructure. The Colorado River District’s Accelerator Grant program awarded Project 7 $46,600, to be used in developing a competitive federal funding application.

Project 7 provides drinking water for about 60,000 people in the Uncompahgre River Valley and is in the process of developing a backup treatment facility to deliver treated water from Ridgway Reservoir. Currently, Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties’ drinking water comes from a single treatment plant, using water from Blue Mesa Reservoir that is delivered via the Gunnison Tunnel.

The Colorado River District funding will help pay for a feasibility study and a grant application to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for funding to treat hard water with high levels of minerals in Ridgway Reservoir. This study and application will include the results of a pilot project that tested out different means of softening and filtration so that when the backup plant is built, the water it treats will be of the same quality as the current treatment plant. Once the study is accepted by BuRec, Project 7’s Regional Water Supply & Resiliency Program is eligible to apply for federal funding through the bureau’s Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse grant opportunity. Earlier this year, Project 7 secured $612,059 from BuRec’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program, which paid for the pilot project (with a funding match from Project 7).

The push for a second treatment facility is on, because the current, single source puts the region’s drinking water supply at greater risks from wildfire, drought and infrastructure failure. Having a second treatment plant will provide another source of drinking water (from Ridgway Reservoir) and provide a backup option in the event of infrastructure failure at the current plant.

How beavers could help protect #water quality from #ClimateChange — #Colorado Public Radio #CRWUA2022

American beaver, he was happily sitting back and munching on something. and munching, and munching. By Steve from washington, dc, usa – American Beaver, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3963858

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Sam Brasch). Here’s an excerpt:

Beavers could help protect water quality and ecosystem health from the effects of climate change, new research suggests.  The conclusion comes from a new study in the journal Nature Communications focused on a beaver dam outside Crested Butte. In 2017, Christian Dewey, then a doctoral student focused on water and soil science at Stanford University, set out to research shifting steam flows along the East River, a winding tributary of the Colorado River.  Dewey, now a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State University, hoped the study could add context to a potential threat to western watersheds.  As climate change drives more frequent droughts and drier weather long-term, scientists fear excess nutrients, like nitrogen, could build up in waterways, contaminating the water and the surrounding river ecosystems. Major downpours and seasonal snowmelts flush away the harmful chemicals in normal years. Low nitrogen levels benefit many organisms, but Dewey said too much can trigger harmful algal blooms that deprive fish and other creatures of essential oxygen. Accumulated nitrogen also puts human infants at a higher risk of “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially deadly condition defined by low blood-oxygen levels.

Dewey had no plans to study beavers until the industrious rodents took over his research site. During the dry summer of 2018, a dam appeared across the main channel of the river, slowing the flow into a small pond. 

“We were really just in the perfect position to capture the changes the beaver damn caused. It was really being in the right place at the right time,” Dewey said. 

The beavers maintained the dam for two months until the water swept away the mud and branches. By carefully tracking steam’s flow and chemical composition, Dewey found the structure flooded the surrounding soil, allowing microbes to convert excess nitrogen into a harmless gas.  Rain and snowmelt have a similar effect but nothing close to the benefits of beavers. The research found the dam increased nitrogen removal by 44 percent compared to the river’s normal seasonal fluxations.

Opinion: Why you should attend the West Slope Water Summit — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Register here. Click the link to read the guest column on The Montrose Daily Press website (Sue Hansen). Here’s an excerpt:

What we need now is your help; I invite you to join us for the West Slope Water Summit on Nov. 10 at the Montrose County Event Center. Even though we are a small community on the western slope, arming our community members with knowledge, encouraging conservation, and researching potential solutions is a role that we all play in the Colorado River system. In its fourth year, the West Slope Water Summit’s theme is “troubled waters” featuring an impressive number of prominent water and conservation experts.

The program begins with Andy Mueller, Executive Director of the Colorado River District, who will address adapting the 1922 Compact to today’s reality. Next, Don Day, Meteorologist Day Weather Inc., is presenting on the State of the Weather: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before the free lunch, our local Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Pope will provide an update to the Colorado River Basin Drought Response as part of a panel of water user board members.

Spots are still available — we recently moved from the conference room to the arena to accommodate a larger crowd. Register at westslopewatersummit.com

River Bottom Park Uncompahgre River. Photo credit: PhilipScheetzPhoto via the City of Montrose

Aspinall Unit operations update (October 31, 2022): The #Gunnison Tunnel is turning off

Official opening of the Gunnison Tunnel by President Taft at the west portal

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 950 cfs to 370 cfs on Monday, October 31st. Releases are being decreased in coordination with the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel on Monday, October 31st.   

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain 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 790 cfs for October and November. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 570 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Say hello to the Grand Mesa Watershed Resiliency Partnership

Click the link to read the announcement on the Mesa County website:

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forests’ Grand Valley Ranger District in partnership with Delta County, Mesa County and Colorado State Forest Service announce the Grand Mesa Watershed Resiliency Partnership—a large landscape scale effort to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfire effects in critical watersheds on and adjacent to the Grand Mesa. A series of community meetings will be offered to provide the public detailed information on the effort, what types of projects are considered and an invitation to be involved in the planning.

The Grand Mesa Watershed Resiliency Partnership was created in the summer of 2022 to plan integrated fuels reduction projects on the western portion of the Grand Mesa National Forest. Significant funding to implement projects is anticipated in two years. Early informational sessions with neighboring agencies, local governments, fire chiefs, utility companies, water producers, and wildfire councils have been very supportive. Community members are invited to actively participate and help create fire-resilient landscapes.

“The size and intensity of large wildfires have greatly increased across the West over the past 20 years, often with catastrophic results to communities and watersheds. In response, Congress has provided funding to implement locally-designed projects to reduce the intensity and negative effects of large wildfires. We are starting to work with our local communities now, so we are prepared to receive funding in two years. We are fortunate and grateful to have this unique opportunity, and community support will be necessary for this to be a successful effort,” said Bill Edwards, District Ranger for the Grand Valley Ranger District.

Several open houses in local communities will be available for in-person and online attendance:

  • Nov. 2 – 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Cedaredge Community Center, 140 SW Second St. Cedaredge, CO 81413.
  • Nov. 10 – 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Collbran Auditorium, 106 Main St. Collbran, CO  81624.
  • Nov. 16 – 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Lincoln Park Barn, 910 N. 12th Street, Grand Junction, CO 81501.
  • Nov. 17 – 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Mesa Community Center, 48973 KE Road Mesa, CO 81526.
    • No online option available.

For additional information please contact the Grand Valley Ranger District at (970) 242-8211.

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

Aspinall Unit operations update (October 20, 2022): Bumping down releases to 950 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1050 cfs to 950 cfs on Thursday, October 20th. Releases are being decreased due to reduced demand at the Gunnison Tunnel.  

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain 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 790 cfs for October and November. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 600 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

United Lithium Corp. Completes Staking of Large Land Position in Historical Lithium Pegmatite Producing Area near Ohio City, #Colorado

Click the link to read the release on the United Lithium website (Michael Dehn):

United Lithium Corp. (CSE: ULTH; OTC: ULTHF; FWB: 0ULA)  (“ULTH” or the “Company”) ispleased to announce that it has established a large land position in a historic lithium-beryllium producing area of Gunnison County of Colorado. The Company has completed staking of over 300 unpatented lode claims covering more than 9 square miles (nearly 25 square kilometers) near Ohio City, Colorado, surrounding the Black Wonder granite. The “Patriot Lithium Project” hosts numerous pegmatite bodies, several of which have been mined for Li-Be. United Lithium’s claim block covers or surround all past LCT (lithium, cesium, tantalum) pegmatite production in the Ohio City area.

A reconnaissance rock chip sampling program was carried out in conjunction with the staking program to identify new areas for detailed field work. Samples have been submitted to the laboratory and assays are awaited.

Michael Dehn, CEO of United Lithium stated, “We are planning an integrated exploration program to evaluate the Ohio City area land holdings. The program will include local area detailed geologic mapping and additional rock chip sampling. With anomalies well-defined, targets with be drilled in the coming year when permits and contracts are in place.”

A general outline of the United Lithium claims is presented below. The area staked covers the public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). There are private property holdings within the USFS lands and the claims are positioned and located to recognize the pre-existing, titled ownership rights.

Map 1 Patriot Lithium Project Lode Claims (red), Gunnison County, Colorado, USA. Credit United Lithium

Historic Lithium – Beryllium Pegmatite Mining in the Ohio City Area

The Patriot Lithium project is part of the Quartz Creek pegmatite field. It is located 17 miles due east of City of Gunnison, in Gunnison County. The Patriot Lithium Project comprises three blocks of claims that are located between Parlin and Ohio City, Colorado and illustrated on Map 1. The two northern “Ohio City” claim blocks are separated by privately owned lands and a highway right-of-way. A sequence of younger, Paleozoic rocks separate the Ohio City claims from the southern “Parlin” claimblock. More than 1,800 individual pegmatite bodies were mapped around the Black Wonder granite by the US Geological Survey. The mapped pegmatites demonstrate zonation where the pegmatites closest to the Black Wonder granite are less evolved while the more distalpegmatites are geochemically evolved and commonly enriched in lithophile elements like Li, Be, Sn, Cs, Rb, etc. The more evolved pegmatites hosted lithium and beryllium former mines and occurrences, including the well-known Brown Derby pegmatite mine, as well as the Bazooka, White Spar and Opportunity pegmatites.

Reconnaissance Rock Chip Geochemical Sampling

A geological crew worked in conjunction with the staking crew in the Ohio City – Parlin areas, highlighting areas for coverage, and more importantly, collecting 243 surface rock chip samples from many pegmatite outcrops for geochemical analysis. Lithium minerals were identified in a number of the outcrop samples, including abundant lepidolite, spodumene and tourmaline (elbaite), while beryl was the chief beryllium mineral. Other minerals reported in the pegmatites from this area, but not recognized in hand specimens, include monazite, columbite, tantalite, microlite, rynersonite, gahnite, zircon, allanite, amblygolite, pollucite and stibiotantalite.

The pegmatites of the Ohio City- Parlin area contributed to the economic development of the region and contributed significantly to the war efforts of the 1940s and 1950s. The Brown Derby pegmatite mines were of particular note for their Li and Be production as well as a locale for several collectible mineral species.

Map 2 Location of the major lithium-rich mines and occurrences in the Quartz Creek pegmatite district. : From Hanley et al 1950.
Photo 1 The Brown Derby pegmatite, main gallery in July 1980. From 2015 Conference Paper – Quartz Creek pegmatite field, Gunnison County, Colorado: geology and mineralogy by Mark Ivan Jacobson, Mines Museum of Earth Science, Colorado School of Mines
Map 3 The Bazooka Spodumene Prospect, Quartz Creek Pegmatite District: From Staatz et al, 1955
Large lepidolite crystals in pegmatite near the brown derby deposit unitied lithium.jpg

All claims still require final approvals from the Bureau of Land Management.

Mark Saxon (FAusMM), Technical Advisor to the Company, is a qualified person as defined by National Instrument 43-101 (Standards of Disclosure or Mineral Projects) and has prepared or reviewed the scientific and technical information in this press release.

References

Jacobson, M. A. 2015. Quartz Creek pegmatite field, Gunnison County, Colorado: geology and mineralogy, Conference Paper

Staatz, M. H. and A. F. Trites, Jr. 1955, Geology of the Quartz Creek pegmatite district, Gunnison County, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 265, 111 pp.

Hanley, J. B., E. W. Heinrich and L. R. Page. 1950. Pegmatite investigations in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, 1942-1944: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 227, 125 pp.

#Gunnison armed with ‘strong and resilient’ #water rights — The Gunnison Country Times

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Click the link to read the article on The Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

The risk of water curtailments throughout the state is growing as the Upper and Lower basin states continue to negotiate a way to deal with extensive drought conditions along the Colorado River — a system under significant stress as the West dries up.  On Sept. 27, the City of Gunnison’s water attorney, Jennifer DiLalla, provided council with an update on the standings of its water rights. She focused on the city’s preparedness to maintain water security as Colorado discusses how it will handle a potential “compact call,” which could reduce the water supply of more junior users throughout the state. The Colorado River Compact is a 1922 agreement allocating water use rights between basin states. While the Lower Basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California are already dealing with compact-related reductions to their water use to boost the levels of Lake Powell, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, have not yet been faced with a compact call. A call would result from the Upper Basin’s inability to meet its delivery obligations to the Lower Basin, requiring water cuts upstream to make up for the deficit. Water planners in Colorado evaluate their portfolios based on whether the water rights that make up their water supply are junior or senior to the compact…

According to DiLalla, the city is well positioned based on the pre-compact priorities of its “workhorse” water rights. The town ditch, which is one of the city’s primary water sources, is decreed for 64 cubic feet per second (cfs) out of the Gunnison River — which accounts for almost 42 million gallons per day — with an 1880 priority date. For the 10-year period between 2012 and 2022, the ditch was never out of priority. While it can only be utilized between May and September, the water can be stored and is critical for long-term planning, she said. The town pipeline, another significant diversion, has an 1883 appropriation and priority date with no seasonal limits — making it available for municipal use when the ditch isn’t running…Despite what DiLalla called a “strong and resilient” portfolio, she still recommended that city staff draft risk mitigation strategies to protect against severe and long-term drought, events that could ultimately trigger a compact call along the Colorado. Storage will be critical, she said.

Aspinall unit operations update: Bumping releases down to 1050 cfs October 3, 2022

East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel. Lisa Lynch/NPS

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1250 cfs to 1050 cfs on Monday, October 3rd. Releases are being decreased due to the heavy rainfall that occurred over the weekend which has reduced demand at the Gunnison Tunnel.  

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain 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 790 cfs for October. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 750 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 350 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 24, 2022): 340 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1350 cfs to 1250 cfs on Saturday, September 24th. Releases are being decreased due to the cooler and wetter conditions that have decreased demand at the Gunnison Tunnel. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to remain 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 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Conditions point to warmer, drier winter in store — The #Montrose Press #LaNiña #ENSO

Colorado Drought Monitor map Septermber 13, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on the Montrose Press website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Colorado River Basin recorded its ninth-warmest water year on record through August — and five of those record warm water years have fallen within the last 12. Despite recent, good moisture in the Southwest — sufficient to lift some pockets into a drought-free status — the region should brace itself for another warmer, drier winter and lower snowpack next year, climatologist Peter Goble said during the Tuesday, Sept. 13, Southwest drought briefing…Montrose enjoyed some wetter weather earlier this summer. It also saw near-record temperature highs during the first week of this month, which climatologists said is in keeping with the last four or so years. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Wednesday showed most of Montrose County in moderate drought, with a pocket of severe drought.

Goble also discussed long-term temperature and precipitation in the Upper Colorado Basin, delivering the bad — although perhaps unsurprising — news that it’s experiencing yet another warm water year…When it comes to precipitation, the Upper Colorado Basin has seen three drier than normal years in a row…

Goble said although monsoons this year brought some shorter term relief, “arguably” helped with wildfire season and somewhat improved the soil moisture picture, groundwater in the basin is still well below normal. Root zone soil moistures are in better shape than groundwater, but are still on the low side, which is anticipated to negatively influence runoff next year as the drier soils drink down moisture from precip. Goble said 2022’s spring snowpack was low and runoff, even lower, with values peaking between 70 and 90% of normal…Runoff values stood in the 50 to 80% range…

The winter precipitation outlook is not good, Goble said. Data show an increased chance of it falling below normal, edging up to equal chances north of central Utah and central Colorado. The La Niña weather pattern of drier winters is expected to hold sway and overall, the odds of a warmer, drier fall and winter “are elevated,” he said.

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 15, 2022): Turning down releases to 1350 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, September 15th. Releases are being decreased due to the cooler and wetter conditions that have caused the river to rise above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to remain 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 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 440 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

#GunnisonRiver #water agencies win $340,000 in federal #drought grants, launch contingency planning — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

he Gunnison Dam. Credit: Creative Commons

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Two Gunnison River water districts in the headwaters of the Colorado River system are embarking on a $700,000 drought planning effort, aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in new funding from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Montrose-based Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, one of the largest suppliers of agricultural water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, will spend $400,000 to develop an action plan for dealing with the ongoing and future droughts, with $200,000 in federal funds, and matching funds from local sources.

The Gunnison-based Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District will spend $300,000 for a similar program, with $140,000 in federal funds, and another $166,000 from local partners, according to its application. The Upper Gunnison district is responsible for delivering agriculture water, but also serves the city of Gunnison and the town of Crested Butte as well as the ski area.

Reclamation granted this funding through its WaterSMART program. On Aug. 2 the agency awarded more than $865,000 in drought planning funds to water districts and agencies in five states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon, as well as Colorado.

The seven-state Colorado River Basin is facing severe water shortages and is operating under a basin-wide set of state-level drought contingency plans. Those plans include water cutbacks for users in Arizona and Nevada, and possibly California in the Lower Basin, as well as emergency releases of water from reservoirs in the Upper Basin, including Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa. The Upper Basin includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Compared to the multi-million dollar state and federal efforts, the local WaterSmart grants are fairly small, but officials say they provide critical help in important areas and create opportunities to win matching funds from other agencies.

“This really helps because there is so much that has to be done,” said Sonia Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison district. “And anything we can get will help us leverage funding to get more done. A couple of hundred thousand dollars really helps.”

Steve Pope, manager of the Uncompahgre association, said the money will go toward developing contingency plans and designing improvements to the association’s aging federal infrastructure on which it relies.

“Our infrastructure is extremely old,” Pope said. “Even though this grant is for planning purposes it will have a big impact on our system in the sense that it will allow us to best manage our water without having to make big infrastructure changes.”

Pope is responsible for delivering 500,000 to 700,000 acre-feet of water, through more than 700 miles of canals, laterals and drains, to farmers and some small towns in the Gunnison Valley.

Both districts occupy key territory in the Upper Colorado River Basin, with the Gunnison district lying just above Blue Mesa Reservoir, and the Uncompahgre district lying below.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest water storage reservoir operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has been hard hit by drought and by emergency releases of water to help stabilize Lake Powell.

Chavez said her small, largely rural district has never implemented a drought plan, in part because one has never been needed until now.

The new grant funds will allow it to better monitor and analyze its water supplies, develop ways to conserve water, and determine equitable ways for farmers and cities to use whatever water is available.

“If we get into a drought, how is my little community here going to get through that drought?” Chavez said, “and how could we better share the water we do have available?”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Aspinall Unit operations update September 8, 2022: Bumping up to 1400 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1350 cfs to 1400 cfs on Thursday, September 8th. Releases are being increased due to the hot and dry conditions that have caused the river to drop below the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently under the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to be under the baseflow target until the additional release from Crystal Dam arrives. 

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 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 345 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 400 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#ColoradoRiver ‘stalemate’ continues — The #Gunnison Country Times #COriver #aridifcation

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Alan Wartes). Here’s an excerpt:

On Aug. 16, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issued a press release restating the urgency of the situation and laying out actions it will take in coming months to protect water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency. In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said. “The Interior Department is employing prompt and responsive actions and investments to ensure the entire Colorado River Basin can function and support all who rely on it. We are grateful for the hardworking public servants who have dedicated their lives to this work, and who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of Basin states, Tribes, and communities.”

“They said, ‘Well, we appreciate all of the efforts, and here’s what the August 24-month study shows, and here’s what we’re going to do for the next year, which is basically consistent with the 2007 guidelines with a modification,’” Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District General Counsel John McClow said.

That modification from the already existing agreement, McClow said, was to hold 480,000 acre feet of water back in Lake Powell to protect the critical elevation of 3,525 feet, but to treat it as if it went to Lake Mead for the purpose of water accounting.

“So, nothing new,” McClow said. “But they said they were still looking to the states to come up with an answer. Basically, I think it was unrealistic to expect the states to deliver a plan to cut the river use by 2 to 4 million acre feet in 60 days. It just wasn’t feasible.”

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck. https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1449828004230664195

The problem remains that aridification in the West has meant significantly less available water in the system over the past 20 years. That is compounded by what some have called a “structural imbalance” in how the water is used between the upper and lower basins. In 2021, for instance, the Lower Basin states consumed over 10 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, while the Upper Basin states combined consumed 3.5 million acre-feet.

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 4, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aspinall Unit
Click the link for a larger view.

Aspinall unit coordination meeting August 25, 2022 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

From email from reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next coordination meeting for the operation of the Aspinall Unit is scheduled for Thursday, August 25th, 2022, at 1:00 pm.

The meeting will be held virtually via BOR WebEx. The WebEx link is included below along with the option to call in by phone.

The meeting agenda will include a review of hydrology and operations since the April meeting as well as discussion of the weather outlook and planned operations for the fall and winter.

Handouts of the presentations will be emailed out prior to the meeting.

Here’s the WebEx link for the meeting

Drought eases in Gunnison County — The Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor map August 9., 2022.

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Alan Wartes). Here’s an excerpt:

Better than expected monsoonal rains this summer have not led Gunnison County out of the region’s persistent drought — but the moisture has gone a long way to lessen its severity. Beverly Richards, water resource specialist for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, shared the message with the Gunnison County Commissioners on Tuesday. As of last week, over 96% of Gunnison County was listed in the National Integrated Drought Information System as falling in the category of “moderate drought,” one step above the least severe rating of “abnormally dry.” The 30-day outlook calls for continued improvement, as forecasts predict at least a 33% chance of above normal precipitation in the next month.

Richards said the wetter-than-forecasted summer has done little to improve the water storage outlook at Blue Mesa Reservoir, however. Current forecasts call for the lake to drop to 33% of capacity heading into winter, up only slightly from the 29% estimate in early summer. The water level in the reservoir peaked at 48% in July and sits at 44% of capacity.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Bumping down to 1450 cfs August 18, 2022 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1550 cfs to 1450 cfs on Thursday, August 18th. Releases are being decreased as rainfall has helped put river flows above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently over the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to continue at or 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 900 cfs for June, July and August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 550 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit operations update (August 11, 2022): 550 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Click to enlarge.

Aspinall Unit operations update: 490 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #aridification

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, July 20th. Releases are being increased to maintain flows above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 67% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently very near to the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to drop below the baseflow target without this additional increase in release from the Aspinall Unit.

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 900 cfs for June, July and August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 440 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 490 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#Water worries mount in #ColoradoRiver Basin as new #conservation plan due date draws near — The #Montrose Press #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest storage facility in Colorado in the Upper Colorado River system. Prolonged drought and downriver demand is shrinking the reservoir. Credit: Tom Wood, Water Desk

Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Press website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton in June 14 remarks to the U.S. Senate said the ongoing drought has put the Colorado River Basin at “the tipping point.” According to published reports, she also called on the basin states to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre feet over the next 18 months and told the states to come up with a plan to do so in the next 60 days…

State Rep. Marc Catlin, a Colorado River District board member, is alarmed by the timeline — 60 days from Touton’s request is in mid-August.

“Historically, we haven’t been able to decide the shape of the table in 60 days,” Catlin said of talks between the basin states. “I really think what we’re looking at is more of what the water plan will be in water year 2023.”

[…]

BuRec is attempting, under drought response actions announced May 3, to boost storage in Powell by about 1 million af by next April. Flaming Gorge Reservoir will release 500,000 af, as called for by the drought contingency plan. Additionally, BuRec is reducing Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume from 7.48 million af to 7 million af.

Aspinall Unit operations update: #BlueMesa at 47% of capacity #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Click the image for a larger view.

Aspinall Unit operations update (July 8, 2022): Bumping up to 1,450 cfs

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1350 cfs to 1450 cfs on Friday, July 8th. Releases are being increased to maintain flows above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 67% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to drop below the baseflow target without this additional increase in release from the Aspinall Unit.

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 900 cfs for June, July and August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 335 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 435 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

‘Unprecedented is now the reality’ — The Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on June 14, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton warned that water users along the Colorado River must slash their usage by as much as one-fourth by the end of next year to “help preserve and protect power pool” at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams — both of which produce hydropower for millions across the region. Touton said Reclamation has seen similar patterns across every major basin in the West — hydrologic variability, hotter temperatures, dry soil — leading to earlier snowmelt and low runoff. Coupled with the lowest reservoir levels on record, “there is so much to this that is unprecedented,” she said.

“But unprecedented is now the reality,” Touton said…

“It is in our authority to act unilaterally to protect the system, and we will protect the system,” she said.

When looking to reduce usage by 4 million acre-feet, John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said the answer is obvious. The Upper Basin states, situated at the headwaters of the Colorado River, have continued to take involuntary shortages each year, dependent on ebb and flow of rain and snowmelt.

“We haven’t got anything to give,” he said. “They’ve had perfect control of their supply ever since Hoover Dam was built. Their system is a lot easier to operate, you just turn on the tap … We don’t have those resources in the Upper Basin.”

[…]

UCRC Executive Director Chuck Cullom said he believes both the Upper and Lower basins need to contribute to a solution.

“I think the Upper Basin has taken significant efforts and suffered significant pain,” Cullom said. “There is more that can be done. Most of the work going forward should come from the area where there’s significant water use. And that’s, again, downstream.”

Cullom said although he is optimistic water users, tribes and the federal government can negotiate a plan within the 60-day window, emergency releases in 2021 and Touton’s call for more water reflects that the existing rules have been exhausted.

“Now that we’ve depleted the storage, the only choice is to adapt,” he said.

Design work underway for whitewater park improvements — The Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Photo credit:
Granger Meador via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/gmeador/7410961658

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

Gunnison Waves and other river users have asked local leaders to add a waveshaper to the whitewater park — a device that is prized by surfers for its ability to create a consistent wave when flows vary along the river.

Gunnison County, along with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, are collecting feedback from local surfers and other river users on proposed improvements at the Gunnison Whitewater Park. Conceptual plans include moving and replacing the second wave or “Drop #2,” and adding an adjustable waveshaper. Although a waveshaper is widely supported by the river community, county staff are still exploring its feasibility due to staffing issues and added costs.

McLaughlin Whitewater, the design and engineering firm the county works with to assess conditions at the park, has been monitoring Drop #2 yearly since wave three was rebuilt in 2015 due to scouring underneath. According to project manager Ben Nielsen, although the current condition of Drop #2 does not pose a safety risk to surfers, it is worsening and following the same trajectory as wave three.

Jason Lakey, one of the original founders of Gunnison Waves, said the drop first shifted in 2019 after a big snow year. Users began to notice a decrease in the waves performance in 2020, where waves were harder to catch and stay in, he said.

Upper Taylor and Soap Creek designated as ‘Outstanding Waters’ — The #Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Taylor River, jewel of the Gunnison River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

On [June 14, 2022] the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission designated the headwaters of the Taylor River and lower Soap Creek as “Outstanding Waters,” a label that will protect the water quality of the stream reaches for future generations. During its June rulemaking hearing, the state commission voted to protect 25 of the 26 stream segments proposed — encompassing 520 river miles throughout the Animas, Gunnison, San Juan, San Miguel and the Upper Dolores basins. The proposal, three years in the making, was created by the Southwest Colorado Outstanding Waters Coalition, a group of stakeholders and organizations from across the state, to conserve the segments’ exceptionally high water quality and the benefits they provide for wildlife and communities throughout southwestern Colorado.

Through the Clean Water Act, the state can designate a waterway as “outstanding” to protect it from actions that would permanently degrade the water quality such as mining, road development and oil and gas extractions.

The commission reviews each river basin across the state for new designations every three years. The process to nominate a stream is rigorous, and includes year-round water sampling, data analysis and evaluation and widespread public outreach. A stream must meet three main criteria to qualify as outstanding. First it must have either exceptional recreational or ecological significance. Examples include Gold Medal fisheries as well as waters within national parks and monuments. Nominees must also need additional protections from the state to maintain existing quality, and meet water quality standards that support aquatic life, recreation and domestic water supply use — requiring measurements of pH levels, dissolved oxygen, E. coli, metals and other trace elements.

Under federal pressure, #ColoradoRiver water managers face unprecedented call for #conservation — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Sustaining Lake Mead for the benefit of downstream water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin has been a key objective of the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. (Source: Lighthawk via The Water Desk)

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado River water managers are facing a monumental task. Federal officials have given leaders in seven Western states a new charge — to commit to an unprecedented amount of conservation and do it before an August deadline. Without major cutbacks in water use, the nation’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — are in danger of reaching critically low levels.

Camille Calimlim Touton being sworn in as Reclamation’s Commissioner by Secretary Deb Haaland.

On June 14, Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton came to a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing with a prognosis, a goal and a threat.

First came the prognosis for the beleaguered river that supplies 40 million people in the Southwest and has seen its flows reduced due to 22 years of higher temperatures…

The Colorado River’s big reservoirs are at record lows. Lake Mead sits at 28% of its capacity, and Lake Powell is at 27% capacity. They’re both projected to drop further as the year progresses.

Touton set the goal to keep them from dropping to levels where hydropower production ceases and where it becomes physically impossible to move water through the dams…

Touton finished her remarks with the threat. If the seven states that rely on the Colorado River can’t cut their own use, the federal government is prepared to do it for them, Touton said. She gave a 60-day deadline to craft a deal.

A short rope for Xcel and pumped storage — @BigPivots

Scenic Unaweep Canyon. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Click the link to read the article on the Big Pivots website (Allen Best):

Xcel Energy asked for permission to spend up to $15 million in investigating whether a pumped-storage hydro project in Unaweep Canyon, south of Grand Junction, is feasible.

No, said Colorado Public Utility Commission members at a meeting on June 10. You can get $1 million that can be recovered from customers but no more.

Pumped hydroelectric generation illustrated. Graphic via The Mountain Town News

The company has filed for a preliminary permit application with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, putting it in more or less the same stage of the planning process as the Craig-Hayden projects. Which is to say early.

“I just see this project has having enormous environmental, financial and technological risks,” said Commissioner John Gavan.

Eric Blank, the commission chairman, had said he would be willing to go for $5 million as there seems to be a gap in funding for development of ideas and before they can be solidified. “It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.”

Megan Gilman, the third commissioner, said she was inclined to reject Xcel’s proposal.

The canyon does have tremendous vertical relief. It’s a canyon without a river, although some geologists have conjectured it was originally a pathway for the Colorado River.

Aspinall Unit operations update (June 8, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aspinall Unit operations update (June 9, 2022): Bumping releases to 1400 cfs #ColoradoRiver #GunnisonRiver #COriver

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1400 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, June 9th. Releases are being decreased to save water in Blue Mesa Reservoir as the baseflow targets on the Gunnison River are being met. The forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 68% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels 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 900 cfs for June, July and August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 380 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 330 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The Bureau of Land Management kicks off great outdoors month with two acquisitions through the land and water conservation fund: Acquisitions in Colorado and Wyoming significantly increase access to public lands

Known for its breathtaking scenery, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a fine example of the spectacular canyon country of Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. Red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years, as well as many cultural and historic sites. The Ute Tribes today consider these pinyon-juniper–covered lands an important connection to their ancestral past. The Escalante, Cottonwood, Little Dominguez and Big Dominguez Creeks cascade through sandstone canyon walls that drain the eastern Uncompahgre Plateau. Unaweep Canyon on the northern boundary of the NCA contains globally significant geological resources. Nearly 30 miles (48 km) of the Gunnison River flow through the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, supporting fish, wildlife and recreational resources. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail, a 19th Century land trade route, also passes through it. A variety of wildlife call the area home, including desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagle, turkey, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and the collared lizard. There are 115 miles (185 km) of streams and rivers in the NCA, and there is habitat suitable for 52 protected species of animals and plants. By Bob Wick; Bureau of Land Management – Dominguez-Escalante NCA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42092807

Click the link to read the release on the Bureau of Land Management website:

The Bureau of Land Management is kicking off Great Outdoors Month by finalizing two land acquisitions in Colorado and Wyoming that will unlock over 40,000 acres of previously inaccessible public land.

In partnership with The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that supports the voluntary protection of public lands and waters, the Bureau of Land Management finalized two acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund: the 160-acre Escalante Creek Parcel within the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area in Colorado, and 35,670 acres of private land southwest of Casper, Wyoming that will unlock access to 40,000 acres of existing BLM and State of Wyoming land.

“The BLM works hard to provide additional access to previously inaccessible public lands by working with partner organizations like The Conservation Fund and through the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “We are so grateful for these partnerships that allow us to conserve and expand access to public lands for many generations to come.”

Marton Property Acquisition

The BLM Wyoming acquisition is the largest land purchase that the BLM has undertaken in Wyoming, creating a 118-square-mile contiguous block of public land and improving public access to the North Platte River.

The Conservation Fund worked closely with the Marton family to acquire the property, and recently transferred it to the BLM for permanent protection using funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund’s initial purchase was also supported by a grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Congress provided funding to acquire the ranch over several years, and BLM received $21 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2021 to purchase the ranch in its entirety.

Located east of Alcova Reservoir, the Marton property is bordered to the north by 8.8 miles of North Platte River frontage and extends south into Carbon County. Acquisition of the property will connect formerly inaccessible BLM and State lands and ensure the continued conservation of important wildlife habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse, raptors, and big game species. The property’s proximity to Casper and ease of access furthers the Department of the Interior’s commitment to ensuring equitable access to America’s lands and waters.

“This acquisition marks a big step forward for improving public access,” said BLM High Plains District Manager Kevin Christensen. “Through our lasting partnership with The Conservation Fund, we have a unique opportunity to conserve crucial wildlife habitat at a landscape scale and expand access to the river and public land for our local community and visitors.”

The inclusion of an additional 8.8 miles of public access to the North Platte River, a blue-ribbon trout fishery boasting more pounds per mile of fish than any other stream in Wyoming, provides growth opportunities for the tourism and recreation economy in Casper and Natrona County. In 2021, travelers spent $285.1 million in Natrona County, generating $16.3 million in state and local taxes.

The acquired lands will be managed initially the same as adjoining BLM-managed lands, with existing decisions in place that protect wildlife habitats and other resources while promoting recreation. The BLM will undertake a planning effort to develop management prescriptions specific to the area that take into account the purposes of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the input of Tribes, partner agencies, and the public.

“Ensuring a conservation solution like this one requires not just an outstanding landscape, but outstanding private citizens and public servants to match it,” said Dan Schlager, Wyoming state director at The Conservation Fund. “Thanks to the truly exceptional land management and determination of the Marton family, and an unwavering problem-solving commitment from the BLM, this remarkable landscape will remain permanently conserved for the enjoyment of the entire Wyoming community.”

Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area

The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, located in canyon country of the Uncompahgre Plateau in Western Colorado, is part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands system. It is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Watchable Wildlife Area, and Special Recreation Management Area. The parcel being transferred includes about a half-mile of Escalante Creek, which is home to three sensitive fish species and provides a popular whitewater kayaking destination. The creek is also an important tributary to the nearby Gunnison River. The lands are used for recreation activities like camping, fishing, and kayaking and contain essential wildlife habitats for desert bighorn sheep and mule deer.

“This acquisition in Colorado allows the BLM to permanently protect and enhance the cultural, recreational, and wildlife resources in Escalante Canyon for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations,” said Collin Ewing, Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Manager. “We appreciate our continued partnerships with The Conservation Fund and the local community that allows us to improve equitable access on our public land.”

The Conservation Fund worked with the former owners of the 160-acre Escalante Creek property to find a permanent conservation solution for their land that will secure public access, improve recreational opportunities, and preserve ecosystem benefits for the local communities.

“Increasing recreational access to the spectacular red-rock canyons in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a great addition to the public lands that belong to all of us,” said Kelly Ingebritson of The Conservation Fund’s Colorado office. “We appreciate the leadership of the BLM, Colorado’s Congressional delegation, the landowners, and local supporters to protect a strategic treasure on Escalante Creek and in the heart of the National Conservation Area.”

“We are proud to see this land protected for public access and future generations,” said Paul Felin, former landowner, and representative for the family who owned the parcel. “The property’s portion of Escalante Creek is a wonderful recreation area that our family and friends enjoyed visiting since the 1970s, which the public will now be able to experience going forward under the BLM’s ownership.”

Click the link to read the “BLM acquires 160-acre parcel on Escalante Creek” on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Land Management has acquired a 160-acre private parcel of land along Escalante Creek southwest of Delta, in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, using Land and Water Conservation Fund money. The land now in public hands includes about a half-mile of the creek. The acquisition occurred with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Fund, which worked with the property’s former owners to find a permanent conservation solution for the land to secure public access, improve recreational opportunities and preserve ecosystem benefits, the BLM said in a news release.

A Conservation Fund fact sheet on the acquisition indicates it’s being made possible with the help of $480,000 in federal fiscal year 2022 Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The fund derives its revenues from federal offshore oil and gas leasing. It receives $900 million a year in permanent funding because of a bill passed by Congress in 2020. The Conservation Fund fact sheet says the acquisition is intended to permanently protect what had been a private inholding within the National Conservation Area.

It is accessible by a county road and is southwest and upstream of the Escalante Potholes Recreation Site. The acquisition will provide new access for camping, fishing and other recreation in a creek corridor also popular for whitewater boating during spring runoff season. The property also provides important wildlife habitat for species such as mule deer and desert bighorn sheep, and protecting it helps protect three sensitive fish species in the creek.

The Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District presents the 1st Annual Upper Gunnison River Basin Water Roundup, Thursday, June 9, 2022

The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
(Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

Aspinall Unit Forecast for Spring Operations (May 13, 2022)

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight). Click to enlarge:

#Water rights secured for #Ouray Ice Park — Ouray County Plain Dealer

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Click the link to read the article on the Ouray County Plain Dealer website (Mike Wiggins). Here’s an excerpt:

Water court referee S. Gregg Stanway approved a conditional water right for the city of Ouray that will provide 1.1111 cubic feet per second of water from Canyon Creek to the ice park, as well as Ouray Silver Mines’ request to effectively convey its conditional recreational water right to the ice park, providing an additional 3.34 cfs of water. District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick confirmed Stanway’s rulings. The granting of the conditional water rights was the lynchpin in an arrangement among the city, the mine and the ice park. The mine agreed to lease to the city a portion of its water rights that are currently decreed to the Revenue-Virginius Mine, with the city paying $1 a year for the lease for a 10-year term that can be renewed. The ice park will manage the lease…

Ice park managers had initially planned to build a 3-mile water line along County Road 361 and use the city’s water rights to obtain water from Weehawken Creek. But that project carried a $3 million price tag and a lengthy timeline for completion, given that the pipeline would have crossed U.S. Forest Service and private land.

Instead, mine officials proposed donating the conditional recreational water right to the park, noting the mine wasn’t using that water. The mine has access to close to another 3 cfs as part of its water right. Water will be pumped out of Canyon Creek into the park. The revised project is expected to cost around $1 million. The ice park currently uses about 350 gallons a minute to create ice in the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water right from the mine will provide three or four times that amount. And more water should allow for the creation of another 25 to 40 climbing routes, joining the roughly 150 routes that already exist in the park.

“We’ll have more than enough water now,” Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil said Tuesday. “The biggest issue is making sure we have cold enough temperatures, but when we do, we’ll be able to make ice like a maniac.”

Graphic credit Xylem US.

With the water rights in hand, the plan now is for the mine to hire a contractor to drill a well in Canyon Creek just upstream from the confluence with the Uncompahgre River and install a vertical turbine pump in the bottom of the creek. Water can then be pumped into the gorge and the pipeline in the park. O’Neil said the timing of the pump installation depends on flows in Canyon Creek. He’s hoping to do it either late this spring or early in the fall. The goal is to have the project finished in time for park employees to start farming ice using the new system in the fall of 2022.

Blue Mesa expected to reach only 50% capacity this summer — The #CrestedButte News #runoff #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on The Crested Butte News website (Katherine Nettles). Here’s an excerpt:

The Gunnison River Basin snow water equivalent (SWE) as of April 10 was 96% of normal for this time of year, and the upper basin SWE was 92% of normal. Precipitation has ranged between 69% to 82% of average for the entire upper basin since December and soil moisture varies from 1-31% of normal in Gunnison County, with most areas at an average of 10%.

“The Gunnison River looks like it might be similar to last year, for example the Gunnison River at Gunnison stream gage peaked at 1,720 cfs, but we’re hoping for more as there was more snowpack than last year,” she said. “Storage in the entire Upper Colorado River Basin is 63% of average right now, and Blue Mesa and Lake Powell are the lowest in that system.”

The blue areas in the map above are where the Airborne Snow Observatory flights are scheduled to collect information about the snowpack in 2022. The light tan areas will be flown this summer and fall to collect baseline information about the ground when it is free of snow. Image credit: Lynker.

Richards described a few potential tools being considered in the basin, such as Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s (RMBL) interest in an airborne remote sensing program to track moisture during peak “greenness” from March through October. She said the program would help inform water managers of snow melt timing in the future. Chavez said the UGRWCD is also hoping to work more closely with USGS to increase monitoring frequency in Blue Mesa to understand Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) using satellite and stream and lake sampling and might apply for a grant to aid in the endeavor.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled snowpack map April 29, 2022 via the NRCS.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 30, 2022): Bumping releases up to 700 cfs

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 500 cfs to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 30th. Then releases will be increased from 700 cfs to 900 cfs on Monday, May 2nd. Releases are being increased to correspond with the re-startup of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 91% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 80% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels 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 890 cfs for April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 125 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 525 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#Snowpack study should help make #water predictions more accurate — The #CrestedButte News

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Click the link to read the article on The Crested Butte News website (Mark Reaman). Here’s an excerpt:

Four times this spring, local resident and Desert Research Institute scientist Rosemary Carroll will aid Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) field scientists, Alex Newman and Curtis Beutler. They will perform ground surveys as airplanes use high resolution lasers to measure the depth of the snowpack and snowpack reflectivity, or albedo. They will dig snow pits for detailed measurements of snow depth, hardness and density. In addition, they will look at snow grain size and shape and note any dust layers. The data helps determine the accuracy of the measurements conducted by the air.

“These airborne data collection efforts provide a map of our snowpack at high-spatial resolution from the mountain tops to the valley bottom. When ASO (Airborne Snow Observatory) is combined with ground surveys and snow observations over time at our snow telemetry (SNOTEL) network, we can better track our snowpack and manage our water resources,” Carroll explained. “As climate changes, stream water forecasting models built on historical precedence, are not able to adequately predict stream runoff. The ASO methodology has been shown effective in California for improving stream water forecasting…The state of Colorado has recently allocated nearly $1.9 million to track snow using ASO.

One of the two Twin Otter aircraft used by the Airborne Snow Observatory mission to study snowpack in the Western U.S. Credit: NASA

Carroll explained that ASO flies a fixed-wing aircraft across the basin using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) with no snow, and then again with snow. The difference between the two data sets produces a snapshot in time of snow depth every three meters. ASO also uses a spectrometer to measure snow reflectivity. New snowfall has a very high reflectivity, while older snow or snow with dust has a lower reflectivity. Less reflective snowpack will melt more quickly than high reflective snowpack. The resulting ASO data helps to generate precise readings on the amount of water in the snow and guide estimates on where and when this snow may melt soonest. ASO not only quantifies total snow volume but also indicates where snow has moved across the landscape through things like avalanches and wind. ASO-informed stream water forecasts have been shown to have accuracy rates of close to 98% or almost double traditional forecasts…

Carroll is also managing a local stream discharge network so that there is high spatial and temporal data of streamflow across the smaller-order streams in the East River. She has stream gauges on Quigley, Rustlers, Rock and Copper Creek, to name a few. She currently manages 13 stream gauges. By measuring streamflow across the upper East River and in combination with the stream gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), she can monitor sub-watershed response to different snow conditions…

Carroll emphasized that mountain snowpack is a critical water resource globally and is also extremely sensitive to climate change. “The East River is emblematic of these mountain systems, and it has become the largest field observatory for integrated mountain hydroclimate and biogeochemical response,” she said. “Work between entities like the Department of Energy, NASA, NOAA, the USGS and others, and with help from RMBL, the research in the East River is critical to understanding how mountain systems store and release water and solutes. It is extremely exciting!”

#Colorado replants and reimagines: Following a killing freeze, some family fruit farms are reconsidering their future — Good Fruit Grower

Palisade is just east of Grand Junction and lies in a fertile valley between the Colorado River and Mt. Garfield which is the formation in the picture. They’ve grown wonderful peaches here for many years and have recently added grape vineyards such as the one in the picture. By inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/15301560980/, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Click the link to read the article on the Good Fruit Grower website (Kate Prengaman). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado orchardists are no strangers to frost, but 2020 delivered a one-two punch from which peach and apple growers will need years to recover. First, a spring frost left growers with just 15 to 20 percent of a normal peach crop. Then, in an unseasonably warm October, sudden cold hit before the trees hardened off, killing peach trees across a region where it’s the top crop…Injured trees valiantly leafed out and set scattered fruit, only to wither in the summer heat. Signs of gummosis, from cytospora infecting winter injury wounds, abound…

Agriculture in the U.S. Southwest is at high risk from the impacts of climate change. EcoFlight photo of the North Fork Valley by the Western Slope Conservation Center.

Ela’s farm, located in a high-elevation valley in Delta County, was one of the hardest-hit places, according to Ioannis Minas, a Colorado State University pomologist based in nearby Grand Junction. But across the region, the late October freeze was so devasting because it had been such a warm fall that trees had not begun to acclimate.

Ela, who directly markets fruits and some vegetables, was still picking tomatoes the day before. “The quote is that climate change sucks,” he said. “Colorado is especially hard hit because we already farm in microclimates.”

[…]

Like most of the region’s orchardists, the Talbotts’ roots are in apple growing, but by the late 1990s, advances in controlled atmosphere storage meant they could no longer capture a premium from harvesting a week ahead of Washington, Charlie said. Peaches, on the other hand, start with an empty pipeline every season, and with the high sugars that develop from the region’s hot days and cool nights, they soon began to develop a reputation for quality…Their Palisade peaches demand such a premium that a Colorado yogurt producer is willing to pay to haul processing-grade fruit from the Talbotts’ packing shed all the way to Peterson Farms in Michigan to make it into puree that’s hauled back to Noosa’s central-Colorado headquarters for its “Palisade peach yoghurt.” There’s no closer processing anymore, Bruce said…

Water worries top the list of fears for the future for Williams and the Talbotts, too. The Colorado River Basin is in a 22-year drought that some experts predict is the new normal. A compact governs the millions of acre-feet of water from the snowmelt-fed river across seven states and Mexico. The district that serves Delta County has run short in recent years, and while farmers in the Palisade area have water rights that predate the compact, ongoing shortages paired with increasing demand from urban areas puts growers’ future supply in question.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 13, 2022): Deliveries through the Gunnison Tunnel bumping up to 1,000 cfs

East Portal Gunnison Tunnel gate and equipment houses provide for the workings of the tunnel.
Lisa Lynch/NPS

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 900 cfs to 1200 cfs on Wednesday, April 13th and then from 1200 cfs to 1300 cfs on Monday, April 18th. Releases are being increased as diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel continue to increase. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 100% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 83% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels 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 April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 600 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 335 cfs. After these release changes Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. There will be a period of higher flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon between Wednesday, April 13th and Monday, April 18th. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit forecast for operations April 7, 2022 — Reclamation #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the graphic for a larger view.