#Snowpack news: Aspinall Unit operations update — 650 CFS in the Black Canyon

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, February 1st. Releases are being decreased in response to the very dry conditions and forecast for low spring runoff. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is at 64% of normal. The latest runoff volume forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir projects 420,000 AF of inflow between April and July, which is 62% of average.

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

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

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at 0 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Billy Barr’s climate records are valuable to #ClimateChange researchers

Billy Barr photo via Sotheby’s

From The Denver Post (Jason Blevins) via The Greeley Tribune:

[Billy] Barr began taking notes in 1974 out of boredom. Every day he would record the low and high temperatures, and measure new snow, snow-water equivalent and snowpack depth. Now he has stacks of yellowed notebooks brimming with a trove of data that has made him an accidental apostle among climate researchers.

“I recorded all this out of a personal interest in the weather. And because I’ve done it for so long, it has some benefit and some value. It wasn’t like I was some sort of forethinker, thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to write all this down and have absolutely no life whatsoever so I can stay here for 50 years,’ ” he says, tugging a gossamer beard dangling to his well-worn cricket sweater.

“Scientifically, my data are good because I had no goals, therefore no one can say ‘Well, you are just taking data to prove a point.’ It’s just numbers. I just wrote them down,” he says. “It’s the same person in the same location doing it in the same method, so even if I did it wrong, I did it wrong every single day for 44 years.”

He doesn’t necessarily analyze his data. But he’s seeing a trend: It’s getting warmer. The snow arrives later and leaves earlier.

Lately, he’s charting winters with about 11 fewer days with snow on the ground; roughly 5 percent of the winter without snow. In 44 years, he’d counted one December where the average low was above freezing — until December 2017, when the average low was 35 degrees.

More than 50 percent of the record daily highs he’s logged have come since 2010. In December and January this season, he already has counted 11 record daily-high temperatures. Last year he tallied 36 record-high temperatures, the most for one season. Back in the day, he would see about four, maybe five record highs each winter.

Barr’s data jibe with state and federal studies showing Colorado’s snowpack sitting around the third-lowest on record. Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado climate scientist in Boulder, recently revised his seasonal outlook for Colorado noting a very low water content in the dismal snowpack, specifically pointing to a second-lowest snow-water-equivalent since 1981 in Barr’s Gunnison River Basin.

The second-year return of the La Niña weather pattern, Wolter wrote, “is playing out in typical fashion, leaving little hope for a recovery to near-normal snowpack or runoff in 2018.”

David Inouye, a conservation biologist who spends his summers at Gothic’s Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, has relied on Barr’s weather data in his study of the timing and abundance of wildflowers, which he began in 1973. He counts on Barr’s wildlife observations as well — a detailed daily analysis of bird and critter sightings that show marmots emerging from hibernation a month earlier than usual and robins arriving about three weeks early.

“Many of the researchers at Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in the summer are people (like me) who have made career-long commitments to work at that site, and Billy’s data help many of us to have a climate context for our observations,” Inouye says. “We’re fortunate, for many reasons, that Billy made a commitment to living in Gothic after experiencing it for a summer as an undergraduate student there.”

[…]

Last year a short film featuring his life and weather research — “The Snow Guardian” — became a hit on the outdoor film circuit. He loved the movie. It prompted a steady stream of visitors last season, which he also enjoyed, even though it disrupted his carefully constructed routine. The publicity not only elevated his research, but his undeniable observations on how things are getting warmer. He’s not particularly political, but he recognizes a need to act to preserve winter.

“Let’s say this warming, it’s not our fault but we go ahead anyway and clean up the air and clean up the water. What did we lose?” he says, sipping from a mug of tea. “Why wouldn’t we do something?”

New Addition to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

Here’s the release from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Sandra Snell-Dobert):

On December 27, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) and The Conservation Fund finalized a purchase to add 2,494 acres to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Located near the visitor center and along the South Rim of the canyon, this addition to the park will provide access for additional recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat, and potential utility improvements in the park, which saw over 300,000 visitors in 2017.

The addition of this property, known as the Sanburg Ranch, will guarantee future access to the Red Rock Canyon area of the park, which is a destination for anglers and other backcountry users seeking a more gradual route to the Gunnison River. This acquisition will allow Black Canyon of the Gunnison to better preserve the viewshed from the visitor center and the popular South Rim Road, the main route through the park. The property also creates potential opportunities for NPS to provide water to the South Rim, reducing operational costs of hauling water to meet visitor and staff needs.

The NPS acquired the property from The Conservation Fund at the end of 2017, using funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The property is included within the boundaries of the 1999 legislation that created Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Established 52 years ago, LWCF is a bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—to protect irreplaceable lands and improve outdoor recreation opportunities.

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (CO-3) supported Colorado’s request for LWCF funding and helped secure the Congressional appropriations for the program.

“Securing the Sanburg Ranch improves public access to some of our state’s greatest backcountry hiking and fly fishing,” said Bennet. “Not only will this purchase add to the experience for visitors from around the world, but it will also improve management and bolster the water supply in the Park. The use of LWCF funds to preserve public access and improve land management further highlights the importance of reauthorizing this program before it expires later this year. I look forward to returning to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with my family and exploring this new area.”

“This newest addition to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great example of why the Land and Water Conservation Fund is so important to Colorado,” said Gardner. “I have fought to permanently reauthorize this program to ensure our public lands will be preserved for future generations. In this specific instance, the fund was utilized to purchase a new piece of land that will increase access to the land and the recreational opportunities it provides to Coloradoans and visitors from around the world.”

“Protecting Colorado’s natural treasures and pristine areas like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park continues to be a priority,” said Tipton. “I commend the National Park Service and The Conservation Fund for their commitment and hard work to ensure that sportsmen, hikers, campers and families will all be able to experience this magnificent natural area for generations to come.”

The NPS is currently working through how to process permitting and access to the newly-acquired land; no immediate changes are planned for the Red Rock Canyon Wilderness Permit lottery or access to the park from the Bostwick Park area. The former landowner will continue to hold grazing leases on the property for the next 10 years; the expiration of those leases will sunset grazing on this parcel.

“This addition to the park will improve access to some of Colorado’s most outstanding scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing, boosting the outdoor recreation economy that the surrounding communities depend on,” said Christine Quinlan of The Conservation Fund’s office in Boulder. “Bipartisan support from Senator Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Tipton allowed this project to succeed.”

Montrose Board of County Commissioners Chairman Keith Caddy said, “This is exciting news for Montrose County residents. The addition of this property enhances the beauty and recreation opportunities of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for residents and tourists alike.”

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was first established as Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument in 1933 and was designated a national park in 1999. Known for the steep, deep, and narrow canyon carved by the Gunnison River, the Black Canyon exposes some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. The park hosts a variety of ecosystems from pinyon pine, juniper, and scrub oak forests at the rim, to the shady vertical canyon walls, and down to the riparian community along the Gunnison River.

The Conservation Fund makes conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense the Fund is redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land.

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

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

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

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

Water Update — Colorado Central Magazine

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

Here’s my latest column for Colorado Central Magazine

MINUTE 323

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHORT TAKES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions ending for season

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

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

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

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

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

Paonia Reservoir sedimentation update #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

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

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

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