Gunnison River: UGRWCD gets @CWCB_DNR grant for @COWaterPlan watershed planning

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):

In January the Colorado Water Conservation Board granted the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and partners $175,000 to begin local watershed management planning efforts. The funding will support the gathering of baseline information, initial stakeholder outreach, and future needs assessments in three Upper Gunnison tributary basins from 2017 to 2020.

The goals of the Upper Gunnison Basin Watershed Management Plan are to protect existing water uses and water quality, and improve relationships between different water users. The plan also seeks to understand whether there are gaps between available water and future uses, and how to best manage that water moving forward. Water experts predict that the Colorado population will rise exponentially, putting more stress on the Front Range’s limited water supply and thus the Western Slope, and changing temperatures will reduce water availability.

The planning framework developed by the UGRWCD includes needs identified in the Colorado Water Plan, but also focuses on agricultural and municipal uses. Irrigated hay and pasture meadows have rights to approximately 95 percent of the basin’s water resources. “Our planning process distinguishes between ‘watershed management’ and ‘stream management,’” explained UGRWCD board member and outreach coordinator George Sibley.

“’Stream management’ in the Colorado Water Plan focuses almost entirely on environmental and recreational needs. Watershed management covers our interactions with all of the water resources in the entire watershed, including groundwater, and water removed from streams for human purposes,” said Sibley…

Gunnison River watersheds encompass over 8,000 square miles of western Colorado and are critical headwaters of the Colorado River. “The Upper Gunnison River Basin is a headwaters basin, which means it is not yet really a river, but many flows of water becoming a river. Most of those streams organize themselves into seven main watersheds, each unique in its natural and human cultural geography,” said Sibley…

Locally, the assessments will begin with the Ohio Creek, East River and Lake Fork watersheds, providing a framework for the other four watersheds over the next four years.

Each watershed study begins with a needs assessment inventory of known and anticipated needs stretching out to mid-century from industry, recreation, agriculture, and human settlements in general—while subsequently identifying areas with significant environmental concerns.

The studies will seek to understand ecosystem function needs, river flows, infrastructure in need of improvement, water quality impairment issues, and ensuing legal frameworks. This first phase will also address information gaps and develop pilot projects to demonstrate best management practices. Pilot studies and demonstration projects in each watershed will look at options to reconcile instream and diversion needs. Potential demonstration projects include ditch repair, stream channel reconfiguration, wetland enhancements, coordination irrigation or other conservation practices.

The UGRWCD will be the coordinating agency for the watershed management planning processes, working with other water-related agencies and organizations within the Upper Gunnison Basin, including but not limited to the Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, the seven municipal/domestic water suppliers in the Upper Gunnison Basin, Trout Unlimited, High Country Conservation Advocates, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, the Lake Fork Conservancy, recreational organizations, and federal and state land management agencies.

@usbr: Aspinall Unit operations update: 600 CFS in Black Canyon

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1200 cfs between Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th. This increase is in response to the high runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir this spring. The latest runoff forecast predicts 925,000 af of runoff to Blue Mesa Reservoir between April and July, which is 137% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 586,000 acre-feet which is 71% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. 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 1050 cfs for February through May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1200 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit operations meeting, Thursday, January 19, 2017

Aspinall Unit
Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, January 19th at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose CO. The meeting will start at 1 PM.

The WQCC holds meeting in Gunnison

Fly fishing on the Gunnison River outside of Delta, Colorado. Photo credit: © Mark Skalny for The Nature Conservancy
Fly fishing on the Gunnison River outside of Delta, Colorado. Photo credit: © Mark Skalny for The Nature Conservancy

From The Crested Butte News (Crystal Kotowski):

For the first time ever, the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) came to Gunnison on Monday, November 14 and was greeted by substantial local turnout.

A local group led by the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) is working to address stream temperature standards—a conversation that began statewide in 2007, and locally in 2016. The comments submitted to the WQCC unanimously requested more time to compile data to determine whether standards should be revised.

The WQCC may hear proposals that address unresolved temperature issues at the June rulemaking, such as shoulder seasons (the transition from summer and winter) or elevation transitions, which other parties in the state feel is precedent-setting.

“Temperature is wildly difficult to regulate because as you can imagine it changes every day, by the hour, day and night, by the season, with groundwater inputs, water diversions, and dischargers—it’s infinitely complicated,” said Ashley Bembenek, technical specialist for the UGRWCD and the Northwest Council of Governments.

“Temperature standards are an attempt to maintain healthy stream systems as we deal with the ongoing effects of climate change– warming temperatures and decreasing streamflows,” said UGRWCD’s general manager Frank Kugel.

Temperature can have far-reaching implications. “Stream temperatures can impact the growth rate of fish and can change their geographic distribution. If it gets to an extreme, it can cause fish kills. At the same time, we are not just concerned about fisheries. Temperature can affect the dissolution of toxins and can impact certain metals,” said the High Country Conservation Advocates’ (HCCA) water director Julie Nania.

The Gunnison Basin has existing temperature standards, as temperature is part of the Clean Water Act, but stakeholders are looking to revise the statewide standards to better meet local conditions.

The UGRWCD’s local partners include the town of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, HCCA, the city of Gunnison, Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service, and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition.

Together, these organizations comprise the Upper Gunnison Water Quality Monitoring Committee. The committee is working to assure that local interests are represented as temperature standards are revised in the Upper Gunnison River Basin. Their primary objective is to use local temperature data to revise standards, if needed, to assure that aquatic life is protected, while balancing the needs and concerns of municipal dischargers.

“[The committee] jointly submit[s] this request that the Regulation 35 Hearing, in June 2017, focus solely on site-specific standards or temporary modifications for temperature. Simply put, the broad issue of revisions to surface water temperature standards in the Upper Gunnison Basin is not ripe for resolution so we respectfully request that the broader discussion be postponed to a later date… Our request for additional time, until the next triennial review in 2022, will enable us to develop meaningful recommendations based on relevant local data,” the committee’s comment letter read.

The UGRWCD has committed to providing funding for the data collection. “We are the coordinating agency for a planning-grant request [needs assessment phase] we have submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board; this and other aspects of stream health needs are part of that grant request. The UGRWCD has also committed $150,000 toward the watershed planning process for 2017 as the required match for that request, but we will invest that money in the planning process, whether the grant comes through or not,” said UGRWCD board member George Sibley.

Stream health is a significant part of the watershed needs assessments and planning process that is the UGRWCD’s current major focus. Temperature data collection will be addressed as part of a larger effort looking at a range of consumptive and non-consumptive use needs. The UGRWCD is working closely in the needs assessment phase with irrigators and local municipalities, as well as HCCA’s Julie Nania, Trout Unlimited’s Jesse Kruthaupt, the Lake Fork Conservancy’s Camille Richard and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. The UGRWCD is the coordinating entity for the planning effort, but they hold the expertise, Sibley explained.

In the meantime, the committee partners will work together to collect supplemental data and create local recommendations for site-specific standards.

Triennial rulemaking hearing

The Gunnison meetings signify the start of the rulemaking process, and a large component of the process is determining how the Clean Water Act should be implemented in the region, said Nania.

Formal decisions about the standards will be made at a rulemaking hearing in June 2017. Prior to that an “issues formulation hearing” will be held in order for stakeholders to voice their concerns; for the Water Quality Control Commission to identify issues that are ripe for decisions; and to direct staff at the Water Quality Control Division on work priorities related to the upcoming rulemaking hearing.

The issues formulation hearing is the second step in a three-step process for triennial review of water quality classifications and standards in Colorado.

The first step is an issues scoping hearing, which provides an opportunity for early identification of potential issues that may need to be addressed in the next major rulemaking hearing.

The third step is the rulemaking hearing, where any revisions to the water quality classifications and standards are formally adopted.

The WQCC is the rulemaking body for the state of Colorado as it pertains to water quality. Commission members are appointed by the governor and serve for a term of three years. The Water Quality Control Division is staff to the WQCC and will develop a targeted list by January of site-specific temperature standards. The sites must have sufficient historical data, and the division must engage with local stakeholders. The process to revise temperature standards will continue with the rulemaking hearing on June 12, 2017 in Durango.

@USBR Releases Final Environmental Assessment on Repairs to the Paonia Dam Intake Structure

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.
Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Lesley McWhirter, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the final Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment evaluating if Reclamation will provide partial funding to the North Fork Water Conservancy District to make repairs to the Paonia Dam intake structure and bulkhead, part of the Paonia Project located near Paonia, Colo. Repairs are expected to begin in September 2017.

During construction, work crews and an excavator will be operating at the dam. Crews will dismantle the damaged upper concrete bulkhead of the intake structure and replace it with a modified aluminum trash rack and support members. These repairs are necessary to help ensure continuation of normal dam operations and water delivery to downstream users.

Prior to repairing the intake structure, increased turbidity downstream of the dam will be noticeable due to normal reservoir operations and drawdown. Turbidity will temporarily increase in Muddy Creek and the North Fork of the Gunnison River downstream of Paonia Dam, and sediment deposition will occur primarily in Muddy Creek from the dam to the confluence of Anthracite Creek until high flows begin the following spring.

The final Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment are available online at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/progact/paonia/documents.html

To learn more about the Paonia Project, upcoming repair work or sedimentation issues in the reservoir, visit our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wca/progact/paonia/index.html.

Uncompahgre Water Partnership: We’ve been slimed!

Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research
Macro Invertebrates via Little Pend Oreille Wildlife Refuge Water Quality Research

From the Uncompahgre Water Partnership:

Every year, a few weeks before Halloween, the Uncompahgre River seems to blossom with slimy, bubbling growths in areas of the lowest flow. This substance is green algae, decaying and releasing bubbles that are often trapped by iron deposits. Though the algae appears more prominently and abundantly in this season, it’s actually present in the river – even in high flow areas – year round. This fall, the slime may be more noticeable due to more pronounced bubbles caused by the unusually warm temperatures.

While this algae is a typical condition of many river systems and streams, it suffocates macroinvertebrates. According to Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership board member and River Watch volunteer Dudley Case, River Watch experts explained that the zinc in the Uncompahgre River negatively effects both fish and macroinvertebrates, and the slime clogs up areas where they might nest and reproduce.

“Macroinvertebrates are a food source for fish, so the less macroinvertebrates, the less fish. Since the slime is so endemic in the river, reducing the slime safely would be a useful project,” said Case.

Observing and reporting on these types of water issues is one of the goals of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) as we monitor watershed conditions and communicate with stakeholders. We are reviewing our Watershed Plan this winter so we can make updates related to project and study results from recent years. We hope you will contribute your observations and ideas about priorities to the review and update process. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your thoughts, and we will be back in touch with you to collect input in the coming months, too.

Uncompahgre River watershed
Uncompahgre River watershed

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel turning off, 600 cfs in Black Canyon

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1500 cfs to 600 cfs on Tuesday, November 1st. This reduction will follow the shutdown of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel. Release reductions will be coordinated with Gunnison Tunnel diversion reductions throughout the morning of November 1st. River flows downstream may fluctuate during the shutdown period but flows should steady out at the current level by the afternoon. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 610,000 acre-feet which is 73% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. 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 1050 cfs for November through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should still be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.