The September 2019 “Gunnison River Basin News” is hot off the presses from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable

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

The Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project (“Segment 47”; 22,400 feet or 4.2 miles, large diameter pipe; including new Leroux Creek siphon; Total Cost Estimated at $4.6MM). Phase 1 of this two-year piping project is completed and is delivering irrigation water. The project is cooperatively funded by the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company (approximately $200K), RCPP Watershed Authority ($1.15M – managed by the River District), Reclamation Salinity Control ($2.95M), and Colorado Water Conservation Board ($191K).

The RCPP portion, with fiscal management by the Colorado River District, involves piping a total of approximately 2 miles of the Lower Fire Mountain Canal ‘extension’. Approximately 80% of this RCPP-funded project component was installed from November 2018 to April 2019. The balance of the two-mile segment along with the salinity-funded large diameter pipe and siphon is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020 irrigation season. It was designed by the Applegate Group and constructed by Telluride Gravel.

Rogers Mesa

Minnie Lynch Mine and Akron Mine cleanup

From Trout Unlimited (Jason Willis) via The Chaffee County Times:

The exclamation I hear most often from the general public, industry or federal/state partner organizations is “I didn’t know Trout Unlimited did that.”

That refers to abandoned mine land clean-up projects. TU has had an AML program for over 10 years, I’ve been part of it for the last 7.

The scope, complexity and budget of our projects have grown a lot in the past 4-5 years.

A cleanup will commonly consist of targeting an abandoned hardrock mine, 23,000 of which exist in Colorado, that has acidic, heavy metal-laden water, waste-rock or tailings (processed ore) on site.

Our staff will then characterize a site through water or soil chemistry testing to attain baseline metal concentration levels. This data can then be used in a reclamation design/plan that best suits a certain location.

The characterization part of the work is important. There is no one-size-fits-all type solution at many of these sites due variations in contamination, elevation, aspect, water and historical properties.

My program in TU has taken on a larger cradle-to-grave project management role in the recent past since we have the expertise to do most of this characterization and design ourselves.

This helps cut down on costs that ultimately can go into the ground to accomplish more work at a site.

The work most commonly focuses on revegetating barren and discolored waste rock or tailings areas, as well as managing water around those areas to keep it clean. I’m simplifying these techniques quite a bit. The pictures tell the story best.

The first two photos were taken from a project TU completed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service near Bonanza. Previous activity in the Bonanza Mining District at the Minnie Lynch Mine left this drainage dead due to contaminated soils and water.

Our work focused on confining the flow of Minnie Lynch Gulch into a sustainable stream channel while also incorporating soil amendments into the barren floodplain to establish native vegetation.

The two photos were taken 1 year apart showing impressive results. The native vegetation has continued to thrive 3 years after implementation with local cattle even being observed enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Another local project TU completed in partnership with USFS was the Akron Mine cleanup, which is in the headwaters of Tomichi Creek near the town of Whitepine.

This nationally award-winning project moved over 120,000 cubic yards of mine wastes out of the floodplain and into two large on-site repositories.

The wastes exhibited high levels of lead and zinc, making ecological and human health a priority for clean-up actions. By moving the wastes, a 60-foot wide floodplain was established along an 1,100-foot section of Tomichi Creek. The entire 8-acre footprint was revegetated using native seed. A large culvert was also removed that was acting as a fish barrier to local brown and brook trout populations.

These are just two example projects of the “I didn’t know TU did that” category of work. Over the past 3-4 years, the TU Colorado AML program has spent $500,000 to $1.2 million annually on construction towards these types of projects that protect the state’s water quality.

That is no small task given the increased scrutiny from federal agencies, legal hurdles, lack of funding and varied site complexities.

Fortunately, federal agencies have been recently motivated to facilitate these types of clean-ups with existing Good Samaritan protections while also exploring legislative fixes that will help protect third party organizations like TU from potential legal ramifications.

With over 25 projects under the program’s belt over the last 7 years in Colorado, TU looks to continue to build capacity and chip away at our state’s water quality issues stemming from abandoned mines.

With increased climate variability, overallocation and increased population influx in Colorado, this type of work will become more significant when it comes to protecting our water resources.

Now that you know more of what TU does, I can end with the assurance that our membership and staff will continue to protect our Nation’s Coldwater Resources across Colorado and the U.S.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter our events and projects visit our website http://collegiatepeaksTU.org

Jason Willis is a former board director for the Collegiate Peaks Chapter and is currently abandoned Mine Program manager for NTU.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs

Gunnison River Basin. 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 by 200 cfs, today, September 30th. Releases will be decreased by 200 cfs late Friday, October 4th. 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 September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will increase to 800 cfs today. At the end of this week Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will return to 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall unit operations update: Flows in the Gunnison Tunnel ~= 1030 CFS

Grand opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in Colorado 1909. Photo credit USBR.

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 100 cfs, today, September 9th. Reservoir contents at Morrow Pt and Crystal have sufficiently recovered to allow for higher releases. 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 September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit Operations update: Streamflow in the Black Canyon ~515 cfs

From email from the Bureau of Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs at approximately 10am on Tuesday, September 3rd. 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 September. This release decrease will allow for the recovery of storage in Crystal Reservoir that was utilized in response to upstream facility outages.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are approximately 1200 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 615 cfs. After this release change, the Gunnison Tunnel diversions will remain near 1200 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 515 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

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

The August “#GunnisonRiver Basin News” is hot off the presses

Click here to read the newsletter from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. Here’s an excerpt:

August in the Basin: High and Dry!

Bountiful snowmelt and increased soil moisture conditions, resulted in “boomer” inflows, boosting basin reservoirs levels and causing an amazing recovery from last year’s low levels – this included Blue Mesa, Colorado’s largest reservoir – with over 160 percent of average inflow volume. Although most of the snow has melted, the Upper Basin rivers are still flowing at higher than average rates, even in the face of drying conditions (July and August precipitation has been generally below average).

Also, very importantly Lake Powell – the Upper Basin’s largest water storage and management facility received an inflow volume of 145% of average.

Current conditions and Aspinall Unit operations

Aspinall Unit dams

Ridgway State Park smallmouth-bass tournament yields big results — #Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A CPW staffer measures a fish last month at the Ridgway State Park Bass Tournament. Anglers caught more than 1,400 fish during the month-long tournament. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandnowski):

Anglers who participated in the 2019 smallmouth bass tournament at Ridgway State Park, again, helped Colorado Parks and Wildlife on its mission to preserve native fish species.

For the fifth year in a row, licensed anglers caught hundreds of smallmouth bass that are a threat to Colorado’s native fish that live downstream in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. A total of 79 registered anglers removed 1,498 smallmouth bass in the month-long tournament that ended July 27. Smallmouth bass are non-native and were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir about 10 years ago. They are predators and could wipe out populations of native fish downstream.

“In the five years of the tournament we have reduced the population of smallmouth bass in the reservoir by 79 percent,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist for CPW in Montrose and the organizer of the tournament. “It is truly amazing what these anglers can do. They are participating directly in wildlife management in Colorado.”

Before the first tournament in 2015, Gardunio estimated there were 3,632 adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir. Adult fish measure six inches in length or more. Now it is estimated that only 763 adult fish live in the reservoir.

“We are making substantial headway in suppressing the population of smallmouth that were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir,” Gardunio said.

The Ridgway tournament targets smallmouth bass because they could escape from the reservoir and migrate downstream to a section of the Gunnison River that is considered “critical habitat” for native fish.

“The work by CPW staff along with the help of anglers shows that through targeted management techniques we can enhance survival of rare aquatic species,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the Southwest Region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

With assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW was able to offer $12,000 in prize money to tournament participants.

Chase Nicholson of Ouray was the big winner this year, catching 571 smallmouth and the top prize of $5,000 for most fish caught. He also won $500 for smallest fish caught – 3.3 inches. Nicholson tied with Tyler Deuschle of Delta for biggest fish caught, 17.2 inches they split the $500 prize. Second place for most fish caught went to Lawrence Cieslewicz of Montrose, who caught 283. He also won the grand-prize raffle for an additional $2,500. Chris Cady from Delta turned in 128 fish and placed third for most fish caught.