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.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 5, 2022): Bumping releases up to 750 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 700 cfs to 750 cfs on Tuesday, April 4th. Releases are being increased as diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel continue to increase. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 106% 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 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 400 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 400 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.

Aspinall unit operations update (March 30, 2022): 300 cfs through the #Gunnison Tunnel #GunnisonRiver

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 775 cfs to 700 cfs on Wednesday, March 30th. Releases are being decreased as flows in the lower Gunnison River are well above the baseflow target. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 109% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 92% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 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 790 cfs for March and 1050 cfs for April.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 300 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 475 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 300 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.

Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit forecast for operations March 20, 2022 — Reclamation

Click the graphic for a larger view.

Data Dump: Glen Canyon dips into hydropower buffer zone; #LakePowell hits 3,525 feet — @Land_Desk #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell just north of Glen Canyon Dam. January 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

Click the link to read the article on the Land Desk website (Jonathan Thompson):

Lake Powell surface level dropped below the critical 3,525-foot mark sometime on the Ides of March. You’ve probably already read that somewhere, since the national media can’t seem to get enough of the slow motion desiccation of one of the nation’s largest reservoirs. And what’s so critical about 3,525 feet?

Nothing, really.

The real critical number is 3,490 feet, otherwise known as the “minimum power pool.” When Lake Powell sinks below that elevation, Glen Canyon Dam can no longer produce hydropower. That’s a big deal because Lake Powell really only serves two purposes these days: recreation and hydropower generation (the water storage component becomes somewhat irrelevant when Lake Mead is as low as it is now). Not only are the dam’s turbines a significant source of power for the Western Grid, but they also provide resilience for the grid in a way that other generators cannot.

Water managers had hoped to keep the level at least 35 feet above minimum power pool, i.e. above 3,525 feet, so they’d have a bit of a buffer to work with. Now the level is inside the buffer zone, which is reason for concern but not immediate alarm. While the rate of decline has prompted officials to issue a more pessimistic outlook for the reservoir, they don’t expect a loss of hydropower anytime soon. Snowpack levels in the watersheds that feed Lake Powell are slightly below average for this time of year, but are tracking about 7 percent ahead of last year’s levels. Spring runoff will soon begin, inflows will increase, and the lake should begin rising again, staving off the turbine shutdown—for now.

Let’s get to the data:

  • 3,569 feet above sea level: Lake Powell’s surface level on March 9, 2021.
  • 3,524.9 feet: Level on March 15, 2021.
  • -44 feet: Twelve-month change.
  • 3,490 feet: Level at which Glen Canyon Dam stops producing hydropower.
  • 384 billion gallons: Amount by which Lake Powell’s storage has declined since November 2021.
  • 855,656 megawatt hours: August 2021 output of Four Corners Power Plant.
  • 309,640 megawatt hours: August 2021 output of Glen Canyon Dam
  • Lake Powell storage in acre-feet. 1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons. USBR.
    Glen Canyon Dam’s power output roughly correlates with storage levels, but also varies month to month according to demand. USBR.
    As water levels drop there is less pressure to turn the dam’s turbines, so less power is generated per unit of water released.

    Glen Canyon Dam, January 2022. Jonathan P. Thompson photo.

    Click the link to read the article “Lake Powell hits historic low, raising hydropower concerns” on the Associated Press website (Sam Metz and Felicia Fonseca). Here’s an excerpt:

    Lake Powell’s fall to below 3,525 feet (1,075 meters) puts it at its lowest level since the lake filled after the federal government dammed the Colorado River at Glen Canyon more than a half century ago — a record marking yet another sobering realization of the impacts of climate change and megadrought. It comes as hotter temperatures and less precipitation leave a smaller amount flowing through the over-tapped Colorado River. Though water scarcity is hardly new in the region, hydropower concerns at Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona reflect that a future western states assumed was years away is approaching — and fast.

    “We clearly weren’t sufficiently prepared for the need to move this quickly,” said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program.

    Federal officials are confident water levels will rise in the coming months once snow melts in the Rockies. But they warn that more may need to be done to ensure Glen Canyon Dam can keep producing hydropower in the years ahead…About 5 million customers in seven states — Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — buy power generated at Glen Canyon Dam. The government provides it at a cheaper rate than energy sold on the wholesale market, which can be wind, solar, coal or natural gas. For the cities, rural electric cooperatives and tribes that rely on its hydropower, less water flowing through Glen Canyon Dam can therefore increase total energy costs. Customers bear the brunt…

    Nick Williams, the bureau’s Upper Colorado Basin power manager, said many variables, including precipitation and heat, will determine the extent to which Lake Powell rebounds in the coming months. Regardless, hydrology modeling suggests there’s roughly a 1 in 4 chance it won’t be able to produce power by 2024.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Click the link to read “Lake Powell drops below critical threshold for the first time despite attempts to avoid it” on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

    The reservoir is the second-largest in the U.S., and it’s a key piece of the Colorado River storage and supply system. Powell is fed mostly by snowmelt that collects in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. A 20-year megadrought and a hotter climate, fueled primarily by greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, has contributed to Powell’s levels dropping to all-time lows…

    Colorado and the other states that share the Colorado River agreed to work together to keep Powell above this critical threshold with the Congressionally approved 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. That agreement creates a 35-foot buffer of water before the reservoir hits “dead pool,” when reservoir levels are so low, the hydroelectric generators can no longer produce energy. Water levels in Powell quickly started to drop after years of back-to-back drought. In response, the federal government in 2021 took emergency action and sent water from reservoirs in Colorado and other states to prop up supplies in Powell. Blue Mesa Reservoir outside of Gunnison lost eight feet of water as a result. Ultimately, those releases did not prevent water levels from dropping below the critical threshold. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydraulic engineer Heather Patno said the additional release did add about six feet of water to Powell, and any extra buffer helps protect Powell’s ability to produce energy. Patno said the drop should be temporary as the snow in the mountains starts to melt and recharge the river and reservoirs. She said 2021 was the second-driest year on record for the Colorado River basin, and a very dry first few months of 2022 eroded the snowpack collecting in the mountains…

    New research suggests there might be even less Colorado River water in the future than what’s forecasted.

    A recent report from the Center for Colorado River Studies found that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s projections can be too optimistic, partly because it’s based on the average water inflow into Powell from 1991-2020, a period that includes an abnormal decade in the 90s that was much wetter than the last 20 years. Patno said those findings are important, and it and other studies should be considered when federal and state governments decide how to adapt their water operations to drought. She said Powell projections did improve when the bureau recently switched to using the last 30-year average, but that Powell forecasts rely on models that have a level of risk and uncertainty.

    Powell’s worst-case projections show its level could drop below 3,525 feet again as early as August of this year. Patno said emergency water releases from Blue Mesa and other reservoirs might be needed again as one of the tools to keep Powell propped up, especially as the current snowpack continues to decline. Inflow forecasts into Powell expect about 69 percent of average. The ongoing drought also means dry soil will soak up a lot of that water before it reaches rivers and lakes, Patno said.

    Commissioner Mitchell (CWCB) Statement on Lake Powell Elevation 3525′:

    As of March 15, Lake Powell, a major reservoir that feeds water to the Lower Colorado River Basin, fell below elevation 3525 feet. This is the target elevation identified within the Drought Contingency Plan that provides a buffer to hydropower.

    The decline in Lake Powell was caused by over 20 years of low inflows in the Colorado River System, coupled with depletions that exceeded supplies. The imbalance between depletions and available River flows has historically been compensated by taking water from storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead to provide for downstream depletions, thus causing declines in reservoir elevations.

    Below is a statement from Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell:

    “Lake Powell hit elevation 3525 feet this week, which is a direct result of depletions from our major reservoirs over the last 20 years coupled with low flows into Lake Powell. As Lake Powell and Lake Mead have declined, water users in the Upper Colorado River Basin have been living on the front lines of climate change. The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming have been taking water cuts for 20 years due to prolonged drought, while continuing to meet our Compact obligations. On top of this, water has been provided from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa Reservoirs in an effort to protect Lake Powell. Going forward, all who rely on the Colorado River System must learn to live with what the River provides and adapt to variability of water supply.”

    For more information and updates, visit the Commissioner’s Corner on the Colorado Water Conservation Board website.

    Say hello to the new newsletter “Nine Basins Bulletin”

    Click the link to read the newsletter at Nine Basins Bulletin. Here’s an excerpt:

    This is your new water newsletter.

    The Nine Basins Bulletin is the new newsletter from the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Water Information Program, a summary of the latest updates from southwest Colorado. In this email forum, we want to raise awareness, engagement, and coordination among our nine distinct watersheds—and share our successes with the state. It’s for you.

    Send your updates, jobs, and events to lauras@swwcd.org.

    What would you like your newsletter to be called? Submit the best newsletter name and win free admission to the seminar and kudos in the next edition…

    Southwestern Water Conservation District Awards $197,500 to Local Water Projects

    At their February meeting, the Southwestern Water Conservation District Board of Directors approved grants to support the following local water projects:

    $60,000 for the Eaklor Ditch Company’s emergency piping project in the Navajo river basin

    $28,500 to repair Lone Cone Reservoir’s outlet and intake in the San Miguel river basin

    $25,000 toward the Mancos Conservation District’s remote metering program for three historic irrigation ditches

    $16,500 to support the Dolores River Restoration Partnership’s ongoing monitoring and stewardship of their tamarisk removal project

    $30,000 for the Town of Pagosa Springs’ Yamaguchi South river restoration project on the San Juan river

    $16,000 to help Animas Watershed Partnership launch a basin-wide stream management planning process

    $5,000 for the Mancos Conservation District’s urban water quality and conservation plan

    $16,500 for Science on the Fly’s innovative partnership with anglers to collect water quality data in the San Miguel, Animas and La Plata basins

    Aspinall Unit Forecast for Operations (February 22, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Fly-fishing outfitters come together to support sustainable recreation on the Uncompaghre River — Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership #UncompahgreRiver

    The Uncompahgre River in winter. The view is from a bridge over Trout Road in southern Montrose County, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87621239

    From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):

    This time of winter, as temperatures dip below freezing, minds can wander to white sand beaches and blue ocean waters, or summer plans for warmer days on mountain rivers and lakes. Two local fishing outfitters are offering a way to escape to those destinations through movies and a party, with all proceeds headed toward projects that benefit the Uncompahgre River.

    RIGS Fly Shop (https://fishrigs.com/) in Ridgway and Telluride Angler (https://tellurideangler.com/) are celebrating all things fly fishing with an array of short films from destinations around the world, all while raising awareness and funds to support projects on the Uncompahgre River Watershed. Ticket sales for “A Benefit for the Uncompahgre River – 2022 Fly Fishing Film Tour” at the Ouray County 4H Events Center in Ridgway on Saturday, March 19 will fund sustainable recreation efforts of the nonprofit Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP).

    “This benefit will be critical to funding sustainable recreation planning and projects along the Uncompahgre River. Donations and support from the local community are key for UWP to become successful with obtaining grant funding,” said UWP Sustainable Recreation Coordinator Dan Chehayl.

    Sponsors are providing prizes, such as a Yeti cooler with custom art and fishing gear, to win in a variety of ways at the event. Ouray Brewery is donating beer, which will be sold to raise more funds for watershed projects. Food will also be available.

    “The film festival is going to be a fun event this year. We’ll have some great films to watch and beer from Ouray Brewery. I’m really excited about an auction item we have up for grabs: a white Yeti Tundra 45 adorned with Em Yardley’s custom artwork!” added Chehayl.

    The 16th annual Fly Fishing Film Tour upholds the national event’s tradition of firing up outdoor adventurers for the season ahead. The 2022 film lineup features locations including Costa Rica, Maryland, Belize, Louisiana, Alabama, Australia, Colombia, Colombia, and beyond. Audiences can view the incredible energy of a cicada hatch in action, follow a legendary spear fisherman across the endless atolls of Belize, watch as a mother passes her passion for fishing down to the next generation, and explore the history of one of the most legendary tarpon fisheries in the world at Casa Mar.

    In addition to local sponsors, RIGS Fly Shop and Telluride Angler, the film tour’s national sponsors are Costa, Yeti, Simms Fishing, Trout Unlimited, Scientific Anglers, Ross and Abel Reels, Nokian Tyres, Adipose Boatworks and Oskar Blues Brewing. The local beer sponsor is Ouray Brewery.

    On March 19, doors open at 6 p.m. and films start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 online in advance or $30 at the door. The ticket website is: https://flyfilmtour.myeventscenter.com/event/A-Benefit-For-The-Uncompahgre-River-59256

    For information on the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, go to https://www.uncompahgrewatershed.org/.

    Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

    Aspinall Unit forecast for operations (February 11, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aspinall Unit
    Click to enlarge

    #GunnisonRiver Basin #Drought persists — The #CrestedButte News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Colorado Drought Monitor map February 8, 2022.

    From The Crested Butte News (Katherine Nettles):

    Water experts are monitoring closely how the series of big storms at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 will affect local stream runoffs, or if the dry spells since then will continue to counteract the gains made in snowpack and snow water equivalency. Drought conditions have worsened across the state, becoming more widespread and more extreme in general, and a large portion of Gunnison County is now considered ‘abnormally dry.’ That may be the new normal, even with sporadic large snowstorms. However, the runoff forecast for both Blue Mesa and Taylor Park reservoirs look on track to fill up to 90 percent of capacity or more, as of February 1 calculations. No additional emergency releases are expected out of Blue Mesa at this time.

    Upper Gunnison River Water District (UGRWD) water resource specialist Beverly Richards gave an overview of the Upper Gunnison Basin water supply as of early February to Gunnison County commissioners during a work session on February 8, and said overall conditions have worsened this water year.

    Drought

    “There are no areas now in the state of Colorado that have no drought conditions,” she reported. “Last summer there was quite a big area that was considered not in drought, however that is changing slowly and there has been an increase in the area where extreme drought conditions are worsening.”

    Areas of the state characterized as in ‘extreme drought’ have increased from 7 percent to about 19 percent since the beginning of the water year on November 1, said Richards…

    The entire Gunnison Basin is at 110 percent of normal for snow water equivalent, having fallen from 150 percent of normal. The upper basin has fallen from 160 percent of normal to 118 percent of normal and is expected to fall further unless meaningful precipitation arrives…

    Reservoir outlooks

    Reservoir storage is up overall in the Gunnison River basin at 52 percent of average, with Taylor Park reservoir standing at 55 percent of capacity as of February 6 and Blue Mesa still at 29 percent of capacity.

    Based on early season projections from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center (CRBFC), the Bureau of Reclamation has projected the total 2022 unregulated inflow into Blue Mesa will be at 825,000 acre-feet, or 90 percent of average. “Hopefully the snowpack will continue to grow so that we do actually see that,” said Richards.

    At Taylor Reservoir, the CRBFC has forecasted runoff into the reservoir to be 1000,000 acre feet, which is 106 percent of average. The Taylor is projected to be 93 percent full after runoff, which is considerably higher than last water year. “The next couple of months, the forecast is going to be really important,” said Richards, as releases will be planned and adjusted based on those.

    Feds, 4 #ColoradoRiver states unveil draft #drought operations plan as 2022 forecast shifts — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

    Glen Canyon Dam August 2021. The white on the sandstone reflects where the water level once was. Dropping levels at Lake Powell are forcing a reduction in outflows from the Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

    From Water Education Colorado (Allen Best):

    As the crisis on the Colorado River continues, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the four Upper Basin states—Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—have drawn up a proposed framework called the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Plan. The framework would be used by water managers to create plans each year, as necessary, to maintain Lake Powell water levels.

    The effort to keep Lake Powell healthy is critical to ensuring hydropower production from its turbines is maintained and to protect the Upper Basin states from violating their legal obligation to send Colorado River water to Arizona, California and Nevada, the Lower Basin states.

    Whether the new plan will be activated this year is uncertain. During a webinar about the working draft on Jan. 28, Rod Smith, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Interior, described this year’s early winter weather as a yo-yo. “December was excellent,” he said, “but January was kind of blah.”

    Public comments on the proposed plan are being accepted through Thursday, Feb. 17.

    Lake Powell’s water levels were successfully stabilized last year after a series of major emergency water releases from reservoirs in Utah and Colorado. Lower Basin states also cut water use.

    Graphic credit: Chas Chamberlin

    Modeling last year had found a nearly 90% probability that Powell levels in 2022 would fall below the elevation of 3,525, triggering more emergency releases. But as of Feb. 3, water levels in Powell were almost 6 feet above that elevation.

    Much can change between now and April, when Reclamation and the states hope to complete the framework.

    Last year’s disastrous runoff — the snowpack was roughly 85% of average but the runoff was 32% of average — surprised everyone, and ultimately forced the emergency releases from Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge, two of three federal dams operated by the agency upstream of Powell. Reclamation also operates Navajo, the reservoir located primarily in New Mexico, whose waters can also be used to boost levels in Powell, subject to other limitations.

    The proposed framework identifies how much water from the three reservoirs is available for release to prop up levels in Powell, but only after operations at Powell itself have been managed to best maintain levels of 3,525 feet or above. To slow the decline, Reclamation is holding back 350,000 acre-feet of water in Powell that it would normally release during January-April.

    The agency plans this year to release 7.48 million acre-feet from Powell to flow down the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead.

    Smith emphasized that the releases from Blue Mesa and other Upper Basin reservoirs will be subordinate to the many preexisting governance mechanisms on the Colorado River, including treaties, compacts, statutes, reserve rights, contracts, records of decision and so forth. “All that stays,” said Smith.

    Taylor Park Reservoir

    This can get complicated. For example, some water from Taylor Park Reservoir, near Crested Butte, can be stored in Blue Mesa but is really meant for farmers and other users in the Montrose-Olathe area. That water is off-limits in this planning.

    Navajo Reservoir, New Mexico, back in the day.. View looking north toward marina. The Navajo Dam can be seen on the left of the image. By Timthefinn at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4040102

    Navajo Reservoir releases can get even more complicated. Water was initially identified last summer for release from the reservoir to help replenish Powell, but then delayed. Reasons were identified, including temperatures of the San Juan River downstream in Utah. But feathers were ruffled, as was revealed during the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting, held in Las Vegas in December. Tribes were consulted only belatedly.

    Now, the draft framework language specifies the need for consultation with tribes. Water in Navajo Reservoir is owned by both the Jicarilla Apache and Navajo. To be considered are diversions to farmers but also to Gallup. “Getting this right, particularly in the operational phase, will be critical,” said Smith.

    How might this affect ditch systems in Colorado? “There will be timing issues of when the extra water comes down, but in terms of whether there are any direct impacts to a ditch authority operating under its own decree, there should not be,” said Michelle Garrison, senior water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, during the webinar. “We don’t expect any disruption to other water users because of this.”

    […]

    “You can help make the best of a bad situation by having any drought operation releases benefit other things on the river, including benefits to threatened and endangered fish species while potentially producing more hydropower revenue [used in part to support endangered fish recovery programs],” said Bart Miller, water program manager for Western Resource Advocates.

    But Miller and others also note that Reclamation’s draft framework represents a short-term solution to a festering long-term problem.

    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.

    The word drought is found everywhere in the planning documents. Colorado State University climate scientist Brad Udall insists that another word, aridification, better describes the hydrology that has left the Colorado River with nearly 20% less water in the 21st century as compared to the 20th century. Trying to reconcile 21st century hydrology with 20th century infrastructure and governance is like walking on a rail that gets ever more narrow.

    “I think it’s totally appropriate to use this tool but not as a substitute for dealing with the overall imbalance between supply and demand,” says Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School.

    Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at allen@bigpivots.com and allen.best@comcast.net.

    Aspinall Unit update report — #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The Winter 2021-2022 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Upper #GunnisonRiver Water Conservancy District #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    Can the Law of the Colorado River Adapt to an Increasingly Drier Hydrology?

    A Two-Part Article by John McClow, UGRWCD Legal Counsel

    The Gunnison River is a major tributary of the Colorado River. The Colorado River Basin has suffered from drought conditions throughout the 21st Century. The two major reservoirs in the Colorado River System – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – are at historic and dangerously low storage levels. Locally, Blue Mesa Reservoir is a stark illustration of the effects of the current dry conditions. Scientists are warning that “drought” is a term that no longer applies because it implies a temporary condition from which the Basin will recover. A more accurate term is “aridification” because the conditions we have experienced during the past 20 years will continue – or worsen – for the foreseeable future, as hotter and drier conditions make matters worse. Recently published projections indicate that river flows may decline 20 percent by midcentury and 35 percent by the end of this century. There is debate about the causes of the decline, but little disagreement that it will continue to happen. Can the Law of the Colorado River – numerous compacts, federal laws, court decisions and decrees, contracts, and regulatory guidelines – founded on a 100-year-old Compact – adapt sufficiently to meet the challenge of aridification?

    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.

    PART 1: A Brief Summary of the Law of the Colorado River

    The foundation of the Law of the River is the Colorado River Compact, signed by the seven Colorado River Basin States and the United States in 1922. The Compact is a contract among the signatories ratified by the seven states and Congress and became state and federal law. The Compact divides the Colorado River Basin into an Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico) and a Lower Basin (Nevada, Arizona, California). It apportions to the Upper and Lower Basins the beneficial use of 7.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year. It requires that the states of the Upper Basin will not cause the flow of the river to be depleted below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet for any period of ten consecutive years – measured at Lee Ferry, the dividing point between the Basins. It also describes how the Basins will share water delivery to Mexico. The Compact contains no reference to “curtailment” or a “Compact call.”

    In the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act, Congress authorized construction of Hoover Dam (Lake Mead) and directed that the 7.5 million acre-feet allotted to the Lower Basin under the 1922 Compact be apportioned: California, 4.4 million acre-feet; Arizona, 2.8 million acre-feet; Nevada, 300 thousand acre-feet.

    The United States signed a treaty with Mexico in 1944 that guarantees an annual delivery of 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water to Mexico. In 1948, the Upper Basin States signed the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, which apportions the 7.5 million acre-feet allotted under the 1922 Compact: Colorado, 51.75 percent: Utah, 23 percent; Wyoming, 14 percent; New Mexico, 11.25 percent. The 1948 Compact created the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), consisting of a Commissioner appointed by the Governor of each state and a federal Commissioner appointed by the President of the United States. It also provides that if curtailment of use in the Upper Basin is necessary to maintain the flow at Lee Ferry required by the 1922 Compact, the UCRC will determine each state’s extent and timing of curtailment. It is important to note that neither the 1922 Compact nor the 1948 Compact affect water right administration within the states. In Colorado, that authority remains vested in the State Engineer.

    Graphic via Holly McClelland/High Country News.

    In 1956, Congress passed the Colorado River Storage Project Act. The Act authorized construction of the reservoirs, dams and power plants of the initial units of the Project: Wayne N. Aspinall (originally the Curecanti Unit), Flaming Gorge, Navajo (reservoir and dam only), and Glen Canyon (Lake Powell), along with numerous participating projects, “making it possible for the States of the Upper Basin to utilize, consistently with the provisions of the Colorado River Compact, the apportionments made to and among them in the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, respectively.” The CRSP power plants are an important source of hydropower in the Western United States, and the revenue from the sale of that hydropower supports operation of the Project and important salinity control and endangered fish recovery programs.

    The Colorado River Basin Project Act, passed by Congress in 1968, authorized construction of the Central Arizona Project, which can divert 1.5 million acre-feet from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona. Construction of the CAP allowed Arizona to develop its full apportionment of Colorado River water. The Act confirms California’s senior priority to 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water, meaning that Arizona and Nevada must bear any shortage in the Lower Basin.

    Next Issue: PART 2: Adapting the Law of the River for a Dry Hydrology

    Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting – January 20, 2022 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Aspinall Unit

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The next Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting will be conducted using Microsoft Teams (see link below). We are again using this format as an alternative to allow interactive participation, as we are not yet able to meet in person. No special software is required. Please contact me at rchristianson@usbr.gov or (970) 248-0652 if you have any questions. The proposed agenda is below:

    Microsoft Teams meeting
    Join on your computer or mobile app
    Click here to join the meeting

    Or call in (audio only)
    +1 202-640-1187,,459511369# United States, Washington DC
    Phone Conference ID: 459 511 369#

    #Drought news (December 31, 2021): Persistent storms delivering optimism, welcome moisture — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #snowpack #runoff

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Recent snowstorms, followed by even more snowstorms, are providing much-needed moisture and even some optimism that perhaps this winter could bring relief from the persistent drought that has been gripping the region.

    “We’re certainly hopeful and optimistic at this point. It certainly looks a whole lot better than it did a year ago, for sure,” said Molina rancher Carlyle Currier.

    He noted that one National Resources Conservation Service snow measurement site on Grand Mesa, at Park Reservoir, was at about 160% of normal Monday.

    “We’re not that far below what it peaked at last winter, better than three-fourths of what it peaked at the first of April … so that’s really wonderful,” said Currier.

    That speaks to the paucity of snow last year on Grand Mesa and in much of western Colorado, but also to the recent abundance of snowfall that has vastly improved the state’s snowpack status in just a matter of weeks.

    That boosts hopes for more spring runoff that will benefit farmers and ranchers, municipal water providers and the environment…

    As of Monday, snowpack had grown to 118% of median in the Gunnison River Basin, 104% in the upper Colorado River Basin and 112% in the combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins.

    The Arkansas River has the lowest snowpack of any major basin in the state, at 76% of normal…

    Currier, who is president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said this year’s snow has fallen on ground that was a lot wetter from rain in the fall. When last winter’s snowpack melted, it soaked into dry soils, reducing how much reached reservoirs and irrigation ditches…

    Boyer said about the current weather pattern, “We’ve got this big deep trough that’s transitioning over the western U.S., and we’re right kind of in the base of that trough. It’s ejecting little pulses of energy right across Colorado, so as soon as it hits the mountains, it pretty much creates a snow event for us.”

    […]

    The system has been favoring snow higher in the mountains, where there were reports of 6 to 8 inches for the most part having fallen over the previous 24 hours, Boyer said Monday…

    Powderhorn got only 2 inches in that timeframe, but collected 10 inches of snow on Christmas Eve, he said.

    Grand Junction also received its first official measurable snow of the season on Christmas Eve, when an inch fell at the National Weather Service office at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. On average, the city’s first measurable snow falls on Nov. 17; the latest-ever measurable snow in the city didn’t arrive until Jan. 5.

    Grand Junction officially got 0.03 inches of precipitation Sunday, a lot of that consisting of snow that melted when it hit the ground, Boyer said…

    Currier said this year is reminding him of 1977, which was extremely dry but was wet in the fall and was followed by an extremely wet winter.

    Project 7 Water Authority invited to apply for water infrastructure funding — The #Montrose Daily Press

    The water treatment process

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knuth):

    Project 7 Water Authority has been invited to apply for a $39 million water infrastructure loan for the Ridgway water treatment plant project. Projects were chosen for their efforts to help modernize water infrastructure for 25 million people while creating up to 49,000 jobs across the country.

    If selected, funds would be pulled from Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans fund, providing assistance to the Project 7 initiative slated to provide a second water treatment source to the region. The water resiliency project, estimated to cost between $50 – $70 million, will establish a raw water line that offers more long-term affordable costs and energy-efficient infrastructure.

    Project 7 pursued the loan, applying for eligibility in early planning stages. The loan is considered a common funding instrument for water projects, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the water treatment cooperative.

    “I think, more than anything, it speaks to what a good candidate this project is for outside federal funding opportunities,” said Graham. “When you look at the project on its merits, it’s really well qualified to bring in low interest loans and grants. So this was one of the first ones [loans] to make sure that we had the ability to take on the needed debt to fund the project.”

    As helpful as the loan would be for the water project, Graham emphasized the cooperative’s goal of minimizing as much of the long-term debt that Project 7 takes on as possible.

    Seeking grant opportunities and low interest loans such as the WIFIA program would supplement any gaps in funding, as well as mitigate water treatment rate increases that will be applied as a result of the project. Ultimately, it’s the grant opportunities that will keep water rates low, Graham said…

    The WIFIA program would provide Project 7, if selected, with financing tools to address challenges around public health and environmental concerns within the community.

    In addition to the WIFIA loan, the water cooperative is pursuing several grant opportunities with entities such as FEMA, the Department of Local Affairs and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Project 7 was previously awarded $25,000 through the Bureau of Reclamation grant.

    Hope seen for Western water storage in infrastructure bill — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    No amount of planning or legislation can make more water — but it can help the parched Western Slope make more use of the water it has.

    The trillion-dollar Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes, as part of an overall $55 billion for water infrastructure, $8.3 billion under its Western Water Infrastructure title for the Bureau of Reclamation between Fiscal Years 2020 — 2026.

    On the laundry list of designated funds for Western Water Infrastructure are $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure, $1.5 billion for storage, $1 billion for the Drought Contingency Plan on the Colorado River and $400 million for WaterSMART and energy efficiency grants.

    “All in all, it’s certainly the most meaningful investment in Western water resources that we’ve seen in my generation,” said Zane Kessler, director of Government Relations for the Colorado River District. The district sees an opportunity to fight for some of those dollars to flow into western Colorado, he said — and there are several meaningful investments that Colorado and the Western Slope are well-equipped to pursue…

    The act provides additional funding to the Aging Infrastructure Account created in 2020’s Consolidated Appropriations bill. This funding helps the Bureau of Reclamation provide direct loans to finance the non-federal share of major, nonrecurring maintenance of water infrastructure owned by the bureau, in water projects across the West that require major upgrades or replacement.

    “As those facilities, most of which are more than 50 years old, continue to age, the issue of storing and delivering water effectively, efficiently and in a timely matter only increases,” a summary from The Ferguson Group states. The Ferguson Group represents the Family Farm Alliance, of which the Colorado River District is a member.

    Of the $3.2 billion, $100 million is to be available for dam rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement. Another $100 million is to be available for reserved or transferred works that have suffered a critical failure, per the summary.

    Water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects receive a $1.05 billion boost and of that, $100 million is to fund grants to plan and build small-surface water and groundwater storage projects.

    There is $1 billion available for water projects authorized by Congress before July 1 of this year in accordance with the Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2006.

    The river district is pleased overall with the package of options the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act opens up, Kessler said, and it will be working to bring some of those dollars here.

    The infrastructure act’s passage comes at a time of dire drought in the Gunnison Basin and Colorado.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Earlier this year, Blue Mesa Reservoir was drawn down a total of 36,000 acre-feet between August and October and Flaming Gorge in Utah released 125,000 acre-feet. Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is set to have released 20,000 by December — a trio of infusions mandated by the Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement to keep hydropower operational at Lake Powell…

    The earlier drawdown at Blue Mesa took 17,000 acre feet from the reservoir in August; 16,000 acre feet in September and 3,000 acre feet in October, according to BuRec numbers.

    That provided the requisite 36,000 acre feet to Powell from Blue Mesa, but at the end of October, Powell was 156 feet from full pool, with an elevation of 3,544.25 acre feet. It had 7.18 million acre feet in storage — 30% of live capacity, as Catlin noted.

    He and others eye the weather and potential snowpack. They wait. They hope.

    Catlin said that as it is, the entire Gunnison Basin is drying so much, it’s hard to say what the overall impact might be — but more than agriculture would suffer…

    Taylor Park Reservoir

    Blue Mesa has about 218,000 acre feet in storage, he said. Taylor Park, another pot of water in the BuRec-managed Aspinall Unit, sits “OK” at 59,000 acre feet in storage, Knight said. Ridgway Reservoir has 63,000 acre feet in storage, a bit low, but in light of how dry the year was, not as bad it could be, he also said…

    Blue Mesa’s elevation sat at 7,431 this week — ideally, it would reach 7,490 by the end of December.

    “We’ll be nowhere close to that,” [Erik] Knight said.

    Uncompahgre Valley slated for a second #water supply source by 2025 — The #Montrose Daily Press

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

    When Project 7 began drawing up plans for a water resiliency program in 2019, its leaders didn’t plan to invest in connecting a raw water line from the Ridgway Reservoir to a new treatment plant in Ridgway.

    The new treatment plant and water line would be designed so additional capacity can be added in the future, allowing a maximum capacity of approximately 10 million gallons per day, more than a 30% increase in drinking water supply for the region.

    The plan to construct the Regional Water Supply Program in conjunction with the Ridgway Water Treatment Plant is a decision driven by water supply security. The project will add a second water source to the region while serving all Project 7 members.

    The valley hasn’t yet experienced water supply interruption, but Project 7 intends to stay ahead of a slew of risks that could potentially affect over 50,000 people and thousands of local businesses.

    The new treatment plant would allow direct access to existing water rights in the Ridgway Reservoir while building a system resilient to wildfire, drought and transmission interruptions in the Gunnison Tunnel.

    Project 7 Water Authority is a wholesale water treatment provider that supplies to the City of Montrose, City of Delta, Town of Olathe, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and the Menoken and Chipeta water districts, although each entity owns its own water rights.

    Although geographically the second smallest entity in the cooperative by size, the City of Montrose uses roughly 50% of the water supply due to population density, with about 8,000 residents using water services from Project 7…

    As it stands, the Gunnison River remains the only water supply source for the region, with one treatment facility to provide to the six entities within the cooperative.

    The cooperative projected the overhead cost of the project to be between $50 – $70 million. The estimate includes the raw water line, but will become more specific as the design process progresses, said Miles Graham, spokesman for the resiliency program.

    City of Montrose customers will see an increase in water rates on Jan. 1, 2022, due in part to Project 7’s elevated fees. Huggins noted that the impact of increasing wholesale rates for customers depends largely on the size and budget of the district…

    Montrose residential water bills will increase by $4.86 per 3,000 gallons of water used per month and increase $1.35 per 1,000 gallons used per month, due in part to the water supplier raising its own fees by 15%.

    At this stage in the planning process, it’s impossible to predict the cost for each entity without knowing the ultimate program cost or the amount of outside state and federal support, said Graham.

    By using a uniform rate structure for all entities to provide local funding, the cost will be shared equally throughout the valley and supplemented by aggressively seeking grants and low-interest loans.

    As the process moves forward, the team will be able to test and determine which treatment technology is best for the new plant and raw water line, as well as finding opportunities to make use of existing water distribution infrastructure near the new facility site.

    The cost may be higher to build the raw water line, but overall, the cost to run and operate will be lower since the water quality leaving the reservoir will provide a stable water supply, Huggins noted. The water will also be easier to treat, with less influence from rain events washing mud and silt in the river that have to be removed, allowing for mitigated operation costs…

    Water treatment plants often use electrical backup generators that run on diesel or natural gas, which is typically banned in the event of a wildfire, the engineer said. Because a gas-run generator on a tank of fuel presents a dangerous risk, utility companies usually shut off any natural gas in the area if a wildfire is present.

    “So if you think about an emergency situation, having the ability to bring water down to this site and continue operations at the plant without having to pump it up from the river made a lot of sense. [It’s] a more sustainable solution than the other options for getting water to the site.”

    Construction for the project is expected to begin in 2023. The new water line and treatment plan is slated to go online by 2025.

    For more information on Project 7 and the resiliency program project, visit https://www.project7water.org/

    #Ridgway grants “rights” to its river, joining several #Colorado towns in push for new water protections — The Colorado Sun

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    The Uncompahgre may have a legal guardian in its future after a town vote, though critics of “rights of nature” resolutions call “personhood for the river” an empty gesture and a paradise for lawsuits from angry property owners.

    The Ridgway town council has voted to give “rights of nature” to the Uncompahgre River that flows on the edge of its downtown, joining Nederland and a long list of international locations saying they want to be better stewards of their wild spaces.

    The council followed the lead of Mayor John Clark in approving the river rights resolution 5-0, with one abstention. Supporters said that while their vote was largely symbolic, at the very least they want it on the record that preserving the environment of the Uncompahgre’s basin is important to town leaders.

    “We believe nature deserves equal footing” with those who use the river’s water and other resources for other gains, Clark said after the vote on Nov. 10. “And so I’m pretty excited to be one of the few communities in the nation that are stepping up on this.”

    It’s just a resolution for now, with no clear enforcement path. But the “personhood for the river” discussion is part of a growing effort to protect natural areas by granting them some legal form of a right to exist, after centuries of human intervention. Nederland already passed such a measure in the summer of 2021, and the nonprofits Earth Law and Save the Colorado are helping to spread the conversation in more Colorado towns. Save the Colorado says people have expressed interest in Lyons, Fort Collins and Crested Butte.

    The natural rights movement has gone as far afield as New Zealand and Nigeria, with some efforts focused on protecting revered tribal lands, others to stop dams from forever changing valued waterways…

    Legal critics of the strategy, though, contend that water can’t have rights unto itself, and that the people proposing to speak for Colorado’s rivers may have narrow views that don’t serve the state as a whole.

    Cross Section 7, looking upstream channel, from right hand bank, October 23, 2003. Photo credit: USGS

    “The problem is the assumption that one particular party gets to unilaterally say what the interests of the stream are,” said David McDonald, an attorney who has followed the natural rights movement for the Mountain States Legal Foundation. “The stream has no voice. It’s not a person. It’s a collection of inanimate objects. These organizations are asking us to give them a great deal of trust.”

    For rivers, the premise begins with the reality that all the rights to the water in Colorado streams are already carved up and passed out to buyers including ranchers, town water supplies, beer brewers and power utilities. The trout and the frogs and the mayflies and the H2O itself don’t get a say, while the water is pushed and pulled and dammed and drained.

    The rights of nature movement, Durango-based Earth Law attorney Grant Wilson said in an interview, treats rivers as living entities. That’s a revolution, he said, from centuries of water law that treats river water as a human property. Wilson went to Ridgway to explain the resolution before the town council held its vote.

    Assigning the water and the wildlife a guardianship recognizes that “nature just like humans has inherent and fundamental rights, and that recognizing those rights and incorporating them into the legal system is a part of the solution to environmental degradation,” said Wilson, who worked with Clark on the proposal.

    After a lot of “whereas-es” that give a nice history of the Uncompahgre Valley, the first “therefore” of the resolution hints at the real point: “The right to maintain natural flow sufficient in quantity to maintain ecosystem health.” Meaning that even those who paid a lot of money for water rights shouldn’t be able to just dry up the river in the ongoing drought — in the future, they may have to argue with an attorney appointed by the town to represent the Uncompahgre as a client worth protecting.

    The idea of a legally recognized mouthpiece for the voiceless is already common, Wilson noted, for children in family court or the ailing elderly. The resolutions have rarely been tested in the United States to see what new legal structures they might create. In practical terms, a town like Ridgway could pass a resolution and then work toward appointing an “independent, qualified legal guardian serving as basically the human voice of ecosystems in a way that governments currently don’t,” he said.

    Nederland’s Alan Apt said he brought a similar resolution to the town board he sits on not as a launching point for endless litigation, but to put into words the importance local residents place on Middle Boulder Creek. Apt said he agrees with water advocates’ desire to “have the ecosystem be part of the conversation, the Boulder watershed, so that when we make decisions, it’s a reference point.”

    Nederland holds some of its own water rights from Boulder Creek, currently stored in Barker Reservoir, and sees itself as a high-country link between the origins of mountain water near the Continental Divide to the west, through town, and down to Boulder on the east, Apt said.

    Mountain States Legal Foundation would want to know, McDonald said, which inanimate object has the new natural rights — the water flow? The mosquitos? The frogs? And who decides whether the water’s right to exist is more important than a rancher’s right to use water to raise cattle, or a town’s right to supply a popular kayaking rapid?

    […]

    The resolutions are far from ironclad, McDonald acknowledged. “But these are fringe ideas that are becoming more popular, and ideas are powerful. I think it’s important to stand against them.”

    Wilson has no doubt the resolutions in Ridgway and other cities will be questioned by those who hold water rights or development dreams. But, he said, even holding the discussion helps a mountain town agree on shared values and what’s worth protecting.

    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

    Ouray County asks state water board to delay filing aimed at instream flow protection: County wants first to work out state opposition to Cow Creek project — @AspenJournalism

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Ouray County has requested that the CWCB delay a filing for an instream flow water right below this reach.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Ouray County is asking the state water board to delay a water court filing designed to protect streamflows so it can try to resolve issues in a separate but related water court case.

    In July, the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved an instream flow water right on Cow Creek, a tributary of the Uncompahgre River, and asked staff to file for the right in water court by the end of this year. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the state with the goal of preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The state board, which is charged with protecting and developing Colorado’s water supply, holds instream flow rights on about 1,700 stream segments and 9,700 miles of stream throughout the state.

    Now, Ouray County is asking the CWCB to delay the filing by six months so that the two governmental entities can try to work out the board’s opposition to a reservoir and pipeline project on Cow Creek on which the county is a co-applicant. CWCB directors will consider the request at their regular meeting Thursday.

    In a November letter to Ouray County, Robert Viehl, the CWCB’s chief of the Stream and Lake Protection Section, noted that state statutes set clear rules and timelines for commenting and making hearing requests, and that the county’s request to delay the filing falls outside of those parameters.

    “Any entity had the opportunity to state concerns with the Cow Creek appropriation and filing of the water right at the CWCB’s March, May and July 2021 meetings, when the appropriation was noticed before the board,” the letter reads. “This request by Ouray County is outside of the set administrative process for the appropriation and filing on instream flow water rights.”

    The CWCB, at the recommendation of Colorado Parks & Wildlife, is seeking instream flow protections for a 7.4-mile reach of Cow Creek — from its confluence with Lou Creek to its confluence with the Uncompahgre River, downstream of Ridgway Reservoir. CPW says this reach contains important fisheries, including the last-known remnant population of bluehead sucker in the upper Uncompahgre River basin.

    Inside the Gunnison Tunnel, the first major water diversion system in the U.S. — The #Colorado Sun

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

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins). Click through for the cool photos, here’s an excerpt:

    After more than a half-hour splashing through the dank dark of one of the world’s longest irrigation tunnels, Dennis Veo grins in the sunshine showering the cliffs of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River…

    The 120-year-old, 5.8-mile tunnel was the largest irrigation tunnel in the country when it opened in 1909. It was also the first major transmountain diversion in the U.S., becoming a model for moving Western water beneath mountains, connecting wet basins with dry deserts.

    Today, the Gunnison Tunnel can move more than 500,000 acre-feet of water a year, more than the entire Eastern Slope draws from the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    That water, roughly 1,150 cubic-feet-per-second when filled to the ceiling of the granite-blasted tunnel, irrigates about 83,000 acres for 3,000 members of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association and also delivers water to more than 50,000 people in the three-county Project 7 Water Authority. The water that pours from the Gunnison Tunnel is the lifeblood of the Uncompahgre Valley, flowing through 128 miles of major canals and 438 miles of lateral ditches in Montrose and Delta counties.

    “We are the largest diverter of water in Colorado,” says Steve Anderson, the second-generation general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. “We can take about the same as the entire Front Range takes from the Colorado River. And about the same as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California takes out of the Colorado River. That is a lot of water.”

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    An engineering marvel

    In the late 1800s, it became clear that the fickle flows of the Uncompahgre River alone could not irrigate enough acres in the river valley between Delta and Montrose. There were close to 100,000 acres homesteaded by farmers but only enough water to irrigate a fraction of that.

    An ambitious plan to connect the Gunnison River with the Uncompahgre River valley started in the early 1900s, when a pair of intrepid engineers with the local power company and the U.S. Geological Survey descended the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River on rubber air mattresses. With cameras and rudimentary surveying equipment, they searched for a place to build a diversion dam and tunnel.

    The first bore of the Gunnison Tunnel opened in 1909. It was the first major project approved by the Department of the Interior under the 1902 Reclamation Act. More than 26 men died during construction of what was then the longest irrigation tunnel ever built. Countless more workers were maimed. The manual diggers — crews of 30 men working around the clock from both ends of the tunnel — were off by only 6 inches when they met in the middle, Veo said. By 1912, water was flowing through the tunnel and irrigating crops from Delta to Montrose.

    In 1973, the American Society of Civil Engineers honored the Gunnison Tunnel as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. A few years later it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places…

    The Gunnison Tunnel is the critical link of the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit, one of the four projects that make up the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project…

    The other units created under the 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act include the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River in Utah, the Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and Lake Powell in Utah. The network of reservoirs and dams are used by Upper Colorado River Basin states to store water and generate electricity as part of the Colorado River Compact that divides up the river between seven states and Mexico…

    The engineering masterpiece has sustained a lush vibrancy along the Uncompahgre River. It’s pretty simple to imagine what the valley would look like without that tunnel, says John Harold, who farms corn, onion and beans in the valley.

    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 sky to bedrock, researchers near #CrestedButte are resetting what we know about water in the West — The #Colorado Sun

    The Surface Atmosphere Integrated Field Laboratory (SAIL) near Crested Butte, Colo., will start collecting a vast range of weather data on September 1, when scientists flip the switch on a slew of machinery that has been amassed in the Upper Colorado River Basin. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

    From The Colorado Sun (Mark Jaffe):

    The mobile observatory is manned by 100 scientists who hope to show how the West can get a better handle on where and when water will be available

    Eight white shipping containers, instruments spouting from the tops of some and a generator humming away in another, sit in the East River valley, on the outskirts of this mountain town, pulling data out of the air.

    The containers, a “mobile atmospheric observatory,” will gather bits of information over the next two years about the winds and clouds and rain and snow and heat and cold above the silvery and serpentine waterway as it slides past the gray granite dome of Gothic Mountain on its way to the Colorado River.

    “It is like a satellite, but on the ground looking up,” said Heath Powers, who oversees the atmospheric observatory program operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. “It’s a traveling scientific carnival.”

    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

    Traveling, indeed. The last assignment for the observatory, now in the old mining town of Gothic, 9 miles north of Crested Butte, was on the deck of a German research vessel icebound in the Arctic…

    The observatory, while in demand all over the world, is the centerpiece in an unprecedented effort to understand how — and how much — water moves from the sky to the rivers of the West. Three separate teams, nearly 100 scientists in all, are in the East River valley studying every facet of the question.

    The researchers are employing an equally large array of instruments, from balloons to drones to aircraft to multiple kinds of radar to cloud chambers and flux sensors to stream gauges and rain buckets.

    The goal is to better understand the “water story” so that water managers across the West can, from year to year, have a better handle on how much water will be available.

    The Western United States has always relied on water resources that come from these rugged mountain systems,” said Dan Feldman, the principal researcher for the project using the mobile observatory.

    Those systems, however, are not well understood, hobbling forecasting. “We know the list of physical, chemical and biological processes that affect water,” Feldman said. “The question is how do they fit together?”

    It is more than just a theoretical question. As the climate changes, and the world gets warmer, the Rocky Mountain snowpack, which provides 75% of the water for the Colorado River Basin, has already declined by a fifth in the past 30 years and by 2050 the flow of the river, supplying water to 40 million people, could drop by as much as 20%…

    And so, Feldman is leading a group of scientists in the Surface Integrated Atmosphere Laboratory project (SAIL), while Gijs de Boer, is heading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Study of Precipitation, the Lower Atmosphere and Surface for Hydrometeorology (SPLASH).

    Both are seeking to better understand the atmospheric dynamics — clouds and rain, wind and snow…

    Can studying a single, small watershed — with measurements from the size of raindrops to the amount of water finding its way deep into bedrock — tell the tale for the 1,450-mile-long Colorado River and its 246,000-square-mile basin?

    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

    “The East River shares characteristics with the vast majority of headwaters in the Rocky Mountains,” Williams said. “What we are learning in the East River will be translatable to other mountain systems.”

    The switch was flipped on at DOE’s mobile observatory Sept. 1 and it will gather data through the next seven seasons…

    Overseeing the operation is John Bilberry, 43, the lead project manager for SAIL. “I run the circus,” he said. Bilberry was with the mobile observatory in the Arctic (he had to hitch a ride on a Russian icebreaker to get there) and got stranded onboard by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic…

    SAIL, which is being run under the auspices of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has deployed about 50 different instruments, some on the roofs or inside the shipping containers, some on valley hillsides.

    The project also releases weather balloons twice a day and has a larger tethered balloon with an array of instruments that will be trucked around the watershed.

    Those devices will gather detailed data on eight elements that affect the water cycle: the fine particles floating in the air called aerosols, clouds, rain and snow and the winds that drive them, sunlight, thermal energy and temperatures.

    The total sky imager is tracking the horizontal distribution of clouds, microwave radiometers are measuring the water content of those clouds, doppler lidar radar is gauging the direction and speed of the wind, and a nephelometer is measuring the behavior of aerosols…

    Other instruments will log ozone levels, the water content of falling snow, how much snowpack is lost to evaporation (known as sublimation) and the surface energy balance — heat coming in from the sun and that radiating back into the air.

    Every hour a bank of computers, linked to the sensors, collects all the data and uploads it to the internet for use by SAIL and researchers around the world. “It is a virtual machine,” Bilberry said…

    Fitting the data into a big picture will be a challenge as the behavior of any one element can be complex.

    Aerosols, for example, can, in the form of soot, warm the air, while sulfate aerosols can cool it. Dust covering the snowpack leads to a quicker melt. Aerosols create the nucleus around which moisture in the air forms rain and snow. Too little aerosol, no rain, too much and the moisture is disbursed and again there is no rain or snow, until it builds up and leads to really heavy downpours or snows.

    “Aerosols have all these different effects that they are exerting on these mountainous watersheds,” Feldman said. “Aerosols are impacting the way water is delivered downstream.”

    While SAIL efforts are centered in Gothic, NOAA’s SPLASH gear will be arrayed over more than 10 miles and will be focused on gathering data to help improve the administration’s forecasting tools.

    These include the Unified Forecast System, which makes up to 14-day forecasts, the Rapid Refresh Forecast System, which provides hourly updates, and the National Water Model, which predicts stream flows.

    “SPLASH was born out of a desire to build upon SAIL and tune things to be more specific to NOAA needs,” said de Boer, a University of Colorado researcher who works at NOAA. “That has turned into a very significant investment from NOAA.”

    The project is being led by NOAA’s Physical Science Laboratory in Boulder and CU, in collaboration with about a dozen other institutions, including Colorado State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

    Among SPLASH’s installations will be a 33-foot tower to measure winds, turbulence, radiation and temperatures. It will also deploy three drones to measure things such as soil moisture and snow reflectivity…

    Some water near Gothic has been underground for 2,000 years

    On a late summer morning, the SFA’s Williams was up on Snodgrass Mountain drilling a deep well into the mountaintop — SAIL’s white shipping containers could be glimpsed down below.

    Granite dust billowed from the hole as the drill pounded away searching for groundwater.

    Williams, a Berkeley Laboratory geologist, has drilled wells across the East River valley — into the shale beneath Aspen forests, the loose landslide deposits of Alpine meadows and hard granite of conifer forests — in search of groundwater.

    That mixture of granite, shale and soils from mountainside erosion, and the spruce, aspen and evergreen forests, along with Alpine meadow sitting atop them, is a terrain widely shared by Rocky Mountain watersheds…

    Williams’ wells have hit groundwater 15 to 20 feet below the surface, but in the well atop Snodgrass Mountain they found no water even at 300 feet. A dry hole. Williams lowered a borehole camera and found only fractures with seepage. Still, they are being monitored. “All data is useful data,” he said.

    Once the water is found in a well, sensors are lowered to measure the soil moisture content at different depths. Samples are also taken for geochemical analysis, such as water dating. Some of the groundwater SFA has found has been down there for as long as 2,000 years.

    Williams’ team of 55 scientists, buttressed by collaborators at universities around the country, is trying to write the last chapter in the mountain water story, how a mountainous watershed retains and releases water and how much actually gets to the river.

    SFA researchers are trying to measure every drop from tree top to bedrock, down to the role microbes play…

    Among the questions Watershed Function is trying to answer is how much of the precipitation is lost to trees and plants sucking it up. In one experiment flux meters have been attached to trees to chart the water flowing from roots to leaves and out as water vapor.

    Another question is how much water ends up in aquifers and how long does it stay there? While snowpack runoff feeds the river in the spring, by late summer more than 50% of the East River’s flow is coming from ground water, Williams said.

    All the SFA data is also being put up on the internet — so far 69 data sets containing millions of data points — although not by the hour.

    Data for modeling for everything from next week’s weather to climate change

    The tools for understanding the massive amounts of data being collected by the three projects are computer models that aim to reflect everything from how much water flows in a stream, to next week’s weather, to the future impact of climate change on the world.

    The models, however, are vulnerable in two ways. First, they are based on assumptions about how the world works — how much water vegetation absorbs or how snow gathers on mountainsides — and then they are only as good as the data they crunch…

    “There is a critical linkage between measurement and modeling,” Williams said. “The models need to be informed by the data being collected, to show they are anchored in reality.”

    “It is data gathering not for the sake of data gathering, but to assure that our predictive models are as accurate as possible,” he said. Scientists call it “ground truthing.”

    The data can aid in refining the assumptions and algorithms that run the model. “They can help improve our knowledge of the chemistry and physics of how the world works,” said Alejandro Flores, associate professor of geoscience at University of Idaho and a SAIL researcher focused on models.

    Mountains have been particularly difficult to model…

    SPLASH, de Boer said, is seeking a better understanding of the “physics of key processes,” such as sublimation of snow, snow crystals and rain-on-snow events, that govern how much water ends up in the river…

    Those data and insights will be used to evaluate the performance of the Weather Service forecasting and other NOAA models.

    Ultimately, the data and knowledge of chemical, biological and physical processes gleaned from the East River could inform the Earth Systems Models that project the world’s climate…

    And it is not just a question of what happens in the West. Between 60% and 90% of the world’s water comes from mountainous watersheds. “Mountain environments are important and they are changing rapidly,” Flores said. “This is an important part of the world and it is important to focus on it.”

    Amid population growth and #ClimateChange, big challenges lie ahead for #Colorado Water Trust — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Coyote Gulch along the Yampa River Core Trail July 21, 2021.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Carol McKinley and Marianne Goodland):

    The Colorado Water Trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with two decades of efforts to restore flows in Colorado rivers. But the trust’s next 20 years will likely face greater challenges of climate change and population growth that are already taking a toll on the state’s waterways.

    The trust’s main focus is to improve instream flows, the flows and water levels in a stream or river.

    Back in 1973, the Colorado General Assembly recognized the need for a statewide instream flow program. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) was given the authority to acquire water rights, or lease them, for instream flow purposes. Instream flow water rights, one of the beneficial uses under Colorado’s water rights law, are the exclusive authority of the CWCB.

    While the original purpose of the legislation was to “protect the natural environment,” the instream flow program has expanded to address “water requirements for declining, sensitive, and threatened and endangered species, and protection of macroinvertebrate populations and rare riparian vegetation assemblages,” according to the CWCB.

    Since 1973, the CWCB has appropriated instream flow rights for 1,700 stream segments covering more than 9,700 miles of stream.

    But the instream flow program got off to a slow start, and drought was becoming an increasing problem in Colorado. One of the first big droughts was in the winter of 1976-77, which “sent shock waves through Colorado’s economy and state government.”

    There was a gap. The CWCB had the authority over junior water rights for instream flows, but nothing in place to acquire senior water rights.

    Those junior rights are useful very high up in the mountains where there aren’t a lot of other rights, said Andy Schultheiss, the trust’s executive director. Senior water rights, on the other hand, are more secure, but the state needed an outside group to scout opportunities for the state to buy or lease those senior water rights.

    In 2000, water engineers, water lawyers and conservationists began discussions on how to bolster the instream flow program, and that led to the formation of the trust in 2001.

    Like most new water programs in Colorado, the trust faced suspicion from water rights holders early on, especially farmers and ranchers. According to the Colorado Water Exchange, 80% of the state’s water goes toward irrigation, and that’s mostly for agriculture.

    “It took us eight or nine years to develop our first project,” Schultheiss said. “There’s a lot of reluctance to try anything new.”

    A cyclist takes a break from their ride to wade in the Roaring Fork River near the Hooks Spur Bridge on Oct. 13, 2020. A U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge at this location said the river was running at about 350 cubic feet per second, lower than the median of 395 cfs for this time of year. Water year 2020, which ended Oct. 1, was a “miserable year from a hydrology perspective,” said Colorado River Water Conservation District General Manager Andy Mueller.

    That first major project came in 2009, when Pitkin County and the CWCB signed an agreement, brokered by the trust, to allow the county to lend water for the instream flow program.

    Since then, the trust has directed 13.5 million gallons of water through 588 miles of Colorado waterways.

    Rancher Bryan Bernal irrigates a field that depends on Colorado River water near Loma, Colo. Credit: William Woody

    The approach today works like this: The Trust goes to a rancher and says, “How about you stop irrigating, say Aug. 1, and we compensate you for the days you’re missing, and we give the rest of your water to the state to lease it to use in an instream flow reach?” That’s a classic kind of trust project, Schultheiss said.

    On July 7, 2020, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.

    In an apparently groundbreaking permanent water sharing agreement in 2014, said to be the first in the West, the trust purchased a portion of the water rights on the McKinley Ditch to restore flows to a three-mile segment of the Little Cimarron River, a tributary of the Gunnison River. In spring and summer, the water is available for agricultural irrigation. Late summer and fall, the water heads down the Little Cimarron…

    Pelicans hanging out at the inlet to Stagecoach Reservoir July 22, 2021.

    The trust has been trying to improve instream flows on the Yampa since the 2012 drought, according to Schultheiss. In some years, the water they buy from Stagecoach Reservoir represents a third or more of the water in the river, he said.

    Back in 2012, the trust recognized that there was water sitting in Stagecoach with very few customers.

    “And we said, ‘Why not? Why can’t we just buy water and release water from Stagecoach? There’s an in-stream flow reach just below the dam, and then there’s the city farther down.’”

    By 2021, the releases from Stagecoach have been institutionalized, according to Schultheiss. Thanks to the Yampa River Fund, a collaboration between the Steamboat Springs and the Nature Conservancy, and with a $4.5 million endowment to pay for it, the river got a record-breaking 2,000 acre-feet of water from Stagecoach. In a year with severe drought in northwestern Colorado, it was enough to keep the water temperatures down and avoid fish kills and other environmental damage…

    “We are a market-based organization. … Our whole reason for being is that we participate in the market on behalf of the environment, and we need money to be able to do that.” — Andy Schultheiss

    This rancher has radical ideas about #water — Writers on the Range

    From Writers on the Range (Dave Marston):

    If Jim Howell, a fourth-generation rancher in Western Colorado, has a guru, he’s Allan Savory, the champion of intensive cattle grazing even on semi-arid land.

    Howell, 52, says Savory’s methods, which require moving cattle quickly from pasture to pasture, enable him to keep adding thousands more animals as the ground recovers. He says the method is so efficient he can even foresee leasing out irrigation water that he doesn’t need.

    If all this sounds unbelievable, Howell, who is ranch manager for Eli Feldman in Ridgway, Colorado, understands the skepticism. But he says the ranch speaks for itself.

    Western States Ranches is huge, a 213,000-acre spread that’s a mix of 3,000 acres of irrigated bottom land in Delta and Montrose counties, plus 210,000 acres of mostly leased federal rangeland that sprawls from western Colorado to eastern Utah. There’s forested, high elevation range, but half of the ranch is semi-arid. Rainfall can be a scant 10 inches per year.

    Jim Howell, a fourth-generation rancher in Western Colorado.
    (Photo Credit: Dave Marston)

    The herd is also large at 3,300 head, with 1,800 pregnant cows. What makes Savory’s approach effective, Howell says, is speed: In a day or two, cows eat fresh grass and weeds, then move on to new pasture before an enclosed pasture is damaged. Ten cowhands make the process work by moving miles of electric fencing, even though they’re traditionally loath to get off their horses. Feldman found Howell by consulting the Savory Institute, where Howell’s wife, Daniella Ibarra-Howell, is director.

    The man and the money behind this enterprise is Eli Feldman, whose Conscience Bay Company is mostly staked by lifelong friends, the Laufer family of Stony Brook, New York.

    East Coast money and Western know-how might seem an odd combo, but Howell studies the land with total concentration. He says his rule of thumb is to make a grazing plan and then rip it up as changing conditions dictate.

    Howell has made dry, overgrazed range bloom before. Using Savory methods, he boosted the number of cattle on his former family ranch on Blue Mesa in Western Colorado. He went from 150 cows to 450, while also attracting herds of elk.

    But if demand management gets going — the controversial plan of leasing water temporarily and voluntarily to fulfill downstream obligations – Feldman and Howell are on board. Feldman asked Trout Unlimited to administer a demand management study on part of his ranch that lies in Eckert, Colorado, where ground is irrigated only until July 1.

    Howell derides programs that encourage leasing water for full seasons. “It’s going to be seen as socially untenable for ranchers in the upper basin to be over-irrigating hay fields when downstream users are running out of water.”

    Howell in a small 24 acre irrigated pasture. After being grazed by 900 cows for one and a half days the pasture is growing back lush and green.
    (Photo Credit: Dave Marston)

    Because Feldman is an outsider with a formidable operation, he says he’s been a target since the ranch got going in 2018. Shortly afterward, he recalls, a Delta County commissioner poked him in the chest with a finger, saying, “I’ve got my eye on you.”

    Feldman figures he’s been cast as a water speculator. “But when a ranch was auctioned off recently,” he says, “we passed on the irrigated land (with senior water rights) and purchased the herd and grazing permits only.”

    For both Feldman and Howell, one of their goals is to restore grass on ground that’s been ranched “old-school.” By that they mean trampled creek beds where cows for generations wallowed away the summers.

    Howell says he has all sorts of tricks to get lazy cows moving. Artificial watering holes are scattered across dry range, while gullied creeks are fenced off and left to recover. The payoff is growing grass-fed, certified organic beef, and Howell says it commands a 15-20% premium over cattle grown for the commodity market.

    Despite the ranch’s sprawl, it seems a lean operation. Howell manages it halftime from a small tent, which also doubles as his sleeping quarters. His cowhands are equipped with little besides horses, trailers and portable electric fence. Still, Howell has his share of environmental critics. The Center for Biological Diversity charges that grazing any cattle on marginal land leads to degraded water and spurs desertification.

    Howell shrugs off the charge. “These native rangelands evolved with hooved animals,” he says. “To say they are not meant to be grazed is total BS. They were meant to be grazed — but as nature intended.”

    Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range, http://writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

    Public outreach central to Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District’s mission — The #Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    he Gunnison Basin is facing a climate emergency, putting our farm and food systems at severe risk. This map shows the warming that has already occurred in this Gunnison watershed since 1895. Graphic credit: The Washington Post via the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance

    From The Gunnison Country Times (Bella Biondini):

    The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District continues to change, grow and adapt its public outreach efforts, directing the public to the main focus of their mission — managing the basin’s limited water supply.

    Upper Gunnison is an active leader in all issues affecting the water resources of the Upper Gunnison River Basin. Their role in the valley has grown in importance as the basin continues to experience worsening drought conditions. In response, the district has continued to try and raise awareness of the community’s water use.

    Sonja Chavez via Gunnison Basin Roundtable.

    Upper Gunnison General Manager Sonja Chavez said that, after the drought year the basin experienced, it’s about getting a message out to the community.

    “Water is a finite resource,” Chavez said. “I think most people don’t realize or understand that the whole Colorado River Basin is over allocated, we’re using more water than we actually have. As temperatures increase and stream flows decrease, it’s just going to become a greater challenge.”

    The district’s education and outreach budget increased from $34,000 in 2021 to almost $42,000 for 2022. Although part of it is driven by the rising cost of promotional products and an increased sponsorship to the Gunnison River Festival, Chavez said overall, public outreach is “central and important” to the district’s mission…

    Within their education action plan, staff began to break the public down into age groups, from elementary through high school as well as growing their relationship with Western Colorado University. The district’s goal was to try and be intentional about where they put the funding, who they reach out to and making sure it’s age appropriate.

    Historically the Upper Gunnison helped fund the Water Workshop, which was renamed and reorganized into the Western Water Future Games. The Water Workshop, based at Western, has a 45-year history.

    It was created to give more of a voice to the people of the Western Slope because at that time it was perceived that the Front Range was the dominant voice in water issues in the state, said Jeff Sellen, who oversees the program…

    With a small staff of five, the Upper Gunnison has limited manpower. To make their outreach efforts more effective and far-reaching, their strategy has been “figuring out where they can add value” to existing events or programs, Chavez said.

    Where there is an access to water the Upper Gunnison tries to build upon that opportunity for education. The Upper Gunnison has its hands in the River Festival, the 4-H Program and the Taylor Challenge. It also has an established mini-grant program designed to support educational projects intended to expand the awareness of water-related issues.

    Name recognition is another important aspect of increasing the visibility and effectiveness of the Upper Gunnison’s water messaging in the valley. The district has used a newsletter, radio advertisements, yard signs and promotional items to spread the word that “water doesn’t grow on trees.”

    Chavez said she thinks “a lot of people within the community don’t know exactly who we are or what we do.” But this is something that even larger districts still struggle with…

    Upper Gunnison has started taking a harder look at its education and outreach in terms of who it’s reaching, and how successful it’s been, Chavez said. When people have an issue or question about water “I would want them to first think of the Upper Gunnison District.”

    New projections for low #ColoradoRiver flows speed need for dramatic conservation

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    A new federal system for projecting Colorado River water flows in the next two years confirms dire news about drought draining the West’s key reservoirs, and increases pressure on Colorado to conserve water immediately to avoid future demands from down-river states, conservation groups say.

    The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s new system for projecting vital Colorado River flows in the next two years drops earlier, wetter years out of the historical reference, and gives more weight to two recent decades of drought. The regular October update this week shows water runoff into Lake Powell, the storage basin for four Upper Colorado Basin states, was only 32% of average for the 2021 water year, which runs from October to September.

    The new projections for the next two years show that even with federal officials draining portions of Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo reservoirs to get more water to Lake Powell’s hydroelectric generating station, a moderate winter would leave the Colorado River in the same crisis a year from now. And a low-water scenario this coming winter season would drop Lake Powell well below the minimum level required to generate electricity by November 2022.

    In addition to federal officials trying to protect hydroelectric generation at Lake Powell, and at Lake Mead as the downstream water bank for the Lower Basin states, water compacts govern how much Colorado River water needs to go downstream for use by agriculture and cities…

    “We don’t have any more time to talk about it,” Matt Rice, co-chair of the Water for Colorado Coalition and Director of American Rivers’ Colorado River Basin Programs, said after reviewing the latest Bureau of Reclamation update.

    Starting with the October update, the bureau begins the historical average calculations in 1991, instead of the 1981 cutoff used until now. The 1980s were much wetter in the Colorado River Basin, Rice said.

    “These projections are worse than they have been in the past, but they’re also more realistic,” Rice said. Many conservation groups find that a positive step despite the bad news, Rice added, because it increases pressure on state water officials, local water conservancy districts, agriculture interests, cities and environmentalists to work faster on solutions.

    At the same time, Rice said, the updated numbers should drive home the reality that there is 20% less water available now in the Colorado River than as recently as 2000. “There’s no more flexibility in the system, right? We’re looking over the edge of the cliff.”

    Water conservation experts in Colorado have worked for years to avoid their worst-case scenario, which is a “call” or a sudden demand from federal managers to deliver more water for hydropower or to satisfy the compacts with the Lower Basin. Without advance planning, a call would force the state water engineer and local conservancy districts to cut irrigators’ water rights based only on the seniority of their water-use rights.

    While state and local officials have been working with nonprofits on conservation plans, there are legal tangles that could require new legislation, and seemingly endless ethical questions about which parts of the state would suffer the most water loss, said Sonja Chavez, director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District…

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Blue Mesa Reservoir in her region has been nearly drained by drought and by federal officials taking extra from Western reservoirs to solidify Lake Powell’s power pool. Blue Mesa is projected to soon be down to 27% full, Chavez said. Blue Mesa was 33% full in mid-September, according to Bureau of Reclamation records.

    State and private officials have cooperated to experiment with “demand-management” programs, where instead of buying agriculture land and its accompanying water rights outright, they buy the right to rent the water for a few years out of a decade. That rented water can be sent downstream in dry years, and in theory the restoration of water in other years should preserve the farm or ranch land while providing income for the farmer.

    But renting or buying of water rights on the scale to meet compact demands would require hundreds of millions of dollars, with no current pot of money to pull from, water experts say. Colorado officials have mentioned the possibility of using money from the infrastructure stimulus plan currently under debate by Congress, but it’s uncertain whether the bill will pass, and how much water-related money will be in it if it does…

    The largest amounts of water to be conserved are in agriculture, by far, but Front Range residents must be part of the statewide discussion about finding more water for the downstream Colorado River, Rice and Chavez said.

    “You’re not going to get as much out of a city compared to what is the amount of irrigation water diverted for agriculture,” Chavez said. “But there’s also agriculture on the Front Range that benefits from our transmountain diversions,” some of which are created and controlled by urban water departments. “That has to be part of the picture.”

    Front Range cities take water from the Roaring Fork River basin in a transmountain diversion through the Twin Lakes Tunnel. The city of Aspen is studying the potential for an Alternative Transfer Method, or ATM, to increase its water supplies, which could include approaching transmountain diverters about participating in a water-sharing agreement. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

    Western settlers caused erosion in wet meadows. Now, volunteers are restoring these vital habitats — KUNC

    From KVNF (Laura Palmisano) via KUNC:

    Wet meadows and riparian areas in sagebrush country only account for about 2% of the landscape. Trouble for these systems started when white settlers moved West. Instead of taking their wagons through the sagebrush where it was rocky and rough, they followed the edges of the meadows.

    Seward said the wagon wheels created trenches that were reinforced by livestock trailing between water sources, and eventually off-road vehicles using the same paths. These trenches caused water to pool.

    “When water gets captured in those trails it speeds up and becomes more erosive and it starts to downcut,” he said. “It starts actually washing away the topsoil and working its way until it finally hits the bedrock.”

    Wet meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo credit: The Environmental Protection Agency

    Sawyer said these impacts are being sped up by climate change.

    “We are trying to prevent these systems from disappearing entirely from our landscape,” he said.

    Wet meadows provide critical habitat for deer, elk, migratory birds, pollinators, livestock and the federally threatened Gunnison sage grouse.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there about 3,500 Gunnison sage grouse left, with a majority of the population living in the Gunnison Basin. In 2015, there were around 5,000.

    The species suffers habitat loss due to human-driven growth and development. The birds need large swaths of healthy sagebrush habitat to thrive. Climate change also threatens what’s left of the species habitat. Wet meadows provide sage grouse with important brood-rearing habitat to raise chicks.

    Left: Bill Zeedyk plans restoration work while standing in a head cut prior to treatment at West Flat Top Mountain, USFS; Right: Completed log and fabric structure used to control the head cut post treatment. © Renée Rondeau/CNHP

    The Wet Meadows Restoration Resilience Building Project is a local effort to restore habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. It’s a collaboration by government agencies, nonprofits, private landowners and the public.

    Wet meadows also act as natural sponges, holding water in the soil and slowly releasing it over time. Seward said the restoration work helps build resiliency into the ecosystem. That will only get more important as climate projections indicate the area will get warmer and drier.

    “Everyone knows that water in the West is life,” he said. “All life needs water, so by holding more water here in the Gunnison Basin longer and putting it to good beneficial use for wildlife, for our agricultural industries, like ranching as well — really everyone benefits from this kind of work.”

    Project organizers said the restoration is working in the Gunnison Basin. Overall, they’ve seen wetland vegetation double in treated areas since the program started in 2012.

    This is just one of dozens of watershed restoration projects in Colorado and states across the West. Wet meadow restoration projects to benefit the Gunnison sage grouse are also happening in San Miguel, Montrose, Mesa and Delta counties.

    Aspinall Unit Operations update: Releases to decrease to 1050 cfs October 6, 2021 #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #LakePowell

    Crystal Dam, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, Aspinall Unit. Credit Reclamation.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1315 cfs to 1050 cfs late on Wednesday, October 6th. Releases are being decreased to bring an end to the Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) emergency releases to Lake Powell.

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

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 590 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 325 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.