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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 248-0652 if you have any questions. The proposed agenda is below:
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
FromThe 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.”
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.
Water users in Ouray County are hoping to satisfy water shortages with what they say is a multi-beneficial reservoir and pipeline project. But the Ram’s Horn reservoir, Cow Creek pipeline and exchange are facing opposition from the state of Colorado and others.
The complicated, three-pronged project proposes to take water from Cow Creek and pipe it into Ridgway Reservoir, take water from local streams via ditches and store it in the reservoir, and build a new dam and reservoir on Cow Creek. This stored water would eventually be sent downstream to be used by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).
The project applicants — Ouray County, Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Ouray County Water Users Association and the Colorado River Water Conservation District — say they need 20 cubic feet per second of water from Cow Creek. Cow Creek is a tributary of the Uncompahgre River with headwaters in the Cimarron mountains. Cow Creek’s confluence with the Uncompahgre River is below Ridgway Reservoir, which is why an upstream pipeline would be needed to capture the water and bring it into the reservoir.
The applicants are also seeking to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reaches of Cow Creek, which would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water behind a 260-foot-tall and 720-foot-long dam. Ram’s Horn would help regulate what are known as diurnal flows during spring runoff — streamflows are higher during the day as the snow melts with warming temperatures, and lower at night as snow re-freezes. UVWUA says they can’t adjust their headgates to capture the high point of this daily fluctuation in flows, leaving the water to run downstream unused. The project would capture these diurnal peaks.
Goal to prevent a call
The goal of the project is to prevent the UVWUA — one of the big senior water rights holders in the Gunnison River basin — from placing a call on the river.
When the UVWUA, which owns the Montrose & Delta Canal and has a 1890 water right, is not able to get its full amount of water, it places a call on the river. This means upstream junior water rights holders, like Ouray County Water Users, have to stop using water so that UVWUA can get its full amount. According to a state database, the M&D Canal has placed a call three times this summer, most recently from July 12 to 22. In 2020, the call was on for nearly all of July and August. Under Colorado water law, the oldest water rights have first use of the river.
By releasing the water stored in either Ridgway or Ram’s Horn reservoirs to satisfy a UVWUA call, Ouray County Water Users Association would then be able to continue using its own water.
The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is a co-applicant of the project.
“This (project) is consistent with the River District’s goals and objectives with supporting our constituents and making sure they have a reliable water supply,” said Jason Turner, River District senior counsel.
Potential impacts to fish, instream flows
But some state agencies, environmental groups and others have concerns about the project. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board have both filed statements of opposition to the application, which was originally filed in December 2019, amended in January and is making its way through water court. CPW claims that its water rights in the basin, which it holds for the benefit of state wildlife areas, fisheries and state parks, could be injured by the project. CPW owns nearly a mile of access to Cow Creek on the Billy Creek State Wildlife Area.
Between August 2019 and January 2020, CPW recorded water temperatures of Cow Creek and found they exceeded a state standard for trout. A report from CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio says that the proposed project would likely cause an even bigger increase in water temperatures, resulting in fish mortality.
“The flow and temperature analysis for Cow Creek indicates that the water rights application has the likelihood to damage or eliminate the native bluehead sucker population as well as the rest of the fishery in the downstream end of Cow Creek through the degradation of water quantity and quality,” the report reads.
While less water in Cow Creek could result in temperatures that are too high for trout, water released from the proposed Ram’s Horn reservoir could be too cold for bluehead suckers.
“There’s going to be some changes to temperature and what our temperature data has outlined is that the species are at their extreme ends,” Gardunio said. “It’s nearly too cold for bluehead sucker and it’s nearly too warm for trout, so changes in temperature are going to have an impact to one or the other of the fishery.”
“The application does not present sufficient information to fully evaluate the extent to which the CWCB’s instream flow water right may be injured,” the statement of opposition reads.
Environmental group Western Resource Advocates also opposes the project. Ram’s Horn Reservoir, with conditional water rights owned by Tri-County Water Conservancy District, is one of five reservoirs planned as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project, which dates to the 1950s. Ridgway Reservoir is the only one of the five that has been built.
The third piece of the proposed project is what’s known as an exchange, where water would be conveyed via existing ditches connecting tributaries above Ridgway Reservoir. The exchange water would be stored there and released when senior downstream water users need it, which would benefit upstream water users. In addition to Cow Creek, the applicants are proposing to take water from Pleasant Valley Creek, the East and West Forks of Dallas Creek, Dallas Creek and the Uncompahgre River to use in the exchange.
Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 4 Engineer Bob Hurford laid out the issues his office has with this exchange in his summary of consultation. He recommended denial on the exchange portion of the application until the applicants list the specific ditches participating in the exchange and their locations, and agree that they are responsible for enlarging the ditches so they can handle the increased capacity of water.
“I have to have actual ditch names, the owners of the ditches have to be willing to participate and it has all got to be tracked to a tenth of a cfs,” Hurford said. “It’s not a loosey-goosey thing. It has to be dialed in and defined precisely.”
Another criticism of the project is that it won’t provide water directly to water users in Dallas Creek, which according to a report by Wright Water Engineers, is the most water-short region of the Upper Uncompahgre basin. Even if Dallas Creek water users participate in the exchange, in dry years still there may not be enough water in local creeks for them to use.
“This project has been sold as the savior of agriculture in Ouray County but this project will not provide wet water that would not otherwise be available to anybody that is an ag producer,” said Ouray County water rights holder and project opponent Cary Denison. “I don’t know one irrigator who is saying we need to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir.”
The project application is making its way through water court and applicants say they are continuing to negotiate with opposers. A status report is due in October. Attorney for the Ouray County Water Users Association and River District board representative Marti Whitmore said they want to make sure it’s a multi-purpose project that benefits everyone.
“Fish flows and recreation uses are important, so we are just trying to work out terms and conditions that are a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.
FromThe Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust and Anna Lynn Winfrey):
The City of Montrose welcomed the public to roam around the nearly completed structure, which will hold 1.5 million gallons of water. In lieu of a formal presentation, city officials mingled with the crowd of curious citizens in and around the tower as the sun began its descent on July 12.
To build the water tower, Cory Noles explained that giant pieces of steel were welded together into 8-foot tall rings that were stacked on top of each other. Noles is the general superintendent of Ridgway Valley Enterprises, a commercial contractor on the project.
Despite the 135-foot height, Scott Murphy, the city engineer for Montrose and the project lead, said that the foundation is only 5 feet deep from ground level because the dirt in the area bodes well for a tall structure.
The water that is scheduled to fill the tower this November is sourced from the general city water system, which comes from the Project 7 Water Authority’s treatment plant on the east side of town.
Water towers help stabilize water pressure throughout the city. Murphy said that the tower fills up during lower demand periods, so when demand is high on hotter days, water pressure can stay constant.
The tower, which cost approximately $5 million, addresses the city’s need for water storage and prepares the city for continued growth on the western side of the Uncompahgre river.
In the case of an emergency water break, the tower can hold enough to provide the town with water for up to four days. Murphy said that only one line crosses the Uncompahgre river to the western side of town, so if a disaster struck and the pipe was obliterated, the water tower ensures that people would still have water.
The water tower is slated to sustain another period of growth in Montrose, and the city has made long-term plans to ease the construction of another tower in the future…
The project is scheduled to be completed by November of this year. Some pandemic-related shortages have caused minor delays, but the project is still slated to be completed on time…
The tower will be painted a lighter color to blend into the landscape. Murphy said that the tower will be emblazoned with the logo for the city, but artsier designs may be considered in the future.
A Montrose family whose teenage son and dog drowned in the South Canal in 2019 hit the canal’s operating entity with a wrongful death suit on May 4.
Their attorney said Matt Imus and Emily Imus, parents of the late Connor Imus, are also pursuing a federal claim against the land management agencies involved with the canal. This is action is undergoing a required administrative resolution process and could proceed to a lawsuit, pending that outcome.
The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s attorneys say in filings that Connor’s death was the result of his own actions, when he apparently jumped into the canal to save his dog, Bella.
Both were swept away by the deceptively calm-looking water and drowned. Connor, a standout on the Montrose High School basketball team, was 17.
As the canal operator, the UVWUA had duties to Connor to mark the property as private and to make clear the dangers of the canal, the lawsuit argues. But per the suit, on May 5, 2019, there was not a chain, a fence or other means of closing off the canal, nor was there signage warning against trespassing and the dangers at the spot where Connor fell in.
The Imuses are suing for negligence resulting in wrongful death and under premises liability resulting in wrongful death, as well as asserting survivors’ claims. They assert UVWUA’s wrongful actions or omissions caused injury and damages to Connor, who lost his life, and also caused ongoing injury to his parents, who continue to suffer emotional distress, pain and grief because of their son’s death. The plaintiffs want a judge to determine compensation for their loss and suffering; the filing does not specify an amount.
The UVWUA’s attorneys said they had no comment at this time.
Rockfall destruction challenges green-power provider and the nonprofit, member-supported ice park as repair costs climb.
Workers arriving early at the Ouray Ice Park on Tuesday found a disaster.
A boulder the size of a pool table had sheared off the canyon wall and destroyed the metal walkway accessing the park’s popular ice climbs. And it ripped out the penstock that ferries water to the oldest operating hydropower plant in the U.S.
“Just water squirting everywhere and the access bridge, laying at the bottom of the canyon,” said Eric Jacobson, who owns the hydroelectric plant and pipeline that runs along the rim of the Uncompahgre River Gorge.
The rock tore through the penstock, its trestle and the decades-old steel walkway in the park’s popular Schoolroom area late Monday. There was no one in the gorge and no injuries.
When the overnight temperatures are cold enough in December, January and February, a team of ice farmers use as much as 200,000 gallons of water a night trickling from the penstock to create internationally renowned ice-climbing routes. More than 15,000 climbers flock to Ouray every winter to scale the 150-foot fangs of ice, supporting the city’s winter economy. And Jacobson generates about 4 million kilowatt hours a year from water flowing into his antiquated but updated Ouray Hydroelectric Power Plant. He sells the power to the San Miguel Power Association.
The plant generates about 5% of the association’s power needs, which has a robust collection of green power sources, including several small hydropower plants and a solar array in Paradox.
The City of Montrose is pleased to announce that Phase I of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project near North 9th Street is complete and open to the public. The project was completed under budget, ahead of schedule, and injury-free.
Construction of the Uncompahgre River Improvements Project started last fall and included the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public. The project was made possible through a partnership with the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority and with the assistance of $784,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
“We are excited to bring this new recreational and fishing asset online for our residents,” City Engineer Scott Murphy said. “We feel that it will be a great complement to the recently-completed GOCO Connect Trail and it further expands our collection of great outdoor amenities right here in town.”
The city would like to express a special thank you to the design and construction team Ecological Resource Consultants and Naranjo Civil Constructors for a job well done, Mayfly Outdoors for their 41-acre land donation within the project area, and to the volunteer river advisory committee who helped to guide the project through its planning phases.
The public is welcome to attend a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the project scheduled for Thursday, April 22, at 1 p.m. The live ceremony can be viewed online at the City of Montrose’s Facebook page.
Watch a video of the project:
Any questions regarding the project may be directed to City Engineer Scott Murphy at 970.901.1792.
Starting the week of October 26, contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River. The project will include the stabilization of riverbanks, restoration of a more natural stream system, improvement of aquatic and riparian habitats, and improvement of river access and fishing opportunities for the public.
Construction will start around North 9th Street and continue downstream within a 41-acre river corridor tract within the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority boundaries. The property was recently donated to the City of Montrose by Colorado Outdoors.
For safety reasons, public access to the Uncompahgre River within the project area will be closed throughout construction. However, the new recreation trail situated alongside the project, as well as boating access on the remainder of the Uncompahgre River, will remain open throughout the construction project. Through boaters are encouraged to take out at the West Main Trailhead upstream of the project. Although a temporary takeout will be constructed at the beginning of the project area, vehicular access to this area will be much more limited than at West Main. Project activities are expected to last until June 2021.
The river improvement project is being made possible largely due to approximately $785,000 in grants received from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The remainder of the $1.6M project is being funded by the Montrose Urban Renewal Authority.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1600 cfs to 1500 cfs on Monday, August 31st. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% 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 after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
As drought conditions hammer the state, area reservoirs are shrinking, with Blue Mesa predicted to end the year at 23 feet below its winter target.
Despite the past winter season bringing nearly average snowpack, runoff throughout the Gunnison Basin fell well below average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review, provided Aug. 20.
Warm weather brought the snowpack off the mountains early and summer monsoons failed to provide much of a meaningful drink, while extraordinarily hot, dry conditions persist.
For the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s storage accounts in area reservoirs, conditions are mixed.
Taylor Park Reservoir, which is at about 72 percent of full capacity, is OK for the association, manager Steve Anderson said. The UVWUA’s storage account there is full, with only about 20,000 acre feet used.
“That’s not the case with our storage in Ridgway (Reservoir). We’ll use all our storage this year out of Ridgway. We’ll have to replenish that one with the winter,” Anderson said.
The UVWUA has been running its delivery of water to shareholders at 80 percent. “Which, in a year like we’ve had, is good,” Anderson said. “With the limited supply, we’ve managed to meet demand at 80 percent.”
The largest impoundment managed in the Aspinall Unit, Blue Mesa Reservoir, peaked at 604,000 acre feet, which is 25 feet below full.
As of Aug. 20, the reservoir was at 521,000 acre feet and peak flow targets for the Black Canyon and lower Gunnison River at Whitewater were met, although the base flow targets for Whitewater were lowered under drought rule provisions.
Paonia Reservoir had shriveled to 2 percent of full capacity, while Silver Jack was reported at 46 percent of full.
Paonia is basically empty, but that isn’t unusual, given the dry year, BuRec hydrologist Erik Knight said.
“They chose to use their full supply of reservoir water as best they could, but being a small reservoir, sometimes it only lasts until August. So it’s not surprising, at least to us or them, that it’s gone already,” he said.
The reservoir is expected to stay empty as long as more senior water right priorities keep the call on the North Fork of the Gunnison, Knight said.
Other reservoirs in the Aspinall fared better, with Ridgway showing at 71 percent, Crystal at 88 percent and Morrow Point at 94 percent.
Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review noted the early melt-off of the snowpack. Although rains at the start of June kept flows into reservoirs in the Aspinall Unit elevated longer than was expected, those levels plunged to “much below normal” by mid-month. Monsoon activity was anemic, providing “almost no precipitation this summer,” the report also said.
Since runoff ended, hot and dry conditions have prevailed, with near-record dry conditions occurring in April and May. Although those actual conditions caused a higher than normal forecast error, actual runoff volume still fell within the lower range of predictions.
The National Weather Service’s August weather outlook did not hold encouraging news. It found a high probability of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures heading into fall…
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows all of Colorado in at least moderate drought, with Montrose and surrounding counties in either severe or extreme drought.
The monitor on Aug. 20 noted temperature-breaking records in cities across the West, as well as massive wildfires that broke out in California. The monitor’s report, too, calls the monsoon season a “bust” for much of the Southwest.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1650 cfs to 1600 cfs on Monday, August 17th. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.
There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.
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 after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 650 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, August 5th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.
There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
Basin Implementation Plan Update
Ed Tolen, SW Basin 1st Vice Chair, explained that in January a sub-committee was set up to select a local expert to work with the SW Basin Roundtable on updating the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). From the proposals received the committee chose Harris Water Engineers to be local expert. Steve Harris (Harris Water Engineering) will no longer participate on the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) or the SW Basin Roundtable, and Carrie Padgett, P.E. of Harris Water will also step down from the SW Basin Roundtable. Roundtable elections will take place in October, Officer elections will take place in July.
There will be a team approach to working on the BIP update that will include the SW Basin Roundtable, the Local Experts (Harris Water Engineers), who work with the General Contractor (Brown and Caldwell) and the CWCB.
Matt Lindberg with Brown/Caldwell, the General Contractor, gave a presentation on next steps regarding the BIP review process. The purpose of the review and update is to improve project data, unpack technical update, revisit goals and objectives and invest in process efficiency.
The timeline for the BIP update is as follows:
March – August 2020 – Local Expert Workshops, Work Plans and Project lists.
September – December 2020 – Basin Analysis/Study
January – December 2021 – Update the Basin Implementation Plan
December to March 2022 – Incorporate Updated BIP’s into the Water Plan Update
To view the full Technical Update to the Colorado Water Plan go here.
Delta-Montrose Electric splits the sheets with Tri-State G&T. Will others follow?
At the stroke of midnight [July 1, 2020], Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association officially became independent of Tri-State Generation and Transmission.
The electrical cooperative in west-central Colorado is at least $26 million poorer. That was the cost of getting out of its all-requirements for wholesale supplies from Tri-State 20 years early. But Delta-Montrose expects to be richer in coming years as local resources, particularly photovoltaic solar, get developed with the assistance of the new wholesale provider Guzman Energy.
The separation was amicable, the parting announced in a joint press release. But the relationship had grown acrimonious after Delta-Montrose asked Tri-State for an exit fee in early 2017.
Tri-State had asked for $322 million, according to Virginia Harmon, chief operating officer for Delta-Montrose. This figure had not been divulged previously.
The two sides reached a settlement in July 2019 and in April 2020 revealed the terms: Guzman will pay Tri-State $72 million for the right to take over the contract, and Delta-Montrose itself will pay $26 million to Tri-State for transmission assets. In addition, Delta-Montrose forewent $48 million in capital credits.
Under its contract with Guzman, Delta-Montrose has the ability to generate or buy 20% of its own electricity separate from Guzman. In addition, the contract specifies that Guzman will help Delta-Montrose develop 10 megawatts of generation. While much of that can be expected to be photovoltaic, Harmon says all forms of local generation remain on the table: additional small hydro, geothermal, and coal-mine methane. One active coal mine in the co-operative’s service territory near Paonia continues operation.
The dispute began in 2005 when Tri-State asked member cooperatives to extend their contracts from 2040 to 2050 in order for Tri-State to build a coal plant in Kansas. Delta-Montrose refused.
Friction continued as Delta-Montrose set out to develop hydropower on the South Canal, an idea that had been on the table since 1909, when President William Howard Taft arrived to help dedicate the project. Delta-Montrose succeeded but then bumped up against the 5% cap on self-generation that was part of the contract.
This is the second cooperative to leave Tri-State in recent years, but two more are banging on the door to get out. First out was Kit Carson Electrical Cooperative of Taos, N.M. It left in 2016 after Guzman paid the $37 million exit fee. There is general agreement that the Kit Carson exit and that of Delta-Montrose cannot be compared directly, Gala to Gala, or even Honeycrisp to Granny Smith.
Yet direct comparisons were part of the nearly week-long session before a Colorado Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge in May. Two Colorado cooperatives have asked Tri-State what it will cost to break their contracts, which continue until 2050. Brighton-based United Power, with 93,000 customers, is the largest single member of Tri-State and Durango-based La Plata the third largest. Together, the two dissident cooperatives are responsible for 20% of Tri-States total sales.
The co-operatives say they expect a recommendation from the administrative law judge who heard the case at the PUC. The PUC commissioners will then take up the recommendation.
In April, Tri-State members approved a new methodology for determining member exit fees. But United Power said the methodology would make it financially impossible to leave and, if applied to all remaining members, would produce a windfall of several billion dollars for Tri-State. In a lawsuit filed in Adams County District Court, United claims Tri-State crossed the legal line to “imprison” it in a contract to 250.
Tri-State also applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a bid to have that body in Washington D.C. determine exit fees. FERC recently accepted the contract termination payment filing—rejecting arguments that it did not have jurisdiction. Jessica Matlock, general manager of La Plata Electric, said the way FERC accepted the filing does not preclude the case in Colorado from going forward.
Fitch, a credit-rating company, cited the ongoing dispute with two of Tri-State’s largest members among many other factors in downgrading the debate to A-. It previously was A. Fitch also downgraded Tri-State’s $500 million commercial paper program, of which $140 million is currently outstanding, to F1 from F1+.
“The rating downgrades reflect challenging transitions in Tri-State’s operating profile and the related impact on its financial profile,” Fitch said in its report on Friday. It described Tri-State as “stable.”
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased to 1650 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th. Releases are being adjusted to maintain flows near the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The June 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 59% of average for April-July inflows.
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 after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.
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 June through August.
Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
(Point of measurement is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park)
Gunnison River flows (Black Canyon/Gunnison Gorge)
Currently around 400 cfs, possibly increasing to 600-700 cfs during July-August
Projected Blue Mesa Reservoir maximum fill = 620,000 AF at 7495 ft elevation
Projected Blue Mesa Reservoir conditions on Dec 31 = 473,000 AF at 7475 ft elevation
Click here to read the current Aspinall Unit Forecast.
Visitors are asked to follow state and local guidelines, which means groups must be limited to 10 people or fewer.
The Gunnison Gorge has experienced similar activity from outfitters looking to raft and fish, said Eric Coulter, BLM public affairs specialist for Southwest Colorado…
According to a report released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2019, 3.3% of Colorado’s economy was attributed to outdoor recreation. Its estimated $11.3 billion in value added 146,178 jobs…
Joel Aslanian, owner of Gunnison River Guides, has plenty of Gunnison locals booking rafting trips. Though, at the moment, only those who fall under “essential travel” (having a second home locally means having reason for essential travel) are allowed to schedule float trips with a guide. This includes those who wish to fish on the river as well.
According to Gunnison County’s public health order, beginning Wednesday, May 27, all non-residents are permitted to travel to Gunnison County as long as state and local governments allow them to visit.
Since the guides are usually limited to three people or fewer per trip, Aslanian can guide under restrictions. He and others on the raft are required to wear a mask.
June and July are usually when Aslanian sees most of his business. As restrictions begin to gradually loosen through the state’s orders, he anticipates people will still want to recreate, even if it’s slower than previous years…
Ridgway State Park is open, said Joe Lewandowski, public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but to camp, a reservation must be made prior to arrival.
Showers, in-person service at the visitor center, and swimming at the swim beach are closed at this time. However, Lewandowski anticipates the swim beach will open in the next week or so.
Lewandowski noted he’s seeing normal activity and there hasn’t been a lag in those who wish to recreate at Ridgway Reservoir. CPW is asking people to continue to maintain safety measures for guests and staff.
The primary tool currently in use to measure snowpack in the Western United States is SNOTEL. We all rely on the SNOTEL website to see what’s happening during winter in the Rockies. But, you may be surprised to learn that the SNOTEL (SNOw TELemetry) has been missing the mark in its automated reading of snow depth in the Western US. How do we know that? Because, there is a new tool – actually an old one, repurposed – that could enhance greatly the accuracy of the 732 SNOTEL stations currently being used for the critical purpose of measuring snowpack in the mountains to help water managers forecast the potential runoff.
The solo SNOTEL system was as good as it got for 50 years when it came to measuring snow in the mountains. The system of sensors that measure snow depth and the amount of water contained in the snow was put into use back in the 1970s. It has not been updated since then, although some stations were added in the 1980s. SNOTEL measures two primary parameters, snow depth and density. Density tells us how much water is in the snow. It does this by sensing the weight of the snow on something called a snow pillow. The pillow is about eight feet square and as the snow builds up, it gets weighed. That number and the depth at the station are reported to the system as what we call the snowpack.
SNOTEL actually functions pretty well up to a point. The biggest drawback with it is the minuscule sampling of a vast area of snow production. The 732 stations are spread out through the mountain snow regions of all the Western states, including Alaska. That area is 1.76 million square miles, of which about a third is mountainous and has snow pack. That means there is a SNOTEL station for every 800 square miles of mountain terrain. Some of the stations are not as accurate as they need to be because of location. Some terrain, where extraordinary snow accumulation occurs, such as the bottom of an avalanche chute, never get measured because they are below the altitude level where SNOTEL stations are located. The avalanche-prone San Juans may have much more snow than we ever knew.
Given the increasingly critical nature of determining even short term snow inventories, people like John Lhotak, an operations hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, told a press meeting, “SNOTEL is the best network we have, but there are definitely shortcomings.”
Enter LIDAR. LIDAR is one of those pseudo-acronym things that the lab guys and bureaucrats love. This one stands for Light Detection and Ranging.
Quite simply, if you flew over the mountains without snow on them and determined the height (compared to sea level), and then flew over and scanned them when the snow is in place, you would simply deduct the original snow-less height from the snow packed image and “voila!!!” you get the snow depth of the whole mountain almost to within centimeters.
Sounds simple enough, but the data crunching is mind numbing. All the data points from the ground-only image must be overlaid with the image taken with snow on the ground. The measurement points are chosen and then comes all the subtraction and interpolation. The people like Jeffrey Deems at the National Snow and Ice Center and Sam Tyler at Utah State University (and their teams) have developed the computer tools to breakdown the gigabytes of data collected to simple usable terms.
The whole concept was first tested in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains eight years ago. The dry model of the mountains was made by flying at 20,000 feet in a straight back-and-forth pattern. After some storms passed the location, the team went back and flew the same pattern at the same altitude. The resulting 3D images were a precise measurement of the snow on the ground. Tyler’s team also did a test of the system near Logan, Utah, at about 8,000 feet…
The Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) folks tell us, “We see it as moving from a sparse-point base network (with SNOTEL) to a system that can map the entire snow pack in a river basin,” Jeffrey Deems said, “It is really an enabling technology.”
In 2013 the ASO tested the system on selected sections of the Front Range, Gunnison Basin, Rio Grande Basin, and Uncompahgre watershed. Deems said, regarding the SNOTEL numbers, “We were missing a lot of the picture. We need to fix that.”
What the tests revealed was that in the Rio Grande Basin, for example, the forecasts were way off, reporting as much as 50% less snow and water than what was actually on the ground. That makes accurate forecasts and water use management for that basin impossible…
But the bean counters aren’t so sure. First of all, flying several thousand miles back and forth over the Colorado peaks costs a lot of money. The tab for flying for the new imagery on a regular basis could cost $400,000 a year or more, according to Frank Kugel, director of the Southwest Water Conservation District. Is the return on investment really there?
Also, everyone in the water biz seems to agree that we will still need SNOTEL. It is currently the only tool for proofing the accuracy of the LIDAR images and vice versa. It is also the best tool for the density issue. For the time being, people like Deems think using SNOTEL in tandem with LIDAR is the right way to get the best measurements. Rather than replacing SNOTEL, Deems would opt for even more SNOTEL stations…
Deems said [February 6, 2020] that the cost of LIDAR seems justified when you consider the cost of a bad forecast. It is no secret that the low estimate on the Rio Grande in 2013 translated into millions of dollars of water misused after the forecast. Making the investment available for better measurements seems like a no brainer…
Meanwhile, the Colorado Water Conservation Board has already decided to invest $250K in 2021 for flights to measure the Gunnison Basin, of which the Uncompahgre River is a part.
Ouray County is hoping to develop new and existing water rights on a major tributary of the Uncompahgre River, so water can be stored in a proposed reservoir and transported through a ditch or pipeline for temporary storage in Ridgway Reservoir. The county partnered with the Ouray County Water Users Association, a group representing ranchers with water rights, and Tri-County Water Conservancy District, the operator of Ridgway Reservoir and Dam, to apply for new and augmented water rights Dec. 30, 2019.
The three partners are jointly seeking the right to divert surface water from Cow Creek up to 20 cubic feet per second and store 25,349.15 acre feet, which is equal to 8.26 billion gallons, in a yet-to-be-built reservoir. The water rights application also requested the right to exchange up to 30 cubic feet per second of water from Cow Creek for water from other locations within Tri-County’s water rights holdings around Ouray County.
The water rights application was made after the completion of a water supply study commissioned by the Ouray County Stream Management & Planning Steering Committee, a group including the three partners and other local stakeholders that was organized as an effort to understand local water supply conditions after the droughts of 2012 and 2018.
“Our challenge is that during dry years the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association with its members’ senior rights puts a call on water from the Uncompahgre River (UVWUA), which means a lot of our users in Ouray County don’t have the water they need. This water rights application is essentially an augmentation plan, to alleviate the results of a call from UVWUA. It would help us add some water supplies where we don’t have them by retiming flows and releases, moving water and storing it in years when we have lots of water, and using it in years without water,” said Marti Whitmore, attorney for the Ouray County Water Users Association, who was formerly the attorney for the county and has long been involved in water rights law.
The plan is to take water from Cow Creek without impacting the water that belongs to current water rights holders. Beyond that basic premise, much about the proposed projects is yet to be determined. The exact location of the pipeline or ditch, as well as the design and management of the reservoir, still need to be researched and negotiated with various stakeholders, including private and public property owners.
The main use for the water rights would be to supplement irrigation of 100,300 acres of mostly hay pastures, but the water rights application also lists other prior uses as domestic, municipal, industrial and flood control, and new uses as storage, flow stabilization, augmentation, exchange, aquifer recharge, reuse, commercial, piscatorial, streamflow enhancement, aquatic life, and hydropower generation and augmentation.
The water storage is a right owned by Tri-County, which was approved sometime in the 1950s as Ram’s Horn Reservoir, and decreed to be located in the vicinity of Ramshorn Gulch and Ramshorn Ridge northwest of Courthouse Mountain in the Cimarron Range. The Ridgway Reservoir was selected as the preferred alternative, and the smaller reservoir was never developed.
The proposed reservoir is on Uncompahgre National Forest land, but not within the wilderness area. Though on public land, the reservoir would not be publicly accessible for any uses such as recreation due to a stipulation made during a previous water rights case about the project. The pipeline or ditch would be located somewhere north of the reservoir, connecting flow from a point on Cow Creek to the Ridgway Reservoir to the west.
The cost and funding for the projects had not been determined yet, Whitmore said.
While no timeline has been set for the projects, the partners hope to have the water rights application successfully completed in 2020, after which other steps in the process from design to funding and federal permitting will begin, she added…
Ken Lipton has been a member of the Ouray County Stream Management and Planning Steering Committee, as well as a local rancher and former board member of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, a nonprofit with a purpose of protecting the watershed in the county.
“The projects are necessary to prevent total loss of irrigation and stock water during extreme drought,” he said. “The bottom line is a reduced chance that there will be calls on our ditches during extreme droughts. However, I don’t think this will totally guarantee that no calls will occur.”
From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership
The Uncompahgre River Watershed in Ouray County is a first-of-its-kind publication that provides answers about water quality, supply and other features of the Uncompahgre River, its tributaries and the water sources in Ouray County. Just published by the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission of protecting and improving watershed resources, the booklet is available for free online (http://www.uncompahgrewatershed.org/links/) and soon at public facilities and businesses around Ridgway and Ouray.
To determine the most valuable content to include in the compact booklet, UWP gathered input from around the county through various stakeholder outreach activities for many months in 2019. In February, UWP representatives will be presenting the watershed booklet at meetings of the Ouray City Council, Ouray County Board of Commissioners and Ridgway Town Council, and delivering copies to businesses, schools, libraries and other locations with an interest in sharing the useful information with their patrons.
“I know it was a lengthy production process and carefully written project after many months of research. Both my husband and I read it and found the information useful and interesting,” said Sue Hillhouse, a committee member for the Ouray County Community Fund, which provided the primary funding for the booklet. “We are proud to have been a part in making this possible. We look forward to its distribution and use.”
UWP used information garnered from its first six years of work on researching, monitoring, analyzing, and reporting on watershed conditions to produce the guide. The nonprofit produced a watershed plan in 2013, with 143 pages of geography, history, geology, data, maps, and other detailed information. Since then, UWP volunteers have taken water samples around the watershed for various projects, including the Colorado River Watch, a citizen scientist program collecting monthly samples at several sites coordinated through Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
UWP also pulled information from its various public meetings and collaborative projects, such as three mine remediation projects completed in 2017. The partnership is preparing to participate in two additional mine remediation projects in 2020 and 2021, the Governor Basin Restoration Project and a restoration project at the historic Atlas Mill that adds to work done previously. Both projects are identified on the centerfold map in the new watershed booklet.
“I’m thrilled with what our little nonprofit and our partners have accomplished. I’m most excited about the progress made towards cleaning up Governor Basin. In 2017, all we knew was that Governor Basin had very poor water quality and large mine waste piles. To make the project a reality, we’ve dug through heaps of information to better understand everything from land ownership to sediment chemistry, and together with our partners, secured more than $220,000 in commitments to restore that sensitive, high alpine area,” said UWP Technical Coordinator Ashley Bembenek in her message in the nonprofit’s annual report (available at http://www.uncompahgrewatershed.org/2019-annual-report/).
To help the public better understand the legacy of abandoned mines in the San Juan Mountains and their impact on the watershed, UWP is organizing its annual Winter Tour of the Red Mountain Mining District, a snowshoe or Nordic ski trip to historic sites including the Yankee Girl Mine. The tour will be guided by Ouray County Historical Society Curator and author Don Paulson. The popular tour is already fully reserved with a waiting list started. However, a second snowshoe and skiing tour has been scheduled for March 7 that still has openings. On that date, wildlife biologist Steve Boyle will guide a group from Ironton Park on Red Mountain Pass to discover animal tracks and winter wildlife.
If the passion of ice climbing lies in the ascent, then Ouray has succeeded in fostering the rise of this winter sport. Climbers and spectators from around the world will celebrate the 25th Ouray Ice Festival, Jan. 23-26.
What started out as a few rowdy locals climbing frozen leaks from an old water pipeline has turned into a world-class ice climbing destination…
About a quarter-mile south of downtown, the Ouray Ice Park spans the Uncompahgre Gorge. Combined with the Uncompahgre River below, the box canyon forms a dramatic backdrop that is spectacular and functional for adventurers picking their way up fangs of ice using axes and wearing boots fitted with spikes on the toes.
OURAY — At the bottom of a cold crevasse in the Uncompahgre Gorge, where sunlight reaches but only a few minutes a day, the climb to the surface begins.
The darkness is broken with the clicking echoes of steel penetrating ice. Slowly a small figure emerges on the icy wall, tethered by a rope.
If the passion of ice climbing lies in the ascent, then Ouray has succeeded in fostering the rise of this winter sport. Climbers and spectators from around the world will celebrate the 25th Ouray Ice Festival, Jan. 23-26.
What started out as a few rowdy locals climbing frozen leaks from an old water pipeline has turned into a world-class ice climbing destination.
During the ice festival, all of the hotel rooms in Ouray are booked, restaurants are packed, and a slew of foreign languages can be heard around town. Ouray’s population of just over 1,000 residents triples in size.
About a quarter-mile south of downtown, the Ouray Ice Park spans the Uncompahgre Gorge. Combined with the Uncompahgre River below, the box canyon forms a dramatic backdrop that is spectacular and functional for adventurers picking their way up fangs of ice using axes and wearing boots fitted with spikes on the toes.
Climbers work their way up and down columns of ice in Box Canyon on a northern section of the Ouray Ice Park Jan. 5, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
The park uses about 7,500 feet of irrigation pipe to drip and spray more than 200,000 gallons of spring water from nozzles, usually starting just after Thanksgiving. The effect is a blue, man-made icescape.
Temperature is everything, as the freezing process begins in late fall. Ice farmers try to get the park open after Thanksgiving, yet unpredictable temperatures can keep climbers off the ice for days and even weeks…
Located at 7,792 feet, Ouray historically is a mining town. The Uncompahgre River that runs through it can have unique colorations due to heavy mineral influences from the San Juan Mountains. The minerals, combined with sediment from the constantly eroding landscapes, is not a conducive mix for successful ice climbing.
In those early years of the festival, the ice, heavy with minerals and sediment, would not freeze well. The ice would become soft, melt quickly and break easily, creating “gross looking climbs,” Chehayl said. Worse, it could be dangerous for climbers.
The early ice farming system rough, Whitt remembers.
The park had to move from the old water supply to a reservoir that supplies the City of Ouray’s potable water. Now, water from the city’s reservoir, through the farming system, makes hardened blue ice on a massive scale.
“Compared to the orange water, the water now is eons better. Now we have that perfect blue ice,” Whitt said.
The City of Ouray is partnered with the ice park, whose board of directors and Jacobson lease part of the property to the city for $1 per year. In 2012, 24 acres of the park was transferred to the City of Ouray from the U.S. Forest Service, which led to more improvements and a sense of permanency…
Chehayl said accessibility makes the Ouray Ice Park a success. Located just off U.S. 550, the park is walking distance from a parking lot. Multiple viewing platforms have been built and the water-delivery infrastructure has improved. This has helped grow the popularity of the ice park.
Chehayl expects the annual elite climbing competition, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, to be one of the best ever, thanks to the 25-year milestone. Whitt is one of the judges.
Here’s a report from Michael Cox that’s running in The Montrose Press:
Prior to the Great World War (great only signifying size and intensity), one of the most productive pieces of land on the Western Slope of Colorado was regularly converted to a destructive river of Spring snow or Summer storm runoff from the Uncompahgre Plateau.
The Shavano (shav-a-no) Valley was named for a Ute Chief, and was either visited or inhabited by native peoples as early as 3,000 years ago. The Ute’s came about a thousand years ago. It was fine winter ground and in spring and summer the grass was lush, affording excellent feed for the tribe’s livestock.
American settlers came in the late 1800s and found the Valley to have the most fertile and easy-to-till soil in the area. There was also a bit of water from an artisian spring that feed a meandering creek. There is an excellent explanation for how the soil developed in the valley. In all probability, it was those regular floods that swept from the plateau and covered much of the Valley, at various times of the year, in water. Along with the water, the floods were depositing a new layer of silt to the already deep soil.
But enough is enough already. By the late 1930s and early 1940s the farmers in the Valley grew weary of rebuilding and reclaiming after the floods. The damage to their infrastructure was immense and included dead livestock, ruined roads, and lost homes. The locals tried some small diversions, dykes, and flood ways, which had only minimal effect. The task was tantamount to parting the sea, but Moses and his stick were nowhere nearby. Enter the Shavano Conservation District, a cooperative of farms and ranches joining together and forming the district with the idea of petitioning the Bureau of Reclamation to help put up some defenses against the floods.
“The farmers had figured out that they needed some serious diversion dams along the west side of the Valley,” says Mendy Stewart the Shavano District chief of education and communication. “But they had neither the tools nor the money to build them.”
In May of 1937, the Shavano Soil Conservation District (SSCD) was organized under the Colorado Soil Conservation District Act. By October of 1941, the intensifying world war not withstanding, the district plan got the nod from 111 landowners, representing 20,200 acres in Montrose County.
Eventually, two other smaller districts, the Uncompahgre and the Cimarron, joined the Shavano group – soil conservation became a way of life. Now the district covers 1.2 million acres in Montrose, Ouray, Gunnison and Delta counties. The Delta County segment is a tiny bit of acreage on the Montrose/Delta County line. In 2002 the District dropped the use of the word “soil” from the name as did other such entities across the country…
Eventually, with grants from the Bureau of Reclamation and using the equipment and manpower pool of the district, three diversion dams were built to stop the wild flow off the plateau and divert it into ditches. This kept the flood waters off the farm land and out of the homes and barns in the Valley.
The largest of the three dams is at the south head of the Valley and involves an earthen structure measuring more than a half mile from one end to the other. The spillway and some of the dam are concrete reinforced. The runoff from the Plateau collects behind the dam. The flow out of the pool is controlled and put into ditches, such as the M&D canal below the dam…
According to Stewart the list of things the SCD is involved in includes irrigation water management, flood control, technical assistance with conservation efforts, youth and adult environmental education, and special projects such as the Western Colorado Soil Health Conference. The 2020 conference is scheduled for February 20 and 21 at the Delta Center for the Performing Arts.
City Council voted unanimously Tuesday for $87,000 to Farnsworth Group for out-of-scope design services associated with the Sunset Mesa Tank Replacement project.
The below-ground water storage tank on Sunset Mesa has been around the 1960s. The storage was nearing the end of its usage as structural damage has caused the need for a new tank, located next to the Sunset Mesa Sports Complex baseball fields…
Throughout this design effort, numerous out-of-scope items were required for the completion of the project.
In the city council packet, the Farnsworth Group provided detailed information into what changes needed to occur for the water tank project.
The company listed more evaluations and extras services for increased interconnectivity, operational flexibility, operator access and safety needed to be included.
The structure also needed easier access in locating interconnecting piping in the lower level of pump station as that will provide more convenient expansion in the future and safer access for operations staff.
The design will also help staff as it’ll provide a mounted valve actuator system and housing which will be safer and more convenient access. This will require increases in building size and electrical and instrumentation system designs.
It will also complete several design iterations to efficiently connect inlets, outlets and drains of the proposed and future standpipes; as well as additional pumps and drains.
The Farnsworth Group also suggested the project should have designs for potential future additions of disinfection residual control system and forced air ventilation system for THM removal.
The company said the water tank should have added flow metering for both inflow and outflow pipes. Control descriptions should be prepared for the operation of the pumps and the standpipe inflow valve and valving operations, Farnsworth Group wrote.
Finally, the Farnsworth Group determined a splitting project into two separate bid packages while adding contractor coordinator requirements. The intent is to stay away from the general contractor price markup on the tank portion of the project.
The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Wright Water Engineers out of Durango $50,000 to design a data collection system.
The city is required to collect continuous temperature data on the Uncompahgre River upstream from the treatment plant found north of town, said City of Montrose utilities manager David Bries. This is needed as part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit — which was provided by the EPA — that the city recently received, he added.
Bries said that as part of a review, staffers discovered a lack of good, low-measurement near or at the river, as well as the treatment plant discharge location…
With this design in place, it’ll be the first time the city will collect data of the river flow and temperature of the discharge of the treatment plant, Bries said.
He also said this process will “capture that data” so decisions can be made for the river.
“We felt it was very valuable and imperative to have both flow relationships and temperature relationships,” Bries said. “We can make sure we are doing what is environmentally the right thing to do.”
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 100 cfs, today, September 9th. Reservoir contents at Morrow Pt and Crystal have sufficiently recovered to allow for higher releases. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 500 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Click here to read the newsletter from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. Here’s an excerpt:
August in the Basin: High and Dry!
Bountiful snowmelt and increased soil moisture conditions, resulted in “boomer” inflows, boosting basin reservoirs levels and causing an amazing recovery from last year’s low levels – this included Blue Mesa, Colorado’s largest reservoir – with over 160 percent of average inflow volume. Although most of the snow has melted, the Upper Basin rivers are still flowing at higher than average rates, even in the face of drying conditions (July and August precipitation has been generally below average).
Also, very importantly Lake Powell – the Upper Basin’s largest water storage and management facility received an inflow volume of 145% of average.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Joe Lewandnowski):
Anglers who participated in the 2019 smallmouth bass tournament at Ridgway State Park, again, helped Colorado Parks and Wildlife on its mission to preserve native fish species.
For the fifth year in a row, licensed anglers caught hundreds of smallmouth bass that are a threat to Colorado’s native fish that live downstream in the Gunnison and Colorado rivers. A total of 79 registered anglers removed 1,498 smallmouth bass in the month-long tournament that ended July 27. Smallmouth bass are non-native and were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir about 10 years ago. They are predators and could wipe out populations of native fish downstream.
“In the five years of the tournament we have reduced the population of smallmouth bass in the reservoir by 79 percent,” said Eric Gardunio, aquatic biologist for CPW in Montrose and the organizer of the tournament. “It is truly amazing what these anglers can do. They are participating directly in wildlife management in Colorado.”
Before the first tournament in 2015, Gardunio estimated there were 3,632 adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir. Adult fish measure six inches in length or more. Now it is estimated that only 763 adult fish live in the reservoir.
“We are making substantial headway in suppressing the population of smallmouth that were introduced illegally to Ridgway Reservoir,” Gardunio said.
The Ridgway tournament targets smallmouth bass because they could escape from the reservoir and migrate downstream to a section of the Gunnison River that is considered “critical habitat” for native fish.
“The work by CPW staff along with the help of anglers shows that through targeted management techniques we can enhance survival of rare aquatic species,” said John Alves, senior aquatic biologist for the Southwest Region for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
With assistance from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW was able to offer $12,000 in prize money to tournament participants.
Chase Nicholson of Ouray was the big winner this year, catching 571 smallmouth and the top prize of $5,000 for most fish caught. He also won $500 for smallest fish caught – 3.3 inches. Nicholson tied with Tyler Deuschle of Delta for biggest fish caught, 17.2 inches they split the $500 prize. Second place for most fish caught went to Lawrence Cieslewicz of Montrose, who caught 283. He also won the grand-prize raffle for an additional $2,500. Chris Cady from Delta turned in 128 fish and placed third for most fish caught.
Here’s a guest column from the Michael Cox via The Montrose Press:
All hell needs is water.
That iconic declaration could have been uttered by any number of famous writers, government officials and even men and women of the cloth. In fact, it was the observation of an undertaker from Prescott, Arizona. Budge Ruffner was forced to become a mortician when his father won the funeral home in a card game on Whiskey Row. Budge was a better philosopher/writer than he was an embalmer. He was a student of the history of this corner of the nation. And so, one of his books, published by the University of Arizona, carried this astute observation as the title.
For much of the great Southwest, from El Centro to Amarillo, and from Idaho to the Mexico border, one of the only things that ever really stood in the way of progress or economic stability was the availability of a dependable water supply. Sunny and dry with, in many cases, fertile soil, the desert only needed moisture, as is testified to whenever it rains in the desert and a profusion of flowers burst forth.
The Uncompahgre River Valley is technically high desert, even though a river runs through it. Early, it seemed like a nice place to live and the river valley soil proved rich. But the water came and went — it went more often than it came. Farming was a gamble at best. Often the summer months would see the river reduced to a trickle.
The solution came when one of those early farmers, Frank Lauzon, put forth the idea of a tunnel bringing water from the much bigger, and more consistent, Gunnison River to the Montrose valley. The longest irrigation tunnel in the world turned Montrose into a fertile place to grow everything from beans to a sweet corn variety that is now in demand worldwide.
But that is not the happy ending to the story. The prince is still a frog. And frogs need more water. What happens with water in Montrose and on the Western Slope of Colorado eventually affects places like Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha. Yes Omaha. That’s where the South Platte River, born in Colorado, joins the Missouri River. Omaha depends on the South Platte and the Missouri. Over here on the Western Slope we are the watershed that produces one of the most embattled, highly regulated and now overused rivers in the U.S., The Rio Colorado and its tributaries.
The Colorado River itself is born in the Rockies and flows in multiple iterations to the Gulf of California. It has not been a wild river for a very long time. It is damned at Glen Canyon, Boulder Canyon, Parker, Davis Camp, Imperial and Morales. On the way, 1 million acre feet (AF) go to Las Vegas, 1.5 million to the Central Arizona Project, half-a-million to California’s Coachella Valley, 4.4 million to the Imperial Valley, plus more to other municipalities, a dozen Indian tribes and other entities. At Morales Dam on the Mexican border it gives the last of itself, a guaranteed 1.5 million acre feet to the Mexican farm lands and Mexicali, Baja, California. The river itself never reaches the ocean anymore.
Colorado is the Southwest’s water cooler.
Here is the bottom line, when it comes to water in the Southwestern U.S.: We have it, they want it. It has always been that way. Colorado has always been the water cooler for the rest of the southwest. Without it, lettuce doesn’t grow in the Imperial Valley. Palm Springs doesn’t water golf courses. Phoenix or Tucson don’t keep growing. Believe it or not, they all care how much water Montrose and Delta farms take out of the rivers. Which isn’t all that much.
Agriculture on the Western Slope uses about 1.4 million acre-feet per year. The cities and towns use about 77,000 acre feet per year. There are about 80,000 acres under cultivation, primarily in Delta and Montrose counties. Those farms and ranches are a major part of the economy here. But, there are folks in Phoenix (and Denver) who would sooner those farms went fallow. That’s what causes concern for people like Steve Anderson, the General Manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).
How much water is kept and used in the Uncompahgre River Valley depends on a staggering number of factors, the most important of which are the water rights connected to the land.
“We are somewhat insulated in that the water rights are connected to the land,” Anderson explained. “Those senior rights are federal, connected to the agreements made when the Bureau of Reclamation facilitated the Gunnison tunnel. The rights will always been connected to the land.”
That is important because under that arrangement, a landowner cannot simply sell his water rights to, say, a downstream entity.
The UVWUA, which has 3,500 shareholders (landowners), gets a constant 1,000 cubic-feet per second (CFS) flow from the tunnel, 24/7, April through October. To be sure, there are folks both on the Front Range and downstream who think that is more water than is really needed in the Montrose and Delta Valleys.
“There will always be pressure on areas like the Western Slope to cede water to the populated areas,” says Anderson. “When push comes to shove, the votes are there to change the rules.”
It is no secret that, while there is a big mountain between Denver and Montrose, there are those who would see water moved over the mountains to satisfy the needs of the growing Denver/Colorado Springs corridor. That is in fact already being done. There was a series of clandestine, closed door meetings involving those who control those diversions in which they deeply explored the idea of mandatory, non compensated curtailing of certain Western Slope water rights, to the point of creating a scenario that would bankrupt Montrose farmers and communities. Those secret meetings were outed by the Colorado River District, a public policy agency chartered to provide planning and policy guidance regarding the Colorado River Basin. State Rep. Marc Catlin is a member of the river district board. He is also a former manager of the UVWUA and a farmer. “My life’s equity is water. It is a big deal to me,” he has been quoted as saying.
There has always been the pervasive attitude among the urban entities who use the Colorado River, that cities are more important than agriculture, recreation and environment. It is interesting to note that water lifted over the mountains to the Eastern Slope may not necessarily wind up coming from taps in Denver. It could end up going into the South Platte system to satisfy guarantees to the downstream users in Nebraska.
But why is everybody worried about water and river flows, we just ended a drought? The Colorado snowpack reached a record level…The upstream reservoirs, like Blue Mesa, are at 90-plus percent capacity. Lake Powell, the master pool for all downstream withdrawals, is up almost 20 feet from last year (although it is still down almost 80 feet from a full pool).
The rest of the Lake Powell numbers give us a clue. The releases from the dam, with two months to go in the water year (October to September), are already at 100 percent of minimum withdrawal. According to the Colorado River District figures, the compacts that govern downstream releases call for a 7.5 million acre feet minimum draw down of Powell. The fact is, the lake has had a rolling average release of more than 9 million acre feet per year over the past ten years, several of which had well below average input from upstream. The sum is that only 4.5 million acre feet per year went into the lake over the past ten years and 9.1 million was released. The current wet year not withstanding, the river is very much overused, now and for the foreseeable future.
Coloradans cannot be complacent.
Insulated by senior rights, or not, the Uncompahgre Valley has vultures circling and they are thirsty. Big money and many times more votes make laws and rules change. According to Catlin, Anderson and anyone else involved, like agriculture water users and growing small cities like Montrose, have to be part of the fight to make sure the local economies remain viable with enough water for all uses.
Catlin campaigned on water as his main issue last year.
“It’s the biggest issue on the Western Slope,” he said. “We are in a drought, the Colorado River’s in a drought, and the Front Range and Southern California are wanting us to stop farming our land so that they’ll have water. I’m really not in favor of that because it seems to me that we are asking one segment of our society to change how they live so that other people can continue in the same way they always have.”
Catlin’s remarks last winter came ahead of the current improved condition. Even, so the issue remains.
The Colorado Farm Bureau ranks water as its top issue. Montrose County Farm Bureau director Hugh Sanburg said last month that dealing with losing more and more water downstream is a major issue for the bureau. Sanburg is a cattle rancher in the Eckert area at the foot of the Grand Mesa.
But, put agriculture aside, there is another facet that Catlin and Anderson both talk about.
“We are not talking about just water rights for farmers, we also are talking about recreation based on water,” Anderson said. “We keep shipping all the water to the cities and when those folks come out here to fish and paddle their kayaks, there won’t be any water.”
Is there an answer?
To quote MacBeth, “maybe, maybe not.” The problem is not unique to the Uncompahgre River Valley and the tributaries of the Colorado River. Water has always been an issue, everywhere. Range wars have been fought over it. Millions of hours and dollars have gone in long court cases. Predictions have been horribly wrong.
Anderson says a new water plan for Colorado is needed.
“It is going to cost a lot of money, as much as 100 million dollars,” he said.
What do we get for $100 million?
“We get storage, infrastructure, education and management,” Anderson declared.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, on which Anderson serves, has taken on the task. The draft of Colorado’s Water Plan is now public. The primary thrust of the plan is conservation. The funding for the project comes from a wide assortment of organizations from the Colorado Water Trust to the Gates Family Foundation. In all, there are 21 entities that have signed on for the project. In some cases there is reason to believe that some of those 21 have competing goals for water use.
Next week: The Water Plan and what it means for the Western Slope.
Michael A Cox is a Montrose-based content developer and author. He may be reached at email@example.com
River Bottom Park Uncompahgre River. Photo credit: PhilipScheetzPhoto via the City of Montrose
A view on June 2, 2014, from “Windy Point”, on Slumgullion Pass, looking west across the Lake Fork drainage at Uncompahgre Peak (14,309’) in the distance. Snowcover was confined to terrain at or above treeline on these east and south aspects. Photo via the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Miles Harvey of Salida takes a spill off his standup paddle board into the Uncompahgre River during FUNC fest on Saturday
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Sheep Herders on the Uncompahgre Plateau back in the day
Uncompahgre River watershed
Grand opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in Colorado 1909. Photo credit USBR.
Official opening of the Gunnison Tunnel by President Taft at the west portal
Releases from the Aspinall Unit were increased by 500 cfs beginning on Friday, July 26th and are scheduled to continue at that rate into the near future in order to prevent Blue Mesa Reservoir from overfilling. At the current inflow and release rate it is projected that Blue Mesa Reservoir would begin spilling, as the reservoir is now full. The current forecast for the April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 1,075,000 AF of inflow, which is 159% of average. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for July and August.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 2550 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Here’s the release from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):
Sweetwater revival: High water and Sugar & the Mint return to 2019 Ridgway RiverFest
Festival goers and river racers are in for a sweet time this Saturday at the 12th annual Ridgway RiverFest due to high river flows and the return of 2018 crowd-pleasing band, Sugar & the Mint. Plus, Ute cultural presenter Regina Lopez-White Skunk, the River Rat Marketplace (silent auction) with great deals, snow cones by Voyager Youth Program, beer from Colorado Boy Brewery, margaritas from The Liquor Store, and all the food and fun of past festivals will be back at Rollans Park in Ridgway.
One of the RiverFest’s highlights is the Junk of the Unc homemade watercraft race, at about 1:30 p.m. when competitors build and ride their crafts down a short stretch of Class I river with style, ingenuity and speed. Competitors will be eligible to win as long as they start and end the race on their crafts, and awards are given to fastest, most original design, best use of recycled materials, and best in youth.
The River Races from the park to the Ridgway Reservoir will be particularly exciting this year with the increased runoff from the record-breaking snowpack this year. River runners are encouraged to come compete in the hard shell, inflatable and stand-up paddleboard categories. The top team that finishes the fastest in each category will be awarded one of the coveted RiverFest trophies, with a new design this year created by Ridgway artist Joann Taplin.
“The high river flows mean less rocks to navigate around but more large rapids over the top of rocks. We won’t be allowing inner tube entries this year due to the high, swift water and the still very cold temperatures,” said RiverFest Coordinator Tanya Ishikawa. “We welcome kayaks and rafts. Canoes and SUPs are also allowed this year, but we recommend only advanced riders on those due to conditions. Wet or dry suits are also a good idea this year. You can see race rules at ridgwayriverfest.org.”
Another planned river activity is the Safety Rope Bag toss contest where a “willing victim” hangs out in the middle of the Uncompahgre as contestants attempt to toss a safety rope bag to them, practicing an important river rescue skill. This event as well as the Rubber Ducky Race may be cancelled if conditions are deemed too difficult to keep the “victim” safely in the water or to capture all ducks at the end of the race.
“The Ouray Mountain Rescue Team will be on boats in the water and on the banks, ready to assist as necessary, but we want everyone to practice safe river etiquette, so we continue our accident-free festival record,” Ishikawa added. “Parents need to watch their children at the river’s edges. Anyone getting in the river must have a PFD (personal flotation device aka life jacket) and helmets are recommended (as well as being required of racers).”
Besides the river activities, the live band performance from 3 to 6 p.m. is always a highlight of the RiverFest. The 2019 headlining band, Sugar & the Mint from Prescott, Arizona, is being brought back by popular demand. The five-piece band’s music is informed by everything from bluegrass to baroque to current pop and country. It was the first-place winner of the Band Contest at the 2017 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and were invited back to perform at the 2018 Bluegrass Festival. Since then, they have been traveling nationally and recorded a second album.
Ute Mountain Ute Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and her father Normal Lopez will provide a cultural presentation from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. Lopez-Whiteskunk advocated for land, air, water and animals from an early age, and has traveled extensively throughout the nation presenting and sharing the Ute culture through song, dance and presentations. Lopez, her father who will play flute, has been a student of life and carries great respect for the land, environment and Ute way of life. He learned to make flutes by his grandfather and uncles from the hearts of the cedar trees, has played the traditional style, from his heart. The birds and wind inspire his unique sounds.
Festival sponsors include Double RL Ranch at Class V and five Class IV sponsors: Alpine Bank, BEP EarthWise Foundation, Ridgway Mountain Market, Town of Ridgway, RIGS Adventure Co., and San Miguel Power Association. The radio sponsor is MBC Grand Broadcasting: 92.3 The Moose, Magic 93.1, KNZZ, 96.1 K-star, The Vault 100.7, 95.7 The Monkey, The Team Sports Radio 101FM-1340AM, and 103.9 The Planet
Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The drought resiliency grants will help communities in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that 18 projects will receive a total of $9 million to prepare for drought. These projects will provide more flexibility and reliability for communities while reducing the need for emergency actions during a drought. The funding provided is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART Program.
“While the water supply in the western United States improved this year, it’s important for communities to remain proactive in building long-term resiliency to drought,” Commissioner Burman said. “These projects help communities protect themselves from the next drought by increasing water supply reliability and improving operational flexibility.” There were 18 drought resiliency projects selected in California, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas to receive funding. They will be leveraged with local cost-share to fund $166.2 million in projects.
The A&B Irrigation District in Idaho will receive $250,000 to implement, in coordination with the Twin Falls Canal Company, the Mid-Snake Recharge Injection Wells Project near the cities of Paul and Murtaugh, Idaho. They will construct six deep injection wells to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The project will protect against drought for groundwater and surface water users and enhance the storage availability in Reclamation’s Minidoka and Palisades projects.
The Pueblo of Zia located in Sandoval County, New Mexico, will receive $750,000 to modernize the Zia Flume over the Jemez River and install associated buried PVC pipe. The Zia Flume brings irrigation water from Zia Lake to the Pueblo’s agricultural lands. It is critical infrastructure for the Pueblo and has experienced damage in the past that was exacerbated by an extreme flood event in 2016. This project is also supported by the Pueblo’s Drought Contingency Plan.
The Santa Margarita Water District in Orange County, California, will receive $749,999 to install pipe in residential streets and easements, upgrade an existing pump station, repurpose an existing force main, and upgrade 35 existing water meters. This project will allow recycled water to be used instead of potable water for irrigation. It is supported in the district’s 2015 Urban Water Management Plan and an adaptation strategy identified in Reclamation’s Santa Ana Watershed Basin Study.
The other projects selected are:
Cachuma Operation and Maintenance Board, Santa Barbara ($750,000)
City of Fullerton, Orange County ($300,000)
Long Beach Water Department, Los Angeles County ($750,000)
Pala Band of Mission Indians, San Diego County ($298,380)
Rancho California Water District, Riverside County ($750,000)
San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, San Bernardino ($750,000)
Stanislaus Regional Water Authority, Ceres and Turlock ($750,000)
Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Ouray County ($106,000)
[ed. emphasis mine]
Snake River Valley Irrigation District, Basalt ($299,910)
Reclamation’s drought resiliency projects are a component of the WaterSMART Program.
Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with States, Tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply reliability through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart for additional information about WaterSMART.
Since it’s opening there has been an increase in usage, Malloy said, who has been a kayaker for over 20 years. There has also been an increase in the popularity of stand up paddle boarding and river surfing.
“Our park, in the way the waves are, is very conducive to stand up paddle boarding and surfing with a standup paddleboard,” City Parks and Special Projects Superintendent John Malloy said. “You almost see more stand up paddleboarders down there than kayakers utilizing the wave features.”
The parks department has facilitated minor tweaks to the park which mainly includes maintenance to remove sediment out of pools, remove logs, etc. Each year the city tweaks to improve the wave features and for safety, Malloy said.
Riverbottom and Cerise parks, on a sunny day, will get hundreds of visitors, Malloy said.
The process to get the park running took at least five years, and there were several groups that collaborated to make this a reality. The City of Montrose, Montrose City Council, Montrose Recreation District, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Friends of the River Uncompahgre were all involved, Malloy said.
To bring about the Montrose Water Sports Park, the City of Montrose partnered with the Montrose Recreation District, and was awarded a $259,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). The city and MRD also pitched in other funds to cover the cost. The entire cost of the project was $1.1 million, Malloy said.
The Montrose Water Sports Park is 1,100 feet long, 4,500 tons of rock were used in the construction, and 6,000 cubic yards of material were removed from the river. Under each of the six drops created there is a concrete structure underneath, each one weighing 200,000 pounds.
Rocks were strategically placed to divert the water over the drops. There was also rock brought in for the construction of the terraced spectating area. The water sports park is accessible by ADA standards, and there are two put in and pull out spots at the park…
The diversion from the Gunnison Tunnel in the Uncompahgre lasts from March through November. When other rivers don’t have good flows or are dried up, there is still a consistent flow at the park, Malloy said.
The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 970,000 acre-feet. This is 144% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin peaked at 143% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 384,000 acre-feet which is 46% of full. Current elevation is 7462 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.
Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:
Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow target is equal to 7,158 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.
The shoulder flow target is 966 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.
Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
The year type is currently classified as Moderately Wet.
The peak flow target will be 14,350 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.
The half bankfull target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 20 days.
(The criteria have been met for the drought rule that allows half-bankfull flows to be reduced from 40 days to 20 days.)
Projected Spring Operations
During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be over 8,000 cfs for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7515.5 feet with an approximate peak content of 795,000 acre-feet.
This story by Jonathan P. Thompson ran in the Silverton Mountain Journal in winter of 2002. Given the historic avalanche cycle, and the lengthy closure of Red Mountain Pass, it seemed like an opportune time to re-up it. Spoiler: Silverton has been shut off from the world by avalanches many times in the past. In 1932, the roads and railroad were shut down from February until the end of April. Yikes!
Eddie Imel died 10 years ago this March (editor’s note: in March 1992). Imel was a plow driver for the Colorado Department of Transportation on the Ouray side of Red Mountain Pass. Like all the plow drivers between Ouray and Cascade, Imel was part of the infantry; he was a foot soldier in the war to keep Highway 550 into Silverton open and keep the town it feeds alive. Imel was the third soldier to die in that war in 22 years and, like the other two, he was slain by the deadliest enemy of this unending conflict: the East Riverside Slide.
The winter of 1991-1992 was not an especially heavy one in these parts. In fact, after a good start–43″ of snow fell in Silverton in November–the snowfall petered out. December (15″), January (10″), and February (15″) were all unusually dry months for snow in the San Juans. Long periods of sunny days and cold, clear nights between storms served to rot out the early, scant snowpack. In other words, conditions were ripe for a serious avalanche season upon the arrival of the big, spring storms.
And arrive they did: Over 30 inches of snow fell in the San Juan Mountains and the slides were running all over the place. Highway 550 was finally closed, but by the time the gates were shut, it was too late. The CDOT truck that swept the road to make sure all motorists were out of danger dodged big slides before being blocked by a portion of the East Riverside Slide that had hit the road just north of the snowshed. Edie Imel and Danny Jaramillo were piloting a CDOT plow, attempting to clear the road so that the sweep truck and other motorists inside the snowshed could get to safety. The plow came to a stop, the two soldiers got out to adjust the chains, and, as the East Riverside is apt to do, it ran again, burying the plow and the drivers.
Everyone in the snowshed, CDOT officials, and local law enforcement reasonably assumed both victims of the slide were dead. A body recovery effort would have been too risky, so it was delayed. The motorists in the shed were escorted back to safety, the mourning began, and, 18 hours after the slide ran, a call came in from the emergency telephone in the snowshed. Danny Jaramillo had tunneled his way out of the cement-like snow. Imel’s body was recovered not long after.
The system, or rather the lack of a real system, for determining avalanche hazard and deciding when to close the road had failed one too many times. Things had to change.
Silverton’s connection with the outside world has always been vulnerable to snowslides. Before there were plow drivers risking their lives to keep the arteries and veins of San Juan civilization from being blocked, there were mail carriers. Before the railroad arrived in 1882, Silverton’s winter link to the lowlands usually consisted of no more than one man on a set of “snowshoes,” or long, wide, heavy wooden skis. Men with names like Greenhalgh, Aspaas, Bales, Mears, and Nelson skied regularly over Cunningham Pass (south of Stony Pass) with huge, 50- to 60-pound sacks on their backs or dragging sleds full of mail and supplies. It was not a job for the faint at heart — avalanche danger was ignored, at least one froze to death, and others, somehow, survived both snow and cold — but it was a necessary one. Without their efforts, Silverton would have had to shut down come winter.
In 1882, the railroad finally reached the heart of the San Juans, but by no means did this signal an end to avalanche troubles. The snowshoe-riding mail carriers of old, as long as they avoided being hit by slides, could simply ski over the top of the slide debris, but the train could not. From Needleton to Silverton, the tracks pass through the depository for dozens of slides, some of significant size. Dramatic photos of the Saguache slide (probably also known as the Snowshed slide north of Elk Park) show a trench dug for the train through a 60 foot pile of snow and debris. Nearly every winter saw at least one avalanche-caused blockade during which the train could not reach Silverton. Sometimes they only lasted a few hours while tens or even hundreds of men cleared the tracks. But there were times when Silverton was cut off from the world for days, weeks, and, in one case, three months. In 1884, Silverton was without a train for 73 days. Food ran short and milk cows were killed for beef.
The winter of 1906 will long be remembered as the most tragic, avalanche-wise, in the San Juans. Big January storms pounded the region following a relatively dry November and December, and the slides came down. Five men were killed at the mouth of the tunnel of the Sunnyside Mine near Eureka when they were engulfed by a slide. Eleven avalanches were reported between Silverton and Elk Park that ranged from seven to 30 feet deep and 50 to 450 feet long; the train was kept at bay for 18 days.
All of that was minor compared to what followed in March when an enormous storm sat over the region for about a week, relentlessly pounding the San Juans. Slides swept away the Shenandoah boarding house, killing twelve men, and ravaged a number of other structures in the area, often killing their inhabitants and making that the most deadly avalanche season ever in the San Juans. Twenty-four people lost their lives to snowslides in San Juan County that winter.
Transportation in and out of Silverton came to a standstill. Two-hundred men of Japanese descent worked to clear 50-foot deep piles of debris that at least 15 slides had deposited on the tracks between Needleton and Elk Park. It took 33 days for them to break through. Local newspaper editors blamed the Railroad, not the snowslides, for the delay in opening the tracks, a sentiment that would echo throughout the years, even after the highway became the main link between Silverton and everywhere else.
Perhaps the worst winter, in terms of Silverton being cut off from the outside, was 1931-1932. By then the highways to Ouray and Durango were gaining importance as supply routes through the San Juans. That gave the newspapers someone else, the highway department, to blame for closures. After a December storm, the editor of the Silverton Standard wrote: “Now during the recent storm it was not deemed expedient for men to attempt to keep the highway open, but after the storm settled it was clearly the duty of the maintenance department of Colorado to open the roads, or at least determine that they should not be opened. What was done? Nothing. How long in our case did the situation continue? For at least one week.”
Silverton continued that year to be pummeled by storm after storm. In February, following a devastating “San Juaner,” all highways were closed, including those to Howardsville and Gladstone; a slide wrecked the Iowa-Tiger boarding house at Silver Lake; all telephone lines in and out of Silverton were down; and the train crashed near Rockwood while attempting to reach Silverton. One couple hiked out to Ouray in order to escape the confines of Baker’s Park, some snowshoed to Rockwood in order to catch the train, and a 350-pound load of butter, eggs, and meat was brought by toboggan from Ouray. In April, it was reported that the Riverside Slide had deposited a pile of snow 300 feet long and 60 feet deep. The road to Durango (which at that time traveled down avalanche-riddled Lime Creek, not over Coal Bank Pass) was opened on April 30, and the Ouray side was cleared shortly thereafter.
Only four years later Silverton was shut off again by slides for weeks, prompting a team made up of Louis Dalla, E.F. Sutherland, James Baudino, John Turner, and Carl Larson to snowshoe down the canyon to Needleton to fetch the mail.
By the time one of the biggest winters in San Juan history hit in 1951, the railroad’s importance had been diminished somewhat by the improved highways, especially to the south. But in the San Juans even good highways, which traveled through slightly less avalanche-prone areas, are liable to be shut down, and that’s exactly what happened that year. There was so much snow that people had trouble getting around town, not to mention over the passes. The Highland Mary Mill in Cunningham Gulch was wrecked by a slide, killing one. The highway to the north opened after six days, and it took several more days of around-the-clock effort, to break through the dozens of slides that covered the road to the south.
In spite of the huge winters, the series of avalanches that hit the roads with regularity, and the lack of any avalanche policy governing Highway 550 at the time, not one motorist had been killed by an avalanche on the highway by the middle of the 20th century. Nevertheless, following the huge winter of 1952, the Colorado Highway Department implemented an official policy dealing with road closures and avalanche hazard. The policy said that if avalanche danger was determined to be high, the road would be closed, control work would be done, the debris would be cleared, and the road re-opened.
At first glance, the system seems identical to the current one. In practice, however, the road was usually kept open until the slides were coming down so big, and with such frequency, that the plows were simply unable to punch through them anymore. It was a policy that, at best, was unscientific. Louie Dalla, road supervisor for the Silverton district, who was known as a man who almost always kept the roads open, described the non-policy policy in a 1963 interview with Allen Nossaman: “About the only good rule is not to go in a storm. They ask us how an accident could have been prevented in many slides. The best answer to that is — They should have stayed in bed. The study of slides is a science, and the study comes pretty close to getting the answers but not close enough.”
In other words, it was up to the motorist, not the highway department, to ultimately assess the danger and make the decision about whether to travel the road or not. It is a noble sentiment, and one from another time before liability and lawsuits were the norm. Up until 1991, the only avalanche forecasters were the plow drivers themselves, their command centers the cabs of their plows. The policy was imperfect, at best and, in 1963, its fatal flaws were first revealed.
On March 3, 1963, Reverend Marvin Hudson made his usual trip over Red Mountain Pass to preside over services at the Silverton Congregational Church. He had his daughters Amelia and Pauline in the car with him. A large storm had hit and the East Riverside Slide had already run once. His car was slip-sliding across the road as he passed under the ominous East Riverside slide, so the Reverend stopped to install his chains. That is when the Riverside ran again. It took rescuers a week to find the Reverend’s body and another to find Amelia’s. Pauline was not recovered until May 30.
The tragedy inspired a Colorado Highway Department Engineer to recommend the construction of a snowshed under the Riverside, a suggestion made by a Swiss avalanche expert two years earlier. The shed was not built, the road closure policy remained the same, and, in 1970, plow driver Robert Miller was killed by the Riverside’s infamous second release.
Angered citizens demanded the construction of a snowshed but Highway 550, which is still one of the last places to get funding from the state transportation coffers, would get no protection. Nothing was done.
It took yet another fatality, under similar circumstances, to motivate the state to finally build the snowshed. This time it was plow driver Terry Kishbaugh who was taken by the East Riverside on February 10, 1978. Seven years later, the snowshed was built. At least one expert recommended the snowshed be 1,200 feet long; others said that the absolute minimum length for it to be effective was 400 feet. When all was said and done, the snowshed only covered 180 feet of highway (as it does today), leaving cars, and plow drivers, and Eddie Imel and Danny Jaramillo exposed to the deadly torrent known as the East Riverside slide.
Those were the fatalities. Then there were the close calls. According to CDOT statistics, 68 cars were hit by slides between 1951 and 1991 between Coal Bank and Ouray. These included a Trailways bus that was knocked off Molas Pass by the Champion slide and a bus bashed by the Brooklyns filled with miners coming home to Silverton from their shift at the Idarado Mine. Injuries were relatively minor. Finally, when the San Juans had to say goodbye to a third plow driver in 22 years, things changed.
In July 1992, CDOT announced its new Highway 550 Avalanche Hazard Reduction Plan. Weather and snowpack evaluation stations would be installed under the plan; avalanche control equipment such as Howitzers would be implemented; CDOT workers would all be trained in avalanche awareness; and fixed control-gun towers would be installed. Most significantly, however, the avalanche forecasting job would go to two Colorado Avalanche Information Center professionals based in Silverton (plow drivers, however, continue to serve an important role, communicating their on the road observations to forecasters).
Silverton’s forecasters are devoted, full-time, to assessing the avalanche hazard on the passes. Even during long periods between storms, they patrol the passes and analyze the snowpack, its structure, and its stability, allowing them to know approximately how much snow, and at what density, the current snowpack can hold in the event of a storm. When a storm does hit, the forecasters are out on the highway alongside the plow drivers, constantly monitoring conditions and passing recommendations on to the local road supervisor in Durango or Ridgway. Ultimately, it is the road supervisor, not the forecaster, that makes the decision to close the road.
The days of waiting for several big slides to come down before deeming the hazard high are over, according to Silverton Avalanche Forecaster Andy Gleason. This has sometimes caused impatience in Silverton, where people still remember the old days and where mail, supplies, and commuter routes are shut down along with the roads. And, of course, when the road is closed it means the precious few winter tourists and their money are kept out, an issue that may even get more urgent when the new ski area opens. Many citizens, especially those that have been around for a while, feel that it is premature to close the roads before any slides have come down.
Gleason disagrees. “When I recommend closure I’m always asked: ‘What slides hit the road,” said Gleason. “If we were doing our job really well we would answer that nothing hit the road, but this is what is about to hit the road.” Gleason concedes that, partly because of the importance of the roads to Silverton, the road is usually not closed until smaller “indicator” slides such as the Blue Point have run. Or, he says, if two inches of snow fall in one hour or less in the Uncompahgre Gorge, then it is time to lock the gates with or without indicator slides. “It will avalanche,” said Gleason.
The ultimate goal of the avalanche reduction program, according to Gleason, is to create more avalanches of smaller size. “Our perfect avalanche control day would be if every slide ran small to the edge of the road so that there is no clean-up necessary,” said Gleason.
Although this policy may mean more frequent and earlier closures, ultimately it could result in cumulative closures of fewer hours during a winter than under the old policy. Most importantly, of course, it means that everyone — the plow drivers, the motorists, the law enforcement people patrolling the roads — are safer.
Its first decade of existence has been a successful one for the Avalanche Hazard Reduction Plan. Imel’s was the last avalanche-related fatality on Highway 550, close calls are rare, and during the past five years, long, sustained closures have been kept to a minimum. In 1998-1999 Red Mountain Pass was closed for a total of 110 hours and Molas/Coal Bank for 17 hours; in 1999-2000, the road to the north was only out of service for a total of 33 hours and Molas was closed for a paltry 6.5 hours; and last year, an average snow year, Red Mountain was down for 83 hours and Molas/Coal Bank for 30 hours. These numbers are not small, but in earlier years it was not unheard of for the road to be closed in both directions for 83 hours at one time.
Improvements during the last five years have helped the forecasters and controllers immensely. Snow measurement stakes have been placed in the starting zones of the West Lime Creek and Mother Cline slides; Howitzers have returned to their traditional place in avalanche control work, making helicopters less necessary and allowing for more efficiency and quicker control work; and the forecasters learn more about the snowpack each year.
Still, the new plan is not perfect. Gleason would like to see more forecasters here (two, Silverton-based forecasters cover Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain Passes in addition to Lizard Head Pass, which is two hours away by CDOT truck); more passive control measures such as snowsheds, snow fences, and snow defense structures; better automated weather stations; and a remote avalanche detection system (one is being researched here but Gleason signed a waiver promising not to talk about it).
John Greenell (a.k.a. Greenhalgh) and his trusty pair of snowshoes was one of the mail carriers that provided Silverton a link with the outside world in its earliest winters of existence. He was known as a man that could make the trip up Cunningham Gulch, over Cunningham Pass, into the Rio Grande Country and to Del Norte and back in any type of weather.
On Monday, November 27, 1876, Greenell set out from Carr’s Cabin on the other side of the divide on the return trip (over Stony Pass this time) to Silverton. He never arrived. A group of searchers found his body a few days later, frozen to death near the top of Stony Pass, his hand rigidly clutching his mailbag.
We have changed a great deal since Greenell’s days, but the mountains are just about the same. Winters are still hard, avalanches still rush down mountainsides, and Silverton is still, occasionally, isolated from the outside world.
Parts of the Uncompahgre River have become “unstable” and “injured” over time due to past land use practices, leaving some areas packed with landfill material like debris and rubble, City Engineer Scott Murphy said.
But now, the City of Montrose will be able to refine portions of the river, in part due to a $400,000 grant given to the city by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). The funds come through the Colorado Watershed Restoration Program to enhance the Uncompahgre.
The grant will begin the first phase of river restoration improvements for 0.65 miles of the Uncompahgre within city limits…
Additionally, aerial images have shown the river channel has migrated around 400 feet in some places over the past 50 years, Murphy indicated.
“It’s a pretty unstable breach of the river which is bad for the habibat because once the fish habibat gets established it gets wiped out as the river moves,” he said.
City of Montrose grant coordinator Kendall Cramer also said the Uncompahgre has experienced flow modifications and encroachment, which has developed a wider channel, bank stabilization issues and a lack of aquatic and riparian habitat.
“It’s an excellent project that’s going to enhance the river corridor,” Cramer said. “It’ll invest in the Uncompahgre River, which is one of our greatest assets in terms of tourism and recreation.”
He added the project will fix those problems as well as create better aquatic environments, stabilize the river banks and give the public better access to the water.
The city is hopeful this project will be the first step in receiving a gold medal fishery designation within the Uncompahgre River, Murphy said. Once completed, this section of the river will join a section of the Gunnison River which connects to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and joins the Gunnison Gorge…
The project design is being done by Ecological Resource Consultants, which won the bid for it in 2017. The River Restoration Committee and volunteers have helped the project come to fruition and have given input on the design, Cramer said.
The city anticipates construction to begin in winter of 2019-2020. Due to the river flow, work has to be completed within a four-month timeframe of November to February, when the water is at its lowest point.
The Montrose City Council voted unanimously, during its Dec. 18 meeting, to award a contract change order to RJH Consultants for $72,100 in the redesign of Cerro Reservoir.
The original amount of $270K had to be increased as “surprises in the reservoir’s design showed a lot of unforeseen layers,” said City Engineer Scott Murphy to the councilors on Dec. 18.
The dam at Montrose Reservoir on Cerro Summit needed major repairs earlier this year, which required the lake to be drained over the summer, as previously reported…
The city has been trying to figure out dam conditions there for some time and was more recently able to send divers down a 15-foot opening in the dam works for inspection, Murphy said.
This inspection confirmed it was time to replace the outlet works for the 1912 dam.
The outlet works consist of an 8-inch pipeline that runs through the dam’s foundation and below the western embankment; the pipe is about 50 feet below the crest of the dam and dates back to the original dam construction…
He added the city is currently working on its contract bid with Colorado Division of Water Resources.
“Something with this class goes through a pretty thorough review process with the state,” Murphy said, estimating the city should be awarded the contract in the next two months.
Shortly afterward ground will be broken in early February, he said. The construction will then start later that month and finished end of 2019.
The reservoir is tentatively planned to be filled in the spring of 2020.
The Blue Mesa Reservoir, which feeds into the Colorado River, is at 39 percent capacity, according to the Bureau of Land Reclamation. The last time the reservoir west of Gunnison was at a similar level was in 1987, said Sandra Snell-Dobert, a spokeswoman for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Soon, water levels are expected to drop to the point where launching and operating boats at most ramps won’t be possible, Snell-Dobert said
Low water levels and rising temperatures also have allowed for blue-green algae blooms. Although no direct environmental impacts have not been observed, some species of this algae can produce toxins that are harmful to dogs.
The Gunnison River Basin varied between 50 percent and 80 percent of its average snowpack this winter, hitting a low of 51.6 percent Dec. 20 and a peak of 79.81 percent April 20.
Other Colorado River reservoirs are facing similar shortages.
Lake Powell and Lake Mead in Arizona dropped to dangerous levels this week because of what scientists are calling the effects of the Colorado River’s worsening “structural deficit,” The Associated Press reported.
Lake Powell and Lake Mead hit 48 percent and 38 percent capacity, respectively.
The Colorado River basin, which feeds lakes Mead and Powell, has been drying out over the last two decades, scientists said. With the demands from farms and cities exceeding the available water supply, the strains on the river and reservoirs are being compounded by growing population, drought and climate change.
The Colorado Division of Water Resources reports the basins were 50 percent full at the end of August, in contrast to last year’s 120 percent average capacity. The average for this time of year is about 82 percent.
The Yampa-White, San Juan-Dolores, Rio Grande, Gunnison and Colorado river basins are classified as being in either “moderate” or “severe drought.”
The Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison on the Curecanti National Recreation Area, is near historic lows — it’s 39 percent full — and has closed almost all its boat ramps. Iola closed Thursday night, the Lake Fork ramp closes Monday. That will leave only the Elk Creek ramp on the reservoir’s north shore along Hwy. 50 open, said recreation area spokeswoman Sandra Snell-Dobert. “Elk Creek, the ramp will remain open as long as we can keep it open.”
The last time water levels were this low on the reservoir was in 1987, Snell-Dobert said. Blue Mesa usually only closes if there’s not enough staff or if the reservoir freezes. The reservoir levels now have also caused some abnormal boating hazards.
“Mostly it’s rocks that are becoming exposed as the water level decreases. There are a lot of rock promontories and islands, and those kinds of things that we haven’t seen in a long time,” she said. But despite the boating restrictions, Snell-Dobert said shoreline fishing, kayaking, canoeing and other hand-launched, non-motorized boating are still allowed at the reservoir.
From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership:
11th Annual Ridgway RiverFest, Saturday, June 30, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rollans Park, Ridgway. Enjoy a community watershed celebration with live music, river races, food booths, arts & crafts, beer, margaritas, silent auction, and more. Funds raised support activities of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. For info: http://ridgwayriverfest.org…
River of Lost Souls Reading, Monday, Aug. 13, Sherbino Theater, 604 Clinton St., Ridgway. Come meet and ask questions of author Jonathan P. Thompson about the gripping story behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster that turned the Animas River orange with sludge and toxic metals. Organized in cooperation with the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership. For info: http://www.uncompahgrewatershed.org/events/…
Ouray Ice Park – Uncompahgre River Canyon Cleanup & BBQ, Saturday, September 15, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Join the Ouray Ice Park and Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership volunteers to pick up litter and debris in the ice climbing areas of the Uncompahgre River Canyon in Ouray. Then, enjoy a BBQ party to celebrate our efforts. For info: http://www.uncompahgrewatershed.org/events/
[Bob] Hurford’s general sentiment about this year’s drought was shared by all who presented reports at the Ouray State of the Rivers meeting at the Ouray County 4H Event Center May 16. The presentations came two weeks after Gov. John Hickenlooper activated the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan for the agricultural sector in 34 of the state’s 64 counties, including San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, and Delta counties…
Hurford explained that over half of the Rocky Mountains’ water supply is in its snowpack. As of April 1, Colorado’s snowpack was 68 percent of average and 64 percent of last year’s. Data maps show that the April 1 snowpack was between 50 percent and 69 percent for Ouray and Montrose counties, and below 50 percent for San Miguel County. Division 4, the eastern area around Gunnison, has the most snowpack; the San Juan Mountains have the least, with snowpack above Ridgway Reservoir at just 46 percent of average.
Colorado, Utah, Arizona and California had the lowest amount of precipitation in the U.S. this winter, and those four states — plus Nevada and New Mexico — had the highest temperatures from November 2017 to January 2018, according to statistics in Hurford’s report.
Data from reservoirs in October 2017 show that Colorado had one of its best years with close to 120 percent of average water levels statewide, 100 percent of average in Division 4 and around 116 percent of average in Ridgway Reservoir. Over the last two decades, reservoirs were at or above 100 percent for 11 years.
“We can survive one bad drought. Two bad droughts in a row and that gets us,” Hurford said.
Ridgway Reservoir Dam Superintendent Tony Mitchell, of Tri-County Water Conservancy District, showed National Weather Service forecast data that estimated January-April 1 flows into the reservoir at 88 percent of average in 2016, 111 percent in 2017 and 49 percent in 2018. For the period of April 1 through July, the main runoff season, flow estimates were 92 percent of average in 2016, 96 percent in 2017 and 40 percent in 2018.
Responding to a question about why the reservoir has looked lower than usual this spring, Tri-County Water Conservancy District Manager Mike Berry said late-season releases to the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) were larger than usual last year, precipitation was low last summer and storage levels are kept lower than normal to avoid water spilling over the dam, which would send non-native fish into the Uncompahgre River, endangering the trout there.
UVWUA Manager Steve Andersen, who is also a director on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said, “My association will be OK this year. There’s not as much water as we would like to have, but we will be able to make a crop this year.”
However, to ensure its downstream water users have enough water, the association in Montrose may have to put a call on water use later in the season, shutting headgates to irrigators upstream in Ouray County (who have junior water rights). Andersen does not expect to make a similar call on water on the upper Gunnison River side because of better snowpack, which should maintain higher flows there. He said the association would use that Gunnison water before resorting to a call on the Ouray side…
The last time that Ouray irrigators had to shut their headgates due to low stream flows and obligations to more senior water rights holders downstream was in 2012. That is when the Ouray County Water Users Association was founded…
With the drought conditions came concerns about wildfires, and Ouray and Montrose counties implemented Stage 1 Fire Restrictions on [May 21, 2018]. Stage 1 limits the areas where fires, smoking and spark-igniting activities can take place, according to the State of Colorado Department of Fire Prevention. Stage 2 adds more restrictions, while Stage 3 is the strictest, limiting entry into closed areas and setting fines as high as $10,000 for violators, or imprisonment for six months.
A cooperative that serves four Western states could soon be losing customers amid concerns it’s not moving away from coal quickly enough.
Colorado-based Tri-State Generation & Transmission boasts of having the most solar generation of any G&T in the United States.
But whether it’s shifting to renewables quickly enough from its coal-heavy portfolio — and flexible enough to accommodate locally-generated electricity — has become a central issue with several of the 43 member cooperatives.
Directors of one of those member co-ops, La Plata Electric Association, voted in January to study alternatives during the next 10 to 15 years. The decision was made by the Durango, Colorado-based co-op after a petition was signed by 1,000 people and 100 businesses calling for 100 percent renewables with deeper penetration from local sources.
“We are buying our electricity from one of the dirtiest sources in the United States and paying well above market prices,” says Guinn Unger Jr., a La Plata director who favors a study of the co-op’s alternatives. “Why wouldn’t we want to explore our options?”
Colorado’s Delta-Montrose Electric Association began negotiating a buy-out with Tri-State last year with much the same goal: greater development of local renewable resources.
A template for both Colorado co-ops was established in 2016 when a New Mexico co-op, Taos-based Kit Carson, left Tri-State and signed an all-requirements contract with Guzman Renewable Energy Partners, a wholesale broker. Guzman paid the $37.5 million exit fee to Tri-State. It also promised to work with Kit Carson to develop 35 megawatts of solar arrays in Kit Carson’s three-county service area until 2023, when federal investment tax credit is set to expire. Kit Carson and Guzman are also planning to add battery storage.
Luis Reyes Jr., chief executive of Kit Carson, says consultants to his co-op concluded that ratepayers would save $50 million to $70 million over the life of the 10-year contract. The plan includes rapid construction of local solar farms and robust purchases of wind generation likely combined with battery storage.
Bob Bresnahan, a Kit Carson director and retired executive from Nike, says he believes solar will meet a third of residential electrical demand by 2022. He also contends the co-op can make deep inroads in its goal of 100 percent renewable generation by 2030.
La Plata’s contract commits it to getting 95 percent of its wholesale electricity from Tri-State Generation & Transmission through 2050. This commits La Plata to paying Tri-State 7.3 cents a kilowatt-hour even as wind and solar prices continue to tumble. Elsewhere in Colorado, Xcel Energy has received bids from wind developers at less than 2 cents a kWh and solar plus storage far below what Tri-State is charging La Plata.
Member cooperatives of Tri-State can produce more than 5 percent of their total electrical use, the result of a 2015 ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Still in question are the terms. Tri-State, in an appeal to FERC, wants a ruling that says that member co-ops must pay for what Tri-State calls its fixed costs related to power production. FERC has not ruled on that case, which was filed in early 2016.
‘We’re bullish on renewable energy’
Tri-State’s 43 member cooperatives collectively deliver electricity to 200,000 square miles in New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. Their 615,000 metered members/customers include Telluride and other ski areas in Colorado and giant circles of corn on the Great Plains, oil-and-gas fields in New Mexico and some of Denver’s fastest-growing suburbs.
Co-ops created Tri-State in 1952 to deliver electricity from new giant dams being built in the Missouri and Colorado River basins. Hydro still provides about half of Tri-State’s 1,115 megawatts of renewable generation. Wind constitutes the largest share of the new renewables, but the 85 megawatts of contracted solar are tops in the nation among G&Ts. Member renewable projects total 98 megawatts.
“We are bullish on renewable energy,” says Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey.
In 2005, with demand still rising sharply, Tri-State was bullish on coal. Wanting to build a major new coal-fired power plant in Kansas, it asked member co-ops to extend their all-requirements contracts by a decade, to 2050, the presumed lifespan of the plant. Kit Carson and Delta-Montrose refused.
Finally, in March 2017, Tri-State got permits from Kansas to build the plant but has indicated it will not do so. Instead, it is shedding coal-fired generation. In December, the association lost its 40-megawatt stake in a unit at New Mexico’s San Juan Generating Station. It’ll lose another 100 megawatts of part-time generating capacity at Nucla, Colorado, by 2023 and then 102 additional megawatts of generation at Craig, Colorado, before 2026. All are the result of settlements under the Clean Air Act to reduce regional haze.
Unger, the La Plata board member, says 60 percent of Tri-State’s electrical generation still comes from coal. Tri-State will only confirm 49 percent for 2017, but also reports 19 percent of its electricity comes from contract purchases.
In Durango, La Plata’s subcommittee has met several times, but Unger says it’s still not clear to him that La Plata should, like Kit Carson, leave Tri-State. He’s disturbed that nearly half the board members didn’t want to evaluate the co-op’s options.
“We should be asking ourselves, what are the facts?” he says. “People are not willing to look at it.”
Unger is also annoyed by implications that Kit Carson was forced to increase rates after it left Tri-State to pay the exit fee. “News articles indicate that the rate increase was to help the co-op with unprofitable affiliates, but the timing is a concern,” wrote Mike Dreyspring, chief executive of La Plata Electric, in an op-ed published in the Durango Herald.
Kit Carson’s rates, responded CEO Reyes, “have not increased one cent due to the buyout.”
‘Coal is no longer the lowest cost fuel’
Directors of Delta-Montrose were unanimous in January 2017 in approving exit negotiations. Neither DMEA representatives nor Tri-State will comment on the talks, citing a non-disclosure contract.
“What our board members want most is the flexibility to be able to diversify generation resources,” says Jim Heneghan, DMEA’s renewable energy engineer. Directors, he says, see local renewable generation as a vehicle for economic development.
Delta-Montrose began pursuing this vision of local generation about a decade ago. it’s in a region of organic apple farms and other agriculture production along with one remaining coal mine. Scores of high-paying coal mining jobs have been shed and the region still lags the economic vigor found in more urban areas.
A diversion project east of Montrose completed in 1909 contains a major fall before delivering water to farms. In harnessing that falling water to produce electricity, Delta-Montrose hit Tri-State’s 5 percent cap on local generation. When an outside developer proposed a third hydro plant to Delta-Montrose, the co-op took the proposal to FERC. In 2015, FERC agreed that the co-op was required, under the Public Utility Regulatory Act of 1978, to negotiate purchase of power generated by what PURPA calls a qualifying facility.
Tri-State concedes that it cannot interfere with a member’s purchase of energy from a qualifying facility. But it wants to be able to assess the co-ops for the fixed-cost portion of sales it has lost above the 5 percent threshold.
“It’s a question of how members relate to each other within their association,” explains Tri-State spokesman Boughey. “Each association member agreed to equitably share costs, and that if members self-supply in excess of the 5 percent provision they would not be paying their fair share of the association’s fixed costs. These costs would have to be made up by other members.”
In Durango, Mark Pearson sees a different equity issue. The director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, an advocacy group, he says the tens of millions of dollars exported from the local economy to Craig and other coal-mining towns would be better kept at home. Of La Plata’s revenues, 67 percent goes to Tri-State for electrical production elsewhere.
“This is great for Craig to have this money raining down on their community, but we should have that money circulating in our community. If we can keep the money local, it’s better economically for us,” he says.
Taking the long view, DMEA director John Gavan sees community choice aggregation coming, where consumers will have the choice of many power suppliers.
Unlike electrical generation even today, he foresees changes driven from the grassroots that pose questions about Tri-State’s one-member, one-vote setup. He contends smaller co-ops have been more easily influenced by the expertise of Tri-State’s coal-minded officials. “Tri-State is a Senate without a House of Representatives,” he says.
Both Pearson and Gavan see resistance to change being the fundamental issue. “It’s just hard for the old guard to change as quickly as the world is changing, to realize that coal is no longer the lowest cost fuel,” says Pearson.
ABOUT ALLEN BEST
Allen Best writes about energy, water and other topics from a base in metropolitan Denver. He began writing about energy, the climate, and their relationship in 2005. He can be found at http://mountaintownnews.net
From email from the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (Tanya Ishikawa):
Watershed group’s study confirms high arsenic levels in Uncompahgre River
Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership releases sediment release study results
RIDGWAY, COLO.– A recently released study by the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) confirmed that arsenic levels in the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County continue to exceed state water quality standards for human health. Though not a direct source of drinking water for homes and businesses in Ouray, Ridgway, Loghill and other downstream neighborhoods, the river is used for agriculture and recreation and may be connected to underground sources that feed nearby wells.
UWP Board Member Dennis Murphy, who volunteered on the study, will make a presentation of the report’s findings to the Ouray County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 30. The nonprofit watershed group has secured $1,000 from the county and $500 from Ridgway to partially fund a followup hydrodam sediment release study, and has discussed the possibility of collaborating with the county on a study of well water on properties along the Uncompahgre River between Ouray and Ridgway.
The Uncompahgre River is known to have relatively high concentrations of several heavy metals such as manganese, aluminum and iron, since it has many tributaries that pass through both naturally high mineral content in the mountains as well as minerals exposed by past mining activity. The water flowing through the river between Red Mountain Pass and Ridgway Reservoir turns various shades of green, yellow and orange at different times throughout the year, due to human-caused and natural events that increase the flows of heavy metals.
For years, the Ouray County government has fielded calls from concerned people when the river’s color was brightest. One annual event that elicits such a public response is the sluicing of the Ouray Hydrodam, when a gate at the bottom of the dam is opened to release sediment from the reservoir. The sediment flows into and builds up in the reservoir each year, and must be released to improve operations. This release, usually once a year, sends an orange plume down the river.
“The hydrodam has a storage capacity of less than one acre-foot, which fills quickly with sediment and precipitated metals from the inflow. The annual sluice event releases accumulated sediment and metals in hours rather than slowly, over the period of a year,” said Murphy, a retired Bureau of Land Management hydrologist.
Some community members have wondered if the plume with its higher concentrations of metals has negative impacts on the Uncompahgre River. Last March, UWP studied the plume by taking water and sediment samples before, during and after the dam release at three locations along the river by a group of volunteers with hydrology expertise, led by UWP Project Manager Agnieszka Przeszlowska.
Analysis of the sampling data showed that the water and sediment released from the hydrodam raised water levels in the river for a short period. The stream flow in the Uncompahgre River near Ouray increased from 141 cfs (cubic feet per second) to 174 cfs for less than 30 minutes. Downstream near Ridgway, the streamflow peaked at 170 cfs for approximately three hours and 30 minutes, only 2 cfs higher from the 168 cfs peak the previous day.
During the release, measurements showed substantially raised total metal concentrations, including manganese, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, nickel, selenium, silver, and zinc. All metal concentrations met aquatic life standards and most metals met human health standards, according to state water quality criteria.
However, both manganese and arsenic were at unsafe levels. The release is not suspected to be an original source of the manganese and arsenic concentrations, so UWP recommends additional study to better understand sources and concentrations within the watershed.
Manganese exceeded water safety standards before, during, and after the release at the sampling location below the dam, but attained levels within safety standards at the other two sampling locations at certain times around the release. No drinking water sources including wells are located near the dam, and the overall manganese concentrations were considered relatively benign.
However, the arsenic concentrations, which exceeded the human-health criterion before, during and after the sediment release at all three sampling locations, are considered more of a concern. “The EPA classifies arsenic as a Class A carcinogen, meaning it may pose the highest risk of cancer. This classification results in a very low human-health standard (0.02 microgram per liter of total arsenic),” according to the report produced for UWP by Ashley Bembenek and Julia Nave of Alpine Environmental Consultants in Crested Butte.
The arsenic concentrations are not new in the Uncompahgre River near Ouray and Ridgway, which have occasionally exceeded the human-health and raw water supply criteria in other measurements taken over the past 15 years.
The UWP study did not directly investigate the potential effect of the sediment release on public water supplies. The raw source waters for local utilities are all upstream from the Uncompahgre River and do not receive any flows from the releases. While those supplies would be unaffected by the sediment release, wells in the area may be affected. They were not studied in 2017, but plans are being considered to study them in 2018.
Murphy concluded, “This initial study was conducted under significant time, labor, and financial constraints, so did not provide as complete a picture as we had hoped. However, using what we learned from this study will be beneficial to better design future studies and monitor potential water quality issues in the Upper Uncompahgre Valley. As an example, the metal arsenic, a class A carcinogen, shows to be elevated at times in the Uncompahgre River. Sampling the water quality of domestic wells in the valley bottom, that may be pumping water connected to the river, might expose some potential health issues previously undetected.”
As far as the health impacts of arsenic on recreational users of the Uncompahgre River, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put out an advisory after the 2015 Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, stating that it “does not anticipate adverse health effects from exposure to contaminants detected in the sediment during typical recreational activities or through incidental contact with the sediment.”
The CDPHE recommends prudent public health practices when coming into contact with sediment and surface water containing heavy metals: 1. Don’t drink untreated water from the river. 2. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact. 3. Avoid contact in areas where there is visible discoloration in sediment or river water. 4. Wash clothes after contact. 5. Supervise young children to make sure they follow these recommendations.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit have been increasing over the last couple weeks as diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel have begun. So far these release changes have kept the flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon around 630 cfs. Diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are expected to increase again this week. This time releases from Crystal Dam will remain unchanged and Gunnison River flows will decrease accordingly. It is expected that river flows will decrease by 100-200 cfs this week. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is at 72% of normal. The latest runoff volume forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir projects 360,000 AF of inflow between April and July, which is 53% of average.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for April and May.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 620 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 630 cfs. By the end of the week Gunnison Tunnel diversions could be in the 700 to 800 cfs range and river flows could be in the 400 to 500 cfs range. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Grand opening of the Gunnison Tunnel in Colorado 1909. Photo credit USBR.
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service
From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):
On Wednesday, November 1st, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will end for the season. Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be adjusted in coordination with the ramp down schedule for Gunnison Tunnel diversions in order to keep Gunnison River flows near the current level of 750 cfs. There could be fluctuations in the river throughout the day until the Gunnison Tunnel is completely shut down.
On Thursday and Friday, November 2nd and 3rd, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be reduced to 300 cfs during the day time hours in order to allow for completion of the sonar survey of the Crystal Dam stilling basin. Gunnison River flows will drop down towards 300 cfs during the day while returning to 750 cfs during the non-working hours. After the sonar survey is completed at the end of the day on November 3rd, river flows will return to the current level of 750 cfs.
Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for October through December.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 850 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel and completion of the Crystal stilling basin sonar survey, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will return to 750 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.