Montrose: City hires engineering firm to study temp and flow of #UncompahgreRiver at the #wastewater plant — The Montrose Press

River Bottom Park Uncompahgre River. Photo credit: PhilipScheetzPhoto via the City of Montrose

From The Montrose Press (Andrew Kiser):

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.”

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

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 100 cfs, today, September 9th. Reservoir contents at Morrow Pt and Crystal have sufficiently recovered to allow for higher releases. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

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

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

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

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

August in the Basin: High and Dry!

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

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

Current conditions and Aspinall Unit operations

Aspinall Unit dams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“#Colorado is the #Southwest’s water cooler” — Michael Cox #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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 mcox@burrocreekpictures.com

Aspinall Unit operations update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions = 950 cfs, Gunnison River through the Black Canyon = 2550 cfs

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Ryan Christianson):

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.

Ridgway RiverFest June 29- River races, Sugar & the Mint, and more — The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership

Sneffels Range Ridgeway in foreground. Photo credit: SkiVillage – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15028209 via Wikiemedia

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

Festival information: https://ridgwayriverfest.org