A #Water War Is Brewing Over the Dwindling #ColoradoRiver — ProPublica #COriver #aridification

Known for its breathtaking scenery, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a fine example of the spectacular canyon country of Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. Red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years, as well as many cultural and historic sites. The Ute Tribes today consider these pinyon-juniper–covered lands an important connection to their ancestral past. The Escalante, Cottonwood, Little Dominguez and Big Dominguez Creeks cascade through sandstone canyon walls that drain the eastern Uncompahgre Plateau. Unaweep Canyon on the northern boundary of the NCA contains globally significant geological resources. Nearly 30 miles (48 km) of the Gunnison River flow through the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, supporting fish, wildlife and recreational resources. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail, a 19th Century land trade route, also passes through it. A variety of wildlife call the area home, including desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagle, turkey, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and the collared lizard. There are 115 miles (185 km) of streams and rivers in the NCA, and there is habitat suitable for 52 protected species of animals and plants. By Bob Wick; Bureau of Land Management – Dominguez-Escalante NCA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42092807

by Abrahm Lustgarten

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Series: Killing the Colorado

The Water Crisis in the West

On a crisp day this fall I drove southeast from Grand Junction, Colorado, into the Uncompahgre Valley, a rich basin of row crops and hayfields. A snow line hung like a bowl cut around the upper cliffs of the Grand Mesa, while in the valley some farmers were taking their last deliveries of water, sowing winter wheat and onions. I turned south at the farm town of Delta onto Route 348, a shoulder-less two-lane road lined with irrigation ditches and dent corn still hanging crisp on their browned stalks. The road crossed the Uncompahgre River, and it was thin, nearly dry.

The Uncompahgre Valley, stretching 34 miles from Delta through the town of Montrose, is, and always has been, an arid place. Most of the water comes from the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, which courses out of the peaks of the Elk Range through the cavernous and sun-starved depths of the Black Canyon, one rocky and inaccessible valley to the east. In 1903, the federal government backed a plan hatched by Uncompahgre farmers to breach the ridge with an enormous tunnel and then in the 1960s to build one of Colorado’s largest reservoirs above the Black Canyon called Blue Mesa. Now that tunnel feeds a neural system of water: 782 miles worth of successively smaller canals and then dirt ditches, laterals and drains that turn 83,000 Western Colorado acres into farmland. Today, the farm association in this valley is one of the largest single users of Colorado River water outside of California.

I came to this place because the Colorado River system is in a state of collapse. It is a collapse hastened by climate change but also a crisis of management. In 1922, the seven states in the river basin signed a compact splitting the Colorado equally between its upper and lower halves; later, they promised additional water to Mexico, too. Near the middle, they put Lake Powell, a reserve for the northern states, and Lake Mead, a storage node for the south. Over time, as an overheating environment has collided with overuse, the lower half — primarily Arizona and California — has taken its water as if everything were normal, straining both the logic and the legal interpretations of the compact. They have also drawn extra releases from Lake Powell, effectively borrowing straight out of whatever meager reserves the Upper Basin has managed to save there.

This much has become a matter of great, vitriolic dispute. What is undeniable is that the river flows as a much-diminished version of its historical might. When the original compact gave each half the rights to 7.5 million acre-feet of water, the river is estimated to have flowed with as much as 18 million acre-feet each year. Over the 20th century, it averaged closer to 15. Over the past two decades, the flow has dropped to a little more than 12. In recent years, it has trickled at times with as little as 8.5. All the while the Lower Basin deliveries have remained roughly the same. And those reservoirs? They are fast becoming obsolete. Now the states must finally face the consequential question of which regions will make their sacrifice first. There are few places that reveal how difficult it will be to arrive at an answer than the Western Slope of Colorado.

In Montrose, I found the manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Steve Pope, in his office atop the squeaky stairs of the same Foursquare that the group had built at the turn of the last century. Pope, bald, with a trimmed white beard, sat amid stacks of plat maps and paper diagrams of the canals, surrounded by LCD screens with spreadsheets marking volumes of water and their destinations. On the wall, a historic map showed the farms, wedged between the Uncompahgre River and where it joins the Gunnison in Delta, before descending to their confluence with the Colorado in Grand Junction. “I’m sorry for the mess,” he said, plowing loose papers aside.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

What Pope wanted to impress upon me most despite the enormousness of the infrastructure all around the valley was that in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River system, there are no mammoth dams that can simply be opened to meter out a steady release of water. Here, only natural precipitation and temperature dictate how much is available. Conservation isn’t a management decision, he said. It was forced upon them by the hydrological conditions of the moment. The average amount of water flowing in the system has dropped by nearly 20%. The snowpack melts and evaporates faster than it used to, and the rainfall is unpredictable. In fact, the Colorado River District, an influential water conservancy for the western part of the state, had described its negotiating position with the Lower Basin states by claiming Colorado has already conserved about 28% of its water by making do with the recent conditions brought by drought.

You get what you get, Pope tells me, and for 15 of the past 20 years, unlike the farmers in California and Arizona, the people in this valley have gotten less than what they are due. “We don’t have that luxury of just making a phone call and having water show up,” he said, not veiling his contempt for the Lower Basin states’ reliance on lakes Mead and Powell. “We’ve not been insulated from this climate change by having a big reservoir above our heads.”

He didn’t have to point further back than the previous winter. In 2021, the rain and snow fell heavily across the Rocky Mountains and the plateau of the Grand Mesa, almost as if it were normal times. Precipitation was 80% of average — not bad in the midst of an epochal drought. But little made it into the Colorado River. Instead, soils parched by the lack of rain and rising temperatures soaked up every ounce of moisture. By the time water reached the rivers around Montrose and then the gauges above Lake Powell, the flow was less than 30% of normal. The Upper Basin states used just 3.5 million acre-feet last year, less than half their legal right under the 1922 compact. The Lower Basin states took nearly their full amount, 7 million acre-feet.

Colorado River Basin Plumbing. Credit: Lester Doré/Mary Moran via Dustin Mulvaney and Twitter

All of this matters now not just because the river, an unwieldy network of human-controlled plumbing, is approaching a threshold where it could become inoperable, but because much of the recent legal basis for the system is about to dissolve. In 2026, the Interim Guidelines the states rely on, a Drought Contingency Plan and agreements with Mexico will all expire. At the very least, this will require new agreements. It also demands a new way of thinking that matches the reality of the heating climate and the scale of human need. But before that can happen, the states will need to restore something that has become even more scarce than the water: trust.

The northern states see California and Arizona reveling in profligate use, made possible by the anachronistic rules of the compact that effectively promise them water when others have none. It’s enabled by the mechanistic controls at the Hoover Dam, which releases the same steady flow no matter how little snow falls across the Rocky Mountains. California flood-irrigates alfalfa crops destined for cattle markets in the Middle East, while Arizona takes water it does not need and pumps it underground to build up its own reserves. In 2018, an Arizona water agency admitted it was gaming the timing of its orders to avoid rations from the river (though it characterized the moves as smart use of the rules). In 2021, in a sign of the growing wariness, at least one Colorado water official alleged California was repeating the scheme. California water officials say this is a misunderstanding. Yet to this day, because California holds the most senior legal rights on the river, the state has avoided having a single gallon of reductions imposed on it.

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

By this spring, Lake Powell shrank to 24% of its capacity, its lowest levels since the reservoir filled in the 1960s. Cathedral-like sandstone canyons were resurrected, and sunlight reached the silt-clogged floors for the first time in generations. The Glen Canyon Dam itself towered more than 150 feet above the waterline. The water was just a few dozen feet above the last intake pipe that feeds the hydropower generators. If it dropped much lower, the system would no longer be able to produce the power it distributes across six states. After that, it would approach the point where no water at all could flow into the Grand Canyon and further downstream. All the savings that the Upper Basin states had banked there were as good as gone.

In Western Colorado, meanwhile, people have been suffering. South of the Uncompahgre Valley, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe subsists off agriculture, but over the past 12 months it has seen its water deliveries cut by 90%; the tribe laid off half of its farmworkers. McPhee Reservoir, near the town of Cortez, has teetered on failure, and other communities in Southwestern Colorado that also depend on it have been rationed to 10% of their normal water.

Across the Upper Basin, the small reservoirs that provide the region’s only buffer against bad years are also emptying out. Flaming Gorge, on the Wyoming-Utah border, is the largest, and it is 68% full. The second largest, Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico, is at 50% of its capacity. Blue Mesa Reservoir, on the Gunnison, is just 34% full. Each represents savings accounts that have been slowly pilfered to supplement Lake Powell as it declines, preserving the federal government’s ability to generate power there and obscuring the scope of the losses. Last summer, facing the latest emergency at the Glen Canyon Dam, the Department of Interior ordered huge releases from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and other Upper Basin reservoirs. At Blue Mesa, the water levels dropped 8 feet in a matter of days, and boaters there were given a little more than a week to get their equipment off the water. Soon after, the reservoir’s marinas, which are vital to that part of Colorado’s summer economy, closed. They did not reopen in 2022.

South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

As the Blue Mesa Reservoir was being emptied last fall, Steve Pope kept the Gunnison Tunnel open at its full capacity, diverting as much water as he possibly could. He says this was legal, well within his water rights and normal practice, and the state’s chief engineer agrees. Pope’s water is accounted for out of another reservoir higher in the system. But in the twin takings, it’s hard not to see the bare-knuckled competition between urgent needs. Over the past few years, as water has become scarcer and conservation more important, Uncompahgre Valley water diversions from the Gunnison River have remained steady and at times even increased. The growing season has gotten longer and the alternative sources, including the Uncompahgre River, less reliable. And Pope leans more than ever on the Gunnison to maintain his 3,500 shareholders’ supply. “Oh, we are taking it,” he told me, “and there’s still just not enough.”

On June 14, Camille Touton, the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Interior division that runs Western water infrastructure, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and delivered a stunning ultimatum: Western states had 60 days to figure out how to conserve as much as 4 million acre-feet of “additional” water from the Colorado River or the federal government would, acting unilaterally, do it for them. The West’s system of water rights, which guarantees the greatest amount of water to the settlers who arrived in the West and claimed it first, has been a sacrosanct pillar of law and states’ rights both — and so her statement came as a shock.

Would the department impose restrictions “without regard to river priority?” Mark Kelly,, the Democratic senator from Arizona, asked her.

“Yes,” Touton responded.

For Colorado, this was tantamount to a declaration of war. “The feds have no ability to restrict our state decree and privately owned ditches,” the general manager of the Colorado River District, Andy Mueller, told me. “They can’t go after that.” Mueller watches over much of the state.Pope faces different stakes. His system depends on the tunnel, a federal project, and his water rights are technically leased from the Bureau of Reclamation, too. Touton’s threat raised the possibility that she could shut the Uncompahgre Valley’s water off. Even if it was legal, the demands seemed fundamentally unfair to Pope. “The first steps need to come in the Lower Basin,” he insisted.

Each state retreated to its corners, where they remain. The 60-day deadline came and went, with no commitments toward any specific reductions in water use and no consequences. The Bureau of Reclamation has since set a new deadline: Jan. 31. Touton, who has publicly said little since her testimony to Congress, declined to be interviewed for this story. In October, California finally offered a plan to surrender roughly 9% of the water it used, albeit with expensive conditions. Some Colorado officials dismissed the gesture as a non-starter. Ever since, Colorado has become more defiant, enacting policies that seem aimed at defending the water the state already has — perhaps even its right to use more.

For one, Colorado has long had to contend with the inefficiencies that come with a “use it or lose it” culture. State water law threatens to confiscate water rights that don’t get utilized, so landowners have long maximized the water they put on their fields just to prove up their long-term standing in the system. This same reflexive instinct is now evident among policymakers and water managers across the state, as they seek to establish the baseline for where negotiated cuts might begin. Would cuts be imposed by the federal government based on Pope’s full allocation of water or on the lesser amount with which he’s been forced to make do? Would the proportion be adjusted down in a year with no snow? “We don’t have a starting point,” he told me. And so the higher the use now, the more affordable the conservation later.

Colorado and other Upper Basin states have also long hid behind the complexity of accurately accounting for their water among infinite tributaries and interconnected soils. [ed. emphasis mine] The state’s ranchers like to say their water is recycled five times over, because water poured over fields in one place invariably seeps underground down to the next. In the Uncompahgre Valley, it can take months for the land at its tail to dry out after ditches that flood the head of the valley are turned off. The measure of what’s been consumed and what has transpired from plants or been absorbed by soils is frustratingly elusive. That, too, leaves the final number open to argument and interpretation.

All the while, the Upper Basin states are all attempting to store more water within their boundaries. Colorado has at least 10 new dams and reservoirs either being built or planned. Across the Upper Basin, an additional 15 projects are being considered, including Utah’s audacious $2.4 billion plan to run a new pipeline from Lake Powell, which would allow it to transport something closer to its full legal right to Colorado River water to its growing southern cities. Some of these projects are aimed at securing existing water and making its timing more predictable. But they are also part of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s vision to expand the Upper Basin states’ Colorado River usage to 5.4 million acre-feet a year by 2060.

It is fair to say few people in the state are trying hard to send more of their water downstream. In our conversation, Mueller would not offer any specific conservation savings Colorado might make. The state’s chief engineer and director of its Division of Water Resources, Kevin Rein, who oversees water rights, made a similar sentiment clear to the Colorado River District board last July. “There’s nothing telling me that I should encourage people to conserve,” Rein said. “It’s a public resource. It’s a property right. It’s part of our economy.”

In November, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis proposed the creation of a new state task force that would help him capture every drop of water it can before it crosses the state line. It would direct money and staff to make Colorado’s water governance more sophisticated, defensive and influential.

I called Polis’ chief water confidante, Rebecca Mitchell, who is also the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the state’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. If the mood was set by the idea that California was taking too much from the river, Mitchell thought that it had shifted now to a more personal grievance — they are taking from us.

On a day in late May [2022] when wildfire smoke obscured the throat of an ancient volcano called Shiprock in the distance, I visited the Ute Mountain Ute farming and ranching operation in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Photo credit: Allen Best/Big Pivots

Last month, Mitchell flew to California for a tour of its large irrigation districts. She stood beside a wide canal brimming with more water than ever flows through the Uncompahgre River, and the executive of the farming company beside her explained that he uses whatever he wants because he holds the highest priority rights to the water. She thought about the Ute Mountain Ute communities and the ranchers of Cortez: “It was like: ‘Wouldn’t we love to be able to count on something? Wouldn’t we love to be feel so entitled that no matter what, we get what we get?’” she told me.

What if Touton followed through, curtailing Colorado’s water? I asked. Mitchell’s voice steadied, and then she essentially leveled a threat. “We would be very responsive. I’m not saying that in a positive way,” she said. “I think everybody that’s about to go through pain wants others to feel pain also.”

Here’s the terrible truth: There is no such thing as a return to normal on the Colorado River, or to anything that resembles the volumes of water its users are accustomed to taking from it. With each degree Celsius of warming to come, modelers estimate that the river’s flow will decrease further, by an additional 9%. At current rates of global warming, the basin is likely to sustain at least an additional 18% drop in its water supplies over the next several decades, if not far more. Pain, as Mitchell puts it, is inevitable.

The thing about 4 million acre-feet of cuts is that it’s merely the amount already gone, an adjustment that should have been made 20 years ago. Colorado’s argument makes sense on paper and perhaps through the lens of fairness. But the motivation behind the decades of delay was to protect against the very argument that is unfolding now — that the reductions should be split equally, and that they may one day be imposed against the Upper Basin’s will. It was to preserve the northern states’ inalienable birthright to growth, the promise made to them 100 years ago. At some point, though, circumstances change, and a century-old promise, unfulfilled, might no longer be worth much at all. Meanwhile, the politics of holding out are colliding with climate change in a terrifying crash, because while the parties fight, the supply continues to dwindle.

Average combined storage assuming drought conditions continue Average end-of-year combined Lake Powell and Lake Mead storage is shown, assuming hydrologic conditions of the Millennium Drought continue. Results show combined reservoir contents using a range of Upper Basin consumptive use limits (colored ribbons) along with a range of Lower Basin maximum consumptive use reductions (line styles) triggered when the combined storage falls below 15 million acre-feet (MAF). The status quo lines use the 2016 Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC) projections and existing elevation-based shortage triggers. All water use and shortage values are annual volumes (MAF/year).

Recently, Brad Udall, a leading and longtime analyst of the Colorado River and now a senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, teamed with colleagues to game out what they thought it would take to bring the river and the twin reservoirs of Mead and Powell into balance. Their findings, published in July in the journal Science, show that stability could be within reach but will require sacrifice.

If the Upper Basin states limited their claim to 4 million acre-feet, or 53% of their due under the original compact, and the Lower Basin states and Mexico increased their maximum emergency cuts by an additional 45%, the two big reservoirs will stay at roughly their current levels for the next several decades. If the basins could commit to massive reductions below even 2021 levels for the Upper Basin and to more than doubling the most ambitious conservation goals for the south, the reservoirs could once again begin to grow, providing the emergency buffer and the promise of economic stability for 40 million Americans that was originally intended. Still, by 2060, they would only be approximately 45% full.

Any of the scenarios involve cuts that would slice to the bone. Plus, there’s still the enormous challenge of how to incorporate Native tribes, which also hold huge water rights but continue to be largely left out of negotiations. What to do next? Israel provides one compelling example. After decades of fighting over the meager trickles of the Jordan River and the oversubscription of a pipeline from the Sea of Galilee, Israel went back to the drawing board on its irrigated crops. It made drip irrigation standard, built desalination plants to supply water for its industry and cities, and reused that water again and again; today, 86% of the country’s municipal wastewater is recycled, and Israel and its farmers have an adequate supply. That would cost a lot across the scale and reach of a region like the Western United States. But to save the infrastructure and culture that produces 80% of this country’s winter vegetables and is a hub of the nation’s food system for 333 million people? It might be worth it.

A different course was charted by Australia, which recoiled against a devastating millennium drought that ended 13 years ago. It jettisoned its coveted system of water rights, breaking free of history and prior appropriation similar to the system of first-come-first-served the American West relies on. That left it with a large pool of free water and political room to invent a new method of allocating it that better matched the needs in a modern, more populous and more urban Australia and better matched the reality of the environment.

In America, too, prior appropriation, as legally and culturally revered as it is, may have become more cumbersome and obstructive than it needs to be. Western water rights, according to Newsha Ajami, a leading expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the former director of the urban water policy program at Stanford University, were set up by people measuring with sticks and buckets, long before anyone had ever even considered climate change. Today, they largely serve powerful legacy interests and, because they must be used to be maintained, tend to dissuade conservation. “It’s kind of very archaic,” she said. “The water rights system would be the first thing I would just dismantle or revisit in a very different way.”

This is probably not going to happen, Ajami said. “It could be seen as political suicide.” But that doesn’t make it the wrong solution. In fact, what’s best for the Colorado, for the Western United States, for the whole country might be a combination of what Israel and Australia mapped out. Deploy the full extent of the technology that is available to eliminate waste and maximize efficiency. Prioritize which crops and uses are “beneficial” in a way that attaches the true value of the resource to the societal benefit produced from using it. Grow California and Arizona’s crops in the wintertime but not in the summer heat. And rewrite the system of water allocation as equitably as possible so that it ensures the modern population of the West has the resources it needs while the nation’s growers produce what they can.

What would that look like in Colorado? It might turn the system upside down. Lawsuits could fly. The biggest, wealthiest ranches with the oldest water rights stand to lose a lot. The Lower and Upper Basin states, though, could all divide the water in the river proportionately, each taking a percentage of what flowed. The users would, if not benefit, at least equally and predictably share the misery. Pope’s irrigation district and the smallholder farmers who depend on it would likely get something closer to what they need and, combined with new irrigation equipment subsidized by the government, could produce what they want. It wouldn’t be pretty. But something there would survive.

The alternative is worse. The water goes away or gets bought up or both. The land of Western Colorado dries up, and the economies around it shrivel. Montrose, with little left to offer, boards up its windows, consolidates its schools as people move away, and the few who remain have less. Until one day, there is nothing left at all.

‘Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Project 7 wins grant funds — The #Montrose Press

Sneffels Range and Ridgway Reservoir. CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56735453

Click the link to read the article on The Montrose Press website. Here’s an excerpt:

Project 7 Water Authority scored another grant to help it add critical infrastructure. The Colorado River District’s Accelerator Grant program awarded Project 7 $46,600, to be used in developing a competitive federal funding application.

Project 7 provides drinking water for about 60,000 people in the Uncompahgre River Valley and is in the process of developing a backup treatment facility to deliver treated water from Ridgway Reservoir. Currently, Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties’ drinking water comes from a single treatment plant, using water from Blue Mesa Reservoir that is delivered via the Gunnison Tunnel.

The Colorado River District funding will help pay for a feasibility study and a grant application to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for funding to treat hard water with high levels of minerals in Ridgway Reservoir. This study and application will include the results of a pilot project that tested out different means of softening and filtration so that when the backup plant is built, the water it treats will be of the same quality as the current treatment plant. Once the study is accepted by BuRec, Project 7’s Regional Water Supply & Resiliency Program is eligible to apply for federal funding through the bureau’s Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse grant opportunity. Earlier this year, Project 7 secured $612,059 from BuRec’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program, which paid for the pilot project (with a funding match from Project 7).

The push for a second treatment facility is on, because the current, single source puts the region’s drinking water supply at greater risks from wildfire, drought and infrastructure failure. Having a second treatment plant will provide another source of drinking water (from Ridgway Reservoir) and provide a backup option in the event of infrastructure failure at the current plant.

Opinion: Why you should attend the West Slope Water Summit — The #Montrose Daily Press #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Register here. Click the link to read the guest column on The Montrose Daily Press website (Sue Hansen). Here’s an excerpt:

What we need now is your help; I invite you to join us for the West Slope Water Summit on Nov. 10 at the Montrose County Event Center. Even though we are a small community on the western slope, arming our community members with knowledge, encouraging conservation, and researching potential solutions is a role that we all play in the Colorado River system. In its fourth year, the West Slope Water Summit’s theme is “troubled waters” featuring an impressive number of prominent water and conservation experts.

The program begins with Andy Mueller, Executive Director of the Colorado River District, who will address adapting the 1922 Compact to today’s reality. Next, Don Day, Meteorologist Day Weather Inc., is presenting on the State of the Weather: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before the free lunch, our local Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Pope will provide an update to the Colorado River Basin Drought Response as part of a panel of water user board members.

Spots are still available — we recently moved from the conference room to the arena to accommodate a larger crowd. Register at westslopewatersummit.com

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

Aspinall Unit operations update (October 31, 2022): The #Gunnison Tunnel is turning off

Official opening of the Gunnison Tunnel by President Taft at the west portal

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 950 cfs to 370 cfs on Monday, October 31st. Releases are being decreased in coordination with the shutdown of the Gunnison Tunnel on Monday, October 31st.   

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 790 cfs for October and November. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 570 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Aspinall Unit operations update (October 20, 2022): Bumping down releases to 950 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Part of the memorial to Wayne Aspinall in Palisade. Aspinall, a Democrat, is a legend in the water sector, and is the namesake of the annual award given by the Colorado Water Congress. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1050 cfs to 950 cfs on Thursday, October 20th. Releases are being decreased due to reduced demand at the Gunnison Tunnel.  

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 790 cfs for October and November. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 600 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Aspinall unit operations update: Bumping releases down to 1050 cfs October 3, 2022

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1250 cfs to 1050 cfs on Monday, October 3rd. Releases are being decreased due to the heavy rainfall that occurred over the weekend which has reduced demand at the Gunnison Tunnel.  

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 790 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 790 cfs for October. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 750 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 350 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 24, 2022): 340 cfs in Black Canyon #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1350 cfs to 1250 cfs on Saturday, September 24th. Releases are being decreased due to the cooler and wetter conditions that have decreased demand at the Gunnison Tunnel. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 340 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Conditions point to warmer, drier winter in store — The #Montrose Press #LaNiña #ENSO

Colorado Drought Monitor map Septermber 13, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on the Montrose Press website (Katharhynn Heidelberg). Here’s an excerpt:

The Upper Colorado River Basin recorded its ninth-warmest water year on record through August — and five of those record warm water years have fallen within the last 12. Despite recent, good moisture in the Southwest — sufficient to lift some pockets into a drought-free status — the region should brace itself for another warmer, drier winter and lower snowpack next year, climatologist Peter Goble said during the Tuesday, Sept. 13, Southwest drought briefing…Montrose enjoyed some wetter weather earlier this summer. It also saw near-record temperature highs during the first week of this month, which climatologists said is in keeping with the last four or so years. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Wednesday showed most of Montrose County in moderate drought, with a pocket of severe drought.

Goble also discussed long-term temperature and precipitation in the Upper Colorado Basin, delivering the bad — although perhaps unsurprising — news that it’s experiencing yet another warm water year…When it comes to precipitation, the Upper Colorado Basin has seen three drier than normal years in a row…

Goble said although monsoons this year brought some shorter term relief, “arguably” helped with wildfire season and somewhat improved the soil moisture picture, groundwater in the basin is still well below normal. Root zone soil moistures are in better shape than groundwater, but are still on the low side, which is anticipated to negatively influence runoff next year as the drier soils drink down moisture from precip. Goble said 2022’s spring snowpack was low and runoff, even lower, with values peaking between 70 and 90% of normal…Runoff values stood in the 50 to 80% range…

The winter precipitation outlook is not good, Goble said. Data show an increased chance of it falling below normal, edging up to equal chances north of central Utah and central Colorado. The La Niña weather pattern of drier winters is expected to hold sway and overall, the odds of a warmer, drier fall and winter “are elevated,” he said.

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 15, 2022): Turning down releases to 1350 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, September 15th. Releases are being decreased due to the cooler and wetter conditions that have caused the river to rise above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 440 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

#GunnisonRiver #water agencies win $340,000 in federal #drought grants, launch contingency planning — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

he Gunnison Dam. Credit: Creative Commons

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Two Gunnison River water districts in the headwaters of the Colorado River system are embarking on a $700,000 drought planning effort, aided by hundreds of thousands of dollars in new funding from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The Montrose-based Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, one of the largest suppliers of agricultural water in the Upper Colorado River Basin, will spend $400,000 to develop an action plan for dealing with the ongoing and future droughts, with $200,000 in federal funds, and matching funds from local sources.

The Gunnison-based Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District will spend $300,000 for a similar program, with $140,000 in federal funds, and another $166,000 from local partners, according to its application. The Upper Gunnison district is responsible for delivering agriculture water, but also serves the city of Gunnison and the town of Crested Butte as well as the ski area.

Reclamation granted this funding through its WaterSMART program. On Aug. 2 the agency awarded more than $865,000 in drought planning funds to water districts and agencies in five states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon, as well as Colorado.

The seven-state Colorado River Basin is facing severe water shortages and is operating under a basin-wide set of state-level drought contingency plans. Those plans include water cutbacks for users in Arizona and Nevada, and possibly California in the Lower Basin, as well as emergency releases of water from reservoirs in the Upper Basin, including Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa. The Upper Basin includes Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Compared to the multi-million dollar state and federal efforts, the local WaterSmart grants are fairly small, but officials say they provide critical help in important areas and create opportunities to win matching funds from other agencies.

“This really helps because there is so much that has to be done,” said Sonia Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison district. “And anything we can get will help us leverage funding to get more done. A couple of hundred thousand dollars really helps.”

Steve Pope, manager of the Uncompahgre association, said the money will go toward developing contingency plans and designing improvements to the association’s aging federal infrastructure on which it relies.

“Our infrastructure is extremely old,” Pope said. “Even though this grant is for planning purposes it will have a big impact on our system in the sense that it will allow us to best manage our water without having to make big infrastructure changes.”

Pope is responsible for delivering 500,000 to 700,000 acre-feet of water, through more than 700 miles of canals, laterals and drains, to farmers and some small towns in the Gunnison Valley.

Both districts occupy key territory in the Upper Colorado River Basin, with the Gunnison district lying just above Blue Mesa Reservoir, and the Uncompahgre district lying below.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest water storage reservoir operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has been hard hit by drought and by emergency releases of water to help stabilize Lake Powell.

Chavez said her small, largely rural district has never implemented a drought plan, in part because one has never been needed until now.

The new grant funds will allow it to better monitor and analyze its water supplies, develop ways to conserve water, and determine equitable ways for farmers and cities to use whatever water is available.

“If we get into a drought, how is my little community here going to get through that drought?” Chavez said, “and how could we better share the water we do have available?”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 4, 2022) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Aspinall Unit
Click the link for a larger view.

Aspinall Unit operations update (June 9, 2022): Bumping releases to 1400 cfs #ColoradoRiver #GunnisonRiver #COriver

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1400 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, June 9th. Releases are being decreased to save water in Blue Mesa Reservoir as the baseflow targets on the Gunnison River are being met. The forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 68% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 900 cfs for June, July and August.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 380 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1030 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 330 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

The Bureau of Land Management kicks off great outdoors month with two acquisitions through the land and water conservation fund: Acquisitions in Colorado and Wyoming significantly increase access to public lands

Known for its breathtaking scenery, the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a fine example of the spectacular canyon country of Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. Red-rock canyons and sandstone bluffs hold geological and paleontological resources spanning 600 million years, as well as many cultural and historic sites. The Ute Tribes today consider these pinyon-juniper–covered lands an important connection to their ancestral past. The Escalante, Cottonwood, Little Dominguez and Big Dominguez Creeks cascade through sandstone canyon walls that drain the eastern Uncompahgre Plateau. Unaweep Canyon on the northern boundary of the NCA contains globally significant geological resources. Nearly 30 miles (48 km) of the Gunnison River flow through the Dominguez-Escalante NCA, supporting fish, wildlife and recreational resources. The Old Spanish National Historic Trail, a 19th Century land trade route, also passes through it. A variety of wildlife call the area home, including desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, golden eagle, turkey, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and the collared lizard. There are 115 miles (185 km) of streams and rivers in the NCA, and there is habitat suitable for 52 protected species of animals and plants. By Bob Wick; Bureau of Land Management – Dominguez-Escalante NCA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42092807

Click the link to read the release on the Bureau of Land Management website:

The Bureau of Land Management is kicking off Great Outdoors Month by finalizing two land acquisitions in Colorado and Wyoming that will unlock over 40,000 acres of previously inaccessible public land.

In partnership with The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that supports the voluntary protection of public lands and waters, the Bureau of Land Management finalized two acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund: the 160-acre Escalante Creek Parcel within the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area in Colorado, and 35,670 acres of private land southwest of Casper, Wyoming that will unlock access to 40,000 acres of existing BLM and State of Wyoming land.

“The BLM works hard to provide additional access to previously inaccessible public lands by working with partner organizations like The Conservation Fund and through the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “We are so grateful for these partnerships that allow us to conserve and expand access to public lands for many generations to come.”

Marton Property Acquisition

The BLM Wyoming acquisition is the largest land purchase that the BLM has undertaken in Wyoming, creating a 118-square-mile contiguous block of public land and improving public access to the North Platte River.

The Conservation Fund worked closely with the Marton family to acquire the property, and recently transferred it to the BLM for permanent protection using funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund’s initial purchase was also supported by a grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Congress provided funding to acquire the ranch over several years, and BLM received $21 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in 2021 to purchase the ranch in its entirety.

Located east of Alcova Reservoir, the Marton property is bordered to the north by 8.8 miles of North Platte River frontage and extends south into Carbon County. Acquisition of the property will connect formerly inaccessible BLM and State lands and ensure the continued conservation of important wildlife habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse, raptors, and big game species. The property’s proximity to Casper and ease of access furthers the Department of the Interior’s commitment to ensuring equitable access to America’s lands and waters.

“This acquisition marks a big step forward for improving public access,” said BLM High Plains District Manager Kevin Christensen. “Through our lasting partnership with The Conservation Fund, we have a unique opportunity to conserve crucial wildlife habitat at a landscape scale and expand access to the river and public land for our local community and visitors.”

The inclusion of an additional 8.8 miles of public access to the North Platte River, a blue-ribbon trout fishery boasting more pounds per mile of fish than any other stream in Wyoming, provides growth opportunities for the tourism and recreation economy in Casper and Natrona County. In 2021, travelers spent $285.1 million in Natrona County, generating $16.3 million in state and local taxes.

The acquired lands will be managed initially the same as adjoining BLM-managed lands, with existing decisions in place that protect wildlife habitats and other resources while promoting recreation. The BLM will undertake a planning effort to develop management prescriptions specific to the area that take into account the purposes of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the input of Tribes, partner agencies, and the public.

“Ensuring a conservation solution like this one requires not just an outstanding landscape, but outstanding private citizens and public servants to match it,” said Dan Schlager, Wyoming state director at The Conservation Fund. “Thanks to the truly exceptional land management and determination of the Marton family, and an unwavering problem-solving commitment from the BLM, this remarkable landscape will remain permanently conserved for the enjoyment of the entire Wyoming community.”

Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area

The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, located in canyon country of the Uncompahgre Plateau in Western Colorado, is part of the BLM’s National Conservation Lands system. It is designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, Watchable Wildlife Area, and Special Recreation Management Area. The parcel being transferred includes about a half-mile of Escalante Creek, which is home to three sensitive fish species and provides a popular whitewater kayaking destination. The creek is also an important tributary to the nearby Gunnison River. The lands are used for recreation activities like camping, fishing, and kayaking and contain essential wildlife habitats for desert bighorn sheep and mule deer.

“This acquisition in Colorado allows the BLM to permanently protect and enhance the cultural, recreational, and wildlife resources in Escalante Canyon for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations,” said Collin Ewing, Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area Manager. “We appreciate our continued partnerships with The Conservation Fund and the local community that allows us to improve equitable access on our public land.”

The Conservation Fund worked with the former owners of the 160-acre Escalante Creek property to find a permanent conservation solution for their land that will secure public access, improve recreational opportunities, and preserve ecosystem benefits for the local communities.

“Increasing recreational access to the spectacular red-rock canyons in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is a great addition to the public lands that belong to all of us,” said Kelly Ingebritson of The Conservation Fund’s Colorado office. “We appreciate the leadership of the BLM, Colorado’s Congressional delegation, the landowners, and local supporters to protect a strategic treasure on Escalante Creek and in the heart of the National Conservation Area.”

“We are proud to see this land protected for public access and future generations,” said Paul Felin, former landowner, and representative for the family who owned the parcel. “The property’s portion of Escalante Creek is a wonderful recreation area that our family and friends enjoyed visiting since the 1970s, which the public will now be able to experience going forward under the BLM’s ownership.”

Click the link to read the “BLM acquires 160-acre parcel on Escalante Creek” on The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel website (Dennis Webb). Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Land Management has acquired a 160-acre private parcel of land along Escalante Creek southwest of Delta, in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, using Land and Water Conservation Fund money. The land now in public hands includes about a half-mile of the creek. The acquisition occurred with the help of the nonprofit Conservation Fund, which worked with the property’s former owners to find a permanent conservation solution for the land to secure public access, improve recreational opportunities and preserve ecosystem benefits, the BLM said in a news release.

A Conservation Fund fact sheet on the acquisition indicates it’s being made possible with the help of $480,000 in federal fiscal year 2022 Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The fund derives its revenues from federal offshore oil and gas leasing. It receives $900 million a year in permanent funding because of a bill passed by Congress in 2020. The Conservation Fund fact sheet says the acquisition is intended to permanently protect what had been a private inholding within the National Conservation Area.

It is accessible by a county road and is southwest and upstream of the Escalante Potholes Recreation Site. The acquisition will provide new access for camping, fishing and other recreation in a creek corridor also popular for whitewater boating during spring runoff season. The property also provides important wildlife habitat for species such as mule deer and desert bighorn sheep, and protecting it helps protect three sensitive fish species in the creek.

The marinas at #Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir won’t open this season as the threat of a #water release to #LakePowell looms — Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
(Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Public Radio website (Michael Elizabeth Sakas). Here’s an excerpt:

Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior [dropped the reservoir level] 8 feet…from Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison to be sent downstream to Lake Powell. The emergency action was needed to prop up water levels in the nation’s second-largest reservoir, which has hit its lowest level on record amid a 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought in the Colorado River basin. The drop in water levels led to an early closure of the marinas, cutting six weeks out of the lake’s five-month tourism season. The National Park Service told everyone who stored their boats at the marinas that they had 10 days to remove their boats from the reservoir.

Federal and state officials said the plan is to leave Blue Mesa alone this year so it can start to recover. But they acknowledge the Colorado reservoir might be tapped again if Lake Powell needs more water to protect its ability to produce hydropower for millions of people across the West. Because of this possibility, the National Park Service has decided not to open Blue Mesa’s marinas this year…

Loken worries that the closures will hurt the local economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. While the ramp at Elk Creek will remain open, closing the docks means hundreds of people won’t be able to keep larger boats in the water for summer. Loken said many of those boat owners live out of town and don’t want to drive back and forth with their boats each time they want to visit.

Lake Powell does need more water to protect its ability to keep producing hydropower. This year, the federal government plans to take water out of the Flaming Gorge reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border while also holding back releases to downstream states. Loken said since projections show the drought will remain and likely worsen with human-caused climate change, people need to change how the Colorado River and its reservoirs are used.

A fleet of rafts makes its way down the Green River toward its confluence with the Yampa River. Future potential releases of water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to boost levels in Lake Powell shape the flows on the Green River, although it’s not clear how the releases may change flow levels. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smity

Aspinall Unit Forecast for Spring Operations (May 13, 2022)

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight). Click to enlarge:

#Water rights secured for #Ouray Ice Park — Ouray County Plain Dealer

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Click the link to read the article on the Ouray County Plain Dealer website (Mike Wiggins). Here’s an excerpt:

Water court referee S. Gregg Stanway approved a conditional water right for the city of Ouray that will provide 1.1111 cubic feet per second of water from Canyon Creek to the ice park, as well as Ouray Silver Mines’ request to effectively convey its conditional recreational water right to the ice park, providing an additional 3.34 cfs of water. District Court Judge J. Steven Patrick confirmed Stanway’s rulings. The granting of the conditional water rights was the lynchpin in an arrangement among the city, the mine and the ice park. The mine agreed to lease to the city a portion of its water rights that are currently decreed to the Revenue-Virginius Mine, with the city paying $1 a year for the lease for a 10-year term that can be renewed. The ice park will manage the lease…

Ice park managers had initially planned to build a 3-mile water line along County Road 361 and use the city’s water rights to obtain water from Weehawken Creek. But that project carried a $3 million price tag and a lengthy timeline for completion, given that the pipeline would have crossed U.S. Forest Service and private land.

Instead, mine officials proposed donating the conditional recreational water right to the park, noting the mine wasn’t using that water. The mine has access to close to another 3 cfs as part of its water right. Water will be pumped out of Canyon Creek into the park. The revised project is expected to cost around $1 million. The ice park currently uses about 350 gallons a minute to create ice in the Uncompahgre Gorge. The water right from the mine will provide three or four times that amount. And more water should allow for the creation of another 25 to 40 climbing routes, joining the roughly 150 routes that already exist in the park.

“We’ll have more than enough water now,” Ice Park Executive Director Peter O’Neil said Tuesday. “The biggest issue is making sure we have cold enough temperatures, but when we do, we’ll be able to make ice like a maniac.”

Graphic credit Xylem US.

With the water rights in hand, the plan now is for the mine to hire a contractor to drill a well in Canyon Creek just upstream from the confluence with the Uncompahgre River and install a vertical turbine pump in the bottom of the creek. Water can then be pumped into the gorge and the pipeline in the park. O’Neil said the timing of the pump installation depends on flows in Canyon Creek. He’s hoping to do it either late this spring or early in the fall. The goal is to have the project finished in time for park employees to start farming ice using the new system in the fall of 2022.

Aspinall Unit operations update (April 30, 2022): Bumping releases up to 700 cfs

Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 500 cfs to 700 cfs on Saturday, April 30th. Then releases will be increased from 700 cfs to 900 cfs on Monday, May 2nd. Releases are being increased to correspond with the re-startup of diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel. Currently snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is 91% of normal and the forecasted April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir is 80% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for April and May.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 125 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 525 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Say hello to the new newsletter “Nine Basins Bulletin”

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

This is your new water newsletter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

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

Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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

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

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

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

The water treatment process

From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knuth):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ridgway Reservoir during winter

From The Montrose Daily Press (Cassie Knust):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

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

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

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

An engineering marvel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

Ouray County water project faces opposition from state, others: roposed reservoir, pipeline, exchange could have impacts to fish and environmental flows — @AspenJournalism

Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build a 260-foot dam at this location on Cow Creek that would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water. One goal would be to lessen daily flow fluctuations, especially during spring runoff.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

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).

Ridgway Dam via the USBR

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.

Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Colorado Parks and Wildlife opposes the project, in part, because of its potential impact to fish.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

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.

Ridgway Reservoir, on the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County, is popular with boaters. A proposed pipeline project that would bring water from Cow Creek into the reservoir is being met with opposition for environmental reasons.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

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 Colorado Water Conservation Board opposes the project because they said it could injure the state’s instream flow water rights. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the CWCB to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Ram’s Horn reservoir would inundate a section of Cow Creek where the CWCB currently holds an instream flow right.

“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.

This map shows the potential location of Ram’s Horn Reservoir, as well as other reservoirs originally conceived as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project. Only Ridgway Reservoir has been built.
CREDIT: MAP COURTESY WRIGHT WATER ENGINEERS

Complex exchange

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.

Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

#Montrose public takes a peek inside the Sunset Mesa water tower Monday evening — The Montrose Daily Press

Water tower in Orr, Minnesota.

From The 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.

#UncompahgreRiver: Wrongful death suit filed over teen’s 2019 drowning in South Canal — The Montrose Press

South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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.

Tumbling rock destroys bridge to Ouray Ice Park, pipeline to the country’s oldest running #hydroelectric power plant — The #Colorado Sun

Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

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.

Phase I River Improvements Complete — City of #Montrose #UncompahgreRiver

Here’s the release from The City of Montrose:

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.”

Uncompahgre River improvements via the City of Montrose.

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.

Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #GunnisonRiver

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Construction to Begin on #UncompahgreRiver Improvement Project

Starting the week of Oct. 26, 2020 contractors working for the City of Montrose will begin a river improvement project along 0.65 miles (3,400 feet) of the Uncompahgre River.
(William Woody/City of Montrose)

Here’s the release from the City of Montrose:

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.

Aspinall Unit operations update #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Aspinall Unit Operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon National Park July 2020. Photo credit: Claire Codling/The Department of Interior

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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.

#Drought conditions take their toll on Blue Mesa and other area reservoirs — The Montrose Daily Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir September 2017

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

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

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.

Ridgway Dam

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.

Aspinall Unit

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.

Paonia Reservoir

“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.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases to turn down 50 CFS on August 17, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

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.

Aspinall unit operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon starting August 5, 2020

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, 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.

June/July 2020 Newsletter is hot off the presses from The Water Information Program

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.

    A power switch in Colorado — The Mountain Town News

    South Canal. Photo credit: Delta-Montrose Electric Association via The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    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 North Fork Valley, part of the service territory of Delta-Montrose Electric, has been known for its organic fruits and vegetables — including corn. Photo/Allen Best

    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.”

    For broader background see: The Delta-Montrose story is a microcosm of the upside down 21st century energy world

    Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist who publishes an e-magazine called Big Pivots. Reach him at allen.best@comcast.net or 303.463.8630.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 750 CFS in Black Canyon #runoff

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    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.

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

    Aspinall Unit Operations Update

    Aspinall Unit April – July, 2020 Forecasted Inflow

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir
    Current Forecast (June 1) = 395,000 AF (59% of average)

    Blue Mesa Reservoir current conditions
    Content = 595,000 AF (72% full)
    Elevation = 7491.7 ft
    Inflow = 2200 cfs

    Crystal Release = 1450 cfs
    Gunnison Tunnel diversion = 1050 cfs
    Gunnison River flow = 430 cfs

    Spring Operations Summary

    Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

    Hydrologic Category = Moderately Dry
    Peak Flow = 4510 cfs
    Duration at Peak Flow = 1 day

    Baseflow Target: June/July/Aug = 1050 cfs

    (Point of measurement is the Gunnison River near Grand Junction streamgage, commonly called the Gunnison River at Whitewater)

    Black Canyon Water Right

    Peak Flow = 2840 cfs (24 hour duration)
    Shoulder Flow Target = 300 cfs (May 1 – July 25)

    (Point of measurement is the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park)

    Projected Operations

    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.

    Aspinall Unit dams

    Coronavirus makes summer hard to predict, but outdoor recreation maintains strong engagement with local residents — The Montrose Press #runoff

    Rafters enjoy a day on the Gunnison River near Gunnison, Colo., on May 17, 2020. The Gunnison is flowing at about 80 percent of its normal volume for this time of year. Overall, Colorado’s snowpack is melting faster than usual. Along with lower river flows the presence of COVID-19 is creating challenges for commercial river running companies as well as private boaters. Credit: Dean Krakel/Special to Fresh Water News

    From The Montrose Press (Josue Perez):

    Warm weather and spring runoff signal the start of rafting season for many outfitters in Colorado.

    Although the state currently has COVID-19 travel and recreation recommendations, recreation is still in full swing, even with safety measures in place.

    The Bureau of Land Management’s public lands are open for use, including the Gunnison Gorge. However, BLM has recommendations in place:

  • Bringing own supplies
  • Packing out personal trash
  • Reduce cash payments, pay through http://recreation.gov.
  • 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.

    @USBR: Aspinall Unit Spring Operations update

    How big are the discrepancies with snowpack-measuring tech? — The Montrose Press #snowpack #runoff

    San Juan Mountains March, 2016 photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    From The Montrose Press (Michael Cox):

    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.

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    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?

    SNOTEL Site via the Natural Resources Conservation Service

    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.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    First steps taken in developing Cow Creek pipeline and reservoir — the Watch

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    From the Watch (Tanya Ishikawa):

    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.”

    The #UncompahgreRiver Watershed in Ouray County The Basics & A Little Bit More — Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership

    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.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    At 25 years old, Ouray’s ice festival continues to foster — and anchor — the winter sport’s rise — The #Colorado Sun

    Ari Schneider ice climbing in Ouray, Colorado. Julia McGonigle [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

    From The Colorado Sun (William Woody):

    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.

    Shavano Conservation District: The past and the present — The Montrose Press

    Photo credit: Shavano Conservation District

    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.

    Montrose: City approves more funds to help refurbish aging water tank as decades-old structure needs more work — The Montrose Press

    Water tower in Orr, Minnesota.

    From The Montrose Press (Andrew Kiser):

    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.

    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.”