@USBR Announces Public Scoping Meetings for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension, Environmental Assessment

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Brock Merrill):

The Bureau of Reclamation is preparing an environmental assessment (EA) for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Proposed First Increment Extension. Reclamation, working with the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, water users, and environmental and conservation organizations, proposes to extend the First Increment of the basin-wide, cooperative Recovery Implementation Program by 13 years. Reclamation is doing this to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

The purpose of this action is to continue implementing projects that provide additional water, in order to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce flow shortages in the Platte River aimed at conforming with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service target flows
  • Continue land management activities necessary to provide habitat for target threatened and endangered species
  • Continue integrated monitoring, research, and adaptive management, in order to assess the progress of the program and inform future management decisions
  • Reclamation will hold four public scoping meetings during the 45-day scoping period to gather information from other agencies, interested parties, and the public on the scope of alternatives for the EA. The public is encouraged to attend the open house EA scoping meetings, to learn more about the proposal and to assist Reclamation in identifying issues.

    The public scoping meetings on the EA are scheduled as follows (All meetings will be held 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.):

  • October 4, 2017, at Goshen County Fair Grounds, 7078 Fairgrounds Road, Torrington, Wyoming
  • October 5, 2017, at The Ranch Events Complex, 5280 Arena Circle, Loveland, Colorado (Located in the Larimer County Conference Center; park in Lot B)
  • October 11, 2017, at Hotel Grand, 2503 S. Locust Street, Grand Island, Nebraska
  • October 12, 2017, at Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Executive Director’s Office, 4111 4th Avenue, Suite 6, Kearney, Nebraska
  • At each meeting, the public will have the opportunity to provide written input on resources to be evaluated, significant issues or concerns, and potential alternatives.

    Written comments are due by close of business November 2, 2017. Members of the public may submit written comments at the public scoping meetings, via email to platteriver@usbr.gov, or by mail to:

    Bureau of Reclamation
    Attention: Brock Merrill
    P.O. Box 950
    Torrington, WY 82240

    For additional information, please visit the project website at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nepa/platte_river/index.html.

    Water managers seek certainty in #ColoradoRiver Basin — @AspenJournalism #CRDseminar #COriver

    The end of the tunnel that brings water from Hunter Creek to the Fryingpan River drainage, and then on to the eastern slope. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism.

    From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

    Bringing more certainty to an unruly and unpredictable Colorado River system was a common theme among water managers speaking at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar Friday­­.

    Although the drought that has gripped much of the Colorado River basin for the past 16 years has eased up a bit, population growth and the long dry spell have pushed the river’s supplies to the limit, with every drop of water in the system now accounted for.

    Meanwhile, the effects of climate change on the Colorado’s future flows are still a big question mark, and it could mean wide variability in the years to come, with periods of punishing drought followed by a sudden record-setting wet year, as California recently experienced.

    Bill Hasencamp, general manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, described how in April 2015, snowpack in the Sierras was at an all-time low. But by this spring, it was at an all-time high, after a winter of heavy precipitation.

    The change in snowpack eventually lead to huge fluctuations in water prices – from $1,800 per acre-foot at the height of the drought to just $18 per acre-foot this year, Hasencamp said.

    That kind of turbulence places enormous pressure on the Colorado River Basin’s big municipalities, which must secure their water supplies for millions of people, said Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and helps protect Western Colorado’s water resources.

    Kuhn is retiring next year and was making his last formal presentation as general manager of the river district. As he heads into retirement, he’s working on a book with author John Fleck about the history of managing the Colorado River and the creation of the Colorado Compact.

    “The reality is — and we all have to accept this — big-city providers need certainty,” he said. However, Kuhn said he didn’t think that means more transmountain diversions from the West Slope.

    The most obvious source of additional water for cities is agriculture, which holds the lion’s share of senior water rights on the Colorado River, but no one is eager to see rural areas sacrificed for urban growth, Kuhn said.

    So, he added, water managers throughout the basin are figuring out ways to adapt 19th century water laws to a 21st century reality.

    Cooperative agreements between irrigators and municipalities are one option, providing cities with additional sources of water during dry periods.

    Already, a three-year pilot initiative called the System Conservation Pilot Program has shown that farmers and ranchers are open to using less water in exchange for compensation.

    Beginning in 2014, four of the big Colorado River Basin municipalities and the Bureau of Reclamation contributed $15 million to fund water conservation projects throughout the basin.

    The program was in limbo after this year while officials worked out some issues, but Hasencamp said Friday that the funders have agreed to continue the pilot program for another year, in 2018.

    For water managers, these kinds of flexible arrangements, along with rigorous water efficiency, recycling and reuse efforts, are the key to finding “certainty” on an inherently volatile river system.

    Still, those solutions will not be easy.

    As Bill Trampe, a longtime rancher from Gunnison County, explained, less irrigation often comes with unintended consequences such as diminished return flows to the river and nearby fields.

    And as Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, described, efforts to heal the destructive impacts of existing water diversions on the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado, means accepting that future diversions will in fact take place.

    “We tried to form friendships that would help us do more with what we had,” she said.

    California’s Salton Sea presents another dilemma, which reaches back up into Colorado River system.

    The salty inland lake, created by an accidental breach in an irrigation canal, is drying up.

    Since 2002, the state of California has been paying the Imperial Valley Irrigation District to keep the Salton Sea on life support by delivering 800,000 acre-feet of water, but that initiative expires at the end of this year.

    Continuing the water deliveries means using up more of the Colorado River’s dwindling supplies, but letting it dry up means exposing local residents to a lakebed full of toxic dust.

    None of these problems is new, but as many of the speakers at the river district’s annual seminar explained, water managers now have more tools than ever before to address those challenges — and new urgency with which to apply them.

    Recent successes include the successful negotiation of an updated binational water agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 232, that is expected to be signed this month. It will outline how the two countries share future shortages on the Colorado River.

    “We’re at a point where we can work together, and the success we’ve had is from collaboration,” said Becky Mitchell, the new director of the Colorado River Conservation Board. “It’s really all hands on deck.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    “Lack of water doesn’t stop growth” — Eric Wilkinson

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Rebecca Powell):

    The panel last week gave its unanimous support to Northern Colorado Water
    Conservancy District’s plan, which set out to address the impacts of the Northern Integrated Supply Project on fish and wildlife.

    Concerns about the plan have centered on peak water flows and whether flows outlined in the plan will be enough to allow for a flushing that is vital to the Poudre River’s health…

    Both Fort Collins City Council and Larimer County commissioners reviewed the plan, which was released in June.

    Council sent comments back to the commission with recommendations, such as guaranteeing three days of peak flows on the river for critical flushing.

    Commissioners opted not to send feedback to the commission, and its members said they were comfortable with the plan…

    Northern Water is working with 15 Front Range partners who seek to build the project to meet water demands brought upon by future growth.

    “Lack of water doesn’t stop growth. It just changes where it comes from,” Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson told the Coloradoan Editorial Board on Monday. “In Colorado, it’s going to come from ag. … Without this project, there are 100 square miles of farms that will be dried up to provide that water.”

    […]

    Now NISP must go through more water quality mitigation as part of the Federal Clean Water Act.

    An Army Corps of Engineers decision on whether to allow the nearly $1 billion project is expected in 2018, after the proposal has cleared regulatory hurdles in Colorado.

    CPW okays NISP wildlife mitigation plan

    Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice) via The Fort Morgan Times:

    The plan that was approved Thursday addresses the impacts to fish and wildlife due to the development and water diversion associated with NISP. Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, said Friday the approval is a significant advancement of the plan.

    “This was a significant step, there’s no question about that,” he said. “This is a big box we can check off, but there are still a few boxes ahead of us.”

    The plan now goes to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which could give its approval to the project as early as the Sept. 20 board meeting, and then to the governor’s desk for signature.

    There are plenty more boxes to be checked after that; the Environmental Impact Statement could be finished by the spring of 2018, Army Corps of Engineers approval could come sometime in early 2019, and then it’s back to the state level for what’s called a 401 Water Quality Certification.

    Northern’s Werner said it could be 2021 or 2022 before anybody starts moving dirt. He said a proposed law to shorten the length of time it takes to bring water projects online wouldn’t affect NISP..

    According to a CPW statement released on Thursday, the agency has been talking with Northern Water about the concept of this project for the last decade. Northern Water, CPW and the Department of Natural Resources have been discussing the fish and wildlife mitigation and project in earnest since October 2015. After more than two years of discussions, Northern Water presented and released a public draft of the plan at the June commission meeting. Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist with CPW, said Thursday he thinks the plan “provides a reasonable solution for fish and wildlife mitigation.”

    “We understand the public’s concern for the river which is why CPW staff has been engaged in discussions for close to a decade,” he said. “If we were not involved from the onset, the level of mitigation, enhancement and protection of the river corridor and aquatic habitat would not be such a large part of Northern’s plans.”

    A significant part of the mitigation plan, Kehmeier said, is what’s called the “conveyance refinement” flow, or year-round baseline flow plan for the river. The conveyance refinement intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gate will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

    “The conveyance flow program is significant to the fishery and aquatic life because it keeps water in the river on a year round basis,” Kehmeier said. “Overall, the conveyance flow will significantly benefit the aquatic life in the river during the low flow times of the year.”

    As part Northern Water’s plan, a new reservoir will be created for water storage and recreation opportunities for the public. Northern Water has agreed to provide $3 million plus an additional $50,000 per year for CPW hatchery expansion so that the new Glade Reservoir can be managed as a recreational fishery. Additional fishing opportunities will benefit the local and Colorado economy, as the fishing industry generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually.

    Northern Water has also agreed to provide wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements on the west side of the reservoir, including the purchase of 1,380 acres to protect the reservoir drainage area and big-game habitat from development. This is critical winter range habitat for a non-migratory elk herd.

    From email from Northern Water:

    The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan submitted by Northern Water for the Northern Integrated Supply Project at its meeting Thursday in Steamboat Springs.

    The plan will protect the environment, fish and other wildlife in and near the Cache la Poudre River during and after NISP construction.

    Read the CPW press release.

    “This is a significant milestone for us,” said Jerry Gibbens, Northern Water’s NISP mitigation coordinator.

    “We believe the plan is one of the most robust, if not the most robust, mitigation and enhancement plans ever proposed for a water project in Colorado,” said Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson.

    After years of discussion and multiple modifications to the proposed plan, CPW staff and commissioners expressed satisfaction with the updated plan.

    “If you look at this as a package, we’ve hit a balance,” said Ken Kehmeier, CWC’s senior aquatic biologist. “This is a reasonable approach.”

    Northern Water incorporated CPW’s recommendations into the revised plan to help minimize impacts to fish and wildlife habitat during all phases of the project. Northern Water also agreed to minimize the impacts of NISP operations on peak flows in the Poudre River, including adjusting water diversion rates gradually to avoid sudden changes in river flows.

    The peak flow mitigation is a first-of-its-kind commitment to maintain peak flows in the Poudre River nearly every year for geomorphic and aquatic habitat purposes.

    The refined conveyance portion of the plan “will get us water in the river 24/7, 365,” said Kehmeier.

    This year-round baseline flow plan will be crucial for the river’s aquatic habitat and connectivity. The conveyance refinement flow is intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gage will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

    In addition, wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements will be made on the west side of Glade Reservoir. This includes the purchase of 1,380 acres that will be used to protect the reservoir drainage area from development and to preserve big-game habitat, including that of non-migratory elk.

    Trout Unlimited also supports the NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan. David Nickum, executive director of Trout Unlimited said at the meeting Thursday, “We feel this is a solid mitigation plan.”

    After a decade of conceptualization and two years of serious discussion, CPW’s approval was made possible by the dedicated efforts of both Northern Water and CPW staff.

    “The NISP participants want to thank all who have worked on this mitigation plan, CPW and Northern Water staff, for developing a plan we all can stand behind,” said Chairman Chris Smith of the NISP participants committee. “The plan makes for a better Poudre River.”

    Thanks to all NISP supporters who sent comments to the CPW prior to yesterday’s vote!

    Read the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan.

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    CPW Commission unanimously approves NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan @NorthernWater

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

    The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has unanimously approved the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan submitted by Northern Water for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on the Poudre River in Northeast Colorado. This plan is designed to address the impacts to fish and wildlife due to the development and water diversion associated with NISP.

    Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) staff has been talking with Northern Water about the concept of this project for the last decade. Northern Water, CPW and the Department of Natural Resources have been discussing the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan project in earnest since October 2015. Following more than two years of discussions, Northern Water presented and released a public draft of the Plan at the June Commission meeting.

    CPW staff feel that Northern Water’s plan provides a reasonable solution for fish and wildlife mitigation.

    “We understand the public’s concern for the river which is why CPW staff has been engaged in discussions for close to a decade,” said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist with CPW. “If we were not involved from the onset, the level of mitigation, enhancement and protection of the river corridor and aquatic habitat would not be such a large part of Northern’s plans,” said Kehmeier.

    Northern Water has made modifications to its project design and operations, and has committed to work with CPW. Recommendations by CPW are aimed at minimizing impacts to fish and wildlife habitat during all phases of the project. Some of these include:

  • Peak Flow Operations Plan, pg. 46
  • the “conveyance refinement” flow, or year-round baseline flow plan for the river;
  • the retrofit of four diversions that currently do not allow fish passage or sediment transport;
  • Big game habitat mitigation and enhancements
  • The Peak Flow Operations Plan will minimize the impacts of NISP operations on peak flows, higher flows in the spring. Peak flow is important for maintaining spawning habitat for fish and aquatic life. Northern Water has agreed to ramping water diversions gradually to avoid sudden changes in river flows and allow fish to adjust.

    The conveyance refinement is crucial for aquatic habitat and river connectivity. This process is intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gate will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

    “The conveyance flow program is significant to the fishery and aquatic life because it keeps water in the river on a year round basis,” Kehmeier said. The conveyance flow will also meet the Fort Collins River Health Assessment Framework flow of 20 cfs 97 of the time at the Lincoln Street Gage.

    “Overall, the conveyance flow will significantly benefit the aquatic life in the river during the low flow times of the year,” Kehmeier said.

    As part Northern Water’s plan, a new reservoir will be created for water storage and recreation opportunities for the public. Northern Water has agreed to provide $3 million plus an additional $50,000 per year for CPW hatchery expansion so that the new Glade Reservoir can be managed as a recreational fishery. Additional fishing opportunities will benefit the local and Colorado economy, as the fishing industry generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually.

    Northern Water has also agreed to provide wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements on the west side of the reservoir, including the purchase of 1,380 acres to protect the reservoir drainage area and big-game habitat from development. This is critical winter range habitat for a non-migratory elk herd.

    CPW recognizes that the water quality mitigation is not complete and the proposed project still needs to go through a 401 certification as part of the federal Clean Water Act process. This certification will be conducted by Colorado Department of Health and Environment. As part of a recommendation prompted by the Colorado Water Plan, CPW staff will participate in that process and feel that it will further enhance protection of the Poudre River.

    Temperature issues occur in the river on a year-round basis; the conveyance refinement and multi-level outlet tower at Glade Reservoir will aid in mitigating the temperature issues and other potential water quality issues, for example, sediment transport during low flow. The releases from the reservoir will be aerated and the multi-level outlet will allow water to be mixed if it is needed at a particular temperature.

    The Poudre River Adaptive Management Plan, pg 97, will allow a collective group of interested parties that include the City of Fort Collins, Northern Water, CPW, Larimer County and others to go back and make corrections to the plan and operation if any are necessary. The plan will also allow CPW and other parties to continue conducting projects to benefit the river to include floodplain connection, fish habitat enhancements and mitigate sediment transport.

    The Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan will now go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for review.

    The full Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan can be found here: http://www.northernwater.org/sf/docs/default-source/default-document-library/2017-08-22-nisp-fwmep_draft-final-1.pdf?sfvrsn=90f38624_2

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    Yampa River streamflow drops to below average

    Yampa River at Steamboat Springs gage March 1 through September 4, 2017.

    From The Craig Daily Press:

    With the Yampa River flowing well below normal during most of the week preceding Labor Day, the city of Steamboat Springs has closed down commercial tubing in the river where it flows through the city and is asking the public to voluntarily follow suit by refraining from private tubing, paddling SUPs, swimming and fishing…

    It’s not unusual for commercial tubing to be suspended by the first week in September, but the United States Geological Survey was reporting earlier this week that the river had dropped significantly below 100 cubic feet per second, the median flow for the date. Ironically, the stiff rain showers that cooled Steamboat the night of Aug 31 had temporarily boosted river flows by Sept. 1…

    City of Steamboat Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said commercial tubing would not be restored unless river flows return to 85 cfs. But the boost in flows from the rainfall of Aug. 31 is expected to be short-lived; the National Weather Service forecast for the upper Yampa River Valley called for a 20-percent chance of isolated storms the afternoon of Sept. 1, followed by sunny to mostly sunny skies through Sept. 7

    The city and the Colorado Water Trust had been collaborating since earlier this summer on boosting the flows in the Yampa with water procured from the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District’s Stagecoach Reservoir, and that effort will resume.

    Romero-Heaney said efforts to boost the Yampa’s flows will likely continue until early October, when the managers of Lake Catamount, downstream from Stagecoach, begin releasing water as they draws down the reservoir in anticipation of spring runoff in 2018…

    The USGS reported at midday Friday that the Yampa was flowing at 97 cubic feet per second, just below median for the date. The lowest Sept. 1 river flow measured at the Fifth Street Bridge, was the 24 cfs, reported in 1934.

    @Northern_Water: “We will deliver day in and day out, every single day of the year, 18 [CFS]” — Jerry Gibbens

    Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    [Tom] Donnelly and Lew Gaiter met with representatives of Northern Water during their administrative matters meeting Tuesday to consider input previously given to the commissioners from the Larimer County Environmental and Science Advisory Board.

    The volunteer citizen members of the committee expressed several concerns with the plan, including the plans for flushing the river, the flow levels and what advisory members considered to be “fuzzy at best” plans for paying for promised mitigations and enhancements.

    From Northern Water, general manager Eric Wilkerson and project manager Jerry Gibbens explained to the commissioners Tuesday that those issues had been addressed. They showed figures explaining how the mitigation plan improves the frequency of flushing the river and how it will ensure water in the river through all seasons as opposed to now when there are times that certain sections in Fort Collins are dried up.

    “We will deliver day in and day out, every single day of the year, 18 (cubic feet per second) in the winter and 25 cfs in the summer down river,” said Gibbens…

    As far as the funding, Northern Water is committing to $53 million in mitigation and improvements. They agreed to pay $13.8 million outright, Gibbens said. While Northern Water will look for partners and other funding sources for the rest ($39.2 million), they will make sure that every aspect of the plan is completed, according to Gibbens…

    After hearing from Northern Water, the commissioners decided not to forward any comments to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which will vote on the plan next week. They said they appreciate the concerns brought forward by their advisory commission and are satisfied that Northern Water has addressed them to the county’s satisfaction.

    Commissioner Lew Gaiter said he was pleased that the information presented by both the environmental board and Northern Water served as education for the community…

    The wildlife mitigation plan is available online at http://www.gladereservoir.org and information on how to submit comments, due this Friday, is available at http://www.cpw.state.co.us.