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

Navajo Dam operations update

Update: From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Wednesday, July 1st starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program has recommended base flows as close to 500 cfs as possible for the summer of 2020. This is within their normal recommended range of 500 to 1,000 cfs. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to decreasing flows in the San Juan River Basin, and a dry weather forecast, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 600 cfs on Tuesday, June 30th starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

A kayaker makes her way down the San Juan River, which delivers water from Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to Lake Powell. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#NISP update

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday heard details of plans for constructing and operating the project, which would include building Glade northwest of Fort Collins and laying 35.6 miles of pipeline to carry NISP water out of the county.

The information packet given to commissioners, including staff reports, environmental impact statements and comments from numerous government agencies, is 3,242 pages.

The packet includes more than 500 comments from members of the public, including groups and individuals who have been fighting NISP since it was proposed in 2004.

Concerns about the project and its impact to the Poudre River during federal and state permitting processes were raised again along with new issues on the county level by environmental group Save the Poudre and others.

Larimer County plans several hearings

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of three planned by the planning commission on NISP. It consisted of presentations by county staff members and representatives of Northern Water, the main proponent of NISP.

No public comment was taken. That will happen during hearings scheduled July 8 and 15. An additional meeting would be scheduled if needed to allow Northern Water time for rebuttal following the public comment, county officials said.

Northern Water is seeking a 1041 permit — named for the state law giving authority to local governments to make decisions on certain types of infrastructure projects — for NISP. The planning commission will make a recommendation on the application to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant a permit.

Three of the nine planning commission members recused themselves from the proceedings citing the potential appearance of impartiality or conflicts of interest: Anne Best Johnson, community development director for the city of Evans, which is a participant in NISP; Bob Choate, an attorney who might be called upon to give legal advice on the project to the Weld County commissioners; and Sean Dougherty, a Realtor who represents a landowner who might be affected by the project…

Under the county’s 1041 regulations, the county’s purview of NISP is limited to the siting of Glade and associated recreational facilities and the locations of four large pipelines that would carry NISP water through Larimer County.

The project must meet 12 criteria for approval, including that the project would not negatively impact public health and safety and the “proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse (effects) and the benefits achieved by such mitigation,” according to the land-use code.

County development review staff members said the proposal meets the criteria and recommended approval of the permit with 82 conditions, including requirements for several reports and plans for addressing issues such as noise and dust during construction.

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

As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs.

Facilities at Glade would include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking, fishing and boating. A four-lane boat ramp would be built on the southeast side of the reservoir.

The facilities would increase recreational opportunities as envisioned in county master plans, said Daylan Figgs, Natural Resources director.

Demand for access to recreation will likely increase as the county grows in the years to come, Figgs said. The facilities proposed by Northern would cost about $21.8 million. NISP would cover 75% of the cost, with the rest coming from the county directly or through partnerships.

[Nancy] Wallace said she was “struck” that the county might have to contribute to the cost of recreational facilities. NISP doesn’t appear to “give much to the county” other than its recreation components and water for Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, she said…

Christine Coleman, a water resources engineer with Northern, told the commissioners $49 million in NISP environmental mitigation work would be done in the county.

The final environmental impact statement for NISP estimated development of the reservoir could bring in $13 million to $30 million a year in economic benefits, Coleman said. The project would contribute $16.35 million to recreation facilities at Glade…

To keep water flowing in the Poudre, which can dry up in spots under certain circumstances, NISP would release water from Glade back to the river through a 1.3-mile pipeline.

The added water would flow 13 miles through Fort Collins before it is picked up by another pipeline upstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Mulberry Street. The guaranteed flow through the city would be between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.

“This will increase flows at the Lincoln (Street) gauge in Fort Collins and the Poudre River in eight out of 12 months in average years and 10 out of 12 months in dry years,” said Stephanie Cecil, a water resources engineer with Northern.

Water would be pumped into a pipeline running east to a pipeline along County Road 1 running south. The pipeline would affect some city-owned natural areas.

A fourth pipeline would carry water from Glade along a route known as the “northern tier” and connect with the county line pipeline.

The pipe would run through the Eagle Lake subdivision, sparking resistance to the proposal from local residents…

Cecil said the pipelines would require 100-foot easements, of which 60 feet would be permanent and 40 feet would be temporary for constructions. Property owners would be paid fair market value for easements, and surface disruptions would be reclaimed to pre-existing conditions or better.

NISP’s pipelines would range from 32 to 54 inches in diameter. The northern tier pipeline would carry about two-thirds of the water going to NISP participants, Cecil said…

What’s next for NISP in Larimer County

The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to take public comment on NISP during hearings schedule July 8 and July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.

Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

Comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed. Groups and individuals who wish to speak in person or remotely must register at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.

The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.

Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Larimer County staff has recommended approval of a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project with requirements that include noise, water and air quality monitoring and mitigation during construction of its reservoirs and associated pipelines.

    Engineering, health department and planning staff members outlined that recommendation to the Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday during the first of a three-part public hearing for the reservoir project, which over the past decade has drawn vocal opposition and support.

    Northern Water hopes to build the water project on behalf of 15 water providers as a way to pull water in wet years, from both the Poudre and South Platte rivers, to store for when needed. All of the participants have water conservation plans and have reduced their water use by 10%, but still need future water supplies, according to Northern Water…

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the main permit to build the project — a decision expected sometime this year after more than a decade of evaluation. However, Larimer County does have some authority through its 1041 permit on certain aspects of construction of the reservoir and its associated pipelines as well as recreation on and surrounding the reservoir.

    The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Larimer County commissioners, who will hold a public hearing that is scheduled across three Mondays starting Aug. 17 and will end with a decision on whether to grant the 1041 permit.

    The first of the planning commission dates, Wednesday, was a presentation by Northern Water and by Larimer County staff. Public comment is slated for the next two hearings, scheduled July 8 and July 15…

    Some highlights of the presentation, from both county staff and Northern Water representatives, include:

  • The realignment of U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins is not part of the 1041 permit, but Larimer County is asking that the design take into effect the impacts on nearby county roads including the already dangerous intersection with U.S. 287 and Colo. 14.
  • Glade Reservoir would be able to store 170,000 acre feet of water with 1,600 surface acres and water that could hit 250 feet at its deepest. The reservoir would be 5 miles long, and the project would include four separate pipeline segments spanning a total of 35.6 miles.
  • Recreation at the reservoir would be detailed closer to construction to reflect trends and interests at the time but would include a mixture of boating, camping, fishing and trails that would help meet demands for a growing Larimer County population. Overall, Northern Water has proposed $21.8 million in recreation amenities and improvements, including a visitors center. Northern Water has committed to covering 75% of those costs through the project; the remainder would be covered through partnerships.
  • Northern Water would need to mitigate impacts on traffic that would range between 400 and 1,600 average daily trips during construction of the reservoir, up to 300 daily trips associated with construction of the pipelines and an average of 1,150 daily trips associated with recreation.
  • Larimer County would require traffic management, dust and noise mitigation plans, as well as groundwater monitoring. Construction would be limited to daytime, and the county would require private well monitoring to ensure that those water sources are not polluted.
  • County staff members believe any impacts on wildlife, wetlands, streamflow, fisheries and other natural resources would be mitigated by existing measures in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that was approved by state officials in 2017, as well as through a water quality permit based on multiple studies and evaluations. The mitigation plan calls call for $53 million in improvements, including fish-friendly bypasses at diversion structures, a low flow plan to keep more water in the Poudre River through Fort Collins and enhancements to wetlands and wildlife habitat.
  • The project proposes swapping irrigation water from the Poudre River with water from the South Platte River, which will prevent “buy and dry” of farmland. This could keep more than 60,000 acres of irrigated farmland in production, according to Northern Water.
  • Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

    #Water-Related Outdoor Recreation in #Colorado Generates Over $18 Billion Annually — The Business for Water Stewardship

    In the Gunnison River gorge, CPW Aquatic Biologist Eric Gardunio, holds a whirling-disease resistant rainbow trout. CPW is stocking fish resistant to the disease throughout the state. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    From the Business for Water Stewardship (Claudia Hensley):

    New study finds Colorado’s waterways support over 100,000 jobs and billions in tax revenue across the state

    Anew​study​releasedbyB​ usinessforWaterStewardship​todayfoundthat water-related outdoor recreation in Colorado ​produces $18.8 billion in economic output, and contributes $10.3 billion to the state gross domestic product (GDP) overall​. According to the study:

  • 6.7 million people participate in water-related outdoor recreation​ in Colorado annually, whether in the form of hiking, jogging, camping, fishing or other water-related activities on or around Colorado’s waterways.
  • Water-related recreation supports over ​131,000 jobs a​ round the state that provide​ $6.3 billion in household income ​and generate an estimated ​$2.7 billion in tax revenue.
  • “The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said ​Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship​. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”

    “The access to unparalleled outdoor recreation is part of what makes living in Colorado so special. But it’s not only about quality of life — outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of the state economy, and Colorado’s waterways are an essential economic engine,” said ​Molly Mugglestone, Director of Communications and Colorado Policy, Business for Water Stewardship​. “Investing in clean and plentiful waterways isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business. Continued stewardship of Colorado’s waterways is essential to the long-term health of Colorado’s economy, ecosystems, and communities.”

    The study, conducted by ​Southwick Associates​, presents economic contributions based on estimated retail spending in Colorado attributable to time on or along the water spent engaging in one of nine target activities (trail sports, camping, picnicking or relaxing, water sports, wildlife-watching, fishing, snow sports, bicycling or skateboarding and hunting or shooting) across nine river basins (Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, San Juan / Dolores San Miguel, South Platte, Yampa / White Green). Of the nine basins surveyed, the Colorado River mainstem alone generates $3.8 billion in economic output annually and supports 26,768 jobs.

    “We believe it’s critically important to promote the outdoor industry’s importance to Colorado’s economy and our way of life. These figures are staggering, but not surprising,” said ​David Dragoo, founder of Mayfly Outdoors.​ “At Mayfly, we see the impact that recreation and engagement has on our community in Montrose as well as across the state. We think it’s part of our job to help ensure our communities can access and enjoy our rivers and waterways. Protecting river resources is even more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    In releasing this study BWS has partnered with the Outdoor Industry Association to promote the critical need to protect Colorado’s rivers and waterways. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic driver in the state and Colorado is home to many outdoor businesses and to our industry’s largest gathering, Outdoor Retailer, said ​Lise Aaangeenbrug, executive director,​ ​Outdoor Industry Association.​ “While we can’t gather as an industry this summer in Denver, watching the growth of people going outdoors during the pandemic and the release of this important data gives the industry great hope for the future. Protecting our state’s public lands and waterways are more important than ever to provide places to go outside and support the health and wellbeing of our communities.”

    “We know that our great outdoors, including Colorado’s beautiful rivers, are a huge part of what makes our state such a great place to call home, drawing millions of people from around the globe every year and bringing industry and business here. But we can’t stop at enjoying nature – we must also protect it for the future. This study shows how much our state’s economy depends on preserving our rivers. We must continue to protect our quality of life and keep our environment as a top priority,” said ​Kelly Brough, President and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

    A raft, poised for action, on the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Denver Post (Judith Kohler) via The Broomfield Enterprise:

    The report released Monday by Business for Water Stewardship said 6.7 million people participate in water-related recreation annually, supporting more than 131,000 direct and indirect jobs. That translates to $6.3 billion in household income, $2.7 billion in tax revenue and roughly $10 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the analysis by Southwick Associates.

    “The general message is the importance of rivers, waterways, to our economy,” said Molly Mugglestone, director of Colorado policy for the business organization. “We need to preserve and protect these areas that people want to go to and spend time on.”

    […]

    The report relies on spending data collected by Southwick Associates for the Outdoor Industry Association and a survey that looked at where people recreated. The report includes responses from 1,252 people and targets such activities as swimming, rafting, kayaking and other sports on the water as well as trail running along the water, fishing and wildlife watching.

    The report analyzes statewide data and date for nine river basins in the state…

    The Business for Water Stewardship’s promotion of keeping waterways healthy is a big benefit for the outdoor industry, [David] Dragoo said. “As an industry, we don’t really have any infrastructure, if you will. Our corporate infrastructure is our public lands and our waters.”

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1040 CFS through the Gunnison Tunnel

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased to 1650 cfs on Friday, June 19th. Releases are being increased to maintain flows 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 below the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to return to levels above the baseflow target once the release increase 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 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 430 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1040 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 630 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    South Platte River flood remembered 55 years later — 9News.com

    From 9News.com (Nelson Garcia):

    As people head out on the waters of Chatfield Reservoir, many probably don’t realize the lake is there now because of what happened 55 years ago on June 16.

    “It was a 20-foot wall of water when it hit Littleton,” Jenny Hankinson said.

    She is Curator of Collections at the Littleton Museum and helped put together an exhibit about the 1965 South Platte River Flood…

    On June 14, 1965, Hankinson said about 14 inches of rain fell upstream near Castle Rock and Deckers adding too much precipitation to Plum Creek and the South Platte River forcing water over the banks collecting debris along the way…

    Hankinson said 13 bridges were washed out along with 2,500 homes causing more than $500 million in damage at the time across Colorado. In 2020 dollars, that is the equivalent of more than $4.1 billion…

    Due to the flood, Hankinson said development along the river is now smarter with fewer buildings, more parks and open land that can absorb the water. But, the biggest protection is the dam at Chatfield Reservoir built eight years after the flood.

    Trains at 14th St and South Platte River June 19, 1965. Photo via Westword.com

    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

    “Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available” — Don Anderson #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Humpback chub are one of four federally endangered fish species that rely on habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Recent abundant flows of Colorado River water between Palisade and the Gunnison River confluence during another spring runoff season weren’t entirely the work of Mother Nature.

    They also were the product of a coordinated, voluntary effort by operators of upstream reservoirs to coordinate releases of water into the river to bolster peak flows in that stretch of river and aid in the recovery of endangered fish.

    This was the 12th coordinated release since the first one occurred in 1997, and the fifth one in the last six years. The coordinated releases occur as conditions warrant and allow each year, to flush out fine sediment in gravel beds that serve as spawning habitat for rare fish. They also improve habitat for insects and other macroinvertebrates that fish feed on…

    The upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are home to four endangered fish. Don Anderson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee who serves as the instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a public-private partnership, said that what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the Gunnison River confluence is primarily used by two of the endangered fish, the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. But a third endangered species, the bonytail, sometimes makes use of the stretch. And a fourth, the humpback chub, which favors deep, rocky, fast-flowing stretches in places such as Westwater Canyon downstream, also indirectly benefits from water releases primarily aimed at bolstering flows in the 15-Mile Reach.

    The 15-Mile Reach experiences less of a spring runoff peak than some other parts of the Colorado River because of Grand Valley irrigation diversions just upstream. The goal of this year’s coordinated releases was to achieve daily flows averaging at least 12,900 cubic feet per second upstream at Cameo, an amount that was nearly achieved on some days last week. At times during a couple of days flows exceeded 13,000 cfs, Michelle Garrison, senior water resource specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told entities involved in the coordinated release program in a conference call Wednesday. She said the effort was a success, and Anderson agreed. He told participants that without getting hung up on exact numbers, flows at that level, which meant peak flows of about 12,000 cfs in the 15-Mile Reach, do good work for the endangered fish and their habitat.

    The effort involved in part coordinated releases by the Bureau of Reclamation from Green Mountain Reservoir, Denver Water from Williams Fork Reservoir, and the Colorado River District from Wolford Mountain Reservoir. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District also was a participant.

    “Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available,” Anderson told reservoir operators…

    The coordinated releases can have benefits far beyond the 15-Mile Reach. Anderson said this year’s coordinated releases helped downstream in the Moab area by topping off flows into a wetland that is a potentially valuable razorback sucker nursery. Also, Utah state wildlife officials have reported concerns about seeing smallmouth bass, which prey on endangered fish, possibly spawning for the first time below Westwater Canyon. The coordinated releases may have helped combat that due to the higher and faster flows, cooler water temperatures and increased water turbidity.

    Coordinated runoff flows are just one water-delivery effort targeting the 15-Mile Reach. Each year releases of dedicated endangered fish water are made to boost low flows in the reach later in the summer. Also, releases sometimes are made around early April to supplement flows in the reach after irrigation diversions have begun but before the river levels gain from spring runoff. This year was the first year such releases occurred after stored water was specifically held over from last year with the primary goal of possibly serving that purpose.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service says various recovery efforts appear to be working, with scientific analysis showing the razorback sucker and humpback chub could be reclassified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

    #NewMexico shells out $2.4M for trial team in #Texas #water fight — The Santa Fe New Mexican #RioGrande #aridification

    Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

    From The Sante Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland):

    The state will pay a total of $2.4 million to two law firms as a seven-year water dispute between New Mexico and Texas inches closer to a trial.

    Each law firm received a $1.2 million sole-source contract, which was not open to competitive bidding…

    The state Attorney General’s Office, however, said in a legislative newsletter the sole-source contracts were necessary because litigation would be disrupted if new law firms came in at this late stage.

    The trial is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2021.

    When asked about the hefty fees paid to the Albuquerque and Denver firms, Matt Baca, a spokesman for the attorney general, said they are “some of the best water lawyers and federal court litigators in the country.”

    “The trial team is working aggressively to put New Mexico in the best position to prevail at trial,” Baca said in an emailed statement. “Our focus heading to trial is fighting to protect precious water resources for farmers, tribes, and all New Mexico families.”

    The U.S. Supreme Court case involves complex legal wrangling but is simple at its heart.

    Texas has accused New Mexico of letting farmers pump groundwater for irrigation near the Rio Grande, reducing the river flow and denying Texas its full share of water under [the] 82-year-old [Rio Grande Compact…

    The Supreme Court appointed a “special master” to oversee the case.

    Two years ago, the special master set deadlines for the legal battle, ordering that discovery of new evidence would end in the summer of 2020 and the case would then go to trial in the fall. The trial since has been bumped to next year.

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    Roberto Salmón, Mexican Commissioner, Steps Down From Mexican Section Of The International Boundary Waters Commision #ColoradoRiver #COriver #RioGrande #aridification

    Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:

    After 11 years of service on the Mexico-United States International Boundary and Water Commission, Roberto Salmón Castelo has stepped down from his position as Mexican Commissioner.

    A graduate of the University of Arizona with a master of science degree in agricultural economics, Salmón was appointed to the position of Mexico IBWC Commissioner on April 15, 2009.

    In his time with the Commission, which has the responsibility for applying the boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, the two nations have taken huge steps forward in assuring that commitments to the primary binational water agreement in the Southwest – the 1944 Mexico-U.S. Water Treaty – were faithfully upheld.

    “It was pleasure working with Commissioner Salmon,” said Jayne Harkins, Commissioner, United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission.

    “He was visionary and worked to find benefits to both countries on international projects. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”

    Thanks to a minute to the Treaty backed by Salmón in 2010, Arizona and the other Basin States were able to participate in binational discussions on Colorado River matters. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke observed that the personal relationships that developed from those discussions helped pave the way for future binational agreement.

    “Commissioner Salmón recognized the value of personal relationships and worked to develop trust among colleagues on both sides of the border,” recalled Buschatzke.

    “That work was a key component in successfully negotiating the minutes and managing the Colorado River.”

    Commisioner Salmon with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, at a November 2012 in San Diego (Tami A. Heilemann — Office of Communication, U.S. Department of Interior)

    In November 2012, Salmón joined in San Diego with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other representatives of both countries at an official signing ceremony of Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty. The ceremony capped three years of work to reach an agreement on a set of cooperative measures for management of the Colorado River system lasting through 2017.

    Commissioner Salmón observed at the time that the agreement paved the way for cooperation that can “guarantee sustainability” in the border region, particularly on future water supply for Mexican border communities.

    Salmón again was on hand at the U.S. “entry into force” event in September 2017 in Santa Fe, which constituted the final flourish of the intense binational negotiations over Minute 323, the successor update to Minute 319.

    Minute 323 established a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.

    Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River system in the U.S.

    The updated agreement also opened up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead. ICS is playing an important role in helping to keep the reservoir from descending to dangerously unstable surface levels.

    Salmón’s work on the Commission extended to developments that directly impacted Arizona’s capacity to express its interests in Colorado River matters.

    In 2010, he participated in treaty negotiations that produced Minute 317, known as the “Conceptual Framework for U.S. Mexico Discussions on Colorado River Cooperative Actions.” It established a binational process for coordination on Colorado River matters and expressly called for Basin State participation.

    Also in 2010, Salmón negotiated with his U.S. counterparts on the enactment of Minute 318, which called for the creation of deferred water deliveries to Mexico after infrastructure damage caused by the 2010 Mexicali earthquake.

    Minute 318 allowed Mexico to implement a form of its own ICS, then called “deferred deliveries.” Because Mexico could not beneficially use water as a result of extensive earthquake damage, the water was saved in Lake Mead for Mexico to use in future years.

    In an interview with the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center published shortly after his appointment to the Commission in 2009, Salmón hailed the level of cooperation on water issues between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly through the IBWC.

    “Although there have been rough times in the relationship, the IBWC has been able to succeed, to the benefit of both countries,” he said.

    “(T)here is an accumulated knowledge and methodologies developed for dealing with delicate issues that have worked in the past, and still work in the present.”

    Salmón replaced Arturo Herrera who died in a plane crash in late 2008 along with his U.S. counterpart, Carlos Marin, while flying over flooded areas near Ojinaga, Mexico.

    Salmón’s experience in water and agriculture is extensive.

    Prior to assuming his position with the Commission, he served as Northwest Regional Manager of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua), known as CONAGUA, and covering the state of Sonora and part of the state of Chihuahua where the Yaqui and Mayo river basins originate.

    His duties with CONAGUA were sweeping. The federal institution deals with all aspects of water in Mexico. Among its many missions, CONAGUA administers water rights, and constructs, manages, operates and maintains reservoirs throughout the country. CONAGUA also manages irrigation districts and units.

    The organization also is involved in the extensive negotiations occurring among the many stakeholders and interest groups in Mexico concerned with water issues – tasks that, in later years, would provide great preparation for Salmón’s duties with the Commission.

    #Runoff news: Generally below average streamflow W. of the Continental Divide of the Americas @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Roaring Fork River near Mill Street in Aspen was flowing around 255 cfs on Thursday afternoon. The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff will peak here for the year on Saturday. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Flows in local rivers are peaking this week, with a spring runoff that is slightly earlier and lower than normal.

    “It kind of depends on where you are, but on the Colorado (River’s) main stem, for sure, the peak is below average,” said Cody Moser, senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City.

    But despite the lower-than-average flows, this weekend is probably one of the best of the year to go boating on local waterways.

    Vince Nichols, owner of the Aspen-based rafting company Blazing Adventures, said this weekend’s relatively big water is akin to a powder day.

    The company is running trips on the upper Roaring Fork River, especially the Slaughterhouse section between Cemetery Lane and Woody Creek, and doing so in accordance with Pitkin County-mandated social-distancing and cleaning guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “This will likely be one of the high-water weekends of the year,” Nichols said. “For the next seven to 10 days, there will be really good rafting conditions on the Roaring Fork.”

    Flows in the Roaring Fork, at its confluence with the Colorado in Glenwood Springs, are predicted to be 74% of average for April through June. According to stream gauges, the Roaring Fork appears to have hit its peak seasonal flow on June 2 at just over 4,000 cubic feet per second. The normal period for peak runoff at this location is between May 29 and June 23, at about 5,900 cfs.

    Predicting the exact day of peak flows near Aspen is trickier. The forecast center is predicting a peak for the Roaring Fork in Aspen on Saturday, at 490 cfs, because of rain expected that day. The Roaring Fork at Mill Street was running at a daily high of about 330 cfs on Thursday.

    There would be more water flowing through Aspen if not for the Twin Lakes Tunnel, which takes water from the Roaring Fork headwaters near Independence Pass to Front Range water providers. About 600 cfs of water from the upper Roaring Fork basin was being diverted through the tunnel Thursday.

    “The challenge is we’ve got that big warmup and precipitation in the forecast in this weekend,” Moser said. “It’s kind of a tough call.”

    The low runoff, despite a snowpack that was slightly above normal, is due to 2019’s dry late summer and fall, plus this year’s drier-than-average March, April and May. Dry soils and plants sucked up a lot of the moisture before it made its way into the streams.

    This photo taken on Thursday, June 4, shows little snow left on top of Independence Pass, the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. This year’s peak spring runoff is slightly earlier and lower than normal. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Below-average flows

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey gauges, the Crystal River near Redstone appears to have peaked on June 2, at about 1,750 cfs. The Crystal at this location usually peaks between May 25 and June 18, at about 1,930 cfs.

    Downstream on the Colorado, flows peaked in DeBeque Canyon, above Grand Junction, on June 2, at about 13,300 cfs. A typical peak is about 17,000 cfs between May 24 and June 12.

    This year’s peak flows on the Colorado near Grand Junction were augmented by releases from several upstream reservoirs to the benefit of endangered fish in the 15-mile reach between Palisade and the Gunnison River, which flows into the Colorado in central Grand Junction.

    Beginning May 29, Green Mountain Reservoir, Wolford Mountain Reservoir, the Moffat Tunnel and other water-storage facilities released water to enhance the Colorado’s natural peak in the 15-mile reach. The augmented high flows enhance fish habitat.

    Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River, did not participate in the coordinated reservoir operations this year because there was not surplus water to contribute, said Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation who manages water levels in Ruedi.

    “I was getting kind of worried about fill a month ago,” Miller said. “I was pretty sure we didn’t have extra. We haven’t received anything near average precipitation for part of April or all of May.”

    Ruedi Reservoir, which can hold 102,373 acre-feet of water, is currently 79% full. Releases from Ruedi will decrease Friday to allow it to fill, bringing flows on the Fryingpan to 115 cfs. Miller said it could end up about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling this year, which usually happens in early July.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit and investigative news organization that covers water and river issues in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the June 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

    From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

    As of June 3, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 745 cfs, lower than the average for June 3 of 1,560 cfs.

    The highest reported flow total for the San Juan River came in 1948 when the river had a reported flow of 4,090 cfs.

    The lowest flow total for the San Juan River came in 2002 when the river had a flow of just 116 cfs.

    #NMInFocus: Geoffrey Plant Web Extra #GilaRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    New Mexico In Focus, a Production of NMPBS

    As part of his beat, Geoffrey Plant of the Silver City Daily Press covers water issues, including the proposed diversion of the Gila River that has garnered interest across New Mexico and the nation. In his conversation with correspondent Laura Paskus, Plant looks ahead to irrigation season given New Mexico’s drought conditions. He also talks about the release of a draft environmental impact statement concerning the proposed Gila River diversion and how the local community has responded to a bill introduced by New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich that would designate the Gila River and parts of its watershed as Wild and Scenic.

    To read more about the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, visit: https://www.tomudall.senate.gov/gila

    To read the draft EIS on the proposed diversion (and submit public comment before June 8), visit: https://www.nmuniteis.com/documents

    And to watch New Mexico In Focus’s Our Land episode about the Gila River, visit: https://www.newmexicopbs.org/producti…


    Want more New Mexico in Focus?

    Subscribe for new videos: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL4s…
    Visit our website: https://www.newmexicopbs.org/producti…

    Connect with us:
    Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/nminfocus
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    Join the conversation with: #NMinFocus

    Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

    Western #Colorado #water purchases stir up worries about the future of farming — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Water Asset Management has been buying up properties irrigated by the water in this canal. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett/Luke Runyon). Click through to play the recording and for the great photo gallery showing farms purchased by Water Asset Management:

    For five years, Zay Lopez tended vegetables, hayfields and cornfields, chickens, and a small flock of sheep here on the western edge of Colorado’s Grand Valley — farming made possible by water from the Colorado River.

    Lopez has a passion for agriculture, and for a while, he carved out a niche with his business, The Produce Peddler, trucking veggies seven hours away to a farmers market in Pinedale, Wyoming.

    Lopez also moonlights as a Realtor, with his finger on the pulse of the local real estate market. A few years ago, he noticed a strange new phenomenon. Much of the irrigated agricultural land sold in the valley — such as parcels just down the road from his farm — wasn’t being bought by another farmer. Instead, his new neighbor was Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund with deep pockets.

    When Lopez and his wife Leah grew tired of trying to make ends meet, they decided to pack up and move to southern Colorado to grow hemp. They, too, sold their 26-acre farm to WAM.

    “It was hard to make the mortgage payment plus all of our other payments, and I didn’t see — with our current model of what we were doing — how we could get out of that hole,” he said. “Selling the farm wasn’t really a choice. We had to do it.”

    Lopez’s recent sale is the continuation of a trend that has made some in the agricultural communities west of Grand Junction nervous; has created a buzz among water managers; and has led state lawmakers to pass a bill looking at strengthening Colorado’s anti-water-speculation law.

    WAM is buying irrigated land as an investment in the future potential value of the water. Although the company isn’t doing anything illegal, its actions have rekindled deep-seated and long-held fears about water in the West — that it could hasten the death of agricultural communities’ way of life and create an unregulated market for water that would drive up prices and drive out family farms.

    Because of these sensitive issues, many people in the Grand Valley are reluctant to talk about WAM and what it is doing. Meetings have erupted in anger, some who have sold have become social pariahs, and top water officials from the valley’s canal companies refuse to talk to reporters on the record. For a while, a local rancher was actively updating a website “wall of shame” for people involved in Grand Valley water deals.

    “They are the same concerns that have existed since the 1930s,” said Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center. “The east slope municipal diverters or an investment firm — it doesn’t matter who it is — are going to be able to offer more money for water than you could derive from farming or ranching. The concern is that if that becomes a trend, then the whole economy of the Western Slope changes and the agriculture economy will be very different and smaller than it is now.”

    The Walton Family Foundation provides funding to KUNC and partial funding for Castle’s work. A member of the Walton family currently provides funding to Aspen Journalism via the Catena Foundation.

    Farmer Zay Lopez ran his small market farm in the Grand Valley’s far west end for five years, using water from the Colorado River to grow vegetables. In December 2019 he sold his 26-acre farm to Water Asset Management. Photo credit: Luke Runyon/KUNC

    Water Asset Management

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    Since 2017, WAM has spent $16.6 million buying up 2,222 acres of irrigated agricultural land in the communities of Fruita, Loma and Mack, west of Grand Junction. The company is now the largest landowner in the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the nonprofit canal company that delivers water to many Grand Valley irrigators.

    WAM now owns 1,659 acres in the GVWUA delivery area, which according to its website has 23,341 irrigated acres. That means the hedge fund owns about 7% of the land irrigated by the Government Highline Canal.

    WAM, whose headquarters is on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, says it “seeks to be a leader in managing global water investments that solve water quality and availability issues,” according to its website. WAM is run by co-founder and principal Disque Deane Jr., while Matthew Ketellapper has been doing much of the “boots on the ground” work in the Grand Valley as the company’s Colorado asset manager.

    Deane has been involved in water markets in the West for years, buying water and land tied to water rights. He doesn’t give many interviews, but according to a 2016 ProPublica article, “debt, death and divorce” has become his sort of motto, because those circumstances drive people to sell.

    WAM are cash buyers — a rare offer in this rural area. In many cases, WAM makes improvements to irrigation infrastructure, such as adding center pivots and lining ditches, and leases the land back to farmers to keep it in agricultural production.

    Grand Valley’s farmland is expansive, with views stretching west to Utah, north to the Book Cliffs and south to Colorado National Monument. It is also exceedingly dry. The area where Lopez’s former farm is located was once a community of homesteaders known as New Liberty, who eked out a living by dryland farming before the construction of irrigation infrastructure, a notion at which Lopez marvels.

    Not much would grow here without the region’s two main irrigation canals, which draw water from the Colorado River: Government Highline Canal and Grand Valley Irrigation Canal. The bigger of the two, the 55-mile-long Government Highline, snakes through the northern part of the valley and is managed by GVWUA. One hundred and fifty miles of ditches known as laterals bring water from the main canal to individual farms.

    In mid-March, before the water began flowing in the canals and bringing the annual green return of irrigated agriculture to this valley, the air was thick with smoke as farmers burned their ditches and the earth was dusty, brown and parched.

    What leaves people scratching their heads is this: How does a New York City investment firm plan to make money from marginal desert land in western Colorado?

    “Everyone is very cautious about what these guys from New York are doing out here buying up our ground,” Lopez said. “I mean, honestly, it’s still kind of a mystery what their overall vision is.”

    The Government Highline Canal flows past Highline State Park. WAM, a New York City-based hedge fund, has been buying up parcels of land that have water rights to the canal. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    ‘Temporary, voluntary, compensated’

    The key to WAM’s overall vision may lie in demand management, a state program still in the investigation and feasibility stage.

    At the heart of such a program envisioned by state officials — and designed to be “temporary, voluntary and compensated” — is the concept of paying irrigators to use less water by fallowing fields. By doing so, there will be more water in the Colorado River flowing downstream to be stored in Lake Powell in an effort to bolster reservoir levels and help Colorado meet its Colorado River Compact obligations.

    The future of the demand management feasibility investigation is unclear because the state on May 1 cut its budget by $750,000 due to the COVID-19-caused state financial crisis.

    The thing many water managers and users in Colorado fear most is what’s known as a compact call. Under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) are required to deliver 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the Lower Basin states (California, Nevada and Arizona). If the Upper Basin can’t deliver because of drought, climate change or any other reason, it could lead to a compact call, triggering involuntary cutbacks and an interstate legal quagmire that could drag on for decades.

    A new demand management program would allow Colorado to send water to a 500,000-acre-foot pool in Lake Powell that would act as a modest insurance policy to help protect the Upper Basin against a compact call.

    The Grand Valley, which takes its name from the “Grand River,” the historical name for the Colorado River, is well-positioned for a demand management program. Water left in the river at this location is almost certain to reach Lake Powell because there are few major diversions between here and the giant reservoir.

    And entities in the Grand Valley have rights to a lot of water. With 1912 adjudication dates, Grand Valley irrigation districts are some of the most-senior water rights on the Colorado River and can call about 2,200 cubic feet per second down through the river system.

    There is some precedent that a demand management program would work in the Grand Valley, as some irrigators here have participated in two different experimental pay-to-fallow programs undertaken by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the GVWUA. These types of programs have intense interest from many sectors, including municipalities, which often see transferring water from agriculture as a viable way to increase their supplies, as well as from environmental organizations that would like to see more water stay in the river.

    Water Asset Management bought this 57-acre parcel as part of a $6 million deal in January. The land is irrigated with water from the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Canal. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Returns on water

    Since 2017, WAM has made investments in Grand Valley agriculture, choosing to make purchases of parcels in batches every few months. But in the past six months, the hedge fund has taken one step that signals what could be a renewed effort to sway Western water rules in its favor.

    WAM recently brought onto its team a heavy hitter in the world of Colorado River politicking: Denver-based attorney James Eklund.

    Eklund is the former director of the state’s top water policy agency, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and served as the state’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, another powerful policymaking agency on the river. He was one of the architects of the Drought Contingency Plan, the document that made the case for a demand management program throughout the Upper Basin. Soon after he left these public posts, he began representing WAM as counsel.

    Eklund, who comes from a Western Slope ranching family, says WAM’s strategy is to buy irrigated land and then pump money into cutting-edge technology and practices, thereby increasing irrigation efficiency and crop yield. The leftover water could be, in exchange for payment, sent downstream under a demand management program.

    “I definitely think that if there’s a program that pays farmers, (WAM is) interested in it — and for good reason,” Eklund said. “They want to make sure their investment is generating the types of returns that their investors expect.”

    That strategy doesn’t sit well with Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. His organization’s mission is to protect water interests on the Western Slope, which often means protecting agricultural interests. He worries that WAM’s land buys are being done with the intent to separate the water from the land and that the private equity fund does not have the community’s best interest at heart.

    “I think a charitable view would be that they are engaging in the acquisition of private property in a capitalistic society, and they have the right to do that,” Mueller said. “And that might be as charitable as I could get with them.”

    So far, WAM has been keeping the land in agricultural production, much the same as it had been with previous owners. According to Colorado water law, to retain its agricultural water rights, the company must continue to put the water to “beneficial use,” or, in other words, utilize the water to keep growing crops.

    And Mueller’s fear of separating water from land isn’t currently possible under the rules of GVWUA, where three-quarters of the land purchased by WAM sits. Under that organization’s rules, the water cannot be sold separately from the land; you must own the land to get the associated water.

    Without access to GVWUA records, it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out exactly how much water WAM has the rights to. Class 1 land irrigated by GVWUA comes with 4 acre-feet of water per acre each irrigation season.

    There is not a way to tell from publicly available property records how much of the land WAM has purchased is irrigated Class 1 land. But if all the land WAM has purchased is Class 1, then it would have at least 6,636 acre-feet of water.

    Eklund said the amount of water held by WAM is akin to financial information, which the hedge fund, per its policy, won’t disclose. GVWUA director Mark Harris and the organization’s counsel, Kirsten Kurath have both repeatedly declined to be interviewed on the record for this story. However, Kurath, said in an email that GVWUA is aware of and monitoring activities within its district.

    Another lingering, hard-to-answer question is how much WAM’s water is worth. Under the System Conservation Pilot Program, run by the Upper Colorado River Commission, Grand Valley farmers were paid $200 for every acre-foot of water they left in the river. Using this number as a benchmark, WAM’s 6,636 acre-feet of water could currently be worth more than $1.3 million. But that price the program paid to farmers was to lease it for only one year, which could bring the true value of the transferred water to tens of millions of dollars, experts say. How much it could be worth in a hotter, drier future is unknown.

    “A lot of the crops we grow are not very profitable, so I think they are projecting, hey, this water is going to be more valuable than even the crops they are growing with it,” Lopez said.

    Mark Harris, General Manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, checks on the entrance to Tunnel 3, where water in the Government Highline Canal goes through the mountain to Palisade, continuing to Grand County. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    Preventing speculation

    WAM’s land buys have not escaped the attention of Colorado lawmakers, who say what the company is doing is legally dubious. State Sen. Kerry Donovan is a rancher who represents District 5, a stretch of rural mountains, agricultural valleys and ski towns on the Western Slope.

    In the 2020 legislative session, before the coronavirus pandemic slowed legislative activity, she sponsored Senate Bill 48, which Gov. Jared Polis recently signed into law. The new legislation directs Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources to convene a workgroup to explore ways to strengthen the state’s anti-speculation law.

    “I also hope (this bill) sends a message to people that might be looking to Colorado to make a quick buck that we’re not interested in that type of behavior in our state,” Donovan said. “If you’re just coming up here to buy up water to turn into a profit in the years to come for your clients, like, ‘No, thank you.’”

    Colorado’s current anti-speculation doctrine is based on case law that says those seeking a water right must have a vested interest in the lands to be served by the water and must have a specific plan to put the water to beneficial use.

    “(WAM’s) goal is to buy assets, to make money — and as much money as they can,” Donovan said. “I don’t want that type of player in the prior appropriation system, just full stop.”

    WAM attorney Eklund says the investment firm’s directors are not speculators; they are farmers.

    “The characterization of any farming or ranching operation that is putting water to a beneficial use as a speculator, that’s just plain-and-simple wrong,” he said. “In light of Colorado water law, this is not accurate as a description that they’re speculating here.”

    Eklund sees a bigger role for WAM and other similar players in a potential future water market. He would like to see Colorado fill up that insurance pool in Lake Powell as quickly as possible and said WAM can help the state do that.

    “(WAM is) looking at how they can move water down to Lake Powell to avert a crisis,” Eklund said. “And they’re trying to make sure that we’re becoming more resilient in the agricultural economy in the Grand Valley by strategically planning for how that water gets into the account in Lake Powell.”

    Since 2017 Water Asset Management has bought 1,659 acres of land in the delivery area of the Grand Valley Water Users Association. Their most recent purchase was of land irrigated by the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Canal. Credit: Kaitlin Ketel w/Mesa County parcel data via Aspen Journalism

    A shift?

    The type of land purchase that WAM usually pursues has recently shifted. All of the Grand Valley land that the company bought up until this year had been irrigated with water from the Government Highline Canal, where the right to water depends on how much irrigated acreage someone has and where water is tied to the land.

    But WAM’s most recent purchase in January was a $6 million deal on 541 acres in Fruita and irrigated by the Grand Valley Irrigation Company Canal, the other big player in Grand Valley agriculture. In its delivery system, shares of water can be bought and sold, and the amount of water is not tied to the land. It marks a departure from the company’s previous purchases, even as Eklund maintains it’s not a change in WAM’s strategy.

    “I would say it’s very significant,” Mueller said. “Land that is irrigated under a private water right like the GVIC, that becomes more challenging and more threatening from a permanent-dry-up perspective.”

    But even as suspicion and skepticism run high, some Grand Valley farmers, including Lopez, say WAM has been a good neighbor so far.

    “Absolutely, they are committed to the future of agriculture in the Grand Valley. They are fronting a lot of money to do these irrigation projects and leasing the ground back to the farmers who had farmed it already,” Lopez said. “Now, is that just to look good to the community and their investors? I have no idea.”

    This story is part of a series on water investment in the West, produced by KUNC in Greeley, KJZZ in Arizona, The Nevada Independent and Aspen Journalism.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit and investigative news organization that covers water and river issues.

    KUNC’s Colorado River reporting project is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

    #Runoff news: Blue River in Silverthorne closed due to high water — Summit Daily

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

    The Summit County Sheriff’s Office and town of Silverthorne have temporarily closed the Blue River from the base of the Dillon Dam to the Sixth Street Bridge in Silverthorne, according to a press release. The closure is due to high water caused by snow runoff being released from the dam.

    Denver Water notified the town and Sheriff’s Office that water in the Upper Blue north of the Dillon Dam had reached 1,000 cubic feet per second on Monday, June 1. Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons and Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor agreed there was a risk of serious injury or even death presented by the high water.

    The closure will remain in place until water levels are low enough that recreational boaters can safely pass under the Sixth Street Bridge.

    USFS solicits comments on proposed #Aurora dam near Holy Cross — The Aurora Sentinel

    A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Aurora Sentinel (Grand Stringer):

    The White River National Forest opened a public comment period last week concerning the next phase of a would-be reservoir project dubbed the Whitney Reservoir. Water authorities in Colorado Springs and Aurora plan to divert water near the Vail Valley — normally destined for the Colorado River — to the Front Range by way of pumps and tunnels.

    Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, said in November the Whitney Reservoir could eventually hold between 9,000 acre-feet and 19,000 acre-feet of water.

    For comparison, Cherry Creek Reservoir stores more than 134,000 acre-feet.

    Aurora Water and its southern counterpart, Colorado Springs Utilities, applied for a Special Use Permit to do so. Geologists would conduct ground-level seismic analyses of the ground below and also drill up to 150 feet below the surface. Currently, the operation proposes ten drilling sites.

    The water could help Aurora meet the needs of a rapidly-expanding city while capturing water rights Aurora already holds, Baker said. He estimated the reservoir could be completed in 25 years if key steps were met, including a geological analysis.

    The Whitney Reservoir project drew early attention from Colorado River conservationists and a fishing association concerned for the health of local fish habitats and the river system. Prolonged drought and existing diversions have already diminished Colorado River flows in recent decades.

    The project could also impact pristine wetland ecosystems and would also require cutting near 500 acres from the Holy Cross Wilderness.

    Members of the public can find more information about the project on the U.S. Forest Service website. Comments can be made any time but will be “most helpful” if submitted before June 30, 2020, the Forest Service said in an information release…

    To comment on the project, or propose a different course of action, submit a comment online at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=58221.

    Opinion: Don’t hurt farmers to save the #ColoradoRiver — Explore Big Sky #COriver #aridification #DCP

    A large irrigation canal in the Grand Valley, which relies on water from the Colorado River to irrigate fields. The state is exploring how a voluntary, temporary and compensated water-use reduction plan, known as demand management, might work. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Explore Big Sky (Andy Mueller):

    No one denies it: Overconsumption of water and extreme drought caused by climate change are realities driving the Colorado River into crisis. But some solutions are better than others.

    Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt suggested recently in a Writer’s on the Range column that “retiring” 10 percent—some 300,000 acres—of irrigated agriculture would save 1 million acre-feet of the Colorado River. Secretary Babbitt wants the federal government to pay farmers in both the Lower and Upper Colorado River basins to dry up their cropland.

    The imbalance on the Colorado River needs to be addressed, and agriculture, as the biggest water user in the basin, needs to be part of a fair solution. But drying up vital food-producing land is a blunt tool. It will damage our local food supply chains and bring decline to rural communities that have developed around irrigated agriculture.

    Let’s look at the river’s problems. First, Secretary Babbitt minimizes the challenge as the overuse of the river’s system is even greater than 1 million acre-feet. The flow is so diminished that the end of the line, the Colorado River Delta, hardly receives any water.

    The three states that make up the Lower Colorado River Basin—including the former Secretary’s home state of Arizona—have in recent years consumed at least 1.2 million acre-feet more per year than the 8.5 million acre-feet allotted to them under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

    This overuse has been perpetuated because the Lower Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation fail to account for the losses caused by evaporation from reservoirs and the transit losses during water deliveries. The first step in fixing the imbalance must be elimination of the Lower Basin’s overuse.

    Through the Drought Contingency Plan, the Lower Basin is actively reducing its water consumption when Lake Mead hits critically low levels. But while this is a good start, more must be done.

    Climate change is a major cause in reducing Colorado River flows, with recent studies putting the reduction between 3-5.2 percent for every 1 degree rise in temperature. Important water-producing parts of our basin, such as Western Colorado, have already seen temperatures rise by as much as 4 degrees since 1895, and predictions for a 2- to 5-degree increase in the foreseeable future will compound the trend.

    It might be surprising to learn that the Upper Basin’s annual consumption of Colorado River water—less than 4.5 million acre-feet—is far below the 7.5 million acre-feet allotted to the four Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. But this is hardly the time to increase diversions. To sustain the communities and the ecosystems that depend upon the Colorado River, all water users—both Upper and Lower Basin states—will need to consume less water.

    The Colorado River District has taken a stand against “buy-and-dry” practices because we recognize the environmental and economic harm of drying up agricultural lands. If the health of the river is balanced solely on the back of agriculture, the 10 percent suggested by Secretary Babbitt today will almost certainly lead to 20 percent tomorrow.

    In Western Colorado, most of our agriculture is family owned and operated. These family farms provide a local food supply, form the backbone of our rural communities, and they are already under economic stress. So what can be done to both help the river and keep rural life intact?

    Initiatives must be aimed at reducing consumptive losses due to inefficient irrigation systems. At the same time we need to incentivize selective retirement of marginal land, all while providing technical support and funding for growers to switch to higher-value crops. The Lower Basin must reduce the cultivation of highly water consumptive crops in the increasingly hot desert, such as cotton and alfalfa raised solely for export.

    Increased funding is better directed to off-farm and on-farm irrigation improvements and growing alternative crops. An example of that kind of effort is the Lower Gunnison Project in Western Colorado, a partnership between agricultural producers, the Colorado River District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This project improves diversion structures by piping delivery ditches and modernizing irrigation technology on farms. The producers are also experimenting with new crops such as hemp and hops.

    From a purely mathematical standpoint, the Lower Basin has to reduce its 1.2 million acre-feet in overuse. That’s a big start. But in both basins, agriculture must improve the way it uses scarce water taken from the river. We have no time to lose.

    Andy Mueller is a contributor to Writers on the Range (writersontherange.org), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is general manager of the Colorado River District and spends his time protecting the flows of the Colorado River and its tributaries in Western Colorado.

    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.

    Tri-State doesn’t feel a ‘sense of urgency’ in deciding water rights — The Craig Press

    Ice breaks up on the Yampa River as Spring invites warmer temperatures. Should the water that the nearby Hayden and Craig power plants use be allowed to stay in the river once the plants cease to operate, native and endangered fish species in the river would have a higher chance of survival. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

    From The Craig Press (Dan England):

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission doesn’t feel a sense of urgency in deciding what will happen to its water rights after 2030, when the plant closes. But it does feel everyone else’s.

    “Tri-State and our members are acutely aware of the importance of water to communities,” the company said in a January statement, “as a key element of future economic drivers.”

    …Tri-State uses 16,000 acre-feet of water a year…Residents are concerned about it being pumped over to serve the Front Range based on the Western Slopes past water history, and others hope that it’s reserved for local agriculture or even for turning Dinosaur Monument into a national park.

    Tri-State had a meeting with those community leaders to start the process of figuring out who may get those water rights and was planning more when the virus hit, meaning things are on hold for now. But that is OK, Stutz said, as he’s reminded officials, repeatedly, that the plant has quite a bit of time to reach a decision.

    That’s a decade, if you’re counting, and even after the plant closes, it will need the water to complete reclamation, which should last until early 2030 and maybe longer, Stutz said. That was the tone of the first meeting, said Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck, one of the more heavily involved local officials in Tri-State affairs, as well as one of its biggest supporters…

    As with any discussion about water, it’s complicated, as Tri-State’s water rights are junior, meaning others have rights that take priority, and are for industrial purposes and therefore cannot be automatically transferred to another user, Beck said. Tri-State acknowledges that, stating that there’s more than one owner of the station as well as those other water rights to consider.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia. Ranchers and farmers in the valley have largely ignored Division Engineer Erin Light’s order to install measuring devices as of December, 2019.

    Bear River administration May 24, 2020 — Scott Hummer

    Bear River at Hernage and Kolbe Ditch May 23, 2020. Photo credit: Scott Hummer/DWR

    From email from Scott Hummer at the Colorado Division of Water Resources:

    Bear River Water Users,

    Effective at 9:00 am, tomorrow, May 24, 2020: The Bear River will go on Call and under Administration.

    The Swing Right (most junior right partially in priority) will be Yamcolo Reservoir, Admin #41329.00000…the dry up point is the Nickell Ditch.
    All current diversions “junior” to Admin #41329.00000…Must be curtailed.

    Water will be released from Yamcolo tomorrow morning in order to meet the demand by Senior rights at the bottom end of the system.

    There is currently not a need for any water users Senior to Yamcolo Reservoir to place an order for the delivery of contracted/stored water.
    The Call situation will be subject to change dependent upon a variety of circumstances, I’ll keep you posted as to any changes in a timely manner.

    UYWCD is currently planning to calibrate the new measuring equipment in the Five Pine Ditch on Tuesday the 26th…and there may be some fluctuation in river flows during the task.

    Please contact me with any further questions or comments.

    Respectfully,
    Scott

    We are rivers podcast: We can make a lot happen when we have a plan — @AmericanRivers #COWaterPlan

    From American Rivers (Page Buono):

    Join us for a two-part miniseries of our podcast series We Are Rivers. We’ll learn more about Stream Management Plans, an innovative planning tool prioritized in Colorado’s Water Plan, from people working with stakeholder groups and communities across Colorado to put them in place.

    Orr Manufacturing Vertical Impact Sprinkler circa 1928 via the Irrigation Museum

    Water has always been the architect of life in Colorado. Communities have worked within the availability, demands, and constraints of water to engineer lives and livelihoods. Water designs our lives as much by its availability as it does by scarcity—perhaps even more. In 2013, the State of Colorado recognized the impending impacts of rising populations, increasing demand across the state and the West, and a changing climate, then-Governor John Hickenlooper called for a plan to address these issues. He directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board—the government entity tasked with conserving, developing, protecting and managing the state’s water—to work with diverse stakeholders and develop Colorado’s first water plan. You can learn more about the Plan from Episode 6 in our podcast series.

    Seven-point draft conceptual agreement framework for negotiations on a future transmountain diversion screen shot December 18, 2014 via Aspen Journalism

    In some ways, Colorado’s Water Plan articulated and formalized ways to meet the needs of agriculture, land use, and storage that were already in place. But it also did something else: for the first time, the Colorado Water Plan called for the consideration and integration of environmental and recreational flow needs. This decision came from growing recognition of the critical role rivers play in local economies, and the immense ecosystem services that healthy, functioning rivers and streams provide for all values—human and environmental. With this in mind, the Water Plan outlined a goal of inspiring community-driven development of Stream Management Plans for 80 percent of locally prioritized rivers and streams.

    In the first episode of this miniseries, we hear from Nicole Seltzer, Science and Policy Manager of River Network, who talks us through the fundamentals of the stream management planning process. Holly Loff, Executive Director of Eagle River Watershed Council, shares on-the-ground experiences of a community planning effort along the Eagle River, and Chelsea Congdon-Brundige, a watershed consultant in the Roaring Fork Valley, shares her highlights from a similar but unique effort for the Crystal River.

    As you’ll hear in the podcast, a critical component of Stream Management Planning is the diversity of stakeholders and interests at the table; the important and foundational role of science; and the way each Plan is unique to the community that builds it. SMP’s (as they’re often referred to) are really more about process than a final product, and the greatest win is the long-lasting trust inspired through tough but important conversations across values. SMPs aren’t designed to prioritize any one interest, but instead to bring agriculture, the environment, municipal needs, and recreation alongside one another for the best possible solutions for all.

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    If you’re inspired by this first Episode, and we suspect you will be, make sure to tune in for part 2 (coming 6/1/20) . We’ll hear from some of the same voices and from new ones from the Rio Grande Basin – including Heather Dutton with the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Emma Reesor with Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project – about the groundbreaking and inspiring ways communities are working together to plan for the future of the rivers and streams that bind them, and all of us, together. Join us – and listen in today!

    Flood Mitigation is Messy: An Argument for High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams — Mile High Flood District

    Addressing flood risk after an area has already developed is complicated, expensive, and messy in every way you can imagine. This video will recap a challenging flood mitigation project that was 20 years in the making and contrast it with the Mile High Flood District’s modern approach to urban stream design – an approach we call High Functioning and Low Maintenance Streams (HFLMS)

    #Runoff/#Snowpack news: Average streamflow expected for the #YampaRiver

    Bear River at CR7 near Yampa / 3:30 PM, May 16, 2019 / Flow Rate = 0.52 CFS. Photo credit: Scott Hummer

    From Steamboat Today (Holly Kirkpatrick and Andy Rossi):

    For water managers, the onset of spring is signaled by the reactivation of stream gages.

    That’s right, the day field technicians awaken the extensive network of flow data collection instruments from their winter hibernation is highly anticipated in the water world. But what does that mean for the non-water nerds who are simply enjoying warmer temperatures? The short answer is a lot, particularly if you enjoy water activities.

    Stream gages, operated by the state of Colorado and U.S. Geological Survey, give water managers, agricultural producers, recreationists and emergency managers valuable information needed to coordinate the use of our most valuable natural resource, water. Before stream gages are activated and spring runoff begins, water managers monitor snowpack to forecast river flows.

    Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) is an extensive system of instrumentation extending from the U.S.-Canada border to the southern reaches of Arizona and New Mexico that tracks snowpack data which determines the amount of water that will end up in our rivers, streams, and lakes when temperatures rise.

    The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District incorporates snowpack data and runoff forecasts for the Yampa River to manage the timing of filling Stagecoach and Yamcolo reservoirs, which can be a delicate balance. The forecast products used by Conservancy District are updated on a regular basis by incorporating new snowpack and climate data as it becomes available.

    In addition to all this data, real-world observations can be used to improve the usefulness of the forecast products developed by public agencies. Real-world observations made by a robust monitoring network of citizen scientists provide valuable information. Citizen scientists are those who have a close relationship with rivers and streams, including agricultural producers, outdoor enthusiasts and water facilities operators.

    Now for the good news, forecasts suggest a healthy average runoff for the Yampa River system and thus far, this year’s early spring runoff in observed streamflow levels has reinforced those forecasts. So round up your boat gear and get ready to enjoy some warmer days. Spring has finally sprung in the Yampa Valley.

    And, if your spring is signaled by the end of calving season and the beginning of irrigation season, don’t forget about Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District’s grant program funding diversion infrastructure improvements. Call Holly Kirkpatrick at 970-439-1081 or visit upperyampawater.com/projects/grants for more information.

    Holly Kirkpatrick is the communications and marketing manager and Andy Rossi is the district engineer with Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

    From The North Forty Times:

    Play It Safe Tips

  • Wear a life vest
  • Use proper flotation devices
  • Wear shoes
  • Wear a helmet
  • Don’t tie anything to yourself or to your tube/raft/kayak
  • Safe to Go?

  • Know the weather and water conditions
  • Poudre River water is melted snow – it is always cold!
  • Avoid logs, branches, rocks and debris
  • Know Where You Are

  • Take a map
  • Plan your take-out location before you get in the river
  • Float Sober, Float Safe

  • Alcohol and drugs impair judgment
  • Be Courteous

  • Pack it in; pack it out
  • Share the river
  • What if you flip?

  • Do not stand in the river – avoid foot entrapment
  • Float on your back with feet pointing down river and toes out of the water
  • Use your arms to paddle to shore
  • The delicate dance of Dillon Reservoir during spring #runoff — @AspenJournlism #snowpack

    Dillon Reservoir in Summit County is the largest reservoir in the Denver Water system, holding more than 257,000 acre-feet of water when it’s full. With two outlets — the Blue River and Roberts Tunnel — Denver Water officials say it’s complicated to operate. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (David O. Williams):

    Denver Water officials increased the release of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River to about 400 cubic feet per second in the first week of May as inflow held steady at about 500 cfs through Monday, May 11. The latter number is expected to steadily rise as spring runoff picks up.

    The current forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center estimates as of May 11 that there is 146,000 acre-feet of water — in the form of snowmelt — that will flow into Dillon Reservoir through July 31. There’s currently 17,500 acre-feet of space in the reservoir, according to Denver Water, so about 128,500 acre-feet will flow out of the reservoir either to the Blue River or Roberts Tunnel by July 31, with an estimated 13,000 acre-feet through the tunnel.

    All of these complex calculations are the first steps in a delicate dance Denver Water performs each spring to balance public safety with Denver’s water needs, recreation, hydroelectric demands and obligations to downstream senior water-rights holders.

    “Dillon is our biggest reservoir and one of our more complicated to operate,” said Nathan Elder, water resources manager for Denver Water. “Most of our other reservoirs only have one outlet, but Dillon’s got both the outlet to the Blue and the outlet to the Roberts Tunnel, which provides water to the East Slope and down the North Fork (of the South Platte River) to Strontia Springs Reservoir and then to our customers.”

    The Roberts Tunnel, finished in 1962 about the same time the old town of Dillon was relocated to its current spot and the Dillon Dam was built, is a 23-mile concrete conduit that diverts water from the Blue River basin on the Western Slope to the South Platte Basin on the Front Range to supply more than 1.4 million Denver Water customers.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    This system is what’s known as a transmountain diversion — one of many that bring water from the Colorado River basin on the west side of the Continental Divide to the state’s population center on the Front Range. What it’s not, Elder said, is a way to avoid dangerous spring-runoff flooding.

    “We can’t use Roberts Tunnel as a flood-control option,” he said. “So we’re very careful about the amount of water we take from the West Slope over to the East Slope. And when we use the Roberts Tunnel, we can only take it over to the East Slope if it’s put towards the demand. We can’t just dump it over there to prevent flooding or high flows below Dillon.”

    The 2014 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement places a 400,000 acre-foot limit on Blue River water stored in existing or future Denver Water storage facilities on the Front Range.

    There are more than 1,000 properties in regulatory floodplains in Summit County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and quite a few of them are along the Blue as it makes its way northwest through Silverthorne and toward its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling.

    The Blue River travels north-northwest through Dillon Reservoir to its confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling. Each spring Denver Water performs a delicate balancing act to accommodate flows from snowpack runoff. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

    Snowpack melting

    This time of year, as snowpack begins to melt into local tributaries — the Blue, Snake River and Tenmile Creek all feed Dillon Reservoir from the south — Elder and his team closely monitor snowmelt forecasts and weather reports to coordinate with local officials to prevent flooding.

    “Denver Water has worked with the town over the years to release water from Dillon Reservoir at rates between 50 cfs and 1,800 cfs,” said Tom Daugherty, Silverthorne’s director of public works. “They have done a very good job of doing that. Denver Water attends our local meetings concerning snowmelt runoff and inform us of what they expect.”

    FEMA designates 2,500 cfs as a 10-year flood level just below Dillon Dam, while 3,350 cfs there would be a 100-year flood level. The amount of runoff pouring into the reservoir varies widely, depending on weather conditions and snowpack, from a low inflow of 410 cfs in the drought year of 2012 to a high of 3,408 cfs in 1995.

    The amount of snowpack on the Front Range and rate of melting due to high temperatures or rain events also impacts when Denver Water turns on the Roberts Tunnel and how much water it takes out of Dillon Reservoir. The Blue River Decree dictates that Denver Water needs to keep as much water on the Western Slope as possible and can take water only to meet demand.

    “Last year was a good example of that,” Denver Water spokesman Todd Hartman said. “We had so much snowpack on the Front Range that we just didn’t need the Roberts Tunnel water and couldn’t take it because of that demand issue.”

    That resulted in higher flows on the Blue below the dam last runoff season.

    “It got up to around 1,900 cfs, and we didn’t actually turn on the Roberts Tunnel until the second week in August last year,” Elder said. “That’s after everything on the East Slope filled, and we started dipping into that storage and streamflow dropped off on the East Slope.”

    This year, there’s a similarly healthy snowpack above the reservoir and also decent snowpack on the Front Range, but temperatures have been higher and the spring runoff season hasn’t been nearly as wet and cool as last year.

    “We have a Snotel (snow telemetry) site on top of Hoosier Pass, which is extremely important for monitoring that basin and for forecasting, and it’s still at 121% of normal right now,” Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer said in early May. “It looks like it did actually have a net accumulation through April and is just really just starting to turn around and melt out now over the last few days with this warm weather.”

    The Natural Resources Conservation Service produces snowmelt forecasts used by Denver Water, which also taps into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast center.

    Based on information from Snotel sites, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 127% of normal. The forecast center’s inflow outlook for Dillon Reservoir is 104% of average, and the forecast from the Natural Resources Conservation Service was 107% of average.

    The first priority for Denver Water is to fill the reservoir to meet customer needs, but it also tries to minimize high flows out of the reservoir via the Blue River and maintain water levels so that the Frisco and Dillon marinas can operate from June through Labor Day. Elder said the minimum operating level for both Dillon and Frisco marinas is 9,012 feet in elevation.

    The goal, Elder said, is to get the reservoir to that level or higher by June 12. On May 11, the surface level of the water in the reservoir was at 9,010 feet. The reservoir is full when the elevation of the water, as measured on the dam, is 9,017 feet, which is 257,304 acre-feet of water. At 9,010 feet, the reservoir is holding about 236,232 acre-feet of water.

    Release too much and too early — to avoid high flows and flooding downstream — and Denver Water runs the risk of missing the chance to fill Dillon for use by its customers later in the summer season as well as keep the reservoir full for a long boating season. And then there are the downstream hydroelectric factors and calls by senior water-rights holders.

    An inspection team leaving the 23-mile Roberts Tunnel east portal in Park County in 2016. The tunnel, which diverts water from the Blue River to the Front Range is inspected every five years. Photo credit: Denver Water via Aspen Journalism

    Senior water rights

    While the Blue River Decree does not have a volumetric limit on how much water Denver Water can take out of Dillon Reservoir through the Roberts Tunnel to meet its customer needs, the Roberts Tunnel right is from 1946 and is junior to Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Power Plant rights, which limit the ability of Denver Water to divert. The Roberts Tunnel right is for 788 cfs, which is not a storage right but instead a direct-flow right.

    So if Green Mountain gets toward the end of its fill season and hasn’t filled and Dillon has diverted, then Denver Water owes water to Green Mountain. Green Mountain Reservoir, located on the Blue River in northern Summit County, was created specifically to compensate the Western Slope for diversions to the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Then on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon, well downstream from where the Blue feeds the Colorado at Kremmling, there’s Xcel Energy’s Shoshone Generating Station hydroelectric plant — which has one of the most senior water rights on the main stem of the Colorado River. A 1902 right draws 1,250 cfs of water downstream to meet the plant’s needs. During dry times of the year, such as late summer, the power plant often places a “call” on the river, meaning junior diverters upstream — including Denver Water — must stop diverting so that Shoshone can get its full allocation of water.

    Elder said Denver Water wants to fill Dillon Reservoir quickly enough each spring before any potential Shoshone call. If a call came before Dillon was full, Denver Water would have to release water from Williams Fork Reservoir in order to keep water in Dillon Reservoir. However, Williams Fork can hold only 96,000 acre-feet of water.

    “We want (both reservoirs) to fill quick enough that we fill both before that Shoshone power plant call comes on and before the senior call comes on the river, but not too quick that we fill before peak runoff where we get in those high-flow situations,” Elder said. “So it’s a real balancing act there. You’re balancing elevations for marinas, downstream water rights, filling the reservoir safely and then also any potential releases you may need to make from Roberts Tunnel.”

    Aspen Journalism, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders, covers water and rivers in collaboration with the Summit Daily News and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the May 17 edition of the Summit Daily.

    @USBR: Aspinall Unit Spring Operations update

    Parker and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District hope to build storage for Ag and municipal and send 20,000 acre-feet S.

    The South Platte River runs near a farm in Henderson, Colorado, northeast of Denver. Henderson is the site of one of the possible reservoirs for the regional water project proposed by SPROWG. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    A fast-growing Douglas County city has filed a new claim for water on the South Platte River, a move that could allow it to boost its future water supplies by some 60 percent.

    But the action could also undermine SPROWG, an innovative, collaborative effort by more than a dozen Front Range communities to capture and reuse water on the South Platte River near the Nebraska state line and return it to Eastern Plains farm communities, northern Front Range cities, and the metro area.

    Parker’s legal move to claim water rights in the same region, in partnership with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is unfolding just as SPROWG completed a major feasibility study indicating its project could be built for roughly $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion.

    Parker’s project, slated to be done in about 10 years, would add 20,000 acre-feet to the city’s current supply of 34,400 acre-feet…

    Rhode Island Hotel 1908 Parker via Best of Parker

    Though SPROWG’s feasibility study has been completed, years of planning lie ahead before the cooperative effort is ready to deliver water, with a completion date yet to be set.

    “We are light years ahead of them,” said Ron Redd, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve offered to partner on anything they want to do. I hope, especially when it comes to storage, they will want to partner. But we are just way ahead of them.”

    The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose boundary encompasses much of the northern Front Range and extends out to the Nebraska border, is alarmed by Parker’s $500 million proposal, saying it violates the spirit of collaborative water planning embodied in SPROWG and that it could dramatically shrink the amount of water available for others at the table.

    “It’s disappointing to me,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. “SPROWG was initiated as a community effort. We were going to share the good, the bad and the ugly. When one entity files, it’s a much different process to look at community involvement and decide how to share the yield.”

    Parker and the Lower South Platte district plan to develop at least 20,000 acre-feet of water for urban use, a number that rises to 30,000 acre-feet when the agriculture component is added in, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte district.

    Frank also said Parker’s project is important to northeastern Colorado because it won’t result in a permanent dry-up of farmland and will give farmers in his district a more reliable source of water, helping stabilize farm communities that are already struggling.

    Parker’s Redd said he’s hopeful, given the similarities between the two proposals, that a partnership can be developed with the existing SPROWG collaboration.

    “I like the idea of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “And right now we’re assuming we’re going it alone. But my hope is they will join us.”

    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.

    Rueter-Hess Dam before first fill. Photo credit: Parker Water & Sanitation

    State and Federal Partners Finalize Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project with Environmental, Agricultural, Recreational Benefits — @CWCB_DNR

    Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

    After more than three decades of collaboration between federal and state entities and local water providers, Chatfield Reservoir will begin storing up to an additional 20,600 acre-feet of water this spring.

    The Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project (Project), which recently received final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is an effort to help meet Colorado’s water supply and demand gap. The Project brings environmental, agricultural, and outdoor recreational benefits along with new, critical multi-purpose water storage capacity for growing front range communities including Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, and Castle Pines.

    “This Project addresses the critical need for reallocating storage space to meet our water supply and demand gap in Colorado while providing important wildlife habitat and increasing South Platte River flows through the Denver metro area,” said Colorado Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Dan Gibbs. “The Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project is a prime example of federal, state, and local collaboration and would not have been possible without the support of Colorado’s Congressional delegation, Douglas County, water providers, and members of the nonprofit community bringing this important storage project to the finish line.”

    The Project involved rebuilding portions of Chatfield State Park to accommodate the increased water levels and completing a number of projects aimed at improving wildlife and aquatic habitat. Two properties in Douglas County outside of Chatfield State Park will also be preserved to compensate for bird habitat impacted by the Project.

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District Commander, Col. John Hudson said, “This project is a great example of federal, state and local authorities working together to address vital water supply issues along the Front Range. The higher authorized lake level will provide greater water storage and increased recreational opportunity for the residents of Douglas County and the State of Colorado. It’s very rewarding having the opportunity to be part of such a great project.”

    Modifications to state park amenities include the floating marina, boat ramps, the swim beach, bike trails, parking lots, tree thinning, and forest floor clean up on walking trails. Onsite environmental mitigation included restoring Plum Creek and the South Platte, two of the reservoir’s primary tributaries, to control erosion and improve habitat. The Project also includes a dedicated “environmental pool” which will provide stream flow through the metro reach of the South Platte, during historically drier times of the year.

    “Not only will the environmental pool improve recreational and water quality downstream of Chatfield, but the releases will also be utilized for irrigation of family farms and livestock operations in the South Platte valley, which are vital to Colorado’s economy,” said Randy Ray, Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company Board President and Executive Director of Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Totaling $171 million, this Project was funded by the water providers and the State of Colorado with a significant portion financed through the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) loan program. Colorado’s bipartisan Congressional delegation has long supported the project and worked to secure Federal funding and project approvals.

    Paper: Increased #drought severity tracks #warming in the United States’ largest river basin — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences #MissouriRiver

    Map of the Missouri River drainage basin in the US and Canada. made using USGS and Natural Earth data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67852261

    Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:

    Across the Upper Missouri River Basin, the recent drought of 2000 to 2010, known as the “turn-of-the-century drought,” was likely more severe than any in the instrumental record including the Dust Bowl drought. However, until now, adequate proxy records needed to better understand this event with regard to long-term variability have been lacking. Here we examine 1,200 y of streamflow from a network of 17 new tree-ring–based reconstructions for gages across the upper Missouri basin and an independent reconstruction of warm-season regional temperature in order to place the recent drought in a long-term climate context. We find that temperature has increasingly influenced the severity of drought events by decreasing runoff efficiency in the basin since the late 20th century (1980s) onward. The occurrence of extreme heat, higher evapotranspiration, and associated low-flow conditions across the basin has increased substantially over the 20th and 21st centuries, and recent warming aligns with increasing drought severities that rival or exceed any estimated over the last 12 centuries. Future warming is anticipated to cause increasingly severe droughts by enhancing water deficits that could prove challenging for water management.

    In much of the western United States (hereafter “the West”), water demand (i.e., the combination of atmospheric demands, ecological requirements, and consumptive use) is approaching or has exceeded supply, making the threat of future drought an increasing concern for water managers. Prolonged drought can disrupt agricultural systems and economies, challenge river system control and navigation, and complicate management of sensitive ecological resources. Recently, ample evidence has emerged to suggest that the severity of several regional 21st-century droughts has exceeded the severity of historical drought events; these recent extreme droughts include the 2011 to 2016 California drought and the 2000 to 2015 drought in the Colorado River basin.

    Conspicuously absent thus far from investigations of recent droughts has been the Missouri River, the longest river in North America draining the largest independent river basin in the United States. Similar to California and the Upper Colorado River Basin, parts of the early 21st century have been remarkably dry across the Upper Missouri River Basin (UMRB). In fact, our assessment of streamflow for the UMRB suggests that the widespread drought period of 2000 to 2010, termed the “turn-of-the-century drought” by Cook et al., was a period of observationally unprecedented and sustained hydrologic drought likely surpassing even the drought of the Dust Bowl period.

    Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures are now likely higher than they have been in the last 1,200 y, and the unique combination of recent anomalously high temperatures and severe droughts across much of the West has led numerous researchers to revisit the role of temperature in changing the timing and efficiency of runoff in the new millennium. Evidence suggests that across much of the West atmospheric moisture demands due to warming are reducing the effectiveness of precipitation in generating streamflow and ultimately surface-water supplies.

    The waters of the Upper Missouri River originate predominantly in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, where high-elevation catchments capture and store large volumes of water as winter snowpack that are later released as spring and early summer snowmelt. This mountain water is an important component of the total annual flow of the Missouri, accounting for roughly 30% of the annual discharge delivered to the Mississippi River on average, but ranging between 14% to more than 50% from year to year, most of which is delivered during the critical warm-season months (May through September). Across much of the UMRB, cool-season (October through May) precipitation stored as winter snowpack has historically been the primary driver of streamflow, with observed April 1 snow-water equivalent (SWE) usually accounting for at least half of the variability in observed streamflow from the primary headwaters regions. However, since the 1950s, warming spring temperatures have increasingly driven regional snowpack declines that have intensified since the 1980s. By 2006, these declines amounted to a low snowpack anomaly of unusual severity relative to the last 800 y and spanned the snow-dominated watersheds of the interior West. A recent reassessment of snowpack declines across the West by Mote et al. suggests continued temperature-driven snowpack declines through 2016 totaling a volumetric storage loss of between 25 and 50 km3, which is comparable to the storage capacity of Lake Mead, the United States’ largest reservoir.

    Here we examine the extended record (ca. 800 to 2010 CE) of streamflow and the influence of temperature on drought through the Medieval Climate Anomaly, with a focus on the recent turn-of-the-century drought in the UMRB. The role of increasing temperature on streamflow and basin-wide drought is examined in the UMRB over the last 1,200 y by analyzing a basin-wide composite streamflow record developed from a network of 17 tree-ring–based reconstructions of streamflow for major gages in the UMRB (Fig. 1) and an independent runoff-season (March through August) regional temperature reconstruction. We also explore the hydrologic implications (e.g., drought severity and spatial extent) and climatic drivers (temperature and precipitation) of the observed changes in streamflow across the UMRB and characterize shifts in the likelihood of extreme flow levels and reductions in runoff efficiency across the basin.

    The Missouri River Basin and its subregions. The location of the Missouri River Basin within the continental United States (gray watershed, upper right) and the location of the five hydrologically distinct subregions (colored watersheds) that define the UMRB. Reconstructed gages used to develop the estimate of basin-wide mean annual streamflow are shown as triangles.

    From The Washington Post (Darryl Fears):

    For the first decade of the century, the Upper Missouri River Basin was the driest it’s been in 1,200 years, even more parched than during the disastrous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a new study says.

    The drop in water level at the mouth of the Missouri — the country’s longest river — was due to rising temperatures linked to climate change that reduced the amount of snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in Montana and North Dakota, scientists found.

    The basin has continued to experience droughts this decade — in 2012, 2013 and 2017 — but their severity in comparison with historic drought is unknown. The “Turn-Of-The-Century Drought” study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused only on the 10 years after 2000.

    “In terms of the most severe flow deficits, the driest years of the Turn-Of-The-Century-Drought in the [Upper Missouri River Basin] appear unmatched over the last 1,200 years,” the study said. “Only a single event in the late 13th century rivaled the greatest deficits of this most recent event.”

    Researchers familiar with drought of this magnitude in the dry Southwest were surprised to find it in the Midwest…

    “These findings show that the upper Missouri Basin is reflecting some of the same changes that we see elsewhere across North America, including the increased occurrence of hot drought” that’s more severe than usual, [Erika] Wise said.

    The study is the latest to show how human-influenced climate change threatens to reshape the landscape by making naturally occurring drought far more severe.

    Missouri River Basin

    #Runoff news: Rivers rising along with the spring temperatures — early peak, or maybe multiple peaks possible — The Sky-Hi Daily News

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent via The Sky-Hi News (John Stroud):

    Rivers are rising faster than usual throughout the Colorado and Roaring Fork river watersheds, as warm temperatures have led to early melting of the high-country snowpack.

    Higher river flows have also drawn paddlers to the Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park, as the facility officially reopened this week with public health guidelines in place amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic…

    Commercial rafting is on hold until later this month or early June while guidelines are being developed for that and other tourist activities. Private boats are allowed on the rivers, but with social-distancing and other health guidelines in mind.

    The higher river flows are the result of warmer-than-normal temperatures across Colorado’s Western Slope, and the lack of precipitation to add to the mountain snowpack in April, according to Ken Leib, hydrologist with the United State Geological Survey in Grand Junction…

    Leib said the Colorado River could see peak flows earlier than usual if the warmer weather continues, or possibly an early peak and then a second peak in June if temperatures modify.

    After the record snowpack during the winter of 2018-19, the peak flow on the Colorado River below the confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs didn’t come until July 1, 2019, according to USGS historical data.

    The flow last year topped out at 20,800 cubic feet per second (cfs), at a depth of 9 feet, 8 inches at the Glenwood measuring station.

    Dating back to 1967, the highest peak flow at Glenwood was 31,500 cfs on May 25, 1984. The earliest peak flow came on May 20, 1996, at 18,200 cfs.

    As of Thursday evening, according to realtime USGS data, the Colorado at Glenwood was flowing at 5,150 cfs with a depth of 5 feet, 8 inches — down from the Monday high this week of 6,000 cfs and 6 feet, 1 inch.

    Just above the confluence on the Roaring Fork River at Veltus Park, the flow in the Fork was topping out at 1,200 cfs with a gage depth of 3 feet, 3 inches. The peak flow on the Roaring Fork at that location last year also came on July 1, at 8,960 cfs.

    USGS data goes back to 1906 for that location on the Roaring Fork. The earliest recorded peak came on May 12, 1934, when the flow topped out at 4,100 cfs.

    #Colorado AG, top water quality regulator vow to challenge new Clean Water Act rule — @WaterEdCO #WOTUS #DirtyWaterRule

    Ephemeral streams are streams that do not always flow. They are above the groundwater reservoir and appear after precipitation in the area. Via Socratic.org

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado and other Western states will be hard pressed to shield their rivers and streams under a new federal Clean Water Act rule finalized last month, largely because hundreds of shallow Western rivers are no longer protected, and writing new state laws and finding the cash to fill the regulatory gap will likely take years to accomplish, officials said.

    Though many agricultural interests and water utilities support the new Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, as it is known, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Patrick Pfaltzgraff, director of the state’s Water Quality Control Division, said they will take legal action to protect streams that are no longer subject to federal oversight.

    “We are pleased the final rule protects important agriculture exemptions and provides continued assurance that states retain authority and primary responsibility over land and water resources…However, the federal government’s decision to remove from federal oversight ephemeral waters, certain intermittent streams, and many wetlands is based on flawed legal reasoning and lacks a scientific basis,” Weiser said in a statement.

    Legal strategy?

    Whether Colorado will seek an injunction to stop the new rule from being enforced and whether it will join other Western states in a legal challenge isn’t clear. Weiser and Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss their legal strategy, other than vowing to take action.

    The Colorado Water Congress, which represents hundreds of water agencies and agricultural interests, had been largely supportive of the new rule before it was finalized. But Executive Director Doug Kemper said the group hasn’t finished its analysis of the final version.

    Formally adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency April 21, the move to significantly revise the WOTUS rule began after President Trump took office and vowed to reverse policies established under the Obama Administration.

    The new rule has already triggered a handful of lawsuits seeking to stop the EPA from enforcing them. One was filed by cattle growers in New Mexico alleging that the rule is still too onerous, and at least two others have been filed by environmental interests in South Carolina and Massachusetts, who say the rule leaves too many streams unprotected.

    And more are expected.

    The Clean Water Act (CWA) has been legally hamstrung for years over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches, and what is allowable for industries and wastewater treatment plants to discharge into streams.

    One rule never fits all

    Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, the CWA, now nearly 50 years old, is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been, at times, fiendishly difficult to administer, in part because of the nation’s widely different geographies.

    Go to the East or Midwest, and massive rivers, such as the Ohio and Missouri, are filled with barge and shipping traffic and are clearly “navigable.” That was the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was considered navigable, it was subject to federal law.

    But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates 44 percent of Colorado’s streams are intermittent, meaning they are sometimes dry, and 24 percent are ephemeral, meaning they can be dry for months or years and appear only after extraordinary rain or snow. Just 32 percent of Colorado streams are classified as being perennial, meaning they flow year round.

    Under the new rule, only perennial and intermittent streams, or those deemed navigable, will be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states would no longer be protected under the law.

    A financial quandary

    And that worries state water quality officials who are responsible for protecting Colorado’s streams.

    They warn that writing state rules and finding millions of dollars in new cash to enforce water quality protections will be difficult, especially as the COVID-19 budget crisis unfolds. Officials of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which includes the Water Quality Control Division, say that until state rules are in place, new housing developments and other projects could be stopped because there is no mechanism yet to issue the permits that were once issued by the federal government.

    “While the specific impacts of this rule still are being determined, there’s no question this rollback removes huge swaths of Colorado’s waters from federal jurisdiction—the most of any administration since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. The state will need to put in significant resources to determine how to continue to protect these waters and to determine how this rule will be implemented as the rule is unclear as written,” the CDPHE said in an email.

    “Specific construction projects and associated permitting processes that were originally covered…won’t be able to move forward without doing so illegally and harming the environment,” the CDPHE said.

    Potential dysfunction

    Melinda Kassen, general counsel for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said it would make sense to pursue an injunction to give the state time to set up its own regulations and find a way to fund them.

    “If you read the economic analysis that accompanies the rule, there are assumptions that the states will step up and take this over. The potential is for it to be really dysfunctional. We’ve got to get something set up,” Kassen said.

    EPA officials have said they don’t expect federal funding to enforce the Clean Water Act will be reduced, even though the new WOTUS rule is smaller in scope and governs fewer waterways.

    Still the CDPHE and most opponents of the new rule believe millions of dollars will be needed to fill in any regulatory gap.

    How far Colorado will go to challenge the new rule isn’t clear. The CDPHE’s Pfaltzgraff said his agency is still analyzing its next steps.

    “It is now up to the state to provide the necessary protection of both Colorado’s economy and the environment,” Pfaltzgraff said in a statement. “We are going to do everything we can, while also addressing the impacts from COVID-19, to ensure Coloradans live in the healthy state they deserve.”

    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.

    Arkansas Valley Conduit will provide fresh water to towns of Southeastern #Colorado — The Mountain Mail

    Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

    From The Mountain Mail (Cody Olivas):

    The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently adopted a project management plan that will guide construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit…

    Terry Scanga, general manager of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, said he didn’t see the AVC having much impact on Salidans and others in the area. “It’s not going to change river flows,” he said. “It’s not going to impact the allocation (of water) communities in the upper basin get.”

    After thinking about it for a second he said some transit loss might have a “minimal impact” on irrigators, but added that the advantages of the project far outweigh those potential effects.

    [Sam] Braverman said they’re not creating any new water diversions from Colorado’s Western Slope. The big change, he said, is that water will now be piped from Pueblo to surrounding municipalities instead of letting it flow to them in the river, which will improve drinking water quality…

    Salinity, selenium and uranium found in the natural environment all pose water-quality challenges for the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.

    Several communities the conduit will serve currently can’t drink their tap water.

    “There’s at least 5,000 people who literally have radioactive water coming out of their pipes,” Braverman said. “They can’t drink their water, and (the municipalities) can’t afford to filter it out.”

    Braverman said another 11,000-12,000 people in the communities get their water from reverse osmosis, but the state doesn’t see those systems as permanent solutions because they put their effluent back into the river. He said drying the effluent, packing it and taking it to landfills would be too costly to be a realistic solution.

    “There’s no way those communities could afford to do that,” he said. “The AVC is really the only answer for all of these communities; this a game changer for disadvantaged areas.”

    The AVC will provide water for municipal and industrial use.

    The project management plan describes how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled.

    Under the plan, the Pueblo Board of Water Works will deliver AVC water to a point east of Pueblo. A contract among the Reclamation Bureau, Pueblo Water and Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District is in the discussion stage. From that point, the bureau will construct the trunk line, a treatment plant and water tanks, while Southeastern will coordinate with communities to fund and build connections.

    Southeastern will serve as lead on the “spur and delivery lines” portion of the project and seek funding to design and construct this portion of the project, $100 million of which has already been secured from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, subject to legislative approval.

    Braverman said they just started final design on the first 12 miles of the pipeline…

    Braverman said communities the AVC will serve have been hearing about it for decades, but getting the $28 million recently was the first chunk of money they’ve secured to begin construction.

    “That was a complete shift from where we were,” Braverman said. “Now it’s just a matter of the funding stream continuing.”

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    The #Colorado River District is moving all of their “State of the River” meetings online #ColoradoRiver #COriver @ColoradoWater

    Click here to read the May 2020 newsletter from the Colorado River District:

    As the snow melts, reservoirs clear of ice and ditches and rivers swell with runoff, Colorado River District staff normally look forward to our State of the River meetings, which provide local updates on important water issues in throughout the District.

    Few events have gone as planned this spring. In light of COVID-19, the District will hold some State of the River events virtually as webinars. Presentations will include the same information the West Slope has come to expect: updates on runoff and hydrology, the latest on local water issues and information about how our water fits into the larger Colorado River basin.

    We’ve got two virtual State of the River events planned so far.

    The Summit State of the River will be 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14 on Zoom. You can complete the required registration for the event and find an agenda here: bit.ly/SummitSOR. This event is hosted by the Colorado River District and the Blue River Watershed Group. A recording of the webinar will be emailed to registrants after the event.

    The Mesa State of the River webinar will be 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 20. You can complete the required registration for the event and find an agenda here: bit.ly/MesaSOR. This event is hosted by the Colorado River District and the Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University. A recording of the webinar will be emailed to registrants after the event.

    The Colorado River District will hold a public forum to provide important updates on the River District, West Slope water and big river issues featuring Colorado River District Manager Andy Mueller and Colorado State Climatologist Russ Schumacher. The event will be noon Wednesday, June 10. More information about the event will be available soon at http://www.ColoradoRiverDistrict.org.

    Thirsty Future for American West, as ”#Megadrought” Grips Some of the Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities — Fair Warning #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Farm Security Administration members post on a cooperative pipe line used for irrigation in Saint George in 1940. Contributor Names Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer Created / Published-1940 Oct.-Subject Headings – United States–Utah–Washington County–Saint George

    From Fair Warning (Alexandra Tempus):

    In 2002, Utah was reeling from four years of dry conditions that turned the state ‘’into a parched tinderbox,’’ as the Associated Press reported at the time. “Drought Could Last Another 1-2 years,” the headline proclaimed. Right on time, in 2004, the Salt Lake Tribune ran a similar article, on “Coming To Terms with Utah’s Six-Year Drought,” that was “believed to be the worst to strike the Southwest in half a millennium.”

    Almost two decades later, the drought has raged on. In October 2019, the water supplier for St. George, a rapidly growing resort and retirement community in southwest Utah, released a statement declaring the city’s longest-ever dry spell: 122 days without rain.

    A study published last month in the journal Science identified an emerging “megadrought” across all or parts of 11 western states and part of northern Mexico—a drought likely, with the influence of climate change, to be more severe and long-lasting than any since the 1500s. The area includes Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and portions of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.

    This region is also experiencing explosive population growth—with Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and Utah topping the list of states with the highest percentage increase in residents from 2018 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For decades, these states and their mushrooming municipalities have been grappling with the twin concerns of rapid growth and dwindling water supply projections. Now, in the midst of an historic megadrought predicted to last many more years, the issue has grown increasingly urgent.

    For the megadrought study, scientists analyzed tree rings from nearly 1,600 trees that had grown across the region over hundreds of years, says the study’s lead author, A. Park Williams, an associate research professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Examining the rings under a microscope, the researchers could see when growth was slow, indicating time periods when the region was especially dry.

    The authors identified megadroughts—droughts more severe and much longer than anything observed in the written record, says Williams—over the last 1200 years. The most recent was in the late 1500s, until now. Today’s megadrought has been marked by more frequent and severe wildfires, a decline in groundwater, lake and river levels and a reduced snowpack.

    And climate change, added Williams, is “making it easier to go into a megadrought without the ocean and atmosphere needing to team up in as extreme of a way” as they did to create such conditions in the past.

    In Utah, the situation might be considered dire.

    “Our population is one of the fastest-growing in the country and we’re also one of the driest states in the country and our water supply in large part is mountain snow,” said Michelle Baker, an aquatic hydrologist at Utah State University who was project director for iUtah, a years-long research effort to transition the state to sustainable water usage.

    With the mountain snowpack dwindling due to climate change, Utah researchers identified several ways to help close the supply gap, said Baker. One included storing more water underground than in reservoirs to limit the amount of water lost to evaporation. Another involved replacing Utah’s old-fashioned dirt-lined irrigation canals with pipes to curb evaporation and seepage.

    In March, Utah adopted a law creating a new water banking program, similar to those in other states, that will allow water rights holders to “bank” their unused water rights and lease them temporarily to others without selling them outright…

    St. George currently uses 33,000 acre-feet of water per year, Karry Rathje, a spokesperson for the Washington County Water Conservancy District, told FairWarning in an email. (An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land with one foot of water, and is roughly enough to supply three homes for a year.

    Washington County, which includes St. George, “is projected to need an additional 86,000 acre feet of water to meet the demands of a population that’s projected to nearly triple by 2060,” Rathje said.

    This is to say nothing of exponential growth in greater Salt Lake City, which by 2060 could swell to the size of the Seattle metropolitan area of 3.7 million residents, according to one estimate.

    Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

    #ColoradoRiver keeps flowing — so do concerns about its future — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification #COWaterPlan

    Palisade is just east of Grand Junction and lies in a fertile valley between the Colorado River and Mt. Garfield which is the formation in the picture. They’ve grown wonderful peaches here for many years and have recently added grape vineyards such as the one in the picture. By inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/15301560980/, CC BY-SA 2.0,

    Here’s a guest column from Hannah Holm that’s running in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    It seems like the pandemic has soaked up most of the newsprint lately, but even now, when so much has come to a standstill, our rivers keep flowing. As Jim Pokrandt pointed out in a recent op-ed, our canals have started flowing, too, as Grand Valley farmers begin the annual ritual of putting water on the land to reap a harvest, and an income, later in the year.

    Another annual ritual, monitoring the forecasts for how much spring snowmelt will flow down the rivers, has also begun. This year, we have an above-average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Colorado River, but below-average runoff into Lake Powell is expected. Parched soils from last year’s dry summer are expected to soak up much of the water before it can make it into the river.

    If that forecast proves accurate, it will mark the 15th time in 20 years in which runoff into Lake Powell has been below average. This is one more piece of data to support the conclusion that the Colorado River is shrinking. Coming to terms with this fact is the central challenge facing all who depend on the Colorado River — about 40 million people throughout the Southwest.

    A shrinking river is a particularly hard to adapt to when it is already being completely used up — the Colorado River rarely reaches the sea any more, and its major reservoirs are less than half full. So how, and what, are we doing? Here’s a rundown of a few things that are happening.

    Downstream, California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to a detailed schedule of water delivery cuts triggered by different water levels in Lake Mead. This is the first year they are taking reduced deliveries.

    Here in Colorado, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, water leaders are continuing to study “demand management:” paying water users to temporarily leave some of the water they are entitled to in the river. State-sponsored work groups on demand management are hashing out technical details on financing, legal issues, how to measure saved water, and the potential economic and environmental impacts of different approaches. You can learn more about these discussions here: https://cwcb.colorado.gov/demand-management.

    In related efforts, scientists and ranchers are about to start working together in Grand County to figure out what happens to high-elevation hay fields if you take a pause on irrigating them. This will help ranchers determine whether they might want to participate in demand management or not. Other studies are also looking at the potential impacts on communities of reductions in irrigated agriculture.

    Scientists are also working hard to refine their tools for understanding and forecasting water supplies. A new report from Western Water Assessment at CU-Boulder synthesizes information from nearly 800 studies and reports on Colorado River Basin science and hydrology. If you are interested, you can check it out at https://wwa.colorado.edu/.

    So far, we’re mostly studying different options for cutting back our water use from the Colorado River, without many people actually having to do it yet. But if current trends continue, which long-term projections indicate that they will, that day will come.

    Any change is hard, and abrupt change is especially hard. Abrupt change without data is terrifying, as we’ve recently learned. The good thing about the troubling situation on the Colorado River is that we don’t have to suffer the terror of change without data. The bad thing about the situation on the Colorado River is that we can’t study our way out of actually having to do something about it — sooner or later. [ed. emphasis mine]

    Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    Crystal River Ranch near Carbondale seeks to preserve water rights tied to potential dams, reservoirs — @AspenJournalism

    Elk gather in irrigated hay fields below Dry Park Road on the Crystal River Ranch, which is seeking to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to two potential 55-foot-tall dams. One of the dams would be located at the edge of the hayfields, to the left in the photo, and another would be located in the Four Mile Creek valley. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Sue Anschutz-Rodgers, the owner of Crystal River Ranch above Carbondale, has told the state she is making progress toward building two 55-foot-tall dams that would form two 500-acre-foot reservoirs on land she owns in the Four Mile Creek basin and along Dry Park Road.

    The cattle and hay operation has been owned by the Anschutz family since 1966. Water attorneys for Anschutz-Rodgers and the ranch are in state water court seeking to maintain conditional water-storage rights tied to the two potential reservoirs: Sue’s Four Mile Reservoir No. 1 and Sue’s Four Mile Reservoir No. 2.

    They would be located on ranch-owned land in the Four Mile Creek drainage and along Dry Park Road, respectively.

    The dam that would form Reservoir No. 1 would be 55 feet tall and 950 feet long, and the resulting reservoir would inundate 22 acres with water. The dam for Reservoir No. 2 would be 55 feet tall and 800 feet long, and the reservoir would inundate 30 acres. Each reservoir would hold as much as 500 acre-feet of water. By comparison, Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek above Aspen holds 590 acre-feet of water and is formed by a 56-foot-tall dam that floods 44 acres of land.

    Anschutz-Rodgers is a philanthropist and environmentalist whose brother Phil Anschutz is worth $12 billion, according to Forbes. She has served locally on the boards of the Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Thompson Divide Coalition, and Anschutz-Rodgers is listed on the application as general partner of Crystal River Ranch Co., LLC.

    On March 13, her water attorney, Glenn Porzak of Boulder-based Porzak Browning & Bushong, told the court in a proposed ruling that Crystal River Ranch “has exercised reasonable diligence in the development” of the two dams and reservoirs. He also noted that “the measure of diligence is the steady application of effort to complete the appropriation in a reasonably expedient and efficient manner.”

    As such, the ranch is requesting that the conditional water-storage rights tied to the two potential dams — rights first decreed in 2006 — be extended for another six-year period.

    “I believe we have shown the necessary amount of work to show diligence and extend these conditional rights,” Porzak said.

    Any start of the dams’ construction, Porzak said, “is still at a preliminary stage.”

    Water from Four Mile Creek irrigates land on Crystal River Ranch off of Dry Park Road above Carbondale. Ranch owner Sue Anschutz-Rodgers has told the state she is making progress toward building two dams and reservoirs on the property. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Irrigating more than 600 acres

    The water from the potential reservoirs could be used to irrigate 535 acres of land along Dry Park Road, which drains into the Roaring Fork River, and another 93 acres of land in the Four Mile Creek basin. Four Mile Creek flows into the Roaring Fork downstream of the Ironbridge golf course.

    The Crystal River Ranch house and the main part of the sprawling 7,600-acre site is located just off Garfield County Road 108, which leads from Carbondale up to the popular Spring Gulch cross-country ski area. The section of the ranch visible from CR 108 is irrigated with water diverted from the Crystal River via the Sweet Jessup Canal.

    Another section of the ranch where elk are often seen roaming the irrigated hay meadows is off Dry Park Road, which runs between CR 108 and 4 Mile Road. The land in Dry Park is currently irrigated with water diverted from Four Mile Creek via the McKown Ditch, which crosses the ridge that separates Dry Park from the Four Mile Creek valley.

    The headgate for the McKown ditch on Four Mile Creek is about 1½ miles downstream from the Sunlight ski area.

    According to its application, the 1,000 acre-feet of water that the ranch hopes to store would be used for four purposes: stock watering, piscatorial, wildlife and irrigation. (Piscatorial pertains to fish.)

    A herd of elk could be seen roaming amid the irrigation sprinklers of Crystal River Ranch on Thursday. Ranch owner Sue Anschutz-Rodgers has told the state she is making progress toward building two dams and reservoirs on the property. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Diligence application

    Crystal River Ranch filed its initial water-rights application for the two potential dams in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs in 2006. After working through some issues with five other water-rights holders in the case, a conditional water-rights decree for the two dams and reservoirs was issued by Judge James Boyd in 2013.

    The 2013 decree required Crystal River Ranch to submit a due-diligence application in 2019 in order to maintain the conditional water rights.

    In the diligence application, Porzak said since 2013 the ranch has spent $70,000 to “survey the reservoir sites; prepare layouts of the dams and reservoirs; (and) design work on the spillways, inlets, and outlet infrastructures of the reservoirs.”

    A portion of the $70,000 also went to “design irrigation improvements and conduct layout of the pumps and sprinklers for the lands to be irrigated by the reservoirs; conduct a hydrology analysis for each reservoir site; drill boreholes at each reservoir site; test soil samples and perform a geotechnical analysis of each reservoir site; and prepare cost estimates for each reservoir site and all of the associated infrastructure.”

    In reviewing a diligence application, the division engineer and the water court’s referee, who functions as an administrative judge, apply a standard of diligence. The standard is often met by the applicant listing the work they’ve done on the potential facilities that are tied to the water rights and are necessary to put the water to use.

    “You have to show you are moving forward in a reasonable manner,” said Alan Martellaro, the Division 5 engineer.

    No entities filed a statement of opposition to the application.

    Martellaro reviewed the diligence application along with Susan Ryan, the water court’s referee, and then filed a memo — called “a summary of consultation” — with the court Feb. 28.

    The summary said Crystal River Ranch “should provide reports and other documents, which support the diligence activities performed within the relevant diligence period as claimed in the application.”

    A stony irrigation channel runs past rolled hay on the Crystal River Ranch, just below Dry Park Road, with Basalt Mountain in the background. The pond in the lower field, to the right of the white trailer, drains to the Roaring Fork River and is the approximate location for a potential 55-foot-tall dam that would hold 500 acre-feet of water. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Next steps

    To date, however, none of these documents have been filed with the court, and only a hard-to-read map of the general area where the reservoirs would be located has been made public.

    Porzak said the work done on the two potential reservoirs has not yet been reduced to final written reports.

    He also said that the activities in the diligence application were verified under oath by Craig Ullmann, the engineer who oversaw the work. Ullmann is president of Applegate Group Inc., a water-engineering firm with offices in Glenwood Springs.

    Martellaro said the word “should” in the court’s summary of consultation means “should,” not “must,” so it is not clear whether the design documents for the two dams will be made public through the court process. He also said the documents cited in the application would be helpful for the state to have on file for the next diligence filing.

    Porzak said all the relevant information was contained in the application.

    Should the dams ever be built, the associated water rights would hold a priority date of 2006, a junior right under Colorado’s system of prior appropriation. As such, Crystal River Ranch couldn’t count on the water being there to store in dry years, Martellaro said.

    “It’s a really junior water right on a stream that’s over-appropriated,” he said. “This is one of those creeks that just doesn’t have surplus. They are pretty much limited to snowmelt runoff to fill these ponds.”

    Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders and partners with The Aspen Times and other Swift communications publications on water coverage. This story ran in the May 4 edition of The Aspen Times.

    #Runoff news: @USBR is expecting below a normal season on the #AnimasRiver #snowpack

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    “I think, unfortunately, it’s one of those years that’s kind of a bummer,” said Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center. “Everything is going to be below average.”

    Animas River Basin SNOTEL snowpack graph May 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

    Snowpack in the San Juan Mountains this winter hovered near historic averages, according to Snotel sites, which track snow depth.

    But Snotel sites tell only part of the story.

    For one, there are a limited number of sites in the basin. And this year, elevations above most Snotel sites around 11,000 feet didn’t receive as much snow as usual.

    To make matters worse, drought conditions last summer and fall caused the ground to dry up significantly, so soil likely will absorb more snowmelt than normal, at the expense of rivers and streams.

    As a result, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts the Animas River will receive about 70% of the water it usually does in spring, Nielson said.

    The forecast center also predicts the Animas River likely will hit a peak flow of 2,300 to 2,500 cubic feet per second, though as much as 3,000 cfs is possible…

    As of Friday, Snotel records show Southwest Colorado’s snowpack is melting at an accelerated rate: Snowpack in the San Juans is 70% of normal historic averages for this time of year.

    Jarrod Biggs, assistant utilities director for the city of Durango, said a heavy snowpack year in the winter of 2018-19 provided good storage for the town’s reservoir, which should help water reserves during a below-normal runoff.

    The city of Durango gets most of its water from the Florida River and supplements supply from the Animas River when demand increases…

    Water is not being pulled from the Animas River to Lake Nighthorse this year, said Russ Means, general manager of the reservoir, as crews work on the intake structure across from Santa Rita Park.

    On Friday, the Animas River was running at 1,700 cfs, which is 25% higher than average for this time of year, said Frank Kugel, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

    San Juan River Basin. Graphic credit Wikipedia.

    @USBR: Water experiment to be conducted along the #ColoradoRiver while maintaining hydropower production this summer #COriver #GrandCanyon

    Non-biting midges are one of the aquatic insects predicted to benefit from the Bug Flow Experiment. Photo credit: USGS/Freshwaters Illustrated via the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke, Robyn Gerstenslage):

    From May 1 through August 31, the Department of the Interior will conduct a Macroinvertebrate Production Flow at Glen Canyon Dam. This experiment, also known as a Bug Flow, aims to improve egg-laying conditions for aquatic insects, which are the primary food source for endangered and native fish in the Colorado River. This is the third consecutive year for the Bug Flow under the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan.

    During the Bug Flow experiment, the Bureau of Reclamation will make targeted adjustments to water releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. That adjusted release schedule will include low and steady flows during weekends, while weekday operations will maintain normal flows to meet hydropower demands. Weekday release rate hourly changes will remain unchanged.

    Aquatic insects lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation and other materials near the river’s edge. If flows are too variable, water levels may drop below where eggs are laid, causing them to dry out and die.

    Caddis fly hatch photo via http://ValiValleyAnglers.com

    “Findings indicate that some aquatic insects are already benefiting from the bug flows, which also benefits fish and other animals that eat them,” said Scott VanderKooi, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center. “For example, our research suggests that caddisflies, an extremely rare aquatic insect in the Grand Canyon over the past several decades, increased nearly four-fold during the first year of the experiment in 2018, before returning to pre-Bug Flows numbers in 2019. In contrast, non-biting midges, another type of aquatic insect that is a key food source for fish and other wildlife, may have increased, and a third year of Bug Flows should help verify this finding.”

    Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry. Photo credit. Gonzo fan2007 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3631180

    Recreational fishing at Lees Ferry also improved during Bug Flows, with anglers catching an average of 1-2 more rainbow trout per day during Bug Flow weekends, when flows were low and steady, compared to weekdays when flows fluctuated.
    “Our current experimental plan initially recommended two to three years of Bug Flows given the complexity of the Colorado River ecosystem, which is constantly changing,” said Lee Traynham, Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Manager. “We’ve already learned a lot about the ecosystem and have observed several resource improvements over many years of experimenting with flows. We are excited to see how the ecosystem responds this year.”

    The decision to conduct this experiment was based on technical input and recommendation from a collaborative team of scientists and technical experts from federal agencies and states involved in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. This team includes representatives from the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration; Arizona Game and Fish Department, Upper Colorado River Commission and all seven Colorado River Basin States.

    Experiments are designed to maximize benefits to the Colorado River ecosystem through the Grand Canyon, while meeting water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

    This experiment is expected to benefit aquatic insects and the fish, birds and bats that feed on them, while providing valuable scientific information for future decision making.

    For more information about the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program and flow volumes below Glen Canyon Dam, please visit the following websites:

    Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/progact/amp/index.html

    Flow volumes for the Colorado River at Lees Ferry: https://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/station/GCDAMP/09380000

    Colorado River Storage Project: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/index.html

    Citizen Science Light Trapping in Grand Canyon: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/sbsc/science/citizen-science-light-trapping-grand-canyon?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

    Science Behind the Bug Flows: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70170803

    Five Ditches project wraps up — #RioGrande Headwaters Restoration Project

    Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    From The Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project via The Valley Courier:

    Over the past several years, the Restoration Project has worked with five ditch companies and diverse stakeholders to improve irrigation infrastructure on the Rio Grande between Alamosa and Del Norte, while also benefiting the river as a whole. The project’s founding document, the 2001 Study, found that changes in hydrology and aging, failing diversion structures were causing sediment deposition, erosion, loss of riparian habitat, and inefficient diversion of water.

    The Five Ditches Project addressed these issues by replacing diversion dams and head-gates for five ditches and restoring surrounding streambanks. These efforts have resulted in a multitude of benefits, including improved diversion efficiency and irrigation operations, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, reduced erosion and increased community safety. As the Five Ditches Project wraps up, those involved wanted to once again acknowledge the incredible collaboration that made this project possible and give an overview of everything that has been accomplished together.

    If you haven’t seen it already, check out the film made by Moxiecran Media about the Five Ditches Project…

    Rio Grande #2

    Ditch The Rio Grande #2 Ditch irrigates 250 acres northeast of Del Norte. It suffered from an inefficient diversion dam and high maintenance due to trash and sediment. In Winter 2017, the diversion dam and headgate were removed and replaced with a fish-passable stacked rock cross vain diversion structure and a steel headgate. The surrounding channel and streambanks were also reshaped and stabilized, and aquatic and riparian habitat improvements and a rock deflector were added.

    Consolidated and Pace Ditches

    The Consolidated Ditch irrigates 6,849 acres, and had a crumbling, century-old concrete headgate with a difficult to maintain push-up diversion dam. To remedy these issues, the headgate was replaced with a new concrete structure with trash rack and automation, and a new concrete diversion dam was constructed featuring a fish ladder and two Obermeyer gates for fine control and sediment flushing. The adjacent banks have also been reshaped and revegetated, improving habitat for wildlife and channel stability. The Pace Ditch is a smaller diversion irrigating 107 acres, and is located directly adjacent to the Consolidated Ditch. Both ditches share the new diversion dam, and the Pace headgate was replaced at the same time as the Consolidated headgate, with a manual slide gate and pipe to convey water to the ditch. San Luis Valley Canal The San Luis Valley Canal provides water for 20,200 irrigated acres. Its headgate was redesigned to replace the existing hundred-year-old structure. Over time the river had moved away from the headgate structure, resulting in a static pool in front of the headgate that caused sediment deposition. The new concrete headgate is situated closer to the river and features automated gates. The banks were reshaped around the new structure, and a severely eroding bend in the vicinity of the diversion was reshaped, stabilized, and revegetated. The project also includes a trash deflector and rock weir check structure.

    Centennial Ditch

    Supplying water to 8,500 acres, the Centennial Ditch had a degraded concrete diversion that was dangerous to maintain. In order to divert water at certain flows, the ditch rider would have to wade into the river to put boards across the dam and raise the water level. In Winter 2017, the old diversion structure was removed and replaced with a grouted rock dam. The new structure also includes an Obermeyer gate in the low flow channel for fine control and sediment flushing. By request from CPW, the dam is a fish barrier to prevent the passage of nonnative species. Nearby streambanks were also stabilized.

    Location map for the Five Ditches Project. Screen shot from the Vimeo film, “Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project: Five Ditches,” https://vimeo.com/364411112

    Thanks again to each of the five ditch partners!

    Centennial Irrigating Ditch Company

    Consolidated Ditch and Headgate Company

    Cooley & Sons Excavating

    Pace Ditch

    Rio Grande #2 Ditch Shareholders

    Riverbend Engineering

    Robins Construction

    San Luis Valley Canal Company National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)

    Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB)

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW)

    The Five Ditches Project made great strides toward meeting agricultural, environmental, and recreational needs on the Rio Grande, however aging infrastructure and bank erosion is still a significant challenge across the Rio Grande headwaters. Your support will allow them to continue working with irrigators, landowners, and partners on the Rio Grande and Conejos River to complete infrastructure improvement and river restoration projects!

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

    Boulder flood plan update

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    From The Boulder Daily Camera (Jan Burton):

    Stormwater and flood management utility capital projects are funded primarily by monthly user charges, with costs spread out using 20-year revenue bonds. The annual debt service payments associated with such bonds are factored into utility rates through the annual budget process. So, those of us living in Boulder pay for all of these projects on our water utility bills.

    Examine your own bill to see your fixed monthly charge on the line “Stormwater/Flood.” The fee is used to support flood infrastructure, regulatory compliance, water quality monitoring and hazard programs. These fees have increased by 135% since 2013, and Boulder leads the area for the highest stormwater and flood rates, not surprisingly, since Boulder is the Colorado city most at risk for flash floods.

    City staff presented details to the Water Resources Advisory Board on the preferred option, Variant 1, 100-year flood protection, which was found to have the least environmental impacts, the lowest cost, and the greatest probability of permitting feasibility through the various regulatory agencies. The cost of this version is projected to be $66 million. Other alternatives, a 200-year and a 500-year, are estimated at $93 million and $96 million, minimally a $27 million difference…

    …three of the WRAB board members…and voted, with two other members dissenting, to accept the city’s preferred plan, suggesting that Council move forward into more detailed planning and engineering analysis. WRAB member Ted Rose said that “this is about acting, actually moving forward to protect our fellow citizens.” Board Chair Kirk Vincent and member Trisha Oeth, brought up equity concerns of differing flood protection levels across the community, the huge backlog in aging infrastructure, and the inability of many customers — renters, churches or schools — to afford rates that could double…

    Planning Board is scheduled to review the plan next week, followed by the Open Space Board of Trustees and, finally, City Council, in June.

    2020 #COleg: @GovofCO Polis signs five major water bills into law: instream flows, anti-speculating, and more

    State Capitol May 12, 2018 via Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Larry Morandi):

    Gov. Jared Polis, even as COVID-19 swept across the state, gave his stamp of approval to five major pieces of water legislation, paving the way for everything from more water for environmental streamflows to a new study on how to limit water speculation.

    Lawmakers announced March 13 that they would temporarily suspend work to comply with stay-at-home orders, and now plan to return May 18 to complete the session.

    Signed into law in late March and early April, the new measures represent months if not years of negotiations between farm, environmental and legal interests that came to fruition this year thanks to hard-fought bipartisan agreements.

    Three of the new laws address water for streams, fish and habitat, allowing more loans of water to bolster environmental flows, protecting such things as water for livestock from being appropriated for instream flows, and using an existing water management tool, known as an augmentation plan, to set aside water rights for streams.

    Expanded instream flow loans

    House Bill 1157 expands the state’s existing instream flow loan program, which allows a water right holder to loan water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to preserve flows on streams where the state agency already holds an instream flow water right. The CWCB is the only entity in Colorado that can legally hold such rights, intended to benefit the environment by protecting a stream’s flows from being diverted below a certain level. Under existing law, a loan may be exercised for just three years in a single 10-year period.

    The new law, however, expands the loan program by authorizing a loan to be used to improve as well as preserve flows, and increases the number of years it can be exercised from three to five, but for no more than three consecutive years. It also allows a loan to be renewed for two additional 10-year periods.

    “This bill becoming law is crucial for our state’s rivers, our outdoor recreation businesses, and downstream agricultural users who depend on strong river flows,” said Rep. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon. After a similar bill he sponsored failed to pass last year, he said, “I knew I needed to work to bring more people to the table and improve the bill so we could garner the support we needed, and that is what we did. I am thrilled that we were able to get this done with strong bipartisan support.”

    To ensure protection of existing water rights, House Bill 1157 increases the comment period on loan applications from 15 to 60 days; allows appeal of the State Engineer’s decision on a loan application to water court; and requires the CWCB to give preference to loans of stored water over loans of direct flow water where available.

    “There’s no injury to other water uses. And there’s a methodology if someone feels they are injured they can go to the water referee in an expedited manner,” said Rep. Perry Will, R-New Castle and one of the bill’s sponsors.

    Protecting existing water uses

    House Bill 1159 provides a means for existing water uses, such as water for livestock, that have not been legally quantified to continue when an instream flow right downstream is designated. Current law is unclear as to whether preexisting uses that lack a court decree are protected. To provide clarity, the bill requires the State Engineer to confirm any claim of an existing use in administering the state’s instream flow program.

    Augmentation of instream flows

    House Bill 1037 authorizes the CWCB to use an acquired water right, whose historic consumptive use has been previously quantified and changed to include augmentation use, to increase river flows for environmental benefits. Farmers have long used so-called augmentation water to help offset their water use, particularly of groundwater, when that use is not in priority within Colorado’s water rights system. Now that same water can be used to boost environmental flows.

    Anti-speculation study and water conservation in master planning

    Beyond instream flows, Gov. Polis signed Senate Bill 48, which requires the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to form a working group to explore ways to strengthen anti-speculation laws. The agency must report its recommendations to the interim Water Resources Review Committee by Aug. 15, 2021.

    Also signed into law was House Bill 1095, which authorizes counties and municipalities that have adopted master plans that contain a water supply element to include state water plan goals and conservation policies that may affect land development approvals.

    Larry Morandi was formerly director of State Policy Research with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, and is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He can be reached at larrymorandi@comcast.net.

    Major #SouthPlatteRiver basin project would maximize #reuse of Western Slope water, report says — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver. The South Platte River runs by an electricity plant near I-25 in Denver. A project proposed by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group would allow Front Range water managers to maximize the reuse of Colorado River water. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

    A multibillion-dollar reservoir and pipeline project may one day pull more than 50,000 acre-feet of water per year from the South Platte River before it reaches Nebraska. That’s more than 16 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 25,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

    The possible project is laid out in a new report from the South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group, or SPROWG, a group of water managers from the Front Range. If built, the project would enable Front Range water managers to repeatedly reuse water diverted from the Colorado River, something Western Slope water managers have long encouraged and see as a welcome shift.

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    “There is a lot of fully reusable water that makes its way down the South Platte,” said Eric Kuhn, a retired manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who now writes about Colorado River issues. “This is something that people on the Western Slope have been trying to encourage for probably 70 years.”

    The group used a $350,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the South Platte Basin and Metro Basin roundtables to complete the year-long study, which was released in March. The group members hope the project could help close a water-supply gap of as much as 540,000 acre-feet that the state is projecting for the South Platte River basin by 2050.

    Since the 1930s, Front Range water planners have looked west to bolster their water supplies. An elaborate series of reservoirs, underground tunnels and pipelines now conveys about 400,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River headwaters to the South Platte basin.

    Water is diverted from the Colorado, Fraser, Blue, Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers in Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties and sent under the Continental Divide to the South Platte basin.

    Large projects on the South Platte were previously written off due to the high costs of water treatment, but as the cost and controversy surrounding transmountain diversions have grown, a project such as SPROWG — which would have seemed expensive decades ago — is now on par with most other supplies of water. Depending on which concept configuration is used and whether the water will need to be treated, building the project would cost between $1.2 billion and $3.4 billion to build.

    The South Platte River runs near a farm in Henderson, Colorado, northeast of Denver. Henderson is the site of one of the possible reservoirs for the regional water project proposed by SPROWG. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

    Use to extinction

    Each of SPROWG’s storage concepts would capture stormwater and native South Platte water during wet years. While the project would not be used to store water from existing or future transmountain diversions, it would capture water from the Colorado River that made its way back to the river as a return flow after being used elsewhere within the basin.

    “SPROWG is not intended to store supplies from an existing or new transmountain diversion project (though it will provide a means to utilize unused reusable return flows from transmountain diversions),” the report said.

    Once water is transferred over the mountains to the Front Range, it can legally be used to extinction, meaning that it can return to the river as runoff, be recaptured and be used again perpetually. By decree, certain volumes of Colorado River water can only be reused within a certain area, something the SPROWG project would need to ensure.

    “If they are going to take the water in the first place, they should make sure they are reusing that water to the full extent possible,” said Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which was formed in 1937 to protect Western Slope water.

    Although the SPROWG project does not require more water from the Western Slope, it is not considered a replacement supply for any of the existing water that the region takes from the Colorado River system. Despite the continued need of existing transmountain diversions, Mueller sees the project as an acknowledgement by at least some on the Front Range that the Colorado River is no longer a feasible option for future water supplies.

    “I think there are a number of operators of Front Range systems that recognize that the Colorado River system has hit its limit,” he said.

    While Western Slope water managers interviewed for this story were all generally supportive of the project, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, which represents different water districts and users within the basin, has not yet taken a formal opinion on it.

    Conceptual projects outlined by SPROWG will allow water managers to reuse Colorado River water. Three of the four project alternatives include an approximately 80-mile pump-and-pipeline system that would move water from a reservoir in Balzac, northeast of Denver, uphill to the metro area. Graphic credit: SPROWG

    Conceptual project

    The concepts outlined in the report are still far from a fully formed project, as no steps have been taken toward permitting, acquiring land or even identifying a user for the water. But SPROWG members hope that the analysis could be the first step toward a basinwide water project, a cooperative effort not typical of other large water projects.

    “It just seems like something that we need to do, organizing the basin and helping the basin function as efficiently as possible,” said Matt Lindburg, SPROWG’s senior engineering consultant. “It will definitely be a project and concept that folks want to pursue.”

    The report analyzed four possible storage and pipeline configurations that would collect agricultural water returned to the lower South Platte as runoff from the region’s farms, and then pump it back to the Denver metro area.

    Three of the four project alternatives include an approximately 80-mile pump-and-pipeline system that would move water from a reservoir in Balzac, northeast of Denver, uphill to the metro area. The pipeline would allow the metro area to reuse some water that it already returned to the river as runoff or through water-treatment plants. The conceptual reservoirs could store between 220,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water.

    The idea to design a basinwide water project came from conclusions in the South Platte Storage Study, a 2018 analysis of basin-water supplies that was funded by the Colorado legislature.

    That study found that the state was sending an average of 293,000 acre-feet more water down the South Platte and into Nebraska than what is required by the South Platte River Compact, an agreement between the two states that governs how much water Colorado is able to take from the river.

    The SPROWG project would be designed to capture some of this water while remaining within the confines of the compact. The report suggested that water could be reused rather than the basin continuing to rely on either Western Slope or agricultural water.

    In recent decades, agriculture along the South Platte has been the other main source of water for growing municipalities. Municipal governments buy out farms with senior water rights and dry up the fields, sending the water to the cities.

    “This is probably the only other option on the table,” said Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District. “We want to do as much as we can to minimize the pressure on those other sources of water.”

    The report also shows that the cost of the water from the projects would be consistent with other projects in the region — between $18,400 and $22,600 per acre-foot for untreated water and between $33,600 and $43,200 for treated water.

    Whether cities will need additional South Platte water in the future, some of it is already spoken for. In March, 600,000 cranes — 80% of the world population — will visit an 80-mile stretch of the mainstem of the Platte River in Nebraska, where the birds fatten up on grain before a long migration north. Water flowing in the river makes this spectacle possible.

    Even if the SPROWG concept were built, it would need to work within the confines of the Platte River Recovery Program, which was created to help protect these cranes and other endangered species on the river.

    The recovery program, which secured additional water and land for habitat, has led to a dramatic increase in the population of endangered birds during migration season in Nebraska. SPROWG’s designers say they would work within the program, timing reservoir releases and saving water for specific ecological needs, but the report does not include a full environmental analysis.

    Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the April 25 edition of The Aspen Times.

    We Are Rivers episode 24: Understanding #Colorado’s instream flow program — @AmericanRivers

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    Tune into the 24th episode of our podcast: We Are Rivers. Learn all about Colorado’s instream flow program, and the significance it has on surrounding rivers and communities.

    The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

    Join us for Episode 24 of We Are Rivers, as we de-wonk Colorado’s instream flow program, a critical tool to protect and enhance river flows across the state of Colorado.

    Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy and lifestyle. On both sides of the Continental Divide, rivers provide world class fishing, paddling and fantastic scenic canyons. Not only do rivers provide engaging recreation opportunities, they also provide most of Colorado’s clean, safe, reliable drinking water, support our thriving agricultural communities, and substantially contribute to Colorado’s culture, heritage, and economy.

    Recognizing the importance of rivers and the fact that the state needed to correlate the demands humans place on rivers with the reasonable preservation of the natural environment, Colorado established its Instream Flow Program in 1973. This program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to hold instream flow water rights – a legal mechanism to keep water in a specific reach of a river – to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream or lake. The CWCB is responsible for the appropriation, acquisition, protection and monitoring of instream flow water rights.

    The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold an instream flow water right, however many different entities including cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment benefit from instream flow water rights. In this episode of We Are Rivers, we explore the benefits of the program and discuss the important partnerships and collaborations that occur between different water users.

    Take for example the City of Steamboat Springs. The 2002 and 2012 droughts significantly reduced flows in the Yampa River, impacting all water users. In 2002, the river experienced some of its lowest flows on record. River sports shops closed their doors, there was a voluntary ban on angling, and farmers and ranchers had less water. The river and the community suffered. Flash forward to 2012, and the community faced similar drought conditions. But partners got creative, and used the instream flow program to bolster flows in the Yampa River, preventing history from repeating itself. This partnership included the CWCB, Colorado Water Trust, and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Together, they temporarily leased water from Stagecoach Reservoir, improving flows in the Yampa through the City of Steamboat. The short-term leases from Stagecoach Reservoir were vital to the health of the Yampa River and its surrounding communities, and were used not only in 2012, but also 2013 and 2017. This is just one example of how a diverse set of partners came together and utilized the instream flow program for many benefits.

    The instream flow program underwent an exciting expansion earlier this year that will provide more opportunities for communities to benefit from collaborative instream flow solutions. After a multi-year stakeholder effort, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to expand Colorado’s existing instream flow loan program – HB20-1157. The law expands protection of rivers without threatening or hindering existing water rights. It authorizes a targeted expansion of the loan program that makes the program more useful to water right owners and benefits Colorado’s rivers and streams. Specifically, it adjusts the amount of time a user can exercise a renewable loan from 3 years out of 10, to 5 years out of 10 years and it allows water right owners to renew participation in the program for up to two additional 10-year periods, for a total of 30 years. This is a huge opportunity for rivers and communities: take, for example, the benefit this provides to the Yampa River. The partners working together to secure the 3 in 10 instream flow loan on the Yampa through the city of Steamboat Springs now have two additional years in this 10-year period where water can be leased under the expanded program. Future climate conditions make frequent droughts more likely, and the opportunity to curb impacts during those back-to-back drought years is another important and timely benefit of the expanded ISF program.

    The complexity of Colorado Water Law is a lot to digest, and the instream flow program is no exception. We hope you join us for Episode 24 to break down the specifics of the instream flow program and what it means for rivers and communities.

    Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia. Ranchers and farmers in the valley have largely ignored Division Engineer Erin Light’s order to install measuring devices as of December, 2019.

    Facing a drier future, water managers turn to science — The Rio Blanco Herald-Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above the reservoir on a June 24 flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    From the Colorado River District via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

    A growing body of research shows that the Upper Colorado River Basin is growing warmer on average. In fact, the national hot spot centers on Western Colorado and much of the Southwest.

    A result: a significant reduction in the snowpack that makes up the Southwest’s main water supply.

    In the Colorado River District’s “Know Your Snow” webinar, Deputy Chief Engineer Dave Kanzer and National Snow and Ice Data Center researcher Jeff Deems explored how water managers and snow scientists are studying and adapting to the changes to our snowpack and water supply.

    The “Know Your Snow” webinar is available online at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/events-directory/webinars/ (scan the Zapcode on the photo to the right with your Zappar smartphone app for a direct link.)

    About three-quarters of the snowmelt that forms the Colorado River’s flow falls as snow at elevations above 8,500 feet in the mountains of the Upper Colorado Basin, Kanzer explained. Deems pointed out that the 15 Western Slope counties that make up the Colorado River District have warmed at a rate from about 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Summit County to more than 4 degrees in Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and Rio Blanco counties since about the early 1900s, according to data developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    “We’re seeing changes on the order of 4 or 5 degrees in parts of the District,” Deems said. “This is just a slice out of this big, warming bullseye that is hitting the Upper Colorado (River) Basin over that time period. This is a problem for us because we rely on the snowpack, and that’s because warming reduces stream flow through a number of different mechanisms in this snowmelt-dominated basin.”

    That reduction comes from several factors: more snow falling as rain, earlier spring snowmelt, more snow directly evaporating into the atmosphere instead of melting into streams and a longer growing season that has plants taking up more water.

    Deems explained that for every 1 degree of warming, there is an estimated 3 to 4% decline in annual runoff. That’s about double the amount of water Las Vegas uses in one year, and 18 months of water supply for the city of Los Angeles, Deems said.

    A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that a decline in flow due to warming is even greater than earlier studies have shown, with statistics suggesting that average annual flow decreases by 9.3% for every 1.8 degrees of warming.

    All of this poses a threat to drinking water, irrigation to grow our food and water to maintain healthy wildlife habitats. The Colorado River District is not only studying the water-supply risks posed by warming temperatures but also implementing solutions such as cloud seeding to make sure West Slope communities are prepared for future challenges.

    Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

    Cloud seeding to increase snowpack

    As part of an effort to boost snowpack, Kanzer coordinates the Colorado River District’s cloud seeding program. Increasingly, water managers are turning to cloud seeding, a practice that can increase how much snow winter storms produce.

    “We’re trying to figure out how to mitigate and adapt to a changing world,” Kanzer said. “We’re doing this through cloud seeding, and (we’re) implementing these programs throughout Western Colorado. In fact, this is going on throughout the West and throughout the world.”

    Cloud seeding requires a specific set of conditions to be successful, Kanzer explained. A cloud must contain super-cooled water. Water vapor in these clouds is cold enough to form ice crystals, around 5 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit, but it needs something on which to crystalize. When conditions in a storm system are right, with favorable winds with proper uplift, cloud seeding generators send tiny particles of silver iodide into the moisture-laden clouds, typically using propane-fired burners on the ground.

    Silver iodide has been proven to be safe for the environment, Kanzer said, adding that it is effective because and it naturally has a similar crystal structure to the ice crystals that form snowflakes.

    The super-cooled liquid water more efficiently freezes on to these introduced tiny particles of silver iodide, building small ice crystals that grow into snowflakes.

    Kanzer said cloud seeding could increase snow on the ground by up to 15%, boosting what might have been a 10-inch snowstorm by 1.5 inches. After a successful season of cloud seeding, this might, in turn, lead to as much as a 5% increase in streamflow in watersheds where cloud seeding occurred. This increases recreation opportunities for skiers in the winter and boaters in the warmer months, he added.

    “And it helps us with our water supplies, of course, and that’s what we’re really focused on here at the Colorado River District,” Kanzer said.

    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

    Improving predictions with better data

    While Kanzer’s work focuses on increasing the amount of snowpack, Deems’ research seeks to better understand what snow we have.

    He explained that water supply forecasts are traditionally generated by comparing the current amount of snow on the ground at fixed locations to historical streamflow records. With the changes we are experiencing, Deems said these methods of comparing the present to the past are no longer accurate.

    Additionally, snowpack is measured by a network of weather stations widely spread out across the mountain landscape where Colorado’s snowfall accumulates. While these stations provide accurate measurements in very specific locations, they don’t indicate how much snow, and how much water, might be stored high in the mountains, above the elevations where these stations are located.

    Deems’ company, the Airborne Snow Observatory, uses a system called light detection and ranging — LIDAR for short — to measure snow across the entire landscape. From a plane, Deems’ team sends pulses of scanning laser light toward the earth, which reflect off the snow. Researchers can then use information in the reflection to build a three-dimensional picture of the snowscape.

    This technology gives snow scientists and water planners landscape-based information about how much snow, and water, is present. This technology is detailed enough to reveal the deep pockets of snow below bare slopes where avalanches occurred or even areas where snowmaking was used to make terrain parks on a ski run.

    This more comprehensive of the snowpack significantly improves water supply forecasts critical to water managers in making decisions.

    Together with cloud seeding, this technology is helping water managers turn the corner from historical practices to prepare for and adapt to a changing world in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    For more information, visit ColoradoRiverDistrict.org. The “Know Your Snow” webinar is available online at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/events-directory/webinars/.

    State Supreme Court rules on San Luis Valley water rights case — #Colorado Politics

    The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

    From Colorado Politics (Michael Karlik):

    The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld an agreement that would allow a water conservation subdistrict in Southern Colorado to import water to the Rio Grande and use the entirety of its own imported water under long-standing legal doctrine.

    The Closed Basin is a watershed in the San Luis Valley with a physical separation between itself and the Rio Grande. Surface water, therefore, does not flow into the river, and is imported through canals. However, a study revealed that pumping from an underground aquifer in the Closed Basin was causing depletion to the waters of the Rio Grande.

    In 2010, a water court judge approved a plan for the Special Improvement District No. 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District that proposed a way to restore river flows otherwise lost to irrigation-related pumping. The subdistrict would have to replace the river depletions, and consequently it contracted with Santa Maria Reservoir Company to lease water from its supply in two reservoirs.

    The company, however, had to amend its bylaws to allow for the water to go toward replacement of flows, not just for irrigation. The idea was to release water from a reservoir and have it flow down the Rio Grande, with no diversions for irrigation to the Closed Basin.

    By April 2016, all affected parties had withdrawn objections except for one rancher, Jim Warner. He owned property in the Closed Basin and needed the subsurface water created as a byproduct of the importation to stay at a certain level. Warner opposed the change out of a suspicion that he could no longer use flood irrigation of his hay crops.

    During the trial, SMRC argued that its importation scheme would not harm other water users in the Closed Basin. Warner did not provide any evidence to support his claim, as well as for his allegation that the Closed Basin and the Rio Grande were not separate water systems after all.

    The water court found acceptable the arrangement for SMRC to replenish the Rio Grande and for the subdistrict to use the entirety of its imported water into the Closed Basin for its own irrigation purposes…

    Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Carlos A. Samour Jr. found that the water court was correct to approve the Closed Basin arrangement based on cases as early as 1907.

    “We have repeatedly said that when water is introduced into a stream system from an unconnected stream system, it is imported,” he wrote. There was plainly a divide between the Closed Basin and the river, and the SMRC’s actions would not cause Warner injury.

    Changes in snowmelt threaten farmers in western U.S. — @ColoradoStateU #snowpack #runoff #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

    The findings pinpointed basins around the world most at risk of not having enough water available at the right times for irrigation because of changes in snowmelt patterns. Two of those high-risk areas are the San Joaquin and Colorado river basins in the western United States. Photo: Kevin Bidwell/ Pexels

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

    For decades, scientists have thought that changes in snowmelt due to climate change could negatively impact agriculture. Now, a new study reveals the risks to agriculture around the world from changes in snowmelt, finding that farmers in parts of the western United States who rely on snowmelt to help irrigate crops will be among the hardest hit in the world by climate change.

    In a study published April 20 in Nature Climate Change, an interdisciplinary team of researchers analyzed monthly irrigation water demand with snowmelt runoff across global basins from 1985 to 2015. The goal was to determine where irrigated agriculture has depended on snowmelt runoff in the past and how that might change with a warming climate.

    Researchers then projected changes in snowmelt and rainfall runoff if the Earth warms by 2 or 4 degrees Celsius – about 3 ½ or 7 degrees Fahrenheit – which will potentially put snow-dependent basins at risk.

    The findings pinpointed basins around the world most at risk of not having enough water available at the right times for irrigation because of changes in snowmelt patterns. Two of those high-risk areas are the San Joaquin and Colorado river basins in the western United States.

    Nathan Mueller is a researcher in the Warner College and College of Agricultural Sciences. Photo: Joe Mendoza/CSU Photography

    Nathan Mueller, senior author on the study and an assistant professor at Colorado State University, said that the study reveals how many of our important agricultural regions rely on snowmelt for irrigation. “Our research shows how efforts to halt climate change could benefit farmers and the food supply by preserving snowmelt as a vital water resource for agriculture,” he added.

    Yue Qin, lead author and an assistant professor of geography at The Ohio State University, said that in many areas of the world, agriculture depends on snowmelt runoff happening at certain times and at certain magnitudes. “But climate change is going to cause less snow and early melting in some basins, which could have profound effects on food production,” she said.

    Map of the San Joaquin River basin in central California, United States, made using public domain USGS National Map data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63080408

    Under the 4-degree Celsius warming scenario, the researchers project that the share of irrigation water demand met by snowmelt in the San Joaquin Basin decreases from 33 percent to 18 percent. In the Colorado Basin, the share of water demand met by snowmelt decreases from 38 percent to 23 percent.

    Other basins in which agriculture is at particular risk because of changes in snowmelt are located in southern Europe, western China and Central Asia.
    Depending on both the magnitude and the timing, rainfall runoff may be able to compensate for declines in snowmelt runoff in meeting irrigation water demand – but only for some basins, the researchers calculated.

    “In many basins, future changes in rainfall do not compensate for the lost snowmelt during crop growing seasons,” Mueller said.

    The San Joaquin, for example, is one basin where increases in rainfall runoff won’t be able to make up for snowmelt decline when irrigation is most needed.

    The researchers evaluated the potential availability of reservoir storage and groundwater to help satisfy the additional irrigation need created by less snowmelt and early melting. In some basins, those additional requirements would pose great challenges in trying to make up for changing snowmelt patterns.

    “Irrigation demands not met by rainfall or snowmelt currently already represent more than 40 percent of reservoir water storage in many Asian and North American basins,” said Steven Davis, a co-author and associate professor of earth system science at University of California, Irvine. “And in a warming world, agriculture won’t be the only added demand on reservoirs and other alternative water supplies like groundwater.”

    In the San Joaquin Basin, findings suggested that 14 percent of irrigation water demand must be met by new alternative sources under a 4-degree Celsius warming scenario. In the Colorado Basin, the figure would be 9 percent.

    The study also examined which crops globally were at most at risk because of snowmelt changes resulting from climate change. Findings showed that rice and cotton in northern hemisphere summer, as well as wheat and managed grassland in spring, were particularly snow-dependent.

    For the study, researchers used data on monthly rainfall and snowmelt runoff globally from 1985 to 2015 from a dataset called TerraClimate. They then calculated monthly irrigation water consumption for a variety of crops.

    Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

    Comparing historical runoff and total surface water consumption, they estimated monthly snowmelt and rainfall runoff consumption as well as demand for alternative water sources in each major river basin.

    They then used climate models to project snowmelt and rainfall runoff in each basin if global mean temperatures rise 2 degrees or 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial conditions.

    Mueller, who is a researcher in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, notes that the results of the study can help prioritize research and policy attention to identify possible ways to adapt within at-risk basins. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges created by changes in snowmelt, and many adaptation options incur tradeoffs,” Mueller said. “Strategies need to be developed regionally in the context of the unique challenges facing each basin at risk.”

    The study was supported by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

    Other co-authors on the study were from University of California, Irvine; University of California, Merced; University of Idaho; University of Göttingen; Dartmouth College; and Columbia University.

    Liza Mitchell, education and outreach coordinator with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, left, and a participant in the Water Education Colorado SNOTEL workshop measure the snow-water equivalent of different layers of the snowpack. The liquid content of snow from this site measured roughly 21 percent. (March 2018)

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Colorado River Basin farmers will be hardest hit by climate warming, along with food growers in Central Asia and the southern Andes, due to high dependence on shrinking snow as a source of irrigation water, new research has found.

    Century-old practices of anticipating drought by monitoring mountain snowpack will be increasingly precarious, researchers also found.

    And western agricultural leaders on Monday warned, in letters to President Donald Trump and Congress, that deteriorating pipelines, canals, reservoirs and other water infrastructure threaten the U.S. food supply.

    “The western United States is in a tough spot with climate change and changes in snowmelt affecting water resources,” said Colorado State University environmental scientist Nathan Mueller, author of one snowmelt study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    “But the agriculture in the West is really important for our nation’s food supply. It is imperative to try to adapt to these changes as best we can — and try to limit warming.”

    Graphic via Nature Climate

    […]

    On Monday, a Western Growers coalition of 150 agricultural groups — including the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Association and several water districts — urged Trump and Congress to address aging western water infrastructure using coronavirus stimulus funds.

    Coalition leaders pointed to changing water flows in the West that imperil food production, advising swift repairs and replacements of head gates, pipelines, canals and reservoirs to help producers endure dry times.

    How a trickle of water is breathing life into the parched #ColoradoRiver Delta — #Arizona Central #COriver #aridification

    Here’s an in-depth look at restoration efforts in the Colorado River Delta from Ian James writing for ArizonaCentral.com. Click through and read the whole article and to enjoy the beautiful photography. Here’s an excerpt:

    In the long-dry Colorado River Delta in Mexico, environmental groups are using small amounts of water to restore wetlands and forests one area at a time

    The Colorado River once flowed with so much water that steamboats sailed on its wide, meandering stretches near the U.S.-Mexico border. When the environmentalist Aldo Leopold paddled the river’s delta in Mexico nearly a century ago, he was filled with awe at the sight of “a hundred green lagoons.”

    Now, what’s left of the river crosses the border and pushes up against the gates of Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into Mexico’s Reforma Canal, which runs toward fields of cotton, wheat, hay and vegetables in the Mexicali Valley.

    Downstream from the dam sits a rectangular lagoon that resembles a pond in a city park. Swallows swarm over the water, diving and skimming across its glassy surface. From here, a narrow stream the width of a one-lane road continues into a thicket, flanked by tall grasses.

    Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

    About a dozen miles farther south, the Colorado River disappears in the desert. Beside fields of alfalfa and green onions, the dry riverbed spreads out in a dusty plain where only gray desert shrubs survive…

    [Jennifer] Pitt is director of the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program. She visited the delta with Gaby Caloca of the Mexican environmental group Pronatura Noroeste. The two co-chair a cross-border environmental work group that includes government officials and experts from both countries, and they’re working together on plans to restore wetlands in parts of the Colorado River Delta.

    These efforts to resurrect pieces of the delta’s desiccated ecosystems face major challenges, including limited funds, scarce water supplies, and the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

    But in the past decade, environmental groups have had success bringing back patches of life in parts of the river delta. In these green islands surrounded by the desert, water delivered by canals and pumps is helping to nourish wetlands and forests. Cottonwoods and willows have been growing rapidly. Birds have been coming back and are singing in the trees.

    Martha Gomez-Sapiens, a monitoring team member and postdoctoral research associate in the UA Department of Geosciences, stands on a riverbank next to willows and cottonwoods that germinated as a result of the pulse flow. (Photo: Karl W. Flessa/UA Department of Geosciences)

    Pitt, Caloca and other environmentalists say they’ve found that even though there isn’t nearly enough water available to restore a flowing river from the border to the sea, these modest projects planting trees and creating wetlands are showing promise. Even relatively small amounts of water are helping breathe life into parts of the delta.

    And during the next several years, more water is set to flow to the restoration sites under a 2017 agreement between Mexico and the U.S…

    Young girl enjoying the river restored temporarily by the pulse flow March 2014 via National Geographic

    In the spring of 2014, a surge of water poured through the gates of Morelos Dam on the border. That “pulse flow” of 105,000 acre-feet of water brought back a flowing river in areas that had been dry since floods in the late 1990s.

    Crowds of jubilant revelers gathered by the resurrected river. They dipped their feet into the water and waded in.

    Some danced on the banks and drank beer. Others tossed nets into the water and pulled out flapping fish…

    …the pulse flow gave Mexican and U.S. officials a visual demonstration of the potential of restoration efforts — an example that nudged them toward budgeting water for the environment as they negotiated a new Colorado River agreement.

    “I think having that river flowing piqued people’s interest,” Pitt said. “It opened people’s imagination to the idea. It gave them a vision of the Colorado River here that has energized these restoration efforts.”

    When representatives of the governments signed the next deal in 2017, it cleared the way for smaller but substantial flows to expand several habitat restoration sites.

    The agreement, called Minute 323, acknowledged that the work group led by representatives from both countries had recommended goals including expanding the habitat areas from 1,076 acres to 4,300 acres, and setting aside an annual average of $40 million and 45,000 acre-feet of water for environmental restoration in the delta…

    The deal included pledges for about half that much water, a total of 210,000 acre-feet through 2026 — enough water that if spread across Phoenix would cover two-thirds of the city a foot deep. This water — averaging 23,000 acre-feet a year — represents a small fraction of the 1.5 million acre-feet that Mexico is entitled to each year under a 1944 treaty, and an even smaller fraction of the larger allotments that California and Arizona take from the river upstream.

    Mexico and the U.S. each agreed to provide a third of the water, while a coalition of environmental nonprofits pledged to secure the remainder. Each government agreed to contribute $9 million for restoration projects and $9 million for research and monitoring work.

    So far, environmental groups have been buying water in Mexico through a trust and pumping it from agricultural canals into three restoration areas. More water is scheduled to be delivered by the two governments over the next several years, including water the U.S. plans to obtain by paying for conservation projects in Mexico.

    When the infusion comes, the wetlands and newly planted forests will get a bigger drink.

    “We are scaling up,” Pitt said from the backseat, while Caloca drove through farmlands toward one of the restoration sites.

    How a high-elevation irrigation study in Kremmling could help #Colorado avoid future water shortages — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez’s daughter and nephew sit in a hay field at the family ranch near Kremmling. Bruchez is helping spearhead a study among local ranchers, which could inform a potential statewide demand management program. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Sarah Tory):

    The Colorado River begins high in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado at Poudre Pass before flowing south and then west into Grand County, through the town of Kremmling, a small ranching community of just over 1,400 people.

    It’s a hard place to have a ranch. The soils are sandy, and at over 7,000 feet, the growing season is short. But the real challenge is water. Powerful Front Range water utilities such as Denver Water own many of the senior water rights in Grand County, leaving many ranchers fearful of the day when the city might need the water they rely on to irrigate.

    Paul Bruchez, a fifth-generation rancher and fly-fishing guide who raises cattle on 6,000 acres near Kremmling, knows firsthand the hardship caused by water shortages. In 2000, his father sold the family’s original homestead on the Front Range and bought two new ranches in Grand County, hoping for a fresh start away from the rapidly encroaching city. One of the property’s water rights was owned by Denver Water, which had agreed to lease it for 50 years — so long as the city could use the water in times of extreme drought. That time came just two years after Bruchez’s father bought the ranch, in 2002, leaving the family without enough water to irrigate. Forced to fallow half their fields, Bruchez’s family struggled to pay their mortgage.

    The crisis prompted Bruchez to get involved in state-level water negotiations so he could help figure out creative solutions to the kind of problem his family faced. In 2015, he became an agriculture representative to the Colorado Basin Roundtable, where the concept of “demand management” began dominating conversations last year. At the heart of a demand-management program is paying irrigators on a voluntary, temporary and compensated basis to leave more water in the river in an effort to bolster levels in Lake Powell and help the state meet its downstream obligations.

    Under the Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the three other Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) must send 7.5 million acre-feet to Lake Powell every year for the three Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada). Failing to meet those obligations triggers a so-called “compact call,” where junior water rights holders throughout the Upper Basin would see their water cut off — a disastrous situation that water managers are desperate to avoid.

    The Colorado River Commission, in Santa Fe, in 1922.

    To address that threat, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the agency charged with managing the state’s water resources, voted last year to begin studying the feasibility of a demand-management program. But there was a problem: Although the fields in a potential demand-management program would be at various altitudes, scientists do not have much data on the impacts of reducing irrigation water on higher elevation pastures. Bruchez saw an opportunity to help those efforts by recruiting his ranching neighbors to participate in a study that would help fill the current data gap on fields such as those in the Kremmling area.

    “This is our opportunity to participate in the process,” Bruchez told them. Ranchers were receptive, but they had questions. A lot of questions. How, for instance, would they get enough hay to feed their cattle if some of their fields were out of production? How would one rancher’s curtailing of water on his fields affect his neighbors’ fields? How much water savings do you achieve and what happens to the lands themselves? How quickly do they recover?

    Bruchez knew that the answers to those questions could be crucial determiners for Colorado’s demand-management investigation.

    “If we do this project, it could equally indicate the lack of viability or it could indicate that this is a really great opportunity,” he said. “But at least we’ll be making those decisions based on science rather than emotions or policy without real data.”

    Rancher and fly-fishing guide Paul Bruchez raises cattle on 6,000 acres near Kremmling. Bruchez has taken an active role in Colorado River issues ever since his family suffered from a critical water shortage during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Russ Schnitzer via Aspen Journalism

    Demonstration project

    Bruchez, 36, is somewhat of a guru for the ranching community in the Colorado water world, participating in numerous river-restoration projects and various water focus groups in addition to his role on the Colorado Basin Roundtable, one of nine groups representing each of Colorado’s main river basins (as well as the Denver area) composed of various stakeholders working to address the state’s water challenges.

    In 2012, he helped create a partnership among local ranchers called the Irrigators of the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK) to secure grant funding for river-restoration initiatives such as stabilizing riverbanks and reviving irrigation channels across a 12-mile stretch of the Colorado River.

    Late last fall, Bruchez began discussing the idea of a water-saving study with the ILVK, and by February he had five volunteers (with the potential for two more). Among them, they had 1,200 to 1,500 acres ranging in elevation from 7,300 to 8,300 feet in which to study the ecological and economic impacts of full- and partial-season irrigation curtailment on hayfields.

    In March, the CWCB awarded Bruchez’s project a $500,000 grant under its Alternative Agriculture Water Transfer Method program, which supports proposals that offer ways to boost water supplies without relying on traditional “buy and dry” transactions. The remaining funding for the $900,000 project is coming from American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and private donors.

    Some of the ranchers will irrigate their participating fields as normal for half a season — until June 15 — before cutting off their water, while others will not irrigate at all. For the split-season irrigation, ranchers will be compensated at $225 per acre with an additional $56 per acre of risk-mitigation payment (to pay for general upkeep and other unanticipated damages that might result from the lack of irrigation). For full-season curtailment, ranchers will receive $414 per acre with an additional $207 per acre for risk mitigation.

    For Bruchez’s neighbors such as Bill and Wendy Thompson, the study is an opportunity not only to help the state potentially avoid a major water crisis but to answer some of their own questions. The Thompsons ranch on 400 acres along the Colorado River a mile south of Kremmling with views of Longs Peak and Gore Range. After Bruchez broached the idea of studying the potential for an irrigation-reduction program on high-altitude pastures, the Thompsons volunteer two of their fields — one for a partial-season curtailment and the other as a “control” field, which they will irrigate as normal.

    “We don’t know enough about our own consumptive use on these meadows,” Bill Thompson said. Maybe we’ll discover a new species of grass that’ll actually grow in this sandy soil.”

    Conway Farrell, another Kremmling rancher whom Bruchez recruited, hopes the study will help yield the scientific research that water managers can use to create a demand-management program that will help agriculture in the long run.

    “Everyone’s been talking about this for years,” Farrell said. “It’s time to finally do something.”

    Colorado State University researchers led by Dr. Perry Cabot, a water-resources specialist, will use remote sensing to determine how much water plants consume on the ranchers’ pastures and how much they save by not irrigating on select fields. The researchers will also look at the recovery patterns and risks associated with subjecting pastures to different levels of irrigation curtailment.

    Joe Brummer, the forage specialist for the state of Colorado and an associate professor at CSU, has conducted one of the few studies into the effects of partial- and full-season hay fallowing at different elevations in western Colorado. His findings, though limited in scope, are encouraging: While there are short-term losses, the fields recovered after a few seasons to within 10% of full production.

    “Plants are resilient,” he said.

    This mowed hay field is part of Reeder Creek Ranch, owned by the Bruchez family near Kremmling. Little data exists on the impacts of reducing irrigation water on higher elevation pastures like this one, but Paul Bruchez and a group of local ranchers have volunteered their fields for a study that will help scientists learn more about what happens to pastures that receive less irrigation water. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism

    Demand management

    As Bruchez ironed out the details of his initiative last winter with ranchers, researchers and the other NGO partners, he had to tread carefully.

    Amy Ostdiek, the deputy chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section, emphasized that since the state is still in the initial stages of studying the feasibility of demand management, it’s too early to know how Bruchez’s initiative will play into those efforts. The other three Upper Basin states are in the middle of similar processes as part of the Drought Contingency Planning agreement that all seven Colorado River basin states signed last May.

    “We can’t do anything until all Upper Basin states agree that demand management is feasible in their states,” Ostdiek said. “If other states agree that it is, then we get to the hard work of what that program would look like.”

    Almost two decades ago, Bruchez’s family overcame their own water crisis by negotiating with Denver Water so that both the utility and Grand County’s agriculture community and environment could get the water they all need. For Bruchez, the experience was a lesson in the value of simple awareness and better management when it comes to solving seemingly intractable water issues.

    Speaking from his ranch a couple of weeks ago via Zoom — an online video conferencing app used due to restrictions on in-person meetings because of the COVID-19 crisis — Bruchez felt more than ever the need to be proactive about a future water crisis.

    “If people in Phoenix or Denver can’t drink water, what’re we going to do about it?” Bruchez said, adding that it’s no secret that agricultural water rights would be in jeopardy. “Trying to get ahead of this is super important.”

    Aspen Journalism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by its donors and funders. This story ran in the April 15 edition of SkyHi News.

    @USBR Forecasts “Tier Zero” Shortage On #ColoradoRiver — KNAU #COriver #aridification #runoff #DCP

    From KNAU (Melissa Sevigny):

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its projections for the Colorado River’s water supply for the next two years. Spring and summer inflow to Lake Powell is expected to be 78 percent of average, due to dry conditions last fall. Lake Mead is projected to fall into “Tier Zero” conditions for 2021 and 2022. That’s a new designation under the Drought Contingency Plan which requires Arizona, Nevada and Mexico take cuts in their water supply. Arizona’s reduction of nearly two hundred thousand acre-feet of water will come from the Central Arizona Project, the canal that serves Phoenix and Tucson. The Tier Zero reduction will affect CAP’s water banking program and agricultural customers, but not cities or tribes.

    Upper Colorado, Great, Virgin River Basins: 2018 April-July forecast volumes as a percent of 1981-2010 average (50% exceedance probability forecast)

    @USBR Prepares for Below Average #Runoff in the #RioGrande #snowpack

    Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Mary Carlson):

    On the heels of a banner water year on the Rio Grande, water managers are again preparing to manage through drought as a below average runoff is expected this spring based on the current snowpack in the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

    The Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Annual Operating Plan for the Rio Grande today showing below average runoff. While the amount of water in the snowpack (snow water equivalent) measured in the mountains feeding the river was close to average in March, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) warns that runoff may be below average as a result of low soil moisture levels resulting from a dry fall in 2019.

    At the end of March, snow water equivalent was 81 percent of average for the Rio Chama Basin, 93 percent of average for the Upper Rio Grande Basin, 105 percent for the Sangre de Cristos, and 57 percent for the Jemez. Based on these values, the NRCS April streamflow forecast predicts that Rio Chama flow into El Vado Reservoir will be 56 percent of average with an inflow of about 125,000 acre-feet of water. Water is stored in El Vado for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and to meet the needs of the Six Middle Rio Grande Pueblos.

    Rio Grande Project storage is currently about 600,000 acre-feet and peaked at about 650,000 acre-feet at the beginning of March before declining as irrigation releases started. The forecast shows that combined usable project storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs is likely to fall below 400,000 acre-feet in late June. This triggers restrictions under the Rio Grande Compact that limit storage in upstream reservoirs such as El Vado.

    The Annual Operating Plan public meetings were held by WebEx this year in accordance with federal and state health guidelines. Those who were not able to attend the meetings can still view the presentation on Reclamation’s website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/albuq/water/aop/index.html or contact Mary Carlson at mcarlson@usbr.gov.

    Westwide SNOTEL April 17, 2020 via the NRCS.

    #NISP update

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Save the Poudre has asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reverse the water quality certification permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    The nonprofit that organized in 2004 in opposition of the reservoir project said it had 13 objections to the water quality permit, including criticisms of the mitigation plans as well as effects on streamflow…

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

    Northern Water has proposed the reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers, who are relying on Glade and Galeton reservoirs to store water for their future supplies.

    The water in the reservoirs primarily would come from the Poudre River…

    The project requires three major permits — a record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade is expected later this year; a 1041 permit from Larimer County, which has public hearings scheduled this summer; and the water quality certification.

    Staff with the Colorado Water Quality Division granted the certification in January…

    The appeal alleges 13 violations of state regulations in the project, including that Northern Water has not yet secured all of the needed water rights, that the project does not take the effect of climate change into its streamflow levels and that mitigation will not occur until full buildout of the project and does not allow peak flows to flush the river and restore the riparian areas…

    Northern Water disputes the allegations made by Save the Poudre. The water district has repeatedly said that it has worked hard to mitigate any damage that may be caused by the project and that is has addressed streamflow.

    Conditions agreed upon in the water quality certification include extensive river monitoring and an adaptive management program “that will bring stakeholders together to work formally on the future of the Poudre River,” according to a statement released by Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water.

    “Northern Water and the NISP participants submitted extensive documentation in our application to demonstrate our commitment to high water quality in the Poudre River,” Stahla said in the statement. “That commitment will extend for decades through the conditions agreed to by NISP participants.”

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

    We are rivers episode 24: understanding #Colorado’s instream flow program — @AmericanRivers

    City of Steamboat Springs. Photo credit: American Rivers

    From American Rivers (Fay Hartman):

    Tune into the 24th episode of our podcast: We Are Rivers. Learn all about Colorado’s instream flow program, and the significance it has on surrounding rivers and communities.

    Join us for Episode 24 of We Are Rivers, as we de-wonk Colorado’s instream flow program, a critical tool to protect and enhance river flows across the state of Colorado.

    Rivers form the lifelines of Colorado’s economy and lifestyle. On both sides of the Continental Divide, rivers provide world class fishing, paddling and fantastic scenic canyons. Not only do rivers provide engaging recreation opportunities, they also provide most of Colorado’s clean, safe, reliable drinking water, support our thriving agricultural communities, and substantially contribute to Colorado’s culture, heritage, and economy.

    Recognizing the importance of rivers and the fact that the state needed to correlate the demands humans place on rivers with the reasonable preservation of the natural environment, Colorado established its Instream Flow Program in 1973. This program allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to hold instream flow water rights – a legal mechanism to keep water in a specific reach of a river – to preserve or improve the natural environment of a stream or lake. The CWCB is responsible for the appropriation, acquisition, protection and monitoring of instream flow water rights.

    The CWCB is the only entity in the state that can hold an instream flow water right, however many different entities including cities, agriculture, recreation and the environment benefit from instream flow water rights. In this episode of We Are Rivers, we explore the benefits of the program and discuss the important partnerships and collaborations that occur between different water users.

    Take for example the City of Steamboat Springs. The 2002 and 2012 droughts significantly reduced flows in the Yampa River, impacting all water users. In 2002, the river experienced some of its lowest flows on record. River sports shops closed their doors, there was a voluntary ban on angling, and farmers and ranchers had less water. The river and the community suffered. Flash forward to 2012, and the community faced similar drought conditions. But partners got creative, and used the instream flow program to bolster flows in the Yampa River, preventing history from repeating itself. This partnership included the CWCB, Colorado Water Trust, and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District. Together, they temporarily leased water from Stagecoach Reservoir, improving flows in the Yampa through the City of Steamboat. The short-term leases from Stagecoach Reservoir were vital to the health of the Yampa River and its surrounding communities, and were used not only in 2012, but also 2013 and 2017. This is just one example of how a diverse set of partners came together and utilized the instream flow program for many benefits.

    The instream flow program underwent an exciting expansion earlier this year that will provide more opportunities for communities to benefit from collaborative instream flow solutions. After a multi-year stakeholder effort, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill to expand Colorado’s existing instream flow loan program – HB20-1157. The law expands protection of rivers without threatening or hindering existing water rights. It authorizes a targeted expansion of the loan program that makes the program more useful to water right owners and benefits Colorado’s rivers and streams. Specifically, it adjusts the amount of time a user can exercise a renewable loan from 3 years out of 10, to 5 years out of 10 years and it allows water right owners to renew participation in the program for up to two additional 10-year periods, for a total of 30 years. This is a huge opportunity for rivers and communities: take, for example, the benefit this provides to the Yampa River. The partners working together to secure the 3 in 10 instream flow loan on the Yampa through the city of Steamboat Springs now have two additional years in this 10-year period where water can be leased under the expanded program. Future climate conditions make frequent droughts more likely, and the opportunity to curb impacts during those back-to-back drought years is another important and timely benefit of the expanded ISF program.

    The complexity of Colorado Water Law is a lot to digest, and the instream flow program is no exception. We hope you join us for Episode 24 to break down the specifics of the instream flow program and what it means for rivers and communities. Take a listen today!