Thornton leaders plan to lend up to 3,000 acre-feet of water to the ailing Poudre River.
The effort is part of a long-term plan to create a virtual barter market on the Poudre, where cities, farmers and ditch companies can lend their water rights to a stretch of the river before taking it back at a downstream point. Thornton is working with Fort Collins, Greeley, Northern Water and other stakeholders on the so-called Poudre Flows project.
The Poudre Flows project still needs sign-off from Colorado’s water court. Thornton leaders and other stakeholders previously told the Coloradoan they’re planning to carry out the project without infringing on other people’s water rights.
These small-scale projects are a result of planning efforts by the recipients to improve their water delivery efficiency
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced today that Reclamation has selected 58 projects to receive $3.7 million for small-scale water efficiency projects in 16 western states. The funding from Reclamation is being leveraged to support more than $8.2 million in improvements throughout the West. The projects funded with these grants include installation of flow measurement devices and automation technology, canal lining or piping to address seepage, municipal meter upgrades, and other projects to conserve water.
The City of Avondale in Arizona is receiving $75,000 to update two water treatment/booster station wells within their system. They will connect them to their current supervisory control and data acquisition system which will help them better manage their water supplies.
The North Kern Water Storage District in Bakersfield, California, is receiving $75,000 to install SCADA software to interface with previously installed SCADA equipment and two evapotranspiration measurement stations in the service area.
The City of Gallup in northwest New Mexico is receiving $60,000 to upgrade old mechanical meters with modern solid-state meters for industrial, commercial and institutional users. This project will allow for allow for more accurate measurement of water consumption and is supported by its 2013 water conservation plan.
Small-Scale Water Efficiency Projects are part of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program. The program aims to improve water conservation and reliability, helping water resource managers make sound decisions about water use. Learn more at https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart/swep/.
Two local water projects have received a cut of $3.7 million in federal grant funding, which will help improve water efficiency in thirsty Montrose County.
The money awarded to Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will provide technology for the real-time data necessary to accurately manage flows.
At the main river head gate on the Cimarron Canal, the Bostwick Park District and Cimarron Canal and Reservoir Company have a chute that provides a flow of water. “That water needs to be measured accurately and this grant is to put a new knife gate in there and monitor it so the flow off the Cimarron River can maintain steady,” said Allen Distel, who is president of the conservancy district and canal reservoir company.
The organizations received $15,000 from the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program for a $31,449 knife gate project that will install an automated water- control device.
The new controls will reduce over-diversions from the river to the canal and keep desired flows in line with real-time data, according to BuRec’s information. Because the process is automatic, it will also save on staff time.
The conservancy district and canal company provide irrigation water to the west side of the Big Cimarron Valley and the upper and lower Bostwick Park area. The canal company entails about 600 shares of water from the Cimarron.
“It’s really important to the flow of the Cimarron River,” Distel said, of the knife gate project and grant.
“The Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have a reserve amount in Silver Jack Reservoir. They can all that water out of Silver Jack to maintain the river level. It’s real important we have an accurate measurement so when they call the water out, we can get that water down the river.”
The knife gate project is identified as one of three critical water management locations under the Bostwick district’s water management plan, according to BuRec.
Here’s a beautiful photo essay from Brent Gardner-Smith and Aspen Journalism. Click through to view it (Be patient, the photos can take a few moments to load) and while you are there toss a few bucks into the tip jar to help fund the great water journalism coming from the Roaring Fork Valley.
State cloud seeding programs. Graphic credit: The Huffington Post
Cloud seeding ground station. Photo credit H2O Radio via the Colorado Independent.
Instumentation cloud seeding research Colorado.
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
The Colorado River District says adding to the snowpack is one way to address dwindling water supplies; a study in Wyoming showed that, when the conditions are right, cloud seeding can increase snowfall by 5 to 15 percent per storm. That translates to a slight increase in water supplies — a 1 to 5 percent increase in snowpack-derived water.
Dave Kanzer, an engineer with the River District, said more efficient storms with more snowfall can mean more water across the West.
“We’re not just talking about one county and one city,” Kanzer said. “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin.”
The River District has ongoing cloud seeding operations across Colorado, all along the Continental Divide, but not in Aspen and Pitkin County.
“We are proposing to fill in those areas upstream toward Independence Pass, to include all of the Ski Co properties, and all of the upper Roaring Fork Watershed,” Kanzer said.
He will present a proposal for a three-year cloud-seeding program to Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board at its meeting this Thursday. The River District has also been in talks with the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
Kanzer says the science is clear, but the process is not precise. A study conducted in Wyoming shows the conditions are only right in about 30 percent of storms, but when they are, cloud seeding can increase snowfall. That snowpack contributes to the water supply not just in the Roaring Fork Valley, but across the west.
“Even if we only increase the water supply by a small fraction, it can have wide ranging benefits,” Kanzer said, including more water in local rivers and more snow on the mountain.
The River District wants to see more cloud seeding activities in the Aspen area. On Thursday, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board will hear a proposal from Kanzer about expanding cloud seeding activities. He also has met with City of Aspen water officials and Aspen Skiing Company.
Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations for SkiCo, said the company is interested in supporting the River District, but not as a business investment. The small increase in snowfall doesn’t translate to extra powder days for skiers and riders.
“A 10-inch storm going to a 10.5-inch storm, doesn’t really do too much,” Burkley said.
While cloud seeding might not be a boon for powder skiers, Burkley said SkiCo is supportive of any measures that might help the water supply. The company has offered to participate as a site for the generators and to help with manpower to operate them.
The River District is looking for funding from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board and the City of Aspen; the proposal would then need a permit from the State of Colorado.
FromSteamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck) via The Craig Daily Press:
The past water year, which began in October 2017 and ended in September, broke records on the Yampa. Average temperatures in much of the Yampa River basin were the warmest on record, and for the first time ever, the main stem of the Yampa River was placed on call, meaning use of Yampa water was curtailed.
This summer, the portion of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs city limits was open to summer recreation — including tubing, fishing, and paddling — for about 40 days, one of the shortest summer seasons on this stretch of river. For much of the summer, the river was under a voluntary closure as the water was too hot, too low or without enough dissolved oxygen to meet streamflow standards set by the city and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to protect river habitat.
Warm and dry summer
The Yampa and Colorado rivers peaked in mid-May, and according to long-term averages of daily flows, both rivers normally peak in June. This led to the second earliest start to tubing season on the Yampa in 10 years.
A warm spring played a role in this — as snow melted off the mountains earlier, water flowed downhill into the river and its tributaries earlier. This water year was the warmest on record in the state, according to the Colorado Climate Center.
In Routt County, about half of the county saw its warmest water year on record, while parts of central and south Routt saw temperatures in ranges that placed it among the top 10 percent of the record.
Most of Routt County received below normal precipitation this year, though the area fared better than other parts of Colorado. The National Weather and Climate Center’s snow telemetry sites in the Routt County area received 70 to 80 percent of average precipitation this year, through July, August and September saw lower rainfall compared to historic averages.
“Statewide, this was the fourth driest year in the 123-year record,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs. “It was fourth only to 2012, 1934 and 2002.”
This year was the driest water year on record in southwest Colorado, western Moffat County and parts of the San Luis Valley, according to the Colorado Climate Center.
Human-caused temperature increases and drought have caused earlier spring snowmelt and shifted runoff earlier in the year across the southwest, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.
“Not only are we in situations where we get less water, but we get it earlier, which makes for a longer season of need,” said Kevin McBride, district manager of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.
His agency operates Stagecoach and Yamcolo reservoirs.
The early runoff means producers kicked off the irrigation season earlier, too. Producers are also seeing longer growing seasons in Colorado, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Reservoir water keeps flows up
Drought conditions and warm temperatures have made supplementing the Yampa River’s natural flow with releases of reservoir water a consistent practice in recent years.
Since 2012, the Colorado Water Trust has purchased reservoir water to supplement flows in the Yampa River. This year, Tri-State Generation and Transmission also released water from Elkhead Reservoir to keep up power generation at Craig Station.
The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program releases water from Elkhead Reservoir to provide habitat for bonytail, razorback suckers, and humpback chub. These releases are determined based on the amount of water flowing by the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream gauge near Maybell in western Moffat County.
“Obviously, when you have low flow years, you have warmer stream temperatures and then less habitat available to aquatic life,” Romero-Heaney said.
In Steamboat, the river dropped to 50 cubic feet per second — low flow — during spawning season for brown trout, she added. That made habitat more difficult to come by, and Romero-Heaney said it could have impacts to fish populations in the upper Yampa.
The Yampa Valley suffered major droughts in 2002 and 2012. In 2002, the USGS reported less than 10 cubic feet per second of flow at the Maybell gauge at the Yampa River’s lowest points in the summer, said Erin Light, area division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.
Reservoir releases likely kept the water higher than that mark this summer. The USGS streamflow gauges can’t show how much water is natural flow and how much is reservoir water, so stream gauge measurements don’t reflect the full picture when it comes to water…
When the call was administered for about two weeks in September, the water at the Yampa’s lower reach through Dinosaur National Monument fell to about 18 cfs — its long-term average for the same time frame is about 260 cfs. At Lily Park, near the Little Snake River’s confluence with the Yampa, irrigators’ pumps were sweeping the river, Light said earlier this year.
Planning for the future
Romero-Heaney said flows on the Yampa in Steamboat were “extremely low,” falling below 34 cfs at the gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat…
The city outlined its plans to purchase reservoir water on contract to boost flows in dry periods in the Yampa River Streamflow Management Plan released this summer. The plan also seeks to implement voluntary projects that would pay water users to participate in projects enhancing the health of the river.
Earlier this year, some of the city’s water rights were curtailed in the call. As droughts and warm temperatures become more common, releases to augment river health will likely have to be balanced with releases to augment municipal water.
A state-imposed mandatory curtailment of water in the Colorado River Basin within Colorado was discussed as a looming possibility during a meeting of the Colorado Water Conservation Board on September 19 in Steamboat Springs.
Representatives from the Western Slope told the statewide water-planning board that while they favor creating a new legally protected pool of water in Lake Powell and other upstream federal reservoirs to help prevent a compact call on the river, they have significant concerns about the pool being filled outside of a program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated.”
However, Front Range water users told the board that a voluntary program may not get the job done and that a mandatory curtailment program, based on either the prior appropriation doctrine or some method yet to be articulated, may be necessary to keep Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam functioning so Colorado, Utah and Wyoming can deliver enough water to California, Arizona and Nevada to meet the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
“With the repeat of historic hydrology beginning in the year 2000, Lake Powell will be dry, and when I say dry I mean empty, within about three years,” Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water told the CWCB board.
Lochhead said that while a voluntary demand management program might help bolster water levels in Lake Powell, “it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.”
“So we may need — I know we don’t want to implement — but we may need other mechanisms to accelerate the creation of water into Lake Powell in the event of an emergency,” Lochhead said. “This is not something that Denver Water wants, or is asking for. What we are asking for is that the contingency plans be put into place. We need to have those plans in place before the system collapses.”
On Wednesday, Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal, & Water Information Section emphasized that neither they, nor the state attorney general’s office, is at this point “assessing, pursuing or recommending to the CWCB board any type of involuntary or ‘anticipatory’ curtailment scenario.”
And yet, such scenarios are on a lot of people’s minds.
(Please see related memo, slides and audio from the meeting. The audio is via YouTube, as provided by CWCB. The file opens well into the discussion, so click back to the beginning of the file, which opens just after the agenda item began, with brief introductory comments from CWCB Director Becky Mitchell. It’s well worth listening to. Also please see related story from Sept.18.).
Lochhead said Denver Water wants to see a voluntary, temporary and compensated program created as a “first priority,” but also said “I also don’t think that by not talking about mandatory curtailment we can pretend the problem will go away. We need to be thinking about it, and we need to be thinking about it proactively.”
However, Western Slope water interests as represented by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District are concerned that if a new storage pool is created in Lake Powell, and a mandatory curtailment program is used to fill it, it could have dire consequences for agriculture on the Western Slope.
“This is our livelihood,” Kathleen Curry, a rancher in Gunnison who serves on the Gunnison River Basin Roundtable, told the CWCB. “This water is what we depend on. If we move in the direction of mandatory curtailment, and it isn’t equitable, you are going to have significant impacts to the water users in the state of Colorado, especially on the Western Slope.”
The two regional Western Slope water conservation districts had drafted a resolution they wanted the CWCB to adopt Wednesday, which did not happen, as the CWCB declined to vote on it.
The resolution stated that any mandatory curtailment program would be developed on a “consensus basis” with the two districts at the table, and not just be a directive of the state.
However, Bennett Raley, the general counsel for the Northern Water Conservancy District, which provides water to nearly a million people in northeastern Colorado, said the state, as a sovereign entity, should not be constrained by consensus.
He also said that mandatory curtailment may well be necessary in Colorado.
“If the drought continues, there are two paths,” he told the CWCB board. “If there is an infinite source of money, then voluntary works. Great, we’re all happy. If the drought continues and there is not an infinite source of money, then the state will go to mandatory. The Supreme Court will ensure that, sooner or later, it’s not a question.”
Part of the fear of such a mandatory program is that hardly anyone, outside of perhaps the state engineer, knows what it would look like.
“Ultimately it’s a state decision, it’s a decision of the state engineer as to how water rights would be curtailed to meet the state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact,” said Lochhead, when asked after the meeting how mandatory curtailment would work. “The short answer is, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions and viewpoints.”
Lochhead did say Denver Water is willing to “work with the state and with the West Slope to ensure that any curtailment doesn’t disproportionally impact any region of the state, whether it’s on the West Slope or the Front Range, and that essentially the same rules apply to everybody.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other newspapers in the Swift Communications group in Colorado on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Glenwood Springs Post Independent also published it on Sept. 20, as did the Vail Daily.