The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.
When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.
Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.
The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.
“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.
Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…
Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.
Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…
Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.
“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.
As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.
Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.
Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.
Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.
“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”
Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.
His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.
“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.
He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.
“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.
He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.
Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.
The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program (PRRIP) is a multi-state effort that began in 1997, when the governors of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska joined with the U.S. Secretary of Interior to sign the “Cooperative Agreement for Platte River Research and Other Efforts Relating to Endangered Species Habitat along the Central Platte River, Nebraska.”
Based on the novel idea that a collaborative approach would prevent years of courtroom battles over limited water supplies and individual river species, the PRRIP works to accommodate the habitat needs of these threatened and endangered bird species by increasing stream flows in the central Platte River during relevant time periods. While these species require habitat in central Nebraska for survival, their habitat is created and maintained through a dynamic river system that begins with water from Colorado and Wyoming. The program also enhances, restores and protects habitat, and does so in a manner to accommodate new water-related activities. This is a good program but due to expire this year.
Wyoming Senator Barrasso (R) and Colorado Representative Neguse (D) each took leadership positions on this issue, sponsoring complementary bills in the Senate (S.990) and House (H.R. 3237), that propose to extend the program. Audubon Rockies and Audubon Nebraska thanked the entire Colorado Congressional Delegation for their unanimous, bipartisan support for these bills. Our offices also thanked Wyoming’s Senator Enzi for supporting the Senate bill, and Representative Cheney recently joined other western co-sponsors of the House bill. Additionally, all Colorado and Wyoming Audubon chapters sent letters thanking their respective congressional delegations for their unanimous, bipartisan of a strong stewardship program.
Whooping crane adult and chick. Credit: USGS (public domain)
The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.
Meanwhile click here to enjoy the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards winners.
Birds make fascinating subjects, as the winners and honorable mentions of this year’s contest, our 10th, make clear. They’re at once beautiful and resilient, complex and comical. It’s no wonder why we love them so.
The images that won the 2019 Audubon Photography Awards, presented in association with Nature’s Best Photography, are as impressive as ever, but attentive readers might notice a few more images than usual. That’s because we’ve added two awards. The Plants for Birds category is inspired by Audubon’s Plants for Birds program, supported by Coleman and Susan Burke, which provides resources for choosing and finding plants native to zip codes in the United States. This category poses a new challenge to photographers: Don’t just capture an incredible moment—make sure it also features a bird and plant native to the location in which the photo was taken, in order to highlight the critical role native habitat plays in supporting bird life. And in the spirit of Kevin Fisher, Audubon’s longtime creative director who recently retired, the Fisher Prize recognizes a creative approach to photographing birds that blends originality with technical expertise. It honors a photograph selected from all of the submissions that pushes the bounds of traditional bird photography.
We want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all 2,253 entrants, hailing from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and 10 Canadian provinces and territories. Your dedication to appreciating, celebrating, and sharing the wonder of birds and the landscapes they inhabit inspires us now and throughout the year.
For the last four years, Green River and Little Snake River basin ranchers have been getting paid not to irrigate in late summer to conserve Colorado River water. But the pilot phase of the program is now over. The next step is developing the technology to measure how much water is actually saved.
Big Piney Rancher and water engineer Chad Espenscheid said the key to making sure the program succeeds is proving the water was really making it down to the Colorado River…
As part of a new drought contingency agreement, Upper Basin states like Wyoming will now be able to store as much as 500,000 acre feet of conserved water to fill lower basin demands. But that’s only if they figure out how to quantify the saved water.
Espenscheid said the program is definitely worth keeping. He said it made it worth his while to participate, paying him enough to expand his cattle herd.
But as for quantifying how much water he really conserved?
“How much? Who knows,” he said. “But for sure there was water going down the creek that we probably would have used.”
Espenscheid said he plans to work on possible methods to answer that question, like developing computer models or creating measuring devices to install in streams.
Wyoming’s Trout Unlimited Director Cory Toye says the test run was popular with ranchers and translated to real benefits for native trout.
As the flow in the Roaring Fork River at the Basalt whitewater park has climbed over 2,500 cubic feet per second this week, the park’s two “play” waves, produced by concrete structures embedded in the river, are still proving capable of flipping rafts and sending people for long, cold swims.
The two structures, built in late 2016 and early 2017 by consultants and contractors working for Pitkin County, were re-engineered last winter after complaints by experienced local boaters that the artificial waves were hazardous.
But the low flows in 2018 did not provide a fair test to see whether the rearranged waves were still a menace for rafters.
With the return of more-typical high spring flows, the two waves — meant to be fun to surf at low water and located in a section of river not otherwise considered difficult to run — are showing they can still be a challenge even for experienced boaters.
3 of 9
On Sunday, three rafts in a group of nine boats piloted by noncommercial rafters, or “private boaters,” flipped in the upper of the two waves.
Both of the waves have steep drops that lead directly into a nearly riverwide wall of churning foam, save for narrow and hard-to-spot “sneaks” through relatively calm water on far river let, or the left side of the river looking downstream.
Emergency personnel from the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority responded Sunday to a 911 call about the flipped rafts and numerous people in the river.
“One of the first boats, if not the first, flipped in that first wave, and it’s a keeper, and it didn’t let them out,” said Robert “Sardo” Sardinsky, a volunteer with the rescue authority and who was downstream of the incident and was relaying the information he was given. “So, all of a sudden, there is a bunch of people in the water. And then, two more rafts flipped. And it sounds like the boats were being held in there.”
Sardinsky helped retrieve two of the flipped rafts, several miles downstream of the whitewater park, and he also talked with a number of the boaters in the party.
He said the group included boaters from both the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys, and he described them as calm, knowledgeable, experienced and well-equipped, wearing both wetsuits and personal flotation devices.
“They all appeared to be quite capable,” Sardinsky said.
The river was flowing through the whitewater park on Sunday at 4 p.m. at about 2,800 cfs, which can be calculated by subtracting the flow of the Fryingpan River from the flow of the Fork as measured downstream of the whitewater park in Emma.
“In my 30 years with the fire department and swiftwater rescue, it is the most dynamic rescue we’ve had,” he said. “It was the most number of people in river spread out over the most distance. And it’s incredibly fortunate that everyone got out.”
Sardinsky said about a week before Sunday’s events, a woman he knows had fallen off a paddle board into the first wave, at lower water, and had been trapped in the wave’s circulating hydraulic. The woman escaped by diving down to the bottom of the river, out from under the wave.
All of the boaters thrown into the river on Sunday either self-rescued or were rescued by their fellow boaters. None of them required emergency personnel to fish them out.
According to Kyle Ryan, who also volunteers with the rescue authority and was helping to coordinate Sunday’s response, the rafts that flipped were normal-sized whitewater rafts with oar frames, and were not especially small or lightweight.
“They were normal-looking whitewater rafts,” he said. “And everyone seemed to be pretty well-experienced.”
Ryan said two members of the rafting party asked to be transported to the hospital, but he said they did not appear to be seriously injured.
Also on Sunday, a raft being run as a paddleboat by another group of experienced boaters flipped in the first wave of the whitewater park, throwing six people into the river for a “frigid and scary swim.”
According to a public post on Facebook by Mary Sundblom, she and the five other boaters, including at least one former raft guide, set out Sunday to paddle from Northstar, east of Aspen, to Glenwood Springs.
Along the way, they ran the Slaughterhouse section of the Fork below Aspen and the most technical part of the river, as well as the difficult Toothache section in Woody Creek before heading for Basalt.
She wrote that the group scouted the river before their run, “got intel from longtime river rats,” and had “great lines” and “no swims” through Slaughterhouse and Toothache.
“Then the Basalt ‘play’ wave got us, flipped the raft, dumping 6 of us in for a frigid and scary swim,” Sundblom wrote. “After floating through some big waves and getting tumbled over some shallow rocks … I was stoked to find myself next to my captain when the boat floated down to us after a few surfs of its own … where he was able to flip it back over and pull my ass in! Such a beautiful feeling of RELIEF!
“We all made it out just fine, slightly rattled, with a few bumps and bruises, but continued on. That’s how the river goes.”
Tyler Manchester, who grew up in the valley and has rowed the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon without difficulty, was in the boat with Sundblom on Sunday.
He said via text on Thursday that “we were told to sneak left, but it came up fast and we weren’t ready. We hit it a little sideways. Definitely got washing-machine tumbled in both (waves), but everyone was flushed immediately.
“Had to swim upstream to get the boat,” Manchester noted.
The Basalt whitewater park is located below the low Basalt “bypass bridge,” which crosses the Fork at the junction of upper Two Rivers Road, just upstream of downtown Basalt. Floating beneath the bridge is often dark and spooky, but the current does not usually send boats directly at the bridge’s pylons.
The whitewater park also can be described as being just below Fisherman’s Park, which has a small boat ramp, across from the entrance to Elk Run and upstream of the 7-Eleven in Basalt.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who has overseen the development of the whitewater park for the county, said Wednesday that he was aware of the recent raft flips, and he’s in touch with the consultants at River Restoration in Carbondale who designed the structures, oversaw their re-engineering and have been keeping a close eye on this year’s emerging waves.
Ely said he didn’t yet have enough information to determine whether the county needs to ask the consultants to do more work on the structures in the river.
The county chose the location for the park in large measure because it is just above the Fork’s confluence with the Fryingpan River, making it a good place to establish water rights tied to the wave-producing structures. Such water rights are called recreational in-channel diversion, or RICD, rights.
County officials have said their highest priority in developing the park was to establish the recreational water rights, which carry a 2010 priority date, and that the resulting recreational experience was a secondary concern.
The water rights are tied to the design of the structures, which are supposed to create fun, recreational play waves at flows between 240 and 1,350 cfs. The river on Sunday in that section of river was flowing at about 2,500 cfs, which is not unusual for June.
At higher flows, the wave structures are not necessarily meant to produce fun play waves, but they also are not supposed to produce big keeper waves, either.
Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
With Colorado’s snowpack at historically high levels and several towns turning their attention from avalanches to potential flooding, most people in the state probably aren’t thinking about preparing for drought years. But state lawmakers, farmers and environmentalists are.
Together, they are working over the summer on potential expansions to a program that allocates water specifically to benefit streams and aquatic habitat in dry times.
The measure failed at the State Capitol this year, but HB19-1218, Loaned Water for Instream Flows to Improve Environment, will be taken up again this summer by the legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee.
The first effort was championed by conservationists like The Nature Conservancy and opposed by some farmers, who worry it could harm water rights reserved for agriculture.
“Our businesses are totally based on the value of those water rights,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau and a rancher in Molina, Colo. “We’re very concerned that changes would allow that right to be injured.”
Colorado’s Instream Flow Program was established amid the environmental movement of the 1970s to integrate environmental water needs into the state’s intricate system of water rights. Colorado’s water laws work on a priority system: Those whose water rights were established earliest get first dibs in dry years. Before the instream flow law was created, there was no mechanism to establish a water right specifically to keep water in a stream to protect fish and the environment. Rather, water rights were all about diverting that water from the stream.
The Instream Flow (ISF) Program uses water rights within that same priority system to reserve water for environmental purposes, protecting the plants and animals that depend on streamflows.
To date, 9,600 miles of stream have been protected through ISF, according to Linda Bassi, chief of lake and stream protection with the Colorado Water Conservation Board — nearly a quarter of the state’s 40,000 miles of waterways. The CWCB doesn’t have a goal for how many miles of stream it would like to eventually protect, Bassi said, instead taking recommendations from state and federal agencies, local governments and environmental groups for specific stream segments in need of protection.
The CWCB is the only entity that can legally hold ISF water rights. It gets them through establishing new, junior water rights, or by acquiring existing water rights via donation, purchase, lease or other contract. HB19-1218 was concerned with the leasing of existing water rights for ISF purposes.
Under current law, water rights holders can lease their water to the ISF Program only three years out of any 10-year period, and are limited to one 10-year timeline. After that, to maintain ISF protection on a given stretch of stream, the CWCB has to find another water rights holder to lease from, or work out another agreement to preserve the water.
The state can and does employ different means to protect a stretch of water on non-lease years. But “leases are the simplest and easiest way to pull this off,” said Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit that works with the CWCB on the ISF Program.
Under the proposed legislation, the CWCB would be able to lease water rights for five years out of 10, and the 10-year periods could be renewed twice. Extending protection to 15 years out of 30 will help sustain the environment as drought cycles become more erratic due to climate change, said Aaron Citron, policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a tool that can address critically low stream conditions under a more variable future scenario,” Citron said. Even if HB19-1218 had passed as-is, the expanded ISF Program would not “fully meet the need we think we will see under climate change.”
Both Schultheiss and Citron agree that the way ISF rights are being used today shows that there is more demand for instream flow protection than supply. Two of three available years have been used in a lease of water from Stagecoach Reservoir near Steamboat Springs to benefit the Yampa River, according to Citron, and the Colorado Water Trust is holding off on using the third for when conditions are most dire.
“Last summer, there were stretches when the only water in the Yampa [River] through Steamboat Springs had been leased [for instream flow],” Schultheiss said.
As far as the state’s farmers are concerned, expanding instream flows goes a step too far. The Colorado Farm Bureau opposed HB19-1218 for the primary reason of protecting existing water rights.
“It seems like it was a little bit of a backdoor to expand ISF rights without going through the vetting process,” said Currier. “That’s a little frightening to those of us who own water rights.”
To establish a new ISF water right on a particular stream, there is a three-year process that ends with a review by Colorado’s water court to determine, among other things, that the instream right won’t negatively impact other water rights holders. Extending lease periods that significantly without a return to water court could harm farmers, Currier said.
Under the proposed rules, Currier worries that two five-year leases could be stacked back-to-back, leaving water in streams for 10 consecutive years while fields go fallow.
The Farm Bureau is also concerned about a third proposal for the ISF Program. Currently, leased water rights can only be allocated for instream purposes in a quantity great enough to preserve the natural environment “to a reasonable degree.” The Nature Conservancy wants to go beyond preserving existing conditions to allow improvement of natural conditions as well.
“That language is a little troubling to us,” Currier said. “That is not a quantitative term. Who determines what’s an improvement? What exactly does that mean?”
The CWCB already has the authority to acquire water rights that improve the environment, Citron said, just not for ISF leases.
This and other ISF issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the legislative interim water committee as part of the 2019 Colorado Water Congress annual summer conference, being held Aug. 20-22 in Steamboat Springs. Both sides remain hopeful that a compromise could be reached, though Currier noted farmers are resistant to making changes that they feel haven’t been properly vetted for potential negative impacts.
“We’re not out to destroy the environment; we’re more dependent on it than the average citizen,” Currier said. “We really feel the existing water law is written fairly well and we don’t see a lot of need for changes to that.”
If the interim water committee is able to craft new language that satisfies agricultural and environmental interests, a new bill will be introduced during the next legislative session, which convenes Jan. 8, 2020.
Shay Castle is a freelance journalist based in Boulder, Colorado. She can be reached at email@example.com
The Colorado River east of Grand Junction in DeBeque Canyon is forecast to hit its annual peak Saturday, in a quick climb to about 21,000 cubic feet of water per second, as measured at the Cameo gage, before dropping over the next week as cooler weather arrives.
The operators of five upstream reservoirs have been closely watching this season’s large, and late, spring-runoff pattern, and they are now starting a coordinated release of water designed to improve habitat for endangered fish in a 15-mile stretch of the river below Palisade.
The reservoir releases, which collectively will add about 1,300 cfs of water to the river, are being timed to reach Palisade on Monday or Tuesday, after this weekend’s peak flows have subsided.
The goal of this year’s coordinated release of water is to extend the high flows, not add to the peak flow, as it is in most years, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who said care is being taken not to increase the risk of flooding this weekend.
The releases from Ruedi, Homestake, Wolford, Williams Fork and Green Mountain reservoirs are designed to benefit four ancient species of fish.
The well-timed higher water will send spawning cues to Colorado pikeminnows, large powerful fish that swim upstream to spawn in the gravel beds of what’s known as “the 15-mile reach.”
Higher water will give the recent offspring of razorback suckers a chance to find refuge in calm side channels.
Higher, faster water will scour fine silt from gravel beds, flush away dry-year vegetation growth and help the river absorb nutrients from wet floodplains.
And the high water will also benefit populations of humpback chubb downstream of Grand Junction — at Blackrocks, in Westwater canyon and near Moab — and may also help the struggling bonytail chubb.
As part of this year’s effort, the outflow from Ruedi Reservoir into the lower Fryingpan
Reservoir will rise Sunday by 100 cfs, and over three days, the releases will climb from 354 cfs to 630 cfs or above, before stepping back down Wednesday.
The flow from Rocky Fork Creek, which runs into the Fryingpan below Ruedi Dam, was adding 75 cfs to the river Friday, which means the ’Pan could be 700 cfs or above by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Tim Miller, a hydrologist at the Bureau of Reclamation, said a flow of about 700 cfs is consistent with most of the other 10 years since 1997 that Ruedi has participated in what is called the Coordinated Reservoir Operations, or CROS, program.
Miller’s operational goals with this year’s CROS program include keeping outflow from the reservoir below inflow, so he can fill the 102,000 acre-foot reservoir in early July, while keeping flows in the lower Fryingpan below 850 cfs.
Releases from Homestake Reservoir, which is on Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin and is managed by Aurora and Colorado Springs, are going to climb in a similar timeframe as Ruedi’s, moving from 6 cfs to 100 cfs Monday and then stepping back down to 6 cfs by week’s end, according to a summary of the expected releases from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.
Releases from Green Mountain Reservoir, which is on the Blue River north of Silverthorne and managed by Reclamation, are slated to rise from 800 cfs to 1,400 cfs and then drop back down.
Releases from Williams Fork Reservoir, which is on a tributary of the Colorado east of
Kremmling and managed by Denver Water, will increase from 350 cfs to 650 cfs and then drop.
And Wolford Reservoir, on Muddy Creek north of Kremmling and managed by the Colorado River District, is currently spilling about 400 cfs of water due to high inflows. The River District regularly participates in the CROS program, but this year is spilling water in any event and not releasing water just for the CROS program as it often does.
During a series of conference calls over the past several weeks, reservoir managers have
described this year’s snowpack as “bashful” and “tentative” and “well-behaved” due to colder temperatures in May and June. And while the snow is still deep in the Colorado River’s headwaters, more cool weather is in the forecast.
And every water manager sounds glad there is at least water this year to run after last year’s deep drought, and most now expect their reservoirs to fill, which gives them flexibility this week to release water for the fish and for the river.
This year’s high flow — 21,000 cfs, forecast for Saturday — is the opposite of last year, when the Colorado peaked, as measured at the Cameo gage, on May 19 at about 6,800 cfs.
Competition for the limited water resources used to be a primary, if not the primary, issue for agriculture in northeastern Colorado.
While quantity is still a major issue, water quality is increasingly important, particularly with deterioration of that quality.
That was apparent at an annual locally led meeting hosted Wednesday in Brush by the Morgan Conservation District…
The Morgan Conservation District works with the Fort Morgan NRCS field office and is a member of the Lower South Platte watershed of Morgan, Centennial, Sedgwick and Haxtun Conservation Districts.
C.W. Scott, team leader for Morgan and Logan County NRCS, was among the leaders of the discussion, as were Madeline Hagen, Morgan district manager, and Todd Wickstrom, district board president.
Groundwater, human consumption and whether water is safe for livestock are all concerns, participants said.
The question is at what point does the quality deteriorate so much that water kills the crops instead of growing them.
With more runoff this year than in recent years, water will have more foreign material in it.
Municipalities such as Wiggins using reverse osmosis are allowed to flush the by-products of that process into the river when the flow in the river is sufficient, participants said, but that is far from the only concern.
Human hormone supplements in the water are on the rise, as are total dissolved solids.
Salt people put on sidewalks and residue from water softeners are also factors.