#SanJuan River streamflow update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Pagosa Sun (Clayton Chaney):

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, on the morning of Sept. 23, the San Juan River was flowing at 38.8 cfs, not even half of the average rate of 175 cfs for this date.

Based on 84 years of water re- cords, the lowest recorded water flow for this date was 11 cfs in 1953. The highest recorded water flow was 1,480 cfs in 2013.

After insisting on expedited review, #Utah now asks feds to delay #LakePowellPipeline decision — The #SaltLake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Salt Lake Tribune(Brian Maffly):

The state cited as a reason the 14,000 public comments submitted in response to a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released in June.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was supposed to have the final EIS out by November, with a final decision in January, but that ambitious time frame is expected to be pushed back while a “supplemental” analysis is conducted, according to Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

“The extension will allow more time to consider the comments and complete further analysis, which will contribute to a more comprehensive draft and final EIS,” he said. “When you think about the sheer volume of comments, it’s going to take some time.”

Among those comments was a bombshell request by the six other states that rely on the Colorado River for water to refrain from completing the EIS until the states work out their differences regarding the legality of diverting the water across major drainages…

“The Bureau [of Reclamation] comes out with a draft that says, ‘We [in Washington County] need another source of water,’ but they don’t say why. The EIS failed to consider a water conservation alternative,” said Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council

Frankel and other pipeline critics speculated that commenters or higher-ups in the Interior Department had identified “fatal flaws” in the draft study that could render the pipeline’s approval vulnerable to legal challenges that are sure to follow.

“The delay of the environmental review affirms that Nevada and the other Colorado River Basin States are having an impact in this process against Utah,” said Tick Segerblom, who represents Las Vegas suburbs on the Clark County Commission. “With climate change and drought threatening us every day, we must be vigilant until the end. We cannot let our water supply be sucked away for golf courses and green lawns in southern Utah.”

Officials, however, declined to identify any alleged flaws in the draft analysis, but the state’s letter Thursday to the Bureau of Reclamation alluded to the interstate controversy over the project.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

#ColoradoRiver District releases new study examining impacts of a possible Demand Management program on West Slope communities #COriver #aridification

A hayfield near Grand Junction, irrigated with water from the Colorado River. Under demand management pilot programs, the state could pay irrigators to fallow fields in an effort to leave more water in the river. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from the Colorado River District (Alesha Frederick):

Study found demand management could result in fewer agricultural support jobs and reduce livestock production on the West Slope

The Colorado River Basin is in the 21st year of drought, and major reservoirs on the river are sitting at less than half full. There is growing concern that agricultural economies on the West Slope might be harmed if Colorado and other Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) are unable to meet their obligations under the Colorado River Compact. With these concerns in mind, the state of Colorado is looking at ways to prevent such a crisis from occurring. One of the ideas Upper Basin states are discussing is paying water users to consume less water. The water saved would then be banked in Lake Powell. The states are calling it demand management.

The question is, if farmers and ranchers are paid to voluntarily fallow their fields, how would it change West Slope communities where agricultural businesses employ people, pay taxes and buy equipment? The recently released Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado sought to determine the secondary economic impacts that might occur if West Slope agricultural producers participate in a demand management program.

Consistent with its charge to represent and protect the Western Slope’s water interests, the Colorado River District has been actively engaged in statewide conversations about a potential Demand Management program. Through its participation in the Water Bank Workgroup , the District led the call for additional economic analysis that would help to inform the state’s decision whether or not to move forward with such a program.

“Our job is to protect West Slope water users. Studying the potential negative impacts of a new program such as demand management is vital to this work,” said Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “This secondary economic impact study ensures that agricultural producers on the West Slope have the information they need to make decisions about their farms and ranches. It’s part of the River District’s ongoing efforts to ensure water security for our farms, ranches, and rural communities.”

The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors has not weighed in on whether such a program is good for the West Slope. However, the Board is gathering data from efforts like this study to determine if such a program will have negative impacts, and if so, what the scale of those impacts is likely to be.

While the study examined the impacts of fallowing West Slope agriculture if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Colorado agriculture will only be one piece of the solution. If such a program is implemented, all types of Colorado River water users in all regions of the state must contribute water to the program. This study is not an endorsement of demand management but a study of its potential impacts.

The study examined two scenarios, a moderate and aggressive demand management program. The moderate demand management scenario considered a 25,000 acre-feet per year reduction in consumptive use by Western Colorado agricultural users for five years, while the aggressive scenario considered 25,000 acre-feet per year within each Western Slope river basin over a 5-year timeframe.

These are some of the key findings of the study:

* To pay producers at a level that they would incentivize participation in such a program, annual payments to irrigators are projected to range from an average of $194 per acre-foot under the moderate scenario to $263 per acre-foot under the aggressive scenario.
* For compensation payments and spending of those payments to benefit the regional economy, funding for those payments must come from outside of Western Colorado. If all that money was raised in Western Colorado, the payments would shift money around within the region, but it would not create a new economic benefit to offset the impacts.
* Growers producing forage crops including grass hay, alfalfa and corn are most likely to take part in such a program compared to fruit growers and small grain producers.
* Reduced production of forage crops, mostly hay, would require fewer purchases of items such as seed, fertilizer, labor, hauling and other services. This in turn could lead to a loss of an estimated 55 agricultural support jobs under a moderate scenario and 236 jobs under the aggressive scenario. Jobs supported by demand management payments could look very different from the jobs currently supported by hay production.
* Under an aggressive demand management scenario, a demand management program could increase local hay prices by about 6% and decrease the regional livestock inventory by about 2%. The potential price and livestock impact under the moderate demand management scenario would be much smaller.

To read the study, visit: http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/supply-planning/studies-reports-2/

You can watch a webinar about this study, as well as earlier webinars shown during the Colorado River District’s Annual Water Seminar, here: http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/annual-seminars

The study was completed by BBC Research and Consulting and commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup made up of the Colorado River District, Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

Water agencies agree to $700K lease to protect #RioGrande Silvery minnow — The Albuquerque Journal #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Heron Lake, part of the San Juan-Chama Project, in northern New Mexico, looking east from the Rio Chama. In the far distance is Brazos Peak (left) and the Brazos Cliffs (right), while at the bottom is the north wall of the Rio Chama Gorge. By G. Thomas at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1598784

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

Three agencies will use water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to protect Rio Grande silvery minnow habitat this fall.

On Wednesday, the water authority approved a lease of up to 7,000 acre-feet, or about 2.9 billion gallons, of its San Juan-Chama water to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at a cost not to exceed $700,000.

The San Juan-Chama project uses a series of tunnels and reservoirs to route Colorado River water into the Rio Grande Basin. Several cities, counties, pueblos and irrigation districts rely on the project for drinking water and agriculture.

The Bureau of Reclamation will pay $350,000 for the water. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District contributed $250,000 to the lease and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission contributed $100,000…

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a new biological opinion regarding water management and endangered and threatened species such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow, southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

Water agencies now manage the river to improve fish densities, but are not required to maintain certain river flow targets.

This year’s drought and minimal runoff have left water agencies scrambling to supply water to farmers and fish.

The MRGCD used 10,000 acre-feet from the water authority in June. The irrigation district had “repaid” that water to ABCWUA in late 2019 as a payment for a water loan from the early 2000s. But the district was forced to ask for the water payment back after running out of storage water.

Another release of stored water from El Vado Reservoir in July helped extend the irrigation season by nearly three months…

Under the lease, the water can be released from Abiquiu Reservoir through the end of 2022. Revenue from the lease will help fund the water authority’s program to plan for future water supply and demand.

The water authority has a contract with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for about 15 billion gallons of San Juan-Chama water each year – making it the largest user of the project.

With 5 reservoirs in #CameronPeakFire burn area, #Greeley Water officials plan for erosion control — The Greeley Tribune

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

With five of Greeley’s six high mountain reservoirs in the burn area, erosion is expected to carry sediment into Greeley’s water supply. Left untreated, that could affect the city’s water quality. But officials are already planning to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The Cameron Peak fire ignited on August 13 on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake. Credit: Inciweb

“When fires burn, if they’re hot enough, they can actually burn underbrush and soil,” said Adam Jokerst, Greeley’s deputy director of Water Resources, adding that vegetation is burned up as well. “With the lack of the vegetation … you can get increased erosion when it rains or when the snow melts.”

That erosion carries sediment into the Poudre River, which pulls water from the reservoirs to supply water for the city. Water with high sediment content can be harder to treat, Jokerst said, but it is possible to treat safely.

For better or for worse, Jokerst said, Greeley water officials have a lot of experience handling erosion into the water supply after dealing with the impacts of the High Park Fire in 2012. That fire burned more than 87,000 acres, making it the sixth-largest in state history.

There are at least a few steps to take to mitigate erosion impacts: aerial mulching, felling trees and adding flocculants during the treatment process. For aerial mulching, crews drop shredded wheat chips or straw from a helicopter. The mulch reduces erosion and helps with revegetation. Cutting down the burned trees and letting them fall into the gullies and rills — the channels created in the soil by water erosion — prevents stormwater and meltwater from carrying added erosion into the water supply.

Jokerst said it’s common to see the water get murkier during the runoff season every year. To provide clean, clear drinking water when that happens, crews use more flocculants, which are chemicals that help to separate the water from the sediment, in the treatment process. If there’s very high sediment content at the Bellvue Treatment Plant, officials can turn off the plant so it stop pulling water from the Poudre, Jokerst said. The city can then use the Boyd Treatment Plant…

If the fire keeps on into snowfall season in the winter, Jokerst said crews will have to wait until the spring to start on erosion control measures. Greeley officials are working with the city of Fort Collins, Northern Water and the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, a nonprofit Jokerst said will be a key entity in the post-fire recovery.

Homestake Partners participate pilot project in #EagleRiver — Aurora Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Eagle River Basin

Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):

Reservoir release being made in cooperation with State Engineers Office

Beginning Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the Homestake Partners, which is comprised of Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, will make a one-time release of approximately 1,800 acre feet of water from Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County. The objective of this reservoir release is to determine the effectiveness of current administrative practices in shepherding released water from Homestake Reservoir, located south of Minturn, CO, downstream to the Colorado State Line.
This pilot project was developed by the Front Range Water Council and utilizes water contributed by Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities, as well as by the Pueblo Board of Water Works. This water will be released from Homestake Reservoir into Homestake Creek, which is tributary to the Eagle River and the Colorado River.

The pilot release protocols were developed cooperatively with the Colorado State Engineer’s Office, with the release expected to provide the State and Division Engineers, as well as water users on the West Slope and East Slope, with valuable information related to compliance with the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Compact. The project will test important aspects of administration practice. It will also provide data on hydrologic influences that would affect the timing and amount of the arrival of the released water at the state line.

“For municipalities that rely either wholly or partially on the Colorado River for their drinking water, it’s critical to understand all of the potential aspects a compact curtailment could have on our supplies,” said Pat Wells, General Manager for Water Resources and Demand Management for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Gathering this data before we get to that point will help us all plan for the future.”

As the water is released into Homestake Creek and travels downstream to the Eagle River and the Colorado River, the State Division of Water Resources will “shepherd” or facilitate the released water to the state line. The release of 1,800 AF represents contributions of 600 AF each by Colorado Springs Utilities, Pueblo Board of Water Works, and Aurora Water. This will not put any of the entities’ storage at risk; for example, 600 AF represents less than 0.3% of current system-wide storage in Colorado Springs Utilities’ raw water system and less than 0.4% of Aurora’s storage.

“The timing is perfect for this sort of investigation,” stated Alexandra Davis, Deputy Director for Water Resources for Aurora Water “Our reservoirs are well positioned at this time, even with the current drought conditions, and the lower flows in the rivers mean we will generate valuable information regarding protocols and practices currently in place for releasing stored water.”

The release is scheduled to occur Sept 23 – Sept. 30 and will produce flows of less than 175 cfs (cubic feet/second). These flows are higher than normal for this time of year in Homestake Creek and Eagle River, but within normal spring/summer runoff levels. There is no inundation concern for property adjacent to the tributaries.

The project also has the support by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

“We are pleased these Front Range communities are taking a proactive step to address questions about conserving municipal water and shepherding saved water downstream,” Laura Belanger, senior water resources engineer and policy advisor with Western Resource Advocates said. ”This test release will help us understand potential benefits for water security and streams and demonstrates that all Colorado communities have an important role to play in ensuring a sustainable water future for Colorado.”

Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

“We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

“In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

“Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

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.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

The Summit Daily: Summit County is currently enveloped in extreme #drought: “It went fast, we just never got any rain” — Treste Huse #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor September 15, 2020.

From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

As most of western Colorado is in an extreme drought, most of eastern Colorado is experiencing moderate to severe drought. While earlier in the summer southern Colorado was experiencing the driest conditions, the driest conditions now take up the western half of the state. The dryness extends into the Denver metro area and creeps to the east in the southernmost part of the state.

Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, explained that drought in Summit County started slowly this spring, then progressed to an extreme drought quickly. She explained that Summit County saw a dry fall and while winter saw a decent snowpack, the dry spring meant that the soil moisture was fairly dry going into the summer, which increased the wildfire danger. The U.S. Drought Monitor summary noted that topsoil moisture Sept. 13 was rated very short to short in Colorado.

Huse said that Summit County entered abnormally dry conditions by the end of May. The northern tip of the county went into a moderate drought toward the end of July. In mid-August, the area north of Dillon entered a severe drought. By Aug. 18, the whole county was in a severe drought with extreme drought in the north end of the county and the county was fully enveloped in extreme drought Aug. 25.

“It went fast, we just never got any rain,” Huse said. “That happens a lot of times with drought. You start to see a lot of impacts at once because they’re like, ‘I can go another month if we get some rain’ or ‘I can go two more weeks,’ but then finally there’s just no rain.”

In August, the Dillon weather station recorded 0.62 inches of precipitation, according to the National Weather Service almanac. The station records 1.93 inches in a normal year. So far in September there have been 0.41 inches of precipitation recorded at the station, while 1.02 inches is normal. However, September has seen 3 inches of snow so far, 2.5 inches above normal, which Huse said helped conditions.

Despite dry conditions, Huse noted that the reservoirs are still in good shape.

“What saved the reservoir storage was … the good snowpack of 2018-19,” Huse said.

Huse explained that the 2018-19 snowpack helped keep the reservoir full this year as this last winter, the snowpack barely reached average. Currently, Huse said that reservoir storage for the Colorado River Basin is 101% of average and at 86% capacity. As of Sept. 16, the Dillon reservoir is 95% full, according to Denver Water. Huse explained that parts of the Blue River are normal, such as the high reaches.

From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Derek Maiolo):

Last month was the hottest, driest August on record for western Colorado, according to Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist and director of the Colorado Climate Center. He was one of three expert panelists who spoke at the third Yampa Basin Rendezvous discussion Thursday, which focused on changes in temperatures and precipitation amid what they described as a rapidly changing climate.

Routt County isn’t the only place topping charts. In its 2020 State of the Climate report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association said the year is gearing up to be the planet’s second-warmest year in 141 years of temperature records. The warmest year thus far was 2016.

According to Schumacher, “These changes are going to affect the water cycle and everything that depends on it, which is pretty much everything.”

Among the most pressing threats climate change poses to Routt County are higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, increased risk of wildfires, more severe droughts and more extreme weather, according to a 2018 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. These would cause residual impacts to the local economy that depends on the ecosystem for everything from tourism to farming and to public health and safety, the report adds…

Unprecedented drought conditions pose serious risks to the Yampa Valley, from natural ecosystems to the people who depend on the health of those ecosystems. Ranchers have had an especially hard time this summer as they struggle to water their crops. For the second time ever, water managers placed a call on the main stretch of the Yampa River in August, meaning certain water users had to stop or curb their usage.

Longtime Steamboat Springs rancher Adonna Allen said her senior water rights meant she was not as affected by the call as some of her neighbors, but the dry summer has caused problems for everyone in agriculture.

Those growing hay have seen anywhere from 25% to 45% reductions in yields, Allen said. To make up for the loss, Allen had to convert pastures her family normally uses for grazing their cattle into hay fields, pastures she has not touched in 10 years…

Among the most devastating effects of hot, arid conditions for Colorado has been the propensity for large wildfires. The Pine Gulch Fire, sparked by lightning July 31 near Grand Junction, is the state’s largest wildfire in Colorado history. As of Friday, it was more than 139,000 acres in size and 95% contained, following about six weeks of firefighting efforts.

The Middle Fork Fire, 10 miles north of Steamboat, had grown to 5,445 acres Friday, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It continues to spread, fueled by gusting winds and dry weather.

Even after the flames are extinguished, such massive wildfires pose long-term hazards, such as flash flooding, mudslides and debris flow…

Credit: Russ Schumacher/Colorado Climate Center

Snowpack across Colorado has been thinning since the 1950s, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with losses as much as 60% at some measurement sites. Scientists from Colorado State University and the University of New Hampshire project further reductions in snowpack by the end of the century, with losses as high as 30% in some areas.

That said, the northern mountains, including the area of Steamboat Resort, are less vulnerable to decreases in snowpack than southern parts of Colorado, Schumacher said. This is because the weather patterns that can deliver large snowfall are more dependable than farther south, where he described winters as either “boom or bust.”

@USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a prize competition to improve short-term streamflow forecasts. Evolving data science such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance computing are starting to be used in streamflow forecasting. The Streamflow Forecast Rodeo competition seeks to spur innovation using these technologies.

Reclamation is making up to $500,000 available through this prize competition.

“Streamflow forecasts are integral to managing water,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Finding improvements to forecasting will allow water managers to better operate their facilities for high flows, mitigate drought impacts and maximize hydropower generation.”

This competition delivers on the Department of the Interior and Reclamation’s commitment to improve water availability. It also supports the goals of the President’s memo on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.

The competition will begin with a “pre-season” in August, followed by a year of real-time forecasting beginning October 1, 2020. The pre-season will allow competitors to build and refine their forecast methods. The real-time forecasting competition will have solvers forecast streamflow for the next 10 days, updated daily at multiple locations across the West, for the duration of the competition.

Reclamation is partnering with the CEATI International’s Hydropower Operations and Planning Interest Group, NASA Tournament Lab and Topcoder on this crowdsourcing competition. Partnering with CEATI HOPIG includes a companion project that will provide benchmarks against which the competitors will be evaluated, as well as scoring of solver forecasts by RTI International. Other CEATI HOPIG members making contributions include Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, Tennessee Valley Authority, Hydro-Quebec, and Southern Company. To learn more about this competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/streamflowrodeo.html.

Reclamation conducts prize competitions to spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Through prize competitions, Reclamation complements traditional design research to target the most persistent science and technology challenges. It has awarded more than $1,000,000 in prizes through 22 competitions in the past 6 years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

As #CameronPeakFire reaches historic acreage, experts predict damage to #PoudreRiver — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Now environmental and water quality experts are bracing for more substantial impacts on the Poudre River and the people who depend on it for drinking water, farming, industry and recreation. Degraded water quality, enhanced flood risk and threats to aquatic wildlife are all distinct possibilities as the blaze takes its toll on a delicate, far-branching river ecosystem that had largely recovered from the impacts of the High Park Fire.

The coming weeks and months will bring more news about what the Cameron Peak Fire will mean for the Poudre River. Until then, some staff of the agencies that monitor the river are in a similar position to the rest of us: Stuck in an anxious waiting game as the blaze continues, temperatures warm up and many details about the fire remain obscured in the ever-present haze.

“There are still so many uncertainties,” said Jen Kovecses, executive director of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed. “We’re certain about how big the fire is, but we’re not certain about its intensity on the landscape and what it will look like. That’s going to be the missing puzzle piece that we need to understand the full suite of post-fire impacts from this event.”

The aftermath of the High Park Fire offers a glimpse, albeit not an ironclad preview, of some impacts that could come from the Cameron Peak Fire. It all starts with the fire burning away the carpet of leaves, twigs, branches and other vegetation on the forest floor, known as “duff.”

“The fire can consume both the forest canopy and the material on the ground, which is a big problem, because now we have bare soil exposed,” said Pete Robichaud, a research engineer with USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. “That forest floor duff layer is like a big sponge. It absorbs the water when it rains, it allows the water to percolate slowly into the soil — it’s great. Well, now the fire removes that, and when the rain comes, there’s no sponge.”

The other problem is smoke, which can seep into the forest floor and cling to soil particles as it cools and condenses, making them hydrophobic — or water repellent.

The two forces combined can leave the soil vulnerable to even a mild afternoon thunderstorm. Water reverbs off the forest floor and travels downslope to the river, dragging soil, sediment and ash along for the ride.

That’s what happened after High Park, which infamously turned the Poudre black in summer 2012.

“Without the ability to soak up water and temper the intensity of rain events, the system overall became a much flashier system,” said Jill Oropeza, director of sciences for Fort Collins Utilities’ Water Quality Services Division. “You’d see water levels rise really quickly; you’d see material from the hillslopes move into the river channel really quickly, and then the quality would change really quickly as well. You just had tons and tons of ash and sediment that got mobilized into the stream channel and then eventually conveyed downstream.”

Cameron Peak Fire map August 14, 2020 via InciWeb.

Population Growth Looms Large In Debates Over Proposed #Colorado Water Project — KUNC #NISP

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon) via Wyoming Public Media:

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

NISP — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is close to being fully permitted, which would pave the way to begin construction of the infrastructure project to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers. The project promises to give those communities water to build new homes and businesses — without buying it from farmers.

Glade Reservoir is the proposed body of water that would fill a bathtub-shaped valley north of Fort Collins that currently acts as a straight stretch of Highway 287…

U.S. Highway 287 runs through the future site of Glade Reservoir. The Larimer county Board of County Commissioners approved the 1041 Land Use Permit for NISP on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Northern Water

Glade would be one of the Western U.S.’s biggest new reservoirs to come online in the past couple decades. With a more than $1 billion price tag, a project of this size and scale has those who live near the new reservoir and along pipeline routes concerned…

Northern Water, the quasi-governmental agency that moves water through tunnels, canals and reservoirs across a broad swath of Northern Colorado, is pushing for NISP’s construction on behalf of 15 other water providers, mostly small suburbs that have ambitions to grow. The communities of Dacono, Firestone, Eaton, Lafayette, Windsor and Severance are all participants in the project, among others…

NISP is getting close to the end of a federal, state and local permitting process. Since first formally submitting for permits in 2004, the project has jumped through regulatory hurdles like a federal environmental impact statement, a water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a 1041 permit from Larimer County. The 1041 permit gives local governments in Colorado some oversight authority on large infrastructure projects within their boundaries…

[The Larimer County] voted to recommend the 1041 permit to the board of county commissioners, which then approved on a 2-1 vote the permit for the project…

The town of Erie, a rapidly growing community in Boulder County about a half hour from Boulder and north Denver, would be the largest recipient of NISP water…

After more than 15 years of permitting, countless hours of negotiation over the project’s mitigation plans, and millions of dollars spent on studies, surveys and outreach, the agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River. Opponents say the project will only hurt, not help.

The Cache la Poudre River, where NISP would draw water for its largest reservoir, is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s also home to fish, birds and other wildlife…

The project still needs one more federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it’s considered to be fully permitted, and ready to head into design and construction phases.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

The #ColoradoRiver is awash in data vital to its management, but making sense of it all is a challenge — Water Education Foundation #COriver #aridification

From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):

Western water in-depth: Major science report that highlights scientific shortcomings and opportunities in the basin could aid water managers as they rewrite river’s operating rules

The Colorado River is a source of irrigation, hydropower and drinking water for 40 million people in seven Western states. Source: The Water Desk via the Water Education Foundation

Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.

Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland.

From the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah to the urban centers of Arizona, Nevada and California in the Lower Basin, water managers depend on that science to guide their decisions. More than ever, as those managers grapple with a hotter, drier Colorado River Basin and growing demand for a shrinking resource, they need an accessible scientific handbook as they get ready to draft a new set of rules for managing the river.

A new report synthesizes that science and puts it into context. Titled Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science, the report released earlier this year draws from about 800 peer-reviewed studies and agency reports on crucial topics – weather, streamflow, historical hydrology and climate change – to help navigate the future of river management. It doesn’t provide answers but offers a technical manual of sorts for a river system so vital to the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

“It’s attempting to create that two-way dialogue, but to do so in a way that water managers aren’t having to go and read 20 different reports,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which helped fund the report. “It’s a fabulous tool in that [it] is one guiding document to look at if you want to increase your understanding.”

Written by a veteran cadre of more than a dozen scientists and engineers, it pulls no punches in describing a river system in peril.

“The average conditions, over time and across the basin, suggest a (barely) sufficient supply and, by smoothing out the variability, mask existing and prospective shortages,” says the report, produced through the Western Water Assessment, an interdisciplinary research program based at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The report notes that the ultimate aim of integrating new research into practice is to produce more accurate short- and mid-term forecasts of runoff and more meaningful long-term projections of expected water supply.

“The future is and always has been uncertain,” said Jeff Lukas, research integration specialist with the Western Water Assessment and co-lead author of the report. “Now, at a time in which the Basin’s water supply and depletions are in delicate balance at best, system storage is half-full, and climate change is increasingly impacting hydrology, these forecasts and projections have become even more critical.”

Improving Forecasting Tools

A warm spring this year quickly erased what had been a robust snowpack, which melts and feeds the Colorado River and tributaries like the Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation

Funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and its partners in the seven Western states that depend on the river, the report emphasizes the need to improve hydrologic forecasts, projections and predictive tools in the Colorado River Basin, all the while acknowledging the need for resilience.

“There is not now, and likely never will be, perfect weather and climate data,” the report says. “Producers of climate information need to communicate, and users should be cognizant of, the strengths and weaknesses of the data they choose and how climate data choices influence their conclusions.”

Terry Fulp, regional director of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, said the report emphasizes that Colorado River Basin hydrology is increasingly volatile and must be planned for accordingly.

“This made it very clear that we can’t rely on the 100-year record,” he said. “You can’t just look at the past and assume it’s replicated in the future. We all knew that, but it is good to have the body of science conclude that, too.”

Brad Udall, a senior climate and water research scientist at Colorado State University who was a technical reviewer for the report, said that while it covers an amazing breadth of material, it has key advice for water managers.

“At the broadest level, the take-home message is, a tremendous amount of science has been done in the Basin,” he said, “and while it may not give us the answers that tell us what to do, it strongly suggests we need to be prepared for a very different kind of future that’s hotter and drier.”

The past 40 years have seen a substantial warming trend, the report says, noting that the period since 2000 has been about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average and likely warmer than at any time in the past 2,000 years.

Authors of the State of the Science report note they did not evaluate current Basin water management, address ecosystem needs or provide recommendations. Instead, they concentrated on assessing the chain of data and models that provide an understanding of the Basin’s hydrology, while recognizing how the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge and its increasing complexity parallel the growing uncertainties about how future climate will affect hydrology. Absent a dramatic increase in rain and snow, the Basin’s runoff and water supply are increasingly being affected by warmth.

With temperature, there is “a very clear signal and that trend … is significant enough that people have a fair amount of confidence it is impacting the hydrology in the Basin,” said lead co-author Liz Payton, Western Water Assessment’s Colorado River Basin assessment specialist.

Those effects were evident this year as a warm spring quickly erased what had been a robust snowpack leading up to April 1.

“I’m still stunned by the 100 percent snowpack and the 52 percent runoff,” Udall said. “That’s just mind-boggling.”

Adding the Climate Change Factor

The white bathtub ring along Lake Mead reflects the effects of years of drought in the Colorado River Basin. Source: Water Education Foundation

The State of the Science report comes at an important time. Fresh from completing unprecedented Drought Contingency Plans in 2019, key players in managing the river will next turn their attention to updating and renegotiating the river’s 2007 Interim Operating Guidelines, which expire in 2026. Crafted in the early stages of a two-decade drought, the 2007 guidelines along with the subsequent Drought Contingency Plans are a testament to managing the Basin’s extreme volatility.

Coming to terms on a new set of guidelines, including their length, will differ from 2007 because the last set of guidelines was based on limited modeling data that didn’t fully incorporate climate change projections, said Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

While it is hard to predict specifically how the science report will inform the renegotiations, its recurring themes of increased temperatures, reduced streamflow and variable precipitation “will almost certainly arise in the context of the modeling efforts undertaken in the renegotiation,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The Colorado River Compact divided the basin into an upper and lower half, with each having the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation via The Water Education Foundation)

New revelations about Colorado River Basin science appear with increasing frequency. In a lengthy July thread on Twitter, Udall noted the growing footprint of climate change in the Basin and how the expected pace of warming, which some models project could be as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, would greatly amplify the impacts seen in 2020. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey this year said warmer temperatures by 2050 could reduce the amount of water flowing in the river by as much as 30 percent.

“All of this has a name: aridification,” Udall wrote on Twitter. “Get used to it.”

The State of the Science report helps water managers understand key subjects, such as what climate monitoring is revealing and where uncertainty and errors exist.

Report contributor Carly Jerla, who manages Reclamation’s Modeling & Research Group, called it a “no-nonsense” scientific platform with a clear message. “We know we can’t just let history repeat itself,” she said. “This report clearly lays out that something else has to be done.”

Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the report provides a “one-stop shop” for busy river managers.

“Of all the many hats water managers wear, we are not researchers and we are not innovators,” she said. “It’s difficult to have an eye on all of the things we are doing related to species and policy and water supply planning and also be able to comb through the various sources of new hydrologic or climate change data.”

Like many, Pellegrino would prefer a consistent pattern of climate and water supply projections from which to base management decisions.

“It’s really hard for somebody who wants predictability to acknowledge there is going to be wide range of variability that’s going to persist for a very long time,” she said. “But that’s where we are.”

The State of the Science report stems from the 2017 Colorado River Hydrology Research Symposium aimed at giving water resource managers a better understanding of new hydrologic research initiatives, and giving researchers a better understanding of the Basin water system and the tools used by managers. Together, they explored how research could help improve those tools. That was crucial because research not fully grounded in the particulars of the managed system can produce alarming results. Hasencamp recalled one study that gave Lake Mead an even chance of going dry by 2021, a finding that dumbfounded water managers.

“We all looked at it and said, ‘What assumptions are they making?’” he said. “This is not very good science because they didn’t talk to the people who are actually running the system and managing it.”

Reaching Consensus on Science

The historical record illustrates the dramatic swerves in Colorado River Basin hydrology. Some years the snow never stops. Other times, unseasonable warmth and dryness dominates as officials nervously watch lake levels plummet in the river’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Liz Payton. Photo credit: Western Water Assessment

Scientists devote their careers to figuring how forecasts and projections can improve. On the ground, life can be more stressful for water resource practitioners charged with providing a reliable water supply. Report authors acknowledge the conundrum.

“Given the stakes involved, it is reasonable that Colorado River Basin planners and managers desire greater certainty in water supply forecasts and long-term projections,” the report’s authors wrote. “They need some sense of the likelihood of hydrologic shifts, especially shifts to the dry side.”

One area of possible improvement is the 24-month water supply forecasting system that is partly based on assumptions of average monthly inflows to the Colorado River between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, said Payton.

“That’s a significant reach because if there is a lot or not as much inflow as the monthly average, you could shift Lake Mead above or below one of the important thresholds” that determine how much water agencies can draw from the river, she said. “If Mead is right at a shortage threshold and you have underestimated the inflow, you may end up declaring a shortage when you didn’t have to.”

Average conditions, over time and across the Basin, suggest a barely sufficient water supply, the State of the Science report says. Source: Western Water Assessment via the Water Education Foundation

Improvements in forecasting are needed from months to years to even decades out, said Pellegrino, with Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“Obviously, the long-term time scale is probably the most relevant for policy decisions, but the short and mid-terms are just as important,” she said. “The question is, if we knew next year was going to repeat the hydrology we saw in 2002, the driest year on record, would we make different water management decisions? I think the answer to that is yes at all time scales.”

Faced with uncertainty, Pellegrino believes the prudent approach is to be “eyes wide open” to the implications of the wide range of variability.

“Instead of identifying the hydrology that’s problematic or exact streamflow record that’s correct, spend your efforts coming up with the benchmarks for your water management community or basin that really mean something,” she said.

Making Better Decisions

For an area such as Las Vegas, that means preparing for more heat and dryness. Pellegrino said her agency has calculated that the creeping temperature rise could increase per capita water use by nine gallons a day by 2035.

Terry Fulp, director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, which oversees water and power operations along the lower Colorado River to the Mexican border. Source: Bureau of Reclamation

Outcomes like that mean agencies should prepare for as many scenarios as possible, aiming for maximum flexibility, “like a dimmer switch,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy. Waiting too long to act could be costly.

“We should consider this time before a full-blown crisis as a gift,” she said. “We are on ‘water time,’ and developing new water management tools takes years. We should not squander this time now, because we will never have a perfect picture of what the next year or two holds. Trying to develop these kinds of tools in the middle of the crisis will create chaos, social and economic impacts and unintended consequences. It is much more effective to have the tools ready to deploy before they are needed.”

Fulp, Reclamation’s regional director, said the report helps reframe the basis for near-term planning and gives a glimpse of what to expect further out, uncertainty and all.

“You’re talking about looking at hundreds, if not thousands of different futures and seeing what the statistics tell us,” he said. “Is one decision better under a lot of scenarios or is it only better under a few scenarios?”

The flow of scientific data about the Colorado River Basin will continue. Some reports will generate more response than others. Amid that, the depth and breadth of the Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science stands out.

“We hear about so many studies with dire predictions for the Colorado River but I think the bigger meta message is we have this great collaboration among water agencies to gather more information about the past, present and future of climate hydrology to make better decisions and planning,” said Lukas, with Western Water Assessment. “That’s the story I like to emphasize.”

Reach Gary Pitzer: gpitzer@watereducation.org, Twitter: @GaryPitzer

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump down to 800 CFS September 12, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to a cooler forecast and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 850 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Saturday, September 12th, 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 flows in the critical habitat reach 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. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html

The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

6 states ask government to halt #LakePowellPipeline project so concerns can be addressed — The St. George News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to “refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement of Record of Decision regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the Seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The letter also states that the Colorado River Basin states face the daunting challenge of supplying water to growing population centers in the West while relying on a source that is threatened by climate change and continuing drought.

If the approval process for the Lake Powell Pipeline is not halted so concerns can be addressed, the letter states it may result in “multi-year litigation” that could also complicate future interstate cooperation concerning use of the Colorado River…

Despite a potential threat of litigation if their concerns are not resolved, Brock Belnap, an assistant general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Thursday the water district hopes issues can be resolved without too much disturbance to the pipeline’s timetable.

“We appreciate that they express they want to resolve the issues they may have and we are pledging likewise to work with them to address the issue they may have in regard to the Law of the River in the Colorado River,” Belnap said…

An example of the issues some of the other states have is that Washington County is geographically located in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Belnap said, and the compacts state that water rights cannot be transferred from the one basin to the other. However, Utah is counted among the Upper Colorado River Basin States, and the compacts also say each state has a right to develop its allocated portion of the Colorado River within its boundaries, he said…

The government received more than 10,000 public comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline before Tuesday’s deadline, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke said. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, is expected to issue a final report, which could bring the project a step closer to approval.

Although the proposal isolates Utah from the other states that rely on the river, it’s committed to bringing water it’s entitled to tap to those who need it, said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

He said the project has been under review for about 20 years, and many other projects have gone through federal review while states worked through unresolved issues…

Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, attended the meeting and asked if the committee planned to halt the project due to the concerns expressed by the other states in Tuesday’s letter.

Here’s the release from the Utah Rivers Council:

Utah’s largest new water diversion in Colorado River Basin ignites a modern water war, results in veiled threat of litigation by other states.

In a stunning letter to the Secretary of Interior, a coalition of state water agencies, large water suppliers, and Governors’ representatives of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are asking that Utah’s controversial Lake Powell Pipeline be placed on hold.

The shocking move demonstrates how out of touch the Utah Division of Water Resources and its lobbying partners have been in understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and of the Pipeline’s impact to the water supplies of seven states. The letter notes:

“As Governors’ representatives of the Colorado River Basin States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, we write to respectfully request that your office refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior (Interior) are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The strong letter of opposition was signed by representatives of the Colorado River Board of California, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the State of Wyoming.

They joined scores of groups and many hundreds of people across seven states submitting comments of opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline to the Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation for the DEIS. The project drew criticism across the American West because the Colorado River has dropped dramatically with reservoir levels at 50% of capacity in an era of water cuts and climate change.

This is a historic first for 6 of the 7 Colorado River Basin States to reprimand another state on what they see as:

“Serious legal concerns relating to the 1922 and 1948 Compacts, including the accounting of the Lake Powell Pipeline diversion and other operational issues under the Law of the River.”

Utah ignited the water war with other Colorado River Basin states by pushing the Lake Powell Pipeline even without a demonstrable need for the water. Utah water officials justified the Pipeline with a high municipal water use of over 300 gallons per person per day, while other cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix have water use between 120 and 150 gpcd, or less.

In a separate letter, the Southern Nevada Water Authority noted:

“What the Utah Board of Water Resources characterizes as extreme conservation efforts and impractical conservation, are actually commonly applied in an efficient and effective manner in many other communities.”

“This project is water hoarding at its finest. Utah wants to cash in on its ‘water entitlement’ under the Colorado River Compact so badly that it is willing to upset the fragile balance of a basin that supports 40 million people, recreational and agricultural economies, tribal lands and cultures, and irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems.” — said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians

“Secretary Bernhardt should listen to the six Colorado River states that just asked him to delay any decision regarding the Utah’s unnecessary and harmful proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All six states, especially Arizona, would be hurt by Utah’s attempted water grab from the drought- stricken Colorado River.” — said Douglas Wolf, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity

“It is not often where grassroots groups and government water buffaloes are aligned on bad water projects, but the Lake Powell Pipeline is such a boondoggle that opposition is now widespread. We hope St. George finally begins to follow the lead of communities like Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix and others that have implemented world-class conservation programs.” — said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network

A coalition of groups also submitted extensive comments opposing the embattled Lake Powell Pipeline. The coalition has requested the Bureau of Reclamation explore other less expensive and environmentally destructive means for meeting the water needs of residents of Washington County in southwest Utah. This is also an Alternative identified as missing from the DEIS in the letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior by the 6 State Coalition. The 224 page letter can be found HERE.

The letter was submitted by Utah Rivers Council, Save the Colorado, WildEarth Guardians, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Audubon Council, SUWA, Conserve Southwest Utah, Citizen’s Water Advocacy Group of Arizona, Sunrise Movement of Las Vegas, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, San Diego Coast Keeper and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. It details flaws in Reclamation’s environmental review including challenging the basis and need for the project itself, the lack of examining more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives, and its failure to analyze and mitigate the environmental harms that would arise if the project goes forward.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is one of the projects identified by the Trump Administration–in its June 4, 2020, Executive Order No. 13927–to be fast tracked through the environmental review process.

@CWCB_DNR: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on the Fryingpan River and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering an offer from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“District”) of a short-term lease of 3,500 acre-feet of water that the District holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use. The proposal is to use the released water to supplement winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021; and from April 1 – December 31, 2021, to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The Board will consider this proposal at its September 16-17, 2020 virtual meeting. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:

https://cwcb.colorado.gov/virtual-board-meeting-september-16-17-2020

Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.

Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found here.

The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF
Rule 6m.(1):

Subject Water Right:
RUEDI RESERVOIR
Source: Fryingpan River
Decree: CA4613
Priority No.: 718
Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 Acre Feet
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 079D6C0106
Contract Use: Supplement winter instream flows in the Fryingpan River
Contract Amount: 5,000 Acre Feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet

The following information concerning the proposed additional use of leased water remaining after March 31, 2021 is provided pursuant to ISF Rule 6m.(1):

Subject Water Right:
RUEDI RESERVOIR
Source: Fryingpan River
Decree: CA4613
Priority No.: 718
Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 acre-feet
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 139D6C0101
Contract Use: Municipal use in Colorado River Basin; includes “use of water by . . . piscatorial users, including delivery of water to supplement streamflow. . . .”
Contract Amount: 4,683.5 acre-feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet.

Proposed Reach of Stream:
Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River: From the confluence with the headgate of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (lat 39 06 06N long 108 20 48W) downstream to its confluence with the Gunnison River.

Purpose of the Acquisition and Proposed Season of Use:
The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. The leased water would be used to also supplement the existing ISF water rights in the 15-Mile Reach to preserve the natural environment from July 1 – September 30, 2019, and to provide water at rates above the existing decreed ISF rates to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in that reach to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree from April 1 –December 31, 2019.

Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.

The 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River provides critical habitat for two species of endangered fish: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions. It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish. Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime. As a result, the USFWS has issued flow recommendations for the 15-Mile Reach since 1989 to protect instream habitat for the endangered fish.

Supporting Data:
Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation and improvement of the natural environment, and available scientific data is available at:

https://dnrweblink.state.co.us/cwcb/0/edoc/213103/6.pdf?searchid=2484c28a-57b0-4eb7-8831-b8085c8ffa2b

Linda Bassi
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
linda.bassi@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3204

Kaylea White
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
kaylea.white@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3240

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Nestlé seeks more time in Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled” — @WaterEdCO

Arkansas River in Chaffee County. Nestlé is asking to continue exporting water from Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled.” Credit: Wikipedia via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.

Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.

Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.

Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.

Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.

In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.

Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.

“We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.

“We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.

The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.

Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.

Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.

Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.

Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.

If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.

In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.

“To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.

Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.

Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.

Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.

“We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”

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.

Water released from Elkhead Reservoir lifts call on Yampa River — @AspenJournalism #YampaRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The second-ever call on the Yampa River was lifted on Sept. 3. The river is shown here as it flows through Hayden on August 3, 2020. Photo credit: Allen Best/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

The second-ever call on the Yampa River was lifted [August 3, 2020] morning after a trio of water providers announced the release of up to 1,500 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to support irrigators in the Yampa River Valley and endangered fish.

The latest call was placed on the Yampa River on Aug. 25. The first call was in the late summer of 2018, also after an uncommonly hot, dry summer. The release of the water has ended the immediate need for water administration, allowing irrigators who had been legally prevented from taking water to resume diversions.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association has begun releasing 500 acre-feet of its water, and the Colorado River District is releasing another 750 acre-feet of water that it controls from the reservoir near Hayden.

A third organization, the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust, will use money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to support the upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s contract for additional water in Elkhead in 2020. The Colorado Water Trust also has raised private funds to support a potential release of 250 acre-feet of water to provide in-channel flows for endangered fish species in the Yampa.

Water will continue to be released from Elkhead Reservoir, as necessary, through September. Rain, snow and cloud cover could suppress demand.

The second-ever call on the Yampa River ended Wednesday. Here it flows near the diversion from the Hayden Generating Station on Aug. 3. Photo credit: Allen Best/Aspen Journalism

Irrigators, fish feeling the heat

A statement from the River District and Tri-State emphasized the intention of helping irrigators.

“Agriculture producers in the western U.S. currently are being hit with the triple threat of drought, low prices and pandemic restrictions, so anything we can do to ease the burden of farmers and ranchers in the Yampa Valley is something we are willing and honored to do,” said Duane Highley, CEO at Tri-State, the operator of coal-fired power plants near Craig.

Andy Mueller, the general manager of the River District, echoed that theme.

“We hope these actions help alleviate the depth and severity of ranchers being curtailed and allow some of them to turn their pumps back on to grow more forage before winter,” he said.

“It was a crazy hot and dry summer,” said Andy Schultheiss, the executive director of the Colorado Water Trust. “There was just nothing left in the river — or, at least, very, very little.”

Schultheiss said the trust was interested in preserving habitat for fish and other species in the river, including fish in the lower reaches of the Yampa that are on the endangered species list. In August, the organization also contracted to release 500 acre-feet of water from the Stagecoach Reservoir, near Oak Creek, to ensure flows through Steamboat Springs.

Impact of the releases was reflected Thursday afternoon at stream gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey. The river above the confluence of Elkhead Creek was running 102 cubic feet per second. Bolstered by the reservoir releases, however, it was running 125 cfs downstream at Maybell. It was 95 cfs at Deer Lodge, located 115 river miles downstream from Elkhead Reservoir at the entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, below several agricultural diversions.

A warming climate of recent decades and the weather of the past year probably both played a role in 2020’s second-ever Yampa call.

“August likely will end in the top 10 hottest and driest on record in the Yampa basin,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said during an Aug. 25 webinar. “You see warmer-than-average temperatures everywhere except a couple of pockets in North Park.”

Many areas were 4 to 6 degrees above average, and some pockets were even hotter. Fall and winter temperatures are more variable, which summer’s are much less so, said Schumacher. “Having 5 or 6 to 8 degrees above average in summer is quite remarkable,” he said.

The River District’s Mueller nodded to this broader context.

“As drought and low flows promise to persist, today’s cooperative actions could help us learn and plan for an uncertain water future,” he said.

This recently installed Parshall flume in the Yampa River basin replaced the old, rusty device in the background. Division 6 engineer Erin Light is granting extensions to water users who work with her office to meet a requirement for measuring devices. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Heather Sackett

Regulation is new reality

What sets the Yampa River apart from other rivers in Colorado is its storied tradition: a river without administration. The contrast may be most stark with the South Platte, which drains the heavily populated towns and cities and still abundant farms on the northern Front Range. There, it’s barely an exaggeration to say that every drop is measured, ensuring that diverters are taking only as much water as to which they have rights.

The Yampa has typically met the needs of all diverters, including those of irrigators, who are responsible for nearly all the water consumed in the Yampa River basin on an annual basis. Diverters were on an honor system to take no more than their allocated share of water.

Putting a call on a river requires the sorting out of water rights under Colorado’s first-in-time, first-in-right hierarchy. Those with mostly older — and, therefore, senior rights — have first dibs but only to the amount they are allocated.

The call placed on the river Aug. 25 was triggered by agriculture users lower on the river, at Lilly Park near Dinosaur National Monument. They were failing to get the river’s native flows to which they were entitled within their priority of 1963.

To honor the seniority of those water rights, Erin Light, the division engineer, initiated a call on the river to ensure that the more senior right would get delivery of the water.

Those affected were all water users upstream, even to the headwaters, with junior or more recent allocations. Junior water users are cut off to the amount necessary to satisfy the call, which could be partially or completely, as per the needs of the downstream user with the senior but unsatisfied allocation.

Light last year announced that all water diverters must install headgates and measuring devices, to allow withdrawals to be controlled and measured. Some have done so, others have been given extensions and some others have failed to comply, she said. Those without headgates and measuring devices — even if they have a more senior water right — risk being cut off entirely when a call occurs.

This push to measure diversions began at least a decade ago, after Light arrived in the Yampa Valley. One of those she persuaded was Jay Fetcher, who ranches along the Elk River, northwest of Steamboat Springs. He remembers some grumbling. The informal method had always worked. Now he’s glad he can prove he’s taking his allocated water — and no more.

“Once we changed, we realized that it was a real plus,” Fetcher said. “We knew what we were doing with our water, and we could justify (our diversions), not only to ourselves, but to Erin and the state.”

Jim Pokrandt, the director of community affairs for the River District, echoed that sentiment.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest,” Pokrandt said, “to foster a solution that recognizes the reality, that doesn’t put agriculture out of business, while we are on the pathway to better water administration.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Steamboat Pilot & Today and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 7 edition of Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Booming Front Range cities take first steps to build $500 million dam, reservoir near Holy Cross Wilderness — The Denver Post

Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.

Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.

Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.

The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…

Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…

Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.

Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.

Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.

Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…

To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.

This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”

Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…

Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.

Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”

Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.

“We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

#Farmington residents urged to conserve water during ongoing drought conditions — The Farmington Daily Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

Farmington residents are being asked to voluntarily cut back on their water usage by 10% amid ongoing drought conditions.

The Farmington City Council approved a resolution enacting a stage one water shortage advisory on a 3-0 vote. The meeting was broadcast on Zoom and a recording will be available online at http://fmtn.org/AgendaCenter.

Community Works Director David Sypher said the city has struggled to keep Lake Farmington full.

“We are taking keeping our lake 100% full a little more seriously than we have in the past,” he said, explaining that the city not only provides water to its residents but also delivers water to other water systems.

Lake Farmington was approximately 98% full on Sept. 3, but has been dropping at a rate of 0.15 to 0.3% daily and, as of the meeting on Sept. 8, Sypher said the lake was 97.15% full.

A storm brought precipitation to the region as the City Council discussed the water shortage advisory, but Sypher said current forecasts are calling for 30 to 50% of normal precipitation in the upcoming months and the most liberal projections are anticipating moderate drought.

West Drought Monitor September 1, 2020.

When the river dries, a struggle to stay afloat — The #Taos News #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #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 Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:

A severe, prolonged drought is reducing the river’s flows to the lowest levels in decades, affecting cities’ drinking water supplies and compelling farmers to adjust how they water their fields.

[Glen] Duggins grows chile peppers, alfalfa and corn on his 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a tiny community north of Socorro. He already faces the prospect of restaurants buying fewer goods from him during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, when their operations have been limited by the state’s public heath orders. Now he’s also seeing higher costs to produce his crops due to pumping.

But he is fortunate, he said, because many farmers in the Middle Río Grande Valley don’t have water pumps and must shut down when the river gets low…

A thin mountain snowpack, recent heat wave and light monsoon have depleted water levels from the Colorado River Basin to the Chama River to the Río Grande. It’s perhaps the most arid year in a two-decade dry period in New Mexico, making climate scientists and water managers wonder whether this is the start of an even drier time that will demand a new, long-term approach to urban planning and water use.

Locally, the prolonged drought can be seen in cottonwoods’ foliage turning yellow six weeks early along a parched stretch of the Santa Fe River and the likelihood of the Buckman Direct Diversion — which pulls Río Grande flows for city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County water users — suspending operations for the first time in its 10-year history.

Everyone must prepare for how a warmer climate will diminish water supplies and put more stress on humans and the ecosystem, said Dave DuBois, a state climatologist at New Mexico State University.

“We need to address climate change and adapt to it,” DuBois said. “Not just in the here and now, but the next 20, 30 years.”

Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

How municipal water #conservation is keeping the #RioGrande through #Albuquerque from going dry — @JFleck

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From InkStain (John Fleck):

One of the traditional “tragedy narratives” of western water is the idea that thirsty cities are draining our rivers. But in two of the last three years, precisely the opposite has happened here in Albuquerque.

We’ve been limping along on a very bad year on the Rio Grande, with some of the lowest flows through Albuquerque that we’ve seen in a while. And the limping will continue. But with irrigation water in storage just about gone, an agreement is taking shape that will use an unused chunk of Albuquerque’s imported Colorado River water to keep the Rio Grande from drying through Albuquerque in coming months.

This is possible because Albuquerque’s water conservation success has left it with more water rights than it currently needs, including water we import through the San Juan-Chama project, a transbasin diversion that brings Colorado River water through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. Some of that, now sitting in storage in reservoirs up on the Chama, will be released in coming weeks to maintain flows in the river here in town.

A similar deal in the very dry summer of 2018 also used some of Albuquerque’s unused Colorado River apportionment to keep the Rio Grande wet.

To be clear, this isn’t a charitable contribution on Albuquerque’s part. As I understand the deal, three government agencies with a shared interest in keeping the river wet – the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – are paying the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority for the water…

But it’s intriguing to see the traditional narrative turned on its head – water available for the environment because a city has more than it needs.

Larimer County Commissioners approve permit for Glade Reservoir, #NISP — @Northern_Water

U.S. Highway 287 runs through the future site of Glade Reservoir. The Larimer county Board of County Commissioners approved the 1041 Land Use Permit for NISP on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Northern Water:

The Northern Integrated Supply Project achieved another important milestone on Wednesday, with the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners approving the 1041 Land Use Permit application on a 2-1 vote.

The permit will allow the construction of Glade Reservoir, its recreation components and the pipelines to convey water from the reservoir to participants throughout Northern Colorado.

Central to the permit is the framework for the development of Glade Reservoir as a future recreation area to be managed by Larimer County. Glade Reservoir, just north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287, will join Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir and the future Chimney Hollow Reservoir as a site for water recreation, fishing, hiking and more.

The participants of NISP have agreed to spend more than $16 million to develop the recreation site, and they have purchased the former KOA campground nearby to create camping opportunities.

Another part of the permit dictates the route and procedures for the placement of pipelines to deliver high-quality drinking water to communities in Northern Colorado. It reiterates the commitment of NISP to convey roughly one-third of its water deliveries via the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, increasing the overall number of days available for recreation at the new Fort Collins Whitewater Park.

NISP has now received its permit from Larimer County for land use and from the State of Colorado for Water Quality and for Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement. This fall, NISP anticipates receiving a Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Next year, NISP anticipates working with the City of Fort Collins to coordinate on a route for a pipeline to pick up the Glade Reservoir water that has been conveyed through Fort Collins via the Poudre River.

NISP is being built to address future water needs for 15 municipalities and water districts, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, the Town of Windsor and others throughout the region. Northern Water is coordinating the effort through the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.

To learn more, go to http://gladereservoir.org.

Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The vote came after lengthy hearings before the county board and the county’s planning commission. The majority of speakers at those meetings spoke about concerns over the project’s effects on the Poudre River, its main water source. The project would divert water from the river during its peak flows due to its relatively junior water rights.

Nearby residents in the Bonner Peak and Eagle Lake neighborhoods also voiced concerns about pipeline routes disrupting quiet, rural neighborhoods, and diminishing property values. Northern Water, the agency pushing for NISP’s construction, hasn’t ruled out using eminent domain to build those pipelines, if necessary…

In comments explaining his vote against the permit, Kefalas noted scientific papers show a warming trend across much of Colorado, with consequences for rivers fed by snowmelt, like the Poudre.

“Based on the modeling that has been done with the Upper Colorado River basin, I think there are serious implications to the Poudre River flow and how that affects the Glade Reservoir,” Kefalas said.

Kefalas said he was also uncomfortable with the project’s tradeoff in advocating for flatwater recreation on a reservoir a 20-minute drive outside of Fort Collins, instead of seeing high spring flows through the city as a recreational amenity…

In voting to approve, commissioner Johnson said a rejection of the permit would be an example of parochial self-interest. While much of NISP’s water would be used in communities outside of Larimer County, Johnson said Colorado is full of examples of projects where water is stored and transported from one region to another…

Commissioner Donnelly hewed closely to the county’s 1041 evaluation criteria, which assess projects based on how they fit into the county’s master plan and affect its residents. NISP’s proponents were able to satisfy all of the county’s criteria, Donnelly said…

The project is still awaiting a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can move forward into construction.

Larimer County commissioners approve 1041 permit for #NISP by 2-1 vote — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

Larimer County’s Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Wednesday, with John Kefalas casting the lone “no” vote.

Explaining his dissent, the District 1 commissioner said he felt the 12 land use criteria used by the board fell short and failed to create a “level playing field,” although he acknowledged the board’s efforts to allow public comment virtually…

He discussed the projected impacts of climate change on the upper Colorado River Basin, and echoed the concerns of many commenters regarding the reduction in flow that the Poudre River could see from the creation of the Glade Reservoir.

He pointed out that Fort Collins, which is bisected by the river, has concerns about the flows in the Cache la Poudre.

“I acknowledge that Northern (Water) has done their utmost to look at mitigation and other impacts on the Poudre River ecology, riparian areas and natural areas,” he said. “There still remains the fact that the city of Fort Collins has concerns about the potential impact on the Poudre River.”

Commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson each walked through the land use criteria and how the project satisfied them…

The vote on the permit came after an extensive public hearing — one session saw representatives of the Northern Water Conservancy District advocate for the project, two sessions invited public comment, and Northern Water representatives answered questions during a fourth session.

While a large part of the presentation Wednesday was taken up by the commissioners explaining each of their votes, the commissioners also heard from Northern Water representatives who asked for adjustments to some of the conditions placed on the proposal.

The commissioners agreed to include a suggestion by Northern Water that, if the alignment of a related pipeline had to be adjusted by more than 100 feet without a landowner’s consent, that section of the pipeline would again have to be reviewed.

They also agreed to include restrictions proposed by Northern Water on construction activities in the Eagle Lake area.

Here’s a photo gallery from the hearing via The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Proposed Water Project Tests If Northern #Colorado’s ‘Working River’ Can Handle Another Job — KUNC #NISP

Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s home to fish, birds and other wildlife.

But a reservoir proposal facing a key vote from Larimer County commissioners would give it one more big task, and the panel is hearing from community members who think it can handle the work, and those who don’t.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is seeking a 1041 permit to begin construction of the infrastructure project that would use water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers.

The agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River, while opponents say it will only hurt, not help…

But with the ribbon cutting less than a year ago, [Evan] Stafford said NISP presents an upstream threat. The project’s biggest reservoir, Glade, would be miles from the park, but it would be felt by kayakers and tubers alike. NISP would pull water out of the river at the same time whitewater paddlers flock to it.

“It’s already pretty affected, but NISP would really increase that effect to almost there being no flooding or a natural kind of rise in the river due to the snow melt,” Stafford said.

That’s important, not just for kayakers, but for the river’s ecological health too. High spring flows flush sediment downstream and are critical for fish and bird habitat…

But that characterization of NISP’s potential impact is unfair, says Northern Water’s general manager Brad Wind.

“At the end of the day to fill a reservoir you’ve got to extract some water from the river,” Wind said.

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

Because the project relies on relatively junior water rights, Wind says they would have to wait until the highest flows to divert water into the reservoir. Those flows come during the spring runoff. But, he said, once full, the reservoir would release water at other times of year when the Poudre is struggling because of demands from farmers…

NISP has committed to releasing so-called base flows through Fort Collins in certain times of the year to aid fish populations and fill-in dry up points that show up when demand from farmers spikes during the summer months. But it could be awhile before those releases take place. By Northern Water’s projections, construction on Glade’s dam and reservoir might take until 2027 to finish. Filling the reservoir could take up to a decade if the Poudre’s flows are reduced due to drought…

NISP is nearing the end of a more than 15-year permitting process. The latest stretch of public meetings has taken place almost entirely during the pandemic. NISP boasts a laundry list of endorsements from former governors, local business groups, farm groups, even two of three Larimer County commissioners. There’s been a renewed call from the project’s opponents for commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly to recuse themselves from deliberations, though both continue to participate in hearings.

Fort Collins, the biggest city along the river’s course, recently voted to oppose the project, making it one of the first governmental bodies to do so…

Fort Collins city council’s opposition is more of a symbolic gesture, given that much of the project’s infrastructure falls outside city limits. The vote from Larimer County commissioners on the 1041 permit has real potential to either slow down the project’s momentum, or ease its way into being fully permitted. It still needs a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers, which could come as early as this fall.

All three Larimer County commissioners declined interview requests due to it being a pending land use issue.

#RioGrande State of the Basin: The current water situation? Dry! — The Crestone Eagle

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 The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (Lisa Cyriacks) via The Crestone Eagle:

In the San Luis Valley: water is and will always be a critical issue. While demands on our scarce water supply grow, there are many community-based efforts working to restore a better water balance and plan for our future.

In the case of groundwater, the amount of water withdrawn by legally permitted wells exceeds the amount of water refilling the aquifers.

At a recent symposium hosted by Adams State University’s Salazar Center, local water leaders presented information on key aspects of current water conditions and challenges.

Salazar Center Director, Rio de la Vista, “With this year’s water shortage, the time is now to raise our level of knowledge on the critical water issues here. We aim to engage more people in community-based efforts for a sustainable water future and we need everyone’s help to make that possible!”

Local water users and State officials recognized something needed to be done in response to a severe drought that started about 20 years ago and reached its peak in 2002. They banded together to form local groundwater sub-districts to balance water use and supply. Their goal is to make groundwater use sustainable and protect senior surface water right holders from water shortages due to groundwater pumping.

Despite efforts to meet a court-mandated goal to replenish the shallow aquifer to pre-2000 levels by 2030, significant progress was curtailed by another serious drought beginning in 2018.

Agriculture is the economic engine in the San Luis Valley. None of the region’s current crops could be grown if growers depended only on the 7.5 inches of annual precipitation that hits the valley floor. The valley is one of the world’s largest high-altitude deserts. Water users draw from the valley rivers and streams to irrigate their crops but the peak flows that are common in May and June dry up by July and August. Given the lack of water storage in the region, growers rely on groundwater to finish watering their crops.

The latest attempt to export water from the valley to the Front Range is led by Renewable Water Resources (RWR), based in the city of Centennial near Denver. This scheme is undermining local farmers’ efforts to address water shortages and could set a dangerous precedent of water export.

There is zero unappropriated water in the Rio Grande Basin. This means all surface water and groundwater is currently used by existing water users, leaving no water available for transport outside the valley.

RWR aims to pump 22,000 acre-feet of water and pipe it over Poncha Pass to the Front Range. Local water leaders believe that if the pipeline is built, the RWR project will be just the start and lead to further attempts to export water.

The proposal is opposed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Conejos Water Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable as well as the City of Alamosa, Town of Del Norte, City of Monte Vista, Town of Saguache; joined by environmental groups, local businesses, and many farmers and ranchers.

There is widespread opposition in the valley to the RWR export scheme. Locals are concerned that RWR’s plan could turn Saguache County into another Crowley County, an area east of Pueblo that has been devastated economically by the sale of its water. See https://bit.ly/2CORMbB.

The San Luis Valley is a beloved place for many Colorado residents and travelers from across the country and around the world. With the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, three extraordinary National Wildlife Refuges, the Rio Grande Natural Area, the Rio Grande National Forest and many other public lands, the valley’s water sustains wildlife for viewing, hunting and fishing, and many forms of recreation. Sandhill crane migration attracts many visitors to the valley. Water export threatens the valley’s economy, which is dependent on agriculture.

Valley water leaders urge residents to take action by seeking out the facts about valley water resources and advocating for the truth about RWR’s export plans and the valley’s water supplies and hydrology.

Please see http://www.rgwcd.org for information about current aquifer levels and the subdistricts’ efforts to manage our groundwater.

Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 850 CFS, August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir above.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Monday, August 31st, starting at 12:00 PM. 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.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

As San Luis Valley’s water squeeze intensifies, Gov. Jared Polis mulls climate warming adaptation — The Brush News-Tribune #drought

Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Brush News-Tribune:

How to survive in hotter, drier world a focus as 93% of state bakes in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought

The sun beat down, baking Colorado’s bone-dry, cracking San Luis Valley, where farmers for eight years have been trying to save their depleted underground water but are falling behind.

They’re fighting to survive at an epicenter of the West’s worsening water squeeze amid a 20-year shift to aridity. Federal data this past week placed 93% of Colorado in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought .

And Gov. Jared Polis was listening now, as a group of farmers sat around a patio shaking their heads, frowning, frustration etched on their faces — down by 150,000 acre-feet of water below their aquifer-pumping target as the driest months begin.

A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

“We’re about as lean as we possibly can be. We’ve re-nozzled our sprinklers. Our pumping is as efficient as it possibly can be. We’re trying different crops,” said Tyler Mitchell, who had cut his water use by 30% after installing soil moisture sensors and shifting from barley to quinoa. “But, at the end of the day, we have too many businesses that are trying to stay in business. I don’t know how we can reduce pumping more than we already have.”

How to adapt to a hotter, drier world is emerging as a do-or-die mission for people living around the arid West. Polis was in the San Luis Valley on Tuesday, embarking on a potentially groundbreaking statewide effort to explore solutions amid increasingly harsh impacts of climate warming, including wildfires burning more than 300 square miles of western Colorado.

Average temperatures will keep rising for decades, federal climate scientists say, based on the thickening global atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, now around 412 parts per million, the highest in human history. Heat is depleting water across the Colorado and Rio Grande river basins, where more than 50 million people live.

Nowhere have climate warming impacts exacerbated local difficulties more than here in the Massachusetts-sized, predominantly Hispanic, low-income San Luis Valley between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains of southern Colorado…

This year, the winter mountain snowpack that determines surface water flow in the Rio Grande River measured 33% of normal in spring. Rainfall so far, 2.7 inches, lags at around 38% of average.

And the Rio Grande barely trickles, at 7 cubic feet per second, leaving Colorado toward New Mexico and Texas. Those similarly drought-stricken states count on shares of surface water in the river under a 1938 interstate legal agreement.

Colorado farmers’ fallback habit of pumping more from the aquifers connected to the river — water use that is restricted under a locally-run, state-ordered conservation plan — has obliterated water savings painstakingly gained since 2012.

The 150,000 acre-feet draw-down this year hurled farmers practically back to their starting point. And a state-enforced deadline of 2030 for restoring the aquifer to a healthy level looms. If not met, state authorities could take control over wells.

Cleave Simpson, bottom right, converses with other water users following a Subdistrict 1 budget meeting. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

Rio Grande Water Conservation District manager Cleave Simpson said recovery now requires a snow-dependent gain of 680,000 acre-feet — 4.5 times this year’s draw-down…

“A drier and hotter world”

Polis looked out the windows of a black utility vehicle and saw devastation spreading as climate warming impacts hit home. Hot wind churned dust around farms now abandoned and rented to newcomers struggling to get by. San Luis Valley leaders have estimated that low flows and falling water tables may lead to the dry-up of 100,000 irrigated acres, a fifth of the farmland in a valley where residents depend economically and culturally on growing food.

He saw farm crews toiling, coaxing the most from their heavy machinery, after flows from some wells had diminished and even reportedly pulled up just air.

He said he sees different dimensions of problems around climate warming.

On one hand, human emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases “are going up,” Polis said. “But, then, here in this world, it is about adapting to what is happening. I mean, the global effort needs to succeed. Climate change needs to slow down. Colorado is just a teeny piece of that — a fundamental issue affecting the entire world. America never should have pulled out of the Paris accords. I hope we return, and have a concerted international effort.

“But it is also a reality for how these farmers put food on their plate, for how their communities thrive in a drier and hotter world. … The same crops we have been growing, with one water and warm temperature profile, don’t work with the way things are now.”

Colorado agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said state leaders also will hear from producers enduring dry times on the Eastern Plains, where wheat harvests are expected to suffer. Agriculture statewide “is hurting” and the San Luis Valley stands out as “ground zero” in a water squeeze due to low snow, shrinking aquifers, drought and competing demands from inside and outside the valley. Legal obligations to leave water for New Mexico and Texas compel cuts that complicate solutions, Greenberg said…

Few of the farmers on the patio meeting with the governor saw much that state governments can do in the face of a possible environmental collapse.

Many have concluded that, as Jim Erlich said, “we’re going to be farming less here.” Some anticipated an agricultural landscape looking more like western Kansas…

Polis called climate warming “the new normal.” He asked the farmers: “Where does it lead? Do you see a way forward?” State projections show conditions for at lest 15 years will be “likely hotter and drier… What does that mean in terms of crop mix? What does it mean in terms of sustainability? What does it mean in communities?”

The farmers, about a dozen, said they’ll push ahead in the “sub-districts” they’ve formed to encourage saving groundwater — as an alternative to state engineer authorities controlling wells. They now pay fees for pumping and pooled funds can be used to pay farmers for leaving fields fallow…

An entrepreneurial businessman, Polis pushed toward what might be done to create better markets for crops, such as “Colorado quinoa” that use less water, giving a global perspective. “I mean, agriculture does occur in dry parts of the world. It has to work from a water perspective…

The side of a farm building north of Center, Colorado. The farms in the San Luis Valley are known for their fresh potatoes. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

At another farm, Brendon and Sheldon Rockey showed Polis around. They’ve reduced their use of water from wells by 50% and prospered, growing 25 types of potatoes, shifting off water-intensive crops such as barley and planting more “Colorado Quinoa” along with a half dozen other growers.

Fallow fields fertilized with cows and planted with restorative “cover crops” help boost productivity by improving soil, Brendon Rockey told the governor. “I don’t have a mono-culture anywhere on this farm.”

As president of the potato producers’ council and leader of a water-saving sub-district, Sheldon Rockey is encouraging other farmers — optimistically despite increased stress around the depletion of aquifers. “We can still make it back,” he said, “if we have snow.”

Polis also suggested a relaxed state approach to the 2030 deadline for replenishing the shrinking aquifer. “It is about the long-term trends. … whether goals are being met. There’s nothing that would ever be done based on one bad year.”

The farmers were hanging on that.

“He is genuinely interested in providing what support the state can to help with our water balance challenges,” Simpson concluded following this first meeting.

But “farmers are frustrated,” he said, emphasizing that aquifer recovery can happen only “if mother nature brings snow.”

And Polis left with a more detailed sense of the stakes.

“What we want here is sustainability. That’s why I oppose trans-basin water diversions,” he said. “But we have to make sure that farmers here today don’t live at the expense of farmers here tomorrow and the next decade. This valley is about agriculture. If the water is sold off, or the water is used up, it will become a dust bowl.”

As pressure to regulate #YampaRiver continues, locals raise cash to aid compliance effort — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #GreenRiver

Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From the Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

Nearly one year after the state ordered Yampa River water users to begin measuring their diversions from the iconic river, local community groups have raised more than $200,000 to help cash-strapped ranchers and others install the devices needed to comply with the law.

According to Erin LIght, the top water regulator in the region, roughly 60 percent of diversion structures, about 1,760 in total, remain out of compliance in what is known as Colorado’s Water Division 6, which includes the Yampa, North Platte, White and Green river basins.

Under state law, water users who do not measure their diversions can be subject to prosecution and have access to their water rights suspended, something the state has threatened to do but has not yet implemented.

Local groups, including the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, have stepped up to help, creating a $200,000 grant fund to ensure those who are trying to comply can afford to do so.

“Everyone is interested in getting the best infrastructure we can into the river,” said Holly Kirkpatrick, who is overseeing the grant program for the conservancy district. “A lot of different organizations are working very hard on this.”

The Yampa River Fund, spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, also plans to step in with funding should the need arise.

“I envision that there will be a request for funding,” said fund manager Andy Baur, “and we are here to help.”

This remote region in the northwest corner of the state for decades has had so much water that regulators rarely had to step in to ensure the rivers’ supplies were being properly distributed in accordance with state water law, something it does routinely in Colorado’s other major river basins. But as water shortages loom in the state, the Yampa is coming under increasing scrutiny.

“People need to understand that if we find ourselves in another administrative situation [where the Yampa runs dry as it did in 2018], people need to know they will be shut off,” said Light, who oversees the region for the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

The picture is much different than even 20 years ago, when Yampa Valley ranchers and other water users with water rights were often able to divert as much as they wanted whenever they wanted because the river had huge flows and relatively few demands.

Light, who oversees the Yampa and North Platte basins, as well as the Green and White river sub-basins, said the White River region has the most work to do to comply with the state’s order, with 83 percent, or 596, of its diversion structures taking water that is not being measured.

On the Yampa River, 50 percent of diversion structures, or 900, remain unmeasured, Light said. In the North Platte, 34 percent, or 190, lack measuring devices, while in the Green 74, or 69 percent, of devices remain unmeasured, Light said.

Because the White and Green sub-basins are so remote, and installing measuring devices can cost thousands of dollars, Light said she is giving water users there another year to comply with the order.

At the same time, she said she has granted more than 100 extensions to water users who are trying to comply to give them more time to find funds and get the work done.

Light said she is hopeful ranchers and others will begin to understand that measuring is no longer optional, and that those who begin recording their water use will have new opportunities as the entire Colorado River system, to which the Yampa, White and Green rivers are tributary, moves into a water-short future.

Under at least one scenario now being studied, a large, statewide conservation program called demand management would pay ranchers and others to voluntarily forego their water diversions for a period of time. Options to receive payment for suspending use would only be available to those who have diversion records that demonstrate how much water they’ve historically used.

“If someday we have an opportunity to [temporarily] dry up lands under a demand management program, their [actual water] use will be greatly in question because they have not measured their water. As demands get higher in the Colorado River, it’s going to behoove them to measure,” Light said.

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.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

@USBR launches prize competition to improve streamflow forecasting

Streamflow Forecasting Prize Competition.

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is launching a prize competition to improve short-term streamflow forecasts. Evolving data science such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and high-performance computing are starting to be used in streamflow forecasting. The Streamflow Forecast Rodeo competition seeks to spur innovation using these technologies.

Reclamation is making up to $500,000 available through this prize competition.

“Streamflow forecasts are integral to managing water,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “Finding improvements to forecasting will allow water managers to better operate their facilities for high flows, mitigate drought impacts and maximize hydropower generation.”

This competition delivers on the Department of the Interior and Reclamation’s commitment to improve water availability. It also supports the goals of the President’s memo on Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West.

The competition will begin with a “pre-season” in August, followed by a year of real-time forecasting beginning October 1, 2020. The pre-season will allow competitors to build and refine their forecast methods. The real-time forecasting competition will have solvers forecast streamflow for the next 10 days, updated daily at multiple locations across the West, for the duration of the competition.

Reclamation is partnering with the CEATI International’s Hydropower Operations and Planning Interest Group, NASA Tournament Lab and Topcoder on this crowdsourcing competition. Partnering with CEATI HOPIG includes a companion project that will provide benchmarks against which the competitors will be evaluated, as well as scoring of solver forecasts by RTI International. Other CEATI HOPIG members making contributions include Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, Tennessee Valley Authority, Hydro-Quebec, and Southern Company. To learn more about this competition, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges/streamflowrodeo.html.

Reclamation conducts prize competitions to spur innovation by engaging a non-traditional, problem-solver community. Through prize competitions, Reclamation complements traditional design research to target the most persistent science and technology challenges. It has awarded more than $1,000,000 in prizes through 22 competitions in the past 6 years. Please visit Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center to learn more.

Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to turn down to 900 CFS August 29, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Dam in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (Marc Miller):

In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Saturday, August 29th, 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 flows in the critical habitat reach 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. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

Concerns rise over #GrizzlyCreekFire’s impact on #ColoradoRiver’s endangered fish downstream — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River divides Glenwood Canyon slurry on the ridge from the Grizzly Creek Fire on Monday, August 24, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times via Aspen Journalism)

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon has many people praying for rain. But the very thing that could douse the blaze, which has burned 32,000 acres as of Tuesday, has some experts concerned it also could create problems for downstream endangered fish.

A heavy rain could wash dirt — no longer held in place by charred vegetation — and ash from the steep canyons and gullies of the burn area into the Colorado River. Scorched soils don’t absorb water as well, increasing the magnitude of the flood. And the heavy sediment load in the runoff could suffocate fish. A similar scenario played out in 2018 when thousands of fish were killed by ash and dirt that washed into the Animas River from the 416 Fire burn area.

Downstream from the Grizzly Creek Fire, beginning in DeBeque Canyon, is critical habitat for four species of endangered fish: humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail and razorback sucker.

“Yes, we are very concerned about a fire in that kind of terrain that close to critical habitat. There’s just no question,” said Tom Chart, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. “There’s a probability we could have an effect all the way down into the 15-mile reach.”

The Colorado River’s so-called 15-mile reach, near Grand Junction, is home to those four species of fish. This stretch often has less water than is recommended for these fish by Fish & Wildlife mainly because of two large irrigation diversions that pull water from the river to irrigate Grand Valley farms: DeBeque Canyon’s Grand Valley Project, which takes water from the river at a structure known as the Roller Dam, and the Grand Valley Irrigation Canal, which takes water from the river near Palisade.

Between these diversions and the confluence of the Gunnison River is a problem spot where water managers constantly work to bolster water levels through upstream reservoir releases. According to Chart, there is currently a total of about 250 cubic feet per second being released from Ruedi, Wolford and Granby reservoirs for the benefit of fish in the 15-mile reach.

With hot, dry weather, a weak monsoon season and the ongoing diversions for irrigation season, which continue into the fall, current river conditions are already stressful for the fish, Chart said. Water managers say they have seen fish using fish ladders to swim upstream and downstream of the 15-mile reach in search of deeper, cooler water.

“As far as concern about the ecological health of the 15-mile reach right now, we are very concerned about conditions there right now,” Chart said. “Native fish do move out of those dewatered stretches in search of better conditions.”

A debris flow on top of these already-challenging conditions could be devastating for fish populations.

“The potential with the Grizzly Creek Fire could be as bad as it gets if we get a rainstorm on top of a low baseflow,” Chart said. “You pray for rain, but at the same time this would be a tough time to get a flow of ash and retardant off the burned area.”

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

Burned area assessment begins

The U.S. Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response team has done a preliminary assessment of the severity of the soil burns to determine where debris flows would most likely occur, according to Lisa Stoeffler, deputy forest supervisor for the White River National Forest.

Areas of concern include Dead Horse Creek, Cinnamon Creek and No Name Creek, among others. More than an inch of rain in an hour — or a quarter-inch in 15 minutes, as occurs in a fast-moving thunderstorm — could trigger a debris flow, the BAER team found.

But this initial assessment, Stoeffler said, is mostly focused on potential impacts to Interstate 70, and water and power infrastructure, not on impacts to the aquatic environment.

“We may look at environment later on, once we have a final footprint of the fire,” she said. “The BAER process is really looking at things that we would need to address because it would cause an emergency-type situation.”

When the Grizzly Creek Fire first broke out, the city of Glenwood Springs switched its municipal water source from Grizzly and No Name creeks, which are near the burned area, to the Roaring Fork River.

“We are concerned about the ash and debris entering the water system and the costs we are going to incur because of this,” said Hannah Klausman, public information officer for Glenwood Springs.

The 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near 19 Road in Grand Junction is home to four species of endangered fish. The Colorado River Water Conservation District is discussing releasing water from upstream reservoirs to help dilute any ash and sediment flows from the Grizzly Creek Fire. Photo © Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Solution is dilution

Since preventing the dirty runoff from reaching the river would be difficult, if not impossible, in the steep, rocky terrain, the best bet, Chart said, would be tapping into upstream reservoir water to flush sediment and ash.

In other words: The solution to pollution is dilution.

The Roaring Fork River, which flows into the Colorado at Glenwood Springs, also would help dilute the ash and sediment before it got to the 15-mile reach. Some of it would probably settle out before it got there anyway. But that would do little to help native fish populations closer to the burn area. Although not listed as endangered, other species such as flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub also could be impacted.

“We get concerned about the endangered fish the most, but it’s really the entire native fish community we need to be paying attention to,” Chart said.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District has some water in Wolford and Ruedi reservoirs that could potentially be used for a flushing flow. But it would take careful coordination between reservoir operators. And it could be a complicated juggling act to figure out how to accommodate all the different demands for that limited water supply, said River District chief engineer John Currier.

“I think we stand ready to try and figure out how to do something,” Currier said. “It will be a topic of discussion sooner rather than later.”

Managing the impacts of the burned landscape on the fish will be ongoing long after the fire is extinguished.

“I think this is going to be an issue for years to come,” Chart said. “That landscape is going to take a long time to heal.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 26 edition of The Aspen Times and the Vail Daily.

Larimer County #NISP hearing recap

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Larimer County’s first public comment session for the Northern Integrated Supply Project’s 1041 permit application showcased heavy opposition to a reservoir plan that critics say would cause devastating impacts to the Poudre River.

About 100 people gave about 6 hours’ worth of testimony at the Monday hearing, which was the first of two hearings devoted solely to public comment on NISP’s 1041 proposal. Over 90% of the comments were in opposition to the permit.

Larimer County commissioners will accept more public comment Aug. 31, and NISP proponent Northern Water will have the chance to provide rebuttal to the comments at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permit Sept. 2, but that could be pushed back.

The 1041 permit covers only a part of the NISP project: the siting of Glade Reservoir, NISP’s main water storage component, and four water pipelines throughout the county…

NISP opponents, however, say they doubt the project will be able to deliver all that water. They also say the project’s heavy spring and summer diversions will constitute a death blow to an already strained river that loses over half of its water before it reaches Fort Collins. The project could divert between 25% and 71% of the Poudre’s stream flows, depending on the month and time of year, with most of the diversions taking place in the higher-flow months of April to August…

[David] Jones was one of many local scientists who spoke in opposition of NISP and offered pointed criticism of its wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan. The plan includes a “conveyance refinement” proposal that would run some of the diverted water through a portion of the river in Fort Collins with the goal of addressing dry-up points and improving streamflows…

[Barry Noon] also criticized the mitigation plan for not sufficiently accounting for climate change, which climatologists project will deteriorate Colorado river flows, shrink mountain snowpack and exacerbate droughts like the one currently gripping the state. The Poudre relies solely on mountain snowpack, and the Grey Mountain water right that accounts for about half of NISP’s water is a relatively junior water right that is less likely to be satisfied in drier years…

Noon and others emphasized that Northern Water won’t have to meet its river flow requirements through Fort Collins until “full buildout conditions when NISP participants are consistently taking their full NISP yield,” according to the mitigation plan. The plan does commit to conveying at least 36% of total NISP deliveries through Fort Collins before buildout…

If it does happen, CSU biology professor and ecologist LeRoy Poff fears the river will buckle under the impact of degraded springtime flows that he predicts will fossilize the river channel, dry out wetlands and degrade riparian habitat. He said he found in research conducted for the city of Fort Collins that even the flows promised after buildout wouldn’t be enough to sustain the river and would result in damaged natural areas…

Fort Collins resident Joe Rowan said there’s “ample evidence” that Northern Water’s permit application meets or exceeds the standards laid out in Larimer County’s 1041 permitting process. He added that NISP “has been subjected to the most arduous, comprehensive and objective analysis any of us have ever witnessed” over the past few decades…

Residents near proposed pipelines speak up

Also present at Monday’s hearing were over 20 county residents whose property would be impacted by the four pipelines involved in the permit. Lisa Pewe, who recently moved to a Larimer County Road 56 property with plans to open an equine-assisted therapy nonprofit there, said the Northern Tier pipeline would be “devastating to my business, my dream and my property’s value.”

A 60-foot easement would run across the western and southern borders of her property, negatively affecting about 40% of her 5-acre property, she said. She asked commissioners to reject that portion of the pipeline or require Northern Water to use existing rights-of-way and easements in the area…

Loss was a key theme among the speakers. So was a reverential, almost familial connection to the Poudre. Will Walters said the Poudre River valley is home to four generations of his family since his granddaughter, Georgie, was born last winter. He described the way her birth renewed in the family “a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world” — and underlined a desire to protect it.

There’s no more water to wring from the river, Walters said, because what remains after generations of diversions does “crucial ecological work.”

#Aspen, Pitkin County in ‘extreme #drought’ — The Aspen Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor August 18, 2020.

From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

The city of Aspen is now under stage 2 water restrictions due to extreme drought conditions.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to move from stage 1 restrictions to stage 2, acknowledging that as of Aug. 18, the U.S. Drought Monitor elevated Aspen and Pitkin County from severe drought to extreme drought conditions countywide…

The last time the city declared a stage 2 water shortage was in 2018.

“We haven’t received any sort of measurable rainfall in over a month and we’re already in stage 1,” he told council. “Current stream flows are around the lows that we had experienced in 2018 and forecasted precip and temperature projections are not looking favorable to ending this drought.”

Stage 2 necessitates a 15% to 20% reduction in water use citywide, along with some stricter rules that are mandatory rather than voluntary, which was part of stage 1 restrictions passed in July…

As such, watering of any lawn, garden, landscaped area, tree, shrub or other plant is prohibited from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Alternating odd-even water schedules for addresses ending in odd numbers and even numbers are now mandatory.

Swimming pools can’t be filled with city water, and washing sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, tennis courts, patios, or other paved areas are not allowed.

Also, privately owned cars, other motor vehicles, trailers or boats cannot be washed except from a bucket and from a hose equipped with a positive shutoff nozzle.

New public or private landscaping installations are not allowed, with the exception that they are required as a minimum for erosion control of disturbed surfaces as determined by the city.

Staff will enforce the restrictions first by education and then by fines, which range from $500 for the first offense to $1,500 for subsequent offenses, as well as a disconnection of water services by the city.

Temporary rate increases for large water users also will go into effect to encourage efficient use of the commodity.

Without a citywide reduction in normal water usage, agricultural and recreational activities and fish and wildlife habitat along the Maroon, Castle, Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers will be more negatively impacted, according to city officials.

The #YampaRiver is under Administration for the 2nd time in its history #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Irrigated pasture at Mantle Ranch along the Yampa River. Ranchers in the Yampa River basin are grappling with the enforcement of state regulations that require them to monitor their water use. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from the Colorado Division of Water Resources (Erin Light via Scott Hummer):

Right in step with the unprecedented year of 2020, the Yampa River is going on call for the second time in three years. And once again, the structures located at the bottom of the system do not have enough natural flow to meet their diversion demands.

We, the Division of Water Resources, are currently protecting reservoir water released from Elkhead Creek Reservoir for the protection of the endangered fish species. The amount of reservoir water currently being released for the Endangered Fish Recovery Program is 75 cfs. This in turn requires that there is 61 cfs at the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park gage station. The flow this morning is hovering around 50 cfs which means reservoir water is being diverted by water users upstream.

The entire Yampa River system is under administration for several reasons, the most obvious of which is that if the reservoir water was not in the system the structures at the bottom of the system would have no water and we would be instituting what one might consider a standard or more typical call that would encompass the entire Yampa River and its tributaries. Additionally, the water users on the mainstem of the Yampa River between Elkhead Creek and its confluence with the Green River should not have to bear the brunt of the entire Yampa River being short of water simply because their structure is located within the Critical Habitat Reach (the protected reach for the Endangered Fish).

Actions have already been put in place to institute the call and as of 12:00 PM today, the Yampa River and all of its tributaries are considered under administration. The Calling Priority right (or most junior water right that may divert at this time) is located at the Craig Station Power Plant with an administration number of 37149.00000 (this water right has an adjudication date 9/1/1960 and an appropriation date of 9/17/1951). This Calling Priority may change as the call progresses. In order to follow the call you may visit the following website:
https://dwr.state.co.us/Tools/AdministrativeCalls/Active?submitButton=Submit&SelectedWaterDivisionId=6

If you have a water right junior to the above listed priority and you are diverting water, please cease your diversions unless your diversion can operate under a decreed augmentation plan or substitute water supply plan approved by the State Engineer. Also, if you are the owner of a pond, you are required to bypass all out of priority inflows.

If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me or your water commissioner.

Erin Light, P.E.
Division Engineer, Water Division 6

Larimer County residents question environmental impact of #NISP during public hearing — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

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

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

Second round of comments scheduled for Aug. 31

Larimer County residents weighed in on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with the majority of dozens of speakers asking the county commissioners not to grant a 1041 permit for the $1.1 billion effort…

Members of the public mostly focused on the environmental impacts of the project, which would build two reservoirs capable of holding close to 216,000 acre feet of water on the dime of the 15 area water providers that could benefit, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.

John Shenot of the Fort Collins Audubon Society brought up the group’s work to have the local stretch of the Poudre recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, meaning it includes areas such as nesting grounds, migratory stopovers or other essential habitats for at least one species of bird.

He called Glade Reservoir, which would tap into the Poudre River near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, an “existential threat” to bird habitats…

Another speaker, Larimer County alfalfa farmer Ken McCullough, said his opinion on the project turned when he learned that some of the water to be stored in Glade would be purchased from farms.

He questioned whether the project would take needed irrigation water from area farmers…

While the project has purchased Poudre River water from farms, that water has been exchanged for South Platte water, so it is not “buy-and-dry.”

Although the majority of speakers opposed the project, at least one man, Joe Rowan, who described himself as a longtime Fort Collins resident spoke in favor, describing the opposition as “sanctimonious rancor” and “ill-advised hyperbole.”

He located NISP in more than a century of water transfer and storage projects on the Cache la Poudre watershed.

“There would be no discussion of preserving habitat and sensitive ecological systems were water storage projects not pursued by prior generations,” Rowan said.

He also pointed out that county staff have recommended approval of the permit, and said commissioners deciding based on the input of some rather than the requirements of the permitting process would be the same as intimidation.

“We simply can’t be expected to self-govern if the loudest and most vitriolic of our fellow residents are allowed to cower elected representatives into submission,” Rowan said.

Others said the project would benefit communities outside of Larimer County, while county residents would bear the majority of the adverse impacts, particularly from the construction of Glade Reservoir west of Fort Collins.

David Jones, a vegetation ecologist at Colorado State University who stated he has been following the NISP project for more than a decade, said the project was “not in the interest of the vast majority of Larimer County residents.”

[…]

The next public comment session is scheduled for Aug. 31, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision on Sept. 2.

Monsoon flops, #drought intensifies in #AZ — The White Mountain Independent #monsoon #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

North American Monsoon graphic via Hunter College.

From The White Mountain Independent (Peter Aleshire):

Bone dry.

Sweltering hot.

Welcome to Monsoon 2020.

Westwide SNOTEL April 3, 2020 via the NRCS.

Despite a near-normal winter, a hot, dry spring and a fizzled monsoon has cast Arizona back into drought and water shortages.

Although the Rocky Mountains got 105% of a normal winter snowfall, runoff into Lake Powell remains just 52% of normal…

Combined with declining reservoir levels and plunging water tables statewide, the return to a water crisis in the state underscores the enviable position of Payson with its supplemental C.C. Cragin water supply and White Mountain communities like Show Low, Pinetop and others with ample groundwater.

The bizarre lurch from a normal winter to a reservoir-draining drought has also validated climate model predictions suggesting the gradual warming of the planet will create a fitful, ongoing water crisis in the Southwest. Studies show it’s not enough to have a good winter if a hot, dry spring melts the snow quickly and increases evapotranspiration, sapping the spring runoff.

So far, this year ranks as the third-driest on record statewide. Most of the state so far ranks as “much below average” with some areas in the south setting records. Most of California is now in record-breaking territory as the drought returns with a vengeance. Wildfires are burning out of control, with thousands of homes threatened.

Routt County dips into Stagecoach Reservoir to boost #YampaRiver amid hot, dry conditions — Steamboat Pilot & Today #ColoradoRiver #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

From the Steamboat Pilot & Today (Derek Maiolo):

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has started releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir to boost flows into the city of Steamboat Springs’ waste water treatment plant.

The release of 350 acre-feet of water also has the aim of keeping water temperatures cooler to protect the health of the ecosystem and to meet local supply needs, according to a news release from the district. This comes as rivers across Colorado are experiencing varying degrees of drought…

The district also initiated its annual drawdown of Stagecoach Reservoir, during which managers will gradually release an additional 1,000 acre-feet of water through Sept. 30.

All of this means higher flows on the local river. As of Tuesday, the Yampa River was flowing at about 160 cubic feet per second at the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream gauge at the Fifth Street Bridge, up from 90 cfs on Aug. 11…

Thanks to a grant from the Yampa River Fund, the Colorado Water Trust will lease an additional 500 acre-feet of water from the Conservation District, which is intended to improve river health and enhance flows during the hot, dry weeks ahead, according to the news release. The Water Trust can purchase additional water if necessary, up to 4,000 acre-feet for the rest of the year…

This marks the seventh year in the past decade that the Water Trust leased water from Stagecoach River to maintain healthy flows and water temperatures. The organization uses forecast models and historical data to gauge how much water to release during any given year.

Yampa River Basin via Wikimedia.

State officials say #YampaRiver water users are complying with measuring requirement — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #WhiteRiver

Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, checks out a recently installed Parshall flume on an irrigation ditch. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

State regulators in the Yampa River basin say most water users are now willingly complying with an order to measure how much water they are taking — an order once greeted with suspicion and reluctance. But challenges to compliance remain, including the cost of installing equipment.

Last fall, the Colorado Division of Water Resources ordered nearly 500 water users in the Yampa River basin to install measuring devices to record their water use. Nearly a year later, most of those water users are embracing the requirement, according to water commissioner Scott Hummer.

“I am fully confident that over 90% of the people who have orders pending have either complied, are in the process of complying or have asked for an extension,” Hummer said. “So we are getting the cooperation and buy-in that we are requesting from our water users. They are understanding why we are doing it, at least in my area.”

Hummer is the water commissioner for Water District 58, which spans 400 square miles and includes all the water rights above Stagecoach Reservoir. He oversees between 350 and 400 diversion structures.

Measuring water use is the norm in other river basins, especially where demand outpaces supply. But the tightening of regulations is new to the Yampa River basin, and the order was initially met with resistance from some ranchers.

John Raftopoulos, whose family ranches along the Little Snake River, a tributary of the Yampa in Moffat County, said he thinks most irrigators are complying. His cattle ranch has about 15 measuring devices, and he has to install a few more to be completely compliant.

“I know (the state) has to use them. There’s no other way they can control the water; they’ve got to have the measuring device,” Raftopoulos said. “You just got to bite the bullet and install them.”

State law requires water users to maintain measuring devices on their canals and ditches, but this rule was not enforced in Division 6 — consisting of the Yampa, White, Green and North Platte river basins — because historically there was plenty of water to go around in the sparsely populated northwest corner of the state. Long seen as the last frontier of the free river, there has been little regulatory oversight from the state when it came to irrigators using as much water as they needed. But that changed in 2018 with the first-ever call on the river.

A call is prompted when streamflows are low and a senior water rights holder isn’t receiving their full amount. They ask the state to place a call, which means upstream junior water rights holders must stop or reduce diversions to ensure that the senior water right gets its full amount.

Although the order for a measuring device comes with a deadline and the threat of fines, Division 6 engineer Erin Light has been lenient with water users and willing to give them extra time to get into compliance. The process to request an extension is simple: A water user can simply email Light.

“If a water user is working with our office, we are not going to go shut their headgate off,” she said. “We are going to work with them.”

Light doesn’t have an exact count on how many water users have complied so far — water commissioners are working in the field this summer and haven’t had time to enter the most current information into the division’s database yet — but as of January, the Yampa had 49% compliance.

“I am not hearing anything (from water commissioners) about concerns of noncompliance. If there were problems, they would let me know,” Light said. “I have a fair amount of confidence that things are going well in all my areas as to compliance.”

This recently installed Parshall flume in the Yampa River basin replaced the old, rusty device in the background. Division 6 engineer Erin Light is granting extensions to water users who work with her office to meet a requirement for measuring devices. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Heather Sackett

Financial burden

Still, some worry that the cost of installing the devices — which in most cases are Parshall flumes — is too big a financial burden for some water users. The devices, which channel diverted water and measure the flow below the headgate, can cost thousands of dollars, which adds up for water users who need to install multiple devices.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District and the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable have teamed up in recent months to create a $200,000 grant program to help water users with infrastructure-improvement expenses. According to Holly Kirkpatrick, the communications manager for the conservancy district, water users so far have completed about $3,500 worth of work. That money will be reimbursed through the grant program.

“We expect to see a huge influx of applications as the season comes to an end,” she said.

In March, Light issued notices to water users in the other Division 6 river basins — White and Green — but decided to delay sending orders after talking with some who had concerns over the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a June letter to Light, signed by four water conservancy districts — White River, Rio Blanco, Yellow Jacket and Douglas Creek — representatives said they would be interested in seeking opportunities for financial assistance for their water users. Under the best-case scenario, it would take until spring to secure grant money and begin installing devices, the letter said.

“This year is a tough year to try and ask people to do anything above and beyond what they already have to do,” said Callie Hendrickson, executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts. “I know (Light is) willing to give extensions, but right now, our folks don’t need that additional financial or emotional stress.”

Scott Hummer, water commissioner for District 58 in the Yampa River basin, points out how snowmelt flows from high elevation down to the valley where the water is used for irrigation. Hummer said most water users in the Yampa are complying with a state order issued nearly a year ago that requires measuring devices. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Colorado River Compact influence

Some water users have questioned why, after years of not enforcing requirements for measuring devices in Division 6, the state is now doing so. One answer is that more and better data about water use is becoming increasingly necessary as drought and climate change reduce streamflows, create water shortages and threaten Colorado’s ability to meet its Colorado River Compact obligations.

Division 6 has traditionally enjoyed abundant water and few demands, but as state regulators saw with the 2018 call, that dynamic is no longer guaranteed every year. As the threat of a compact call and the possibility of a state demand-management program grow, state officials say the need to measure water use grows, too.

A major unknown is what would happen in the event of a compact call. A compact call could occur if the upper-basin states — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico — were not able to deliver the 75 million acre-feet of water over 10 years to the lower basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — as required by the 1922 compact. Colorado water managers desperately want to avoid this scenario, in part because it could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users.

State engineer Kevin Rein said that without knowing how much water is being used, it’s a blind guess as to which junior water users would have to cut back.

“We could see the (cubic feet per second) amount that the water right is decreed for, but we don’t know how much is really being diverted and we don’t know how much is really being consumed, so we don’t know what effect it’s going to have on meeting our compact obligations,” Rein told Aspen Journalism last week.

It’s a similar scenario with a potential demand-management program. At the heart of such a program is a reduction in water use in an attempt to send as much as 500,000 additional acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to help the upper basin meet its compact obligations. Agricultural water users could get paid to take part in the temporary, voluntary program to fallow fields and leave more water in the river.

But before they could participate in a demand-management program, the state needs to know how much water that an irrigator has been using.

“The first thing we need is diversion records,” Rein said. “If there’s no measuring device, no record of diversions and somebody wants to participate, they are simply not going to have the data to demonstrate their consumptive use.”

Since nearly everyone is making progress, Hummer said he doubts that enforcement will reach a point where he has to fine someone for not measuring their water use. Still, the transition is a tough one for an area not accustomed to state government oversight of their ditches.

“We are just dealing with difficult circumstances within the whole Colorado River basin system that dictates change, and folks don’t like change, especially in rural areas,” Hummer said. “But it’s here and it’s not going away. The demand for measurement will become more stringent in the future, not less.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, along with other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 15 edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Aug. 17 edition of The Aspen Times.

Larimer County kicks off public hearing on #NISP — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

All three Larimer County commissioners began listening to an application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly declining to step away from the upcoming decision.

“I have no doubts I can consider that application on its merits and weigh it against the land use code,” said Johnson at the start of the public hearing Monday night.

Three organized groups opposed to the project and its associated Glade Reservoir — Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCO — had asked Johnson and Donnelly, the two Republicans on the board, to step back from the decision.

They claimed that the two commissioners, both in their 12th year of service, have shown “decade-long support and endorsement of the project” and have had outside contact with Northern Water, which has applied for a 1041 permit for its reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers.

Johnson and Donnelly both stressed they would make an impartial decision on the application during this public hearing, which is scheduled to run across four days, and denied any bias…

Right now, the county is considering its 1041 permit, which allows the county to have input and impose conditions on the reservoir construction and pipeline facilities. County planning staff members recommended approval as did the Planning Commission, by a split vote, and the county commissioners have the final say…

The three-member elected board heard from the planning staff and Northern Water on Monday night during a 3½-hour hearing. Next, they will hold both afternoon and evening sessions to take public comment on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 before deliberating and making a decision Sept. 2.

To approve the permit, the commissioners must believe that the project meets 12 criteria that are listed in the land use code, including whether:

  • It would negatively impact health and safety.
  • It mitigates construction impacts.
  • It doesn’t adversely affect the environment and natural and cultural resources without adequate mitigations.
  • Alternatives were considered.
  • In evaluating the 1,600-page application, the county staff looked at issues ranging from traffic associated with construction and future recreation to water-quality and air-quality impacts to a plan for recreation on the land surrounding Glade. They dug into everything from truck traffic trips to dust levels to the costs of recreation, as well as the acres of habitat and wetland mitigations compared with the amount lost.

    The staff recommended approval with requirements that include noise, water- and air-quality monitoring and mitigation during construction.

    The three commissioners listened to staff members and representatives of Northern Water during the first segment of the hearing, asking about negotiating easements on private property, associated road work, flow levels in the Poudre River and more.

    All three said they will carefully consider all the input from both Northern Water and residents, who will be allowed to speak at hearings on the next two Mondays. Residents who want to speak during the upcoming sessions must sign up by 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to bump to 1,000 CFS August 14, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir above.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a continued dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 1,000 cfs on Friday, August 14th, starting at 5:00 PM. 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 flows in the critical habitat reach 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. This target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

    Aspinall Unit operations update: Baseflow target adjusted to 900 CFS, August 13, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Blue Mesa Reservoir, Curecanti National Recreation Area. Photo credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via Wikimedian Commons

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1600 cfs to 1650 cfs on Thursday, August 13th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

    There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

    Notice of Stakeholder Meeting on ISF Rules Revisions to Implement HB20-1157 — @CWCB_DNR

    From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

    The CWCB staff has drafted proposed revisions to the Rules Concerning Colorado’s Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”). The revisions to the ISF Rules will: (1) address the rulemaking requirements of HB20-1157; (2) update a reference to the CWCB’s website; and (3) update references to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    Staff will hold its second informal stakeholder meeting on Tuesday, August 18, 2020 from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. to discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions, which are posted on the CWCB website . Staff intends to post a second draft of ISF Rules revisions by the end of this week, and invites interested parties to submit written comments on the draft ISF Rules revisions by emailing them to linda.bassi@state.co.us. Note that any comments received will be posted on the CWCB website . At the meeting, CWCB staff and attendees will discuss the draft ISF Rules revisions, comments received, and comments expressed at the meeting. If you have questions, contact Linda Bassi at linda.bassi@state.co.us or (303) 866-3441, ext. 3204.

    This meeting is a pre-Colorado Water Congress Conference Workshop for which no registration is required. The Colorado Water Congress Conference kicks off on Tuesday, August 25th at 12:00 p.m.

    Meeting Details:

    Tuesday, August 18, 2020 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM (MDT)

    Click on the following link: https://zoom.us/j/96023989153. Or dial in: 669-900-6833; Webinar ID: 960-2398-9153.

    The Roaring Fork River just above Carbondale, and Mt. Sopris, on May 3, 2020. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Navajo Dam operations update: 900 CFS in the #SanJuanRiver below the dam, August 12, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 800 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 900 cfs on Wednesday, August 12th, starting at 5:00 PM. 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.

    The Navajo Dam on the San Juan River.Photo credit Mike Robinson via the University of Washington.

    Navajo Dam operations update: Releases to be increased to 800 CFS on August 11, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

    In response to decreasing flows and a dry forecast weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs on Tuesday, August 11th, 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.

    Upper #ColoradoRiver will not be ‘Wild and Scenic,’ but conservationists still satisfied with new plan — The Vail Daily #COriver #aridification

    A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved an alternative management plan that acts as a workaround to a federal Wild & Scenic designation. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

    The Catamount gauge on the Colorado River is a result of a big collaboration, and for now, it has gone a long way in quelling the concern of conservationists in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group.

    Couple that with a few good-faith efforts from Front Range diverters to get more water into the river, and most everyone seems to be convinced that collaboration has been a lot better than the courtroom in this case.

    The stakeholder group was formed in 2008, and its mission was overt — convince the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service not to write a report stating that the Upper Colorado River is suitable for a Wild and Scenic Designation from the federal government…

    But while it takes an act of Congress to welcome a new river into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a report from the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service saying a river is suitable for wild and scenic designation can trigger a change in management for the river…

    [Rob] Buirgy said the Colorado Water Conservation Board supported the stakeholder group using the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund for scientific studies, recreational surveys, and stakeholder group coordination and facilitation. The stakeholder group also recommended that the board appropriate three in-stream flow water rights to preserve the natural environment on the river from the confluence with the Blue River to the area just above the confluence with the Eagle River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board appropriated and the water court decreed those water rights in 2013.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife is expected to help install biological metric tracking tools along the river in the coming months, and a few years ago a new USGS temperature and flow monitoring gauge was installed at the Catamount Boat Launch, near Bombardier’s house, which will measure temperature and serve as a resource guide.

    While resource guides do not mandate management action based on their readings, good-faith management efforts have been undertaken based on the Catamount gauge’s readings during the collaborative process. Bombardier says the readings have been crucial for that stretch of the river, which is prone to warm temperatures…

    [Ken] Neubecker said after spending more than a decade working toward Wild and Scenic designation on the Upper Colorado River, he feels the collaborative group’s plan represents the best effort conservationists could have expended toward maintaining the Upper Colorado River’s “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs.

    “It got all of the people who would have been opposed to actual designation to sit down at the table and work out a plan that — if everybody plays along — will have the best shot we’ve got at protecting those ORVs,” Neubecker said.

    The agreement was formerly accepted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in July. Participating groups include: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Aurora Water, Blue Valley Ranch, Colorado River Outfitters Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Whitewater, Confluence Casting, Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, Eagle County, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Summit County, Upper Colorado Commercial Boaters Association, Upper Colorado River Private Boaters Association, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc., and Yust Ranch.

    #SanJuanRiver report: Streamflow = 40.6 CFS, median for day = 137 CFS #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (Chris Mannara):

    River report

    As of Wednesday, the San Juan River had a reported flow of 43.5 cfs. This is below the average for Aug. 5 of 214 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The highest flow for Aug, 5 came in 1999 when the San Juan River had a flow of 1,050 cfs. The lowest came in 2002 when the San Juan had a flow of 18.2 cfs.

    Fort Collins City Council votes to oppose #NISP, changing previous stance — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Fort Collins City Council voted [August 4, 2020] to oppose the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a departure from the city’s previous neutral stance on the controversial plan to siphon Poudre River water into two new reservoirs.

    Council members also endorsed city staff comments expressing reservations with Northern Water’s proposed Poudre intake pipeline upstream of the Mulberry Water Reclamation Facility. They adopted their position in a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, with council member Ken Summers voting “no” and Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens absent.

    The vote was the current council’s first opportunity to take a position on NISP. The city’s position on the project has vacillated over the years, wavering between opposition and a more neutral “can’t support” position. Council included in its opposition statement a note directing staff to continue working with Northern Water to address the city’s concerns about NISP and develop “a sustainable, long-term approach” to avoid, manage and mitigate the project’s impacts.

    Council’s job on Tuesday was to decide whether to endorse staff’s comments on the pipeline, which were submitted to Larimer County, and choose between four stances on NISP ranging from the most neutral “can’t support this variant of NISP” to the most outspoken “oppose (this version of NISP) and oppose the use of city natural areas.” They chose the latter.

    Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

    At issue Tuesday was whether the city could take that stance on the project while maintaining a foothold in negotiations with Northern Water, the organizer of the plan to supply water to 15 small-but-growing Colorado municipalities and water districts. While the city itself isn’t among the participants, which include Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (covering the city’s southern reaches) and Windsor, the project would degrade springtime river flows through Fort Collins and the Poudre intake pipeline would affect several city natural areas…

    The intake pipeline is part of a concession Northern Water made to lessen NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins: Rather than drawing all the water off the river upstream of Fort Collins, Northern Water plans to run some of it through a 12-mile stretch of the river roughly between the Poudre Canyon mouth and Mulberry Street from fall to early spring.

    The “conveyance refinement” plan would run 18-25 cubic feet per second’s worth of water through the river, increasing the volume of water to eliminate some dry spots, lower the river’s temperature and reduce harm to fish [living] in the river. The intake pipeline near the reclamation plant is where Northern Water plans to take the water back out of the river…

    The influx of water will make “a very significant difference for fish” and offers clear environmental benefits for the river’s base flows, city watershed planner Jennifer Shanahan told council. But the structures involved with the intake pipeline will have temporary and permanent impacts to the Homestead, Kingfisher Point, Riverbend Ponds and Williams natural areas. Construction will have temporary impacts on traffic and visitors to those areas, including trail and parking lot closures, and more lasting impacts, including possible damage to sensitive wetlands, soil, wildlife and native vegetation and the sale of some land at Kingfisher Point Natural Area.

    The city submitted its comments on the pipeline to Larimer County as part of the 1041 permitting process. Staff recommended that Northern Water work with the city to refine the pipeline plan in several ways, such as shrinking the pump station and settling ponds proposed at Kingfisher Point, moving the pipeline further from the river at Kingfisher Point and creating a more ecologically sound river diversion at Homestead Natural Area…

    Council members agreed with the staff comments, but several of them offered broader criticism of NISP. Northern Water has been working for years on a broad plan to mitigate NISP’s impacts to the river, wildlife and riparian habitat, but environmental advocates say no mitigation plan can undo the irreparable damage of diverting so much water from a river that is already stretched thin. Fort Collins gets about half of its own water supply from the Poudre…

    Mayor Wade Troxell, who has the longest tenure on City Council, said he’s watched the city make progress in negotiations with Northern Water over the last 13 years. He discouraged his fellow council members from making “sweeping opposition statements that don’t get us where we need to go.”

    […]

    NISP is approaching a county decision on the 1041 permit that would allow construction of Glade Reservoir and four pipelines associated with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its record of decision on the project as a whole this year, and if the project is approved, construction could begin as soon as 2023.

    Hard-to-predict water year leaves Ruedi Reservoir levels low — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Sailboats dock at the Aspen Yacht Club marina in 2018. Levels in Ruedi Reservoir are projected to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet around Sept. 1, which could reduce access to the club’s boat ramp. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Ruedi Reservoir is feeling the effects of an unusual water year, with less water for endangered fish and with low reservoir levels predicted for late summer and fall.

    “This year was a strange year,” Tim Miller, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist who manages operations at Ruedi, said at an annual public meeting about reservoir operations held virtually Wednesday. “For most of the year, it seemed like we were doing well, we thought we would get a fill on the reservoir. However, things really turned around in late spring and early summer.”

    At the meeting convened by the Bureau of Reclamation, Miller said the reservoir, which holds just over 102,000 acre-feet of water, topped out at 96,750 acre-feet this year — about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling. That means there is 5,000 acre-feet less water available this season to boost flows downstream for endangered fish in what’s known as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

    As reservoir levels continue to drop over the next month, Aspen Yacht Club members may not be able to access the boat ramp over Labor Day weekend. By Sept. 1, reservoir levels are predicted to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet and the surface to be at an elevation of 7,747 feet, which is 19 feet lower than when it’s full.

    “After Sept. 1, it’s going to be dicey,” Miller said of accessing the private marina’s boat ramp. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp will still be accessible at those levels, he said.

    Bruce Gabow of the Aspen Yacht Club said that when water levels are 13 feet below full, the club’s docks become grounded and inoperable. He said that most years, boats are taken out of the reservoir by mid-September, but with water levels dropping sooner this year, many will need to go before the end of August.

    “Everyone has kind of been expecting it, but they will be bummed out,” he said of the club’s members.

    Ruedi Reservoir is currently 92% full, at 94,065 acre-feet. It topped out on July 17 at 96,914 acre-feet. In 2018, the reservoir also didn’t fill, topping out at 92,650 acre-feet, according to Miller.

    Each spring, Miller must decide how much water to release from Ruedi and when to release it to make room for inflow from snowmelt. Those decisions are based on streamflow forecasts from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation’s statistical forecasts.

    This year’s unusual conditions made for tricky forecasting, leading some to question whether more and better data collection is needed, instead of relying primarily on snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, data. These automated remote sensors collect weather and snowpack information in remote watersheds, but they provide only a snapshot of a specific location. Each of the three forecasting agencies over-predicted Ruedi inflow for the months of April, May and June.

    Usually, the amount of runoff closely mirrors snowpack. And with snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin slightly above normal, as measured by SNOTEL sites, it seemed that is where runoff would also end up. But parched soils from a dry fall sucked up some of the moisture before it made its way to streams and eventually the reservoir. Miller also suspects that a high rate of sublimation — where snow goes from a frozen state to vapor, skipping the liquid phase — may have also played a role.

    “To do our statistical forecast, it’s 90% snowpack only,” Miller said. “We had some different variables this year.”

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    By the end of May, Miller realized inflow projections were too high and began scaling back releases. Ruedi also did not participate in Coordinated Reservoir Operations this year. In the annual CROS, which began around May 29, water managers from across the state aimed to enhance peak spring runoff by releasing water from reservoirs at the same time. The peak flows have ecological benefits, especially for fish in the 15-mile reach.

    “It was pretty much a last-minute declaration we couldn’t do CROS,” Miller said.

    This photo from August 2018 shows low water levels at the Aspen Yacht Club docks at Ruedi Reservoir. The reservoir missed filling by 5,000 acre-feet in 2020 because of low runoff. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Better data?

    April Long, executive director of Ruedi Water & Power Authority, suggested that water managers should explore other ways of collecting data in addition to SNOTEL information to improve forecast accuracy. The city of Aspen and Denver Water have experimented with LiDAR technology — which analyzes the reflection of laser light to create detailed three-dimensional maps — to track the depth of mountain snowpack, providing a more complete picture of the water contained in that snowpack.

    “With this year of unexpected results from our snowpack and the way it melted off, I have concern that with climate change and climate variability, we are going to see more uncertainty,” Long said in a follow-up interview with Aspen Journalism. “I wonder how much benefit we could gain if we knew a little more.”

    Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the date Ruedi storage peaked in 2020.

    Aspen Journalism is a local, investigative, nonprofit news organization that collaborates on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 7 edition of The Aspen Times.

    The #GoldKingMine spill 5 years on

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    For a few days in August 2015, invisible mining pollutants could be seen by the world

    Five years ago today, a breach at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton sent a deluge of water loaded with heavy metals into the Animas River, turning the waterway an electric-orange hue that caught the nation’s attention.

    But five years later, and four years into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup program, there has yet to be meaningful improvements to water quality and aquatic life.

    Dan Wall, with the EPA’s Superfund program, said most of the focus since the Bonita Peaking Mining District Superfund site was declared in fall 2016 has been on studying the watershed and the multitude of mines impacting water quality.

    The EPA is still in that effort, Wall said, and there’s no time frame for when the agency will present its final work plan for a comprehensive cleanup in the Animas River basin.

    The EPA has spent more than $75 million on the site to date.

    “It may be slower than what people want,” Wall said. “But we want to make sure our remedy selection is based on science … so the money won’t be wasted and we can be confident to see improvements based on the work we take.”

    […]

    The stretch of the Animas River between Silverton and Bakers Bridge, about 15 miles north of Durango, is virtually devoid of aquatic life. Fish populations in the river through Durango are unable to reproduce, in part because of heavy metal contamination. And, years ago, the city of Durango switched its main source of water to the Florida River because of quality issues in the Animas.

    The Animas River Stakeholders Group formed in 1994 and brought together a coalition of local, state and federal agencies, as well as mining companies and interested people, who sought to improve the health of the river amid heavy metal loading from legacy mines.

    Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Despite the many Stakeholders Group successes, water quality in the Animas River in recent years has diminished, mainly from the mines leaching into one of the river’s tributaries, Cement Creek.

    In 2014, the EPA decided pollution had gotten so bad that it stepped in with a $1.5 million cleanup project of its own…

    Despite millions of dollars in claims, no one was reimbursed for their losses after the EPA claimed governmental immunity. A lawsuit still lingers in the federal courts from those seeking to recoup costs.

    But ultimately, the Animas River did not appear to be too adversely impacted – the spill did not cause a die-off of fish, and long-term studies have shown little to no effect on aquatic life or the waterway…

    The “Bonita Peak Mining District” superfund site. Map via the Environmental Protection Agency

    What the spill did accomplish was to highlight the legacy of mines chronically contaminating the Animas River: The amount of metals released from the Gold King Mine spill is equal to that released every 300 days from all the mines around Silverton.

    After years of the possibility of the EPA’s Superfund program stepping in, it became official in fall 2016, with the agency singling out 48 mining-related sites set for some degree of cleanup…

    Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

    Immediately after the Gold King Mine spill, the EPA built a $1.5 million temporary water treatment plant that takes in discharges from the mine and removes metals, which costs about $2.4 million to $3.3 million a year to operate.

    But other than some minor projects around the basin, the EPA has focused on studies to better understand the complex mining district, and evaluate what long-term options would be best for cleanup.

    The EPA is set, remedial project manager Robert Parker said, to make stronger headway on a quick action plan to address about 23 mining sites over the next few years while longer-term solutions are being examined.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter