Pair of lawsuits challenges need for more #ColoradoRiver water — @AspenJournalism #COriver

The spillway and dam at the Windy Gap Reservoir on the headwaters of the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.

The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.

But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.

“Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”

Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.

“There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”

But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.

“As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Decoupled demand

The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.

Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.

But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.

“We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”

While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.

Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.

The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An aerial view of Windy Gap Reservoir, near Granby. The reservoir is on the main stem of the Colorado River, below where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado. Water from Windy Gap is pumped up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then sent to the northern Front Range through the Adams Tunnel.

The projects

Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.

Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.

The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.

With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.

Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.

The upper South Platte River, above the confluence with the North Fork of the South Platte. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The fork not taken

The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.

The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.

Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.

Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.

“We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”

In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.

Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.

“In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”

Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.

When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.

Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.

And environmental groups working on the project agree.

“There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”

Gross Reservoir in the mountains to the southwest of Boulder. Denver Water hopes to increase the height of the dam 131 feet, to a new height of 471 feet, to store three times as much water, which it says will help it meet increasing demands and to better weather severe droughts.

The lawsuits

While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.

Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.

“The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”

Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.

Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.

And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.

“The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”

Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.

To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.

The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.

The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.

The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.

“If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”

Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.

Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.

To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.

“The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”

The pipeline, at the base of the Winter Park ski area, that moves water as part of the existing Moffat Collection System Project. The portal of the railroad tunnel is behind the pipeline, in this view. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Looking forward

Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.

Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.

Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.

Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.

“We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”

While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.

“If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.

@COWaterTrust, Grand Valley Irrigators, and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District ink water deal for fish and hydroelectric generation #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District in Palisade. (Photo by Osha Gray Davidson)

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A deal announced Tuesday will help both endangered fish in the Colorado River and the aging Grand Valley Power Plant hydroelectric facility near Palisade.

The Colorado Water Trust has reached a five-year deal with the Grand Valley Waters Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the operators of the facility. Under the deal, water the nonprofit Colorado Water Trust will secure from upstream sources may be delivered to the nearly century-old plant during critical times of year, helping provide adequate water levels for fish in an important 15-mile stretch of the river just downstream of the plant.

Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, said a major goal is to deliver more water to the fish in the spring to help counter a drop in river flows that results when irrigation diversions have begun but runoff from mountain snowpack is still minimal. He said that phenomenon has come to be known as the “April hole,” although it has actually begun to happen earlier in the year. Warming temperatures have accelerated the start of irrigation and runoff seasons in Colorado.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

The agreement is designed to help humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow and other native endangered fish in the river. It also will benefit the plant and its operators by enabling the plant to run at a higher capacity when it doesn’t get enough water from other sources, including its own water rights, to maximize power production.

That should mean more revenue for the plant’s operators. In addition, the Colorado Water Trust has committed to contribute $425,000 to a $5.4 million rehabilitation project at the plant, which is nearly a century old. A Walton Family Foundation grant is making that contribution possible.

Schultheiss said the trust benefits by getting the ability to deliver water from upstream to the fish, without the possibility of the water being diverted by other users before it gets there. He said what has frustrated conservationists trying to get more water to what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach is that it can’t be protected from other upstream users unless there’s a purpose for it.

“It just so happens this plant is just upstream of the 15 Mile Reach so it’s perfectly located,” he said.

He said the trust will likely contract for water from an upstream reservoir for the project.

The upgrade work at the plant also will help protect the plant’s senior water rights, which benefit the fish. Those rights let the plant pull water from the Colorado River headwaters to the 15-Mile Reach without that water being available to holders of more junior upstream water rights.

“Working in partnership with the Colorado Water Trust to rehabilitate the Grand Valley Power Plant and more effectively utilize the capacity in the system is a win-win proposition,” Max Schmidt of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District said in a news release.

Mark Harris of the Grand Valley Water Users Association said in the release, “In times of increased pressure on water supplies throughout the state, projects like this that further the interests of multiple sectors are sorely needed.”

In the release, Tom Chart, director of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, which is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, applauded those involved for “crafting this one-of-a-kind agreement.”

Restoring the #ColoradoRiver: Bringing New Life to a Stressed River — Yale 360 #COriver #aridification

Colorado River Delta

From Yale 360 (Jim Robbins). Here’s an excerpt click through for the photos and to read the whole article:

The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Fifth in a series.

From the air, the last gasp of the Colorado River is sudden and dramatic. The pale green river flows smack into the Morelos Dam on the U.S.-Mexico border, and virtually all of it is immediately diverted into a large irrigation canal that waters a mosaic of hundreds of fields — alfalfa, asparagus, lettuce, and other vegetables, their vivid green color clashing against the sere desert. The slender thread of water that remains in the Colorado’s channel continues to flow south, but is soon swallowed up by a sea of sand, far short of its delta, which lies 100 miles farther on.

The Colorado River once surged through the delta during high flows, carrying so much water at times that shallow draft steamboats chugged hundreds of miles up the river into the U.S. with loads of freight. The water in the delta nourished a vast fertile landscape, a fitting end to a river known as the Nile of North America.

“The river was everywhere and nowhere,” the naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote during a 1922 canoe trip to the delta, describing the waterway as it ebbed, flowed, braided, and stalled into pools, nourishing a rich and diverse ecosystem of “a hundred green lagoons,” a “milk and honey wilderness” with thick stands of cottonwoods and willows that provided habitat for hundreds of species of birds. The delta’s marshes, mudflats, and white sand beaches were home to clapper rails, bitterns, mallards, teal, and clouds of egrets.

Bobcats, puma, deer, and wild boar wandered the delta’s forests. Leopold was searching for the jaguar that roamed there, but didn’t see any…

Morelos Dam. Photo credit American Rivers.

As a natural river, before it was dammed, the Colorado was a massive, dynamic waterway. It flowed from elevations above 14,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, then dropped to sea level, which meant that it moved at high water with tremendous force, liquid sandpaper carving out red rock canyons. It flooded the desert plains, carving new channels and braids with every inundation. When it receded, it left behind a mosaic of fecund marshes, wetlands, and ponds.

In its natural state, the Colorado had more extreme flows than any river in the U.S., ranging from lows of 2,500 cubic feet per second in the winter to 100,000 cubic feet per second in the summer. In 1884, an all-time historical peak flow reached 384,000 cubic feet per second in Arizona.

But extreme flows are too capricious to support a civilization, so over the past century or so humans have built a network of expensive dams and reservoirs, pipelines, canals, flumes, and aqueducts to tame and divert the flow. Yet these projects also strangled the life out of a once-thriving ecosystem. By design, the river will never again function as a free-flowing stream.

Now, however, experts and environmentalists are rethinking this technological marvel of a river, and looking at ways a natural Colorado can flourish — to some degree, and in some places — with the permission of the engineers. One of those places is in the delta.

The water that flowed in the once-lush delta has been replaced by sand, and the cottonwoods and willows have surrendered their turf to widespread invasive salt cedar and arrowweed. Without the river and its load of nutrients, marine productivity in the Gulf of California — where the Colorado River once ended — has fallen by up to 95 percent. But despite the dismal forecast for the future of water on the Colorado, some conservationists are hoping to return at least a portion of the delta to its former glory.

Point 24 in the Colorado River Delta, September 12, 2016. Photo credit The Nature Conservancy.

“We are trying to restore a network of sites that creates a functional ecosystem,” said Francisco Zamora, who manages the project for the Sonoran Institute. “We’ve acquired water rights, but use them for habitat instead of cotton or wheat.”

The delta is one of a disconnected series of restoration projects that government agencies, local groups, and environmental organizations are undertaking along the Colorado. Numerous efforts are focused on tributaries to the main stem of the river, seeking to enhance resiliency by increasing the flow of water and protecting and restoring riparian habitat for fish and other wildlife.

For example, a coalition of groups — including state agencies, nonprofits, and the Arizona cities of Buckeye and Agua Fria — have been removing invasive salt cedar, planting native species, and building levees to reclaim a 17-mile stretch of the Gila River. Invasive salt cedars are a region-wide problem on the lower Colorado, with a single tree sucking up 300 gallons a day. The invasive forest on this stretch of the river uses enough water to serve 200,000 households.

In the upper basin, meanwhile, a number of groups and local landowners are working to restore a 15-mile-long floodplain with globally significant biodiversity on a narrow section of the Yampa River, another Colorado tributary. Called Morgan Bottom, the section has been damaged by deforestation and poor agricultural practices, threatening bald eagles and greater sand hill cranes, as well as a rare riparian forest of narrowleaf cottonwood and red osier dogwood.

But there are limits to how natural the Colorado River can become, especially along the river’s main stem. “We should not kid ourselves that we are making it natural again,” said John Fleck, the director of the University of New Mexico’s water resources program and the author of a book about the restoration of the Colorado. “We are creating an intensively managed system to mimic some nature because we value it.”

Because of the Colorado’s extensive infrastructure, serious disruption of the river’s ecology is inevitable.

Indeed, some of the remaining naturalness on the Colorado is, paradoxically, because of the human-made system. “The geography of the Colorado gives it hope because L.A. and southern California, which everybody loves to hate, guarantee that a lot of water stays in the system through the Grand Canyon,” says Jack Schmidt, a professor at Utah State University and a member of the Colorado River Research Group. “The best friend endangered fish ever had in the Colorado River Basin is that giant sucking sound” of California withdrawing water.

Widespread protection efforts are focused on native fish in the Colorado. The river once was home to an unusual number of endemic fish. But dams, irrigation, and the introduction of bullhead, carp, and catfish did them in. While the upper basin still has 14 native fish species, the lower basin, according to one study, “has the dubious distinction of being among the few major rivers of the world with an entirely introduced fish fauna.”

The Colorado pike minnow — something of a misnomer for a fish that historically grew to 6 feet in length and weighed up to 80 pounds — once swam through the entire system from Wyoming to Mexico. It is now listed as endangered, with two distinct populations remaining in the upper Colorado and the Green River.

The humpback chub lived in various canyon sections, and though once seriously endangered, it has fared better in recent years through transplantation efforts, growing from 2,000 to 3,000 fish to 11,000. Officials say it may soon be taken off the endangered list.

Beginnings. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Razorback suckers, once common, are now rare. The bonytail, a type of chub that is one of North America’s most endangered fish, no longer exists in the wild. A handful of these fish exist in hatcheries, and attempts are underway to restock them in the river throughout the basin.

Because of the Colorado’s extensive infrastructure, serious disruption of the river’s ecology is inevitable. Dams trap most of the river’s sediment in reservoirs, which means there is no material to rebuild beaches, sandbars, and important fish habitat downstream.

Dams also deprive the river downstream of nutrients, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, and stratify water temperatures. The native fish in the Colorado adapted to a wide range of temperatures, from cold to very warm. They also evolved to tolerate high flood flows along with extremely dry periods. Now, the water is cold in the summer for miles below the dams, and the humpback chub and other fish that had adapted to a range of water temperatures and flows suffer.

Something called hydro-peaking also has had serious impacts on the food web. Dams generate power according to demand. As people come home from work and switch on the stove, air conditioning, and lights, demand soars and dams release more water to produce power. “Prior to the construction of dams, there were almost no major daily changes in river levels,” said David Lytle, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University. When fluctuations in water levels occur, they “can interrupt the egg-laying practices of some species. It’s a serious problem.”

Insects lay their eggs just below the water level, and if levels drop rapidly it can dry them out. A recent study found that below the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams, there was a complete absence of stoneflies, mayflies, and other species — insects that are vital food for fish, bats, birds, and other creatures.

Because of the ecological effects of the Glen Canyon Dam, the Grand Canyon stretch of the Colorado is one of the least productive sections of river in the world. The Colorado here will always be highly unnatural, a novel, human-created ecosystem with some natural elements.

Today, there is a large and growing backlash against dams in America and elsewhere as the immense damages they have inflicted on rivers become manifest. Few dams, though, are as reviled as the Glen Canyon, which was built in 1963 and took 17 years to fill Lake Powell.

Before the Glen Canyon was dammed, those who saw it say it was not unlike the Grand Canyon, with towering walls of red, tan, and ochre. Early Native American sites were plentiful. Environmental activist Edward Abbey decried the dam, and in his novel the Monkey Wrench Gang fantasized about using houseboats packed with explosives to blow it up. In 1981, members of Earth First!, a radical environmental group with a connection to Abbey, rolled a black plastic “crack” down the face of the dam to symbolize its demise.

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

Removing the dam was part of the reason the Glen Canyon Institute was formed, but activists have now dropped that idea, says Rich Ingebretsen, a Salt Lake City physician who founded the group. Today, he advocates draining Lake Powell to fill Lake Mead, which is downstream and where the need for water is by far the greatest. The “Fill Mead First” campaign would restore a free-running Colorado River to what was once Lake Powell.

“You’d get much of Glen Canyon back,” said Ingebretsen. “A free-flowing river through the Grand Canyon means you’d restore the river — riparian zones, animals that belong there, a beautiful canyon with arches and bridges and waterfalls. Much of that would come back very quickly.” There would also be increased water in the river, he says, because so much of the Colorado is now lost from Lake Powell; scientists estimate that the lake loses three times Nevada’s allotment of water because of evaporation. As levels in Lake Mead drop due to prolonged drought, a growing number of people are taking this idea more seriously.

Paradoxically, two of the Colorado River’s most important wetlands for wildlife are the product of runoff from irrigated farm fields — and are now at risk from a changing climate and agreements to reduce water use.

In the Sonoran Desert of northwestern Mexico, the 40,000-acre La Cienega de Santa Clara wetland was inadvertently created in the 1970s when U.S. officials built a canal to dispose of salty wastewater from agricultural fields in Arizona. As the water began spilling into the desert, myriad forms of life began to appear. Now its cattail-studded marshes and mudflats are considered one of the most important wetlands in North America, home to 280 species of birds — including the endangered Ridgeways rail — on what was once hard-baked desert.

Meanwhile, in California, the Salton Sea was once a shallow inland lake whose levels routinely fluctuated. In 1905, an effort to increase Colorado River flow into the Imperial Valley led farmers to allow too much river water into their irrigation canal, overwhelming their system; for two years the water poured into the 35-mile-long, 15-mile-wide Salton Sea and expanded it.

But as less water becomes available to agriculture and rising temperatures cause more water to evaporate, scientists are concerned that these wetlands will dry and shrink faster than they already have. A 2003 agreement, for example, allows agricultural water in the Imperial Valley to be sent to San Diego for municipal uses. That could cause water levels in the Salton Sea to drop by more than 40 percent, dramatically reducing bird habitat and increasing toxic dust because wetlands would dry out. Local, state, and federal officials have devised a plan — still not fully funded — to restore 15,000 acres of wetlands, at a cost of more than $700 million.

The largest project to restore some semblance of nature to the Colorado River, though, is in the delta. An unusual agreement in 2012 between the U.S. and Mexico, called Minute 319, mandated that the two countries would provide water and funding to revive sections of the delta and release a one-time pulse of 105,000 acre-feet to again connect the river to the delta temporarily. Scientists would then study the effects.

In 2014, for the first time in decades, the river flowed again in Mexico — for eight weeks. San Luis Rio Colorado — once a Colorado River town, but now a dusty desert settlement — became a river town for two months, to the delight of locals, many of whom had never seen the river. The pulse offered a glimpse of what reclamation efforts might look like. “It gave us an idea of how the river behaves, and the best sites for restoration,” said Zamora.

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

Minute 319 and its 2017 replacement, Minute 323, have funded the restoration of sections of the river. A group of nonprofits — including the National Audubon Society, the Sonoran Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and a Mexican group called Pronatura Noroeste — is working on a project called Raise the River to revive a significant swath of the delta.

In 2008, the group secured rights to 1,200 acres along the desiccated river channel. Since then, local residents have torn out acres of salt cedar and planted irrigated fields of cottonwood, willow, and other endemic species — more than 200,000 trees in all. A small supply of water mandated by the treaty, along with excess water that flows off of irrigated fields, have been dedicated to the restoration.

On a recent visit, I joined Zamora and botanist Celia Alvarado on a short boat ride to Laguna Grande, a 6-mile section of restored river and estuary. We skimmed across still water the color of weak tea, minnows darting away from our paddles. Thick groves of cottonwoods and willows lined the river. Zamora remarked that bobcats and beaver lived there now, along with blue grosbeaks and yellow-billed cuckoos. “Impacting the target species is key,” he said.

And what about the jaguar? I asked. It has not returned, he said. Will it come back?

“Yes,” said Zamora, smiling. “Someday. If they allow me to introduce them.”

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: “You see a spring pulse that is not as big and that comes earlier” — Jeff Lukas

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 16, 2019 via the NRCS.
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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):

A forecast published this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for much-below-average — 50 percent to 70 percent — to below-average — 70 percent to 90 percent — spring runoff across most basins in Colorado. Several points in north-central Colorado and in the Arkansas Basin could fare better, with predictions of near-average or 90 percent to 110 percent of runoff.

“What we’re seeing is a lot better than what we observed last year,” said Greg Smith, a senior hydrologist with NOAA’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. “We have a long way to go, though, because we have a moisture deficit from last year to make up for.

Last year’s drought, the second worst in 124 years, parched soils across the state. Before entering rivers and streams, snow and runoff first must satiate a very thirsty ground.

“You see a spring pulse that is not as big and that comes earlier,” said Jeff Lukas, a research integration specialist for Colorado and Wyoming for the Western Water Assessment.

Farmers using diversion systems to irrigate and wildlife and fish that need stream depth for spawning and shelter are primarily hurt by smaller and earlier runoff, Lukas said.

Municipal water suppliers tend not to feel the impacts of low runoff as immediately because of the storage capacity of reservoirs, Lukas said.

Colorado Springs Utilities’ systemwide storage, for example, is at 75 percent capacity compared with last year’s 84 percent and the 1981 to 2010 average of 72 percent, according to data presented at Wednesday’s Utilities board meeting. Furthermore, systemwide storage levels are expected to remain fairly steady over the next couple of months…

Utilities’ Water Conveyance team estimates its summer yield in February using snowpack data and NOAA’s runoff forecasts. Because of a wet 2017, runoffs in 2018 were less affected by soil moisture deficits, but were dragged down by the sheer lack of snow. At this time last year, statewide snowpack was at about 50 percent of normal and only 0.59 percent of the state was not in drought.

NOAA forecasters expected below-average or much-below-average runoff for nearly all forecast points in Colorado, with many areas expected to see less than 50 percent. Snowpack continued to deteriorate into the spring, leading to the fifth-worst runoff season since 1964 in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

After expansions, Skico will use about 900 AF of water a year for snowmaking — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A snowmaking gun in action, shooting water into the air to make snow. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Two projects to increase snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and the Snowmass Ski Area have received initial approvals from the U.S. Forest Service, but any potential effects of drawing more water from the local watershed for the additional snowmaking remain unclear.

Aspen Skiing Co. is planning to use an additional 82 acre-feet — 26.7 million gallons — of water per season as part of its two snowmaking expansion projects, with most of the water coming out of Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks.

Aspen Mountain will use an additional 57 acre-feet of water per season for new snowmaking infrastructure on 53 acres near the summit to create reliable and consistent snow coverage, according to a hydrology report that Glenwood Springs-based Resource Engineering prepared for the U.S. Forest Service.

Snowmass will use an additional 25 acre-feet of water per season to cover 33 acres of terrain on the Lodgepole, Lunkerville and Adams Avenue trails, according to an environmental assessment by the Forest Service.

The additional 82 acre-feet of water combined from both the Aspen Mountain and Snowmass expansions will be on top of the 821 acre-feet that Skico currently uses on average each season across its four ski areas, bringing the total seasonal average to 903 acre-feet, according to Rich Burkley, Skico’s senior vice president of strategy and business development.

To put that much water into perspective, Wildcat Reservoir, visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds 1,100 acre-feet of water.

Burkley said snowmaking has historically been used to connect natural snowfall to the lifts and base areas. The company’s snowmaking philosophy, he said, is to limit it to the bare minimum needed to open the trails, host events and reach the end of the season. Mountain managers hope increased snowmaking will help avoid a repeat of the bare, rocky slopes of the early 2017-18 season.

“We don’t want to increase snowmaking, but we have to,” Burkley said. “Our snowmaking doesn’t go to the top of any of our mountains and we’ve always relied on natural snowfall to open the mountains. Bringing snowmaking to the summit of Aspen will help ensure a Thanksgiving opening. In a year like this, it wouldn’t be necessary, but it would have helped a bunch last season.”

Although there are fewer other water users pulling from local streams — outdoor irrigation season is over — when Skico fires up its snowmaking operations in November and December, it is using water during a time of year when streamflows are at some of their lowest points of the year. Despite a close read of two recent Forest Service environmental assessments on the snowmaking expansions, it is still not easy to determine exactly what might be the impact of drawing more water from Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks, the four streams that provide most of the water for snowmaking at Skico’s four ski areas.

The diversion dam on Maroon Creek operated by the City of Aspen, which gets its water supply mainly from Castle Creek, but also from Maroon Creek. Below this diversion is another diversion, for the Stapleton Ditch, that SkiCo uses to divert water for the snowmaking system on Buttermilk Mountain. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Environmental Concerns

In June, Pitkin County submitted to the Forest Service a comment encouraging the agency to consider the impacts of increased snowmaking on stream health and the overall watershed, including the potential violation of state minimum instream-flow requirements on Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Ultimately, we’ve found that the range of change for peak flows and watershed yields associated with the snowmaking SkiCo is proposing are within the natural annual variability of water yield and peak flow,” he said.

The Forest Service issued a draft decision notice approving the Aspen Mountain project Nov. 28 and the Snowmass project Dec. 17. Both reviews were in the form of “environmental assessments,” and both projects are currently in their respective 45-day objection period.

But those assurances from the Forest Service may not be enough for some local river advocates, especially after a hot, dry year that saw some streamflows in the Roaring Fork basin plummet to all-time lows and the city of Aspen implement Stage 2 water restrictions for the first time in history.

Ken Neubecker, associate director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program and a member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board, has concerns about taking more water out of the streams in winter. Although most of the snowpack makes it back into the river as spring runoff, that doesn’t help the winter aquatic environment, he said. Also, while snowmaking may not require as much water as other consumptive uses such as irrigation, those relatively small depletions add up.

“Twenty-five additional acre-feet taken out over the whole season is not much water, but again, what are the cumulative impacts?” Neubecker said, referring to the Snowmass project. “When are we going to reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back, especially in a dry year when there may only be 2 (cubic feet per second) running in the stream?”

Kate Hudson, a Pitkin County resident and professional environmental advocate focused on water, agrees. Hudson, who is also a member of the county’s streams board, said that because the two projects are being considered separately, it’s hard to measure what the overall impacts might be to the Roaring Fork watershed.

“It’s just one more cut of many, but one of the many that may ultimately tip the balance,” she said. “What we are seeing now globally and locally in our environment with water is death by 1,000 cuts.”

The Forest Service review did consider the total depletions of water in the Roaring Fork River watershed from the additional snowmaking, but found they were anticipated, and covered by, an environmental review previously conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential future diversions upstream of a key reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction. The Roaring Fork flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs.

A snowcat smooths out a mixture of machine-made and natural snow at the base of Little Nell in December. Securing a good base on Little Nell is critical to Aspen Mountain operations, and machine-made snow is often critical to get the job done.

Aspen Mountain

Aspen Mountain began making snow this season Nov. 1. Its primary snowmaking pump station, located at the base of the mountain, draws water from the city of Aspen’s treated municipal supply, which originates in Castle and Maroon creeks.

According to Burkley, Aspen Mountain uses an average of 199 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking.

The new project would add about 57 acre-feet of diversions each season, for a total of 256 acre-feet, or 83 million gallons used for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain, according to figures supplied by Burkley.

While Skico has water rights for snowmaking uses from springs on the upper mountain, the hydrology reports says it is “expected that the water supply necessary to support the proposed snowmaking will also be provided by the city.”

In terms of overall impact, it’s important to note that not all of the water used for snowmaking is taken out of the watershed permanently. The snow acts as an on-mountain, frozen reservoir.

According to the hydrology report, about 74 percent of Aspen Mountain’s water used for snowmaking makes it back into the Roaring Fork River as spring runoff. The other 26 percent is lost to evaporation or sublimation or is sucked up by thirsty plants.

The diversion dam on Maroon Creek operated by the City of Aspen, which gets its water supply mainly from Castle Creek, but also from Maroon Creek. Below this diversion is another diversion, for the Stapleton Ditch, that SkiCo uses to divert water for the snowmaking system on Buttermilk Mountain. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Instream flows

The environmental assessment from the Forest Service also warns about instream flows, which are water rights owned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and are designed to keep water in the river to preserve natural ecosystems and fish health. The conservation board has 12 cfs of instream flow rights on the segment of Castle Creek where the City of Aspen’s diversion is located. The conservation board has 14 cfs of instream flow rights downstream from the city’s diversion on Maroon Creek.

Although streamflows in Maroon and Castle creeks are predicted to more than satisfy the three demands — snowmaking, municipal uses and instream flows — the study warns that snowmaking shortages are possible during drought conditions in the peak snowmaking month of December.

According to Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen, the city will not divert if instream flows are threatened. The city has sensors on both its Maroon and Castle Creek headgates and employees manage them daily to preserve the minimum instream flows. For example, Medellin said the city shut down the Maroon Creek hydro facility last summer to protect the instream flows.

Streamflows, however, can be hard to verify. There is no public gauge on Castle Creek, and although there is a new U.S. Geological Survey gauge on Maroon Creek, the reading simply said “Ice” for several days in late December.

Snowmaking guns sit on Aspen Mountain in late December, after much of their work was done for the season. The water that is forced through the guns to make snow on Aspen Mountain comes from Castle and Maroon creeks, often at their lowest levels in late fall and early winter, which is prime snowmaking season.

Snowmass

Snowmass currently uses an average of 383 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking from the Snowmass Creek watershed.

The water is provided to Skico by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which serves all of Snowmass Village and the ski area.

The district both diverts water from East Snowmass Creek, and also pumps water up from Snowmass Creek, to fill Zeigler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water, according district manager to Kit Hamby.

The water is then sent to the ski area’s snowmaking system when it’s time to make snow. The reservoir, home to “Snomastadon,” was put into service in 2013 and provides a buffer from direct drawdowns from Snowmass Creek, where the conservation board also holds an instream flow right.

The ski area also uses another 46 acre-feet from a few ponds that start the season naturally charged.

Each season, the new project would draw an additional 25 acre-feet, or 8 million gallons, from the Snowmass Creek watershed.

As for Skico’s other two ski areas, Aspen Highlands 55 acre-feet a season on average from the city of Aspen’s municipal supply and Buttermilk uses an average of 184 acre-feet a season from Maroon Creek, according to Burkley. Including the new projects, the total seasonal-average use on all four mountains for snowmaking is expected to be 903 acre-feet of water.

Skico works hard to remain an industry leader in sustainability and the environment. Its “Give a Flake” campaign encourages skiers to take action on climate change.

Burkley admits any expansion of terrain or snowmaking contradicts the company’s sustainability message, but he adds that snowmaking is necessary. And last season’s dry and warm conditions brought to the forefront how crucial it is to have snowmaking at higher elevations.

“It definitely undercuts (the sustainability message),” Burkley said. “But we would not be in business without snowmaking so we try to minimize the impacts of it.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “I think their position is pretty clear” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…

The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”

For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.

“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”

Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.

While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”

“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”

When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”

Colorado water agencies going different ways on White River dam project — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver @CWCB_DNR @DWR_CO

A view of the White River foreground, and the Wolf Creek gulch, across the river. The Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District has been using state funds, and their own, to study two dam options for this area between Meeker and Rangely on the White River. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has given $843,338 to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District since 2013 to study a potential dam on the White River, yet officials at the Colorado Division of Water Resources say the project appears “speculative” and Rio Blanco lacks evidence for its claims for municipal, irrigation, energy and environmental uses.

On Nov. 14, the CWCB directors approved the most recent grant application from Rio Blanco for $350,000 to keep studying the proposed White River dam and reservoir project near Rangely.

But while the CWCB is spending more state money to help prepare the White River project for federal approval, another state agency, the Division of Water Resources, is asking hard questions about the project in water court.

“There are concerns whether the district can show that it can and will put the requested water rights to beneficial use within a reasonable period of time and that the requested water rights are not speculative,” wrote Erin Light, the division engineer in Division 6, who oversees the White and Yampa river basins, and Tracy Kosloff, the assistant state engineer in Denver, in a report filed in water court Oct. 4.

In addition to pursuing a series of grants from CWCB, Rio Blanco applied in water court in 2014 for a new water right to store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the White River.

The two engineers in the Division of Water Resources filed their report after consulting with the state attorney general’s office. Review of water rights applications by division engineers is routine, but the report filed by the division engineer and assistant state engineer raised a higher level of concerns than normal.

Also known as the Wolf Creek project, it could store anywhere from 44,000 to 2.92 million acre-feet of water, according to the array of proposals, presentations and applications that have been made public over the project’s ongoing evolution. (Please see: Timeline: tracking the proposed White River dam and reservoir).

The water would be stored either in a reservoir formed by a dam across the main stem of the White River, or in an off-channel reservoir at the bottom of the Wolf Creek gulch.

The latest grant from the CWCB to Rio Blanco was to “finalize the preferred reservoir size and firm-up financial commitments of key project partners so that applications for federal permits can be filed,” according to a CWCB staff memo on the grant.

Asked about the apparent conflict between CWCB and DWR on the White River project, CWCB Director Becky Mitchell said she was aware of the concerns voiced by the division and state engineers and was confident that the next phase of study supported by CWCB would help answer some of the questions raised.

“All of the grants given to Rio Blanco thus far have been all about feasibility, so we are not necessarily in disagreement with DWR, but it needs to trued up,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “There may be concerns with what DWR is stating and the grant will help us evaluate those concerns.”

In another sign of CWCB’s support for the potential project, the agency’s finance section has added a potential $100 million loan to Rio Blanco on a list of potential loans it compiles and publishes as part of the CWCB director’s reports to the agency’s directors.

Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions in Grand Junction is serving as Rio Blanco’s project manager for the White River project.

When asked Tuesday about the contradictory messages sent by the two state agencies, McCloud said, “I think one side is working on one end and the other is doing the other and it’s a good check and balance and the way the system is supposed to work. And there are probably things that will get worked out along the way.”

A view looking downstream of the White River in the approximate location of the potential White River dam and reservoir. The right edge of the dam, looking downstream, would be against the brown hillside to the right of the photo. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

State questions

In their report filed in water court, the state’s water engineers challenge Rio Blanco oft-stated claim it is seeking the new storage facility at Wolf Creek in order to meet the future water needs of the Town of Rangely, which today takes its water directly from the White River.

“While every case is different and may require evidence tailored to the particular facts of the case, the engineers have not received sufficient evidence to support the district’s claimed water demands for Rangely nor evidence that Rangely intends to rely on water storage in one of the Wolf Creek Reservoirs to meet its demand,” the report from Kosloff and Light says.

The engineers’ report also questions the demand for water in the potential new reservoir from the energy sector.

They said Rio Blanco should, at a minimum, show how much of the 45,800 acre-feet of industrial demand it is claiming is located within the district’s boundaries.

They also say Rio Blanco should make public how much of the demand from the energy sector within the district’s boundaries can be satisfied by the existing water rights of the district.

In addition to challenging Rio Blanco’s claims for municipal and industrial use of water in their 2018 report, Light and Kosloff also question Rio Blanco’s claims for irrigation and environmental uses.

They said a storage report prepared for the project “notes that irrigated acreage and irrigation water demand is projected to decrease in the future” in the area downstream of the reservoir.

And the engineers said they “do not believe that a water right for irrigation use should be awarded in this case.”

And the engineers question Rio Blanco claim that it will release up to 42,000 acre-feet of water from its proposed reservoir to the benefit of endangered fish downstream on the White and Green rivers.

They say an ongoing study has yet to make clear how much water is needed for the endangered fish.

“Long story short, it is still unclear what flows should be used when determining if or how much water needs to be stored to assist with meeting the recommended flows,” the report says. “Until these numbers are known, claiming any quantity of water for these uses is speculative.”

Consultants for the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy presenting a slide earlier this year showing how a dam could be built across the main stem of the White River between Rangely and Meeker. A report from engineers at the Division of Water Resources is questioning the claims made in a water court case in which Rio Blanco is seeking new water rights for the project.

Size in flux

The White River project has a wide range of potential uses, according to Rio Blanco, and it also has a wide range of potential sizes, as various presentations and applications have included potential sizes from 44,000 acre-feet to 90,000 acre-feet to 400,000 acre-feet to 2.92 million acre-feet.

Alden Vanden Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco district, told the CWCB directors Nov. 14 that his district is not seeking to build a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir, despite the reference in Rio Blanco’s grant application to study a reservoir between 44,000 acre-feet and 400,000 acre-feet.

“The 400,000 is maximum size,” Vanden Brink said. “That is not what the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District is looking to build. It’s going to take somebody from a way outside source to come to the table for that.”

Vanden Brink said the district was seeking to store “anywhere from 44,000 to about 130,000” acre-feet of water.

However, the grant application from Rio Blanco notes that a 400,000 acre-foot reservoir might have some benefit to the state.

“If the higher end of the storage is implemented, the project has tremendous potential to help the majority of the state of Colorado address Colorado River Compact administration issues,” the grant said.

An earlier study on the dam by W.W. Wheeler and Associates for the Rio Blanco district found it was possible to build a dam on the White River at Wolf Creek that would hold 2.92 million acre-feet of water.

The latest grant application to CWCB from the Rio Blanco district says “the preferred reservoir size will be developed based on the amount of water needed and committed to by key project stakeholders.”

Wade Cox, the president of the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District, discussed the project in October with the board of the Colorado River District, and referenced the varying potential sizes of the reservoir.

“There is never going to be enough water,” Cox said. “I don’t care how big you build it. Whatever you do, it’s never going to be enough. Somebody somewhere is going to utilize it.”

Also, please see related stories:

Economic feasibility of White River off-channel dam and reservoir questioned

Honing in on options for a potential White River Dam near Rangely

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published the story on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.