#Runoff news: Elk river streamflow way up with record #Colorado heat

Elk River near Milner gage March 21, 2017 via the USGS.

From The Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

“It’s crazy how high the flows are for this time of year,” Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City Utah, said. “I think we’re getting snowmelt at low and middle elevation and not at the higher elevations. But this is not something we expect this time of year.”

The Elk is still well below flood stage, but the acceleration of snowmelt during a time when snowpack is typically increasing stands out from the norm.

Flows in the river, which has its headwaters in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area northeast of Clark, hit a 24-hour peak of 1,050 cubic feet per second at 1:45 a.m. March 20, nearly doubling the previous record for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous record was 524 cfs, recorded in 2007. The median March 20 flow is 160 cfs.

At the same time, the Yampa River was flowing through downtown Steamboat Springs at a rate of 408 cfs, well above the median of 150 cfs (in the 90th percentile range for the date), but significantly lower than the 1916 record for the date of 690 cfs.

High flows in the Elk have been driven by snow melting under bright skies and daytime temperatures in the 60s, which have dominated the weather throughout the month. The National Weather Service reports the high temperature in Steamboat reached 70 degrees March 19, but a cooling trend is on the way.

The Elk had calmed down to 896 cfs as of 9:30 a.m. Monday as it went through its diurnal cycle of rising and falling flow volumes. However, the River Forecast Center foresees the river will continue to rise to more than 1,000 cfs through March 23, when a cooling trend calms things down March 25 through 31 and the river could remain above 600 cfs.

A pair of snowpack measurement sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service confirm the record flows in the Elk are attributable to snowmelt above 9,000 feet, Nielson agreed.

The Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet of elevation on the edge of the Zirkel Wilderness, has lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent since March 16, leaving it at 113 percent of median for the date. The Elk River measuring site, at 8,700 feet, has also lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent in the same timeframe, and snowpack there stands at 93 percent of median.

Nielson pointed to the Tower measuring site on the summit of Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs as evidence that snowmelt has not begun at the highest elevations in the Park Range. The water content of the snowpack there, at 10,500 feet, has not changed more than a fraction of an inch since March 7.

#Colorado Springs responds to @EPA/CDPHE lawsuit

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Robert Boczkiewicz):

The city’s denial is its first response in court to a lawsuit that claims discharges of pollutants into Fountain Creek and other tributaries violate the laws. The discharges are from Colorado Springs’ stormwater system…

Colorado Springs asserted in Monday’s filing that it “has at all times been in compliance” with permits issued by the state agency to govern the discharges and the stormwater system.

The city contends it should not be subjected to court orders or monetary penalties that the environmental agencies want a judge to impose.

Colorado Springs also contends that allegations in the lawsuit misrepresent the facts of issues in dispute.

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.
Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

@NASAClimate: SnowEx — space-based SWE estimation

SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.
SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.

Snowex is hoping to determine how to measure the effect of the tree canopy on snowpack, snow depth, and snow density, all from space. This is the first year for SnowEx and is an intense data collection phase. An airplane is used as a proxy for satellite observations during this phase which also includes a ground effort on Grand Mesa (forest canopy site) and in the Senator Beck Basin (high altitude alpine site).

The team will spend next year examining the data and hoping to model a combination of sensors (multi-sensor approach) that correlates with the ground data sites. Edward Kim (NASA) called this, “ground-truthing.”

Years 3, 4, and 5 are lined-out for more data collection.

The other two speakers, Karl Wetlaufer (NRCS), and Frank McCormick (USFS), spoke about current snowpack estimation methods, the importance of estimation of the tree canopy effect, and the potential benefits of SnowEx.

Kim listed the benefits:

1. Water is critical to society — the project aims to measure the water in the snowpack to estimate runoff.

2. Forecast the potential for snowmelt floods — (9 of the most devastating floods in US history were snowmelt driven). Forecast drought.

3. For national security reasons it is important to know who has snow, and therefore water supply.

4. Forecast changes in climate.

Wetlaufer explained the science behind current snowpack estimation efforts. SNOTEL sites include a snow pillow to weigh the snow and the Federal Snow Sampler is used by the snow survey crews.

Snow surveys have always been a cooperative effort in the water community, he explained, citing participation by ditch companies, the NRCS, municipal providers, and others. Federal funding fired up in 1934.

Rani Gran (NASA) said that the science was at the frontier of snow science.

President Theodore Roosevelt
President Theodore Roosevelt

Frank McComick said that the USFS has been the lead agency concerned with snow water equivalent for over a century. In the West, he said, 80% of water supply comes from snowmelt from forested mountain areas.

He talked about the difficult and exacting work going on by the 100 or so ground folks including digging snow pits, from the surface to bare ground, with hand tools. At times the temperatures are well below zero. He said work in the Senator Beck basin was suspended earlier this week due to 60mph winds and white-out conditions, even though it was not snowing at the time. The field crews have been working since February 6th and plan to end the field work on the 20th.

I really liked talking to the Navy crew.

The survey requires low-level flying over the mountains. One of the pilots talked about the Rockies and how she was psyched at the chance to catch some of the views.

The other pilot was enthusiastic about his role on the team, helping the scientists aboard the aircraft accomplish their goals.

Oroville, the aerospace engineering program at CU, water rights, Colorado’s position as a the “Headwaters State”, the flood of September 2013, and how mountains concentrate streamflow, all came up in my conversations with the team members.

Thanks to Rani for organizing the event.

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of photos from the event.

Fountain Creek: Pueblo County commissioners approve county joining @EPA, CDPHE lawsuit

Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain
Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas):

The Pueblo County commissioners on Wednesday asked staff to file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment against Colorado Springs.

Pueblo County wants to join the case to protect its interest during the litigation.

“We did it primarily to make sure we have a seat at the table,” said Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart.

“It’s one of those issues that whenever any kind of conversation is going on that concerns Fountain Creek or the water volume or quality that’s in the creek, we feel it affects the citizens in our community.”

[…]

By intervening in the lawsuit Pueblo County hopes to:

Support the EPA and CDPHE in its regulatory mission.

Ensure that stormwater control infrastructure within Colorado Springs is properly operated and maintained.

Ensure that there are no conflicts or inconsistencies between the stormwater intergovernmental agreement recently entered by the county and Colorado Springs and any remedy, judgment or settlement entered in this case.

Require Colorado Springs to become, and then remain, compliant with the Clean Water Act, the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, stormwater regulations and the conditions of Colorado Springs’ MS4 permit, and protect against future violations.

Work with Colorado Springs to develop, implement and enforce its’ Stormwater Management Program as required by the MS4 permit.

Prohibit Colorado Springs from discharging stormwater that is not in compliance with its MS4 permit or its SMP.

@fortcollinsgov plans open house on NISP

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The public is invited to an open house on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St.

The open house will provide information regarding a proposal by Fort Collins staff members to explore the potential for negotiated outcomes for NISP with Northern Water, the primary proponent of the…project…

Fort Collins has not supported the project as described in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for several reasons, including its potential impacts on city water facilities and the health of the river through the city.

City staff members have proposed discussing mitigation for the project with Northern Water officials and possibly entering into negotiations…

City Council is scheduled to consider staff’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting.

#ColoradoRiver Headwaters Project #COriver

Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.
Colorado River headwaters tributary in Rocky Mountain National Park photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s a guest column from Paul Bruchez that is running in Steamboat Today:

A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix the irrigation problems while also improving river and wildlife habitat. My family’s ranch is in one of the most intact traditional agricultural communities remaining in Colorado. Like most ranchers, we’re independent folks — but in a pinch, we know we can count on each other.

Our neighbors came together and agreed on the need for action. Our group of 11 private ranches and the Bureau of Land Management, the irrigators of lands in the vicinity of Kremmling, received a couple of grants for a pilot project to restore a riffle/pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start.

But I quickly realized that, given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

We worked with a variety of partners — Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County government, Northern Water, Denver Water, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the Colorado River District and other river stakeholders — to put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding ILVK and our partners $7.75 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

This funding is an amazing win for all Coloradans, because a healthy Colorado River sustains all our lives.

The Colorado River Headwaters Project will install several innovative instream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation, while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. A crucial piece will be restoring approximately one mile of the Colorado River’s former channel, currently inundated by Windy Gap Reservoir. This ambitious bypass project will reconnect the river — for the first time in decades — and improve river habitat in the headwaters area.

When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

What have I learned from this project? That the interests of agriculture producers can align with the interests of conservation groups, state agencies, water providers and other river users. It’s not just the waters of the Colorado River that are connected — so are the people who depend on it.

The Colorado River flows through all of our lives. By working together, we can find smart, creative solutions that keep the Colorado healthy and working for all of us.

Paul Bruchez is a rancher who lives near Kremling.

@usbr: Aspinall Unit operations update: 600 CFS in Black Canyon

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 600 cfs to 1200 cfs between Monday, February 6th and Tuesday, February 7th. This increase is in response to the high runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir this spring. The latest runoff forecast predicts 925,000 af of runoff to Blue Mesa Reservoir between April and July, which is 137% of average. The current content of Blue Mesa Reservoir is 586,000 acre-feet which is 71% full.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. Flows are expected to remain above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for February through May.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be at zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 1200 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.