@CWCB_DNR Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use

The dam that forms Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt on the Fryingpan River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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

DATE: May 16, 2018

RE: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on Fryingpan River, Eagle & Pitkin Counties

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“CRWCD”) to enter into a one-year renewable short-term lease of a portion of water that CRWCD holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Board will consider this proposal at its May 23-24, 2018 meeting in Salida. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:

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 at:

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

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: 3,500 Acre Feet

Proposed Reaches 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.

Purpose of the Acquisition:

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.

Proposed Season of Use:

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.

Supporting Data:

Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation of the natural environment, and available scientific data can be found on CWCB water acquisitions web page at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/environment/instream-flow-program/Pages/RuediReservoirFryingpanRiver.aspx

Linda Bassi
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
303-866-3441 x3204

Kaylea White
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
303-866-3441 x3240

Aspinall unit operations update: Blue Mesa inflow forecast = 52% of 30 year average

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 350,000 acre-feet. This is 52% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin peaked at 69% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 496,000 acre-feet which is 60% of full. Current elevation is 7478.7 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.

Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:

Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow target will be equal to 987 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.
The shoulder flow target will be 300 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
The year type is currently classified as Dry.
There is no peak flow target in a Dry year category
Baseflow targets will continue to be met throughout the year.

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 400 cfs on Monday, May 14th in order to allow the Black Canyon water right to be met. Flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are also predicted to be near peak levels at this time. The resulting flow on the lower Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage is estimated to be around 2500 cfs. On Tuesday, May 15th, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 400 cfs to return river flow to the pre-peak level.

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 890 cfs for May and 1050 cfs for June.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. During the 1 day peak flow Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1000 cfs. River flows will return to 600 cfs the day after the peak flow. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

#ColoradoRiver: Upper Basin and @CAPArizona Resolve to Return to Collaborative Relationship; CAWCD Commits to Working with Arizona Stakeholders to Chart Path Forward on Drought Contingency Plan #COriver

Colorado River Road. Once you get on it, it’s hard to get off. Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project (DeEtte Person):

Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) is grateful for the opportunity to have met on April 30th with the Upper Colorado River Commission representing Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and the United States. In addition, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Denver Water participated in the meeting on the phone.

Concerns from the Upper Basin Commissioners were heard and respected, and there was a productive discussion. All parties recognize there is still much work to do. The Commissioners and CAWCD are resolved to returning to the collaborative processes, and important relationships, that have defined the successes for which the Colorado River Basin has been famous for two decades. The meeting was an opportunity to express intent, and going forward we must focus on results.

CAWCD regrets that intra-Arizona issues have impacted other parties in the Colorado River basin. Specifically, CAWCD regrets using language and representations that were insensitive to Upper Basin concerns, and resolves to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future. [ed. emphasis mine]

As a result of the meeting, CAWCD has committed to beginning a fresh conversation within Arizona, including with ADWR and other stakeholders, to chart a path forward for an effective Drought Contingency Plan. We believe that a renewed collaborative process will ultimately support development of broad-based solutions with our Colorado River Basin colleagues to benefit the entire Colorado River system.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The Central Arizona Project, which provides water to about 5 million people, pledged to be more cooperative with other river users and promised “to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future.”


The tension boiled over last month after the Arizona utility said it was trying to keep water levels in a major reservoir high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require other users to send more water into the river.

That angered officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, who accused the Central Arizona Project of manipulating the water at the expense of others and putting the entire river system in jeopardy.

James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on Colorado River issues, said the Arizona utility’s goal was “gaming the system.”

The Central Arizona Project initially denied the accusations and described its approach as good management. But after meeting with its critics Monday in Salt Lake City, the utility released a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.

It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate change.

Other users had grown impatient over delays in completing the drought plans and accused the Central Arizona Project of stalling to avoid the water cutbacks the plans might require.

Colorado and Wyoming officials said Tuesday they were encouraged by the Central Arizona Project’s new statement but were waiting to see how it follows through.

“I think we heard an apology yesterday, certainly for the rhetoric they used,” said Patrick T. Tyrrell, Wyoming’s representative on the Colorado River. “The jury’s probably still out till we see what happens with their actions going forward.”

No single authority oversees the river — instead, it is governed by international treaties, interstate agreements and court rulings known collectively as “the law of the river.” The seven states in the Colorado River system are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming…

For years, the seven states, the federal government and Mexico have relied largely on negotiations to settle their disagreements without public rancor or lawsuits. That made the Arizona dispute stand out and prompted critics to say the Central Arizona Project was threatening to wreck the cooperative spirit of the river states.

“…why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project” — Lurline Underbrink Curran

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Lurline Underbrink Curran):

I would like to share why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

While located in Boulder County, the project obtains the water from Grand County — a county that is currently the most impacted county in the state of Colorado for transbasin diversions. You must wonder why the county and its citizens, stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin, along with Trout Unlimited support this project.

The reason is the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which is an historic agreement with statewide environmental benefits which were fought for and gained through sometimes difficult and long negotiations. It has been hailed as a new paradigm and one that will serve as an example of what can be gained when dealing with a finite resource like water. The signatories to this agreement represent the entire Colorado River Basin, and I had the honor of acting as Grand County’s lead negotiator in this agreement. I worked for Grand County for 33 years, retiring as county manager in 2015. I have lived in Grand County over 60 years and have deep roots and interest in the well-being of our waterways.

The environmental benefits gained by Grand County, which include additional flows, river ecosystem improvements, use of Denver Water’s system, participation in an adaptive management process called Learning by Doing, money for river improvements, just to name a few, are necessary to protect and enhance the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Without these benefits, these rivers will continue to degrade, with no hope of recovery or improvement.

Those who oppose the project offer no solutions to the already stressed aquatic environment of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Through the Learning By Doing format and a public private partnership, partners have already implemented a river project on the Fraser as an example of what can be done. This project immediately produced improvements that were astounding. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can verify this claim. This essential work will not continue without the CRCA.

The impacts that are associated with the construction of the Gross Reservoir Enlargement are substantial and one sympathizes with those who will experience them, but the reality is they will end. Mitigation for the construction impacts can be applied. However, without the CRCA, the impacts to the Fraser and Colorado rivers will continue with no hope of improvement.

The environmental enhancements and mitigation that are part of the CRCA cannot be replicated without the reservoir expansion project, and the loss of these enhancements and mitigation will doom the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County to environmental catastrophe.

#ColoradoRiver: @USGS scientists hope to bolster aquatic insects below #GlenCanyonDam to fatten up trout #COriver

Glen Canyon Dam

From the Associated Press via The Cortez Journal:

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey are hoping a monthslong experiment to release low, steady flows of water from Glen Canyon Dam will give the eggs that bugs lay just below the water’s surface a better chance at survival. It starts this weekend…

Scientists are anticipating a 26 percent increase in black flies and midges by next summer, and the eventual return of bigger bugs seen in other stretches of the Colorado River that largely have disappeared from a prized fishery known as Lees Ferry. When insects thrive, so do fish, bats, birds and other predators, scientists say.

Insects attach their eggs to hard surfaces like rocks, wood or cattails near the river’s shore. Fluctuations in the water for hydropower create artificial tides that can expose the eggs and dry them out.

If they’re not back underwater within an hour, they die, said Jeff Muehlbauer, a research ecologist with the Geological Survey.

The so-called bug flows are part of a larger plan approved in late 2016 to manage operations at Glen Canyon Dam, which holds back Lake Powell. The plan allows for high flows to push sand built up in Colorado River tributaries through the Grand Canyon as well as other experiments with the flow that could help non-native trout.

“It’s an ongoing endeavor to understand first, what’s the status of all these different resources — the fish, the sandbars, the cultural resources — and then making adjustments based on how the ecosystem is changing,” John Hamill said, a volunteer with Trout Unlimited who helped work on the plan.

The flows won’t change the amount of water the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must deliver to three states and Mexico. The lower water levels on the weekend would be offset by higher peak flows during the week, the agency said. Still, hydropower is expected to take a $335,000 hit.

From USBR (Marlon Duke):

The Department of the Interior will conduct the first experimental flow at Glen Canyon Dam since implementing its Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP) in 2016. The goal is to provide enhanced habitat for the lifecycle of aquatic insects that are the primary food source for fish in the Colorado River.

Experiments under LTEMP consist of four flow regimes: high flows, bug flows, trout management flows, and low summer flows. Collaborative discussions among technical experts resulted in a decision to begin this first experiment on May 1 and continue through August 31, 2018. It will slightly modify the schedule and flow rates of water releases from Lake Powell through Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona. The normally scheduled monthly and weekly release volumes will not be affected.

Flows during the experiment will include steady weekend water releases with routine hydropower production flows on weekdays that include normal hourly changes in release rates. Those steady weekend flows are expected to provide favorable conditions for aquatic insects to lay and cement their eggs to rocks, vegetation, and other materials near the river’s edge. Steady weekend flows will be relatively low, within four inches of typical weekday low water levels. It is unlikely casual recreational river users will notice the changes in water levels.

“Experiments like these are an important tool as we continue to work collaboratively to balance the need to deliver water and power resources with our obligation to actively preserve and protect the river system through Glen, Marble, and Grand canyons,” said Dr. Timothy Petty, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. “We expect this experiment will positively benefit crucial insect populations, which will benefit the entire ecosystem while limiting the impact on other resources and Colorado River users.”

The decision to conduct this experiment was based on input from a collaborative team, including Department of the Interior agencies—Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs—the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration, six consulting American Indian Tribes, and all seven of the Colorado River Basin States. Before proceeding with these experiments, experts determined there would be no unacceptable adverse impacts on other resource conditions. Technical experts with the Department of the Interior have coordinated the experiment’s design to optimize benefits to the aquatic ecosystem throughout the Grand Canyon while meeting all water delivery requirements and minimizing negative impacts to hydropower production.

Insects expected to benefit from this experiment are an important food source for many species of fish, birds, and bats in the canyon. Beyond expected resource benefits, this experiment will also provide scientific information that will be used in future decision making.

For more information about flow volumes, please visit the following websites:

Hydrograph at Lees Ferry: https://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/station/GCDAMP/09380000

Lake Powell 40-day data (elevation, storage, inflows, and releases): https://www.usbr.gov/rsvrWater/rsv40Day.html?siteid=919&reservoirtype=Reservoir

The Bug Flow release pattern for May: https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/images/BugFlowExp-May2018.png

There’s no “Sweet Spot” – what the #ColoradoRiver needs is “real balance” — @AmericanRiver #aridification

From American Rivers (Jeffrey Odefey):

The real problem isn’t one water user striving to achieve a “sweet spot” in reservoir levels to maximize its own water use; it’s the failure so far of the basin states to adjust to the new hydrology. Region-wide aridity and a warming climate just might force that hand for them.

Over the last week, those of us who eat, sleep, and drink Colorado River issues have watched with alternating measures of surprise, concern, and alarm as water users from the Upper Basin states publicly called out the operators of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) for “gaming” reservoir levels to maximize water deliveries to Arizona. The worry is that CAP’s efforts to find a “sweet spot” in managing the Colorado River has the effects of undoing nearly a decade of collaborative conservation successes and threatens to pull the entire Basin into shortage more quickly than is already likely.

Media coverage of this dustup has been welcome, highlighting the complexity and conflicting motivations at the heart of efforts to manage the Colorado River as a water supply for seven states and 40-plus million people. The states and major water users along the river agreed in 2007 to a set of guidelines that spelled out collaborative responses to drought and shortages in water supply. But these guidelines don’t resolve the tension between an ethic of “we’re all in it together” and the long-practiced tendency of each state to maximize their own water use. More critically, the guidelines are a good effort to respond to short-term drought, but deftly avoid the substantive management changes needed to address permanently diminished flows associated with long-term aridity.

Conflict between states and water users is regrettable, but more so, there is a missed opportunity within ongoing multi-state negotiations to fully acknowledge what all of us privately admit… there isn’t going to be enough water in the Colorado River in the future to fulfill all of the previously made promises. If the Colorado basin ever really provided a reliable fifteen to seventeen million-acre-foot (MAF) supply, those days were brief, and they are long gone. The consensus of climate science and hydrology points toward a future in which Colorado River flows total 12 MAF or less, perhaps as low as 9 MAF. The real problem isn’t one water user striving to achieve a “sweet spot” in reservoir levels to maximize its own water use; it’s the failure so far of the basin states to adjust to the new hydrology. Region-wide aridity and a warming climate just might force that hand for them.

In this regard, Arizona certainly could be doing more. Individual users of Colorado River water, some of the major urban water providers, and an irrigation district or two, have shown innovation and commitment to conserving water and creating more flexible tools for sharing their water resources. Likewise, cities in southern Nevada and southern California have demonstrated real foresight, either in reducing demand or developing resilient local water supplies as alternatives to uncertain and declining Colorado River imports. But as a whole, the states that share the river haven’t yet shown a full commitment to solving the underlying problem of getting by with a smaller share of Colorado River water.

If there’s a silver lining in last week’s airing of dirty laundry, maybe, just maybe, it’s in the way the family feud has highlighted our need to get to the real issues. As the basin looks toward negotiations around a new set of operating guidelines to succeed those adopted in 2007, let’s hope they can bring a spirit of innovation and honest, intentional, collaboration to meet this challenge.

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

@CAPArizona management of diversion for #LakeMead raises questions

From KUNC (Luke Runyon/Bret Jaspers):

The dispute centers on interpretations of a set of guidelines water managers agreed to in 2007, which called for conservation and a basin-wide approach to water management. Those guidelines are also linked to the fate of the watershed’s two biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. If Mead drops too low, Powell sends more water to balance it out.

The Upper Colorado River Commission and Denver Water accused the Central Arizona Project, managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD), of manipulating their water orders to keep Lake Mead from dipping to a level where a shortage would be declared, while keeping it low enough to get more water from Lake Powell’s reserves.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) officials say they’re ordering water wisely under the guidelines and that they’ve done nothing wrong…

The feud pulls back the curtain enough to give us all a glimpse at some truths about how we manage arguably the Western U.S.’s most important water source:

1. No one person is in charge of the Colorado River.

Given the Colorado River’s importance to life in the West — like the fact it provides water to 40 million people in the country’s driest reaches — one would think there’s some group of people who oversee how the river is divvied up.

But there isn’t.

Management of the river is brought to life by an amalgamation of compacts, treaties and more than a century of case law often referred to as the “Law of the River.” The actors in the Basin — like cities, farmers, irrigation districts, the federal government and conservation groups — all know those rules, built on a foundation called the Colorado River Compact. The compact is a 1922 agreement among all states that receive the river’s water. To this day, it receives healthy doses of both praise and derision in Westerners’ conversations about it.

2. Public shaming is how water managers police themselves.

Because there’s no police force regularly checking in on big water users within the Colorado River Basin, most of the enforcement of rules and norms comes down to the water users themselves.

The letters sent to CAP are a great example of how simple norm-breaking can quickly turn into a multi-state water feud. CAP officials were not coy about their strategy, taking to Twitter to blast out an infographic of their attempt to keep Lake Mead at a “sweet spot,” ensuring additional water from Lake Powell. It was a way to push back against a proposal from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey that would give the state more control over some water conservation. They communicated the strategy to a room of 20 reporters in late February.

But in the eyes of the Upper Basin, CAP crossed a line.

“Although we have heard these things, we certainly have not seen it become what appears such a blatant, actual publicly-stated policy of CAWCD,” says Don Ostler, the Upper Colorado River Commission’s executive director.

No one accused CAP of breaking the rules. Instead the complaints were that CAP was being sneaky and manipulative.

And how do you bring someone back into the fold who’s perceived as going rogue? You shame them, says Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Some of Kenney’s work has received funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also provides funding for KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.

“The [enforcement] mechanism is usually a social mechanism,” Kenney says. “And the mechanism is all of the other parties get in your face and say, ‘Hey, come on. This isn’t really the spirit of what we’re doing here, let’s get back to working cooperatively.’”

3. The weather plays a role.

The winter of 2018 was pretty dry. The flow into Lake Powell is currently projected to be 46 percent of average during the highest runoff months of April, May, June and July.

The drought that has plagued the southwestern U.S. is now in its 18th year, leaving some to wonder whether this drought is a glimpse at the future in the Colorado River Basin. Warmer temperatures are already sapping the river’s flow.

If this had been a wet year with high snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a good chance the accusatory letters would’ve never been sent, Kenney says. But scarcity can sometimes lead to conflict

4. This dust up could necessitate federal intervention.

If there’s one thing that most water managers along the river agree on, it’s that they’d rather not live their lives under fiat from the federal government. Even though the decentralized method of river management is sometimes messy, there’s an aversion to federal intervention written into the DNA of the West.

That’s why it’s surprising to see Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller telling Colorado Public Radio’s Grace Hood that it might be time to bring in the Bureau of Reclamation to force everyone to play nice. That could be a negotiating tactic to get CAP to the table (again, the aversion to federal intervention runs deep).

Still, anytime you see a water manager calling on the Bureau of Reclamation for help in negotiating, it’s notable.

5. This dispute could reignite stalled talks.

No one likes being locked in an intractable argument with a colleague, even if one side is pretty sure they’re right. In the history of Colorado River management, Doug Kenney says this barely registers as a serious fight. Go back at least one generation if you want to see brawls over the river.

“This sort of thing happened all the time,” he says. “There was a lot of distrust and a lot of tension and a lot of name-calling.”

For years now the latest generation of river managers patted themselves on the back for how well they work together. Still, talks to hammer out a Drought Contingency Plan among Lower Basin water managers have stalled, and the 2007 guidelines at the heart of this current dispute are set to expire and will have to be renegotiated in the next couple years.

All this bluster could lend itself well toward getting players to the bargaining table sooner than later, Kenney says.