South Platte Master Plan — a stream corridor evaluation – is complete

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The South Platte Master Plan is a study of flood mitigation and recovery possibilities along 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Morgan-Weld county line to the Nebraska State Line. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will suggest ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

Five big problem areas were identified in the evaluation, according to Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study. They were the amount of sediment the floods of 2013 and 2015 deposited in the study area, basically clogging the river and making flooding worse; uncontrolled water in ditches and canals, which can back up and cause damage to structures, homes, and fields; the railroad railroad right of way southwest of Messex, which contains the river along the northwest shoreline but worsens flooding on the opposite shoreline; the hunting lands along the river that provide game habitat but also blocks water flow during a flood, causing the water to spread out into neighboring cropland; and the washed-out headgates of the Henderson-Smith and Lowline ditches, which essentially turn those ditches into another channel of the river.

Stakeholders attending the meeting may have gotten some ideas of how to tackle those challenges from a 90-minute presentation by Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. That program comes from an agreement among Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve habitat for whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeons, four species on the endangered species list. The program maintains water at an adequate level along an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River the Nebraska cities of Lexington and Grand Island in an area call the Big Bend Area.

Kenny’s description of challenges faced in maintaining habitat for those four species brought home to the stakeholders how the river system has been affected by settlement all along its length. For instance, sediment – mostly sand – that once washed downstream past what is now Sterling and settled in the Big Bend area to create habitat for those species no longer makes it that far. Instead, repeated diversion of the river for irrigation reduces and slows down the water flow during what was once rapid spring runoff, depositing the sediment here.

That problem is exacerbated by Lake McConaughy on the North Platte near Ogallala, which traps sediment that once drifted down into Big Bend.

Kenny told the meeting that some of the challenges have been met by practices in all three of the states that have increased stream flow in the Platte River. Most notable in Colorado is the Tamarack Recharge Project near Crook, in which water is pumped into small reservoirs when there is no irrigation demand on the river, and allowed to seep back into the river so more water is available downstream.

Kenny also showed the group slides of off-stream water storage projects that have been used to create wetlands and much-needed sand islands in the project area. Presumably, some of those ideas could be used to mitigate flooding and provide some off-channel water storage in the South Platte basin as well.

After the meeting Morgan County Commissioners Jim Zwetzig and Laura Teague said they are encouraged by the “collaborative effort” shown in the PRRIP agreements…

Project manager Brian Murphy said one of the biggest challenges, once ideas and practices are identified, will be finding the dollars to do it. The PRRIP get about half of its funds from the federal government, and there is tremendous incentive in the form of a mandate to save endanger species. There is no such incentive, other than reducing unpredictable costs of recover, in flood mitigation.

“The big question is, what are the things that can bring dollars to fund this project,” Murphy said. “What are the drivers? There’s been a lot of discussion of duck habitat, open space, trails, and I think it’s going to come down to those things.”

On a more positive note, he said, the PRRIP process has broken new ground when working with the federal permitting process. Some of the techniques that project uses, such as tilling riparian areas to keep vegetation down, are considered agricultural, and so don’t need federal permits.

Monday’s meeting was the third since the plan was introduced to the public in February.

Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion — @DenverWater

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Army Corps of Engineers issues record of decision and 404 Permit

Following 14 years of careful study, evaluation and deliberation, the Army Corps of Engineers has approved Denver Water’s request to raise Gross Dam in Boulder County. The additional water stored in Gross Reservoir will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system.

The approval comes in the form of a record of decision and 404 Permit — two documents required by the federal government as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Denver Water appreciates the Corps’ dedication and commitment to careful study of the anticipated impacts of this project,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We will complete this project responsibly, as evidenced by our actions during the public process and the resulting robust environmental protections we’ve agreed to along the way. We’re proud to be doing the right thing.”

The existing dam was built in the early 1950s and was designed to be expanded in the future to increase water storage capacity. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project approval completes this original vision.

Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term plan to deliver safe, reliable water to the people it serves now and into the future. The project is part of Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach that includes conservation, reuse and responsibly sourcing new supply.

“Issuance of this permit will unlock significant resources that will allow us to do good things for the river and the environment,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

In accordance with existing agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and Grand County’s Learning By Doing, and conditions in the 404 Permit, Denver Water will provide millions of dollars to improve watershed health in the critical Colorado and South Platte River Basins. Lochhead said these commitments are one reason that last year Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the project will have a “net environmental benefit” on the state.

The project has earned key endorsements from Gov. Hickenlooper, state and federal lawmakers, major environmental groups, local mayors and city councils, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, county elected officials and water interests on both sides of the divide.

“The next milestone we anticipate is approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Denver Water’s hydropower license amendment application at some point next year,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir Expansion program manager. “In the meantime, Denver Water continues to make significant investments in setting a firm foundation for the project’s overall success by recently hiring Black and Veatch as the owner’s representative. We are also in the process of procuring a design engineer.”

Preconstruction activities, including dam design and geotechnical work, are expected to begin in 2018. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterTAP.org for additional information.

From The Associated Press via The U.S. News & World Report:

The Army Corps of Engineers announced late Friday it granted the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The $380 million project involves Gross Dam in the foothills about 5 miles southwest of Boulder.

Hermosa Trail to be Impacted by Construction of Fish Barrier

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

Construction activities will begin in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area on Monday, July 10, 2017 to erect a fish-migration barrier on Hermosa Creek as part of the ongoing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project. Trail users and visitors to the area should expect to encounter delays and closures until October 1, 2017. The barrier is being installed on the main stem of Hermosa Creek downstream of its confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. About one-half mile of the Hermosa Creek Trail from its northern trailhead must be widened to allow heavy equipment to access the construction site. The trail widening is temporary and will be rehabilitated to the extent possible. Tree removal is expected to be minimal.

Throughout the construction project, trail users traveling in both directions may encounter temporary delays of up to one hour. Short-term closures lasting up to a full day are also possible, especially when heavy equipment is being moved in and out of the area. No more than four days of closures are expected during the three-month project, but construction schedules are subject to changing conditions. Public notices will be posted when trail closures are expected. The project is not expected to affect fishing, because flows will be bypassed above the construction site; however, some sedimentation is expected downstream. The barrier represents the final and most important phase of the Hermosa Creek Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project, which began almost 30 years ago. The goal is to protect native cutthroat trout above the barrier from non-native fish located downstream.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970 884-2512 or Clay Kampf at 970-884-1403.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

The Eagle River Watershed Council scores $90,000 from @USBR

Eagle River Basin

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Alan Mikkelsen announced that Reclamation has awarded $664,754 to seven entities to implement watershed management projects. The funding will be used for projects that enhance water conservation, improve water quality and ecological resilience, reduce water conflicts, and advance goals related to water quality and quantity.

“Cooperative watershed groups bring together diverse partners to address water management needs in their local communities,” Mikkelsen said. “The projects announced today will help restore watersheds and reduce water conflicts that were collaboratively developed within their communities.”

These are the first projects selected under Phase II of the Cooperative Watershed Management Program…

  • Eagle River Watershed Council, Inc., will receive $90,000 for a total project cost of $1,363,500 to improve instream flows in Abrams Creek, southwest of Eagle, Colorado. This project is being completed in conjunction with Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District.
  • #ColoradoRiver: “Our family’s irrigated meadows and livestock operation depend on it” — Paul Bruchez @HighCountryNews

    Here’s a look at a collaboration effort to improve the Colorado River near its headwaters from Paul Bruchez writing in The High Country News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Colorado River runs through the heart of my family’s ranch near Kremmling, Colorado, where I live and work, so we have firsthand knowledge of the importance of water. Our family’s irrigated meadows and livestock operation depend on it, and it’s the common currency of both our local agriculture and recreation economy…

    A few years ago, I saw an opportunity to fix our 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. In a pinch, though, we know we can count on each other, so when those of us on the land got together to talk about the river, we agreed on the need for action, and we started looking for partners.

    We applied for some grants, and 11 private ranches along with the Bureau of Land Management and a group called Irrigators of Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling, or ILVK for short, received funding for a pilot project to restore a riffle-pool structure on a stretch of the river. It was an exciting start. But given the scale of the problems, we needed to think bigger.

    We gradually added a variety of partners, including Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Colorado Basin Roundtable and 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.

    All of them helped us to see new opportunities and think bigger.

    These partners were working to build the Windy Gap reservoir bypass and restore habitat immediately downstream of the reservoir. For our part, the ILVK partners put together an ambitious proposal for restoring a significant stretch of the Upper Colorado River in our valley. All of these were pieces in the larger puzzle of restoring the Upper Colorado River.

    Last December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recognized that big vision, awarding the partners $7.75 million under its Regional Conservation Partnership Program. That money will help build the bypass and move forward with the ILVK project, improving irrigation systems and reversing the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    Under the plan, the ILVK group will install several innovative in-stream structures designed to improve water levels for irrigation while enhancing critical river habitat by rebuilding riffles and pool structure. Our efforts will have greater impact in concert with our partners’ river projects upstream. A crucial piece will involve 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 riparian habitat in the headwaters area. An additional project, the Colorado River Habitat Restoration Project, will improve the river channel downstream of the reservoir.

    Together with our ILVK Project, these projects, when fully implemented, will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands. They will also make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

    Rifle “State of the River” meeting recap: We, “are all in this together” — Annie Whetzel

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, MCWC, aims to protect the stretch of Colorado River from the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to De Beque at the western edge of Garfield County. We work with everyone who uses water from the agricultural community, to city water users (including tooth-brushers and lawn-waterers), to oil and gas developers and every governmental agency in between to encourage wise water use and ensure safe water quality for everyone involved.

    Working with the Colorado River District for the State of the River was a great reminder that navigating these diverse interests and subsequent water uses is a common thread for the entire river, from the headwaters of the Colorado down to the river terminus. Through education, dialog and exchange of information we have a chance to better understand and manage the finite resource.

    The MCWC has a few projects on the ground and on the horizon that aim to connect our stretch of river to the larger river system. These efforts involve riparian restoration, a nice term for fighting invasive species like tamarisk and ensuring native plants have a chance to grow back, and water quality management.

    Tamarisk

    Tamarisk Coalition chose the MCWC as one of nine programs to join their Restore Our Rivers campaign. The campaign provides tools and funding for river restoration programs that combat tamarisk and Russian olive and more…

    This summer the MCWC will begin a few restoration projects and will continue to monitor existing projects. It is our way of working along our 75 mile stretch of river and understanding how we fit into the larger picture.

    As for water quality monitoring, we are undertaking a citizen science program to establish a baseline for what is in our water in the middle Colorado River and its tributaries. Upstream and downstream of us, many groups already test water quality, and therefore again, we are tasked with understanding how our section of river fits into the larger system. Our citizen science program is designed to find out what water quality looks like today, see how that compares to the past, and allows for the opportunity to evaluate trends into the future. How are we affecting water quality and are there opportunities to improve? The data we and our stakeholders collect will help us understand our basin better, but will also provide service to everyone downstream of us.

    Our little, but significant, stretch of river is ours to take care of. Managing the entire Colorado River might seem like a daunting task, but we can be stewards for our stretch, from Glenwood Canyon to De Beque. The steps we take to protect our water helps our little basin, but also, we are working a much larger system throughout the west, because we are all in this together.

    Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the council, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.