#Carbondale Report: Water rules and bag ban revisited — The Sopris Sun #RoaringForkRiver #conservation #aridification

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

Click the link to read the article on The Sopris Sun website (Raleigh Burleigh). Here’s an excerpt:

The first novel item on the [Carbondale Board of Trustees] agenda was a proposal from the Ruedi Water and Power Authority (RWAPA) for regional baseline watering standards. The proposition was developed through a grant from the WaterNow Alliance and stakeholder meetings with water suppliers in the Valley. RWAPA Executive Director April Long joined via Zoom to explain that the desire for comprehensive and regional education is complicated by disparate restrictions between jurisdictions in the watershed. “The entire point of baseline watering standards is just to give us initial footing … for an education and outreach campaign,” she stated.

An extensive memo provided by Public Works Director Kevin Schorzman explained that the town code currently recognizes few scenarios for restrictions: a water shortage or a water crisis. Conservation restrictions may be enacted during periods of peak demand, from May 15 to Oct. 15.

The proposed Valley-wide standards would make permanent no watering between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. year-round, with odd addresses and even addresses alternating days and no watering on Mondays — with some exceptions.

Crystal River rancher Bill Fales stands at the headgate for the Helms Ditch, with Mount Sopris in the background. As part of an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, Fales could be paid to reduce his diversions from the ditch when the river is low. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Schorzman’s memo also explained that Carbondale’s system is unique, with treated water as well as an extensive ditch system supplying raw water for irrigation. The memo noted that Carbondale’s indoor water use per capita has trended downward in recent years and approximately 58% of “consumed” domestic water returns to the river as wastewater return flows. Long stated that ditch water should follow the same standards as treated water.

Discussion ready to roll on #CrystalRiver — #Aspen Daily News

An image of the Crystal River Valley from an EcoFlight mission in August 2022. The view is downvalley, toward Mount Sopris. A group is exploring a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River in Gunnison and Pitkin counties. Courtesy of Ecoflight

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Daily News website. Here’s an excerpt:

The effort to explore getting a federal designation of wild and scenic for the Crystal River is about to get turned up a notch. The Wild and Scenic Feasibility Collaborative announced Monday it has selected Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and P2 Solutions to facilitate and lead a community engagement and stakeholder process. American Whitewater, a national nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers, will support Wellstone in the administration of its outreach efforts…

Denver-based Wellstone Collaborative Strategies and Loveland-based P2 Solutions were selected for their experience and competence in facilitation and community engagement. Both Jacob Bornstein, founder and principal of Wellstone Collaborative Strategies, and Wendy Lowe, owner of P2 Solutions, have demonstrated exceptional facilitation skills and experience shepherding broad community conversations to successful outcomes, according to a statement from the selection committee, according to an announcement. The principals in the businesses have strong backgrounds in natural resource issues and direct knowledge of the Crystal River…

With a goal of identifying long-lasting river protection, the collaborative envisions the creation of a stakeholder group that would engage in fact finding, identification of overlapping interests and concerns, and a robust discussion of shared goals and strategies. The initial phase of the stakeholder process will bring together a representative cross section of interested individuals to provide informed input; examine, explore and investigate river protection; access and rely on experts in river and riparian health; engage experts to provide factual information relevant to protective designations; agree upon rules of engagement; be a process grounded in the highest integrity and inclusiveness; and result in identification of shared principles for protection of the Crystal River.

U.S. Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper Urge Reclamation to Allocate Additional Funding for the Arkansas Valley Conduit #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

Click the link to read the article on Senator Bennet’s website:

Today [January 23, 2023], Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper urged the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to consider allocating additional funding from the recent omnibus funding bill for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) for the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC).

The AVC is a planned 130-mile water-delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to communities in Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. The Conduit is the final phase of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962.

“[T]he Conduit has been one of Colorado’s top priorities for nearly six decades,” wrote the senators. “Continuing to invest in this project will allow the project’s stakeholders to plan for more effective construction and delivery of clean drinking water throughout Southeast Colorado.”

In the letter, the senators highlight the $60 million allocated for the construction of the AVC from the BIL last fall, and ask BOR to allocate additional funds, which could be immediately applied to help advance different components of the AVC.

“For years, this project languished due to insufficient funding and a prohibitive cost-share agreement,” continued the senators. “Congressional appropriations over the past decade coupled with BOR’s recent $60 million award will finally enable the construction of this long-promised project. More investment, from the FY23 omnibus or future BIL awards, would accelerate the construction timeline and improve planning efficiency.”

Bennet and Hickenlooper have consistently advocated for increased funding for the AVC. The FY23 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in December, included $10.1 million for the Conduit after Bennet and Hickenlooper urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue to fund the project last May. In October, the senators visited Pueblo to celebrate the announcement of $60 million in BIL funds for the Conduit. The senators and U.S. Representative Ken Buck (R-Colo.) urged the OMB and BOR in July to allocate these funds. In March, Bennet and Hickenlooper secured $12 million for the Conduit from the FY22 omnibus bill. Prior to FY22, Bennet helped secure more than $70 million for the AVC. Bennet and Hickenlooper will continue working in Washington to ensure Colorado has the resources needed to complete this vital project for the region.

In 2009, Congress passed legislation Bennet worked on with former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to authorize a federal cost share for the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. In 2013, Bennet and his colleagues sent a letter to the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) in order to expedite the project’s pre-construction process. In 2014, following Bennet and Udall’s efforts to urge the BOR to quickly approve the Conduit’s EIS, the Record of Decision was signed in February. Bennet joined the groundbreaking for the project in October 2020.

The text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Stacy Standley: 15 steps #Aspen needs to take to preserve the #ColoradoRiver Basin — Aspen Times #COriver #aridification

Waterfalls along Yule Creek. CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO BY JOHN ARMSTRONG

Click the link to read the guest column on the Aspen Times website (Stacy Standley). Here’s an excerpt:

Now is the time to take a giant step into the future with revolutionary ideas that transcend the parochial local interests of the Roaring Fork River Valley by recognizing that climate/weather change, along with population growth, has erased the boundaries of the Colorado River Basin…Aspen is now the pivotal headwaters of the Colorado River Basin, which has become a small, compacted irrigation canal instead of a great river system and has shrunk many hundreds of miles into but a few feet…

1. There should be 100% metering and billing of every drop of water: 7% of the Aspen distribution is unmetered and/or unbilled and unmetered, and this should be eliminated. 

2. You can not distribute or control what you do not measure: Metering and billing should be by constant recorded, instantaneous, wifi-linked electronic services on all distribution points and reported to every customer and the Water Department on a instantaneous daily basis, with auto shutoffs for an aberration of usage by 1% or more. 

3. All wastewater and storm water must be a fully-integrated part of the treated water-supply system by municipal recycling and/or irrigation and municipal water usage.

4. Downstream water flows that exceed minimum stream flow must be acquired and piped back into the upstream Aspen intake.

5. Aspen and Pitkin County must negotiate with Twin Lakes Canal and Reservoir Co. and the Fry-Ark project to create water savings for their service area and water that can be allowed to stay in the Roaring Fork River Valley.

6. Salvation Ditch, Red Mountain Ditch, and all other local irrigation systems should become a part of the Aspen water conservation and re-use ethic.

 7. 100% of all leaks and water waste must be ended immediately.

8. Every tree, plant, and natural out-of-house improvement must be identified and the water usage calculated by Lysimeter and/or other instantaneous soil moisture storage measurement system and then a local research and development lab created to test, grow, and install water conserving plants and systems for out-of-house water management and control.

9. All local streets should be coated with bright reflective surfaces to maintain a cooler urban-heat island and, thus, improve out-of-house water usage.

10. Aspen should create its own bottled (no plastic) water supply for individual use from a high-quality spring and distribute at least 2 gallons per person per day inside of the city service area for drinking water usage at cost to increase the Aspen water supply.

11. Aspen should divert into vertically oriented pipeline coils (24 to 48 inch) in all area streams to capture water runoff that exceeds minimum stream flows and keep the vertical-coiled pipelines at or above the city base elevation for instantaneous “pipeline coil reservoir storage.”

12. Every new or remodeled home and business must have installed an on-site water-storage tank for at least three months of driest in-house water usage.

13. Aspen should participate individually and/or with other Colorado River Basin water users in regional ocean, salt flats, and poor quality oil field wastewater/produced water (i.e., Rangely Field and Utah Basin) purification desalination and urban wastewater recycling for earning water-use credits.

14. Aspen should negotiate with Colorado River Basin Native American tribes to create constructive water savings and water-credit system for the benefit of reservation and also Aspen water usage.

15. Aspen should negotiate to replace Colorado River Basin hydroelectric-power generation with renewable energy to earn water storage credits for regional reservoir.

Scientists studying #water supply focus on weeks following peak #snowpack: April forecasts may no longer be reliable benchmark — @AspenJournalism

Volunteers learn how to measure how much water is contained in the snowpack, known as snow-water equivalent (SWE) at the SNOTEL site at the top of McClure Pass in March 2018. Water managers are gaining a better understanding that what happens in the weeks after peak snowpack in the spring can have an outsize influence on the year’s water supply. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Water managers in the Colorado River basin are gaining a better understanding that what happens in the weeks after peak snowpack — not just how much snow accumulated over the winter — can have an outsize influence on the year’s water supply.

Water year 2021 was historically bad, with an upper basin snowpack that peaked around 90% of average but translated to only 36% of average runoff into Lake Powell, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It was the second-worst runoff on record after 2002. One of the culprits was exceptionally thirsty soils from 2020’s hot and dry summer and fall, which soaked up snowmelt before runoff made it to streams. But those dry soils are only part of the story.

A new paper from the Desert Research Institute, a nonprofit science arm of the Nevada university system, found that heat waves in April 2021 drove record snowmelt rates at about 25% of snow-telemetry (SNOTEL) sites looked at across the West. SNOTEL is a network of remote sensing stations throughout the West’s mountainous watersheds that collect weather and snowpack information.

A heat wave that was concentrated over the Rocky Mountains on April 1-7 contributed to record snowmelt at 74 stations, including areas that feed the Colorado River.

A few different agencies release monthly water-supply forecasts for April through July, including the National Resource Conservation Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. The April forecast is the first prediction of how streamflows will shape up for the year.

But according to the paper, in 2021, “rates of snowmelt throughout April were alarming and quickly worsened summer runoff outlooks which underscores that 1 April may no longer be a reliable benchmark for western water supply.”

The paper did not quantify what exactly the record melt speed meant for water supply, but paper author and associate research professor of climatology Dan McEvoy said it definitely contributed to the poor inflow into the nation’s second-largest reservoir in 2021. It also shows there are many more factors relevant to predicting the water supply than just how much water is in the snowpack, a metric known as snow-water equivalent (SWE), which is measured by SNOTEL sites.

“There was a combination of things that was contributing to this really low runoff in places like the Colorado River basin,” McEvoy said.

Some of these other factors include very little April precipitation and warm nighttime temperatures, which didn’t allow the snowpack to get into the daily freeze-thaw cycle that’s common in the spring. Persistent high pressure kept skies clear and sunny, which meant that more of the snowpack sublimated, evaporating instead of turning into liquid.

“When it’s sunnier and warmer, you can lose some of that water directly to the atmosphere,” McEvoy said. “It doesn’t even get to melt and go into the runoff.”

These rapid melting events could also help set up prime conditions for wildfires, he said, something he wants to continue studying.

“When you have the snow disappear earlier there’s more time with the ground exposed, which contributes to drying out the vegetation in the spring and summer and an earlier onset to wildfire season,” McEvoy said.

After peak snowpack

Climatologists at Colorado State University are working on a similar study that looks at how factors such as precipitation after peak snowpack affect spring runoff. Their findings underscore how important the conditions of the six to eight weeks after peak snowpack are for predicting streamflows.

“One of the things we found that was crystal clear from the study was that one of the major sources of water-supply forecast error is what happens after peak snowpack,” said Peter Bennett Goble, a climatologist at CSU who is working on the study. “Just knowing how much uncertainty is still out there on April 1 or even April 15 probably allows water managers to be a little more cautious, maybe hold a little bit more back, especially if it looks like it’s going to be an early runoff.”

Predicting whether reservoirs will fill — and therefore how much water to release to make room for the inflow — can be tricky. Some municipal water providers use the Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement Program — with its lidar-equipped planes — to more accurately measure snowpack. For example, Denver Water has used CASM to see how much snow is in the headwaters of the Blue River basin, which feeds Dillon Reservoir, its largest storage bucket.

But aside from this technology, which is expensive and not yet available everywhere, water managers rely heavily on data from the SNOTEL sites to make streamflow forecasts. This method has limitations, providing just a snapshot of conditions at one location.

These limitations can be seen in recent years’ forecasts for Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River. Initial forecasts in April 2021 projected Ruedi could probably fill to its entire 102,373-acre-foot capacity, but the reservoir ended up only about 80% full that year. In 2020, each of the three main forecasting agencies also overpredicted Ruedi inflow for the months of April, May and June. (An acre-foot covers 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot.)

Tim Miller, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation who manages operations at Ruedi, said his models predicted a 2021 Ruedi inflow of 111,000 acre-feet, but only 77,000 acre-feet actually flowed in. That the models are based on historical SNOTEL data from past decades is a drawback as climate change progresses, but it’s the best we have, Miller said.

“It makes the assumption that what we have seen in the past is what we will see in the future, which is a really poor assumption when you’re in the middle of a change in the climate,” Miller said. “We will probably see events like we haven’t seen in the future and we are using what we’ve seen to predict them.”

Dave Kanzer, director of science and interstate matters for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said people often look for a single explanation when streamflows don’t match predictions. The River District owns and operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir, near Kremmling, and stores water in Ruedi Reservoir. But there is often a whole host of compounding factors that water managers will have to begin weighing more heavily as the climate warms.

“It’s not just about soil moisture, it’s not just about solar radiation, it’s not just about temperatures, it’s not just about the winds — it’s everything,” Kanzer said. “In some cases, like 2021, you get what some people like to call the perfect storm.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

#Water supply and growth: New annexation rule passes in #ColoradoSprings — KOAA #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

Click the link to read the article on the KOAA website (Bill Folsom), Here’s an excerpt:

The ongoing drought in the west motivated a request from Colorado Springs Utilities for an update to city ordinances on annexing new developments into the city. With five in favor and four against, City Council approved the change saying for any development annexations to be considered, the city’s water supply has to be at 130% of what is needed for existing residents. Mayor John Suthers supported the change saying tough decisions are being forced by the current water crisis along the Colorado River Basin.

“Our citizens are asking a simple question, ‘Can you ensure we’ll have enough water?’ This ordinance acts in the public interest and answers that question loud and clear,” said Suthers…

Many developers from the community spoke against the change saying it will make large developments outside the city almost impossible.

Suthers Tweeted, “If we do nothing to maintain a buffer between our water supply and our water usage, and the city suffers a major curtailment of our Colorado River water, further drought will put us in an untenable situation, and we will be responsible for a failure of public policy.”

Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) recommended the 130% number following an in-depth review of the organization’s capacity and ability to provide water to the city’s citizens.  Utilities maintain that the city’s 30% margin buffer allows CSU to consistently provide water year in and year out.

Data dashboard: #RoaringForkRiver basin #snowpack reaches 126% of average:  18.1 inches of SWE recorded at Schofield Pass — @AspenJournalism (January 13, 2023)

Click the link to access the dashboard on the Aspen Journalism webiste (Laurine Lassalle):

Aspen Journalism is compiling a data dashboard highlighting metrics of local public interest, updated weekly.

Snowpack at McClure Pass roughly 150% of average

Snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin reached 126% of average for Jan. 8 with 9.7 inches of snow-water equivalent, according to NOAA. Recent snowfall has increased the basin snowpack by 43% in the past two weeks.

SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 94.9% of average on Jan. 8, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 7.4 inches, up from 6.81 inches on Jan. 8. Last year on Jan. 8, the SNOTEL station up the pass (located at elevation 10,600 feet) recorded an SWE of 8.58 inches, or 110% of average.

The monitoring station at McClure Pass located at elevation 9,500 feet recorded a SWE of 11.18 inches on Jan. 8, or 149.1% of average. That’s up from a SWE of 9.09 inches on Jan. 1. Last year, on Jan. 8, the station also measured a snowpack holding 8.39 inches of water.

On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe, which sits at an elevation of 10,400 feet, reached 8.5 inches on Jan. 8, or 123.2% of average.

Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 18.11 inches on Jan. 8, which represents 123.2% of average. Schofield Pass sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte.

Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams.

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map January 12, 2023 via the NRCS.

Local and state-wide groups join forces to boost winter flow in the #FryingpanRiver — #Colorado Water Trust #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Ruedi Reservoir, near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, was still frozen in early April 2021. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From email from the Colorado Water Trust (Kate Ryan, Rick Lofaro, Brendon Langenhuizen, and Rob Viehl):

Colorado Water Trust and Roaring Fork Conservancy have teamed up with the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Colorado River District) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board to purchase and release water from Ruedi Reservoir to mitigate the impacts of anchor ice on the Fryingpan River. On Friday, December 16, the first release of water from Ruedi Reservoir will begin. The project aims to release 1.26 billion gallons of water (or 3,866 acre-feet) between December 16, 2022, and March 1, 2023, to the Fryingpan River, maintaining flows around 65 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) in order to diminish ice buildup.

Anchor ice is a natural occurrence, but can have serious consequences on the hydrology of the river and the health of the ecosystem within. When there are low flows in the river during the cold winter months, large amounts of anchor ice can form on the bottom of the river, negatively impacting fish and macroinvertebrate function and diversity. Maintaining minimum winter flows between 60 to 70 cfs increases ecological resilience in the river through mitigating the formation of the anchor ice, and improving recovery from previous anchor ice impacts.

The partners will monitor the flow levels in the Fryingpan River, water temperature, air temperature, and anchor ice presence, from December through March. Anchor ice survey results will be compared to previous two years to continue to observe trends and build a long- term data set. “Roaring Fork Conservancy’s unique anchor ice monitoring program will allow us to objectively document anchor ice over time. This allows us to continue to promote management of Ruedi Reservoir with local benefits in mind” says Rick Lofaro, Executive Director of Roaring Fork Conservancy.


#RoaringForkRiver Basin #snowpack up 38% since last week — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Laurine Lassalle):

Snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin reached 120.5% of average for Dec. 4 with 4.7 inches of snow-water equivalent, according to NOAA.

SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 93.6% of average on Dec. 4, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 4.21 inches, up from 2.91 inches on Nov. 27. Last year on Dec. 4, the SNOTEL station up the pass (located at elevation 10,600 feet) recorded an SWE of 3.19 inches, or 70.9% of average.

The monitoring station at McClure Pass located at elevation 9,500 feet recorded a SWE of 4.29 inches on Dec. 4, or 130% of average. That’s up from a SWE of 3.5 inches on Nov. 27. Last year, on Dec. 4, the station also measured a snowpack holding 0.39 inches of water.

On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe, which sits at an elevation of 10,400 feet, reached 4.8 inches on Dec. 4, or 126.1% of average.

Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 8.31 inches on Dec. 4, which represents 109.3% of average. Schofield Pass sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte.

Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams.

Most streams keep running close to the average

The Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek flowed at 95 cfs on Dec. 4, or 93.3% of average, according to the USGS gauge. That’s down from Nov. 27, when the river was flowing at 101 cfs, or 103.1% of average.

At Stillwater, located upstream of Aspen, the Fork on Dec. 4 ran at 15.2 cfs or 52.4% of average, down from 15.4 cfs but up from 51.3% of average on Nov. 27.

The upper Fork’s flow is impacted by the Independence Pass transbasin diversion system that sends Roaring Fork headwaters to Front Range cities. Water flowing through the tunnel under the Continental Divide between Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek and the South Fork of Lake Creek measured 12.2 cfs on Dec. 4.

The Roaring Fork at Emma, below the confluence with the dam-controlled Fryingpan, saw on Dec. 4 streamflow of 263 cfs, or about 96% of average. That’s down from 270 cfs, but up from 94.4% of average, on Nov. 27.

Meanwhile, the Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, which is not impacted by dams or transbasin diversions, flowed at 65 cfs, or 110.7% of average, on Dec. 4. Last week, the river ran at 66 cfs, or 104.6% of average.

Data dashboard: #RoaringForkBasin #snowpack up 38% since last week — @AspenJournalism

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map December 6, 2022 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Laurine Lassalle):

Snowpack at Indy Pass has increased by 45% since last week

Snowpack in the Roaring Fork basin reached 120.5% of average for Dec. 4 with 4.7 inches of snow-water equivalent, according to NOAA.

SNOTEL sites that monitor snowfall throughout the winter measured the snowpack at Independence Pass at 93.6% of average on Dec. 4, with a “snow water equivalent” (SWE) of 4.21 inches, up from 2.91 inches on Nov. 27. Last year on Dec. 4, the SNOTEL station up the pass (located at elevation 10,600 feet) recorded an SWE of 3.19 inches, or 70.9% of average.

The monitoring station at McClure Pass located at elevation 9,500 feet recorded a SWE of 4.29 inches on Dec. 4, or 130% of average. That’s up from a SWE of 3.5 inches on Nov. 27. Last year, on Dec. 4, the station also measured a snowpack holding 0.39 inches of water.

On the northeast side of the Roaring Fork Basin, snowpack at Ivanhoe, which sits at an elevation of 10,400 feet, reached 4.8 inches on Dec. 4, or 126.1% of average.

Snowpack at Schofield Pass reached 8.31 inches on Dec. 4, which represents 109.3% of average. Schofield Pass sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet between Marble and Crested Butte.

Snow water equivalent — the metric used to track snowpack — is the amount of water contained within the snowpack, which will become our future water supply running in local rivers and streams…

Most streams keep running close to the average

The Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek flowed at 95 cfs on Dec. 4, or 93.3% of average, according to the USGS gauge. That’s down from Nov. 27, when the river was flowing at 101 cfs, or 103.1% of average.

At Stillwater, located upstream of Aspen, the Fork on Dec. 4 ran at 15.2 cfs or 52.4% of average, down from 15.4 cfs but up from 51.3% of average on Nov. 27.

The upper Fork’s flow is impacted by the Independence Pass transbasin diversion system that sends Roaring Fork headwaters to Front Range cities. Water flowing through the tunnel under the Continental Divide between Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek and the South Fork of Lake Creek measured 12.2 cfs on Dec. 4.

The Roaring Fork at Emma, below the confluence with the dam-controlled Fryingpan, saw on Dec. 4 streamflow of 263 cfs, or about 96% of average. That’s down from 270 cfs, but up from 94.4% of average, on Nov. 27.

Meanwhile, the Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, which is not impacted by dams or transbasin diversions, flowed at 65 cfs, or 110.7% of average, on Dec. 4. Last week, the river ran at 66 cfs, or 104.6% of average.

Studies tackle #water-replacement options for shortages on #CrystalRiver: #Drought conditions stress water supplies for #Marble, Crystal valley residents — @AspenJournlism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

The Crystal River runs low outside of Carbondale on September 1, 2020. With average temperatures warming in summer months by as much as 3.5 degrees since the 1950s in Garfield County, streamflows are trending down as peak runoff comes earlier and more water is sucked up by evaporation and dry soils, stressing available water supplies in late summer and fall. Photo credit: Dan Bayer/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A study of a water replacement plan on the Crystal River is looking at nature-based solutions, but experts say some type of storage will also probably need to be built to solve shortages in dry years.

Wendy Ryan, an engineer with Colorado River Engineering who is heading up an analysis of a basin-wide backup water-supply plan, gave a progress update at the Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting this week. The study was funded largely by a state grant and undertaken by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Conservancy District.

“We have a couple landowners near Marble we are working with to see if we can put storage supplies on their properties,” Ryan said in response to a question asking her what solutions she had found. “We don’t have any shovel-ready projects. We did a lot of work upfront, and now it’s simply trying to find what we can build.”

During the hot, dry summer of 2018, the Ella Ditch, which pulls water from the Crystal River and irrigates hayfields south of Carbondale, placed a call for the first time. That means the Ella Ditch wasn’t getting the full amount to which it is entitled and upstream junior water users had to stop taking water so that the Ella could get its full amount.

The Ella Ditch has water rights that date to 1902, and any water rights younger than that — including those held by the town of Carbondale, the Marble Water Company and several residential subdivisions along the Crystal River — were technically supposed to be shut off under a strict administration of the river by the state Division of Water Resources. Under Colorado’s system of water law known as prior appropriation, those with the oldest water rights have first use of the river.

Most junior water rights holders have what’s known as an augmentation plan, which allows them to continue using water during a call by releasing water from a backup source, such as a nearby reservoir. The problem on the Crystal is that several of these residential subdivisions don’t have an augmentation plan.

Engineers from Division 5 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources have said that if water users work together to find solutions and come up with an augmentation plan, they won’t shut off indoor residential water use if the call happens again. Outdoor watering could still be shut off.

The first phase of the study, which River District representatives presented to Pitkin County commissioners in June 2021, was a demand quantification, which put numbers on the amount of water needed at different times of year.

Engineers found 90 structures — many of them wells for in-house water use — that take water from the river system and which would need to be included in the augmentation plan. These structures deliver water to 197 homes; 80 service connections in Marble; about 23 irrigated acres; Beaver Lake and Orlosky Reservoir in Marble; 16,925 square-feet of commercial space; and livestock.

In order for these water users to keep taking water during a downstream call by an irrigator, they would have to replace about 113 acre-feet in the Crystal River per year. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot and can typically meet the annual needs of one or two families.) The amount of extra flow that would need to be added to the river is small — just .58 cubic feet per second during July, the peak replacement month.

The Ella Ditch, in the Crystal River Valley, placed a call for the first time ever during the drought-stricken summer of 2018. That meant the Town of Carbondale had to borrow water from the East Mesa Ditch under an emergency water supply plan. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Wild & Scenic jeopardized?

Ryan and staff from the River District have said they are not considering storage on the mainstem of the Crystal River, which could jeopardize a federal Wild & Scenic designation, a long-sought-after goal of Pitkin County, local environmental groups and some residents. A Wild & Scenic standing would mean no dams or out-of-basin diversions.

“We were never going to consider any mainstem storage on the Crystal River,” Ryan said. “We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that potential designation on the Crystal, and what we are looking at shouldn’t.”

But Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said it’s hard to see how upstream storage and a Wild & Scenic designation won’t conflict.

“It troubles me to hear the engineers say it’s hard to envision a solution that doesn’t involve storage,” she said. “So that’s just a red flag. It’s always been a red flag for Pitkin County.”

McNicholas Kury and two other roundtable members voted in 2019 against funding the study unless storage was off the table.

The Crystal River at the fish hatchery just south of Carbondale was running at about 10 cubic feet per second on Oct. 13, 2020, much lower than the state’s instream flow standard of 60 cfs. Rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed have seen below-average streamflows in water year 2020, which ended Oct. 1, despite a slightly above-average snowpack. Dry soil conditions threaten to bring a similar scenario in water year 2021. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Nature-based solutions

A parallel study, undertaken by the River District and environmental-and-recreation advocacy group American Rivers, is looking at nature-based solutions. The idea is that by keeping water on the landscape higher in the basin, it could recharge aquifers and boost river flows in late summer.

“We have been analyzing whether the reconnection of floodplains can assist with aquifer recharge and natural water storage while also improving the resilience of watersheds and potentially contributing to later-season flows,” said Fay Hartman, American Rivers conservation director for the Southwest region.

According to Zane Kessler, the River District’s director of government relations, there are four potential areas for nature-based projects: the Coal Basin area; Avalanche Creek upstream of its confluence with the Crystal; the Janeway area, downstream of the confluence of Avalanche Creek and the Crystal; and the confluence of Thompson Creek and the Crystal. But none of the sites are perfect, Kessler said.

“The River District and American Rivers are partners in this effort investigating whether turning back the clock on past alterations that have degraded the Crystal River can help recapture some of the climate resilience we have lost,” he said. “Improving the storage in floodplains and wetlands I think we see as an innovative and lower-impact approach to meeting late-season water needs than dams or storage in the headwaters.”

Findings and recommendations from the nature-based solutions analysis are expected by the end of the month. But Ryan said some kind of storage is still needed because nature-based solutions will still not be enough to meet the supply-demand gap in dry years, according to her analysis.

“It might meet a portion of our demands, but it’s not going to meet all our demands,” she said.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Dec. 5 edition of The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent.

Ruedi Water and Power Authority board unveils valley-wide outdoor watering standards: Guidance focused on time of day and day of week — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

The Weaver Ditch as it winds through Sopris Park in Carbondale. While the ditch is an amenity for the community, the water in the ditch comes directly out of the Crystal River, which is often stressed from lack of water. Some Carbondale residents irrigate their lawns and landscaping with the town’s ditches, like the Weaver Ditch, that flow through town. A new unified outdoor watering standard would not apply to those who use ditch water, but they still are encouraged to comply. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

In an effort to unify the Roaring Fork watershed, a local agency has developed valley-wide outdoor watering standards that its board members hope will be adopted by municipal water providers. 

Last week the Ruedi Water and Power Authority board, which is made up of representatives from local towns and counties, gave its unanimous support to a set of unified permanent watering standards. The standards are focused on time of day and day of week for outdoor watering and would apply to any residential or commercial customer receiving municipal water from the city of Aspen, town of Basalt, town of Carbondale, city of Glenwood Springs, Snowmass Water & Sanitation District and Mid-Valley Metropolitan District. 

The proposed schedule would limit outdoor watering to between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. three days a week. Properties with odd-numbered addresses could irrigate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays; even-numbered properties could water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No outdoor watering would be allowed on Mondays. Water providers could still enact more stringent restrictions depending on local conditions in their areas; the standards are intended to be a new baseline.

“If we can make this change, the idea that (watering restrictions) change from year to year to year will go away,” said Rachel Richards, Aspen City Council and RWAPA board member. “It’s going to be much easier and less expensive than having to tell people every year what the rules are this summer.”

The new watering standards were developed with the help of a project accelerator grant from WaterNow Alliance, which according to its website is a network of water leaders advancing climate resilient water strategies, and Boulder-based environmental advocacy group Western Resource Advocates. Outdoor watering of lawns and landscaping is often the largest water use category for local water providers; for the city of Aspen, outdoor irrigation represents about 70% of total water use. 

The proposed schedule would result in water savings because watering would happen during the coolest periods of the day, peak demands would be reduced and one day a week of no watering would allow storage to be refilled, according to a memo from WaterNow Alliance and WRA. 

“The three-day-per-week schedule is relatively easy to communicate to residents and other water users and it can be easily programmed into all types of irrigation controllers,” the memo reads. 

The valley-wide watering standards were an outgrowth of the regional water efficiency plan, said RWAPA Executive Director April Long. 

“We learned from the providers that were part of that plan that they still really needed some unified messaging about outdoor water use,” Long said. “We realized we don’t even have common ground to tell people exactly what to do because we have so many drought stages, and restrictions implemented in different ways. We actually need some baseline standards so we can provide a common message that’s not confusing for all of our residents.”

There are some exceptions to the standards. Outdoor watering can still occur any time of day with a handheld hose or drip irrigation. And those who irrigate with water from a ditch, like many residents in the town of Carbondale, are not subject to the standards, but are encouraged to comply. 

The standards lay out penalties for violation, including a written warning for a first violation, and fines increasing to $500 for a fourth violation. But proponents will focus solely on an education campaign for the first season before issuing warnings or fines. 

The next step is for Long to present the watering standards to each of the participating municipalities and get them approved by elected officials. 

This story ran in The Aspen Times on Nov. 19.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

#Aspen’s #water use stays steady: Cities face #conservation challenges in face of growth, climate change — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Residents and visitors spend time in Aspen’s Wagner Park on Sept. 28, 2020. Visitation and lodging unit occupancy rates are two variables that influence Aspen’s demand for treated water, 70% of which is used to water outdoor spaces such as parks and gardens, according to city officials. CREDIT: NATALIE KELTNER-MCNEIL / ASPEN JOURNALISM.

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Since 2017, the city of Aspen’s water use has remained steady, illustrating the difficulty of reducing consumption through voluntary conservation measures amid continued growth and the effects of climate change.

According to numbers provided by city staff, total metered accounts for water use between 2017 and 2021 hovered between 800 million and 900 million gallons per year coming from the city’s treated-water system. Aspen’s system serves about 3,960 customer connections in the city’s urban-growth boundary.

2019 — a wet year — saw the lowest use in the data set, down to 828,650,350 gallons, or about 2,543 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of 1 foot and can typically meet the annual needs of one or two families.)

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed or limited many businesses, stores, restaurants and government facilities, the year 2020 saw water use rise 7.7% from 2019 to about 2,739 acre-feet. Water use then dropped 4.7% in 2021 to about 2,612 acre-feet.

Water use is very seasonal in Aspen as outdoor watering represents about 70% of the city’s total annual water use, according to Tyler Christoff, the city’s director of utilities.

In July and August 2021, residential use was seven times as much as in the offseason month of April. And residential use in the summer months was five times greater than that in January.

2022’s June-September irrigation season recorded the second-lowest total water use since 2017, with about 1,546 acre-feet, after 2019’s 1,523 acre-feet. Summer residential use dropped by 3.3% from last year.

Each year, about half of Aspen’s treated-water use is residential, which includes both indoor water use and outdoor lawn and landscaping watering, and one-fourth of the total water consumption is commercial. Multifamily units, irrigation and city facilities account for the rest.

Aspen’s water use also tracks closely with local drought conditions, with drier years seeing more water use. For example, water use was down in 2019, when Pitkin County did not experience drought conditions during the irrigation season until September, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Water use was up the following year, when Pitkin County experienced increasingly severe drought conditions as the summer went on, reaching extreme drought by mid-August. With more rain over the past two summers, water use was lower than in 2020.

The past several years of steady water use have shown that despite a much-praised water-efficient landscape ordinance designed to limit water use in redevelopment, smart meters, a tiered rate system that charges big water users more and year-round Stage 2 water restrictions, getting some customers to change their behavior, especially when it comes to outdoor watering, is challenging.

“I think (outdoor use) is not as well understood from a conservation perspective,” Christoff said. “It’s not a water use that you are directly interacting with on a daily basis. Most irrigation is automated. It just kind of occurs, and that creates an inherent kind of disconnection.”

But Christoff said the fact that Aspen’s water use has remained mostly flat while the number of taps and fixtures has increased is a win. According to numbers in Aspen’s 2015 Water Efficiency Plan and numbers provided by Christoff, Aspen’s equivalent capacity units (ECUs) have gone from 17,300 in 2014 to 17,853 in 2021, about a 3.2% increase, creating more demand on the system. One ECU is equivalent to a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home with a fully equipped kitchen.

“I really think it’s a positive thing that we have stayed relatively steady despite more fixtures, more use, more visitation, more building, all of those things,” Christoff said. “That’s really a credit to our conservation program and our community understanding that the resource is finite and wise use of it is really important.”

Aspen aims to use enhanced conservation to address some of its projected water shortages in the future. According to Aspen’s Integrated Water Resource Plan, enhanced conservation could be used to decrease indoor water use by 12% and outdoor use by 25% by the end of 2070. But it also said the yield from enhanced conservation is uncertain because it depends on customers’ behavioral changes. Hotter temperatures from climate change are also predicted to increase outdoor watering demand.

Aspen’s IWRP, which was completed last November by consultant Carollo Engineers, lays out Aspen’s projected water shortages for 50 years under future climate change and growth scenarios. Under the worst-case scenario — where climate change increased outdoor watering by 25% and a 1.8% growth rate that pushed Aspen’s total population (including seasonal residents) to almost 68,000 people, with only modest conservation — Aspen’s total water demand could be 9,281 acre-feet by 2070. The worst shortfalls under those conditions could occur in two consecutive dry years and be about 2,300 acre-feet total over the course of both years, according to the IWRP. The report offers six portfolios of water-source combinations to make up the shortfall, including a potential 5,820-acre-foot reservoir that was estimated to cost $400 million in 2021 dollars.

Christoff said that although the 25% figure is aggressive, he believes it’s attainable and pointed to the city’s water-efficient landscaping ordinance as one path to getting there. Aspen’s landscaping standards, enacted in 2017, set an upper limit for water use for any project — including landscaping, grading and construction — that disturbs 1,000 square feet and more than 25% of a property. (The ordinance is also triggered by a redevelopment of 50% or more of an existing structure.) That limit is set at no more than 7.5 gallons per square foot per season. Redevelopment and new development must meet certain criteria for soil, plant material and irrigation systems, and must submit a report from a third-party certified landscape-irrigation auditor.

Christoff said there have been 87 projects permitted so far under the water-efficient landscape ordinance. The city’s goal is to save 37 acre-feet each year with the ordinance by 2050. Christoff said of the 87 projects permitted, only about 10 are complete and have passed final inspection, so he could not put a number on how much water had been saved so far.

“We still need a few more years of projects working through the process to start being able to really quantify these savings,” he said in an email.

Aspen’s 2015 Water Efficiency Plan had a goal of reducing demand in 2035 by almost 600 acre-feet per year relative to what demands were projected to be without implementation of the water-efficiency program. Christoff said city staff feels like they are on track to meet this conservation goal.

“Our Water Efficiency Plan provides an outline and roadmap for these efforts,” he said in an email. “If we are able to successfully follow our plan and continue to see community support, we believe we will hit our targets.”

Some Western Slope cities have focused in recent years on getting a handle on outdoor watering because it is what is known as “consumptive” use. For residents on a municipal water system, with indoor water use such as showering, washing dishes and flushing toilets, the water goes down the drain and to the wastewater-treatment plant, where it’s cleaned and released back to the river. The vast majority of indoor water use is “non-consumptive.”

But with outdoor watering, lawns, shrubs, trees and soil absorb most of the water; it depletes the waterway from which it comes.

Since 2012, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, which provides water to the Vail area, has focused its conservation efforts solely on outdoor use.

“We don’t need to worry about indoor water; it goes back to the river,” said Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the district. “We just need to concentrate on outdoor water use, so that’s what we’ve done. Lawn watering is our first target.”

As climate change increases temperatures and lengthens the growing season, some of the water savings through efficiency and conservation programs may be wiped out. Water use during drought years, such as 2020, remained stubbornly high in Aspen. And a review of Bureau of Reclamation data by Colorado River experts suggests that water use throughout the upper basin is greater in dry years and less in wet years. If the water isn’t falling from the sky, people tend to take more from the rivers.

Residences among largest water users

If Aspen wants to reduce overall water use, it will have to address the largest water users, including residences with lots of outdoor watering.

“Conservation from the highest water users could have the largest impact on overall water use reductions,” the IWRP reads.

According to the IWRP, two single-family residences were in the top 10 individual water users in 2018, alongside Aspen’s biggest hotels, apartment complexes and city facilities. The two residences — which the city does not identify — were the seventh- and eighth-biggest water users, using 6.5 million gallons (nearly 20 acre-feet) and 5.8 million gallons (nearly 18 acre-feet) of water, respectively. The seventh-biggest water user used 1.4 million gallons (about 4.3 acre-feet) per ECU.

According to the IWRP, much of this high water use may be attributed to outdoor use. About 70 of more than 2,500 single-family residential accounts show water use of more than 1 acre-foot per year per ECU.

Christoff said city staff reach out to these large users with the offer of a free irrigation audit to assess their water use. Smart metering that lets staff and residents check their water use in real time also helps people better understand where they may be wasting water or have a problem such as a leak. But reducing use among Aspen’s biggest users, especially single-family homes, has been challenging.

Since 2005, Aspen has had a four-tiered billing structure in which properties that use more water pay a higher rate. But this doesn’t result in a reduction in water use for some customers, particularly those wealthy Aspenites who can afford to pay more.

“There are customers within our service territory where a financial disincentive is not a disincentive to them,” Christoff said. “Some customers, regardless of how high that third and fourth tier rates are, they are still going to use that amount.”

This concept is known as price inelasticity, where demand stays the same, despite fluctuating prices, said Lindsay Rogers, a water policy analyst with Western Resource Advocates who has worked with the city of Aspen on water projects.

“Customers who receive a pricey water bill, it might not motivate them to reduce outdoor water demand,” Rogers said. “That’s a challenge because that’s one of the biggest tools that municipal utilities have to encourage water conservation.”

Participants in a working group who helped shape Aspen’s IWRP said the city may be leaning too much on pricing to drive water conservation and cautioned that it may have a disproportionate impact on lower-income residents, while not creating a sufficient disincentive for other residents to reduce water use. The same group also ranked outdoor watering of lawns and landscaping as among the lowest priorities during a drought.

Aspen’s municipal code allows for fines or a municipal summons for chronic water-wasters who violate water restrictions. Stage 2 water restrictions, which have been in effect since September 2020, include the following: an even/odd day outdoor watering schedule depending on address; no watering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. except from a handheld hose or drip irrigation system; no outdoor watering of sidewalks, driveways or patios; and other restrictions.

But, according to Christoff, city staffers have never issued a fine or summons, although they have contacted property owners by email or letter. Aspen prefers education over enforcement, Christoff said.

“We talk to a number of water providers around Colorado, and across the board for the most part, folks either don’t have the staff capacity or inclination to enforce it,” Rogers said. “A lot of people just don’t want to be water cops.”

Other cities have had success

Several municipalities in the Colorado River basin have been able in recent years to decouple water use from population growth. That means that water use decreases even as population increases. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority have decreased overall water use by 6% while the number of single-family equivalent units increased by 25% since 2002.

Although water use has seen years of ups and downs, Aspen’s IWRP shows that since 1995, overall demand is generally increasing and is projected to continue increasing.

Some Front Range cities, which take a portion of the water from the Colorado River basin through transmountain diversions, have also seen some success with their conservation programs. Aurora, for example, has seen its population rise by 46% over the past two decades, but the amount of water it has distributed has decreased by 9%, according to numbers provided by the city.

But it hasn’t been easy, according to Aurora Water General Manager Marshall Brown. There is a limit to voluntary measures. Developers didn’t take advantage of a program that offered a credit for tap fees for water-efficient landscaping. And not many customers signed up for a $3,000 turf-replacement rebate.

“Going into this year, we said we’ve really got to ramp this up,” Brown said. “We’ve got to tie economics more directly to what we are doing is one of the lessons we learned. And we’ve got to come up with literally code restrictions because we couldn’t get much progress with voluntary stuff.”

Aurora was among a group of municipalities that signed a memorandum of understanding in August committing to reducing nonfunctional turf grass by 30%. Aurora City Council last month passed an ordinance that prohibits turf for aesthetic purposes in all new development and redevelopment, and in front yards. Turf in backyards is limited to 45% of the space or to 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.

“We know we will see results from that,” Brown said.

This home is part of the City of Aurora’s water-wise landscape rebate program. Aurora City Council last month passed an ordinance that prohibits turf for aesthetic purposes in all new development and redevelopment, and front yards. Photo credit: The City of Aurora

A draconian approach

Las Virgenes Municipal Water District provides water to several exclusive and gated enclaves of Southern California such as Calabasas and Hidden Hills. Like Aspen, the area is home to many wealthy residents who may not be as sensitive to water price hikes. The district made headlines this year when it began installing flow-restrictor devices on the homes of water wasters — those who used 150% or more of their monthly water budget four or more times.

The flow restrictors make it so that if more than one person in the home or more than one appliance is using water at the same time, it will come out as an annoying trickle. But the real goal of the restrictors is to stop the functioning of outdoor irrigation systems, which account for about 70% of residents’ water use, according Michael McNutt, the water district’s public affairs and communications manager.

“It’s a great way to get a wake-up call to those individuals who just consistently abuse how much water they use,” McNutt said. “People have got to get the message. We provide the water and we educate and we provide tools, and if they are not going to control how much water they use, we will do it for them until they get the point.”

Water managers say increasing conservation can be challenging, in part, because residents are resistant to change. Thirsty green lawns have been part of American culture and an aesthetically pleasing symbol of prosperity for a long time. But as climate change and drought continue to rob the West of water, that attitude needs to change, McNutt said.

“The barrier I’m seeing is evolving that mindset into something where I can have climate-appropriate landscaping throughout my property and I’m going to look at that and find that just as aesthetically beautiful as a green lawn,” he said. “Green lawns are going to be a thing of the past.”

Although Christoff said there is currently little appetite among Aspen’s elected officials for more-aggressive monitoring of residents’ water use, tools such as the flow restrictor could be part of the city’s future, especially as climate change pushes water utilities to do more with less.

“I think stuff like that is absolutely on the plate,” he said. “That’s not, as a water manager, where I’m looking to go, but as the resource becomes more in demand or more scarce, those drastic-type measures might come more to the forefront.”

Aspen Journalism is supported by the city of Aspen’s community nonprofit grants program.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more information, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Newly Funded Water Projects to Aid in More Accurate #Water Forecasting — The #ColoradoRiver District #COriver #aridification

Soil Moisture sensing device. Photo credit: Colorado River
District

Click the link to read the release on the Colorado River District website:

During the Fourth Quarterly General and Enterprise Meeting of 2022, the Board of Directors approved $195,293 for four new Community Funding Partnership projects. In less than two years of operation, the Community Funding Partnership has supported over 60 projects and awarded over $5.6 million to benefit West Slope water, according to Amy Moyer, Director of Strategic Partnerships.

Two of the most recent board-approved projects represent critical steps forward in accurately forecasting water supplies in the Colorado River Basin.

The Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) Snow Mapping in the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Watersheds, and the Roaring Fork Basin – Evaluation of Soil Moisture for Water Planning will increase the precision, reliability, and understanding of snowpack and soil moisture measurements, respectively.

According to the project summary provided by the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI) in its application, “In the Colorado River Headwaters Basin in 2021, a March snowpack of around 91% of average translated into only 54% of average streamflow by end of June (data from NRCS), contributing to severe deficits in the water supply and creating challenges for water managers.”

Devices such as SNOTel (snow telemetry) sites have been used for decades to measure snowpack levels. The data gathered from SNOTEL sites combined with 30-year climate averages predict how much water will likely end up in the river after the snow melts. While the sites accurately reflect snow conditions in a localized area, they are limited in scope and struggle to account for variability between drainages within the same river basin. Soil moisture measurement stations are even more sporadic across the River District’s fifteen counties. The data and analyses gathered by ASO and AGCI will create a more comprehensive picture of the overall health of the snowpack and its transition to streamflow by leveraging new technology and real time measurements.

A large part mission of the Colorado River District is to ensure that policymakers and water managers have accurate and up-to-date data and modeling. Over 65% of the Colorado River’s natural flow originates within the District’s fifteen counties making decision-support tools a critical need for water managers across the West.

Funded Projects

Airborne Snow Observatory Snow Mapping in the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Watersheds – Water Year 2023

Project Applicant: Airborne Snow Observatory, Inc.
Approved Amount: $75,000
Location: Eagle, Pitkin Counties

Initially a program within NASA, Airborne Snow Observatory, Inc. (ASO) is a Colorado Public Benefit Corporation that combines state-of-the-art remote sensing tools with snowpack modeling and fast data processing to deliver snow measurements of high accuracy, high resolution, and full-watershed coverage. The proposed project will support ASO snow mapping flights during winter/spring 2023 in the Upper Fryingpan and Roaring Fork watersheds. This project will provide an unparalleled inventory of the mountain snowpack that supplies the majority of runoff in the Roaring Fork River system.

Roaring Fork Basin – Evaluation of Soil Moisture for Water Planning

Project Applicant: Aspen Global Change Institute
Approved Amount: $60,293
Location: Garfield, Pitkin Counties

The Aspen Global Change Institute manages the Roaring Fork Observation Network (also known as iRON) to collect and share data on soil moisture, climate, and ecology in the Colorado River headwaters basin. The iRON program centers around data collected by ten stations at different elevations and ecosystem types across the Roaring Fork Watershed. This project responds to a community need to better understand how soil moisture data can be effectively leveraged to better understand the relationship between snowpack, soil moisture, and streamflow in Western Colorado and beyond.

GVIC ML 260 Lateral Piping Project

Project Applicant: Grand Valley Irrigation Company
Approved Amount: $40,000
Location: Mesa County

The Grand Valley Irrigation Company owns and operates the ML 260 lateral, which includes a 3,540-foot stretch that remains an open, trapezoidal ditch comprised of aging concrete. The project will pipe the remaining portion of the lateral resulting in a completely enclosed system. Piping will greatly reduce maintenance, such as monthly silt and root removal and concrete work to patch the ditch, while improving flows by eliminating silt deposition. Additionally, piping will prevent approximately 153 tons of salt from entering the Colorado River and reduce seepage losses that are currently estimated at 45 AF per year.

Ruedi Winter Releases

Project
Applicant: Roaring Fork Conservancy
Approved Amount: $20,000
Location: Eagle County

Increased pressure on the Fryingpan River due to growing population, recreation, and climate change has led to the need for strategic management of Ruedi Reservoir to ensure long-term ecological health and viability of the fishery. Maintaining minimum winter flows at 60-70 cfs increases ecological resiliency through mitigating the formation of anchor ice, which can negatively impact macroinvertebrate community function and diversity. Roaring Fork Conservancy, along with Colorado Water Trust, will partner with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and local entities to fund the release of 25 cfs from Ruedi Reservoir to supplement winter flows on the Fryingpan River. The Fryingpan River, a Gold Medal Stream, hosts thousands of anglers a year. Based on a 2015 Economic Impact study, the river accounts for over $3 million in economic output.

Thompson Divide protections are just as significant as Camp Hale designation: New oil and gas leases would be blocked in a region that constitutes one of the largest expanses of roadless forests in #Colorado — Colorado Newsline #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

An aerial view of Assignation Ridge in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (Sammy Herdman):

On Oct. 12, Coloradans were given a reason to celebrate: President Joe Biden designated the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado. That same morning, before Air Force One touched down in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the Department of the Interior received a proposal for a 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal for the Thompson Divide area. If approved, the withdrawal would conserve nearly 225,000 acres in Western Colorado for 20 years by prohibiting new mining and oil and gas drilling projects.

The Thompson Divide is a mid-elevation landscape of old growth spruce-fir forests, massive aspen groves and pristine habitat. Combined with the surrounding public lands, the Thompson Divide constitutes one of the largest expanses of unfragmented, roadless forests in Colorado. The area is a reservoir for large mammals, such as black bears, mule deer and elk, which thrive in expansive habitats. The streams and rivers of the Thompson Divide sustain world-class trout fisheries.

Named a “crown jewel” by U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and “great, wild country” by former President Theodore Roosevelt, the Thompson Divide is more than just wildlife habitat. Anglers come to fish and outdoor enthusiasts come to bike, hike and cross country ski. Each year, Colorado Parks and Wilderness sells 20,000 regional big game licenses to hunters. These visitors stay in hotels and patronize bait shops, grocery stores and restaurants in the nearby towns of Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. Ranchers, some of whom descended from the area’s namesake, Myron Thompson, graze their cattle in the Thompson Divide’s abundant grasses and shrubs, then sell high quality, grass-fed beef throughout the Western Slope and Front Range.

The Thompson Divide is the economic, recreational and ecological soul of the region. Yet, in the 2000s, the Thompson Divide was riddled with new leases for oil and gas extraction. Locals feared a future in which short-term extraction would strip the landscape of large forests, big game and clean streams. One study found that a community near an oil and gas development north of the Thompson Divide had elevated levels of toxic chemicals in the air and benzene (a known carcinogen) leaks in residential water wells.

An enormous amount of effort and infrastructure is required to develop land leased for oil and gas extraction: tearing down forests to build roads, importing heavy machinery and initiating a steady stream of trucks to carry in millions of gallons of water and fracking fluid. All of these activities present an existential threat to the natural characteristics that make the Thompson Divide special.

To protect the Thompson Divide from oil and gas, ranchers, farmers, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists, businesspeople and community leaders banded together. This grassroots coalition succeeded in drawing attention to the threats oil and gas extraction posed to the area. Lease after lease was revoked after the Bureau of Land Management revealed that it hadn’t done the requisite environmental impact analyses.

By 2017, the Thompson Divide was no longer in imminent peril. However, because the Thompson Divide sits atop pockets of natural gas it has retained the attention of oil and gas proponents — including the Colorado Oil and Gas Association — who are resistant to prohibiting drilling there. That’s one of the reasons this region hasn’t received permanent protection.

State leaders, such as Democrats U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, have attempted to permanently protect the area by passing the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, which was later incorporated into the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy — or CORE — Act. Unfortunately, the CORE Act has not yet passed, leaving the Thompson Divide vulnerable to future oil and gas extraction.

That is, until the CORE Act’s champions, including Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse and Gov. Jared Polis, urged the Biden administration to advance needed protections for some areas included in the bill. The designation of the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument is monumental. The proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal from the Thompson Divide is no less significant.

The proposal doesn’t have the permanence that passing the CORE Act would, but it does offer a temporary solution. Through a public comment period and an upcoming environmental impact analysis, the Biden administration will determine whether the 20-year mineral withdrawal proposal should be accepted. At the end of the day, the future of the Thompson Divide should be determined by local communities that rely on it for their livelihoods — not the bottom line of oil and gas companies.

Funding Arrives to Complete the Arkansas Valley Conduit — The Ark Valley Voice #ArkansasRiver

The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) announced on Monday that it will direct $60 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) towards advancing the construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC), a 130-mile pipeline project from Pueblo Reservoir east to Eads, Colorado that will deliver safe, clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has supported this project with $100 million in grants and loans. The Arkansas Valley Conduit project is the final element of the larger Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which Congress authorized in 1962. The project has literally been decades in the making.

“The SECWCD is thrilled with the announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation that $60 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has been allocated for construction of the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This follows on the heels of the award of the first construction contract for the Boone reach,” said Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Senior Policy and Issues Manager Chris Woodka.

“This commitment from BoR is a clear indication of their intent to move this project forward to completion, and to direct resources to it so that clean drinking water will be delivered sooner than originally planned,” he added. “We thank each and every one of you for your patience, and your ongoing support.”

The 5.5 mile Boustead Tunnel transports water from the Fryingpan River drainage into the Arkansas by way of Turquoise Lake (pictured here).

$43M to bring clean water: Arkansas Valley Conduit to serve east #Pueblo County — The Pueblo Chieftain #ArkansasRiver

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Click to enlarge)

Click the link to read the article on The Pueblo Chieftain website (Tracy Harmon). Here’s an excerpt:

A nearly $43 million contract was awarded to a Colorado construction company marking the “first giant step” in the Arkansas Valley Conduit project designed to bring clean drinking water to eastern Pueblo County and southeastern Colorado. The federal Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract for the conduit to WCA Construction LLC, for $42.9 million to cover construction of the first 6-mile section of the 30-inch trunk line that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone. Located in Towaoc, the construction company is owned by the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and as a tribal enterprise the company employs a workforce that is 70% indigenous…

Since 2020 the federal government has appropriated $51 million toward the project, with those funds paying for the trunk line construction. Pueblo County has awarded $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to connect the communities of Avondale and Boone to the trunk line, Woodka said. Work under the initial contract will begin in the spring of 2023 and is expected to be completed in 2024. “We are now in the process of designing those connection lines, then we will be putting those lines in. We hope everything is connected to Boone and Avondale by the end of 2024,” [Chris] Woodka said. That will bring water to about 1,600 Avondale residents and 230 Boone residents. Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the conduit rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants.

Army Corps of Engineers: #Marble airstrip work is noncompliant: Streambank stabilization went beyond scope of permit — @AspenJournalism

A photo from August 2022 shows the streambank stabilization project area near the Marble airstrip. The Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter of non-compliance to the property manager because they determined the work falls outside of what’s allowed under the project’s permit. CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO via Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A streambank stabilization project on the Crystal River just west of Marble is on hold after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the work undertaken this past summer fell outside what is allowed by the project’s permit. 

The corps sent a letter of noncompliance, dated Sept. 27,  to Susan Blue, longtime manager of the Marble airstrip, regarding work on the Crystal River as it runs through the property. Corps staff determined that the activities did not fall within the parameters of the project’s Nationwide Permit 3, which covers maintenance, according to Tucker Feyder, a regulatory project manager for the corps who signed the letter.

“If they were just doing maintenance on that section that was previously authorized, it could have fit a Nationwide Permit 3,” Feyder said. “The current project went a little above and beyond that.”

A Nationwide Permit 3 authorizes streambank restoration work covering up to 450 linear feet, but the current project “appears to extend significantly beyond what was previously authorized,” the letter reads.

Feyder said the noncompliance did not rise to the level of a violation of the Clean Water Act. A Clean Water Act violation would typically occur when a project has no permit at all from the corps, he said.

“They made a good-faith effort to work under a nationwide permit, and unfortunately, it got away from the intent of Permit 3,” Feyder said. “So we are viewing it as a noncompliance at the moment.”

ERO, a natural resources consultant with an office in Hotchkiss, is leading the project for the property owner, Marble Airfield LLC. 

Marble Airfield LLC was, until Sept. 8, registered to the same post office box in Bentonville, Ark., as Walton Enterprises LLC. According to its LinkedIn page, “Walton Enterprises is a family-led, private family office supporting the personal, philanthropic and business activity for multiple generations of Sam & Helen Walton’s family.” Sam Walton was the founder of Walmart. (Aspen Journalism’s water desk is supported by a grant from Catena Foundation, a Carbondale-based philanthropic organization tied to Sam R. Walton, a grandson of Sam and Helen Walton’s.) On Sept. 8, the address to which Marble Airfield LLC was registered was changed to a location in Medford, Ore., according to the Colorado secretary of state website. 

The letter says Marble Airfield has 30 days to provide a plan on how to bring the project into compliance. There are three options: They can argue that the work does fall under the Nationwide Permit 3 classification; they can apply for a different permit; or they could voluntarily restore the site. In addition, the property owners must provide information on the work that has been completed; information on the work that still needs to be completed; an updated map of the work site; and a description of any proposed mitigation. 

This past summer, ERO contractors began work to restore the streambank along the Crystal River near the airstrip, which is about 1 mile long and was installed in the 1950s and ’60s. Annual maintenance of the riverbank has been required to prevent damage to the airstrip, according to ERO.

“Extreme weather events during the 2021 monsoon season and ongoing spring runoff have resulted in extensive erosion of the adjacent (eastern) riverbank and opposite (western) riverbank, causing many large conifer trees to topple into the river, ponding water and pushing river flows toward the airstrip,” ERO president Aleta Powers wrote in a memo to Gunnison County officials on Aug. 26.

This past summer, contractors began the work, which the corps had said in December was covered under the Nationwide Permit 3. But heavy machinery along the river attracted the attention of neighbors who contacted local environmental group Crystal Valley Environmental Protection Association. CVEPA alerted Gunnison County, which issued a stop-work order on Aug. 12.

“We really believed at first report and as the information came in that this far exceeded the Nationwide Permit 3 for bank stabilization,” said CVEPA president John Armstrong. “We are happy the corps is taking action, but we are not necessarily pleased with the consequences.”

A photo from August shows the streambank stabilization project area near the Marble airstrip. The Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter of non-compliance to the property manager because they determined the work falls outside of what’s allowed under the project’s permit. CREDIT: COURTESY PHOTO via Aspen Journalsim

County violation

ERO is also working to resolve violations of the Gunnison County Land Use Resolution that led the county to issue the stop-work order. The county said the project violated its restrictive buffer for protection of water quality and standards for development in sensitive wildlife-habitat areas. The county also said the project needed a floodplain development permit. 

In response to the stop-work order, ERO on Aug. 26 submitted a memo and reclamation plan to the county. In the memo, ERO said the project was exempt from county regulations because it had a federal permit from the corps and because there are exemptions from county regulations for projects designed primarily for enhancement, protections, and/or restoration of water body banks or channels. 

ERO said the project includes removal of fallen timber caused by bank erosion, reestablishment of the deepest part of the river, revegetation of the bank, and reshaping native river cobble into jetties, all of which they say is exempt from the county’s standards for protecting water quality. ERO also asserted the project is in compliance with the county’s standards for development in sensitive wildlife-habitat areas. 

This map shows the streambank stabilization work along the Crystal River near the Marble airstrip. The project managers are working to resolve violations of the Gunnison County land use code. CREDIT: MAP BY ERO via Aspen Journalism

“ERO is committed to assist Marble Airfield LLC in demonstrating full compliance with the Gunnison County LUR, and to assist Marble Airfield LLC with ensuring the protection and preservation of the natural environment and wildlife,” the memo reads

Gunnison County has requested additional information from the property owners, including a wetlands delineation and the floodplain-development application. 

“We need additional information from the property owners in order to figure out next steps and determine a path towards compliance,” Gunnison County Building and Environmental Health official Crystal Lambert said in an email. “I imagine that this will take a lot more time, at least weeks, if not months.” 

To comply with Gunnison County, Powers from ERO said they will submit a floodplain-development permit application and have already submitted a reclamation permit application. She said they will also submit a preconstruction notification for a new permit from the corps per their requirement.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

Coalition offers help to parched #ColoradoRiver — @COWaterTrust #COriver #aridification

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Dana Dallavalle Hatlelid):

Responding to drought and summer long low-flow conditions on the Colorado River, a coalition of groups and funders led by Colorado Water Trust is restoring water to the river. Colorado Water Trust deliveries began 9/25/22 and continue at a 150 cfs (cubic feet per second) rate. That rate will drop to 100 cfs over the weekend and continue through 10/20/22, most likely tapering to 50 cfs on 10/11. Division of Water Resources confirmed they will administer Colorado Water Trust’s water to the 15-Mile Reach based on average monthly flows being below the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s 810 cfs target. Total water restored will be 4500 acre-feet (1.46 billion gallons). The hard work and generosity of our partners enabled us to provide the needed water supply just in time to keep the river flowing at healthier levels in designated critical habitat, including the 15-Mile Reach just east of Grand Junction.

Philanthropic and funding partners include Western Colorado Community Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, Intel Corporation, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Nite Ize, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Colorado Water Trust and the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program have arranged for a release of water from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork, and Colorado rivers. The water will be designated for improving flow conditions for endangered fish in the 15-Mile Reach. The flows will support four species of endangered and threatened fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, and razorback sucker, as well as indirectly supporting agricultural water deliveries and the regional recreational economy.

“The corporations and individuals that stepped up to allow us to make these large additions to the Colorado’s flow are the community-minded heroes of this drought year. In the future, ever more creative ways will have to be found to share the water that Nature gives us, with each other and with Nature itself,” says Andy Schultheiss, Executive Director of Colorado Water Trust. “As we continue to experience the impacts of a changing climate, we will have to find ways to adapt to the new paradigm.”

Colorado River in Grand Junction. Photo credit: Allen Best

Between 2019 and 2021, Colorado Water Trust delivered over 6028 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River (nearly 2 billion gallons). In a typical year, Colorado Water Trust works closely with Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District to identify when there is available capacity in the Grand Valley Power Plant for hydropower generation. This year, thanks to partial support from Colorado Water Trust, the Grand Valley Power Plant is undergoing much needed reconstruction. Until the new plant is complete, Colorado Water Trust will designate the water released for endangered fish protection and not hydropower generation at the Power Plant. Colorado Water Trust also works closely with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to determine when the 15-Mile Reach needs supplemental water most to support the fish.

Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and Grand Valley Water Users Association have been collaborating with the Colorado Water Trust and their contributing partners for the last several years. Our partnership helps those of us in the Grand Valley and 2200 other water diverters maintain the Endangered Species Act compliance. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Colorado Water Trust,” says Mark Harris of Grand Valley Water Users Association.

“Intel commends the Colorado Water Trust for their important work to support the health of the Colorado River,” says Fawn Bergen, Intel’s Corporate Sustainability Manager. ”Intel’s support for this project brings us closer to our goal of reaching net positive water by 2030, and we are proud to help sustain this vital habitat; a healthy river supports healthy communities.”

We are extremely grateful to the Colorado Water Trust for providing releases to support endangered fish during another challenging water year. These releases will improve habitat in the 15-Mile Reach during an especially stressful time of year,” says David Graf, Instream Flow Coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. “The Recovery Program has shown that collaborative conservation can enhance populations of endangered fish while also meeting water user needs. These efforts by the Colorado Water Trust, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Grand Valley Water Users demonstrate that with creative thinking and hard work, partnerships can find solutions that support humans and the environment.”

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

The Roaring Fork Conservancy also helps to inform Colorado Water Trust of conditions on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers so that releases will complement flows on the stream sections between Ruedi Reservoir and the Colorado River. This year, the water released from Ruedi Reservoir will serve a few purposes before it supports the health of endangered, native fish in the Colorado River in the 15-Mile Reach. The water will bring flows in the Fryingpan River closer to their average, and will cool water temperatures on the Roaring Fork River.

ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization that works collaboratively with partners all across Colorado on restoring flow to Colorado’s rivers in need using solutions that benefit both the people we work with and our rivers. Since 2001, we’ve restored 16.8 billion gallons of water to 588 miles of Colorado’s rivers and streams.

Reclamation awards construction contract for initial segment of Arkansas Valley Conduit: #Boone Reach Contract 1 connects six miles of pipeline to the eastern end of #Pueblo Water’s system #ArkansasRiver

Arkansas Valley Conduit map via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka) June 2021.

From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Smith):

The Bureau of Reclamation awarded the inaugural contract of the Arkansas Valley Conduit (AVC) to WCA Construction LLC, for $42,988,099.79. This contract funds construction of the first Boone Reach trunk line section, a 6-mile stretch of pipeline that extends from the eastern end of Pueblo Water’s system toward Boone, Colorado.

The AVC project will use Pueblo Water’s existing infrastructure to treat and deliver AVC water from Pueblo Reservoir to a connection point east of the City of Pueblo along U.S. Highway 50. The water will be either Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water or from participants’ water portfolios, not from Pueblo Water’s resources. Work under this contract will begin in spring of 2023. This section is expected to be completed in 2024.

“Now more than ever, people in the Arkansas River Valley understand the immense value of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project and the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” said Jeff Rieker, Eastern Colorado Area Manager. “We look forward to the day when these residents can open the faucet and know that their drinking water is safe and healthy.” As the AVC project moves forward, under existing agreements, Reclamation will construct the trunkline, a treatment plant and water tanks while the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will coordinate with communities to fund and build AVC delivery pipelines. Eventually, the AVC will connect 39 water systems along the 130-mile route to Lamar, Colorado.

The AVC is a major infrastructure project that, upon completion, will provide reliable municipal and industrial water to 39 communities in Southeastern Colorado. The pipelines will bring water from Pueblo Reservoir to Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, Prowers, and Pueblo counties. It is projected to serve up to 50,000 people in the future (equivalent to 7,500 acre-feet per year).

John F. Kennedy at Commemoration of Fryingpan Arkansas Project in Pueblo, circa 1962.

The AVC was authorized in the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project legislation in 1962 (Public Law 87-590). The AVC would not increase Fry-Ark Project water diversions from the Western Slope of Colorado; rather, it was intended to improve drinking water quality.

Currently, many people in the areas that will be served by the AVC rely on groundwater supplies that may be contaminated by naturally occurring radionuclides, such as radium and uranium, or use shallow wells that contain harmful microorganisms and pollutants. Alternatives for these communities consist of expensive options such as reverse-osmosis, ion exchange, filtration, and bottled water. 

This contract continues many years of hard work by Reclamation, Southeastern, Pueblo Water and other project partners to improve the lives of residents and provide opportunities for economic development and job creation.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact Anna Perea, Public Affairs Specialist at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, at (970) 290-1185 or aperea@usbr.gov. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, please dial 7-1-1 to access telecommunications relay services.

Map of the Arkansas River drainage basin. Created using USGS National Map and NASA SRTM data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79039596

Agencies looking into #water quality on Lincoln Creek: Mine drainage could be a cause of recent issues — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver

Lincoln Creek is one of several drainages that flow into Grizzly Reservoir, a collection pool for Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company. Drainage from defunct upstream mines may be partly responsible for the water’s yellow color. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

State, local and federal agencies are working to figure out what is causing changes to the waters and streambed of Lincoln Creek.

In recent days, the water in Lincoln Creek below Grizzly Reservoir has turned a milky green color and a sediment — yellow in some places, white in others — has settled on the streambed. The water flowing into the reservoir from upper Lincoln Creek ran yellow on Saturday.

According to Andrew Wille, a concerned citizen and educator who has done a field study in the area, the discolored stream is not totally unusual.

“I would say (Lincoln Creek above the reservoir) is always like that, but it might be a little worse this year,” said Wille, who is also a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers board but clarified he was not speaking on the group’s behalf.

What is unusual, Wille said, is that the issue extends below the reservoir to the water flowing down Lincoln Creek to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River.

“I was just kind of concerned and upset it made its way into the Roaring Fork,” he said.

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

A culprit could be defunct mines in the area, where prospectors mined gold, silver, lead and copper in the early 1900s. It includes the well-known Ruby Mine near the ghost town of the same name.

Bryan Daugherty, an environmental health specialist with Pitkin County, took samples of the water in the creek last week.

“It could be that we have had significant weather up there and it has opened up some of the channels or something that expose more of the mining waste,” Daugherty said. “We just don’t have a great answer as to why it looks different than it has in the past years.”

Officials may have more answers after Tuesday, when a team of water quality experts from different agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Roaring Fork Conservancy and others, are scheduled to test the waters of Lincoln Creek. It is part of an ongoing water quality monitoring program.

Water from the Ruby Mine adit — which is the mine’s opening — mixes with water from Lincoln Creek in late August. Defunct mines in the area could be affecting water quality downstream. CREDIT: ANDRE WILLE

Mines could be a cause

Jeff Graves, program director for the Colorado Inactive Mine Reclamation Program, said the Ruby Mine was brought to his attention last year when there was a fish die-off in Grizzly Reservoir. His agency, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, joined other agencies in water quality sampling in early summer. Those results are not back yet.

But Graves said the problem may not be caused solely by the Ruby Mine.

“There’s obviously some legacy mining up there; that includes the Ruby Mine,” he said. “But there’s also a significant geologic component unrelated to mining. So there are a couple different things going on that we need that sampling data back to clarify what the actual cause of any potential problems are downstream.”

Graves estimated there are about 400 mines across Colorado that are discharging into waterways and potentially creating a water quality issue downstream. He said there has not been any reclamation done on the Ruby Mine and that it would not have fallen under any regulatory authority at the time it was mined around the turn of the 20th century.

Grizzly Reservoir will be drained next summer for a rehabilitation project on the dam, tunnel gates and outlet works. The reservoir serves as the collection bucket for water from the surrounding drainages before it’s diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to the Front Range. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Much of the water collected in Grizzly Reservoir from the high mountain drainage of Lincoln Creek is sent through the Twin Lakes Tunnel under the Continental Divide to be used in Front Range cities. Colorado Springs Utilities owns the majority of the water from the Twin Lakes system, which represents the city’s largest source of West Slope water and about 21% of its total supply.

Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company Manager Bruce Hughes said on Monday that the Twin Lakes system was operating normally, which at this time of year means not diverting to the Front Range and instead letting the water from Grizzly Reservoir flow down Lincoln Creek.

Graves said in general, the environmental concerns associated with mines involve aquatic life like fish and the bugs they eat. The orange color of the water and stained streambed is from iron; the white is from aluminum, he said.

“Generally speaking, there is very little human health concerns associated with the sites,” he said. “Most of the time, it is aquatic life concerns and the specific concern is zinc. Fish are very intolerant to high levels of dissolved zinc in the water.”

As of Saturday [September 24, 2022], there were still plenty of fish swimming in Grizzly Reservoir.

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the Sept. 27 edition of The Aspen Times.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

#Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch Partner to Bolster Flows in #CrystalRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Helms Ditch Headgate. Photo credit: Colorado Water Trust

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust (Alyson Meyer Gould, Bill Fales and Marj Perry):

On the 13th of September, 2022, Cold Mountain Ranch, with compensation from Colorado Water Trust, is boosting streamflows in the Crystal River, which is suffering from low flows during this hot and dry summer. This is the first year of implementation in a second pilot program with Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch to add flow to the River during dry years. The agreement compensates the Cold Mountain Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, for leaving their irrigation water in the Crystal River when it needs it most.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

The Crystal River drops out of the Elk Mountains near Marble and flows north to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale. The river supports a number of traditional ranching operations as well as towns, recreationalists, and fish populations. Cold Mountain Ranch relies on the Crystal River to irrigate grass meadows that support its cow-calf operation. Under the agreement, the Water Trust monitors flows in the river. When flows fall to 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) in August and September, the ranch may voluntarily decide to cease diversion from the Crystal River in August through October. Colorado Water Trust determines the amount of water left in the natural stream and then pays the ranch $250 per cfs per day for up to 20 days each year. Once streamflows reach 55 cfs in the River (based on a 3-day rolling average), payments cease, but should flow again drop below 55 cfs, diversions can stop again and compensation resume. The pilot agreement can restore up to 6 cfs in the Crystal River.

In 2018, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch signed a similar three-year pilot agreement that ended in 2020. Unfortunately, within this initial three-year period, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch were unable to run the project. In 2018, the Crystal River’s flows were too low to implement the agreement – there was not enough water available to result in significant benefits instream. In 2019, the river was high enough to avoid triggering the agreement during the timeframe of the agreement. Although it flirted with the low flow trigger in the late fall, the timing was out of range for the agreement. And in 2020, because of dry and hot conditions and impacts to their hay crop, Colorado Water Trust’s partners at Cold Mountain Ranch needed to use as much water as possible to maximize their late season production and keep their ranching operation sustainable.

Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch’s initial three-year pilot agreement was the first crack at a highly customized, market-based solution that works for agriculture and rivers on the Crystal River, and offered lessons for the renewal and re-tooling of that initial agreement. In this new contract, the partners tried to account for drier years and changing climatic conditions, as well as the economic needs of the Ranch. The changes include a $5,000 signing bonus to support agricultural operations, additional payment and flexibility for coordination, and extending potential coordination into October.

“Although we certainly wish conditions were wetter, we are excited for a chance to run the program. On one hand it enables an active, family-owned ranching operation to use its water rights portfolio in a new and flexible way. On the other hand, it keeps water in the river when it is most in need. It checks the boxes for the definition of a win-win solution,” Alyson Meyer Gould, Staff Attorney, Colorado Water Trust.

The legal and technical framework created by Colorado Water Trust and informed by local interests and support from Lotic Hydrological, has the potential, if successful, to have far-reaching implications. In the end, it brings environmental benefits to the river without affecting enrolled ranches’ long-term sustainability. Thus, the project will support both people and the environment.

The Water Trust would like to thank Cold Mountain Ranch, Public Counsel of the Rockies, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Lotic Hydrological, WestWater Research, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Pitkin County, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the Aspen Skiing Company Environment Foundation, Catena Foundation, and the stakeholders of the Crystal River Management Plan for making this project possible.

#Carbondale ranch, @COWaterTrust launch 2nd effort to boost #CrystalRiver flows — @WaterEdCO #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Carbondale rancher Bill Fales says that in 47 years of ranching in the Roaring Fork Valley, he’s never sees hay production as dismal as in 2020. “I used to think that one of the advantages of ranching here is we had a really stable climate,” he says. Photo credit: Laurine Lasalle/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Website (Olivia Emmer):

In July, Cold Mountain Ranch and the Colorado Water Trust penned an agreement they hope will improve the Crystal River’s streamflow in dry years. The contract compensates the Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, for adjusting the timing of their water diversions when late summer flows dip.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

The Crystal River has its headwaters in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, but as the river descends through the wide pastures above the Town of Carbondale, more than 30 agricultural diversions, representing around 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water rights, pull water from the Crystal and its tributaries to irrigate around 4,800 acres of land. In drought years, which are becoming more frequent, sections of the Crystal River run dry.

Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

“A river is like a circulatory system,” says Alyson Meyer Gould, staff attorney & policy director for the water trust, “if you have a point where the circulatory system doesn’t work, it can have negative effects both upstream and downstream.”

A 2016 report on the Crystal River found there are specific stretches of the lower Crystal River that are most impaired, primarily after major ditches divert water from the river and before their return flows rejoin the Crystal downstream. This change to the river’s hydrology can impact water temperature, habitat quality and habitat availability, diminishing the ecosystem.

Cold Mountain Ranch is right next to one such beleaguered section of the Crystal River. The property has been in Marj Perry’s family since 1924. A cow-calf operation, the ranch irrigates several hundred acres for pasture and hay, utilizes grazing permits on nearby public lands and leases pasture nearby. In a typical year, Fales flood irrigates from early May through early October, moving water via ditches around his property in a three-week cycle. Fales gets two cuttings of hay, and spring and fall pasture with their water rights.

Under the new six-year agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, when river flows dip to 40 cfs or below, Cold Mountain Ranch will decide whether to enact the diversion coordination agreement. The ranch will be paid a $5,000 signing bonus for entering the updated agreement, an acknowledgment of the time and effort required to negotiate such a contract.

In addition to the bonus, for each cfs per day — up to 20 days total per year in up to five years — that they don’t divert during the contract period, they will be paid $250. The agreement will lift when flows hit 55 cfs. If the ranch is able to enact the agreement for their maximum decreed flow rate for the 100 potential days in the agreement, they could be paid $150,000 over five years.

Says Fales, “It’s the right thing to do. I’m not sure it’s a perfect thing to do, but I try not to let perfect be the enemy of the good. We’ll try it, we’ll see if it works and see what we learn from it.”

This is the second time that Cold Mountain Ranch and the Colorado Water Trust have entered such an agreement. The first ran from 2018 to 2020 but was never implemented. In 2018, flows in the Crystal were so low that “there was not enough water available to result in significant benefits instream,” according to the water trust. In 2019, flows were high enough that the threshold was never met. In 2020, heat and drought meant the ranch couldn’t afford to give up any water and still grow the hay and pasture they needed to feed their cows.

Helms Ditch irrigated acreage. Credit: Colorado Water Trust via Aspen Journalism

The water for this agreement will come from the Helms Ditch, which can divert up to around 6 cfs. In late summer this can be about 30% of the ranch’s available water. About half those rights were adjudicated in 1903 and the other half in 1936, making the diversion significantly more senior than the environmental instream flows on the river, which date to the 1970s. Cold Mountain Ranch uses water from three ditches, but the Helms Ditch is not shared with any neighbors, which makes it an easier candidate for an agreement with the water trust.

Crystal River rancher Bill Fales stands at the headgate for the Helms Ditch, with Mount Sopris in the background. As part of an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, Fales could be paid to reduce his diversions from the ditch when the river is low. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

One barrier to in-stream water conservation is the fact that water voluntarily left in the river can simply be diverted by another user downstream. In this case, the agreement is designed to alleviate drought stress on a concise stretch of stream, an area that in the dry year of 2012 was completely dewatered. If the water stays in the river for as little as a mile or two, it can make a big difference. As Heather Tattersall Lewin, director of science and policy at the Roaring Fork Conservancy explains, “As little as 6 cfs can make a difference in temperature resiliency, the existence of a cool pool versus a shallow riffle, or the ability for a fish to move from pool to pool or not.”

This agreement with Cold Mountain Ranch is not the only one of its kind for the Colorado Water Trust. In 2012, when much of the state was in a severe drought, there were insufficient laws in place to protect water users who wanted to conserve. In 2013, the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 13-19, allowing some water users to temporarily reduce their water use without jeopardizing their legal rights. Without that protection, a water user who conserved could legally be considered to be abandoning their valuable rights to water, a rule often referred to as “use it or lose it.”

Willow Creek via the USGS

Senate Bill 13-019 was first used by the Colorado Water Trust and a rancher on Willow Creek in 2016. Willow Creek is a tributary of the Colorado River southwest of Rocky Mountain National Park. The rancher had noticed Willow Creek sometimes ran dry during the late summer months and reached out to the water trust. That agreement has been used to restore flows in 2016, 2021 and 2022. According to the water trust, “The project restores a fairly small amount of water to the stream, but because there are no other diverters immediately downstream, that additional water helps to keep Willow Creek connected to the Colorado River.” This style of agreement has since been drawn up by the water trust for four other projects, including Cold Mountain Ranch.

Climate change is impacting both the supply and timing of flows in streams like the Crystal River. Average peak runoff is moving to earlier in the season, extending the amount of time in late summer when streams run low. Warmer temperatures make the soil thirstier, so more snowmelt gets absorbed by the land instead of turning into runoff, even when snowpacks are typical, increasing the frequency of low-flow years.

“The Colorado Water Trust sees diversion agreements as one of many tools in the toolbox to improve flows in Colorado Rivers in the face of climate change,” says Blake Mamich, water transactions coordinator for the water trust.

For some water users, dry years will make changing their diversions more challenging — many agricultural water users on the Crystal River and its tributaries already experience water shortages in dry years. But, continues Mamich, “these agreements may be advantageous to agricultural producers in sub-optimal production years, as a way to diversify income while supporting the health of the river.”

Agriculture represents the majority of water use in Colorado, so ranchers and farmers will need to be part of any major water conservation strategy. But it’s not as simple as just buying agricultural water rights. Farms and ranches around the state are a significant part of the state’s economy and lifestyle — permanently drying them up can have profound negative effects on local communities.

That’s why the water trust is trying these voluntary and temporary agreements, hoping to find a solution that benefits both the environment and agriculture. But, in the quest to improve flows around the state, the water trust uses many statutory tools to get more water in rivers, including purchasing and leasing water rights, creating agreements around the timing of reservoir releases, and more.

The Crystal River widens and becomes shallower just before it passes under the southern bridge into River Valley Ranch. A group of local organizations is working to restore both the stream and the banks.
CREDIT: WILL GRANDBOIS / ASPEN JOURNALISM

For the Crystal River, water from Cold Mountain Ranch is just a start. The Crystal River Management Plan cites a need for 25 cfs during severe drought to meet goals for maintaining the ecosystem. The agreement between the water trust and the ranch will, at most, contribute 6 cfs for just 20 days of the year. To continue to build the river’s resilience in the face of climate change, Mamich says it will likely take a combination of various tools, from new infrastructure to additional diversion agreements with more water rights holders in the watershed.

Olivia Emmer is a freelance journalist based in Carbondale, Colorado. She can be reached at olivia@soprissun.com.

Grizzly Reservoir to be drained next summer for rehab work: Repairs planned for dam, tunnel, outlet works — @AspenJournalism

Grizzly Reservoir will be drained next summer for a rehabilitation project on the dam, tunnel gates and outlet works. The reservoir serves as the collection bucket for water from the surrounding drainages before it’s diverted through the Twin Lakes Tunnel to the Front Range. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Grizzly Reservoir, the high-mountain lake above Aspen formed by damming Lincoln and Grizzly creeks, will be drained next summer for repairs to the dam, tunnel and outlet works.

After spring runoff next year, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company will draw down the reservoir so workers can install a membrane over the steel face of the dam, which was constructed in 1932 and is corroded and thinning, according to a May report on the feasibility of the dam rehabilitation.

The report, by RJH Consultants, Inc. of Englewood, included an inspection and evaluation of the infrastructure, and presented different options for rehabilitation. Half the cost of the study — $50,000 — was funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The project will also replace the gates that control the flow of water into the Twin Lakes Tunnel and repair the outlet works that release water down Lincoln Creek. According to the report, the outlet works have issues with cracks, holes and seepage, and the more-than-80-year-old tunnel gates have problems with leakage, are difficult to operate and require significant maintenance every year.

“The purpose of the rehabilitation of the dam is to address dam safety concerns associated with the corroded and thinning upstream-slope steel facing, uncontrolled seepage, and operational problems with the outlet works,” the report reads.

Twin Lakes officials expect the project to be completed in October 2023. They will also draw down the reservoir this month to weld a small test portion of the dam membrane to see how it fairs through the harsh winter at 10,500 feet. That work is scheduled to begin Aug. 22 and the reservoir will be refilled in October.

“That infrastructure is aging and it’s time to do some rehab work on it,” said Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company Board President Kalsoum Abbasi.

Grizzly Dam is considered a high hazard dam by the Division of Water Resources. That does not mean it’s likely to fail, but it means loss of life would be expected if the dam did fail. The last state inspection in 2021 found the dam satisfactory — the highest rating — and said full storage capacity was safe.

The report estimated a nearly $7 million price tag for the rehabilitation work. Twin Lakes plans to get a CWCB loan for some of the cost and will pay the remainder with money raised from assessments on its water users.

Opinions differ on timeline as #CrystalRiver Wild & Scenic efforts move ahead — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

State Highway 133 crosses the Crystal River several times as it flows downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale. Some proponents of a federal Wild & Scenic designation are pushing for a quick timeline while others want a more cautious approach. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A campaign to protect one of the last free-flowing rivers in Colorado is moving forward, but some proponents say not enough progress has been made over the past year.

Last spring a handful of advocates led by Pitkin County revived an effort to secure a federal Wild & Scenic designation, which would protect the upper Crystal River from future development, dams and diversions. A year into the effort, some say a planned stakeholder process is moving too slowly, while others say a designation can’t be rushed and must be approached carefully and inclusively.

The different philosophies underscore a rift between those who say a cautious and thorough multi-year approach is what’s needed to ensure success and those who say mounting threats to the river, driven by the climate crisis, demand bold and immediate action.

“That difference of opinion concerns me a great deal,” said Kate Hudson, Crystal River Valley resident and western U.S coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We are at an existential moment both in terms of water and climate and our congressional balance of power that requires we at least try and do this faster. We should at least try to move this as quickly as possible.”

In 2021 Pitkin County Healthy Rivers granted $35,000 to Carbondale-based environmental conservation group Wilderness Workshop to start up a public outreach and education campaign, with the goal of laying a foundation of grassroots support for the effort. The organization has built a website, held events and collected about 1,000 signatures on a petition supporting the designation. The next step will be working with Pitkin County to hire a facilitator for a formal stakeholder process.

At the June Healthy Rivers board meeting, Wilderness Workshop’s Wild & Scenic campaign manager Michael Gorman gave a presentation about progress so far. Board member Wendy Huber asked about the timeline and whether the process should be moving faster. Gorman said a designation could take several more years.

“I’m feeling a little urgency,” she said. “To sort of dilly dally seems to be losing opportunities.”

Grant Stevens, communications director for Wilderness Workshop, said that while he understands the community’s urgency, it’s important to develop a proposal that Colorado’s congressional representatives can get behind. A designation must be approved by Congress and advocates have been in contact with representatives from Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper’s offices.

“We want to make sure we have something that a federal elected official will support, and we need to make sure we go through a community-driven process to get to that point,” Stevens said. “We don’t want to rush that.”

The view looking upstream on the Crystal River below Avalanche Creek. A Pitkin County group wants to designate this section of the Crystal as Wild & Scenic.
CREDIT: CURTIS WACKERLE/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Designation details

The U.S. Forest Service first determined in the 1980s that the Crystal River was eligible for designation under the Wild & Scenic River Act, which seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values in a free-flowing condition. There are three categories under a designation: wild, which are sections that are inaccessible by trail, with shorelines that are primitive; scenic, with shorelines that are largely undeveloped, but are accessible by roads in some places; and recreational, which are readily accessible by road or railroad and have development along the shoreline.

The potential proposal for the Crystal includes all three types of designation: wild in the upper reaches of the river’s wilderness headwaters, scenic in the middle stretches and recreational from the town of Marble to the Sweet Jessup canal headgate. Each river with a Wild & Scenic designation has unique legislation written for it that can be customized to address local stakeholders’ values and concerns.

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

Despite its renowned river rafting, fishing and scenic beauty, which contribute to the recreation-based economy of many Western Slope communities, Colorado has just 76 miles of one river — the Cache La Poudre — designated as Wild & Scenic. This underscores the difficulty of trying to preserve free-flowing streams, especially in a water-scarce region where some would like to see rivers remain available for future water development.

This map shows the sections of the Crystal River that could be designated wild, scenic and recreational according to the finding of eligibility by the U.S. Forest Service.
CREDIT: COURTESY ROARING FORK CONSERVANCY

Stakeholder participation

Since the Crystal flows through Gunnison County and the town of Marble, advocates say getting those residents and elected representatives on board will be key to moving the effort forward. A first attempt at a Wild & Scenic designation, which sought to prevent the possibility of a future dam and reservoir project, couldn’t get buy-in from some Marble residents or Gunnison County. Advocates shelved the discussion in 2016 with the election of President Donald Trump. This time around, they hope to secure at least the participation if not the support of past opponents.

Marble Town Administrator Ron Leach acknowledged there is still a lot of work to be done as far as gauging public sentiment and building awareness.

Leach has been heavily involved in the town’s multi-year process to address overcrowding on the Lead King loop, a popular off-highway vehicle route near Marble. He said when it comes to these things, slow and methodical is the right strategy and that town officials are totally supportive of the Wild & Scenic stakeholders group, in which he participates as the Marble representative.

“The more process, the better the product,” Leach said. “I’ve learned that the hard way. Take it easy and make sure it’s right.”

Gunnison County Commissioner Roland Mason agreed. He said more conversations need to happen before he could say whether Gunnison County would support a designation.

“I appreciate the fact that they are not trying to rush the timeline,” Mason said. “From my perspective it’s moving at a little bit of a slow pace because of trying to get everyone on board but at the same time, it’s kind of necessary.”

But supporters may never get everyone on board. Larry Darien, who owns a ranch on County Road 3 that borders the river, was one of the early opponents to the designation and still remains opposed to Wild & Scenic because of its potential effect on private property.

While the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act does give the federal government the ability to acquire private land, there are many restrictions on those abilities. Condemnation is a tool that is rarely used, according to a Q&A document compiled by the Interagency Wild and Scenic Rivers Coordinating Council.

“I’m not in favor of a dam on the Crystal River and I’m not in favor of water being taken out and sent someplace else and I’m not in favor of Wild & Scenic designation,” he said. “There are other ways we can manage this besides Wild & Scenic and I think that’s the way we need to go instead of getting the federal government involved.”

The alternate route Darien is referring to is a collaboratively created alternative management plan on the Upper Colorado River, which offers some of the same protections as Wild & Scenic, but still allows for some water development.

Advocates will have to decide whether total consensus is a realistic goal and if they should move forward even though some opposition remains.

he headwaters of the Crystal River include the tributary of Yule Creek, the drainage seen to the left from an Eco-Flight, where Colorado Stone Quarries’ marble quarry is located. Some, including Pitkin County, would like to see the Crystal River designated under the federal Wild & Scenic River Act.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Threats to the Crystal?

While there may be a general feeling of worry about drought and falling reservoir levels in the Colorado River basin overall, it’s unclear what — if any — specific, imminent threats there are to the upper Crystal River. In 2012, conservation group American Rivers deemed the Crystal one of the top 10 most endangered rivers. This was spurred by plans, which have since been scrapped, from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the West Divide Conservation District to preserve water rights tied to reservoirs near Redstone.

Still, in a place where much of the state’s headwaters are taken across the Continental Divide to thirsty Front Range cities, Wild & Scenic proponents say it could happen on the Crystal, even if those threats are currently hypothetical. Many of Colorado’s rivers have been overly tapped, but there’s still water left to develop on the Crystal.

“To me, the greatest threat to the Crystal isn’t so much the storage facility, it’s that there’s still water in the Crystal,” said Pitkin County Attorney John Ely. “The biggest risk to the Crystal is just taking water out of the drainage. That’s why I think the (Wild & Scenic) effort is still worth doing.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times.

#CrystalRiver rancher, Water Trust again try to boost flows: Agreement will pay Cold Mountain Ranch to leave #water in the river — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Crystal River rancher Bill Fales stands at the headgate for the Helms Ditch, with Mount Sopris in the background. As part of an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, Fales could be paid to reduce his diversions from the ditch when the river is low. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

A Crystal River Valley rancher and a nonprofit organization are teaming up for the second time to try to leave more water in a parched stream.

Cold Mountain Ranch owners Bill Fales and Marj Perry have inked a six-year deal with the Colorado Water Trust to voluntarily retime their irrigation practices to leave water in the Crystal River during the late summer and early fall, when the river often needs it the most. In addition to a $5,000 signing bonus, the ranchers will be paid $250 a day up to 20 days, for each cubic foot per second they don’t divert, for a maximum payment of $30,000.

The water would come from reducing diversions from the Helms Ditch and could result in up to an additional 6 cfs in the river. The agreement would become active in the months of August and September any time streamflows dip below 40 cfs and once becoming active, will extend through October. The agreement will lift if streamflows rise above 55 cfs.

The goal of the program is to use voluntary, market-based approaches to encourage agricultural water users — who often own the biggest and most senior water rights — to put water back into Colorado’s rivers during critical times.

The program has the hallmarks of demand management, a much-discussed concept over the past few years at the state level: it’s temporary, voluntary and compensated. Other pilot programs that focus on agricultural water conservation usually involve full or split-season fallowing of fields, but with this agreement Fales still intends to get his usual two cuttings of hay.

“The idea is to find something that is a flexible way for water rights owners to use their water in years where it makes sense for something different than strictly agricultural practices,” said Alyson Meyer-Gould, director of policy with the Colorado Water Trust. “It’s another way to use their water portfolio.”

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

Cold Mountain Ranch and #Colorado Water Trust Partner to Bolster Flows in #CrystalRiver — @COWaterTrust #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Low flows during drought on the Crystal River. Photo credit: Colorado Water Trust

Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust and the Cold Mountain Ranch (Alyson Meyer Gould and Bill Fales):

Cold Mountain Ranch and Colorado Water Trust finalized an agreement intended to increase streamflow in the Crystal River in drier years. The six-year agreement will compensate the Cold Mountain Ranch owners, Bill Fales and Marj Perry, for retiming their irrigation practices to leave their irrigation water in the Crystal River when the river needs it most.

The Crystal River, in 2012, was listed as the eighth most endangered river in the country by American Rivers. It is still a struggling river today. Owing to diversions off the river and the impacts of climate change decreasing snowpack, it runs very low or dry in most years. This impacts the fish and wildlife that depend on it. Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch are trying to help. This innovative agreement would provide the ranch the opportunity to add flows to their local river when it needs it most and hopefully contribute to a healthier aquatic and riparian habitat for those that depend on it. Together, we aim to show that agriculture and conservation can go hand in hand.

Cold Mountain Ranch relies on the Crystal River to irrigate pastures and hay fields that support its cow-calf operation. Under the agreement, Colorado Water Trust will monitor flows in the river and if flows fall to 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) in August or September, the ranch may voluntarily decide to shift its irrigation schedule to allow Colorado Water Trust to lease the water for environmental benefit. Colorado Water Trust will monitor and measure the changed practice and pay the ranch a $5,000 bonus for signing the agreement at the outset of the five-year contract and then $250 per cfs per day to encourage that shift. Once streamflows reach 55 cfs, payments would cease. The agreement can restore up to 6 cfs in the Crystal River.

In 2018, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch signed a similar three-year pilot agreement that ended in 2020. Unfortunately, within this initial three-year period, Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch were unable to run the project. In 2018, the Crystal River’s flows were too low to implement the agreement – there was not enough water available to result in significant benefits instream. In 2019, the river was high enough to avoid triggering the agreement during the timeframe of the agreement. Although it flirted with the low flow trigger in the late fall, the timing was out of range for the agreement. And in 2020, because of dry and hot conditions and impacts to their irrigated crops, Colorado Water Trust’s partners at Cold Mountain Ranch needed to use as much water as possible to maximize their late season production and keep their ranching operation sustainable.

Colorado Water Trust and Cold Mountain Ranch’s initial three-year pilot agreement was the first crack at a highly customized, market-based solution that works for agriculture and rivers on the Crystal River, and offered lessons for the renewal and re-tooling of that initial agreement. In this new six-year contract, the partners tried to account for drier years and changing climatic conditions, as well as the economic needs of the Ranch. The changes include a $5,000 bonus to support agricultural operations, additional payment and flexibility for coordination, and extending potential coordination into October.

One of the most important goals of Colorado Water Trust’s work on the Crystal River was to design a solution that allows water rights owners to maintain healthy agricultural operations – and Colorado Water Trust continues to accomplish that goal.

Our past agreement also shows other ranchers on the Crystal River that when we say our solutions are voluntary and are NOT designed to harm their operations, we mean it. The vision for this project is that other ranchers on the Crystal River will see that Cold Mountain Ranch is fully empowered to make their own decisions in the best interest of their business, and will feel comfortable to sign on to the project as well. The Crystal River needs more water than just that of Cold Mountain Ranch’s and we hope others will get involved to maintain a healthy river.

ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide, nonprofit organization that restores water to Colorado’s rivers in need. Colorado Water Trust accomplishes its mission with voluntary, market-based projects.

Continuous #drought keeps #Aspen under tight #water restrictions: City utility department keeps water users in stage two level — The Aspen Times #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado Drought Monitor map June 7, 2022.

Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Times website (Carolyn Sackariason). Here’s an excerpt:

For the third year in a row, the city of Aspen will continue to be under stage two water restrictions due to elevated drought conditions in Pitkin County. The U.S. Drought Monitor last month elevated Aspen and Pitkin County from abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions, according to Steve Hunter, the city’s utilities resource manager.

Map credit: The High Plains Regional Climate Center

Not only has the area experienced above-normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, Aspen started this spring with below average soil moisture. What that means is that drier soils will infiltrate snowmelt runoff reducing the amount reaching the streams, according to Hunter…

The city’s drought response committee has recommended in a staff memo to Aspen City Council that the municipality remain in stage two water restrictions, which it has been since the fall of 2020.

The 2021-22 snowpack was average to slightly above average for the Roaring Fork watershed as Western Colorado saw above average temperatures and below average precipitation in April and May, which have accelerated snowmelt, according to Hunter. Stream flows in the Roaring Fork watershed are estimated to be from 45% to 80% of average, and most rivers are predicted to have a smaller and earlier peak than normal.

Early peak #runoff for Western Slope rivers: Dust on snow played a role — @AspenJournalism

The Roaring Fork River seen here on May 24 near the Catherine Store Bridge in Carbondale. Downstream at Glenwood Springs, the river peaked for the season on May 20, early and outside the window of what’s considered normal. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Rivers in western Colorado have already peaked for the season, creating challenging conditions for reservoir managers and rafting companies.

Fueled by spring windstorms that deposited snow-devouring dust on the mountain snowpack, most streams saw their peak flows between May 19 and 21 for this year, according to data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

On May 19, the Crystal River near Avalanche Creek hit its high mark for the spring at about 1,870 cubic feet per second. On that day in the southwest part of the state, the San Miguel River at Placerville peaked at 823 cfs; and the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs hit its high mark of 2,915 cfs..

On May 20, the Roaring Fork River just above its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs peaked at 4,450 cfs; the Eagle River at Dotsero peaked at about 4,950 cfs.

On May 21, just upstream of major agriculture diversions to the Grand Valley at a location known as Cameo, the Colorado River peaked at about 10,730 cfs. At the Utah state line, streamflows peaked at 16,130 cfs.

The peak streamflow volumes for these locations were within the range of what’s considered normal.

Although there may be a second, smaller peak in coming days as summer temperatures return, forecasters say most of the snow below 11,000 feet has already melted out, meaning not enough is left to fuel a bigger peak than the one that has already happened.

For several locations — the Roaring Fork at Glenwood, the Crystal, the San Miguel and the Colorado at Cameo — the peak came so early that it was outside the window of what’s considered normal. The rest of the locations — the Yampa, the Eagle and the Colorado at the Utah state line — were inside the normal range, although on the earlier side.

These conditions can be partly attributed to dust on snow, which causes the snowpack to melt earlier and faster.

“Dust on snow has played a pretty big role this year,” said Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist with the CBRFC. “It really allows the energy from the sun to get absorbed into the snowpack much more than if you have this white, clean snow surface.”

According to Jeff Derry, executive director of the Silverton-based Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, a total of 11 dust events occurred in April and May. A total of six or seven occur during a normal year.

This spring has been unusually windy, which has kicked up dust from northern New Mexico and Arizona and deposited it on Colorado’s snow-capped peaks; the San Juans Mountains, in the southwestern part of the state, were the hardest hit. Each year, the center ranks the severity of the dust storms.

“A number of those were really nasty events,” Derry said. “This is the first time since 2013 that we have said it’s a severe dust year.”

The Crystal River just below Avalanche Creek on June 3. Streamflows near this location peaked on May 19 at 1,840 cfs according to data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Early runoff brings challenges

The early runoff is a challenge for Blazing Adventures, a rafting company based in Aspen and Snowmass that runs trips on the Roaring Fork River. According to owner Vince Nichols, they usually try to run the Roaring Fork through the Fourth of July before heading to other sections of the Arkansas and Colorado rivers that see higher flows later in the summer. This year, it will be closer to mid-June, he said.

“It’s certainly been a strange runoff this year,” Nichols said. “We came out of the ski season with some optimism, but when we mixed in those high winds and dust, it ran off a lot faster than we were anticipating.”

The early runoff could also have implications for reservoir managers, who may have to begin releasing water earlier in the summer to meet downstream calls. A call happens when a senior water right is not receiving its full amount of water and junior upstream water users must cut back in order to send water to the senior user downstream.

This may end up being the situation with Green Mountain Reservoir, which is on the Blue River, is operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and is affected by the call from the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon. The call comes on most years in midsummer, but this year, it may be earlier.

“I may have to start making storage releases earlier,” said Victor Lee, an engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation. “That’s pretty typical of dry years, but with this early runoff, the call might come much earlier than what I expected.”

The same may happen at Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River. Ruedi is also operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and is affected by the call at Cameo, which comes on most summers.

Although Ruedi had been forecast to fill by the skin of its teeth this year, Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Tim Miller said he now thinks it will end up 1,000 to 6,000 acre-feet short. He said he will continue releasing the minimum required flow of 110 cfs until downstream calls come on and he has to release more stored water.

“I always like to point out that our snowpack is a natural reservoir and if that reservoir releases its water earlier than what’s normal, you can kind of imagine the disruptions and problems that occur,” Derry said. “It makes reservoir management a little bit more complicated if you have the water coming down earlier than what you expected.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the June 4 edition of The Aspen Times.

Pitkin County commissioners OK requests to river board — The #Aspen Daily News

Osprey in flight with fish in talons. Photo credit: Boulder County Osprey cam.

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Daily News website (Pitkin County):

Following recommendations from the board that considers grant requests to the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Program, county commissioners recently approved more than $100,000 to assist four local projects.

The projects were outlined in a county staff memorandum prepared for a Pitkin Board of County Commissioners work session last week:

● The Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt will receive $33,000 for its New Watershed PenPals Program, curriculum enhancement and creation, teacher training and program delivery at the conservancy’s river center and throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed.

“We are poised to unroll several new education projects, all aimed at broadening our reach. Revitalizing our education curriculum, increase teaching sites and expanding our programs will pump new life into environmental education, inspire educators to develop meaningful student projects, and increase general water fluency and interest across the Roaring Fork Watershed,” a letter from RFC Education Director Megan Dean to the river board says.

● The Red Mountain Ditch Co. will receive $48,000 for one year of a three-year conservation-irrigation initiative to pipe the remaining section of the 12-mile ditch and install technology to enable remote flow monitoring and head-gate control.

● The Ruedi Water and Power Authority will receive $12,750 to revitalize the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, which was established in 2002 to bring counties and municipalities together “to think like a watershed,” the memo says. The collaborative has been dormant over the past few years.

The amount will help facilitate new meetings of the collaborative over the next two years. The funds will help “refresh and renew” the group, providing an opportunity for those interested in water resource and watershed health topics to regularly convene, learn, share, discuss, plan and collaborate on matters that impact water resources, according to the memo.

● Water Education Colorado/Watershed Assembly/Colorado Riparian Association will receive $7,500 to help fund the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference, “the largest, most watershed-focused conference in Colorado,” the memo says. The event will be held on Oct. 11-13 at a resort in Avon.

Pitkin County commissioners’ approval is required on all individual grant requests recommended by the river board that represent an amount greater than $5,000. The river board has the authority to OK requests smaller than $5,000. Two such grants won approval at the board’s April 21 meeting:

● The Middle Colorado Watershed Council will receive $5,000 to support work with rain gauge monitoring and a soil moisture program in Glenwood Canyon to inform emergency notifications for motorists via the National Weather Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation. The project also involves data collection for long-term studies on post-fire mitigation.

“The river board thought this was a worthy collaboration as impacts to Glenwood Canyon affect a large region, with outsized impacts to Roaring Fork Watershed residents,” the memo states.

● Colorado Rocky Mountain School will receive $4,800. In a special meeting on May 5, the river board heard a presentation by ninth graders and their teacher in a request for funds to install four osprey nesting boxes and poles in collaboration with private landowners and the Roaring Fork Audubon Society.

The river board accepts applications in the spring and fall.

Pitkin County agrees to fund ditch piping project: Red Mountain Ditch operator says more #water will be left in Hunter Creek — @AspenJournalism #RoaringForkRiver

This Parshall flume on Red Mountain measures the amount of water diverted by the Red Mountain Ditch. Pitkin County commissioners approved a roughly $48,000 grant to pipe the last 3,600 feet of the ditch in the Starwood neighborhood. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Jounalism website (Heather Sackett):

The Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners has approved one year of funding toward completing a ditch piping project with the aim of keeping more water in Hunter Creek.

Over the past two decades, the Red Mountain Ditch Company has been working to pipe the entirety of its 12-mile ditch system — a $3.8 million cost so far — paid for by the ditch share owners. But to complete the final 3,600 feet, the ditch company is turning to public sources of money because they say the project will have the public benefit of keeping between 0.5 and 1 additional cubic feet per second of water in Hunter Creek.

The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board recommended the county grant nearly $48,000 toward the project in April and county commissioners approved the request on Tuesday.

“I think this is the first time when I’ve been on the board that I’ve seen this type of project and I really think it’s valuable,” said commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury. “It’s a conservation-first type of program and to me this is the way I think the treatment of ditches should head in the future around the Western Slope.”

Red Mountain Ditch, whose horizontal scar across Red Mountain features prominently in the view from across the valley, has senior water rights that date to 1889. It irrigates about 380 acres of grass pasture on Red Mountain and in the exclusive Starwood subdivision with water from Hunter Creek.

A herd of elk feast on a sprinkler-irrigated meadow in the Starwood subdivision. The area is irrigated with water from Hunter Creek via Red Mountain Ditch.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

More water in Hunter Creek

Jim Auster, who has managed the ditch since 1983, said before the capital improvement project, the high-maintenance, open ditch lost water to seepage and evaporation and had problems with blow outs and beaver activity that caused flooding. Now that the majority of the ditch is piped underground, he said it’s easier to get water during low-flow times of year and the company has reduced the amount it diverts from Hunter Creek by up to 6 cfs.

Auster said before the piping project, the ditch used to divert about 14 cfs on average; now it takes about 8 to 9 cfs. Numbers from the Colorado Division of Water Resources indicate the ditch has in fact diverted less in recent years.

“Technologically, we are progressive,” Auster said. “I don’t know of any other ditch company that is doing 100% piping like we are. It’s certainly the future. Open ditches are obsolete.”

Recent ditch inventories conducted by conservation districts across the Western Slope hint at widespread problems, disrepair and inefficiencies with irrigation infrastructure. Environmental groups often back irrigation efficiency projects because they could result in reducing the amount irrigators need to divert, thereby leaving more water in the river to the benefit of the environment.

But repairs and upgrades are often expensive. And most projects don’t put a number on how much water will be left in the stream. In most cases, paying irrigators for their extra water is the only way to ensure an environmental benefit.

Aaron Derwingson, water projects director for The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program, has worked on efficiency projects with irrigators. He said it can be hard to quantify a project’s environmental benefits and success often depends on the willingness of the irrigators.

“I think the challenge with our team that we run into is we are never going to have enough money to buy the water to really make a difference for a lot of streams and where does that leave us?” Derwingson said. “That’s why some of these efficiency projects can be great because it’s a one-time investment and you get continued benefit.”

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This is part of the open ditch through properties in the Starwood subdivision that would be piped if Red Mountain Ditch company can secure the funds. Manager Jim Auster said up to an additional 1 cfs could be left in Hunter Creek if the last 3,600 feet of ditch is piped.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

How to protect the water

McNicholas Kury brought up an unanswered question in Tuesday’s discussion: how to legally protect the water the piping project leaves in Hunter Creek. Under Colorado water law, another water user could pick up that water and put it to beneficial use, canceling out any environmental benefit to the stream. And as stream flows continue to dwindle due to climate change, an environmental benefit may be short-lived, especially if the water is not legally protected.

“I have some concern about the water that is going into Hunter Creek,” McNicholas Kury said. “That is fantastic; I don’t want others to pick it up along the way.”

McNicholas-Kury suggested the Red Mountain Ditch Company look into an agreement with the non-profit Colorado Water Trust, which helps water rights holders lease their water rights for the purpose of boosting environmental streamflows.

In addition to finishing the piping, Auster said $25,000 of the grant money will go toward installing remote monitoring and headgate controls, which will allow him to be more precise and reduce the amount of excess water that is run through the system.

Auster said the total cost of the project for the final 3,600 feet of piping is $680,000, and the ditch company is also applying for grants from the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the National Resources Conservation Service. The ditch company may return to the county in 2023 and 2024 to request additional funding.

Board of County Commissioners Chair Patti Clapper and Vice-Chair Francie Jacober questioned whether the residents of one of Aspen’s wealthiest subdivisions couldn’t pay for their own ditch piping project, but in the end, backed the grant request.

“The best interest of this community is keeping water in our rivers and that is a benefit to everyone,” Clapper said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is supported by Pitkin County’s Health Community Fund. Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the May 28 edition of The Aspen Times.

#RoaringForkRiver and #CrystalRiver streamflow well above average: Roaring Fork basin snowpack drops to less than 50% of average — @AspenJournalism #runoff

Click the link to go to the Aspen Journalism Data Dashboard (Laurine Lassalle):

The USGS gauge on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen at Stillwater, located upstream of town, measured streamflow at 247 cfs on May 15, which is 148.8% of average. That’s up from last week, when the riveu,r was flowing at 144 cfs. On May 15, 2021, the river ran at 92 cfs.

The ACES gauge, located near the Mill Street Bridge in central Aspen, measured the Roaring Fork River flowing at 223.66 on May 15. That’s lower than the Stillwater reading because the Wheeler and Salvation diversion ditches are again operating for the season. It’s also up from 128.6 cfs last week.

The Crystal River above Avalanche Creek, near Redstone, flowed at 1,340 cfs, or about 195.9% of average, on May 15. The warmer temperatures of the past week increased the streamflow of the river as the Crystal jumped from 1,060 cfs on May 13. The Crystal River at the CPW Fish Hatchery bridge ran at 1,650 cfs on May 15, up from 1,300 cfs on May 8.

Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Basin was at 48% of average, according to NOAA on May 15. It’s been below average since April 20, reaching that designation for the first time this season, the Roaring Fork Conservancy wrote on April 21.

Ruedi Reservoir at lowest level in two decades: #Water managers waiting to see if spring #runoff is enough to fill depleted storage buckets — @AspenJournalism #FryingpanRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River as seen on March 24. The reservoir is at its lowest level in nearly two decades, but U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say if forecasts hold, it should still be able to fill in 2022. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett):

Ruedi Reservoir is at about its lowest level of the year — and also of the past 19 years — according to numbers from the Bureau of Reclamation.

As of Wednesday, the reservoir on the Fryingpan River contained 54,914 acre-feet of water and was about 54% full. And according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data, outflow is currently slightly more than inflow, meaning levels may not have bottomed out yet.

The last time the level was this low was in the drought year of 2003 when Ruedi hit 46,117 acre-feet, according to Timothy Miller, a hydrologist with Reclamation, which operates the reservoir. Many reservoirs across the West are at their lowest levels of the year right before spring runoff starts, and water managers will start to see in the next month what this year will bring and whether it’s enough to fill depleted storage buckets.

Despite the current low levels, Miller said forecasts show Ruedi should be able to fill this year — but just barely. The most recent forecast from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center shows that spring inflow for Ruedi will be about 96% of average.

“If we continue to get average precipitation, we should be able to fill by the skin of our teeth,” he said. “We won’t have any extra water. It’s going to be a tight fill.”

In 2021, Ruedi, which has a capacity of about 102,000 acre-feet, was only about 80% full after spring runoff.

Ruedi Reservoir was 54% full as of March 24, 2022 — its lowest level in nearly two decades.

“April hole”

Something that may influence if and how Ruedi fills this year is a phenomenon called the “April hole.” Agricultural irrigators downstream in the Grand Valley usually begin filling their ditches around April 1, and if irrigation ramps up faster than the snow melts in the high country, there may not be enough water to meet their demand.

Grand Valley irrigators, with large senior water rights dating to 1912, can command the entire Colorado River and its tributaries in western Colorado by placing a call. This means water users with junior water rights have to stop taking water so that the Grand Valley irrigators can get their entire amount of water to which they are entitled. When these irrigators put a call on the river, known as the “Cameo call,” it can control all junior water rights upstream of their diversion at the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon.

Water travels through a roller dam, generating power, then continues downstream. Roller Dam near Palisade. The Grand Valley Diversion Dam in DeBeque Canyon sends water from the Colorado River into the Grand Valley Project Canal. Rehabilitation of the structure could be one of the projects funded by the River District’s new Partnership Project Funding Program. Photo credit: Hutchinson Water Center

The Cameo call doesn’t come in April of every year, but it did in 2021 and lasted for 16 days — the longest April hole ever. Dry soils and hot temperatures in 2020 and 2021, fueled by climate change and drought, robbed the river of flows and created conditions never before seen by water managers.

“Last year was definitely the extreme,” said James Heath, Division 5 Engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “We never had a call in April last that long. The prior longest was in 2002, with five days of call.”

Instead of curbing their water use when the Cameo call is on, some water users simply release water from Ruedi that they have bought and store there as part of an augmentation plan. The problem, Heath said, is that many of these water replacement plans counted on a call lasting at most seven days.

“What we are finding is a lot of the plans were originally decreed for a worst-case call scenario of seven days in April,” he said. “Last year, they were diverting out of priority and injuring the downstream water rights.”

Heath said his office is still figuring out how to address these shortfalls and analyze different entities’ augmentation plans. He said Ruedi had to release about 1,300 acre-feet of water last year to satisfy the Cameo call in April.

The dam on a frozen Ruedi Reservoir as seen on March 24. Last year, an “April hole” where downstream irrigations demands outpaced snowmelt resulted in a Cameo call and extra releases from Ruedi. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Hydropower production

A consequence of low levels in Ruedi is a reduced capacity to generate power at the hydroelectric plant, which is operated by the city of Aspen. Steve Hunter, utilities resource manager with the city, said the bottom line is this: the less water, the less power that is able to be produced. Hunter said if water levels fall below 7,700 feet elevation, utilities staff may decide to shut the unit off because the water pressure may not be generating much power. Ruedi was at 7,708.7 feet Wednesday. When Ruedi is full, the surface elevation is 7,766 feet above sea level.

When hydropower production decreases, Hunter said Aspen fills its all-renewable portfolio by buying more wind power.

“When hydro goes down, wind picks up the slack,” he said. “We are not in a terrible place right now. We are not Glen Canyon Dam.”

Hunter was referring to water levels in Lake Powell, which last week dipped to their lowest ever, hitting a target elevation of 3,525 feet, just 35 feet above the minimum level needed to generate hydropower at the dam.

“Hydropower across the board in the West is being affected by drought,” Hunter said. “This is crunch time, just watching what happens in the next month as we approach peak snow-water equivalent and see what the snowpack does.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. This story ran in the March 25 edition of The Aspen Times.

The latest issue of the newsletter “The Runoff” is hot off the presses from @AspenJournalism #CrystalRiver #RoaringForkRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A herd of elk graze on Crystal River Ranch outside of Carbondale in spring 2020. The ranch is applying for a new stock watering water right.
CREDIT: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism.

Click the link to read the newsletter on the Aspen Journalism website (Heather Sackett). Here’s an excerpt:

Crystal River Ranch

Crystal River Ranch, the huge expanse of irrigated land just west of Carbondale owned by Sue Anschutz-Rogers, a member of one of Colorado’s wealthiest families, is applying for another water right. This time, the ranch is asking for 5 cfs of water from the Crystal River for stockwatering. The majority of the 5 cfs would be to keep the water in the ditch ice-free so the cattle can drink from it in the winter. CRR pulls water from the Crystal via the Sweet Jessup Canal, and although it’s the first major agricultural diversion out of the lower Crystal, the land it irrigates is several miles downstream. The Sweet Jessup is also one of the biggest diversions on the Crystal and one of the oldest, with a water right dating to 1905. Its three water rights can pull a combined 74 cfs from the river. The Colorado Water Conservation Board and the city of Aurora have both filed statements of opposition to the application. In 2020, Crystal River Ranch filed to maintain a conditional water right for dams and reservoirs on the property, which a water court later granted.

Map of the Roaring Fork River drainage basin in western Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69290878

Two big snowstorms have made a world of difference for #Aspen’s slopes: The two storms accounted for about one-third of all snowfall this season — The Aspen Times #snowpack

Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Times website (Scott Condon). Here’s an excerpt:

Two prolific storm cycles this ski season have produced more than one-third of the total snowfall on the ski slopes so far this season, according to Aspen Skiing Co.’s snow reports. A four-day storm during Christmas week and the three-day powder wave last week produced a cumulative 50 inches of snow at Aspen Mountain and 62 inches of snow at Snowmass, the snow reports show.

Since opening day of ski season, Aspen Mountain has received 150 inches of snow, so the two big storms combined for 33% of the total. Snowmass has received 180 inches of snow since opening day, so the one-two punch of the storms accounted for 35% of the total.

In other words, only seven days of the 96 days of the ski season thus far have produced one-third of the snow…

Even with last week’s big storm, the snowpack in the Roaring Fork watershed is still a mixed bag. The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen was only 86% of median as of Monday, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Ivanhoe site near the headwaters of the Fryingpan River was at 107% of median. Three sites in the Crystal River basin varied widely, according to NRCS data. McClure Pass was only 91% of median on Monday while North Lost Trail outside of Marble was at 127% and Schofield Pass measured at 128%.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 1, 2022 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read “Drought threatens Rio Grande levels, again” from the El Paso Matters website (Danielle Prokop). Here’s an excerpt:

Climate experts and irrigation districts are warning that 2022 is looking dry for the Paso del Norte region. New forecasts released Monday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict hotter temperatures and low chances for moisture in the Southwest, stemming from the cooling of Pacific waters known as the La Niña weather pattern. That pattern usually prevents a wet winter in the Western United States, exacerbating the region’s 20-year megadrought…

While the Colorado snowpack improved with snowstorms in January and February, the Rio Grande basin has only seen about 64% of average precipitation. Climate change has already shrunk what is now considered a “normal” annual snowpack. Decades of rising temperatures and fluctuating precipitation have dried out soils, which both prevents waters from flowing into streams and causes more dust, melting snowpacks at faster rates. Snowpack across most of northern New Mexico is between half to 75% of normal right now — with about two months before April’s expected peak levels for snowmelt.