Ruedi Dam operations update

Ivanhoe Reservoir, in the headwaters of the Fryingpan RIver basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

Releases from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River are scheduled to decrease from 350 to 300 cubic feet per second on Monday, September 24 at 8 a.m.

This release rate maintains “fish water” deliveries to the 15-mile Reach for endangered fish species. Routine updates to follow. Feel free to contact me with any questions at jbishop@usbr.gov or by phone at 970-962-4326.

Ruedi releases are bolstering Fryingpan River streamflow

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

While most local rivers are flowing at levels far below average, the Fryingpan is the exception. Releases from Ruedi Reservoir are supplementing low flows downstream, in the Colorado River.

The Bureau of Reclamation controls the amount of water that flows out of Ruedi dam, and announced this week that flows in the Fryingpan will increase to 400 cubic feet per second (cfs), more than double the average.

The increases will mean more water delivered to irrigators with senior water rights in the Grand Valley. It will also provide water to four endangered fish in an area known as the 15-Mile Reach near Grand Junction.

Flows in the Fryingpan River are expected to remain at 400 cfs through the end of September.

@USBR: Releases from #Ruedi Reservoir Increasing September 4, 2018 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought #aridification

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

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth)

The release from Ruedi will be increased Tuesday morning by approximately 45 cfs. After this change, the flow at the Fryingpan River gage below Ruedi Reservoir will increase from 178 cfs to approximately 223 cfs.

This flow increase was requested by the USFWS to support fish recovery efforts in the 15-Mile reach of the Colorado River.

This release rate will continue until further notice.

#Drought news: Aspen Enacts Mandatory Water Restrictions

West Drought Monitor August 16, 2018.

From the Associated Press via USA Today:

Extremely low water levels have forced the city of Aspen to declare a stage 2 water shortage for the first time in history.

The Aspen Times reports Aspen City Council approved the move Monday. Aspen Utilities Portfolio Manager Margaret Medellin says she anticipates stage 2 restrictions to remain in effect indefinitely.

Under the restrictions, Aspen water customers must not water lawns more than three days a week and no more than 30 minutes per sprinkler zone per day.

Restrictions also include no watering native areas more than two days a week and no watering lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

From News Deeply (Emma Penrod):

Large reservoirs have buffered urban areas in the Southwest from the worst of the year’s dry conditions, but rural farmers and ranchers are bearing the brunt of water shortages and the economic fallout.

Farmer Scott Sunderland runs the numbers on his smartphone and the outlook is bleak. He needs $250,000 just to pay the taxes and debts he owes on the 700-acre farm he’s managed for more than three decades. If he’s lucky, he’ll have $220,000 by the end of the season.

“If the drought holds on another year,” he said, “we’re going to have to start liquidating … But once you start down that road, it’s almost a dead end.”

Chester, an unincorporated community in central Utah, has been hit by “exceptional” drought conditions, the most severe rating issued by the United States Drought Monitor. For much of the southwestern U.S., this past winter has marked one of the driest periods in recorded history.

Population centers in the West have been relatively insulated from the disaster, protected by large reservoirs capable of storing water for multiple years. But rural towns and the farmers and ranchers who populate them have been devastated. In many cases, struggling farmers have already been pushed off more fertile lands by urban development. Now, some of the remaining ones hope to sell out and scrape together enough cash to retire, while others have already begun to look for new jobs.

“It’s hard to paint a picture because a lot of the time when people talk about drought, you just shower less and water your lawn less,” said Cassidy Johnston, a rancher in Capitan, New Mexico. “In town, yeah, your lawn may be yellow, but here, you may have to move and sell the business your family has had for generations.”

A Regional Crisis

More than half the western U.S. is currently experiencing some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Sparsely populated areas in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in particular are grappling with dry conditions of historic proportions – many small irrigation companies are reporting water shortages the likes of which have not been seen since the 1970s.

This isn’t necessarily because these areas got less snow over a disastrously dry winter than some of the surrounding environs, said Troy Brosten, a Utah-based hydrologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service. The main issue is the lack of water storage in some remote areas.

Despite the lack of snowfall this past winter, Brosten said, larger reservoirs started the year with plenty of water left over from last year. These reservoirs are still mostly full, so the areas that draw from them haven’t experienced actual water shortages.

But some smaller reservoirs only have capacity for enough water to last about one year, Brosten said. They rely on each year’s snowpack to provide the following summer’s irrigation water. This year, there simply wasn’t enough snow to replenish their reserves.

Many farmers are increasingly reliant on these smaller reservoirs and water systems, said Kate Greenberg, who oversees western chapters of the national Young Farmers Coalition from her office in Durango, Colo. Farmers who once held senior rights in more secure reservoirs have, in some cases, opted to escape pressure from urban development by selling their lands and moving their operations further afield. The situation has been exacerbated by government policies to encourage water managers to secure water for urban growth by buying out farms, Greenberg said.

This was the fate of the Sunderland family farm, which was originally located in Lehi, Utah – a city that in a few short years has been completely transformed by the arrival of several big-name software companies, including Adobe.

The family knew that the new property in Chester was “drier country” when they moved more than 30 years ago to avoid being crowded out by development, Scott Sunderland’s brother Edwin said. But they were willing to take the risk so they could expand their operation and hopefully increase their earnings potential.

But compared to even a decade ago, Scott Sunderland added, Chester’s water doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.

Chester doesn’t have access to a full-sized reservoir, but gets its water from a series of pipelines and storage ponds, said Edwin, who now manages a small portion of the family property. They started the season, he said, with about half their total water capacity. By July 4, the water was gone.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

Last Friday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife began releasing cooler water from Lake Avery in an ongoing effort to keep coldwater fish in the river alive as tough, drought conditions persist.

Trout have adapted to thrive in water temperatures between 50-60 degrees. According to CPW, some sections of the White River have exceeded 70-plus degrees consistently since early June. In addition, water flow in portions of the river have been running at or below the 25th percentile of the historical median in recent weeks.

When flows are low, water is susceptible to warming quickly and dissolved oxygen levels drop, leading to significantly stressed fish. They gather in residual pools and become easier to catch. Even if returned to the water immediately, stressed fish hooked under these conditions could quickly perish.

In addition to the water release, CPW has implemented a voluntary fishing closure between 2 p.m. and midnight on both north and south forks of the White River, from the boundary of the National Forest through the main stem down to the bridge at Rio Blanco County Road 5, west of Meeker.

CPW has implemented additional voluntary fishing closures across the region, due to similar conditions.

The White River within Rio Blanco County is renowned for excellent fishing, drawing thousands of anglers from across the world to catch the large rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout that typically thrive in these waters.

“It’s a great place to fish, but the White River fishery is also a critical resource that local residents depend upon for their livelihoods,” said deVergie. “Whether you run a hotel, a restaurant or an outfitting business, everyone up here has a vested interest in conserving this important natural resource.”

Since the voluntary closure went into effect last week, deVergie says he has seen excellent cooperation from the public. He stresses it could be a while before things improve.

“Now that we have a little more flow in the river, we are asking irrigators to leave as much of it as they can in the river for the benefit of the fish,” said deVergie. “Until we get some moisture, the release is one of the last remaining options we have to help prevent extensive fish mortality in the White River.”

Through an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW can release water from Lake Avery to help the Board meet their instream flow right of 200 cubic feet per second. The goal is protecting aquatic life in Big Beaver Creek downstream of Lake Avery, and the White River downstream to the confluence with Piceance Creek.

The terms of the agreement allow for releasing 20 cfs up to 120 days. CPW will monitor water-quality conditions and fish to gauge the effects of the additional water, adjusting the release from Lake Avery as conditions warrant.
Due to similar climate conditions at the time, CPW released water from Lake Avery in 2012. Per the terms of the agreement, the agency can release water from the reservoir only one more time prior to 2022.

CPW recommends honoring all voluntary closures, fishing at higher altitude or fishing early when it’s cooler. Anglers should consider using barbless hooks, land fish quickly and release them quickly. Wet your hands before handling and let them go immediately, preferably without removing them from the water.

For more information about conditions on the White River, contact CPW’s Meeker office at 970-878-6090.

For general information about fishing in Colorado, visit the CPW website.

From The Durango Herald (Jennifer Oldham):

In the state known as the “mother of rivers,” the third–warmest and driest period in more than a century is wreaking havoc on waterways that provide the economic lifeline for rural communities and high–alpine habitat for Colorado’s signature fish, the greenback cutthroat trout.

The extremes of temperature and precipitation – too much of one, too little of the other – have grounded rafting companies in places that usually offer white-knuckle rides. With water barely lapping over jagged rocks, some outfitters have moved operations to rivers fed by reservoirs higher up in the parched Rockies.

“Boats can get piled up and people can get hurt if they flip, and guides were having to use their backs to pull the rafts off of rocks,” said Alan Blado, owner of Liquid Descent Rafting, which is based about 40 miles west of downtown Denver. “We didn’t want them to get injured.”

[…]

Summer 2018 came after a rough winter in which some areas received 30 percent of what once was typical snowpack. A warm spring thawed drifts early, causing rivers to peak in May, weeks before the busy summer season. Severe to exceptional drought now covers two–thirds of Colorado, and some of the worst wildfires in state history have broken out.

Crystal River low streamflow update

Cows graze near the Crystal River, just upstream from the fish hatchery. The Crystal just downstream was running at around 8 cfs on Aug. 1, spurring action by state officials. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

From The Sopris Sun (Will Grandbois):

A voluntary afternoon fishing ban is in place for sections of the lower Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers, among others.

“When those flows drop, you reduce habitat space, and warm waters are extremely stressful for trout,” explained Liza Mitchell, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Roaring Fork Conservancy (which is opening its new River Center at 11:30 a.m. Aug. 10). “It seems like there’s been pretty good compliance. It’s pretty cool when you have everyone in the industry working together.”

Mitchell sends out the Conservancy’s weekly streamflow report, which of late shows mostly red (meaning flows less than 55 percent of average) or only-recently-needed maroon (less than 30 percent). The one bright spot is the Fryingpan River, which is flowing at slightly above average thanks to an agreement that increases how much is released from Ruedi Reservoir, as well as the “Cameo call” on the Colorado River which has basically shut down diversions to the Eastern Slope in favor of senior water rights downstream.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has also placed a call on the Crystal, but the junior water rights may not be enough to keep water in the river. Additionally, a recent agreement aimed at reducing agricultural diversions won’t be enacted this year.

Still, Mitchell sees efforts at conservation as a step in the right direction amid increasing aridity. She praised the Town of Carbondale’s decision to enact water restrictions on both treated and ditch systems, and encouraged individual residents to do what they can to reduce their use.

“It’s easy to become complacent, but it’s better to act than not act,” she said. “Any little thing you do shows that you’re invested in protecting our local waterways.”

“There’s nothing we can do to make more water appear in the river” — Linda Bassi @AspenJournalism @CWCB_DNR

The lower Crystal River was running at 8 cfs near the state fish hatchery on Aug. 1, 2018. Lows flows on the Crystal have spurred action from the state, including curtailment and a call for instream flows. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Extremely low flows on the Crystal River have led to action by state officials, including turning down a diverter’s headgate and placing a call for water.

On Friday, the Colorado Water Conservation Board placed a “call” on the Crystal River, asking Division of Water Resources officials to administer an instream flow right on the river. The CWCB has an instream flow right on the Crystal for 100 cubic feet per second between Avalanche Creek and the confluence with the Roaring Fork River from June 1 through Sept. 30 each year.

The CWCB used the river [gage] near the state fish hatchery in Carbondale to determine that flow conditions were too low. As of Friday morning, the Crystal at that location was running at roughly 8.8 cfs.

Instream flow rights are owned and used by the state to help preserve and protect the natural environment, ecosystems and aquatic life, especially fish.

These rights, however, are junior to most agricultural and municipal rights in Colorado, which means the call may not do much to leave more water in the Crystal. The CWCB’s right on the Crystal dates to 1975.

Cows graze near the Crystal River, just upstream from the fish hatchery. The Crystal just downstream was running at around 8 cfs on Aug. 1, spurring action by state officials. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

The goal, Bassi said, is to make sure future augmentation plans take into account instream flow rights.

“We have a duty to protect these water rights that we hold for the people of the state and we take it seriously,” said Linda Bassi, stream and lake protection chief at the CWCB. “It’s useful to have a record of when instream flow is not being met.”

Not having enough water in the lower Crystal River has been a concern in recent years. The 2012 drought left a section of the Crystal between Thompson Creek and the state fish hatchery dry during the late summer irrigation season. Several large diversions, including Town of Carbondale ditches, are located on that section.

This year conditions are approaching a similarly dry state, despite a goal of the 2016 Crystal River Management Plan to leave an additional 10 to 25 cfs in the river during moderate drought.

“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Bassi said. “There’s nothing we can do to make more water appear in the river.”

Sprinklers irrigate land on the east side of the Crystal River (in foreground), which is facing one of its driest years in recent history. Low flows on the Crystal have spurred action from the state, including curtailment and a call for instream flows. Photo credit: Heather Sackett via Aspen Journalism

Waste curtailed

On July 23, amid rapidly dropping flows on the Crystal, District 38 Water Commissioner Jake DeWolfe made the decision to turn down the headgate of the Lowline Ditch.

The diversion point for the Lowline is located on the Crystal River just north of the KOA campground, and has two water rights: one from 1902 for 19 cfs and one from 1936 for 21.5 cfs. The ditch irrigates land on the west side of Highway 133 roughly between River Valley Ranch Golf Club and Sustainable Settings.

At issue was a “tail ditch,” which is used to return water to the stream after it is used for irrigation. The amount of water in a tail ditch can vary during the irrigation season, but if irrigators are being efficient, in theory, not much water should be returned to the stream.

“There was excess water coming out of one of the tail ditches,” DeWolf said. “If there is an excess, we can go ahead and turn (the headgate) back down and leave the water in the river.”

DeWolf said they first turned the Lowline’s headgate down by about 5 cfs on July 23, then again the next day for a total reduction of about 8 cfs.

“There have been a couple of years when we asked the irrigator to turn it down themselves,” DeWolf said. “We did not even give them the opportunity in this case. We have the option to go ahead and curtail the ditch, which is what we did this time.”

The problem, Wolfe said, was not that the Lowline was diverting more than its decreed amount of 40.5 cfs; in fact it was diverting slightly less. The problem was that the Lowline Ditch was violating the newly implemented state guidelines regarding wasting water.

An internal guide to understanding waste, approved in June 2017 by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, defines “waste” as diverting water when not needed for beneficial use or running more water than is reasonably needed for application to beneficial use.

So how much is too much water in a tail ditch?

The guidelines say it is a judgement call that should be made on a case by case basis, but that “if the water commissioner can make adjustments to a diversion with no risk of depriving the irrigated land of the water necessary to accomplish the consumptive use of the plants being irrigated, then the amount of water at the tail end of the ditch is not reasonable and is waste.”

These new guidelines are a departure from the age-old Colorado water law doctrine of “use it or lose it,” which encourages water users to divert their full decreed amount, lest their water right be considered abandoned.

“With our new direction, (curtailment) is become more common,” DeWolfe said.

Because of diminishing flows on the Crystal, Wolfe said the Lowline Ditch was diverting roughly half the volume it was running at after it was curtailed July 23, which was about 19 cfs as of Friday.

But in a dry year like 2018, the Crystal River flows, not the state, will dictate if and how much diverters can take. There is so little water, in some cases senior water rights holders are having trouble getting enough water into their headgates, DeWolf said.

“There might be some ground to go unirrigated in this second cutting,” he said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Independent on coverage of water and rivers. This story appeared in the Aug. 6, 2018 print edition of both papers.

Map of the Roaring Fork River watershed via the Roaring Fork Conservancy

#ColoradoRiver District to release water for Grand Valley irrigators, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork will benefit

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Colorado River District has agreed to boost water levels to help fish in the Roaring Fork River watershed while also conserving water for use by local irrigators later in the season and improving the chances for boosting flows this fall for endangered fish.

The action also could help protect water quality in the case of anticipated ash in waterways due to expected flooding and debris flows resulting from the Lake Christine Fire near Basalt.

The river district is releasing water from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to boost flows in the Fryingpan River and Roaring Fork River to help reduce water temperatures to benefit trout. Low flows and warm temperatures in western Colorado have led to Colorado Parks and Wildlife urging anglers to avoid fishing later in the day on numerous western Colorado waterways due to the stress trout currently are facing.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approved the river district releases last week. They are expected to range between 50 and 100 cubic feet per second.

River district spokesman Zane Kessler said the water to be released is owned and managed by the river district’s enterprise…

The water technically is being delivered downstream for Grand Valley irrigation needs but is creating environmental benefits on its way there. The water otherwise would have been delivered from Green Mountain Reservoir south of Kremmling.

Kessler said the Ruedi releases will allow for conserving a part of what’s called the historic users pool at Green Mountain Reservoir for use later in the season, which would benefit Grand Valley irrigators. The releases also increase the chances that, despite it being a dry year, that pool can be declared to have a surplus. That surplus could then be delivered in September and October to what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach, a stretch of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley where the flows would benefit endangered fish.

“This has never been done before,” Kessler said of the flow agreement. “But we’ve rarely seen river levels like this before either.”

The potential for easing the impacts of ash flow also could be felt in the Grand Valley. There is concern that ash flows could force the Clifton Water District to suspend use of Colorado River water. Area water providers have an agreement to help each other in meeting short-term water needs should that kind of emergency situation arise, but doing so this year would further deplete drought-stressed supplies.

Kessler said retaining some Green Mountain Reservoir water for release later in the year also could benefit recreational uses of the Upper Colorado River.

Meanwhile, the river district is taking another step aimed at helping ensure that benefiting fish in the Roaring Fork Valley doesn’t harm fish on the Colorado River upstream of the Roaring Fork confluence. The district is currently delivering what Kessler called “fish water” from Wolford Reservoir north of Kremmling into the upper Colorado River because it is having to lower the reservoir’s water level in preparation for doing some work on the dam there.