#ColoradoRiver: “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply [via cloud seeding] for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin” — Dave Kanzer #COriver #aridification @ColoradoWater

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The Colorado River District says adding to the snowpack is one way to address dwindling water supplies; a study in Wyoming showed that, when the conditions are right, cloud seeding can increase snowfall by 5 to 15 percent per storm. That translates to a slight increase in water supplies — a 1 to 5 percent increase in snowpack-derived water.

Dave Kanzer, an engineer with the River District, said more efficient storms with more snowfall can mean more water across the West.

“We’re not just talking about one county and one city,” Kanzer said. “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin.”

The River District has ongoing cloud seeding operations across Colorado, all along the Continental Divide, but not in Aspen and Pitkin County.

“We are proposing to fill in those areas upstream toward Independence Pass, to include all of the Ski Co properties, and all of the upper Roaring Fork Watershed,” Kanzer said.

He will present a proposal for a three-year cloud-seeding program to Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board at its meeting this Thursday. The River District has also been in talks with the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company.

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

Kanzer says the science is clear, but the process is not precise. A study conducted in Wyoming shows the conditions are only right in about 30 percent of storms, but when they are, cloud seeding can increase snowfall. That snowpack contributes to the water supply not just in the Roaring Fork Valley, but across the west.

“Even if we only increase the water supply by a small fraction, it can have wide ranging benefits,” Kanzer said, including more water in local rivers and more snow on the mountain.

The River District wants to see more cloud seeding activities in the Aspen area. On Thursday, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board will hear a proposal from Kanzer about expanding cloud seeding activities. He also has met with City of Aspen water officials and Aspen Skiing Company.

Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations for SkiCo, said the company is interested in supporting the River District, but not as a business investment. The small increase in snowfall doesn’t translate to extra powder days for skiers and riders.

“A 10-inch storm going to a 10.5-inch storm, doesn’t really do too much,” Burkley said.

While cloud seeding might not be a boon for powder skiers, Burkley said SkiCo is supportive of any measures that might help the water supply. The company has offered to participate as a site for the generators and to help with manpower to operate them.

The River District is looking for funding from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board and the City of Aspen; the proposal would then need a permit from the State of Colorado.

Aspen officials finalize all agreements on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek dam cases — @AspenJournalism

The dam site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, in the Roaring Fork River basin. Under conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen since 1965, a 155-foot-tall dam would be built in this location on Maroon Creek to store 4,567 acre-feet of water. The city of Aspen has reached agreements with 10 opposing parties in water court to move the water rights to other locations. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen announced Tuesday it has reached settlement agreements with all 10 of the opposing parties in two water court cases where the city was seeking to maintain conditional water rights tied to large potential dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

Craig Corona, the water attorney for Larsen Family LP, signed the last of the settlement agreements with the city Oct. 11. The other nine parties in the cases had all signed agreements by August.

The city has filed all of the settlement agreements, or stipulations, with the Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs, along with a motion asking for a water court judge to approve them.

If the judge approves the stipulations as expected, it would mean that the issues raised in the cases by opponents, and the state, would not be contested in a trial setting.

Under the agreements, the city has agreed to walk away from the potential dam locations, roughly 2 miles below Maroon Lake in the Maroon Creek valley and 2 miles below Ashcroft in the Castle Creek valley, and instead pursue the right to store water in five other identified locations.

Those locations include the city’s golf course, the Maroon Creek Club golf course, which is partially on open space property owned by the city, the Cozy Point open space, the gravel pit in Woody Creek operated by Elam Construction, and a parcel of land next to the gravel pit purchased by the city specifically for future potential water storage.

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five sites in the Roaring Fork River valley where the city of Aspen is proposing to store up to 8,500 acre-feet in water, based on its conditional rights to store water in the upper Maroon and Castle creek valleys.

Moving the rights

The city’s conditional water storage rights on Castle and Maroon creeks carry a 1971 decree date and the city plans to file a new application with the state water court to transfer the rights to the new locations, with their 1971 priority date intact.

Under the agreements, the city could file for rights to store as much as 8,500 acre-feet of water in the new locations, without any opposition in water court from the entities in the Castle and Maroon creek cases.

However, parties outside of the two cases could still file statements of opposition in the city’s expected change case.

Under the agreements, if the city is not successful in moving the water rights, it cannot return and claim the water rights in their original locations on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

The city filed its two diligence applications for Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir in October 2016.

The city’s conditional water storage rights on Maroon Creek are tied to a potential 155-foot-high dam backing up 4,567 acre-feet of water below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, in a pristine meadow within view of the Maroon Bells.

The dam and reservoir would have been on Forest Service land and would have flooded portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

On Castle Creek, the city has conditional rights to store 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mostly on private land but also flooding a corner of USFS property and the wilderness.

Margaret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager with the city, said once the water court judge approves the signed settlements, the city will begin to study in earnest exactly how much water it feels it needs to store in the potential new locations.

And while the city would have six years to file its change case under the agreements, Medellin said she expects the city will file the application as soon as it is ready.

Two news releases, one from the city and one from the four environmental groups in the cases, were sent out Tuesday heralding the settlements.

“Throughout this process, City Council was acting in the best interest of its current and future water customers as part of prudent water management, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in the city’s release. “I am proud we were able to safeguard our future water storage needs while also collaborating to protect sensitive wilderness areas.”

And a release from the four environmental groups in the cases carried the subheadline, “Final agreement means Aspen will abandon plans to build dams on Maroon and Castle creeks.”

Medellin acknowledged, however, that a key next step still needs to occur for the city in the cases, and that’s approval by the water court judge of the signed agreements.

“We still need to hear what the judge has to say,” she said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in the Colorado River basin in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Maroon Bells reflected in Maroon Lake. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Here’s the release from Western Resource Advocates (Jennifer Talhelm, Will Roush, Matt Rice, David Nickum):

“This agreement is a huge victory for the Maroon Bells Wilderness and the Maroon and Castle creeks. The city of Aspen deserves tremendous credit for agreeing not to build these dams and instead pursue smart water alternatives that will enable the city to respond to future needs and to climate change, while preserving this amazing natural environment that draws visitors from all around the world,” said Western Resource Advocates President Jon Goldin-Dubois. “Communities throughout the Colorado River basin face similar dilemmas; Aspen is showing true leadership by demonstrating that it’s possible to find solutions that protect our rivers, preserve our quality of life, and enable future growth.”

“The signing of this final document means the end of conditional water rights that would have allowed dams to be built across Castle and Maroon creeks. The city of Aspen played a leadership role in working to find a set of solutions that will both protect Castle and Maroon creeks and ensure continued water for the citizens of Aspen,” said Will Roush, Executive Director at Wilderness Workshop. “Castle and Maroon creeks have tremendous ecological and community values, this is a moment to celebrate both the continuation of their free-flowing character and the partnership and collaboration with the city of Aspen that led to this outcome.”

“This is a significant victory for rivers in the Roaring Fork Valley,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin Director for American Rivers. “We applaud the city of Aspen for working with the community to find more sustainable and cost-effective water supply solutions. Thanks to the hard work and persistence of so many people who love this special place, these creeks will forever flow free.”

“Sacrificing the places that make Colorado great is the wrong answer for meeting future water needs,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We appreciate the city of Aspen’s commitment to meet its water supply needs in ways that protect these much-loved valleys and creeks, and the wild trout that call them home.”

If built, the dams proposed on Maroon and Castle creeks would have flooded important wildlife and recreation areas in addition to portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, forever changing two of the most beautiful, visited, and photographed valleys in Colorado.

The plans were opposed by Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, American Rivers, and Trout Unlimited, as well as several other parties, including Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service. This spring, after extensive negotiations, the conservation organizations signed agreements with the city, requiring it to relocate its water rights and abandon plans to build reservoirs with dams on Castle and Maroon creeks, regardless of whether it is successful in moving these rights to alternative locations. However, the agreements were contingent on the city reaching accord with other opposers in the case. Final agreement ending plans for a dam and reservoir on Castle Creek was reached in late summer. Today, the city announced a final settlement regarding the dam and reservoir on Maroon Creek.

The agreements commit Aspen to pursuing more river-friendly water storage strategies. The city will seek to move a portion of its water rights to a suite of more environmentally friendly water storage locations within and downstream of the city limits, including a site near the gravel quarry at Woody Creek. The city of Aspen played a critical role in helping find solutions to protect the two creeks while maintaining an important source of water for the community.

Ruedi Reservoir operations update

The Fryingpan River, above Basalt. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

At 1 p.m. today, Oct 1, Reclamation plans to decrease the releases from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan River from 300 to 270 cubic feet per second until further notice.

Aspen Skiing Co. expects normal snowmaking operations this season despite #drought


From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

Despite an unprecedented water restriction amid the ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado and the West, officials with the city of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. said the dry conditions should not impact the company’s ability to make snow at its four resorts…

SkiCo uses municipal water for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands from the city’s 3-million-gallon reservoir up Castle Creek, water from Maroon Creek for Buttermilk, and water stored in Ziegler Reservoir for the Snowmass Ski Area. And communication between the city and the SkiCo is key, particularly now amid the drought.

Margaret Medellin, the city of Aspen’s portfolio utilities manager, said Friday that Thomas Reservoir doesn’t afford much storage for the city’s needs, and the municipality relies largely on direct flows from Maroon and Castle creeks. Still, “there are a lot of reasons why snowmaking is a water use that can be done even during this dry period,” she said.

That includes snowmaking mostly happening during November and early December, when water demand has lessened because of fewer residents, second-home owners and visitors; along with fewer times nowadays with temperatures suitable for making flakes.

In summertime, the largest use of city water, as much as 86 percent at times, goes to irrigation, but now “irrigation systems are starting to shut down, and we’re seeing the demand on the system dropping,” she said…

She also said that snowmaking overall is a pretty small use — annually less than 8 percent — of the city water supply.

“Having said that, we do constantly monitor our creeks,” Medellin said. “If SkiCo wanted to make snow, and it’s too close to in-stream flow [requirements], we’d communicate with them that they wouldn’t be able to make snow…

Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s senior vice president of mountain operations, said the drought and city water restrictions have “been on our minds,” and led to a recent, in-company meeting.

She agreed the health of the streams is paramount and echoed Medellin: “We’re putting snow on the hill when not a lot of water is being used.

“We recognize that we have a bit of time before now and then, and we’re hoping for the possibility of natural snow,” Ertl said. “We knew this conversation was going to come up with Stage 2 water restrictions. We’re paying attention to what the city requirements may be and will work in conjunction with them for Aspen Mountain and Highlands.”

She said SkiCo, being the valley’s largest employer and driver of tourism, will also consult with other businesses and interest groups about water use for snowmaking…

Ertl and Medellin both said that 70 to 80 percent of the man-made snow ends up back in the watershed during runoff, rather than being lost to evaporation.

Roaring Fork Conservancy presents voter’s guide to local water issues #vote

The Cascades, on the Roaring Fork River June 16, 2016. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Roaring Fork Conservancy via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Rick Lofaro):

Roaring Fork Conservancy is pleased to present yet another edition of the Voters’ Guide to Water Issues in the Roaring Fork Watershed. The importance of water in Colorado continues to grow as we plan for the future of our water resources. Roaring Fork Conservancy remains focused on water quality, water quantity and riparian health, addressing these issues via river science, water policy and educating citizens on current issues.

Knowledgeable elected officials help us protect vital water resources. With the upcoming election, we wanted to give citizens an opportunity to hear from candidates on local water issues and their proposed solutions.

Roaring Fork Conservancy asked candidates in local, state and federal races for their responses to two water-related questions. This pamphlet presents a non-biased forum for candidates to express their qualifications and platforms on water issues affecting the Roaring Fork Watershed and the state of Colorado. This Voters’ Guide can be found on our website at http://www.roaringfork.org/news and physical copies will be available in public places throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed.

Roaring Fork Conservancy does not endorse any candidates. Their unedited responses are presented as submitted.

We encourage you to vote, whether by mail or at a polling place on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Your voice is an important part of helping us bring people together to protect our rivers.

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.