#ClimateChange could threaten Carbondale’s water supply — @AspenJournalism

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.

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

A new climate study and a first-ever call on a tributary of the Crystal River offer a glimpse of the future for Carbondale’s water supply.

A Vulnerability, Consequences and Adaptation Planning Scenario report by the Western Water Assessment found a strong upward trend in local temperatures over the past 40 years, which could threaten local water supplies.

“This report sort of drove the message home that (climate change) is here and it’s no longer a conceptual discussion — it’s a pragmatic discussion,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said. “It was sobering from that perspective.”

According to the report, the average temperature since 2000 has been 2.2 degrees warmer than the 20th-century average. Water year 2018 was more than 4 degrees higher than the 20th-century average and was the warmest recorded in the past 120 years.

Warmer temperatures are bad news for the watershed because they have an overall drying effect, even if precipitation remains constant. According to the report, Roaring Fork River streamflows since 2000 have been about 13% lower than the 20th-century average, due, in part, to warmer temperatures. By 2050, a typical year in the Roaring Fork Valley is projected to be warmer than the hottest years of the 20th century, which means mild drought conditions even during years with average precipitation.

“Just the warming temperatures alone are enough to tell us drought will be a concern in the future and drought conditions are likely to persist for longer,” said WWA managing director Benét Duncan. “What does that mean for the water supply?”

The Town of Carbondale treats water at its facility on Nettle Creek, a tributary of the Crystal River. The town nearly had to shut the plant down during the summer of 2018 because of a senior call on the downstream Ella Ditch. Photo credit: Town of Carbondale

Drought illustrates vulnerability

The summer of 2018’s historic drought illustrated a vulnerability in Carbondale’s water supply that surprised local officials. Senior water-rights holder Ella Ditch, which serves agriculture lands south of Carbondale, placed a call for the first time Aug. 8.

This meant that because there wasn’t enough water in the Crystal for Ella Ditch to divert the amount to which it was legally entitled, junior water-rights holders, including Carbondale, had to reduce their water use — threatening the domestic water supply to roughly 40 homes on the Nettle Creek pipeline.

“We had a situation last summer where we were inches away from having to shut down our water-treatment plant at Nettle Creek because there was a more senior call on the river,” Richardson said. “When you look at the water rights we have on paper, most municipalities feel confident their water portfolio is resilient and can stand the test of time, but that was paper water. And when it comes to wet water, we were pretty vulnerable.”

Carbondale applied for and received an emergency substitute water-supply plan from the state engineer. The emergency plan allowed for a temporary change in water right — from agricultural use to municipal use — so that another irrigation ditch could provide water to the town.

The East Mesa Ditch Co., whose water right is senior to Ella Ditch’s, agreed to loan the town 1 cubic foot per second of water from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7 under the agreement. However, Carbondale had to borrow the water only until Sept. 28, when the call was lifted on Ella Ditch. East Mesa Ditch is located upstream from Ella Ditch. Both are used to irrigate lands farther downstream on the east side of the Crystal River.

The town didn’t pay East Mesa Ditch for the water but paid the company about $5,000 in legal and engineering fees to draw up the water loan agreement, according to Town Manager Jay Harrington.

A wake-up call

Although Carbondale has other sources it can turn to for municipal use, including wells on the Roaring Fork, the summer of 2018 and the VCAPS report were a wake-up call.

“Nettle Creek is a pretty senior right, and we didn’t anticipate it to be called like it was,” Harrington said.

Potential solutions to another Ella Creek call outlined in the report include moving away from Crystal water sources to Roaring Fork sources and providing upstream pumps to the homes on the Nettle Creek pipeline.

“I think (the report) gives one of the clearest pictures of where we are heading and what we need to look at as a municipality as the climate changes,” Harrington said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post-Independent on coverage of water and rivers.

Wildfire mitigation projects help reduce damage from the #LakeChristineFire burn scar

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

A large catch basin that Eagle County sculpted into the mountainside above Basalt in recent weeks prevented significantly more water, mud and debris from swamping part of the Hill District during [the August 4, 2019] flash flood, officials said Thursday.

Eagle County Road and Bridge Department used heavy equipment to dig out a settlement pond and then used the dirt removed to regrade the hillside above the Basberg Townhouses. Boulders were placed in two drainage channels that led the water to the settlement pond. While water topped the pond during Sunday’s downpour, a lot of it was captured. Thick, sludge-like water was still in the pond Thursday.

This summer, the town of Basalt also created berms, added curb and gutter and installed a swale to direct water, all just uphill from the Basbergs…

The work was part of a $1.35 million Emergency Watershed Protection Program project. The federal government supplied a $1.23 million grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The state of Colorado contributed $153,359. Basalt, Eagle County and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are undertaking in-kind projects valued at $153,359, or 12.5%, to cover a local match.

The grant was administered by Basalt. Projects were identified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Engineering was provided by SGM, a consultant for Basalt town government.

Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said about 20% of the work has been completed. Additional projects have been identified above Basalt, on the hillside overlooking Ace Lane’s Tree Farm property in El Jebel and on Basalt Mountain where it drops steeply to Upper Cattle Creek where several historic cabins are located.

Mahoney said he felt work performed at and around a culvert at the intersection of Pinon and Cedar drives in the Hill District also softened the blow of the flash flood.

The town widened the area around the entrance to the culvert but it was still overwhelmed by the amount of water roaring down from a usually dry gulch on the mountain.

“We’ve got some river pigs — big concrete blocks — at the bottom of the drainage,” he said. “Those are to hold debris back.”

[…]

Governments teamed to install three rain gauges on Basalt Mountain so the risk of flash flooding can be better assessed in the future. Those rain gauges were calibrated this week to ensure accurate readings.

In addition, National Weather Service meteorologists visited Basalt Mountain with local emergency responders this week to get a better feel for the lay of the land. Thompson said Sunday’s storm demonstrated that different sections of Basalt Mountain can experience vastly different weather.

The projects funded through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program will continue through the summer and into fall. All told, work will be undertaken in nine drainages, Mahoney said.

Aspen scores $186,356 from @CWCB_DNR for alternative water rights transfer methods

A view of the Wheeler Ditch headgate, looking upriver on the Roaring Fork River. Smith / Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Alycin Bektesh):

On Monday, the city announced that it is the recipient of $186,356, which will go toward establishing “alternative transfer methods” with area farmers. ATMs allow water-right holders to share a portion of their claims without giving them up entirely. The state has a goal to assist in 50,000 acre feet of water transfers through the use of ATMs by 2030.

The program allows creative solutions to water sharing in a way that was not previously accessible, according to Margaret Medellin, city of Aspen’s utilities portfolio manager.

“Traditionally in Colorado water law, if you don’t use your water right you’ll eventually lose it,” Medellin said, “so before this ATM concept came about you would want to use your water rights as much as you can at all times.”

This tactic is counterintuitive to what the state needs from its water holders, though. Colorado’s population growth projections show that the demand for water will increasingly outmatch the supply. By 2050, the state’s population is estimated to reach 10 million — double 2008’s figure — creating a water shortage for about 2.5 million families.

In attempting to preserve its own water rights on Castle and Maroon Creeks, the city found itself headed to state water court with 10 separate opponents last year. It was during those pretrial negotiations that the city decided to partner with two plaintiffs to explore the ATM solution locally.

“This project is one of a few good things that came out of that effort,” Medellin said. “It really is just us as different advocates for different parts of the community coming together to try and get creative.”

Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates have assisted the city in seeking out partners who would be willing to forfeit claims on diversions at different times. Over the last year, the city has held stakeholder meetings and consulted with experts, but they realized they would need assistance in identifying good partnerships.

“The thing we realized is that there was no clear project up here,” Medellin said.

The state grant allows the city to hire outside consultants who can continue the work of finding water-rights holders who would be willing to temporarily divert their claims to the city in exchange for fees.

Todd Doherty is the president of Western Water Partnership, the consultant who helped the city with the grant application and will continue to work on securing ATM agreements. He has identified 2,800 irrigated acres that use water diverted at or above the city. His team will be reaching out to farmers to explain the program and gauge interest.

Rain wreaks havoc on Lake Christine burn scar — The Aspen Daily News #stormwater

From The Aspen Daily News (Madeleine Osberger):

A storm that unleashed its power over the Lake Christine burn area beginning late Sunday afternoon triggered multiple debris flows and water on Frying Pan Road that temporarily trapped 20 different vehicles, but resulted in no known injuries, according to Scott Thompson, chief of Roaring Fork Fire Rescue…

A Pitkin Alert evacuation notice went out at 5:31 p.m. aimed at those who lived in the area of Pinon Road and Cedar Drive imploring them to “please take all necessary precautions,”which included seeking higher ground. “Do not enter flowing water or debris,” was among the initial warnings.

Frying Pan Road was closed intermittently Sunday from Riverside Drive to about 2 1/2 miles up the road, according to deputy chief Cleve Williams. The intersection of Cedar Drive and Two Rivers Road was reopened by 10 p.m. on Sunday…

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, an inch of rain fell over the first hour, beginning at 5 p.m. There were reports of heavy rain after the first 30 minutes and flooding started on the south end of the Lake Christine burn scar. By 8:30 p.m. the rain had subsided and, according to Chief Thompson, was expected to let up before midnight.

From The Aspen Times (Rick Carroll) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Click through to view the photo gallery):

One of the trigger points for the floods was at Pinon Drive and Cedar Drive, an area above Basalt from where the initial 911 calls were placed at approximately 5:30 p.m. Sunday…

All of the roads, including Frying Pan Road — where 10 vehicles had been stuck Sunday and later removed — had re-opened to traffic by Monday. Pinon and Cedar drives, as well as Two Rivers Road, also had been closed. Two Rivers Road opened late Sunday; Pinon and Cedar opened Monday morning.

Crews also on Monday determined the floods had not damaged the integrity of roads and bridges, said Birch Barron, Eagle County emergency manager.

Structural damage to the residences in the affected area appeared to be limited, according to Barron.

“We believe there were less than 10 private residences with debris in or around structures, and for the majority of those structures, the debris was in nonresidential spaces — garages and basement and property surrounding that,” he said.

The county had not received any reports of residences being uninhabitable, Barron noted.

The evacuation zone impacted about 30 residences; however, a number of individuals couldn’t evacuate because of dangerous road conditions, Barron said.

Sunday’s response was a collaborative effort among Eagle and Pitkin counties, the town of Basalt, area law enforcement and emergency response teams, as well as state and federal agencies, Barron said.

The flow out of Ruedi Reservoir was increased Monday by 50 cubic feet per second to help clear up the Fryingpan River, which had taken on a muddy hue from the flood’s debris and sediment.

“This should be a big help toward protecting fish and river health,” said Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s director of communications.

Screenshot from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Photo credit: Anna Stonehouse via The Aspen times

@USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2019 water year.

The meeting will be held on August 7, 2019, from 6:30-8:00 pm at the following location:

Roaring Fork Conservancy River Center
22800 Two Rivers Road
Basalt, CO 81621

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2019 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. Also, representatives of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will give a presentation on the upcoming implementation of the Ute Water Conservancy District lease of Ruedi Reservoir water to the Board for instream flow use in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 461-5494, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

Beavers work hard for river ecosystems — @AspenJournalism

A beaver slap on the upper Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

https://soundcloud.com/aspenjournalism/es-beavers-biodiversity-web

Development and climate change are top threats to wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and in the arid west, water supply is a consistent concern for all kinds of life. But ecologists see a simple, natural way for ecosystems to be more resilient: beavers.

When local ecologist Delia Malone walks along the Crystal River in Carbondale, she sees something missing. The footpath she takes runs through an area that used to flood during spring runoff, but with the combination of development and climate change, it doesn’t anymore. Malone said it’s also, in part, because there are no beavers on this stretch of river.

“When we lose beaver, we also lose the wetlands they create, we lose the water storage,” Malone said. “Beaver dams store tremendous amounts of carbon. When beaver dams dry out because the beaver have left, that carbon goes up and is contributing to global warming.”

People have aggressively pushed beavers out of some areas, especially when they damage irrigation systems, flood fields and roads, and cut down trees on people’s property.

The rodents also create natural water storage — even in dry years — and restore wetlands. So Malone wants to bring more of them to high-elevation public lands in the Roaring Fork Valley. She’s working with researchers at the Colorado Natural Heritage Program on a computer model that will indicate suitable habitat for beavers.

“Beaver can be a simple but a really important strategy to remediate the impacts that we’ve caused by changing our climate,” Malone said.

A 2018 survey by Colorado Wildlife Science found that when beavers return to suitable places, the health of the river ecosystem improves. The willows grow faster, there’s more food for other wildlife and there are more songbirds.

Ecologist Delia Malone walks along the Crystal River. Malone says areas like this would benefit from beaver activity. Photo credit: Elizabeth Stewart-Severy/Aspen Journalism

A haven at Hallam Lake
Hallam Lake, a 25-acre nature preserve tucked into a hillside behind the Aspen post office, is a haven for diverse forms of life. Water is pooling and dropping gently through several ponds, which are fed year-round by natural springs. Hallam Lake is home to the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, or ACES, and this beauty is possible because of a family who has been living here for decades.

Beavers are maintaining this lake,” said Jim Kravitz, the naturalist programs director for ACES.

The lake is full of life. A recent study found 20 mammal species, dozens of insects and more than 150 plant species, including a carnivorous plant called the Lesser Bladderwort and 15 species of lichen.

“This is sort of this unique ecosystem here, because of the spring water, because of the beavers,” Kravitz said.

Beavers have lived under the roots of spruce trees along the banks at Hallam Lake for decades, and they work hard for the local ecosystem.

“They slow down the water, they filter out pollutants, they slow down floods, they keep the water on the land,” Kravitz said. “They have so many benefits, especially in dry places and where water is going to be a concern in the future.”

With climate change driving persistent drought, that means beavers could help out the entire western United States.

#Runoff news: With Twin Lakes diversion off the Roaring Fork will see an extra 550 cfs for a while

Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Diversions from the Roaring Fork River’s headwaters to the Eastern Slope ceased on Thursday and are expected to be offline until the seasonal runoff slows down, possibly weeks from now.

Bruce Hughes, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., said that his entity, which controls the diversion of water from the upper Roaring Fork Basin to the Arkansas River Basin, is hitting the maximum amount of Western Slope water it can store in Twin Lakes Reservoir. In addition, water users on the East Slope that typically rely on Roaring Fork flows are able to meet their needs with native Arkansas Basin runoff.

“Legally we cannot take anymore,” Hughes said, adding that “we are still looking at quite a spell” before diversions can resume — possibly two or three weeks.

That means that as much as 550 cubic feet per second of water that is normally diverted through a 4-mile-long tunnel underneath the Continental Divide will stay in the watershed, adding to the already high flows coming down the Roaring Fork.

Add that to the impacts of a historic winter snowpack, which, thanks to a cold and wet spring, is in the top 10 of longest-lasting snowpacks, according to records kept by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The Roaring Fork River, measured at Aspen, likely saw its natural seasonal peak early Tuesday morning, when it hit 1,020 cfs. Flows began trending down after that, but they shot back up when the transbasin diversions ceased. Flows through Aspen cracked the 1,000-cfs threshold again on Friday, creating the fourth distinct peak since June 15.

The river will continue to flow naturally until the tunnels are turned back on. The Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. manages the system that collects water from the Roaring Fork River and from Lost Man, Grizzly, Lincoln, New York, Brooklyn and Tabor creeks, and delivers the water to Grizzly Reservoir. From there it is sent through the 4-mile-long Twin Lakes Tunnel, under the Divide, into Lake Creek and down to Twin Lakes Reservoir, on the east side of Independence Pass and a short distance from­ the confluence of Lake Creek and the Arkansas River.

Lincoln Creek. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

There was a bit of an unknown when the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. announced earlier in the week that diversions to the Front Range would cease Thursday, resulting in an increase in the water in Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork River. The water company’s allotment at Twin Lakes on the other side of the Continental Divide filled Thursday. As a result, an additional 550 cubic feet per second of water started flowing into the Roaring Fork River starting at about 1 p.m. Thursday.

Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald said higher flows in the Roaring Fork River were evident Friday morning compared with Thursday evening. Twin Lakes officials told her the water levels released into the Roaring Fork wouldn’t exceed 550 cfs. In addition, runoff levels are easing. As a result she doesn’t expect problems with flooding.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory for the Roaring Fork River near Aspen, but only minor lowland flooding is expected.

“This heavy runoff will cause the Roaring Fork River to hover near to above bank full stage into early next week,” the weather service office in Grand Junction said in a notice. Bank full stage is 4.0. Flood stage is 5.0. The river was expected to rise to 4 feet by early morning today, according to the weather service…

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decreased releases from Ruedi Reservoir from 917 cfs to approximately 717 cfs on Friday morning. Ruedi Reservoir is expected to fill to capacity today or tonight. And right on cue, inflow to the reservoir is expected to plummet. The forecast by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center showed in the inflow falling below 900 cfs starting today.

Basalt Police Chief Greg Knot said no problems were reported on the Fryingpan River through Basalt during the period of highest releases…

A flood advisory was canceled Thursday for the Crystal River. The weather service said the river crested at 4.5 feet near Redstone and would continue to fall. Flood stage is 5.0.