#ColoradoRiver: @USBR Lake Estes and Olympic Dam operations update #COriver

First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit  Northern Water.
First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

On Monday at 5:30 pm of this week diversions through the Adams Tunnel to the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project began. While this picks up, Lake Estes will rise slightly and is expected to be return to typical levels by next mid-week.

The Olympus Dam slide gate remains set to release low-level winter flows to the Big Thompson River.

This rate of fill will be maintained for several days to ensure safe operations below the Estes Power Plant. The majority of the water in Lake Estes enters through the power plant via the C-BT Project.

Track Lake Estes’ water elevation at our tea cup page: http://www.usbr.gov/gp-bin/arcweb_olydamco.pl

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

The November 2016 eWaterNews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit  Northern Water.
First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The C-BT Project water year ended on Oct. 31. C-BT Project storage levels on Nov. 1 were above average for a third consecutive year, with 548,274 acre-feet in active storage. The Nov. 1 average is 444,177 AF. Deliveries increased in 2016 over 2015 levels, with 204,078 AF delivered (including quota, Carryover Program and Regional Pool Program water). Forty-six percent of the deliveries were from Horsetooth Reservoir, 40 percent from Carter Lake and the remaining 14 percent went to the Big Thompson River, Hansen Feeder Canal and the South Platte River. Estimated deliveries to municipal and industrial users totaled 102,157 AF, while agricultural deliveries were approximately 101,921 AF.

Flatiron Reservoir, Marys Lake and Lake Estes drawn down for work — Loveland Reporter-Herald

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Starting Oct. 27, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation turned off the water diversion tunnel from the West Slope to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project that feeds many of the lakes and reservoirs in Larimer County. The reservoir levels have also been lowered through the release of water to storage downstream.

According to a news release from the agency, the shutdown has allowed for the inspection of dams at Marys Lake and Lake Estes near Estes Park, and Flatiron Reservoir west of Loveland.

While the reservoirs are at low levels, crews are also looking at the power generation facilities at the Marys and Pole Hill power plants and the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

According to agency officials, the work will continue on the reservoirs and facilities throughout November, with water diversions through the Adams Tunnel from the Western Slope slated to resume in mid-December.

#ColoradoRiver: Beauty, “It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science” — Esther Vincent #COriver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?

In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.

Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.

The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”

On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.

But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.

Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.

“It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”

The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.

Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.

During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.

Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.

But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”

The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.

Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

The flawed design

But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.

The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.

Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.

From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.

In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul
In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul

The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.

Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.

Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).

Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.

The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.

“I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.

Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.

As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.

The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”

Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.

The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.

The effect of persistence

O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.

He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”

He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.

But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.

This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.

It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.

Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.

There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.

Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?

“I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Loveland: Algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir update

Green Ridge Glade Reservoir
Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

From The City of Loveland (Gretchen Stanford):

I hear your concerns about the water quality and taste and odor issues we are experiencing in Loveland. My goal is to be as transparent as possible by sharing information about what is causing the taste and odor issues in Loveland and what Loveland Water and Power (LWP) is doing to resolve the problem.

Loveland has been abuzz for months about the unusually large, stubborn algae bloom at Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, one source of Loveland’s drinking water. Although this bloom is fierce, the drinking water in Loveland still meets federal regulatory requirements, plus even more-stringent state standards, for drinking water.

This algae bloom in particular is the largest we have ever seen. As a result of the 2013 flood, more nutrients have entered into runoff as it makes its way to our reservoir. The extreme heat and abundant sunshine we have had this summer developed into the perfect storm for an enormous algae bloom.

This bloom has revealed new algae species that reproduce more quickly and produce stronger geosmin, the compound that causes taste and odor issues. Additionally, the Big Thompson River is now afflicted with a significant level of the same algae. We cannot treat the free-flowing river water in the same way as we do the reservoir. And at this time, we are blending water from both the river and the reservoir at the Water Treatment Plant (WTP).

LWP water quality specialists are closely monitoring water quality by testing water samples at the Water Treatment Plant as well as at homes and businesses throughout the city on a daily basis. We are also treating the reservoir with a hydrogen peroxide-based algaecide that was developed as an environmentally safe alternative to copper-based algaecides. The only end-products of the treatment we use are oxygen and water. In addition, we are using a safe, absorbent activated-carbon compound inside the treatment plant to remove as much taste, odor and color from the water as possible.

Our technical staff continues to explore safe alternatives for treating algae blooms in the future while walking a thin line between the price tag of new technology and reasonable rates for our customers. Next week, LWP will begin a feasibility study to evaluate options for algae mitigation. The study will include permanent aeration or oxygenation system in the reservoir. We will also do a preliminary design of a larger system to store and dispense the activated carbon compound at the WTP. Unfortunately, those large capital costs are currently not budgeted.

While we would like to predict when the algae will die, it is important to note that algae is a living, unpredictable organism. Blooms usually end shortly after the first frost but we have no way to predict when that might be. We will continue to update our website http://www.cityofloveland/waterquality and Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/LovelandWaterandPower with timely information as we receive it.

The safety and quality of our drinking water is one of LWP’s most important goals. We recognize the vital role water plays in our daily lives. LWP takes water quality very seriously and will continue to produce safe, clean drinking water for our customers. We ask for your patience while we work to resolve this problem and find a way to prevent it in the future.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

An algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, the worst Loveland’s Water and Power division has experienced, is to blame for the unsavory taste and odor plaguing the city’s water supply. The blue-green algae is harmless, health-wise, according to state lab test results.

While the minuscule taste-and-odor compound released by the algae makes the taste disgusting, a lucky 25 percent of residents think the water’s fine because they can’t taste or smell the compound.

Soon, the other 75 percent of the city will have better-tasting water. The first hard freeze will mean a slow die-off of the algae bloom, water treatment manager Scott Dickmeyer said. After that, the water’s taste and smell should return to normal within a week or two.

But Loveland will have to invest in some new mitigation methods to keep the algae at bay.

Green Ridge Glade has always been susceptible to algae growth because it’s deep and relatively still. It’s not a recreation hub like Horsetooth Reservoir, from which Fort Collins gets its water, and water doesn’t flow in and out of it at a rapid rate like at Horsetooth because Loveland is its sole user.

So as temperatures rise, the reservoir’s deeper, stiller water produces nutrients that promote the growth of anabaena, a type of algae common in water systems.

Loveland officials use a hydrogen peroxide-based product to kill the algae, but the issue has gotten worse since the 2013 Big Thompson floods because of the nutrient influx and the mysterious introduction of a new species of algae that’s harder to kill.

That’s why even though the algae issue is nothing new, many residents noticed it for the first time late this summer…

The city’s been using powder-activated carbon to remove the taste-and-odor compound from the water and funneling more Big Thompson River water into its treatment plant, but each method has drawbacks.

Powder-activated carbon removes only 50 to 60 percent of the compound because it’s not great at trapping such tiny particles. Loveland’s treated water contains about 20 to 40 parts of the compound per trillion parts of water…

“It’s a very, very small amount, but most people are very, very sensitive to it,” Dickmeyer said. “It only takes about 5 parts per trillion for our customers to start noticing it.”

And within the last few weeks, algae started cropping up in the Big Thompson River, so diluting the taste with another water source wasn’t an option.

Loveland Water and Power is considering adding oxygen to the reservoir to discourage algae growth. The division is also considering more aggressive treatment options that won’t “cost a fortune,” Dickmeyer said.

Estes Park: Fish Creek restoration project

Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.
Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (T.A. Rustin):

Students from Estes Park High School teamed up with ecology experts from the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition on Wednesday to help rebuild the ecosystem along lower Fish Creek. That area was devastated by the flood in 2013, washing away vegetation, eroding the banks, destroying the utility infrastructure, and damaging homes.

The Coalition has been working for the last year to restore areas damaged by the flood. They selected this area of Fish Creek as their first project, according to Molly Mills, Coordinator of the Coalition. Nearly a year ago, she met with Chuck Scott, principal of the high school, and asked if the Coalition could work on restoring the river banks adjoining school property.

“I asked him for permission to work on school property,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Only if you involve the kids and make this a learning experience,'” said Mills.

Mills agreed at once to the plan, and she took the responsibility for securing grant funding and obtaining legal permission to work on the river banks. That required several months, since there are numerous overlapping jurisdictions involved in the Fish Creek watershed.

With guidance from teacher Alex Harris, the high school’s Environmental Club began planning and recruiting their classmates for this event. Mills did some training with the students, teaching them about riverine ecology, and the proper techniques for planting trees. The students in the club then created training materials for the student volunteers.

“This has been a student-run project the whole way,” said Mills. “I brought the idea to them, and the funding; they organized the volunteers, mapped it out, and got the logistical support.”

[…]

Beginning early in the morning on Wednesday, students transported plants and supplies in pickup trucks to three areas along Fish Creek. More than 300 students arrived and split into teams to get to work on the riverbank. They began by pulling and bagging noxious weeks that have proliferated since the flood. They also cleared the banks of accumulated flood debris and trash.

The Coalition brought in 3,000 trees, provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. The specific species had been selected by Mills in consultation with ecology experts. They included river birch, alder, chokecherry, and cottonwood. Mills’s ecology consultants marked the locations for each tree. Working in teams, the students dug holes, planted the trees, and carried buckets of water from Fish Creek to water them.

Nearly the entire student body has been involved in this project, including the Culinary Arts class, which planned and prepared lunch for the students, teachers and volunteers. Students in the Film Studies are making a documentary to tell the story of the project. The faculty and administrators also supported the project…

Randy Mandel, representing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, walked among the groups of students. A water and ecology specialist, Mandel explained to the students how their efforts would improve the watershed. Mandel noticed a student struggling with the root ball of a tree. He bent down and guided her in the proper technique.

Gary Miller, President of the Coalition, said that the flood impacted Fish Creek more severely than any other area in the Estes Valley, and therefore was chosen as the first project.

“The Coalition was formed to bring together organizations interested in sustainable restoration of the flood damaged areas,” he said. The Estes Valley has seen three 500 year floods since 1979, and Miler predicted that we should expect more in the future. “We need to be prepared for the next huge event,” he said. He pointed out that this project has served to educate the students about the broader problem of environmental disasters.

Mills said that this is the first phase of the revegetation of the Fish Creek watershed. The next phase will be putting up fencing around the young trees to encourage the elk and deer to browse elsewhere.

“Otherwise,” she said, “they will eat everything we’ve planted.”

In the next few months, the Coalition will be mulching the area and broadcasting native grass seeds to improve the ground cover.

#ColoradoRiver: The latest “e-Waternews” is hot off the presses from Northern Water #COriver

Graph showing historical total active storage for Sept. 1. The green line indicates average storage, which is 492,333 AF via Northern Water.
Graph showing historical total active storage for Sept. 1. The green line indicates average storage, which is 492,333 AF via Northern Water.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

C-BT Project Update
Going into September, C-BT Project storage continued to be above average. On Sept. 1, 2016, total active storage was 619,418 acre-feet, which is approximately 128,000 AF above average for this time of year.

For the 2016 water year, 142,579 AF has been delivered with 42 percent of the deliveries 0 from Carter Lake and 49 percent from Horsetooth Reservoir. The remaining nine percent is delivered from the Big Thompson River and the Hansen Feeder Canal.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water