Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

“We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

“To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

“I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

“Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Lower Gunnison streamflow above baseflow target

Fog-filled Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 100 cfs on Thursday, October 12th. Diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel will be reduced by 100 cfs on Wednesday, October 11th so there will be a short period of flows over 1000 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon before the river returns to a flow of 950 cfs by late Thursday morning.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for October through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are near 975 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 950 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be about 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be around 950 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Is the #ColoradoRiver a person? — The #Colorado Springs Independent #COriver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

The Colorado River, which originates in Colorado, provides water to seven states and Mexico, and it should have rights of its own, according to a soon-to-be-filed federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks status for the river as a person.

Colorado Springs has a huge stake in the Colorado River, as its Homestake Reservoir is located in the Colorado River Basin and supplies a significant amount of water to the city.

Here’s the release from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) (Mari Margil):

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is serving as a legal adviser for the first-in-the-nation lawsuit in which a river is seeking recognition of its legal rights.

To be filed next week in federal district court in Colorado, the lawsuit Colorado River v. State of Colorado seeks a ruling that the Colorado River, and its ecosystem, possess certain rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration.

Further, the lawsuit seeks a declaration from the federal court that the State of Colorado – the defendant in the case – may be held liable for violating the rights of the River.

The Plaintiff in the action is the Colorado River itself, with members of the environmental organization Deep Green Resistance serving as “next friends” in the lawsuit on behalf of the Colorado River ecosystem. They are represented by Jason Flores-Williams, a noted Colorado civil rights attorney.

CELDF has been at the forefront of the growing movement to recognize the rights of nature, and has assisted the first places in the world to develop laws that establish legal rights of nature. This includes dozens of municipalities across the United States which have rights of nature laws in place, as well as the country of Ecuador.

Mari Margil, Director of CELDF’s International Center for the Rights of Nature, explained, “This action is the first of its kind in the United States, and comes as courts around the world are beginning to hold that nature and ecosystems possess legally enforceable rights. Recently, courts in India and Colombia held that rivers, glaciers, and other ecosystems possess rights of their own. Building on ongoing lawmaking efforts, we believe that this lawsuit will be the first of many which begins to change the status of nature under our legal systems.”

In 2008, CELDF assisted with the drafting of Chapter 7 of the Ecuador Constitution, which secures rights of nature, or Pacha Mama. CELDF is working in a number of other countries, including India, Nepal, and Australia, to advance legal frameworks that recognize legally enforceable rights of ecosystems and nature.

This fall, CELDF, with Tulane University Law School, will host the Rights of Nature Symposium. This will bring together rights of nature experts from around the world for a public conference in New Orleans on October 27.

About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature. http://www.celdf.org/.

@NorthernWater is drawing down Horsetooth for Soldier Canyon Dam outlet works maintenance

Horsetooth Reservoir looking west from Soldier Dam. Photo credit: Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In all, Horsetooth dropped 32 feet between Aug. 1 and Sept. 13. The reason for the decrease is two-fold, according to reservoir manager Northern Water.

One reason for the level change is the approaching end of the irrigation season. Water users often didn’t need to take advantage of their water rights earlier in the summer, when storm clouds dropped rain on Northern Colorado several times a week.

But as the weather’s dried up, Northern Water has delivered more water to ditch companies for irrigation, spokesman Brian Werner said. The Poudre and South Platte Rivers are running lower now that snowpack has waned, so irrigation water is coming out of storage at Horsetooth.

The Soldier Canyon Dam is located on the east shore of Horsetooth Reservoir, 3.5 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The zoned earthfill dam has an outlet works consisting of a concrete conduit through the base of the dam, controlled by two 72-inch hollow-jet valves. The foundation is limey shales and sandstones overlain with silty, sandy clay. Photo credit Reclamation.

The releases are also necessary because Northern Water is planning maintenance on the Soldier Canyon Dam outlet works in early November, Werner said. Lower water levels make it easier for divers to access dams for repairs.

Horsetooth stood at 5,391 feet on Wednesday morning, which is about average for this time of year, Werner said. On Aug. 1, Horsetooth’s elevation was 5,423 feet, or 7 feet below full…

Northern Water plans to draw down Horsetooth another 4 feet but will do so more gradually during the coming weeks, Werner said. The reservoir will probably reach more of an “equilibrium” between inflows and outflows this weekend, he added.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

A look at Vail Valley water rights

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

In drought years, holders of the most senior water rights can “call” on those with junior rights. That means junior rights holders have to stop diverting water.

The town of Gypsum was in that situation not long ago.

Town water manager Matt Franklin said senior rights holders taking their allocated water put a significant strain on the town’s ability to provide water to residents.

“Nothing’s more stressful than trying to meet demand when there’s a call on the river and you can only put out a quarter of what you need,” Franklin said.

Gypsum, over the past 20 years or so, has acquired some of the most senior water rights on Gypsum Creek. The most senior rights came from the former Albertson Ranch, now the moribund Brightwater development. Other senior rights came from Cotton Ranch closer to town.

Still, Franklin said, there are some rights senior to the Albertson Ranch rights that can take precedence in April. That month in 2013 — a historic drought year — was tough to cover, Franklin said.

In those dry years, the town has to pull water from farther downstream, and the quality isn’t as good. Treating that water requires more chemicals, more electricity, more manpower … more of just about everything, Franklin said.

GOOD RIGHTS, GOOD SUPPLIES

Still, that town is in good shape today regarding its water inventory. So is most of the rest of the Vail Valley.

Front Range water attorney Glenn Porzac knows more than just about anyone about mountain water. He said local water providers have worked over the years to ensure steady water supplies.

The town of Eagle is a good example, Porzak said. Town officials there “have been very aggressive,” Porzak said. “They approve annexations and developments only with all the water rights. Over time, they’ve really cornered that market.”

Farther east, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, along with the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, has also put in a lot of effort to ensure steady, stable supplies of water.

Those two entities have separate elected boards, but share staff and other resources. The district and the authority have an integrated system, Porzak said, which allows water to move as needed from roughly Edwards to East Vail.

The third major player in the upper valley is Vail Resorts, which requires water for snowmaking between November and January.

Most of that water supply comes from the Eagle River, but there are a few reservoirs that play crucial roles as streamflows drop between late summer and late winter.

Aurora and Colorado Springs control most of the water from Homestake Reservoir roughly between Red Cliff and Camp Hale. From there, water is pumped to Turquoise Lake near Leadville. Then, water is pumped either into the Arkansas River for Colorado Springs or into the South Platte for Aurora.

But there’s some local water sitting in Homestake, used to ensure streamflows in the Eagle River.

MORE LOCAL SUPPLIES

Near the Climax Mine atop Fremont Pass is the Eagle Park Reservoir, which is used by local providers for streamflows and some supply. Black Lakes, atop Vail Pass, is also used for local supply.

Still, local streams can run almost dry. Porzak said he has 2013 pictures of Gore Creek running at just a trickle. Portions of Brush Creek near Eagle have run almost dry in other drought years.

That’s why the water-pumping systems used by the upper valley water and sanitation district and water authority are crucial to ensuring adequate supplies for everyone.

Another player in the mix of who controls local water is the Colorado River District, which oversees use of the Colorado River from its origin in Rocky Mountain National Park to the Colorado/Utah state line.

Porzak said the river district has contracts to provide water to a number of small developments between Wolcott and Dotsero. The river district also provides some reservoir water to back up systems in Eagle and Gypsum.

Then there’s the most-senior water right in the valley. That one, the only one in the valley that dates to the 1800s, came off the Nottingham Ranch at Avon and serves Beaver Creek.

The Vail Valley’s water supplies are more stable than they were even a few years ago. Starting in about the middle of the 20th century, Front Range cities came to the mountains looking for water to feed their growing communities.

Part of those efforts included buying ranches for their water. Park County — the Fairplay area — is among the most-affected high-mountain areas, since it’s on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

Denver Water, which bought thousands of acre-feet of mountain water over the years, also purchased water rights at 4 Eagle Ranch north of Wolcott and on the upper Eagle River. There was at one time talk of building a large reservoir near Wolcott.

A few years ago, thanks to an agreement with local providers, Denver gave up those rights, stabilizing the water supplies for local providers.

That cooperation is starting to show up in other parts of the mountains, Porzak said.

“Denver Water and the Western Slope get along pretty well now,” he said. “You’re seeing more cooperation in Summit and Grand counties now.”

Still, Porzak said, “Eagle County is fortunate.”

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

@Northern_Water signs off on Broomfield/Larimer County ATM agreement

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From The Broomfield Enterprise (Jennifer Rios):

The final nod was received by Northern Water last week, following earlier approvals by Broomfield and Larimer counties.

The agreement includes Broomfield buying 115 Colorado-Big Thompson water units for $25,550 each from Larimer, which would save Broomfield $109,250 if bought at open-market value.

It also includes an “Alternate Transfer Mechanism,” or ATM, that would give Broomfield the right to use 80 C-BT units a minimum of three out of 10 years, while paying an additional fee to use the water in those years to add to the farm’s viability.

The effort is a drought-protection effort that could be increased to five out of 10 years in extreme drought years. That period would be a rolling 10 years, meaning once Broomfield pulls water, the clock starts…

The ATM is the first of its kind in Colorado where water is shared from agricultural to municipal use in perpetuity.

“By piloting this agreement, we’ve demonstrated that, by working together and sharing valuable resources, it’s possible to conserve fast-disappearing farmland at a reduced cost while securing a source of water for Colorado’s growing cities,” Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager for Larimer County, said in a Larimer Department of Natural Resources news release this week. “Hopefully, this creates a model for farmers and municipalities to work together and avoid simple ‘buy and dry’ of farmland.”

Through the agreement, Larimer County was able to conserve 211 acres of productive farmland, along with the farm’s agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values, the release states, while reducing the cost of buying the farm and its water by 46 percent.

“Broomfield values a partnership approach to both water conservation and securing future water resources,” David Allen, director of Public Works for Broomfield, said. “We were pleased to work with Larimer County to bring this innovative Alternative Transfer Method to both of our communities.”

Larimer County retained 45 units of C-BT water unencumbered, along with native Handy Ditch water.

According to studies funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Methods Grant Program, the water that will remain on the farm will be enough to keep it profitable and productive, according to the release. It will grow corn or sugar beets in wet years and water-efficient crops in dry years. In very dry years, when the farm might normally struggle to grow a profitable crop, the farm may now be better off financially with the ATM in place because it will bring in revenue from the ATM payment associated with the sharing of the water, the release states.