From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
DATE: May 16, 2018
RE: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on Fryingpan River, Eagle & Pitkin Counties
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“CRWCD”) to enter into a one-year renewable short-term lease of a portion of water that CRWCD holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use to boost winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir. The Board will consider this proposal at its May 23-24, 2018 meeting in Salida. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/public-information/board-meetings-agendas/Pages/May2018NoticeAgenda.aspx
Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 079D6C0106
Contract Use: Supplement winter instream flows in the Fryingpan River
Contract Amount: 5,000 Acre Feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: 3,500 Acre Feet
Proposed Reaches of Stream:
Fryingpan River: From the confluence with Rocky Ford Creek, adjacent to the outlet of Ruedi Reservoir, downstream to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River, a distance of approximately 14.4 miles.
Purpose of the Acquisition:
The leased water would be used to supplement the existing 39 cfs ISF water right in the Fryingpan River to preserve the natural environment, and used at rates up to 70 cfs to meet the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife flow recommendations to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree.
Proposed Season of Use:
Water stored in Ruedi Reservoir will be released to the Fryingpan River during the winter time period. The existing instream flow water right is decreed for 39 cfs from November 1 – April 30. The objective of the lease would be to maintain Fryingpan River flows at a rate of 70 cfs to prevent the formation of anchor ice at times when temperatures and low flows could otherwise combine to create anchor ice, which adversely impacts aquatic macroinvertebrates and trout fry.
The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 350,000 acre-feet. This is 52% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin peaked at 69% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 496,000 acre-feet which is 60% of full. Current elevation is 7478.7 ft. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 ft.
Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:
Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow target will be equal to 987 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.
The shoulder flow target will be 300 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.
Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
The year type is currently classified as Dry.
There is no peak flow target in a Dry year category
Baseflow targets will continue to be met throughout the year.
Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased by 400 cfs on Monday, May 14th in order to allow the Black Canyon water right to be met. Flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are also predicted to be near peak levels at this time. The resulting flow on the lower Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage is estimated to be around 2500 cfs. On Tuesday, May 15th, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased by 400 cfs to return river flow to the pre-peak level.
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 890 cfs for May and 1050 cfs for June.
Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are 600 cfs. During the 1 day peak flow Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1000 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 1000 cfs. River flows will return to 600 cfs the day after the peak flow. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.
Pump-back storage systems utilize two reservoirs at different elevations. To generate power, water is released from the upper reservoir to the lower, powering a turbine on the way down that is connected to the grid.
In 2014, the Dolores Water Conservancy District released an investor’s memorandum on the potential for a project at Plateau Creek to inform energy companies and investors of the opportunity. The canyon’s steep vertical drop in a short distance makes it a good location.
District General Manager Mike Preston, speaking at Thursday’s board meeting, described pump-back storage plant idea as giant battery that is part of a green energy power grid.
When electric prices are high, the water is released from the upper reservoir through a turbine, and the power is sold to the grid to meet demand. When electric prices are low, the water is pumped back to the upper reservoir through a tunnel, recharging the battery.
Preston recently toured the Plateau Creek site by plane with Carl Borquist, president of Absaroka Energy, of Montana. The company proposed to build a pump-back hydroelectric facility at Gordon Butte, northwest of Billings, Montana…
The Dolores Water Conservancy District holds the water rights for the potential Plateau Creek project, estimated to cost $1 billion, based on the 2014 study. It would require environmental reviews and approval because it would be on San Juan National Forest land. McPhee could be used as the lower reservoir, with a small reservoir built above Plateau Canyon.
The project needs investors before it could get off the ground, but once online, it would generate an estimated $100 million per year in electricity sales. As the holder of the water rights, the district could benefit financially from the deal.
“We have the site, and if we could realize a revenue stream, it would help the district financially,” Preston said.
Shortly after Absaroka Energy’s visit, the district received a letter from Matthew Shapiro, CEO of Gridflex Energy, based in Boise, Idaho, expressing interest in exploring a pump-back storage system at McPhee.
“We recently developed a concept for this site that the district may not have considered before, one which we believe would have greater viability than the prior concept,” he stated. “We believe that the timing for this particular project is promising.”
Pump-back hydroelectric storage is considered a nonconsumptive, green energy power source. Energy companies are potential investors in hydro projects as they expand their portfolios to include green energy. They need supplemental sources to meet demand when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.
The Dolores Water Conservancy District had obtained a preliminary permit for a facility at Plateau Creek from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but it was not renewed in 2016 because the project had not moved forward enough.
Mcphee Reservoir construction
Western San Juans with McPhee Reservoir in the foreground
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
“It’s a plumbing project,” Million said. “We’re just looking at a small piece of the surpluses to bring new water supplies over.”
But others say it isn’t so simple; it’s not clear that there actually is extra water. More than 30 protests have been filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. Many of these come from organizations that think Million’s team is skirting some major issues.
“What you’re doing is putting everyone at great risk,” said Andy Mueller, executive director of the Colorado River District, which is tasked with safeguarding Colorado’s water supply. Much of that comes from the Colorado River Basin.
That’s a big, complex system that feeds 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico. The Green River is part of that; it connects to the Colorado River in Utah. So when you pull water from the Green, it affects a delicate balance that has been in the works for nearly a century.
The Colorado River Compact
In 1922, seven states signed the Colorado River Compact, a legally binding agreement. The four upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — agreed to let a set amount of water flow downriver into the lower basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada and California.
But it’s really dry in these states and climate change means there’s even less water in the river. So when new players like Million try to jump in the game, it adds some real tension.
In the worst-case scenario — a serious, long-term drought — the lower basin states can cash in on that agreement, the so-called compact call.
As Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District explained, we’ve never been through that before, but he thinks a proposal this big would push us closer to the edge.
“We don’t know what’s on the other side of that cliff, because we’ve never been through it,” Kessler said. “We do know that it could cause chaos on a number of different levels, and that’s the biggest concern for a lot of us.”
But Million isn’t too concerned about a compact call. He’s said basically it’s an empty threat, and he points blame for any shortages at the lower basin states, saying they use more than their share. Plus, he said, this water is needed right here in Colorado.
“We shouldn’t let the water go to the lower basin when we are faced with the impacts we are on the upper basin,” Million said.
The River District thinks he’s over-simplifying, because it’s actually not totally clear how much water Colorado has left to claim. Mueller explained that recent studies have shown the state is probably already using its full share.
“We think that we are at a point where we no longer have water to develop in the state of Colorado in the Colorado river system,” Mueller said.
He said the key to managing water in this complex system is working together; it’s what has worked so far.
“The entire river system is short of water, and we’re all watching this very careful balance,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern, I think, is that [Million is] going around this developed consensus in our state.”
The consensus surrounds all kinds of water users, concerning everything from how to conserve water in cities to how to protect fish. Bart Miller is with Western Resource Advocates, which opposes Million’s project on environmental grounds.
“The Green River is really a stronghold, has been a stronghold, for some of these endangered fish, and so it’s a place that I think a lot of folks are concerned about the impacts of a large quantity of water being taken out,” he said.
Plus, Miller said, it’s not clear how exactly the diverted water will be used and that breaks the anti-speculation rules in water law.
Million has said the water would be used for hydropower, irrigating agricultural lands and for municipal uses, like drinking water. But he hasn’t said specifically who would use it in those ways…
“There aren’t any identified users of the water,” he said. “And in both Utah and Colorado, speculation — developing water just so you can have it — is highly discouraged.”
That could set the foundation of a legal fight. For now, it’s up to the Utah Division of Water Rights to decide if the project moves forward.
KEYSTONE – Representatives of various water providers in the South Platte River basin said Wednesday they intend to develop a new water-storage project that includes 175,000 acre-feet of storage at three locations on the South Platte River system.
The potential project would store 50,000 acre-feet of water in Henderson, just north of Denver, 100,000 acre-feet in Kersey, downstream of Greeley, and 25,000-acre-feet further downriver on the Morgan County line at the Balzac Gage, east of Snyder.
By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County holds about 257,000 acre-feet.
“We think we have something that could help the Front Range and the South Platte, and the state as a whole,” said Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District.
The proposal, which does not include a new transmountain diversion, is coming from an informal and collaborative working group that included officials from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water, along with officials from other water providers and users, such as Yahn.
The group called itself the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, which rhymes with frog.
Now a new regional water organization is expected to be formed to guide the proposal toward permitting and funding, said Lisa Darling, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.
Darling was on the working group and she was presenting the project to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, in Keystone on May 2.
She said the various water providers in the South Platte realized that “not unifying was not an option” and that the group developed “a series of projects that could be linked together to benefit everybody as a whole.”
Darling also said, “We have to be able to maintain control of the supply, and not have it leave the state unnecessarily.”
The South Platte River rises in the mountains west of Denver, runs through the city north to Greeley, and then turns east toward the Nebraska line.
According to slides presented to the IBCC, the reasons to do the big project because it would “maximize use and effectiveness of available water on South Platte” and “minimize traditional agricultural ‘buy and dry.’”
“There is no choice,” Darling told the IBCC. “We have to work together to do this, and we really don’t have a choice.”
The project, which would provide 50,000 acre-feet of “firm yield,” is based on capturing water in the river at times when it is physically and legally available, such as in wet years, and then storing it for release as needed in a regional water re-use system.
New facilities would include off-channel reservoirs, reclaimed gravel pits, and underground storage facilities, at the three strategic locations along the river to give providers more flexibility. There might also be some storage at Julesburg, near the Nebraska state line.
A key component of the project is a long pipeline and pump system from the lower river back to the metro area north of Denver, in order to re-use the water released earlier from the upstream storage facilities. Each time the water went through the system, up to 40 percent could be re-used, Yahn said.
“It’s a big one,” said Yahn, of the project. “It doesn’t fulfill all the needs, especially on the other basins, but on the South Platte it could be a pretty big deal.”
He also said the storage and re-use project would be in addition to all the other planned water projects in the South Platte basin, as listed in the “basin implementation plan” developed by the Metro and South Platte basin roundtables.
“It’s not in place of anything,” Yahn said. “It’s not in place of NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project). It’s not in place of Gross (Reservoir) enlargement. It’s not in place of any of those other things that all of our entities are trying to do on the South Platte to meet some of our water demand.”
The project also builds upon a recently completed study of available storage sites in the lower South Platte basin. That study found there was available water to store, and a “long list of possible storage sites,” as well as a wide range of types of facilities, and costs.
Help ag, and cities?
Yahn said that storage on the river upstream of irrigators on the lower South Platte would allow farmers to sell their water to cities in a more flexible way. They could, for example, fallow a portion of their fields instead of selling the whole farm.
He also said that would spread the potentially negative economic impact of “buy and dry,” which can change the economies of agricultural communities, across a bigger area in the South Platte basin.
“You’re not hurting, economically, any one area,” Yahn said. “You’re spreading it out and farmers are getting a little bit of extra money for their water, using it a little differently, treating it as a commodity, getting some interest out of it. But really, to do that, you need storage.”
Yahn also told the IBCC, “Basically, we’re trying to give farmer’s options. But you’ve got to have a place to put the water.”
Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, also served on the working group, which was formed after the 2015 Colorado Water Plan was completed.
“I want to emphasize how significant this analysis and this effort has been, because it’s really a fundamental shift in how the South Platte was thinking of things at that time,” Cronin told the IBCC members. “It was told ‘you need to get your house in order.’ And this is very much in that vein, of getting the South Platte’s house in order.”
He also said “there is a sense of urgency for this. If you’ve traveled on I-25 between, say, north of Thornton to Ft. Collins, there is an absolute crazy boom going on right now in that corridor.”
The project proponents did not provide a cost estimate during their presentation on Wednesday.
“As for costs, the number is, gazillions,” Darling told the IBCC members. “It is a very, very large number.”
But not large enough that the working group thought state funding would be needed.
“That was never really talked about at SPROWG, as to where the funding was coming from, or whether there was going to be state funding,” Cronin said. “In fact, it was sort of a presumption that the individual water providers would find enough value in this on a cost per acre foot that they could collectively get there and pull off a project. But we didn’t get there. There was no cost-benefit analysis.”
He said water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which serves the northern Front Range, was now “going for $38,000 an acre-foot, and developers aren’t even batting an eye, because houses are now going for $400,000. So, it is on in the South Platte.”
He said the storage and re-use project might actually take pressure off of water supplies from the Western Slope.
“The urgency for what we’re trying to do I think helps, ultimately, the West Slope because these guys are going to be scrambling for buy-and-dry, and when that’s all done they’re going to be looking elsewhere,” he said.
The Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, operates under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is charged with sorting out potential conflicts between basins, especially those brought up by transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.
It includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governor’s appointees and two members of the state legislature.
The South Platte project does not include new sources of West Slope water, but concerns were still raised by West Slope interests on the IBCCC last week that the South Platte project could eventually draw more water through existing transmountain diversions.
Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who remains a governor’s appointee to the IBCC, suggested that the West Slope might want to see “some protections that these reservoirs don’t end up sitting there empty for a long time and that it doesn’t just drag additional transmountain water over the hill.”
T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher along the Green River, also serves as a governor’s appointee on the IBCC.
“I think the South Platte is clearly demonstrating what many around this table has asked, in the context of fully utilizing your own resources,” Dickinson said. “But I have a concern that the project could in fact pull water through existing projects – more water across the divide.”
Bruce Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango, commented on the South Platte basin’s apparent stance that the project was happening regardless of what the West Slope thought.
“I’m a little concerned about ‘we’re moving forward, with or without you,’” Whitehead said. “I’m not sure that’s the way we’re going to get cooperation.”
He also suggested the West Slope might embrace the project if it also included “an acknowledgement there won’t be any more development of water from the West Slope.”
That drew a chuckle from some IBCC members, as Front Range water interests have said they do not intend to walk away from the Western Slope as a source of water.
There are two “water development concept workshops” set up for the public to learn more about the South Platte project, one on May 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Water’s headquarters in Denver and one on May 15 at 3 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud.
Yahn said the two meeting locations does not mean the project is coming from Denver Water and Northern Water.
“Denver and Aurora were part of it, and Northern, but it wasn’t them,” Yahn said. “It was all of us just thinking outside the box together. And taking off our agency hats.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and waters with The Aspen Times. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Monday, May 7, 2018.
The water supply is greater than normal, with Turquoise at 121 percent of normal, Twin Lakes at 98 percent of normal and Pueblo Reservoir at 135 percent of normal. The Pueblo Reservoir must be down to a certain level by April 15, making a spill possible to avoid flooding. Farmers are taking water they can use as requested to ease the situation. Reservoirs in the area are full or nearly full.
Since the rainfall has been less than usual in winter 2017-2018, the abundant water supply is good news for area farmers. The snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin is 59 percent of normal and 54 percent of last year. The normal peak date is April 11 and these figures are as of March 19. All the water in the flood pool must be out by May 1, so that an upriver rainstorm will not cause flooding on the lower river. Therefore, the reservoir will start spilling excess water on April 15. A spill benefits whatever entity has the call on the river; for example, it could be the Rocky Ford Highline, or Holbrook or Fort Lyon by priority dates (original priority date).
The hydroelectric plant being constructed at Pueblo Reservoir is progressing as planned. The Lease of Power Privilege has been finalized with the South East Colorado Water Conservancy District. Reclamation has approved the design, specifications, and submittals for phase 1 and 2 and is currently reviewing the final phase. Construction on the plant began in September 2017. The anticipated start-up for the first turbine is early June 2018.
The hydro produced will be purchased by Fountain and Colorado Springs, said Chris Woodka of the SECWCD on Thursday. “The reason is that Black Hills declined to incorporate the power into its portfolio.” SECWCD has a carriage agreement with Black Hills when the plant starts producing. Woodka continued, “The annual average for production is around 28 million kWh per year, which is basically enough for 4,500 homes.” Revenue from the plant will benefit the Southeastern District, but a 30-year contract with Fountain and a 10-year contract with Springs accounts for all power generated.