Northern Front Range water supply safe in spite of fires — for now — The #Greeley Tribune

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

…while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.

According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.

The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.

That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…

“The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”

The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…

However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.

And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.

“We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”

Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…

Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.

“When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”

The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…

In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.

“Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”

Aspinall Unit operations update #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Nestlé 2009 Chaffee County 1041 permit agreement was controversial — The Ark Valley Voice

Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Ark Valley Voice (Daniel Smith):

Editors note: This is the second of a three-part series examining the proposal to renew the county 1041 permit for Nestlé Waters North America.

With public hearings upcoming on whether Chaffee County should grant a 10-year extension with Nestle Waters North America (NWNA) of its 1041 permit to pump water from a local aquifer to truck to Denver for bottling as Arrowhead Spring Water, a review of the agreement’s history is informative.

The initial 1041 permit approved in 2009 was new legal ground for the county at the time.

Nestlé purchased more than 100 acres of land from the late Frank McMurray, the Big Horn Springs, in 2007; reportedly for more than $850,000. Nestlé had planned to pull water from that spring, but NWNA Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence said the company decided against using that spring over environmental concerns. A promised conservation easement on that property at the time has yet to be completed.

Nestlé also purchased the onetime fish hatchery property from Harold and Mary Hagen on the site of the Ruby Mountain Spring. This is the spring that Nestlé now taps for the water it takes from Chaffee County. The 11 acres reportedly sold for more than $2,800,000.

Nestlé established a pumping station at Johnson Village after buying about 1.4 acres of land and the liquor store owned by Steve Hansen for $1,125,000. The store was torn down at the site and the pumping station with large storage tanks built on the site, connected by miles of pipeline from the Ruby Mountain Springs pump house.

State water law requires use permits to include replacement (augmentation) of the water they extract, under complex rules mindful of numerous water rights, especially of those with senior water rights downstream on the Arkansas River.

Terry Scanga, head of the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District, explained that while the district didn’t agree then to lease the company water for its replacement, it was able to strike an agreement for the water with the City of Aurora. That agreement ended at some point; the district now does leave the replacement water to Nestlé, contingent on it being placed into the river upstream of its spring site.

The district received more than $152,000 last year from Nestlé for that replacement water.

The original 1041 pact would allow Nestlé to pump as much as 65 million gallons annually from the spring. But local officials say that currently, the amounts pumped never approaches that limit.

At the pumping station, 25 large tanker trucks per day fill up with the water collected in a 30,000-gallon storage tank on-site, and then drive up U.S. Hwy 285 about 130 miles to the Denver bottling plant, where it is treated and packaged in plastic bottles for sale in hundreds of stores around the state.

Lawrence said each of those trucks weighs about 87,000 pounds fully loaded, so drivers take their time getting to their destination. The firm doing the hauling, D.G. Coleman, has a good safety record.

Scanga, who has dealt with water law and water issues for decades, said from his perspective Nestlé has met the requirements of their 1041 permit regarding the water regulations.

Opposition groups, including Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water and the long-established environmental group 350 Central Colorado disagree and point to other permit conditions such as hiring local truck drivers, they say have not been met.

They are also critical of what they term is a lack of real oversight of the operation by the county.

Nestlé, portraying itself as a ‘good neighbor,’ has financially supported community causes and provided funds for educational programs.

These include paying a half-million dollars into two education endowments for Salida and Buena Vista schools. It has made $20,000 in one-time donations; including $10,000 to the Chaffee County Community Foundation, as well as contributions to the Boys and Girls Club; local Trout Unlimited chapter, and others.

Thousands of cases of Nestlé Water were also donated to Food Bank of the Rockies and other entities.

Critics often say while commendable, those community benefits are relatively minor in comparison to the profits the company garners from its bottled water sales and the loss of county water as a resource.

We’ll explore more specifics of the pros and cons of this contentious issue in our next report.

Public hearings on the proposed permit renewal are scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Oct. 20 and 9:00 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds. Attendance has to be limited due to COVID-19 concerns, but the hearings will also be available for viewing online.

Public comment open for Gross Reservoir expansion project — The #Colorado Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #arifidification

From The Colorado Daily (Deborah Swearingen):

Community members can now share comments about Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project proposal, which is being reviewed by Boulder County.

Although a postcard sent to property owners near Gross Reservoir said public comment about the proposed expansion project should be in by Oct. 14, county staff clarified that community members can comment at any point until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a final decision.

The current Oct. 14 deadline is for referral agencies and even that may be pushed if enough agencies request an extension. If an extension is granted, a new postcard will be sent to property owners, according to Boulder County.

While Boulder County spokesman Richard Hackett said it’s helpful to have community comments in early, he stressed there is no official deadline or cutoff. Some adjacent property owners, such as Timberline Fire Protection District, also are referral agencies on the project, which Hackett said is part of the explanation for the postcard’s wording.

No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here.

Meanwhile, community members can submit questions or written comments to grossreservoir@bouldercounty.org.

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

Even in a pandemic, #drought drives water use along the Front Range — @AspenJournalism

Golfers take shots on the green lawns of the City Park Golf Course in central Denver on Sept. 28 2020. Urban utilities this summer saw sharp increases in single-family home and outdoor water use, primarily due to drought. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated much of life and the economy in 2020, but when it comes to water use along the Front Range, drought is still the ruling force.

Most municipal water providers saw commercial water use plummet at the beginning of the pandemic, but those savings were quickly erased once the hot summer rolled in and the region’s residents switched on their sprinklers.

“The increase in residential and irrigation use have more than offset the decrease in commercial use, resulting in above normal water use across the service area,” said Todd Hartman with Denver Water. “The short story from our perspective is that we are seeing higher use this watering season because of very hot, dry conditions.”

The entire state of Colorado has been under some level of drought since early August, meaning that grass, shrubs and trees need more water than normal. To make up for that increased demand, Front Range communities have to rely more on the Western Slope water contained in their reservoirs.

In a typical year about 48% of Denver’s water comes from the Western Slope, while Colorado Springs pipes in about 75% of its water from the other side of the divide. Fort Collins typically gets more than half of its water from the Western Slope and Aurora Water gets 25% of its water from sources within the Colorado River basin.

Even though most of western Colorado is now in an extreme drought, Front Range water providers are able to rely on their storage from previous years to provide that additional water and then refill the reservoirs during the next snowmelt season.

Northern Water manages the Colorado Big-Thompson project, which pumps water from west of the Continental Divide to municipal and agricultural users along the northern Front Range. During a drought, the water district’s board generally increases the amount of water per share of the project that it doles out, known as a quota, allowing more water to be drawn from its reservoirs and increasing the amount of water delivered to shareholders. In a typical year, the project delivers about 217,000 acre-feet of water to its users. This year, to make up for drought, the board gave users an additional 31,000 acre-feet of water.

“The more water that’s available on the Front Range, like through soil moisture and local storage, the lower the quota we set because the rest of the demand can be furnished by local sources,” said Jeff Stahla with Northern Water. “The drier it is then the higher the quota, because we’re supplementing.”

Dillon Reservoir in late August 2020. The reservoir is the largest in Denver Water’s collection system, which delivers water to 1.5 million people. With drought leading to increased water use this year through August, Front Range water providers have had to rely more on water stored in reservoirs. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

Outdoor watering dominates

The data from the year so far show just how overwhelming a factor outdoor water use is on overall water-use trends. Even in a pandemic, the watering needs of yards on the Front Range during drought seem to supersede any other behavior changes. In a typical year, 40% of urban water use on the Front Range is for outdoor use. That number often increases during a drought.

Preliminary consumption numbers for the year through August show single-family use up in Denver by about 20% and multi-family use up 5%. Industrial use is down 5%, office buildings are down 9% and restaurants — which remain under limited operations due to the pandemic — are down a whopping 31%. Altogether, Denver Water saw a 12% increase in water use system wide this year, through August. The increase in single-family use began in May when many home irrigation systems were likely first turned on. Other Front Range cities saw similar trends.

Because the pandemic overlapped with a hot, dry summer, it’s been difficult for utilities to determine how much of an effect either event had on overall water use. The most revealing data comes from the spring when businesses closed and most people had yet to turn on their sprinklers.

At Aurora Water, the water conservation team started pulling data early in the pandemic to see if any trends emerged. Between March and April — right as the state transitioned to a stay-at-home order — Aurora saw a commercial water use drop of 14.3% accompanied with an 8.8% increase in residential water use and a 4.6% increase in multi-family use.

But according to Tim York, a water conservation specialist at Aurora Water, the modest increases in residential water use skyrocketed once irrigation season began. Commercial use also ticked back up once businesses began reopening. According to York, Aurora Water saw a 10.3% system-wide increase from January to July that they attribute almost entirely to drought conditions.

“Indoor use kind of is what it is, right? I mean, you’ve got to use the toilet as many times as you need to, you’ve got to do dishes when they’re dirty, you’re going to take your showers just like you normally would, but people react differently to weather,” York said.

A couple sits at the edge of the lake at City Park in central Denver on Sept. 28 2020. In a typical year, about 48 percent of Denver’s water comes from the Western Slope. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

‘People are home and wanting to work on their yards’

Most utilities had an adequate amount of water storage going into the summer to make up for the increased water use. Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora have maintained their normal summer watering restrictions, which include guidelines on when and how often to water outdoors.

On Oct. 1, Fort Collins went under mandatory level IV water restrictions in order to avoid a water shortage in the fall. In most cases residents are no longer allowed to water their lawns and cannot wash their cars. The restrictions are due partially to drought conditions and some planned maintenance on water infrastructure, but the city is also taking preemptive measures to conserve water in case the Cameron Peak Fire begins to affect the water quality in the Poudre River.

Though the drought has been the driving factor in water use this year, water managers say that the pandemic likely did have some effect on behavior and might even pay dividends down the line. Abbye Neel, a water conservation specialist in Fort Collins, says the city has seen a large increase in its Xeriscape Incentive Program. The program provides rebates and project support for Fort Collins residents to redesign their yards to be more water-efficient.

“I have nothing to back this up, but I think it’s just like people are home and wanting to work on their yards,” she said. “There’s a high potential to do more projects this year as people actually get their ducks in a row and sign up.”

This story initially ran online in the Sky-Hi News on Oct. 3 and in print in the Summit Daily News Oct. 4.

#Boulder County’s review of proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project underway — The #Colorado Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From The Colorado Daily (Deborah Swearingen):

The Boulder County Community Planning and Permitting Department’s review of a planned expansion of Gross Reservoir in western Boulder County is underway, officials announced Thursday.

This is the latest in a years-long dispute between Boulder County and Denver Water, who owns and operates the reservoir and dam. A Boulder District Court judge in December 2019 affirmed the county’s right to require that Denver Water go through its 1041 land use review process in order to expand the reservoir…

“Denver Water put in a request to determine if the expansion project would be exempt from our land use code,” Boulder County spokesperson Richard Hackett said.

However, the water utility company in July dismissed that appeal soon after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted approval for Denver Water to continue with design and construction after the county told the company it would not conduct the review while the litigation was ongoing. The regulatory commission’s approval stipulates that project construction begin within two years. The project in 2017 received the other permit it needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…

No public meetings or hearings have been scheduled yet, but the county will announce them to its Gross Reservoir Expansion Project news list. People who want to receive emailed or text messaged notifications can sign up at here. Hackett said the agencies reviewing the application have until Oct. 14 to return initial comments, although the county has the right to extend that deadline due to extenuating circumstances caused by the coronavirus.

In the meantime, community members can submit questions or written comments to grossreservoir@bouldercounty.org. There is no deadline for doing so. Comments will be accepted until the Boulder County Board of Commissioners makes a decision.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Local regs loom large in dam battle as #Colorado cities seek more Western Slope water — The Rocky Mountain Post #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s a deep-dive into the proposed Whitney Reservoir Project from David O. Williams that’s running in The Rocky Mountain Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

With Wednesday’s move by the Trump administration to weaken one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – all eyes will increasingly be on local opposition and regulation when it comes to major infrastructure on federal lands.

That’s pretty much what Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry told me when I asked about the proposed Whitney Reservoir project currently being scoped out by the U.S. Forest Service along Homestake Creek in southeastern Eagle County. The reservoir is being proposed by Colorado Springs and Aurora to pump Western Slope water to the Front Range.

All that’s currently being considered by the Forest Service is a test-drilling project to detect fatal flaws and see if one of four possible dam configurations is feasible, at which point an actual proposal for Whitney Reservoir would be submitted and considered by the feds, including a possible request to shrink the Holy Cross Wilderness by up to 500 acres to realign the road.

The Forest Service was flooded with more than 500 online comments opposing the drilling and the reservoir, demanding higher levels of environmental scrutiny for a special use permit for the drilling project that could be issued under what’s known as a “categorical exclusion.” Opponents are demanding an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)…

What didn’t make it into my Vail Daily story due to space constraints was the Eagle County angle. It’s important because way back in the 1990s, when I first moved to the Vail area, there was a huge battle going on over what was then called Homestake II – a reservoir proposed for the same area by the same cities, which still hold 20,000 acre-feet of water rights here.

Eagle County used its 1041 permitting powers, which give counties some degree of local control over infrastructure projects with regional or statewide impacts, to deny Homestake II – a move that wound up in court and went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court before Eagle County ultimately won. Those 1041 regulatory powers were granted by a state law in the 1970s.

All of that led to the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all the various stakeholders in the Eagle River Basin would work together going forward to resolve their issues. But one important thing remains true: Eagle County, not a signatory to the MOU, still has 1041 permitting authority.

So Chandler-Henry, the water leader on the board, had some important things to say last spring. First, on any proposal that would require redrawing the boundaries of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area: “I can tell you that’s not anything that we would ever be supportive of is moving wilderness boundaries.” Then, on the importance of local permitting power:

Chandler-Henry points out that federal protections have been stripped away by the current administration, with fens and ephemeral streams recently being removed from the definition of Waters of the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those changes, she said, are making it much easier for water providers to get their federal permits in place.

“Which means 1041 is all the more important for local considerations,” Chandler-Henry said, adding she believes her constituents oppose a dam. “I think that that is going to be a huge public sentiment, that we don’t want anything there.”

That being said, the county has to be somewhat diplomatic on both the test drilling and a possible future reservoir. Eagle County officials said they are working with the Forest Service on the test drilling proposal and may comment later…

“Eagle County cannot take a position regarding, and will not be commenting on, any future reservoir project because of its permitting authority powers,” county officials said in an email. “Eagle County must avoid prejudging a file based upon this authority.

“Eagle County plans to meet with the USDA USFS to discuss procedural questions regarding the proposed Whitney Creek Geotechnical Investigation project. Depending upon the outcome of that conversation, Eagle County may or may not choose to provide comment [to the Forest Service],” officials added.

Chandler-Henry, who talked to me well before the formal test drilling application and the recent Trump move to gut NEPA, said the county is keeping an open mind on 1041 permitting for whatever proposal eventually comes before the board. However, she reiterated that shrinking the Holy Cross boundary – something Congress would have to approve – is a non-starter.

“Sen. [Michael] Bennett’s office says that whenever they’re approached by Aurora Water about moving those boundaries in Holy Cross, they say, ‘You need to go see what Eagle County thinks.’” Chandler-Henry added. “To date they have not done that because I think they know what we think about that.”

An official with Bennet’s office confirmed they are aware of the wilderness adjustment plan but are not supportive of pulling back boundaries to make room for a proposed reservoir because there is not broad local backing. Bennet has been a strong advocate of wilderness expansion, not shrinkage…

Conservation groups see this as a key issue, linking the test drilling to an eventual dam proposal that could lead to less wilderness. The original Homestake II proposal would have been in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area…

Chandler-Henry said Eagle County is firm on the wilderness issue but staying openminded on 1041 so any proposal can be weighed fairly on its merits.

“One of the things that we’re doing, which is going to be really useful, is trying to tie our 1041 permitting in with the community water plan that [Eagle River Watershed Council] is working on … because a 1041 allows us to look at environmental impact, economic impact, infrastructure,” Chandler-Henry said, adding the utility has been modeling for future growth.

“Those are always our concerns with any sort of 1041 permit,” Chandler-Henry added. “What happens if water is dammed up in a reservoir? Then what happens to the Eagle River, to the environment, to the subdivisions that are relying on that water, to the recreation economy?”

Chandler-Henry said Aurora Water has been a part of that planning process…

These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

The U.S. Forest Service has been inundated with more than 500 online comments in opposition to a geotechnical and drilling study by the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to determine the feasibility of a second reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage six miles southwest of Red Cliff, including objections from nearby towns and a local state senator…

Operating together as Homestake Partners, Aurora and Colorado Springs own water rights dating back to the 1950s that, under the 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), ensure them 20,000 more acre-feet of average annual water yield. They’ve been studying four potential dam sites in the Homestake Valley several miles below the cities’ existing Homestake Reservoir, which holds 43,600 acre-feet…

Western Slope signatories of the Eagle River MOU were tight-lipped on the geophysical study and drilling. Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, declined to comment on the investigatory test work, saying only, “Yes, we have signed the MOU. That said … we are not participating in the Whitney Creek effort.”

Diane Johnson,communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said: “The short answer is we – [ERWSD] and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — support [Homestake Partners’] right to pursue an application for their yield. We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total.” Neither organization submitted a comment to the Forest Service…

Two prominent local conservation groups – the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council – both submitted comments to the Forest Service expressing serious reservations about both the drilling and the possibility of a dam…

The Eagle River MOU was drawn up after a lengthy court battle that ended in the 1990s when Eagle County rejected the cities’ Homestake II reservoir proposal using its 1041 powers under a state law passed in the 1970s that gives counties permit authority over certain outside infrastructure projects that could impact the local economy and environment.

Besides Homestake Partners (the two cities), the MOU was signed by the Colorado River District, Climax Molybdenum Company, and the Vail Consortium consisting of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Associates (now Vail Resorts).

The two private companies signed onto the MOU – Vail Resorts and Freeport-McMoRan (Climax) – declined to comment on either the drilling study or Whitney Reservoir.

Any proposed water storage project by any of the signatories has to meet the objectives of the MOU, which are, “Develop a joint use water project in Upper Eagle River basin that minimizes environmental impacts, is cost-effective, technically feasible, can be permitted by local, state and federal agencies, and provides sufficient yield to meet the water requirements of project participants as hereinafter defined.”

ERWSD’s Johnson said the water provider can’t comment on Whitney Reservoir because its environmental impacts have yet to be defined, but she did have overall praise for the MOU.

“To date, water users in the Eagle River basin have received great benefits from the MOU,” Johnson said. “It has been the basis to develop key elements of the local municipal and snowmaking water supplies that have been essential to the economic vitality of our community.”

The MOU provides 20,000 acre-feet for the cities, 10,000 acre-feet of firm water yield for the Vail Consortium (meaning if there’s a shortage, those needs are met first), and 3,000 acre-feet of water storage for Climax. About 2,000 acre-feet were already developed with Eagle Park Reservoir, but that leaves 28,000 acre-feet of yield and 3,000 of storage undeveloped.

Arkansas Valley Conduit project launched — The Pueblo Chieftain

Arkansas Valley Conduit “A Path Forward” November 22, 2019 via Southeastern.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Steve Henson):

Dignitaries from throughout the nation, including U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, gathered at Lake Pueblo for the groundbreaking of a pipeline that will deliver clear water to the Lower Arkansas River Valley…

As the conduit will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where the heavily polluted Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado…

It may be a decade or more before the conduit will be built, but the project is well on its way now.

When completed, the conduit will serve an estimated 50,000 people in Southeastern Colorado via some 260 miles of pipeline.

Bill Long, president of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and former Bent County commissioner, said: “It’s kind of an emotional event because generations have actually worked on this project and to finally see this kind of progress where we can deliver safe water to folks, which also provides a great opportunity for economic development is close to unbelievable. It truly is a great day.”

John Singletary, former chairman of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, agreed:

“As a young boy in the Arkansas Basin, I sold gold frying pans to support the effort that eventually lead to President Kennedy coming to Pueblo to sign the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project into a law,” Singletary said. “This was the first step in seeing the Arkansas Valley Conduit built. In the decades since, people like Senator Michael Bennet have never lost sight that this project is more than politics. The Conduit is a vision turned reality to help reduce dry-up of farm ground and provide clean drinking water for 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.”

The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Rayan Severance):

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who also has spent a lot of time and effort on the project throughout his career, echoed Long’s comments about ground finally being broken for the conduit.

“It is a testament to the commitment of generations of people in the Lower Arkansas Valley to bring clean drinking water to communities that were promised it in the early ’60s and never had that promise fulfilled,” Bennet said. “One of the first things I heard about when I became a senator was the Arkansas Valley Conduit because of Bill (Long) and because of Ray Kogovsek, who had been the congressman for that area, and made the case about how important it was.”

Bennet said the progress made on getting the conduit built has been a true bipartisan effort in which Democrats and Republicans have worked hand-in-hand…

The conduit, part of the original Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, would bring water from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads, serving about 40 communities along the route. As it will bypass the Arkansas River, including the portion on Pueblo’s lower East Side where Fountain Creek dumps into the river, it is seen as a regional solution to drinking water quality problems facing rural communities of Southeastern Colorado.

Many of those water providers are facing enforcement action for high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides in well water. A new source of clean water through the Arkansas Valley Conduit is the least expensive alternative, according to a 2013 Environmental Impact Statement.

While the project is breaking ground, there is still a long way to go, Bennet cautioned.

The total project cost is estimated at somewhere between $564 and $610 million to complete over a 15-year period and about $30 million a year for the next 15 years will need to be appropriated to see it finished.

“It’s not going to be easy to do but we’re going to fight for it,” Bennet said.

@DenverWater: River of words when the heat is on #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s a guest column from Stacy Chesney that’s running in The Sky-Hi Daily News:

When it comes to collaboratively managing water supplies on the West Slope, Denver Water understands that we must walk the talk.

When talking about our new era of doing business, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead regularly cites that “instead of platitudes, politics or parochialism, you need to sit down and work together.”

And that is exactly what has happened since the signatories of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement sat down on Sept. 26, 2013, to put the new framework into action that ultimately benefits water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

From it came the Learning By Doing cooperative effort to maintain and enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County, which has already seen huge successes in the Fraser Flats River Habitat work, stream sampling programs and the removal of 2,500 tons of traction sand from Highway 40 before it could impact water quality and trout habitat downstream in the Fraser River.

We’re also aware that dry and hot summers, like we saw in 2018 and are experiencing again this year, bring added stress to the fisheries, environment and ultimately the entire communities of Grand and Summit counties.

When the rivers are low, talking the talk also becomes imperative.

Water efficiency is always top of mind for the Denver metro area, and during times like this, conservation dominates our communication channels. If you live on the West Slope, you may not see Denver Water’s communications about efficiency, but we are focusing on conservation measures and fostering appreciation for our source water where it matters: our customers.

We know that using less water means more water can be kept in the reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in and Coloradans enjoy. And ultimately, Denver Water’s customers are answering that call despite enduring what is turning out to be one of the hottest and driest years on record.

Overall, residents of the Denver metro area are using less water than they did in other summers when it was similarly hot and dry. We see them being cautious and judicious with their water use and adjusting based on the weather. In fact, Denver Water customers cut their water use in half in a matter of days when it snowed earlier in September.

This is nothing new though. After the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s conservation campaign led to our per-person reduction goal of 22% from pre-drought levels — one that we’ve continued to maintain since 2016. We’ve taken that momentum and are now working directly with our customers, sending water use reports along with rebates and tips to inefficient users on how to better use water wisely.

We also continue to evolve everything we do, from leading the way with new water reuse solutions, to upgrading our Water Shortage Plan – developed with feedback from our partners at Trout Unlimited, Grand County and other Learning By Doing stakeholders.

Denverites value where their water comes from. We live in this great state because of communities like Grand and Summit counties that provide resources precious to all of us. This benefit was made even more valuable because of the pandemic this year – a reality that we don’t take for granted and continually stress to the 1.5 million people we serve.

Stacy Chesney is Denver Water’s director of public affairs.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

#Water #conservation payments to #Colorado ranchers could top $120M; is it enough? — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This field near Carbondale is irrigated with water that eventually flows into the Colorado River. The state has wrapped up the first year of an investigation into a program that could pay irrigators to reduce their consumptive use in order to send water downstream to a savings account in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

With another drought year draining the Colorado River system, a new economic study suggests that a wide-scale water conservation program in Colorado to reduce stress on the river could cost more than $120 million, depending on the amount of water saved for use in the program.

The study examined how much money it would take to adequately compensate ranchers and farmers who agree to temporarily remove water from Colorado’s West Slope hay meadows and corn fields using a practice known as fallowing. It also looked at how such a conservation program would affect the farm economy and the communities and workers who rely on it for jobs.

“Potentially the program could be beneficial to the participants,” said BBC Managing Director Douglas Jeavens, a principal with BBC Consulting, which conducted the work. “The payments have to be large enough to offset any losses,” he said.

The water saved would go into a special drought pool in Lake Powell. The pool is envisioned as a way for Colorado and other states in the Colorado River Basin’s Upper Basin—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—to further protect their ability to use the river’s water even as Lake Powell continues to shrink.

Kathleen Curry, a former lawmaker and rancher in the Gunnison River Basin, said the analysis covered all the variables at play.

“I thought they did a good job,” she said. “The numbers they came up with are reasonable.”

The study looked at two different scenarios. Under a moderate scenario it examined the impact of fallowing 25,000 acres of West Slope land annually over five years, and an aggressive scenario under which 100,000 acres of land would be fallowed for the same period of time.

The study, released Sept. 25, was sponsored by the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District, the Durango-based Southwestern Water Conservation District, and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. It adds important new detail to a statewide discussion about whether Colorado should participate in the drought pool.

Since the state began studying the pool’s feasibility in 2019, West Slope ranchers have said repeatedly that they can’t make a decision about whether to participate if they don’t know how much money they would be paid and how such a program would affect the local economy.

The study provides some preliminary answers.

Across the Yampa, Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores river basins, under the moderate scenario, ranchers would see a net benefit of nearly $9 million, while under the aggressive scenario, the net benefit would rise to $36 million over a five-year period. The water in the study was priced in a range starting at $194 an acre-foot and rising to $263 an acre-foot.

The Colorado, Yampa/White, Gunnison and Southwest basins were evaluated for secondary impacts of a demand management program that eventually could include the entire state. From the report: “Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western Colorado”. Source: Colorado River District

Individual ranchers who agree to fallow 100 acres of land could see an annual benefit, after expenses, of more than $50,000 under at least two scenarios, according to BBC’s analysis.

In modeling changes to the economy, the study found that 55 jobs would be lost under the moderate scenario, while 236 jobs would be lost under the aggressive scenario.

It also found that hay prices would rise 6 percent as supplies tighten and livestock populations would shrink by 2 percent.

Another key concern for ranchers and others is whether taking water off the fields could harm other water users on the river farther downstream.

“This is a critical issue,” said Jeavens. “But we think looking ahead we could design a program that either reduces or eliminates that risk.”

The pool would be filled with 500,000 acre-feet of water, roughly half of which would likely come from Colorado, should it, along with Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, agree that filling the drought pool is doable.

Under a broader statewide study also underway, ranchers and cities would be asked to voluntarily set aside water for the drought pool and would be paid for whatever water they contributed to the program.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is conducting the statewide feasibility analysis, declined to comment on the West Slope economic study.

Whether Colorado’s Front Range will embark on a similar study focusing on its contributions to the conservation program isn’t clear yet.

Previously Front Range cities have said they would be willing to contribute whatever water and/or cash is necessary to fill the drought pool in a way that is fair to cities and agricultural producers, as well as to different regions of the state.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Colorado River, which starts high in Rocky Mountain National Park, supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and is also used to irrigate millions of acres of hay meadows, corn fields and other crops on both the West Slope and Eastern Plains.

But if the drought-stressed river continues its decline, it could feasibly trigger involuntary cutbacks under the Colorado River Compact for the Upper Basin states, affecting both Colorado’s West Slope and Front Range.

Though such a scenario is still considered unlikely, policy makers and others want to see Colorado develop some kind of insurance against such a catastrophic event.

Who would pay for the conservation program remains to be decided. Some have suggested that thirsty state’s in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin—California, Nevada and Arizona—ante up any needed cash. Others believe that a new set of fees or taxes could fund the ambitious effort.

Don Schwindt, a rancher who sits on the board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District, said the study is a good step forward, but he wants more detailed analyses.

“These numbers are as good as any that have been generated. But the simple answer right now is that this is not enough money to generate the water. For my operation, I have to have a higher dollar than those averages or I am going to go broke.

“We’ve moved forward,” he said, “but we don’t have anything we can take to the bank yet.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

Aspinall Unit operations update: 400 CFS in Black Canyon #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1350 cfs to 1250 cfs on Monday, September 28th. Releases are being lowered while the Crystal powerplant is offline for maintenance. Diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel have also dropped over the last part of September. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release change has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

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 September and 790 cfs for October.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 900 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 400 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

Secondary economic benefits of fallowing could offset secondary impacts, study finds — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Rancher and fly fishing guide Paul Bruchez’s daughter and nephew sit in a hay field at the family ranch near Kremmling. Bruchez is helping spearhead a study among local ranchers, which could inform a potential statewide demand management program. Photo credit: Paul Bruchez via Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The secondary economic impacts of paying western Colorado farmers to temporarily fallow fields in times of drought could be similar to the secondary benefits resulting from the spending of those payments, a new study has found.

But BBC Research and Consulting says the dollars from payment spending would flow to different businesses, potentially shifting from smaller, agriculturally focused communities to larger towns and cities.

In addition, the payments would only benefit the regional economy if they come from outside western Colorado, because payments originating on the Western Slope would only result in shifting money around within the region as opposed to creating a new economic benefit, the study says.

The research was commissioned by the Colorado River Water Bank Workgroup, which consists of the Colorado River District, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association.

It’s intended to help gauge the impact on local agricultural economies should Western Slope farmers participate in voluntary, temporary, compensated fallowing as part of a demand management program involving Upper Colorado River Basin states including Colorado.

Such a program is being considered as a means for the states to be able to store extra water in Lake Powell so they can continue meeting their water delivery obligations to downstream states in times of drought, and head off potential mandatory curtailment of water uses under an interstate compact…

FARMING IMPACTS
The study looks at fallowing grass hay, alfalfa and corn. It estimates that regionally it would cost an average of $236 per acre-foot of water involved, or about $470 per fallowed acre, to get farmers to participate. It says producers also may require payments covering direct fallowing costs, such as weed and pest control, and payments also may have to be made to irrigation companies for lost revenues and added management costs.

The study evaluates a moderate, 12,700-acre hypothetical fallowing program involving 25,000 acre-feet of water a year for five years across western Colorado, and a more aggressive, 52,100-acre program that would involve 25,000 acre-feet a year for five years within each of four major Western Slope river basins.

The study finds that the moderate approach would result in a minimum of a $5.7 million annual reduction in crop production, and the aggressive approach, at least a $23.2 million reduction.

Those reductions would result in an estimated loss of at least 64 or 260 on-farm jobs, respectively, although most of those would involve the farmers themselves who are being compensated.

The study estimates that when comparing that compensation to their lost farm income, farmers collectively would come out at least $2.2 million ahead each year in the moderate scenario and $8.6 million ahead in the aggressive approach.

SECONDARY CONCERNS
The bigger focus of the study is what secondary effects would result from the fallowing due to impacts on businesses such as farm and ranch suppliers, and businesses providing household goods and services to affected workers.

In the moderate scenario, the study estimates at least 55 secondary jobs would be lost to reduced crop production, while there would be an increase of at least 27 jobs resulting from spending of fallowing payments.

Under the aggressive scenario, at least 236 secondary jobs could be lost from reduced production, compared to at least 109 new jobs being supported related to payment spending.

But the study says there could be a net annual gain of $546,000 in secondary income from the fallowing under the moderate scenario, and $2.4 million under the aggressive one.

Doug Jeavons, managing director at BBC Research and Consulting, said that despite the net job loss, the new jobs that would be created could tend to be in banking and finance, and those could pay more than the lost farm-related jobs.

The fallowing would mean fewer sales of seed, fertilizer, hauling services and labor, but could boost spending in areas such as purchase of vehicles and farm machinery, with some of the fallowing payments also being used for household consumption and reducing debt…

The study also says annual net secondary income also could fall with fallowing, by as much as $393,000 under the moderate scenario and as much as about $1.46 million under the aggressive one.

This could happen if farmers spend less of their fallowing money locally. It also accounts for the possibility that reduced forage production from fallowing could affect the livestock industry, driving up hay prices and causing ranchers to reduce herd sizes.

It says that based on what has been historically seen when it comes to hay production declines in the region, the moderate fallowing approach could result in just over a 0.5% drop in livestock production and a $3 million drop in annual livestock sales, and the aggressive approach, a possible 2.2% production drop and $13.4 million annual revenue loss.

GATHERING DATA
The Colorado River District said in its news release that its board hasn’t weighed whether a fallowing program is good for the Western Slope, but is gathering data through efforts such as the study to determine if it would have negative impacts, and if so, at what scale.

It also said if a demand management program is created in Colorado, Western Slope agriculture would only be part of the solution and Colorado River users in all parts of the state must contribute water to the program. This would include Front Range cities that divert that water across the Continental Divide…

Speaking on a river district webinar Thursday on the study, Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, said any Western Slope fallowing program won’t be one-size-fits-all, and would have to be structured to address local concerns such as soil impacts…

One concern in her district is that parts of it may have such shallow soils that they could take three to five years to recover from fallowing.

Another consideration is that some western Colorado basins export substantial amounts of hay to other states, and even other countries.

If fallowing primarily reduced exports, effects on local livestock production might be minimal.

But BBC Research and Consulting’s report notes that hay exporters may be resistant to jeopardize customer relationships by fallowing fields…

BBC Research and Consulting says measures such as split-season versus full-season fallowing could reduce economic impacts from fallowing, and ensuring that participation is spread widely across and within various river basins could spread out the impacts.

Chavez likes the general idea of widely distributing fallowing, but says that could increase costs for monitoring such a program, evaluating results and ensuring that conserved water makes it downstream to be stored rather than being used elsewhere.

The new study may be found at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/supply-planning/studies-reports-2/.

The webinar can be watched at http://www.coloradoriverdistrict.org/annual-seminars.

Killing the #LasVegas Pipeline — @HighCountryNews

“Swamp Cedars” (Juniperus scopulorum) and associated pond, wetland and meadow in Spring Valley, White Pine County, Nevada. Photograph by Dennis Ghiglieri from http://images.water.nv.gov/images/Hearing%20Exhibit%20Archives/spring%20valley/WELC/Exhibit%203030.pdf

From The High Country News (Eric Siegel) [Originally published at High Country News (http://hcn.org) on 09/18/2020]:

For decades, the Great Basin Water Network has made a point of strange bedfellowing. Its ranks include ranchers, environmentalists, sportsmen, rural county commissioners, Indigenous leaders, water users from Utah, and rural and urban Nevadans. Over the years, these groups united against a single cause: the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s “Groundwater Development Project,” a proposal to pump 58 billion gallons of water a year 300 miles to Las Vegas from the remote rural valleys of Nevada and Utah. Nevadans called it the Las Vegas Pipeline; its ardent foes called it a water grab. In May, their three decades of resistance to the pipeline ended in victory: The project was terminated.

“Never give up the ship,” Delaine Spilsbury, an Ely Shoshone tribal elder who played a significant role in the Water Network, said in a recent interview. “Never. That’s the kind of feeling that I think most of us had. Just do the best we can and let’s make something happen, even if it does take forever.”

The Vegas Pipeline, had it succeeded, threatened to make a dust bowl of 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands and 191,000 acres of shrubland habitat, almost all of it on public lands. Major utilities in the West rarely fail in getting what they want (witness California’s Owens Valley, circa 1913), but the Water Network’s multipronged, intergenerational legal battle creates a different precedent, showing that diverse water interests can transcend any single approach or ideology — and win.

Delaine Spilsbury, an Ely Shoshone tribal elder who worked with the Water Network, stands at Swamp Cedars in Spring Valley, a site significant to her and the Western Shoshone that would have been threatened by groundwater pumping. Photo credit: Russel Albert Daniels/High Country News

UNEXPECTED ALLIANCES like this have their origins in the Cold War. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Air Force sought to conduct hazardous testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and supersonic military operations in eastern Nevada. This required deep drilling into newfound aquifers, and tribal nations, rural counties, ranchers and environmentalists became increasingly distrustful of the massive groundwater pumping. They put their differences aside to mobilize public opinion and beat back two federal projects — the Missile Experimental (“MX”) and the Electronic Combat Test Capability (“ECTC”).

Their single-minded focus on water and ability to tease out a strategy from a broad coalition of people proved an asset in resisting powerful entities. “We beat the federal government,” said Abby Johnson, who worked for a statewide environmental group fighting the MX project and later helped form the Great Basin Water Network. “It never would have happened had there not been such activism against it. The public opposition and outcry across rural Nevada was essential.”

This united front endured into 1989, when the Las Vegas Valley Water District filed 146 water right applications with the Nevada state engineer — the state’s top water regulator — to pump 800,000 acre-feet of groundwater from eastern Nevada. The former anti-nuclear coalition organized area residents again — this time against their own state, filing protests with the state engineer’s office. Great Basin National Park and the Bureau of Land Management, concerned that groundwater withdrawals could affect surface-water resources under their jurisdiction, also filed protests.

The water applications sat dormant for over a decade. But in 2002, in the face of worsening drought and looming supply shortages on the Colorado River, the newly formed Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) reactivated the water filings. By 2005, the SNWA requested legal hearings. That was “when the project caught steam and really began,” said Steve Erickson, an organizer with the Water Network in Utah, who worked closely with residents in Baker, Nevada. “This was a feisty group of people, and they had worked on this stuff before. They knew they could win if they were persistent.”

In 2007, the Great Basin Water Network received nonprofit status, formalizing the coalition. It partnered with rural county governments to help pay for expert witnesses and legal representation in court, and established “water tours,” in order to teach Nevadans how the region’s landscape of springs, seeps and streams sustained a uniquely Nevadan way of life. These efforts helped establish the pipeline in the public imagination as another water grab.

But despite these advances, there was a breakdown in trust, as state and federal agencies greenlit the project, circumventing bedrock environmental laws. A 2004 federal wilderness bill included a rider granting the SNWA a public utilities right-of-way for the project, facilitating its approval. In 2006, the Department of Interior — including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which failed to consult the tribes it represents — entered a closed-door agreement with the SNWA, dropping all federal protests in exchange for a contentious monitoring and mitigation plan.

A series of legal battles ensued at the state level. The Water Network’s initial legal strategy, which focused on due process rather than water law, ultimately prevailed in 2010 at the Nevada Supreme Court, which found that “the state engineer was ‘derelict in his duties,’ ” as Kyle Roerink, the Executive Director of the Water Network, said in a recent interview. The court’s decision voided SNWA’s water applications, forcing the Water Authority to re-file them with the state engineer, who in turn reopened the protest period.

The Water Network applied pressure from multiple angles, though, and the legal wins continued on other fronts. Activists successfully argued, for example, that the state engineer miscalculated the water levels in the basins where the Southern Nevada Water Authority wanted to pump, allowing for over-allocations. Their efforts convinced a district court to order the state engineer to recalculate.

Beyond its legal strategy, the Water Network built alliances geographically — notably with ranchers, farmers, and county commissioners in western Utah, who followed in lockstep with the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute there and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and public health, citizen science and conservation groups across the state. By 2015, their efforts convinced the Republican governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, to reject a bi-state water agreement that would have allowed the SNWA to pull water from the Snake Valley, in the Nevada-Utah borderlands. “The governor was getting pressure from all sides,” Erickson said. “At one time, he had three water lawyers and the director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources telling him to sign the agreement. But he listened to us.”

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, meanwhile, undertook its own political strategy — lobbying the state Legislature to change Nevada water law, then lobbying the Nevada congressional delegation to exempt the project from further federal environmental review, even as it aggressively promoted conservation measures and engineered a low-level intake pump at Lake Mead to secure its pumping capacities.

The Water Network’s continued pressure, applied from multiple angles, ultimately paid off. In March, the Nevada District Court denied the SNWA’s appeal for a final time — blocking it from pumping any water in eastern Nevada. After a string of seven straight legal losses, the SNWA announced that it would not appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court. In May, at its Board of Directors meeting, the Water Authority withdrew all its remaining water applications associated with the project, ending a 31-year battle.

Delaine Spilsbury, the Ely Shoshone leader, watched the board meeting via a video call. “I yelled at my son, Rick, ‘Get the champagne! — Get the champagne!’ It was hard to believe that it was happening. When it’s been that way for so long, you never think it will change.”

NEVADA HAS A LONG HISTORY of resource extraction, everything from gold, to rare earth minerals, to water. And the state is by no means a regulatory haven for environmental causes. But the defeat of the SNWA, along with other recent data, suggests that public opinion around natural resources, especially water, is changing. Since 2002, southern Nevada’s population has increased by 46%, but its per capita water usage has decreased 38%, and its consumption of Colorado River water is down 25%. The SNWA’s own partnerships up and down the Colorado River, and the Great Basin Water Network’s unexpected partnerships within the state, point to a larger shift.

Regardless of these changing attitudes, and the Water Network win, the decades-long battle produced collateral damage: deep mistrust between Nevada’s rural residents and the state, especially the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Tom Baker, a fourth-generation rancher in the Snake Valley, understands as much. “We knew we could never let SNWA start at all,” he said recently, “because once they started, they would keep going. We knew that the amount of water they wanted wasn’t actually there. As soon as they figured that out too, they would have to keep expanding. Rural Nevada is very lucky that this project is finished.”

Such criticism is understandable, Simeon Herskovits, the Water Network’s longtime lawyer, said. “There is a long history of deceit and punitive actions taken by SNWA towards rural folks,” he said. As recently as 2019, for example, the agency tried to change state laws that protect senior water-rights holders in Nevada, such as farmers and ranchers in rural counties. The legislation would have allowed the state engineer to re-award the rights to junior users. “That meant there was no opportunity for trust. Rural interests knew there was no way they could take SNWA at its word.”

Pat Mulroy herself, former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the architect of the now-failed project, agreed. Asked what she would have done differently on the Vegas Pipeline, she quickly responded: “Nothing we said or did was going to persuade them. We are city folk. People in the rural areas don’t trust us.” But then she paused, and turned the thought. “Look,” she said, “these battles are not going away. It is one of the divides, and there has to be bridges. Every move we made — whether with farmers in Utah or ranchers in White Pine County — they said no. That, to me, is the tragedy. This will never change unless people are willing to talk to one another.”

Eric Siegel is an editorial intern for High Country News. Email him at eric.siegel@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

Map showing the Great Basin drainage basin as defined hydrologically. By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, all other features from the National Atlas. Rand McNally, The New International Atlas, 1993 used as reference., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12079426

After insisting on expedited review, #Utah now asks feds to delay #LakePowellPipeline decision — The #SaltLake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Salt Lake Tribune(Brian Maffly):

The state cited as a reason the 14,000 public comments submitted in response to a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) released in June.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was supposed to have the final EIS out by November, with a final decision in January, but that ambitious time frame is expected to be pushed back while a “supplemental” analysis is conducted, according to Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

“The extension will allow more time to consider the comments and complete further analysis, which will contribute to a more comprehensive draft and final EIS,” he said. “When you think about the sheer volume of comments, it’s going to take some time.”

Among those comments was a bombshell request by the six other states that rely on the Colorado River for water to refrain from completing the EIS until the states work out their differences regarding the legality of diverting the water across major drainages…

“The Bureau [of Reclamation] comes out with a draft that says, ‘We [in Washington County] need another source of water,’ but they don’t say why. The EIS failed to consider a water conservation alternative,” said Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council

Frankel and other pipeline critics speculated that commenters or higher-ups in the Interior Department had identified “fatal flaws” in the draft study that could render the pipeline’s approval vulnerable to legal challenges that are sure to follow.

“The delay of the environmental review affirms that Nevada and the other Colorado River Basin States are having an impact in this process against Utah,” said Tick Segerblom, who represents Las Vegas suburbs on the Clark County Commission. “With climate change and drought threatening us every day, we must be vigilant until the end. We cannot let our water supply be sucked away for golf courses and green lawns in southern Utah.”

Officials, however, declined to identify any alleged flaws in the draft analysis, but the state’s letter Thursday to the Bureau of Reclamation alluded to the interstate controversy over the project.

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

Water agencies agree to $700K lease to protect #RioGrande Silvery minnow — The Albuquerque Journal #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Heron Lake, part of the San Juan-Chama Project, in northern New Mexico, looking east from the Rio Chama. In the far distance is Brazos Peak (left) and the Brazos Cliffs (right), while at the bottom is the north wall of the Rio Chama Gorge. By G. Thomas at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1598784

From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

Three agencies will use water from the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority to protect Rio Grande silvery minnow habitat this fall.

On Wednesday, the water authority approved a lease of up to 7,000 acre-feet, or about 2.9 billion gallons, of its San Juan-Chama water to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at a cost not to exceed $700,000.

The San Juan-Chama project uses a series of tunnels and reservoirs to route Colorado River water into the Rio Grande Basin. Several cities, counties, pueblos and irrigation districts rely on the project for drinking water and agriculture.

The Bureau of Reclamation will pay $350,000 for the water. The Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District contributed $250,000 to the lease and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission contributed $100,000…

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a new biological opinion regarding water management and endangered and threatened species such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow, southwestern willow flycatcher and the yellow-billed cuckoo.

Water agencies now manage the river to improve fish densities, but are not required to maintain certain river flow targets.

This year’s drought and minimal runoff have left water agencies scrambling to supply water to farmers and fish.

The MRGCD used 10,000 acre-feet from the water authority in June. The irrigation district had “repaid” that water to ABCWUA in late 2019 as a payment for a water loan from the early 2000s. But the district was forced to ask for the water payment back after running out of storage water.

Another release of stored water from El Vado Reservoir in July helped extend the irrigation season by nearly three months…

Under the lease, the water can be released from Abiquiu Reservoir through the end of 2022. Revenue from the lease will help fund the water authority’s program to plan for future water supply and demand.

The water authority has a contract with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for about 15 billion gallons of San Juan-Chama water each year – making it the largest user of the project.

With 5 reservoirs in #CameronPeakFire burn area, #Greeley Water officials plan for erosion control — The Greeley Tribune

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

With five of Greeley’s six high mountain reservoirs in the burn area, erosion is expected to carry sediment into Greeley’s water supply. Left untreated, that could affect the city’s water quality. But officials are already planning to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The Cameron Peak fire ignited on August 13 on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake. Credit: Inciweb

“When fires burn, if they’re hot enough, they can actually burn underbrush and soil,” said Adam Jokerst, Greeley’s deputy director of Water Resources, adding that vegetation is burned up as well. “With the lack of the vegetation … you can get increased erosion when it rains or when the snow melts.”

That erosion carries sediment into the Poudre River, which pulls water from the reservoirs to supply water for the city. Water with high sediment content can be harder to treat, Jokerst said, but it is possible to treat safely.

For better or for worse, Jokerst said, Greeley water officials have a lot of experience handling erosion into the water supply after dealing with the impacts of the High Park Fire in 2012. That fire burned more than 87,000 acres, making it the sixth-largest in state history.

There are at least a few steps to take to mitigate erosion impacts: aerial mulching, felling trees and adding flocculants during the treatment process. For aerial mulching, crews drop shredded wheat chips or straw from a helicopter. The mulch reduces erosion and helps with revegetation. Cutting down the burned trees and letting them fall into the gullies and rills — the channels created in the soil by water erosion — prevents stormwater and meltwater from carrying added erosion into the water supply.

Jokerst said it’s common to see the water get murkier during the runoff season every year. To provide clean, clear drinking water when that happens, crews use more flocculants, which are chemicals that help to separate the water from the sediment, in the treatment process. If there’s very high sediment content at the Bellvue Treatment Plant, officials can turn off the plant so it stop pulling water from the Poudre, Jokerst said. The city can then use the Boyd Treatment Plant…

If the fire keeps on into snowfall season in the winter, Jokerst said crews will have to wait until the spring to start on erosion control measures. Greeley officials are working with the city of Fort Collins, Northern Water and the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, a nonprofit Jokerst said will be a key entity in the post-fire recovery.

Reservoir-release pilot project in #Colorado begins this week to test possible compact call — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Homestake Creek flows from Homestake Reservoir near Red Cliff. Starting Wednesday, Homestake Partners will be releasing water out of the reservoir to make sure that water can get to the state line as another option to fulfill the state’s upstream duties of delivering water to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada). Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Beginning Wednesday, Front Range water providers will release water stored in Homestake Reservoir in an effort to test how they could get water downstream to the state line in the event of a Colorado River Compact call.

Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo Board of Water Works will each release 600 acre-feet from Homestake Reservoir, which is near the town Red Cliff, for a total of 1,800 acre-feet that will flow down Homestake Creek to the Eagle River and the Colorado River.

The release, scheduled to take place Wednesday through Sept. 30, will produce additional flows ramping up to 175 cubic feet per second.

That amount of water represents less than 0.3% of current systemwide storage for Colorado Springs Utilities and less than 0.4% of Aurora’s storage, according to a news release from Aurora Water.

The Front Range Water Council, an informal group made up of representatives from Front Range urban water providers and chaired by Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, approached the state engineer about running the experiment.

“The Front Range Water Council is, of course, concerned about what’s going on on the Colorado River in terms of climate change and the flows and compact compliance issues,” said Alexandra Davis, deputy director for water resources at Aurora Water. “We thought it would be helpful to do a pilot project to test some of those authorities and administration capabilities with the state engineer.”

The utilities are releasing water downstream that would have otherwise been sent to the Front Range in a water-collection system known as a transmountain diversion.

Two men fish the Eagle River just above its confluence with the Colorado River in Dotsero. Beginning Wednesday, Homestake Reservoir will begin releasing 1,800 acre-feet of water to flow into the Eagle River, then into the Colorado River and down to the Utah border. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Compact-call scenario

A compact call could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) can’t deliver the 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year to the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada), as required by a nearly century-old binding agreement. This could trigger an interstate legal quagmire, a scenario that water managers desperately want to avoid.

A compact-call scenario could be especially problematic for Front Range water providers since most of their rights that let them divert water over the Continental Divide from the Western Slope date to after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Many Western Slope consumptive water rights date to before the compact, so they are exempt from involuntary cutbacks under a compact call. That means those cutback obligations could fall more heavily on the post-compact water rights of Front Range water providers.

The goal of the pilot project is to see how the water could be shepherded downstream to the state line. Division of Water Resources engineers will have to make sure senior water rights holders don’t divert the extra water. Water commissioners are visiting dozens of irrigation headgates on the Eagle River to ensure this doesn’t happen, said Division 5 engineer Alan Martellaro.

“We will see how much work and time and pre-planning it is going to take to make sure these ditches don’t pick up the water,” he said.

But even with shepherding, it’s unlikely the entire 1,800 acre-feet will make it to the state line because of this year’s dry conditions. Water managers expect to see transit losses in the form of evaporation and thirsty riparian vegetation along the riverbanks sucking up the water. That’s OK because this year’s dry conditions could mimic the conditions that water managers would expect to see in a year with a compact call.

“Not coincidentally, if there’s a need to do this for compact administration in the future years, it’s probably going to be under dry conditions,” said Colorado State Engineer Kevin Rein.

Figuring out how much water actually makes it to Utah is one of the main questions this experiment will try to answer.

“That’s the perfect question to give validity to this pilot,” Rein said. “We will have a better answer for you on that after the pilot is done.”

Water managers will be closely monitoring stream gauges to track the release as it flows downstream. Martellaro estimates it will take the water about four days to get from the headwaters of Homestake Creek to the state line west of Grand Junction.

The release will be a big boost for streamflows in Homestake Creek and the Eagle River, which was running at 15 cfs near Red Cliff on Tuesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge. The Colorado River near Glenwood will rise from Tuesday’s reading of 1,920 cfs.

The release will begin at 9 a.m. [September 23, 2020] with an additional 25 cfs coming out of Homestake Dam and slowly ramp up to 175 cfs, reaching that level by Wednesday afternoon. It will stay there until Monday morning, then ramp down slowly over the final two days to keep fish from being stranded in side pools, Martellaro said. According to Greg Baker of Aurora Water Public Relations, streamflows will still be below spring runoff levels and there’s no concern about flooding.

The Eagle River, left, flows into the Colorado River in Dotsero. On Wednesday, Homestake Reservoir will begin releasing 1,800 acre-feet of water to flow into the Eagle River, then into the Colorado River and down to the Utah border. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

Demand-management implications

The reservoir release also could have implications for a potential demand-management program, the feasibility of which the state is currently investigating. At the heart of a demand-management program is a reduction in water use on a temporary, voluntary and compensated basis in an effort to send as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water downstream to Lake Powell to bolster water levels in the giant reservoir and, indirectly, to meet Colorado River Compact obligations.

Under such a program, agricultural operators could get paid to leave more water in the river, but the program stirs fears of Front Range water providers throwing money at the problem without having to reduce their own consumption, while Western Slope fields are fallowed.

Responding to those concerns, Denver Water’s Lochhead has said his agency would participate in a demand-management program by using “wet water.”

This week’s Homestake release is an example of how Front Range water providers could send water stored in Western Slope reservoirs downstream under a demand-management program.

“What we are trying to do is help the state engineer gather options and thinks through how these might operate in practice, which might be helpful to the state of Colorado,” said Pat Wells, general manager for water resources and demand management at Colorado Springs Utilities.

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Sept. 23 edition of The Aspen Times.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Turning down to 1350 CFS September 23, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir. MichaelKirsh / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Wednesday, September 23rd. Releases are being lowered while the Crystal powerplant is offline for maintenance. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release change has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

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 September.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 550 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 950 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

A clear warning about the #ColoradoRiver — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

From Writers on the Range (Dave Marston):

For the West this summer, the news about water was grim. In some parts of California, it didn’t rain for over 100 days. In western Colorado, the ground was so dry that runoff at first evaporated into the air. And in New Mexico and Nevada, the rains never came.

Bill Hasencamp is the manager of California’s Metropolitan Water District, which provides treated water to 19 million people. What was most unfortunate, he said, was that, “the upper Colorado Basin had a 100 percent snowpack, yet runoff was only 54 percent of normal.” In 2018, a variation happened – light snow and little runoff, which doesn’t bode well for the future.

What everyone wants to know, though, is who loses most if severe drought becomes the norm…

What makes the Western Slope of Colorado most vulnerable to drought is a pact among seven states signed in 1922. It bound the states to give priority in a water crisis to the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada, potentially leaving the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming high and dry.

A crisis could be approaching. The two giant reservoirs on the Colorado River are both below 50 percent of capacity. If drought causes even more drastic drops, the Bureau of Reclamation could step in to prioritize the making of electricity by the hydro plants at lakes Mead and Powell. No one knows what BuRec would do, but it would call the shots and end current arrangements.

Before that happened, California could “call” for the water it is owed — 4.4 million acre-feet annually. In that case, Wockner said, ranches and farms would be forced to go dry before city residents suffered.

For now, California has avoided flexing its muscle to get its fair share of the Colorado River. To stop the Colorado River’s reservoirs from dropping to “dead pool” where power generation fails, California acts as if serious drought never ended. Since 2000, when the punishing drought began, California has cut annual water consumption by 30 percent, using both carrot and stick.

California charges the highest water rates in the West and also pays for efficiency. Under a program called Cash for Grass, “A good size lawn removal can net a homeowner $30,000,” said Rebecca Kimitch, who works for the Metropolitan Water District.

The state also invests in smarter irrigation, piping leaky ditches in the Imperial Valley, the Colorado River’s biggest irrigator. And it invests in desalinization plants and reuses some of its water via a program that was first derided as “toilet-to-tap.” More recently, statewide laws restrict personal daily consumption to a measly 55 gallons, declining to 50 gallons by 2030.

As for the Upper Basin, states continue to push not for water conservation but for more dams and reservoirs that would drain water from the basin, such as the proposed St. George, Utah, Diversion from Lake Powell. John Fleck, Director of the water resources program at the University of New Mexico said, “it’s not a binary question of: Is there enough water? The way we need to think is that the system is at risk, and every time you take more water you create risks for existing users.”

Meanwhile, California is king of the Colorado River and wants you to know it.

“We’ll never give up that right – our first priority among all Colorado River water users — and never say we’ll give up that right,” Hassencamp told me. “ That’s our fallback position, though we’ll set it aside for now and try to work out a solution.”

For Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, this is a clear warning. As Hassencamp put it: “We recognize the pie is shrinking for good.”

Dave Marston is the publisher of Writers on the Range (writersontherange.org), a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West.

Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

“We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

“In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

“Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

#FortCollins issues water restrictions to protect supply — 9News.com

Mammatus clouds, associated with strong convection, grace a sunset over Fort Collins, Colorado, home of the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Photo credit: Steve Miller/CIRA

From 9News.com (Janet Oravetz):

Water restrictions will be implemented for residents of Fort Collins following extreme drought conditions and wildfires which have the area facing a potential water shortage, the city announced on its website.

The water use restrictions will take effect Oct. 1 and will remain in effect until the order is lifted by the city manager…

Ongoing drought conditions, the Cameron Peak Fire burning near Walden and an infrastructure repair project known as Horsetooth Outlet Project (HOP) have the city facing a projected water shortage unless action is taken, the city said.

Typically, utilities receives about 50% of its water from Colorado-Big Thompson shares via Horsetooth Reservoir and 50% from the Cache la Poudre River. During HOP, utilities will have limited access to water supplies in Horsetooth and will rely more heavily on the Poudre River.

If conditions during HOP – like continued drought or poor water quality due to the Cameron Peak Fire – prevent or limit the ability to deliver water from the Poudre River, a temporary backup pump system will convey water from a different Horsetooth Reservoir outlet to the Utilities Water Treatment Facility.

The capacity of this backup system is expected to supply only average utilities winter water demands, which does not include irrigation or other seasonal outdoor uses.

Lawn watering will not be allowed beginning Oct. 1. Trees, gardens for food production and other landscapes may be watered by hand or drip systems only. There are also restrictions on vehicle washing, power washing and street sweeping, among other things.

6 states ask government to halt #LakePowellPipeline project so concerns can be addressed — The St. George News #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This $2+ billion project would pump 28 billion gallons of water 2,000 feet uphill across 140 miles of desert to provide just 160,000 residents in Southwest Utah with more water. Graphic credit: Utah Rivers Council

From The St. George News (Mori Kessler):

In a joint letter Tuesday, water officials from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming asked Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to “refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement of Record of Decision regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the Seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The letter also states that the Colorado River Basin states face the daunting challenge of supplying water to growing population centers in the West while relying on a source that is threatened by climate change and continuing drought.

If the approval process for the Lake Powell Pipeline is not halted so concerns can be addressed, the letter states it may result in “multi-year litigation” that could also complicate future interstate cooperation concerning use of the Colorado River…

Despite a potential threat of litigation if their concerns are not resolved, Brock Belnap, an assistant general manager at the Washington County Water Conservancy District, said Thursday the water district hopes issues can be resolved without too much disturbance to the pipeline’s timetable.

“We appreciate that they express they want to resolve the issues they may have and we are pledging likewise to work with them to address the issue they may have in regard to the Law of the River in the Colorado River,” Belnap said…

An example of the issues some of the other states have is that Washington County is geographically located in the Lower Colorado River Basin, Belnap said, and the compacts state that water rights cannot be transferred from the one basin to the other. However, Utah is counted among the Upper Colorado River Basin States, and the compacts also say each state has a right to develop its allocated portion of the Colorado River within its boundaries, he said…

The government received more than 10,000 public comments on an environmental impact report for the proposed pipeline before Tuesday’s deadline, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Marlon Duke said. The Interior Department, which oversees the bureau, is expected to issue a final report, which could bring the project a step closer to approval.

Although the proposal isolates Utah from the other states that rely on the river, it’s committed to bringing water it’s entitled to tap to those who need it, said Todd Adams, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

He said the project has been under review for about 20 years, and many other projects have gone through federal review while states worked through unresolved issues…

Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, attended the meeting and asked if the committee planned to halt the project due to the concerns expressed by the other states in Tuesday’s letter.

Here’s the release from the Utah Rivers Council:

Utah’s largest new water diversion in Colorado River Basin ignites a modern water war, results in veiled threat of litigation by other states.

In a stunning letter to the Secretary of Interior, a coalition of state water agencies, large water suppliers, and Governors’ representatives of Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are asking that Utah’s controversial Lake Powell Pipeline be placed on hold.

The shocking move demonstrates how out of touch the Utah Division of Water Resources and its lobbying partners have been in understanding the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and of the Pipeline’s impact to the water supplies of seven states. The letter notes:

“As Governors’ representatives of the Colorado River Basin States of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, we write to respectfully request that your office refrain from issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) or Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the Lake Powell Pipeline until such time as the seven Basin States and the Department of the Interior (Interior) are able to reach consensus regarding outstanding legal and operational concerns raised by the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project.”

The strong letter of opposition was signed by representatives of the Colorado River Board of California, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the State of Wyoming.

They joined scores of groups and many hundreds of people across seven states submitting comments of opposition to the Lake Powell Pipeline to the Provo Office of the Bureau of Reclamation for the DEIS. The project drew criticism across the American West because the Colorado River has dropped dramatically with reservoir levels at 50% of capacity in an era of water cuts and climate change.

This is a historic first for 6 of the 7 Colorado River Basin States to reprimand another state on what they see as:

“Serious legal concerns relating to the 1922 and 1948 Compacts, including the accounting of the Lake Powell Pipeline diversion and other operational issues under the Law of the River.”

Utah ignited the water war with other Colorado River Basin states by pushing the Lake Powell Pipeline even without a demonstrable need for the water. Utah water officials justified the Pipeline with a high municipal water use of over 300 gallons per person per day, while other cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix have water use between 120 and 150 gpcd, or less.

In a separate letter, the Southern Nevada Water Authority noted:

“What the Utah Board of Water Resources characterizes as extreme conservation efforts and impractical conservation, are actually commonly applied in an efficient and effective manner in many other communities.”

“This project is water hoarding at its finest. Utah wants to cash in on its ‘water entitlement’ under the Colorado River Compact so badly that it is willing to upset the fragile balance of a basin that supports 40 million people, recreational and agricultural economies, tribal lands and cultures, and irreplaceable landscapes and ecosystems.” — said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians

“Secretary Bernhardt should listen to the six Colorado River states that just asked him to delay any decision regarding the Utah’s unnecessary and harmful proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. All six states, especially Arizona, would be hurt by Utah’s attempted water grab from the drought- stricken Colorado River.” — said Douglas Wolf, Senior Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity

“It is not often where grassroots groups and government water buffaloes are aligned on bad water projects, but the Lake Powell Pipeline is such a boondoggle that opposition is now widespread. We hope St. George finally begins to follow the lead of communities like Las Vegas, Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix and others that have implemented world-class conservation programs.” — said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network

A coalition of groups also submitted extensive comments opposing the embattled Lake Powell Pipeline. The coalition has requested the Bureau of Reclamation explore other less expensive and environmentally destructive means for meeting the water needs of residents of Washington County in southwest Utah. This is also an Alternative identified as missing from the DEIS in the letter sent to the Secretary of the Interior by the 6 State Coalition. The 224 page letter can be found HERE.

The letter was submitted by Utah Rivers Council, Save the Colorado, WildEarth Guardians, Great Basin Water Network, Living Rivers, Glen Canyon Institute, Utah Audubon Council, SUWA, Conserve Southwest Utah, Citizen’s Water Advocacy Group of Arizona, Sunrise Movement of Las Vegas, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, San Diego Coast Keeper and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. It details flaws in Reclamation’s environmental review including challenging the basis and need for the project itself, the lack of examining more cost-effective and less destructive alternatives, and its failure to analyze and mitigate the environmental harms that would arise if the project goes forward.

The Lake Powell Pipeline is one of the projects identified by the Trump Administration–in its June 4, 2020, Executive Order No. 13927–to be fast tracked through the environmental review process.

@CWCB_DNR: Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Experts are concerned that rain on the Grizzly Creek Fire burn area could create ash and sediment flows that could pose a threat to fish. Map credit: CWCB

From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):

Proposed Acquisition of Contractual Interest in Ruedi Reservoir Water for ISF Use on the Fryingpan River and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering an offer from the Colorado River Water Conservation District, acting through its Colorado River Water Projects Enterprise (“District”) of a short-term lease of 3,500 acre-feet of water that the District holds in Ruedi Reservoir for instream flow (“ISF”) use. The proposal is to use the released water to supplement winter flows in the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir from January 1, 2021 – March 31, 2021; and from April 1 – December 31, 2021, to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. The Board will consider this proposal at its September 16-17, 2020 virtual meeting. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at:

https://cwcb.colorado.gov/virtual-board-meeting-september-16-17-2020

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.

Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found here.

The following information concerning the proposed lease of water is provided pursuant to ISF
Rule 6m.(1):

Subject Water Right:
RUEDI RESERVOIR
Source: Fryingpan River
Decree: CA4613
Priority No.: 718
Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 Acre Feet
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: Up to 3,500 acre-feet

The following information concerning the proposed additional use of leased water remaining after March 31, 2021 is provided pursuant to ISF Rule 6m.(1):

Subject Water Right:
RUEDI RESERVOIR
Source: Fryingpan River
Decree: CA4613
Priority No.: 718
Appropriation Date: 7/29/1957
Adjudication Date: 6/20/1958
Decreed Amount: 140,697.3 Acre Feet

Decree: 81CW0034 (Second Filling)
Appropriation Date: 1/22/1981
Adjudication Date: 12/31/1981
Decreed Amount: 101,280 acre-feet
Bureau of Reclamation Contract: 139D6C0101
Contract Use: Municipal use in Colorado River Basin; includes “use of water by . . . piscatorial users, including delivery of water to supplement streamflow. . . .”
Contract Amount: 4,683.5 acre-feet
Amount Offered for Consideration: Up to 3,500 acre-feet.

Proposed Reach 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.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River: From the confluence with the headgate of the Grand Valley Irrigation Company (lat 39 06 06N long 108 20 48W) downstream to its confluence with the Gunnison River.

Purpose of the Acquisition and Proposed Season of Use:
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. The leased water would be used to also supplement the existing ISF water rights in the 15-Mile Reach to preserve the natural environment from July 1 – September 30, 2019, and to provide water at rates above the existing decreed ISF rates to help meet or reduce shortfalls to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (“USFWS”) flow recommendations for the endangered fish critical habitat in that reach to improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree from April 1 –December 31, 2019.

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 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River provides critical habitat for two species of endangered fish: the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker. This reach is sensitive to water depletions because of its location downstream of several large diversions. It provides spawning habitat for these endangered fish species as well as high-quality habitat for adult fish. Due to development on the Colorado River, this reach has experienced declining flows and significant dewatering during the late summer months, and at times, there are shortages in the springtime. As a result, the USFWS has issued flow recommendations for the 15-Mile Reach since 1989 to protect instream habitat for the endangered fish.

Supporting Data:
Available information concerning the purpose of the acquisition and the degree of preservation and improvement of the natural environment, and available scientific data is available at:

https://dnrweblink.state.co.us/cwcb/0/edoc/213103/6.pdf?searchid=2484c28a-57b0-4eb7-8831-b8085c8ffa2b

Linda Bassi
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
linda.bassi@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3204

Kaylea White
Stream and Lake Protection Section
Colorado Water Conservation Board
1313 Sherman Street, Room 721
Denver, CO 80203
kaylea.white@state.co.us
303-866-3441 x3240

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Nestlé seeks more time in Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled” — @WaterEdCO

Arkansas River in Chaffee County. Nestlé is asking to continue exporting water from Chaffee County as locals ask to be “unbottled.” Credit: Wikipedia via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Bottled water company Nestlé is seeking permission to extend its operations in Colorado’s Chaffee County, a move that is generating significant community opposition.

Nestlé Waters North America first won permission to export spring water from Chaffee County in 2009, building a pipeline and trucking the water to Denver where it is packaged.

Location map for Nestlé operations near Nathrop via The Denver Post.

The company hopes to renew its original 10-year permit to tap Ruby Mountain Springs near Buena Vista, which expired last fall. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

Chaffee County Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at an Oct. 20 hearing.

Nestlé Natural Resources Manager Larry Lawrence declined an interview request, but in an email said the company strives to maintain environmentally sensitive operations and that extending the permit would create no new stress on the springs.

Separately company officials have said repeatedly that preserving water resources is key to their ability to continue selling water. The beverage maker has 25 plants in the United States, including the one in Colorado.

In the meantime, local activists have collected more than 1,200 signatures on Change.org opposing the permit extension.

Unbottle and Protect Chaffee County Water, with 300-plus members, said the permit renewal poses an ongoing threat to local water supplies due to chronic drought and climate change. Activists also say that Nestlé donations of bottled water to local nonprofits increases the county’s recycling costs, and that Nestlé has not followed through on some of the commitments it made to the county, including taking steps to preserve important property along the Arkansas River near the springs.

“We believe we are an environmentally sensitive county,” said Francie Bomer, one of the activists leading the effort to cancel the permit.

“We don’t like plastic and we don’t believe the benefit to the county is equal to the value of the water Nestlé is taking out,” Bomer said.

The conflict comes as bottled water manufacturers across the U.S and Canada face mounting criticism over their use of groundwater. Five states, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, are moving to ban or sharply limit the industry.

Earlier this year Nestlé opted to sell its Canadian operations, exiting a country in which local opposition had grown strong, according to published reports.

Under its Chaffee County permit, Nestlé is required to monitor water levels in the Ruby Mountain Springs and to replace any water it takes under a replacement plan overseen by the Salida-based Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District.

Such plans are often required under state law, and are designed to ensure water users downstream of diversion sites with more senior water rights aren’t harmed by upstream diversions.

Manager of the Upper Arkansas Water District, Terry Scanga, said the replacement plan relies on water from Turquoise Lake in Leadville, which fully covers any water removed from Chaffee County by Nestlé. Scanga said the district has no plans to contest the permit renewal.

Nestlé is required to monitor water levels and habitat conditions as part of its agreement with the county. In its 2019 annual report, the company said it extracted 89 acre-feet of spring water, 5.6 percent of the 1,573 acre-feet of overall flow measured. An acre-foot is equal to nearly 326,000 gallons.

If its permit is renewed, the company estimates annual production would grow at 2 percent annually, but would still be well below the amount to which it is legally entitled.

In addition, ongoing monitoring by the company shows that the spring recovers quickly as water is extracted and that no harm to habitat has been noted since 2010.

“To date, spring water production has been well below the permit limitations and at no time over the last decade of monitoring has stress to the spring system resulted in conditions where pumping was required to be reduced, either to meet criteria under the permit or due to observations that indicated operations were negatively impacting upstream or downstream users or the ecological and biological systems,” the report states.

Bomer is skeptical of those reports because they have not been independently verified by outside experts.

Earlier this year, in advance of the permit renewal effort, the county hired experts to evaluate Nestlé monitoring data, according to Chaffee County Attorney Jennifer Davis.

Whether Chaffee County will become another bottled water hot spot in the international battle isn’t clear yet.

“We are a tiny county. Are we part of that bigger effort? No. We’re just trying to protect our resources so they will be here when we need them,” Bomer said. “But if we contribute to to that effort, that would be okay.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Booming Front Range cities take first steps to build $500 million dam, reservoir near Holy Cross Wilderness — The Denver Post

Here’s an in-depth report from (Bruce Finley) writing in The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

A hundred miles from Colorado’s Front Range house-building boom, field scientist Delia Malone dug her fingers into spongy high-mountain wetlands at the edge of the Holy Cross Wilderness.

She found, about 15 inches underground, partially decayed roots, twigs and the cold moisture of a fen. These structures form over thousands of years and store water that seeps down from melting snow.

Malone has been digging about 20 holes a day, surveying fens for the U.S. Forest Service, to better understand nature’s water-storage systems — which sustain vegetation and stream flows that 40 million people across the Colorado River Basin rely on in the face of increasing aridity.

Aurora and Colorado Springs are planning to flood these wetland fens and replace natural storage with a man-made system: a $500 million dam and a reservoir that may require changing wilderness boundaries.

The cities each own rights to 10,000 acre-feet a year of the water that flows out of the wilderness and would pump what the reservoir traps, minus evaporation, through tunnels under mountains to other reservoirs and, finally, to pipes that deliver steady flows from urban faucets, toilets, showers and sprinkler systems…

Fens play a key role ensuring that streams and rivers still flow after winter snow melts. And as climate warming leads to earlier melting and depletes surface water in the Colorado River, natural wetlands increasingly are seen as essential to help life hang on. The benefits stood out this summer as the West endured record heat, wildfires and drought…

Yet Front Range developers’ desire for more water is intensifying. Across the mountains at construction sites on high dusty plains, roads and power lines have been installed, heavy dirt-movers beep and carpenters thwack atop roofs.

Local governments already have approved permits allowing house-building at a pace that in some areas is projected to nearly double water consumption.

Colorado Springs officials issued 3,982 permits for new single family homes last year, 18% higher than the average over the previous five years, according to data provided to The Denver Post. They estimated the current population around 476,000 will reach 723,000 “at build-out” around 2070. This requires 136,000 to 159,000 acre-feet of water a year, city projections show, up from 70,766 acre-feet in 2019.

Aurora officials estimated their population of 380,000 will reach 573,986 by 2050. They’ve approved entire new communities, such as the 620-acre Painted Prairie with more than 3,100 housing units in the “aerotropolis” that Denver leaders have promoted near Denver International Airport, and projected current water consumption of 49,811 acre-feet a year will increase to 85,000 acre-feet and even as much as 130,158 acre-feet in a high-growth, rapid-warming scenario…

To make a new dam and reservoir more palatable, the cities are exploring unprecedented “mitigation” of digging up and physically removing the underground fens, then hauling them and transplanting them elsewhere to restore damaged wetlands. An experiment on a ranch south of Leadville, officials said, is proving that this could help offset losses of Homestake Creek wetlands.

This would challenge a federal policy laid out in 1999 at Interior Department regional headquarters in Denver that classifies fens as “irreplaceable.” The policy says “onsite or in-kind replacement of peat wetlands is not thought possible” and that “concentrated efforts will be made to encourage relocation of proposed reservoirs… that might impact fens, when practicable.”

Covered by grasses and shrubs, water-laden fens blanket the Homestake Valley — wetlands filled with porous peat soils that receive minerals and nutrients in groundwater. Moving such wetlands, if attempted, would require massive hauling of soil blocks combined with the delicate precision of an organ transplant to retain ecological functioning…

Some environmental groups are preparing for legal combat should the cities seek required state, county and federal permits. Others haven’t weighed in. Conservation Colorado leaders declined to comment on this water push.

Transplanting fens as mitigation to try to restore wetlands elsewhere “for our convenience” is impossible, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jen Pelz said. “Fens and other sensitive high-elevation wetlands are quite beautiful and mysterious, more art than science, not something we can re-engineer.”

Dams and diversions proposed in recent years around the West “are just as destructive as those built a century ago, and building dams today is actually more irresponsible because we know that dams disconnect aquatic and riparian habitat, cause species extinction, disrupt ecosystem function, dry rivers and harm native cultures and communities,” she said.

“We need to start removing dams, not building more. This project is one of many where water managers are looking to cash in on their undeveloped rights or entitlements at the expense of people and the environment. … It’s time to draw a line in the sand.”

Six #ColoradoRiver Basin States to @Interior: Don’t Allow #Utah to Blow up Basin Collaboration — John Fleck #COriver #LakePowellPipeline #aridification

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

The six Colorado River Basin states that do not have the letters “U-T-A-H” in their names just sent a remarkable letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt with a plea – don’t let the rush toward federal approval of Utah’s proposed Lake Powell Pipeline blow up the Colorado River Basin’s framework of collaborative rather than confrontational problem solving:

The six-state letter, the product of intense discussions in recent weeks among the states (including the one with “U-T-A-H” in its name) takes great pains to point to an important historical norm in Colorado Basin governance – states don’t mess in other states’ internal water use decisions. But in asking to move Upper Basin water to a Lower Basin community, Utah has crossed a line that the other states simply couldn’t let pass.

When the river dries, a struggle to stay afloat — The #Taos News #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Rio Grande and Pecos River basins. Map credit: By Kmusser – Own work, Elevation data from SRTM, drainage basin from GTOPO [1], U.S. stream from the National Atlas [2], all other features from Vector Map., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11218868

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Scott Wyland) via The Taos News:

A severe, prolonged drought is reducing the river’s flows to the lowest levels in decades, affecting cities’ drinking water supplies and compelling farmers to adjust how they water their fields.

[Glen] Duggins grows chile peppers, alfalfa and corn on his 400-acre farm in Lemitar, a tiny community north of Socorro. He already faces the prospect of restaurants buying fewer goods from him during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, when their operations have been limited by the state’s public heath orders. Now he’s also seeing higher costs to produce his crops due to pumping.

But he is fortunate, he said, because many farmers in the Middle Río Grande Valley don’t have water pumps and must shut down when the river gets low…

A thin mountain snowpack, recent heat wave and light monsoon have depleted water levels from the Colorado River Basin to the Chama River to the Río Grande. It’s perhaps the most arid year in a two-decade dry period in New Mexico, making climate scientists and water managers wonder whether this is the start of an even drier time that will demand a new, long-term approach to urban planning and water use.

Locally, the prolonged drought can be seen in cottonwoods’ foliage turning yellow six weeks early along a parched stretch of the Santa Fe River and the likelihood of the Buckman Direct Diversion — which pulls Río Grande flows for city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County water users — suspending operations for the first time in its 10-year history.

Everyone must prepare for how a warmer climate will diminish water supplies and put more stress on humans and the ecosystem, said Dave DuBois, a state climatologist at New Mexico State University.

“We need to address climate change and adapt to it,” DuBois said. “Not just in the here and now, but the next 20, 30 years.”

Aspinall Unit operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

How municipal water #conservation is keeping the #RioGrande through #Albuquerque from going dry — @JFleck

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

From InkStain (John Fleck):

One of the traditional “tragedy narratives” of western water is the idea that thirsty cities are draining our rivers. But in two of the last three years, precisely the opposite has happened here in Albuquerque.

We’ve been limping along on a very bad year on the Rio Grande, with some of the lowest flows through Albuquerque that we’ve seen in a while. And the limping will continue. But with irrigation water in storage just about gone, an agreement is taking shape that will use an unused chunk of Albuquerque’s imported Colorado River water to keep the Rio Grande from drying through Albuquerque in coming months.

This is possible because Albuquerque’s water conservation success has left it with more water rights than it currently needs, including water we import through the San Juan-Chama project, a transbasin diversion that brings Colorado River water through tunnels beneath the Continental Divide. Some of that, now sitting in storage in reservoirs up on the Chama, will be released in coming weeks to maintain flows in the river here in town.

A similar deal in the very dry summer of 2018 also used some of Albuquerque’s unused Colorado River apportionment to keep the Rio Grande wet.

To be clear, this isn’t a charitable contribution on Albuquerque’s part. As I understand the deal, three government agencies with a shared interest in keeping the river wet – the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation – are paying the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority for the water…

But it’s intriguing to see the traditional narrative turned on its head – water available for the environment because a city has more than it needs.

Pitkin County launches project to restore ancient wetland at North Star Preserve near Aspen — @AspenJournalism

Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, shows off the recent work on a restoration project at a fen on North Star Nature Preserve, on Aug. 26. This fiber mat is plugging an old ditch that drained water from the wetland to the Roaring Fork River. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Natalie Keltner-McNeil):

On a recent morning, Liza Mitchell of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails rolled out fiber mats over a soil-filled portion of a ditch in the North Star Nature Preserve, adding a final layer to a wetland plug that the natural resource planner and ecologist and her team had been working on for the three weeks prior.

The plug is the central component of the program’s fen-restoration project, which aims to enhance the wetland’s ability to provide habitat, store and filter groundwater, and sequester carbon.

While North Star is known as an idyllic paddleboarding and beach destination, 77% of the preserve is closed to public access. This includes the property west of the Roaring Fork River, where the fen sits.

The preserve’s 245 acres function primarily to protect native species and ecosystems. The first 175 acres of the preserve were bought by the Nature Conservancy in 1977. In 2001, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and the city of Aspen jointly purchased the 70 acres below the initial property, creating the current North Star Nature Preserve, according to the 2020 North Star management plan.

“It’s for wildlife,” Mitchell said of North Star.

Liza Mitchell, a natural resource planner and ecologist with Pitkin County, stands near the wetlands on the North Star Nature Preserve on Aug. 26. A restoration project aims to keep water in the fen, which is habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including ducks, plovers and moose. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

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Critical to the nature preserve

Aligning with the goal of conservation, Open Space and Trails staff identified the North Star fen as a site for ecological restoration. Situated in the northwest corner of the property, the 14-acre fen, which is a peat-filled wetland, is populated with sedges, reeds and grasses.

The wetland is critical to the entire preserve, providing wildlife habitat, water filtration and flood mitigation. In dry months, groundwater stored in the fen percolates into the Roaring Fork River, benefiting the watershed and its thirsty users, Mitchell said.

Yet, due to human alterations to the watershed and North Star, the fen is drying out. In 1936, two tunnels, multiple canals, and the Grizzly and Lost Man reservoirs were completed as part of the Independence Pass Trans-Mountain Diversion System. The system moves water from the upper Roaring Fork River basin to the east side of the Continental Divide, satisfying the water needs of Colorado’s largest cities, according to the 2020 management plan.

This system diverts as much as 40% of the Roaring Fork’s headwaters upstream of the preserve, reducing the volume of river water that flows into the property and saturates the fen, Mitchell said.

The fen underwent further drying in the 1950s, when the preserve was a private ranch owned by James Smith. Smith dug ditches through the fen for pasture and hay cultivation, and those ditches continue to drain standing water into the Roaring Fork, according to Mitchell.

The wetland plug combats the drying by slowing the outflow of water from the fen into the Roaring Fork River. Mitchell, two staffers from Basalt-based Diggin It Riverworks and two ecological consultants began the plug construction Aug. 10. The first week, the team filled 130 feet of the main ditch with a mixture of locally sourced and imported soil. In the second and third weeks, the team added a layer of local soil, scattered native plant seeds and sealed it all with hay, mulch and matting, Mitchell said.

“It’s been a pretty quick project,” she said. “We’ve really tried to get in, get out and minimize disturbance as much as possible.”

The wetland plug is 130 feet long, and composed of a mixture of local and imported soil, hydromulch, straw, native seeds and erosion mats. The restoration team later added wattles across the plug, and they hope to engage the community in planting native sedges and rushes across the top of the plug this spring. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

6,700 years of carbon sequestration

The wetland plug increases saturated conditions in the fen, or the presence of standing water, enhancing the fen’s ability to provide ecological services to the preserve. For instance, saturated conditions allow fens to function as carbon sequesters by storing peat, or carbon-rich plant material.

Peat accumulates at a rate of 8 inches per 1,000 years, according to David Cooper, wetland ecologist and professor at Colorado State University. With 53 inches of peat soil, the North Star fen is estimated to be 6,700 years old, according to a Pitkin County news release.

“Peatlands make up about 5% of the land surface of the world,” Cooper said, “but almost 45% to 50% of all the soil carbon on Earth is in peatlands.” When fens dry up, the carbon stored as peat is released as carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming, he said.

Saturated conditions also support wildlife. Standing water creates the ideal habitat for native plants, such as beaked and blister sedge, as well as native amphibians and waterfowl. Saturated conditions suffocate canary grass, an invasive species that spread increasingly through the fen as it dries up, Mitchell said.

Wet by standing water, fens filter groundwater. The peat body removes excess nitrogen as well as heavy metals that would otherwise accumulate in watershed fish populations, Cooper said.

The project’s final phase, completed this past week, involves adding wattles and straw bales to two smaller ditches in the fen to retain groundwater storage and promote standing water conditions. Photo credit: Liza Mitchell/Pitkin County OST via Aspen Journalism

A positive for North Star neighbors

Mitchell anticipated finishing the construction phase of the restoration project this past week. She plans to place wattles, or cylinders of hay, across the wetland plug to prevent soil and seed erosion. She also will add hay bales and cylinders to the fen’s two smaller ditches to retain water and provide a surface for native plants.

After this construction phase, a hydrologist and botanist hired by Open Space and Trails will monitor the fen for three years. The consultants will conduct studies and submit reports to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued the initial permit for the project in 2018, according to Mitchell.

In the spring of 2021, Open Space and Trails staffers hope to get the local community involved with the project by having volunteers plant native sedges and rushes over the plug.

Already, community response to the restoration project has been very positive. Even without physical access to the fen, neighbors are excited about the prospect of improving habitat for wildlife, such as blue heron and elk, which they enjoy watching from their windows, Mitchell said.

“North Star can get a lot of negative attention surrounding the paddleboarding and recreation use, so it’s really nice to have another project that there seems to be widespread agreement on,” Mitchell said. “Everyone can get behind that it’s a pretty light touch for a pretty big benefit.”

This story ran in the Sept. 5 edition of The Aspen Times.

#RioGrande State of the Basin: The current water situation? Dry! — The Crestone Eagle

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Rio Grande Water Conservation District (Lisa Cyriacks) via The Crestone Eagle:

In the San Luis Valley: water is and will always be a critical issue. While demands on our scarce water supply grow, there are many community-based efforts working to restore a better water balance and plan for our future.

In the case of groundwater, the amount of water withdrawn by legally permitted wells exceeds the amount of water refilling the aquifers.

At a recent symposium hosted by Adams State University’s Salazar Center, local water leaders presented information on key aspects of current water conditions and challenges.

Salazar Center Director, Rio de la Vista, “With this year’s water shortage, the time is now to raise our level of knowledge on the critical water issues here. We aim to engage more people in community-based efforts for a sustainable water future and we need everyone’s help to make that possible!”

Local water users and State officials recognized something needed to be done in response to a severe drought that started about 20 years ago and reached its peak in 2002. They banded together to form local groundwater sub-districts to balance water use and supply. Their goal is to make groundwater use sustainable and protect senior surface water right holders from water shortages due to groundwater pumping.

Despite efforts to meet a court-mandated goal to replenish the shallow aquifer to pre-2000 levels by 2030, significant progress was curtailed by another serious drought beginning in 2018.

Agriculture is the economic engine in the San Luis Valley. None of the region’s current crops could be grown if growers depended only on the 7.5 inches of annual precipitation that hits the valley floor. The valley is one of the world’s largest high-altitude deserts. Water users draw from the valley rivers and streams to irrigate their crops but the peak flows that are common in May and June dry up by July and August. Given the lack of water storage in the region, growers rely on groundwater to finish watering their crops.

The latest attempt to export water from the valley to the Front Range is led by Renewable Water Resources (RWR), based in the city of Centennial near Denver. This scheme is undermining local farmers’ efforts to address water shortages and could set a dangerous precedent of water export.

There is zero unappropriated water in the Rio Grande Basin. This means all surface water and groundwater is currently used by existing water users, leaving no water available for transport outside the valley.

RWR aims to pump 22,000 acre-feet of water and pipe it over Poncha Pass to the Front Range. Local water leaders believe that if the pipeline is built, the RWR project will be just the start and lead to further attempts to export water.

The proposal is opposed by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District, Conejos Water Conservancy District, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable as well as the City of Alamosa, Town of Del Norte, City of Monte Vista, Town of Saguache; joined by environmental groups, local businesses, and many farmers and ranchers.

There is widespread opposition in the valley to the RWR export scheme. Locals are concerned that RWR’s plan could turn Saguache County into another Crowley County, an area east of Pueblo that has been devastated economically by the sale of its water. See https://bit.ly/2CORMbB.

The San Luis Valley is a beloved place for many Colorado residents and travelers from across the country and around the world. With the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, three extraordinary National Wildlife Refuges, the Rio Grande Natural Area, the Rio Grande National Forest and many other public lands, the valley’s water sustains wildlife for viewing, hunting and fishing, and many forms of recreation. Sandhill crane migration attracts many visitors to the valley. Water export threatens the valley’s economy, which is dependent on agriculture.

Valley water leaders urge residents to take action by seeking out the facts about valley water resources and advocating for the truth about RWR’s export plans and the valley’s water supplies and hydrology.

Please see http://www.rgwcd.org for information about current aquifer levels and the subdistricts’ efforts to manage our groundwater.

Aspinall Unit Operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Black Canyon National Park July 2020. Photo credit: Claire Codling/The Department of Interior

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1600 cfs to 1500 cfs on Monday, August 31st. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

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 September.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Navajo Dam operations update: Turning down to 850 CFS, August 31, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

The San Juan River’s Navajo Dam and reservoir above.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

From email from Reclamation (Susan Behery):

In response to a cooler weather pattern in the San Juan River Basin and increasing tributary flows, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled a decrease in the release from Navajo Dam from 900 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 850 cfs on Monday, August 31st, starting at 12:00 PM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).

The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.

This scheduled release change is subject to changes in river flows and weather conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Susan Behery (sbehery@usbr.gov or 970-385-6560), or visit Reclamation’s Navajo Dam website at https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/cs/nvd.html.

Dillon Reservoir water levels hold on despite statewide #drought — @AspenJournlism

Low water levels Aug. 18 at Dillon Reservoir expose sand rings around the lake’s islands. The reservoir, which is the largest in the system supplying Denver Water’s customers, is about 94% full. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

Amid one of the hottest summers on record for Colorado, Dillon Reservoir is 94% full, nearly 5 feet below its capacity. The reason is a complex combination of past weather patterns, current water-use habits and recent changes to the lakebed.

For most of the summer, Dillon Reservoir has been down about 4 1/2 feet. This low elevation is noticeable from the shore, but the drop in water level is less pronounced than it has been in other dry years. Around this time in 2018, Dillon Reservoir’s elevation was dropping an inch daily and was down about 11 feet by Labor Day.

Dillon Reservoir is no normal mountain lake. The man-made reservoir is one of the largest sources of drinking water for Denver. Usually in late June, Denver Water holds back water that flows into Dillon Reservoir from the Blue River basin and stores the water until it’s needed along the Front Range. In late summer, Denver Water typically begins piping water out of Dillon Reservoir via the Roberts Tunnel, a 23-mile pipe that runs under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork of the South Platte River. From there, the water flows down toward Strontia Springs Reservoir, where it’s delivered to Denver Water’s customers.

In most normal water years, managers at Denver Water are able to fill the reservoir to its 257,000 acre-foot capacity in the spring, and recreation along the reservoir is usually best when it’s full. This year, unseasonably warm spring weather created dry soil that absorbed much of the moisture from melting snow before it reached rivers. Wind and low precipitation in May also contributed to a lackluster runoff season. Denver Water was able to fill Dillon Reservoir to 244,000 acre-feet of water, about 95% of its capacity. The reservoir levels have hovered around that number ever since late June.

“You know, 95% seems like it would be pretty full, but in the past, at this point, we would be moving docks and boat ramps would be unusable,” Frisco Bay Marina General Manager Tom Hogeman said. “But other than tightening cables on docks to adjust for different water levels, we haven’t had to move anything.”

Sailboats anchor offshore Aug. 18 at Dillon Reservoir. It has been a busy summer at the lake for recreation, and the Frisco Bay Marina already has brought in 18% more revenue than last year, with a month left to go before boating season is over. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

Big dig

The operational changes for the marina are due to an excavation of the lakebed in 2019. That spring, the lake was at historic low levels after the 2018 drought. The town of Frisco and Denver Water took advantage of the dry lakebed and rolled out heavy digging machines to excavate areas near the shore. The $4 million project moved more than 85,000 cubic yards of dirt, deepening the area around the marina and lengthening the beach.

The “Big Dig,” as the project was dubbed by the town of Frisco, was designed to improve navigation for boaters and lengthen the boating season by making the parts of Dillon Reservoir that are more desirable for recreation less prone to elevation fluctuations. The project is one of the main pillars of the Frisco Bay Marina Master Plan, a long-term blueprint for projects to expand recreation and tourism on Dillon Reservoir.

The reservoir, already a significant source of tourism for Summit County, has seen a bump in visitors this year. The increase is likely the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased demand for outdoor recreation across the High Country. The marina this year has already brought in 18% more revenue than last year, and there is still a month left before boating season is over.

Last summer, the changes from the lakebed excavation were less noticeable because healthy snowpack from the previous winter filled the reservoir. With water levels down again, Hogeman said it’s clear that the project was a success.

“That has really paid off,” he said. “We are in a better position to deal with these smaller fluctuations. Before, our slip holders would have to adapt to their boats being in different places at different times of the year depending on water levels. Now we’ve just got an improved level of consistency.”

While the lake excavation helped to ward off problems from small water-elevation drops, a more severe drop would still threaten recreation at Dillon Reservoir. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the entire state is currently at some level of drought for the first time in eight years. Both Summit County, where Dillon Reservoir is located, and Denver County, where the lake’s water is used, have a mix of moderate and severe drought within their borders.

This level of drought has been manageable this year for Denver Water partly because of the 2018-19 winter. Snowstorms that winter left snowpack levels at about 104% of normal all the way through April 2019, and the reservoir filled to capacity last summer.

According to Nathan Elder, the manager of water supply for Denver Water, that extra water was a big help when this spring-runoff season produced less water than normal.

“We had a really great water supply year last year, and we came into this year roughly 5% above normal (storage at Dillon),” he said. “We pretty much maintained that until late June.”

The storage boost was also helped along somewhat by water use — or lack thereof — in Denver. The city is experiencing one of its hottest years on record, with 65 days seeing temperatures hit at least 90 degrees, a number that is second only to 2012. Despite the heat, water use is only 11% above the five-year average, and Denver Water has not had to implement any restrictions beyond its normal summer watering guidelines.

According to Elder, residential water use has gone up, but with many businesses closed due to the pandemic, commercial water use has dropped significantly.

“Our customers, despite it being hot and dry, (have) been pretty good with usage this year,” Elder said. “We haven’t seen the use that we would expect for these types of temperatures.”

Inflows Aug. 18 into Dillon Reservoir have slowed as drought expands through Colorado. However, storage in the reservoir was above average following the 2018-19 winter. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

Tunnel maintenance

Unusually, Dillon Reservoir will have another chance to fill this year. Typically, Denver Water pulls water from the lake using the Roberts Tunnel through the end of the year, but the tunnel will be undergoing about two months of maintenance this fall. That project will cut off Denver from Dillon Reservoir and require Denver Water to rely heavily on Cheesman Reservoir, which draws water primarily from the South Platte River basin, on the Front Range.

This will give Dillon Reservoir an extra chunk of time to bolster its reserves, but only if it rains. According to Elder, forecasters are not predicting a very rainy September. Without a large amount of carryover storage going forward, next year’s levels at Dillon Reservoir will depend on snow from this winter. Although the lake avoided a drought disaster this year, a prolonged dry period could change that.

“The worst-case scenario is that the reservoir doesn’t fill again next year,” Elder said. “So hope for rain.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative news organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with the Summit Daily News and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to AspenJournalism.org.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

As San Luis Valley’s water squeeze intensifies, Gov. Jared Polis mulls climate warming adaptation — The Brush News-Tribune #drought

Aerial view of the San Luis Valley’s irrigated agriculture. Photo by Rio de la Vista.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley) via The Brush News-Tribune:

How to survive in hotter, drier world a focus as 93% of state bakes in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought

The sun beat down, baking Colorado’s bone-dry, cracking San Luis Valley, where farmers for eight years have been trying to save their depleted underground water but are falling behind.

They’re fighting to survive at an epicenter of the West’s worsening water squeeze amid a 20-year shift to aridity. Federal data this past week placed 93% of Colorado in “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought .

And Gov. Jared Polis was listening now, as a group of farmers sat around a patio shaking their heads, frowning, frustration etched on their faces — down by 150,000 acre-feet of water below their aquifer-pumping target as the driest months begin.

A center pivot irrigates a field in the San Luis Valley, where the state is warming farmers that a well shut-down could come much sooner than expected. Credit: Jerd Smith via Water Education Colorado

“We’re about as lean as we possibly can be. We’ve re-nozzled our sprinklers. Our pumping is as efficient as it possibly can be. We’re trying different crops,” said Tyler Mitchell, who had cut his water use by 30% after installing soil moisture sensors and shifting from barley to quinoa. “But, at the end of the day, we have too many businesses that are trying to stay in business. I don’t know how we can reduce pumping more than we already have.”

How to adapt to a hotter, drier world is emerging as a do-or-die mission for people living around the arid West. Polis was in the San Luis Valley on Tuesday, embarking on a potentially groundbreaking statewide effort to explore solutions amid increasingly harsh impacts of climate warming, including wildfires burning more than 300 square miles of western Colorado.

Average temperatures will keep rising for decades, federal climate scientists say, based on the thickening global atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, now around 412 parts per million, the highest in human history. Heat is depleting water across the Colorado and Rio Grande river basins, where more than 50 million people live.

Nowhere have climate warming impacts exacerbated local difficulties more than here in the Massachusetts-sized, predominantly Hispanic, low-income San Luis Valley between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains of southern Colorado…

This year, the winter mountain snowpack that determines surface water flow in the Rio Grande River measured 33% of normal in spring. Rainfall so far, 2.7 inches, lags at around 38% of average.

And the Rio Grande barely trickles, at 7 cubic feet per second, leaving Colorado toward New Mexico and Texas. Those similarly drought-stricken states count on shares of surface water in the river under a 1938 interstate legal agreement.

Colorado farmers’ fallback habit of pumping more from the aquifers connected to the river — water use that is restricted under a locally-run, state-ordered conservation plan — has obliterated water savings painstakingly gained since 2012.

The 150,000 acre-feet draw-down this year hurled farmers practically back to their starting point. And a state-enforced deadline of 2030 for restoring the aquifer to a healthy level looms. If not met, state authorities could take control over wells.

Cleave Simpson, bottom right, converses with other water users following a Subdistrict 1 budget meeting. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

Rio Grande Water Conservation District manager Cleave Simpson said recovery now requires a snow-dependent gain of 680,000 acre-feet — 4.5 times this year’s draw-down…

“A drier and hotter world”

Polis looked out the windows of a black utility vehicle and saw devastation spreading as climate warming impacts hit home. Hot wind churned dust around farms now abandoned and rented to newcomers struggling to get by. San Luis Valley leaders have estimated that low flows and falling water tables may lead to the dry-up of 100,000 irrigated acres, a fifth of the farmland in a valley where residents depend economically and culturally on growing food.

He saw farm crews toiling, coaxing the most from their heavy machinery, after flows from some wells had diminished and even reportedly pulled up just air.

He said he sees different dimensions of problems around climate warming.

On one hand, human emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases “are going up,” Polis said. “But, then, here in this world, it is about adapting to what is happening. I mean, the global effort needs to succeed. Climate change needs to slow down. Colorado is just a teeny piece of that — a fundamental issue affecting the entire world. America never should have pulled out of the Paris accords. I hope we return, and have a concerted international effort.

“But it is also a reality for how these farmers put food on their plate, for how their communities thrive in a drier and hotter world. … The same crops we have been growing, with one water and warm temperature profile, don’t work with the way things are now.”

Colorado agriculture commissioner Kate Greenberg said state leaders also will hear from producers enduring dry times on the Eastern Plains, where wheat harvests are expected to suffer. Agriculture statewide “is hurting” and the San Luis Valley stands out as “ground zero” in a water squeeze due to low snow, shrinking aquifers, drought and competing demands from inside and outside the valley. Legal obligations to leave water for New Mexico and Texas compel cuts that complicate solutions, Greenberg said…

Few of the farmers on the patio meeting with the governor saw much that state governments can do in the face of a possible environmental collapse.

Many have concluded that, as Jim Erlich said, “we’re going to be farming less here.” Some anticipated an agricultural landscape looking more like western Kansas…

Polis called climate warming “the new normal.” He asked the farmers: “Where does it lead? Do you see a way forward?” State projections show conditions for at lest 15 years will be “likely hotter and drier… What does that mean in terms of crop mix? What does it mean in terms of sustainability? What does it mean in communities?”

The farmers, about a dozen, said they’ll push ahead in the “sub-districts” they’ve formed to encourage saving groundwater — as an alternative to state engineer authorities controlling wells. They now pay fees for pumping and pooled funds can be used to pay farmers for leaving fields fallow…

An entrepreneurial businessman, Polis pushed toward what might be done to create better markets for crops, such as “Colorado quinoa” that use less water, giving a global perspective. “I mean, agriculture does occur in dry parts of the world. It has to work from a water perspective…

The side of a farm building north of Center, Colorado. The farms in the San Luis Valley are known for their fresh potatoes. Photo credit: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

At another farm, Brendon and Sheldon Rockey showed Polis around. They’ve reduced their use of water from wells by 50% and prospered, growing 25 types of potatoes, shifting off water-intensive crops such as barley and planting more “Colorado Quinoa” along with a half dozen other growers.

Fallow fields fertilized with cows and planted with restorative “cover crops” help boost productivity by improving soil, Brendon Rockey told the governor. “I don’t have a mono-culture anywhere on this farm.”

As president of the potato producers’ council and leader of a water-saving sub-district, Sheldon Rockey is encouraging other farmers — optimistically despite increased stress around the depletion of aquifers. “We can still make it back,” he said, “if we have snow.”

Polis also suggested a relaxed state approach to the 2030 deadline for replenishing the shrinking aquifer. “It is about the long-term trends. … whether goals are being met. There’s nothing that would ever be done based on one bad year.”

The farmers were hanging on that.

“He is genuinely interested in providing what support the state can to help with our water balance challenges,” Simpson concluded following this first meeting.

But “farmers are frustrated,” he said, emphasizing that aquifer recovery can happen only “if mother nature brings snow.”

And Polis left with a more detailed sense of the stakes.

“What we want here is sustainability. That’s why I oppose trans-basin water diversions,” he said. “But we have to make sure that farmers here today don’t live at the expense of farmers here tomorrow and the next decade. This valley is about agriculture. If the water is sold off, or the water is used up, it will become a dust bowl.”

Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping rapidly but boating will continue — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping around 4 feet per week in July and August certainly hasn’t go unnoticed by concerned boaters.

The water level of the popular reservoir dropped from 97% full at the beginning of the season to around 60% last week. Despite the drop, all boat ramps will be usable through Labor Day weekend, but not so much come mid-September.

Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesman, said an unusually dry and hot summer created an increase water demand by agriculture and municipalities, resulting in the sharp drop in water level. He said the rate of that drop is expected to lessen the rest of summer and early fall as water demand lessens…

Mark Caughlan, Horsetooth Reservoir district manager, said he expects the South Bay boat ramp to remain usable throughout the fall but that by mid-September the Satanka and Inlet Bay ramps will be closed due to the low water level.

Stahla said by late this week the reservoir’s water level will be at the lowest level since 2012, which was a historically dry year.

He said lowering the water level will also help divers to safely replace a valve at Soldier Canyon Dam, which he said is routine maintenance and does not involve major construction. He said other work to the reservoir will be done at the same time by other entities…

Stahla said Horsetooth Reservoir, which is the largest reservoir in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project East Slope distribution system, is expected to fill back up next year. He said CBT’s water storage in mountain reservoirs above Horsetooth Reservoir is in good shape with storage at more than 90% in some reservoirs.

CD3 candidates agree on protecting Western Slope water, reservoir enlargements — @AspenJounalism #CWCVirtual2020

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Diane Mitsch Bush, the Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, pledged cooperation and Lauren Boebert, her Republican challenger, promised to fight — the Front Range, neighboring states and the federal government — to protect Western Slope water.

The two candidates on Thursday tackled water-related questions at this year’s Colorado Water Congress. Typically among the largest annual gatherings of water managers, policymakers and scientists, the 2020 series of panels and workshops has gone online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsch Bush answered questions live via Zoom, while Boebert sent in a prerecorded video. She was attending President Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech at the White House on Thursday night.

Mitsch Bush touted her experience as a former Routt County commissioner and three-term state representative, and framed herself as a pragmatic problem-solver who uses science, not ideology, as the basis for decisionmaking. From her history of working with the basin roundtables, she said the best ideas come from listening to one another.

“I’ll work diligently with our delegation and the other Western states to ensure our Western voices are heard and our needs as a headwaters state get met,” she said. “To do that, I will work with colleagues across all the divides: the aisle, basins and states to rebuild our infrastructure so our communities can flourish now and in the future.”

Boebert, the owner of Shooters Grill in Rifle, made headlines earlier this summer when she beat Rep. Scott Tipton, an incumbent endorsed by Trump, in the District 3 Republican primary. The upset has thrust the conservative gun-rights activist and mother of four into the national spotlight.

Moderator Joey Bunch, of Colorado Politics, posed the question of how the burden of drought and a potential Colorado River Compact call could be shared equally by the Front Range’s populous urban center and the rural, agriculture-dependent Western Slope.

Western water managers desperately want to avoid a compact call, which could occur if the upper basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) can’t deliver on the amount of water they owe the lower basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California). A compact call could trigger involuntary cutbacks in water use for Colorado, known as “curtailment.”

This scenario reveals an interesting intrastate dynamic: Many of the oldest and most valuable water rights are on the Western Slope, meaning the cutbacks wouldn’t affect them because they predate the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

But the state’s population center and deep-pocketed municipal water providers are on the growing Front Range. Some worry that Front Range interests will try to secure these senior Western Slope agricultural water rights so they can avoid cutbacks. Cities’ purchasing of agricultural water rights is sometimes derided as “buy and dry.”

Mitsch Bush said, “My top principle is: We cannot let curtailment lead to buy and dry of agriculture.”

Boebert agreed and played up the urban/rural divide, saying she is against more transmountain diversions to the Front Range and is primed to fight for Western Slope water. The burden for compact curtailment cannot fall solely on District 3, she said.

“I’m 100% committed to fighting this out with Denver and Boulder and making sure they don’t push all the work and all the costs onto us,” Boebert said. “Rural Colorado must have a voice, and we must have someone willing to fight for us in D.C.”

Both candidates agreed on the expansion of existing reservoirs to increase water storage as an alternative to building new reservoirs.

“The enlargement of existing reservoirs is the quickest, least expensive and most environmentally sensitive manner to secure more water storage,” Boebert said. “Increasing water storage capacity is key for Colorado’s future.”

Mitsch Bush agreed.

“Enlarging existing reservoirs is much more cost-effective for the taxpayer and for water users and much less environmentally challenging than building new reservoirs,” she said. “The best sites are already occupied by dams and reservoirs, so increasing the reservoirs’ capacity makes sense.”

After the candidates spoke, political commentator and former Colorado GOP state chair Dick Wadhams gave his analysis on where water issues fit into the campaign.

“Water is one of the most important issues we have in Colorado going back since statehood, and yet it’s the most obscure and least understood and least prioritized oftentimes by voters,” he said. “I do think with our dramatic increase in population that we are headed to a calamity at some point if we have a horrible drought.”

Aspen Journalism is a local, nonprofit, investigative journalism organization covering water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. This story appeared in the Aug. 28 edition of The Aspen Times, and Steamboat Pilot & Today.

Boundaries for Colorado’s 3rd United States Federal Congressional District. By 1: GIS (congressional districts, 2013) shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. 2: Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri. 3: File developed for use on Wikipedia and elsewhere by 7partparadigm. – GIS shapefile data created by the United States Department of the Interior, as part of the "1 Million Scale" geospatial data project. Retrieved from: http://nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp-1m.html?openChapters=#chpbound, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32797497

#Drought conditions take their toll on Blue Mesa and other area reservoirs — The Montrose Daily Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir September 2017

From The Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

As drought conditions hammer the state, area reservoirs are shrinking, with Blue Mesa predicted to end the year at 23 feet below its winter target.

Despite the past winter season bringing nearly average snowpack, runoff throughout the Gunnison Basin fell well below average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review, provided Aug. 20.

Warm weather brought the snowpack off the mountains early and summer monsoons failed to provide much of a meaningful drink, while extraordinarily hot, dry conditions persist.

For the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association’s storage accounts in area reservoirs, conditions are mixed.

Taylor Park Reservoir

Taylor Park Reservoir, which is at about 72 percent of full capacity, is OK for the association, manager Steve Anderson said. The UVWUA’s storage account there is full, with only about 20,000 acre feet used.

“That’s not the case with our storage in Ridgway (Reservoir). We’ll use all our storage this year out of Ridgway. We’ll have to replenish that one with the winter,” Anderson said.

Ridgway Dam

The UVWUA has been running its delivery of water to shareholders at 80 percent. “Which, in a year like we’ve had, is good,” Anderson said. “With the limited supply, we’ve managed to meet demand at 80 percent.”

The largest impoundment managed in the Aspinall Unit, Blue Mesa Reservoir, peaked at 604,000 acre feet, which is 25 feet below full.

As of Aug. 20, the reservoir was at 521,000 acre feet and peak flow targets for the Black Canyon and lower Gunnison River at Whitewater were met, although the base flow targets for Whitewater were lowered under drought rule provisions.

Aspinall Unit

Paonia Reservoir had shriveled to 2 percent of full capacity, while Silver Jack was reported at 46 percent of full.

Paonia is basically empty, but that isn’t unusual, given the dry year, BuRec hydrologist Erik Knight said.

Paonia Reservoir

“They chose to use their full supply of reservoir water as best they could, but being a small reservoir, sometimes it only lasts until August. So it’s not surprising, at least to us or them, that it’s gone already,” he said.

The reservoir is expected to stay empty as long as more senior water right priorities keep the call on the North Fork of the Gunnison, Knight said.

Other reservoirs in the Aspinall fared better, with Ridgway showing at 71 percent, Crystal at 88 percent and Morrow Point at 94 percent.

Bureau of Reclamation’s spring forecast and runoff review noted the early melt-off of the snowpack. Although rains at the start of June kept flows into reservoirs in the Aspinall Unit elevated longer than was expected, those levels plunged to “much below normal” by mid-month. Monsoon activity was anemic, providing “almost no precipitation this summer,” the report also said.

Since runoff ended, hot and dry conditions have prevailed, with near-record dry conditions occurring in April and May. Although those actual conditions caused a higher than normal forecast error, actual runoff volume still fell within the lower range of predictions.

The National Weather Service’s August weather outlook did not hold encouraging news. It found a high probability of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures heading into fall…

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows all of Colorado in at least moderate drought, with Montrose and surrounding counties in either severe or extreme drought.

The monitor on Aug. 20 noted temperature-breaking records in cities across the West, as well as massive wildfires that broke out in California. The monitor’s report, too, calls the monsoon season a “bust” for much of the Southwest.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases to turn down 50 CFS on August 17, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Looking downstream from Chasm View, Painted Wall on right. Photo credit: NPS\Lisa Lynch

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1650 cfs to 1600 cfs on Monday, August 17th. Releases are being adjusted to bring flows closer to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 650 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 600 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Baseflow target adjusted to 900 CFS, August 13, 2020 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Curecanti National Recreation Area. Photo credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via Wikimedian Commons

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1600 cfs to 1650 cfs on Thursday, August 13th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 650 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Upper #ColoradoRiver will not be ‘Wild and Scenic,’ but conservationists still satisfied with new plan — The Vail Daily #COriver #aridification

A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved an alternative management plan that acts as a workaround to a federal Wild & Scenic designation. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Vail Daily (John LaConte):

The Catamount gauge on the Colorado River is a result of a big collaboration, and for now, it has gone a long way in quelling the concern of conservationists in the Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group.

Couple that with a few good-faith efforts from Front Range diverters to get more water into the river, and most everyone seems to be convinced that collaboration has been a lot better than the courtroom in this case.

The stakeholder group was formed in 2008, and its mission was overt — convince the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service not to write a report stating that the Upper Colorado River is suitable for a Wild and Scenic Designation from the federal government…

But while it takes an act of Congress to welcome a new river into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a report from the Bureau of Land Management or U.S. Forest Service saying a river is suitable for wild and scenic designation can trigger a change in management for the river…

[Rob] Buirgy said the Colorado Water Conservation Board supported the stakeholder group using the state’s Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund for scientific studies, recreational surveys, and stakeholder group coordination and facilitation. The stakeholder group also recommended that the board appropriate three in-stream flow water rights to preserve the natural environment on the river from the confluence with the Blue River to the area just above the confluence with the Eagle River. The Colorado Water Conservation Board appropriated and the water court decreed those water rights in 2013.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is expected to help install biological metric tracking tools along the river in the coming months, and a few years ago a new USGS temperature and flow monitoring gauge was installed at the Catamount Boat Launch, near Bombardier’s house, which will measure temperature and serve as a resource guide.

While resource guides do not mandate management action based on their readings, good-faith management efforts have been undertaken based on the Catamount gauge’s readings during the collaborative process. Bombardier says the readings have been crucial for that stretch of the river, which is prone to warm temperatures…

[Ken] Neubecker said after spending more than a decade working toward Wild and Scenic designation on the Upper Colorado River, he feels the collaborative group’s plan represents the best effort conservationists could have expended toward maintaining the Upper Colorado River’s “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs.

“It got all of the people who would have been opposed to actual designation to sit down at the table and work out a plan that — if everybody plays along — will have the best shot we’ve got at protecting those ORVs,” Neubecker said.

The agreement was formerly accepted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in July. Participating groups include: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Aurora Water, Blue Valley Ranch, Colorado River Outfitters Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Whitewater, Confluence Casting, Conservation Colorado, Denver Water, Eagle County, Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Eagle River Watershed Council, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Summit County, Upper Colorado Commercial Boaters Association, Upper Colorado River Private Boaters Association, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, Vail Associates, Inc., and Yust Ranch.

#Boulder reservoir to be drained starting sept. 1 for required maintenance work

Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Jeff Stahla, Denise White, Samantha Glavin):

Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, until March 2021, access to Boulder Reservoir will be limited while the reservoir is drained to allow Northern Water, in coordination with the City of Boulder, to perform necessary maintenance on the reservoir and its dams.

Boulder Reservoir. Photo credit: The City of Boulder

This work will ensure visitor safety and effective water delivery to municipal and agricultural water users. Reservoir water levels will be significantly lower than normal during this time. This is routine, required maintenance work that will take place every 5-10 years.

The reservoir basin will be closed to all water-based activities, including boating, watercraft, fishing, swimming, wading and other on-water recreation once the reservoir drawdown begins Sept. 1. Passive recreation opportunities (e.g., walking, cycling and running) will still be available during this time. The main trail along on the North Shore will remain open, but access to the shoreline will be restricted. Trails in the vicinity of the north and south dams may be periodically impacted during periods of construction in those areas. A map of affected areas is available on the project website at bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#.

Performing the maintenance work this year when some recreation activities such as swimming and special events are already restricted due to COVID-19 will ensure that additional impacts will be avoided, and recreation can return to full service once the pandemic subsides. However, the city recognizes that this limitation on Boulder Reservoir use may be disappointing to impacted recreationists. The city is providing reservoir permit and pass holders with a partial refund or credit on their purchase, available through Aug. 23. Current permit and pass holders have been contacted directly with information on how to access this offer.

Additionally, Boulder Reservoir has received approval to remain open on Friday, Aug. 7, which is designated as an unpaid city closure day to address financial challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, and offer extended hours of operation from 7-9 p.m. on Aug. 10-16. The city is able to offer these additional hours due to cost savings as a result of the draining project’s impact in shortening the fall recreation season.

The reservoir will be drained to remove sediment from the area around the reservoir outlet, which naturally builds up over time. Maintenance will also occur on dam outlet structures, and the on the land between the north and south dams known as Fisherman’s Point. Construction equipment access and activity will be in the vicinity of the north dam and Fisherman’s Point. 

Northern Water is coordinating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and city staff to mitigate environmental impacts of the project. The reservoir will be drained outside of nesting season, limiting effects on nesting and migrating species during the most critical point in their life cycle. The reservoir will be refilled prior to spring migration and nesting seasons. While there are currently no plans to relocate the fish in the reservoir as the water level is expected to support the fish, Northern Water will monitor their environment daily. If conditions appear problematic, fish relocation may be arranged. 

The Boulder Reservoir is a key part of the city’s drinking water supply and provides water to other municipal and agricultural users. Water is delivered to the reservoir and its water treatment plant via the Southern Water Supply Project, completed in 2020, and the Boulder Feeder Canal. The City of Boulder owns Boulder Reservoir, but operations and maintenance related to water storage and dam safety are primarily managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Northern Water). 

Additional information is available on the project webpage at https://bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#. General project questions can be directed to Water Resources Manager Kim Hutton at 303-441-3115 or huttonk@bouldercolorado.gov. For questions regarding recreation impacts, contact Boulder Reservoir Facilities Supervisor Stacy Cole at 303-441-3469 or coles@bouldercolorado.gov.

Hard-to-predict water year leaves Ruedi Reservoir levels low — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Sailboats dock at the Aspen Yacht Club marina in 2018. Levels in Ruedi Reservoir are projected to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet around Sept. 1, which could reduce access to the club’s boat ramp. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

Ruedi Reservoir is feeling the effects of an unusual water year, with less water for endangered fish and with low reservoir levels predicted for late summer and fall.

“This year was a strange year,” Tim Miller, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist who manages operations at Ruedi, said at an annual public meeting about reservoir operations held virtually Wednesday. “For most of the year, it seemed like we were doing well, we thought we would get a fill on the reservoir. However, things really turned around in late spring and early summer.”

At the meeting convened by the Bureau of Reclamation, Miller said the reservoir, which holds just over 102,000 acre-feet of water, topped out at 96,750 acre-feet this year — about 5,000 acre-feet short of filling. That means there is 5,000 acre-feet less water available this season to boost flows downstream for endangered fish in what’s known as the “15-mile reach” of the Colorado River near Grand Junction.

As reservoir levels continue to drop over the next month, Aspen Yacht Club members may not be able to access the boat ramp over Labor Day weekend. By Sept. 1, reservoir levels are predicted to be down to about 84,500 acre-feet and the surface to be at an elevation of 7,747 feet, which is 19 feet lower than when it’s full.

“After Sept. 1, it’s going to be dicey,” Miller said of accessing the private marina’s boat ramp. The U.S. Forest Service boat ramp will still be accessible at those levels, he said.

Bruce Gabow of the Aspen Yacht Club said that when water levels are 13 feet below full, the club’s docks become grounded and inoperable. He said that most years, boats are taken out of the reservoir by mid-September, but with water levels dropping sooner this year, many will need to go before the end of August.

“Everyone has kind of been expecting it, but they will be bummed out,” he said of the club’s members.

Ruedi Reservoir is currently 92% full, at 94,065 acre-feet. It topped out on July 17 at 96,914 acre-feet. In 2018, the reservoir also didn’t fill, topping out at 92,650 acre-feet, according to Miller.

Each spring, Miller must decide how much water to release from Ruedi and when to release it to make room for inflow from snowmelt. Those decisions are based on streamflow forecasts from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation’s statistical forecasts.

This year’s unusual conditions made for tricky forecasting, leading some to question whether more and better data collection is needed, instead of relying primarily on snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, data. These automated remote sensors collect weather and snowpack information in remote watersheds, but they provide only a snapshot of a specific location. Each of the three forecasting agencies over-predicted Ruedi inflow for the months of April, May and June.

Usually, the amount of runoff closely mirrors snowpack. And with snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin slightly above normal, as measured by SNOTEL sites, it seemed that is where runoff would also end up. But parched soils from a dry fall sucked up some of the moisture before it made its way to streams and eventually the reservoir. Miller also suspects that a high rate of sublimation — where snow goes from a frozen state to vapor, skipping the liquid phase — may have also played a role.

“To do our statistical forecast, it’s 90% snowpack only,” Miller said. “We had some different variables this year.”

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By the end of May, Miller realized inflow projections were too high and began scaling back releases. Ruedi also did not participate in Coordinated Reservoir Operations this year. In the annual CROS, which began around May 29, water managers from across the state aimed to enhance peak spring runoff by releasing water from reservoirs at the same time. The peak flows have ecological benefits, especially for fish in the 15-mile reach.

“It was pretty much a last-minute declaration we couldn’t do CROS,” Miller said.

This photo from August 2018 shows low water levels at the Aspen Yacht Club docks at Ruedi Reservoir. The reservoir missed filling by 5,000 acre-feet in 2020 because of low runoff. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Better data?

April Long, executive director of Ruedi Water & Power Authority, suggested that water managers should explore other ways of collecting data in addition to SNOTEL information to improve forecast accuracy. The city of Aspen and Denver Water have experimented with LiDAR technology — which analyzes the reflection of laser light to create detailed three-dimensional maps — to track the depth of mountain snowpack, providing a more complete picture of the water contained in that snowpack.

“With this year of unexpected results from our snowpack and the way it melted off, I have concern that with climate change and climate variability, we are going to see more uncertainty,” Long said in a follow-up interview with Aspen Journalism. “I wonder how much benefit we could gain if we knew a little more.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the date Ruedi storage peaked in 2020.

Aspen Journalism is a local, investigative, nonprofit news organization that collaborates on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 7 edition of The Aspen Times.

Aspinall unit operations update: 500 CFS in Black Canyon starting August 5, 2020

Black Canyon July 2020. Photo credit: Cari Bischoff

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be increased from 1450 cfs to 1500 cfs on Wednesday, August 5th. Releases are being adjusted to raise flows back to the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 57% of average.

There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently below the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to trend up toward the baseflow target after the release increase has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 500 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

Say hello to @Northern_Water’s new website

Screen shot of the new Northern Water website. Click the image to go to the website.

Click here to to the new website. Easy to navigate and find data:

Northern Water is proud to announce the launch of a new organizational website. The website offers a user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality.

With a modern, sleek design, the new website uses enhanced functionality, features and content to tell the story of Northern Water and its commitment to delivering water to more than 1 million people and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Northeastern Colorado while protecting water quality on both sides of the Continental Divide.

Key features of the new website include:

  • Improved navigation that makes content easy to find;
  • A search engine that captures targeted results for visitors seeking specific information;
  • Mobile responsive design that allows website access from any device;
  • A new data portal that provides real-time data, water quality data and more;
  • A new customized water accounting portal that empowers water users to manage their portfolio, order and transfer water, and view important documents; and
  • A news blog to inform the public about Northern Water’s projects, programs and activities. New weekly content will ensure the public is kept up to date on the latest happenings.
  • The new website has been more than a year in the making with a primary goal of creating a user-friendly platform accessible from any device. Specifically, the goal was to make it easier for visitors to learn about the organization and its rich history, receive project updates and discover ways to more efficiently use water in their landscapes and daily lives.

    Reservoir Releases to Bolster Flows in 15-Mile Reach of #ColoradoRiver — The #Colorado Water Trust #COriver #aridification

    A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

    Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Trust, et al. (Mark Harris, Mark Harris, Donald Anderson, and Scott McCaulou):

    On Saturday, August 1, Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will initiate their implementation of an agreement that will deliver 877 acre-feet of water to the Grand Valley Power Plant and the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River above its confluence with the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colorado this summer. Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District identified available capacity in their water delivery system for Colorado Water Trust to deliver water decreed for power generation through the Grand Valley Power Plant, from where it subsequently returns to the 15-Mile Reach. This delivery will mark the second execution of an innovative agreement that Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District entered last year with assistance from the Upper Colorado Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The agreement furthers common goals of streamflow restoration for the 15-Mile Reach and takes steps toward unlocking a $425,000 grant from Walton Family Foundation to renovate the aging Grand Valley Power Plant. Thanks to donor support, Colorado Water Trust has purchased stored water from the Colorado River District. That water will be released from Ruedi Reservoir to the Colorado River for use in the power plant and to increase 15-Mile Reach flows to support four species of endangered fish including the Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, Bonytail, and Razorback Sucker.

    “We are so grateful to Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District for coordinating with us to boost flows in the 15-Mile Reach. Seeing the project work for a second year in a row proves the lasting success of our partnerships, and it’s particularly important to the fish this year, with flows as low as they are.” says Kate Ryan, Senior Staff Attorney for Colorado Water Trust.

    This is the second time in the past two summers that Colorado Water Trust purchased water stored in Ruedi Reservoir for release to the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River to help maintain healthy streamflow and water temperatures. Purchases since 2019 will result in delivering over 1200 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River. Colorado Water Trust works closely with Grand Valley Water Users Association and Orchard Mesa Irrigation District to identify when there is available capacity in the power plant. Colorado Water Trust also works closely with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program to determine when the 15-Mile Reach needs supplemental water most to support the fish. When these two conditions overlap, Colorado Water Trust releases the water purchased out of storage for delivery to the power plant and then the 15-Mile Reach.

    “Orchard Mesa Irrigation District and the Grand Valley Water Users Association appreciate the Colorado Water Trust’s facilitation of this agreement–it benefits our two organizations at the Grand Valley Power Plant, and the many other water users who support flows through the 15-Mile Reach. We believe these kinds of collaborative efforts to be of great value to the people of Colorado, the Colorado River, and the fish,” says Mark Harris, General Manager of Grand valley Water Users Association.

    “Maintaining adequate flows for endangered fish through the 15-Mile Reach is possible only because of the extraordinary cooperation our Recovery Program enjoys from multiple partners and stakeholders. We are delighted to add the Colorado Water Trust to that mix of cooperators. This year, in light of unusually low flow conditions in the Colorado River, the additional water made available through this leasing arrangement is especially welcome,” says Donald Anderson, Hydrologist and Instream Flow Coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

    The Roaring Fork Conservancy also helps to inform Colorado Water Trust of conditions on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork Rivers to so that releases will complement flows on the stream sections between Ruedi Reservoir and the Colorado River. This year, the water released from Ruedi Reservoir will serve a few purposes before it supports the health of endangered, native fish in the Colorado River in the 15-Mile Reach. The water will bring flows in the Fryingpan River closer to their average, and will cool water temperatures on the Roaring Fork River. Finally, on the Colorado River, the water will generate hydropower, helping to produce clean energy.

    “Flowing rivers are an economic engine in Colorado, providing immense value to irrigators, drinking water providers, and recreation across the state,” says Todd Reeve, CEO of Bonneville Environmental Foundation and Director of Business for Water Stewardship. “It is for this reason that we are seeing more and more corporate funders step forward to invest in innovative projects like this one that help keep the rivers in Colorado flowing.”

    Essential to the project’s success are dedicated donors: Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Coca Cola, Colorado Water Trust donors, and Daniel K. Thorne Foundation. Without these generous donations and the collaborative work of local and state agencies, water releases to support the health of the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River would not be possible.

    ABOUT COLORADO WATER TRUST: Colorado Water Trust is a statewide nonprofit organization that works collaboratively with partners all across Colorado on restoring flow to Colorado’s rivers in need using solutions that benefit both the people we work with and our rivers. Since 2001, we’ve restored 12 billion gallons of water to rivers and streams across the state.

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

    Opinion: #ColoradoRiver water use and states’ rights — The St. George Spectrum

    From The St. George Spectrum (David Clark):

    All Colorado River basin states have the right to develop and use their water, in accordance with the compacts that form the basis for the Law of the River. They can do so whenever in time the need arises.

    Utah is entitled to 23% of the water available to the Upper Basin. Unlike the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona and California), the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah) receive a percentage of available water rather than a set acre-foot volume so their water supplies are adjusted based on actual flows. Utah’s annual compact allocation is 1.725 million acre feet, but its annual reliable supply (or the amount of water available for development after considering climate variability) is approximately 1.4 million acre feet — or, 80% of what was allocated to the state in the compacts.

    Utah currently uses less than 1 million acre feet of Colorado River water — well under its annual reliable supply. Utah’s rapid population and economic growth has necessitated that the state develop its available water resources. Utah’s development of its currently unused Colorado River water complies with the law and does not jeopardize other state allocations.

    For nearly two decades, Utah has studied the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP), a $1.4 billion project that would deliver 6% of its annual reliable supply of river water to the state’s driest and fastest-growing region — Washington County.

    Washington County has reduced its per-capita use by 30% while nearly doubling its population from 2000-2018. Additional conservation reductions are planned. County water use is comparable to other desert communities when calculated using similar methodologies.

    The Bureau of Reclamation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Study on the LPP and determined that the project is needed, the water is available and there are few environmental impacts.

    Individuals who suggest Colorado River basin states should “challenge” Utah’s use of its water fail to understand the Law of the River, which authorizes each state to develop and use its respective share.

    Proposed Lake Powell pipeline. Map via the City of St. George.

    @USBR to Host Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations Public Meeting #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

    The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting to discuss the Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations for the 2020 water year.

    The meeting will be held on August 5, 2020, from 6:30-8:00 pm using Webex (Webex is a web-based platform that hosts online meetings with HD video, audio and screen sharing.)

    To join from a mobile device (attendees only):
    Dial: 1-415-527-5035, 1992510741## US Toll

    To join by phone:
    Dial: 1-415-527-5035 US Toll

    The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2020 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 and Garfield County leases 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) 290-4895, or tmiller@usbr.gov.

    The blue expanse of Ruedi Reservoir as seen from the air. Students with the Carbondale-based Youth Water Leadership Program took to the air with EcoFlight to see how people have modified water in the Roaring Fork watershed. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism

    Some Environmental Groups In #Colorado Still Hope To Stop The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — Colorado Public Radio

    From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):

    The fight over expanding Gross Reservoir in Boulder County continues, despite the project’s recent approval from federal officials

    “We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, said in a recent statement

    At the same time, Denver Water has its own case with Boulder County, which initially denied the utility’s request to be exempt from a local review of its plan. A Boulder district judge ruled in December that Denver Water must go through the county’s review process. Denver Water has appealed that decision through the Colorado Court of Appeals and must file an opening brief by Aug. 4.

    This means that ultimately county officials could have a say over approval of the expansion. Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said they have that power thanks to a series of Colorado statutes referred to as 1041 Regulations.

    Boulder County could also request another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hughes declined to say whether his office will do so.

    After receiving that federal approval, Denver Water said it plans to finish the design phase of the expansion next year, followed by four years of construction.

    “The FERC order is an important advance for the project,” a Denver Water spokesman said in an email to CPR News. “From here, related to legal matters, we’ll need to take some time to evaluate our options and the appropriate next steps.”

    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1050 CFS through the Gunnison Tunnel #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1550 cfs to 1450 cfs on Tuesday, July 21st. Releases are being adjusted to maintain flows near the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River. The July 15th runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir predicts 57% of average for April-July inflows.

    There is a drought rule in the Aspinall Unit Operations EIS which has changed the baseflow target at the Whitewater gage. The rule states that during Dry or Moderately Dry years, when the content of Blue Mesa Reservoir drops below 600,000 AF the baseflow target is reduced from 1050 cfs to 900 cfs. Therefore, the baseflow target for July and August will now be 900 cfs.

    Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. River flows are expected to stay at levels above the baseflow target after the release decrease has arrived at the Whitewater gage.

    Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 550 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.