USBR releases updated projections of #ColoradoRiver system conditions: Modeling results assist drought response planning in the Colorado River Basin #COriver #aridification

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

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Becki Bryant and Patti Aaron):

The Bureau of Reclamation today [September 22, 2021] released updated modeling projections of major reservoir levels within the Colorado River system over the next five years. These projections are used by Reclamation and water users in the basin for future water management planning. The new projections show continued elevated risk of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reaching critically-low elevations as a result of the historic drought and low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

Today’s announcement comes as the Administration pursues a whole-of-government approach to drought mitigation via the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group, co-chaired by the Department of the Interior. The Working Group is coordinating with partners across the federal government, providing assistance to impacted communities, and developing long-term solutions to climate change.

Projection of Lake Powell end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Powell Projections

At Lake Powell, the projections indicate the potential of falling below minimum power pool as early as July 2022 should extremely dry hydrology continue into next year. Beyond 2022, the chance Lake Powell could fall below minimum power pool ranges from about 25% to 35%. Elevation 3,525 feet, the target elevation in Lake Powell, has an almost 90% chance of being reached next year. That target elevation provides a 35 vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Glen Canyon Dam and meet current operational obligations to the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada.

“The latest outlook for Lake Powell is troubling,” said Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Basin Regional Director Wayne Pullan. “This highlights the importance of continuing to work collaboratively with the Basin States, Tribes and other partners toward solutions.”

After consultation with – and acknowledgement from – all seven Basin States and other partners, under the emergency provisions of the 2019 Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), Reclamation started supplemental water deliveries in July 2021 to Lake Powell from the upper reservoirs of Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo. Those supplemental deliveries will provide up to an additional 181 thousand acre-feet of water to Lake Powell by the end of the 2021.

As the Upper Basin States continue to work towards the development of a Drought Operations plan that will govern potential future supplemental deliveries, previous modeling assumptions regarding any additional or continued DROA releases have been removed to provide a clearer representation of future risk. The removal of these assumptions was the main contributor in the increase in risk between the last set of projections released in June of this year.

Projection of Lake Mead end-of-December reservoir elevations. The colored region, or cloud, for the hydrology scenario represents the minimum, 10th percentile, 90th percentile, and maximum of the projected reservoir elevations. Solid lines represent historical elevations (black), and median projected elevations for the scenario (yellow). Dashed gray lines represent important elevations for operations, and the vertical line marks the adoption of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Graphic credit: Bureau of Reclamation

Lake Mead Projections

At Lake Mead, today’s projections indicate the chance of Lake Mead declining to elevation 1,025 feet (the third shortage trigger) is as high as 66% in 2025, and that there is a 22% chance of the reservoir elevation dropping to 1,000 feet the same year.

Reclamation continues to work with all seven Colorado River Basin States to address current conditions in the Colorado River Basin.

“This five-year probability table underscores the need for additional actions beyond the 2007 Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan to be taken to enhance our efforts to protect Lake Mead, Lake Powell and the Colorado River system overall,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Most of the flow of the Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average, despite near-average snowfall last winter. Total Colorado River system storage today is 39% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

Today’s release also includes updated presentations that utilize additional forecast information to improve public understanding of Reclamation’s future hydrologic projections. In keeping with its commitment to better inform all water users and the public regarding the hydrologic tools available, Reclamation has added in-depth information on its website about modeling and projections in the Colorado River system. A new interactive tool also allows users to explore projected reservoir conditions under a range of inflow forecasts.

“We’re providing detailed information on our modeling and projections to further generate productive discussions about the future of Lake Powell and Lake Mead based on the best data available,” said Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Regional Director Jacklynn Gould. “Being prepared to adopt further actions to protect the elevations at these reservoirs remains a Reclamation priority and focus.”

To view the most recent Colorado River system projections, visit https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/riverops/crss-5year-projections.html.

The Ute Indian Tribe #Water Claims against Deptartment of Interior/State of #Utah Dismissed — Utah Attorney General’s Office #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Green River Basin

Here’s the release from the Utah Attorney General’s office (Richard Piatt):

A federal [United States District Court for the District of Columbia] judge dismissed claims in a lawsuit filed by the Ute Indian Tribe against the U.S. Department of Interior, the State of Utah, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. The Tribe alleged mismanagement of water-development projects in northeastern Utah.

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed two lawsuits against the Department of Interior regarding water issues. The State of Utah intervened in one action and was later named as a defendant. The suits claimed that the federal government was perpetuating historical discrimination regarding water rights on Tribal lands, violating the Tribe’s sovereignty, and questioning whether the government had fulfilled necessary trust responsibilities.

“All along, the State of Utah has maintained there was no discrimination regarding the Tribe’s water rights, and we’re grateful the judge affirmed that,” said Teresa Wilhelmsen, Director of the Utah Division of Water Rights and State Engineer. “Difficult emotions can arise from cases like this, and the State is ready to move forward. It intends to continue working with the Tribe in the administration of the Tribe’s significant water rights in a cooperative and mutually productive way.”

The court dismissed 12 of the 16 claims against the United States and the State of Utah and transferred the remaining four claims to the District of Utah Federal Court.

Read the judge’s ruling here.

More on Ute Tribe water litigation:
Background and Joint Statement by State of Utah

In 2018, the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation filed lawsuits against the United States Department of Interior in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) in Washington, D.C.

Among other things, the lawsuits alleged that:

(1) the United States breached several trust, contractual, and constitutional obligations to the Tribe;
(2) a 1965 agreement quantified the Tribe’s reserved water rights;
(3) the 1992 Central Utah Project Completion Act (CUPCA), enacted in part to settle the Tribe’s water rights and water right claims, actually took Tribal property; and
(4) only the Tribe has jurisdiction over Tribal water rights.

CFC case brought similar assertions but sought only money damages while the District Court case sought declaratory relief relating to the water issues.

The State of Utah intervened in the initial U.S District Court case as a sovereign, having a direct interest in the administration of water across the state on behalf of all Utah water users, including the Tribe. The Ute Tribe then amended the complaint to name the State of Utah, Governor Herbert, the Utah State Engineer, and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District as defendant parties and included the state in some of the claims brought against the United States. The Tribe also asserted an additional claim, alleging that the State defendants had historically deprived the Tribe of due process and equal protection rights.

In July 2021, D.C. District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols heard argument on the defendants’ separate motions to dismiss the lawsuit and, by Order dated September 15, 2021, granted those motions, dismissing the Tribe’s trust, contract, jurisdictional, and civil rights claims. The Court held that the Tribe had not demonstrated specific, enforceable trust duties that compelled the United States to build or rehabilitate the facilities the Tribe demanded. In addition, the Court noted that the Tribe had waived the claims, or otherwise settled them under CUPCA and by a separate settlement negotiated between the United States and the Tribe in 2012. The Court also held that several of the Tribe’s claims were untimely. In dismissing the Tribe’s separate but related lawsuit earlier in February 2021, the CFC had also cited the Tribe’s waiver of claims in the 2012 settlement and CUPCA. The CFC decision also noted that CUPCA payments “put the Tribe in the same position it would have enjoyed” had the water facilities contemplated in the 1960s been constructed and that the CUPCA settled “once and for all” the Tribe’s water claims. The CFC noted that the Tribe has received over $354 million in compensation pursuant to that Act.

The latest “The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJounalism #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Contractors for Homestake Partners are drilling test holes for a geotechnical study near Homestake Creek. A proposed project could develop more water from Homestake Creek for Aurora and Colorado Springs, and could also benefit Western Slope entities.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click here to read the newsletter (Curtis Wackerle). Here’s an excerpt:

The Eagle River Watershed Council on Tuesday hosted a hike for the public in the Homestake Valley, an area receiving increased scrutiny because of a project that proposes to take more water from the Colorado River basin and bring it to the fast-growing Front Range.

The goal of the event — which included presentations from representatives from public-lands conservation group Wilderness Workshop, municipal water provider Aurora Water and other experts — was to provide a broad overview of a complicated issue, according to watershed council executive director Holly Loff.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but we want to make sure people are engaged in the conversation and look to us as a resource,” Loff said. “We will continue to provide science-based, factual information.”

The watershed council advocates for the health of the upper Colorado and Eagle river watersheds through research, education and projects, according to its website.

#Utah’s water outlook slightly improved, but #West remains in grip of long-term drought — The #SaltLake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

West Drought Monitor map September 7, 2021.

From The Salt Lake Tribune (Brian Maffly):

Utah’s drought-induced water crisis has softened somewhat after a string of monsoons, but the state’s water supplies are far from safe, with reservoirs across the state falling below 40% full, state officials told lawmakers Tuesday. Only a massive snowpack this winter can assure adequate supplies going into next year, and even then, Utah’s water future remains uncertain in the face of long-term drought and climate change.

In July the entire state was in extreme or exceptional drought and Utah’s two largest lakes hit their lowest levels ever…

“We are setting all the wrong records,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told the Legislative Water Development Commission. “Then came August. We had some great monsoon season, which we didn’t receive the previous year.”

August precipitation was four times normal in many places…

All eyes are fixated on the Colorado River, a water source that supplies much of the American Southwest. Its flows have diminished so much after 20 years of drought and warming temperatures that a shortage was declared last month in the river’s Lower Basin States and Utah’s Lake Powell is looking more like a puddle than the nation’s second-largest reservoir.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has forecast that by next May the lake will fall to the point where hydropower cannot be generated at Glen Canyon Dam, said Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River Authority commissioner. To reduce the risk of that happening, the bureau is releasing 181,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge and two other Upper Basin reservoirs this summer and fall…

Describing himself as an optimist, [Carl] Albrecht said he believes the West’s drought will end and Utah should position itself to capture the water when heavy snows return…

Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council pushed back, arguing that Utah’s water needs will decline as water-intensive agriculture is displaced by the very growth Albrecht described.

“We’re converting our farmland to blacktop, subdivisions, shopping malls and homes. And because municipal lands use less water per acre than agricultural lands, it’s leading to a growth in our water supply,” Frankel said.

He said you will find eight pages of water rights posted for sale on KSL.com, showing a vibrant market for water that’s available along the Wasatch Front.

Utah Rivers map via Geology.com

Western #Kansas farmers battle #water supply issues — The Center Square

The dry bed of the Arkansas River near the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Cimarron, Kansas. The Ogallala aquifer groundwater levels in much of western Kansas started dropping in the 1950s as pumping increased, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. File Photo / Max McCoy

From The Center Square (Kimberly James):

Due to a number of reasons including this year drought conditions, water supply is becoming a major concern in western Kansas.

Agriculture-heavy western Kansas is substantially supported by the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers. But water-intensive crops and farming are putting incredible pressure on it. Groundwater levels in the Ogallala have been on the decline ever since irrigation began. The state water plan warns that if irrigation and pumping continue at this rate, some regions may see themselves out of water in as little as 20 years.

“For agriculture, the impact on farming is increasing costs to pump water from a continuously lowering groundwater level,” Elmer Ronnenbaum, general manager at Kansas Rural Water Association, told The Center Square. “At some point, the aquifer will either not yield sufficient water for irrigation or the costs associated with pumping water from so deep will make irrigation no longer feasible.”

While funding for groundwater management remains an issue, there are a few solutions being implemented.

“Practical solutions include Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCA) and Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMA),” Ronnenbaum said. “Another solution that has been floated in recent years is an aqueduct to transport water to southwest Kansas from the Missouri River in northeast Kansas, but generally has been deemed too costly and is opposed by neighboring states and local (northeast Kansas) residents.”

Two LEMAs have already been established in Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District (GMD) No. 4, which appears to have slowed water level declines over just a few years. A third LEMA was just implemented in Western Kansas GMD No. 1.

Kansas farmers will continue to farm, but with limited water supply, some may have to shift their focus to continue to be profitable.

“Advances in technology have allowed some irrigators to keep irrigating with less yield of water but comes at a cost to change,” Ronnenbaum said. “Some farmers will have to switch to dryland crops or crops with lower irrigation water use requirements as the aquifer declines in their areas. For example, cotton requires half the amount of irrigation water but currently is nearly as profitable as corn.”

The Ogallala aquifer, also referred to as the High Plains aquifer. Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

The Entire #ColoradoRiver Basin is in Crisis — Audubon #COriver #aridification

Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe. Photo: Sunil Singh/Audubon Photography Awards

From Audubon (Karyn Stockdale):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) shared alarming news this year about the unprecedented conditions on the Colorado River. The agency, which oversees federal water management across 17 western states, publishes some pretty wonky information, even for those of us who regularly interface with this agency and rely on its analyses.

However, in June, Reclamation shared its new, five-year projections for the Colorado River Basin. It shares these projections a few times every year to assist drought management within the Basin. This time, the news was big: the water situation on the Colorado River is worse than folks anticipated when adopting the shared shortage agreements called the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) adopted in 2019.

To jump to the conclusion: Reclamation’s projections signal that we urgently need to do more than the DCPs envisioned because of the increasingly hot and dry conditions in the basin. Reclamation has continued to revise its projections throughout this shockingly dry spring, resulting in really dire projections for water storage and distribution. In other words, less water for people, and less water in streams that benefit birds, fish, and a robust recreational economy.

We’ve arrived at the time when the limits of the Colorado River are being reached.

What does this mean for birds? Birds rely on the riparian habitats of the Colorado River and its tributaries, and aquatic birds have come to rely on the big reservoirs on the river, too. Surveys of aquatic birds at Lake Powell have documented dabbling ducks, diving species, shorebirds, and more. American Coot and Western Grebe are common. Gadwall, Common Goldeneye, Redhead, and Green-winged Teal have also been observed. The habitats created by Lake Powell have existed for less than 60 years and can change with the lake level, which can affect birds.

Colorado River Basin Plumbing. Credit: Lester Doré/Mary Moran via Dustin Mulvaney and Twitter

You may recall that the main reservoirs on the highly-plumbed Colorado River—Lake Powell and Lake Mead—sometimes “equalize” in water accounting flows. Lake Powell is the receiving reservoir from the Upper Basin states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico) meaning that it stores water that runs downstream from these states. Lake Mead is the distributing reservoir for the Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada, and California) and Mexico meaning that water deliveries to each of these places comes from available water in this lake (and legal water rights, of course). The amount of water in Lake Mead—the largest reservoir in the country—determines how much water a state has available for its Colorado River water users.

Reclamation projects that Lake Mead water levels are, for the first time ever, so low that they will require cuts in water Lower Basin water deliveries, operating in a Tier 1 shortage. And the agency says there is a greater than 99 percent chance of this shortage continuing into 2022 and a high risk (greater than 80 percent probability) that Lake Mead will remain under shortage operations for at least the next five years, perhaps with even more aggressive cuts.

Severe drought conditions are also triggering an emergency response with the release of water from reservoirs further upstream to address declining water levels at Lake Powell and protect the ability of the Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydropower. Representatives from Reclamation and the Upper Basin states just announced they will release water from Flaming Gorge and other reservoirs.

If we have another bad water year, elevations at Lake Mead could even be lower than before Lake Powell was created. It’s getting to the bottom for both of these reservoirs.

Why does this matter? These unprecedented and exceptional drought conditions are a signal to all of us to take steps to ensure the river flows long into the future and address water security for people and wildlife. Climate change is here and the entire Colorado River Basin is in crisis.

We have a very limited window to begin implementing innovative tools that are at our disposal in order to adapt to and mitigate climate change. In addition to reductions in carbon emissions and other large-scale solutions for our planet, Audubon continues to focus on federal and state investments in climate resilient strategies that will help stabilize water supplies and better assist economic sectors and ecosystems adapt to changing conditions. Future water projections by Reclamation – and future agreements on the Colorado River – need to account for climate extremes.

The effects of prolonged drought and climate change affect everyone in the basin. Our ways of life are at stake—millions of acres of farmland and ranches, urban and rural communities, recreation on rivers and lakes, our economies, as well as incredible bird life. Our work is more urgent and more difficult.

Opinion: It’s time to stop shipping water across the Rockies — Writers on the Range #EagleRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From Writers on the Range (David O. Williams):

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range. Photo credit: Writers on the Range

It was 1952 when the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs first started gobbling up water rights in a remote, high mountain valley on the state’s Western Slope. The valley is called Homestake, and now, those same cities want even more of its pure water.

In western Colorado, where only about 20% of Colorado’s population lives, all water tries to flow toward the Pacific Ocean. On the east side, where most people live, water flows to the Atlantic. To bring the water from the west side to the east side of the Rockies requires lots of money and lots of pipelines.

But money isn’t much of a barrier when your population is exploding: Colorado Springs, with 478,961 residents, and Aurora, with 386,261, need more water. And they aim to get it even if it must cross under the Continental Divide and damage a fragile and ancient wetland called a “fen” in the process.

The new reservoir the two cities plan to build would be five miles downstream from their existing Homestake Reservoir, and called Whitney Reservoir after a creek that flows into Homestake Creek. There’s also a Whitney Park within the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which could lose some 500 acres if the new reservoir goes through.

The Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Vail, which could lose 500 acres under the new reservoir plan.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

But protesters are already active, and conservation groups are threatening lawsuits. Meanwhile, the cities have already quietly begun test drilling at four possible dam sites on U.S. Forest Service land along Homestake Creek.

Obstacles, however, are popping up. The Forest Service says it won’t even consider a reservoir proposal that shrinks a wilderness area, and the cities would have to get that approval from both Congress and the White House.

The U.S. congressman for the district, rising Democratic star Joe Neguse, has also made it clear he doesn’t support shrinking a designated wilderness or damaging wetlands. Local leaders are also chiming in: “A Whitney Reservoir would irreparably change and harm our community,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman and Red Cliff Mayor Duke Gerber, who co-wrote a letter to the Forest Service. Both represent small towns dependent on tourism and outdoor recreation.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who grew up in the nearby ski town of Vail, also wrote the Forest Service to oppose the dam: “I cannot express how sternly the citizens of my district … oppose water diversion projects to Front Range communities.”

Another issue, and for some it’s the most critical, is the fate of valuable “fen” wetlands that would be destroyed by a dam and reservoir. “This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told Aspen Journalism in 2019. “You can mitigate, but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”

etlands, which are havens of biodiversity, offer priceless ecological benefits. As wetlands are lost to development nationwide, critics of the dam project worry about its local impact.
(Photo Credit: John Fielder via Writers on the Range)

Nor can you turn the clock back to 1952, when Colorado’s population was 1.36 million, compared to 5.7 million today, and the global land and ocean temperature was 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. Climate change, scientists say, will cause the Colorado River to lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2052. That prediction was a factor in a recent, first-ever federal water shortage declaration.

“When Colorado Springs and Aurora got their water right, the [Holy Cross] wilderness wasn’t there and wetlands at that time were something we were just filling in,” said Jerry Mallett, president of the local conservation group Colorado Headwaters. “Since then (wetlands) have become an extremely valuable resource because of what they can do for groundwater recharge, addressing climate change — all kinds of things.”

Then there’s the issue of Kentucky bluegrass, Colorado’s landscaping groundcover of choice. Kentucky gets more than 50 inches of rain a year compared to the Front Range average of 17, so why pump western Colorado’s high-elevation water through the Rockies for lawns?

Colorado photographer and conservationist John Fielder, who says he’s been just about everywhere within the nearly 123,000-acre Holy Cross Wilderness Area, wants people to just look at his images of the fen wetlands along Homestake Creek, and then ask themselves these questions:

“Is anything more sublime and fertile and life-giving than a 10,000-or-more-year-old fen wetland? You can’t “mitigate” the loss of ancient wetlands by creating a manmade wet place somewhere else. No more water to the Front Range.”

David O. Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a freelance writer who lives near Vail, Colorado.

Remediation work now underway at Bolts Lake — Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

Location of proposed Bolts Reservoir at the south end of the town of Minturn. Photo credit: Eagle River Water & Sanitation District

Here’s the release Eagle River Water & Sanitation District:

Healing the Land: Collaborative partnership contributing to cleanup efforts

An important collaborative effort among community stakeholders has begun to clean up portions of the Eagle Mine Superfund site at the southern end of Minturn, Colo., an historic former mining and railroad town.

The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and landowner, Battle North LLC, are moving forward with a remedial work plan approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) earlier this year.

Battle North, which owns about 600 acres in the Maloit Park and Bolts Lake areas, has been working with the EPA and CDPHE since 2006, completing extensive testing and analysis of the site to understand which areas needed additional remediation to allow for future residential use.

The district and the authority are currently evaluating the Bolts Lake area, which was never part of the Superfund site, to confirm the feasibility of creating a water supply reservoir.

In February, the district, the authority, and Battle North reached an agreement for the district and authority to purchase the Bolts Lake site following a due diligence period. The district and authority would allow passive recreation on the reservoir, including non-motorized boating and fishing, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the reservoir’s main purpose of water supply.

In addition, the construction of the reservoir would require deep excavation within the former lake footprint to roughly triple the volume of the original reservoir capacity. The clean material excavated from the reservoir area would be used as cover material for areas in Operable Unit 3 of the Superfund site, pursuant to a remedial action work plan approved by the EPA and CDPHE, which furthers remediation efforts.

Operable Unit 3 of the Superfund site, which is adjacent to the proposed location of the new reservoir, was remediated in the 1990s but certain restrictions remain along Tigiwon Road and a portion of the iconic mining trestle where the current cleanup efforts are taking place. The plan to remove several hundred yards of contaminated soil, relocating it to an approved disposal facility, is expected to be completed by the end of this month.

Battle North will also submit additional work plans for future cleanup of other portions of the Superfund site to the EPA and CDPHE for their review and approval to allow for continued remediation efforts in the coming years.

Monitoring and operation and maintenance activities have been ongoing at the Superfund site since 2001.

Minturn Mayor John Widerman agreed and noted his excitement for the area cleanup, saying, “Historical preservation is very important to Minturnites, and so, too, is remediation of the areas that remain contaminated. We very much appreciate the efforts by the district, the authority, and the landowner to continue to clean up and make room for a much-needed water supply reservoir. This has been a collaborative effort from the beginning, and this remains a focal point of how we will continue to make progress on issues that affect more than just Minturn.”

The Bolts Lake area is planned to ultimately accommodate a 1,200-acre foot reservoir on about 45 acres, with enough water storage to secure service for customers of the district and authority for decades to come, as well as potential future development of the Bolts and Maloit Park areas.

Eagle River Basin

Rio De Chama Acequia Association Seeks Fair Treatment, Opportunity To Store Water In Abiquiu Lake — The #LosAlamos Reporter #RioGrande #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From The Los Alamos Reporter (Maire O’Neill):

Members of the Rio de Chama Acequia Association (RCAA) are adamant about continuing the repartimento – the traditional way of sharing water in New Mexico. They want their acequia parciantes to be treated like all the other contractors in the San Juan-Chama River Project and they want to be able to store water in Abiquiu Lake.

New Mexico water projects map via Reclamation

The Los Alamos Reporter recently sat down with the officers of the association to discuss the issues they are facing and the solutions they propose. RCAA chair Darel Madrid explained how in the 1960s, water was diverted from the Little Navajo river in Colorado to build up water in the Rio Grande through the San Juan-Chama River Project. He said most of that water streamed through a tunnel under the mountains and into Heron Reservoir.

“Ours is the only river system in the area that has foreign water running through it. Our water rights are tied to the native water rights of the Rio Chama basin. With climate change, we’re getting less and less snowpack. We’re getting warmer springs and all the melt-off is running through our acequia system before we are ready to use it,” Madrid said. “In our climate down here, the growing season usually starts the latter part of May or in June and continues into October. This water is melting off earlier and it’s passing through our system in March and early April. It leaves us in a bind.”

Madrid explained that because the RCAA water rights are tied to the Rio Chama water, only a sliver of the water that you see running through their system is actually their water.

“When people see all this water flowing through the system, they don’t realize that only a portion of that water is our water. We have approximately 22 acequias from below the dam that run from the Trujillo-Abeyta ditch, which is the northern-most, to the Salazar Ditch, which is the last one to receive water,” he said.

The foreign water that’s running through the system is owned mostly by contractors of the original San Juan–Chama River Project including the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District which takes care of everybody from Cochiti all the way down to Socorro, and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. There are also minor contractors like the County of Los Alamos, the City of Espanola, the Village of Taos, and the City of Santa Fe – all of whom bought into the project in the 60s…

For many years there was less of a drought situation in the region so there was plenty of water for everybody, he said…

“When the Rio Grande Compact was established in the late 20s or 30s, none of the RCAA acequias were invited to the table. They didn’t have a voice in those discussions at all. The parciantes were busy being farmers and were not organized. The same thing happened during the San Juan-Chama River Project. For all that we can tell, we weren’t invited to the table and all these decisions were made without our participation. When all was said and done we were left with all these rules and regulations that we have to abide by so it’s almost like taxation without representation,” Madrid said.

He noted that regulations for the acequias are all set through court orders with the State Engineer’s Office having the most authority…

The 22 RCAA ditches have the oldest priority dates for rights to the water with some of them going back to the 1600s. Madrid believes those are probably the oldest water rights in the entire nation, second only to Native Americans. The ditch behind his home has been in continual use for more than 400 years. Families of others on the board have been irrigating for hundreds of years in the area.

Abiquiu Dam, impounding Abiquiu Lake on the Rio Chama in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, USA. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the dam in 1963 for flood control, water storage, and recreation. By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual LibraryImage pageImage description pageDigital Visual Library home page, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2044112

RCAA Treasurer Carlos Salazar said RCAA wants to find a way to store its water so that it doesn’t have to buy water and believes this would require federal legislation because the dams were constructed with federal funds. The Association hopes that the congressional delegation will help them to find a way to store their native water because it comes from their ancestral lands. Because the water can’t be stored, half of any water that flows past the Otowi Bridge near the Pueblo of San Ildefonso in the spring goes to Texas.

All the RCAA acequias are metered by the state engineer. Their diversion is measured, but one of the big debates RCAA has with the state engineer is that not all of it is consumed and the state charges them for all of the diversion and doesn’t credit them for any return flow. Another burden the RCAA has to bear is that its member acequias are saddled with all the costs for the operation and maintenance…

The RCAA believes all diversion levels should be increased by 30 percent but they would need to invest in return flow measurement to accomplish that and it would take $1,000 per ditch, a total of about $54,000 to accomplish that.

Seaman noted that the RCAA is simply trying to continue the tradition of the acequias.

“To me, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed every citizen all these rights and we don’t see it happening now with this adjudication of water to the Rio Grande and the City of Albuquerque and our neighbors there on Heron Reservoir. All that imported water – where were the acequias?” Salazar said. “I think we should be treated fairly. Our rights pre-date all of them and we should be given an opportunity to store water even if we have to pay for the storage.”

The Rio Chama viewed from US highway 84 between Abiquiú, New Mexico, and Abiquiu Dam. By Dicklyon – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=110189310

Opinion: The time is now for oil and gas bonding reform — The #GrandJunction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Oil and gas well sites near the Roan Plateau

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Don Lumbardy):

Making a living as a rancher on the Western Slope isn’t easy. Working the land in an arid environment, keeping livestock, and negotiating in turbulent market conditions is hard work at the best of times. Yet over the past 50 years that I’ve raised cattle and grown crops in Mesa County, I have witnessed the days growing hotter and drier with each passing year.

For many like myself who sought to build a career feeding our community from the land that I call home, drought is threatening to wither our way of life. Protecting what little water we have and taking action to slow the change in climate is vital to sustaining agriculture in Western Colorado, which is why we must urge state and federal decision makers to adopt protective rules that require oil and gas operators to set aside enough money to clean up their oil and gas wells after they are finished with production.

When a well that is drilled to extract oil or gas has no operator responsible for it (due to bankruptcy, etc.), it is referred to as an “orphaned well.” Orphaned wells result in many problems for public health and the environment, including venting harmful chemicals into the air, polluting groundwater with toxic sludge, creating dangerous conditions for wildlife, and releasing plumes of methane.

Large operators will frequently drill wells, extract most of the resource, and then sell them off to smaller operators towards the end of the well’s productive life. After the small operator pumps the last dredges, they often declare bankruptcy, and leave the orphaned wells for the government (that is, taxpayers) to clean up.

Unfortunately, we already have a number of these orphaned wells here in Mesa County’s own backyard. For example, Fram Operating LLC has left a number of wells orphaned in the Grand Junction watershed. Fram only posted some $310,000 in bonds to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, despite the total bill for cleanup being about $5 million. These wells are a direct threat to the community’s water supply.

In my own experience, Fram has tried to strong-arm landowners such as myself into allowing them to drill on their property without regard to the potential impacts that their extraction might have on our water supply. Despite my protests and explanation that any drilling could divert away water that I needed to grow crops and raise cattle, their landman told me that my concerns didn’t matter, and that they would drill anyway. Fortunately, this did not come to pass, but there is no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t filed for bankruptcy, they would have tried.

My story is just one example of what is happening across our state, and the real threat that orphaned oil and gas wells pose to us all. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, hunting, fishing, and animal watching contribute about $800 million to the economy of western Colorado, and $5.7 billion statewide. Colorado’s agricultural sector creates an additional $47 billion. Protecting these industries from disruptive changes in weather patterns, habitat loss, and soil degradation that orphaned wells contribute to is vital to protecting over 124,000 jobs throughout our state.

But it’s not just jobs on the line; it’s also our tax dollars. Of the approximately 52,000 producing wells in Colorado, about half produce less than 5 barrels of oil or equivalent in [methane] gas per day. Should the operators walk away from their obligations to plug and reclaim them, it will be Colorado taxpayers left to foot the bill for the billions of dollars in cleanup costs they represent.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take right now to prevent the orphaned well crisis we are facing from festering any longer. Presently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is seeking to craft new financial assurance rules. They need to hear from the public that we expect operators to post a bond for the full cost of plugging and reclamation for each well up front before they are allowed to drill. At the federal level, we must encourage Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to push for the latter’s Oil and Gas Bonding Reform and Orphaned Well Remediation Act, which would provide billions of dollars to clean up orphaned wells and modernize bonding rates, to be passed by Congress as soon as possible.

For those of us on the Western Slope working in agriculture, science has produced technological advances that have made our work easier and level of crop production possible. Now, science is telling us that we have to protect our environment, health, and water from orphaned oil and gas wells. By working together, we can confront this threat to our health, economy, and tax dollars, and protect this vibrant, beautiful state for Coloradans now and in the future.

Don Lumbardy is a fourth-generation rancher born in Mesa County, just 20 miles west of the ranch he lives on today. Don has been ranching in western Colorado for nearly 50 years, and works to help the public understand the importance of food, water, and protecting the environment that sustains them.

The September 2021 Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Water Information Program

A map of the Southern Ute Reservation and nearby reservations. By U.S. Census Bureau – U.S. Census Bureau: American FactFinder, a combination of two maps, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3114932

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

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe (the Tribe) is taking public comment on their proposed water quality standards and certification procedures from August 23 to October 22, 2021. Although the standards apply only to Tribal Waters on lands where the tribe has jurisdiction, they can affect permits and licenses issued upstream by EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and/or the State of Colorado, on and off the reservation. Permitting and licensing entities must consider any possible impacts that could cause violations of standards downstream to Tribal Waters.

For several years, the Tribe has been developing its authority to set water quality standards within their reservation boundaries. In 2018, the Tribe was granted “Treatment as a State” (TAS) by the EPA to receive delegated authority for sections 303(c) and 401 of the Clean Water Act to set water quality standards and certify that those standards will not be violated under certain federal permits and licenses. They did not apply for any permitting or enforcement authority. This current step is part of the Tribe’s process to promulgate its initial water quality standards and certification procedures.

Documents related to the Tribe’s TAS application as well as the proposed standards and procedures can be found here and here. Comments can be emailed to SUIT’s Water Quality Standards Committee at wqs@southernute-nsn.gov. The Tribe will hold an online public hearing regarding the proposed standards on October 7th from 3:00 – 5:00pm. To pre-register, visit https://bit.ly/3wnzxAb.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 17, 2021) #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Republican River Water Conservation District meeting draws crowd to discuss new rates — The #Burlington Record

North Fork Republican River via the National Science Foundation.

From The Burlington Record (Cheri Webb):

One of the meeting rooms at the Burlington Community and Education Center filled up as farmers, ranchers, landowners, bankers and concerned citizens – not just from Kit Carson County, but surrounding counties and states – filed in. They were there to listen and ask questions of the representatives of the Republican River Water Conservation District (RRWCD).

The meeting was set to inform the public of recently approved resolutions by the RRWCD that changes the rates to be paid for conservation contracts in the South Fork Focus Zone (SFFZ). It was facilitated by Deb Daniel, general manager of RRWCD; Steve Kramer, conservation committee chairman; and Rod Lenz, board chairman.

The trio took turns laying the groundwork of how in 2016 Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska came together as the Republican River Compact Administration and agreed to a resolution giving 100% credit from Colorado’s Compliance Pipeline, allowing it to apply to Colorado’s obligations under the compact. However, in exchange for this, Colorado had to agree to retire 25,000 acres in the South Fork Focus Zone by the end of 2029, with 10,000 of those having to be retired by the end of 2024.

If the goal of retiring the 10,000 acres by 2024 and 25,000 by 2029 is not met, Kansas or Nebraska could terminate the agreement, cutting the 100% credit down to 22% credit. This would be disastrous for the whole area, landowner or not, because it would put all large capacity wells at risk of being shut down. This would include irrigation, commercial and municipal wells within the Republican River Basin.

The board then went on to outline their plan to significantly increase payments for retirement of irrigated acres to meet these lofty goals within the SFFZ. However, this did generate some rumblings throughout the crowd as the topic was slightly diverted to how these payments were going to be made.

To offset the additional expenses for the increased payments, the RRWCD is considering increasing the annual water use fee to a total of $30 per irrigated acre in 2022. This is doubling the fee that all consumers are currently being charged, while only the ones within the SFFZ will be getting the increased payments.

One member of the crowd, in a question/statement put it into layman’s terms, “So basically everyone on the inside of the zone pays the same as everyone outside the zone, but the wells outside the zone aren’t eligible for the sweet new deals.”

Daniel responded, noting the effort to determine what people think their water is worth, “We know it’s not ideal, nothing is going to be. However, expediency is key here.”

[…]

The RRWCD will be holding several more meetings throughout the month of Sept., to discuss the matter. They will be in Yuma on Sept. 21 at Quintech at 1:30; in Stratton at the community building on Sept. 22 at 1:30; in Cheyenne Wells at the fairgrounds on Sept. 28 at 1:30; and at the Idalia school on Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Homestake hike highlights uncertainties with proposed reservoir project — @AspenJournalism

Ken Neubecker, formerly of American Rivers, gives a presentation about the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding during a hike and public outreach event organized by the Eagle River Watershed Council. The 1998 MOU, which lays out the amounts of water the signatories are entitled to develop, may be based on hydrology that is outdated due to climate change impacts of the last 20 years.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The Eagle River Watershed Council on Tuesday hosted a hike for the public in the Homestake Valley, an area receiving increased scrutiny because of a project that proposes to take more water from the Colorado River basin and bring it to the fast-growing Front Range.

The goal of the event — which included presentations from representatives from public-lands conservation group Wilderness Workshop, municipal water provider Aurora Water and other experts — was to provide a broad overview of a complicated issue, according to watershed council executive director Holly Loff.

“We know it’s going to be a long process, but we want to make sure people are engaged in the conversation and look to us as a resource,” Loff said. “We will continue to provide science-based, factual information.”

The watershed council advocates for the health of the upper Colorado and Eagle river watersheds through research, education and projects, according to its website.

The cities of Colorado Springs and Aurora, which operate together as Homestake Partners, have water rights in the Homestake Valley and plan to use them to develop Whitney Reservoir. The project would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is 6 miles south of Red Cliff. Homestake Partners is currently doing geotechnical drilling to study whether the soil and bedrock in the area could support a dam and reservoir.

The proposed project would create a new reservoir on lower Homestake Creek, where water collected would be pumped up to the existing Homestake Reservoir, about 5 miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to Aurora and Colorado Springs. Various configurations of four potential reservoir sites show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water.

Homestake Valley, in the upper Eagle River watershed near Red Cliff, is narrow and filled with aspen trees. A proposed water project could develop more water from the valley for the benefit of Front Range municipalities and Western Slope entities.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Project opposition

Although it’s still early in the process and no application for the storage project has yet been filed, the proposal has already been met with opposition. Some iterations of the project would necessitate moving a section of the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary, which requires an act of Congress, and would inundate rare, groundwater-fed, peat wetlands, known as fens. The U.S. Forest Service received nearly 800 comments about the drilling study during its public scoping phase last year, and the majority of the remarks were against the reservoir project as a whole.

Some who attended the hike — which attracted about 20 people — questioned the concept of taking more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities in the face of a climate change-fueled crisis.

“I’m just very concerned that if this is a typical year, is there enough water in the drainage to take 20,000 acre-feet out every year and how does that tie into the future curtailment call on the Colorado Compact?” said Tom Allender, who is board president of the watershed council, a former board member of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and a retired planner for Vail Resorts.

The compact call to which Allender is referring 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. Water users in the upper basin would be forced to cut back, something known as “curtailment.”

A larger share of the state’s cutback obligations could fall to Front Range water providers since most of the water rights that let them divert water from the Colorado River basin over the Continental Divide are “junior” to the compact, meaning they date to after the 1922 agreement. If there was a compact call, Front Range diverters could potentially have to stop diverting and let the water flow downstream to Lake Powell.

“If the Homestake Valley is important to people and if they are interested in the impacts of a compact call and the impacts of climate change overall, then they should have an eye out for additional transmountain diversions,” Loff said. “That’s a bigger concern than a reservoir in general.”

Last year, Homestake Partners tested how they could get their stored water to the state line in the event of a compact call by releasing downstream about 1,700 acre-feet from Homestake Reservoir.

Contractors for Homestake Partners are drilling test holes for a geotechnical study near Homestake Creek. A proposed project could develop more water from Homestake Creek for Aurora and Colorado Springs, and could also benefit Western Slope entities.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Eagle River MOU

Homestake Partners is not the only entity set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River memorandum of understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the MOU as the “Reservoir Company.”

Ken Neubecker, a retired Colorado project director at American Rivers and a former environmental representative on the Colorado Basin Roundtable, gave an overview of the MOU. He said the 23-year-old agreement is based on hydrology that is now outdated because of the worsening impacts of climate change. The models used to estimate streamflows are based on records from the 50 years between 1945 and 1994.

“Storage is an early-20th-century response to water-shortage problems and doesn’t really fit in the conditions we are facing now in the 21st century, and it’s based on laws established in the 19th century,” Neubecker said.

In their presentation, representatives from Aurora Water laid out the measures that the municipality is taking to conserve water, including offering rebates for high-efficiency toilets, water-wise landscaping and irrigation efficiency. Over 10 years, Aurora says it has conserved almost a half-billion gallons, or about 1,500 acre-feet.

That savings, however, does not translate into Aurora taking less water from the Western Slope. About 25,000 acre-feet of water a year is sent through Homestake Tunnel to the Front Range.

“We are a growing community,” said Greg Baker, manager of public relations for Aurora Water. “Our conservation program helps us meet that future need the development is going to place on our system. Does it reduce (transmountain diversions)? No. Does it mean we are using the water more efficiently? Yes.”

Baker said there are still a lot of uncertainties with the Whitney Reservoir project. The geotechnical drilling study will help determine whether it is even feasible to move ahead.

“We have not applied current climatological conditions to (the MOU) yet because we haven’t gotten that far,” he said. “Until we know exactly what comes out of that report, we can’t say what we would want to pursue. It’s way too early for us to even come up with that timeline.”

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Vail Daily and other Swift Communications newspapers. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

#ColoradoRiver can no longer sustain Western thirst — Western Farm Press #COriver #aridification

Metropolitan Water District of Southern California scouting team looking for where to site our Colorado River Aqueduct intake on the Colorado River. Boats powered w Model T motor! — Jeffrey Kightlinger via Twitter. I will miss the photos that Mr. Kightlinger published from the Metropolitan archives.

From Western Farm Press (Todd Fitchette):

Back when the Colorado River Compact was being negotiated about 100 years ago, water was not viewed as a problem. Officials deemed there was plenty to go around.

Fast forward a century and the seven Colorado River Basin states – particularly the three lower basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada – are using more than the system can sustain. Nowhere is this more evident than on the chalk-white dry rims of Lakes Mead and Powell, the two large reservoirs on the system that some fear will hit catastrophically low levels in the next couple years.

Chris Harris, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, says the basin states must grapple with the “new normal” of reduced flows in a river system once thought to provide ample water for the West…

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

The 14maf annual average is bookmarked by years of plenty – 15 of them over the last century at over 20maf. Conversely, 44 of those years, or nearly half of that period, produced under 14maf of natural flow at the Lees Ferry Gaging Station in Arizona.

Viewed another way, Harris points to data that show the worst hydrology years on record since 1906 are all in the 21st Century…

The vulnerability of the Colorado River system was seen in a 2012 basin study report showing the average annual natural flow at Lee Ferry of 13.8maf. Some years were much less.

When California alone has access to 4.4 maf and there are years when the unregulated flow into Lake Powell in the upper Colorado River basin is at or below 5maf, “the math doesn’t add up,” he said.

Climate scientists similarly point to water scarcity because of severe drought, and the need for the basin states to “pull together, and that includes California.” Not only must water managers and urban planners consider water-short years that challenge supply, they must manage for the extreme rain events that can damage and destroy flood control infrastructure…

By 2019 California’s use of the Colorado River had fallen to 3.85maf and the following year California had about 1.4maf of “intentionally created storage” (ICS) water banked in Lake Mead for years like the current. This created concerns in Arizona and Nevada as Lake Mead continued to fall and officials there tried to slow the inevitable Tier 1 shortage call by encouraging MWD to not take all its saved water from Lake Mead.

Because California also has access to [Central Valley Project and State Water Project] water, Harris said there are huge incentives for water management there to become sustainable and reduce demand for the Colorado River.

“You take an entity like the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which gets about 2.2maf from the State Water Project; they got 100,000-acre feet this year from the State of California,” he said.

New reservoir project shared by Colorado Springs, Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, Aurora, Southeastern Enterprise — KRDO

From KRDO (Scott Harrison):

On Tuesday, city leaders approved their involvement in a project to build a new reservoir and partner with four local communities and a metro-Denver city.

The city will work with Fountain, Pueblo, Pueblo West, the Southeastern Water Activity Enterprise and Aurora on the Haynes Creek Reservoir Project, located along U.S. 50 and around 20 miles east of Pueblo, near the town of Boone.

Graphic credit: City of Colorado Springs via KRDO

The Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved its role in the project during its Tuesday regular meeting.

Councilman Wayne Williams, who also is chairman of the Utilities Board, said that the reservoir is part of the Southern Delivery System for Colorado Springs Utilities…

The six partners will share the $2.8 million cost of the 641-acre reservoir site — with Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Aurora each using 28.5% of the water and thereby paying higher shares of the cost.

The remaining partners will each use 4.7% of the water.

Officials said that because of the permitting process and other requirements, the reservoir likely won’t be ready until 2030 at the earliest.

1st phase of #BlueRiver management plan covers river health issues — The Sky-Hi News

The Blue River in Silverthorne on Nov. 28, 2020. The state has designated this section of the river a “gold medal” status based on the size and abundance of trout. Photo credit: John Herrick/Aspen Journalism

From The Summit Daily via The Sky-Hi News (Lindsey Toomer):

The Blue River Watershed Group has completed the first phase of its Blue River Integrated Water Management Plan with the help of partner Trout Unlimited. The organizations have been working on the project for a couple of years now to gather information on the health status of the river.

Richard Van Gytenbeek, Colorado River Basin outreach coordinator with Trout Unlimited, said the project is a way to bring all stakeholders relating to Blue River water use together. He said the watershed group taking the lead on this project will ensure it is a continuously evolving document…

Kendra Fuller, executive director of the Blue River Watershed Group, said the first phase of the project was meant to gather information about the current and future uses of the river, looking at what kinds of data has already been collected. She said the second phase — which is currently underway — will mostly be to fill in the gaps of information that couldn’t be found in the first phase. The final phase will be implementing actionable steps to maximize benefits for all Blue River users, as well as protect the water as a resource.

The biggest information gap found in the initial phase is that the watershed group hasn’t determined why there are declining fisheries between the town of Silverthorne and Green Mountain Reservoir. Fuller said the second phase aims to find answers by looking at a comprehensive picture of the health of the river.

Researchers will look at geomorphology — the study of the shape and flow of the river — macroinvertebrates, algae and water temperature to connect all the dots of the river’s ecosystem, Fuller said…

Van Gytenbeek said completing Phase 1 of the plan allowed them to get a good baseline of information to start determining what factors are causing what problems in the river…

Varying ecosystems

When splitting the Blue River into its three reaches, the key issues with each section are clear and unique to each portion of the watershed…

The first reach, which goes from around Hoosier Pass to the Dillon Dam, has seen some water quality issues due to a history of mining in the area. Fuller said while some restoration work has been done, there is still a lot more to do. She said fish surveys show that the fishery in this area isn’t great because of the mining and water-quality issues, and macroinvertebrate communities have been impacted, too.

While the biggest concern in the second reach from Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir is the decline in fisheries, Fuller said this reach is heavily influenced by the Dillon Dam, including how and when water is released. She said this stretch of river used to be classified as a gold medal fishery, but the status was removed in 2016 because there were no longer enough fish to qualify. The loss of the gold medal status affects the river as a tourist attraction for fishing.

Fuller said the primary concern with the third reach of the Blue River, which goes from Green Mountain Reservoir until its confluence with the Colorado River, is high water temperatures. She said it has enough water to support the fish habitat but the temperatures have been exceeding the state’s temperature standards.

Further north, the river also has issues with streamflow changes based on how much water is being released from the Green Mountain Reservoir dam. Fuller said the amount of water released from the dam fluctuates greatly throughout the day and has an impact on the river’s ecosystem downstream, also creating safety issues for recreation if there are huge rises and falls in the water level…

Looking to the future

Another potential issue for Blue River streamflows is the fact that some Front Range water users have more water rights than they are using, Fuller said…

Fuller said it’s inevitable that local rivers will get lower due to a variety of factors like climate change and evolving Front Range water rights. Because of this, it’s essential to make sure our water is properly cared for as the Summit community continues to grow, she said.

Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

Fountain Creek watershed projects improve quality of life, but impact often goes unnoticed — The #Pueblo Chieftain

Highway 47 Bank Restoration Project before project. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Sara Wilson):

The work managed by the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District can be “unrecognizable,” but its leaders want citizens to recognize the importance of its flood control projects, as well as understand why it’s crucial to find more funding.

One of those projects in Pueblo is the restoration of approximately 3,000 feet of the creek that runs under the US Highway 47 bridge near Jerry Murphy Road, completed in November 2018.

“It was $6.6 million for something you would drive by and not recognize, while at the same time it protects a major thoroughfare,” District Executive Director Bill Banks said while giving the annual tour of the district’s projects on Sept. 10.

After Highway 47 Project. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

In this instance, a 2015 flooding event catalyzed the Colorado Department of Transportation to partner with the district to realign the creek in order to protect the bridge. CDOT contributed $1.5 million to the project, which also included major landscaping design to provide bank and floodplain stabilization…

Pueblo Channel Project at 13th Street before. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed
Flood Control And Greenway District

Another large project the district completed in June 2021 is a 2,600 feet stretch of the creek that ends at the 8th Street bridge on the East Side. That $3.4 million project narrowed the creek channel from 600 feet to an average of 150 feet. This both stabilized the channel and made it easier for the water to push sediment through, rather than dumping it haphazardly along the banks.

“A lot of conventional wisdom is to make a channel really wide in order to convey as much water as possible to prevent flooding,” said Aaron Sutherlin, who oversaw the 8th Street bridge project with Matrix Design Group. “When you make things as wide as possible, you lose the ability to transport sediment. What you get in a system is sediment that dumps out in places you don’t know where it’s going to go. That’s exactly what happened at this site.”

That project also built the creek to withstand up to 6,000 cubic feet per second, a so-called “100-year flood.”

Pueblo Channel Project at 13th Street after. Photo credit: Fountain Creek Watershed

That influx was a $50 million payout from Colorado Springs Utility to offset the impact of its water delivery system from the Pueblo Reservoir to the cities of Colorado Springs and Fountain. So far, Banks said the district has spent about $27 million from those funds and has identified over $200 million worth of projects.

#Greeley City Council approves revision to water agreement with #Windsor — The Greeley Tribune #ActOnClimate #SouthPlatteRiver

Windsor Lake Reservoir. Photo credit: The Town of Windsor

From The Greeley Tribune (Kelly Ragan):

The city of Greeley is set to bring in at least $60,000 more per year after revising a longstanding agreement on water with the town of Windsor.

An amendment to an existing agreement, approved by city council Tuesday, will make drought supply municipal water available to Windsor during dry times…

While Greeley still owns the rights, Windsor pays to [lease] those water rights to keep the city going if (and when) drought hits.

Greeley and Windsor have worked together on water for decades. The two entered into an intergovernmental agreement back in 1996 when Greeley agreed to treat and deliver potable water drawn from Windsor’s own sources.

In the event we do see times of shortage, Windsor will be able to access up to 350 acre-feet of water per year, enough water for about 700 to 1,050 homes…

The agreement approved by city council Tuesday goes into effect in 2022, starting at $60,000. Windsor is set to pay regardless of whether it is a drought year. The annual payment will then tick up by 3% per year.

Why does this matter?

Greeley hasn’t had to use drought restrictions for almost 20 years. But city officials haven’t forgotten how dire things got in 2002, a drought year that climate experts agree was one of the worst in 300 years.

According to the city, the shortage conditions that would need to kick in for Windsor to use the water happen about twice per decade – but climate change could mean those conditions would be met more often.

Federal Agencies Are Ready To Loosen Protections On Certain Fish Native To The #ColoradoRiver — KUER #COriver #arifidification

Confluence of the Little Colorado River and the Colorado River. Climate change is affecting western streams by diminishing snowpack and accelerating evaporation. The Colorado River’s flows and reservoirs are being impacted by climate change, and environmental groups are concerned about the status of the native fish in the river. Photo credit: DMY at Hebrew Wikipedia [Public domain]
From KUER (Lexi Peery):

The razorback sucker fish could be downlisted from an endangered species to threatened in the next year or so, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This week, environmental groups sent the agency a letter in opposition to the move.

The letter argues the razorback sucker is still in trouble, despite recoveries it’s made in the last 30 years, which is when it was first listed as federally endangered. The fish is native to the Colorado River, which is facing historic shortages due to the west’s megadrought…

The USFWS proposed a change in the fish’s status because they said its situation has improved and threats to it have been reduced. Though, they said it will need to be continually managed.

The letter from environmentalists was submitted as a public comment on the reclassification process. A spokesperson for the USFWS said they received around 35 comments.

Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers program director at the conservation group WildEarth Guardians, said it’s “irresponsible” to downlist the species now.

“Until the ecosystem that they live in can support self-sustaining populations, we believe that those species should maintain their endangered status, which is the highest protection under the law,” she said.

The humpback chub, another Colorado River native fish, could also be downlisted. The USFWS proposed a reclassification last year.

Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021:

“The Roundup” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

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

Colorado water managers unhappy with timing of emergency releases

In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

Water ‘investment’ tough to define, may involve property rights — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate

A lateral brings water from the Grand Valley Irrigation Company canal to this parcel of land, which is owned by private equity firm Water Asset Management, a company that has been accused of water speculation. A state work group has released its report on investment water speculation, but failed to come to a consensus and did not make recommendations to lawmakers.
CREDIT: BETHANY BLITZ/ASPEN JOURNALISM

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Trying to recommend ways to improve on Colorado’s anti-water speculation law is a tough job, primarily because the state’s constitution, statutes and legal precedence already do a good job of it.

It doesn’t take much to set off alarms in Colorado’s water community, and in 2019 there were purchases of irrigated land by entities not normally associated with water use. According to water journalist Allen Best, “large, water-rich ranches in the Grand Valley on the West Slope by investment banks” tripped all kinds of alarms across the state. Of all the nightmares that keep Colorado water interests awake at night, water speculation is among the spookiest.

During the 2020 legislative session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 20-048, which directed the director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to convene a working group to recommend ways to shore up the state’s protections against water speculation.

Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, was named to the 22-member working group, which submitted its final report, titled “Report of the Work Group to Explore Ways to Strengthen Current Water Anti-Speculation Law,” last month on Aug. 13, just two days short of the deadline.

Critics immediately denounced the report, saying it has little value because it doesn’t actually make any recommendations to the Legislature. In an interview with Best, Frank said there’s still work to be done before any new laws can be written.

Talking last week with the Journal-Advocate, Frank said it’s going to be difficult to figure out ways to strengthen something that’s already quite strong.

“We took it upon ourselves to define two types of water speculation,” Frank said. “There’s traditional speculation, which is already pretty well addressed. And then we defined what we call ‘investment water speculation,’ and that’s harder to get your hands around.”

Under Colorado water law the water in Colorado is a public resource for beneficial use by public agencies, private persons and entities. A water right, which is owned, is created to use a portion of the public’s water resources, and is subject to water availability and under the terms specified by a water court. Those specifications — date of priority, physical location, and the amount that can be used by the water right – appear in what is called a decree.

Cities own water rights and the infrastructure to deliver such rights, so people are purchasing water from the city even though water in Colorado is a public resource. Water rights are real property rights and can be sold and traded as long as it is continued to be put to beneficial use…

According to Frank, about the only way to prevent “investment water speculation” is to define actions that prove intent, and that raises the specter of yet another agrarian nightmare; trampling on a property owner’s right to sell his property.

“Is it the intent to come in and profit from the increased value of water?” Frank asked. “It has to do with point of sale and real property. But can you pass a law that says you can interfere with the market?”

In other words, in order to prove intent, it would be necessary to examine and have some legal control over the sale of land and water rights. In theory, an investor from Manhattan could buy several irrigated farms, allow the water to be used for crops for a period of time while the dollar value of those shares increases, and then sell those shares to, say, a growing Denver suburb and pocket the profit.

State Sen. Don Coram, who wrote SB 20-048, has gone on record saying he doesn’t want the state to get involved in curtailing property rights.

Frank said there may be no easy way to write anti-speculation legislation, but rather it may take a series of smaller actions.

“The over-arching issue that we have to solve is supply and demand,” Frank said. “When there’s more demand than supply, that drives up the price of water. Conservation and efficiency only go so far, and nobody is creating any more water.”

Report: Agricultural impacts of #sustainable #water use in the United States — Nature.com

A center-pivot sprinkler near Wray, Colo. Photo/Allen Best

Click here to read the report (Neal T. Graham, Gokul Iyer, Mohamad I. Hejazi, Son H. Kim, Pralit Patel & Matthew Binsted). Here’s the abstract:

Governance measures such as restrictions on groundwater pumping and adjustments to sectoral water pricing have been suggested as response strategies to curtail recent increases in groundwater pumping and enhance sustainable water use. However, little is known about the impacts of such sustainability strategies. We investigate the implications of such measures, with the United States (U.S.) as an example. Using the Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM) with state-level details in the U.S., we find that the combination of these two governance measures can drastically alter agricultural production in the U.S. The Southwest stands to lose upwards of 25% of their total agricultural production, much of which is compensated for by production increases in river basins on the east coast of the U.S. The implementation of future sustainable water governance measures will require additional investments that allow farmers to maximize production while minimizing water withdrawals to avoid potentially detrimental revenue losses.

#Colorado health officials hopeful after #Arizona court rejects Trump-era Clean Water Act rules — @WaterEdCO #DirtyWaterRule #WOTUS

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado state health officials said they’re hopeful a recent federal court ruling that effectively overturned Trump-era rules reducing oversight of Western rivers and streams will allow states to revert back to a more protective standard.

“We are aware of Arizona’s court decision and are following what it means for other states, especially arid states such as Colorado. We are hopeful the Arizona ruling will apply nationwide because it has the potential to allow states to revert back to standards that protected our state waters more,” said Trisha Oeth via email.

Oeth, who is the environmental health and protection policy director at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), also said the state understood the need to ensure that more certainty regarding the regulations was critical to protect all the interest groups affected by them.

The Trump rule sought to overturn Obama Administration rules that expanded the scope of the Clean Water Act. But Aug. 30, the Arizona court rejected it, saying it harmed streams in Western states and ignored important science. It has directed regulators across the country to use a set of rules developed prior to the Obama Administration’s actions until the Biden Administration can develop new regulations.

Since 2019, when the Trump-era rule was finalized, the CDPHE has been working, without success, on a proposed permitting program that lawmakers would have to approve. The permitting program would have covered streams and rivers left unprotected by the Trump rule. The so-called dredge-and-fill permits proposed by the state would be required when activities such as road and home building affect streams no longer covered by the Trump rule.

But farm interests, developers and contractors remain concerned that the Clean Water Act (CWA) rule, known as the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, will remain mired in legal battles and regulatory uncertainty, delaying projects and raising their costs.

“It’s a big fear of ours,” said Zach Riley, the Colorado Farm Bureau’s director of public policy. The organization, which has 23,000 members, had supported the narrower WOTUS rule.

The political seesaw has been going on for decades with the CWA legally hamstrung over murky definitions about which waterways fall under its jurisdiction, which wetlands must be regulated, what kinds of dredge-and-fill work in waterways should be permitted, what authority the CWA has over activities on farms and Western irrigation ditches.

Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, the CWA is credited with making U.S. waters some of the cleanest in the world. But it has also been difficult to administer, in part because the country is home to widely different geographies and because of numerous court cases that have altered how it is interpreted by different presidential administrations.

Western states have been particularly concerned because in the Midwest and East, for instance, major rivers that carry barge and shipping traffic are clearly “navigable,” the term early courts used to determine how water would be regulated. If a stream was navigable, it was subject to federal law.

But Colorado and other Western states rely on shallow streams that often don’t flow year round and don’t carry traditional commercial traffic. Over the years many of those streams too became protected by the Clean Water Act.

The Trump administration’s WOTUS rule, however, excluded them, saying that only navigable streams would be regulated, meaning that thousands of miles of streams in Colorado and other Western states that don’t flow year round or carry commercial shipping traffic would no longer have been protected.

Whether Colorado can or should craft a new permitting regulation that will remove it from the political back-and-forth that has dogged WOTUS and provide industry and environmental groups with more certainty isn’t clear yet.

The CDPHE has not yet said what it plans to do, saying it is still analyzing the Arizona decision.

“At the state level, it will be interesting,” said Alex Funk, senior counsel and director of water with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which has advocated for a new state permitting program. “We’re still supportive of a state program to get out of this habit of having new WOTUS rules every four years…we need something that will survive at the federal level.”

Still others want the CDPHE to take a breather, to wait and see how the EPA and other agencies interpret this latest ruling before trying to create a new state regulation.

“Given the pace of change and the multiple rounds of litigation, the state could take more time to discuss what’s needed,” said Gabe Racz, an attorney who represents water utilities and industry at the Colorado Water Congress.

And Racz said he believes there is a chance that the Biden Administration will be able to craft new rules that can endure at the federal level, regardless of who is in the White House.

“The Biden Administration announced they planned to develop a durable rule. I’m hopeful. That’s a step in the right direction,” Racz said.

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.

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

#ClimateChange is destabilizing the #ColoradoRiver Basin. Where do we go from here? — Environmental Defense Fund #COriver #aridification

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Christopher Kuzdas):

In June, a portion of my neighborhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, was put on pre-evacuation notice due to a nearby wildfire. A few weeks later, storms dumped heavy rains over a burn scar from a 2019 fire that caused destructive floods through parts of town. So far, this summer has been our third-wettest monsoon season on record, a complete contrast from our two driest monsoon seasons on record in 2019 and 2020.

These extremes are just a few local examples of the havoc that climate change is causing around the world. Here in the West, we are now in uncharted territory with the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River.

What the shortage declaration means

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently confirmed the Colorado River will be operated under never-before-used shortage rules, called a “tier 1” shortage, starting in 2022.

Under the rules defined by the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), other agreements and the river’s operating guidelines, Arizona will absorb the brunt of this shortage. About one-third less water will flow through the Central Arizona Project canal to the Phoenix and Tucson areas, primarily impacting farmers. Nevada and Mexico will also see mandatory but smaller water cuts.

Though overused and overallocated, the Colorado River still provides water for 40 million people in the United States, Mexico and 30 Native American tribes. Water use across the Colorado River Basin has been unsustainable for years, and it was set up to be that way, going back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact that divided up the river. But climate change is now magnifying and accelerating problems in the basin. Photo credit: The Environmental Defense Fund

Even more concerning are water supply projections for 2023 and beyond.

Bureau of Reclamation projections forecast Lake Mead could fall close to a threshold where there are no rules outlining additional water cuts to avoid a crash to dead pool — when no water can flow out of Hoover Dam. This risk of an acceleration in plummeting water levels — which also jeopardizes water levels in Lake Powell — has prompted basin state representatives to initiate meetings to discuss additional actions that might be needed if water levels in Lake Mead fall below 1,020 feet.

It will get hotter and drier

This unprecedented situation offers a glimpse into our future. Warming scenarios from the latest IPCC report suggest that we could exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming around midcentury, with more than 5 degrees by the end of the century, in the absence of action to curb carbon emissions.

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

Why does this matter for the Colorado River? Colorado River flows are highly sensitive to warming, and aridification caused by climate change is already reducing the water flowing in the river. With each additional 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming, the Colorado River’s average flow drops by 9.3%, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Colorado River flows could be up to one-third less than the current average within a generation, unless meaningful and immediate reductions in carbon emissions are achieved.

The outlook for the Colorado River is overwhelming. But what our future looks like is still our choice. We can, and should, choose to pursue a just transition to a basin with significantly less water. While in no way comprehensive, below are four ways to get started on that path.

1. Reconcile water demand with our climate reality.

Reconciling demands with our climate reality, at the very least, will involve updating river operating rules, scaling up conservation programs and shifting away from outdated expansionism.

The rules that determine how we balance supply and demand, and the underlying rights and agreements that collectively determine who gets how much water and when, will play a major role in how we transition to a basin with less water.

River operating rules have become more flexible to some extent as they evolved through new agreements like the DCP. However, current river operating rules still don’t account for the full suite of climate change impacts, especially those impacts under more dire climate scenarios. While river operating rules are already a focus of discussion, updating them will require thoughtful leadership, as well as attention to climate and other social and environmental considerations.

Scaling up conservation programs such as system conservation in the Lower Basin and demand management in the Upper Basin will also play an important role. If not for water conserved in Lake Mead, a “tier 1” shortage would have occurred years ago. Our challenge moving forward will be expanding the scale and impact of these programs, and in the Upper Basin, moving much faster to do so.

To fully reconcile demands with our climate reality, we must also finally shift away from legacy expansionism and boosterism that still show up through unnecessary project proposals like the Lake Powell Pipeline. We can do more with less.

Lake Mead water levels have dropped to a record low. Overall water use must also go down, and it must go down significantly to meet our climate reality. Photo: Chris Richards/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Audubon

2. Address long-standing inequities.

Long-standing inequities should be addressed to ensure water security for all. Two of the many considerations are inclusive decision-making and fully recognizing tribal water rights.

Inclusive and transparent processes to make decisions are essential to developing solutions that account for multiple values and goals. In the past, decision-making was often exclusive and responded primarily to a narrow set of private interests. That is changing.

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

For example, Arizona’s DCP process included some tribes and conservation groups, and the process would not have been successful without the leadership of the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes. More diversity at the table enables more creativity and better solutions.

Although the Colorado River Basin’s 30 sovereign Native American tribes have unique rights and claims to a significant portion of the Colorado River’s flow, not all are using their water for several reasons. Those reasons include aging or inadequate infrastructure; limited funding; and significant legal, policy and administrative barriers.

Overcoming such barriers to accessing Colorado River water and confirming and fulfilling tribal water rights will be critical for many tribes to achieve goals such as meeting basic water needs and securing livelihoods. Addressing those barriers is a step toward dealing with long-standing inequity and should be a priority for policymakers.

3. Take a whole-portfolio approach.

A whole-portfolio approach includes new watershed-focused actions to support communities in adapting to and mitigating the steadily compounding risks and extremes of climate change. The recently published Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience report describes a suite of local and watershed-scale projects to do just that, including forest health and restoration, naturally distributed storage, regenerative agriculture and new crop markets.

A whole-portfolio approach also necessitates adequate management and planning for our other water supplies. However, that’s not fully possible across a large part of the basin without changes in state-level water law and policy. For example, Arizona, which makes up almost half the landmass of the Colorado River Basin, already depends on groundwater for 40% of its annual water supply and will only become increasingly dependent on groundwater as Colorado River flows shrink. Arizona does not manage groundwater across most of the state, and local rural communities have little to no power to do so.

Changing this free-for-all approach to groundwater in rural Arizona is critical if we hope to have a water-secure future for all people in the basin.

4. Lead on climate.

More warming means less water in the Colorado River Basin. How much water dries up depends on how fast we can get off fossil fuels. Across the basin, and globally, freshwater agendas must start including actions to stop heating the planet. Climate leadership is water leadership.

The road ahead is difficult. But what our shared future looks like in the Colorado River Basin is our own choice. Let’s choose to collectively pursue a just transition to a basin with less water.

As aquifers drain, El Paso County is hoping a nearly endless loop of water can fight future shortages — The #Colorado Sun

Fountain Creek through Colorado Springs.

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Could a $134 million pipeline recycling suburban water help wean communities off depleted aquifer sources? The latest complex solution for the arid, fast-growing West…

For the H20 molecules lying thousands of feet underground in the Denver Basin aquifer, trapped by millions of years of geologic shifts, there would be a long journey ahead.

Should they get sucked up a well owned by a northern El Paso County water agency, the water drops may first be sprinkled on a lawn in, say, the Woodmoor district east of Monument. From there, the water would sink back underground and flow downhill toward Monument Creek. On into Fountain Creek, and south toward the Arkansas River.

Then the drops would ripple past Colorado Springs, which is desperate to entrap more water of its own for future growth, and is pushing for unloved dams 100 miles away to bring more Western Slope water over the Continental Divide.

On the water would glide past Security, Widefield and other communities, which are struggling to secure clean water supplies of their own in the wake of contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) running off firefighting foam used for decades at a local military base.

Still going, the hardworking aquifer water then would pass farmland that will eventually be dried up by Woodmoor and other northern suburbs buying agriculture water for their own growth. At the town of Fountain, the water would pass a town that has slowed new homebuilding because it doesn’t have enough future supply for new water taps.

Chilcott Ditch looking towards headgate. Photo credit: Chilcott Ditch Company

And then those precious H20 molecules would hit a curve of Fountain Creek where the Chilcott Ditch headgate looms like an ominous fork in the road of life: If Woodmoor and its allies get their way, the molecules they pulled from the timeless aquifer will get diverted here and sent into a $130 million-plus pipeline, to be shipped back north to the top of El Paso County. The journey for those molecules would begin all over again, in a project appropriately dubbed The Loop, until — in the official water rights phrase — the original aquifer water has been “used to extinction.”

But that only happens if El Paso County and local water agencies convince the keepers of the federal American Rescue Plan that the stimulus funds can be used for water projects like the Loop, and not just highways.

Can this tortured trip for the ancient, sandstone-filtered water really be the best solution to Colorado’s relentlessly expanding water demands?

“There’s something in it for everybody,” said Jessie Shaffer, Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District manager and a key proponent of the Loop…

Backers of the Loop idea say it would solve many problems at once.

It would reduce unsustainable withdrawals from the Denver Basin aquifers, with local water providers already on notice they need to find alternative sources. The pipeline would allow the homes in subdivisions north and east of Colorado Springs to use southern water rights they’ve already purchased but can’t access. And it would promote water recycling, considered a key to Colorado’s water use future, by allowing those northern areas to reuse aquifer water after it’s run off into Fountain Creek and shipped north again by the Loop.

From a purely practical standpoint, drilling new wells into the aquifer is getting so expensive that the suburban districts think twice even when they own the rights. As the aquifer sinks from overuse, drilling prices soar.

Williams mentioned a northern exurban community that spent more than a million dollars on a well to water its new golf course…

A map being shown around El Paso County by suburban water agencies traces the path of the Loop, a complex $134 million pipeline and pumping project that would allow northern and eastern communities in the county to reuse aquifer water returning to Fountain Creek, and pipe along water rights they have bought up on the southern side of the county. (Provided by Woodmoor Water and Sanitation District)

El Paso County grew by more than 17%, and more than 100,000 people, between 2010 and 2020. As developers work to build out planned communities in areas like Flying Horse or Banning Lewis Ranch, the county’s population is projected to expand by hundreds of thousands more in the coming decades.

State water engineers who control withdrawals from aquifers have allowed cities and other water buyers to take out water at a rate protecting a 100-year life for the underground pools. Alarmed at the drops in the Denver Basin pools, El Paso County changed the local standard to preserve 300 years of life for the aquifers. That was another push to local water providers to find other sources.

The Loop pipeline, Shaffer said, is a key to shifting “off of a finite and exhaustible water supply onto a long term, renewable and sustainable water supply.”

[…]

That’s where the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, comes into the picture. State and local agencies will battle over the $1.9 trillion stimulus funding for years to come, but Colorado water officials are hopeful some grants can be used for drinking water supply projects. There also may be far more stimulus and infrastructure funding to come, in a building package awaiting final U.S. House approval and a greatly expanded recovery budget that may pass under reconciliation.

Denver Basin Aquifer System graphic credit USGS.

#ColoradoRiver Working Group Kickoff Meeting Set for September 7, 2021 in Rock Springs — #Wyoming Governor Gordon #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

Panorama of downtown Rock Springs, looking southeast from grant Street. By Vasiliymeshko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108016208

Here’s the release from Governor Gordon’s office:

Governor Mark Gordon’s Colorado River Working Group will hold its first meeting from 9 am to noon on Sept. 7 in Rock Springs. The group will discuss important Colorado River matters and monitor potential impacts to Wyoming. The kickoff meeting will be open to the public and led by the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office.

The formation of the Working Group comes in response to continuing drought conditions in the Colorado, Green and Little Snake River basins and associated issues concerning Colorado River Basin management. The Governor’s charge to the Working Group is to discuss and share Colorado River information with interested stakeholders in the Green and Little Snake River Basins. It is a continuation of a coordinated and proactive outreach effort that has been underway in Wyoming since 2019.

This group is made up of representatives of key water use sectors in the Green and Little Snake River Basins. Working Group members are:

Municipal interests

  • Ben Bracken — Green River/Rock Springs/Sweetwater Joint Powers Board (retired)
  • Brad Brooks — Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities
  • Agriculture interests

  • Chad Espenscheid
  • Legislative interests

  • Senator Larry Hicks — Senate District 11
  • Representative Albert Sommers — House District 20
  • Environmental interests

  • Jen Lamb — The Nature Conservancy
  • Industrial interests

  • Aaron Reichel — Genesis-Alkali
  • Ron Wild — PacifiCorp
  • The September 7th meeting will be held at Western Wyoming Community College in Business Office Room #3650 A&B in Rock Springs. More information, including background materials and future meeting agendas, will be posted on the Colorado River Working Group web page on the Wyoming State Engineer’s website: https://seo.wyo.gov/interstate-streams/wyoming-colorado-river-working-group.

    Electric costs in #Colorado set to surge as #LakePowell struggles to produce hydropower — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam is used to produce hydropower that is delivered over a 17,000-mile transmission grid, reaching six states and 5 million people. Photo courtesy Western Area Power Administration.

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    The federal agency that distributes electricity from hydropower plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin will ask its customers, including more than 50 here in Colorado, to help offset rising costs linked to Lake Powell’s inability to produce as much power due to drought.

    The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), which distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, is gathering public comments and asking its customers how best to cope with long-term drought conditions that have pushed Powell and other reservoirs to historically low levels.

    As flows in the Colorado River have declined due to climate change and a 20-year megadrought, there is less water in its storage reservoirs and, therefore, less pressure to power the turbines, causing them to generate less electricity.

    WAPA has had to nearly double the amount of extra power it has had to buy this year to ensure it can meet its contract obligations to its customers.

    “It’s all bad news, but it isn’t necessarily unexpected,” said WAPA spokesperson Lisa Meiman.

    WAPA power is among the most sought-after in Western states because it is sold at cost and because it is a renewable power resource, something highly valued in places such as Colorado, where utilities are working to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

    WAPA often buys extra power if for some reason its customers’ electricity needs don’t match up with its hydropower production on a given day. It delivers power over a 17,000-mile transmission grid to six states and 5 million people.

    But as flows in the Colorado River have shrunk, those purchases have become larger and more frequent.

    Last year it bought an extra 413,000 megawatts of power. This year it has already purchased 833,000 megawatts of additional power, according to Meiman, and the agency expects that number to grow this year and likely again next year as the drought continues with no relief in sight.

    These turbines at Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam are at risk of becoming inoperable should levels at Powell fall below what’s known as minimum power pool due to declining flows in the Colorado River. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    This year, because of the power demands of the West’s growing population and the need for air conditioning to combat ultra-high temperatures, power costs are already soaring.

    Last year WAPA paid $25 per megawatt for its replacement power, Meiman said. This year it is paying $33 per megawatt, a 30% jump.

    In Colorado, WAPA sells power to some of the state’s largest electric utilities, such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission, as well as cities, small towns and rural electric co-ops.

    “We’re watching the situation closely,” said Natalie Eckhart, a spokesperson for Colorado Springs Utilities, which is a WAPA electric customer and which also draws a significant portion of its water from the Colorado River system.

    “The bottom line is we care about this on all fronts,” Eckhart said.

    Few expected power generation at Lake Powell to decline so quickly. The Colorado River Basin serves seven U.S. states and 30 Native American Tribes. For months, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been nervously watching what’s known as the minimum power pool level at Powell, the lowest elevation at which power can be produced, which is 3,490 feet. If the reservoir drops lower than that, all hydropower production will stop.

    In July, as water levels at Powell continued to plummet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as part of the Upper Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, began emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs to boost levels and protect Powell’s hydropower production.

    And while those releases are expected to help keep the turbines functioning, the releases won’t be enough to restore them to full production, leaving WAPA little choice but to look at restructuring the way it sells power and to raise its prices.

    WAPA is forecasting a 35% increase in its costs, but is working to minimize the impact on utilities that purchase its power and anticipates a 12% to 14% rate increase as early as December. Some utilities are preparing to buy power elsewhere, when possible, to reduce their costs.

    Holy Cross Energy, a rural electric co-op based in Glenwood Springs that is also a WAPA customer, has spent years converting its power portfolio from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources including wind, solar and biomass, as well as hydropower.

    While WAPA electricity comprises just 3% of its power portfolio, Holy Cross CEO Bryan Hannegan is worried that this renewable, low-cost power source is in jeopardy if flows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell continue to decline, as they are projected to do.

    “It’s one of the cleanest and lowest-cost sources of power for a whole range of utilities,” Hannegan said. “It’s been a bedrock on which we built the West. For it not to be available … it’s a big deal.”

    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.

    #ColoradoRiver Forecasts Not a ‘Crystal Ball’: Computer models inform key decisions in the Colorado River basin. But they cannot predict the future — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    Every month the Bureau of Reclamation attempts to peer two years into the future of the Colorado River and its reservoirs.

    Reclamation’s 24-month study is a staple forecasting product for the federal agency that manages a chain of dams in the watershed, including those that control lakes Mead and Powell, the country’s largest reservoirs — and currently two of its most consequential. The reservoirs are a key source of drinking water for about 40 million people, plus they store water that irrigates millions of acres of farmland and generates electricity for the Southwest. The reservoirs are also alarmingly dehydrated right now — about one-third full, the lowest since they were first filled. The entire basin is on alert.

    The 24-month study, in the simplest terms, projects water levels for the next two years at 12 federal reservoirs in the Colorado River basin. Produced monthly, it’s one of several forecasting products that give water managers a sense of possible futures. It is also the foundation of essential water management decisions in the basin. Reclamation’s other forecasts, updated less frequently, look at mid-term (five years out) and long-term (multiple decades) scenarios.

    Typically nested in wonkish obscurity, the 24-month study acquired newfound public prominence in recent weeks. The August results are the most important of all the months because they determine how much water will be released in the following year from Mead and Powell. Because Mead is so low, the August results triggered the first-ever Tier 1 shortage on the lower Colorado River, a declaration that means mandatory cuts in water deliveries in 2022 to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Because Powell is so low, dam managers will release a comparative trickle of water next year, so little that Mead is likely to plunge even lower.

    More eyes than usual on a technical product that was designed to guide reservoir operations means more potential for misinterpretation, especially by people unfamiliar with the study and its assumptions. Carly Jerla, Reclamation’s senior water resources program manager, said that the study has its defined uses but also its limits.

    “It’s important to understand that we’re not saying that this is what we think is going to happen this year,” Jerla told Circle of Blue about the reservoir levels outlined in the 24-month study. “We’re not saying, ‘Plan for this and only this because we have crystal ball knowledge of what is going to happen.’”

    Reclamation’s models, in fact, are not a crystal ball. Critics say that they are not pessimistic enough about the potential for extremely dry years. But as the Colorado River basin dries due to a warming planet, Jerla and others are actively considering how best to convey to the public and water managers alike the looming risks to water supplies and to prepare people, at least mentally, for the possibility that reality could turn out much worse than the forecast had projected…

    Accurate mid-term weather forecasts, those that extend out a couple weeks and up to a year, are notoriously difficult to achieve, said Jeff Lukas, an independent climate researcher in Colorado who has worked in the basin for 20 years. It’s especially true in the mountainous terrain of Colorado and Wyoming, where the Colorado River and its main tributaries have their headwaters. Well-known seasonal patterns like the cyclical warming of the eastern Pacific during El Nino years can indicate wetter or drier, but without substantial precision.

    Because the future is hazy, the models instead rely on the recent past as a guide, Lukas said. “We’re basically saying in the absence of real prognostic information, we’ll substitute history.”

    Here’s how that works. The 24-month study process begins with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, a team of scientists operating within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Their task is to assess what the rivers might do.

    The River Forecast Center starts with current land and water conditions: soil moisture, snowpack, stream flow. From that baseline hydrologists feed their model, one by one, with historical weather observations from the years 1981 to 2015. In effect, it’s as if the temperature and precipitation from each year were repeated in today’s world. That produces 35 possible hydrological futures, each representing the past laid on top of the present.

    The Bureau of Reclamation team takes those hydrological futures and uses them in its model of the Colorado River system. The aim of this system model, which includes water inflows and water uses, is to simulate reservoir levels as well as hydropower generation. Fed by the output from the hydrological model, the system model also produces future scenarios, called runs.

    The middle result — the most probable — is the one that is presented in the main 24-month study report. It’s the result that determines how Mead and Powell will be operated. It’s called the most probable because it’s in the middle, if each of the runs was ordered from wettest to driest. It means that historically half the time it was wetter than the middle result and half the time it was drier.

    There are drawbacks to this approach. The runs are not assessed as to how likely they are to occur, which means that a repetition of each of the past years is considered equally likely. The problem: there are more wet years in the 1981 to 2015 period than dry ones. (Runoff in 1983, for instance, was so extremely high that it almost broke Glen Canyon Dam.) Because of this imbalance, the middle result is arguably skewed toward wetter conditions, Lukas said.

    Jerla said there is no scientifically valid way to privilege the likelihood of one outcome over another.

    An update of the River Forecast Center’s data sets will soon help reduce the skew. Cody Moser, a senior hydrologist at the Center, told Circle of Blue that data from the years 2016 through 2020 will be added this fall. Instead of 35 historical hydrologies fed through the models, there will be 40. Adding the drier recent years will push the most probable outcome to a drier result, with reservoir projections in the 24-month study likely pushed downward at the same time…

    The 24-month study is most associated with the most probable scenario. But recently Reclamation has expanded its offerings to include two other reservoir scenarios, now produced monthly: the minimum probable and the maximum probable. The minimum probable is the tenth percentile, meaning the third or fourth driest of those 35 historical hydrologies. The maximum probable is the ninetieth percentile, or the third or fourth wettest historical hydrology.

    For the minimum probable, the tenth percentile of flows is used in the first year of the 24-month study, but the second year of the study is calculated with the twenty-fifth percentile, under the assumption that consecutive extremely bad years would not happen.

    If you look only at the most probable result, you’re not seeing how bad things might plausibly get. Lake Mead today, when it is one-third full, sits at elevation 1,068 feet. The most probable elevation for July 2023 is 1,037 feet, when Mead would be 26 percent full. The minimum probable elevation for that date is 1,027 feet, when the gasping reservoir would be 23 percent full.

    That’s a significant difference in elevation, and if the drier scenario came about it would change basin operations. But even the minimum probable has a flaw. It is not as pessimistic as it could — or maybe should — be.

    “The minimum probable does not represent a worst-case scenario,” Jerla said. “If you wanted to be the ultimate pessimist, which I think probably makes sense given where the system is, things could be worse than what is provided in that minimum probable because it is only the tenth percentile.”

    In other words, the minimum probable is not the minimum possible. There have been years in the last two decades with worse river flow conditions than what is represented by the minimum probable. Things could be drier still.

    As Jerla puts it regarding the minimum and maximum probable: “There is an area above and below those that have futures that folks should be aware of.”

    […]

    Reclamation already runs its five-year projections with what it calls “stress test” hydrology. This scenario is a replication of the years 1988 to 2019, and represents hotter and drier conditions that have settled over the basin. Udall and others argue that Reclamation should consider running its models with an even more stressful test: the years 2000 to 2004, the last time that Lake Powell almost crashed.

    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

    “That five-year period is really unique,” Udall explained. Annual runoff averaged 9.4 million acre-feet, a fraction of what coursed through the river throughout the last century. The average annual runoff in the years for the stress test hydrology is about 13.3 million acre-feet. That makes the first years of this century unique, Udall said. And frightening. “There’s nothing like it in the 20th century. It’s stunning how bad a period it is, and we could be in the middle of that right now.”

    […]

    The next update of the five-year projections will come out in early September. Five years is a tricky time frame to analyze, Jerla said. It’s far enough in the future that current conditions lose their predictive power. But it’s close enough to be relevant for farmers, city utilities, and marina operators — all of whom need to plan for near-term water supply. Jerla and her colleagues are trying to thread that needle, thinking hard about how to “provide the public with a good understanding of future outcomes and future risks without confusing the heck out of them.”

    Blue Mesa Reservoir releases to prop up #LakePowell impacting recreation — @AspenJournlism

    The boat ramp at Elk Creek Marina had to be temporarily closed so the docks could be moved out into deeper water. Colorado water managers are not happy that emergency releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir are impacting late summer lake recreation.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    In an effort to prop up water levels at the declining Lake Powell, federal water managers are negatively impacting recreation on Colorado’s biggest man-made lake.

    That’s the message from Colorado water managers and marina operators at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. On Aug. 1, the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the reservoir, began emergency releases. By the time the releases are finished the first week of October, Blue Mesa is projected to fall to its second-lowest level ever, just 215,000 acre-feet, or 22.8% of its 941,000-acre-foot capacity.

    As of Sept. 1, the reservoir was 37% full, which is about 68 feet down from a full reservoir, and a ring of muddy shoreline was growing. Parking lots and boat slips sat empty, and Pappy’s Restaurant was closed for the season. The dwindling water levels are first impacting Iola, the easternmost of Blue Mesa’s three basins. Iola is where the Gunnison River now cuts through a field of mud.

    Eric Loken, who operates the reservoir’s two marinas (Elk Creek and Lake Fork), said he was given only nine days’ notice to empty Elk Creek Marina’s 180 slips. The dock system’s anchors, which are not built for low water, had to be moved deeper. He said about 25 people lost their jobs six weeks earlier than normal and the marinas lost about 25% of its revenue for the year.

    “There are tons of people who would like to be out here boating and are very disappointed,” Loken said. “Normally on Labor Day weekend, you can barely find a place to park. So it’s definitely been a big hit to us as a business for sure.”

    The Elk Creek Marina and restaurant are closed for the season, although the boat ramp is still open and is expected to be accessible through the end of the month. The Lake Fork Marina is open through Labor Day, but the boat ramp has closed for the season. The Iola boat ramp is restricted to small boats only and is scheduled to close after Labor Day.

    “We are just trying to make it through the holiday weekend and then we will be shutting up this marina too,” Loken said.

    The Bureau announced July 16 that it would begin emergency releases through early October from three Upper Basin reservoirs: 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo, on the San Juan River; 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge, on the Green River; and 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa, on the Gunnison River. The goal of the releases is to prop up water levels at Lake Powell to preserve the ability to make hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam. The 181,000 acre-feet from the three upstream reservoirs is expected to boost levels at Powell by about 3 feet.

    The three reservoirs are part of the Colorado River Storage Project, and their primary purpose is to control the flows of the Colorado River; flatwater recreation has always been incidental. But the releases at Blue Mesa illustrate the risks of building an outdoor-recreation economy around a highly engineered river system that is now beginning to falter amid a climate change-fueled drought.

    The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Timing concerns

    Although the secretary of the Interior can authorize emergency releases without coordination from the states or local entities, Loken, along with some Colorado water managers, is not happy about the timing or the lack of notice from the bureau. Under normal drought-response operations, the federal government would consult with state and local water managers before making releases.

    “We had very little time to handle this decision that was made that none of us have any power over,” Loken said.

    John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District, said Colorado should make noise and complain about what he called a clumsy execution of the releases. McClow has also served on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is an alternate commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

    “There’s no reason they couldn’t have waited another couple weeks or another month to release that water from Blue Mesa to get it to Lake Powell,” McClow said. “It goes back to consultation and timing. Had they even asked, it would have been easy to say, ‘Hey, can you wait so you don’t kill our business?’”

    Last month at Colorado Water Congress’ summer conference — a gathering of water managers, researchers and legislators in Steamboat Springs — Rebecca Mitchell, CWCB’s executive director and the state’s representative to the UCRC, told the audience that the impacts of ending the boating season early at Blue Mesa trickle down to all Coloradoans.

    “That means dollars in Colorado. That is who we are in Colorado,” she said. “It’s definitely had an impact in that local community when we talk about the recreation. That is heavy.”

    Mitchell said water managers in the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Utah) will be carefully monitoring the impacts of the reservoir releases and figuring out how to quantify those impacts, which she called devastating. The states will work with the bureau to develop a plan for how to send water to Lake Powell in future years, taking into consideration the timing, magnitude and duration of the releases, she said.

    “Where can the states and the bureau make the best decisions to lessen the impacts?” she said.

    The National Park Service operates the Curecanti National Recreation area, including the campsites, picnic areas, visitors centers and boat ramps that run the 20-mile length of the reservoir. According to numbers provided by the Park Service, Curecanti gets nearly a million visitors a year. The reservoir is popular among anglers for its trout and Kokanee salmon fishing. Blue Mesa is one of three reservoirs — along with the much smaller Morrow Point and Crystal reservoirs — on the Gunnison River, collectively known as the Aspinall Unit.

    Barefoot Dance In The Snow New York, New York March 8, 1916. Girls of the Marion Morgan School of Dance in Los Angeles perform barefoot in the snow in Central Park. Underwood Archives by Underwood Archives

    Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce Director Celeste Helminski said her organization is planning an event later this month: the world’s largest snow dance. A big winter would help refill Blue Mesa.

    “The water definitely has me concerned for the future,” she said. “We see a lot of summer recreationists who come and spend the whole summer at several of the campgrounds. It’s just going to take a lot to replace that water. It’s going to take awhile to get back to levels of what recreationists come for.”

    Bureau spokesperson Justyn Liff could not provide any insight into how the timing decision for the releases was made, but pointed out that although lake recreation was impacted, downstream rafting and fishing in the canyon are getting a boost from the roughly 300 cubic-feet-per-second extra water that the releases provide. The Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel diversion, which takes a large portion of the river’s outflow from the Aspinall Unit for delivery to downstream irrigators, was running around 600 cfs the first few days of September, according to USGS stream gauge data. This is a critical data point for boaters running the Black Canyon or Gunnison Gorge sections of the river, which are below the stream gauge. At 600 cfs, the river is flowing 11% above the median for this time of year.

    “If we had waited six weeks, that would have been six weeks less of commercial rafting/guided fishing on the Gunnison River downstream from Aspinall,” Liff said.

    Some boats were still in the water the first week of September at the Lake Fork Marina. Across Blue Mesa Reservoir, the Elk Creek Marina’s boat slips were emptied early because of declining water levels in the reservoir.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Hydropower production

    Although the local impacts to recreation are acute, the impacts of not being able to make hydropower at Lake Powell would probably be much worse. The dams of the CRSP are known as “cash register” dams. The power they produce is used to repay the costs of building the project, maintain operations and provide power to millions of people.

    The Western Area Power Administration distributes Lake Powell’s electricity, including to some power providers in Colorado. According to Water Education Colorado, electric costs will surge as Glen Canyon Dam struggles to produce hydropower because of declining water levels.

    The bureau’s target elevation for Lake Powell is 3,525 feet, in order to provide a buffer that protects hydropower generation; if levels fall below 3,490, all power production would stop. Lake Powell is currently about 31% full, at 3,549 feet, which is the lowest surface level since the reservoir began filling in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to projections released by the bureau in July, Lake Powell has a 79% chance of falling below the 3,525 threshold in the next year. The emergency releases are intended to address this.

    “A loss of power generation is a pretty significant issue compared to a few months of boating on Blue Mesa,” McClow said. “Locally, yes, it hurts, but in the big picture, I don’t know if you can make a fair comparison.”

    As water levels at Blue Mesa continue to fall, Loken worries that this may be just the beginning of an era of empty reservoirs.

    “(The releases) don’t solve the long-term problem,” Loken said. “We are just going to end up with an empty Lake Powell and a bunch of empty reservoirs upstream. I think the powers that be really need to put pencil to paper and figure this out.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. For more, go to http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    #Drought-Hit Blue Mesa Reservoir Losing 8 Feet Of Water To Save #LakePowell. A Western Slope Marina Feels The Pain — #Colorado Public Radio #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A longer walk from the dock to the water is in store for boaters at the Elk Creek marina, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is being drawn down to feed critically low Lake Powell, as continued dry weather and rising demand deplete the Colorado River.
    (Courtesy photo/National Park Service) August 2021 via the Montrose Daily Press

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    Climate change is drying up Colorado’s water supply

    Climate change is leading to less snowpack, and warmer temperatures mean less water is making it into the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest reservoir, and it hit its second-lowest level on record for the end of August.

    Parks service officials issued the order because Elk Creek’s floating dock and marina are likely to hit the lake’s bottom. Eric Loken, the head of operations at the marina his family has managed for more than 30 years, said the early closure is cutting six weeks out of his five-month season…

    A 20-year, climate change-fueled megadrought has dealt a double blow to Blue Mesa this summer. The dry conditions have led to lower levels directly, but the lake is also hurting from drought problems in other states.

    For the first time, the federal government is taking emergency action by taking water from Blue Mesa to help out another reservoir — Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. Loken said the withdrawals hurt more given Blue Mesa’s low water levels…

    The states that share Colorado River water agreed to this plan in 2019. Low levels in Lake Powell would trigger an emergency release from three reservoirs upstream…

    The water taken from Blue Mesa is being used to make sure hydroelectric power turbines at Lake Powell can keep spinning and generating electricity for millions of people in the West, including customers in Colorado.

    John McClow, a lawyer for the Upper Gunnison River Conservancy District, said this scenario is what Blue Mesa and the other reservoirs were built for in the 1960s — drought emergencies, not recreation. It’s a bank of water that states can tap when they need to…

    Although the water in Blue Mesa has always been earmarked for Lake Powell if Colorado needed help meeting its legal obligation to send more flow to downstream states, McClow said the timing of the release was unnecessarily disruptive. He wishes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have waited to take the water until October when lake tourism starts slowing down.

    Erik Knight, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist, said that while the timing of the water releases might have hurt the lake, it improved rafting and fishing downstream of Blue Mesa, including parts of the Gunnison River that were so low that commercial rafting was likely to have been canceled.

    Colorado River District Annual #Water Seminar: Wake-up call on the #ColoradoRiver, October 1, 2021

    Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

    AT THE END OF A UNIQUE WATER YEAR, COMES A UNIQUE WATER SEMINAR.

    Water year 2021 was a wake-up call for water users across the Western Slope of Colorado. Extreme or exceptional drought conditions persisted for months as dry soils and historic high temperatures lowered streamflow. Agricultural users faced impossible choices while local municipalities dealt with aging water infrastructure in the wake of devastating wildfires. Downstream, Lake Powell dominated national headlines with plummeting levels, and the Drought Contingency Plan played a role years earlier than most expected.

    Yet many of the stories which came out of this incredibly difficult year were ones of innovative solutions and never-before-seen partnerships. Collaborative projects upgraded irrigation infrastructure, increased streamflow, and even delisted 66 river miles from the Impaired Waters list.

    Setting historic precedents in hydrology, 2021 also did much to highlight the ability of water users to reach across their differences in order to build a future for West Slope water together.

    Wake-up Call on the Colorado River is a seminar which will face the harsh economic and environmental realities of this past year, along with a study of practical solutions and future collaboration.

    Register Here.

    Masks required indoors for all in-person attendees at Colorado Mesa University.

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

    New Report on Interstate Water Compact Lessons for #Colorado — Colorado Mesa University

    From Colorado Mesa University (Kelsey Coleman):

    Hannah Holm, the director of the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University co-wrote a Colorado River study in collaboration with Kelsea MacIlroy and The Nature Conservancy

    As a headwaters state, Colorado has many interstate compacts that set rules for how the state must share the rivers that originate within its borders with downstream states. On several of these rivers, water users have had to modify their water use to meet compact requirements. That day may be coming for the Colorado River. A new report explores what Colorado River water users can learn from experiences with compact administration on other rivers.

    The new report, “Lessons Learned from Colorado Experiences with Interstate Compact Administration,” utilizes interviews with water users and experts who experienced compact compliance measures in the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Republican River Basins to distill lessons that may be useful for Colorado Basin water users.

    Interviewees warned against relying on courts to rule in Colorado’s favor in compact cases or on optimistic estimates of water availability. They also described how communities have developed their own, proactive measures to promote compact compliance and address other water supply challenges in ways that have fewer negative impacts than externally imposed mandates. Necessary conditions for doing so include an ability to work well together, precise water-use measurement and initiating action well in advance of a court order. On a more technical front, interviewees emphasized how accurate measurement of all water use was necessary for enhanced water management, as well as making the Colorado’s case for its own water use in discussions with other states.

    This study was conducted by Kelsea MacIlroy, co-written by Hannah Holm and funded by The Nature Conservancy. MacIlroy is a PhD candidate in sociology from Colorado State University and the principal of MacIlroy Research and Consulting, LLC. Hannah Holm directs the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

    The report was presented at the Colorado Water Congress Summer Conference in Steamboat Springs on August 24, 2021, and will be presented at the September Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting.

    “Across Colorado and the West, communities are experiencing greater frequency and extent of drought leading to increased variability in streamflows. As water managers grapple with the consequences of changing water supplies, there is great value in looking toward neighboring communities for lessons learned,” Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservation District and the Rio Grande Basin’s representative to the Colorado Water Conservation Board said. “The report detailing “Lessons Learned from Colorado Experiences with Interstate Compact Administration” relies on voices of water users and administrators to detail personal and regional experiences including what has gone well and where they would do things differently if given the chance. While the focus of the report is on compact administration, the lessons learned touch on broader water management topics and highlight how communities are better off when stakeholders are working toward a common goal. Therefore, I feel this report is a must read for all Coloradoans that care about our collective water future.”

    Alex Funk, agriculture and rural resiliency policy specialist for the Interstate, Federal, and Water Information Section at the Colorado Water Conservation Board also commented on the recent report.

    “The stories shared in this report highlight the value of proactive dialogue and actions on water management challenges ranging from climate change to compact compliance.,” Funk said. “Collaborative, proactive actions and solutions give local communities and water users more agency and opportunities to adapt to changing conditions in ways that provide long-term benefits for all water users.”

    Ralph Parshall squats next to the flume he designed at the Bellevue Hydrology Lab using water from the Cache la Poudre River. 1946. Photo Credit: Water Resource Archive, Colorado State University, via Legacy Water News.

    On the question of water measurement, John McClow, general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District said, “A valuable takeaway from the report is recognizing the importance of accurate measurement. That is a good lesson for Colorado River water users as the State Engineer commences measurement rule making.”

    The full report can be found at coloradomesa.edu/water-center/compact-stories.

    #SteamboatSprings new #water resources manager excited to take on challenging, crucial role — The Steamboat Pilot & Today

    Julie Baxter. Photo credit: The City of Steamboat Springs

    From The Steamboat Pilot & Today (Alison Berg):

    Julie Baxter, a senior planner with the city of Steamboat Springs, has accepted a new position just across the way from the planning department.

    Baxter has been tapped as the new water resources manager following Kelly Romero-Heaney’s departure from the role.

    “I wanted to get back into the water world, into water resources, planning for climate change, drought and wildfires and those types of issues,” Baxter said. “Those are the things that I’m more passionate about.”

    Before joining the city as a senior planner, Baxter worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency based in Denver, managing six states in the Rocky Mountain region.

    While in that position, Baxter worked on long-range planning to help communities reduce their risk of wildfires, earthquakes and other disasters in the region. After the 2013 floods that devastated Colorado’s Front Range, leaving nine dead and $4 billion in damages, Baxter worked closely with state and municipal governments in long-term flood recovery.

    “Climate change and those impacts with drought and wildfires are really pushing us into more uncharted territory in the water resources management,” Baxter said, who noted the city has been doing long-range planning for those issues over the past few years.

    The main job of the city’s water resources manager is to manage the city’s water rights portfolio and protect the city’s stretch of the Yampa River, which fuels several aspects of Routt County’s economy, including, tourism, recreation and agriculture.

    Yampa River at the mouth of Cross Mountain Canyon July 24, 2021.

    Ouray County water project faces opposition from state, others: roposed reservoir, pipeline, exchange could have impacts to fish and environmental flows — @AspenJournalism

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build a 260-foot dam at this location on Cow Creek that would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water. One goal would be to lessen daily flow fluctuations, especially during spring runoff.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Water users in Ouray County are hoping to satisfy water shortages with what they say is a multi-beneficial reservoir and pipeline project. But the Ram’s Horn reservoir, Cow Creek pipeline and exchange are facing opposition from the state of Colorado and others.

    The complicated, three-pronged project proposes to take water from Cow Creek and pipe it into Ridgway Reservoir, take water from local streams via ditches and store it in the reservoir, and build a new dam and reservoir on Cow Creek. This stored water would eventually be sent downstream to be used by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA).

    Ridgway Dam via the USBR

    The project applicants — Ouray County, Tri-County Water Conservancy District, Ouray County Water Users Association and the Colorado River Water Conservation District — say they need 20 cubic feet per second of water from Cow Creek. Cow Creek is a tributary of the Uncompahgre River with headwaters in the Cimarron mountains. Cow Creek’s confluence with the Uncompahgre River is below Ridgway Reservoir, which is why an upstream pipeline would be needed to capture the water and bring it into the reservoir.

    The applicants are also seeking to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reaches of Cow Creek, which would hold about 25,000 acre-feet of water behind a 260-foot-tall and 720-foot-long dam. Ram’s Horn would help regulate what are known as diurnal flows during spring runoff — streamflows are higher during the day as the snow melts with warming temperatures, and lower at night as snow re-freezes. UVWUA says they can’t adjust their headgates to capture the high point of this daily fluctuation in flows, leaving the water to run downstream unused. The project would capture these diurnal peaks.

    Ouray County Water Users Association wants to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir on the upper reach of Cow Creek, shown here. Colorado Parks and Wildlife opposes the project, in part, because of its potential impact to fish.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Goal to prevent a call

    The goal of the project is to prevent the UVWUA — one of the big senior water rights holders in the Gunnison River basin — from placing a call on the river.

    When the UVWUA, which owns the Montrose & Delta Canal and has a 1890 water right, is not able to get its full amount of water, it places a call on the river. This means upstream junior water rights holders, like Ouray County Water Users, have to stop using water so that UVWUA can get its full amount. According to a state database, the M&D Canal has placed a call three times this summer, most recently from July 12 to 22. In 2020, the call was on for nearly all of July and August. Under Colorado water law, the oldest water rights have first use of the river.

    By releasing the water stored in either Ridgway or Ram’s Horn reservoirs to satisfy a UVWUA call, Ouray County Water Users Association would then be able to continue using its own water.

    The Glenwood Springs-based River District, which advocates to keep water on the Western Slope, is a co-applicant of the project.

    “This (project) is consistent with the River District’s goals and objectives with supporting our constituents and making sure they have a reliable water supply,” said Jason Turner, River District senior counsel.

    Ridgway Reservoir, on the Uncompahgre River in Ouray County, is popular with boaters. A proposed pipeline project that would bring water from Cow Creek into the reservoir is being met with opposition for environmental reasons.
    CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

    Potential impacts to fish, instream flows

    But some state agencies, environmental groups and others have concerns about the project. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Water Conservation Board have both filed statements of opposition to the application, which was originally filed in December 2019, amended in January and is making its way through water court. CPW claims that its water rights in the basin, which it holds for the benefit of state wildlife areas, fisheries and state parks, could be injured by the project. CPW owns nearly a mile of access to Cow Creek on the Billy Creek State Wildlife Area.

    Between August 2019 and January 2020, CPW recorded water temperatures of Cow Creek and found they exceeded a state standard for trout. A report from CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio says that the proposed project would likely cause an even bigger increase in water temperatures, resulting in fish mortality.

    “The flow and temperature analysis for Cow Creek indicates that the water rights application has the likelihood to damage or eliminate the native bluehead sucker population as well as the rest of the fishery in the downstream end of Cow Creek through the degradation of water quantity and quality,” the report reads.

    While less water in Cow Creek could result in temperatures that are too high for trout, water released from the proposed Ram’s Horn reservoir could be too cold for bluehead suckers.

    “There’s going to be some changes to temperature and what our temperature data has outlined is that the species are at their extreme ends,” Gardunio said. “It’s nearly too cold for bluehead sucker and it’s nearly too warm for trout, so changes in temperature are going to have an impact to one or the other of the fishery.”

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board opposes the project because they said it could injure the state’s instream flow water rights. Instream flow rights are held exclusively by the CWCB to preserve the natural environment to a reasonable degree. Ram’s Horn reservoir would inundate a section of Cow Creek where the CWCB currently holds an instream flow right.

    “The application does not present sufficient information to fully evaluate the extent to which the CWCB’s instream flow water right may be injured,” the statement of opposition reads.

    Environmental group Western Resource Advocates also opposes the project. Ram’s Horn Reservoir, with conditional water rights owned by Tri-County Water Conservancy District, is one of five reservoirs planned as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project, which dates to the 1950s. Ridgway Reservoir is the only one of the five that has been built.

    This map shows the potential location of Ram’s Horn Reservoir, as well as other reservoirs originally conceived as part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Dallas Creek Project. Only Ridgway Reservoir has been built.
    CREDIT: MAP COURTESY WRIGHT WATER ENGINEERS

    Complex exchange

    The third piece of the proposed project is what’s known as an exchange, where water would be conveyed via existing ditches connecting tributaries above Ridgway Reservoir. The exchange water would be stored there and released when senior downstream water users need it, which would benefit upstream water users. In addition to Cow Creek, the applicants are proposing to take water from Pleasant Valley Creek, the East and West Forks of Dallas Creek, Dallas Creek and the Uncompahgre River to use in the exchange.

    Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 4 Engineer Bob Hurford laid out the issues his office has with this exchange in his summary of consultation. He recommended denial on the exchange portion of the application until the applicants list the specific ditches participating in the exchange and their locations, and agree that they are responsible for enlarging the ditches so they can handle the increased capacity of water.

    “I have to have actual ditch names, the owners of the ditches have to be willing to participate and it has all got to be tracked to a tenth of a cfs,” Hurford said. “It’s not a loosey-goosey thing. It has to be dialed in and defined precisely.”

    Another criticism of the project is that it won’t provide water directly to water users in Dallas Creek, which according to a report by Wright Water Engineers, is the most water-short region of the Upper Uncompahgre basin. Even if Dallas Creek water users participate in the exchange, in dry years still there may not be enough water in local creeks for them to use.

    “This project has been sold as the savior of agriculture in Ouray County but this project will not provide wet water that would not otherwise be available to anybody that is an ag producer,” said Ouray County water rights holder and project opponent Cary Denison. “I don’t know one irrigator who is saying we need to build Ram’s Horn Reservoir.”

    The project application is making its way through water court and applicants say they are continuing to negotiate with opposers. A status report is due in October. Attorney for the Ouray County Water Users Association and River District board representative Marti Whitmore said they want to make sure it’s a multi-purpose project that benefits everyone.

    “Fish flows and recreation uses are important, so we are just trying to work out terms and conditions that are a win-win for everyone,” she said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. This story ran in the Aug. 30 edition of The Aspen Times.

    Map of the Gunnison River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using public domain USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69257550

    Federal judge throws out [President 45’s] administration [#WOTUS] rule allowing the draining and filling of streams, marshes and wetlands — The Washington Post #DirtyWaterRule

    Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

    From The Washington Post (Dino Grandoni and Brady Dennis):

    A federal judge Monday threw out a major Trump administration rule that scaled back federal protections for streams, marshes and wetlands across the United States, reversing one of the previous administration’s most significant environmental rollbacks.

    U.S. District Judge Rosemary Márquez wrote that Trump officials committed serious errors while writing the regulation, finalized last year, and that leaving it in place could lead to “serious environmental harm.”

    A number of business and farm groups had supported the push to replace Obama-era standards with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, on the grounds that states were better positioned to regulate many waterways and that the previous protections were too restrictive.

    The ruling in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, which applies nationwide, will afford new protections for drinking-water supplies for millions of Americans, as well as for thousands of wildlife species that depend on America’s wetland acreage.

    Márquez, a Barack Obama appointee, noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees permits to dredge and fill waterways under federal jurisdiction, determined that three-quarters of the water bodies it reviewed over a nearly 10-month period did not qualify for federal protection under the new rule. Federal agencies identified 333 projects that would have required a review under the Obama rule, she added, but did not merit one under the Trump standards…

    Home builders, oil drillers and farmers — who have long argued that earlier restrictions on developing land made it too difficult to do their work — are likely to appeal…

    North American Indian regional losses 1850 thru 1890.

    In June, the Biden administration announced that it would write regulations to strengthen wetland protections but would keep the Trump-era rule on the books while it did so. But tribal and environmental groups pressed the court in Arizona to vacate the previous administration’s rule sooner, since some wetlands may be irreparably harmed during the time it would take to replace it…

    “We came in and said, ‘No, no, no, no, you can’t leave this in place,’” said Janette Brimmer, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, which represented the Native American and green groups in court. She added, “This is hugely good.”

    The ruling marks the latest salvo in a decades-long legal and regulatory battle over the full extent of the Clean Water Act’s reach.

    That landmark 1972 law prohibits polluting “waters of the United States” without a permit. But the question of which waterways fall under that category has been debated in courtrooms and agencies ever since.

    In 2015, Obama’s administration moved to protect a broad swath of water bodies, including “ephemeral” streams that appear only after rainfall and help purify water. Hydrologists have found that even these intermittent rivulets can affect the water quality of large rivers and lakes downstream.

    But the Trump administration replaced that regulation with a far narrower one, on the grounds that the Obama rule exceeded the government’s legal authority.

    “They basically ignored it all,” Mark Ryan, a former EPA lawyer who helped craft the Obama-era regulation, said of the Trump team. “It was a voluminous bit of science.”

    With Monday’s court ruling, agencies will go back to applying water protection standards from the 1980s, which are more expansive than the Trump-era rule but not as sweeping as Obama’s.

    Aerial view of wetlands in Okefenokee swamp. By Ryan Hagerty – http://www.public-domain-image.com/public-domain-images-pictures-free-stock-photos/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/national-parks-reserves-public-domain-images-pictures/aerial-view-of-wetlands-in-okefenokee.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24912021

    The push to overhaul federal clean-water regulations has caused ongoing fights in places such as in Georgia, near the sprawling Okefenokee Swamp. A proposal to strip-mine for titanium would have received strict scrutiny under the Obama-era standards, and some federal officials and environmental groups raised concerns about its potential impacts.

    But last year the Army Corps of Engineers determined that under the revised Trump rule, the area was no longer federally protected…

    “This is a welcome day for the Okefenokee, the wetlands surrounding the refuge, and will force Twin Pines to reevaluate this disastrous project,” Christian Hunt, Southeast program representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said in an email.

    Created by Imgur user Fejetlenfej , a geographer and GIS analyst with a ‘lifelong passion for beautiful maps,’ it highlights the massive expanse of river basins across the country – in particular, those which feed the Mississippi River, in pink.

    Here’s the release from Earth Justice:

    Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona said Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule must be vacated because the rule contains serious errors and has the potential to cause significant harm to the Nation’s Waters if left in place while the Biden administration works on revisions to the rule. It represents the culmination of a lawsuit brought by six federally recognized Indian tribes, who are represented by Earthjustice and sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers for passing a rule that eliminated Clean Water Act protections for thousands of waterbodies by redefining them as not “waters of the U.S.”

    Thanks to this lawsuit and the Court’s ruling, the country will now return to water protections that were in place for years starting in 1986, wiping the Trump Dirty Water Rule off the books. This outcome ensures Clean Water Act protections are in effect while the Biden administration works to develop a new rule. The Dirty Water Rule was particularly damaging for waters throughout the West, Southwest and Great Lakes. The six tribes and their members have been disproportionately harmed by the rule as their livelihoods and culture were put at risk when the Dirty Water Rule eliminated protection for thousands of wetlands, headwater streams, and desert washes.

    “The court recognized that the serious legal and scientific errors of the Dirty Water Rule were causing irreparable damage to our nation’s waters and would continue to do so unless that Rule was vacated,” said Janette Brimmer, Earthjustice attorney. “This sensible ruling allows the Clean Water Act to continue to protect all of our waters while the Biden administration develops a replacement rule.”

    For Tribes, just like for every living being on the planet, water is life and has been so since time immemorial. The Trump administration, however, wholly disregarded that when it put industry profit over people by rolling back Clean Water Act protections. Even though the Biden administration has initiated the process to repeal the Trump Dirty Water Rule, it continues to apply the rule in the meantime, exacerbating the harms to Tribes.

    In court filings, the federal government acknowledged that the Dirty Water Rule completely disregarded decades of the best science and neglected to assess the impacts the rule had on downstream communities. EPA’s own science advisors said Trump’s rule threatened to weaken protection of the nation’s waters by disregarding the established connectivity of ephemeral wetlands and small streams to downstream rivers and lakes.

    Earthjustice is representing the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Tohono O’odham Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

    Learn more about how the Dirty Water Rule gutted protections and some of the watersheds it put at risk.

    Quinalt Indian Nation dancers on beach. Photo credit: Quinalt Indian Nation

    “Small headwater streams are fundamental to the protection and restoration of salmon and our way of life,” said Guy Capoeman, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. “Today’s ruling will protect all waters on which the Quinault people rely.”

    Upper Rio Grande basin: The threats ahead — The #Alamosa Citizen #RioGrandeRiver

    San Luis Valley Groundwater

    Here’s Part 1 of the series from The Alamosa Citizen (Mark Obmascik):

    The water supply of the San Luis Valley faces pressure as never before

    THEY all remember when the San Luis Valley brimmed with water.

    South of San Luis, Ronda Lobato raced the rising floodwaters in San Francisco Creek every spring to fill sandbags that protected her grandparents’ farm.

    North of Center, potato farmer Sheldon Rockey faced so much spring mud that he had to learn to extract his stuck tractor.

    Outside Monte Vista, Tyler Mitchell needed only a hand shovel on the family farm near Monte Vista to reach shallow underground flows in the Valley’s once-abundant water table.

    Today those tales of plentiful water seem like a distant mirage. Ten of the past 11 years have delivered below-average snowpacks for the upper Rio Grande basin, with this year’s snowpack measuring just 58 percent of normal at the key May 1 measurement. All but one of the main local reservoirs were less than half-filled.

    Farmers face significant cutbacks from wells now and likely from river flows and irrigation ditches later this season.

    Against this stark backdrop of drought, three other vast changes loom.

    The biggest is a state court judgment that came after decades of excessive well pumping by valley farmers and ranchers. Local irrigators now must restore 400,000 acre feet of water – more than 1.3 million people in metro Denver use in an entire year – to Valley groundwater systems within 10 years.

    A second challenge is a plan by former Gov. Bill Owens and a metro Denver business group to pump and divert additional deep groundwater from the San Luis Valley to new buyers outside the San Luis Valley, likely on the Colorado Front Range.

    And the third long-term issue is a forecast for flows to be reduced even further, perhaps as much as 30 percent, because of climate change, according to Colorado’s Rio Grande Implementation Plan.

    Buffeted by drought, court orders, climate change, and Front Range diversion plans, the water supply of the San Luis Valley faces pressure as never before.

    Shortages loom. Cuts seem inevitable.

    “Our demand for water has far exceeded our supply for years, and now our supply is in a 20-year downward trend,” said state Sen. Cleave Simpson, general manager of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. “We keep facing drought after drought. The sense of urgency continues to build.”

    It all threatens the way of life for the 46,000 residents of the San Luis Valley, where agriculture is the driving economic force. Farming and ranching account for $340 million of sales each year while providing 18 percent of the region’s jobs. That puts agriculture behind only the government as a source of local employment. About one of every three dollars of basic income in the San Luis Valley comes from agriculture.

    The San Luis Valley is the nation’s No. 5 producer of potatoes – behind only the tates of Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, and Oregon – and a leading supplier of quinoa and alfalfa hay. (The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee says the San Luis Valley is the No. 2 producer in the U.S. for fresh potatoes.)

    In a region long beset with poverty – one of every four Valley residents is impoverished, nearly double the statewide rate – farming and ranching have offered one economic success story. In Saguache County, the annual net income, or profit, per farm was $113,000, says the US Department of Agriculture census. Net income per farm in Rio Grande County was $105,000.

    But all those jobs, all that money, hinge on one thing: an ample and dependable water supply.

    “The climate of the San Luis Valley is arid, and a successful agricultural economy would not be possible without irrigation,” says the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Average annual precipitation on the Valley floor is 7 to 10 inches, but potatoes, for example, need an additional 14 to 17 inches of irrigation water during the growing season. Alfalfa hay, the Valley’s top crop by acreage, requires up to 24 inches for a crop.

    This adds up to an enormous thirst. According to state water engineers, San Luis Valley agriculture accounts for 810,000 acre feet of consumptive water use per year.

    By contrast, the Denver Water Department needs only 247,000 acre feet of water to supply the 1.3 million people within its city and suburban service boundaries.

    In other words, metro Denver requires only one third as much water as the San Luis Valley to produce a gross domestic product 60 times greater – a $202 billion annual economy vs. a $3.3 billion economy.

    Because the San Luis Valley has so much water being put to comparatively low economic use, metro Denver water developers continue to focus a covetous eye on Rio Grande diversions.

    After the AWDI proposals of the 1980s and the Gary Boyce plan of the 1990s, the Gov. Bill Owens-backed Renewable Water Resources proposal is the latest push to take advantage of relatively low prices to pipe water out of the San Luis Valley.

    > Bella Cruz has lived next to the People’s Ditch in San Luis for more than 60 years. Appropriated in 1852, it is the first surface water right in Colorado. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

    In the crosshairs is one of the oldest agricultural traditions and cultures in Colorado.

    The first surface water right in Colorado, appropriated in 1852, is the People’s Ditch near San Luis. With a series of community irrigation canals called acequias, Hispanic settlers soon started growing food in the high desert with water from the Conejos, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Culebra, San Luis, Saguache, Carnero, and Trinchera, among other rivers and creeks.

    By the 1870s, as much as 50,000 acres in the San Luis Valley was irrigated. After the arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, that number soared to 400,000 acres by the 1880s. By 1900, demand for water in several valley streams already outstripped the natural supply.

    Farmers responded by building reservoirs, and, especially, digging wells. By the time of World War I, the San Luis Valley was home to at least 5,000 groundwater wells. The rush was on. Underground supplies seemed endless.

    Until they weren’t. In 1972, Colorado water officials ordered a moratorium on construction of new wells in most of the valley, and then ended new appropriations of groundwater in the rest of the valley in 1981, which was one of the worst snowpack years on record, with just 11 percent of normal on May 1.

    Luckily, that one terrible year of drought in 1981 was followed by six successive years of some of the best snowpacks in the recorded history of the Rio Grande Basin. From 1982-1987, few worried much about groundwater because the rivers were flooding.

    Another run of giant snowpacks in the mid-1990s helped to keep the pressure off groundwater pumping – while helping to build the memories of valley residents like Ronda Lobato, Sheldon Rockey, and Tyler Mitchell.

    “I remember the snowbanks being bigger than me – the winters were so long and cold,” said Lobato, whose aunt and uncle lived along San Francisco Creek. “When the runoff came, we had to fill sandbags to protect against flooding. Today there is no water in San Francisco Creek. It doesn’t run at all.”

    Farming is never easy, but water shortages make it even tougher, said Tyler Mitchell.

    “I remember as a kid being able to dig with a shovel to find water. Now I might have to go 30 feet to find it,” said Mitchell, whose family runs 18 center pivot irrigation rigs. “The ditch water used to go all summer long. Now we’re lucky to get one month, and some ditches do only a few weeks. We don’t have enough surface water to grow cash-value crops every year.”

    The mid-1990s were the heyday of San Luis Valley agriculture, said potato grower Sheldon Rockey, and that era changed the way of thinking for a generation of farmers.

    “I remember when the river flooded three years in a row. I got the tractor stuck in the mud,” Rockey said. “There was a lot of money made without worrying much about water. The issue with the older crowd of farmers is that they were so successful for so long. Now that we’re in drought, it’s hard to change your thinking.”

    The bountiful water years of the 1980s and 1990s in the San Luis Valley have flipped the typical generational divide in farming. Because they lived through the wettest times, the older farmers tend to have a brighter view than the younger farmers, local agricultural officials say.

    “Farming is an optimistic profession,” said Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “People my father’s age have seen farming here at its best, when we had giant years for water. But the data and science don’t give me many reasons to think those days will come back around.

    “If the big water years do come back, that would be tremendous. But I don’t want us to ignore the freight train coming at us right now.”

    That train began blasting its horn about 20 years ago.

    State water engineers long had been concerned about well-pumping by valley irrigators, but the connection between groundwater and surface water was not clearly understood. Starting in January 1976, engineers began monitoring the level of valley aquifers. Groundwater declined steadily but gradually, which led to the state moratoriums on drilling.

    However, 2002 was the driest on record for the Rio Grande Basin, with a May snowpack of just 6 percent. With little available surface water, valley irrigators turned underground for supplies.

    The result: In just one year, engineers recorded a 400,000 acre foot drop in Vvalley aquifers. That is a huge amount of water – a single acre-foot is enough to support two families of four people for a year.

    In response to the vast agricultural overpumping came a flurry of laws, regulations, and court actions.

    For the past decade, valley irrigators have been under a court order to maintain a sustainable aquifer system. That means restoring at least 400,000 acre feet to underground supplies, officials say. (Engineering studies say the unconfined aquifer actually has been drained by as much as 1 million acre feet since 1976.)

    Little progress has been made to return that water in the past 10 years. Now irrigators face a 2031 deadline to repay the water debt.

    Still, 5,000 irrigation wells continue to pump in the valley, including 3,000 in the key Subdistrict 1 north of Monte Vista and west of Hooper.

    The $426,000 state Rio Grande Implementation Plan was blunt: “Because the sustained and lingering drought since 2002 has not been matched with a decline in agricultural consumptive use, use of the aquifers is unsustainable.”

    What local water officials now fear is a replay in the San Luis Valley of what happened to irrigators on the South Platte River, where years of over-pumping by farmers, combined with a resulting state court order, led to the 2006 shutdown of 440 wells and the pumping curtailment of hundreds of others.

    In the San Luis Valley, the clock is ticking. A reckoning awaits.

    “Shutting down wells – there are people here who can’t survive that,” said Simpson, the state senator. “We are 10 years into this plan to create and maintain a sustainable aquifer system, but we are not yet back to where we started. There are no easy solutions.”

    Scientists say it won’t get any easier. Because of climate change, a study by the Bureau of Reclamation, Sandia National Laboratories, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forecasts even more challenges for water users in the Upper Rio Grande Basin:

  • Flows will decrease by 33 percent by 2100 at the Rio Grande near Del Norte, Conejos River near Mogote, Los Pinos River near Ortiz, and San Antonio River at Ortiz. Flows will decrease by 50 percent at the Rio Grande near Lobatos.
  • Peak river flows will come earlier, shifting from June to May.
  • Fewer water rights will be served. From 1950 to 1999, the average junior-most water right to be served in June on the Rio Grande was a 1910 priority, but by 2100 it will be an 1890 priority.
  • “We are an incredible agricultural community, but we don’t have the water supply we used to,” said Dutton, the Rio Grande representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There are more people who want water than there is water available. We are facing scarcity.”

    Not just agriculture at risk: In 2008, the state granted a water right to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for the groundwater beneath its boundaries. The Valley’s extensive wetlands and river habitats support at least 13 threatened and endangered species and more than 260 species of birds including a major spring and fall flight of sandhill cranes. Photo credit: The Alamosa Citizen

    Here’s Part 2 in the series from The Alamosa Citizen (Mark Obmascik):

    Plan to pipe water to Front Range has big backers, few specifics

    THE Front Range executives who want to export water from the San Luis Valley to sell elsewhere are clear about a few things:

    They have money. They are backed by former Gov. Bill Owens. And they think their plan will benefit the Valley.

    Beyond that, however, details remain sketchy.

    Where exactly would the Renewable Water Resources project be built? Who are the investors? How much would it cost? What’s the project timetable? Who are the local supporters? Where are the customers?

    Also: If this project will truly help the San Luis Valley, then why are the political, water, and farm leaders of the Valley overwhelmingly against it?

    “We know San Luis Valley citizens are looking forward to jobs and an uptick in the local economy as a result of our project moving forward,” said Renewable Water Resources executives in a prepared statement. “Citizens responded favorably to the more than $50 million community fund – run by the community – that would be created to address critical issues which could include public education, economic diversity, senior assistance programs, conservation efforts, law enforcement, mental health services, and more.

    “We have asked the unelected Rio Grande Water Conservation District Board the following question, ‘What are you for?’ This question has been met with silence other than falling back on the status quo which means higher taxes and more regulation for the valley’s struggling farms and ranches.”

    Local officials say Renewable Water Resources is not to be trusted.

    “They continue to use false information to describe and promote their project,” said Heather Dutton, manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District and the Rio Grande Basin representative on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “I don’t think people will fall for a bunch of falsehoods.”

    Valley native Ken Salazar – the former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. senator, state Attorney General, and current U.S. ambassador to Mexico – said the project would proceed “over my dead body.”

    Local opponents of the plan formed a group, Protect Our Water, that lists as members: 15 local water districts and entities; 22 cities and towns; 22 conservation and environmental groups; and two farm groups. It lists statements of opposition to the RWR proposal from eight separate local governments, including the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, the city of Alamosa, and Mineral and Rio Grande counties.

    The group says it is organized around a main principle: “There is no water available to move outside the San Luis Valley.” It has a web page dedicated to correcting what it says are RWR’s numerous misstatements about the project.

    RWR executives say they can’t be specific about project locations, timetables, or costs because they are focused on winning Valley support and filing a legal case in Colorado’s water court, which could take three to five years to process. That case would help determine whether the San Luis Valley has enough water for RWR to legally export without hurting existing users.

    In general, RWR says it wants to build a wellfield northeast of Moffat. A pipeline would carry water north along state Highway 17, more than 1,000 feet up and over Poncha Pass, to some uncertain location.

    Though a few Front Range cities such as Aurora and Colorado Springs draw some water from the Arkansas River basin, most metro Denver utilities rely on the South Platte River, a more distant location that would require a much longer pipeline and additional pumping costs for RWR.

    RWR says it has no identified customers for its proposed project. Executives have been pitching it to utilities on the Front Range.

    The financial incentives for RWR: Wholesale water prices are five to 10 times higher on the populated Front Range than in the agricultural San Luis Valley.

    In the San Luis Valley, RWR proposes to drill nearly a half-mile into the Valley’s deep aquifer to pump out 22,000 acre-feet of water per year. At the same time, RWR says it will buy and retire 31,000 acre feet of water currently used in the Valley for irrigated agriculture. As a result, RWR says a “surplus of 9,000 acre-feet will go back into the San Luis Valley’s shallow section of the aquifer.”

    The company says it is “investing $68 million to pay local farmers and ranchers who voluntarily wish to retire their water rights above market rate.”

    In addition to the purchase of those water rights, RWR said it will donate $50 million to a locally controlled community fund. The company expects that fund to generate $3 million to $4 million per year in contributions for local causes.

    RWR also has agreed to donate a 3,000-acre ranch for use as elk habitat near the Baca National Wildlife Refuge south of Crestone.

    “To give the above numbers some context,” RWR said in a statement, “the poverty rate of the San Luis Valley is greater than 35 percent and the average median household income is under $26,000. We do believe our commitments to the community will better the valley.”

    However, many questions remain unanswered. RWR declined to make available any project executives, including Owens, governor of Colorado from 1999-2007, for an interview for this story, insisting instead that all questions be written and answered via email.

    After years of water overuse, Valley irrigators now are operating under state orders to reduce consumption by hundreds of thousands of acre feet. Local water officials remain dubious that RWR can legally remove more water from a system already facing significant cutbacks.

    On top of the existing legal challenges, local engineers are girding for hydrologic changes caused by climate change. One state study estimated streamflows in the upper Rio Grande basin will plunge by a third in the next 80 years because of climate change.

    Project opponents now must toe a fine line politically. Though they want to highlight the current water shortages because of court rulings, continuing drought, and climate change, they don’t want farmers to give up hope and sell to RWR.

    In a Valley dominated by agricultural business, exporting water for other uses will throttle the future economy of the San Luis Valley, RWR opponents say. They point to the example of Crowley County in the lower Arkansas River Valley, where irrigators sold their supplies to Front Range cities, allowing a few farmers to reap big paydays at the expense of the rest of the southeastern Colorado economy.

    An irrigator who drops out of a local ditch makes it harder economically for remaining farmers to continue to operate and maintain the ditch.

    Many local farmers say buy-and-dry policies threaten the future of agriculture in the Valley.

    “Our community is centered on water and farming, and I hope the community sticks together,” said potato farmer Tyler Mitchell. “But in the grand scheme of life, money talks. If the price is right, you might see people sell. I really hope it doesn’t come to that.”

    Mitchell and other farmers are heartened by the Valley’s history of defeating other water export proposals.

    In the 1980s, former Gov. Dick Lamm and American Water Development Inc. sought to develop and export as much as 200,000 acre-feet per year from the Valley’s confined aquifer. After five years of litigation and a lengthy trial, AWDI lost in court.

    In the 1990s, Stockman’s Water, led by Monte Vista native Gary Boyce, purchased the Baca Ranch and proposed to export 150,000 acre-feet of water per year from the Valley. Boyce lost two statewide votes and struggled in water court. The Nature Conservancy bought the Baca Ranch in 2002.

    Most political leaders in the Valley supported a drive to convert the Great Sand Dunes into a national park partly to help prevent water exports from the Valley. In 2008, the state granted a water right to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for the groundwater beneath its boundaries.

    According to the state’s Rio Grande Implementation Plan, it was the first nonconsumptive water right issued by the state of Colorado. “The water right precludes any withdrawal of water from the aquifers that would cause injury to the park’s environments, which are dependent on the groundwater,” the state plan says.

    The Valley’s extensive wetlands and river habitats support at least 13 threatened and endangered species and more than 260 species of birds, including a major spring and fall flight of sandhill cranes and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Still, Sean Tonner, former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Bill Owens, led a drive to buy 11,500 acres of the Rancho Rosado from the former holdings of Boyce, who died in 2016.

    The result is the current RWR project proposal, led by Tonner and backed by Owens and other former members of his gubernatorial administration.

    (A detailed explanation of the history of San Luis Valley water export proposals, conducted by the University of Colorado Law School, is here.)

    “Because of our project offerings – with this proposal – we can enrich the local economy, bring more jobs to the area, support essential non-profits and community groups, and improve the health of the area’s aquatic habits and wildlife,” RWR said in a statement.

    The Protect Our Water coalition strongly disagrees.

    “A plan being proposed by Renewable Water Resources will remove water from the Valley and permanently dry up at least 10,000 acres of farmland,” the group says. “It could also negatively impact the environment, including streams, rivers, The Great Sand Dunes National Park, refuges, wetlands, fish and wildlife. Water sustains our economy and lifestyle.

    “There is no water available to move outside the San Luis Valley.”

    #Wyoming preps for less #water as #drought creeps up #ColoradoRiver — WyoFile.com #COriver #aridification

    Photo credit: NPS

    From Wyofile.com (Angus M. Thuermer Jr.):

    As federal water managers declared the first-ever official Colorado River water shortage last week, a top official said he’s confident Wyoming will responsibly implement its plans to store and divert even more flows from the troubled waterway.

    The Department of the Interior on Aug. 16 said it would reduce water diversions to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico in 2022 after a scheduled August review set the restrictive sideboards for releases next year.

    Despite that curtailment, Wyoming plans to corral another 115,000 acre-feet annually by building and modifying dams and their operations to potentially allow more diversions.

    At the same time, Wyoming is fleshing out its Drought Contingency Plan and a “demand management” program that could see voluntary reductions in diversions before users in the state might be cut off. Wyoming doesn’t expect curtailments to happen next year, unless drought, aridification and climate change unexpectedly exacerbate the decline in Lake Powell.

    In a press call announcing the downstream diversion reductions, a regional Bureau of Reclamation director appeared unfazed by the potential impacts of Wyoming’s dam-building plans.

    “Wyoming has exercised foresight in the work of their Wyoming Water Development Commission,” said Wayne Pullan, the BOR’s director for the Upper Colorado River Basin, “and with our long history with Wyoming we’re confident that they’ll pursue any future projects responsibly, fully aware of the context of the hydrology and the difficulties on the Colorado River.”

    Wyoming’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which will decide how any curtailments in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico will be borne, said his cohorts are “very concerned about the hydrology this basin faces.” A Drought Contingency Plan that’s been adopted in skeleton form “does provide the tools to help manage what we’re seeing now, as troubling as that is,” commission member Pat Tyrrell said at the press call.

    Wyo forges ahead with dams…

    Pullan would not comment on specific ongoing Wyoming projects, at least five of which in the Green River and Little Snake River basins would collectively control an additional 115,000 acre-feet at an estimated cost of $123 million.

    “It is worth noting that one of the purposes of the Colorado River storage project is to assist states, making use of their apportionment under the [1922 Colorado River] Compact,” Pullan said. Wyoming has not developed or appropriated its full share of the water entitled under that historic agreement, state officials have said.

    Lake Powell end of month projections from August 2021 24-month Study. Credit: USBR

    The compact and apportionment among the seven states and Mexico, however, is based on an annual supply of at least 15 million acre-feet, an amount experts say the river basin no longer produces. Further, Wyoming believes the lower basin’s Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico have historically overused their share while upper division states have not exploited their full rights.

    At least one group has called for a moratorium on new storage or diversion projects in the basin until the seven states and Mexico can address what’s widely seen as claims to flows that no longer exist. Wyoming still deserves its share, state officials believe.

    “We aren’t obligated to sustain overuse anywhere else,” Tyrrell said in an interview, “to the detriment of our existing demands here in Wyoming.”

    Tyrrell offered one scenario where an ongoing dam project could be immediately affected by less runoff. At the Big Sandy Dam in Sublette County, the Bureau of Reclamation is raising the structure to impound an additional 12,900 acre-feet for irrigation.

    “That’ll come under a more recent priority date,” Tyrrell said, meaning the new storage area will be among the first to be cut off if lower-basin shortages creep upstream. The doctrine of prior appropriation that governs water use in Wyoming recognizes the first-in-time water appropriation to be first-in-right when shortages occur.

    “If we are, for example, under any kind of curtailment,” Tyrrell said, Big Sandy “won’t be allowed to fill.

    “It will put no more additional stress on the system if it’s not allowed to fill up,” he told WyoFile.

    Other new dams, reservoir enlargements or operational changes that would give Wyoming access to more water would be subject to separate sideboards depending on whether they are built, what priority of appropriation they might impound, who owns them and other factors.

    The amount of water involved in the Wyoming projects is “very small in comparison to Lake Powell,” Tyrrell said. Powell holds some 20 million acre-feet of what’s called active storage — the amount that can actually be used.

    The downstream reductions — 18%, 7% and 5% of Arizona, Nevada and Mexico’s annual apportionments respectively — amount to 613,000 acre-feet. That’s about 3% of Powell’s storage or, seen another way, about 10% more than Wyoming’s average annual usage of basin flows.

    The impact of any additional consumptive use in Wyoming — which could approach the 115,000 acre-feet contemplated in Wyoming’s dam plans — “is very, very small in comparison to what might be stored in Lake Powell,” Tyrrell said.

    “I believe the environmental impact statement for Big Sandy found there would be no significant impact to reservoir elevations downstream by an enlargement,” he said.

    Wyoming’s legal team stands behind water developers, assistant attorney general Chris Brown said as he echoed Tyrrell’s overview. “We are certainly not obligated to sustain overuse in other places in the basin on the backs of Wyoming water users, either current or future.”

    Water developers, including Wyoming itself, understand the priority system and risks associated with constructing impoundments to hold back flows. In the face of dwindling supply, some wonder whether new structures might become stranded assets — facilities built under one scenario that can’t be used as intended in a new reality.

    A professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School expressed skepticism about Wyoming’s basin-wide plans. “That seems like a bad investment,” Mark Squillace said in an interview.

    … and plans for curtailments

    Already the Bureau of Reclamation has activated provisions under its Drought Response Operations Agreement to release water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah. Pullan called the action a “small ‘e’” emergency release that will help keep the level at Powell high enough to continue generating valuable electricity.

    The Flaming Gorge releases and others also help the four upper-basin states meet their water-flow obligations under the 1922 compact, Wyoming’s Tyrrell said. The dwindling flows, he said, “threaten to get worse.”

    WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

    Coalition offers help to parched #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Map credit: CWCB

    Here’s the release (Kate Ryan, Mark Harris, Max Schmidt, Kevin McAbee, and Scott McCaulou):

    Responding to drought and summer long low flow conditions on the Colorado River, a coalition of groups and funders led by the Colorado Water Trust, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and the Grand Valley Water Users Association is acquiring and releasing 1800 acre feet (586 million gallons) of water from a West Slope reservoir. An anonymous donor came forward with this water supply just in time to keep the river flowing at healthier levels in the critical 15-Mile Reach just East of Grand Junction.

    Partners in this emergency action include the Colorado Water Trust, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Colorado River District, Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the Bureau of Reclamation. Philanthropic and funding partners include the anonymous donor and Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

    The coalition has arranged for a release of water from Ruedi Reservoir to the Fryingpan, Roaring Fork, and Colorado rivers. The water will reach the Grand Valley Power Plant in Palisade on or around August 26. After generating clean energy, the water will return to the 15-Mile Reach where it will support healthier streamflow. At times over the next week and a half, the coalition’s contributions will make up almost a fifth of the streamflow in this critical location. The flows will support four species of endangered fish, including the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, and razorback sucker, as well as supporting agricultural water deliveries and the regional recreational economy.

    “The corporations and individuals that stepped up to allow us to make these large additions to the Colorado’s flow are the community-minded heroes of this drought year. In the future, ever more creative ways will have to be found to share the water that Nature gives us, with each other and with Nature itself,” says Andy Schultheiss, Executive Director of the Colorado Water Trust. “In the end, the villain is climate change, which isn’t going away anytime soon and we will have to find ways to adapt to it.”

    This is the second time this summer, and the fourth time in the past three consecutive summers that Colorado Water Trust has purchased water stored in Ruedi Reservoir for release to the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River to help maintain healthier streamflow and water temperatures. Purchases since 2019 will result in delivering over 4500 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 canal. 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 Grand Valley Water Users Association have been collaborating with the Colorado Water Trust and their contributing partners for last several years. Our partnership helps those of us in the Grand Valley and 2200 other water diverters maintain Endangered Species Act compliance. We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Colorado Water Trust,” says Mark Harris, General Manager of Grand Valley Water Users Association.

    “We are extremely grateful to the Colorado Water Trust for providing releases to support endangered fish during this challenging water year. These releases will improve habitat in the 15-Mile reach during an especially stressful time of year. The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program believes that collaborative conservation can enhance populations of endangered fish while also meeting water user needs. Efforts by the Colorado Water Trust, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Grand Valley Water Users demonstrate that with creative thinking and hard work, partnerships can find solutions that support humans and the environment,” says Kevin McAbee, Acting Program Director of 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.

    Screen shot from the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program website August 28, 2021:

    Anatomy of a #drought: How the #West may change for decades to come: Water woes are gripping no fewer than 17 states — The Deseret News #aridification

    From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

    During his tenure as Utah governor, Gary Herbert repeatedly stressed that water is the only limiting factor to the state’s growth.

    That day is here for the nation’s fastest-growing state, and water managers are scrambling.

    Drought is gripping 17 states in 95% of the service area of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and half of that area is experiencing severe or extreme conditions.

    Those states stretch from the West, into the Southwest and the Great Plains region of the United States. Aside from Utah, victims of this megadrought are Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, California, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

    It has become so severe at Utah’s Lake Powell, emergency releases were instituted from three upstream reservoirs to prop up its levels and to help keep power generation functioning at Glen Canyon Dam, which produces enough electricity for 336,000 households. On top of that, Colorado River allocations were reduced for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico due to the first water shortage in history being declared for the river.

    In a five-year period, the nation’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — saw their capacity drop by half. They are now the lowest they’ve been since they started filling decades ago.

    When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced the 18% reduction for Arizona, the 7% cut for Nevada and the 5% curtailment for Mexico, the historic first underscored how dismal the situation is in the Colorado River Basin.

    “The announcement today is a recognition that the hydrology planned for years ago that we hoped we would never see is here,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, the bureau’s deputy commissioner…

    Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month [May 2021] fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

    According to the latest information from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 60 million people across nine states in the West are having their lives touched by what’s been described as a 100-year drought…

    Consider this:

  • The Upper Colorado River Basin, which covers Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, is experiencing its driest 22 years on record.
  • Lake Powell dropped 145 feet from 2000 to 2005, directly attributed to a record low runoff in 2002 of just 24% of average.
  • The Great Salt Lake slipped below its lowest recorded elevation, documented in 1963.
    Utah water managers are dipping into emergency supplies in the state’s reservoirs and most, if not all, irrigation companies are cutting the season short by weeks.
  • Tage Flint, general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District that operates multiple northern Utah reservoirs, said conditions are dire…

    Flint fears as the spigots for secondary water are turned off — and if September ends up hot and dry — households and businesses will turn to using treated water for landscaping needs…

    How did we get here?

    “It’s been pretty dramatic in how bad meteorologically it has been from an impacts point of view,” said Jon Meyer, a climate scientist with Utah State University’s Utah Climate Center.

    Meyer said last year the drought was severe — with the driest summer and fall on record — but reservoirs were able to “buffer” that dryness in urban areas particularly.

    When last winter’s below average snowpack began to melt, record dry soils stole the moisture…

    Echoing Herbert’s concerns on water and growth, water law expert Melissa Reynolds warned if conditions persist, cities and the state throughout the arid West will face tough choices.

    “We could see restrictions on new connections,” said Reynolds, an attorney with Holland & Hart. “I do think if we continue to see conditions like we have in 2021, more and more water providers may consider stopping new water connections. Lack of source capacity is a limiting factor on development.”

    […]

    With even some “first in time” or the oldest, most senior water rights going dry or getting curtailed this year, Reynolds said impacts are widespread for the economy…

    Agriculture and water

    When it comes to Utah consumption, some critics point to the agricultural community as a big water waster in a state that is the second-driest in the nation.

    They complain about the water it takes to grow alfalfa, admittedly a cash crop but one that is critical to support Utah’s ranching community.

    Craig Buttars, commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, editorialized in the Deseret News that what most people don’t realize is that due to the Utah drought, farmers and ranchers have had their water cut from 70% to 75% this year compared to last.

    He warned those reductions have forced ranchers to sell off cattle and resulted in crop yields far below normal, which will mean higher food prices…

    Blue gramma “Eyelash” grass August 28, 2021 from Mrs. Gulch’s landscape.

    Utahns’ love affair with green lawns has been a target of water providers as they push people to replace water-sucking turf with vegetation more suitable to the state’s climate…

    How much vegetation must remain — an issue of aesthetics for some communities — varies from area to area, however. That has led some conservation-minded residents to question why there is a requirement at all…

    Meyer, from USU, said as periods of extended and intense drought continue to persist, Utah may have to come to grips with abandoning its concerns over aesthetics and being more mindful of water use.

    Drought may very well change how Utah looks, and how it grows.

    Driving throughout New Mexico and Arizona, Meyer noted, there is an absence of lush green turf. In its place, there is vegetation that is more practical in an era of climate change.

    @DenverWater ‘refund’ means a big boost to #ColoradoRiver flows: How the intricacies of Colorado water agreements make for a big late-season liquid pulse in #Kremmling #COriver #aridification

    From News on Tap (Nathan Elder):

    The Colorado River at Kremmling in Grand County will enjoy a big bump in flows from August into October as Denver Water pays off a hefty water debt.

    The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. The river will see additional flows in late summer and fall as Denver Water sends additional water downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The rising flows — an addition of more than 300 cubic feet per second (more on that later) sent from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs — serve as a good example of how Colorado’s intricate system of water rights can drive river flows higher when they might typically be lower as autumn settles in.

    In this case, it works like this: A dry year created conditions that now require Denver Water to “pay back” water to the West Slope.

    Why? Let’s stick with the easy version.

    An agreement that emerged over 50 years of Byzantine legal fights allows Denver to move water from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County to the Front Range when it needs the water for its customers.

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    But — and this is a big “But” — if another big reservoir called Green Mountain (that’s the very long reservoir you drive past as you cruise Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling) — doesn’t fill up in the spring and summer, Denver Water has to make up the difference later in the year.

    Green Mountain Reservoir is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and located in Summit County north of Silverthorne along the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Stay with us here. Take a look at the map that accompanies this story to help.