@USBR expects above average #runoff on the #RioGrande through #NewMexico this Spring

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River in Colorado. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:

Irrigators, municipalities, recreation community and the overall ecosystem of the Rio Grande will experience the benefits of an above average spring runoff this year. That’s according to the Annual Operating Plan based on above average snowpack in the mountains that feed the Rio Grande and its tributaries released today by the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s April streamflow forecast predicts that Rio Chama flow into El Vado Reservoir will be 142% of average, up from just 18% of average last year. This is a forecast inflow of approximately 320,000 acre-feet, up from 41,000 acre-feet at the same time last year. Rio Grande streamflow at Otowi Bridge is similarly predicted to be at 142% of average.

“This is a complete turnaround from last year when we were preparing for drying in the Middle Rio Grande in April,” said Reclamation’s Albuquerque Area Office Manager Jennifer Faler. “We are looking forward to a good spring runoff that will improve storage supplies and help the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow spawn. Reclamation will continue to work closely with our water management partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State of New Mexico, Bureau of Indian Affairs and irrigation districts to manage the Rio Grande safely and efficiently through the summer.”

The Rio Grande is currently operating under the Rio Grande Compact’s Article VII restrictions. Under Article VII when the combined usable Rio Grande Project storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo is below 400,000 acre-feet, storage in upstream reservoirs, like El Vado, is only allowed under limited circumstances. Reclamation expects Article VII restrictions to end in mid-May for several months, allowing for storage in El Vado during that time. Elephant Butte and Caballo Reservoirs ended the last irrigation season holding less than 3% of their combined storage capacity. They are already rebounding and are currently holding more than 288,000 acre-feet or about 13% of capacity.

The Elephant Butte Irrigation District, El Paso County Water Improvement District Number One and Mexico plan to begin irrigation the first week in June. Reclamation will begin releasing water from Elephant Butte to Caballo Reservoir on May 3 in preparation for the irrigation season. Releases from Caballo will begin on May 31. The dry riverbed between Elephant Butte and Caballo and below Caballo will take on water quickly. As such, it will be both unpredictable and very dangerous. The public is asked to stay out of the river channel for their safety.

The City of Thornton files lawsuit over Larimer County’s denial of 1041 permit

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Thornton has filed a lawsuit against Larimer County commissioners in protest of their rejection of the Thornton pipeline, kicking off a legal battle on the Poudre River.

The city is asking the Larimer County District Court to overturn the commissioners’ decision and either approve one of the two proposed pipeline routes or force the county to do so.

Thornton’s complaint, filed in the Larimer County District Court on Tuesday night, argues the Board of Commissioners’ decision “exceeds its jurisdiction and/or is contrary to law, misinterprets and misapplies its criteria, and was arbitrary and capricious because its findings lack competent evidence to support the Board’s denial of Thornton’s application.”

In a statement, city spokesman Todd Barnes said Thornton “has taken action to represent the interests and property rights of their constituents.”

[…]

Thornton’s water plans wouldn’t diminish flows in the Poudre River because the project’s water is already diverted from the river for agriculture. But the “Poudre River alternative,” which would involve running Thornton’s water down the river and nixing the northern segment of the pipeline, picked up considerable public support during a series of hearings on the project.

“In discussion of Thornton’s proposal during the hearings, it is clear that the Board, contrary to its authority, factored into its decision the notion that Thornton should not build a pipeline but rather send its water down the Cache la Poudre River or down the Larimer County canal,” Thornton wrote in its complaint.

#SaltonSea is focus of IID’s legal challenge to #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

American Avocets in the Salton Sea. Photo: David Tipling/NPL/Minden Pictures. Screen shot American Audobon Society western water website, October 4, 2017.

Here’s the release from the Imperial Irrigation District:

On the same day President Trump signed the Drought Contingency Plan into law, Imperial Irrigation District filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The petition calls on the court to suspend approvals and actions related to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until such time that an appropriate CEQA analysis and process has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without IID was that the DCP couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” said Henry Martinez, IID general manager. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along – at the Salton Sea.”

IID’s petition alleges that MWD violated CEQA principles by committing to enter into agreements, on behalf of itself and all other California contractors, which will require MWD to forgo diverting up to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River without considering how it will make up the shortfall.

“Metropolitan engaged in a prejudicial abuse of discretion and failed to proceed in the manner required by law,” wrongly determining that the DCP approvals were exempt from environmental laws, the suit continues.

CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

Without IID’s participation, the Bureau of Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed the DCP on March 19.

While IID worked to be a partner in the DCP process, the district objected, citing environmental issues posed at the Salton Sea and lack of federal funding commitments for the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.

The district maintains that the Salton Sea is an integral part of the Colorado River system and its decline presents a severe public health and environmental crisis for the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the state.

IID has pointed out that MWD’s obligation to the river, under this DCP, could be over 2 million acre-feet.

“As long as IID was part of the DCP, the Salton Sea would have been insulated from impacts because IID could have protected it,” said IID board president Erik Ortega. “But under this DCP, particularly now that MWD is calling the shots for California and acting on behalf of the rest of the Colorado River, the Salton Sea is truly on its own. That’s why IID is acting to preserve its rights – and the Salton Sea’s future – by filing this CEQA challenge.”

Click here to view IID’s Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate.

The Shoshone hydro plant went down, but flows in the #ColoradoRiver stayed up — @AspenJournalism #COriver

The penstocks feeding the Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Shoshone hydropower plant on the Colorado River east of Glenwood Springs was not producing power for most of last week [April 7, 2019], but regional water managers went with the flow and — thanks to an “outage protocol” — honored the plant’s senior water rights anyway.

Plant operators with Xcel Energy notified state, federal and regional water managers April 5 that they needed to inspect a leak in a diversion tunnel adit, or access point. To do so, they would be slowly shutting the flow of water to the plant’s two 7.5 mega-watt (MW) turbines and taking the plant offline.

The facility’s two-mile-long tunnel runs through cliffs in Glenwood Canyon and moves water from behind a dam on the river to the penstocks above the plant, which is just upstream of the boat ramp for the Shoshone run. The plant, which Xcel began powering down April 5, was offline by April 8.

The plant stayed offline until Friday, when the leak in the tunnel was fixed and the plant began powering back up, according to Michelle Aguayo, a media-relations representative at Xcel.

The outage at what Xcel calls the Shoshone Generating Station did not affect local or regional power customers, because other electricity on the grid system made up for the loss of the plant’s capacity, Aguayo said.

Outage lifts call

The Shoshone plant and boat ramp on the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

In response to the plant going offline, officials at the state division engineer’s office lifted the call on the river on April 8. If the hydro plant is not in operation, the water right tied to it is not being put to beneficial use and cannot be administered, or legally enforced.

The call for water that is tied to the Shoshone plant’s most senior water right from 1902 means junior upstream diverters have to forego storing or diverting enough water to keep 1,250 cubic feet per second of water available for the plant.

Without the call, and the outage protocol, more water could be diverted under the Continental Divide or kept in upstream reservoirs, and less would flow through Glenwood Springs.

Ruptured penstock

The blown-out penstock in 2007 at the Shoshone plant. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The outage protocol concept was prompted by the increase in outages at the Shoshone plant starting in 2004. It took on greater importance when a penstock at the plant ruptured in 2007.

The protocol was given a trial run in 2010, formalized in 2012 as part of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, and then signed as a stand-alone agreement in 2016.

Parties to the protocol include the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Bureau of Reclamation, Denver Water, Northern Water, Aurora and other entities.

Protocol days

Number of days the Shoshone outage protocol, or ShOP, was in effect, and stages of the agreement.

According to Don Meyer — who is a senior water-resources engineer at the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs — the protocol was in effect from April 8 until the call came back on the river on Sunday.

And he said it worked as intended, with the parties cooperating in an amiable manner.

“Without the outage protocol, the river probably would have been impacted,” Meyer said.

He also didn’t think most upstream operators changed how they were managing their water, because the protocol meant they were still working against a need to keep flows on the river at 1,250 cfs, even with the plant offline.

Fortuitous flows

The river rose, on its own, during the time the plant was out. But the outage protocol also helped boost flows.

The river’s level was also helped by a short warm spell that caused flows at the Dotsero gage, where the flow to Shoshone is measured, to rise above 1,250 cfs starting the day that the plant first started powering down on April 8.

By April 10, the river had risen to 1,750 cfs. But then cold weather dropped the river back under 1,250 cfs on Sunday, as forecast, just when the plant was powering back up and the call was coming back on.

If the plant had been down longer, and flows had stayed low due to cool mountain weather, the outage protocol could have mattered more to the flows in the river.

Meyer said that when the plant was offline for repairs in 2012, the outage protocol kept the river through Glenwood from falling below 1,000 cfs for about two weeks in late June of that notably dry year.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily and the Steamboat Pilot. The Post Independent and The Times published this story on April 16, 2019.

National Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Commend Federal Passage of #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Low flows on the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon. Flows on the Colorado have always risen and fallen seasonally, but water managers in the west now firmly see a future with less water overall to work with.

From Western Resource Advocates (Jamie Trafficanda):

Today, President Trump signed a law authorizing a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) to protect the Colorado River, following the bill’s passage through Congress with bipartisan support. The law, which follows years of negotiations and effort among the seven Colorado River basin states, will allow for voluntary, proactive conservation measures to take effect and bolster water levels in Lake Mead.

In response to the news, leading national conservation and sportsmen organizations issued the following statements:

“This is a historic moment for the Colorado River, the West, and the entire country,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director for the Colorado River Program at Environmental Defense Fund. “Passing the DCP sets in place a foundation for conservation that will ensure a more secure future for the American Southwest. Now comes the hard work of implementing the DCP in each state. We look forward to continuing to partner with the basin states, farmers, cities, water agencies, tribes and businesses to drive implementation forward.”

“Not only did DCP pass–it did so with strong bipartisan support,” said Scott Yates, Director of Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited, “Building that consensus took years of effort from advocates, water agencies, tribes and other stakeholders. That process is a model for conservation across the country.”

“Today marks a huge step forward for the Colorado River and hunters and anglers, but our challenges are far from over,” said Melinda Kassen, Senior Counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “Faced with an increasingly arid climate in the West, it’s critical that we move forward to implement the Drought Contingency Plan without delay and build upon the foundation it provides.”

“I’m thankful to all parties involved who pushed for the successful passage of this bill. We will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders during DCP implementation, as we also work to improve conditions at the Salton Sea,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, “This is a historic day for the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River, as well as the 400 bird species and other wildlife.”

“Moving the needle to conserve the Colorado River has required patient compromise and dedication,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Basin Director at American Rivers, “Leaders from each of the seven basin states set aside their differences and came together to do the hard work. These leaders and our representatives in Congress, deserve credit for working together to get DCP done.”

“Our economy, our ecosystems and our communities all rely on the Colorado River,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program Director at The Nature Conservancy, “Today marks a critical milestone in managing the River in a more sustainable way to benefit many diverse stakeholders and interests, who all set aside their differences and worked toward their shared interest in the health of the River.”

“As the West faces a growing gap between the water we need and declining supply, we have to be ready to work together to make every drop count,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, President at Western Resource Advocates. “That’s exactly what happened with the Drought Contingency Plan, a state-driven solution that shows we can address big water challenges when the West speaks with a unified voice. There’s still much work left to be done, but this is a true accomplishment that will help improve how water is managed in the region.”

Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on the @POTUS signing law authorizing #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plans #COriver #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Michael England):

Today, [the President] took a historic step to reduce risk on the Colorado River by signing bipartisan legislation authorizing the Department of the Interior to implement Drought Contingency Plans in the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River. This action supports agriculture and protects the water supplies for 40 million people.

The Colorado River is the single most important water resource in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. All levels of government stepped up to address the Basin’s worst drought in recorded history. We’ve seen collaborative efforts among the seven Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, Mexico and the Department of the Interior. Congress took prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans, and the President acted swiftly to sign that legislation into law. Adopting consensus-based DCPs is the best path toward safeguarding this critical water supply.

From The Arizona Republic (Andrew Nicla):

The president’s signing capped a years-long process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven states that rely on the river. Trump announced his approval of the bill in a tweet, calling it a “big deal” for Arizona…

…[the] signing comes just over a week after Congress fast-tracked bills through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., led those efforts and introduced identical bills endorsing the plan.

While Trump congratulated McSally, it was Grijalva’s version the president signed. That wasn’t a problem for McSally, who had said previously she supported the fastest path to approve the bill…

The one-page measure [the President] signed was not the drought plan itself, but legislation that allows the Bureau of Reclamation to carry out the plan. Next, representatives from Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal signing ceremony. The details haven’t been announced yet.

The plan they will sign aims to spread the effects of expected cutbacks to the river and protect the levels of the Colorado’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Brenda Burman, the reclamation commissioner, kept state water leaders and lawmakers in check with several strict deadlines, some of which were not met. Despite the pace, Burman said Tuesday in a statement that Trump’s action and the signing of such a landmark water deal was a historic step for the Southwest’s water future…

This aims to protect water users from losses and prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows. Lake Powell is 37 percent full, while Lake Mead is 41 percent full, just above a threshold that would trigger a first-ever declaration of a shortage by the federal government.

The three-state lower basin agreement, negotiated among California, Arizona and Nevada, lays out a framework for taking less water from Lake Mead and sharing in cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passes through #Congress #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president.

The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

Once the bill is signed, and the Drought Contingency Plan enacted, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said it will have long-term benefits for water users in New Mexico, including tribes and farmers, cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and ecosystems and wildlife…

Over the past years, the [Upper and Lower] basins worked on developing their own drought plans and then came together in a final agreement aimed at ensuring people still receive water, even as flows decline, and making sure Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower and deliver electricity. It’s also meant to make sure water levels don’t drop too low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Combined storage in the two reservoirs last year reached its lowest level since Lake Powell began filling in the 1960s. As of April 10, Lake Powell’s level was at 3,569 feet, roughly 37 percent full.

In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. Models showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 percent to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.

This winter’s snowpack is anticipated to stave off an emergency.Current forecasts estimate Lake Powell will be at about 3,592 feet, with about 12.89 million acre feet of stored water (and 55 percent full), at the end of this water year.

NM has learned lessons from drought

Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allowed 11.25 percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet.

New Mexico’s share of the Colorado River water is relatively small. On average, New Mexico uses about 410,000 acre feet of water from the basin. Arizona and California, meanwhile, each use millions of acre feet annually.

In New Mexico, cities like Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield rely on water from the San Juan and its tributary, the Animas River, as do local ranchers and farmers. The San Juan supplies water to cities to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District via the San Juan-Chama Project. And during last year’s low flows on the Rio Grande, it was water from the San Juan-Chama Project that kept the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque. Both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. The Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico has rights to Colorado River water, as well.

Rolf Schmidt Peterson, Colorado River Basin Manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, explained that as opposed to the Lower Basin states—which are already using all the water they have rights to, and more—New Mexico and other Upper Basin states were in a better position to come up with their drought contingency plan.

The Lower Basin will have to pull back on uses, whereas the Upper Basin can plan ahead on how to avoid water shortages.