#Runoff news: Elk river streamflow way up with record #Colorado heat

Elk River near Milner gage March 21, 2017 via the USGS.

From The Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

“It’s crazy how high the flows are for this time of year,” Ashley Nielson, a senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City Utah, said. “I think we’re getting snowmelt at low and middle elevation and not at the higher elevations. But this is not something we expect this time of year.”

The Elk is still well below flood stage, but the acceleration of snowmelt during a time when snowpack is typically increasing stands out from the norm.

Flows in the river, which has its headwaters in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area northeast of Clark, hit a 24-hour peak of 1,050 cubic feet per second at 1:45 a.m. March 20, nearly doubling the previous record for the date, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The previous record was 524 cfs, recorded in 2007. The median March 20 flow is 160 cfs.

At the same time, the Yampa River was flowing through downtown Steamboat Springs at a rate of 408 cfs, well above the median of 150 cfs (in the 90th percentile range for the date), but significantly lower than the 1916 record for the date of 690 cfs.

High flows in the Elk have been driven by snow melting under bright skies and daytime temperatures in the 60s, which have dominated the weather throughout the month. The National Weather Service reports the high temperature in Steamboat reached 70 degrees March 19, but a cooling trend is on the way.

The Elk had calmed down to 896 cfs as of 9:30 a.m. Monday as it went through its diurnal cycle of rising and falling flow volumes. However, the River Forecast Center foresees the river will continue to rise to more than 1,000 cfs through March 23, when a cooling trend calms things down March 25 through 31 and the river could remain above 600 cfs.

A pair of snowpack measurement sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service confirm the record flows in the Elk are attributable to snowmelt above 9,000 feet, Nielson agreed.

The Lost Dog site, at 9,320 feet of elevation on the edge of the Zirkel Wilderness, has lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent since March 16, leaving it at 113 percent of median for the date. The Elk River measuring site, at 8,700 feet, has also lost 3 inches of snow water equivalent in the same timeframe, and snowpack there stands at 93 percent of median.

Nielson pointed to the Tower measuring site on the summit of Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs as evidence that snowmelt has not begun at the highest elevations in the Park Range. The water content of the snowpack there, at 10,500 feet, has not changed more than a fraction of an inch since March 7.

Steamboat Springs: Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop, March 22, 2017

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Colorado Ag Water Alliance (Marsha Daughenbaugh) via Steamboat Today:

If you have an agriculture water right, then the Colorado Ag Water Alliance workshop is for you. If you are concerned about the future of Colorado’s water, then the CAWA workshop will be of interest to you. If you want to learn more about water, you might attend the CAWA workshop.

The Colorado Ag Water Alliance is composed of representatives from all the major ranching and farming organizations in the state. The organization’s goal is to preserve Colorado’s irrigated agriculture through education and constructive dialogue. Its role is to provide the best information to Colorado’s agricultural water users and increase the understanding of water rights to help balance the gap between limited water supplies, population growth and the deficit in the Colorado River Basin.

CAWA engages with a variety of entities to address environmental and economic concerns. Currently, CAWA is hosting a series of meetings throughout Colorado to allow and encourage agricultural producers to take an active role in the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.

A workshop for the Yampa-White-Green River Basins will be held from noon to 4 p.m. March 22 at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave. The workshop is free, and lunch, featuring locally produced food, will be served.

Discussion topics will include the Colorado Water Plan, status of the Colorado River Basin, alternative transfer methods, water leasing, water banking, “use it or lose it” policies, water efficiency and waste, challenges of ditch renovations, collaboration opportunities and research results.

Speakers from CAWA, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the Maybell Ditch Company will give spirited, quick presentations explaining different parts of Colorado’s complex water issues. Attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the afternoon.

Colorado’s population is predicted to double to 10 million people by 2050, bringing with it a water shortage of more than 500,000 acre-feet per year. Agricultural water rights are being scrutinized as a potential solution to the deficit.

Ideas take time and multiple discussions before anything becomes reality. This workshop is part of a much larger conversation, and it is critical that agricultural producers provide their invaluable knowledge and voices to the deliberations. If not you, then who will speak up? This is a close-to-home opportunity for Northwest Colorado agriculture to participate.

Those planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP to yampaag.eventbrite.com for a lunch count.

This workshop hosted by CAWA, Community Agriculture Alliance and the Yampa-White-Green Basins Roundtable. Other sponsors include CSU Routt County Extension, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Corn and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.

Marsha Daughenbaugh is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance and a member of the Routt County CattleWomen.

@WaterCenterCMU webinar: “River Health and Riparian Resilience” January 25, 2017

Click here to register. From the website:

The rivers that roll past our cities, towns, homes, and highways are reflections of all things that happen upstream and uphill. In this lecture, we will learn to see rivers as a sum of their parts, learning the roles, forms and functions of water, sediment, and vegetation. Blue, the role of water, mobilizing and shaping; Brown, the role of sediment, filling, re-routing and building; and Green, growing, holding and slowing all things mobile. From this context, we will launch into discussions of river health, riparian resilience in the face of climate change, and what we can do to protect habitats critical to fish and wildlife and our riverside communities. We’ll see river cameos of the hard-working Dolores, the now-famous Animas, and the unfettered wildness of the Yampa.

Presented by Dr. Chris Rasmussen of EcoMainstream Contracting, and hosted by Abby Burk of Audubon Rockies.

Inside the Stagecoach Dam: Harnessing the Power — Steamboat Today

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.
Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.

Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.

These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.

Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.

“All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…

“It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.

Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.

“I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.

Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.

On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.

“The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”

The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.

Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…

A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.

From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.

The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.

“It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.

With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.

“The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.

In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.

Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.

“It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.

Yampa River saw lean autumn flows in 2016 — Steamboat Today

28-Day low flows in Upper Colorado River Basin. Credit @USGS via @ColoradoClimate.
28-Day low flows in Upper Colorado River Basin. Credit @USGS via @ColoradoClimate.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Dec. 6 to renew its $9,660 commitment in 2017 to the water quality monitoring that has been ongoing in the Upper Yampa River Basin since 2011, with the support of the U.S. Geological Survey and other local agencies…

Under the testing regimen, six different sites on the river are tested four times annually to establish the baseline for a healthy river.

In addition, Cowman said the Yampa has been found to have a temperature impairment, and consistent water quality testing over time will help the entities involved in the testing make the case that they’ve been responsive to that condition when the Colorado Water Quality Control Division next focuses on the Yampa.

Steamboat Today reported Dec. 7, 2015, that some high water temperature readings in the river west of Hayden have the potential to lead to a big shift in how a 57-mile stretch of the river is regulated by the state of Colorado.

After a summer of sparse moisture in 2016, the Yampa, where it enters Stagecoach Reservoir, was flowing at 22 cubic feet per second on Sept. 23, representing an historic low, based on 27 years of record.

Managers of the Stagecoach and Catamount dams timed their seasonal draw-down of their reservoirs to benefit the Yampa downstream. And the city of Steamboat and the Colorado Water Trust both arranged to release stored water to boost the river’s flow by 10 cfs well into autumn.

The cost of the water testing in 2017 is up about 2 percent, with the USGS contributing $14,631, or 30 percent, of the total cost of $48,443. Joining the county in contributing 20 percent of the total are the city of Steamboat Springs and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District and Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District are each contributing $2,415, or 5 percent, of the total.

Work beginning for Toots Hole on Yampa River — Steamboat Today

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.
The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today (Teresa Ristow):

Work begins [November 21, 2016] on a new whitewater feature on the Yampa River adjacent to Little Toots Park.

The new Toots Hole will be similar to the A-Wave upstream, which was reconstructed in December 2015.

“There is going to be a drop feature on the right-hand side and then a passage on the left for fish,” said Kent Vertrees, board member for Friends of the Yampa, which is carrying out the project in collaboration with the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Community Services Department. “It will create a good, fun wave for tubers and also create some fish habitat.”

The project will include river bank stabilization, riparian habitat restoration and other improvements.

In December 2015, the river’s A-Wave was reconstructed, as the drop-off had become troublesome for tubers who could hurt themselves or become stuck in the wave.

“At low water, it was keeping tubers in the hole, or tubers were flipping in and getting stuck,” Vertrees said. “Now, it flushes.”

Both the A-Wave and Toots Hole projects are being funded by Friends of the Yampa, thanks to grants the organization received from the Colorado Water Conservancy board’s Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Friends of the Yampa also organizes additional fundraisers, including its annual Big Snow Dance, which took place Saturday. The event raised more than $12,000 through an auction, money that will also support the Toots Hole project.

“That money goes directly into the river for this project,” Vertrees said. “The community of river people and Friends of the Yampa folks have really supported this project.”

The improvements to the river were identified in the 2008 Yampa River Structural Plan, and the two projects together are expected to cost about $130,000.

Vertrees said Toots Hole is the last component of what he calls the Yampa River Boating Park, a series of river features through downtown.

“We’ve created this interesting little urban river canyon, and we’re just adding to it,” he said. “We’re really excited about the conclusion of this project.”

Vertrees thanked Rick Mewborn, of Nordic Excavating, for his work on the projects, including donations of time and rock.

“Without him as a partner, this wouldn’t have been as successful,” he said.

Work on the project is expected to last about two weeks, and periodic closures of the Yampa River Core Trail might occur while work is taking place.

#Solar watering systems: “You store water instead of electricity” — Vance Fulton

Photo via SolarPumps.com.
Photo via SolarPumps.com.

From The Craig Daily Press (Michael Neary):

Solar-powered water systems let livestock drink more easily and take pressure off ponds and streams

[Vance Fulton], an engineering technician with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, described the way solar energy provides an effective way for landowners to transport water to their livestock.

“Especially around here, (landowners) have found that solar is a much more efficient way to pump water than the old windmills,” Fulton said.

And now, with the birth of the Sage Grouse Initiative, the solar-powered systems are receiving increasing amounts of federal support. Fulton said the systems have received funding through the Farm Bill for decades — but for the last several years, SGI has targeted more money for the solar-powered projects in places where the sage grouse is affected, such as Moffat County.

Surprising as it may seem at first glance, the creation of multiple water sources for cattle helps sage grouse too.

The system often works this way: A solar panel powers a pump that drives water through an underground pipeline, and the pipeline delivers the water to troughs at various points in the land so that animals can drink. The pump often fills up a storage tank for a backup water supply, as well.

The system, as Fulton explained it, creates an efficient means of supplying water to animals on the land. By creating several water sources, the system also eases stress on the ponds, puddles and streams where animals may gather to drink. That benefits a host of creatures — including the sage grouse.

Chris Yarbrough, formerly a biologist with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who is now regional habitat biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, explained how a water system such as this can help sage grouse. If there’s only one pond on a ranch, he said, that’s where the cows will congregate.

“That area will probably get overgrazed, and you’ll probably get a lot of weeds — things that aren’t good for wildlife,” he said.

But water troughs scattered throughout the land can attract animals to different spots, easing the pressure on a pond or a stream.

“The grasses and (other plants) then have a chance to grow,” he said — something that’s good for sage grouse and lots of other species, as well.

Yarbrough said much of the funding to install solar pumping systems in Moffat County is generated by the SGI, launched by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2010.

Fulton said the NRCS works with about 20 landowners in Moffat County on solar watering systems, and he noted there may be others using solar power, as well. It’s a number that’s far larger, he said, than it was about a decade ago, before the SGI.

One of the Moffat County landowners who uses solar-powered system is Doug Davis, who has a ranch called Davis Family Farm LLC that lies in the eastern part of the county.

“We discovered a very good water source up high, and because it’s up high you can use gravity flow,” Davis said.

Davis explained that the solar panel on this ranch pumps water from the well into a storage tank — and from that storage tank, gravity allows the water to flow through pipes to troughs throughout the property. Davis said that, on another property, he uses the solar-powered pump to push water directly to the troughs.

windmillgreghobbs

Either way, Davis said he’s glad to be using solar energy. He used to use windmills, which could be tough to maintain and less reliable.

“Windmills are much higher maintenance, and the wind does not blow as consistently as the sun shines,” he said. “Solar, which has turned out to be a low-maintenance, relatively low-cost proposition for us, is a winner.”

As Fulton walked through Davis’s land on that sunny July day, he pointed to some small nuances in the equipment, including strategically placed fencing to protect the plumbing from the animals drinking from the troughs, and a “small animal escape ramp” to let otherwise trapped animals climb to safety.

Fulton said the solar-powered system works without batteries, which means that energy is transferred directly to the pumps. It also means that the amount of energy may vary from day to day, depending on the supply of sunlight at a given time. That’s where the agility of the pumps comes into play.

“These pumps are able to work on variable voltage,” he said. “They’ll even continue to pump on a slightly cloudy day.”

Storing water during the sunny days, Fulton said, creates a water supply to use on the cloudy ones.

“You store water instead of storing electricity,” he said.

Fulton said, too, that advances in technology — in the pumps and the solar panels — have made the system even better than it used to be.

“It got more dependable, more efficient through the years,” he said — a sign that the sun soaking ranches throughout the county will be put to good use for many more years to come.