#Runoff news: Coordinated releases for #ColoradoRiver endangered fish #COriver

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via The Los Alamos Daily Post:

Coordinated releases from a series of Upper Colorado River Basin reservoirs began Saturday, June 3, and are anticipated to continue through this week as part of the Coordinated Reservoirs Operations Program.

The US Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River District, Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District as owners and operators of upper Colorado River reservoirs have mutually agreed to modify their operations to benefit the endangered fish of the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The Coordinated Reservoir Operations (CROS) program was established in 1995 as part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The purpose of the Coordinated Operations is to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction, Colo. Determined to be critical to the survival of four endangered fish species: the Humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Bonytail and the Colorado Pikeminnow. The higher peak flows remove more fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the endangered fish. In years with sufficient snowpack, surplus inflows to the reservoirs can be passed downstream to benefit these fish without impacting reservoir yields or future beneficial water uses.

Coordinated Reservoir Operations were most recently conducted in 2016, 2015 and 2010. In 2011 and 2014, wet conditions caused streamflows in certain areas of the basin to approach or exceed levels associated with minor flooding, so CROS was not performed. In 2012 and 2013, reservoirs did not have surplus inflow to contribute due to extremely dry conditions.

Managers of the reservoirs completed a conference call June 2, agreeing to voluntarily run the program this year. Planned reservoir operations as of June 2 are described below. Release and flow amounts are approximate. Most reservoirs will step up releases over the next several days, hold at a constant rate for 3-7 days, and then wind down releases.

Green Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, will increase releases from 418 cubic feet per second (cfs) to powerplant capacity of around 1400 cfs. Releases from Green Mountain include inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water, that will be increased by approximately 100 cfs during CROS.

Denver Water also operates Williams Fork Reservoir, which is releasing 200 cfs. Releases will likely increase to approximately 600 cfs over the coming week to bypass increasing inflows.

Willow Creek Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is releasing 90 cfs. Releases will increase this week to roughly 600 cfs by curtailing pumping operations to Granby Reservoir and bypassing those inflows instead.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir, operated by the Colorado River District, is passing inflows of 350 cfs. Outflows will be increased to around 600 cfs for approximately five days.

Ruedi Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is releasing 182 cfs and will increase releases to approximately 600 cfs over the next few days.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) will incorporate these planned reservoir operations into their streamflow forecasts. Based on weather forecasts and planned reservoir operations, flows in the Colorado River near Cameo (upriver of Palisade, Colo.) are anticipated to be approximately 14,000 – 17,500 cfs, June 7 through June 12, with the highest flows Thursday or Friday June 8 or 9. Flows in the forecasted range are still below defined “bankfull” and flood stages for the area.

More detailed information about forecasted streamflows in the Colorado River basin are available from the CBRFC website at http://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov. A map-based interface allows viewing of hydrographs detailing recent, current and anticipated flows.

For more information, contact Don Anderson, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, at 303.236.9883, donald_anderson@usfws.gov, Michelle Garrison, Colorado Water Conservation Board, at 303.866.3441, ext. 3213, michelle.garrison@state.co.us or James Bishop, Bureau of Reclamation, at 970.962.4326, jbishop@usbr.gov.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water developers, power customers and environmental groups established in 1988 to recover the endangered fishes while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Through both natural and man-made activities, the area’s waterbodies will ramp back up to seasonal heights this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration anticipates the Colorado River and its primary Summit County tributaries will reach their highest 2017 levels this Wednesday, June 7.

The volume-based flow rates, measured as cubic feet per second, on North Tenmile Creek, for example, will rise from about 600 to 900 cfs and the Blue River north of Dillon should grow in the next two days by another couple hundred cfs from its present 600. To offset forthcoming supply, Denver Water, which owns and oversees Dillon Reservoir, stated that it plans to up flows from Dillon Dam into the Lower Blue River from its Monday total of 380 cfs to 600 no later than Tuesday morning, and between 1,400 and 1,800 cfs by the end of the week.

“The snowpack up on the mountain, it’s now warmed up and is starting to come off,” said Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, a public policy agency that closely monitors the region’s major waterway. “It’s fast water, but shouldn’t flood anybody out. All streams will be quicker-paced than people are used to, but the flooding is not the danger.”

[…]

North of Silverthorne, additional releases at Green Mountain Reservoir also allow the Bureau of Reclamation to increase power plant capacity and generate more electricity. Those levels could reach approaching 1,400 cfs from the current 418.

Estimating that 40 percent of the winter’s snowpack still remains above Dillon, Denver Water is comfortable increasing the flows from Dillon Reservoir into the Lower Blue River that ultimately head to northern Arizona’s Lake Powell. That result is threefold, preventing wasteful overflow of the reservoir, maintaining ideal recreational heights on the lake, as well as fulfilling the demands of Lower Basin states based on senior water rights.

“Our experts are monitoring conditions carefully with the goal of ending runoff season with a full reservoir,” Matt Wittern, Denver Water Summit County liaison, wrote by email. “That way, we’re able to meet our customers’ needs while providing locals and tourists alike with valued summer recreation activities that have a positive impact on the local economy.”

A standup surfer in the Arkansas River at Salida during Fibark, the river celebration held in late June. Photo/Allen Best

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Where spring runoff has been something like average—and where it hasn’t

Spring runoff of the Yampa River likely peaked on May 14 this year as it flowed through northwestern Colorado. That makes it an anomaly in the precipitation-dripping mountains of the West.

In most other locations, the peak runoff—the time when the largest volume of water in rivers occurs as winter’s snow melts—more normally occurs in early June after temperatures finally warmed. This year looks to be more or less normal, despite a trend to earlier runoff in many locations during the last several decades.

“The Yampa did have an early runoff, and that was the result of the warm temperatures and below-average snowpack,” said Ashley Nielson, senior hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, when interviewed last week by Mountain Town News. The Yampa, she noted, will probably rise again in the next week or so, if not to the same high mark.

But elsewhere, the show is now, not a month ago. Peak runoff of the Green River was expected this week or next. It originates in the Wind River Range of west-central Wyoming. Unlike the Yampa, that basin still has a significant snowpack. That was also reported to be the case in Jackson Hole, at the headwaters of the Snake River. The snowpack there was 181 percent of average in late May, not a record but “up there,” in the words of one water official cited by the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Peak runoff in the upper Colorado River at its headwaters along the Continental Divide in Colorado was also expected to occur in early June.

Winter had wild swings: barren until late fall, then torrents of snow in December and January. Temperatures were unseasonably warm in February and almost hot in March. It looked like an early runoff everywhere. Then May turned cold and snowy.

What explains the Yampa’s aberrant behavior? Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, said the peak snowpack in northwestern Colorado arrived about a month earlier than usual. That snowpack around Steamboat Springs occurred on March 12, compared a more typical April 10.

Instead of mid-May for the Yampa, he says that rafters floating through Dinosaur National Monument more often experience the highest water flows of the year in early June.

The Dolores River in southwestern Colorado on Memorial Day in 2009. Photo/Allen Best

Flows in the Animas River through Silverton and Durango have had some “pretty wild swings,” Wetlaufer says. The Arkansas River has been slow to get started with runoff.

The Snake River of Wyoming and Idaho has a very different story than the Yampa, with around 200 percent of snowpack this year. The Snake originates in Jackson Hole and picks up water from the Big Wood River, which originates in the Sawtooth Mountains above Ketchum and Sun Valley, before joining the Columbia at the Idaho-Washington border.

“My takeaway is that this year is pretty normal” in terms of timing, says Bruce Anderson, the senior hydrologist at the Northwest River Forecast Center, in Portland, Ore. It was cooler and wetter in spring, but the big story was the amount of precipitation that fell during winter. “We are hugely above normal for precipitation.”

In the Tahoe-Truckee area of California’s Sierra Nevada, the snowpack was among the deeper ones on record after three bad drought years and then a so-so winter in 2015-16. Snowfall this winter was not a record, but it was a record for total precipitation. Being somewhat lower and closer to the coast than Colorado, the Sierra Nevada gets more rain during winter. This year it got a lot of rain.

Colorado, too, had rain on snow, which is not unprecedented. But it happened frequently this winter. The result was telling for travelers on I-70 who crossing Vail Pass.

“In general, there was less snow than you would expect,” says Klaus Wolter, a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.

Were those rain on snow storms of this past winter a result of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions? Wolter told Mountain Town News that thinks this is “probably partially climate change.”

Wolter, whose focus is empirical climate research, using statistical methods to solve climate problems, is reluctant to pin climate change on much of what we have seen this year. True, he says, one storm during May left 42 inches of fresh snow in the foothills above Boulder, a storm unprecedented since the 1920s. As extreme as that storm was, proving causality is difficult, he says.

A scientist in Oregon also shared the difficulty of proving causality. John Stevenson of Oregon State University told the Idaho Mountain Express in Ketchum that it’s “really difficult to judge any one year” to be a result of rising global temperatures.

“That’s one of the challenges we run into in the science world where people say, ‘Oh, it’s climate change.’ We’re not at the point where we can take any one random event and say it’s climate change.”

That said, his 2015 study concluded that the point each spring when half of the water year’s streamflow had run off was occurring an average 1.9 days earlier per decade.

But more extreme events are happening with greater frequency, said Mark Davidson, director of conservation initiatives with The Nature Conservancy. He pointed out that the Big Wood River has had two 100-year floods in the last 15 years.

Warm temperatures in the Ketchum and Sun Valley area were 6 to 13 degrees warmer than normal for early May, producing a flood in the Big Wood River that peaked on May 8. It was regarded as the largest in 101 years of recorded history, reports the Idaho Mountain Express.

But more warm weather was producing another surge in early June that threatened to surpass that peak of a month before, the newspaper reported last week.

Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament targets smallmouth bass and northern pike

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From WesternSlopeNow.com (Rebecca Hykin):

The four native fish involved with the program are the Colorado Pikeminnow, Bonytail, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. As these unique fish are found only in this part of the world, the Colorado River Basin, the decline is due to the loss in habitat and several non-native fish species preying on them, including Small Mouth Bass, Northern Pike, and Walleye.

“The fish that we’re trying to remove compete for resources with the native fish as well as they are predatorial fish and they’ll eat the native fish as well,” said Tory Eyre, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

These non-native fish are coming into these native fish habitats from reservoirs overflowing and from a way that is a bit more unorthodox.

“People are moving live fish from one body of water to another and that is illegal on the West Slope of Colorado, and when we have folks that are doing that, it results in a lot of our time and dollars to try to eradicate those species from areas in places that we don’t want them to be,” said Lori Martin, Senior Aquatic Biologist with CPW.

Eyre explained the various instinctive recover efforts helping to save these native fish, “we propagate fish so we raise fish in hatcheries and stock them. We alter habitat [and] try to alter flows. Then our involvement is with the non-native removal.”

Eyre added, “We placed gill nets in the backwaters that are a certain mesh size that targets the Northern Pike and we try to catch them in while they are entering the backwater to spawn.”

CPW has also worked with other program partners to install spillway screens in reservoirs at Elkhead and Highline Lake State Parks to prevent non-native fish from escaping into the Yampa and Colorado Rivers.

“It allows us to stock warm water fish that are okay with the recovery program into Highline Lake and the purpose of it is to keep those fish in the lake and not allow them to get in the Colorado River,” said Alan Martinez, Park Manager for Highline Lake State Park.

However, those with the initiative have been running into a small issue as the recovery program is controversial for some people. Eyre explained, “Small Mouth Bass and Northern Pike are sport fish…people like to catch them.”

As this is upsetting to some anglers, CPW has been working with the program’s agencies, and with anglers, to address their frustrations.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities for anglers for similar species in waters or areas where there is no interaction with native fish,” said Martin.

To encourage involvement by the angling public, CPW is sponsoring the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic Tournament from June 24-July 2 in Craig.

“The aim is to have anglers help us remove small mouth bass and northern pike so we that can better provide a compatible sport fishery that’s in line with endangered fish recovery efforts downstream,” said Martin.

With all of the efforts in helping to reduce the non-native fish to increase the native fish populations, CPW officials say some improvements with some species have already been made in some locations along the Western Slope.

“This is kind of our one chance to recovery these species. They’re not found anywhere else, so if they’re gone, then they’re gone, and they’re gone forever,” said Eyre.

Elkhead Reservoir

#Runoff/#Snowpack news: The Yampa River has likely peaked for season

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Even though the river where it flows through downtown has already peaked for the season, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, is projecting the final push of the spring runoff will continue into the first few days of June.

The river, which was flowing at below 1,000 cfs the morning of May 24, had already jumped to 1,250 cfs by midday May 25 and is projected to go even higher June 1 to 3 when it will be flowing above 1,550 cfs just in time for the 37th annual Yampa River Festival.

However, hydrologists at the Forecast Center report the river won’t climb as high as it did shortly after 2 a.m. May 14, when the flow peaked at 2,030 cfs for the season. That compares to a peak flow of 3,880 cfs on June 9, 2016.

Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, suggested Thursday the below-average peak flow in the Yampa correlates with mountain snowpack that peaked atypically early.

“Across the entire Yampa, White and North Platte, snowpack peak was just about a month earlier than normal,” Wetlaufer said. “There were slight resurgences, but it never reached that peak again.”

Typically, Wetlaufer said, snowpack — a term that refers to the amount of water accumulated in the settled snow — peaks in this region on about April 10. This year, snowpack in the mountains peaked March 12…

The Yampa at Deerlodge Park in Moffat County, just above Dinosaur National Monument, was flowing in 4,350 cfs late this week with a boost from the Little Snake River, which drains the northern portion of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Areas, and was flowing at 1,350 cfs.

The Green River, just before it flows out of Utah and into Moffat County, was flowing at 7,100 cfs, as Flaming Gorge Dam operators counteracted high inflows generated by unusually heavy snow in Northwest Wyoming this winter…

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports that the 8 inches of snow water equivalent — water stored in the remaining 18 inches of snow — on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass May 25 was just 58 percent of median, but that has grown from just 34 percent of median on May 17.

Those figures are even more significant above 10,000 feet on Buffalo Pass where the snow is still 90 inches deep, and the 44.8 inches of water there is 93 percent of median for the date.

Wetlaufer said the benefit of a late surge in snowmelt could be amplified if it also comes with rainfall on the valley floor. That would boost soil moisture, he said, which in turn would satisfy the demands of vegetation and allow more of the snowmelt to make its way into the streams and river.

@ColoradoWater “State of the River” meetings #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

#Snowpack/#runoff news: Yampa Valley providers will institute watering restrictions this season

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 26, 2017 via the NRCS.

From the City of Steamboat Springs:

Water Providers Announce Mandatory Water Restrictions

With minimal precipitation, above average temperatures and runoff steadily increasing, coupled with a very dry February and March, the four districts which provide water to the Steamboat Springs area – Mt. Werner Water, City of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat II Metro District and Tree Haus Metro District – will institute mandatory stage 2 water restrictions starting May 1, 2017.

“Even with our recent moisture, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” said Frank Alfone, Mt. Werner Water District General Manager. “With lower than normal precipitation so far this year and a still fluctuating summer forecast, the early adoption of stage 2 restrictions and a conservative approach made sense for the conditions we’re seeing at this point.”

The NOAA Climate Prediction Center is still predicting average precipitation this summer with a good chance (40%) for above average temperatures. Steamboat depends upon a combination of natural flows and reservoir releases from the Fish Creek watershed to carry it through the summer, fall and winter.

“It’s good to see the return of rain and snow this week,” said Jon Snyder, Public Works Director for the City of Steamboat Springs. “However, we’ll need consistent and steady precipitation for the foreseeable future to move away from restrictions and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation over the coming months.”

Early implementation of Stage 2 watering schedule will also allow lawns, shrubs and trees to adapt early in the growing season and enables automatic systems to be set by landscapers, businesses and homeowners to the Stage 2 schedule right from the start of the season.

Through these restrictions and continued efforts by water users to reduce water demands, the community is able to strike a balance between conserving water supplies in the reservoirs and maintaining the riparian health of Fish Creek and the Yampa River.

Stage 2 water restrictions are in accordance with the Steamboat Springs Water Conservation Plan adopted in 2011 by the Steamboat Springs City Council and Board of Directors of Mt. Werner Water District. Stage 2 mandatory restrictions were most recently enacted in 2015, 2013 and 2012.

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

According to the Tower weather monitoring station at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, 12 inches of snow had fallen by Tuesday morning.

The weather station on Rabbit Ears Pass at 9,400 measured 8 inches of new snow.

The town of Yampa had 5 inches of snow while Clark had 2 inches.

Ski areas still operating benefited with Winter Park receiving 7 inches of snow. Loveland Ski Area saw 5 inches.

The current snow depth on Buffalo Pass is 105 inches. That’s the equivalent of 41.8 inches of water.

On average for April 25, there is 49.3 inches of snow equivalent water at the Buffalo Pass monitoring station, meaning snowpack is 85 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Historically, snowpack on Buffalo Pass peaks on May 9.

Snow depth on Rabbit Ears is 43 inches with the equivalent of 16.7 inches of water. The snowpack for Rabbit Ears is 65 percent of average.

The snowpack for the entire Yampa and White river basins was at 78 percent of average as of Tuesday.

#Snowpack news: March precipitation below average in Steamboat Springs

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 29, 2017 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

Snow is more of a sure thing at Breckenridge at an elevation of 9,600 feet, with an 80 percent chance of receiving 1 to 3 inches Friday. Saturday’s accumulations in Breck are expected to be about an inch.

More snow could fall in the San Juans and the West Elk Mountains to the south. Intellicast rates the chance that Telluride will see 3 to 5 inches of snow on Saturday at 100 percent. Crested Butte, at the headwaters of the Gunnison River, has a 70 percent chance of 3 to 5 inches of snow on Friday and a 60 percent chance of 1 to 3 inches on Saturday.

Kate Gmeiner’s weather station, between downtown and the base of the ski area, confirms that precipitation has come in dribs and drabs early and late this month, with nothing but trace amounts in the middle of March. There was no measurable precipitation from March 12 to 24.

In spite of the dry spell that began here in February, moisture for the water year, which began Oct. 1, 2016, is still at 105 percent for the combined Yampa and White river basin. However, the water stored in the standing snow at higher elevations has slipped to 93 percent.

Much of that moisture fell in December and January, when the ski area saw back-to-back 100-inch snow months at 9,000 feet.

#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.