#Drought news: Yampa River Commercial & Voluntary Closures

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

Here’s the release from the City of Steamboat Springs:

Due to high water temperatures and low flow in the Yampa River, the City of Steamboat Springs is implementing closures for all commercial activities on the Yampa River and asking the public to abide by a voluntary closure for all recreational river use. The river closure, which began today, Monday, July 9, 2018, will remain in effect until rescinded.

The Yampa River experienced water temperatures greater than 75 degrees for two consecutive days, July 7 & 8, which exceeds the threshold for a mandatory river closure as outlined in the Yampa River Management Plan. Low water flows, high water temperatures, and low levels of dissolved oxygen are all unfavorable conditions to aquatic life and any one of these factors can trigger a closure.

Stream flows are currently hovering around 90 cubic feet per second (cfs); however, it is anticipated based on current trends to continue dropping and fall below the 85 cfs level. Average flow for this day in July is 445 cfs, which the river is well below at the current time.

“A mandatory closure of the Yampa River isn’t something the city takes lightly and goes directly to the long-term health of the community’s number one natural resource,” said Craig Robinson, interim Parks & Recreation Director. “We would like to thank the community, especially our commercial operators, for their cooperation and support during this time.”

Commercial tubing companies have suspended operations until river conditions return to acceptable levels. Commercial river recreation companies must also adhere to regulations adopted in the Yampa River Management Plan.

River users – tubers, SUP-ers, swimmers, anglers – are requested to adhere to the voluntary closure and avoid river recreation. Please be mindful of the impacts your actions may have on the Yampa River and its wildlife.

In addition to the mandatory closure of commercial activities on the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is initiating a voluntary fishing closure between the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and the western edge of Steamboat Springs.

Although anglers are not prohibited from fishing in this stretch, CPW and Steamboat Springs is asking anglers to find alternative places to fish to protect the popular fishery.

“Great fishing can be found at several area lakes and ponds, as well as the high-country,” said Bill Atkinson, area aquatic biologist for CPW. “Anglers still have great opportunities to fish while helping us protect this local resource.”

Trout are cold water fish that have evolved to function best in 50-60 degree waters. When temperatures exceed 70 degrees, they often stop feeding and become more susceptible to disease.

A wide range of temperature tolerances for trout have been reported, but upper lethal limits range from 74 to 79 degrees. According to local officials, water temperatures in the Yampa River are now exceeding 75 degrees in the afternoons.

“When water flows are minimal, fish become concentrated in residual pool habitat and become stressed due to increased competition for food resources,” said Kris Middledorf, CPW’s area wildlife manager in Steamboat Springs. “Because the fish are already stressed by poor water quality conditions, any additional stress from being hooked could make them even more vulnerable to disease and death.”

Middledorf reminds the public that the mandatory fishing closure on a six-tenth mile section of the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir remains in effect, enforced by law.

City staff will continue to monitor flows and river temperatures at the 5th Street Bridge. Water temperature monitoring was incorporated in November 2017 through a partnership with Mt. Werner Water, the Colorado River District and the USGS.

Notices will be posted at popular river access points and requests everyone’s cooperation in protecting the Yampa River by staying out of the river until conditions improve. The health and protection of the Yampa River rates high with residents. Thank you for Respecting the Yampa and helping to protect the health of the river.

@H2OTracker: Gaming Gravity: How Farmers and Ranchers Are Using the Flow of Water to Power Operations on Their Land

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Click here to listen to the podcast from H2O Radio. Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:

Agriculture uses a lot of water. But what if that water were used for more than growing food? What if it could generate energy—renewable energy? It can, and a program in Colorado is helping farmers harness hydropower to lower costs, save time—and conserve the water itself.

[…]

Tyler Snyder ranches just outside Yampa, Colorado, in the northwest part of the state, and he has several hundred acres that were part of several old homesteads. Back in the early 1900s, farmers grew potatoes, head lettuce, and strawberries on his fields by flooding meadows with diverted water.

Snyder is pretty impressed that those early settlers dug ditches in these rocky conditions using only picks and mules pulling plows—partly because he recently spent months digging miles of trench himself. It was slow going and time-consuming because he had to screen out rocks to make sure nothing would sit against pipe he was laying.

More than a century later, Snyder has installed pipelines that move water differently on his property than those historic ditches—a move that is saving him time, labor, and money—plus conserving the water itself.

A whooshing sound pierces the air as water starts to flow through the pipe. It’s going to a “center pivot” in the meadow where we’re standing. A center pivot is a way of irrigating that makes those bright green circles you see from airplanes. Water comes up in the middle of a field and motorized wheels move a long arm with sprinklers around in a circle.

But Snyder’s center pivot is different that ones you might see in other parts of the country. It’s a “hydro-mechanical” center pivot for irrigation. It’s called hydro-mechanical because it’s powered by moving water—no diesel or electricity are required to make it work—just gravity. The pressure that builds as the water is piped down the hillside is great enough to spin a turbine, which provides energy for its hydraulic motors.

After the pivot pressurizes, water starts to spray out of nozzles strung along the long arm that stretches over a quarter of a mile out into Snyder’s field, putting the droplets exactly where they need to go.

Snyder says that flood irrigation uses only about 30-40 percent of the water in order to grow the same quality crop as you do with an efficiency project that uses all the water that you put on because it doesn’t run off. He says when he was flood irrigating the water would collect at the bottom of his fields, often leaving the top land burnt and dry.

Due to low water flow, @COParksWildlife enacts emergency fishing closure on heavily fished portion of Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (Mike Porras):

Due to critically low water flow caused by dry conditions and minimal snowpack levels, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will close a 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River between the dam at Stagecoach State Park down to the lowermost park boundary.

The closure begins June 14 and will continue until further notice.

“Should the flow rate increase substantially for a continuous period of time, CPW will re-evaluate the emergency fishing closure,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “But for now, we need to take this course of action because of the current conditions at this popular fishery.”

When water flows are minimal, fish become concentrated in residual pool habitat and become stressed due to increased competition for food resources. The fish become much easier targets for anglers, an added stressor that can result in increased hooking mortality.

“We are trying to be as proactive as possible to protect the outstanding catch and release trout fishery we have downstream of Stagecoach Reservoir,” said Area Aquatic Biologist Bill Atkinson. “This stretch of the river receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, especially in the spring when other resources might not be as accessible. This emergency closure is an effort to protect the resource by giving the fish a bit of a reprieve when they are stressed like they are right now.”

CPW advises anglers to find alternative areas to fish until the order is rescinded. Many other local areas are now fishable, with tributaries contributing water to maintain various fisheries. Several area lakes are also open and fishing well.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks for cooperation from anglers; however, the closure will be enforced by law with citations issued for anyone violating the order.

Wildlife officials warn when a fish population is significantly affected by low flows or other unfavorable environmental conditions, it could take several years for it to fully recover if not protected.

Like many rivers and streams in western Colorado, the Yampa River offers world-class fishing and attracts thousands of anglers each year, providing a source of income to local businesses that depend on outdoor recreation.

“We ask for the public’s patience and cooperation,” said Atkinson. “It is very important that we do what we can to protect this unique fishery, not only for anglers, but for the communities that depend on the tourism revenue this area provides for local businesses.”

For more information, contact Stagecoach State Park at 970-736-2436, or CPW’s Steamboat Springs office at 970-870-2197.

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Protecting Yampa River more than just recreation

The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition via Steamboat Today:

his time of year embodies the pastoral landscapes the Yampa Valley is known for. The change of seasons brings the return of the familiar sights and sounds of geese, cranes and other migratory birds. People, too, flock from around the world to celebrate this rebirth, as our valley sheds its winter coat and begins to bloom.

While many in our community are watching the weather to see how long they can continue to ski, when bike trails will be dry and how high the river will be for the 38th annual Yampa River Festival, another group of valley residents is tuned into the weather for another reason.

Our agriculture community is tracking the same indicators that skiers, bikers, rafters and fisherman are watching: snowpack, water flows and historical averages. Area farmers and ranchers need this crucial data to determine how long they will be able to irrigate their fields.

Without the extensive use of irrigation on area ranches, our landscape would be very different. Irrigated land provides numerous benefits beyond agricultural yields: It provides habitat for migratory birds, feeds riparian zones along the Yampa and increases late-season flows.

Friends of the Yampa, or FOTY, has done a lot of growing during the past several years. FOTY received its nonprofit status in 2008 and has been hard at work ever since. Branching into roles beyond building recreational features, we now facilitate projects that address noxious weeds, late season flows and other issues specific to the Yampa River.

The Leafy Spurge Project, for example, aims to address a weed that is threatening agricultural and riparian lands throughout the West. Leafy spurge, for those who are not familiar, is an invasive weed that is becoming more prevalent each year. Through partnerships with public and private landowners, state and federal agencies and other advocacy groups, FOTY and its partners hope to address this growing threat.

FOTY continues to support exploring innovative options to provide late season flows through Steamboat Springs. Options such as Alternative Transfer Methods, headed by the Colorado Water Trust and the State Engineer’s Office, provide water-rights holders the ability to lease water to downstream users for up to three years in a 10-year period, while still retaining original rights.

Similarly, FOTY is excited about research into the creation of a water fund. Groups, including the Nature Conservancy, are exploring this concept, which could be used to finance and implement similar transfers to benefit the health of the river into the future.

It is through these collaborative efforts that FOTY hopes it can continue to be a helpful resource for water users throughout the basin. Agriculture, recreation, municipal and industrial users are in this together. Using strategic partnerships and innovative water use practices, we can insure a vibrant river community for generations to come.

Learn more about this and all our work at friendsoftheyampa.com. See you on the river.

#SteamboatSprings: Community discussion, “The Yampa Basin: Snow Weather, Water and our Future”

Geologic time, Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Steamboat Today (Frances Hohl):

Steamboat Springs area residents will soon get a chance to pick the brains of scientists and conservationists on how to prevent the Yampa River from being ravaged by extreme weather conditions.

A community discussion, “The Yampa Basin: Snow, Weather, Water and Our Future,” will be offered on Wednesday night at the end of a weekend workshop, which is being hosted by Colorado Mountain College and the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Yampa River Rendezvous on June 5 and 6 will involve about 80 graduate students, post-doctoral scholars, researchers and water resource experts, who are traveling to Steamboat to study the Yampa River’s unique role in the Colorado River system as one of its wildest tributaries.

“In San Diego, we get about 70 percent of our tap water from the Colorado River,” said Atmospheric Scientist Leah Campbell, a postdoctoral researcher with UC, San Diego and a scholar at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. About 20 post-graduate students will be attending the workshop with Campbell.

IF YOU GO
What: Community discussion: “The Yampa Basin: Snow Weather, Water and our Future”

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6

Where: Albright Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs, 1275 Crawford Ave.

Honing in on options for a potential White River Dam near Rangely

Looking up the White River valley, with the Wolf Creek valley opening up to the left. The view is from Hwy 64.

By Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

CRAIG — Three variations of a potential dam that could someday sit astride the main stem of the White River between Meeker and Rangely have been examined by the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District in Rangely.

Last week in Craig, Steve Jamieson, a principal engineer and president at W.W. Wheeler and Associates, told the members of the Yampa, Green and White river basin roundtable that an 80-foot-tall dam built across the main stem of the White River at Wolf Creek could store 68,000 acre-feet of water.

He said a 104-foot-tall dam across the river could store 138,000 acre-feet.

And a 290-foot-tall dam across the valley floor could store 2.9 million acre-feet of water.

“The maximum you can get here is 2.9 million acre-feet in this bucket,” Jamieson said. “It’s a big bucket, and you can do that with a dam that it’s about 290 feet high. It would be a very efficient dam site, but you need to have the water to fill it.”

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler a showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied for the potential White River Dam on the main stem of the White River 23 miles east of Rangely. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 290-feet-tall and could store between 68,000 AF to 2.9 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.
Steve Jamieson, left, of Wheeler and Associates, and Brad McCloud, right, showing an illustration of where the axis of a 290-foot-tall dam across the White River would be. The big dam would require a 500-foot-wide spillway, which would mean relocating a section of Hwy 64.

Water enough

About 500,000 acre-feet of water a year runs down the lower White River each year, flowing through Meeker and Rangely and into Utah and the Green River.

And between 1923 and 2014, the annual flow in the White River at the Utah line ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million acre-feet, according to Wheeler and Associates.

The potential White River Dam would be located 23 miles east of Rangely, along Highway 64.

The existing Taylor Draw Dam, which forms Kenney Reservoir on the main stem of the White River, is six miles east of Rangely.

That reservoir was built in 1984 to hold 13,800 acre-feet of water, but it’s gradually silting in, as was expected in a 1982 EIS done for the project. The surface area still “available for recreation,” or boating, is now less than 335 acres, down from 650 acres when the reservoir opened.

The dam’s hydro plant, however, is still generating about $500,000 a year in electricity revenue for the Rio Blanco district in a run-of-river setup.

A slide being presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates and Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions showing the range of dam and reservoir sizes that have been studied with state funding for the Wolf Creek drainage. The dams range in size from 80-feet-tall to 260-feet-tall and could store 41,000 AF to 1.6 MAF. The dam sizes were studied as part of Phase 2A of the White River storage project, and the state has provided $500,000 in funding so far to study the project.

Off-channel too

Jamieson also has been studying an off-channel dam in the Wolf Creek drainage, which is a broad, dry valley on the north side the river, just upstream of the proposed White River Dam site.

The Wolf Creek Dam would be located 3,000 feet back from the river and 170 feet above it.

An 80-foot-tall version of that dam could store 41,000 acre-feet of water, a 119-foot-tall dam could store 130,000 acre-feet, and a 260-foot-tall dam could store 1.6 million-acre feet, Jamieson said.

“This is really good dam site here, I like this,” Jamieson said. “It’s very flexible.”

However, the off-channel Wolf Creek Dam would require that water be pumped up from the river, at a high cost, or delivered via a 40-mile long canal or pipeline starting near Rio Blanco Lake — closer to Meeker than Rangely.

“It’s going to be a very long and expensive canal,” Jamieson said.

The pumping facility for a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir, which was studied in 2014, was estimated to cost $18.2 million build and up to $1.1 million a year to operate.

Jamieson said Highway 64 would need to be moved to accommodate the biggest White River Dam option, which requires a 500-foot-wide spillway on one side of the river valley.

The river itself would also have to be moved during construction.

“You’d be constructing two to three years at least,” Jamieson said. “So what we looked at is actually building a tunnel around into this abutment that we would divert the White River through during construction.”

A slide presented by Steve Jamieson of Wheeler and Associates on May 9, 2018, showing the maximum inundation area of a 290-foot-tall dam on the main stem of the White River. Jamieson presented the slide at the May 9, 2018 meeting in Craig of the Yampa/White/Green basin roundtable.

Gardner-sized

Jamieson said the district started studying the maximum size of the potential reservoirs after Sen. Cory Gardner asked during a site visit, “How big can you make this reservoir?”

During his presentation Jamieson repeatedly referred to Sen. Gardner, using phrases such as “this is the maximum Cory Gardner reservoir.”

A roundtable member asked, “Did the senator promise the money for this?”

The basin roundtables operate under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and review grants for water projects.

“No, he did not, unfortunately,” said Brad McCloud of EIS Solutions, a public affairs consulting firm retained by the district. “We asked.”

The Colorado Water Conservation Board also wants to know what the maximum reservoir size is.

“Based on recent comments from some stakeholders, it may be beneficial to build the largest possible reservoir at Wolf Creek,” the scope of work for a 2017 grant from the board to the district states.

It also says “a much larger reservoir … could have additional benefits to the state.”

One of those benefits could be helping the state avoid a compact call on the Colorado River.

“Part of the Phase 2A study is to determine if the project may have the potential to provide Colorado compact curtailment insurance during periods of drought,” the 2017 grant application from the district said.

Since 2013, the district has received three grants totaling $500,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for its White River project, and the potential benefit of compact compliance has been mentioned in all three grants.

The White River near the vicinity of the Wolf Creek drainage. The river sends about 500,000 acre-feet of water a year across the state line into Utah, with flows ranging from 200,000 AF to 1.2 MAF a year. The White drains the western side of the Flat Top Mountains and flows through Meeker and Rangely.

20,000 or 90,000

On Wednesday in Craig, Jamieson downplayed compact curtailment and focused on the district’s goal of creating a 20,000 or 90,000 acre-foot “working pool” of water inside larger potential reservoirs.

For example, it would require a 138,000 acre-foot on-channel reservoir to establish a 90,000 acre-foot working pool for the district, after allowances for a recreation pool and a 24,000 acre-foot sedimentation pool — which would fill in over 50 years.

To establish a need of the stored water, Jamieson cited a 2014 study showing demand in the basin at 91,000 acre-feet in 2065.

That’s on the high end, though.

The low-end need in 2065 was 16,600 acre-feet.

The district filed in water court in 2014 for a 90,000-acre-foot storage right at both the on-channel and off-channel locations.

But Erin Light, the division engineer in Div. 6, told the district in July 2017 “this application continues to contain aspects that are speculative and this is concerning to me.”

She questioned the district’s use of the highest estimates for such potential uses as oil shale production and flows for endangered fish.

The water attorney for the district, Ed Olszewski, responded to Light in August.

He said the district “disputes that any portion of the application is speculative” and the application is intended to be “as flexible as possible.”

As Jamieson wrapped up his presentation, he said the Rio Blanco district plans to “initiate project permitting” in 2019.

“I know we’re very aggressive,” Jamieson said. “We’re making progress.”

Aspen Journalism is covering water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The Times and the Post Independent published this story on Monday, May 14, 2018.

Agricultural resiliency in the face of #drought

The headwaters of the Yampa River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From the CSU Extension Office (Todd Hagenbuch) via Steamboat Today:

If it feels dry and warm this winter, it’s because it is. While our snowpack water equivalent is lower than average in Northwest Colorado, it’s the warm temperatures that make it feel like even less snow as it has melted and condensed the snow considerably. In fact, every point west of the Continental Divide, from Idaho to New Mexico, has experienced unseasonably warm temperatures all winter, further exacerbating our low moisture levels.

When comparisons are made on percentage of snow level or temperatures, they are measured against an average, even if it is sometimes listed as a percentage of normal. The reality in our area is that normal weather is variable, really variable.

So how do landowners and agricultural producers make themselves resilient to dramatic weather?

  • Make a grazing plan for the longterm. Plan to have enough pasture for your animals no matter what happens. Yes, you may not use it all to maximum effectiveness every year, but having land in reserve for dry periods pays dividends in the longterm. Range grasses overgrazed even one year will lead to long-term, decreased production. Stressed grasses take even longer to recover from grazing, so allowing plenty of time for grass to rest during the growing season is critical, too.
  • Cull animals as appropriate while preserving genetics. If times get tough and you need to reduce the amount of forage consumed on your property, it may be time to cut numbers. Older, larger animals take more resources than smaller, younger ones, so consider that when culling. If you’ve raised your own replacement livestock, then keeping heifers/ewes and young bulls/rams with the same genetic makeup as the older animals allows you to keep the genes you’ve worked hard on promoting while reducing the forage required to keep the herd going.
  • Take advantage of moisture when it’s more likely to come. Consider taking on seeding projects and fertilization in the fall, when winter snows are more likely to guarantee moisture than unpredictable spring rains. Fertilizer depends on moisture, so move it into the soil profile quickly after application. Applying it right before snow-up helps guarantee it will move into the soil before dry air can cause volatilization of the nitrogen you’re trying to supply to your plants.
  • Use water wisely, for conservation sake and for better grass. Grass plants do not want to be wet all of the time, but do need water. Thoroughly soaking grass then letting it dry for a period of time before wetting it again helps grass remain resilient and helps your pasture retain the grasses that are best for grazing, not sedges and other water-loving plants. If you have little water, you’ll be more likely to manage it well if you’ve been practicing your irrigation skills in times of plenty.
  • Always plan for the unthinkable. Forest fires and other natural disasters can happen any summer. Be prepared with an evacuation plan for yourself, family and animals. Share the plan with your family and neighbors, and find out what their plans are. Practice when possible and make sure that everyone is on the same page so when the time comes, you’re ready.
  • There is only so much one can do to thwart the challenges Mother Nature throws at us. But thinking through possible scenarios and having a drought mitigation plan in mind before disaster strikes is paramount. Weather variability and extreme events are here to stay, and by planning ahead, you can assure that you can weather whatever comes our way.

    Todd Hagenbuch is the interim county director and agriculture agent for the CSU Extension office.