It’s going to be awhile before summer comes to the Flat Tops. According to RBC Road and Bridge Director Dave Morlan, there’s still five feet of snow at the top of Ripple Creek.
“We’re working to get those passes open,” he said during Tuesday’s commissioner meeting in Meeker. “Burro Mountain is open to the county line. There’s still about three feet at the county line with Garfield County. Trappers still has two, two and a half feet.”
The Animas River will likely continue to flow high and fast through the upcoming days.
San Juan County Floodplain Manager Michele Truby-Tillen said the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service both project the peak of season runoff on the Animas River will occur June 15.
That means the Animas River will likely be swifter and higher than its been all year on Saturday.
Truby-Tillen said it has been a long time since there was this much water in the river. The abnormally deep snowpack in the mountains followed an extreme drought last year.
According to the USGS, the last time the Animas River had this much water in it was in June 2015 when the gauge at Cedar Hill registered 8,040 cubic feet per second…
Flows in the Animas River at Cedar Hill have been increasing. A gauge measured nearly 7,000 cubic feet per second on the morning of June 13. In a normal year, the flows would be between 2,500 cubic feet per second and 3,000 cubic feet per second in Cedar Hill, according to the USGS data.
From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):
Releases from Reudi Dam to the Fryingpan River will increase according to the following schedule:
Sunday at 6 a.m.: from 429 to 479 cubic feet per second (cfs)
Sunday at 6 p.m: from 479 to 529 cfs
Monday at 6 a.m.: from 529 to 579 cfs
Monday at 6 p.m.: from 579 to 629 cfs.
After 6 p.m. Monday, releases will remain at 629 until further notice. The purpose of these increased releases is to enhance spring peak flows in a section of the Colorado River upstream of Grand Junction, CO, critical to the survival of four endangered fish species: the humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail and the Colorado pikeminnow. Reudi Reservoir is one of many reservoirs participating in a large, coordinated effort to improve the habitat of these endangered native Colorado fish.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board on Monday released the names of the 74 people it has asked to volunteer on eight workgroups being formed to investigate how a demand-management program might work in the state.
The list of people asked to serve reads like something of a who’s who of Colorado water mavens, and they will be helping the CWCB investigate what’s billed as a “voluntary, temporary and compensated” demand-management — or water-use reduction — program in the state.
The workgroup meetings, which the CWCB considers similar to staff meetings, are to be closed to the public and the media. However, the CWCB staff members holding the meetings then plan to share the insights they’ve gleaned from the workgroup meetings in open settings, including meetings of the CWCB’s board of directors.
“From our point of view, the workgroups are assisting the CWCB’s project-management team in framing demand management issues for public review, comment, and contributions,” said Brent Newman, the chief of CWCB’s Interstate, Federal and Water Information section. “We want to come to our usual public forums with a more informed initial ‘first stab’ at demand management.”
The workgroups, as currently configured, include Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District; Jim Lochhead, the CEO of Denver Water; Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited on Colorado river issues; Kathy Chandler-Henry, an Eagle County commissioner; Doug Kemper, the executive director of the Colorado Water Congress; Mark Harris, the general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association; and many other notable water managers and experts.
(Please see full list of workgroup participants below).
The workgroups are divided by the following topics: law and policy; monitoring and verification; water-rights administration and accounting; environmental considerations; economic considerations and local government; funding; education and outreach; and agricultural impacts.
A ninth workgroup, on tribal interests, was to be formed, according to a CWCB staff presentation at the agency’s meeting in May, but a tribal workgroup was not included on the workgroup roster released Monday.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents Western Slope water interests, has five of its employees on five different workgroups.
They are Mueller, who also is an attorney, on the law and policy workgroup; John Currier, the district’s chief engineer, on the monitoring and verification workgroup; Chris Treese, the district’s external affairs manager, on the economic considerations and local government workgroup; Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs, on the education and outreach workgroup; and Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer, on the agricultural impacts workgroup.
Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are each developing demand-management programs after a series of drought contingency-planning, or DCP, agreements were signed last month by representatives of those four states and the three lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.
The DCP agreements give the four upper-basin states an opportunity to store as many as 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell, and three other federal reservoirs in the upper basin, to use as insurance against violating the Colorado River Compact of 1922.
The water in the new demand-management pool must be water that otherwise would have been consumed by fields, pastures, lawns and other uses, but instead has been sent down the river system to be stored.
Before any of the demand-management programs can be launched in the four upper-basin states, they each need to be approved by the Upper Colorado River Commission, which includes representatives from the four states and the federal government.
The commission will hold a demand-management stakeholder workshop in Salt Lake City on June 21. The workshop will be open to the public.
The CWCB plans to hold a series of public demand-management workshops — as opposed to the closed workgroups — throughout the state this year.
Despite the closed-door workgroup meetings, the CWCB plans to hold an orientation webinar in July for the workgroup members that also will be open to the public.
The roster of the invited workgroup participants from the CWCB was slated to be released by June 1, but the effort was delayed after a six-page draft confidentiality agreement that was circulated by the state raised concerns among some of the potential workgroup members.
“We heard from multiple people that it was more than was necessary to achieve the goal of being able to have open conversation, and so we really took those words to heart,” CWCB director Becky Mitchell said of the first confidentiality agreement. “After some reflection, we realized that was just not the direction we wanted to go. So we’re taking a good hard look at that.”
An update sent out last week by CWCB staff said the agency was now “considering an approach that will entail a simpler and less restrictive agreement between the parties.”
Mitchell said the next version of the agreement will be closer to one page, not six pages.
The confidentiality agreements are seen by the CWCB as necessary to create “an environment for frank, candid and open discussions,” according to a recent memo to the workgroup participants.
But the confidentiality agreements are also meant to try to keep confidential some of the information provided by the state to the members of the workgroups.
Proposed roster of CWCB demand management workgroups
Law and Policy
Karen Kwon, first assistant attorney general, Colorado
Brent Newman, chief, Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section, CWCB;
Amy Ostdiek, assistant attorney general, Colorado
Andy Mueller, general manager, Colorado River District
Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager, Denver Water
Bennett Raley, attorney at Trout Raley, representing Northern Water
John McClow, general counsel, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District
Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program director, The Nature Conservancy
Anne Castle, senior fellow, Getches-Wilkinson Center, University of Colorado
Beth Van Vurst, attorney, represents Southwestern Water Conservation District
Lee Miller, general counsel, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
Monitoring and Verification
Michelle Garrison, water resources specialist, CWCB
Brian Macpherson, decision support systems specialist, CWCB
Kelley Thompson, lead modeler, Colorado Division of Water Resources
John Currier, chief engineer, Colorado River District
Kevin Lusk, principal engineer, Colorado Springs Utilities
Tom Simpson, manager, Colorado and Arkansas Basins, Aurora Water
Luke Gingrich, Western Colorado area manager, J-U-B Engineers Inc.
Laura Belanger, water resources and env. engineer, Western Resource Advocates
Perry Cabot, research scientist and extension specialist, Colorado State University
Cary Denison, Gunnison Basin Project coordinator, Trout Unlimited
Gerry Knapp, consultant, Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District
Robert Sakata, owner, Sakata Farms
Carrie Padgett, engineer, Harris Water Engineering
Water-Rights Administration and Accounting
Lain Leoniak, assistant attorney general, Colorado
Mike Sullivan, deputy director, Colorado Division of Water Resources
Kevin Rein, state engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources
Ryan Gilliom, water resource scientist, Colorado School of Mines
Frank Kugel, general manager, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District
Rick Marsicek, planning manager, Denver Water
Drew Peternell, Colorado director, Trout Unlimited
Kyle Whitaker, Colorado River programs manager, Northern Water
Dick Wolfe, retired Colorado state engineer
Steve Witte, retired Division 2 engineer
Cleave Simpson, general manager, Rio Grande Water Conservation District
Lauren Ris, deputy director, CWCB;
Linda Bassi, chief, Stream and Lake Protection Section, CWCB
Kathy Kitzman, water resources principal, Aurora Water
Maria Pastore, senior water resources project manager, Colorado Springs Utilities
Melinda Kassen, senior counsel, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Abby Burk, western rivers regional program manager, Audubon Rockies
Matt Rice, director, Colorado basin program, American Rivers
David Graf, water resource specialist, Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Al Pfister, wildlife biologist, Western Wildscapes, LLC
Torie Jarvis, director, NWCOG Water Quality/Quantity Committee
Mely Whiting, Colorado Water Project legal counsel, Trout Unlimited
Karen Wogsland, director of programs, Colorado Water Trust
Economic Considerations and Local Government
Amy Ostdiek, assistant attorney general, Colorado
Chris Treese, external affairs manager, Colorado River District
Alexandra Davis, deputy director of water resources, Aurora Water
Seth Clayton, executive director, Pueblo Water
Sean Cronin, executive director, St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District
Kathy Chandler‐Henry, Eagle County commissioner
Barbara Biggs, general manager, Roxborough Water and Sanitation District
Steven Ruddell, forester and environmental economist, CarbonVerde, LLC
Patti Wells, former general counsel, Denver Water, former CWCB board member
Liesel Hans, water conservation manager, City of Fort Collins
Karn Stiegelmeier, Summit County commissioner
Kelly Romero‐Heaney, water resources manager, City of Steamboat Springs
Anna Mauss, chief operating officer, CWCB
Russ Sands, senior program manager, Water Supply Planning, CWCB
Ted Kowalski, Colorado River Initiative lead, Walton Family Foundation
Dave Bennett, director, Water Resource Strategy, Denver Water
Pat Wells, GM, water resources and demand management, Colorado Springs Utilities
Aaron Citron, policy adviser, The Nature Conservancy
Dick Brown, economist
Keith McLaughlin, finance director, CO Water Resources and Power Dev. Auth.
Alan Matlosz, executive VP, Colorado Public Finance Group, George K. Baum & Co.
Education and Outreach
Brent Newman, chief, Interstate, Federal and Water Information Section, CWCB
Megan Holcomb, program manager, Water Supply Planning Section, CWCB
Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs, Colorado River District
Todd Hartman, media-relations coordinator, Denver Water
Chris Woodka, issues-management coordinator, Southeastern Water
Andy Schultheiss, executive director, Colorado Water Trust
Hannah Holm, coordinator, Water Center, Colorado Mesa University
Doug Kemper, executive director, Colorado Water Congress
Laura Spann, program coordinator, Southwestern Water Conservation District
Lisa Darling, executive director, South Metro Water Supply Authority
Alex Funk, agricultural water resources specialist, CWCB
Andrew Rickert, program associate, CWCB
Erik Skeie, special project coordinator, CWCB
Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer, Colorado River District
Alan Ward, water resources division manager, Pueblo Water
Eric Wilkinson, former general manager, Northern Water
John Stulp, former water policy adviser to Colorado’s governor
Cindy Lair, program manager, State Conservation Board, CO Dept. of Agriculture
Mark Harris, general manager, Grand Valley Water Users Association
Aaron Derwingson, agricultural coordinator, The Nature Conservancy
Paul Bruchez, rancher, fly-fishing guide, member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable
Travis Smith, senior water consultant, DiNatale Water Consultants
Allen Distel, president, Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District, Montrose
Ken Curtis, chief of engineering and construction, Dolores Water Conservancy District
Tom Gray, former Moffat County commissioner, Colorado River District Board
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. The Times published a version of this story on June 10, 2019.
When Div. 5 Water Court Judge James Boyd issued a final water-rights decree at 7:23 a.m. Tuesday in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case, he removed the prospect of the city of Aspen ever building a 155-foot-tall dam on Maroon Creek or a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek below Ashcroft.
Although the city had reached agreement in October with 10 opposing parties in two water-court cases over the city’s conditional water rights, the agreements were not in effect until the court’s decree was issued in the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.
So now they are.
“It means the city will not build reservoirs at Maroon or Castle,” said Margaret Medellin, a utilities-portfolio manager for the city. “The decree was the last piece we needed to finalize all our negotiations. So until that was in place, Maroon Creek Reservoir was still a possibility.”
In issuing Aspen’s proposed decree for its conditional rights for the Maroon Creek Reservoir, the judge found that the city had been sufficiently diligent and could maintain its conditional water rights for another six years, but in doing so, he also enshrined the city’s commitment to move the rights out of the Maroon Creek valley. He did the same for the Castle Creek rights last month when he issued a decree for the conditional rights tied to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.
“The judge’s final decree ensures that the Maroon and Castle dams are dead,” said Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin director for American Rivers, which opposed the city’s efforts to maintain its water rights in the Castle and Maroon creek valleys. “This is a big day for Colorado, the city of Aspen, and for all people that appreciate free-flowing rivers. This collaborative outcome demonstrates that Coloradan’s can protect rivers while planning for a water scarce future.”
The city first filed for the conditional water rights to the two potential reservoirs in 1965, and the decreed rights carry a priority date of 1971. (Please see timeline).
The Maroon Creek Reservoir would have held 4,567 acre-feet of water just below the confluence of West Maroon and East Maroon creeks, in a pristine location in view of the Maroon Bells. The reservoir would have flooded 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land, including some in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
The Castle Creek Reservoir would have held 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a dam on the creek two miles below Ashcroft. The reservoir would have flooded 120 acres on both private and USFS lands, including a small area in the wilderness.
Since first claiming the rights, the city periodically filed little-noticed diligence applications to maintain them. Outside of the diligence filings, however, the city did not take any active steps to develop the two dams, although they were mentioned in various city water-planning documents over the decades.
But the city’s last diligence filing, in October 2016, brought statements of opposition from 10 parties: the USFS, Pitkin County, American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Wilderness Workshop and four private-property owners — two who owned land in the Maroon Creek valley and two who own land in the Castle Creek valley.
During the resulting water-court process, the city reached a deal with the opposing parties, agreeing to try and move the conditional water-storage rights out of the two pristine valleys to five identified locations in the Roaring Fork River valley.
The locations are the city golf course; the Maroon Creek Club golf course; the city’s Cozy Point open space; the Woody Creek gravel pit; and a 63-acre parcel of land next to the gravel pit, which the city bought in 2018.
“We worked a long time, and all the parties involved really were thoughtful and creative in trying to come up with a solution that the city got the storage that they desperately need, and we protect our environment,” Medellin said. “So I think it’s a real success story.”
In a joint press release issued Tuesday, representatives from American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, and Wilderness Workshop praised the deal.
“The judge’s final decree cements over two years of collaborative work to find a win-win solution that both protects Castle and Maroon Creeks in two of the regions most beloved Valleys, and ensures a sustainable future water supply for the City of Aspen,” said Will Roush, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop. “Water can be one of the most contentious issues in the west and I’m proud of our community for coming together to find a solution that benefits both people and place. Our wilderness and public lands deserve to be kept largely free of damaging developments like dams and I’m grateful to the City of Aspen for their work and commitment not only to providing water but also to protecting our environment and public lands.”
And Jon Goldin-Dubois, the president of Western Resource Advocates, said “this final decree marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration to safeguard the Maroon Bells Wilderness and Maroon and Castle creeks. The city of Aspen should be commended for its efforts to pursue water supply alternatives that will ensure future demands are met without sacrificing our rivers and cherished natural landscapes. As growing cities across the West seek sustainable and affordable ways to provide water in the face of climate change, we encourage them to follow Aspen’s lead.”
The city now plans to hire consultants to help it prepare an “integrated water-resource plan,” which it has not done since 1990, and then to file two “change cases” in water court seeking to modify the rights, which remain in place, with significant restrictions, for another six years.
All of the parties who settled with the city have agreed not to oppose the city in its upcoming change cases, which must be filed by June 2025, but other parties may do so.
Whatever the outcome of the city’s future efforts in water court, the agreements in the Maroon Creek case say, “Aspen agrees that after final entry of the final decree, it will not seek to retain any portion of the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right at its original location.” Agreements in the Castle Creek case have similar language.
Paul Noto, a water attorney with the Aspen-based law firm of Patrick, Miller, Noto, represented American Rivers and Trout Unlimited in the cases, as well as Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., a property owner in Maroon Creek.
Noto said he was pleased with the outcome of the water-court process.
“For American Rivers and Trout Unlimited, it’s a really good outcome because you had the specter of dams being constructed near the base of the Maroon Bells and that specter has been removed from the table,” Noto said. “We could argue about how likely that was going to be. It was very unlikely, perhaps impossible. But, regardless, that is completely off the table now. And I think that it was commendable that Aspen agreed to that.”
Medellin, however, said climate change means the reservoirs were becoming more likely, not less.
“Obviously, no one had a big appetite for it because we value our watersheds and the city was trying everything it could to avoid that eventuality,” Medellin said. “But when we look at what climate change is doing in our valley and in our world, there was going to be a future that we wouldn’t have been able to operate without that.”
She also said the city made a big concession in walking away from the two reservoirs, as they would have stored water above the city’s diversion structures on lower Castle and Maroon creeks.
“What we traded was the benefits of having a gravity-fed system with protecting those valleys,” Medellin said. “And that was a trade-off that we all felt was appropriate. But we know that by not having a gravity-fed system, it’s going take some creativity and potentially a pipeline.”
It’s an open question for some whether the really city needs as much as 8,500 acre-feet of stored water to meet its future needs.
A study done for the city by Headwaters Corp. concluded that the city would need 8,500 acre-feet in a much drier future, but that’s including all of the city’s current municipal indoor and outdoor needs, its current irrigation levels on the two golf courses that use city water, and enough water to keep Castle and Maroon creeks above a minimum flow level.
“I understand their desire to plan on the high side,” Noto said. “But I don’t think they proved it and I don’t think they needed to. It was just basically a number that came from horse trading.”
Noto also says it is possible the upcoming water-court process may end up reducing the city’s claim.
“It’s too soon to say if they will take a haircut,” Noto said. “We have to wait and see what the proposal is. I don’t think the city has identified their fill sources and points of diversion, and that’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of the effect on nearby water rights.”
Medellin said she expects the city to now engage with the community in a transparent discussion about the city’s future water needs.
“People have probably lost interest in it to a certain extent, but I think now — as we move into the next phase of the project, where we talk about where are we going to store the water — I imagine that the community is going to get re-engaged,” she said.
Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on June 12, 2019.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor June 11, 2019.
West Drought Monitor June 11, 2019.
Colorado Drought Monitor June 11, 2019.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw highly beneficial rainfall activity across drought-stricken areas of the Southeast. Across this region, locally heavy rainfall accumulations (ranging from 2 to 8+ inches) and localized flash flooding were observed. These soaking rains helped to significantly improve soil moisture as well as boost streamflow levels in some of the areas hardest hit by the recent heatwave. In parts of the Midwest, continued rains, flooding, and very moist soils delayed the planting of crops—including corn and soybeans. According to the USDA June 11th Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin, “only 67% of the nation’s corn and 39% of the soybeans had been planted, breaking 1995 records of 77 and 40%, respectively.” In northern North Dakota, areas of drought expanded in relation to short-term precipitation deficits and reported impacts in the agricultural sector. Out West, drought intensified in the Idaho Panhandle where poor snowpack conditions during the 2018–19 season have led to below-normal snowmelt runoff conditions. Nationwide, May of 2019 was the 2nd wettest May on record for the contiguous U.S., according to NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI)…
On this week’s map, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) expanded in northwestern North Dakota in response to short-term precipitation deficits (30–90 days) and reported drought impacts in the agricultural sector. According to the latest drought impact report from the North Dakota State Climate Office, some producers are starting to cull herds in northwestern North Dakota because of the arrival of drought conditions. Elsewhere in the region, some isolated shower activity (generally <1.5 inch accumulations) was observed this week in the eastern plains of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming, while areas of central Kansas and Nebraska saw accumulations ranging from 1 to 3 inches. For the past 30 days, precipitation accumulations have been above normal across much of the region including Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Average temperature for the week were 2-to-8 degrees above normal in the eastern half of the region while western portions ranged from 1-to-6 degrees below normal…
Across most of the region, dry conditions prevailed with the exception of some isolated shower activity in western Washington, the northern Rockies, as well as eastern Colorado and New Mexico where accumulations were generally less than an inch. In the Desert Southwest, a re-assessment of long-term drought conditions on the map for the Four Corners region led to reductions in areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) where the vast majority of drought indicators (within the last 12-months) and absence of drought impacts supported improvements. Both satellite-based vegetation health indices and reports on the ground have indicated widespread green-up across much of the Four Corners region. Some pockets of dryness still exist, however, in northwestern and north-central New Mexico that missed some of the precipitation events throughout the cool season. In the Panhandle of Idaho, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1) expanded in response to poor snowpack runoff and related low streamflow levels. According to the NRCS SNOTEL network, Water Year-to-Date (Oct 1st 2018 to present) precipitation accumulations in the northern Panhandle currently rank below the 10th percentile. In northeastern Montana, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) were expanded in response to below-normal precipitation during the past 30 days. During the past week, average temperatures were well above normal across the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and the northern Rockies while the southern half of the region experienced below-normal temperatures…
Widespread showers and thunderstorms impacted the region with the heaviest rainfall accumulations observed across portions of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas where 5-to-14 inches of rain fell. Elsewhere in the region, rainfall totals were generally less than 5 inches across Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. On the map, areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) were reduced in eastern and central Tennessee as well as along the Gulf Coast of Texas, while areas of dryness expanded in South Texas. For the last 60 days, precipitation has been above normal across much of the region with the exception of South Texas, southeastern Louisiana, and western Tennessee. According to the USDA (for the week ending June 9th), the percentage of topsoil moisture rated short to very short was as follows: Arkansas 7%, Louisiana 14%, Oklahoma 2%, Tennessee 12%, and Texas 10%. For the period of June 2018 to May 2019, Arkansas and Oklahoma experienced their wettest 12-month period on record (1895–2019)—while Tennessee and Texas had their 2nd wettest on record for the same 12-month period, according to NOAA NCEI…
The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for moderate-to-heavy accumulations ranging from 2-to-4 inches across eastern portions of the Southern Plains, lower Midwest, and coastal areas extending from Georgia to North Carolina. Lesser accumulations (<2 inches) are forecasted for portions of the upper Midwest, Northeast, southern Florida, and the northern Rockies of Montana and Wyoming. Elsewhere in the West, dry conditions are expected. The CPC 6–10-day outlook calls for a high probability of above-normal temperatures across the Far West and Great Basin while areas of the Intermountain West, Great Plains, and much of the Midwest are expected to be below normal. Above-normal temperatures are forecasted for an area extending from Texas to the Southeast and northward along the Mid-Atlantic states. In Alaska, temperatures across the state are forecasted to be above normal. In terms of precipitation, there’s a high probability of above-normal precipitation across the Intermountain West and eastern half of the continental U.S., while the Pacific Northwest and eastern portions of the Desert Southwest are expected to be below normal.
Last winter brought above-average snowfall to much of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, so an abundance of snowmelt is rushing into the Colorado River, the Rio Grande and other waterways after a desperately dry 2018…
Colorado was blanketed by 134% of its normal snowfall last winter. Utah was even better, at 138%. Southwestern Wyoming received its average amount.
That will put so much water into the Colorado River that Lake Powell, a giant reservoir downstream in Utah and Arizona, is expected to rise 50 feet (15 meters) this year, said Marlon Duke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Powell and dozens of other reservoirs.
The reservoir is rising so fast — 6 to 15 inches (15 to 38 centimeters) a day — that the National Park Service warned people to keep cars and boats at least 200 yards (183 meters) from the shoreline to keep them from being submerged overnight.
The influx into Powell will allow the Bureau of Reclamation to send enough water downstream into Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada to avoid a possible water shortage there. Arizona, California and Nevada rely heavily on the reservoir…
The Colorado River is expected to send more than 12 million acre-feet into Powell this year, 112% of average and a huge improvement over last year, when scant snow in the Rocky Mountains produced only 4.6 million acre-feet for the reservoir. An acre-foot, or 1,200 cubic meters, is enough to supply a typical U.S. family for a year.
The bureau expects to release 9 million acre-feet from Powell to Mead for the fifth consecutive year.
The news is also good for the Rio Grande, which flows from Colorado through New Mexico and then along the Texas-Mexico border to the Gulf of Mexico.
Elephant Butte, a massive reservoir on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, had dropped as low as 10% of capacity, but it could reach 30% this year, said Carolyn Donnelly, a water operations supervisor for the Bureau of Reclamation…
Enough snow is left that the Snowbird ski resort in Utah and Arapahoe Basin and Aspen in Colorado are still open, at least on weekends.
Downstream in Avondale, the river gauge data show the Arkansas crested a high point of 7.26 feet at around 8:00 p.m. Tuesday. Since then, the level has dropped below the 7 foot minor flood depth threshold and is expected to remain there for the next few days.
“It’s minor flooding, high water, but we’ve got more coming,” said Tony Anderson, a Service Hydrologist witht he National Weather Service in Pueblo. That’s the concern and we don’t know how much or when.”
There are active flood warnings in place until Friday for the Arkansas River in Cañon City, the Rio Grande River near Del Norte, the Saguache Creek in Saguach County, the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers in Conejos County and in the Rio Grande and San Juan drainage basins in Mineral and Rio Grande Counties.
Water is flowing so high and fast that recreational access to the Rio Grande River has been shut down indefinitely from near the headwaters around Creede through Del Norte, down to Alamosa and beyond.
The river hit flood stage in Del Norte Wednesday afternoon, a condition that is forecast to persist at least until Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The situation could worsen if there is a stretch of days with temperatures in the high 70s to 80s, and there could be big trouble if heavy rain falls.
Public safety managers in Mineral and Rio Grande counties worry about the risk to rafters and kayakers who this time of year would typically be plying gentle waters as they wind through the San Luis Valley. They’re also concerned for the emergency personnel who might be called upon to attempt any water rescues…
The situation in Del Norte is emblematic of what’s happening across Colorado as rivers reach their peak after one of the snowiest winters in recent memory. From Vail to Pagosa Springs and Cañon City to Steamboat Springs, authorities are urging people to be aware…
The worst flood conditions on the Rio Grande in Del Norte were recorded in 1911, when the river hit a peak flow of 18,000 cubic feet per second and a crest of 6.8 feet. On Wednesday, the river was flowing at about 7,980 cfs and hit 5.69 feet, according to National Weather Service records.
Del Norte rancher Cory Off — same family, different spread — said the current flooding is a “good way for the river to cleanse itself. It clears channels that have become plugged up because of many years of low water levels and clears out the willows that have grown where they are not supposed to.”
While parts of Colorado are under flood watches, the risk of flooding along the Poudre and Big Thompson rivers is low at this time, officials say.
The Poudre has been rising in recent days, topping 2,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs, on Sunday as measured by a gauge near the mouth of Poudre Canyon. The rise is expected to continue as temperatures warm up this week.
The river was well below flood stage as of Wednesday. Local officials had received no reports of localized flooding, said Lori Hodges, director of emergency management for Larimer County.
But emergency managers are keeping an eye on the situation in anticipation of the Poudre peaking, possibly as soon as Father’s Day, Hodges said. Officials also are monitoring the Big Thompson River…
The Poudre typically sees its highest flows between late May and mid-June. But given the amount of snow in the high country, this year’s peak could be two to three weeks late, said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water.
The river’s average peak flow at the canyon mouth is about 3,000 cfs. Last year, the peak was 2,210 cfs on May 27.
However, there was little snowpack left in the mountains last year.
On Wednesday, an automated weather station at Joe Wright Reservoir near the top of Poudre Canyon measured 29 inches of snow, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…
Tunnels carrying water from the Western Slope to the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project are running full, Werner said. Water levels at reservoirs fed by the pipes will likely stay high into mid-summer, depending on the demand for water.
Carter Lake west of Loveland was 97.4% full as of Tuesday morning, according to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation website. Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins was at 92.7% of capacity.
A trio of northern Utah reservoirs fed by the Weber and Ogden rivers are spilling, and most reservoirs in the state will fill over the next few days as more snow comes off the mountains.
“East Canyon and Echo are spilling as is Lost Creek. Causey Reservoir is a question mark,” said Gary Henrie, a civil engineer and hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo-area office.
Pineview lacks a spillway but instead uses gates to release water. Henrie said they will likely crack the gate at Pineview to release water as it sits at 100 percent of capacity…
This year’s generous water year will even fill Scofield Reservoir, which had dwindled to 35 percent of capacity by October of last year.
Lake Powell, too, is slowly coming up and will fill some more, added Cory Angeroth, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Utah Science Center.
The lake sits at an elevation of 3,591.7 feet compared to 3,612 feet this time last year…
The lake has come up 23 feet from its lowest elevation this year, he said. The National Park Service Tuesday cautioned that with the water rising 6 to 15 inches a day, boaters must make sure vehicles or other gear are far enough away from the shore to avoid rising waters while they are on the lake.
Both the bureau and the geological survey recently partnered together for the first ever 3D mapping and 3D LiDar scanning at Lake Powell to chart its bottom and understand its sedimentation deposits.
When the data is released later this year, it will be the first time the water world has a full understanding of the reservoir’s true capacity, which covers 162,000 surface acres and is fed by the Colorado River.
Despite the risk that the river resource is overcommitted and it is shrinking, four Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – are pushing forward with dams, reservoir expansions and pipelines like the one at Lake Powell that will allow them to capture what they were promised under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have been using that water downstream for nearly a century.
President Donald Trump signed the basin-wide drought contingency plan in April, just weeks after the state of Utah declared in a news release that the river, which serves 40 million people, is “a reliable source of water.”
“What they need to do – the lower states – is use their right that’s allocated to them, and we will use our right that’s allocated to us,” said Mike Styler, who retired recently after 14 years as director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.
A former state lawmaker, Styler originally voted on pushing forward with the 140-mile Lake Powell Pipeline. Once completed, the diversion project, which would draw from the lake, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, about 86,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to support nearly 100,000 households…
The St. George metropolitan area was the third-fastest growing in the nation last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released in April. Past data showed the area as the fastest growing in 2017 and the fifth-fastest growing between 2010 and 2018.
Pipeline proponents anticipate the trend will continue, with the current population of around 171,000 residents expected to swell to around 509,000 by 2065. And that growth is why they insist the pipeline is necessary…
The state has already spent more than $30 million on its application to build the pipeline. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing the project’s environmental impacts. The Washington County Water Conservancy District, a project partner, estimates that the license could be finalized in two years, construction would begin a few years later and the pipeline would be operating by around 2030.
But pipeline critics call the project too risky, too pricey and unnecessary. They contend that too much Colorado River water has already been promised to too many people.
“We are way beyond the budget of what the Colorado River can deliver, and when you just look at how much water is in the river and how much everyone else wants to take out, it’s just not there,” said Nick Schou, conservation director for the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.
Schou said the Lower Basin states are facing cuts of as much as 500,000 acre-feet at the same time the Upper Basin states are planning nine projects that will draw about 400,000 acre-feet.
“Not only are we overusing the water, but there’s going to be a lot less to go around in the future,” Schou said…
The project’s overall cost is another big concern for critics. Proponents estimate the pipeline’s cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. Critics say the price tag will probably be $3.2 billion or higher. And water users would be saddled with the cost, since the what used to be common federal subsidies for big water projects have evaporated.
The spring peak operation is nearing completion. The peak release period of the spring peak operation has concluded. Flows at the Whitewater gage were over 14,350 cfs for six days and a peak daily flow of 16,500 cfs occurred on June 9th.
The ramp down period has begun and releases will continue to be decreased through Thursday, June 20th. The ramp down schedule is shown below. Daily flows for the Gunnison River below the Gunnison Tunnel should be considered as approximations. Actual flows may vary from the numbers below if side inflows to Crystal Reservoir increase or decrease the spill rate beyond what is currently forecast.