News

Scientists Plan for Grand Experiment in the Colorado River Delta – National Geographic – December 12, 2013

Minute 319, a new add-on to the 1944 US-Mexico treating on the Colorado River will allow Mexico to store more water upstream, creating higher streamflows in the Colorado River delta, which has been dry for the last few decades. This will benefit the delta’s water-starved ecosystem, and provide scientists a chance to study the impact of higher streamflows.

 The Colorado Delta was once one of the planet’s great desert aquatic ecosystems, boasting 2 million acres of lush wetland habitat.  For millions of years, it received a huge spring flood as the winter snows melted in the Rocky Mountains and the resulting flows coursed south.  The flood waters spread across the delta before emptying into the upper Gulf of California.

That yearly flood cleansed the river channel and floodplain, recharged groundwater, aided the reproduction of native cottonwoods and willows, and sustained the overall delta ecosystem and its extraordinary bird and wildlife habitat.  It also connected the Colorado River to the sea, where fisheries depend on the mixing of saltwater with fresh water for their spawning and rearing grounds.

However, dams and major water on the Colorado River cut off much of the deltas water in the 20th century, reducing wetlands to a tenth of their original area and harming the wildlife dependent on the,.

Minute 319 calls for a flood pulse of 105,392 acre-feet (130 million cubic meters).  The water will be released from Lake Mead at Hoover Dam, and then, mimicking the historic natural flood, will flow south to the delta.

Compared with the pre-dam spring flood of some 15 million acre-feet, this pulse appears paltry. But the delta scientists expect it to be sufficient to flood low terraces and backwaters, move channel sediments, recharge groundwater, and promote the germination of native cottonwoods and willows, which create prime habitat for birds.

 

A Little Hydro Plant, But A ‘Big Dog’ In Colorado Water Rights – Community Radio for Northern Colorado – December 6, 2013

 The Shoshone Generating Station, a hydro plant near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, plays an important role in preserving streamflows on the Colorado River. The plant has a primary, non-consumptive water right on the river, meaning its large appropriation is kept in the river to power the water turbines.

 It’s the linchpin of the river, according to Jim Pokrandt, Education and Outreach Specialist with the Colorado River District.

“Not because of producing electricity,” said Pokrandt. “But because it takes water to produce that electricity, and that water is supplied via a 1902 water right for 1250 CFS. That’s the biggest, oldest water right on the river.”

1250 CFS, or cubic feet per second, is a lot of water. It’s labeled “non-consumptive use,” which means the water is not taken out of the river to grow food or flush toilets. It flows onto the turbines and right back out—sustaining an important part of the local economy: rafting, kayaking and fishing.

Maintaining that primary water right is critical to keeping flow levels adequate for the turbines, and to help create rapids.

Not only does keeping water in the river help recreation, but agriculture as well.

 Mel Rettig is a vegetable and fruit farmer in Palisade, about 80 miles southwest of the Shoshone plant. Rettig says the higher flows due to Shoshone help keep salinity levels low.

“It just puts water in the river. Salt’s not good for our crops. With a lot of the salt coming out of the Glenwood Springs area with the natural salt water springs,” said Rettig, “the more water we have coming down the river and the more dilution we have and better water quality then.”

 

AAAS Forum Targets Ariz., Colorado River Shortages and Solutions –  Arizona State University – December 5, 2013

The American Association for the Advancement of Science – Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Division (AAAS SWARM) recently sponsored a water forum “Adapting to a water-stressed West.” The forum included many experts in the water field from both the US and Mexico, and discussed topics such as land use, climate change, and population growth.

Americans pay less for water than for cell phones or cable television, but infrastructure costs money and has to be built before a single drop of water is delivered. Meeting that demand also means raw energy – more than 20 percent of all electricity in California is consumed to pump water to match up with supply needs. Now imagine powering a brackish water desalinization plant or diverting water from the Missouri River to supply Denver, Colorado.

While outcomes can be dire, forum experts agreed that there are ways to trim our personal torrents to trickles. In fact, many in Arizona have supported water conservation without recognizing their impacts – from investing in drip irrigation and planting of xeriscapes to eating baby lettuce.

How can lettuce choice turn the tide on water use? Consider this: agriculture can consume 60-80 percent of local water supplies. In Yuma, the lettuce capital of the Southwest, growers are switching from traditional head lettuce to baby lettuce to cut water use, crop waste, labor and pesticide use, said Michael Glennon, Regents’ Professor and Morris K. Udall Professor of Law and Public Policy in the Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. But the primary driver of the shift is premium pricing on grocery shelves, he says.

Three other ways that you can create change, besides baby lettuce are:

1. Replace your toilet. “We have a real problem with the flush toilet,” states Glennon. “A full one-third of all the water people use gets flushed down the toilet. That’s more than 6 billion gallons a day to flush waste.” Alternatives range from high efficiency dual flush to low flow or composting toilets.

2. Less turf, said Cohen, pointing to Las Vegas, where authorities forged the first lawn removal rebates. More than 165.6 million square feet of grass was pulled up – a savings of more than 9.2 billion gallons of water. Such savings in turn inspired Los Angeles to pay residents up to $2 a square foot, and up to $3 a square foot in Long Beach to tear out turf.

3. Water harvesting or creating incentives in communities to cut waste, such as in San Antonio, Texas, where water cops issue 200 citations a week for water waste.

The forum also focused on the complexity of water issues in the West.

[Yamilett]Carrillo heads the water and wetlands program with Pronatura Noreste. She also directs the Colorado River Delta Water Trust, a nonprofit also supported by Environmental Defense Fund and Sonoran Institute, to link wetland restoration with better water use efficiency in agriculture and water markets, using the existing legal framework in Mexico to dedicate environmental flows to restore the delta.

“It used to be that Mexico believed lack of water due to U.S. holding water back,” said Carrillo. “Collaboration has allowed us to understand the management of the river upstream, where the threats are and develop the sharing of surplus and shortage basin-wide.”

 

Colorado River roundtable to Front Range: Look elsewhere for water – Aspen Journalism – December 2, 2013

The Colorado River Basin Roundtable has told Front Range water users not to count on Western Slope streams for urban water needs. Recently the group drafted a paper on the future of the Colorado River’s water within Colorado.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states.

Each major river basin in Colorado has a legislature-established water roundtable, which discusses issues regarding the river.

The Committee is looking for more water from four areas: conservation, new water projects already in the planning and review stage, water transferred from irrigation to municipal use and new large water storage and delivery projects, or “new supply.”

Piping water across the Continental Divide has been a hot button issue which Western Slope groups aim to curb.

Currently, the Front Range diverts between 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet each year from the Western Slope. At the upper end, that’s the equivalent of six Ruedi Reservoirs worth of water each year.

Which, from the point of view of the Colorado roundtable, is enough already.

“There will be no further degradation or diminishment of West Slope stream and river ecosystems or recreational opportunity,” the roundtable’s paper says.

According to the Roundtable’s paper,

“The scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

The paper further describes the situation facing the river basin:

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

And the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

 

WATER LINES: How should we share the Colo. River? State’s water plan needs your input – The Post Independent – November 26, 2013

Hannah Holm, Coordinator at the CMU Water Center, discusses the future of sharing the Colorado River, in terms of both agriculture and urban population growth. She notes that in Colorado, the Governor has predicted a 500,000 acre-foot water shortfall by 2050, leading to debate on how to address this gap.

 

 The easiest way for cities to fill that gap is by taking it from agriculture, which currently accounts for about 85% of the water consumed in the state. But there’s a heavy price to pay for continuing to rely on that approach. A state water supply study released in 2010 projected a 15-20% decline in irrigated acreage statewide by 2050, with a 22-32% decline in the South Platte Basin over the same period. “Buying and drying” of agricultural water rights has already devastated some rural communities, and most stakeholders agree that this should be minimized in the future.

If not from agriculture, then where? East Slope Roundtables have been arguing for the need to preserve the option to develop additional West Slope water supplies. West Slope Roundtables point to environmental and economic impacts already felt from the roughly 500,000 acre-feet/year already transferred across the divide each year. More than 60% of the natural flows of the Upper Colorado River above Kremmling, for example, are diverted to the Front Range, impacting both Grand County building permits and gold medal trout streams.

Another concern is that increased depletions from the Colorado River and its tributaries would increase the risk of failing to meet legal obligations to downstream states. If downstream flow obligations are not met, water rights junior to the 1922 Compact between Upper Colorado River Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin States (Arizona, Nevada and California) on how to share the river could be curtailed. If that means cutting off urban taps, it could set off a mad scramble for senior agricultural water rights on the West Slope.

Of course, neither drying up irrigated agriculture nor putting another straw into the Colorado Basin would be necessary if urban users reduced their consumption sufficiently. But how to achieve that isn’t easy either. Updated fixtures and education campaigns are a good start, but conserving enough to eliminate the need for other water sources would likely be impossible without the broad application of land-use and landscaping restrictions that may not be politically palatable.

There are no easy answers to the state’s large-scale water challenges. Creative solutions are needed to find more “win-win” solutions, with less of a need for losers – but hard choices may still need to be made. The more people that contribute their insights and opinions, the better the chances are that the final plan will fully reflect Colorado’s water values.

 

Keeping the Water Flowing to Nevada – Las Vegas Sun – November 18, 2013

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently spoke on the importance of conservation in the Colorado River Basin, making reference to a study that shows an impending gap between supply and demand.

 The same study also demonstrated that water conservation and reuse alone can yield at least 3 million acre-feet of water in the basin and is the most cost-effective and easily implementable way to bring water supply and demand on the Colorado River back into balance. In Nevada, the river supports 25,329 jobs and pumps $2 billion into the economy each year from people spending money on river-related recreation and tourism. These comments are a wake-up call for stakeholders to continue to work toward the conservation and efficiency measures that will ensure that all of the users of the river have the water we need to sustain the economies of the West.

 

Weighing in on Water: Washington County’s Water Decisions Part of Regional Process – The Spectrum – November 16, 2013

As Southwestern Utah contemplates building a new water pipeline from Lake Powell, residents debate the issues facing the project. Utah is the second-driest state in the United States, as well as the fastest growing, and many see securing an additional water supply is central to its future growth.

Utah is just one of seven states dependent on the Colorado River and its complex network of man-made delivery systems, all of which have been jockeying for position in the past year after a Bureau of Reclamation study published last December estimated the river would fall 3.2 million acre-feet short over the next 50 years of meeting the region’s expected population growth.

Representative of many of those debates, the Lake Powell Pipeline has for years driven the discussion in Southern Utah. Expected to cost some $1 billion just to build, it would pump water 140 miles from Lake Powell, essentially doubling the Washington County’s sustainable supplies and helping keep up with state population projections that figure the population will grow from about 150,000 to 580,000 over the next 50 years.

While proponents say the water use and population projections prove the pipeline is necessary, others disagree.

The pipeline has its share of opponents, however, with various conservation groups contending that Washington County could meet its needs with better conservation and a more aggressive effort at utilizing existing supplies.

Citizens for Dixie’s Future, a local advocacy group, has argued for years that Washington County could meet its needs through a combination of conservation, reuse and the conversion of water currently used for agriculture to culinary use. Many of those groups have drawn inspiration from a report published this spring by Western Resource Advocates, an advocacy group based out of Colorado.

Local and state water officials argued that the report relied on often unreliable and sometimes faulty data — data drawn where possible from state and local reports — but Amelia Nuding, the author of the report, has maintained the report makes it clear that conservation is a viable alternative to building the pipeline.

“Water conservation is the key component of this alternative; when combined with increased agricultural water transfers, it will result in a more sustainable water supply for generations to come,” according to the executive summary of the report. “This is no substitute — it is a solution for securing Washington County’s future water needs.”

 

Op-Ed: Climate Change Forces Us to Rethink Glen Canyon Dam and Its Releases – The Salt Lake Tribute – November 16, 2013

Christi Wedig, Executive Director of the Glen Canyon Institute, writes on the implications of climate change and the latest environmental problem facing the Colorado River. Sediments trapped behind the Glen Canyon Dam have threatened the Grand Canyon, which relies on the Colorado River to transport and deposit these sediments. The Bureau of Reclamation recent began experimental releases at the Glen Canyon Dam in order to send more sediment to the Grand Canyon.

So far, High Flow Experiments are only providing temporary benefits to the Grand Canyon and doing nothing to reverse the long term trend of decline.

This HFE solution was created under the assumption that the status quo of Colorado River management was stable and unchangeable. The new normal of climate change has shown that this system will not be able to continue unchanged.

Next year, it may be impossible to conduct a high flow experiment if, as expected, we experience another low water year. What will happen to the Grand Canyon then?

As we seek innovative solutions to the impending water crisis in the Colorado River basin, it is time to question the faulty assumptions that led us to this point. A central question that we must ask is whether or not Lake Powell is a good place to store water.

There are currently only two straws into this reservoir, – both of which could pull water directly from the river. Recent peer reviewed research shows that storing water in the porous basin of Lake Powell results in net losses of 300,000 acre feet of water each year.

Attempting to balance out reservoir levels, Lake Powell will release less water this year to the Lake Mead than ever before. This lowered release is escalating the water crisis of Nevada, and increasing the probability of shortage conditions in the lower basin by 2016.

As scientific knowledge evolves and we see the effects of the Glen Canyon Dam on the ecosystem, new questions emerge.

Faulty and inflated assumptions of annual river flows and territorial water grabbing led to the development of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell storage.

In the 50 years since Glen Canyon Dam was built, our scientific understanding has increased dramatically. Yet, we continue to rely on 50-year-old thinking in our water management decisions.

We have the ability to make a real and lasting impact on the health of the Grand Canyon if we are willing to look at new and innovative solutions that reflect current circumstances and science. A growing body of science states Lake Powell and Lake Mead will likely never fill again.

The water crisis in the Colorado River basin will lead to a 3.4 million-acre-foot shortage by 2060. Water storage in Lake Powell will continue to wreak havoc on the ecosystems of the Grand Canyon.

The status quo is dysfunctional. High flow experiments, while an important step in the right direction, will not remedy this dysfunction.

It is time to bring our water management into the current decade – and discover solutions that will adequately address the decline of the Grand Canyon.

 

New Study: Dust, Warming Portend Dry Future for the Colorado River – CIRES/CU Boulder – November 14, 2013

Researchers at NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder have released a study which suggests that desert dust which blows onto the mountains could augment warming trends in the future.

 During recent years, desert dust has been settling thick and dark on the snowpack in the northern Rocky Mountain headwaters of the Colorado River, and snowpack is melting out as many as six weeks earlier than it did in the 1800s, according to the new assessment, published last week in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences. Snow dusted with dark particles absorbs more of the Sun’s rays and melts faster than clean snow.

Add the regional warming expected in the future, and the situation seems likely to grow more dire for the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for water. The river’s flow falls by more than 20 percent by 2100 in some of the future climate scenarios Deems and his colleagues investigated. Moreover, warming could make dust problems worse, by increasing the risk of drought.

“But we may be able to do something about dust,” said Deems, who works with WWA and CIRES’ National Snow and Ice Data Center. “If the future normal is this extreme dust scenario and we can push that scenario back to lower dust levels with land restoration or management, we could keep the snow in the mountains longer, and maybe even get some of that water back.”

 

Rethinking Big Water – Sustainable Industries – November 12, 2013

Many cities in the United States contemplating big water projects, such as Las Vegas, have actually seen water demand plateau or decline in the past few decades, even as the population grew.  The notion that dams and pipelines are necessary for cities to survive is a myth, as trends in water behavior reflect increasing conservation.

In many cases, megaprojects aren’t sustainable from an environmental perspective. And they can quickly become financially unsustainable. Utilities that pursue water supply megaprojects do so at some risk because they can have unintended consequences, says [Ceres Water Program Manager Sharlene] Leurig. For one thing, even if a city genuinely needs new supply, megaprojects can stimulate new population growth and further exacerbate supply tensions — much as new highways beget more traffic.

Ironically, megaprojects can also reduce demand and thereby undermine the fiscal integrity of the utilities building them. This occurs when the rate hikes required to pay off the project become an economic driver that encourages water consumers to conserve.

There are many alternatives to big water projects, which can be both expensive and wasteful.

Conservation is actually a source of water — and it’s the cheapest by far. An analysis in San Diego County [PDF] found water conservation and efficiency cost from $150 to $1,000 per acre-foot, whereas desalination costs $1,800 to $2,800 per acre-foot. And there’s plenty of water available in the conservation bucket: The average American uses more than twice as much water [PDF] as the average Frenchman, Austrian, Dane or German, according to a 2006 U.N. report.

More efficient technologies and policies that require their use are already causing demand to decline. For example, plumbing codes throughout the U.S. now require 1.6-gallon or dual-flush toilets rather than the old 6-gallon standard. Front-loading washing machines use less water than their predecessors. The economic shift from manufacturing toward services is also cutting water use across the country.

Lake Powell Dam Releases Increased to Spread Sediment in Grand CanyonLos Angeles Times – November 11, 2013

After historic rainstorms in the Colorado River Basin this fall, officials have had to increase the amount of water they planned to release from Lake Powell, in order to disburse excess sediment.

The Grand Canyon desperately needs the sediment, which the department says could fill a football field 690 feet deep.

This is an example of one of the long-term environmental consequences of disrupting natural river cycles by building dams.

Since the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, which created Lake Powell, the natural transport of nutrient-rich sand and silt into the canyon has been blocked. Instead of nourishing beaches and sandbars and fish spawning grounds, the ruddy bits of eroded Colorado Plateau pile up year after year behind the dam.

That has transformed the canyon ecosystem, making the Colorado  colder, clearer and less flood-prone than it was.

Sandbars and beaches that boaters use for camping have disappeared. The river is less hospitable to native fish species such as the humpback chub that depend on murky water to hide from predators.

 

Not Enough Water, LA? Look Up – LA Times – November 4, 2013

Andy Lipkin, a member of the Green LA Coalition, discusses how rainwater has long been an overlooked water resource which could make Los Angeles more sustainable.

Rainwater has the potential to be a more important supply source than any other. In fact, given our critical need for water, rainwater may be the single most valuable natural resource possessed by the city. And yet, we waste it.

Instead of capturing this crucial resource in cisterns and aquifers, rainwater ends up flowing from gutters, to storm drains, to the ocean. But there’s a better way.

Lipkin describes a rainwater harvesting model that would allow Los Angeles to  wean itself off distance water sources.

The most innovative component of the plan involves advanced water capture. The project uses both natural and engineered technologies that mimic — and even improve on — the original watershed. The project includes rain gardens (sunken areas in landscapes that capture rainwater from roofs and other impervious surfaces), vegetated bio-swales (creek-like rain gardens), constructed wetlands (which create wildlife habitat while cleaning storm water runoff through natural processes), and trees — planted with mulched root zones so water runoff is filtered and infiltrated into the aquifer.

Moderate-sized rain tanks are being installed around homes, as well as giant underground cisterns under schoolyards, parks and wildlife areas. That rainwater is then used not only to irrigate the areas where it was captured but also to recharge aquifers.

These innovations are being implemented in pilot projects around Los Angeles, including at Echo Park Lake and at the South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, where runoff from neighborhood streets is captured, cleaned and used to fill the lake and wetlands for wildlife habitat and recreation, while preventing pollution of the river and ocean.

Now it’s time to go full scale.

 

How an Aqueduct Turned Los Angeles into a Garden of Eden – NPR – November 3, 2013

100 years ago this month, the aqueduct carrying water from the Owens Valley to naturally dry Los Angeles was completed, allowing the city to grow.

While the aqueduct brought water to Los Angeles, it also took it from somewhere else: Owens Valley. Christensen tells NPR’s Arun Rath that over the years there was a lot of anger and accusations that L.A. took water the water by force.

“People sold their agricultural lands and their water to the city of L.A.,” he says. “There’s lots of claims and evidence that some of that was done secretly, without identifying who the real buyers were … but there were also a lot of willing sellers.”

One of the consequences of the aqueduct was that Owens Lake went dry, which many people did not see as a problem initially.

But when the wind blows here — and it does a lot — the dry lake bed can fuel massive dust storms. This area has long carried the dubious distinction of being the largest single source of particulate pollution in the country, and farther upstream the Owens River all but disappeared.

 

Los Angeles’ Water Future Remains Challenged by Short Supplies – Los Angeles Daily News – November 3, 2013

 “We’ve been managing on the same amount of imported water since 1990 — we had 14 million (people) then, we’re now at 19 million,” said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District, which serves 26 cities and water agencies from San Diego to Ventura to San Bernardino counties.

“And that’s our future: Using the same amount of water for more people. The price of water will likely grow a little faster than inflation.”

Los Angeles will soon commemorate the 100-year anniversary of its major aqueduct from the Owens Valley.

Since that day, Southern California grew to become a garden paradise of manicured lawns, kidney-shaped pools, golf links and gushing fountains, and pushed the boundaries of a nearly desert civilization.

The West has been dry for millions of years, with hugely varying annual rainfall, climatologists say. The Southland gets an average of 15 inches a year — enough water to supply 5 million people. But that can range from the 3 inches that Los Angeles eked by with seven years ago, to the 38 inches dumped on it during an El Niño season.

However, the heavy population growth in the last century was based upon a precarious assumption of water availability.

With the influx a century ago of Eastern and Midwestern settlers to Los Angeles and Southern California, young cities began to look far afield for a reliable source of water — namely the snowmelt from the High Sierra and eastern Rockies.

What they didn’t realize, according to Southern California climate guru Bill Patzert, was the 20th century they were entering was among the wettest centuries in 2,000 years. And that climate change would shorten the mountain snow season, which acts as a frozen reservoir for the region’s water.

“We built a civilization in Southern California based on great water projects — we have the best water infrastructure in any place in the world,” said Patzert, climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge. “The problem is, now that we’re 70 percent dependent on imported water, the snow in the Sierras has been dry for a decade; the Colorado River has been dry for eight years.

“Now everybody wants water in the American Southwest and the water supply in the past decade has decreased.”

Jewell Cites Need to Conserve Water, Points to Colorado River Threats – Havasu News – November 1, 2013

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell recently singled out water conservation, particularly in the Colorado River Basin, as one of the most critical issues facing her department. She expressed concern about how climate change will further stress the nation’s water resources, and championed increased water-conserving behavior for everyone.

Her comments came the same day that more than 80 public officials from the Colorado River basin – including 16 local government officials from Arizona – sent a letter to the Interior Department supporting water conservation measures.

While thin on specifics, the letter supported “urban and agricultural water conservation” and urged state and federal governments to follow up on a 2012 Bureau of Reclamation report that warned about the future of the Colorado River.

That report said the Colorado is not on track to keep up with the demand on its water. It said the river’s water supply could be reduced by 10 to 20 percent by midcentury, creating a deficit that would be exacerbated by the area’s rapidly growing population.

Demand for Colorado River water may surpass the river’s supply by 2060, the report said – or even by 2025 in extreme circumstances.

The report also said the Central Arizona Project, which serves the Phoenix and Tucson areas, could also face a water shortage. If Lake Mead drops below 1,025 feet above the mean sea level, the CAP’s supply would be reduced by a third, the report said.

Trout Unlimited seeks western agreement on Colorado River – Vail Daily News – October 23, 2013

 

As the Colorado Water Conservation Board prepares the draft of its state water plan, Trout Unlimited works to ensure the Western Slope has a voice. While the Front Range accounts for most of Colorado’s population growth, half of its water comes from the Western Slope.

 

[Trout Unlimited] is asking governments to sign onto the Our Colorado River project, which outlines five “core values” that various stakeholders might agree upon.

 

“We’re trying to show unity and resolve on matters that have sometimes been points of contention between the agriculture and recreation communities,” said TU’s Colorado River Basin Outreach Coordinator Richard Van Gytenbeek. “By agreeing to these core values, we can provide a united focus on a common platform as we move toward the Colorado Water Plan, which is due in 2014.”

 

The five core values are: Cooperation, Not Conflict; Protect Our Quality of Life; Modernize Irrigation; Innovative Management; and Keep Our Rivers at Home.

 

 

Colorado River faces most critical snow season in recent years – Las Vegas Review Journal – October 18, 2013 

 

After 14 years of record drought, it will take an unusually wet year — one like the [Colorado River] basin saw in 2011 — to stave off the first-ever water shortages on the overdrawn river and slow the decline of its two main reservoirs.

 

Almost all of the river’s flow starts as snow that collects in the mountains of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming from November to late May. Lake Powell, on the Utah-Arizona border, fills with that water in early summer, rising sometimes by a foot or more a day as the snow starts to melt and water flows downstream.

 

Glen Canyon Dam full of use, conflict after 50 years Arizona Sun – October 14, 2013

In 1963, the Glen Canyon Dam was completed after much protest from conservation and recreation groups, who sought to preserve Glen Canyon. Today, Lake Powell is an important reservoir and popular recreation area, with over 2 million visitors per year. However, as drought and overuse have lowered lake levels by half, the controversy over Glen Canyon continues.

Today, after the Colorado River watershed’s driest 14-year run on record, the reservoir is less than half-full. The prospect of a shortage that could cut into Arizona’s take of the river’s water looms. Fans of the reservoir say it’s a natural cycle that will soon end. Opponents say it’s time to think about pulling the plug. They’ve never liked how the dam drowned a canyon and changed the river’s ecology, and they see an opening presented by climate change.

[One] organization, Living Rivers, sings in a growing chorus clamoring to “Fill Mead First” by draining Lake Powell unless the larger downstream reservoir is full. They believe a drying climate won’t keep both reservoirs full, and draining Powell would effectively restore a free-flowing river past Glen Canyon and into the Grand Canyon.

The future of Lake Powell reflects the uncertainties and varying conditions that persist throughout the Colorado River Basin.

The river is erratic, draining anywhere from 5 million acre-feet in a drought year to 20 million after an epic winter…“You have to have the ability to catch the wet years so you can ration it out in the lean times,” said [Friends of Lake Powell member Paul Ostapuk]. “If you’d only had Lake Mead (during the current drought), it would be totally empty. Lake Powell’s what’s getting us through this.”

The Bureau of Reclamation concurs. It calls Lake Powell critical to the mix of water-supply options already projected to fall short — barring extensive conservation and reuse efforts — over the coming half-century.

Lake Powell can hold up to 24million acre-feet, while Lake Mead can hold nearly 29 million. Some Lake Powell opponents have recently pointed to studies suggesting that seepage in Glen Canyon’s porous sandstone is siphoning water away.

However, while groups debate whether Lake Powell is still an appropriate reservoir in today’s climate, many environment consequences of the Glen Canyon Dam are emerging.

Below the dam, the aquatic legacy is mixed. Water gushing through the hydropower turbines comes from deep in the reservoir and is colder than native fishes such as the endangered humpback chub evolved to withstand. As chubs and other species declined downstream in the Grand Canyon, non-native cold-water trout thrived and created Arizona’s finest trophy rainbow fishery at Lees Ferry.

The dam also blocked the sand that had flowed through the Canyon for ages, altering fish and wildlife habitat while depleting beaches used by river rafters. Smaller beaches support less windblown sand to root mesquites and other vegetation, or to cover and preserve archaeological sites from erosion.

“The Colorado River Storage Project Act passed in ’56, and the big dam-building era was on us,” said Jan Balsom, Grand Canyon National Park’s deputy chief of resource management. “It wasn’t until years later that we realized what was happening environmentally.”

Overdrafted: Colorado River and Coachella ValleyDecodedScience.com – October 9, 2013

According to the UN, over 1.4 billion people live in overdrafted river basins, where water use exceeds the recharge rate. One of these overdrafted basins is the Colorado River.

The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center uses models to forecast inflow volumes to LakePowell. The unregulated inflow forecast for the water year 2013, for instance, is 41% of average based on the period 1981-2010. The forecasts are adjusted monthly based on new data. The declining volumes in the reservoir can be seen by the water lines on the sides. Forecasts for 2014 of an increase to 78% of average, based on the period 1981-2010, while encouraging, cannot in themselves repair the overdrafting currently taking place.

Along its route, the river supplies water for 30 million people and climbing, and for thousands of acres of farmland. At the same time, the water in the drainage system has dropped from 17.5 million acre-feet in 1922 to a present level of about 14.7 million acre-feet per year. Increased pressure on this river in a time of climate change and less water input can be laid at the feet of the farmers and ranchers who use it inefficiently for irrigation. Add to that the pressure from the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego which pipe in water from long distances so its citizens can use double the global average of water per person.

Another pressing issue for the river basin is subsidence, or the settling of the land that occurs following excessive  groundwater withdrawal. Many communities cannot meet their water needs from surface water allocations alone, and depend on aquifers. This can pose a serious geological hazard for structures built on land with high subsidence probability.

Whether we’re talking about surface reservoirs or groundwater, it’s all about balance: input and output. Recharging technology is available to inject overdrafted subsidence zones with recycled white water. Imported water used for ground water recharge, however, can be of naturally lower quality than the original local ground waters. Ultimately, the problem is an over consumption of water.

Coachella Valley Water District plans goals for golf water useThe Desert Sun – October 8, 2013

In California Coachella Valley, concerns over unsustainable groundwater use have led groups to turn to new ways to conserve water. In particular, the region’s golf courses, which drive much of the tourism economy, have looked at alternative and recycled water sources.

A majority of the 124 golf courses in the Coachella Valley pump groundwater from wells, and those large withdrawals have contributed to long-term declines in groundwater levels.

The water district’s board agreed last month to accelerate efforts to wean golf courses from groundwater. Board members took the stance following a series of articles in which The Desert Sun documented significant declines in groundwater levels despite efforts to replenish the aquifer using water from the Colorado River.

River use exceeds supply Vail Daily – October 4, 2013

Hannah Holm, Coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, explains why both humans and climate change can change the course of the Colorado River.

The 2000-13 period was drier than average, and it’s possible that we could have a string of wet years that would bump those storage levels back up in time for the next drought. It’s also possible that we could have a repeat of the numerous historical periods that were even drier. Climate change scenarios are not especially rosy, although the “reduced” average flows projected in the Basin Study are actually above what we’ve averaged more than the past 13 years.

How this situation is resolved will be determined partly by what falls from the sky, and partly by people. Most of the precipitation happens in the Upper Basin, above Lake Powell, while most of the people live in the Lower Basin. Within Colorado, we have a similar situation, with most of the state’s precipitation falling on the Western Slope of the Rockies, while most of our people live on the Eastern Slope.

A world beneath Lake Powell is being resurrected High Country News – October 1, 2013

The Colorado River Basin has been in drought for over a decade, and dropping water levels in Lake Powell reveal the canyon topography that existed before the dam was built.

The Glen Canyon Institute’s Eric Balken describes the transformation:

Since Lake Powell was last full in 1999, the reservoir had experienced extreme fluctuations, reaching its lowest point in April 2005. In only six years, it had gone from 99 percent capacity to a mere 30 percent.

As the waters of Lake Powell retreat, the area once called “the place no one knew” is coming back to life. When Lake Powell reached its previous lowest point in the spring of 2005, there was a surge of interest in the newly emerged canyons of Glen Canyon. Outdoor enthusiasts, news media and photographers flocked to walk on the floor of Cathedral in the Desert. A headline in The New York Times proclaimed, “Glen Canyon is on its way back — viewable in much of its former glory.

Currently, both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are less than half full, and deliveries from Powell downstream have been reduced. However, many point out that, in addition to being a spectacular geographic attraction, Glen Canyon is actual an inefficient reservoir due to severe leaks.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association, said that by prioritizing water storage in Lake Mead, we could save the same amount of water that’s now lost to seepage from Lake Powell – an amount equivalent to the entire state of Nevada’s annual Colorado River allocation.

Based on these data and the immeasurable value of a restored Glen Canyon, it just makes sense to allow Lake Mead to fill first. Then the world beneath Lake Powell could once again spring back into life.

 

Feds begin Colorado River drought actionLaughlin Nevada Times – October 1, 2013

A long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin means Arizona and Nevada could face reduced river allocations in the next two years.

“What we’ve seen in the last two years are the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years,” [Bureau of Reclamation] Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp told The Associated Press.

Fulp said a two percent chance of the Lake Mead level dropping in 2015 to the trigger point for a shortage declaration increases to 50 percent in 2016.

Bureau officials and environmentalists have been raising alarms in recent months about demand outstripping supply on the river serving about 40 million people in seven states and cities including Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver and Las Vegas.

“The problem isn’t drought, and a big rain storm or a heavy winter snow season won’t fix this,” said Bob Irvin, president of American Rivers in Washington. D.C. The advocacy group in April labeled the Colorado River the most endangered waterway in the U.S.

“What we need are fundamental changes in how we manage water in the Colorado basin,” Irvin said. “This is the loudest wake-up call so far.”

While states with more-senior water rights would not yet be affected, the situation faced by Nevada and Arizona is a warning of what the future may bring.

California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water in 2016 depending on the Lake Mead water level. But officials acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

“Denver Water has a direct interest in these issues because half our supply comes from the Colorado River,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of the water agency serving Denver and its suburbs. “Issues like compact curtailment or political or legal confrontation along the river will affect that supply.”

 

Phoenix: Our water demand is dropping as our love of turf and pools sinksArizona Daily Star – September 29, 2013

Arizona’s cities have made progress in reducing their water footprint. Water-wise education programs, conservation and retrofit rebates, and smaller lot sizes have reduced the average number of gallons used per day in the past few decades, although the risk of a water crisis is far from over.

Arizona water researcher Gary Woodard describes how far water behavior has come:

“In 1982…climate change was not a looming consideration. Every new subdivision included a golf course. A third of new homes had in-ground swimming pools. Turf ruled the terrain and evaporative cooling was cheaper and just as efficient as a cheap air conditioner. Toilets were using up to 5 gallons a flush and the low-water flushers weren’t working very well.”

Today, growth has slowed and the recession thwarted population projections. New homes are bigger, but on smaller lots and 99 percent of them are air conditioned. Tucson’s Active Groundwater Management Area has reached “safe yield,” meaning the water taken from our aquifer is being replaced.

 

Don’t wash away state’s futurePueblo Chieftain – September 29, 2013

Karn Stiegelmeier, Summit County Commissioner, weighs in on the future of Colorado’s water supply. Despite recent floods in parts of the state, much of Colorado continues to be in drought. As water issues become more pressing, there are worries that future plans may favor the growing Front Range over Western Slope and mountain communities.

If not properly guided, the Colorado water plan runs the risk of driving a wedge between different areas of the state by allowing Front Range water supply needs to trump the local government plans in areas of the state that are targeted as the source to meet those needs.

Whether in the Arkansas Valley or the mountains of Colorado, communities already have engaged in extensive land-use planning and long-range water supply planning that should be honored in the Colorado Water Plan.

Stiegelmeier also worries recreation in-channel diversion water rights (RICDs) will take a back seat to Front Range water needs.

RICDs are a critical economic development tool for communities that are lucky enough to be located along stretches of river conducive to rafting, kayaking and other water-based recreation.

A moratorium [on RICDs] would have the effect of denigrating one class of water rights while elevating the desire for new growth on the Front Range over economic development plans of existing communities.

 

Exiting water chief declares Lake Mead emergency Fox 5 Las Vegas – September 26, 2013

Pat Mulroy, the conservation-minded chief of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, calls national attention to the crisis facing Las Vegas’ water supply as she prepares to step down.

Lake Mead’s current level is around 1,100 feet, but could drop to record lows with reduced supply from the Colorado.

At 1,050 feet is first of two intake pumps that send water to Las Vegas. If the water level falls anywhere near 1,065 feet, that pump could fail. Mulroy is pushing a $12 million fix to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Drought throughout the Colorado River Basin has forced many regions to examine the sustainability of their water supply.

Nevada is far from the only state being affected by a decrease in supply from the Colorado River. Seven states in the Colorado region, along with Mexico, are coping with shortfalls.

“When we start shorting water to places like Las Vegas or Phoenix, California isn’t going to be able to sit aside and say, ‘That’s OK. Our rights are slightly stronger.’ We’re going to have to work together to solve this,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

 

Colorado Droughts, Wildfires, and Floods, Oh My! – NationalGeographic.com – September 17, 2013

Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River Program Director at the Environmental Defense Fund, blogs about the new weather extremes being experienced in Colorado:

Colorado, like other hard-hit places around the globe, is getting a taste of climate extremes. The challenges are impossible to add up: catastrophic flash floods, wildfires, the personal tragedies of lives lost and dislocated, hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure repair costs, crops lost to drought and crops lost to saturated fields, schools closed, communities isolated, water quality problems, lost revenues to businesses like ski areas, outfitters, river guides and the hospitality industry that depend on Colorado’s healthy rivers and robust snowpack.

WATER LINES: The silver lining – flood ends drought in northern Colorado – Post Independent -  September 17, 2013

Hannah Holm, the coordinator of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, discusses the implications of the recent Colorado floods on the region’s drough.

The silver lining in this disaster is that it has ended the drought over a good chunk of northeastern Colorado. State Climatologist Nolan Doesken told the Denver Post that “drought as we know it will be ended at a number of locations.” Areas recommended for removal from drought classification include Larimer, Boulder, Gilpin, Jefferson, Lake, western Weld, Northern Park, western Arapahoe, western Adams, Douglas, western Elbert, northern El Paso, central Teller and central Fremont counties.

After the flood, there is less need for water diversions, which will help preserve water levels in our reservoirs.

The flood affected the balance between water supply and demand in two ways: Not only did it bring more supply, but it also decreased demand. Farmers don’t need to, or can’t anyway, irrigate flooded fields. Front Range water managers are banking the extra water in reservoirs, which are filling up at a time when they are normally being drawn down.

Willoughby: Colorado flood changes fishing on Rocky Mountain rivers The Denver Post – September 18, 2013

The recent floods’ have had an impact on fishing in the Rocky Mountain region.

River channels have changed, new fish like bass, walleye and carp have been introduced and holding areas have moved as existing structure was displaced and newly established structure finds a spot to settle.

This will have serious implications for local fisherman who will have to reevaluate known fishing spots and species.

“Everybody is going to have to learn the river completely over again,” Kehmeier said. “It’s going to look completely different than before.”

Unlike with the lingering impacts of fire, however, the fisheries along the South Platte are expected to rebound relatively quickly from the scouring flood. Access is likely to remain the greatest obstacle for the foreseeable future.

What’s the climate change context behind the Colo. floods? Environment and Energy – September 18, 2013

Martin Hoerling, of NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, discusses how climate change affect the record rainfall and flood devastation Colorado recently experienced.

What role does climate change play in any of this? Hoerling said in this storm, the amount of precipitable water measured in the atmosphere was record-high. Global warming is known to increase the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, although the effect is not large – perhaps a 3 to 5 percent increase in the precipitable water would be a “reasonable estimate,” he said.

[Hoerling’s models] actually indicate a slight decline in summertime precipitation in the Front Range in the 2001-2020 period with further drying occurring further out in the future, said Hoerling. And for most of this decade, this is what Colorado and other parts of the Southwest have looked like: dry.

In fact, when the rains hit Colorado last week, the majority of the state was in some type of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Other weather phenomena exacerbated by climate change had an effect on the floods.

 ”In some areas, the flood may have been made worse because of antecedent factors” like drought and wildfire, explained Hoerling.

IID rejects claims that its use of water is not reasonable and beneficial - Imperial Valley Press – September 17, 2013

Evidence of the Colorado River’s dwindling supply leads to quarrels between water districts on the best use of the water.

Imperial Irrigation District officials fired back at two water agencies challenging how IID uses its entitlement of Colorado River water, characterizing their statements as “political rhetoric” and threats on the district’s right to use water within its territory.

IID wrote letters to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Metropolitan Water District, rejecting their claims that Colorado River inflows to support habitat along the Salton Sea is not reasonable and beneficial.  SNWA and MWD say water use should be limited to “potable and irrigation purposes.”

Additionally, “this condemnation of Salton Sea water uses is misguided as a matter of environmental policy and is simply wrong as a matter of law.”

MWD and SNWA are beneficiaries of the nation’s largest agriculture to urban water transfer, a massive undertaking that delivers water from IID to coastal areas over a period of 35 to 75 years. The transfer also reduces inflows to the Salton Sea, contributing to its demise.

Tribes Chart Collaborative Future for Colorado River - Indian Country Today – September 18, 2013

Population growth in the Colorado River basin has placed stress upon the river, and the 29 federally recognized tribes that have long depended on the water. Anne Castle, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, write about a future study that will examine the Colorado River and tribal water rights.

Today, the Colorado River is experiencing the worst drought in a century and one of the worst in over a thousand years. As we look ahead, we recognize that a growing imbalance between water supply and demand and competing needs will require that we carefully manage every drop of this precious resource. Leaders within Indian Country and within the Colorado River Ten Tribes Partnership are helping to develop a roadmap for the future of the basin. Navigating that roadmap requires collaboration, research, adoption of best practices, and commitment for this basin to thrive despite the challenges we face.

The future of the Colorado River Basin cannot be charted without the participation of its first people. The Department of the Interior is deeply committed to partnering with tribal leaders to ensure future generations can continue to live and work in and enjoy this diverse and unique basin in the years and decades ahead.

Lake Powell in CrisisKGNU – August 15, 2013

Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates spoke to KGNU  about the importance of Lake Powell in the water system of the American West.

“Lake Powell is one of the two giant reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin that our responsible for managing and maintaining the sharing of the water between the seven states that share the river,” said Miller. “Lake Powell, built back in the late 50′s and early 60′s, has for almost half a century made sure that Upper Basin States like Colorado are making their required delivery’s downstream to lower basin states.”

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that Lake Powell will, for the first time ever, dip below a level that triggers a reduction in the delivery of water to Lake Mead.

“It turns out that because of decreasing snow pack and this trend of drier weather over the last 12-15 years. The future is now.”

“It is really the first check engine light, if you will, that says the Colorado River system is broken. The way we’ve managed it has used more water then it has available so we have started to phase into a place where we will start to reduce our level of  use. So is very urgent.

But there are solutions that can help us avoid a crisis.

Click here and scroll to minute 14:20 to listen to the interviewhttp://www.kgnu.org/morningmag/8/15/2013

Arid Southwest Cities’ Plea: Lose the LawnThe New York Times – August 11, 2013

A look at the legal challenges of American family landscapes, i.e. the front lawn.

“LOS ANGELES — This is how officials here feel about grass these days: since 2009, the city has paid $1.4 million to homeowners willing to rip out their front lawns and plant less thirsty landscaping.

At least the lawns are still legal here. Grass front yards are banned at new developments in Las Vegas, where even the grass medians on the Strip have been replaced with synthetic turf.

In Austin, Tex., lawns are allowed; watering them, however, is not — at least not before sunset. Police units cruise through middle-class neighborhoods hunting for sprinklers running in daylight and issuing $475 fines to their owners.”

U.S.-Mexico pact is first step to restoring river deltaAzCentral.com – August 11, 2013

“The U.S. and Mexico signed a historic five-year agreement in November that improves management of the Colorado River, providing both countries with greater flexibility in responding to the growing challenges of drought and water scarcity.

It also represents a first step toward large-scale restoration of the Colorado River Delta, including a precedent-setting and long-sought agreement to provide water to support restoration of this important environmental resource.”

Agreements on delta restoration represent the first step in collaborating a solution to the endangered Colorado River Delta. The environmental groups Sonoran Institute, Nature Conservancy and Environmental Defense Fund will play a key role in implementing successful delivery of restoration goals.

“The Sonoran Institute and our partners see a day when the Colorado River once again flows into the Gulf of California and the delta is brought back to life.”

Vegas weighs disaster aidMohave Valley Daily News – August 9, 2013

More on Pat Mulroy’s comments regarding Nevada’s “disaster” water shortages. Follow the link above to read.

“The top water official in Las Vegas is floating the idea of seeking federal disaster aid to deal with ongoing drought and decreasing water levels at the Colorado River reservoir that provides most of Sin City’s water…

The vast Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam provides almost all of the water supply for more than 2 million residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists a year in and around Las Vegas. Drought has dropped the lake water level more than 100 feet since 2000.”

Las Vegas water chief seeks disaster aid for Colorado River drought – August 7th, 2013 – Las Vegas Review Journal

“The Colorado River is locked in the grips of a slow-moving natural disaster, and Southern Nevada Water Authority Chief Pat Mulroy thinks the time has come for some federal disaster aid…

Mulroy’s comments come as the Colorado wraps up another disappointing water year and approaches another grim milestone: By the end of August, the total amount of water stored on the river is expected to reach its lowest point since Glen Canyon Dam was finished and Lake Powell began to fill in 1966…

Almost anything they do will require money, and that’s where the federal government can lend a hand, Mulroy said. After all, the Colorado supplies water to more than 30 million people across a region that produces roughly a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product, she said. ‘This isn’t just a Las Vegas problem.’”

WATER LINES: Nonprofit Colorado Water Trust leases water to benefit streams – August 7th, 2013 – Post Independent

“Summer is flying by, and the Colorado Water Trust’s “Request for Water” projects are sailing ahead along with it…

To begin exploring long-term streamflow solutions for the Roaring Fork, the City of Aspen is leading local efforts this year by using one of its senior water rights to benefit flows through a critical reach of the Roaring Fork River. On June 10, the Aspen City Council authorized a nondiversion agreement with the Colorado Water Trust to bypass some water that Aspen would otherwise divert from this reach of the Roaring Fork.”

Long-term maintenance agreement for Yuma East Wetlands to be celebrated – August 4th, 2013 – YumaSun.com

“The Yuma East Wetlands is considered a model for wetlands restoration in the desert Southwest that transformed the “forgotten land” along the Colorado River into an inviting haven for humans and wildlife…

The Yuma East Wetlands project has been a collaborative effort by the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, Quechan Indian Tribe, City of Yuma, Arizona Game and Fish Commission, and other state and federal stakeholders.

Through the recently approved agreement, the project now becomes part of the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Program to further maintain and enhance the natural vegetation in support of wildlife habitat and recreation for visitors for the next 50 years.”

Managing demand for Colorado River water about to get expensive -  August 3rd, 2013 – Las Vegas Sun

“Federal water experts and climatologists on Friday issued a grim report on the future of the Colorado River watershed to lawmakers from around the West in Las Vegas…

Demand for the Colorado River’s water exceeds supply, meaning governments will likely have to spend from $4 billion to $7 billion to ensure a stable water supply in Nevada, Arizona, California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.”

Study: River Forecasting in Rockies Needs Dusting August 1, 2013 – Aspen Public Radio

“Snow in the Upper Colorado River Basin provides water for seven states.  Farmers, factories, and families alike depend on this water, and a considerable amount of effort goes into understanding and forecasting how much melt is going to come from the snowpack, and when.”

The Crucial Question for the American West: How Long Will the Water Hold Out? - July 30, 2013 – Mother Jones

“Several miles from Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon, Arizona, April 2013—Down here, at the bottom of the continent’s most spectacular canyon, the Colorado River growls past our sandy beach in a wet monotone. Our group of 24 is one week into a 225-mile, 18-day voyage on inflatable rafts from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek. We settle in for the night. Above us, the canyon walls part like a pair of maloccluded jaws, and moonlight streams between them, bright enough to read by.

One remarkable feature of the modern Colorado, the great whitewater rollercoaster that carved the Grand Canyon, is that it is a tidal river. Before heading for our sleeping bags, we need to retie our six boats to allow for the ebb.”

Agreement quantifies Arizona tribe’s water rights - July 30, 2013San Francisco Chronicle 

“The White Mountain Apache Tribe is moving closer to securing a water delivery system on its eastern Arizona reservation after the Interior Department signed off on an agreement that quantifies the tribe’s water rights.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday that her department will work with the tribe to ensure that a dam to capture water from the White River is built and that pipelines send clean water to people’s homes.”

Colorado River algae prompting to call action – July 9, 2013 – Austin-American Statesman

High algae levels in the Colorado worry Mark Rose, general manager of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative.

“The Colorado River in Bastrop County is rife with algae, , impeding boaters and raising questions about the quality of the water.”

4 ideas to keep the Colorado River flowing - July 1, 2013 – azcentral.com

Alex and Fred Thevenin, owners or Flagstaff-based Arizona Raft Adventures expand on ways to conserve Colorado River  flows. Read the post and watch a clip here.

“…we should prioritize funding in the Colorado River Basin to:

– Implement management decisions that maintain and restore flows necessary for natural habitats, wildlife and recreation.

– Support cost-effective investments in water technology and delivery like piped sprinkler and drip irrigation to our farms and ranches.

– Provide for urban water education and conservation programs. Reducing urban water consumption by just 1 percent annually — a rate municipal utilities have averaged for two decades — produces significant savings at very low cost.

– Continue effective programs like the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART and Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse programs that drive water conservation and American jobs through adopting innovation and technology.”

Flaming Gorge Dam releasing more water to save endangered fish – May 30, 2013 – ksl.com

Wildlife officials are putting more water into the Green River, an effort to help the endangered razorback sucker.

“The endangered razorback sucker is no beauty by any stretch of the imagination, but for fisheries biologists, it’s an important part of the ecosystem in the Green River. That’s why they’re trying so hard to save it…

The guides at Adrift Adventures near Dinosaur National Monument are also gearing up for the good times that come with big water.

‘Having the river run at 4,600 is going to make it a lot splashier, funner (sic), just a great time to be on the river,’ Steel said. ‘Definitely gives us more juice and a little pep in our step.’”

Follow the link above to view the story.

Water Officials Ponder Colorado River’s Future - May 28, 2013 - kunc.org

KUNC discusses California’s meeting on water shortage predictions, giving a shout out to WRA for our Basin map!

“Amid the drought discussion, a regional environmental advocacy group has launched a new website that illustrates how cities, businesses and rafters use the Colorado River.

Western Resource Advocates created CoRiverBasin.org to showcase the Colorado River’s unique value as a source for water and outdoor recreation.”

Future of Colorado River on Agenda in San Diego - May 27, 2013 – Associated Press

Water decision-makers from seven states recently met in San Diego, joining conservation groups and Indian tribes to discuss rules related to the overtaxed and endangered Colorado River.

“The work meeting hosted by federal water managers comes amid dire predictions for the waterway. The U.S. interior secretary five months ago issued a call to arms and declared that the river already described as the most plumbed and regulated in the world would be unable to meet demands of a growing regional population over the next 50 years.

‘We’re looking at a very significant chance of declaring shortage in the Colorado River basin in 2016,’ Michael Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said in an interview in advance of the conference.”

Watershed management and predictions of future growth were discussed at the meeting – two months following the annual report made by American Rivers, which declared the Colorado River as the most endangered waterway in the nation.

Colorado River meeting, new map highlight challenges to river system - May 24, 2013, Desert News

Amy Joi O’Donoghue highlights main points to address at California meeting on the River and links to our map! Read the post by following the link above.

“The map, which can be found at CoRiverBasin.org,provides information in “layers” that can be peeled away, such as how many dams are on the system, the extent of population centers, or how many power plants. There are also scenic points of interest and snow pack and river flow data.

‘What I love about CoRiverBasin.org is that it lets the user determine how much information they want to see on the map,’ said Bart Miller, water program director at Western Resource Advocates. ‘This is truly a 21st century tool for a new way of thinking, and learning, about water issues. After all, there may be no more important issue than having clean water to drink.’”

 

Trout Unlimited launches “Our Colorado River” to unite water users on river health – May 24, 2013 – Sky-Hi News

“For the overtapped Colorado River to meet a variety of needs, from agriculture to recreation, West Slope water users need to start rowing in the same direction.

That’s the message of a new outreach effort—‘Our Colorado River’—launched today by sportsmen’s group Trout Unlimited, which is encouraging Colorado River stakeholders to work together to find innovative water planning and river conservation solutions.”

 

West Texas plant turns sewage into tap water – May 13, 2013 – San Francisco Chronicle

“With every flush of a toilet, residents in parts of parched West Texas are adding to their drinking water supply.

A $13 million reclamation plant in Big Spring began Monday blending sewage that’s treated to drinking-water standards with treated water from lakes, Colorado River Municipal Water District general manager John Grant said…

Before the plant, the sewage water went into a creek and eventually ended up in the Colorado River and the area reservoirs, which the district uses. The wastewater from Big Spring now goes directly to the new plant, which saves water lost to evaporation during its way downstream.”

Water from the project adds 2 million gallons daily for use.


Humpback Chub Being Released Into Colorado River Tributaries At Grand Canyon National Park May 13, 2013National Parks Traveler

“Silver is being dumped into tributaries of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, silver in the form of juvenile humpback chub…

On May 14, 300 juvenile humpback chub will be released in Havasu Creek. The second translocation is scheduled to occur on June 15th, when an additional 200 juvenile humpback chub will be translocated to Shinumo Creek.

The humpback chub is an endangered fish species found only in the Colorado River basin. Although the humpback chub once flourished in the natural conditions of the Colorado River amid its warm turbid waters and seasonally fluctuating flows, it now faces serious declines in its populations associated with changes in habitat like the construction and operation of dams and the introduction of non-native fish species…”

 

Benzene found in Parachute Creek - April 19, 2013 –  The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

“Benzene has been found in Parachute Creek for the first time since testing began in response to a natural gas liquids leak north of Parachute.

Williams and the state Department of Natural Resources said in news releases that the carcinogen was found Thursday at multiple locations, but in amounts below Environmental Protection Agency safe drinking water standards of 5 parts per billion.”

Benzene is a known carcinogen and Parachute Creek runs directly into the Colorado River.

Snowpack still lags, but better than 2012 – April 4, 2013 – Post Independent

More conservation needed

Meanwhile, the nonprofit conservation group Western Resource Advocates said Wednesday that even more water conservation measures will be needed, sooner rather than later, in order to maintain adequate water resources through the summer months.

April is when municipalities and other water providers start to make projections for the irrigation season. That includes planning for watering restrictions and other measures to conserve water, said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for the WRA.

‘Drought is a fact of life for people who live in the west,’ he said during a media telephone conference held in conjunction with the release of the latest Colorado snowpack report.

‘It has happened before, and it will happen again,’ Beckwith said.”

Xcel relaxes water rights to Colorado River to help during drought – April 4, 2013 - The Denver Post

“Xcel Energy is relaxing some of its water rights on the Colorado River to help Denver Water meet the needs of people on the Front Range and Western Slope.”

Conservation every year’ - Group wants better water practices to counteract drought – April 4, 2013 - The Pueblo Chieftain

“While water in storage reduced the impact of the 2012 statewide drought, permanent conservation measures are needed to head off future problems, a conservation group said Wednesday.

‘Conservation every year can help us in a drought year,’ said Drew Beckwith, water policy manager for Western Resource Advocates.

“Just because you build a reservoir doesn’t mean you’ll have water to store,’ he said.”

Colorado water users prepare for more drought – April 3, 2013 – Associated Press

“Back-to-back, drought-plagued winters have prompted Colorado water users and providers to prepare for another dry year. . .”

Conserving Water for Future Generations - March 18, 2013 – The Daily Camera

Q: How can we save the Colorado River Basin and who is taking action?

A: Thanks to a detailed report from Western Resource Advocates, there may be hope in replenishing our water supplies.

The Colorado River spreads over 1,400 miles, from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico. Thirty million people, as well as 4 million acres of farmland, and some of the planet’s most majestic landscapes and ecosystems, depend on the Colorado River. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s recent Colorado River Basin Study, there is not enough annual run-off in the Colorado River Basin to supply the water demands of the human communities in the basin. In addition, the flows in some tributaries and streams of the basin are often insufficient to support healthy fisheries, ecosystems, and recreational industries. With population in the basin increasing, and lack of rainfall and snow, water storage levels are dropping at a frightening pace. WRA is calling for immediate action to control our Colorado River water use by prioritizing water conservation.

ON Kilter: Lake Powell Pipeline, dead at last  – March 23, 2013 -  St. George Utah 

 

Now, a new report by Western Resource Advocates seems to have sealed once and for all the fate of the project.

What remains to be seen is if, at long last, the district will get the message that this pipeline is a pipe dream that is too costly and unnecessary.

U.S. Rep. Gardner wants to clear the path on water projects – March 25, 2013 - Boulder iJournal 

Though the two project elements will not actually dam the Poudre, the project has also attracted substantial opposition, including Western Resource Advocates of Boulder. That organization has suggested a program of water conservation, reuse of municipal water and transfer and coordinated use of agricultural water could provide the same amount of water while maintaining the riparian ecosystem of the Poudre.

“I certainly hope the congressman doesn’t believe that he can cut out public input on this process,” said Laura Belanger, the water resources engineer with the Boulder environmental organization.

Group proposes pipeline alternative – March 20, 2013 - The Spectrum

But according to the new report, released this week by Western Resource Advocates, a combination of reuse, reductions in agriculture and conservation efforts that fall in line with Gov. Gary Herbert’s statewide goal could eliminate the need for the pipeline.

The “Local Waters Alternative to the Lake Powell Pipeline” report contends that efficiency measures alone could provide more than 60 percent of the water the pipeline would bring. Include agricultural water transfers and reuse, and the county could meet its demand until 2060 and beyond at a third of the cost of building a new pipeline, said Amelia Nuding, author of the report and water-energy analyst with Western Resource Advocates.

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