Risk Study on Lake Powell hitting critically low levels

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Risk Study prompts intra-state controversy


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From the First Quarterly Board News Summary, 2017

What: Colorado River Risk Study commissioned by the River District prompts Front Range Water Council concern
What’s Next: the Colorado Water Conservation Board Director will facilitate discussions to keep the work advancing

Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund is facilitating a discussion among Roundtable members from both sides of the Continental Divide to arrive at how Phase II of a Colorado River Risk Study to current water users will proceed.

The Colorado River District, with assistance from the Southwest Water Conservation District, contracted the consultant to work on the study to advance western Colorado discussions about Colorado River development — or risk of curtailment should low Lake Powell levels occur.

Phase I of the report found that if a drought of the magnitude of 2002-2004 recurred with Lake Powell now half full, the giant reservoir could be drained without corrective action. The 2002 drought occurred with the reservoir essentially full but the ensuing 16-year dry period that really started in 2000 has since taken the 24 million acre-foot storage facility to half of its capacity.

The four West Slope Roundtables commissioned Phase I of the Risk Study in order to develop technical data so they could have their own discussions about western Colorado water development and risks to current water users. Front Range interests, who also use Colorado River water through transmountain diversion, asked to participate and they were welcomed to a Technical Advisory Committee.

The four West Slope Roundtable chairs invited the Front Range Roundtables to participate financially in Phase II, as well. This prompted a protest letter from the Front Range Water Council, asking the state and the Front Range Roundtables to reject continued work. The CWCB will referee scope of work to find common ground for Phase II.

Eric Kuhn, the River District General Manager, told the Board of Directors at their January meeting that the water conservation districts are committed to advance the study, preferably with statewide collaboration.

“I am fairly optimistic,” Kuhn said.

Board President Tom Alvey cautioned that “the danger here in trying to involve the Front Range is that it may gut what we really want to find out.”

Director Tom Gray of Moffat County said that the purpose of the study in the beginning was to get the West Slope together on the subject of risk so “we have a unified message.”

“Now it feels like we are not getting anywhere with that goal by including the East Slope into what we are doing.”

“We all have the same concerns. But there were things the East Slope did not want to hear but that interest me,” said Director Doug Monger of Routt County.

More details can be found in Kuhn’s Board memo at http://bit.ly/2jjivQS.

Jan. 2017: Update on the Joint West Slope Roundtable Risk Study on pages 2-3 from memo by GM Eric Kuhn.

Sept. 2016: Key findings, summary, study details, examples of detailed results, conclusions and policy issues, next steps and follow-up studies and FAQ’s: memo by GM Eric Kuhn: “Joint West Slope Roundtables Risk Study Results Summary and Thoughts on the Next Steps”

Key Findings:

  1. Droughts similar to those in the recent past could cause Lake Powell to, within a few years, drop to levels that jeopardize Glen Canyon Dam’s ability to generate electricity, and create a risk that the Upper Colorado River Basin would be unable to meet its delivery obligations under the 2007 Interim Guidelines and potentially the Colorado River Compact.
  2.  The higher the consumptive use in the Upper Basin going forward, the greater the risk to all water users.
  3.  Water supply augmentation and “drought operations” – moving water from large upstream reservoirs to prop up the levels in Lake Powell – reduce risk.
  4. “Demand management” – the voluntary reduction of consumptive use in the Upper Basin – can further reduce risk.
  5. In the most extreme drought scenarios, even after drought operations and additional demand management in the Lower Basin, the shortfall may be too large to meet with demand management programs, suggesting the need for discussions now about the necessary tradeoffs and alternative strategies to meet worst case scenarios.

Presentation by Eric Kuhn and John Carron on the Colorado River Risk Study to date.

News article: “Familiar protagonists raise concerns about new Western Slope water study” 
By Allen Best, Aspen Journalism 


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