April Board Meeting to Discuss Historic Snowpack and CO River Issues
Board Of Directors To Discuss Streamflow Forecasts And Water Projects
On April 18 and 19, 2023, the Colorado River District Board of Directors will meet for its second quarterly meeting of 2023. Click HERE to view the full second quarterly agenda once it is publicly available.
This meeting will take the usual shape of quarterly board meetings with reports from staff, the General Manager, and the General Counsel, alongside in-depth discussions on the fast-moving world of Colorado River issues. Register HERE to attend virtually.
NOTE- much of the first day of the meeting will be held in Executive session.
Below is a preview of some April meeting highlights.
Community Funding Partnership (CFP) director Amy Moyer will present at April’s board meeting with recommendations for new grant awards over $50,000. In addition to the recommendations being presented at the upcoming meeting, the Community Funding Partnership has awarded $7.4 million in funding to 84 projects, with $1.3 million awarded to 14 projects in 2023 alone.
CFP-funded projects are incredible examples of the boots-on-the-ground efforts throughout our District, allowing our communities to adapt to a hotter, drier climate. Upgrades to infrastructure, irrigation efficiency, partnerships for river restoration and water quality improvement, and forward-thinking research and innovation are all essential for the future of West Slope communities.
To celebrate these achievements and allow for peer-to-peer sharing of successful and replicable projects, the River District’s Community Funding Partnership team and External Affairs team have closely partnered to create the ‘CFP Voices,’ video vignette series. The Yampa River Flow Pilot Program vignette is the third in the series to be recently premiered.
Highlighted in this newest film, the River District’s strategic and collaborative Elkhead Reservoir water releases during drought-impacted summer seasons have benefited consumptive and in-channel uses during low flow periods. In 2021, the 1,500 acre-feet of water released from Elkhead benefited both the critical downstream fish habitat and downstream irrigators as it prevented a call from being placed on the mainstem Yampa for all but three days. The effort demonstrated the value of strategic and collaborative stored water releases to benefit all Yampa River water users during a time of drought. The high snowpack this year makes a mainstem call and these releases on the Yampa River unlikely, but River District staff will be exploring a multi-year funding request in 2024 to continue funding releases during critical low flow periods.
October-March of precipitation water year 2023, image courtesy of Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
As context for all decisions made by the Board, the hydrology report remains a cornerstone of the Colorado River District board meetings.
Instead of dealing with yet another year of crippling drought, the winter of Water Year 2023 continues to produce an historic snowpack, alongside years including 2011 and 1997. Almost all regions within the Colorado River Basin are reporting at or above 100% of the 30-year average, with the majority of the basin in the 130-200% range.
This generous snowpack will do much to boost reservoir levels within the state of Colorado, and most are expected to fill or at least make a strong recovery. Federal Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA) releases from Flaming Gorge have been halted due to abundant moisture and the natural flows into Lake Powell are projected to total 11.3 million acre-feet this water year. The Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue decisions regarding balancing releases from Powell towards the end of this month.
Locally, producers and water managers in our headwaters communities look forward to an irrigation year beginning without drought conditions. Unseasonably cool temperatures kept snow on valley floors in many places, and with relatively good soil moisture from the strong monsoon cycle last year, living within the hydrology of the river might have more positives than recent years.
Director of Science and Interstate Matters Dave Kanzer offers caution, however, that this may just be temporary relief, “like putting a band aid on a wound that continues to hemorrhage.”
Read his full report on hydrology and reservoir health in the public board packet (once it is available) HERE.
The Board of Directors will welcome the insights of several guest presenters in the course of the two-day meeting as well.
On Tuesday, April 18, John Carron with Hydros Consulting will present on the Colorado River Risk Study, a long-term study focused on myriad variables impacting whether a Compact call would ever be issued. The study was completed in 2021, but recent events have necessitated some updates and additional context to findings.
On Wednesday, April 19, Division 5 EngineerJames Heath of Colorado’s Division of Water Resources will provide updates regarding issues impacting Division 5 – the mainstem of the Colorado River on the West Slope.
After Heath’s presentation, former River District General Manager Eric Kuhn and Jennifer Gimbel, a senior water policy scholar with Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center, will offer a joint presentation titled, ‘Adapting Colorado’s Water Systems for a 21st Century Economy and Water Supply.’