Board Of Directors To Discuss Funding, Hydrology, Risk Study and Colorado River Issues.
On July 18-19, the Colorado River District Board of Directors will meet in Glenwood Springs for the Third Quarterly General and Enterprise meeting of 2023.
Staff will present updates on projects and priorities with some action items requested from the Board. Public memos for the meeting are available HERE (.pdf). A full agenda is available here (.pdf). The public may attend virtually by registering HERE or attend in person at our office, 201 Centennial Street, Glenwood Springs, CO.
NOTE: much of the first morning of the meeting may be held in executive session.
Some highlights from the agenda include:
Dave “DK” Kanzer, Director of Science and Interstate Matters will deliver the Colorado River Basin Conditions & Outlook report to the Board on Tuesday. This perspective serves as important context for all other decisions and discussions.
According to Kanzer’s board memo, a healthy snowpack, coupled with a slow, gentle slide into summer, has left reservoirs across the Western Slope filled and spilling. Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Reservoirs all spilled later than normal to make room for the unexpected bounty of increased runoff from local rivers and streams. Some areas across the Western Slope experienced flooding, but again, the cooler temperatures of early summer did a great deal to slow down the melt rate of the snowpack, preventing what could have been catastrophic high water conditions.
According to the most recent 24-month study from the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell releases will be around 9.2 million, almost 1 million acre-feet above the 8.23 acre-feet minimum. This release will bump up the running 10-year average of water released down to Lake Mead, a number which is critical to meet the Upper Basin’s obligation under the Colorado River Compact. However, science tells us that we should not count on multiple years like this one, and managing the reservoirs for drought is essential.
Uncompahgre River Multi-Benefit Project
Project Applicant: American Rivers
Recommended Amount: $100,000
Location: Ouray County
In partnership with Ward Ditch, American Rivers’ Uncompahgre River Multi-Benefit Project will upgrade irrigation infrastructure, restore sections of the Uncompahgre River, reconnect floodplains, and revegetate riparian areas in the Uncompahgre Valley. The project’s benefits include supporting aquatic habitat, improving riparian health, reducing stream temperatures, and enhancing water quality. The work done on this stretch of river will also increase safety for recreational activities and allow for more efficient water delivery for irrigators through the Ward headgate and ditch system.
The project covers a one-mile stretch of the river and 31.6 acres of riparian habitat downstream from Ouray. Channel migration caused by the irrigation diversion will be reversed by stabilizing banks and restoring the natural shape of the river. Floodplain connectivity will be improved by removing an old berm and installing structures for fish habitat. Revegetation efforts will restore 13 acres of riparian habitat and remove invasive species, showcasing self-sustaining habitat improvements without compromising flood safety. Project outcomes will be monitored over five years.
“This project is a great example of creative collaboration to benefit both the river itself and the users that rely on it,” said Community Funding Partnership Program Manager, Melissa Wills. “Our hope is that with an approved Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART grant, the identified stretch of the Uncompahgre River will return to its natural flood plain, improve its habitat heterogeneity, and continue to sustain the dependent water users.”
Farmers Ditch Improvement Project
Project Applicant: Western Slope Conservation Center
Recommended Amount: $100,000
Location: Delta County
The North Fork Farmer’s Ditch project aims to rehabilitate an old irrigation diversion structure on the North Fork of the Gunnison River near Paonia. The project’s objectives include completing infrastructure improvements to continue serving 1,000 acres of agricultural land, improving habitat and fish passage, enhancing late-season river flows, and increasing water efficiency by 30%.
“The Colorado River District staff have found this project’s ingenuity and multi-benefit approach to be incredibly promising,” said Wills. “The impact the project will have on the health of the river, while reducing operation and maintenance needs for the water users will be essential to the region.”
The existing diversion dam, which spans the entire channel, will be replaced with an Obermeyer Gate and a point bar to reduce river widening and reactivate the natural floodplain. The current infrastructure suffers from significant water loss due to seepage and evaporation. Other proposed improvements will involve installing actuators on the reconstructed headgate and turnback gate to support accurate and automated flow monitoring.
Additionally, 1,600 linear feet of the ditch will be piped to minimize water loss. These enhancements will enable remote monitoring and control of the headgate, turnback gate, and flow rate, leading to improved efficiency, reduced operating costs, and increased streamflow. The project also includes river restoration efforts, such as creating pools and drops to mimic the river’s natural grade.
The Board of Directors will welcome the insights of several guest presenters in the course of the two-day meeting as well.
On Tuesday, July 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.
The Board will also hear presentations by:
Dan Gibbs, Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Kelly Romero-Heaney, Asst. Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado’s Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission