Extreme. Exceptional. Alarming.
For those in the Upper Colorado River Basin, these words have become the norm when discussing ongoing river conditions, and they appear regularly in recent reports from on-the-ground engineers and technical staff of the Colorado River District. In next week’s Board of Directors meeting, the District’s board and staff will discuss the issues surrounding consistently low flows, spiking water temperatures, and a future within the continued aridification of the West.
The Board will meet over the course of two days, from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 and from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 21.
To watch a recording of the Colorado River District’s Third Quarterly Board Meeting, click the links below:
DAY 1- July 20th, 2021
DAY 2- July 21st, 2021
In our 2021 Water Year and beyond, the Colorado River Basin water supply situation continues to deteriorate and is well below long-term averages. Drought maps increasingly show expanding areas of deep red, signifying the most extreme conditions. Amidst this hotter, drier reality, declining flows and increasing seasonal demands for water have put reservoir levels in a steep decline.
Under the current forecast, Lakes Powell and Mead will continue to drop to unprecedented levels. Thus far, operations have not changed at Bureau of Reclamation facilities, however, significant changes are expected to be announced as soon as next month – August 2021 – and could result in a “Tier 1” shortage declaration for the first time ever under the 2007 Interim Operating Guidelines. The development of a Drought Operation Plan is still ongoing between the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Upper Division States, though the Colorado River District staff have not yet had a seat at the table.
Under “Tier 1,” Drought Contingency Plan operations would continue to expand in the Lower Colorado River Basin in 2022, with less water (approximately 600,000 acre-feet) available to the Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada, and Mexico.
Across the District and Beyond
In the Upper Basin and here on the West Slope of Colorado, many agricultural operations and small urban areas have already been hit with severe water shortages almost each and every year due to Climate Change and its unpredictable hydrologic conditions.
This past June, a perfect storm of well below-average runoff, a hot and dry climate, and multiple in-basin and trans-basin diversions in the Upper Colorado River Basin caused water temperatures on the Colorado River below Kremmling to reach critical levels. On June 4, flow below Kremmling was 320 cubic feet per second and water temperatures peaked at 71 degrees.
Commercial whitewater guiding operations below Kremmling are feasible when flows are above 600 cfs, and CPW has stated that cold-water fish begin to experience stress effects at temperatures in the high 60s.
Although CRD has priority to store water in the Wolford Reservoir, the District voluntarily chose to bypass some of its storable inflow in order to help reduce water temperature and support fish health below Kremmling.
In other areas of the Colorado River District, streamflow in the Yampa Basin continues to be well below average. Poor water supply conditions also exist across the Gunnison Basin where most reservoirs will not fill. Aside from Paonia Reservoir, no major facilities are projected to fill.
While these overall conditions and forecasts are grim, the Colorado River District and its Board of Directors will continue to fight for West Slope water users of all kinds and work on-the-ground in our communities to increase resiliency in this time of unyielding change.
Upcoming Board Conversations:
In addition to the hydrology discussion, the Board of Directors will receive updates or take action on the items below:
- The Board will consider funding five Community Funding Partnership projects, including a project using artificial intelligence to inform nutrient and salinity management in Western rivers and two projects improving municipal water quality and availability.
- The Board will hear a presentation from Amy Ostdiek, Deputy Chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Interstate, Federal & Water Information Section.
- Colorado Division 5 Engineer James Heath will present to the Board.
- The Board will hear an updates on a potential demand management program and the state of Colorado’s Anti-Speculation Working Group.
- The Board will review River District policy statements on speculation, multi-benefit water projects and Upper Colorado Recovery Program in its annual policy discussion.