Grand County State of the River Highlights

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courtesy photo This picture from the Colorado River District Presentation highlighted that Grand County’s three lakes are a keystone of the Colorado River Collection System.
courtesy photo This picture from the Colorado River District Presentation highlighted that Grand County’s three lakes are a keystone of the Colorado River Collection System.

by Tara Walker

The Colorado River District had their Grand County State of the River meeting on May 3rd at the Silver Creek Inn at Silver Creek in Granby, Colorado. Representatives from the Colorado River District, Grand County, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Denver Water, Northern Water and the Bureau of Reclamation gave presentations and answered questions about Colorado River projects.

Grand County Assistant County Manager Ed Moyer explained that the Windy Gap Modification and Connectivity Channel should be completed by 2022 to improve the health of the Colorado River downstream from Windy Gap Reservoir. The project will increase prey and trout populations.

The Fraser Flats River Habitat Project is a success and trout populations have already increased. Around 150 volunteers came out over three days in May of 2017 to help with revegetation. 4,000 harvested willows and 90 Kremmling cottonwoods were used for revegetation along the Fraser River to help cool the water and reduce erosion.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Aquatic Biologist Jon Ewert, “In the first week of October, we saw huge immediate increases in the trout population. We multiplied the fish population and I was surprised to see such an immediate increase which is very good news. It’s no longer the worst section in the Fraser River for fish population.” Ewert explained that the number of brown trout rose from just 26 in 2016 to more than 110 in 2017 while the number of rainbow trout rose from six to 16.

A dedication ceremony was held on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, at 4 p.m. to mark the opening of the 0.4-mile public fishing section. The event celebrated the success of the Fraser Flats project.

Victor Lee, Bureau of Reclamation Hydrologic Engineer, gave a presentation on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The Big Thompson Project is 11 reservoirs with a total capacity of 1-million-acre feed that include Green Mountain Reservoir, Granby Reservoir, Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Reservoir.

Most reservoirs are at average levels despite the uneven snowpack varying from 80 percent of average in northern parts of the Colorado River district to poor numbers in the south with 40 to 60 percent of average. Most reservoirs are projected to meet summer demands. Lake Granby is projected to fill (537 KAF) by early July. This is the 5th year Lake Granby will fill, but no projected spill this year. There is an average runoff for Willow Creek Reservoir. Green Mountain Reservoir is projected to fill (154 KAF) around July 1st with no spill and a maximum release of fewer than 1000 cfs. Denver Water and Colorado Springs had higher than average carryover storage which leads to filling confidence even with less than average runoff this year.

Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River District was the keynote speaker and he highlighted Colorado River challenges and priorities as well as an update on operations at Wolford Reservoir.

Wolford Reservoir will have maintenance items starting in early September that will include a butterfly valve seal replacement because the seal has been leaking for a few years due to a freezing event. A reservoir draw-down will occur for a top crest restoration as well as the main gate replacement.

Mueller stated, “There has been unplanned settling in the dam and safety experts say it is completely safe, but we need to add freeboard in case of a maximum flood event.” Mueller emphasized that there was an open sealed bid process and Moody construction out of Meeker will work on the height of the dam.

Replacing the main cast iron gate will require a barge and a deep water dive team because oxygen and pressure are significant at this high elevation. Wolford is projected to fill May 25th and remain full until the middle of July. Wolford won’t hit the lowest fill until September 1st.

Mueller moved on to talk about current water situations, “We have been in an 18-year period of what I would consider a new water reality. People will call it a drought, but the reality is that over the last 18 years we’ve seen the snowpack above Lake Powell drop to 59 percent, and the inflow is at 42 percent of average.”

Mueller emphasized that 3-million-acre-feet of water is going into Lake Powell when the historic average is 7.1-million-acre-feet. There is an obligation to deliver 9 million-acre feet out of the Glen Canyon Dam and this year, we will see another 20 feet drop in Lake Powell.

There is a concern over the lack of water making it to Lake Powell as it is 54% full. Mueller explained that under federal law and the compact if our deliveries drop below the required amount, we are talking about a possibility where the Department of Interior requires Colorado to curtail post-compact water rights because we aren’t delivering enough water down to the lower basin. Mueller, “Colorado can lose economic activity as a result of that and it isn’t a certainty yet, but it is looking more and more possible.”

Mueller also doesn’t want to see purchases of western agriculture by those looking for water rights. Mueller, “We don’t want the municipal providers so insecure that they decide to come over and start buying agriculture on the western slope, in anticipation of that moment when they can dry it up and send the water downstream.”

Mueller insists that we need to do better with water management and planning, especially taking the new reality into consideration. He would like to see communities and leaders make better water choices with land use planning, urban landscaping as well as a voluntary reduction in water consumption.