Newsletter Article

McElmo Flume

Flumes are a method to divert water to a desired location. In contrast to a ditch or trench, a flume is man-made channel for water, in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain. Most flumes were wooden troughs elevated on trestles, often following the natural contours of the land. In 1878 a ditch company was formed in Montezuma Valley for the purpose of diverting water from the Dolores River for agricultural irrigation purposes. Canals were dug and flumes were built, and by 1889 the project was complete. In April of 1888, the Montezuma Journal called the system, “…one of the greatest irrigation enterprises, not only in the state, but in the West.”


New Program Pays Users to Conserve Colorado River Water

Farmers, cities, and power plant operators could soon be paid to cut their use of the Colorado River under a new interstate program aimed at keeping more water in Lake’s Powell and Mead. The four largest communities fed by the Colorado River will contribute millions of dollars into a fund to help farmers and industrial operations pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures to cut their water use. Known as the Colorado River System Conservation Program, it will be seeded with $2 million each from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Another $3 million will come from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.


California Could Save Up to 14 Million Acre-Feet of Water

According to a new analysis released by the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council, California could be saving up to 14 million acre-feet of untapped water--providing more than the amount of water used in all of California’s cities in one year--with an aggressive statewide effort to use water-saving practices, reuse water, and capture lost stormwater. “Our current approach to water use is unsustainable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough water to meet our needs,” said Kate Poole, NRDC senior attorney with the water program. “At a time when every drop counts, we need to employ sensible and cost-effective 21st century solutions that will help us reduce uses today while promising new, resilient supplies for cities and farms tomorrow.” “As climate change brings more extreme weather, including droughts, ramping up forward-thinking solutions now will help us be more resilient,” said Peter Gleick (pictured right), president of the Pacific Institute.


Goosing the West Slope

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, of CRWCD. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.” In an effort to rectify this, numerous mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. Altogether, Colorado is talking more about efficiency and conservation and in Denver; three separate bills were introduced into the Colorado Legislature this winter.


Warmer Temperatures Expedite Hybrid Trout Takeover

When two species mate, their offspring end up with new names like ‘pizzly’ (a grizzly and polar bear pairing) or ‘sparred owl’ (for barred owl and spotted owl hybrids). According to a June High Country News article, the more rare species in such couplings face a far worse fate--hybridization can be a path to extinction.


Hydropower Production Threatened

According to a February memorandum from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), both Lake Powell (of the Upper Colorado Basin) and Lake Mead (of the Lower Colorado Basin) could soon become too low to operate their hydropower plants if conditions don't improve. At the May 14th Southwest Basin Roundtable (SBR) meeting in Cortez, John McClow, Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, provided an overview of this developing situation on the Colorado River. Water shortages from a persistent drought in the Southwest have left both lakes dangerously low, threatening electric supplies that are relied on by 5.8 million customers.


New DOE Hydropower Study

According to an April 29th Denver Business Journal article, Colorado and other western states are being positioned as ground zero in what appears to be a potential massive new push by the federal government to develop new hydroelectric power capacity in the U.S. That’s the underlying assumption in a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy. The report, New Stream-Reach Development Resource Assessment, by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, estimates that 65 gigawatts of additional hydropower could be developed nationwide—3.8 gigawatts in Colorado. To put that into perspective, 65 gigawatts of power is roughly equivalent to all the existing hydropower in the U.S. today. In Colorado, 3.8 gigawatts of hydro nearly approaches all of the existing hydroelectric power being generated in the entire Colorado River basin, including Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon Dam, and Hoover Dam, as well as the Aspinall Unit dams on the Gunnison River.


Southwest Colorado Small-Scale Hydro

If you are interested in developing small-scale hydro projects in southwestern Colorado, particularly ditch drops and pressurized irrigation (including center pivots), visit the Colorado Small Hydropower Association website. At a workshop held in Durango on May 19th, it was clear there are many agricultural hydropower opportunities in southwestern Colorado, thanks in part to new federal and state incentives.


National Water Policy?

American water policy has long been the subject of scholarly criticisms. The fractured nature of U.S. water policy has been criticized for decades. In an effort to address some of these concerns, countless commissions, councils, and studies have been established and conducted. All have called for new directions in water policy and better planning, evaluation, and coordination. Over the decades, concerns about water supply and development continue to mount. These concerns consistently point to the need to establish a national water commission to assess future water demands, study current management programs, and develop recommendations for a comprehensive strategy. Some researchers view the fragmented nature of water policy as being based on attitudes and perceptions about water in general and that prolonged water shortages and droughts may be a catalyst to change attitudes. In other words, when physical limits of water are reached, the political arena will change. Perhaps the catalyst to change attitudes has arrived.


Colorado Water Plan

In June, each of the basin roundtables submitted their draft implementation plans to the CWCB. The CWCB will review basin plans in July. Then the huge challenge will be to incorporate each of the basin plans all into the larger Colorado Water Plan and provide a draft to Governor Hickenlooper by his imposed deadline of December 2014. In May of this year, the Governor signed legislation (SB115) that instructs the CWCB to have hearings in each basin and for the draft plan to be presented to the Legislature’s interim committee on water resources.


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