Western Colorado Area Office
Colorado River Storage Project
Aspinall Unit Operation Meeting
September 4, 2014
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Morrow Point Reservoir
The next operation meeting is scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose
This meeting was held at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir. Attendees are noted on the distribution list. Handouts are available for review and can be found in the menu at the bottom of the page.
The purpose of operation meetings-- usually held in January, April, and August-- is to gather input for determining upcoming operations for Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Reservoirs. This input is used in Reclamation’s development of specific operations for the Aspinall Unit and for the overall 24-month study (www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html) for operation of Reclamation projects in the Upper Colorado River Basin, which include plans for Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Navajo Units, as well as the Aspinall Unit. Operation of the Aspinall Unit considers projected inflows to its reservoirs, hydropower and flood control needs, existing water rights, minimum instream flows, target elevations for reservoirs, flow needs for endangered fish and other resources, recreation, and other factors. In addition, the meetings are used to coordinate activities and exchange information among agencies, water users, and other interested parties concerning the Gunnison River.
Handouts provided included data on 2014 operations; inflows to the reservoirs to date; and projected most probable, minimum, and maximum inflow forecasts for the remainder of 2014..
A Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Environmental Impact Statement was signed on May 3, 2012. The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and durations necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit. In addition, the water right for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has been quantified and adjudicated. These operation meetings are used to discuss proposals for long-term operation plans to address these and related resource management issues.
General: Blue Mesa Reservoir capacities are described in meetings as follows: The reservoir holds 940,700 acre-feet (af). Active capacity is 748,400 af, inactive capacity is 81,100 af, and dead storage is 111,200 af. Live capacity is the active plus inactive, which totals 829,500 af. Discussions during operation meetings use live capacity.2014 Operations:
Spring Runoff: The observed unregulated inflow ended up being about as close to the forecasted unregulated inflow as one can get. Blue Mesa inflow was 849 KAF, which is 126% of average, putting 2014 in the top 30% of years. Many of the reservoirs experienced runoff over 100% of average. Paonia experienced the lowest amount of runoff at about 67% of average.
Black Canyon Peak: With the May 1 forecast of 850 KAF, the black canyon peak flow determination was 6,427 cfs. The actual 24 hour peak ended up being 9,200 cfs.
Lower Gunnison River Targets: 2014 met the conditions for a Moderately Wet year, which corresponds to a peak flow of 14,350 cfs. Because the April-July Forecast fell between 831-1123 KAF, the lower Gunnison river target at Whitewater included a Peak Flow of 14,350 cfs for a 10 day duration, and a half bank flow of 8,070 cfs for a 40 day duration.
Timing the peak at Whitewater with the peaks of tributaries to the Gunnison river is necessary to help meet the targets. The North Fork peaked on June 2. Paonia Reservoir needs to spill to get water downstream to help meet the targets. This year the decision to significantly increase the flow at Aspinall needed to be made 10 days in advance to ramp up. The attempt to match the Gunnison and the North Fork peaks would have been successful, however there was a two day delay because the Colorado River was peaking at the same time, and there was some concern with high water in the Colorado River in Grand Junction below the confluence with the Gunnison River. As a result, the peak at Whitewater reached 12,500 cfs on June 6. There was not enough contribution from the tributaries to maintain the half bankfull target without re-opening the gates at Morrow Point and Blue Mesa. The half bankfull target was met for a duration of 24 days, with the ramp down occurring on June 24.
Summer Conditions: In June, the Gunnison Basin experienced only 5-25% of its normal precipitation. Precipitation increased to 25-100%, with some areas experiencing up to 300% of average. August brought more moisture, with the eastern half of the basin seeing precipitation between 50-100% of average the western half seeing 100-300% of average.
Baseflow targets at Whitewater were 1500 cfs for July and August, and 1050 cfs for September. These targets were met throughout the three month period. There is enough water remaining in Blue Mesa that some additional releases will need to be made in order to get the reservoir down to the winter target level.
Projected Operations: Releases will be increased in November and December to meet the end of year winter target demands and hydropower demands, which increase in winter. The releases will be drawn down prior to the Brown Trout spawn so the eggs aren’t left high and dry. Plans for the future include open communication lines with all stakeholders.
2014 Weather Outlook:
Colorado Dust on Snow Update::
2014 began with a transition into a mild El Nino. The probabilities for El Nino will increase October through March. El Nino typically means a dry and warm climate in northern Colorado and a wet and cool climate in southern Colorado. The Gunnison Basin lies in between the two, but wetter conditions are anticipated. The overall outlook through December is generally lower than average temperatures and high than average precipitation. The drought monitor shows a decrease in drought conditions throughout the Gunnison Basin since April 2014.
Presentation by Chris Landry (CSAS)
Chris has been studying the effects of dust events on snow, and has found that more severe dust events correlate with spikes in the hydrographs of nearby streams and rivers. Albedo, the measure of the reflectivity of the earth’s surface, lowers as dust accumulates on snow. With the decrease in energy reflecting off the earth’s surface, the snow absorbs the energy and subsequently melts faster, correlating with the spikes we see in the hydrographs. Studies are also underway to identify the sources of the dust. Areas in Arizona and New Mexico have been major contributors. There are no mitigative strategies underway at this time. Graphs showing these correlations are available on the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies website.
Special Flow Requests:
The Gorge fish census will take place on October 4 – 9. Typically the census is done with river flows between 600 and 800 cfs.
Fish & Wildlife Service - FWS has 6 monitoring sites on the Gunnison River. 4 of them appear to be duplicates of USGS sites. They are thinking of discontinuing the FWS sites. An email will be sent out to request comments/questions/concerns with removing the FWS monitoring sites.
CWCB - Their board meeting will take place on September 11th and 12th in Colorado Springs. Water in Lake Powell is getting low, so additional water sources in larger upstream reservoirs have been identified. Flaming Gorge has the most water available for a short-term supply. Lake Mead may also be in trouble. CWCB is discussing this with the Secretary of the Interior.
Bureau of Land Management -The high water has moved the sediment out of the gorge. Visitation significantly dropped during the high water, and wilderness permits were down 60% of average for the year. There was good fishing post high water. The lower numbers will have a hit on their budget for next year.
Tri-County -The powerplant is operating, but will be shut down next month for maintenance. They will not change operations in terms of releases during the shutdown.
Colorado River Water Conservation District -The CRWCD annual seminar is September 19th. They have put out a $40 million grant application for the Lower Gunnison Basin, which is really focused on agriculture. September 18th is their board meeting in Montrose. See www.crwcd.org
USGS - Their stream gage funding has been bumped up, so more gages will be added throughout the state, including the Gunnison Basin. The Selenium Management Program has been moving forward, and has just finalized their new Science Plan. USGS is continuing to monitor the sediment in Paonia.
Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association - In mid-March of 2015, they plan on completing some maintenance work on their diversion structure. They’ll require flows around 300 cfs, with a 400 cfs max. This will be discussed more during the next Operations meeting. Work will probably take one day. The dam has panels which were designed to come off. Some panels came off in the high flows this year.
Western Area Power Administration - Estimate $4-5 million lost due to bypassing the powerplant this year.
NPS - The Morrow Point boat tour has been extended. The Superintendent position has closed, and they are currently doing interviews. They hope to have a selection by the end of this month or early October. While the spilling was occurring this summer, visitation went up 5,000%.
CBRFC - There are annual verifications of inflow forecast, and a webinar is coming up to discuss the past season’s probability in early November.
CSAS - The Upper Uncompahgre basin is healthy. The Spruce Beetle is not having a big effect in the area yet.
The next operations meeting is scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose
Meeting Minutes (Portable Document Format (PDF)): View these minutes as mailed (includes distribution/attendee list). Meeting handouts listed separately
see archive September 2014
Email comments/inquires to: WestColoAreaOffice@usbr.gov