Aspinall Working Group
Purpose and Participation
The Aspinall Unit Working Group is an open public forum for information exchange between Reclamation and the stakeholders of the Aspinall Unit. The public is encouraged to attend and provide comments on the operations and plans presented by Reclamation at these meetings. Input is used in Reclamation's development of specific operational plans for the Aspinal Unit and for the overall 24-Month Study (www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/studies/index.html).Meetings are scheduled three times annually (January, April, August). Meeting locations vary to encourage participation of stakeholders in various locations throughout the Gunnison basin. Meeting notes from past working Group meetings are posted here on this webpage. For more information on this group and these meetings please contact Erik Knight in the Grand Junction Area Office at (970) 248-0629.
The next meeting of the Aspinall Unit Working Group will be held on Thursday August 18th at 1:00 pm at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Information regarding the most recent Working Group Meeting (January 18, 2018 1:00 PM)
Meeting was held at the Western Colorado Area Office in Grand Junction. Attendees are noted on the distribution list. Handouts are available for review and can be found in the menu at the bottom of this page.
Handouts provided included data on 2017 operations; inflows to the reservoirs to date; and projected most probable, minimum, and maximum inflow forecasts for the 2017 water year. A Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Environmental Impact Statement was signed on May 3, 2012. The EIS modified the operational objectives 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.
Operations General: The May 1st forecast for Blue Mesa Inflow was 850,000 AF, placing Water Year 2017 Aspinall Operations just within the threshold of the Moderately Wet year category. Actual inflow into Blue Mesa was approximately 915,000 AF. This amount of inflow would still place operations in a Moderately Wet year category.
Black Canyon Peak and Lower Gunnison River Targets: Based on a May 1st forecasted inflow of 850,000 AF, the Black Canyon peak flow requirement was 6,427 cfs. On May 25th, there was a 12,200 cfs 24-hour peak flow. The peak flow exceeded the Black Canyon peak flow requirement due to the need to release sufficient water from Blue Mesa to meet targets at the Whitewater gage.
Peak flow and duration days at Whitewater based on the May 15th forecasted inflow required 14,040 cfs for 2 duration days. In addition, the forecasted inflow required half bank flows of 8,070 cfs for 20 duration days. To meet the target flows at Whitewater, Blue Mesa would need to spill. May 25th marked the first day of meeting the 14,040 flows at Whitewater.
Flows at Whitewater actually reached 15,900 cfs due to a situation outside of Reclamation’s control at the Crystal power plant. On May 24th at 7 pm, the Crystal power plant went offline while at full capacity. This resulted in the loss of 1,900 cfs coming through the power plant. At 10 pm, the power plant came back online, and 1,900 cfs went back into the Gunnison River. At 2 am, the power plant went offline again. Water started releasing over Crystal’s spillway, and Crystal was releasing 13,600 cfs. At this same time, flows in the North Fork increased a bit. This resulted in flows at Delta reaching close to 15,000 cfs when it was planned to only reach 14,000 cfs. There were no reports of anyone being stranded due to high river flows. Reclamation plans on adding procedures in Crystal Power Plant’s Standard Operating Procedures to bring the power plant back online slowly. This is in process; so far, it has been determined that bringing the power plant back online in four hours is too fast. Reclamation will also consider bringing the power plant back online in eight and twelve hours.
Reclamation released additional water beyond what was required by the ROD to keep the Blue Mesa content from overfilling. This resulted in about four days of peak duration flows greater than 14,000 cfs before dropping flows down to meet the half bankfull target at Whitewater. Right now, Blue Mesa Reservoir has the second highest content on this date (with the first highest content on this date being in 1984). To meet the winter target level of 580,000 AF, Reclamation currently has the Crystal power plant at maximum release capacity. There are no plans to bypass the power plants to reach the winter target.
Weather Outlook: Atmospheric rivers created precipitation events in the Gunnison Basin throughout 2017. In June, a ridge pushed what was left of these rivers/storms to the north. By mid-July, a monsoonal push created a ridge from the south, which pushed the westerlies over the northern Rocky Mountains. This is a normal monsoonal pattern. By early August, this ridge broke down and began building west of the Gunnison Basin. The Gunnison Basin is on the southern edge of the northwest winds, and are bringing weather systems from the Pacific northwest. While these are westerly flows, they are not part of a true monsoonal push.
The ENSO outlook projects neutral conditions, but on the positive side of neutral (closer to El Nino).
Runoff Forecast Discussion: A record wet January resulted in significant snowpack conditions early in the season, which created a large increase in the forecasts into February. March was dry, and record heat caused significant snowmelt and record runoff. An end of March storm resulted in a minor rebound. April was a dry month, with rapid snowmelt creating high runoff volumes. This resulted in a forecast decrease, and the May – July runoff was expected to be near 118% of average. A very cold storm system in mid-May caused late-February-like temperatures in the area, and therefore runoff was lower than forecast. In early June, significant warm up occurred. This drastic change in conditions resulted in impacts to the model simulations. In an attempt to better synchronize the model to existing conditions, CBRFC increased melt in the model. This resulted in too little snow in the model later in the season. The model needed more snow, particularly in the lower elevations. This would have resulted in a higher volume forecast and probably a better representation of the Blue Mesa peak inflow.
Summer/Fall Operations: Other reservoirs in the Gunnison Basin continue to be fairly full, with the lowest reservoir level being Paonia at 79% capacity. Blue Mesa is currently 99% full. The Moderately Wet year baseflow target from September 2017 through May 2018 is 1,050 cfs. There should be no issue maintaining the baseflow level throughout the year.
Special Flow Requests and Discussion: There was a discussion as to whether or not Reclamation times their releases to meet the Whitewater targets with the North Fork peak. Reclamation typically attempts to do this; however, this year we did not see that the North Fork peak was about to happen. The North Fork peaked prior to the 10 day ramp up for Blue Mesa releases. Reclamation will try to meet the Blue Mesa icing target, as the target was not met last year and there were minor icing problems, some unrelated to the elevation of Blue Mesa Reservoir.
NWS – Nothing to report.
CBRFC – They have a verification webinar this fall. Seasonal guidance for forecasts are on their website, extending to about mid-December. There is a stakeholder meeting the 3rd or 4th week in October. Fontenelle received record flows this year, and Flaming Gorge came in 2nd by about 10,000 AF.
WAPA – Energy prices are mild.
UVWUA – UVWUA had a good water year and summer.
Tri-County – Ridgway was 5,000 AF short of filling due to “new operator paranoia” and not wanting to spill the reservoir due to the Smallmouth Bass. Their fishing tournament went well, with about twice as many fish (and larger fish, ~17 inches) caught than in previous years. This is also the result of the contest going on longer. Ridgway stayed at peak elevation for a good while, and is dropping down now.
Upper Gunnison – They installed a remote cloud seeding generator at Lake Irwin. This operated last year; however, snow levels reached avalanche targets by mid-January, so it was only operated for about a month and a half. They would like the icing target met this year.
DWR – North Fork call came on late and is now off. New water commissioner in North Fork basin. Taylor Park accounts are full. Gunnison River still running on natural flow.
BLM – There was considerable public interest in the high flows this year. The flows reached near 13,000 cfs in the Black Canyon, which is the highest since 1957. This brought some boaters out of the woodworks. They almost all flipped, but there were no really bad incidents. Many of the whitewater areas washed out, but the ones that remained were big. BLM is stocking rainbow tomorrow. The rainbow trout below Crystal are doing well, no adverse impacts to the trout fishery from the spring peak. The earlier peak for the Whitewater target was beneficial to businesses, so that worked well this year.
USGS – The USGS is reaching out to their cooperators to discussing FY18 funding. They appreciate the collaboration.
TU – Nothing to report.
NPS – There are happy salmon fishermen right now. Visitation is up almost 30% this year. They appreciate the extra communication from Reclamation for managing the area.
CWCB – Their new director is Becky Mitchell. The Deputy Director position posted today. The Colorado Water Plan Implementation Funding grants are available on the CWCB website. Lake Powell saw a higher than average inflow this year, mostly from record flows in the Green River. There is a planned nine million AF release to the lower basin this year, and probably next year, so the reservoir level won’t go up much, but at least it is not going down. CWCB’s next board meeting is in Walden in September. This is usually the meeting where finances are discussed.
Montrose Power Office – Morrow Point exciter replacement work has been rescheduled from September to January. Only one unit can be replaced at a time, and it takes about 45 days per unit. Thanks to all for your understanding while they update their equipment.
River District – Their next Annual Water Seminar is scheduled for September 17th in Grand Junction.
Daily Sentinel – Nothing to report.
Look below at Archive for meeting Notes
January - Aspinall Unit meeting Handouts
Please contact the Operations Group via e-mail at ResourceMgr@usbr.gov for additional information.
Last Updated: 5/8/18