Posts Tagged ‘Reservoir’

Why you and your kids should care about the drought in California

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.  (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Herbert Hoover presides over the signing of the Colorado River Compact in November 1922.
(Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Why you and your kids should care about the drought in California

A father’s attempt to explain why California water restrictions, western growth and dropping reservoir levels in Utah should matter to all of us in Colorado.

By Steve Snyder

When people find out I work at Denver Water, they ask me one question more than any other: “Why do we let water flow out of Colorado to California and other states?”

The short answer is: The Colorado River Compact mandates that California gets its share. But that leads to a longer explanation about the Colorado River Compact, one of many complex laws that govern how water is divided among western states.

Complicated or not, we should all understand how drought in California — and Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate to cut water use by 25 percent — have a direct impact on the water we use in Colorado. With that in mind, I tried to boil this down for an audience with no prior knowledge or interest in the subject: My teenage daughter.

I’m changing her name to Abby so she doesn’t hate me for sharing her answers with the world.

Me: Sweetie, have you ever heard of the Colorado River Compact?

Abby: You mean a compact like for makeup?

Me: (Sighing) No, a compact is an agreement between states. The Colorado River Compact is an agreement between seven western states that share water from the Colorado River Basin.

Abby: Basin? And you say I talk in a foreign language!

Me: A basin is where water drains into a common area. The Colorado River Basin is the region where the Colorado River drains.

Abby: Wait. If it’s the Colorado River, how does it flow through other states? Isn’t it Colorado’s river?

Me: Good question. While the river originates in Colorado, the water does not belong to Colorado. All seven states have claims to the water. That’s how the compact came about.

Abby: How can other states claim water from Colorado? That’s not fair.

Me: Western water law is based on something called prior appropriation. It … STOP MAKING THAT FACE! It just means whoever puts the first claim on an amount of water for what is called “beneficial use” has the right to use it, regardless of the original location of the water. Think of it as “first in time, first in right.”

Abby: Speaking of time, you’re rambling again, Dad.

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin were divided into the upper and the lower basin states for river water allocation purposes. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin were divided into the upper and the lower basin states for river water allocation purposes. (Courtesy U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation)

Me: Stay with me. Back in the 1920s, the states in the lower basin of the Colorado River — California, Arizona and Nevada — were growing rapidly, and they had the oldest rights to the water. The other four states in the upper basin — Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — got nervous about having enough water for their own futures. The seven states couldn’t agree on who would get how much of the Colorado River’s flows, so in 1922 they negotiated an agreement, or compact, that divided the region into those same upper and lower basins.

Abby: Cool. So they divided up the water evenly among the states and they all lived happily ever after. The end! Great story, Dad! Goodnight.

Me: It’s 4 in the afternoon. Get back here! Under the agreement, the upper basin states must allow a specific amount of Colorado River water to flow to the lower basin states over a running 10-year average. The upper basin states store that water in Lake Powell in Utah. The lake is like a big savings account of water to meet that obligation. But now we get to the problems.

Abby: Let me guess. There’s not enough water in the river for everybody.

Me: Exactly! It turns out the 1920s were a very wet period in the Colorado River Basin. Essentially, the compact allocated more water than the river would normally produce. Then you add in a lot more growth in the lower basin states and the drought in the region for the past decade or more, and you get … wait for it … one giant bathtub ring!

Abby: Finally! We get to some cool stuff!

Me:  See?! But it’s not really cool. I told you the upper basin states store water for the lower basin states in Lake Powell. But because of the drought and continued increased use by the lower basin states, the water levels at Lake Powell have dropped dramatically in the last decade. Just look at this photo. You see that white discoloring in the rock where the water levels used to be? Lake Powell is at only 45 percent of its capacity.

Abby: So what happens if the lake level continues to drop?

Me: It could trigger what’s called a “compact call.” If the upper basin states can’t supply the amount of water mandated in the compact to the lower basin states, the upper basin states would have to restrict their own usage of Colorado River water to fulfill their obligations.

Abby: And what happens to Colorado?

Me: Well, Denver Water gets about half of its water from the Colorado River. If we lose half of our water supply, you can see how that would cause significant problems.

Abby: Is there anything we can do about it?

Me: We’re trying. Denver Water is actually working with other water providers in the Colorado River Basin through an agreement called the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

Abby: None of these things have simple names, do they?

Me: Point taken. The program is trying to find temporary, voluntary ways to reduce demand on the Colorado River, so more water can go into our bank account in Lake Powell. It’s a much better alternative than having mandated reductions.

Abby: So is this why you yell at me for taking long showers?

Me: Sort of. Every little thing we can do to use water efficiently helps. Particularly in the western United States, we are all connected by our water use.

Abby: Congratulations Dad. Despite your best efforts, I think I learned something.

Me: Thank you … I think.

Youth and water – following a water drop

Denver Water's teacher resource packet illustrated the water cycle from a local viewpoint.

Denver Water’s Teacher Resource Packet illustrates the local water cycle.

Last week’s Youth Education blog post, Youth and water – our future depends on it, focused on watersheds, where the journey of water begins within Denver Water’s collection system. Watersheds are only a small portion of the complete water cycle, however, so this week we’ll look at the water cycle in its entirety.

Week two: Journey of water – the water cycle

Online resources

  1. How does water move through the water cycle? The Project Wet Foundation’s chapter on The Water Cycle provides information, activities, vocabulary and much more around the never-ending movement of water.
  2. The U.S. Geological Survey provides an interactive graphic highlighting how Earth’s water is always changing form and moving around the Earth. Start with the beginner diagram and work your way up to the intermediate and advanced diagrams for a comprehensive study of the complete water cycle.
  3. Who better than Bill Nye the Science Guy to provide an entertaining lesson on the water cycle? Check out this fun episode.

Charts, graphs & maps

Denver’s water arrives in an annual water cycle that starts primarily in the mountains as snowpack during the winter and early spring. This snow buildup is followed by spring runoff, then rainstorms in the late summer. The amount of water available for people to use varies from year to year and in different regions of the state. Take the Journey of Water from the time it falls in the mountains until it swirls down the drain in your bathroom.

Click here or on the graphic to launch the Journey of Water.

Click here or on the graphic to launch the Journey of Water.

Online activities

The Blue Traveler (Project Wet) – Students play the role of a water droplet moving through the complex and endless water cycle journey. This guide provides instructions for classroom use.

Steve Spangler Science makes learning the water cycle fun through this interactive game for the classroom where students represent water molecules traveling through the water cycle.

Recent water news

 

Youth and water – our future depends on it

Matt Bond, Denver Water's youth education manager, uses a DSST-Cole Middle School student to demonstrate the Continental Divide and its impacts on water in Colorado.

Matt Bond, Denver Water’s youth education manager, uses a DSST-Cole Middle School student to demonstrate the Continental Divide and its impacts on water in Colorado.

As Denver and the West begin to address the next generation of water challenges, from climate change to the gap between supply and demand, educating the future leaders in our community about their role in the water cycle has never been more important.

From navigating water law to managing a water system, providing a reliable supply of drinking water is more complex than it may appear every time you turn on the tap.

That is why Denver Water has a dynamic Youth Education program that includes a Teacher Resource Packet to support sixth-grade water education, classroom presentations and a variety of online, interactive teaching aids.

Over the next six weeks we’ll use this blog to provide weekly posts of factual, locally relevant resources, activities, games and news clips about all things water to complement our Youth Education program. The resources provided below, and in this series of posts, will include additional teaching tools and information to enhance your discussions on how water relates directly to you and your students.

Week one: Watersheds                         

Online resources 

  1. What is a watershed? Explore the natural and human factors that influence a watershed in the Watershed Activity section.
  2. Visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website and enter your zip code or city name to learn about the watershed you live in.
  3. Contact organizations that are working to protect your watershed. Many of these organizations, such as The Greenway Foundation and Earth Force, provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.

Charts, graphs & maps

co_update-snow

Visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado’s Snow Survey Products page for a complete list of snow survey reports and maps.

This map  from the Natural Resources Conservation Service shows how current snowpack levels in Colorado’s watersheds compare to the long-term median. Measuring snowpack in each watershed is a vital part of managing a water supply, because it helps water managers estimate how much runoff (snowmelt) to expect in the spring months. Denver Water’s collection system is comprised of portions of the South Platte and Colorado River watersheds shown below.

Math & science questions

  1. How many major watersheds are there in Colorado?
  2. How do you find the median of a group of numbers? How is a median different from an average?
  3. If you were a water manager at Denver Water, how would you use this graph to make decisions about your water supply? What additional information would be helpful to know about your watershed’s snowpack?
Denver Water only measures snowpack above its diversion points for a more comprehensive chart specific only to our operations. Check out our weekly Water Watch Report for a summary of water supply conditions, including updated snowpack numbers, reservoir supply and precipitation.

Denver Water measures snowpack above its diversion points for a more comprehensive chart specific only to its operations. Check out the weekly Water Watch Report for a summary of water supply conditions, including updated snowpack numbers, reservoir supply and precipitation.

Online activities

The Watershed Game (Bell Museum) – In the intermediate level, you’ll be in charge of your watershed, making decisions about recreation, agriculture, transportation and much more. Can you make the right choices to ensure a healthy watershed? Depending on your students’ level of knowledge on this topic, you might consider beginning with the novice level, which provides a good introduction to the basic concepts.

Watershed Detective (Agrium) – Investigate water samples for water-quality challenges that may occur in any watershed.

Recent water news

More snow same adventure – Denver Water crews measure snowpack

Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.

Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels

By Jay Adams

It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman; and Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker. The task today is to get a firsthand check on the snowpack by poking a few holes in the snow-covered forest.

This trip yields better results than one year ago when Colorado was facing one of its driest winters on record. “We have more snow this time,” Clark said. “Right now it’s definitely up, but you never know what can happen.”

Clark plows the Trooper up until they reach the Ranch Creek snow course. The Denver Water trio straps on their snowshoes, grabs their tube and gets down to business.

Snowpack readings in March are double where they were at this time last year.

Snowpack readings in March are double where they were at this time last year.

“Forty-four – 41 – 33. That’s good for Ranch,” Olsson calls out after spearing the snow and pulling out a plug. Clark holds the scale, while Holinka jots down the snow depth and calculates the water content and snow density — two critical numbers that will be called down to Denver and used for projecting the yield from this winter’s snow.

Next stop, the Arrow course. Ten tests are taken on the top of a hill where the old railroad town of Arrow once stood. Denver Water has been taking samples from this hill since 1938.

Olsson has been running snow courses for 23 years. “You want to do a good job and get a good reading,” he said. The group takes pride capturing good samples. “We are very serious about how we do it because it’s so important (for managing water supply),” Holinka said.

Measurement of the snowpack is extremely critical for Denver Water said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “Without snowpack readings, we’d have no way of estimating what the spring runoff would be. It’s important to have boots on the ground as a rough check on the automated readings,” Steger said.

Twenty samples were taken on this day. At the Ranch course, the snow water equivalent measured 12.9 inches, compared to 6.3 inches last year. “They’ll like that down in Denver,” Olsson said, referring to the strong readings.

More stories about measuring snowpack:

So, how are we looking this year?

Last year at this time, Denver Water needed about 6 feet of new snow in its mountain watersheds over a two- to three-week span just to have a normal snowpack. Fortunately, we experienced snowstorm after snowstorm throughout the rest of that spring and, along with customers’ reduced water use, water supply conditions improved.

This year is a new story, which is evident by the current snowpack charts for both of the watersheds that feed Denver Water’s supply.

a

 

Another 100 years for Antero Dam

Antero Reservoir was built more than a century ago by Antero & Lost Park Reservoir Company.  Denver Water bought the reservoir in 1925.

Antero Reservoir was built more than a century ago by Antero & Lost Park Reservoir Company. Denver Water bought the reservoir in 1925.

By Ann Baker, Denver Water Communications and Marketing

Denver Water recently started a two-year, $14 million dam safety project at the 104-year-old Antero Dam to bring it up to current engineering standards.

The dam’s name is derived from the Spanish word “first,” as Antero was the first dam on the South Platte River near the river’s origin. It’s located approximately 100 miles southwest of Denver near the small town of Hartsel. In 1925, Denver Water bought the earthen dam, built at the site of a former lakebed, from the Antero & Lost Park Reservoir Company. 

The dam, three-quarters of a mile long and 46 feet tall, was built on top of the ground, instead of on top of the stable bedrock well below the surface. As a result, water has seeped through over the years, causing internal erosion that, if not fixed, could cause a full breech of the dam, said Jeff Martin, design project manager. In 1985, this issue prompted the Office of the State Engineer to restrict Antero’s storage to 20,000 acre-feet — about 6,500 acre-feet less than the spillway would allow.

Crews build a sand trench on the downstream side of Antero Dam to filter the normal seepage of the dam and to stabilize the foundation.

Crews build a sand trench on the downstream side of Antero Dam to filter the normal seepage of the dam and to stabilize the foundation.

Throughout Colorado, 155 dams are restricted for safety reasons, accounting for 62,000 acre-feet in restricted storage. Antero is the fourth largest on that list, with about 10 percent of that restricted storage, said Bill McCormick, chief of the dam safety branch of the Office of the State Engineer.

“Denver Water should be recognized for doing this,” he said. “This is a big project that will make a difference in the amount of storage that’s restricted across the state.”

The project

In August, crews began the first phase of the dam safety project by building a sand trench to filter the normal seepage of the dam and to stabilize the foundation. Crews have to work around the nasty winters at Antero, where frigid temperatures can prevent diesel engines from starting, wind blasts can cause a person to stumble, and frost 5 feet deep can make it nearly impossible to dig.

o

 

Crews will start the second phase next spring, during which they’ll grade the embankments. They plan to finish in 2015 with a new barrier wall and spillway.

Once repairs are complete, the dam will be about 4 feet lower, with a gentler slope on both the upstream and downstream sides.

“This steep of a slope has erosion problems — it’s just not current practice,” said Doug Raitt, construction project manager.

The dam’s new barrier wall will prevent water seepage, while the new sand filter will protect against internal erosion and the resulting dam safety issues. Currently, the water level is restricted to a depth of 18 feet, but for the past few years, Denver Water has kept it at 16-17 feet for safety reasons. After the improvements, the reservoir could safely store a water level of 26 feet; however, a water level of 18 feet is sufficient to support Denver Water’s collection system at this time and will be maintained for the foreseeable future.

This is one of the largest upgrade projects ever at Antero. In the early 1980s, Denver Water reconstructed the spillway, and in the late 1990s, crews built a new outlet works to increase the hydraulic capacity.

Completing this project “will make this whole dam more stable,” Raitt said. “It’ll make sure this dam lasts another 100 years.”

Gross Reservoir neighbors get a boost from Denver Water crews

By Ann Baker, Denver Water Communications and Marketing

A Denver Water crew has spent weeks in Coal Creek Canyon, near Gross Reservoir, repairing washed-out roads like this one.

A Denver Water crew has spent weeks in Coal Creek Canyon, near Gross Reservoir, repairing washed-out roads like this one.

September’s flooding caused unprecedented destruction to Denver Water’s facilities at Gross and Ralston reservoirs — causing $15 to $16 million in damages.

But residents who live near Gross Reservoir also were suffering, facing impassable private roads and driveways, as well as long waits for help.

So Denver Water offered a hand.

A Denver Water crew that usually spends time laying pipe and repairing roads in the metro area spent much of October and November in Coal Creek Canyon, southeast of Gross Reservoir, regrading roads, installing new drainage culverts and repairing holes that could swallow a car.

Roughly a dozen homes were trapped by the impassable roads. Denver Water’s heavy equipment and manpower helped those residents reach their homes — and outside community — once again.

H2O Outdoors

David Miller

David Miller

By David Miller, school programs director for Keystone Science School. He has a passion for water education and getting students to experience the outdoors.

When H2O Outdoors began four years ago, I never imagined we would have the partners and diversity of students that are in the program today. By being open to any high school student in Colorado, the program brings in a wide variety of perspectives that contribute to the overarching process of learning from each other, collaborating in a fictional decision-making process, and helping students learn the ways adults in the water field must work together to solve complex water problems throughout the state.

 

History

H2O Outdoors began with an idea and evolved into an award-winning program. The partnership between Keystone Science School and the Colorado River District started with the mission to engage high school students with the study of water management and where water comes from. The school used its connection with former parent organization The Keystone Center to develop the method in which students would learn: through adopting stakeholder roles, learning those roles, and coming together in a Town Hall format to discuss, argue and understand the issue before forming a collaborative recommendation for the problem presented. The Colorado River District provided crucial funding for this format to begin and flourish. In early 2013, the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education recognized the program and its annual impact on roughly 60 students with its Secondary Education Program of the Year award.

H2O campers tour Dillon Reservoir.

H2O campers tour Dillon Reservoir.

Two years after the conception of H2O Outdoors, Aurora Water signed on to participate in the project and Denver Water jumped on board soon after. The program — offered to students at no cost — has benefited from the commitment and support of generous funding and curriculum development from all three partners.

The program

The opportunity for students to learn about water management in H2O Outdoors is unprecedented. Students begin their three-day voyage in water with a visit to the Continental Divide. From there, the experience is a balanced combination of time spent indoors in the classroom and outdoors on a pontoon boat, performing stream surveys and simply playing outdoors during free time.

One of my favorite stories comes from Colorado River District educational consultant Mike Wilde, who tells of the time he watched a light bulb go off in a student’s head as he stood atop the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass. There, students learned where, exactly, water in the United States originates. On one side, a trickle of water headed down the slope would wind its way east, toward the Atlantic Ocean. On the other side, water would flow hundreds of miles away west, toward the Pacific Ocean. Later, Mike overheard the same student sharing this revelation with his mother on the phone.

Many of the H2O Outdoors students would never otherwise have a chance to visit the mountains to see the headwaters of their water supply. That opportunity, along with teaching students to become good decision-makers and helpful citizens through education, friendly engagement and role-play, is what makes this program so unique.

Lessons learned

Two H2O campers conduct a stream survey.

Two H2O campers conduct a stream survey.

Once, a Summit County student was assigned the role of Denver Water. She sobbed, likely because she’d only been told about the giant utility snaking water through the mountains to deliver it to “greedy” residents on the Front Range. During the Town Hall meeting on Day Three, she was the most engaged and outspoken student, literally pounding her fists on the table as she represented the biggest water utility in Colorado. She was able to broaden her perspective beyond what she had known and heard about water management in the West through H2O Outdoors.

The key to the program is that students do not learn what to think, they learn how to think and make decisions. None of the entities involved are interested in presenting an agenda through the programming. Instead, they want to provide a learning experience for children in which informed decision-making can occur.

In addition, students get a chance to meet each other and become friends, much the way adults who are tasked with the duty of managing water must meet each other, have friendly interactions and work together. It’s not too different than Colorado’s current effort to make an effective state water plan, part of the complex tasks that must happen to manage water in the West.

Register

This year’s program is Nov. 13-15. To register, students can visit http://www.keystonescienceschool.org/. The program is free, but there is a $25 application fee. Students who cannot afford this fee can apply for a scholarship. Please call 970-468-2098 or email Kristina Horton at khorton@keystonescienceschool.org with questions.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 147 other followers

%d bloggers like this: