Spring Newsletter 2021
WATCHFUL OF WATER USE
Ah…..sunshine, budding trees and greening grass! You’re not alone if your observation is that – we hardly had a winter and this is all happening way too early in the Upper Gunnison basin. Snowfall was pretty sparse, and our snowpack never really got much above 80 percent of average. And, I’m having a hard time recalling any really frigid temperatures this winter. With extremely dry soil conditions persisting, much of the spring runoff will end up going to fill our dry soil profile. Without some healthy and frequent spring and summer rains, our Gunnison water supply forecast predicts streamflow of only 41 to 72 percent of average for the summer and inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir estimated at 68 percent of average. Therefore, the District has embarked on an aggressive drought outreach campaign to encourage our residents and visitors alike to enjoy our rivers, streams and reservoirs, but also to be mindful of their water use.
Very soon, you will start seeing yard signs, posters in restaurants, stickers, reusable shopping bags and water bottles popping up throughout our community with the message “Water. It doesn’t grow on trees.” This clever slogan was selected from a contest the District held earlier this year (see the Contest Winners article). It is our hope that this ironic and quirky reminder can help us all be more in-tune with our responsibility to conserve and protect our limited water supplies.
The District’s drought marketing outreach will also encourage businesses, residents and visitors to be mindful of their outdoor and indoor water use. Some conservation measures are obvious and really easy. For example, visitors can advise hotel housekeeping that they don’t need their towels and sheets to be washed daily. When enjoying our wonderful local restaurants, advise your waiter that you don’t need a refill of your water glass unless you request it. Don’t let your faucet run when brushing your teeth or shaving and take shorter showers.
With regard to outdoor water use, did you know that Colorado State University Extension studies have shown that on average Gunnison Basin and Grand Valley residents over-water their lawns by 40 percent? If you have an automated sprinkler system, ‘don’t just set it and forget it’. Pay attention to local precipitation events and daytime temperatures to determine your outdoor watering needs and water during the coolest times of the day. If you use a garden hose, use your phone alarm app to remind you to move your water. As you start to plan for your gardens, flower beds, and even grass, remember we are in a severe drought and our future will most definitely include on-going drought, so plan effectively.
When in the backcountry, respect any local fire bans, use designated fire rings, and do NOT leave your fires unattended. Finally, pollution from human waste and trash can have a significant impact on our watershed health so remember to “pack it in and pack it out”.
If everyone commits to doing their part, we can weather this dry weather!
Water. It doesn’t grow on trees! So Be An Upper Gunnison Basin Water Hero!
Beverly Richards, UGRWCD Water Resource Specialist As spring runoff begins, water managers on the Western Slope turn to drought predictions for the season and well
George Sibley was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2006 representing Division 8, the City of Gunnison, and most recently served as Secretary for the District. After nearly 13 years of service, George submitted his resignation to the UGRWCD earlier this year. George is well-known and well-respected on the Western slope and throughout the state for his commitment to and many years of valuable service on water issues and protecting water users in the Upper Gunnison Basin. Because of his knowledge, time and effort committed to all things water, George affectionately earned the honorary title of Gunnison’s own “Water Buffalo,” a role he portrayed in many of the annual Sonofagunn productions at the Gunnison Arts Center.
“George will be dearly missed within the water community for the knowledge he brings to the table and for spurring much needed conversations around the water resource challenges we face,” said UGRWCD General Manager Sonja Chavez. “We wish him the very best!”
Here’s to calm waters, George, as you embark on the next phase of life!
Stacy McPhail was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2018 representing the Ohio Creek sub-basin (Division 6). Stacy currently serves as the Vice President of the Board. Her term expires in 2022.
Stacy hails from Texas originally, so when she moved to the Gunnison Valley with her husband, Eric, and children in 2006, she saw the contrast when it comes to the importance that water plays in the area. “In Texas, it was not uncommon to get 40 inches of rain in an average year and there was always a concern for flooding,” said Stacy. “Here at the headwaters, I have learned how dependent we are on our rivers and streams to meet our water needs and I want to be a good steward of for all our water interests.” In particular, Stacy felt she could serve as a voice for agricultural water users in the District, which compelled her to apply for the board vacancy in 2018.
“One of the messages I hope to convey as a Board member is the importance of water storage in times of drought and population growth,” Stacy said. “It is not just about the storage our reservoirs provide, but also the important role that agricultural irrigation ditches and stream diversions play in slowly releasing that water supply back to the stream system throughout the water year for the benefit of the fishery, drinking water supplies, wildlife habitat, recreation, etc.”
Stacy explained that one of the big challenges that the District faces is the concept of “agricultural demand management,” which involves a water right holder voluntarily and temporarily electing to limit, reduce or completely forego irrigation while being compensated in order to prevent involuntary curtailment. “As a District Board member, I see one of my main roles as actively addressing issues like demand management or any future water policies that might affect or limit the use or function of water in the District. With our location here at the headwaters, we have to pay attention to the big picture as there are many downstream water users that are affected by policies within the District and the entire State.”
Stacy also serves as the executive director of the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy (GRCL). Through her work with both the GRCL and the District, she uses her background in production agriculture to collaborate with ranchers and landowners on conservation measures, and “drought” is always a topic of concern. In agriculture, Stacy says, “You plan for a normal (water) year, but we have yet to have one!” She feels that dry conditions in the District are likely to be a persistent problem going forward, but believes we have the ability through research and development to adapt to the “new normal” conditions. Her bigger concern is population growth we are seeing across the state and whether we can adapt quickly enough to enable our water resources to meet growing water needs. “The scarcity of water resources in the District and in our State will be an ongoing issue.”
Stacy said she is proud of the strides the District has made in the watershed management planning process and feels the measures the District has taken directly address scarcity of water resources.
When not working for the GRCL or District, you’ll find Stacy “mothering” two teenage boys and a teenage goddaughter, along with an array of horses, goats and chickens. Stacy also enjoys all things outdoors, including hiking, skiing and biking.
“Director McPhail is an invaluable asset to our organization for many reasons, but most importantly because of her strong basin-wide water resource knowledge and work with the agricultural community. In addition, her leadership and engagement with and support of the entire Watershed Management Planning Team has been a huge lift and we’re so appreciative.”
Beverly Richards, UGRWCD Water Resource Specialist
As spring runoff begins, water managers on the Western Slope turn to drought predictions for the season and well into the summer. Drought conditions continue to persist in most of western Colorado and throughout the southwestern United States. Many areas have continued in or have moved into the exceptional (D4) category and these conditions will likely carry us through the summer and into the fall.
What does this mean for the water resources in the Upper Gunnison River Basin and downstream? Snowpack in the Upper Gunnison Basin is currently at 77 percent of average and the snow water equivalent (SWE) is at 12.9” for this time of year. The peak for SWE usually occurs between April 5 to April 17 and is typically at 14.7” at the peak.
This means that going into spring runoff, we are below average in both snowpack and SWE. Add this to the fact that Taylor Park and Blue Mesa Reservoir are currently at 59 and 49 percent of full respectively, conditions this runoff season could continue to deteriorate, though demands will likely stay the same. The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting that Blue Mesa Reservoir will only fill to 67 percent full and NRCS forecasts that streamflow will only be 57 percent of average for the season.
Lack of soil moisture will also add to the problems for water managers this coming water season. Soil moisture in the entire state is classified as either the second lowest or record lowest in the 10-year average. This will have implications on streamflow if the soil profile must be filled first.
The predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are that these drier conditions that are currently being experienced throughout the entire southwestern United States will continue and could result in the most significant drought since 2013. From April through June, warmer than normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation is forecasted to continue, adding to the drier than normal conditions.
The Upper Gunnison District realizes that diminished supplies means special attention MUST be paid to how we manage our water. We will continue planning for every contingency. Our mission this year is to get the word out about ways we can all adjust to drought and how we can all be mindful of our water use. It will take cooperation from everyone within the District to meet all our needs. Be an Upper Gunnison Basin Water Hero!
Following nearly two years of stakeholder discussions and input from Coloradans across the state and from various sectors, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) released a draft Demand Management Framework. The Framework captures threshold issues; implementation options; and proportionality, fairness, and equity considerations.
Demand Management is the concept of temporary, voluntary, and compensated reductions in the consumptive use of water in the Colorado River Basin in order to ensure ongoing Colorado River Compact compliance and avoid involuntary curtailment of Colorado water uses.
Notes to consider while viewing the Framework include: Demand Management is not a foregone conclusion; The framework is not a program, but a point for discussion; Issues will continue to be explored in an open and collaborative manner; and a program would be run by the state for the benefit of the whole state and its water users.
The CWCB is currently scheduling several virtual events to ask questions and provide input on the Framework from April through June 2021. Details will be published on the Demand Management Upcoming Events chart online.
Following these initial workshops and meetings, CWCB staff will host a Demand Management Public Listening Session on June 29. CWCB staff will track the input received and then present findings to the Board in July 2021.
In addition to attending a workshop or listening session, interested parties and individuals are encouraged to complete the public survey on engagecwcb.org or submit a question or comment to email@example.com.
“We look forward to continuing this open and collaborative feasibility investigation, now focusing on various implementation options for a potential Demand Management program,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We encourage all Coloradans to help inform the investigation by reviewing the Framework, attending a workshop, and filling out our online survey.”
Demand Management Engagement Process
Photo of Tomichi Creek Wetlands Preserve
The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) recently awarded over $191,000 to organizations and individuals in the Upper Gunnison Basin for projects that will enhance water supply or improve stream conditions. Some of the projects awarded include efforts to improve water system supply and efficiency, delivery structure or system improvements, restoring or enhancing riparian habitat, and addressing water quality. All recipients of the grant funding assistance awards were required to show a 50 percent match of funds requested and their projects had to be consistent with the District’s purpose, mission, and objectives.
This year’s funding allocation is one the largest amounts the UGRWCD has awarded through the funding assistance program, which originated in 2009, second only to 2020 when $200,000 was awarded.
“We were delighted with the number and quality of the grant applications that we received this year,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of the UGRWCD. “These funds will go to support projects that help us achieve our mission to be an active leader in all issues affecting water resources in our basin. Many water users in our District will directly benefit from these projects when completed, so we are honored to be able to help with their funding.”
The UGRWCD Funding Assistance Program follows an annual cycle with applications due in February each year. If you have a water project in mind that might qualify for grant funding through the UGRWCD, please call the District at (970)641-6065 for assistance and information.