In the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District’s (UGRWCD) sixty-year history, we have been involved in many programs aimed at benefitting water users in the Upper Gunnison Basin. In more recent years we have expanded our focus into several different areas. We currently have representation on the Taylor Local User Group, Water Quality Monitoring Program, Upper Gunnison Basin Cloudseeding Program, Upper Gunnison Annual Grant Program, and the Upper Gunnison Water Augmentation Programs. We also participate in discussions with the several different entities to address issues facing all water users in the basin in the face of increasing drought conditions and decreasing water availability. Below are descriptions of just some of the programs we work on to benefit water users in the Upper Gunnison River Basin.
Taylor Local Users Group
The UGRWCD is one of four signatories to the Taylor Park Reservoir Operation and Storage Exchange Agreement that was executed in August 1975. The “75 Agreement” forms the basis under which the release patterns from Taylor Park Reservoir are determined each year. The other three parties to the agreement are the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association. This group is referred to as the Four Parties.
Each spring, and as necessary throughout the summer, the UGRWCD seeks input and direction from local users of the Taylor River, Taylor Park Reservoir, and the main stem of the Gunnison River above Blue Mesa as to how the reservoir operations can best be optimized for stream fishery, reservoir fishery, irrigation, and rafting and boating purposes in the upper Gunnison basin. This group is referred to as the Taylor Local Users Group (TLUG).
Each year, the Four Parties review and adopt recommendation from the TLUG at an annual meeting and jointly adopt a plan for reservoir releases for the upcoming year.
Upper Gunnison Basin Water Monitoring Program
The UGRWCD has led the Upper Gunnison Basin Monitoring Program for over twenty years. This program provides an understanding of water quantity and quality conditions, and how natural features and human activities affect these conditions. This program is a cooperative agreement between the District and several other local entities including the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Gunnison County, City of Gunnison, Town of Crested Butte, Hinsdale County, Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, Skyland Metro District, Crested Butte South Metro District, Colorado River District, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
This cooperative group meets annually to discuss monitoring needs which currently includes real-time streamflow at 11 sites throughout the basin, discrete water quality sampling at those 11 sites, and real-time water quality monitoring at 5 additional sites. Recently, two historic streamflow gages have been reactivated at Texas and Willow Creeks above Taylor Reservoir to aid in annual inflow forecasting.
Finally, UGRWCD is cooperating with the USGS Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS). NGWOS is a national program focused on intensive 10 year surface-water and water quality monitoring that is beneficial to improving regional water prediction in snowmelt dominated systems. The 2020 basins of choice are the Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado and specifically the Upper Gunnison River watershed sub-basin. UGRWCD anticipates that this program will begin in earnest fall of 2021.
Upper Gunnison Basin Cloudseeding Program
The UGRWCD has been part of this cooperative program since the 2004-2005 snow season and took over fiscal responsibility from Gunnison County in 2015. The Cloudseeding Program is carried out through an annual agreement with North American Weather Consultants. Partners in the program include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Gunnison County, City of Gunnison, Town of Mt. Crested Butte, Vail Resorts, East River Sanitation District, Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, Antelope Hills Water, and Dos Rios Water System.
The Cloudseeding Program consists of 14-17 silver iodide generators throughout the basin and one remote generator located at Lake Irwin. The target areas within the basin are those drainages above 9,000 feet that are tributary to the Upper Gunnison River. The average annual generator hours budgeted for this program are 2,500 hours. Actual seeding hours depends upon storm systems moving through the area. In some cases, generation has had to be curtailed due to avalanche danger.
UGRWCD Grant Program
Established by the UGRWCD to protect and conserve the waters within the District in order to accomplish the greatest possible use for irrigation, domestic, municipal, industrial, mining, and all other beneficial purposes. The
mission of the District is to encourage the in-basin beneficial use and maintenance of high quality standards for the water resources of the basin. The District has determined that an appropriate means to effect its purposes and accomplish its mission is to provide financial assistance to persons or entities advancing projects that enhance water supply and stream conditions within the District through a Grant Program.
The first grant awards were made in 2009 when the funding budgeted was $100,000. Since 2009 we have awarded funding to 118 projects for at total of $1.642 million. These projects have ranged in funding amounts from $1,000 to $50,000 and have included projects associated with agricultural, municipal, environmental, and recreational water uses.
Upper Gunnison Augmentation Water Programs
As a result of the over appropriation of water within our basin, the UGRWCD developed plans for water augmentation. The District is currently involved with three separate water augmentation programs. These include the Aspinall Augmentation Plan, the Meridian Lake Reservoir (also known as Long Lake) Augmentation Plan, and the Lake San Cristobal Augmentation Plan. The augmentation plans all provide protection to junior water users from senior water right holders within the boundaries of the individual augmentation plans. These augmentation plans involve individuals purchasing augmentation water which is leasing or buying the right to have water released to protect their uses.
Aspinall augmentation water is water stored and released from Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa Reservoir and the water stored there are owned by the US Bureau of Reclamation. Water purchased under this plan protects junior water users from senior water rights holders below Blue Mesa Reservoir. Meridian Lake Reservoir protects against senior water rights holders below that reservoir, and Lake San Cristobal protects against senior water rights holders below Lake San Cristobal to Blue Mesa Reservoir.