Water storage topic of river Alliance meeting

RBC | Colorado Parks and Wildlife Water Resource Specialist David Graf shared a virtual presentation last Wednesday with White River Alliance members about the potential to expand Lake Avery by approximately 2500-5000 acre feet.

He outlined several stages required for implementing such an expansion including a feasibility study, navigating various permitting requirements and working with the state to determine water-right jurisdiction/authority and other legal matters. Impact to wetlands means the expansion would also trigger a lengthy NEPA process. Graf said the most recent rough estimate for such a project was between $25-30 million. “It’s very costly, time consuming, complex, and you really need to go in with your eyes wide open,” said Graf.

CPW Water Resources Specialist David Graf

The state water resource specialist spoke about the “purpose and need” for this type of project, which mostly related to an increase in low stream flows and danger to fish habitat and health. He noted that 2021 is a “bad year” for streamflows, with the White River trending into 10-15% of historical flow for this time of year, and sitting in 30-40 percentile of average. Graf said these are conditions that could trigger a special water release from CPW later this year.

He also discussed the conditions CPW watches in deciding when to release water into the White River, including low flows, high temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels. An example of when conditions reach a potentially critical level for fish is when streamflows drop as low as 100 cfs, which usually happens sometime in mid-late summer during drought years.

Graf discussed the increased frequency of drought over the last 10 years, sharing a visual representation of days in each year where streamflows dropped below the decreed instream flow of 200 cfs, and the 100cfs critical threshold set by CPW.

2002 was the first time CPW coordinated a special water release into the white river based on poor stream conditions. Another release happened in 2012, and then again in 2018 and 2020. Graf noted that CPW considered releasing water in other years but held off due to state imposed limits. He also noted the amount of water that would have been required to keep the White River above 200 or even 100cfs during drought years was still far above what CPW was able to release in those years. “It gives you a kind of sense of the magnitude of the problem that we may be facing on the White River kind of regularly,” said Graf. He added that in mid-late August of 2018, due to drought and continued diversions for agricultural and other uses, the water released by CPW from Lake Avery was “essentially the only water in the river” and that without it “we might have dried up the river at that point.”

Based on the trends in the White River, Graf emphasized Lake Avery as a “very appropriate location” for increasing water storage. “Really the main purpose that we cited in here is the environmental and recreational need to do continued releases for the White River fishery, cause we all have a stake in that and we all feel that’s a really important resource for the community.

By LUCAS TURNER | lucas@ht1885.com