Category: Hydropower

Colorado-Big Thompson agreement: Protecting water from fire risk

[COLORADO-A-0033] Big Thompson Dam (Dille Diversion Dam)

Big Thompson Dam (Source:

The Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced July 19 a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states.

To support the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.

Western’s Administrator Mark Gabriel and several other employees attended the event as the Colorado-Big Thompson is a trans-mountain diversion river system from which hydropower is generated and marketed.

Read USDA’s press release on their website.

Record-setting dry spell impacts California hydropower

Water content in California snowpack is only 17 percent of normal according to the California Department of Water Resources’ May 2 release (pdf). This means there will be a below average water supply this summer, which also impacts hydropower production for Western’s Sierra Nevada Region.

The water year, which began in October, started with some positive precipitation for the Central Valley Project. However California’s record-setting “dry” conditions in January, February and March have reduced the  hydro conditions outlook for 2013.

See the most recent hydro conditions report for April 2013 (pdf).

April snow brings better runoff! Multiple Colorado storms improve snowpack

Many Colorado media outlets are reporting that we are at only 80 percent of snowpack for the water year; but what they are not saying is that we are doing better than last year—and snowpack levels are still rising!

Line chart showing seasonal peaks for CBR for 2012, 2013 and an average of 1981 to 2010.

This line chart compares the average seasonal peaks

The last few storms have improved the runoff outlook; meaning as the snow melts, the runoff water fills Colorado’s streams and rivers. This time last year, the peak snowpack accural was over and the runoff was well under way. Current reports from the Colordao Basin River Forecast Center show that we have surpassed last year’s snowpack peak by about 30 percent and we are still climbing with this week’s storms.

This will certainly improve Western’s hydro conditions forecast for the Rocky Mountain Region. Although our hydro conditions are not back to 100 percent, we hope this year’s total will be improved from last year. Ski resorts may be closing and sad to see that the snow is just now accumulating, but here at Western we are ecstatic and say, “Keep it coming, Mother Nature!”

California: Interested in how hydropower costs are calculated for the Central Valley?

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region announced Jan. 9 that it will hold a public workshop on the assumptions, modeling and methodology for determining hydropower benefits of the ongoing Cost Allocation Study for the Central Valley Project.

The workshop will be held:

Friday, Jan. 18
11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Federal Building, 2800 Cottage Way
Cafeteria Conference Rooms C1001-C1002
Sacramento, CA  95825

If you’re interested in the methodology and model that will be used during the study, this meeting will be your opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. You can also find out more about the Central Valley Project Cost Allocation Study on Reclamation’s website.

Drip-dry: Drought’s major impact on water uses

Have you noticed water evaporating overnight from your cup at your office? Have you been running a humidifier at home or noticed your plants are in need of more TLC than usual? Yes, it’s been dry in the West … extremely dry … critically dry.

U.S. map showing drough conditions

University of Nebraska-Lincoln's U.S. Drought Monitor

There has been a lot of talk in the news about the drought’s impact on farms and food, and what kind of snowfall it would take to relieve the drought.

At Western, since we use water from many of the large streams throughout the West, the drought impacts our regions, our communities and our ability to produce hydropower. In fact, our final hydro conditions report for the water year 2012 was less than stellar. Read more »

High-flow experiment at Glen Canyon Dam to protect Grand Canyon

Not since 2008 has the Glen Canyon had a high-flow release of water, but on Monday Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar along with Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor were at Glen Canyon to see it happen. Western staff was also present to witness the long-awaited event of the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes being opened to initiate the High Flow Experimental release. “The experiment went well thanks to the coordination efforts between DOI and Western,” said Acting Colorado River Storage Project Manger Darren Buck.

On Nov. 19 the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes were opened to initiate the High-Flow Experiment.

On Nov. 19 the Glen Canyon Dam bypass tubes were opened to initiate the High-Flow Experiment.

The experiment, scheduled through 2020, allows for more frequent HFE releases to happen when the right conditions exist. This will determine the effectiveness of multiple HFE releases in rebuilding and conserving sandbars, beaches and associated backwater habitats of the Grand Canyon that have been lost or depleted since the dam’s construction and operation.

For more information about the HFE, see the DOI news release or visit Reclamation’s website.

Also, check out our videos and photos of the event on YouTube and Flikr.

Western receives DOI award for conservation, watershed planning

Western was one of 17 organizations presented a “Partners in Conservation” award by the Deputy Secretary of the Interior today at a ceremony in Washington D.C. for participation in the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study is a joint effort among more than 70 Federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, environmental groups and other organizations to establish a common foundation for resolving future water supply and demand imbalances. According to Interior, it is the largest, most comprehensive basin-wide analysis ever undertaken and will serve as a model for watershed planning and planning for future growth and climate change near the Colorado River.

Read more »

Blue Mesa Dam drilling through Oct. 2

Bureau of Reclamation drilling crews began working on the crest of Blue Mesa Dam, Sept. 12, continuing through about Oct. 2. Workers will drill three sample holes and install equipment in one of the holes to monitor dam activity.

The information gleaned from the core samples and equipment will be used by Reclamation for consideration of short and long-term performance of the dam related to dam safety and security measures.

Blue Mesa Dam is the first of three dams, including Morrow Point and Crystal Dams, which create the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit of the Colorado River Storage Project from which Western markets hydropower. The drilling will not impact hydropower generation.

Reclamation delays project to relocate Western lines

On July 31, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the delay of a project to relocate Western’s high-voltage transmission lines near Yellowtail Dam in Montana from August to October because of increased environmental concerns.

“I applaud our hydropower partners at Western for their sensitivity to the potential ramifications of the outage associated with the relocation project,” said Dan Jewell, Area Manager for Reclamation’s Montana Area Office. “While these types of maintenance events are never risk-free, delaying the work until later in the year will help reduce that risk.”

The current location of the lines puts them at risk for the dangerous ice storms that occur in the area over winter, prompting a joint effort between Reclamation and Western to move the lines.

The relocation is scheduled to take about two weeks, and the outage requires Reclamation to bypass the water turbines. With the unusually warm summer and fall, agencies and environmentalists were concerned about the impact of not using the colder water at deeper water levels to power the turbines in August. Alternatives to move the water, including the holo-jets and spillways, could increase nitrogen or water temperature, potentially harming fish.

According to Friends of the Bighorn River blog, “With lake water temperatures already well into the 70’s, a slight mistake, miscalculation or unplanned natural or man-made event could have long lasting, devastating effects on the river where fish are already highly stressed from anglers, low flows, gas bubble trauma, irrigation return, warm water and habitat loss.”

 The delay is thought to be a fitting compromise to ensure reliable electricity from Yellowtail Dam this winter and protection of the environment.

Western supports developing alternative for Glen Canyon Dam Operations

As part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, the seven Basin States (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming) are developing an alternative for the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement (LTEMP EIS). The EIS examines how to operate Glen Canyon Dam to protect downstream resources and maintain water deliveries and power generation. Western is supporting the Basin States by facilitating participation of scientists who are experts in key resource areas, by collecting scientific information and drafting key policy and scientific information in a format that will serve as an alternative for the LTEMP EIS.   

The Resource-Targeted, Condition-Dependent Strategy described in the alternative focuses on three key resources: 

  1. Recovering the endangered humpback chub
  2. Improving the trout fishery at Lee’s Ferry
  3. Improving or protecting key  sediment-based resources (camping beaches, backwater habitat and archaeological site protection) in the Grand Canyon

The Basin States  briefed officials of the Department of Interior and delivered this alternative to the co-lead agencies, Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service  on July 2. Western, the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association and the Basin States hope that this alternative will be selected as the preferred alternative and ultimately be implemented.