Reservoir release pilot project on the Colorado River

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COLORADO – A new experiment is looking into how drought conditions, like we’re currently in, can affect water traveling downstream the Colorado River. The pilot project involved shepherding water from a high mountain reservoir to the Colorado-Utah state line.

The project is a partnership between Colorado Springs Utilities, Aurora Water and Pueblo Board of Water Works. The first step was releasing 1,800 acre-feet of water from the Homestake Reservoir. That’s about as much water as 7 thousand homes use in a single year.

The released water will flow down the Eagle River and Colorado River. The experiment is diving into how severe drought conditions impact how much water actually makes it to Utah and other states downstream the Colorado River. The water was monitored along the way by water managers to gauge flow and other factors that will help determine the effectiveness of current administrative practices in shepherding released water to the state line.

Engineers aim to understand how much water evaporates along the way, how much of it vegetation near the riverbed sucks up and they want to make sure water isn’t being diverted to irrigation areas it’s not supposed to

They say looking at how water travels during a drought and warming climate will help city’s plan for the future where droughts are more common.

The four upper basin states, which includes Colorado, are responsible for making sure over 7 million acre-feet of water make it downstream to Arizona, California and Nevada every year.

Resource managers say this pilot project is so critical because more than 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for their drinking water. This project can potentially offer a new option for getting water to areas downstream the Colorado river, like Lake Mead and Arizona’s Lake Powell, which experts say continue to see declining water levels.

The pilot project was developed by the Front Range Water Council, while the pilot protocols were developed cooperatively with the Colorado State Engineer’s Office. The project is expected to provide the state and division water engineers, as well as water users on the Western and Eastern Slopes, with valuable information related to compliance with the Colorado River Compact and the Upper Colorado River Compact, as well as test important aspects of administration practice. It will also provide data on hydrologic influences that would affect the timing and amount of the arrival of the released water at the state line.

“For municipalities that rely either wholly or partially on the Colorado River for their drinking water, it’s critical to understand all of the potential aspects a compact curtailment could have on our supplies,” said Pat Wells, general manager for Water Resources and Demand Management for Colorado Springs Utilities. “Gathering this data before we get to that point will help us all plan for the future.”

The release occurred Sept. 23-30 and produced flows of up to 175 cubic feet per second (cfs). These flows were higher than normal for this time of year in Homestake Creek and Eagle River, but within normal spring/summer runoff levels. The release produced no inundation concern for property adjacent to the tributaries. The final report is being produced by the state engineer’s office and is expected to be completed by the end of October.

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