Gunnison Basin Roundtable Not Happy With Blue Mesa Releases – The Crested Butte News

Reservoir with 27% capacity

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

With Lake Powell hitting historic lows due to chronic drought conditions and with water being requested from three upstream reservoirs this summer, including Blue Mesa outside Gunnison, the effectiveness and impact of these releases are now being reviewed. Kathleen Curry, Chair of the Gunnison River Basin Round Table, discussed the process with Gunnison County Commissioners during an update in late September following the last September 20 Round Table in Delta. The group discussed, among other things, how they would like an improved downstream water call system.

District Commissioner Liz Smith also attended the September meeting, recalling discussions had taken place on how the mandatory drainage clearances from Blue Mesa Reservoir to Lake Powell were not being handled ideally this summer. The water should raise the level of Lake Powell and ensure the continuous operation of the hydropower plant. Several members of the round table felt that the timing for these calls could have been better to extend the boating and water sports season at Blue Mesa further, and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) communication on the publications has not been like that ideal as they could both have been.
The BOR announced less than two weeks before the reservoir had to send emergency water downstream, which made it impossible to continue operating the marinas along the reservoir. The round table has requested more information on how, if any, the releases affected Lake Powell, the importance of timing, and how the water was directed downstream to reach Lake Powell.

Emergency releases have also been ordered from the Navajo Reservoir on the San Juan River and from the Flaming Gorge on the Green River. Blue Mesa was at 7,434 feet on October 5, which is 27 percent of capacity according to the Blue Mesa Reservoir database. Officials from the Curecanti Park Service report that levels are dropping about six inches per day.

Curry said the group had discussed the Gunnison Basin implementation plan, for which another round of public contributions will begin on Oct. 13.

Curry said the round table also met with the Colorado Forest and Water Alliance (CAFWA) to bring people together about water catchment concerns and forest planning. The group had many questions and is looking for more presentations on this topic from other institutions in November. According to its website, CAFWA works with members to advocate at the state and federal levels for policies, funding and programs related to improving forest health and river basin resilience.

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