NEWS to Celebrate!
Water success stories are rare but here’s some good news about the management of selenium in the Lower Gunnison River
In this KVNF Regional Newscast with Gavin Dahl & Kate Redmond, Kate interview Dave Kanzer, beginning at the 2 minute 36 second mark.
River selenium-control efforts achieve milestone
Years of work on things such as irrigation efficiency have led to dissolved selenium levels in the lower Gunnison River falling low enough that they now comply with aquatic-life standards.
According to a Colorado River District news release, the state Water Quality Control Commission in June determined that the lower Gunnison was within the standards for selenium, and so it removed 66 miles of the river downstream from Delta from its impaired waters list. The river was added to that list in 1988.
Dave “DK” Kanzer, the river district’s director of science and interstate matters, created the Lower Gunnison Project, which addresses the mineral selenium and other natural resources in the river basin by investing in water-use efficiency systems. He said in an interview that the delisting reflects “a whole lot of investment over a long period of time.”
Lower Gunnison Project Helps Achieve “Watershed Moment”
Benchmark selenium levels reached in Gunnison River, easing pressure on water users and assisting recovery of endangered fishes
The Lower Gunnison River reached an important milestone this summer. During the June 2021 hearing, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission deemed the Gunnison River in compliance with aquatic life standards for dissolved selenium – a naturally occurring element and micronutrient that can be unhealthy for aquatic ecosystems in high doses. As a result, the Commission delisted 66 miles of the Gunnison River downstream of Delta, Colorado from the impaired waters list. Decades of work in the Lower Gunnison Basin shepherded this achievement, which highlights a healthier environment for native and endangered species like the razorback sucker and the Colorado pikeminnow.
Colorado River District Director of Science and Interstate Matters Dave “DK” Kanzer, creator of the Lower Gunnison Project, has been a long-time, integral leader in the Selenium Management. “We’re making a big difference for the environment by improving water quality and the aquatic habitat for sensitive and endangered species, while helping sustain productive agriculture in the Gunnison and Colorado River Basins.”
Gunnison River Basin: Lower Gunnison Project (LGP)
The Lower Gunnison Project or “LGP” is a cooperative agricultural water use efficiency project taking place in four primary focus areas of the Lower Gunnison Basin as part of a federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project entitled, “Modernizing Agricultural Water Management in the Lower Gunnison River Basin: A Cooperative Approach to Increased Water Efficiency and Water Quality Improvement.”
Founded on the ‘grand vision’ of local agricultural producers and irrigation water providers, this combined $50MM effort focuses on increasing water use efficiency, agricultural productivity, and sustainability by integrating and coordinating modernized conveyance systems with upgraded on-farm high efficiency irrigation application systems.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the objectives of this local effort?
To address water resource concerns in the Lower Gunnison River Basin including a.) insufficient water, b.) water-quality degradation, c.) soil-quality degradation and d.) inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife and to ensure the sustainability of local agriculture.
What activities are to occur and where is the focus of this project in the Lower Gunnison Basin?
Activities include improving and modernizing irrigation delivery systems, upgrading on-farm application systems, improving irrigation water management and irrigation systems, implementing soil health practices and developing conservation activity plans. These improvement efforts must be located within LGP RCPP Map located within the Lower Gunnison Basin
- North Fork Water Conservancy District
- Crawford Water Conservancy District
- Bostwick Park Water Conservancy Districts
- Uncompahgre Project operated by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association
Who are the Partners?
The LGP RCPP project is being led by the Colorado River District and is composed of a diverse group of 30 local, state, regional and federal partners including No Chico Brush (local, farmer-led agricultural association), Crawford, Bostwick and North Fork Water Conservancy Districts, Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, Gunnison Basin Selenium Task Force, Delta and Shavano Conservation Districts, Montrose and Delta Natural Resources Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, and other non-profit and for-profit entities. It is funded in part by the USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program
Modernizing Agricultural Water Management in the Lower Gunnison River Basin webpage includes the Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment, public comments, maps and the FONSI report.
MORE about Our Partners & Funding Opportunities:
LGP partners have secured $8 million in federal funding to leverage at least $42MM of other partner funding to help implement on– and off-farm irrigation efficiency best management practices and are assisting agricultural producers in the area to become more productive by upgrading irrigation systems (e.g., piping and lining ditches, and installing sprinklers, drip systems, and/or other micro-irrigation systems) and helping with conservation planning, irrigation water management and improved soil health practices. More partnership and funding information.
How can LGP help me?
If you are interested in upgrading your off-farm irrigation delivery system or converting to a high efficiency on-farm irrigation system and you are located within our focus areas, we may be able to help.
On Wednesday, July 15, Sen. Bennet toured water infrastructure improvement projects in the North Fork Valley, first stopping at Bill Houseweart’s local farm to meet with farmers, ranchers, and water community leaders. Afterward, Bennet stopped along the Fire Mountain Canal to view a recent water infrastructure improvement project.
During the tour, Bennet discussed the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and the importance of investing in water infrastructure and conservation projects in the West. As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Conservation, Forestry, and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Bennet helped to author the original RCPP authority in the 2014 Farm Bill, and supported improvements to streamline RCPP in the 2018 Farm Bill. In 2015, the Lower Gunnison River Basin received $8 million in federal funding for water quality projects, including the Fire Mountain Canal. These funds have been used by local stakeholders to leverage additional funding for future projects.
Photos courtesy of John Whitney, Regional Director for the Four Corners Region of Colorado for Senator Bennet.
Since the inception of the LGP, five of six off-farm projects have been completed. And one will be commencing construction.
- Fire Mountain Canal & Reservoir Company Rogers Mesa Segment 47 Pipeline (FMC Piping) – The FMC pipeline construction has been completed with final NRCS inspections and project close-out complete.
- Uncompahgre Project Phase 9 Lateral Piping (GB & GBA Laterals) – The Uncompahgre pipeline construction has been completed with final NRCS inspections and project close-out complete.
- Bostwick Park West Lateral Phase I Piping (West Lateral) – The Bostwick pipeline construction has been completed with NRCS final inspections and project close-out complete.
- Needle Rock Ditch Company Head Gate Replacement & Piping Project (NRD Project) – Head gate Replacement Project is complete with final NRCS inspections and close-out complete.
- Crawford 4C Ranch Regulating Reservoir- Project is complete. It is ready for NRCS final project inspection and close-out.
- The Crawford Grand View-Aspen Piping Integration- has commenced construction on the upper portion of the Aspen pipeline. The design for the lower portion (partner funded) has been completed by BOR and supplied to NRCS state office for review. The Upper Aspen pipeline is to be constructed separately by US Bureau of Reclamation using separate funding, however, directly related to this project is the RCPP-funded Grand View canal improvement (pipeline) project.
The Grand View canal improvement project is anticipated to begin construction very soon in the latter part of the first quarter of 2021 and includes 455 feet of buried pipeline, consistent with approved design and watershed plan.
The Colorado River District and its partners have received funding from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) as part of the Lower Gunnison Project (LGP). The purpose of the LGP is to comprehensively improve water use efficiency by coordinating, expanding and integrating on-farm application improvement projects in the lower Gunnison Basin in order to address natural resource concerns including water quality degradation (selenium and salinity), water use efficiency (insufficient water), soil quality degradation and inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife.
A Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) can be developed for the producers to identify conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need. With a CAP plan, producers can then apply for financial assistance to implement the needed conservation practices.
The CAP’s were developed for the RCPP applicants wishing to go forward with the on-farm program consisting of; on-farm soil health site analysis and sample collection, irrigation water sample collection and analysis, a land resource base inventory, and a preliminary engineered design. The Colorado River District will expend funds to write the Conservation Activity Plans for the applicants.
In an effort to award applications that met the LGP mission, the rankings were based on the Critical Conservation Area (CCA) resource concerns:
1. Water Quality Degradation and Inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife: (Excessive salts and selenium in surface and ground water), irrigation water samples were collected and analyzed from the 23 applicants
2. Insufficient water: CAP proposed irrigation system improvements and delivery system efficiency were reviewed
3. Soil Quality Degradation: (Concentration of salts and other chemicals), a soil health site assessment and samples were collected and analyzed from the 23 applicants
Of those 23 applications; 10 were awarded funding at 75% cost share and 5 applications were beginner farmer, veteran, and socially disadvantaged participants granting them a higher 90% cost share incentive. These landowners constitute 528.45 Acres of improved water enhancements on agricultural land in the Lower Gunnison Project Area.
To complete the On-Farm land inventory and soil and water analysis portion of the CAP, the Colorado River District worked closely with the Delta and Shavano Conservation District staff. Coordination with the local Delta and Montrose NRCS offices was key to completing the Cultural Resource and NEPA documentation requirements to move forward with contract development on 15 awardees.
Education was provided to participants regarding Irrigation Water Management (IWM) tools and record keeping options available to further the efficiency of on-farm irrigation practices.
These 15 awarded applications have received their final engineering design allocations listed below and construction implementation is expected to commence in the Spring of 2020 with approval from the NRCS.
(Click image to enlarge. )
These four LGP project components have been constructed and are functioning, as designed:
Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project
Phase 1 of this 2-year piping project is completed and is delivering irrigation water. The project is cooperatively funded by the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company, RCPP Watershed Authority, Reclamation Salinity Control and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The RCPP portion involves piping a total of approximately 2 miles of the lower Fire Mountain Canal ‘extension.’ This component was installed from November 2018 to April 2019. The balance of the 2 mile segment along with the salinity-funded large diameter pipe and siphon is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020 irrigation season.
Uncompahgre Valley WUA Phase 9 East Side Laterals Piping Project
Funds are from the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UGWUA), RCPP Watershed Authority, Reclamation Salinity Control, CRSP MOA, and the State of Colorado Non-Point Source Program.
Year two of this multi-year, multi-lateral project was successful, with the RCPP funded portion, with fiscal management by the Colorado River District, has been completed on time and on budget; it piped 3.4 miles of the GB and GBA Laterals (off of the East Canal system) near Olathe.
Bostwick Park WCD West Lateral Phase 1 Piping Project
This construction project has completed on time and under budget. The project is entirely funded by RCPP Watershed Authority with technical assistance funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The Needle Rock Headgate Improvement Project
After multiple delays related to federal government shutdown, landowner concerns and inclement weather this project was completed in time to be successfully delivering a secure water supply while enabling upstream fish passage for the first time. Construction was wholly funded by the RCPP Watershed Authority with technical assistance monies provided by the CWCB; unlike the other RCPP-funded projects, all fiscal and contract management was directly provided by the Colorado River District.
We are very happy to report that several LGP projects have been contracted and are now under construction. These include:
The Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project (aka “Segment 47”)
Conversion from open earthen canal to enclosed pipeline from just above Leroux Creek crossing to end of the Fire Mountain extension, in all 22,400 feet or 4.2 miles, large diameter pipe; including new Leroux Creek siphon; Total Cost Estimated at $4.6MM
This large 2-year construction project is now under way and a formal groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for January 8th on Rogers Mesa with a public celebration in Hotchkiss to follow.
The project is cooperatively funded by the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company (approximately $200K), RCPP Watershed Authority ($1.15M – managed by the River District), Reclamation Salinity Control ($2.95M), and Colorado Water Conservation Board ($191K). The RCPP portion, with fiscal management by the River District, involves piping approximately 10,570 feet or 2 miles of the lower Fire Mountain Canal ‘extension’.
Uncompahgre Valley WUA Phase 9 East Side Laterals Piping Project (includes piping of GB, GBA, GK, EU, and EO Laterals)
Conversion from open earthen canals to enclosed pipelines; 113,860 feet or 21.5 miles; Total Cost Estimated at $6.9M) This multi-year project is under construction, with joint funding by UVWUA ($50k); RCPP Watershed Authority ($1.3M – managed by the River District), Reclamation Salinity Control ($5.3M), and State of Colorado Non-Point Source Program ($230k). The RCPP funded portion, with fiscal management by the River District, involves piping the GB and GBA Laterals (17,846 feet or 3.4 miles) off of the East Canal system near Olathe.
Bostwick Park WCD West Lateral Phase 1 Piping Project
includes approximately 2,650 feet or 0.5 miles of new pipeline, with a total cost of $536,400; This construction project is nearing completion. The project is entirely funded by RCPP Watershed Authority ($499k – managed by the River District) with technical assistance funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board ($37.4k).
The Needle Rock Headgate Improvement Project (includes new headgate structure and 875 feet of pipeline; total estimated cost of $380,000). Delays due to landowner concerns has delayed this project and construction is still pending additional information, the design has been approved and a contractor has been selected. Construction is to be wholly funded by the RCPP Watershed Authority with technical assistance monies provided by the CWCB; fiscal and contract management is to be directly provided by River District staff on behalf of the private mutual ditch company with anticipated construction completed by spring of 2019.
Crawford WCD Projects (includes C4 Regulating Reservoir, Aspen Canal Pipeline and reservoir automation, Crawford Clipper Center Lateral Pipeline). These large projects are in various stages of design and environmental permitting with various sources of funding ($5MM CRSP MOA, $2MM Salinity and $200K CWCB technical assistance) being brought together; final design and budgeting information to enable late 2019 construction are anticipated soon.
A great deal of work has been accomplished with regard to RCPP EQIP on-farm activities that are being managed by River District staff. Of the 22 Conservation Activity Plans (CAPs) developed, 18 were submitted by landowners for consideration for construction implementation funding award. Subsequently, 15 irrigation improvement projects were selected for construction implementation funding. Following notice of award, and prior to construction, River District staff is working to complete the required cultural resources surveys and related NEPA compliance in conjunction with local NRCS offices (Delta and Shavano).
Before final engineering and design contracts can be executed with landowners for on-farm irrigation improvement projects, there are some outstanding contract provisions issues to resolve that require approval from the NRCS National Headquarters (NHQ) to ensure consistency with the Lower Gunnison Project Alternative Funding Arrangement. It is hoped that these obstacles and delays can be resolved in time to be able to construct some of the smaller and simpler projects in the spring of 2019 with the remaining larger and more complex projects taking place fall of 2019.