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Water officials discussing ways to better monitor Coal Creek

Board discusses installing equipment

Coal Creek may get a technology upgrade in the next few years, as local water officials are considering installing an advanced stream gauge to monitor flows and water quality.

 

 

During a regular meeting on Monday, April 28, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) board members discussed the possibility of installing a new stream gauge on the creek.
UGRWCD manager Frank Kugel said the idea came up during discussions with other water officials regarding high water this spring. “We felt it was a good place to put a gauge because there are a number of beneficiaries,” he said.
First, he said the gauge’s stream flow readings will help the UGRWCD and other water managers, such as the Colorado Division of Water Resources, to keep a better eye on water that may be headed for Blue Mesa Reservoir and stream flow trends.
Kugel said the gauge would also provide a benefit to the town of Crested Butte through water quality monitoring. “The town’s drinking water supply is in that watershed,” he said.
Additionally, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has in-stream flow water rights on Coal Creek. The CWCB is a statewide entity involved in water conservation and management projects such as the in-stream flow program, which dictates a certain amount of water must flow through the creek to protect the natural environment. Kugel said he spoke with CWCB executive director Linda Bassi and her staff. “They seem very interested … at least if it can provide a benefit to their (in-stream flows),” Kugel said.
UGRWCD board member Gary Hausler asked where the gauge would be installed.
Kugel said, “We’re still looking at that. It would either be in town or upstream of town.”
Board member Ken Spann said there are several ditches near town that divert water from Coal Creek. “Where the gauge is sited makes a difference,” he said.
Spann said the water right for the McCormick Ditch on the north end of town is the only one senior to the CWCB’s in-stream flow rights, which means McCormick Ditch users have priority over the water and would not have to respond to an in-stream flow call.
Gunnison water commissioner Richard Rozman said a location just upstream of the McCormick Ditch would be the best location for the CWCB to determine if in-stream flows are being met. “It would take a lot of thought to put it in a place that would help the most, but to get some senior water in the river you really have to put it at the low end,” he said.
The cost of installing and operating the gauge is also a factor. The United States Geological Survey and the Colorado Division of Water Resources are the only two entities capable of installing stream gauges and monitoring them via a satellite network.
Kugel said he spoke with hydrographer Joe Sullivan with the USGS Colorado Water Science Center in Grand Junction. “He’s been very helpful putting together some numbers for this gauge and showing how water quality monitoring could be beneficial,” Kugel said. He said the cost estimate was approximately $16,000 for installation. “That would likely be funded by the CWCB if they can see a benefit to the in-stream flow,” Kugel said. “The costs of operating and maintaining that gauge would be up to local entities.”
Sullivan, who was present at the meeting, said gauge operation and maintenance would be approximately $14,500 a year. The gauges are monitored by satellite; he said most of the cost was for labor in taking readings, and occasionally making site inspections and repairs.
Spann said, “I’m surprised about the cost of the (operation and maintenance).”
UGRWCD board member Steve Glazer noted that paying for satellite time is expensive. He said he was skeptical if the town of Crested Butte would be able to increase its budget to accommodate the gauge’s operational cost, in light of the slow economy.
Spann asked, “Are we looking at providing serious money without any real benefit?”
Kugel said it is still not definite whether a gauge is truly necessary. “There’s a question whether there’d be any water gain with this gauge… The CWCB may not see a benefit on the (in-stream flow),” Kugel said. He added that there are some entities still interested in the water quality monitoring.
 The Coal Creek Watershed Coalition performs water quality monitoring on the creek at sites in the headwaters west of town. Glazer, who is also a member of the coalition, explained that an additional gauge would help the accuracy of sample readings upstream. By comparing readings from the gauge and the inspection sites upstream, Glazer said, they could get a better idea of the mineral loads in the water and where runoff is occurring. “It would be very helpful for us to have some sort of flow measurement,” he said.
Kugel said he would have further discussions with the Colorado Division of Water Resources to see if they are interested in the gauge and if they could provide a less expensive price.

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