Gunnison Basin Roundtable not happy with Blue Mesa releases

Reservoir at 27% capacity

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

As Lake Powell has reached historic low levels due to chronic drought conditions and calls were made for water from three upstream reservoirs this summer, including from Blue Mesa just outside of Gunnison, the efficacy and impacts of those releases are now under review. Gunnison River Basin Roundtable chair Kathleen Curry discussed the process with Gunnison County commissioners during an update in late September following the last roundtable meeting on September 20 in Delta. The group talked about, among other things, how it would like an improved downstream water call system.

County commissioner Liz Smith attended the September meeting as well and recalled that discussions had occurred regarding how the mandatory flow releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir to Lake Powell this summer had been handled in less than ideal ways. The water was meant to boost Lake Powell levels and ensure continued hydroelectric dam operations. Several members of the roundtable felt the timing of those calls could have been better to allow the boating and water-related recreation season at Blue Mesa to extend further, and communications from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) around the releases were not as ideal as they could have been either.
The BOR gave less than two weeks notice before the reservoir had to send emergency water downstream, which did not allow for the marinas along the reservoir to continue operating. The roundtable has requested more information on how the releases impacted Lake Powell, if at all, how important the timing was and how the water was shepherded downstream to reach Lake Powell.

Emergency releases were also 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. Curecanti Park Service officials report that levels are going down by about 6 inches per day.

Curry said the group talked about the Gunnison Basin Implementation plan, for which another round of public input starts on October 13.

Curry said the roundtable also met with the Colorado Forest and Water Alliance (CAFWA), bringing people together over concerns with watersheds and forest planning. The group had a lot of questions and is seeking additional presentations on the topic from other entities in November. According to its website, CAFWA works with members to advocate at state and federal levels regarding policies, funding and programs that relate to improving forest health and watershed resiliency.

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