Fort Collins: A low winter snowpack, remaining effects of the High Park Fire may lead to restrictions

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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Brian Janonis):

The city of Fort Collins has two main water sources: the Cache la Poudre River and water from Horsetooth Reservoir (through partial ownership in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project), both originating from snowmelt. Fort Collins Utilities continuously evaluates how much to draw from each source for treatment. Flexibility is key to maintaining high-quality drinking water, particularly in the aftermath of fire. Due to our strict adherence to treatment regulations and state-of-the-art water treatment processes, the city’s drinking water quality has not been affected by summer fires.

Fort Collins Utilities, in cooperation with the city of Greeley, surrounding water districts (known as the Tri-District), Colorado State University and other organizations, are focused on the health of the Poudre River in the aftermath of the fire. In June, we stopped taking water from the river and installed automated monitoring systems to alert staff to water quality conditions and storm events. Mulching operations were completed in more than half of the highest-priority public lands in the watershed, and additional mitigation will occur in the spring. This helps retain moisture, prevent mudslides, and allows seeds to germinate and regenerate vegetation to stabilize hillsides. It also helps prevent large amounts of sediment and debris from running off burned slopes and into the water supply.

Record hot temperatures in 2012, combined with low snowpack (30 percent of average) and the fires, impacted the water supply because we were not able to maximize our water rights on the Poudre River. Fortunately, water restrictions were not required, due to a high water allocation from Horsetooth Reservoir and a limited ability for Utilities to store saved water for use in 2013.

However, given the uncertainty of water quality impacts to the Poudre River and the potential of drought conditions persisting, water restrictions in 2013 may be necessary. It’s uncertain what this winter’s snowpack will bring, how much water Utilities will be able to draw from the river, and the amount of water to be allocated through the Colorado-Big Thompson system. In the last decade, Utilities customers have reduced water use by about 25 percent; the need for wise water use remains.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

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