Metro/South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

A joint meeting of the South Platte Basin and Metro water roundtables Thursday served to generate much-needed optimism that projected water needs can be met by mid-century…

Most of the meeting time was taken up with updates on the six water projects that are under way in Colorado already, and an update on the South Platte Basin study that is supposed to identify even more water storage and conservation measures.

Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District headquartered in Sterling, co-chaired the meeting. He opened with the information that a contractor for the South Platte Basin Study will be named on Friday. That study was mandated by the state legislature during its 2016 session and is scheduled to begin next month. It should take about a year to complete.

After the updates came comment from those attending, most of which were requests for clarification or details on the project updates. But there were also words of encouragement and recognition that attitudes have changed from the days of bitter water fights.

Marc Wagge, manager of water resources planning for Denver Water, told the group he’s encouraged by the fact that the metro and agricultural interests are not just talking to each other, but planning and developing projects to their mutual benefit.

“I want to stress again that the best thing that came out of the (statewide) water plan is this right here, the (South Platte) basin study and these two roundtables working together,” Wagge said. He referred to population growth projections for Colorado between now and 2050 and said, “We all recognize that 78 percent of that growth is going to happen right here (on the northern Front Range) and here we are, working together toward a common goal for that.”

Joe Frank echoed those words later, saying that success with the projects already identified and being actively worked on, called Identified Projects and Processes, or IPPs, gives hope that the water shortfall projected by 2050 can be eliminated.

“You saw tonight, that we already have IPP success rates of 88 percent for the metro projects and 65 percent for the lower South Platte,” Frank said. “If we can see that high a success rate with those IPPs, we can see some real progress.”

According to the Colorado Water Plan, by 2050 water demand in the South Platte River watershed, which includes everything north of the Palmer Divide and east of the Continental Divide, to the Nebraska state line, will outstrip supply by 300,000 acre feet per year, or almost 97 billion gallons a year. The existing IPPs could yield up to 98,000 acre feet, leaving more than 200,000 acre feet that has to be found somewhere in the basin.

Jim Yahn, manager of the North Sterling and Prewitt reservoirs, and a member of the Lower South Platte roundtable, said he, too, is encouraged by the cooperative attitudes expressed during the meeting.

“In the end, we’re a lot like-minded in the South Platte basin, as a group,” Yahn said.

But Yahn did sound a word of caution about water studies that seem to be “fast-tracked” on the Western Slope, possibly with the intent of showing that there’s no more water available.

“We have as big or bigger stake in those studies as anyone has,” Yahn said. “I want us to work together to find solutions that will benefit both sides.”

Denver Water and irrigators in the Thompson River and South Platte River valleys all depend heavily on water diverted from the snow-laden Western Slope to the arid Eastern Plains. The Colorado-Big Thompson system diverts up to 310,000 acre feet of water a year to cities and towns northeast of Denver while the Moffat/South Platte system diverts another 284,000 acre feet of water from the Western Slope to the Denver Metro area.

Don Ament, former Colorado Agriculture Commissioner and state senator, was in Loveland for other water-related meetings and sat in on the joint meeting for a time. He said later that Yahn’s concern is a valid one and that, for all of the optimism voiced at Thursday’s meeting, he’s still worried about future water supplies.

“If this (Colorado Water Plan) doesn’t come to fruition, ag water is still vulberable, and I’m worried about that,” Ament said. “When a project takes 13 years and we still don’t have a resolution, that worries me. I just think there’s a lot of risk out there.”

Still, he said there’s hope as long as disparate water users are talking amicably among each other.

“As a group, the lower South Platte and the metro area are working to find solutions together,” he said. “Now we’re talking to each other. And that’s a good thing.”

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More coverage from Jeff Rice writing for the Sterling Journal-Advocate:

Most of the meeting time during the joint roundtable meeting in Loveland Thursday night was taken up with updates on the six water projects that are under way in Colorado already. Here is a rundown of those six projects, or IPPs:

• The NISP/Glade project — The Northern Integrated Supply Project is a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supplies.

• Chimney Hollow Reservoir — A 360-foot high dam that will hold 90,000 acre feet to help supply the thirsty Thompson Valley urban area. The water will come from the Windy Gap Project, a diversion dam and pumping station completed in 1985 to provide extra irrigation and municipal water out of the Colorado River. The water originally was stored in Grand Lake, but when that is full, the water cannot be stored. Chimney Hollow, also known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, solves that problem.

• Halligan reservoir enlargements — Halligan Reservoir near Fort Collins is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water and the City of Fort Collins wants to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet.

• Milton Seaman Reservoir enlargement — Greeley originally had wanted to expand Seaman Reservoir in conjunction with Halligan, but because of diverging goals Greeley withdrew from the joint project. The expansion of Seamon now is targeted for design in 2028 and construction by 2030.

• Gross Reservoir enlargement — Gross Reservoir is one of 11 reservoirs supplying water to the City of Denver and surrounding urban areas. It is on the city’s Moffat System, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the metro area. Denver Water has proposed raising the dam height by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir to increase by 77,000 acre feet.

• Chatfield Reallocation Plan — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Chatfield Reservoir, built primarily for flood control after the 1965 South Platte River flood, can accommodate an additional 20,600 acre feet of water storage for water supply without compromising its flood control function. This additional storage space will be used by municipal and agricultural water providers to help meet the diverse needs of the state. No actual construction is required, but the legal, environmental, and engineering concerns of allowing the reservoir to hold more water all have to be satisfied.

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