@Northern_Water: Spring Water Users Meeting April 6, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

Click here for all the inside skinny from Northern Water:

Spring Water Users Meeting
Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 8 a.m. to noon, virtual meeting via Zoom

Each spring Northern Water meets with Colorado-Big Thompson Project allottees and water users to preview the upcoming water delivery and irrigation season, learn about current water and snowpack conditions, runoff and streamflow predictions, progress on future water projects and more. After a discussion of the region’s water outlook, attendees will be able to offer input about the 2021 C-BT quota. This year, attendees also will be able to learn about project updates, as well as Northern Water’s response to the East Troublesome fire in Grand County.

A link to the Zoom meeting will be distributed in the days before the session to those who register.

Click here to register.

#Greeley irrigation company responds to ‘Fill the Love’ campaign to keep Lake Loveland — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Lake Loveland

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

‘We have shareholders, and when there’s high demand, they’re entitled to use the water.’

As a citizen campaign presses elected officials to intervene in the depletion of Lake Loveland, the Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. this week responded to criticisms and concerns about the water level in the city’s central lake.

Lake Loveland was transformed from a natural depression into a man-made reservoir around 1900. Today, GLIC operates the lake and owns the land it covers, which fills up in April and May. The company starts delivering water to clients around June, and drainage stops at the end of the irrigation season, around October.

When the lake is drained, parts of the lake bed may become exposed, generating aesthetic complaints from residents as well as clouds of airborne dust.

Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. general manager Dan Kammerzell said Thursday that the lake was then 38% full, or about 20 feet deep at its deepest point (he said if the lake was filled enough to reach the edge of the landscaped area next to U.S. 34, it would be about 42 feet deep).

He said he believes the frustrations fueling the recent Fill the Love campaign are due to a “misunderstanding” of the fact that the lake is a water storage resource. He added that water levels have always fluctuated with the piping of water to the company’s clients in Weld County…

After a regular meeting of the company’s governing board on Wednesday, Kammerzell declined to answer additional questions about levels relative to past years but sent the newspaper a statement in which he said the lake is generally around 40% full when drainage stops in the fall.

He added in the statement that one factor causing levels to drop in recent years was a 2018 decree by the Northern Water Conservancy District limiting how Colorado-Big Thompson water may be stored…

In 2018, a rule introduced by the district ensured that project partners would only be able to store C-BT water if the water was released and used the same year, Kammerzell wrote. Greeley previously stored about 5,000 acre-feet of C-BT water in the Lake Loveland, a significant share of the lake’s 12,000-13,000 acre feet of storage capacity, but has since stopped…

Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky and City Manager Steve Adams sent a memo to the City Council last week laying out the city’s analysis the problem of “fugitive windborne sand” blowing off of the lake bed,

Council members last held a closed-door meeting on Jan. 19 to talk about the water level of the lake as well as threats of lawsuits from nearby property owners because of the blowing dust. Loveland owns rights to less than 1% of the water and uses it to irrigate city parkland.

The memo states that water levels were lower in 2018-19, when Greeley and GLIC were working on the hydraulic gates that allow filling and drainage of the lake.

A 2020 analysis by Loveland Water and Power’s Water Quality Laboratory shows the dust is primarily comprised of quartz, making up about 60% of the material by weight on the north side of the lake and 56% to the south.

The lab also tested the sediment for potentially toxic chemicals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and iron, but “none were detected at concentrations of concern.” Further analysis showed that less than 5% of the lake bed dust was 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller — small enough to be breathable…

Ultimately, the memo dismisses the possibility that the city could regulate the problem on its own or add its own water to the lake to cover more of the sand.

It recommends that “the Lake Loveland Recreation Club Inc. and affected lakefront residents work with the GLIC to implement lake bed controls such as silt fences or roughening the surface through harrowing or chiseling” to stop the dust from becoming airborne.

#EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

“It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

“That would be disastrous,” he said.

Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

“Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

Assessing the damage

The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

“It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

Watching the water

Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

“These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

“We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

“We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

“If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.

#CameronPeakFire’s threat to #PoudreRiver a concern for #FortCollins water supply — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Mesmerized by miles of mountainsides of blackened trees and seared soil that hugs the banks of the upper Poudre River, it’s difficult not to reflect on the 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 flood.

You can’t help but wonder, given the steepness of the slopes and the severity of the riverside scar left by the Cameron Peak Fire, if Northern Colorado is poised for a repeat of history regarding the Poudre River.

Come spring, snowmelt, rainfall and potential flash floods are almost certain to wash large amounts of ash from Colorado’s largest wildfire, soil and even entire trees into the river that serves as a source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Collins and the surrounding area…

A recent Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the Cameron Peak Fire indicated a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by ash- and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.

And that’s only the half of it.

Fort Collins receives half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from Horsetooth Reservoir, whose water quality could be impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.

An assessment for the East Troublesome Fire estimated 53% of the burn area suffered moderate (48%) or high (5%) soil burn severity compared to 36% — 30% moderate and 6% high — for the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire assessment also showed more than half the soil tested to be repellent to water absorption…

By the time the 112-day Cameron Peak Fire’s flames were finally extinguished on Dec. 2, a watershed recovery collaboration of area municipalities, Larimer County, federal and state agencies, water providers and organizations such as the coalition, was already meeting to start planning efforts to address the fire’s impact.

This isn’t the first fire for many of those stakeholders, and lessons learned from the High Park Fire are helping the group quickly prepare for this spring’s impacts.

That being said, the Cameron Peak Fire was more than twice the size of the High Park Fire and paired with the 193,812-acre East Troublesome Fire — the second-largest wildfire in state history — delivered a massive one-two punch to several watersheds, making recovery even more daunting…

Mark Kempton, the city of Fort Collins’ interim deputy director of Water Resources and Treatment, said the city has implemented steps since the High Park Fire to better equip it to handle the after-effects of a major fire.

He said the city has installed warning systems along the Poudre River that alert it several hours ahead of water turbidity issues so workers can turn off the water supply. When the city turns off the Poudre River supply, it can draw on Horsetooth Reservoir water. That was the case for 100 days during the High Park Fire.

The High Park Fire taught recovery leaders to include the use of shredded tree mulch instead of straw mulch to better prevent the mulch from blowing away for soil and slope stabilization. Strategically increasing culvert size also reduced damage to roads.

Kempton said another key component will be workers removing sediment by flushing the water treatment system more often and removing sediment from the river intake system and catch basins.

Historic #Colorado Wildfire Season Could Impact Drinking #Water — CBS #Denver

From CBS Denver (Dillon Thomas):

The historic wildfire season of 2020 could impact drinking water for more than a million Colorado residents. Environmental researchers and natural resource specialists have conducted a BAER Survey, which stands for Burned Area Emergency Response.

The survey evaluated how the record-breaking Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires could impact Colorado’s snowpack and watershed.

The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

The Poudre and Upper Colorado River Basins provide drinking water for more than a million people in northern Colorado, and soon those in Thornton. The Colorado River also flows from Willow Creek Reservoir near Granby to Las Vegas and farther southwest.

The months-long battle with both blazes charred the natural filters along rivers and creeks, which eventually provide drinking water for most of the northern front range.

“Our concerns really are actually about the entire watershed,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

In an interview with CBS4’s Logan Smith, Stahla said the approach to preserving and protecting the watershed in the years to come was directly altered by the High Park Fire of 2012, where researchers learned what to do and what not to do.

A helicopter drops water on the Cameron Peak Fire near CSU’s Mountain Campus. Photo credit: Colorado State University

For example, pulling undersized culverts and digging water bars is more effective than reseeding or spreading hay bales.

“This is something you won’t be able to resolve by dropping seeds from a helicopter, the scale is so large,” Stahla said. “The concern is that if there is a large weather event that occurs over that area, that you will have uncontrolled removal of debris and sediment that will go in to our reservoirs.”

Ecologist Heidi Steltzer evaluates the site of a 2018 wildfire within 10 miles of her Colorado home. Changes in snow affect the disturbance regime of U.S. mountain regions. (Credit: Joel Dyar)

During the fires of 2020, water conservation experts monitored how the burn scar could impact drinking water.

“We recognized that it was no longer just a small localized event, but it was something that would effect the entire Upper Colorado River shed,” Stahla said.

Due to the extended period the fires burned, especially the Cameron Peak Fire, not every area of the burn scars impact nearby rivers and streams equally. While some portions of the terrain were significantly burned with hot fire that “resided” in the same spot for an extended period, others were more fortunate.

The East Troublesome fire as seen from Cottonwood Pass looking north on the evening of Wednesday, Oct 21, 2020. (Andrew Lussie via InciWeb via The Colorado Sun)

Stahla said many local water districts are now teaming up to help protect the health of the watershed in the years to come. By unifying and prioritizing the health of the water system as a whole, Stahla said the strength of the landscape and watershed can bounce back quicker…

Researchers hope to return to the burn scars in the spring once snow has melted to evaluate next steps. Local municipalities are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process.

Squeezed by two megafires: @Northern_Water’s race to save #Grand Lake — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The East Troublesome Fire in Grand County burned down to the shore of Willow Creek Reservoir, one of the lakes in Northern Water’s collection system in Grand County. Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Craig Friar and Steve Anderson had seen wildfires smolder and flare before. But they had never seen one run.

Until Oct. 21 when Grand County’s East Troublesome fire sprinted 17 miles in less than three hours, threatening to engulf communities across the county and giving these Northern Water staffers and others just hours to decide how best to move the water agency’s operations center out of Grand County and over to Northern’s emergency operations center in Berthoud, on Colorado’s Front Range.

It was unchartered territory. The backup center had never been used before.

Northern Water is the largest exporter of water from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range, serving farms and dozens of cities from Broomfield and Lafayette to Boulder, Loveland and Greeley.

As dark, fire-stained clouds billowed over the towns of Granby and Grand Lake that day, Northern’s West Slope team grabbed operation logs from the Farr pumping plant on the banks of Lake Granby. They tracked down the half dozen or so mechanics, electricians and operators who would need to make quick exits, and figured out how to ferry everyone to safety over the Continental Divide.

The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

Initially they hoped to keep most of their operators on the West Slope by moving the temporary command center farther West to another Northern operations site. But the East Troublesome Fire, already known for its cranky, unpredictable nature, changed direction, blocking access to the local site.

“Those [plans] quickly went away,” said Friar, who oversees the utility’s collection system. “When things blew up on Tuesday, we said, ‘Scrap that.’ Wednesday we had a call and began moving everyone over to Berthoud.”

Spare rooms and horse trailers

Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind and Director of Administration Karen Rademacher offered their homes to dislocated staffers until hotel rooms could be found.

West Slope staff who weren’t evacuated offered trailers to those who had been, hauling household goods and horses. They tracked down housing for co-workers who feared their homes had burned.

They had dozens of calls with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Northern’s system, as well as emergency managers with the U.S. and Colorado State forest services and the Grand County fire and sheriff departments, and county emergency response teams.

Hundreds of homes and structures in Grand County were threatened or destroyed, and the lakes and reservoirs there that comprise Northern’s water collection system faced the same fate. The agency serves more than 1 million people on the Front Range.

Since mid-August, Northern’s team had watched the Cameron Peak Fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park just to the north of Grand County, threatening some of Northern’s customers and watersheds, but not the heart of its collection system.

When East Troublesome exploded eight weeks later, the water utility found itself suddenly squeezed between what have now become Colorado’s two largest wildfires in recorded history, with Cameron Peak consuming 209,000 acres and East Troublesome 194,000, before both were declared contained in November.

The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

Beyond bad

“It was worse than any worst-case scenario we had,” said Northern’s Environmental Services Manager Esther Vincent during a debriefing with the utility’s customers and others post-fire.

East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

Water infrastructure in the West is often built in high-altitude mountain ranges in order to collect the winter snows that fall and melt into streams.

For years, Colorado and other Western States have planned for and dealt with wildfires and their aftermath: the scorched soils and trees that clog their delivery systems, fill their reservoirs with eroded soils, and cloud their once-pristine water supplies.

But the situation now is much worse. As climate change and searing droughts have dried out the forests that blanket these watersheds, impossibly large, so-called megafires are becoming the dangerous new norm.

These fires devastated California over the summer and the same phenomenon struck Colorado in the fall.

That Northern Water found itself stranded between the two fires in hurricane-force winds was something no one had ever envisioned. There was a sense of awful wonder, amid all the emergency phone calls and late-night planning sessions, at the sheer size of the disaster.

Powering down

There was also plenty of worry. Early on, as the fire raged, Northern staffers knew power to the Farr Pump Plant would be cut off in order to keep firefighters safe from exploding transformers, falling power poles and downed electric lines.

The East Troublesome Fire burns near the Farr Pump Plant on Lake Granby October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

The pumping plant lies almost entirely below the surface of Lake Granby. Without power to run its dewatering system, the plant would flood.

But there would be an even bigger problem once the electricity was cut. The Adams Tunnel takes water pumped from Lake Granby to Grand Lake and pipes it under the Continental Divide to the Front Range. If they couldn’t get the Adams Tunnel shut down before the power went off, it would continue to deliver water, dramatically lowering Grand Lake in violation of federal law, something that would trigger an environmental, legal and political firestorm.

The prospect of such an event is unfathomable, Friar said. “I don’t know what would happen. And I don’t want to know. We don’t even go there.”

They moved quickly to get to the controls that operate the tunnel, successfully closing it down.

Ten minutes later, Friar said, the power went off.

For days afterward, they would rotate the chore of going into the silent pumping plant, filling its generators with diesel fuel and checking to make sure the dewatering system was still working.

In and out

Roads in and out of the area remained closed and it took close coordination with the Grand County Fire Department and sheriff for Northern staffers to get past the fire barricades.

“We had to make sure we could get in, get what we needed done, and get out of there,” Friar said.

If there was any comfort during the tense, fast-changing days that the fires ruled Larimer and Grand counties, it was seeing local residents pulling out clothes and food for those in need, offering up spare rooms, spare trucks and trailers, and extra flash lights, snow plows and generators.

“I don’t think anyone up here ever felt alone,” Friar said.

December has delivered more elegant white snows to Grand and Larimer counties since October, when the first winter storm calmed the fires. The white slopes, covered with charred forests that are now stark and black, are a welcome respite from the gray smoke and flames that enveloped the area just a few weeks ago.

Friar and others know they have four short months, the time until winter snows melt, to engineer and put into action a high-stakes rescue plan for the devastated watersheds and reservoirs.

Roughly 30 percent to 80 percent of Northern’s four major watersheds have burned, they estimate. Cleaning them up and protecting the lakes from the debris that is sure to come after the snow melts next spring will take one to three years of “acute” work, fire officials said, and decades of additional treatment, a process so expensive that Northern hasn’t yet put a number to it.

The East Troublesome fire as it tore through the Trail Creek Estates subdivision on Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian White, Grand Fire Protection District)

A daunting future

Denver Water, the only utility larger than Northern in Colorado, battled two smaller—but still epic—fires within the past three decades: the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the 2002 Hayman Fire, which until this year had been the state’s largest. They spent $28 million cleaning up and restoring reservoirs in the first 10 post-fire years and continue to spend millions annually planting trees and doing erosion control, according to Christina Burri, a watershed scientist with Denver Water.

Northern’s Greg Dewey will oversee the fire restoration work. The prospect, he said, is daunting.

“For years we’ve planned for treatments [for the overgrown forests already decimated by pine beetles]. And the ultimate treatment is a wildfire, but I don’t think anyone could have gauged the extent of this,” he said.

The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome megafires have blazed permanent images in the minds of people across Grand and Larimer counties.

What Anderson remembers most now is returning to his Granby home when the evacuation orders were finally lifted. There, he and his family encountered a strange sight:

The house was unharmed, but the front door stood wide open.

As they walked warily up the front steps the first thing they heard was the fire alarm, issuing one piercing screech after another, providing a crazy, haunting reminder of those days in October, when two megafires ruled the skies, the forests and their lives.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):

A United States District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud. This ruling should also make it possible to move forward with environmental mitigation and enhancements related to the project, including construction of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Granby.

Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich dismissed a 2017 lawsuit filed by environmental groups led by Save the Colorado against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling holds that those federal agencies complied with federal law in issuing a Record of Decision that authorizes the Windy Gap Firming Project.

The Windy Gap Firming Project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will be located in a dry valley just west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for use by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and the Central Weld County Water District. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply serving those participants more reliable and help them meet a portion of their long-term water supply needs. Each participant has also enacted a water conservation plan to comply with the Record of Decision.

Environmental measures related to the Project also include the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the reservoir.

The Record of Decision also mandates many other environmental protections, including improving streamflow and aquatic habitat, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies and more. Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections and received a permit from Grand County and approvals from others, including Trout Unlimited and the State of Colorado, to move forward with the Project.

Water storage such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning and other solutions to meet future water needs in the state.

“This ruling marks an important milestone for the participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel will serve as examples of how statewide cooperation can produce water supply solutions and environmental improvements that benefit everyone.”

Barnard Construction Co. Inc. has been chosen as the contractor to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, and work will commence on the project in 2021. Design work is well under way for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, and construction is anticipated to begin there in 2022.

Shoshone power plant outages concern Glenwood Canyon #water users — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Shoshone hydro plant in Glenwood Canyon, captured here in June 2018, uses water diverted from the Colorado River to make power, and it controls a key water right on the Western Slope. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

It has been a rough year for operations at the Shoshone hydropower plant in Glenwood Canyon.

First, ice jammed the plant’s spillway in February, damaging equipment that required repair. The plant came back online in July but was able to generate electricity for only a few weeks before the Grizzly Peak Fire burned down its transmission lines.

According to the plant’s owner, Xcel Energy, the electricity impacts of the outages at the 15-megawatt generating station have been minimal, and the utility expects the plant to go back online this week. But while the electric grid can manage without the plant, the outage presents a much bigger threat to the flows on the Colorado River because the plant has senior water rights dating to 1902.

This means that any water users upstream with junior rights — which includes utilities such as Denver Water that divert water to the Front Range — have to leave enough water in the river to meet the plant’s water right of 1,250 cubic feet per second when the plant is running. When the Shoshone makes a call, the water makes its way through the plant’s turbines and goes downstream, filling what would otherwise often be a nearly dry section of river down toward Grand Junction.

A Shoshone call keeps the river flowing past the point where it would otherwise be diverted, supporting downstream water uses that would otherwise be impossible on this stretch of river. But when the plant is down, as it has been for most of 2020, that call is not guaranteed.

The Grand River Diversion Dam, also known as the “Roller Dam”, was built in 1913 to divert water from the Colorado River to the Government Highline Canal, which farmers use to irrigate their lands in the Grand Valley. Photo credit: Bethany Blitz/Aspen Journalism

“Historically, what the Shoshone plant has done is kept a steady baseflow, which makes it easier for irrigators down here to be able to divert their own water right,” said Kirsten Kurath, a lawyer for the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which represents agricultural water users. “When the river goes up and down, it takes a lot of operational effort.”

The Shoshone water right also supports important nonconsumptive water uses. It provides critical flows needed for fish habitat and supports a robust whitewater-rafting industry in Glenwood Canyon. When the river drops too much below 1,250 cfs, it can create for a slow and bumpy ride.

Glenwood Canyon/Colorado River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

“Customers get off and think, ‘Ugh, it would have been more fun to go to Disneyland,’ ” said David Costlow, the executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “Much lower and you are really scraping down that river and at some point you just pull the plug.”

The nearly year-long outages at Shoshone have many on the river worried. When the plant is down for repairs or maintenance, it does not make its call on the river allowing users upstream — including those that pipe water to the Front Range — to begin diverting. The Shoshone call can be the difference between the water remaining on the Western Slope or being diverted to the Front Range. Long outages, such as this one, reveal the vulnerability of the water on which so many rely.

“It’s a critically important component to the way that the Colorado main stem water regime has developed over more than a century now,” said Peter Fleming, the general counsel for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “It’s sort of the linchpin or the bottom card.”

Water interests on the Western Slope have made some headway in recent years to maintain the status quo on the river even when Shoshone is down. Most of the major junior water-rights holders upstream of the plant — including Denver Water, Aurora and the Colorado Big Thompson Project — have signed on to the Shoshone Outage Protocol (SHOP). When the protocol goes into effect, as it has this year, these diverters have agreed to manage their diversions as if the Shoshone Plant — and the call — was online.

The agreement has been in operation for about a decade, helping to maintain flows during periods where the plant has undergone repairs or maintenance. The agreement was formalized in 2016 with a 40-year term. While the outage protocol has staved off major drops in the Colorado River flow over the years, the agreement is not as secure as water users that rely on Shoshone’s flows would prefer.

“SHOP is the best alternative that we have right now, but it doesn’t completely restore the flows,” said Kurath. “And one of the other problems right now is that it’s not permanent.”

For water users downstream of Shoshone, SHOP has three major issues. First, it is only guaranteed for 40 years, which for water planners is considered a short time frame. Second, the agreement does not include every upstream diverter, meaning that it doesn’t completely restore the flows to the levels where they would be if the Shoshone plant were on. Third, the agreement allows some of its signatories to ignore SHOP under certain water-shortage scenarios.

Despite the drought this year, the conditions never reached a point where SHOP’s signatories were able to opt out of the protocol, so the agreement went into effect when river levels dropped. But even though SHOP worked this year, the long outages at the Shoshone plant highlight the uncertainty of the plant’s future.

“We’ve always been nervous about it,” Fleming said. “It’s an aging facility, it doesn’t produce a ton of power, and we don’t know how long it’s going to be a priority to maintain and operate.”

The River District has been working to negotiate a more permanent solution for the Shoshone water rights for years. They have considered everything — from trying to buy the Shoshone plant outright to negotiating with diverters on the river to make something such as SHOP permanent.

The Shoshone outages have given these efforts renewed importance. In a recent board meeting of the River District, Fleming said that resuming talks with Denver Water that had stalled during the pandemic is a top priority.

While Fleming would not elaborate on the specifics of the ongoing negotiations, all options have the potential to impact many water users on the river — even those who aren’t at the negotiating table.

“We don’t approach this like we have water rights that we don’t have,” Costlow said. “But our business depends on water, and it depends on water levels that make water fun.”

This story ran in the Nov. 13 edition of The Aspen Times.

#FortCollins #water restrictions end Tuesday, with completion of work on the outlet at Soldier Canyon dam — The Rocky Mountain Collegian

The Soldier Canyon Dam is located on the east shore of Horsetooth Reservoir, 3.5 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The zoned earthfill dam has an outlet works consisting of a concrete conduit through the base of the dam, controlled by two 72-inch hollow-jet valves. The foundation is limey shales and sandstones overlain with silty, sandy clay. Photo credit Reclamation.

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Nicole Taylor):

The mandatory water restrictions in Fort Collins are scheduled to end Nov. 10. On Nov. 8, Darin Atteberry, Fort Collins city manager, signed a declaration to end the restrictions.

The restrictions were put in place on Oct. 1 as a level IV restriction due to the Horsetooth Outlet Project. The repairs were successfully completed over the past month with the help of backup pumps and community efforts, according to the announcement…

Recent concerns for the water supply with the recent drought conditions and the Cameron Peak fire also played a role in the water reduction.

The residents managed to reduce water use by 35% within the first day of restrictions, according to the HOP page on the Fort Collins Utilities website. The community then stayed below the 15 million gallons a day request since Oct. 14 rather than the usual 35-40 million gallons.

#Loveland council to study update to raw #water master plan, water fees, November 10, 2020 — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

The plan was first approved in 2005 as a way of ensuring that the city has enough water without having to cut back, even in a once-in-a-century drought. It was updated by the council in 2012.

Prepared by city staff members, the update includes several major recommendations. First, the city recommends using a model created by Spronk Water Engineers to continue prepping for a major drought, which was modeled based on the historic drought Colorado faced in 2002.

While the plan encourages water conservation as a buffer and a way of ensuring water security in the event of an even more severe drought, the plan notes that it is not “a tool to directly reduce future demands in long-term planning.”

A target of 30,000 acre-feet remains the city’s long-term goal for water demand. Currently, Loveland has access to a firm yield of about 25,210 acre-feet per year, which should increase by about 5,680 acre-feet by 2031, if the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland and the Loveland Great Western Reservoir in east Loveland are completed as recommended.

The master plan projects the resulting 30,890 acre-feet would be enough to support the city until 2056.

Loveland customers used about 13,129 acre-feet of treated water last year, or about 0.166 acre-foot per person.

Points of the recommended policy on developer contributions to the city’s raw water portfolio include:

  • Requiring at least half and allowing up to 100% of most contributions to be made in the form of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water, cash-in-lieu or cash credits in the Loveland Water Bank.
  • Decreasing the value of a C-BT credit from 1 acre-foot to 0.9 acre-foot.
  • Adjusting credits for ditch shares based on the content of the Spronk analysis.
  • Removing the 5% administrative cost on the cash-in-lieu fee and placing no limit on the amount of cash-in-lieu transactions, as long as they’re dedicated to a specific project.
  • Tying storage fees to the estimated cost of storage at Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
  • Including a fee of $482 per acre-foot in the native water storage fee to cover the engineering and legal costs of changing the use of native water in Colorado’s water courts.
  • Changing the name of the native water storage fee to the “storage fee.”
  • The plan also leaves open the possibility of the city exploring the use of untreated water for irrigation, taking into account “concerns of cross-contamination and the relatively high expense of building a new utility in already developed parts of the community.”

    Updates to water-related fees would go hand-in-hand with the plan and reflect the increasing costs of the Chimney Hollow project and C-BT water.

    For the cash-in-lieu fee, in addition to eliminating the 5% administrative add-on, the new calculation would divide the average annual C-BT price by 0.9. Previously, the fee was tied to the average price over the past three to six months.

    The native water storage fee would increase by between $15,132 per acre-foot of native water to $21,772 per acre-foot, depending on the source.

    Raw water impact fees would increase for commercial, irrigation and some residential taps and would be phased in over a period of two to 10 years.

    Loveland’s council will not vote on the items Tuesday, but members will give direction to the staff before the proposal comes back for a future vote.

    Northern Front Range water supply safe in spite of fires — for now — The #Greeley Tribune

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

    …while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.

    According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.

    The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.

    That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…

    “The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”

    The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…

    However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.

    And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.

    “We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”

    Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…

    Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.

    “When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”

    The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…

    In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.

    “Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”

    #FortCollins issues water restrictions to protect supply — 9News.com

    Mammatus clouds, associated with strong convection, grace a sunset over Fort Collins, Colorado, home of the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University. Photo credit: Steve Miller/CIRA

    From 9News.com (Janet Oravetz):

    Water restrictions will be implemented for residents of Fort Collins following extreme drought conditions and wildfires which have the area facing a potential water shortage, the city announced on its website.

    The water use restrictions will take effect Oct. 1 and will remain in effect until the order is lifted by the city manager…

    Ongoing drought conditions, the Cameron Peak Fire burning near Walden and an infrastructure repair project known as Horsetooth Outlet Project (HOP) have the city facing a projected water shortage unless action is taken, the city said.

    Typically, utilities receives about 50% of its water from Colorado-Big Thompson shares via Horsetooth Reservoir and 50% from the Cache la Poudre River. During HOP, utilities will have limited access to water supplies in Horsetooth and will rely more heavily on the Poudre River.

    If conditions during HOP – like continued drought or poor water quality due to the Cameron Peak Fire – prevent or limit the ability to deliver water from the Poudre River, a temporary backup pump system will convey water from a different Horsetooth Reservoir outlet to the Utilities Water Treatment Facility.

    The capacity of this backup system is expected to supply only average utilities winter water demands, which does not include irrigation or other seasonal outdoor uses.

    Lawn watering will not be allowed beginning Oct. 1. Trees, gardens for food production and other landscapes may be watered by hand or drip systems only. There are also restrictions on vehicle washing, power washing and street sweeping, among other things.

    Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping rapidly but boating will continue — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    Horsetooth Reservoir looking west from Soldier Dam. Photo credit: Norther Water.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

    Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping around 4 feet per week in July and August certainly hasn’t go unnoticed by concerned boaters.

    The water level of the popular reservoir dropped from 97% full at the beginning of the season to around 60% last week. Despite the drop, all boat ramps will be usable through Labor Day weekend, but not so much come mid-September.

    Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesman, said an unusually dry and hot summer created an increase water demand by agriculture and municipalities, resulting in the sharp drop in water level. He said the rate of that drop is expected to lessen the rest of summer and early fall as water demand lessens…

    Mark Caughlan, Horsetooth Reservoir district manager, said he expects the South Bay boat ramp to remain usable throughout the fall but that by mid-September the Satanka and Inlet Bay ramps will be closed due to the low water level.

    Stahla said by late this week the reservoir’s water level will be at the lowest level since 2012, which was a historically dry year.

    He said lowering the water level will also help divers to safely replace a valve at Soldier Canyon Dam, which he said is routine maintenance and does not involve major construction. He said other work to the reservoir will be done at the same time by other entities…

    Stahla said Horsetooth Reservoir, which is the largest reservoir in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project East Slope distribution system, is expected to fill back up next year. He said CBT’s water storage in mountain reservoirs above Horsetooth Reservoir is in good shape with storage at more than 90% in some reservoirs.

    #Boulder reservoir to be drained starting sept. 1 for required maintenance work

    Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Jeff Stahla, Denise White, Samantha Glavin):

    Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, until March 2021, access to Boulder Reservoir will be limited while the reservoir is drained to allow Northern Water, in coordination with the City of Boulder, to perform necessary maintenance on the reservoir and its dams.

    Boulder Reservoir. Photo credit: The City of Boulder

    This work will ensure visitor safety and effective water delivery to municipal and agricultural water users. Reservoir water levels will be significantly lower than normal during this time. This is routine, required maintenance work that will take place every 5-10 years.

    The reservoir basin will be closed to all water-based activities, including boating, watercraft, fishing, swimming, wading and other on-water recreation once the reservoir drawdown begins Sept. 1. Passive recreation opportunities (e.g., walking, cycling and running) will still be available during this time. The main trail along on the North Shore will remain open, but access to the shoreline will be restricted. Trails in the vicinity of the north and south dams may be periodically impacted during periods of construction in those areas. A map of affected areas is available on the project website at bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#.

    Performing the maintenance work this year when some recreation activities such as swimming and special events are already restricted due to COVID-19 will ensure that additional impacts will be avoided, and recreation can return to full service once the pandemic subsides. However, the city recognizes that this limitation on Boulder Reservoir use may be disappointing to impacted recreationists. The city is providing reservoir permit and pass holders with a partial refund or credit on their purchase, available through Aug. 23. Current permit and pass holders have been contacted directly with information on how to access this offer.

    Additionally, Boulder Reservoir has received approval to remain open on Friday, Aug. 7, which is designated as an unpaid city closure day to address financial challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, and offer extended hours of operation from 7-9 p.m. on Aug. 10-16. The city is able to offer these additional hours due to cost savings as a result of the draining project’s impact in shortening the fall recreation season.

    The reservoir will be drained to remove sediment from the area around the reservoir outlet, which naturally builds up over time. Maintenance will also occur on dam outlet structures, and the on the land between the north and south dams known as Fisherman’s Point. Construction equipment access and activity will be in the vicinity of the north dam and Fisherman’s Point. 

    Northern Water is coordinating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and city staff to mitigate environmental impacts of the project. The reservoir will be drained outside of nesting season, limiting effects on nesting and migrating species during the most critical point in their life cycle. The reservoir will be refilled prior to spring migration and nesting seasons. While there are currently no plans to relocate the fish in the reservoir as the water level is expected to support the fish, Northern Water will monitor their environment daily. If conditions appear problematic, fish relocation may be arranged. 

    The Boulder Reservoir is a key part of the city’s drinking water supply and provides water to other municipal and agricultural users. Water is delivered to the reservoir and its water treatment plant via the Southern Water Supply Project, completed in 2020, and the Boulder Feeder Canal. The City of Boulder owns Boulder Reservoir, but operations and maintenance related to water storage and dam safety are primarily managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Northern Water). 

    Additional information is available on the project webpage at https://bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#. General project questions can be directed to Water Resources Manager Kim Hutton at 303-441-3115 or huttonk@bouldercolorado.gov. For questions regarding recreation impacts, contact Boulder Reservoir Facilities Supervisor Stacy Cole at 303-441-3469 or coles@bouldercolorado.gov.

    Say hello to @Northern_Water’s new website

    Screen shot of the new Northern Water website. Click the image to go to the website.

    Click here to to the new website. Easy to navigate and find data:

    Northern Water is proud to announce the launch of a new organizational website. The website offers a user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality.

    With a modern, sleek design, the new website uses enhanced functionality, features and content to tell the story of Northern Water and its commitment to delivering water to more than 1 million people and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Northeastern Colorado while protecting water quality on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    Key features of the new website include:

  • Improved navigation that makes content easy to find;
  • A search engine that captures targeted results for visitors seeking specific information;
  • Mobile responsive design that allows website access from any device;
  • A new data portal that provides real-time data, water quality data and more;
  • A new customized water accounting portal that empowers water users to manage their portfolio, order and transfer water, and view important documents; and
  • A news blog to inform the public about Northern Water’s projects, programs and activities. New weekly content will ensure the public is kept up to date on the latest happenings.
  • The new website has been more than a year in the making with a primary goal of creating a user-friendly platform accessible from any device. Specifically, the goal was to make it easier for visitors to learn about the organization and its rich history, receive project updates and discover ways to more efficiently use water in their landscapes and daily lives.

    #Colorado-Big Thompson operations update

    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

    Olympus Dam near Estes Park, Colorado impounds Lake Estes. The lake is the afterbay for Estes Powerplant, a hydroelectric powerplant that can produce up to 45 MW each hour. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water from the west slope fuels the Estes Powerplant. Project water discharged from Estes Powerplant is diverted from Lake Estes, routed to additional hydroelectric powerplants on the Front Range and is then stored in Carter Lake or Horsetooth Reservoir. Project water is rarely released from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River.

    This is the season for snow-melt runoff into Lake Estes. In the past 10 days, natural inflow into Lake Estes has increased from a low of about 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) to a peak flow of about 1,020 cfs. Currently, natural inflow is decreasing (around 700 cfs); however, warmer or wetter days could result in natural inflow increasing again and the recent peak inflow could be surpassed.

    Olympus Dam is not an authorized flood control structure. As such, the natural snow-melt or precipitation runoff that flows into Lake Estes is released from Olymus Dam into the Big Thompson River. Under normal operations, Olympus Dam does provide the benefit of shaving off the peak inflow. One way it does so can be explained using recent operations. During two days this week when peak inflow into Lake Estes was about 1,000 cfs, maximum release from the dam was 880 cfs. This is because outflows are generally the day’s average. Outflow does not follow the within-day variation, which ranged from 714 cfs to 1,020 cfs within a 24-hour period. Releases from Olympus Dam in the near term will be driven by whatever Nature provides from the headwaters of the Big Thompson watershed.

    As the snow-melt runoff season progresses, Reclamation will provide information to the public regarding expected flows released from Olympus Dam.

    #Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From email from Reclamation (Brittany Jones):

    The Bureau of Reclamation will increase diversion of Colorado River water to Horsetooth Reservoir at midnight tonight. The change will require a decrease in the Big Thompson River diverted for power generation at Olympus Dam.

    Reclamation is currently releasing 125 cfs to the Big Thompson River from Olympus Dam. The flow will increase to 265 cfs beginning tonight. Our current forecast indicates that runoff into Lake Estes will substantially increase over the next week. It is possible the Olympus Dam required release to the Big Thompson River will exceed 600 cfs.

    Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

    @Northern_Water: Regional Pool Allocation Set at 15,000 Acre-feet

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    The Northern Water Board of Directors allocated 15,000 acre-feet of Regional Pool Program (RPP) water during its May 14, 2020, Board meeting. RPP water is available for lease by eligible Northern Colorado water users, with sealed bids due May 28, 2020. Bid prices per-acre-foot must be greater than or equal to $27.40, a floor price the Board selected based on the 2020 agricultural assessment rate.

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interim procedures have been instituted for the May 2020 RPP allocation. The interim procedure and additional Regional Pool information are available at http://northernwater.org/regionalpool.

    The following forms are required to submit a bid:

  • Pre-Approval Form – To confirm eligibility, interested bidders must email or mail the Pre-Approval Form to Northern Water. In person delivery will not be accepted in 2020. A new Pre-Approval Form is required each year.
  • Carrier Consent Form – If the RPP water will be delivered by a carrier, such as a ditch or reservoir company, bidders and their carriers must complete the Carrier Consent Form or provide a signed agreement stating that the carrier will deliver the RPP water to the bidder. This form must also be emailed or mailed to Northern Water; in person delivery will not be accepted.
  • Bid Form – Sealed bids will be accepted at Northern Water’s headquarters through a “self-serve” process. Bidders will sign in at a kiosk in the lobby and print a bid label for their sealed bid envelope. The label will identify the bidder name, date and time stamp, and bid number. Secure the label to the bid envelope and place in the drop box. Sealed bids may also be mailed to Northern Water, but must be received before the deadline.
  • Sealed bids are due by 2 p.m. May 28 at Northern Water’s headquarters, 220 Water Ave., Berthoud, CO 80513. As described above, sealed bids can be mailed or hand delivered; email and fax bid forms will not be accepted. RPP leases will be awarded based on highest bids per acre-foot. Sealed bids will be opened during a 9 a.m., June 1 Zoom video conference. The link to the Zoom video conference will be available at http://northernwater.org/RegionalPool.

    Many staff are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are not available to answer questions in person. Questions regarding the Regional Pool Program and bid submittal can be emailed to regionalpool@northernwater.org or by calling Sarah Smith at 970-622-2295 or Water Scheduling at 970-292-2500.

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    @Northern_Water increases 2020 C-BT quota to 70 percent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

    Above average regional water storage coupled with above average snowpack prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2020 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 9, 2020, which was held via video to comply with state stay-at-home orders as part of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

    Luke Shawcross, manager of the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows and discussed the available water supplies in regional reservoirs.

    When setting the quota the Board considers current regional reservoir storage levels, forecasted snowpack runoff, availability of water within the C-BT system and public input.

    The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season.

    The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, approximately 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

    Pearl Harbor altered Colorado’s path after 1941, and Covid-19 will also — The Mountain Town News #coronavirus #COVID19

    Boring of the Eisenhower Tunnel began in 1968 and was completed in 1973 at a cost of $117 million. The Colorado Department of Transportation estimated the cost early in the 21st century would have been $1 billion to $1.1 billion. Photo/ C-DOT.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    This pandemic has started feeling like something more than an extended snow day or having the mumps when you’re a child. Perhaps it’s now more like 1941, after Pearl Harbor.

    The potential for a pandemic has been amply reported over the years. People in the early 1940s knew we would inevitably go to war. When abstraction became reality on that December day, so much changed in the context of Colorado.

    In the late 1930s, ski areas were about to blossom. The Union Pacific’s Averell Harriman in 1936 opened Sun Valley in Idaho, and resorts were taking off in New England. Colorado had a few smaller ski areas, including Berthoud and Winter Park, plus town ski areas at Steamboat Springs and Gunnison.

    Others were thinking bigger. In Aspen, a boat-tow had been installed, primitive but effective in transporting people uphill. One of them was Elizabeth Paepcke, the wife of a wealthy Chicago industrialist. She wanted her husband to see Aspen, to see the potential she saw. Others saw a different resort, one on Mount Hayden, in the Castle Creek Valley southwest of Aspen. Colorado legislators gave the venture $650,000, which was backed by a federal fund.

    Closer to Denver, tunnel crews had begun boring an exploratory tunnel under Loveland Pass, with the idea of creating a highway under the Continental Divide. To the west, the state government had used federal New Deal funding to upgrade the horse trail across the Gore Range to a two-lane gravel road. They called it Vail, to honor Charlie Vail, then the boss of the Colorado Highway Department.

    In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt had had engineers develop plans for a national system of highways with separated lanes.

    In Colorado, work had begun on Green Mountain Reservoir. The intent was to provide a service to the Western Slope as a result of the giant trans-mountain diversion planned at Grand Lake to benefit farmers in northeastern Colorado.

    And in northeastern Colorado, my father was working on a dryland farm near Fort Morgan and lopping off the tops of sugar beets in that quiet before the distant clouds of war arrived.

    Pearl Harbor changed everything.

    The war brought the 10th Mountain Division to Colorado, to a high valley along the Continental Divide between Leadville and Red Cliff called Eagle Park. The Army named it Camp Hale, and at the height of the training it was among the largest cities in Colorado, with 14,000 people, mostly men.

    After the war, in 1946, Elizabeth Paepcke’s husband, Walter, finally visited Aspen and saw what had so impressed her. But he put a new touch on it, the idea of invigorating the body and challenging the mind, a DNA that lingers to this day. 10th Mountain Division veterans returned in droves to Colorado to convert Aspen from a derelict mining town into an international resort. A resident, for a time, was Pete Seibert, who had grown up in New England dreaming of creating a ski resort. But he wanted his own resort. That dream in 1962 became Vail.

    In time, my father was inducted into the Army, leaving behind the dryland farm where he was reared and its house, which had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity, and took the train to California for basic training, then a posting at the Presidio, near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Eventually he was shipped to India at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains.

    The bore under Loveland Pass was completed in 1943, but it revealed too much difficult geology for a highway tunnel. Later, a different alignment was chosen, and that tunneling work resulted in the first of two tunnels in 1973.

    The idea of superhighways that many people want to attribute with singularity to Dwight Eisenhower finally was given a federal sponsorship in 1956. Among the Senate sponsors was Albert Gore, father of the future vice president. But if not for the war, it might have happened sooner.

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    As for that big New Deal-era water project, the Colorado-Big Thompson, it was finally completed in 1957.

    And my father returned to northeastern Colorado, married the girl he had met at a gathering of young Baptists in the 1930s and took up work as a carpenter. He never flew again, never traveled abroad, but he did have a taste for curry that was never satisfied. He died before the spread of Indian restaurants in Colorado.

    Vail probably would have happened eventually. The mountain itself and the proximity to Denver made it a natural. But World War II put Pete Seibert into Colorado. Aspen would have flourished, but perhaps in a different way. As for Mount Hayden, it came to nothing, in its own way perhaps a casualty of World War II.

    This pandemic is different than World War II, and we have to go back further to see precedent. In 1918, Gunnison quarantined itself and survived with little loss of life, while Silverton, as remote a town as there may be in Colorado, isolated in the icy fastness of the San Juan Mountains, lost 10% of its population.

    In this COVID-19 pandemic, the first case in Colorado was a visitor to Summit County who had recently been in Italy, then Australian visitors to Aspen-Snowmass. But then Eagle County flared, and as of early this week had 22 cases from the Vail area compared to 24 in Denver County, which has a population about 12 times as large. County officials on Thursday said they suspected hundreds, if not thousands, had contracted COVID-19.

    A century ago the influenza spread globally, but by rail instead of by air. The world has shrunk, with consequences both good and bad.

    We will survive this pandemic, but there will be changes. I sincerely doubt we’ll see the significant expansion at DIA that had been announced just a few months ago. That may actually be good.

    Can other good also result? Many of us hope that it will result in greater acceptance of facts, more acceptance of science. Ideology played a powerful role in the sluggish, or worse, acceptance of the virus by powerful people, most notably the president. That same ideology, the same denial, has shrugged off or rejected the power of accumulating greenhouse gases to produce costly changes in our climate.

    I hope we develop a greater sense of a global community. It could easily take us the other way, one exemplified by the run on guns and ammunition. What we see early on, the sniping between President Trump and his counterparts in China, is not encouraging.

    This was first posted by the Colorado Independent.

    The latest @Northern_Water E-Waternews is hot off the presses

    Southern Water Supply Project Map via Northern Water.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Final pipeline pieces get put into place for Southern Water Supply Project II

    The contractors for the Southern Water Supply Project II reached a significant milestone last month with the installation of the final portion of pipeline.

    The final piece was placed along the 20-mile route near Carter Lake in southern Larimer County. The pipeline, funded by the City of Boulder, Left Hand Water District, Longs Peak Water District and the Town of Berthoud, will bring water supplies to those communities year-round.

    While the installation of pipeline is complete, additional work remains. Northern Water technicians are installing and programming equipment for integration into its SCADA system, and testing of the pipeline segments for quality assurance is ongoing. Northern Water anticipates the pipeline will start carrying water to its destination at Boulder Reservoir in April.

    Beyond the pipeline, however, work will continue on another important aspect of construction: reclamation of disturbed ground. The pipeline runs through easements on a variety of public and private properties, and reclamation crews will be working with those entities to ensure lands are reclaimed to their owners’ satisfaction.

    Garney Construction was the lead contractor for the $44 million project.

    A video of the final pipeline is available here.

    To learn more, go to http://swsp2.org.

    Rising cost of water rights in Loveland squeezes local developers — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Lake Loveland

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Carina Julig):

    Water in Loveland comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts water over the Continental Divide to the Front Range. Over the past several years, units of water from the project have soared in price as Northern Colorado’s population has grown and development increases.

    From 2010 to 2019, the average price of C-BT units rose from $7,000 to $55,000. The amount of water in a C-BT unit is set yearly by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — Northern Water — and fluctuates based on the amount of snowpack and forecast streamflows for that year. In 2019, it was set at 70 percent of an acre-foot…

    The city of Loveland requires developers to bring their own water rights to a project or to purchase water from the city. The city’s cash-in-lieu price for water rights is pegged to the market value and has steadily risen alongside it.

    At the Loveland Utilities Commission meeting Dec. 18, the city approved raising the cash-in-lieu price of C-BT units to $47,640. It last raised the price in July to $39,330.

    The city asks developers to pay their own way so that they don’t cut into the city’s water resources for the future, said Joe Bernosky, the director of Loveland Water and Power.

    “What we’re doing is we’re to trying to make them pay their own way so the existing citizens don’t have to pay or we don’t kick the can down the road,” Bernosky said. “And that’s not a good way to do business when you’re a utility.”

    Cash-in-lieu money the city receives from developers all goes toward firming up the city’s water portfolio, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the Water and Power utility.

    There’s no profit incentive to increasing the cash-in-lieu price, Howard stressed. The city is just reacting to market conditions and doesn’t have a lot of options.

    The rising cost of water is making it harder to build more affordable housing in Loveland, something the city badly needs. Jeff Feneis, director of the Loveland Housing Authority, said water rights are one of the organization’s biggest challenges.

    In order to help mitigate the increasing cost of water, the city recently recalculated the water rights necessary per building unit. The change, which went into effect this September, applies only to residential buildings.

    Due to more efficient building practices such as more efficient appliances, new houses require less water than older ones do. In light of this, the city reduced the required amount of water for a single-family dwelling from about one-quarter of an acre-foot to about one-tenth.

    @Northern_Water district’s fall symposium recap

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Carina Julig):

    More than 300 people attended the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall symposium [November 20, 2019] at the Embassy Suites in Loveland to discuss the region’s water future.

    Several city officials from Loveland attended, including City Council member Steve Olson…

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    The majority of Northern Colorado’s water comes from the Colorado River, over the Continental Divide. Water is diverted through Rocky Mountains by the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and stored in reservoirs.

    As water flows become more unpredictable, with droughts some years and heavy snowfalls in other, having the infrastructure to store larger quantities of water is becoming increasingly important…

    The city has rights to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and the Windy Gap Project as well as rights to water from the Eastern Slope.

    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

    Most of Loveland’s water comes from the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, which stores water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Water & Power is currently updating its raw water master plan, which details how the city will provide water to customers for several decades, Bernosky said.

    As Loveland’s population has grown, water usage has remained relatively flat, due to more efficient home and building construction. The city has been on a 20-year trend of reducing its gallons per capita per day, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the city of Loveland’s water resources division.

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    If the Chimney Hollow Reservoir project goes through, Loveland will have adequate water supply through 2060, Howard said. The city has rights to 10.5% of the water in the proposed reservoir, which is currently being held up by a lawsuit.

    Brian Werner 38 Years With Northern Water, A Celebration at the Source and Heart of Western Water Education! — Greg Hobbs

    Eric Wilkinson, left, and Brian Werner, on the job. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Brian Werner 38 Years With Northern Water,
    A Celebration at the Source and Heart
    of Western Water Education!

    When we look to the future
    it’s no more fortuitous

    than finding each other
    on the journey of the great

    surveys of our lives.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    @Northern_Water Symposium, November 20, 2019

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    Video: The Colorado-Big Thompson Project — @Northern_Water

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    Reservoir agreement helps trout by borrowing endangered fish water — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Some rejiggering of reservoir operations in the upper Colorado River watershed is taking the heat off trout in Grand County through the early release of water that had been set aside for endangered fish in Mesa County.

    The approach is being made possible by storing water elsewhere so it can be released for the endangered fish when they need it later.

    Under the agreement involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River District, an additional 35 cubic feet per second of water started being released last week from Lake Granby, also known as Granby Reservoir, in the Colorado River headwaters. That nearly doubled Colorado River flows immediately downstream.

    The increased flows help reduce daytime temperatures in the river, which had begun topping 60 degrees and threatening the health of trout. The releases involve water normally stored in Granby for use in boosting flows in the river near Grand Junction for endangered fish such as the humpback chub and razorback sucker.

    The endangered fish still will get water under the deal, however. In exchange for the additional water coming out of Granby, the river district is withholding 35 cfs of water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, which sits above Kremmling on Muddy Creek, a Colorado River tributary. That’s below the problem stretch of the Colorado River, thanks to inflows to the river coming from Muddy Creek and other tributaries, so the Wolford water that’s being withheld doesn’t hold the importance to the trout that the released Granby water does.

    “There’s plenty of water in the river except for in that stretch below Granby,” said Jim Pokrandt, a river district spokesman.

    Pokrandt said the Colorado River is currently a “free river” right now in Colorado. There are no calls on it to meet the needs of senior water rights holders when flows are more limited. But the upper stretch in Grand County in the Hot Sulphur Springs area is depleted due to transmountain diversions to the Front Range.

    Withholding the Wolford water means it will be available for the endangered fish during lower-flow periods on the Colorado River in Mesa County, in lieu of the water that is being released from Granby.

    Firestone: Fred Sekich Farm to be auctioned off August 28, 2019, split into smaller parcels, and the water rights sold separately

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    From The Denver Post (Mark Samuelson):

    …the game of selling farm property has changed — particularly the auction game — as information technology makes offerings much more attractive for sellers and widens the opportunities for buyers and investors.

    “Today’s farm auction is structured to create better potential for the buyer,” says Scott Shuman, partner in Hall and Hall, brokers and auctioneers who have been selling western real estate since the 1940s. In 2010, Hall and Hall made a move into auctioning — and have been pioneers in structuring auctions to get better returns for farm sellers.

    When the Fred Sekich Farm, east of I-25, north of Firestone, is auctioned at The Ranch/Larimer County Event Complex on Aug. 28, its 546 acres will be cut into 58 offerings — one as small as 4 acres, one as large as 141 acres, with the parceled surface water rights (176 Colorado-Big Thompson Units and 18.75 ditch shares) auctioned separately.

    Those water rights may be as valuable as the land, maybe more.

    “Water is gold,” says Rick Sekich, who along with his mom and two brothers are the sellers…

    Grandpa Nick Sekich would have had little idea the value that surface water would hold as Colorado grows.

    “It’s really gone up,” says Sherri Rasmussen, contract manager for Northern Water, administering the CB-T’s vast distribution all the way east to Sedgwick County. When the project began in the 1930s, an acre-foot sold for $1.50; by 2013, it was 10,000 times that…

    All of this could stay agricultural — selling to an owner with holdings nearby. But either way, Shuman adds, sellers make out better in these auction sales, where buyers have an opportunity to customize a purchase…

    Hall and Hall, with 15 offices across the West, is in Eaton, Colo., 800-829-8747. The complete sale catalog is at HallandHall.com.

    The latest “E-WaterNews” is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water:

    A “rooster tail” is formed by the water descending the Granby Dam spillway on July 19. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Cool spring, late storms fill C-BT Project

    A cool and wet spring in Northern Colorado coupled by unusual late snowstorms combined to top off the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in 2019.

    At Lake Granby, water reached the spillway over the weekend of July 13-14. In the days before that, managers had been releasing additional water into the Colorado River to make room for incoming snowmelt.

    Because of a storm that dumped snow on the headwaters of the Colorado River on June 21, the inflow into Lake Granby climbed significantly. While earlier models had indicated Lake Granby wouldn’t fill, that storm boosted streamflows considerably.

    Northern Water was not the only organization surprised by the late snowmelt and heavy late-season storms. Denver Water, which manages Lake Dillon and collects water at the headwaters of the Fraser River, reported the snowpack that feeds its system was also far above normal this year.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Brad Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District based in Berthoud, and Jim Hall, Northern Water’s senior water resources engineer, briefed the LSPWCD’s board of directors on Northern’s efforts to keep Colorado-Big Thompson water from leaving the Northern District…

    Wind told the Lower board that Northern is working to enforce Article 19 of the 1938 contract between Northern Water and the federal government, known as the Project Repayment Contract. That article, one of 27 contained in the contract, specifies that all seepage and return flows from the use of Colorado-Big Thompson project water are reserved to Northern Water and are not to be taken outside the district’s boundaries.

    On May 9, Northern adopted a resolution saying it would “take appropriate actions to enforce Article 19 consistent its interpretation of Article 19.”

    Wind said the heavy lifting in that effort will be tracking how C-BT water, and resulting seepage and return flow, are used. He used the phrase “colors of water,” which is a concept that holds that, through close monitoring and accounting, mixed waters from various sources actually can be tracked through multiple uses. For instance, water that is native to the South Platte Basin can be accounted differently from C-BT water, which is diverted from the Colorado River into Grand Lake and piped through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park and held in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake for distribution to C-BT members.

    Return flows are water that has been diverted from the river, used to irrigate crops or for municipal use, and either seeps back to the river through the ground or is discharged after treatment. Much of the river’s flow in the lower reaches in late summer and through the winter is from return flows from upstream use. Return flows are crucial to irrigators in Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

    “To protect return flows, we have to know what they are,” Wind said. “We have to be able to quantify what return flows are coming from C-BT use and what’s from native water. It’s complicated.”

    Hall told the Lower board that there is the danger that “change of use” cases going through Colorado water courts could result in return flows from C-BT water being shipped out of the Northern district in violation of Article 19.

    “We’re starting to see change cases on irrigation ditches moving water outside the district boundaries,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s important to track this stuff. It’s easier to track municipal water because we can look at their (wastewater treatment facility) discharges, but it’s harder to prove agricultural return flows.”

    Hall said return flows from native water are not subject to Article 19, only C-BT return flows.

    Wind said Northern will be watching closely all change of use cases that go through Colorado’s water courts and will continue monitoring water usage in the district to make sure C-BT water doesn’t leave the district.

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news: @Northern_Water declares a 70% quota for the 2019 season #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR. Granby Dam was retrofitted with a hydroelectric component and began producing electricity earlier this year as water is released in the Colorado River.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry):

    Unit owners of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which delivers Colorado River water from the wet Western Slope to the dryer Front Range, will get 70% of their quota this year, according to a Northern Water news release.

    The 70% allocation means that a farmer who owns 10 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water will get seven in a year, with the remaining three kept in storage for use in dry years…

    In wet years like this one, Northern sometimes downsizes the quota of Colorado-Big Thompson water distributed, since native streams can be full enough to provide farmers late-season growing supply, which provides Northern a storage opportunity for use in dry years.

    But the move to boost the Colorado-Big Thompson quota from 50% — the level normally set at the start of Northern’s water year in November just to get users through the winter so snowfall can inform spring allocation rates — ensures farmers will have a more flexible late growing season.

    The quota increases available Colorado-Big Thompson water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50% quota made available in November…

    The snow-water equivalent mark for the Upper Colorado Basin is 120% of the normal median as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, with snowpack levels in other river basins across the southwest at even higher marks. But KUNC and The Aspen Times reported this year that despite the good snowfall this winter, officials predict spring runoff won’t be enough to replenish reservoirs across the southwest, because years of drought have left dry soil that sucks up extra drops.

    “Modeled soil moisture conditions as of November 15th were below average over most of the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin,” the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center stated in its April 1 report. “In the Upper Colorado River Mainstem River Basin, soil moisture conditions were below average in headwater basins along the Continental Divide, and closer to average downstream.”

    Water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area, across parts of eight counties, the Northern release said.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

    Loveland: @Northern_Water Spring Water Users Meeting Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    Click here to read the agenda.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson water units increasingly packaged for lease to N. #Colorado farmers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

    From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

    As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.

    And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.

    Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.

    Farmers own less, but still get half

    When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.

    In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.

    But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.

    That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.

    ‘Nearly out of range’

    Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.

    Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.

    But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…

    Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.

    The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.

    No longer a ‘go-to’ supply

    Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.

    “We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.

    “It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”

    Storage may preserve agriculture

    With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.

    Windsor is looking at buying into the Windy Gap Firming Project

    Windsor Lake/Mummy Range

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

    But as the [town board] looks at other plans to add water, it could introduce higher rate increases, higher fees for developers — or a combination of both. It just depends on the projects Windsor participates in.

    As the town grows, it’s looking at ways to prepare for an increase in water use. Among the recommendations Windsor Water Resource Manager John Thornhill presented to the board is to look at joining Windy Gap Firming Project and maintain participation the Northern Integrated Supply Project — both massive water supply projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Windsor is one of 15 northern Colorado communities already planning participating in NISP, which is also managed by Northern Water.

    The project, which would also impact Evans, would provide 40,000 acre-feet of raw water to all of the participants — enough for 80,000 families. Of that, Windsor would get 3,300 acre-feet of water, 8.25 percent of the total project.

    Still, town officials project that Windsor will need to supply 15,803 acre-feet of water in the future. That leaves the town with an 8,731 acre-foot gap in the total amount of water the town is currently has plans for — including NISP — and what officials know they will need in the future.

    In addition to participating in the Northern Water projects, Thornhill recommended budgeting money for water conservation, as well as acquiring new water from other providers in the region, such as the North Weld County Water District.

    As it stands now, Windsor’s treatable water supply comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a Northern Water project that delivers more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year to 960,000 people in the eight counties it serves.

    @USBR revises release forecasts for Olympus and Ruedi dams

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    Due to revised demands, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River are scheduled to rise from 83 to 101 cubic feet per second (cfs) tonight at midnight (cusp between Thursday and Friday), 21 September. Earlier this week I announced releases from Olympus Dam were planned to rise to 225 cfs and that figure has since changed significantly.

    At this point in our forecast, we do not anticipate releases to the Big Thompson River rising above 150 cfs as we use the river to deliver C-BT Project water. On that subject, use of the Big Thompson to make project water deliveries is slated to run through October 12, and those deliveries vary frequently. I will of course continue to provide updates while keeping in mind the old adage: “Plans are disposable. Planning is indispensable.”

    A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.

    From email from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    Yesterday, I messaged you that we at Reclamation no longer planned to increase releases to 400 cubic feet per second (cfs) from Ruedi Dam to the Fryingpan River but would instead be maintaining releases at 355 cfs. That change holds, but I wanted to further explain this.

    Due to the persistence of very low river flow conditions in the Colorado River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with Reclamation engineers and other Program partners, has decided to reduce the rate of release of Endangered Fish Recovery Program water stored in Ruedi Reservoir to allow these releases to be extended further into October. The reduced rate of release will enable a longer duration of “fish water” to be delivered to the 15-Mile Reach over the upcoming weeks, optimizing its benefits to the endangered fish.

    #Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: @USBR expects releases to the Big Thompson River to increase significantly

    Olympus Dam releases June 2011.

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting a notable increase in releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River beginning on September 20, 2018.

    As of today, September 18, releases from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River are at 26 cubic feet per second (cfs). Between September 20th and October 12, releases are expected to rise to approximately 225 cfs.

    This forecast assumes native inflows into Lake Estes as well as irrigation demands will not change significantly from our current projections, but both are subject to unexpected fluctuations.

    @Northern_Water turns dirt on Southern Water Supply Project

    Southern Water Supply Project

    From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

    Work on the pipeline, known as phase two of the Southern Water Supply Project, is being overseen by Northern Water, which manages Carter Lake as part of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.

    Once complete, the pipeline will improve water quality and delivery reliability compared to the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal that currently brings water from Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir.

    The new pipeline will pump 50 cubic feet per second of Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap Project water, with Boulder receiving the bulk of the water among participants at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment plant, the pipeline’s terminus.

    Boulder will receive 32 cubic feet per second and bear $32 million of the cost, according to city spokeswoman Gretchen King, while Left Hand Water District — which serves a 130-square-mile area between Longmont and Boulder — will receive 12 cubic feet per second and pay about $8 million for its share of the project…

    Left Hand will have another $2 million of cost from the district’s addition of a hydroelectric generator at the intersection of the new Southern Water Supply pipeline and the entrance to the district’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant. The generator will produce enough power to satisfy about a third of the plant’s electricity need, according to district Manager Christopher Smith…

    Berthoud and Longs Peak Water District — which serves Boulder and Weld County residents in an area north of Longmont — will each receive 3 cubic feet per second, but on Thursday officials from the town and district could not to provide their share of the costs of the remaining $4 million for the project.

    Smith noted the pipeline, which has an estimated completion date of March 2020, will not only further protect water quality, but also will allow year-round water delivery to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

    “During some portions of the year the pipeline will act as the primary source of raw water for the participants in the project,” the Northern Water release states.

    Currently, the Boulder Feeder Canal is offline from Oct. 31 to April 1 annually, Smith said. When the canal is down, so, too, is the Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

    When the pipeline is complete, the Dodd Plant will be open year-round.

    The first 12 miles of new pipeline, from Carter Lake to St. Vrain Road in Longmont, will parallel the existing Southern Water Supply Project pipeline, which was runs to Broomfield and was completed in 1999.

    From St. Vrain Road, the new pipeline will continue south to the Boulder Reservoir Treatment Plant.

    Front Range water group pushes back project that would pull from #ColoradoRiver, citing lawsuit — @AspenJournalism #COriver

    A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the project.

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District had hoped to have the project, now estimated at $570 million, under construction by early 2019 and completed by 2023, but now it is uncertain when construction will begin because of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver late last year.

    “Our original schedule was to be out to bid about right now and we would be selling bonds right now,” Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering, said earlier this month.

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir is at the core of what’s known as the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern, through its affiliated municipal subdistrict, plans to build the 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to provide a “firm annual yield” of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility.

    About 9,000 acre-feet a year of additional water is expected to be diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River as a result of the project.

    The 346-foot-tall dam, which would be the third tallest in Colorado, is located between Loveland and Longmont in Larimer County next to an existing reservoir, Carter Lake.

    Drager said since the litigation was filed last year Northern has taken the opportunity to do more engineering and design work on the dam, including the upcoming drilling of 40 holes to further explore softer rock found at the location of the left abutment of the dam.

    “We’re now scheduled to be at a point where we could go out to bid for construction and issue bonds probably in February or March,” he said.

    But at that point Drager said Northern would have to see what progress has been made in the lawsuit.

    “If I had to guess,” he said, “I’d say we’ll be slowed down.”

    The parties in the lawsuit are waiting for the judge in the case to rule on if the voluminous administrative record in the case is complete, including on a motion to add a recent report commissioned by Save the Colorado on actual water use, and if motions to intervene in the case by Northern, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the city of Broomfield will be accepted…

    The lawsuit contends that a review of the proposed project by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed and that the resulting approvals should be overturned.

    The federal review of the project began 2003. Reclamation issued its approval in 2014 and the Corps issued its approval in May 2017.

    Five nonprofit environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October, including Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, Living Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians. The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit in November.

    “The Windy Gap Firming Project is an apt example of inadequate analysis and poor decision-making that will ultimately result in significant new diversions from the Colorado River to provide the Front Range with unneeded water supply,” the environmental groups told the court in a recent brief.

    The delay in issuing bonds means that the 12 entities paying for the project will have to contribute $10 million in cash to allow Northern to keep the project moving forward, instead of using money expected to be available after selling municipal bonds. The 12 entities have put in $34 million to date toward the project.

    “We had hoped that our funding for 2019 was going to come from sale of the bonds and starting construction, but because of the litigation that we have, that’s delayed a little bit,” Drager told Northern’s board of directors at a meeting in Berthoud on August 9. “That $10 million will be provided by the participants in early 2019 and that should carry us through, we hope, until we are ready to put the project out to bid and sell the bonds to pay the rest of the cost.”

    Northern owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which includes the huge Lake Granby Reservoir and the Adams Tunnel that sends over 200,000 acre-feet of water of Colorado River each year under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east slope.

    The C-BT Project also diverts water pumped up from the relatively small 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, built in the early 1980s to serve as a pumping forebay on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County.

    But Windy Gap is limited in how much water it can deliver because of its junior water rights and instream-flow obligations below the dam.

    Northern says Chimney Hollow Reservoir will allow it to pump water from Windy Gap in wetter years and store the water until needed in drier years by the 12 participating entities, which include Broomfield, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland.

    But the environmental groups say the federal agencies reviewed the proposed project with an overly narrow focus on how to fix the Windy Gap project and not on other potential ways to meet Front Range water demands.

    “Reclamation did not seriously consider reasonable alternatives to provide water to Windy Gap participants and allowed (Northern) to plow ahead with its original choice — the firming project — and double down on its busted bet,” the lawsuit states.

    Reclamation and the Corps told the court in May that the agencies conducted “an independent evaluation” and concluded the project “is needed to meet a portion of the existing and future water needs of the growing east slope municipalities.”

    Northern, on its website, points out “the project has been approved by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It also has support from several environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited.”

    The support from some environmental organizations, including Trout Unlimited, stems from the mitigation measures designed to reduce its impact on the Colorado River headwaters, including a new bypass, or connectivity, channel that will allow more of the river to flow past the Windy Gap Reservoir.

    Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, has also appealed to Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper Alliance, to drop the lawsuit.

    “Any lawsuit that delays or stops this work is a detriment to the Colorado River,” Currant wrote in Oct. 2017. “If the Windy Gap Project does not go forward, the hard-won concessions evaporate, and the Colorado River will continue to degrade.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins for The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on its website on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

    Loveland tries to unravel the knot of future water supply

    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Julia Rentsch):

    Forecasting a future in flux

    By 2042, the city of Loveland is projected to demand 30,000 acre-feet of water a year, according to projections calculated by Loveland Water and Power staff. Comparatively, the city currently needs about 18,000 acre-feet annually, and the city’s diverse portfolio of water sources yields a firm 22,400 acre-feet each year.

    One acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre of land, one foot deep. It’s about enough water to supply two homes for a year, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the city of Loveland’s water resources division.

    Meanwhile, both the city’s population and acreage is growing.

    Loveland’s 2017 data and assumptions report states the city now has a population of 74,385 within a 35 square mile area, and at ultimate buildout will cover 66 square miles. By 2042, Loveland’s population is estimated to hit 110,000 people, according to the same report.

    But, simultaneously, per-capita water consumption has been steadily falling nationwide over the past 20 years due to efficient fixtures and conservation initiatives, Bernosky said. Additionally, the introduction of metered water rates has played a role in reducing use compared to the previous flat monthly fee, Greene said.

    Luckily for the city, one variable is already locked in: The city of Loveland’s water district is surrounded on all sides by other districts, so the area it will serve is finite.

    Nevertheless, Bernosky said it is very difficult to take these trends and accurately predict the city’s water needs. There are a lot of pitfalls in forecasting the future as development patterns shift or decline, technology advances, natural events like droughts take place, economic factors play in and unexpected events occur, he said.

    “It’s very, very confusing right now,” he said. “A lot of it is very much in flux.”

    The latest E-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    New website offers better access to Windy Gap Firming Project info

    Northern Water and the Municipal Subdistrict have launched a revamped website to provide easy-to-find data regarding the Windy Gap Firming Project and its chief component, Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

    The site, http://chimneyhollow.org, offers answers to frequently asked questions, information for potential contractors and download-ready fact sheets. In addition, it offers a video from Gov. John Hickenlooper that discusses his endorsement of the project as well as its place in the the Colorado Water Plan.

    As the project moves forward, the site will also present information related to the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir as well as the mitigation and enhancement efforts being conducted by Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict.

    The project also has a presence on Facebook, found here.

    A look at “Buy and Dry”

    Photo credit: Allen Best

    From KUNC (luke Runyon, Matt Bloom & Esther Honig):

    “Buy and dry” describes a class of water transactions that typically involve a municipality or other local government paying the owner of a farm for some or all of their available water rights.

    It’s a slow, mostly invisible flow of water from the region’s heritage industry — agriculture — to a new powerhouse: real estate development and urban growth.

    The transactions go back decades, with plenty of cautionary tales to guide both farmers and government officials, casting various Front Range cities and Eastern Plains farming communities as both villains and victims.

    Concern about the practice has reached a fever pitch. The state’s water plan, adopted in 2015, frowns at buy and dry tactics. Water prices continue to rise. Some alternative methods for leasing water are slowly being implemented, at the same time multi-million dollar checks are passed from developers and city planners to farm families.

    Urban growth is a driver

    The practice of buy and dry is primarily driven by the growth of water-short cities – of all sizes – along the Front Range. According to Colorado’s State Demography Office, communities along the I-25 corridor in Weld and Larimer counties are the fastest growing. Populations there are increasing at a rate twice as fast as the state as a whole…

    Windsor, like many fast-growing Front Range communities, sees agricultural water as a viable source to supplement future growth. As recently as May, Windsor purchased water rights from at least two different farming families, according to allotment contracts from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    One purchase was of units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson Project from the John Ernest Lucken Revocable Trust. The other with the Andrew H. Blase Family Trust.

    In both cases Wagner says he doesn’t know whether the town’s purchases led to farms “drying up.”

    “I’m not sure of what’s happened to those farms,” he said. “Whether they still have enough water rights to irrigate or whether they’ve reduced the farming acreage.”

    Wagner added that Windsor, unlike other cities, has not specifically purchased farms to own them and take the water off them. When asked about the likelihood of the town doing that, Wagner said it very well could…

    Water rights worth millions

    For farmers in the West, access to water is a key part of making agriculture possible in an arid region. Without irrigation farmers are significantly limited on the range of crops they can grow and in the profitability of the land they own.

    With commodity crop and milk prices at low points, selling water rights can help make a farm operation whole.

    That’s the case for Colorado dairy farmer Timothy Bernhardt, just down the road from Windsor in Milliken. The Bernhardt family has farmed there since the 1920s. Access to water to quench the thirst of his 900 dairy cows is essential, Bernhardt says.

    “Cattle drink a lot of water, so about 50 to 100 gallons of water a day,” he says. “So it’s critical for milk production because milk is made up mostly of water.”

    In May Bernhardt and his brother made the choice to sell 175 units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — about 57 million gallons — to the city of Milliken for nearly $5 million.

    That money will be used to pay off debt, Bernhardt says. Like many businesses, farms rely on loans and credit to operate and the brothers wanted to pay it off because they’re each older than 60 and looking at retirement. Their children aren’t interested in running a dairy farm, so when they retire, the business ends with them…

    Cautionary tales

    There’s no arm-twisting in buy and dry, cities are often quick to say. These transactions involve willing buyers and sellers. Cities get what they need — new water supplies — and farm families get an opportunity to pay off debt, make on-farm upgrades or retire.

    But on a regional-scale, water managers and government officials are troubled. Water flowing from farms to the Front Range means a movement of power and economic activity, from rural areas to cities. Take the Colorado-Big Thompson Project as an example.

    When the vast network of reservoirs was originally built in the 1930s to transport water from the state’s wetter Western Slope to the east, agriculture was the majority user of its stored water. Today, 70% of the project’s water is used by municipalities and industry…

    Conversations about buy and dry often turn to the Arkansas River valley and the communities of Crowley, Ordway and Sugar City. Water managers don’t really have to imagine what a future of rampant buy and dry could look like. It has already happened there…

    Cronin and a handful of other water managers in the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group recently started a conversation about what it would take to allow Front Range cities to keep growing, without draining farms in the process. It looked like at least three — maybe four — new reservoirs positioned along the South Platte River to the stateline with Nebraska to supplement water supplies for cities and farmers.

    Cronin cautions that these are preliminary discussions.

    He calls the discussion of new reservoirs a “generational” one — if the idea gains enough supporters for it to happen at all. Large-scale water projects often take decades in planning, permitting and litigation before a shovel hits the ground. This one would likely follow a similar timeline, Cronin says. Questions still linger about how much it would cost, another big hurdle to bringing it to fruition.

    Greeley to allow developers to pay cash-in-lieu of water

    Greeley in 1870 via Denver Public Library

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    In Greeley, developers have historically been required to bring water to the table for any proposed development.

    Often, that water is associated with whatever piece of land the developer bought, so it’s an easy transfer.

    But when the land has already been dried up, developers are forced to hit the open market, competing with other developers to buy water at increasingly higher prices.

    “The way it is now, it’s kind of driving water prices up,” said Martin Lind, a major Front Range developer. “You’ve got 50 developers looking for small (portions) of water here and there.”

    In Greeley, there are fewer pieces of land with water rights still attached than ever before, and if Greeley wants to continue to grow — and city leaders say it must — officials say they’ve got to do something.

    Greeley’s solution, in the works since at least 2003, exchanges buckets of water for buckets of cash, as city leaders contemplate a transition to a system that allows developers to pay cash-in-lieu of water, a system officials say would be less burdensome on developers.

    That plan, based both on a dwindling supply of water and upon Greeley’s ability to potentially strike better deals, likely wouldn’t be approved until August.

    For Harold Evans, chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board and a man who has experience in Colorado real estate, the plan would be good for everyone.

    “It gives (developers more options),” Evans said. “I think it will be a positive for the development community.”

    SMART WATER

    Greeley’s water planning goes out to 2065, and the city has been engaged in an aggressive, multi-phase water buying plan during the past several years.

    The city owns most of the water in its projected growth area — the areas not yet within city limits but expected to be one day, areas like the ones between Weld County roads 17 and 13, north of U.S. 34.

    With that in mind, it’s easy to see why there are fewer water resources available for developers.

    Take Journey Homes, which is building a 400-home development at the southwest corner of 83rd Avenue and 10th Street in west Greeley.

    Journey Homes Principal Larry Buckendorf said water comes first in almost everything Journey does.

    “For Journey, it’s water,” Buckendorf said. “That is the first consideration that we look into — what are the municipalities’ raw water requirements and what kind of water is attached to the land? It’s item No. 1.”

    Journey followed probably the simplest process available. It bought the land and the water that came with the land and deeded it to the city.

    But what happens when there’s no water attached to the land? That’s literally a growing problem as agriculture users sell their water rights to growing municipalities across the Front Range.

    The answer, for Greeley, is to let developers pay cash for water they don’t have. Buckendorf said it’s always good to have more options, and he said he has always enjoyed working with Greeley.

    Today, Greeley allows developers to pay cash-in-lieu of water for just 8 acre-feet of water.

    To give some perspective, Journey Homes’ development sits on 166 acres. Greeley requires 3 acre-feet of water for every acre of land. That means the city required 498 acre-feet of water from Journey, and Journey could bring cash to the table for just 8 of those.

    Switching fully to cash-in-lieu wouldn’t necessarily reduce developers’ costs, as Greeley will factor in not just the cost of water but the relative costs of storage expansion projects and system upkeep. But it would reduce the headache of buying water on the open market.

    “We see that we need to start to do a transition to support development,” Water and Sewer Director Burt Knight said. “If I don’t do a transition, and you don’t have water tied to the property, I’m forcing you into the market to buy C-BT (Colorado-Big Thompson). That’s a very difficult market, and it’s expensive.”

    A nice, round, roughly accurate number is $30,000 per acre-foot. If Journey paid cash, it would be out $14.9 million just in water — before selling a single home.

    To recoup those costs, Journey would need to take out about $40,000 from each of the 400 homes it’s building in west Greeley. That helps explain why housing affordability is so difficult to attain, officials say.

    “Before you’ve moved any dirt, before you’ve bought the land, before you’ve done anything, you have to calculate about $100,000 per each acre just for the water,” Greeley Community Development Director Brad Mueller said.

    It’s possible more housing stock would help drive prices lower, and Greeley does have room to grow. Today, Mueller said the city has more jobs than houses, and that’s an imbalance — although not the worst version of such an imbalance — city officials hope to fix at least in part by switching to the cash-in-lieu system.

    DIFFERENT STROKES

    Brian Werner is the spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages a number of projects, including the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

    That project diverts water across the continental divide to the Front Range. Talk to anyone who knows water and they’ll say it’s the best water. Why? Well, first, it comes from high in the Rocky Mountains, fed by snowmelt.

    Second, unlike almost any other water source in Colorado, it can be used for anything in the South Platte River Basin, all the way to Julesberg and Nebraska, without a decade-long water court battle to change its use. To clarify, if a city buys water that has historically been used to water crops, it must go to court and get approval to use the water for residential development.

    Because there are no such requirements for CBT water, though, it’s costly. Werner said an auction earlier this year featured $30,000-per-unit prices.

    In 1957, the first year the CBT project was in operation, units sold for $1.50 apiece, Werner said. If CBT water shares simply followed inflation, they would cost $13.47 per share today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.

    And back then, 85 percent of the units were owned by agriculture producers. Today, that’s 30 percent.

    Werner said that won’t get much lower, as there are a few large farming operations that might not ever sell.

    All of that, combined with developers needing the water to help Front Range cities grow, leads to price increases.

    It’s another reason Greeley is looking to switch to a cash-based system.

    But the same problem leads to different solutions.

    Many smaller water districts and municipalities are actually taking an opposite approach to the problem, forcing developers to bring water to the table so those water districts don’t have to deal with the open market.

    Werner said there’s no way to say either system represents a smarter approach to water policy, as a variety of factors affect any given water district. And he certainly wouldn’t criticize Greeley, a city he uses as an example of proper water planning.

    “They’ve done one of the best jobs in northern Colorado of building a water portfolio,” Werner said. “They’ve been doing it for 150 years, so they’ve got a better starting position than some of these newer communities.”

    GROWING PROBLEM

    Knight said without the impending change to the way Greeley manages water, it would be difficult if not impossible for new development to move forward.

    It begs a question, though: Is there pressure to grow at the expense of smart water policy?

    Even if Knight and Mueller said they’ve never felt that pressure, there’s enough at stake that Greeley regularly studies its neighbor municipalities when it comes to water and development policy.

    Every five years, the city looks at prices and trends and compares itself with others. The most recent study, completed in July 2015 by BBC Research and Consulting, cost $41,876.27, and the study looked at the 21 fastest-growing municipalities across the Front Range.

    That study showed Greeley’s costs, including the amount of water required to be deeded to the city, impact fees and tap fees, were above average among those municipalities, and called the high cost of water significant for developers and new homebuyers.

    The prices have only gone up since July 2015, but even then, Greeley’s costs were $36,271 per home — $8,000 higher than average. With CBT shares going for $5,000 more today than before, the costs are closer to $40,000 per home today.

    Some of the other municipalities were similar, including Johnstown, which was higher in 2015 at $35,000 per home, and Windsor ($28,500 per home).

    Others were far lower, including $11,375 in Evans and $10,000 for the Central Weld Water District, which covers a vast swath of rural Weld County from Evans and Kersey down to Firestone. Longmont and Lafayette were below $10,000.

    “There are some communities that we kind of shake our head,” Knight said, refusing to name names. “It looks either low or high. The ones that are low make us wonder, ‘Are they making themselves vulnerable in the future?’ ”

    So how does Greeley compete for new development with costs like that?

    Buckendorf said the costs tend to shake out in the end.

    “Land sellers are very astute,” Buckendorf said. “They know if the raw water requirement is less, they’ll ask for more for their land.”

    Knight said Greeley sets its rates in such a way as to ensure the city recoups the necessary costs, and typically that leaves Greeley somewhere in the middle of the city’s Front Range neighbors.

    “It’s important for Greeley residents to appreciate that we have a current water board and history of water board members who have been very serious stewards of the water for the community,” Mueller said.

    Brad Wind named @NorthernWater general manager #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Brad Wind. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Jeff Stahla):

    Colorado native Brad Wind has been chosen to lead Northern Water as the organization’s sixth general manager in its 81-year history.

    Wind, who most recently had served as the assistant general manager, Administration Division, was formally named to the position April 6 by the Northern Water Board of Directors.

    Wind joined Northern Water in 1994 as an engineer and previously served as the organization’s assistant general manager, Operations Division. Wind holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Colorado State University, a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from University of California at Davis and bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering and agricultural engineering from Colorado State University.

    Wind grew up in Northeastern Colorado, the area served by Northern Water. He was raised on a farm in Washington County and graduated from Brush High School.

    “Brad Wind has 25 years of experience built on the Northern Water tradition of teamwork and continual improvement,” said Board President Mike Applegate.

    “The Board is confident he will provide excellent leadership and vision as we move forward in service to the region,” he added.

    Wind takes over for previous General Manager Eric Wilkinson, who retired in April. Wilkinson will continue to work on a part-time role as a policy adviser for Northern Water.

    “I am thrilled to be named Northern Water’s next general manager, and I appreciate the legacy Eric has left us all,” Wind said.

    “We have a lot on our plate and our staff is up to the challenges of maintaining a reliable water supply and pursuing additional storage for northeastern Colorado,” he added.

    Windsor town board planning for future water needs

    Windsor Lake/Mummy Range

    From Windsor Now (Emily Wenger):

    At the April 16 Windsor Town Board work session, Dennis Wagner, director of engineering for Winds or, said the town has several options as it considers how best to meet the water needs of current and future residents.

    Right now, the town is reliant on other sources to treat its water, so it has to pay the city of Greeley and the Fort Collins-Loveland and North Weld County water districts.

    But some town board members want to give Windsor a way to avoid those price tags, even if that doesn’t happen for many years.

    The regional water treatment plant also would serve Severance, Eaton and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.

    Eaton is also feeling the pressures of providing for future growth, said Gary Carsten, town administrator for Eaton, so being part of the regional project would help prepare the town to serve future residents.

    In 2017, the partners hired Black and Veatch Engineering to study the possibility. That plant would be east of Interstate 25 and just north of Colo. 14. The challenge with that plant, Wagner said, will be finding enough water to treat to justify the cost at $25 million for Windsor’s portion.

    At its April 9 meeting, the Windsor Town Board also approved a plan to continue discussions with Broe Infrastructure about another water treatment plant at Great West Industrial Park.

    That plant, which the town would eventually buy, would pull about 1,300 acre-feet of water per year from the ground and treat it.

    If all goes according to plan, Windsor Town Attorney Ian McCargar said construction on that water treatment plant would start in 2019 and be finished by 2021.

    Windsor is hoping much of that water will come from Northern Integrated Supply Project, of which Eaton is also a part. The project, which would create two new reservoirs to supply the region, has been in the works for about 18 years, said Mayor Kristie Melendez.

    Windsor gets its water rights from the Colorado Big Thompson project, which brings water across the Continental Divide from the upper Colorado River and North Poudre Irrigation Co. It’s enough for now, but town officials are concerned it won’t stretch as the town grows and everyone in northern Colorado is trying to provide enough water to serve their residents.

    Buying into NISP, Windsor officials said, could ensure that water is available.

    The town is expected to spend $86.6 million on the project before it’s completed, including a $2 million payment next year.

    Wagner said the project cost keeps going up as the project keeps getting put off and construction costs rise.

    Melendez said some partners are skeptical about NISP ever being completed, because the project is taking so long. Currently, it’s expected to be built from 2021-25, if the planning and approval process continues without any issues, but Melendez said she’s not convinced that will happen, because of continual postponements.

    @NorthernWater board sets #Colorado-Big Thompson quota = 80%

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Jeff Stahla):

    Strong regional water storage coupled with below-average precipitation prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2018 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 80 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday at Northern Water’s Berthoud headquarters.

    Sarah Smith, a water resources engineer at Northern Water, said total storage in the region was above average for the fifth-straight year. While Colorado precipitation has been below average this winter, recent storms boosted the snowpack in the northern portion of the state.

    “The Poudre basin did benefit quite a bit from those storms,” she said.

    Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended the 80 percent quota to the Board based on the existing snowpack totals, runoff projections, regional water storage and input from water users.

    The 80 percent quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 93,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November.

    Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent Census figures, 960,000 residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries.

    To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    While much of the state is facing drastic water shortages, shareholders in the Colorado Big Thompson project will see better than average return on their investment this year, according to a Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District news release…

    The quota this year is 80 percent, up from the average of 70 percent, a jump that represents 93,000 extra acre feet for the year.

    Greeley is one of 33 cities that uses Colorado Big Thompson water, and Greeley Water and Sewer Board Chairman Harold Evans said the quota looks good for Greeley…

    Northern Water got a bump thanks to a fifth-straight year of above-average reservoir storage, as well as recent storms that have boosted snowpack in the state’s northern regions. Reservoir storage this year is 25 percent higher than normal, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service snowpack report released this past week.

    Colorado Big Thompson water is used by 33 cities and towns, as well as 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users, according to the release. Nearly one million residents live within Northern Water’s service area.

    The announcement will help farmers and municipalities plan water use for the year. About 70 percent of the contracts for Colorado Big Thompson water are owned by municipalities, but the usage is about 50 percent for farmers versus municipalities, as farmers often lease some water from municipalities, including Greeley.

    Burt Knight, Greeley’s Water and Sewer director, said the higher quota will allow Greeley to lease some water to some of its agriculture partners.

    The Greeley Water and Sewer Board will meet next week for its annual declaration regarding the snowpack and how it impacts Greeley.

    #Snowpack news: @NorthernWater to set C-BT quota on April 12th

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 17, 2018 via the NRCS.

    From The Fence Post (Nikki Work):

    As of March 14, the state sits at about 67 percent of the average snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Things are looking slightly better in northern Colorado, with the two basins that impact Weld County — the Upper Colorado and the South Platte — at 77 percent and 81 percent of the average year, respectively…

    Eric Brown, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the dry weather is on Northern Water’s radar, just like it’s on farmers’, but there may be one saving grace — a healthy amount of water in reservoir storage.

    Northern Water’s reservoirs are at one of their highest ever levels, with storage at 121 percent of average. Across Colorado, reservoir storage is at about 117 percent of the historic average. While Brown said the water district is optimistic that, in true Colorado fashion, there’s a big spring storm a’comin’, its prepared to use some of its reserves to combat an abnormally dry year.

    “In general, farmers who have access to some sort of water in storage should be okay for 2018, as Northern Water’s C-BT Project and reservoirs across the South Platte Basin are sitting at solid levels for the most part,” Brown said. “But for the farmers who don’t have access to water that’s in storage, they really need snow and/or spring rains in the near future.”

    But for everyone, use of the water in storage this year creates uncertainties down the road, as some of the current surplus will be used up. Plus, a good, wet snow would bring some much-needed moisture to the plains and help with soil quality, which plays an important role in crop health.

    The Northern Water Board will set its quota for C-BT deliveries for the remainder of the 2018 water delivery season at its April 12 board meeting. Both snowpack and C-BT and local non-C-BT reservoir levels will factor into this decision. The board sets a quota each year to balance how much water can be used and how much water needs to stay in storage, and the historic average for the quota is 70 percent.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    The latest e-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

    Graphic credit: Northern Water

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Crews from Northern Water work to maintain hydroelectric plant equipment

    Workers from Northern Water have taken apart some of the equipment at the Robert V. Trout Hydroelectric Plant at the outlet of Carter Lake as part of the organization’s annual maintenance program for the facility.

    On Feb. 8, members of the Northern Water board of directors were told that 2017 was a strong year for electricity production at the plant. Energy is captured from the outlet at Carter Lake as water is delivered into the St. Vrain Supply Canal. That electricity is marketed through the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association to customers throughout the utility’s service area on the Front Range.

    The power plant, one of two hydroelectric generation plants owned by Northern Water, has been in operation since 2012 and is authorized through a Lease of Power Privilege agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In addition to Northern’s two hydroelectric plants, Reclamation operates six additional Colorado-Big Thompson generation stations that supply renewable energy throughout the American West.

    Learn more about power generation at Carter Lake

    Fort Morgan Times Year in Review Part 2

    Map via Northern Water.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    Fort Morgan triggers building water pump station: Participants in the Southern Water Supply Project pipeline long knew that an eastern pump station may be needed to ensure enough water can be delivered to its farthest-out participants: Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District, the Times reported May 13.

    Fort Morgan and Quality Water both reached their capacity of Colorado-Big Thompson water multiple times in recent summers. Gravity is currently what brings the water to Fort Morgan, since Carter Lake, where it is stored, is hundreds of feet higher than Fort Morgan. But growth in use of water by the pipeline’s participants meant less and less water can reach Fort Morgan just through gravity. All of the participants in the pipeline had the right to call for a pump station to be built, as per the original agreements. The council did approve directing staff to proceed with that request to Northern Water. But getting a pump station built will be expensive for all the participants in the pipeline, since the overall project is expected to cost about $6 million. It would take about three years from its start before the pump station would be online…

    New water meter system for Log Lane: The new town water meter system will cost Log Lane Village approximately $154,520, the Times reported June 16.

    The town’s board of trustees had previously approved contracting with Aclara/HD Systems for providing a new water meter system, but the costs and details had not yet been finalized. That’s happened June 14, with the board approving the expenditure and choosing the more expensive but longer-lasting scalable option of two proposals offered by contractor.

    A look at the #Colorado-Big Thompson Project #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Kenneth Jessen):

    The drought of the 1930s was the impetus for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Work started in 1938 and would span nearly two decades to complete.

    The first project was the Green Mountain Reservoir on the Blue River. The water stored ran north into the Colorado River and is used to compensate for water that would be diverted to the Eastern Slope.

    A significant year for the project was 1944 when work ended on the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, just over 13 miles long. It carried water under the Continental Divide.

    Lake Granby, the largest reservoir in the system, stores Colorado River water during the spring runoff. A second project was the nearby Shadow Mountain Reservoir connected to Grand Lake by a short canal. The two bodies of water are nearly 90 feet higher than Lake Granby.

    The Alva B. Adams Tunnel’s west portal is on the east side of Grand Lake which, incidentally, is the largest natural water body in Colorado.

    After the spring runoff and to keep Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake filled, a pumping station brings Lake Granby water up to their level.

    Added in 1951-52 and on the west side of the Continental Divide is the Willow Creek Reservoir. A pumping station elevates the water 175 feet to a canal flowing into Lake Granby.

    The 9 ½ -foot in diameter Alva B. Adams Tunnel drops 109 feet in its 13 miles, ending at the East Portal.

    From a small lake at the East Portal, the water is carried via a siphon under Aspen Brook to the Rams Horn Tunnel and via a penstock, down to the Marys Lake power plant. This is a drop of 205 feet.

    Running directly under the summit of Prospect Mountain, yet another tunnel and penstock delivers water to the Lake Estes power plant, a drop of 482 feet.

    From Lake Estes, water flows east first through the Olympus Tunnel to the 5 ½ -mile long Pole Hill Tunnel.

    Water is delivered to the top of a canal then to a penstock. It drops 815 feet to the Pole Hill power plant. From there, the water enters the 1 ¾ -mile-long Rattlesnake Tunnel, ending on the west side of Pinewood Lake. An intake on the east end of Pinewood Reservoir takes water through the Bald Mountain Tunnel to the penstock visible from Loveland.

    Water is delivered to the Flatiron power plant at Flatiron Reservoir over 1,000 feet below.

    This is where things get complicated.

    During times of excess water, it is pumped up to Carter Lake, 277 feet higher.

    Water also flows through a short tunnel north to the Hansen Feeder Canal to Horsetooth Reservoir.

    From the south end of Carter Lake, water is delivered into the South St. Vrain Supply Canal. This long canal takes water under part of Rabbit Mountain all the way the Boulder Reservoir.

    In all, West Slope water drops nearly 3,000 feet during its journey to the East Slope.

    The Colorado-Big Thompson Project has created a dozen reservoirs, uses 35 miles of tunnels and also generates a substantial amount of electric power. These are the power plants:

    Marys Lake

    Estes Park

    Pole Hill

    Flatiron

    Green Mountain

    Big Thompson

    Trout

    Fort Morgan water rates to go up 3%

    Fort Morgan vintage photo from Moody’s Vintage Collectible Postcards

    From Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

    Starting in January, Fort Morgan residents can expect to pay at least $2 more per month for water, depending on their water usage.

    The Fort Morgan City Council recently approved adjusting water rates for 2018 to include the 3 percent increase recommended by the latest rates study.

    Water Resources/Utilities Director Brent Nation said that a residential household that currently pays $71.90 for a monthly water bill likely would have a bill next year of $73.90.

    The increase was recommended to the council so as to keep the city’s water fund revenue on track for the possibility of going out to bond for construction on the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), as well as likely upcoming large capital projects at Fort Morgan Water Treatment Plant and ongoing maintenance of the city’s water delivery system, Nation and City Manager Jeff Wells explained…

    He said the price of constructing NISP has not changed, but some of the projections for how it is expected to be financed for Northern Water by the 15 participants – including Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District – are changing. That meant the city needed to figure out how to “balance out” those financing expense projections with the water fund projections for revenue.

    Nation said the latest water rates study included “a conservative approach” so that the city could “make sure that the fund is safely being funded for these projects” but also keep rates from having to skyrocket in the future.

    For now, Nation said the 3 percent water rates increase for 2018 would “keep us moving forward towards where we’re projecting that we’re going to need over the next 10 to 15 years, depending on how NISP plays out.”

    […]

    The current rate study did indicate that Fort Morgan’s water rates are on the higher end in northeast Colorado, but that had been the case since the Colorado-Big Thompson project began, Nation said.

    “We pay for high quality water, and that’s what we’re getting,” he said.

    But there also are other things the city’s water treatment and water delivery departments will look at doing so as to save money for rate payers, Nation told the council, not getting into specifics right now.

    Wells pointed out that the city has been collecting a monthly NISP fee from rate-payers so as to start building up cash toward future bonding for that project, if or when it gets approved.