@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.