Pagosa Springs sixth grade student renewable energy day

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Springs Sun (David Smith)

Meeting this demand with fossil fuels will be increasing dif cult as reserves become depleted. More important, we know that massive burning of fossil fuels damages our environment. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, provide an inexpensive and clean alternative to burning fossil fuels.

To prepare the next generation for this change, Kristin Hentschel, Pagosa Springs Middle School sixth-grade science teacher, orga- nized a Renewable Energy Day.

This project was funded by a $1,000 grant from the Foundation for Archuleta County Education (FACE).
The 120 sixth-grade students were divided into eight groups which visited eight renewable energy projects. Parents and com- munity scientists manned each of the eight stations.

At the end of the day, the stu- dents wrote about their experiences…

“I liked all the stations. This was perfect.” — Daniel B.

Grand Lake garners support for Outstanding National Resource Water designation

Happy New Water Year!

From the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

Outstanding Grand Lake (OGL), a sustainability arm of the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce, has started initial meetings with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission as they move forward on a three-year timeline toward Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) designation.

In November, the Town of Grand Lake voted unanimously to support the designation of Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake to Outstanding National Resource Water status. This would move Grand Lake into the same classification of other highly regarded bodies of water, such as Lake Tahoe in California.

The OGL Committee also met with Keep Tahoe Blue, the League to Save Tahoe, in November, and were encouraged to hear that ONRW boosted both the environmental and the economic success of the lake.

Executive Director for the League, Darcie Goodman Collins, reported that there were no negative impacts on the Lake Tahoe businesses or on new development, with the community fully supporting the designation.

Grand Lake will have further discussions with Lake Tahoe to implement best practices from their community.

In December, OGL has been contacted by the Sonoran Institute in Denver to collaborate with San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico to bring attention to the Colorado River and its epic journey downstream. This will include the building of a park on the Front Range that illustrates where the headwaters transverse from above Grand Lake, through the delta to reach the ocean.

#ColoradoRiver: Beauty, “It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science” — Esther Vincent #COriver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?

In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.

Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.

The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”

On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.

But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.

Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.

“It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”

The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.

Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.

During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.

Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.

But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”

The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.

Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.

Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

The flawed design

But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.

The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.

Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.

From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.

In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul
In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul

The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.

Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.

Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).

Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.

The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.

“I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.

Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.

As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.

The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”

Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.

The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.

The effect of persistence

O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.

He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”

He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.

“I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.

But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.

This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.

It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.

Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.

There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.

Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?

“I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at

Windy Gap Firming Project: Longmont Councillors eschew debt, ready to pony up $47 million cash

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From The Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonucci):

The Longmont City Council reached a consensus Tuesday night — they would rather the city pay roughly $47 million in cash instead of using debt for a portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Water rates are set to increase by 9 percent in 2017, 2018 and 2019, then 8 percent in 2020 and 2021, said Dale Rademacher, general manager of public works and natural resources.

Paying cash for Windy Gap is cheaper for the city in the long run, but staff estimates it will raise water rates by 21 percent in 2017 and then by another 22 percent in 2018, rather than the planned 9 percent. Debt financing would have cost almost $25 million more in the long term with a predicted 5 percent interest rate but resulted in more gradual rate increases between 5 and 14 percent in the short term…

City Manager Harold Dominguez said there are plans in the works to test utility rate discounts for low-income households. To qualify, a single Longmont resident would need to make less than $12,720 in a year or a married couple would need to earn less than $17,146 in a year, although those limits could have adjusted slightly since the test program was introduced.

The City Council also directed Rademacher to explore alternative financing so the entire burden of the $47 million doesn’t fall on ratepayers. There’s a Windy Gap surcharge on new water taps that sunsets at the end of 2017. Councilmembers said they’d rather the surcharge just stayed in place in order to generate funds for the Windy Gap project.

Additionally, a property owner can either transfer non-historical water rights to satisfy a raw water requirement or pay cash-in-lieu. Staff will study limiting it to cash payment only in order to pay for Windy Gap.

Meanwhile, here’s the view from Grand County (Lance Maggart):

The long awaited development of Northern Water’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir cleared one of the final two hurdles on the road to construction in late March when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released its 401 water quality certification for the project, generally referred to as the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP).

The issuance of the 401 water quality certification from the CDPHE was one of two final steps in the permitting process required for construction on the project to begin. The 401 certification from the state comes after 13 years of work. According to Northern Water’s Public Information Officer Brian Werner Northern Water began the formal permitting process for the development of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in 2003. Since beginning the formal permitting process Northern Water and other participants have spent roughly 15 million dollars on the projects permitting process.

Now that Northern Water has received their 401 certification from the state the municipal water provider is awaiting a 404 wetlands permit from the US Army Corp of Engineers, the final permitting step before construction can begin on Chimney Hollow.


As a matter of practice 404 wetlands permits from the Corp of Engineers require issuances of state certifications, like the CDPHE 401 water quality certification, before the Corp of Engineers can complete their own permitting processes. “This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” stated Project Manager Jeff Drager.

Officials at Northern Water said they expect the 404 wetlands permit is forthcoming and anticipate its issuance in the next few months. Werner was quick to point out that Governor John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed the project, a first in the history of the state according to a press release from Northern Water highlighting the endorsement.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model fro assessing, reviewing and developing a project of this nature,” stated Hickenlooper in a letter read at Northern Water’s Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland last week by the Governor’s Water Policy Advisor John Stulp.

Once Northern Water has secured the final permit for the project from the Corp of Engineers work on Chimney Hollow Reservoir can begin. Chimney Hollow is eventually expected to store 90,000 acre-feet of water and will be located just west of Carter Lake Reservoir in southern Larimer County. The development of the reservoir will mean additional water diversions out of Grand County. The total estimated price tag for the WGFP is around $400 million.


Despite environmental concerns produced by the additional diversions both Grand County and the conservation group Trout Unlimited have endorsed the project, following sustained negotiations between Northern Water and various stakeholders from the western slope regarding environmental mitigation and adaptive management plans for the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. A press release from Trout Unlimited praised the river protections that were reaffirmed with the state 401 certification.

“We strongly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” stated Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. In their press release Trout Unlimited outlines conditions within the 401 certification the organization feels will address both fish habitat issues and water quality needs including: monitoring of stream temperatures, key nutrients and aquatic life, providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff and requiring ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are detected.

The 401 certification and the environmental protections included with it were made possible in part from a more collaboratively minded interaction between west slope stakeholders such as Grand County and Trout Unlimited and east slope diverters Northern Water and Denver Water. “This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’ and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” stated Whiting. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”

Grand County local Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited and has long championed the health of both the Fraser and Colorado Rivers. Klancke spoke positively about the adaptive management and collaborative spirit that has made negotiations for the WGFP possible. “We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” stated Klancke. “The Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”

#ColoradoRiver: Windy Gap Firming project gets Gov. Hickenlooper’s endorsement #COWaterPlan #COriver


Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today formally endorsed the Windy Gap Firming Project, a water project that will serve cities and farmers on the northern Front Range as well as provide environmental benefits on the Western Slope.

The project expands the existing Windy Gap system built in the 1980s and includes the planned Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland to ensure more reliable supplies for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and other project participants. It also includes several protective measures for fish and waterways on the Western Slope.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been in the process of obtaining federal, state and local permits and certifications since 2003, including the required Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and, most recently, the Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Colorado moves the needle today with endorsement of a project that makes gains for the environment and water supply together,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency that facilitated development of Colorado’s Water Plan. “Grand County, environmental stakeholders, and Northern Water set an excellent example of the collaboration necessary to achieve the bold measurable objectives of Colorado’s Water Plan and the Colorado and South Platte Basin Implementation Plans.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project includes several measures to mitigate environmental impacts to protect fish, ensure stream protection, and reduce water quality impacts to Grand Lake and the Colorado River. These and other agreements were key to building support for the project across a spectrum of interests and for earning endorsement from the state. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Northern Water worked closely with state biologists to ensure that impacts on streams and rivers – and the fish and wildlife that depend on them – were identified and addressed through mitigation for the benefit of the environment, wildlife and recreation,” said Bob Broscheid, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This was a thorough and unified process and shows what we can accomplish when we work together to reach shared goals.”

With necessary permits and certifications for the project in hand, Hickenlooper also today directed his staff to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the federal agency’s issuance of a Section 404 Permit, the final federal regulatory step for the project.

Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Brian Werner):

Chimney Hollow Reservoir close to reality

Today the State of Colorado officially endorsed the Windy Gap Firming Project and Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

John Stulp, Governor John Hickenlooper’s Water Policy Advisor, made the announcement at Northern Water’s Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland. Reading a letter signed by Gov. Hickenlooper, Stulp told the 200 attendees that this is the state of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water project under the Colorado Water Plan, which was finalized last November.

“Further, the WGFP aligns with the key elements of the Colorado Water Plan…” Hickenlooper wrote.
Hickenlooper continued, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for assessing, reviewing and developing a project of this nature.”

Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict President Dennis Yanchunas spoke for the project’s participants in saying, “It’s really exciting to have that endorsement, the first ever by the state.” [ed. emphasis mine] Colorado’s endorsement came on the heels of state water quality certification in late March.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued its 401 water quality certification for the Windy Gap Firming Project on March 25, bringing the project permitting process nearer to completion.

“This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” said Project Manager Jeff Drager.

“The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

The state’s endorsement of the WGFP culminates 13 years of diligent effort and lengthy negotiations to permit and authorize a project that will assure a reliable water supply for more than 500,000 northern Front Range residents.

The federal permitting process began in 2003 under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation served as the lead federal agency and issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011 and a Record of Decision in 2014 for Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

In addition, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a fish and wildlife mitigation plan in 2011. The following year the Grand County Commissioners issued a 1041 permit and reached an agreement with Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict on a mitigation and enhancement package.

A wide variety of organizations, including Trout Unlimited, support the CDPHE’s long-awaited ruling.

“This permit is another step toward fulfilling the Windy Gap Firming Project’s potential to be part of a balanced water supply strategy for Colorado Front Range,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water and Habitat Project.

“Through a balanced portfolio – including responsible supply projects like WGFP – along with stronger conservation and reuse programs and ag-urban water sharing — Colorado can meet its diverse water needs…” Peternell added.

The Windy Gap Firming Project is a collaboration of 12 Northern Front Range water providers and the Platte River Power Authority to improve the reliability of their Windy Gap water supplies. Windy Gap began delivering water in 1985.

The participants include 10 municipalities: Broomfield, Erie, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland and Superior; two water districts: Central Weld County and Little Thompson; and one power provider: Platte River. They currently provide water to 500,000 people.

The current cost estimate for WGFP is $400 million. To date the participants have spent $15 million on associated permitting costs.

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

The Windy Gap Firming Project is one step closer to being more than just big dreams and big dollar signs. The project, which would allow for the construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland, received the first endorsement a water project has ever gotten from the state of Colorado.

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

John Stulp, special policy adviser for water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a letter from the governor at the Northern Water Spring Water Users meeting Wednesday at the Ranch in Loveland. In the letter, Hickenlooper applauded Northern Water for the Windy Gap Firming Project’s ability to bring communities together, protect fish and wildlife, and make Colorado’s water more sustainable, along with other ideals outlined in the Colorado Water Plan, which was adopted last November.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said in a news release from his office. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

While the endorsement from the state doesn’t advance the plan in earnest, it does give it credibility in the next and final step to getting its building permit completed.

“This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” said Windy Gap Firming Project manager Jeff Drager in a release from Northern Water. “The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers the project for the permit, it will want to know if the state approves of it. Now, with an official recommendation from the governor, the path should be smoother for the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, Stulp said.

“I think this (project) is being done right,” Stulp said. “Now, we have the state’s endorsement and I think that will inform the fed agencies, the Corps at this point, that this has got strong support in Colorado.”

The city of Greeley was one of the original six cities to invest in the existing Windy Gap Reservoir. Now, the city is a participant in the Windy Gap Firming Project. Once the Chimney Hollow reservoir is built, Greeley will receive 4,400 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot of water is roughly the equivalent of one football field filled with a foot of water — that’s almost 326,000 gallons of water, or more than 8,000 bathtubs full.

Evans, Fort Lupton and the Central Weld County Water District are also participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project.

The project is estimated to cost about $400 million and participants have thus far spent $15 million, according to the Northern Water release. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water and will be located near Carter Lake and parts of Northern Water’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

The Windy Gap Firming Project’s participants are primarily municipalities, but also include two water districts and one power company. The purpose of the project is to create an alternative water source for cities and companies to purchase water from instead of resorting to tactics like buy-and-dry or competing with agricultural land for water resources.

During his presentation at the Northern Water Spring Water Users Meeting, Metropolitan State University of Denver professor Tom Cech talked population growth. He said right now, Colorado is home to more than 5 million people. By 2030, that number’s projected to rise to more than 7 million after having already grown about 30 percent since 1990. In the South Platte Basin alone, that kind of population growth will equal a shortage of about 410,000 acre-feet of water, or about 134 billion gallons. Between 133,000 and 226,000 acres of irrigated land in the South Platte River Basin are expected to dry up by 2030.

With the rapid population expansion and resulting urban sprawl happening in Colorado, projects like these are more important than ever, said Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water’s general manager.

“People need water and we’re going to grow. Obviously people like this area, people move to this area and people will continue to come and we have to find ways to provide that water supply,” Wilkinson said. “This is a good way of doing it.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday weighed in formally backing the long-delayed and controversial $400 million Windy Gap project to divert more water from the Colorado River to the booming Front Range.

Hickenlooper ordered state officials to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain a final federal wetlands permit needed for work to begin. His endorsement is expected to aid that effort.

Northern Water would expand its existing river diversion system built in 1985 by installing a new reservoir southwest of Loveland to hold diverted Colorado River water. That 29 billion-gallon Chimney Hollow Reservoir would supply farmers and growing cities.

“This is the first time he has endorsed this project. We were certainly hoping for it. We were pleasantly surprised,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

“This means that construction, starting in 2019, is a reality.”

Northern Water has been planning the project, working with state and federal officials on permits, since 2003. A mitigation plan, approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, lays out measures to protect fish and off-set environmental harm including altered river flows.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials, responsible for ensuring water quality, signed off on March 25.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Front Range users would would siphon additional west-flowing water — up to 8.4 billion gallons a year — out of the Colorado River and pump it back eastward under the Continental Divide. That water, stored in the new reservoir, is expected to meet needs of 500,000 residents around Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley.

Environment groups on Wednesday reacted with fury.

“This project will further drain and destroy the Colorado River and imperil endangered fish,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado River. “We’ve registered 23 complaints with the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government should deny the permit. This project is reckless.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Colorado officials endorsed a long-sought water storage project that would include construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday voiced his support for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would divert water from the Western Slope to the Front Range to shore up supplies for municipalities and farmers…

Participants in the water-storage project include Loveland, Longmont, Greeley, Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority and two water districts.

The project recently received a key water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The certification is needed to receive a final permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the project…

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

If the expected permits come through, final design on Chimney Hollow Reservoir would begin later this year with construction beginning in 2018-19, Werner said.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir would hold up to 90,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of three to four urban households.

Larimer County would build and operate recreational facilities at the reservoir, which would be built west of Carter Lake. Carter Lake holds up to 112,000 acre feet of water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been under federal, state and local review since 2003. It has been challenged by environmentalists over the years because of its impact on the Colorado River’s ecosystem through increased water diversions.

In a recent email to the Coloradoan, the group Save the Colorado stated it would scrutinize the 404 permit decision from the Corps to ensure the project adheres to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Supporters say the Windy Gap Firming includes measures that would mitigate its environmental impacts and protect fish, streams and water quality in Grand Lake and the Colorado River.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The project — formally called the Windy Gap Firming Project — calls for the construction of a new reservoir, called Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland. The reservoir will be designed to hold up to 90,000 acre feet of water, and reliably deliver about 30,000 acre feet of water every year, enough to support the needs of 60,000 families of four people.

It’s an expansion of the existing Windy Gap system built in the 1980s to divert water from the Colorado River to the Front Range. But the construction of a new reservoir is crucial, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the lead agency on the project.

Because of the Windy Gap project’s relatively junior water rights, water cannot be diverted in years when the snow pack is low. And during wet years, there’s not enough storage space in Lake Granby to store the Windy Gap water, which means it runs down the river.

“Windy Gap right now doesn’t have any firm yield,” Werner said, meaning that the system can’t be counted on to have water available for customers every single year.

“In wet years there’s no where to put it [the water], and in dry years there’s nothing to pump,” Werner said.

About 500,000 people live in the water districts that would be served by the Windy Gap Firming Project, including Broomfield, Lafayette, Louisville, Loveland, Erie and Evans. To date, the cost of planning and permitting the project has risen to $15 million, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

And with population numbers expected to jump in coming years, this project and others will be needed to ensure there’s enough water for the communities to grow, Werner said.

The project’s leaders have worked on agreements to mitigate environmental impacts to protect fish, ensure stream protection and reduce water quality impacts to Grand Lake and the Colorado River.

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this week released its final “401 water quality certification,” meaning that the state had signed off on the plans to mitigate the environmental impact of the project on the Upper Colorado River.

Trout Unlimited, said the conditions imposed by the state health department put the “threatened river and fishery on road to recovery.

“We firmly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited, in a statement.

It took a long time to get here. Click here to take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch “Windy Gap” category. Click here for posts from the older Coyote Gulch blog.

New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Debate continues to swirl around water clarity standards for Grand Lake, but recently stake holders on the Western Slope presented a new proposal in hopes of moving negotiations forward.

Western Slope stakeholders recently presented a revised clarity standard proposal to the Water Clarity Stakeholders group for consideration. The revised clarity standard proposal presented by the Western Slope stakeholders is for 3.8 meters, or 12.5 feet, with a 2.5 meter, or 8.2 feet, minimum clarity depth. This is a reduction from their previous proposal of a 4-meter standard.

Representatives from the Western slope stakeholders together with others from the east side of the continental Divide make up the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee (WCSC). The WCSC is formed from the various entities affected by water clarity in Grand Lake and the operation of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), which pulls water from the Three Lakes region that is sent through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel out of Grand Lake to the Front Range.

The WCSC includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Town of Grand Lake, Western Area Power Administration, Grand County, Northern Water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, power consumers from the affected area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, Northwest COG, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, U.S. Geological Survey, the Grand County Water Information Network, and various other groups.

Representatives from the WCSC hope to negotiate a single water clarity proposal amongst themselves that can be presented to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the entity that will give final approval of any new water clarity standard. The Commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The WCSC is working toward a deadline; their proposal is due in November.


Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran has helped shepherd the process for the county.

“The West Slope group came up with compromises we felt we could live with and presented them to the larger group,” she said.

Underbrink-Curran explained that if the various groups cannot come to agreement on a proposal then multiple proposals will likely be submitted to the Water Quality Commission.

“Sometimes the various factors to consider are at odds,” she said. “If the Stakeholders group can’t come to a coordinated proposal then the West Slope group would make a proposal and the East Slope group would likely make their own proposal.”

The debate has been ongoing for several years now and started in earnest in 2008 when a committee was formed to study possible methods for improving water clarity in Grand Lake. According to Canton O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, that committee, which later became the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee, was formed from the sustained lobbying efforts of the Three Lakes Watershed Association to improve the water clarity standard.

“All these years we have proposed a 4-meter standard,” said Canton. “Northern Water says that is not possible.”


The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, better known as Northern Water, operates the C-BT though the facilities are officially owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t think that is an attainable standard,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for Northern Water. “Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”

Werner also expressed concerns over how such a standard would be enforced and how penalties for failing to meet any new standard would be applied.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Grand Lake clarity standard

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From The Denver Post (Canton O’Donnell):

In 2008, those concerned for Grand Lake established a site-specific water clarity standard through the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. This visionary application of a water quality standard to lake clarity, which was intended to restore the scenic attraction of Grand Lake, is unprecedented in Colorado.

Now, negotiations are ramping up to modify specifics of the standard. Western Slope stakeholders recently made broad concessions on a possible joint standard proposal with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which distributes C-BT water to Northern Front Range consumers. The concessions are intended to be motivating yet practical for all stakeholders

The Western Slope stakeholders’ proposal — a target of 12.5 feet average clarity, with a 8.2 foot minimum — is still a far cry from the 30.2 feet of clarity measured prior to implementation of the C-BT. Yet this proposed clarity standard is an effort to recognize the water-delivery mandate of the Colorado-Big Thompson system while protecting lake health and allowing time for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate a more robust permanent solution.

The Western Slope stakeholders — made up of Grand County government, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, the town of Grand Lake, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and the Colorado River District — proposed this modified standard to be applicable for all of July, August and 11 days in September at the height of the region’s tourist season.

It is the hope of Eastern and Western Slope stakeholders to arrive at an agreement prior to the start of Colorado Water Quality Control Commission submittals beginning in November, for the sake of this valued resource.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

“In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

“Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

“Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

The Windy Gap Firming project moves closer to implementation #ColoradoRiver

Chimney Hollow Reservoir site -- Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site — Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

Here’s a guest column written by Jim Pokrandt that is running in the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) intergovernmental agreement (IGA) is in final form but has not been totally wrapped up because two important preconditions have not been completed, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors at its October meeting.

Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and the West Slope, the Windy Gap Firming Project IGA is a package of mitigation enhancements that would be part of the Windy Gap Firming Project once it is permitted for the Municipal Subdistrict of Northern Water by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The preconditions for the River District’s execution of the agreement are that the United States (1) makes a satisfactory finding that the WGFP can be operated consistent with Senate Document 80 — meaning no impact to the United States’ obligations to the beneficiaries, including West Slope beneficiaries, of the Colorado Big Thompson (C‐BT) Project, and (2) adopts an enforceable provision recognizing that if the River District does not challenge the WGFP permitting decision, that it does not waive any legal rights regarding federal decisions involving the same or similar legal issues.

Fleming anticipated that that these conditions will be satisfied in the context of Reclamation’s final record of decision on the WGFP, which is expected in the first part of 2014. In the meantime, Fleming said the River District has worked extensively with Grand County on matters related to the WGFP and the operation of the C-BT Project — including the Grand Lake Water Clarity Agreement and the upcoming initiation of the WGFP Carriage Contract negotiations.

With respect to the Grand Lake clarity issues, Fleming reported there have been several meetings with Reclamation and Northern to help ensure that a workable solution can be reached to meet the Grand Lake water quality standard. An important goal in that regard has been to avoid a stalemate over a massively expensive “fix” that could require a separate congressional authorization and appropriation.

With regard to the WGFP carriage contract negotiations, the River District has assisted Grand County in efforts to secure the best possible negotiating position in Reclamation’s negotiation process.

Fleming said the River District believes Grand County’s specifically identified role in Senate Document 80 entitles the county (and its advisers) to a more involved position in the negotiations than Reclamation’s standard “sit and‐observe” role for members of the public in its contract negotiation process.

Another goal is to ensure that the Windy Gap water that Grand County is entitled to use pursuant to the IGA can be stored in Granby Reservoir for no charge or at a very affordable rate.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

US Bureau of Reclamation: Final Grand Lake Water clarity technical review now available #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb/Mike Collins):

The Bureau of Reclamation has finalized its Grand Lake Water Clarity Technical Review and Work Plan that addresses concerns of water clarity at Colorado’s Grand Lake. The report is available at

“We appreciate the participation of our partners and stakeholders in this very important process,” said Eastern Colorado Area Manager, Mike Collins. “It has helped us streamline the process and take an important step forward.”

The purpose of the Technical Review is to provide a roadmap outlining the steps required to transition numerous proposed alternatives to improve the clarity of Grand Lake into a 30% engineering design. The Technical Review considers non-construction operational changes, as well as potential constructed alternatives.

To download the report in PDF, please visit

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Grand County and Northern Water are in negotiations for a 1041 permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project #CORiver


Here’s an analysis of last week’s meeting from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Working through a list of 32 conditions for the permit, representatives from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District sat before commissioners in the boardroom of the Grand County Administration Building on Tuesday, along with Grand County’s water counsel, and hashed out wording of each of the conditions in search of agreements among stakeholders…

Aside from disagreements about three different monitoring plans mentioned in conditions of the permit, at least one other condition remains a sticking point — a condition involving the clarity of Grand Lake. The county has proposed a condition stating the permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project will not go into effect until a federal plan, on course to include a National Environmental Policy Act process, is in place — charting the way toward a solution of the Grand Lake clarity problem. Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner put pressure on Northern representatives during Tuesday’s hearing about needed “assurances” that a solution will be realized for Colorado’s largest natural water body. Bumgarner advocated for language “that holds feet to the fire.”

But Northern representatives objected to the project’s 1041 permit being conditional upon a long federal process concerning Grand Lake’s clarity problem. Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said it was a matter of “authority and responsibility.” The municipal subdistrict seeking to firm up rights to Windy Gap water “doesn’t have the authority to control the other entities involved in the clarity issue,” he said. “It puts them in a position of being responsible without the authority to do something.”[…]

Concerning another condition on the Windy Gap bypass, the county proposes the “bypass/bythrough study shall commence on or before issuance of this 2012 permit” and if the study deems it, construction of the bypass “shall proceed” with cooperation on financing it among the parties. A 2011 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report by Barry Nehring concluded that the Colorado River below Windy Gap has suffered due to the reservoir, and that creating a bypass would be a solution…

no party knows yet how much a bypass around the reservoir might cost or where the money would come from. The Subdistrict has agreed to provide $250,000 toward research of a bypass, which is expected to reduce high temperature events caused by the dam, reduce sedimentation deposition, restore river connectivity, and reduce the impacts of whirling disease. About $3 million in funds — $2 million by Northern and possibly $1 million by Denver Water if negotiations are successful — would be available to construct the bypass and the construction would take place immediately after the study finds that the bypass would be beneficial to the river. There is the possibility another $2 million could be found from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver



Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

Water Wranglers
The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

More Colorado River District coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Lake Granby at 63% of capacity


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As we move into fall, operations on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project start to shift gears a little bit.

I mentioned earlier this week that the pump to Carter has gone off for the season. Water we were sending up to Carter, we are now taking over to Horsetooth to begin bringing that water level up a little bit as we start to get ready for next year. This is good news for Horsetooth as it is currently just over 30% full.

We could still see some more demands come out of both Carter and Horsetooth in late September and well into October, but right now, the water level elevation at Horsetooth has started to gain, just a little bit and the water level at Carter has held fairly steady. It remains just above 50% full. We are currently delivering around 500 cubic feet per second to Horsetooth.

Pinewood Reservoir is back to more average operations, fluctuating with power generation down at the Flatiron Power Plant.

Similarly, Lake Estes has maintained a typical operation schedule as we continue to bring C-BT water over from the West Slope, generate hydro-electric power and deliver the water to Horsetooth. We are no longer releasing project water through Olympus Dam to the canyon. We are bypassing what is natively in the Big Thompson River on through Lake Estes down the river. That’s been about 50 cfs all week this week.

With the diversion from the West Slope still on and the Adams Tunnel running, the water level elevation at Granby will continue to go down. That is typical for this time of year, but more noticeable than in years past because of the heavy draws the entire C-BT system has seen this summer due to drought conditions. As a result, Granby is around 63% full.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

Grand Lake: Reclamation lays out alternatives to help restore the lake’s historical clarity


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

Some of the alternatives for improving the clarity of Grand Lake that are discussed in the report include: Stopping pumping at the Farr Pumping Plant in July, August, and September; modify pumping at the plant during these three months; bypass Grand Lake with a buried pipeline and pump flows directly to Adams Tunnel; or bypass both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir with a buried pipeline and pump flows directly to Adams Tunnel…

Two standards for the clarity of Grand Lake were adopted by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in 2008.

The first standard is a narrative clarity standard requiring “the highest level of clarity attainable, consistent with the exercise of established water rights and the protection of aquatic life,” according to the report.

The second standard is a numerical clarity standard of a 4 meter Secchi disk depth that will be assessed by comparing 85 percent of available recordings from the months of July, August, and September. That means at least 85 percent of the measurements taken during those three months must meet the 4 meter Secchi disk depth standard, while 15 percent can be below the minimum requirement.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Final Preliminary Alternatives Development Report on Grand Lake Now Available


Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The Bureau of Reclamation has finalized its Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope Collection Preliminary Alternatives Development Report that addresses concerns of water clarity at Colorado’s Grand Lake. The report is available at

“The Department of the Interior is prioritizing efforts to improve water quality conditions in Grand Lake,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “The Bureau of Reclamation, Interior’s water management agency, is committed to protecting the aesthetic values of Grand Lake and maintaining a secure water supply for its customers. We recognize the problem and are working hard with state and local leaders to understand the causes and find appropriate solutions.”

Grand Lake is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s West Slope collection system, which diverts water under the Continental Divide to Colorado’s East Slope and Front Range. A proposed state of Colorado water standard for the lake is scheduled to take effect in 2015. The Preliminary Alternatives Development Report is the first step toward improving water quality in Grand Lake in an effort to meet this state standard and improve this resource for its many uses. Four alternatives are considered in the report ranging from ceasing pumping during the summer season to building a bypass for project water to be delivered to the East Slope. The viability of each alternative is evaluated for a number of measures.

Reclamation continues to collaborate with water and power customers, stakeholders in and around Grand County, citizens groups around Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, recreation managers at affected water bodies and other local, state and federal agencies.

The final Alternatives Development Report has been provided directly to stakeholders and posted to Reclamation’s website for the general public. Next steps include the Technical Review, which begins this fall and completes in fall 2013, and will examine the technical and financial feasibility of the alternatives presented in the Alternatives Development Report.

To download the report in PDF, please visit

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Windy Gap Firming Project: ‘No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit’ — Kirk Klancke


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

The hearing gave all of the interested parties a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about the project before it was submitted to the Grand County Commissioners for approval or denial.

Enhancements and mitigations to the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek are part of the proposed agreement and include a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir, larger flushing flows for the Upper Colorado River, and a list of other possible mitigation measures.

Planned mitigation measures

The existing diversions at Windy Gap take 60 percent of native flows out of the Upper Colorado and the proposed expansion to the project would take another estimated 15-20 percent of flows, according to Trout Unlimited.

“Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Amelia Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project.

Mitigations and enhancements meant to address the impacts are proposed in the agreement for the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek.

“We are not opposed to this project, we just want to see the right mitigations take place,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Headwaters of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited. “No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit.”

The enhancements that are proposed were the main topic of discussion during the meeting as interested parties made arguments for specific mitigation’s and enhancements.

Each party agreed that the river would be better off with the proposed mitigations and enhancements than it would be without them. However, the parties differed about which mitigations should take priority.

Some of the parties who voiced their opinions about the proposed mitigation’s and enhancements include the Upper Colorado River Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Town of Grand Lake, and members of the public.

Some of the main enhancements that are proposed are the construction of a bypass around or through Windy Gap Reservoir and increased flushing flows to the Colorado, which would help to restore the habitat of the gold-medal fishing waters below the Windy Gap Dam.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

The Grand County Commissioners are pondering the Windy Gap Firming Project 1041 permit this week


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The Windy Gap Project consists of a diversion dam on the Colorado River, a 445-acre-foot reservoir, a pumping plant, and a six-mile pipeline to Lake Granby. Windy Gap water is pumped and stored in Lake Granby before it is delivered to water users via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s East Slope distribution system…

“The Upper Colorado River is under severe stress from multiple impacts, from drought to diversions,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Headwaters chapter. “This is the last best opportunity for Grand County officials to push for stronger protections to ensure that the Windy Gap project doesn’t destroy the health of our rivers.”[…]

The Grand County Commissioners are currently accepting comments and have scheduled a two-day hearing in Hot Sulphur Springs that will include public testimony on August 1-2…

State studies show that the Upper Colorado below Windy Gap Reservoir has suffered a sharp decline since the construction of the reservoir , including an almost total loss of once-plentiful stoneflies and mottled sculpin — key aquatic species that are an important link in the food chain for trout and other fish. The studies point to the reservoir’s contribution of silt combined with a lack of healthy flows, which has caused a spike in water temperatures, algae, sediment and other negative impacts on river and fishery health.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: Inspection and maintenance work complete, releases dropping from Olympus Dam


From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

As we continue to make adjustments to the Colorado-Big Thompson project system, there have been some changes to the release from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River. Late last night, we dropped the release from 325 cfs to roughly 250 cfs. Tonight, shortly after midnight, we will drop it again to around 125 cfs. The reason for the drop in release amounts is primarily because we have completed the inspections and related maintenance work scheduled for this week.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

‘Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water’ — Alan Hamel


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“We have to protect the water we have, as well as provide water for endangered species,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water, particularly for use in power generation.” Last month, the Pueblo water board and other members of the Front Range Water Council weighed in on the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands…

The Front Range Water Council includes the major organizations that import water from the Colorado River: Denver Water, the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and the Pueblo water board. Collectively, they provide water to 4 million people, 82 percent of the population in Colorado.

More Front Range Water Council coverage here and here.

Colorado TU Gives Conservation Award to Grand County


Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Colorado Trout Unlimited today announced that Grand County government – led by County Commissioners Gary Bumgarner, James Newberry, and Nancy Stuart – is the recipient of TU’s 2012 Trout Conservation Award for its work protecting the Upper Colorado River watershed in the face of Front Range water diversions and other threats.

The award is presented each year to recognize outstanding achievements in conserving Colorado rivers and trout habitat.

“I have never seen a local government place the level of attention, resources, and overall emphasis on river conservation as has been the case with Grand County over the past five years,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Commissioners Bumgarner, Newberry and Stuart, and County Manager Lurline Curran, have worked tirelessly to preserve healthy river flows along with the wildlife, local communities, and quality of life that depend on them. They have been true champions for the Colorado headwaters.”

“As a resident of Grand County for 40 years, and as a father who wants his children and their children to experience the same natural wonders that I’ve enjoyed here over the years, I am deeply appreciative of the unified effort from our commissioners and staff in their fight to save our rivers and lakes,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of TU. “I am proud of my county for having courageous leaders like these, who are an example to all of the Davids that are facing Goliaths.”

Nickum called Grand County “a longstanding and valued partner” with Trout Unlimited in working to protect and restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. He noted that Grand County officials have invested more than $3 million into assessing and addressing the needs of its rivers, and spent thousands of hours negotiating with Front Range water users and advocating to federal permitting agencies for better protections for the Upper Colorado River watershed.

Among other accomplishments in the past year, Grand County (along with other west slope governments and Denver Water) unveiled a historic “cooperative agreement” that includes many important benefits for the Colorado River and its tributaries, including millions of dollars for river restoration and environmental enhancement; 1,000 acre-feet of water to help with low flows in the Fraser River watershed; guarantees that the vital Shoshone call continues to operate in the future to keep water in the Colorado River year-round; and an agreement that any future transbasin projects will only be pursued with the consent of the West Slope. The agreement is also important in establishing a stakeholder partnership called “Learning by Doing” to provide ongoing monitoring of river health to ensure adequate protection measures.

Grand County has also worked with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to use Windy Gap pumping capabilities to re-manage some “excess” water for the benefit of flows in the Colorado River and has filed for a Recreational In Channel Diversion to help support a new in-river water right on the Colorado mainstem.

Moreover, Grand County leaders are negotiating with Northern for enhanced funding for river restoration projects—including a needed bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to improve Colorado River habitat—and additional water for use in Grand County to boost flows and river health. Grand County is also promoting an agreement to release water for endangered fish in the downstream Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir – thereby benefiting the Colorado through miles of key trout habitat – instead of releases solely from Ruedi Reservoir, as has been done in the past.

For all the progress in recent years, the health of the Upper Colorado River ecosystem will continue to decline unless further protections are put in place to address looming impacts from two new Front Range diversion projects, Denver’s Moffat Tunnel expansion and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project. Nickum noted that EPA recently issued recommendations that supported Grand County and TU’s case for stronger mitigation on the Windy Gap Firming Project.

“Grand County officials understand that the Colorado headwaters are the lifeblood of their communities and of our state’s tourism economy and outdoor quality of life,” said Nickum. “They have set an example for our public leaders of what strong river stewardship looks like.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?


Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at:

The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Windy Gap Firming: Recently released final EIS acknowledges potential declines in streamflow in the Upper Colorado River basin


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Even more worrisome to conservation advocates are the projected declines in summer flows. Below Windy Gap Reservoir, July flows could drip by as much as 20 percent, according to the Bureau’s study, which also acknowledged that extensive mitigation measures will be needed to protect West Slope aquatic ecoystems…

But the proposed mitigation falls short of what’s needed to protect the Upper Colorado, according to Trout Unlimited, a cold-water fisheries conservation group.

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

A new federal report on the environmental impacts of a plan to expand the Windy Gap water diversion project in Colorado falls short of recommending what’s needed to protect the fragile Upper Colorado River, according to Trout Unlimited.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement, released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Nov. 30, outlines the anticipated effects of the proposed project and recommends needed mitigation.

“This new document is an improvement over the previous version in that it acknowledges the Windy Gap project will worsen conditions in the Upper Colorado River and Grand Lake unless measures are taken,” said Drew Peternell, executive director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. However, the mitigation proposed by the bureau falls far short of what is needed and critical problems continue to be ignored. We urge the Bureau to require additional protective measures to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource.”

“Trout Unlimited’s concerns with the Environmental Impact Statement are echoed by the Upper Colorado River Alliance, a nonprofit group that is also seeking to require more mitigation to protect the river,” said Boulder attorney Steven J. Bushong, a representative of the Alliance.

The report comes out as Trout Unlimited is launching a petition campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The petition campaign, based online at, is being spearheaded by Trout Unlimited to engage advocates for the iconic but threatened rivers. The website allows advocates to sign on to a petition that will be delivered to decision makers before the bureau makes a final decision on the Windy Gap project. That decision is expected in early January.

“The good news is that the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Impact Statement says additional mitigation measures may be added before the agency makes a final decision. That highlights the importance of taking action to stand up for the river now,” Peternell said.

Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. According to Trout Unlimited, steps must be taken to protect the rivers including:

· Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
· Funding to deepen river channels and create streamside shade.
· Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
· Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

“The Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to ignore existing problems that will be made much worse by the Windy Gap project,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “A study released by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have all but disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir. The state study blames the reservoir and the lack of spring flows that clean sediments from the stream beds and warns that expansion of the Windy Gap project poses additional threats to the health of the river and the aquatic life in it.” See

The Windy Gap project also impacts the health of Grand Lake. “Grand Lake – once a pristine lake of dramatic clarity and scenic beauty – has become cloudy, weedy and silty because of diversion water pumped into the lake from Shadow Mountain reservoir,” said John Stahl of the Greater Grand Lake Shoreline Association. “Nothing in the FEIS mitigation plan is helpful in addressing the existing problems–at best it maintains the status quo while more likely creating even bigger problems.”

The Environmental Impact Statement indicates that the Bureau of Reclamation will monitor to ensure that mitigation is adequate and will impose additional measures if necessary. “That’s helpful but needs to be more clearly articulated. Another critical addition is the construction of a bypass around the Windy Gap dam,” Eberle added.

The campaign highlights the people who depend on the rivers.

“The Colorado and Fraser rivers aren’t just bodies of water, they are the lifeblood for wildlife, local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans are unaware that these rivers are on the brink of collapse because of diversions.’s purpose is twofold – to raise awareness about the threats facing the Colorado and Fraser and to give people a way to stand up for our rivers.”

Eberle added, “We can’t afford to let these rivers literally go down the drain.”

A new feature of the website called “Voices of the Fraser” profiles local Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their connection to the Fraser River and the need to preserve healthy flows. Among the individuals profiled are Olympic skier Liz McIntyre, logger Hoppe Southway and landscape artist Karen Vance.

“It would be a shame to see any of these tributaries dry up just for the sake of developing the Front Range,” said Southway in his profile. “It’s the water my children and grandchildren are going to want to see someday, and I hope it’s protected for future generations.”

Visitors to the site also have added their voices about why the river is important to them.

“I have fished and hiked the Fraser and Upper Colorado river regions for over 30 years and am deeply saddened by the degradation of these great watersheds,” a Golden, Colo., resident wrote.

A Bonita Springs, Florida, resident wrote: “I LOVE fishing that stretch of water and find such a simple peace of being in that area. Please don’t mess with such a special place.”

“As a visitor and fisherman to Colorado on a regular basis, my tourist dollars help the local communities,” noted a resident of Blue Springs, Missouri.

More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

Conservationists worry that impacts to the Upper Colorado River basin have not been adequately addressed in the final EIS for the Windy Gap Firming Project


From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

…watchdog groups aren’t satisfied that the impact of the water-storage project on fish and wildlife habitat on the Western Slope has been adequately addressed. The report details how Chimney Hollow will increase diversions and reduce flows in the Colorado River below the Windy Gap reservoir, decrease some fish habitat and affect vegetation, wetlands and wildlife. “We have very serious concerns about this project and its intersection with projects and participants in the Poudre River watershed as well as its potential negative impacts on the Colorado River and Grand Lake,” said Save the Poudre executive director Gary Wockner…

Northern Water — the agency coordinating the project on behalf of 13 Front Range cities and water utilities — says it is working with other groups and agencies to mitigate the impact of the project. “In our minds, we have addressed the impacts, and we have gone through a long public process … to develop measures to protect fish and wildlife,” said project manager Jeff Drager.

More coverage from the Northern Colorado Business Report. From the article:

The FEIS states that the best course of action, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, is to construct Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a proposed 90,000 acre-foot reservoir southwest of Loveland. The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir is the project’s key feature and would increase the reliability of the existing Windy Gap project, which started delivering water to Front Range municipalities in 1985…

The FEIS was the last document in the Windy Gap project’s National Environmental Policy Act review. The project is now awaiting an official decision from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is expected in early 2012.

Participants in the project include: Platte River Power Authority, Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Evans, Superior, Lafayette and Fort Lupton, Weld County Water District and Little Thompson Water District.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Pumping resumed September 7 from Shadow Mountain Reservoir into Grand Lake for deliveries to the South Platte Basin


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

In the shallow, “crystal clear” connecting channel of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, “The day after they started pumping, you couldn’t see the bottom,” said Watershed Program Manager Ben Carver, of the Grand County Water Information Network. Secchi disc measurements back up observances…The Water Information Network’s paid field technician has been sampling clarity at 14 sites of Grand Lake three times per week this summer. In mid-July, the measurements averaged around 20 feet (6.25 meters). On Sept. 10, three days after pumping resumed, the clarity on Grand Lake had been cut nearly in half to an average 11 feet (3.25 meters). The channel became “a bottleneck for all the algae coming into Grand Lake” from shallow Shadow Mountain Reservoir, Carver said.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Horsetooth Reservoir is as full as it has been since 1999


From the Loveland Connection (Bobby Magill):

The surface elevation of Horsetooth Reservoir, which stores water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope, is at 5,419 feet, about 11 feet below full pool of 5,430 feet.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, of which Horsetooth Reservoir is a part, set an all-time record for in-flows from the Colorado River, he said. Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake all received 430,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, more than 75,000 acre-feet more than the previous record of 355,000 acre-feet, he said…

Horsetooth and other area reservoirs are full enough to put water managers in a good position to deliver plenty of water to irrigators next year regardless of how snowy the winter is, [Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesperson Brian Werner] said. We’re in good shape,” he said. “We can get by with average or below average winter snows this year and be fine next year.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Grand Lake: Canton O’Donnell — ‘The clarity has so much improved over anything we’ve seen in August over the past 50 years’


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

“The clarity has so much improved over anything we’ve seen in August over the past 50 years,” said Three Lakes Watershed Association President Canton O’Donnell of Grand Lake. The 250-member organization has advocated for better water quality in Grand Lake for at least 20 years.

O’Donnell’s observations during a recent annual sailing regatta on Grand Lake are backed up by a Three Lakes Clarity Monitoring Report for July, which shows improvements in clarity throughout the month. Clarity in Grand Lake reached greater than 13 feet, a far cry from a 2007 reading of 4.8 feet in late summer.

The problem “everyone agrees on,” O’Donnell said, is the shallowness of Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Water delivered to northeastern Colorado to support communities and ranches is pumped through Shadow. Average residency for water in Shadow is about a month, during which the water heats up and produces algae, weeds and sediment brought through the canal into natural Grand Lake.

The monitoring program through the Grand County Water Information Network — which shares data with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — analyzes weather and Secchi depth readings in lakes including natural Grand Lake and the connected Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District tour attracts nearly 100 taxpayers, city officials, water district employees and students


From the Carbon Valley Miner and Farmer (Gene Sears):

Nearly 100 participants attended the tour, a mix of taxpayers, city officials, water district employees and students, split between two buses hired by the district for the trip. Starting at NCWCD headquarters in Berthoud, the tour headed northeast up Big Thompson Canyon, through Estes Park and onto Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, headwaters for much of the district’s supply…

Built at a cost of $162 million, the project began full water deliveries in 1957. As it stands now, the Colorado-Big Thompson system consists of 12 reservoirs, 35 miles of tunnels, 95 miles of canals and 700 miles of power transmission lines. Spanning 150 miles east to west and 65 miles north to south, C-BT provides water to almost 700, 000 irrigated acres and more than 750,000 people in the South Platte River Basin.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Grand Lake: Town trustees hike base rate for water

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

…water customers in the town of Grand Lake will pay a higher base rate starting April 1, an increase to $98 from $92 for up to 27,000 gallons of water allowance per quarter.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Colorado River Basin: Where does your water come from?

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Here’s a post from Alan Predergast from the Westword Blogs. Click through for his links to videos on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:

[The video Tapped Out from Colorado Trout Unlimited] starts out with some ignoramus-on-the-street interviews along the Sixteenth Street Mall, in which Denver citizens are asked just that question: “Where does your water come from?” The most common answer? “The sink.”

As much as 60 percent of the metro area’s water consumption goes to landscaping — mostly that nice green grass imported from somewhere else.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Colorado River District: Tom Sharp named president of the board of directors

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From Steamboat Today (Mike Lawrence):

Steamboat Springs attorney Tom Sharp has been named the new president of the Colorado River District’s board of directors. Sharp is the board’s former vice president, has served as a director of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District since 1977 and has held numerous prominent, water-related positions in Northwest Colorado…

Sharp said much of his time leading the district will be spent in continuing negotiations with Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Con servancy Dist rict, two Front Range entities that are seeking to increase their usage of water from the Colorado River system to fill potential new storage capacity on the Front Range…

“Denver Water has agreed that it will not seek to acquire any new water right on the West Slope, including the Yampa River, beyond its existing supplies except with the cooperation from the (Colorado) River District and the county commissioners of the affected counties,” Sharp said Wednesday in his Fourth Street office. “What we’re principally going to be spending time on this year is finalizing the nuts and bolts of that agreement.”[…]

Colorado River District spokesman Jim Pokrandt said Sharp is more than qualified to guide the district through the challenging times ahead. “Tom is certainly an experienced water leader,” Pokrandt said. “He’s a veteran of serving on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado Water and Power Authority over the years. … It’s not his first time around the rodeo.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Grand Lake: 2011 town budget reflects ongoing water quality concerns

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

One significant budgetary line item in the total $2.3 million total budget proposes $25,000 in water quality legal contributions shared between the general and water funds, in part due to an amicus brief filed in October in support of a possible Supreme Court case concerning water transfers. The town board hopes to “continue to advocate for Grand Lake water quality through local, regional and state policy,” according to Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson project update: Shadow Mountain/Grand Lake connecting channel work complete

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The channel had been closed since early October for a rehabilitation project to increase the safety and efficiency of the 65-year-old structure. Because most of the project work is completed, normal water operations have resumed. Workers will continue paving and re-vegetation work through mid-November. The channel is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, a public agency created in 1937 to contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to build the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13- mile tunnel that runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here

Colorado-Big Thompson Project: Pinewood Reservoir operations update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Work around Pinewood Reservoir that I have been referencing in my last couple of e-mails is well underway.

Truck hauling of the box culverts we will use to replace the open Pole Hill Canal at the top of Pole Hill Road has begun. Attached to this e-mail is a re-issue of the news release announcing the truck hauling. Four to five trucks will be making trips up Pole Hill Road several times a day throughout October to deliver the box culverts.

Residents around and visitors to Rattlesnake Dam at Pinewood Reservoir will also notice we are releasing a little bit more water than normal from the dam. Normally, the dam releases about a half of a cubic foot per second. This week, we are pumping an additional 1.5 cfs of water out of the reservoir to finish the draw down to dead storage. This means the total release is near 2 cfs. Our releases run into Cottonwood Creek. The draw down is necessary to facilitate some maintenance in the Bald Mountain Pressure Tunnel which connects Pinewood Reservoir to the Flatiron Penstocks–the water pipes that carry water from Pinewood down to the Flatiron Power Plant.

Meanwhile the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is working in the channel between Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir on the west side of the project. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

Built 65 years ago, the dam and bridge at the entrance to Grand Lake maintains the natural lake’s water level per federal guidelines to within 12 inches of the high water line when Shadow Mountain Reservoir, the water body connected to the lake, is lowered. According to Northern, in 1963 the dam structure located between the two bodies of water was modified to allow boats to travel from one lake to the other. Now, updates to the structure are intended to provide more safety features and operational efficiency. Other than new railings to bring the bridge up to code standards, it “won’t look very different,” said Northern spokesperson Dana Strongin.

This year’s rehabilitation project — under construction by the water-projects specialty company Garney Construction of Denver— includes dewatering about 70 feet of the channel by using a flexible membrane to control water on both sides of the bridge structure. Workers will be rehabilitating the bridge, repairing dam concrete and extending the concrete piers. According to Northern, there will also be an additional walkway along the east side of the structure upon project completion.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Grand Lake: Watching Florida water case

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Water suppliers, irrigation companies and others spend a good deal of time and money watching water court and other cases with an eye towards protecting their liquid assets. Here’s a report on the Town of Grand Lake’s involvement with a case in Florida, from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

At least in a legal sense, new attention may be brought to the declining water quality of Grand Lake through a case that could be tried in the U.S. Supreme Court involving Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake in southern Florida. The Town of Grand Lake and two citizen groups — with the backing of Grand County — have filed a brief in support of a case that centers on the threatened health of Lake Okeechobee. The amicus curiae (or ‘friend of the court’) brief supports a petition by attorneys and advocacy groups in Florida hoping to overturn a federal court ruling that states water transfers are not subject to the Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent Clean Water Act permitting requirements.

The Friends of the Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation and Fishermen Against Destruction of the Environment contend that backpumping of water containing pollutants from canals into Lake Okeechobee required permitting through the EPA. In June 2009, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Friends of the Everglades v. South Florida Water Management District ruled in support of the “unitary waters theory,” an EPA-accepted guidance that all waters of a system belong to the United States, therefore pollutants in one body of water do not “add” pollutants to other “waters of the United States.”

That ruling conflicts with another federal court ruling that took place in New York involving a water transfer from Schoharie Reservoir through the Shandaken Tunnel to Esopus Creek, a system that reverses natural flows to supply drinking water to New York City residents. The Catskill Mountains Chapter of Trout Unlimited alleged that the tunnel discharges pollutants into Esopus Creek. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the City of New York should be subject to permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act.

Because of these conflicting decisions, the topic of whether water transfers are subject to Clean Water Act permitting requirements could be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The outcome of any such ruling could have bearing on Grand Lake’s future, since it is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which pumps water from reservoirs into Grand Lake and through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to cities and power utilities in Northern Colorado…

In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission established minimal water-quality standards for Grand Lake, but if the “unitary waters” theory holds up, the brief argues, there would be “no practical way” to ensure that the water quality standards for the lake can be met.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Grand Lake: Long-term solution sought for clarity problems

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to users from Broomfield to Fort Collins, was pumping water at the beginning of May, then shut off the pumps at the end of May and into June while heavy natural spring runoff filled Front Range and West Slope reservoirs to near capacity. During that runoff time, the clarity in Grand Lake decreased as high inflows brought a lot of suspended solids into the system, according to data from the Grand County Water Information Network, which records clarity readings from various parts of reservoirs and lakes. The readings show that Grand Lake clarity increased significantly as snowmelt subsided and as lake temperatures rose, all the while water flowed in its natural direction during ceased pumping activity.

But clarity deteriorated again around the time pumps were turned back on as temperatures increased and Shadow Mountain Reservoir water flowed into Grand Lake, according to the Network. Northern returned to pumping at 194 cfs on July 1, increased pumping, then dropped down to 225 cfs on July 18, according to Northern. Now nearly halfway through an eight-week experimental pumping regimen, the utility is hoping slow moving water pumped at a lower rate will prevent an algae bloom in shallow Shadow Mountain Reservoir, caused by water sitting too long in hot summer. This is the third summer where such pumping experiments have taken place. This year, because the system will be out of commission in October for replacement of the dam and walking bridge at the connection of Grand Lake to the canal, the utility is trying something different: instead of shutting pumps off for a two-week period in late summer, it is moving water at 225 cfs for eight weeks.

A 2009 study conducted by Associate Director for the Center for Limnology of University of Colorado, Boulder, James McCutchan, confirms that the shallowness of Shadow Mountain Reservoir causes high temperatures in the lake, leading to increased algae production and higher levels of suspended solids. When pumping is turned on, this water is transferred to Grand Lake, which experts believe reduces its transparency. McCutchan’s study found that non-algal particulate matter, which may include sediment, decaying leaves, weeds and dead algae, have the most direct impact to Grand Lake clarity, materials carried into the lake from Shadow Mountain Reservoir…

Northern maintains that clarity problems in Grand Lake could be created by many other factors, such as nutrient levels from surrounding development and summer’s rising water temperatures. A “Three Lakes Technical Advisory Team” through Northern’s multi-year “Nutrient Project” is charged with studying ongoing problems in the Three Lakes region, with an eventual look toward solutions to the problems. The team comprises representatives from Grand County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, several watershed organizations, the EPA, Northern, the U.S. Geological Survey, Division of Wildlife, Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the City of Fort Collins. Presently, the Advisory Team is studying the surrounding Grand Lake watershed for potential sources of pollution…

The low flows of 225 cfs for eight weeks, less than half of the system’s full flow capacity, is intended to keep Shadow Reservoir water “fresh.” The pump regimen came from a recommendation by Northern’s Water Quality Consultant Dr. Jean Marie Boyer, who has been studying water quality at the three lakes for more than a decade. She determined the flows are low enough so not to spill East Slope reservoirs, said Jeff Drager, project manager at Northern.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Windy Gap Firming and the Moffat Collection System Project: What are the potential long-term environmental effects?

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“I know (Front Range residents) want to take showers, but we have to co-exist. They can’t destroy the beauty here — which is probably part of why they came to Colorado in the first place,” said Pat Raney, 66, one of a dozen or so volunteers who test water quality. Lying on her belly on the deck of a rocking pontoon boat on the lake, Raney lowered a disc used to measure underwater visibility: “7 feet 4 inches,” she reported to fellow volunteers. “Color is brown.” That’s less one third of the 30-feet visibility documented in 1941 before diversions here began…

While Grand Lake residents opposed to diversions tested water last week, Northern Colorado water district officials (who conduct their own water-clarity tests) were leading two busloads of Front Range residents on a moving seminar aimed at highlighting the need for new water.

Front Range water authorities contend that rearranging nature’s plumbing is not the only factor making Grand Lake water murkier. Residential and commercial development around Grand Lake may lead to septic system, lawn fertilizer and other contamination of water, Denver Water project manager Travis Bray said. The Front Range authorities now are trying to sweeten their proposals. They’re offering to improve the town of Fraser’s water-treatment plant — easing stress on that river. A cleaner Fraser flow into the Colorado would mean “no net change in the nutrient levels” in Grand Lake, Northern project manager Jeff Drager said. Northern would team with Denver Water to improve the facility, he said. “We’re talking maybe $4 million.”

The water providers also have offered to manage river flows in a way that ensures additional water to sustain fish.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

I hope everyone is enjoying the full reservoirs we have this spring. As most of you already know, Carter and Horsetooth are each only a couple of feet down from full. Horsetooth remains at a water level elevation of 5427; Carter is at an elevation of 5757.

We are anticipating these higher levels for a little while, although now that it is starting to get hot, we also anticipate we will start seeing water users begin to pull water from both reservoirs. Some water has already been going out of Carter. Although we had initially projected it would not come on for a few more weeks, we will actually resume pumping water to Carter tomorrow, Friday June 25.

Also, for more information on Horsetooth and Carter reservoirs, please visit our new Webpage. Bookmark it!

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

Grand County ‘State of the River’ meeting recap

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

Colorado River Basin snowpack levels are at 77 percent of average, in line with statewide averages this year, according to information shared at the annual State of the River Meeting. “It’s been a poor year until recently,” said Senior Water Resources Engineer Don Meyer of the Colorado River District to a roomful of water stakeholders Tuesday at the Mountain Parks Electric meeting room in Granby…

Forecasted elevation of Lake Granby is expected to be at 8,268 feet, according to Andrew Gilmore, hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that operates the Colorado-Big Thompson project. That level equates to about 12 feet from full. But Don Carlson of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the agency that delivers water to Northeastern municipalities, water districts, industries and farms, had a slightly less conservative prediction for Granby Reservoir. Because of moisture on the East Slope, Northern may be able to use some of its low priority rights for water, he said, which will take some pressure off of West Slope supplies this year. Granby Reservoir may be closer to 4 to 5 feet below full, he said…

Snowpack has “been behind all year, although did make a nice recovery recently,” said Bob Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply. “The good news is, we think we’re going to fill all of our reservoirs anyway, despite the low snowpack.”[…]

State of the River

The Colorado River District, which operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir is extending its offering of bounty for anglers who catch northern pike, a predator to native species. Anglers will be awarded $20 for each Pike caught.

• Northern and the Bureau of Reclamation are planning to replace the dam structure between Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake this year. The dam/bridge at the eastern end of the canal is old, doesn’t perform well and poses safety concerns to boaters, said Northern’s Don Carlson. To avoid Grand Lake’s heavy summer traffic season during which many boaters use the canal, work on the dam project is planned for 30 days during the month of October.

• Pumping started at Windy Gap near Granby on April 29 to send 15,000 acre feet for storage to partners in northeastern Colorado, with another 40,000 acre feet from Lake Granby for their use.

• During the 25-year anniversary of the Windy Gap Reservoir, water will be taken down in mid-July through the end of September to address sediment build-up. Although sediment has been building up through the years, the reservoir was further impacted by a pond breach last year at the Orvis Shorefox property, which added silt to the reservoir.

• Denver Water customers are conserving more water due to a tiered rate structure that increases with increased water use per gallon. Graphs show that since Denver Water implemented its new rate structure, water use has plateaued even though the utility’s customer base has increased.

• Denver Water is redoing the outlet works at Williams Fork Reservoir and constructing a new auxiliary power plant at a cost of $17 million. The new outlet works should increase the capacity from 275 cfs to 750 cfs when completed. In the meantime, this summer the dam will operate with temporary outlet works with limited release capabilities, at 125 cfs. “We’ll get through this year as best we can with the limited release capabilities,” said Denver Water’s Steger.

• At the Vasquez Canal, Denver Water is replacing 1,500 feet of covered canal with pipe.

• There were several temperature exceedances in the Fraser River last year, according to the Grand County Water Information Network. They were upstream from Windy Gap and at the conjunction of Ranch Creek, she said. As many as 32 temperature monitoring sites will be in place again this year. Through partnerships, algae toxin monitoring and gathering of water clarity data will also continue at reservoirs and lakes this summer.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District sets the Colorado-Big Thompson quota at 80%

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From The Fort Morgan Times:

The 80 percent quota will make available a total of 248,000 acre-feet of C-BT Project water. C-BT allottees — those water users within Northern Water boundaries who own units of C-BT water — include municipalities like the city of Fort Morgan, domestic water districts like the Morgan County Quality Water District, industries and farmers…

In determining the quota, the board also considers the need to maintain C-BT Project storage reserves. The board strives to utilize the supplemental water supply provided by the C-BT Project to complement the supplies available from native sources to ensure adequate regional water supplies through the current water year.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here and here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update

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From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

It is almost spring and that means we are in the middle of filling both Horsetooth and Carter reservoirs for the upcoming season.

For the last six weeks, we have been sending water into Horsetooth Reservoir at a rate of about 500 cfs. Those tracking the reservoir’s progress will note that it reached a water level elevation of just over 5400 feet earlier this week. Currently, it is sitting at almost 5403–about 11 feet down from where we typically start the water season. However, we are hoping to fill Horsetooth a little more than that, this year.

While we have been filling Horsetooth, Carter Lake has remained at a water level elevation of 5744–about 15 vertical feet from full. Because our goal is to have both Horsetooth and Carter at their highest elevation for the season by mid-May, it is time to resume pumping water to Carter. This means on Monday afternoon (March 8, 2010), we will once again begin pumping water into Carter Lake.

When we are pumping to Carter, we cannot send as much water into Horsetooth. Once the pump to Carter goes on, inflow to Horsetooth will drop to around 165 cfs. We anticipate we will fill Carter through the month of March, resuming our fill of Horsetooth by the second week of April. Both reservoirs are anticipated to reach their highest water level elevation for the season by the middle of May.

More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here and here.

Grand County: What are the tradeoffs with respect to the Moffat Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project?

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Folks in Grand County know their water law pretty well. 150 or so showed up to a briefing on the Moffat Collection System Project last Tuesday at Silver Creek. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. It’s a long article so click through and read the whole thing. Here are a few exerpts:

“What the EIS is proposing to do is take the flows off of the rising level of the hydrograph, and in our wettest times of the year, what our enhancements are proposing to do is to give us water back when our flows are the lowest. Is that an acceptable trade?” she asked.

“There’s skepticism out there, there’s a feeling out there that Grand County has this back-room deal going on,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry at the start of the meeting. “And the more I thought about this, yeah. We do. We really do. It’s a separate negotiating process.”

On its team, the county has assembled water attorneys, engineers, NEPA and Clean Water Act specialists and a professional negotiator to aid in deals and to advise on what to ask for. The county has spent some $2.8 million on water protection since 2003.

In the past year alone, county representatives have attended 65 meetings with the Northern Water Conservancy District, Denver Water and West Slope partners regarding water issues, according to county officials. “We’re going to be much better off than before the project happened,” Newberrry said, optimistically. But success is not guaranteed, at which point the county is prepared to litigate. “And even that is not a guarantee,” he said.

The county has stated it has better legal footing against the Northern Colorado Municipal Subdistrict’s Windy Gap Firming Project — concurrently being proposed — than it does Denver’s…

“We already have a river that is on the brink,” said Mely Whiting, senior attorney for Trout Unlimited. “Is this incremental 20 percent going to push us over the brink?” It’s a question that has been subjected to modeling, charting and graphing in countless studies.

But Jon Ewert, Division of Wildlife area biologist, said even with the most esteemed modeling, biology is really unpredictable. “There are cascading effects that can take years, if not decades to unfold,” he said. Both Denver Water and Northern have endorsed the science behind the [Grand County] Stream Management Plan (pdf), county officials say, although those water users may not agree on the implementation of it…

Attorney Mely Whiting of Trout Unlimited stressed along with county officials that any allowance for Denver to take more water from the river should be tied to a “reopener clause,” in which stakeholders would revisit the project if degradation of the river reached beyond what was predicted in the NEPA process.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Mesa County Water Association to offer ‘The Water Course’ January 19, 27 and February 2

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Sharon Sullivan):

What: “The Water Course” covering water law, water quality and balancing competing demands, sponsored by the Mesa County Water Association
When: Jan. 19 and 27, Feb. 2, 6-9 p.m. Registration due Monday, Jan. 11.
Where: GG City Hall Auditorium, 250 N. Fifth St.
Cost for entire series: $35 MCWA members; $45 nonmembers; Single session: $15 MCWA members; $20 nonmembers. Some scholarships..
Info:, or 683-1133, or

More from the article:

Studies estimate a 600,000 million-acre-feet shortage [ed. in the Grand Valley] by 2050, said Grand Junction Utility and Street System Director Greg Trainor, and a board member of the Mesa County Water Association.

The MCWA was first formed 25 years ago by the late Ruth Hutchins, a Fruita farmer concerned about a proposal that would pump water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. Citizens, irrigators and government leaders held “Water 101” courses on controversial water topics for many years. After several years of inactivity, the MCWA was resurrected a year ago by Trainor and Hannah Holm to resume educating people on water issues affecting the Western Slope. The association is governed by a seven-member board of directors. “Current water laws serve the valley well, but it really behooves people to appreciate the resource and protect it as the water situation gets tighter,” said Holm, MCWA coordinator. “We can’t stay in our bubble forever.”[…]

A three-part water course series starts Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium. The first course will address water law; how the valley’s water rights relate to the water rights of California and Denver; and who is responsible for irrigation water once it leaves a canal…

The Jan. 27 course will cover laws and programs that seek to protect and clean up Colorado waterways, the condition of Grand Valley rivers and streams, and how drinking water is protected and treated. The February course will explore threats to irrigated agriculture as cities grow; environment and recreation water needs; and how the Grand Valley could change with drought and increasing competition for water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Denver Water: Corps Moffat Collection System Project Boulder public hearing recap

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From Colorado Trout Unlimited (David Nickum):

[One citizen, Derek Turner] also noted that the EIS indicates that Denver will completely divert 100% of the flow from eight different streams in Grand County, and called for at least SOME protection of those resources.

Numerous residents of the Magnolia and Coal Creek Canyon areas – which would be impacted by the proposed multi-year constructon of the enlarged dam for Gross Reservoir – raised concerns about effects on the community, including heavy construction traffic on small rural roads, noise, and development of numerous quarries.

Several individuals highlighted the need to look beyond large engineering solutions for water supply and to instead look at options for conservation and water marketing opportunities including further leases of agricultural water. One witness emphasized that the rationale for the project was not based on basic water supply needs, but rather was based on the reliability standard – in other words, how severe of a drought should supplies provide for without the need for customers to go under restrictions (such as those that were used in the 2002 drought)? He noted that Denver planned to have far more water (and rarer need for restrictions) than did the City of Boulder, and suggested that the entire project supply might be unnecessary if Denver simply adjusted its planning expectations on this point…

Overall, the evening included a wide range of concerns expressed by citizens coming from a variety of different perspectives. There were no major supporters/champions for the project who spoke during the public hearing.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

… the plan requires federal approval, and at public hearings, opponents concerned about environmental harm have argued that Denver must rely more on using less water — not pump more from the mountains. “We need a paradigm shift. We need to start living within our means,” said Steve Paul, president of a Grand Lake homeowners group on the Western Slope and one of dozens who have testified before federal engineers.

Denver Water officials counter that their 1.3 million customers already have been cutting consumption — currently 87 gallons a day per person — by about 18 percent a year since 2005. They say nearly half the annual water-supply shortfall they project by 2030 — 34,000 acre-feet — will be met through further cuts. “We’re doing everything we can with conservation,” supply project manager Travis Bray said…

The battle promises to intensify in coming months as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency that oversees water projects, reviews public testimony and Denver’s submissions. Denver has not managed to push through a project on this scale since construction of Dillon Reservoir in 1963. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 1990 veto of Denver’s proposed $1 billion Two Forks Dam still looms in water-authority boardrooms. That project, backed by developers and opposed by environmentalists, also was aimed at preventing shortages.

Denver already owns rights to the water it would divert from the upper Colorado River basin — from the Blue River in Summit County and from the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers and dozens of streams in Grand County. But Trout Unlimited sportsmen’s advocates said that stream flows there already are dangerously low, threatening aquatic life, with algae increasing and once-clear Grand Lake turning cloudy. Boulder-area residents warned of harm to wildlife and lifestyle disruptions during construction to raise the dam and clear trees in expanding Gross Reservoir.

Some 350 advocates and community leaders have attended hearings in Boulder, Denver and Granby. The Army Corps of Engineers is now accepting public comments.

Learning how to live on less water “is a reality we’re going to have to face,” said Becky Long, water-caucus coordinator for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “So why keep putting it off? . . . While Denver deserves credit for what they’ve done on conservation, we have a lot farther to go.”

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Moffat Collection System Project: Corps Denver hearing recap

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The Fraser River of the 21st century is much different from the river that former President Eisenhower used to fish back in the day. Low flows due to transmountain diversions have diminished the fishery there.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held a hearing last night in Denver for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project which would divert additional water from the Fraser watershed. Residents, planners and politicians (many from Grand County) showed up to be heard. A majority of the speakers asked for the comment period to be extended 45 days.

Speakers for the most part voiced opposition to the proposed Denver Water expansion of Gross Reservoir and the increased diversions to fill the new space. The hope is to raise the dam 125 feet or so to get another 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield on the north side of their service area. They also hope to build a new reservoir on Leyden Creek.

“It breaks my heart to see a natural environment disappear while the east slope creates an environment that belongs east of the Mississippi River,” said Fraser resident Kirk Klanke during the hearing.

He also voiced support for an extension of the comment period. The EIS is a couple of thousand pages and many of the speakers said that they’ve not had enough time to probe the proposed workings.

Canton O’Donnell wants the Corps to evaluate the Moffat project in conjunction with the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project. Windy Gap is the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s plan to increase municipal supply for the Front Range using the Colorado-Big Thompson project to transport water stored downstream of Granby Reservoir. One speaker asked the Corps to hold off on issuing permits for either the Windy Gap Firming Project or the Moffat Collection System Project until Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District come up with their plan to coordinate the two projects to minimize impacts to the headwaters area.

“If your house is on fire and you have two bedrooms you’d want the fire department to take care of both,” said 4th generation Grand County rancher and county commissioner Gary Bumgarner in support of consolidating the environmental impact statements for both projects.

“This is a very bad project for many reasons,” said Grand Lake Mayor, Judy Burke, while reminding the Corps that pumping warmer water upstream to Grand Lake is causing algae blooms in the lake.

The Colorado-Big Thompson project moves water from Granby Reservoir, through Shadow Mountain Reservoir and into Grand Lake for transport under the Continental Divide through the Adams Tunnel. The Windy Gap Firming Project would increase the volume of water pumped up to the Adams tunnel so presumably the lake clarity problem will increase along with lowered water quality.

Whitewater enthusiasts oppose the drowning of the reach of South Boulder Creek just above Gross Reservoir. One commenter called it a, “Premier whitewater run.”

Interested parties have one more chance to speak publicly on the project next week in Keystone. Here’s the release from Denver Water with details about the hearings.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.

Grand County: No Colorado-Big Thompson stimulus dough for water quality

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

Stimulus money granted to the Colorado-Big Thompson project will not be used to study water quality in Grand County’s Three Lakes, according to a May 1 letter to the county from Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Michael Collins. The BuRec informed Grand County officials that it is unable to fulfill the county’s request. The county had asked that about $100,000 or more out of a $14 million stimulus grant be directed to a Colorado Big Thompson Project study that would launch finding a solution to Grand Lake’s water-clarity problems.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project scores $14 million in stimulus dough

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

Grand County is asking that $100,000 to $200,000 of the C-BT stimulus money be spared, according to an April 23 letter the county manager sent to the Bureau’s eastern Colorado area manager. The money is needed for an appraisal plan, the county’s letter states, which might become the first step toward a solution to Grand Lake’s water quality problems. County officials have called the lake’s water quality “an environmental disaster that needs to be fixed.” In recent years, Grand County has taken the stance that water delivery through the lake, a natural lake made part of the C-BT system about 70 years ago when the system was approved, is degrading the lake’s clarity. “We would respectfully ask that within the $14 million funding allowance, the Bureau might be able to divert up to $200,000 of this funding to begin the appraisal process,” County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran wrote. The Bureau has told county officials the agency could start the process without congressional go-ahead, but due to budget timing, the Bureau’s first opportunity to assign needed funds would be in 2012.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Grand Lake: Trustees pass ordinance to protect surface water

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

In Grand Lake, those who apply tree pesticides and phosphorous fertilizers are now required by law to spray 30 feet back from any water source, according to a new law passed on Monday that closes possible loopholes in chemical labels. The law, which saw little resistance among community members during its passage, levies fines of $100 to $300 per illegally sprayed tree. The law aims to prevent chemical spray drift from entering water sources such as rivers, streams and the lake in an effort to protect the town’s wellhead and drinking supply as well as to protect fish food sources.