Prepping for mountain snowmelt today and tomorrow: Learn how #ClimateChange complicates the spring #runoff season and what @DenverWater is doing about it — New on Tap

From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

Managing water collected from the mountain snow’s spring runoff has plenty of challenges — and will become more complex in the future due to climate change.

“As water planners, we prefer to see predictable weather patterns,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager at Denver Water. “Unfortunately, every year is different and with climate change we’re seeing more variability and that makes it tougher to manage our water supply.”

That challenge may be most acute during runoff season, that critical — and brief — window of time when snow melts, flows into streams and fills reservoirs. Climate change may lead to changes in runoff timing that, in turn, require more nimble reservoir operations.

What’s happening?

Since the 1960s, average temperatures in Colorado have increased 2.5 degrees, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That change is manifesting in significant ways.

“We’re seeing more swings between wet and dry years, more variation in year-to-year stream runoff and earlier runoff,” said Laurna Kaatz, climate program manager at Denver Water. “We’re also expecting to see more extreme weather events like extreme heat and enhanced drought, but we could also see more intense rainstorms and flooding especially if heavy rain falls on top of a lot of snow.”

Timing is everything

The timing of the snow runoff in Summit County, which is home to Dillon Reservoir, provides an example of how climate change impacts not only water collection but also recreation and flooding.

Rapid snowmelts caused by rain falling on snow could lead to a greater risk of flooding below Dillon Dam.

During a gradual runoff, Denver Water can take steps to minimize the risk of flooding below the dam, however, if there are more instances of warm weather combined with rain falling on snow, large amounts of water can fill Dillon quickly and send water through the dam’s overflow spillway. This scenario can lead to high water levels on the Blue River through Silverthorne.

“We do our best to minimize high flows out of our reservoirs, but if there is a fast runoff, we can only do so much and there’s a greater chance for flooding downstream if there’s a major rain-on-snow event,” Elder said.

Changes in runoff and precipitation also impact when Dillon Reservoir fills — or doesn’t fill — which plays a role in boating season and water levels for the Dillon and Frisco marinas.

The timing of the runoff also impacts Denver Water’s ability to make the most of its water rights.

“Later runoff allows us to use our water rights to match higher customer demand during the summer watering season,” Elder said. “Early runoff means we have to let some water go downstream before we can put it to use on the Front Range. This also impacts how much water we can store for times of drought.”

When Dillon Reservoir is full, water flows down its overflow spillway into the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Extreme weather events

Colorado has seen several big swings in weather over the last 20 years, suggesting the kind of uncertainty that may be more pronounced as climate change intensifies and the resulting complexity in managing the snow runoff.

Most recently, the winter of 2017-2018 was exceptionally dry across the state but was followed by above average snow in 2018-2019.

The years 2012 through mid-2013 were another period of drought, followed by record flooding in September 2013. Two wet years followed in 2014 and 2015.

The dramatic weather turnaround in 2002 and 2003 is another example of how extreme weather impacts Denver Water’s water supply and planning.

Those years marked a major period of drought. In 2003, Denver Water was preparing to have water restrictions and Dillon Reservoir was more than half empty and critically low. But in March 2003, the Front Range and central mountains got hit with a major snowstorm that filled Denver Water’s reservoirs.

“A drought could last one year or several and then be followed by big snow years,” Elder said.

“We could get most of our water for the year from one or two big storms, so we have to be prepared for these situations.”

Swings in weather patterns and extreme events could have Denver Water planning for drought conditions with watering restrictions for customers and end up with a surplus of water after a big storm.

Cheesman Reservoir during the 2002 drought. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Planning for climate uncertainty

Denver Water has relied primarily on historical weather patterns and data to plan for how much water it will collect from mountain streams. Now the utility is incorporating climate change into its long-range preparation through scenario planning.

“One component of scenario planning involves creating a variety of potential climate scenarios instead of simply assuming patterns will stay the same over the next 50 to 100 years,” said Jeff Bandy, a water resource manager at Denver Water. “This approach helps us plan for potential changes in climate and evaluate our system’s reliability.”

Denver Water takes data from global climate models and uses the information to create various outcomes on streamflow and precipitation in its water collection system.

The planning team develops scenarios that include variables such as warmer temperatures, more precipitation and shifts in timing of precipitation, all of which result in changes to volume and timing of runoff in Denver Water’s watersheds.

“We evaluate the scenarios and determine if future infrastructure projects or operational changes are needed,” Bandy said.

Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

Enhancing data collection

Denver Water collects water from 4,000 square miles in Colorado’s central mountains and foothills. With such a large area, getting accurate and timely information about weather and streamflow conditions is critical to water supply management.

“We use a lot of different data sources to manage and forecast water supply and a lot of these data sources are based off historical climate data,” Elder said. “With a changing climate, the current data sources are no longer as reliable as they used to be. This makes it more difficult to manage our reservoirs.”

In preparation for more weather extremes and variability, Denver Water has begun investing in new technology to get a more accurate picture of the snowpack above Dillon.

Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

“In April 2019 we used NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which uses a plane, to measure snowpack over the mountains in our watershed,” Elder said. “The more we know about the snow, water content and runoff, the better decisions we can make when it comes to managing our water supply for our customers and the communities where our reservoirs are located.”

Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply, tracks a variety of factors to keep tabs on the snowpack and water supply. Photo credit: Denver Water.

What can customers do?

The best way communities can be prepared for the impacts of climate change is to use water wisely.

“Our water supply is vulnerable to climate and our customers play a major role in how we manage our system,” Elder said. “That’s why we always ask our customers to be efficient with their water all year long and even in wet years.”

Water is a limited resource in Colorado so climate change will impact communities on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“Climate change means water change and that’s important to us all,” Kaatz said. “So, it’s our goal at Denver Water to make sure we’re thinking about it and actively preparing for the changes we’re going to experience.”

New projects take shape along High Line Canal: @DenverWater pledges $10M to long-term care of the historic canal — News on Tap

From News on Tap (Jay Adams):

When Denver’s early settlers built the High Line Canal back in the 1880s, little did they know what the future would hold for the 71-mile man-made waterway that stretches from Waterton Canyon southwest of Littleton all the way to Aurora.

The High Line Canal was originally designed to deliver irrigation water to farmers on the dry plains of Denver. While Denver Water still owns and uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers, the canal corridor also has grown into a recreational asset and an ecological resource for the metro area.

On the recreational side, each year around 500,000 people walk, run and ride the canal’s 71-mile maintenance road that also serves as a popular trail. As an ecological resource, some sections of the canal structure itself are now being used for stormwater management.

The High Line Canal is an irrigation ditch built in the 1880s. Denver Water still uses the canal to deliver irrigation water to customers when conditions allow. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The evolution of the public’s use of the canal for recreation and stormwater management, along with its original role as a water delivery method, is one of the reasons why Denver Water and regional partners, including cities, counties, park and flood districts and stormwater management entities, have partnered with the High Line Canal Conservancy. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the 71-mile canal in partnership with the public.

Denver Water plays an active role in the ongoing discussions about the canal’s future as it continues to serve its High Line customers. Because the canal has a junior water right and experiences high seepage and evaporation losses over large distances, Denver Water is looking for more reliable and efficient ways to deliver water to some of the High Line customers.

The High Line Canal in operation in May 2021. The canal is an inefficient means of delivering water long distances. It can get clogged with debris and loses 60% to 80% of its water to the ground due to seepage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“As the canal’s role in the metro area evolves, Denver Water is committed to making sure it remains a beneficial asset to the community,” said Jeannine Shaw, government relations manager at Denver Water. “That’s why in 2020, the Denver Water Board of Commissioners approved a historic $10 million pledge to the High Line Canal Conservancy to invest in the long-term care and maintenance of the canal corridor.”

Included in the pledge is a piece of property and an office building located adjacent to the canal in Centennial for the Conservancy to use as its new headquarters.

The High Line Canal Conservancy’s new headquarters is located along the canal in Centennial. Denver Water provided the building to the nonprofit as part of a financial pledge in 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

As part of this evolution, the Conservancy, Denver Water and canal stakeholders are creating a new management structure called the Canal Collaborative to formally connect the regional partners as they guide the future of the canal.

Representatives from the Canal Collaborative pose with supporters for a picture to celebrate their work. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

“The collaborative helps us do more together than any one entity can do alone,” said Suzanna Fry Jones, senior director of programs and partnerships for the High Line Canal Conservancy. “The collaborative management structure will ensure this treasured resource is preserved, protected and enhanced as a regional legacy for future generations.”

The formalized structure will benefit citizens and the environment along all 71 miles of the canal as it winds its way through Denver as well as Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

The Canal Collaborative includes the High Line Canal Conservancy, Denver Water, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, the cities of Aurora, Denver, Cherry Hills Village, Greenwood Village and Littleton, the Highlands Ranch Metro District, the Mile High Flood District, the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority and South Suburban Parks and Recreation.

Read about the different canals that carry water through Denver Water’s complex system.

“The collaborative is important because we need to have a group that brings together all of the jurisdictions so we can hear from each one of those entities and their communities about what’s most important to them,” said Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner for District 2, which includes Centennial, Greenwood Village, a portion of Aurora and unincorporated central Arapahoe County.

The Conservancy was formed in 2014 and has developed “The Plan for the High Line Canal,” which lays out guidance for repurposing the corridor along with over 100 recommendations for new projects.

Here’s a look at some of the developments along the canal in recent years.

Ecological resource

Under the new Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program, High Line Canal partners are looking at ways to allow and move stormwater through areas of the canal to improve water quality and manage local flooding in the South Platte River Basin. This is in addition to the canal’s existing irrigation delivery purposes.

Stormwater is any rain and snow that eventually flows off any impervious surface and into the canal.

Several structures have been built in or on the side of the canal to help manage the flow of stormwater through the channel.

The new structures that are located on the side of the canal help improve drainage on city streets and collect debris and trash before water enters the canal.

The structures being built inside the canal also help catch and stop debris and trash from flowing down the channel. They also temporarily slow down and detain water to filter out sediment.

These structures are designed to improve water quality before the water reaches receiving streams. Moving stormwater through the canal could provide an additional 100 days that the canal could be wet in some parts of the channel, which would benefit vegetation along the corridor while also enhancing the recreational user experience.

“Often times across the country, old utility and railroad corridors become degraded once their primary uses have been reduced, so we’re happy to see areas of the High Line Canal being maximized and transformed into green infrastructure,” Shaw said.

The City of Littleton built a stormwater management system on Windemere Street. Snow and rain drain through a grate on the street and into a pipe that flows into the High Line Canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
The City and County of Denver built four “drive-through forebays” at the end of several streets next to the High Line Canal across from Eisenhower Park. Before the structures were built, stormwater would flow uncontrolled and unfiltered into the canal. The forebays act as pre-treatment structures that will slow water down and allow sediment and trash to settle onto the street before entering the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.
The City and County of Denver built three concrete structures called water quality berms in the canal. This structure in the canal at Wellshire Golf Course will control the flow of water and catch trash and debris, making it easier to remove while providing cleaner water. Photo credit: Denver Water.
A new water quality berm with a headgate in the High Line Canal at Eisenhower Park in Denver. The berm temporarily detains stormwater to promote filtration of sediment before water passes through to improve water quality in the canal’s receiving streams. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.
When the High Line Canal is not in operation, gates are fully opened at stream crossings. This allows stormwater that’s been filtered in the canal to go into receiving streams such as Big Dry Creek at deKoevend Park in Centennial. Big Dry Creek eventually flows into the South Platte River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Along with Littleton and Denver, stormwater projects are also being implemented in Centennial, Douglas County and Greenwood Village with additional projects in progress. Learn more about the Stormwater Transformation and Enhancement Program in this video.

Denver Water and its regional partners also are exploring other opportunities to allow the canal structure to be used. In areas where it has adequate stormwater capacity the canal could provide additional benefits to the neighboring communities and their surrounding environment to improve water quality in the South Platte River basin.

“As we navigate the evolving future for the lands the High Line Canal irrigates, Denver Water is excited to further the work with our regional partners to find additional utility for this cherished resource,” Shaw said.

The High Line Canal in September 2021, near the South Quebec Way trailhead in southeast Denver. The canal is dry most of the year when not in operation for irrigation deliveries. Moving stormwater through the channel improves water quality and could add an additional 100 days when the canal could be wet in some parts of the canal. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Tree canopy health

There are more than 23,000 mature trees along the High Line Canal, but many are at the end of their life span. The Conservancy is working with Denver Water and regional partners to remove dead trees and trim others to improve overall tree health and safety along the canal’s recreational trail.

To maintain the canal’s urban forest, the Conservancy’s Plan recommends planting 3,500 new trees by 2030. The species of trees being planted will be more drought tolerant than many of the old cottonwood trees currently along the canal.

In the fall of 2021, the Conservancy, along with the support of local volunteers and The Park People, planted 175 new, drought-tolerant trees. Photo credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

Trail improvements

A major goal of the Conservancy and the Canal Collaborative is to make it easier, safer and more fun to walk or ride on the canal’s recreational trail. The Conservancy is working with local jurisdictions to add new pedestrian bridges, trailheads, underpasses, mile markers and wayfinding signs.

A biker rides through the new underpass that goes under South Colorado Boulevard and East Hampden Avenue next to Wellshire Golf Course in south Denver. The project provides a critical connection to allow safe passage under two busy streets, resulting in easier trail access and encouraging more users. The collaborative project was funded by the City and County of Denver, Cherry Hills Village and Arapahoe County along with funds from the federal government. Photo credit: Denver Water.
A new sign along the High Line Canal trail in Aurora installed in 2021 provides a map to help trail users navigate the corridor. Photo credit: Denver Water.
Arapahoe County Open Spaces opened a new trailhead on South Quebec Way in southeast Denver. The site includes parking, a bathroom, a trash can and a trail map. Adding new trailheads is major goal of the High Line Canal Conservancy to improve access and facilities for the public. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Canal Improvement Zones

Under The Plan, the Conservancy has worked with the community and jurisdictional partners to identify nine Canal Improvement Zones. These are locations where residents asked for trail enhancements to increase physical activity, foster community connections and create access points to nature.

Many of the sites are in diverse neighborhoods where the canal corridor has been historically under-utilized and lacked investment.

Enhancements may include pedestrian bridges, improved trail access, benches, signs, gathering spots and play areas.

The first location to see new projects is the Laredo Highline neighborhood in Aurora, thanks to a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation and an additional $180,000 from Arapahoe County.

A rendering of enhancements to the High Line Canal trail in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. The enhancements include a new pedestrian bridge to improve trail access and new play and seating areas. Image credit: High Line Canal Conservancy.

“I grew up in the Laredo Highline neighborhood and the canal has always helped bring the community together,” said Aurora resident Janak Garg. “We’re really looking forward to the new bridge and other improvements coming to the neighborhood.”

Janak Garg and his family stand at the spot where a new pedestrian bridge will be built across the canal in Aurora’s Laredo Highline neighborhood. Photo credit: Denver Water.

New mile markers

A very noticeable and welcome improvement to the trail is the addition of new mile markers. In the past, there were a variety of mile markers with different mileage from each jurisdiction, which made it confusing for hikers and bikers.

Now there are new Colorado red sandstone mile markers that line the trail from start to finish, paid for through donations by the Conservancy’s founding partners.

Most of the markers have a quote or message from the founding partners, like Al Galperin who lives near the South Quebec Way Trailhead, whose message reads: “Be the reason someone smiles today.”

“I hope it brings a little bit of extra joy to people on the trail,” Galperin said. “It’s nice to be able to help out and see all the new features coming to the canal.”

Al Galperin and his dog Brody stand next to one of the new mile markers along the High Line Canal trail. Galperin is one of the High Line Canal Conservancy’s Founding Partners who made a donation to help fund the mile marker project. Photo caption: Denver Water.

“It’s inspiring to see all these improvements and we’re excited for the future of the canal,” Shaw said. “The Conservancy and all of the partners are doing a great job leading the way and working with Denver Water and the community.”

Denver Water crews participate with volunteers to help clean up the canal in Aurora in April 2021. Photo credit: Denver Water.

Visit highlinecanal.org to sign up for monthly emails for information on events throughout the year. The website also provides information about history of the canal, new projects and volunteer opportunities.

Denver Water reaches Gross Reservoir settlement, but #water supply concerns remain — The #Denver Post #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Denver Post (Conrad Swanson):

The utility will pay millions to mitigate environmental concerns for Boulder County residents

The county received assurances Denver Water would pay to mitigate environmental damages expected from the work, but the deal still left Commissioner Matt Jones “heartsick.” He said commissioners fought for the best deal possible but he’s still concerned about the damage the project could do locally and for the millions of people who depend on the Colorado River…

Climate scientists and legal experts said they’re skeptical the parched Colorado River will provide enough water for Denver Water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir. And even if the water’s there, the expansion and other projects like it will inevitably worsen water shortages on Colorado’s Western Slope and downstream, they said.

Utility officials, however, hailed the settlement and said that while they won’t be able to fill the reservoir every year — which they’ve known all along — years with above-average precipitation will provide more than enough water.

“We’re gonna fill the reservoir,” Denver Water Project Manager Jeff Martin said.

Climate change is trending in the wrong direction for such strong confidence, cautioned Mark Squillace, the Raphael J. Moses Professor of Natural Resource Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

“This just seems a bit insane to me that Denver Water is unwilling to acknowledge” that climate change is only likely to worsen water shortages on the Western Slope, Squillace said.

Martin said he still expects to break ground on the five-year, $464 million project by April…

  • Denver Water will pay $5 million to residents most impacted by the work and agreed to reduce noise and dust from the project using electric rather than diesel generators.
  • Denver Water’s drivers must complete bicycle awareness training, provide “truck free” days for cyclists and “leave Gross Dam Road in a better condition than before the project.”
  • Denver Water will pay $5.1 million to replace open space lands that would be flooded by the reservoir expansion and transfer 70 acres near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County.
  • Denver Water will pay $1.5 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project and another $1 million to restore a stretch along South St. Vrain Creek.
  • Squillace said while those terms might benefit county residents, it’s still not enough and he was disappointed to hear commissioners agreed to settle.

    “We were between a rock and a hard place,” Jones said. “We were pushed into this corner of knowing that and trying to figure out what we could get for Boulder County residents…

    Martin said he and others at Denver Water expect to be able to fill the expanded reservoir in average and above-average years. South Boulder Creek, which is not part of the Colorado River system, also feeds into the reservoir and could supplement water in dry years on the Western Slope, he noted…

    [David] Bahr suggested Denver Water could instead pipe in water from the Missouri River or other places in the Midwest that are expected to see more water in the coming years. While Martin said those types of ideas could be explored for the more distant future, Denver Water officials maintain that an expanded Gross Reservoir is the best course of action for now.

    The project could still come to a halt, Squillace said. The more delays the work faces, the more climate data will be available, increasing political pressure for Denver Water to seek another way to secure its water supply.

    “I’m still not so convinced that the project’s ever going to actually be built,” he said.

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
    @GreatLakesPeck.

    Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is a go after federal, state and local reviews finalized: Project to raise dam will improve water reliability for more than 1.5 million people while benefiting the environment — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams and Todd Hartman):

    After nearly 20 years of preparations, the expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is moving ahead.

    Last week, Denver Water took the final step necessary to proceed with the project after striking an agreement with Boulder County to take additional actions to offset impacts of the project.

    The accord with Boulder County means Denver Water can proceed with the long-awaited project that will raise the dam, triple the reservoir capacity and mean far more water security for 1.5 million people in an era of more intense droughts, heavier rain events and earlier snowmelt – all driven by climate change.

    “Today is an historic occasion for Denver Water,” CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead told Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners on Nov. 3, upon acceptance of the Boulder County agreement.

    “We bring to a conclusion the federal, state and local review processes that will allow us to begin construction of the expansion of Gross Reservoir.”

    Expanding the reservoir requires raising the dam 131 feet by placing new concrete on the existing structure. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water personnel will begin close coordination with Boulder County and others to prepare the area and local roadways for construction. Denver Water will continue to engage and communicate with project neighbors to ease impacts of the work.

    “In the two decades Denver Water has spent preparing for the project, we have been driven by a singular value: the need to do this expansion the right way, by involving the community, by upholding the highest environmental standards and by protecting and managing the water and landscapes that define Colorado,” Lochhead said.

    “Boulder County and its residents share these perspectives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the project moves ahead.”

    Building the Gross Reservoir Dam in the 1950s. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Gross Dam was built in the 1950s and named after Dwight D. Gross, a former chief engineer at Denver Water. It was built to store water from the West Slope that travels through the Moffat Tunnel, as well as water from South Boulder Creek.

    “The original engineers designed the dam so that it could be raised twice, if needed,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir project manager. “Based on our water supply projections and current system shortfalls, that need is here.”

    Denver Water began the permitting process to raise the dam in 2003 and received approvals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in 2016 and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017.

    The plan cleared its final federal hurdle on July 16, 2020, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the project and ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction.

    The project has earned support from major environmental groups, business interests, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, including the state’s last five governors.

    Raising the dam will increase the reservoir’s storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water and make Gross Reservoir the second-largest in Denver Water’s system. When complete, Gross Reservoir will be able to hold 119,000 acre-feet, second only to Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, which is capable of holding just north of 257,000 acre-feet.

    The graphic shows the existing dam and water level and how high the new dam will rise above the current water level. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term, multipronged approach to deliver safe, reliable water to more than 1.5 million people today and those who will call the Front Range home in the future. That approach includes increased water efficiency, recycling water and responsibly sourcing new storage.

    The additional reservoir capacity will enable increased water capture in wet years to help avoid shortages during droughts. It will also help offset a current imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system that is a significant risk.

    Denver Water has a water storage imbalance between its two collection systems with 90% of its reservoir storage located in the utility’s South System compared to 10% in its North System. This storage imbalance creates vulnerability if there is a drought, mechanical issue or emergency that affects the South System. The storage imbalance is one of the reasons Denver Water is expanding Gross Reservoir. Image credit: Denver Water.

    “Right now, 90% of our water storage is on the south end of our water collection system, but just 10% of our storage is on the north end,” Martin said.

    “By enlarging Gross Dam, we’ll be able to store more water in the north, which will improve our flexibility in the event there’s a problem on the south side that could come from any number of operational issues or threats, like wildfires.”

    Once filled, the expansion at Gross will provide an additional 72,000 acre-feet of water storage, which is roughly the amount 288,000 residential households would use for one year.

    In addition, 5,000 acre-feet of storage space in the expanded reservoir — known as the environmental pool — is reserved to support environmental needs as part of an agreement with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette. Water from the environmental pool will be used to provide beneficial stream flows along a 17-mile stretch of South Boulder Creek below the dam during dry periods to protect fish and aquatic insects.

    Denver Water also has committed over $20 million to more than 60 environmental mitigation and enhancement projects on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will provide a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.

    Denver Water will use its existing water rights to fill the reservoir when it is complete. Engineers expect it will take around five years to fill the newly expanded portion of the reservoir, depending on precipitation and water use from customers.

    “In the end, this project won’t be judged by whether we raised the dam, but rather how we went about expanding the reservoir,” Lochhead said. “We will continue to seek community input and look forward to working with Boulder County as the project moves ahead.”

    Major $2.6 billion, 10-year investment on tap: How @DenverWater is protecting the #water system now — and preparing for the future News on Tap

    From News on Tap (Cathy Proctor and Jay Adams):

    From protecting customers from the risk posed by old lead service lines to preparing to meet the challenges of the future, Denver Water takes a long-term view when planning for the future.

    And the utility has been recognized nationally for its work, by peer utilities as well as by federal officials.

    Denver Water in early October was recognized — for the second time — by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

    At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award for its work to curb carbon emissions, increase its use of renewable energy and protect the environment and its communities.

    Denver Water crews install a new culvert over Cabin Creek in Grand County in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Grand County Learning By Doing. The new culvert will improve habitat for native cutthroat trout in the stream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water’s groundbreaking Lead Reduction Program was recognized by the national utility association and also was highlighted by leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year for the jobs it created and its unique approach to diverse communities.

    Replacing all the old, customer-owned lead service lines in Denver Water’s service area at no direct cost to the customer will take 15 years to complete, and it’s just one of the major undertakings that make up the utility’s 10-year forecast for an estimated $2.6 billion investment into the system that supports about 25% of the state’s population, including Colorado’s capital city.

    About 90% of the forecast investment over the next decade is dedicated to large projects and regular annual inspection and maintenance programs that protect customers, position Denver Water for the future and continue regular monitoring programs for infrastructure already in place. The remaining investment focuses on maintenance and improving the resiliency of the system.

    “Powerless” against #Denver Water, #Boulder County OKs deal to triple size of Gross Reservoir — The #Colorado Sun

    Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Commissioners say they hate the project, but the odds of winning a lawsuit were poor. Denver Water upped the offer to help mitigate impacts of construction to $12.5 million.

    The Boulder County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a settlement allowing Denver Water to expand the dam and pool at Gross Reservoir, despite vocal opposition from some residents, after a $10 million mitigation deal was sweetened by $2.5 million to soften construction impacts for neighbors.

    Denver Water is likely to vote Wednesday to approve a total of $12.5 million in mitigation and open space donations for Boulder County, after last-minute talks raised the sum.

    The commissioners said they were heartsick at the destruction the dam expansion will cause for neighbors and for revered county open lands. But, they added, county attorneys advised them that federal laws preempt their planning process because the existing dam includes a hydroelectric generator and is therefore controlled by federal laws.

    The attorneys said Boulder County would lose a federal suit filed by Denver Water and that the agency would withdraw its mitigation offer if they delayed a vote.

    Denver Water already has the federal approval it needs to raise the dam on South Boulder Creek by 131 feet, and inundate the surrounding forest for 77,000 more acre-feet of storage, nearly tripling capacity…

    The commissioners wanted Denver Water to go through the county’s existing “1041” land use process, allowed under state law, before construction on the Gross Reservoir expansion begins. But in July, Denver Water sued, saying federal laws superseded Boulder County’s process and that its federal permit required the utility to begin construction by 2022. Boulder County was intentionally slowing down the project, Denver Water argued…

    Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead said in a statement after the vote, “I appreciate that this was a hard and emotional decision for the Boulder County Commissioners.

    “We have tried for the last year to go through the County’s 1041 land use process, and only after delays were we forced to file litigation to prevent violation of the order by FERC for us to commence construction of the project. Denver Water continues to be committed to do everything in our power to mitigate local impacts of construction,” Lochhead said.

    Construction would impact surrounding forests, trails, roads and neighbors, and also temporarily cut off access to popular open spaces in parts of the area. Commissioner Marta Loachamin said she toured areas around Gross Reservoir for the first time in June, and was struck by markings in the forest showing how many trees will have to be removed and how high the new water pool will rise in the canyon.

    Conservation groups who have sued to stop the dam expansion can continue to negotiate with Denver Water for additional mitigation, deputy county attorney David Hughes told the commissioners. Denver Water has indicated they would continue to talk with the groups, he said…

    The conservation groups are adamant Boulder County could have negotiated for more mitigation. Save the Colorado and PLAN-Boulder County said they had proposed $70 million in mitigation as a settlement, and that Boulder County stopped including them in talks last week.

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    The agreement with Denver Water now includes:

  • $5 million for the construction impacts on immediate neighbors of the reservoir.
  • $5.1 million to Boulder County open space funding to acquire new land or repair and maintain trails and facilities under extra strain from visitors who can’t use Gross Reservoir spaces.
  • $1.5 million to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from construction.
  • $1 million for South St. Vrain Creek restoration.
  • A transfer of 70 acres of Denver Water land near Gross Reservoir to Boulder County to expand Walker Ranch Open Space.
  • Shutting off a super-sized spigot: A slate of critical construction means closing off a key supply system until spring @DenverWater

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Moving water from mountain reservoirs to household taps is never easy. For the next several months, Denver Water will be doing it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind its back.

    A series of major maintenance and construction projects will require Denver Water to, essentially, shut down the entire north side of its collection, delivery and treatment system, and rely wholly on the southern end to supply 1.5 million people with water as the utility heads into the colder seasons.

    The work has required a Colorado Ballet level of choreography to move water around the system months in advance in preparation for a rare set of circumstances.

    This summer, divers spent several weeks installing a new, massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam. The grate protects the outlet works from potential damage from large debris. Photo credit: Black & Veatch

    “Shifting all that water here and there, it’s a lot to keep straight, a lot to think about, a lot to juggle,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water. “And it all comes on top of watching the weather to see what it might — or might not — bring us as far as precipitation.”

    Rivers and creeks in Grand County are part of Denver Water’s North Collection System. Water flows through the Moffat Tunnel, under the Continental Divide, to Gross and Ralston reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.
    Denver Water’s entire collection system. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water is conducting several projects that required the utility to turn off the spigot on its north side supply system late this summer. Those include:

  • Replacing a massive grate at the bottom of Gross Dam that prevents heavy debris from finding its way into the pipes and valves that calibrate water releases at the base of the dam. The project is so complex it requires specially trained diving crews working hundreds of feet under the reservoir surface.
  • Replacing concrete at the Moffat Canal near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel. The freeze-thaw cycle at 9,200 feet has taken a toll and allowed for water to seep underneath concrete and create the potential for damaging erosion.
  • Repairing deteriorated concrete within the Moffat Tunnel caused by years of scour within the tunnel.
  • Replacing key structures at Ralston Reservoir along Highway 93 near Golden. The work to replace equipment that regulates the way water is carried through the dam will allow for safer operation of reservoir releases. Replacing that equipment requires draining the reservoir.
  • A project to connect the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant to Denver Water’s distribution system. This work, the overarching reason for shutting down north side flows, also requires taking the existing Moffat Treatment Plant offline for modifications related to the Northwater connections.
  • Ralston Reservoir, a key water supply bucket near Golden, has been drained to allow Denver Water to construct a new outlet works to release water from the base of the dam. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    All that north side work means Denver Water will have to rely almost fully on supplies from its southern end that gather water from the South Platte River as well as from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County.

    This north side shutdown is even more complicated than the maneuverings required in the summer of 2020, when Denver Water had to undertake big shifts in how it moved water through its system due to repair work that closed the Roberts Tunnel for two months, closing off access to water from Dillon Reservoir.

    That orchestration was hard enough. Planning for the current shutdown began months ago when engineers decided to coordinate several projects to contain the treatment and delivery disruptions to a single fall and winter cycle.

    “Doing it this way made the most sense,” explained Jennifer Gelmini, a senior engineer at Denver Water who is coordinating the projects. “We realized we were going to have a long outage for the work needed for the Northwater plant connections and Moffat modifications and looked at how we could take advantage of this big shutdown and what other projects could fit into that timeframe.”

    Work started in August to replace concrete at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville. Repairs were required on both the inside and outside of the portal area. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That plan made it critical to maintain as much water as possible in Dillon Reservoir to help with supplies in the late summer and fall, while also keeping levels high at Cheesman and Marston reservoirs so they can be relied on over the upcoming winter months.

    Anglers and Sunday drivers may have noticed big flows in the North Fork of the South Platte River, too, in late summer, as the utility moved more water than usual from Dillon, through the Roberts Tunnel under the Continental Divide and into the North Fork. At times, late summer flows reached 450 cubic feet per second, compared to a more typical September flow of one-third that volume.

    “We’ve been setting the stage on this for months,” Elder said. “Taking the north end out of the equation means we have to set up our southern end for all the heavy lifting for nearly an eight-month span. It’s a highly unusual and tricky undertaking.”

    Ralston Reservoir near Golden must be drained completely to replace the outlet works at the base of the earthen dam. That reservoir holds nearly 11,000 acre-feet and will be out of commission until the beginning of runoff season in April 2022, creating a dramatic gap in Denver Water’s typical water delivery and treatment pattern.

    Because the 84-year-old Moffat Treatment Plant also will be offline for that period, all the water treatment needs are pushed to the utility’s Marston and Foothills plants in the southwest side of the region.

    Construction continues at the emerging Northwater Treatment Plant below Ralston Reservoir. Work this fall and winter will connect the facility to Denver Water’s distribution system. The plant is expected to be complete in 2024. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Further complicating such an extended dance: Denver Water this summer had to release large volumes of water from two West Slope reservoirs (Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain) to make up for a water debt it owed on the other side of the Continental Divide.

    While those releases weren’t tied to the projects on the north end, it was another factor water managers had to keep in mind as they ensured Denver Water met all its many obligations, both to its customers and to agreements related to Colorado River flows.

    “This year has been unusual,” Elder said. “No year is ever the same in water supply, but between a pretty dry winter, then a wet spring and early summer, followed by another dry stretch as we try to set the system up for these construction projects, there were a lot of details to sweat.”

    The good news: Come spring, a lot of key projects will be wrapped up, and water managers will once again have more flexibility to manage water between its north and south systems.

    Just in time for spring runoff season.

    @DenverWater, @BoulderCounty to consider settlement proposal to end Gross Reservoir lawsuit — The #Denver Post

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From The Denver Post (Sam Tabachnik):

    Boulder County and Denver Water could be nearing a settlement to resolve a simmering dispute over plans to expand the Gross Reservoir.

    Denver Water in July sued Boulder County in federal court, claiming commissioners were taking too long to consider the utility’s request to expand the reservoir.

    “The proposed settlement would require Denver Water to pay more than $10 million to mitigate the impacts of the project in Boulder County,” Boulder officials said in a Friday news release. “In exchange, Boulder County would not dispute Denver Water’s claim that the project is exempt from review.”

    Boulder County’s Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday to discuss the proposed settlement, while Denver Water’s board will meet the following day. A federal judge had set oral arguments in the lawsuit for Nov. 4, but those would be canceled if the agency and county government approve the settlement…

    The proposed expansion would raise the existing Gross Dam by 131 feet and widen it by 800 feet, increasing the reservoir’s capacity from nearly 42,000 acre-feet to nearly 120,000 acre-feet.

    But Denver Water can’t just do it on its own — it needs a permit from Boulder County, which will receive none of the water security and all of the construction, traffic and ecosystem effects. Those who live near the reservoir complain that the five years of construction would bring pollution, lights and noise, while environmental advocates say tens of thousands of trees would have to be cut down to complete the project…

    Some of the money ($2.5 million) would be allocated to assist Boulder County residents directly impacted by the project, while $5.1 million would go to open space funding to replace land consumed by the larger reservoir, Boulder officials said. Other funds would address greenhouse gas emissions from the project and restoration efforts of the South Saint Vrain Creek.

    Denver Water would also agree under the proposed settlement to transfer 70 acres of land near Walker Ranch Open Space to Boulder County, which would be added to the recreational land…

    In its lawsuit this summer, Denver Water alleged that Boulder County was overstepping its authority and jeopardizing the water project.

    A federal judge dismissed a separate lawsuit in March from a coalition of environmental organizations, which sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2018 to block the project.

    Your water rates may go up next year… but not by very much: In order to fund extra projects, @DenverWater will increase usage rates — Denverwrite

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    From Denverwrite (Rebecca Spiess):

    The Denver Board of Water Commissioners agreed on Wednesday to raise water rates and fixed monthly charges, which will all go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

    For typical single-family residences using the same amount of water each year, this would shake out to an increase of 47 cents to $1.34 per month, or about $5.64 to $16.08 per year. However, these rates are also dependent on where in the Denver metro a customer lives, since rates are higher in the suburbs due to the rules of the Denver City Charter.

    There are also multiple charging tiers at Denver Water, beginning with the lowest rates for water used for essential things like bathing and cooking, calculated by assessing water consumption during the winter. Other water usage, mainly for outdoor watering in the summer, is charged at higher tiers.

    Denver Water is funding upgrades through these extra charges. These projects include expanding the Gross Reservoir near Boulder to increase storage capacity during wet years and boosting the entire system’s resilience as climate change leads to more unpredictable weather patterns. Other projects include the city’s efforts to replace old lead-containing pipes… as well as the city’s creation of new water quality laboratories and treatment centers.

    @DenverWater a two-time winner of national #sustainability award: Peer utilities across the United States highlight utility’s work to protect ecosystems, communities and #climate

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor):

    The importance of protecting water, the communities that rely on it and the ecosystems that supply it, is embedded in Denver Water’s mission.

    And the utility’s efforts toward sustainability were recognized in early October by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

    At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award. It was the second time Denver Water’s efforts were recognized. The utility also won the award in 2018.

    Denver Water was among four utilities recognized by their peer utilities for innovative and successful efforts in economic, social and environmental endeavors.

    Denver Water was honored with the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for its multiple efforts around an ethic of sustainability. It’s the second time Denver Water has won this national award. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “AMWA’s 2021 award winners are innovative water systems helmed by visionary executives and committed workforces who create sustainable utilities. In addition to delivering affordable and high-quality water and top-notch customer service, the systems provide exceptional environmental protection and resource management,” said AMWA President Angela Licata, who also is the deputy commissioner for sustainability in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

    Solar power panels being installed during the construction of Denver Water’s new Administration Building, part of the utility’s sustainability efforts. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “We are always making improvements to how we operate because working in a sustainable manner ensures we will continue to deliver clean, safe water to the 1.5 million people who rely on us every day,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s manager of sustainability.

    “We are honored that our efforts were recognized by AMWA, as so many of our peers across the nation share our focus on sustainability.”

    AMWA recognized Denver Water for its efforts to improve operations and protect its surrounding ecosystem and communities. Among that work, AMWA noted that Denver Water has set formal goals to reduce carbon emissions, maintain a net-energy neutral operations, expand the use of renewable energy in its day-to-day work, and improve green infrastructure.

    The group also highlighted Denver Water’s work through the Lead Reduction Program to protect customers from the risk of lead from customer-owned pipes and plumbing getting into their drinking water. The program, launched in 2020, will replace the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines over the course of 15 years.

    Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead accepts the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award from AMWA President Angela Licata and AMWA Vice President John Entsminger, at the group’s annual meeting in early October in Denver. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The group also focused on another aspect of Denver Water’s award-winning efforts, its From Forests to Faucets partnership with other government agencies to support work that reduces the risk of damage in the watershed from wildfires, including the planting of more than 1 million new trees.

    Along with Denver Water, the group honored three other utilities for their management efforts:

  • Knoxville Utilities Board also was named for its sustainable management efforts.
  • Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust received the 2021 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellent.
  • Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority received the 2021 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance.
  • Denver Water’s sustainability efforts include:

  • LEED certification for the buildings involved in the overhaul of Denver Water’s Operations Campus, a 34.6-acre complex on West 12th Avenue near downtown that has been the site of different Denver Water operations since 1881.
  • Creating a sustainability guide that outlined goals for Denver Water from 2018 through 2020, and updating that guide to set down new goals to guide the organization from 2021 through 2025.
  • Starting a waste diversion program that, since its beginning in 2018, has diverted nearly 94,000 pounds of waste from the landfill by composting. That’s nearly 47 tons.
  • Supporting efforts, such as Resource Central’s Garden In A Box program, that have helped Denver-area customers plant more than 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens — instead of turf — to save water and create beauty around their homes.
  • Should river towns be forced to build costly parks to get recreational #water rights? — The #Colorado Sun

    Pueblo whitewater park via http://www.uncovercolorado.com

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    American Whitewater floated a plan last year to expand protections for recreational river flows in Colorado. Maybe, the nonprofit protector of rivers thought, communities should not need to build whitewater parks to secure rights for recreational flows.

    “It definitely, you know, got some ears perked,” said Hattie Johnson, American Whitewater’s southern Rockies stewardship director.

    Colorado officially recognized recreation in a river as a beneficial use of water in 2001, enabling riverside communities to file for water rights to support whitewater parks. Those recreational in-channel diversion water rights, or RICDs, set a minimal stream flow between structures to support “a reasonable recreation experience.”

    This map shows a stretch of the upper Colorado River, between Kremmling and Glenwood Springs, that is subject to a new framework designed to protect ecological and recreational values, in balance with the needs of water users on the Western Slope and Front Range. Graphic credit: Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group

    In the 20 years since the creation of RICDs and further legislation in 2006, Colorado communities have built dozens of whitewater parks, with 13 of them using RICD water rights. Some parks have delivered lasting economic benefits to riverside communities. But there hasn’t been a new RICD filing since 2013, when Glenwood Springs proposed three whitewater parks and found itself locked in Colorado water court for more than a year…

    The nonprofit river conservation group American Whitewater is advancing a plan that structures in the river are not necessary for river recreation and communities should be able to file for RICD water rights without expensively engineered features that create waves and holes for kayaking, rafting and stand-up paddling. While there are 13 official RICD water rights in the state, there are more than 130 stretches of whitewater that can be rafted, kayaked and stand-up paddled in the state…

    Early talks with Colorado’s sharp-elbowed water community have not gone well. No lawmaker took up American Whitewater’s proposed legislation, which has been scrapped. And opposition to a plan that expands recreational protection of water is stiff.

    Montrose Water Sports Park. Photo credit: Google

    The gist of opposition, which was voiced earlier this month at the meeting of the statehouse Water Resources Review Committee, is this: If any community can file for RICD water rights without actually building anything in the river, the expansion of those recreational rights could muddy Colorado’s already complicated water dealing.

    Denver Water met with American Whitewater, where the powerful water utility expressed concerns over how changes to the RICD statute might “impact previous, hard-won agreements” that allowed recreational water rights, Hartman said. There is a lot of water trading that goes on in Colorado as the state’s water users navigate senior and junior water rights while meeting regional requirements to deliver Colorado River water to downstream users in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.

    “Reopening the statute to loosen it would probably make for a significant undertaking,” Hartman said.

    The red dots show communities who have applied for Recreational In-Channel Diversion water rights in Colorado. The green, blue, black and red lines indicate stretches of whitewater paddled by rafters, kayakers and stand-up paddlers. The nonprofit American Whitewater group is exploring a possible amendment to the state’s water laws that would allow communities to more easily protect recreational water rights. (Provided by American Whitewater)

    American Whitewater is adjusting its plan to accommodate flexible exchanges of water and what Johnson called “creative water management we are going to need in a hotter, drier future.”

    “Having larger decrees for in-stream flows for recreation would make that really difficult and prevent it when it would be needed to deliver water to people’s homes and fields,” she said. “That is understandable.”

    While old-guard water users may be chafing at a plan to expand recreational water rights, they are not dismissing recreation as an invalid use of Colorado’s water.

    “Recreational water use and recreational enjoyment of the state’s waters are integral to Western Colorado’s lifestyle and economy,” said Zane Kessler, the head of government relations for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, adding that the current RICD water laws in Colorado “provide a good amount of flexibility.”

    Kessler said the 15-county Western Slope river district “is sympathetic to the goals of American Whitewater,” but he wonders about the necessity of amending Colorado water law to allow communities like Craig and Sterling and Del Norte to increase the recreational appeal of their riverfront land.

    The river district’s policy, he said, says that a RICD should not be granted if it would “materially impair” Colorado’s ability to meet its water delivery obligations under the Colorado River Compact agreements of 1922 and 1948. Colorado is part of a coalition of upper basin states — with New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — who must deliver 7.5 million acre feet of Colorado River water to lower basin states as part of a nearly century-old agreement allocating river water that now supports some 40 million users…

    Johnson said American Whitewater will continue talks with Colorado water users about how communities can protect recreational flows without having to build whitewater features. The group hopes to craft an amendment to the state’s recreational water rights rules that will both protect recreational use of river water while preventing a flood of applications for RICD water rights.

    Dillon Reservoir water level dropping due to less rain, higher temperatures — The Summit Daily

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From The Summit Daily (Lindsey Toomer):

    Moving into the month of September, rainfall in Summit County is starting to slow down and temperatures have remained high, meaning the Dillon Reservoir is starting to look a little dryer.

    The reservoir is currently 91% full after reaching full capacity earlier this summer.

    Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, said this is typical of the reservoir’s fill and drawdown cycle but added that the water level took a slightly sharper decline at the start of the month due to increased water needs, as well…

    Compared to recent years, Elder said the reservoir has stayed full longer because of above-average precipitation in the Blue River watershed and less demand in the area the reservoir serves. He said the levels did not set any records, though…

    Elder said the drawdown of the reservoir typically starts in early to mid-July, but this year’s July was very wet in the Blue River watershed. Dillon Reservoir started to slightly lose storage in mid-July, but in late July and early August, precipitation brought the reservoir back up, keeping it full longer than normal…

    Elder also said the Roberts Tunnel, which moves water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, was turned off for a part of August when it would typically be running at 215 cubic feet per second. He said Denver water has not started releasing more water down the Blue River but has been consistently releasing 105 cubic feet per second for the past month…

    [Treste] Huse said streamflows were generally above normal throughout the summer, but they have started to come back down again. She said at least half of the streams in Summit County are running normally, but six of them have now dipped below normal.

    Looking at the whole summer, Huse said Dillon had more rainfall than it typically does. From May through August, Dillon received 9.08 inches of rainfall, which is 145% of the average amount of 6.25 inches.

    @DenverWater ‘refund’ means a big boost to #ColoradoRiver flows: How the intricacies of Colorado water agreements make for a big late-season liquid pulse in #Kremmling #COriver #aridification

    From News on Tap (Nathan Elder):

    The Colorado River at Kremmling in Grand County will enjoy a big bump in flows from August into October as Denver Water pays off a hefty water debt.

    The Colorado River meanders through ranch land near Kremmling on Aug. 17, 2021. The river will see additional flows in late summer and fall as Denver Water sends additional water downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The rising flows — an addition of more than 300 cubic feet per second (more on that later) sent from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs — serve as a good example of how Colorado’s intricate system of water rights can drive river flows higher when they might typically be lower as autumn settles in.

    In this case, it works like this: A dry year created conditions that now require Denver Water to “pay back” water to the West Slope.

    Why? Let’s stick with the easy version.

    An agreement that emerged over 50 years of Byzantine legal fights allows Denver to move water from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County to the Front Range when it needs the water for its customers.

    Dillon Reservoir stores water from the Blue River Basin in Summit County for Denver Water customers on the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    But — and this is a big “But” — if another big reservoir called Green Mountain (that’s the very long reservoir you drive past as you cruise Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling) — doesn’t fill up in the spring and summer, Denver Water has to make up the difference later in the year.

    Green Mountain Reservoir is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and located in Summit County north of Silverthorne along the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Stay with us here. Take a look at the map that accompanies this story to help.

    Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs are located along the Blue River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River. Water from Wolford Mountain and Williams Fork reservoirs eventually flows into the Colorado River via Muddy Creek and the Williams Fork River respectively. Image credit: Denver Water.

    Years like this, when Denver Water has to refund water, are called “substitution” years. There have been big substitution years, when a lot of water is involved in the refund, in dry years such as 2002, 2004, 2012 and 2013.

    This year is shaping up as a big one, too; one of the largest. In all, the utility expects to release about 37,600 acre-feet from Williams Fork and Wolford to make up what Green Mountain, a reservoir operated by federal Bureau of Reclamation, lacked this year.

    That’s a lot of water — close to the capacity of Gross Reservoir, the big Denver Water reservoir in the foothills northwest of Denver. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to serve three or four households for a year.

    Denver Water owns Williams Fork Reservoir (left) and stores water in Wolford Mountain Reservoir (right.) Denver Water uses the reservoirs to fulfill downstream water rights obligation. The water stored in these two reservoirs is not used for drinking water supplies in the Front Range. Photo credit: Denver Water and Colorado River Water Conservation District.

    But wait, you say. Water from Williams Fork and Wolford won’t find its way to Green Mountain, since the Green Mountain Reservoir is on the Blue River and those two reservoirs send their water into the Colorado River, not the Blue.

    (Also, water can’t flow upstream from the Colorado River into Green Mountain Reservoir. Take another look at the map in this story.)

    That’s OK, as the point is to make up for flows in the Colorado River that would otherwise be augmented by releases from Green Mountain. In short, the releases keep the flows moving on the West Slope.

    Now, back to those flows. Releases are expected to add an additional 400 cubic feet per second to the Colorado River in August, 320 cfs in September, and then decrease somewhat to an extra 200 cfs in the first two weeks of October.

    The confluence of the Blue River (left) with the Colorado River (right), southwest of Kremmling. Muddy Creek, which carries water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, flows into the Colorado River at this location as well. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    How much water is that?

    Quite a bit. If you think in terms of gallons (think of the gallon of milk at the grocery story), a cubic foot contains about 7.5 gallons. So 300 cubic feet per second means about 2,250 gallons of water per second added to the river flows. (Think about that many milk jugs floating by each second).

    While it’s a lot of water to pay back — and it means Denver Water will need to draw down its supplies in Wolford and Williams Fork quite a bit — it could have been even more.

    But a wet spring on the Front Range kept sprinklers off and demand low. Monsoons returned this year as well, boosting flows on both sides of the Continental Divide. All of that allowed Denver Water to reduce what it moved from Dillon Reservoir, through the Roberts Tunnel, to the Front Range.

    Which, in turn, allowed a bit more water down the Blue River and into Green Mountain and reduced the “substitution” amount to be repaid.

    The Blue River below Dillon Dam in Summit County on Aug. 16, 2021. Denver Water uses the dam to store and release water from the Blue River. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    If you’ve stuck with us until now, we raise a toast to you, salute your interest in a puzzling topic, and hope that this boost in late season flows in the Colorado River brings a smile to all of us inspired by the beauty of a moving stream.

    #BlueRiver flow is above average following rain on the Western Slope and Front Range — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Summit Daily (Taylor Sienkiewicz):

    On July 1, the Blue River below Dillon was flowing at 221 cubic feet per second. On Aug. 5, it jumped up to 455 cfs. Nathan Elder, manager of water supply for Denver Water, explained that in the first week of August, the Blue River’s flow reached the 450 mark and has slowly declined since. On Tuesday, Aug. 10, it was 340 cfs, which he said is slightly above normal for this time of year.

    Map of the Blue River drainage basin in Colorado, USA. Made using USGS data. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69327693

    Denver Water manages Dillon Reservoir, which the Blue River flows into and out of.

    “We’re trying to match outflow with inflow and send that water downstream to Green Mountain Reservoir,” Elder said…

    The increase in water to Green Mountain Reservoir is welcome, as the reservoir was over 50,000 acre-feet below normal in late July, and a downstream call for irrigation rights was placed on the reservoir. As of Aug. 11, the reservoir, which is full at about 154,000 acre-feet of water, was holding 100,243 acre-feet of water.

    Summit County saw its wettest July in 10 years, which is what has contributed to the increase in outflow, Elder said. He noted that not only has the rain on the Western Slope helped, but rain on the Front Range has lowered water demands on that side of the Continental Divide. That has reduced the need to send water through Roberts Tunnel, which has kept more water in Dillon Reservoir and made way for the release of more water down the Blue River and into Green Mountain Reservoir…

    Dillon Reservoir started out the year lower than normal, and less water flowed in from the melting snowpack. In late June, Elder reported that the reservoir was full but only because much less water was released from the reservoir to the Blue River than in an average year. The lack of water flowing into the Blue River meant two things: Less water went to Green Mountain Reservoir, and commercial rafting couldn’t happen on the river this year…

    Goose Pasture Tarn. Photo credit: City of Breckenridge

    As for the Goose Pasture Tarn, which is currently lowered due to the rehabilitation of the dam, Elder said the tarn’s water that is being stored in Dillon Reservoir has a “very small impact.” For context, the tarn is 771 acre-feet, whereas Dillon Reservoir is over 257,000. Once it’s time for the tarn to be refilled, it will be given priority for water rights.

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    A “gut punch” as water rushes from #FlamingGorge to save #LakePowell’s hydropower system — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Boaters at Cedar Springs Marina on Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The reservoir’s levels are expected to drop 2 feet a month under an emergency release of water designed to keep Lake Powell’s hydropower system operating. July 22, 2021 Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    John Rauch and his family have operated the Cedar Springs Marina here since 1986. But three weeks ago, when the federal government suddenly ordered millions of gallons of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir down the Green River to Lake Powell, Rauch wasn’t prepared.

    “It was a total gut punch,” he said on a recent hot, sunny morning. As visitors trekked down to rent his pontoon boats, and others slid their fishing craft into the reservoir, Rauch and his employees were already planning which boat docks and ramps would have to be relocated to keep them afloat. The reservoir is projected to drop as much as 2 feet a month through the fall as water is released.

    Drought has plagued the Colorado River Basin for 20 years, but it hit crisis proportions this summer, pushing lakes Powell and Mead to historic lows and triggering, for the first time, emergency releases of water from Utah’s Flaming Gorge, Colorado’s Blue Mesa, and New Mexico’s Navajo reservoirs.

    All told, 181,000 acre-feet of water are to be sent to Lake Powell by the end of December. Powell has dropped so low that its hydropower plants, which supply millions of homes with electricity and generate revenue for such things as a critical Colorado River endangered species program, may stop operating as early as next year if water levels continue to drop as they have been. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 3 percent chance of this occurring next year and a 29 percent chance of this occurring in 2022. But given the speed of the Powell’s decline, no one wants to risk a hydropower shutdown.

    Savings accounts

    Since their construction in the 1960s these reservoirs, known as Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs, have acted as a giant savings account, helping ensure that if a crisis erupted on the river, the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico would have enough water on hand to fulfill their legal obligation to deliver water to Nevada, Arizona and California, known as the Lower Basin states.

    Credit: Chas Chamberlin

    Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir, part of the Aspinall Unit, is already low, at just 43 percent of capacity as of last month. Fed by the Gunnison River, a major tributary of the Colorado, the reservoir is tourism hot spot on Colorado’s West Slope.

    Kathleen Curry, a former Colorado lawmaker, sits on the Colorado River District Board. She said she understands the need for the releases, but she said the changes in the shoreline at Blue Mesa aren’t going unnoticed.

    “It’s taking residents and visitors by surprise, just because I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” she said.

    The releases come under a special Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan approved by Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in late 2018. A similar drought plan is in place for the Lower Basin, and they have been cutting back withdrawals from Lake Mead for the past two years.

    Still the river system is drying out. And water leaders in Colorado are deeply worried that their carefully protected savings account is going to dry up too quickly to solve the Colorado River’s long-term problems.

    Will it work?

    “I understand and support the necessity of the Secretary [of the Interior] taking this action,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water. “The major concern I have is that Reclamation says the 181,000 acre-foot release will raise Lake Powell three feet. But I don’t know that they can even show that. I don’t know that they have accounted for transit losses and other losses.

    “It’s important when these releases are made that they are accounted for, that we know where this water is going. If it doesn’t actually get down to [Lake Powell] to accomplish what it was designed to do, we should have kept it in that savings account,” Lochhead said.

    Becki Bryant, a spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River region, said the agency is working to create a hydropower buffer in Lake Powell and believes the releases are adequate to accomplish that. But Reclamation is not yet doing the kind of precise tracking and accounting known as water “shepherding,” to ensure flows make it downstream, that Lochhead is requesting.

    On Aug. 1, Lake Powell’s elevation stood at 3,553.8 feet above sea level. The action point, or so-called target elevation is 3,525. When that point came close in July, Reclamation moved quickly to order the emergency releases.

    Powell’s hydropower plant stops generating power when it drops to 3,490 feet in elevation, according to Reclamation.

    “Reclamation expects the additional release of water will be sufficient to protect Lake Powell’s target elevation through 2021. That target elevation provides a 35-vertical-foot buffer designed to minimize the risk of dropping below the minimum power pool elevation of 3,490 feet, and balances the need to protect the infrastructure at Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam.

    “Shepherding water would be beneficial but is challenging on many levels for Colorado River Basin states,” said Bryant via email.

    Bleak forecasts

    Bryant said Reclamation will continue to consult with the Upper Basin states as it monitors reservoir levels and weather forecasts. Should conditions deteriorate further, the agency could examine whether to declare the releases futile and stop them, as it is allowed to do under the 2018 Drought Contingency Plan.

    The water being released is so-called “system water,” meaning that it isn’t owned by a particular user.

    Held by the federal government for the benefit of the Upper Basin states, the amounts of water specified in the release plan are jaw-dropping: 125,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge; 36,000 acre-feet from Blue Mesa; and 20,000 acre-feet from Navajo. An acre-foot of water is enough to cover one acre of land to a depth of 12 inches.

    If that same amount of water were going to cities, it would be enough to serve more than 362,000 homes for one to two years. If going to farms, it could irrigate more than 113,000 acres, depending on the crop.

    If the historic, 20-plus-year drought cycle doesn’t end soon, refilling those reservoirs is going to be difficult. And that has water managers worried.

    “My level of concern is quite high,” said Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water planning and policy agency. She also sits on the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Commission, which advises Reclamation on river issues.

    “And I can’t tell yet if [the releases] are going to do the trick,” she said. “But we have to respond to the levels in Powell.”

    Cedar Springs Marina near Dutch John, Utah, on Flaming Gorge Reservoir in the early 1960s. In a first, emergency releases are being made under the 2018 Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan. Photo courtesy of the Rauch family.

    Legal reckoning?

    Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Colorado and the other Upper Basin states must deliver 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) [per year, 75 maf per 10 years] of water to the Lower Basin on a 10-year running average. Right now, the Upper Basin is delivering roughly 9.2 maf, Mitchell said, meaning that there is still time to help the system come back into balance before the Lower Basin states could legally call for more water than they currently receive.

    Lake Powell is the Upper Basin’s largest storage pool on the system and is designed to be the four Upper Basin states’ major source of protection. Because of their legal obligations, Colorado water users are closely monitoring this year’s plunge in Powell, with the threat to hydropower production being seen as a dangerous antecedent to a compact call.

    “That the system continues to deteriorate is concerning,” Lochhead said.

    Roughly half of Denver Water’s supplies are derived from water rights it owns on the Colorado River system. While one portion of its portfolio dates back to 1921, and would therefore trump a 1922 compact call, several other rights were established later, meaning the utility might have to stop pulling from those water sources if Colorado were forced to cut back in order to meet compact obligations.

    Other Front Range water providers, who also have Colorado River rights, are even more vulnerable, including the Pueblo-based Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Southeastern’s rights date only to 1957.

    Contingency v. reality

    Lee Miller, Southeastern’s attorney, said the Colorado River crisis remains a long-term problem for his agency.

    The rapid deterioration this year, however, is prompting everyone to rethink how much time they have to balance the massive river system as drought and a warming climate, as well as population growth, continue to sap its flows.

    “Both the Upper and Lower Basin have now had to initiate elements of their drought contingency plans. When we passed it a couple of years ago everyone thought, “It’s good to have a contingency plan.’ But I don’t think anyone thought we would have to use the plans this quickly. It’s gone from being a contingency to being a reality, and that’s concerning.”

    Back up at Flaming Gorge, John Rauch is watching the levels drop and making his own contingency plans.

    “We are planning for the worst,” Rauch said. “For the foreseeable future, the outlook is dry. If it ends up that by the end of all of this that the reservoir becomes a river channel, we will be down there at water’s edge selling worms.”

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

    Could #Colorado cities save enough water to stop building dams? — The Colorado Sun

    Lawn sizes in Castle Rock are sharply limited to save water, with some homeowners opting to use artificial turf for convenience and to help keep water bills low. Oct. 21, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith, Fresh Water News

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Conservation groups want more “cash for grass” and other plans to acquire new water by saving it. But Denver and Aurora, among others, say there’s only so much to cut before a new dam is needed.

    Conservation groups applaud water savings efforts like Aurora’s. What they want is far, far more of the same.

    They point to reports required by the state water conservation board showing many large agencies on the Front Range cutting back spending and personnel dedicated to water conservation since 2013, at the same time those water departments press to build massive dam complexes for new water they say they desperately need.

    Large water agencies like Denver Water and Aurora Water say they do have ongoing conservation efforts they take seriously, but that fast population growth on the Front Range overwhelms potential savings and they need new water storage…

    It would be much better for Colorado’s environment, the conservation groups respond — not to mention cheaper — to acquire water by using less of it, rather than spending billions of dollars on dams and diversions of Western Slope water.

    And yet, several projects are on the drawing board:

    A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.
  • Aurora wants to team up with Colorado Springs to build Whitney Reservoir and divert more of Homestake Creek over the Continental Divide to the Front Range
  • Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
  • Denver Water wants to expand Gross Reservoir above Boulder to hold more Fraser River water diverted from the Colorado River Basin
  • U.S. Highway 287 runs through the future site of Glade Reservoir. The Larimer county Board of County Commissioners approved the 1041 Land Use Permit for NISP in September, 2020. Photo credit: Northern Water
  • Northern Water has a $1 billion proposal to dam more Cache la Poudre River water for more than a dozen northern suburbs and cities
  • All of those would be unnecessary, the conservationists say, if the agencies doubled down on water-saving efforts that cut deeply into household use in the years after the devastating 2002 Front Range drought…

    “We know that water in the West is increasingly in short supply and will only become more so as climate change results in worsening drought conditions and water shortages. The answer can’t simply be to pull every last drop of water out of our rivers,” said Juli Slivka, policy director at Wilderness Workshop, which is among the groups fighting any new dams on Homestake Creek.

    Some of the bigger water agencies on the Front Range respond that conservation remains a primary goal, despite the falloff in their spending evident in annual reports required by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Aurora’s population will grow by hundreds of thousands of people by 2050, said Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker. The agency focuses intensely on conservation to expand its water supply, Baker said, through programs like the smart meters and rebates to property owners who remove thirsty lawns, and with Prairie Waters, the largest potable water recycling system in the state.

    But that growth, highly visible on Aurora’s eastern edge at the Highlands or Painted Prairie, means stretching existing water use is not enough for future supply, he added. Acquisition of new water must continue. The agency just spent about $17,000 an acre-foot for 500 acre-feet of farm water in the South Platte River Basin, Baker said.

    “That’s more than we could find through conservation right now, unless we took such draconian measures — you know, say we banned all outdoor water use,” he said.

    Denver Water, serving 1.5 million customers as the largest water agency in Colorado, said it is proud of conservation efforts launched after the wakeup call of the 2002 drought, achieving its goal of a 22% cut in per capita water use in a campaign from 2007 to 2016. Since then, said Denver Water’s manager of demand planning Greg Fisher, some resources have shifted to the concept of “efficiency” — focusing less on absolute cuts to everyone’s use, and instead consulting with larger customers and homeowners to ensure they are using only the water they actually need…

    Denver Water’s officially reported tally of its conservation work fell from 36 full- and part-time staff and a budget of $8 million in 2013 — the first year of required reporting — to five full-time staffers and $1.5 million in spending in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic shut down many field services. Denver’s peak of conservation staffing, at 40 in 2016, was the same year the agency said it achieved the long-set goal of 22% per capita reductions in use.

    Denver Water says daily water use fell from 211 gallons per person in 2011, before another severe drought began in 2013, to 165 gallons a day in 2016. Since then, Fisher said daily use has declined to about 140 gallons. In the years since the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s annual overall use has gone down, even as the customer base has climbed by hundreds of thousands.

    Lawn and plant irrigation still takes up by far the largest part of residential water use on Colorado’s Front Range. (Screen shot, Denver Water website)

    The Denver agency says the state conservation reports are partially misleading because they ask for too narrow a classification of spending that ends up cutting water use. For example, Fisher said, Denver Water is spending more money on staff time helping local agencies rewrite green building codes to require more efficient water use…

    Aurora’s conservation staffing has changed less dramatically, from 15 full-time and 13 contract positions in 2013, to a total of about 24 positions now, officials said. The emphasis has shifted over the years, Baker said. Most home and building owners have long since swapped out older toilets for efficient models, and individual homeowner irrigation audits are not as productive as broader efficiency programs…

    Environmental conservation groups opposed to diverting water from Western Slope rivers are especially focused this year on Boulder County’s Gross Reservoir, where Denver Water wants to raise the dam by 131 feet at a cost of $464 million. A higher dam would allow Denver to bring over more of the water it owns in the Fraser River, part of the Colorado River Basin west of the Continental Divide. Denver also says it needs more water storage on the northern end of the Front Range in case changing climate patterns and wildfire runoff threaten water collection in the southern South Platte River basin, where most of its available water is collected…

    Multiple environmental groups have sued to stop Gross Reservoir and sought to scrap it during the local permitting process. Boulder County held the power over a key construction permit Denver Water needs this year. Now Denver Water has asked a federal court to take over jurisdiction for the permit because the agency believes Boulder County Commissioners have already demonstrated their intent to block it…

    Aurora Water says it is one of the few Colorado utilities that is doing exactly that [paying cash for grass], with its “water-wise landscape” payments. Aurora will design a homeowner’s low-water garden for free, and pay material costs up to $3,000 for 500 square feet — even more for a zero-water landscape, Baker said…

    Denver Water says it offers everything from low-water “garden-in-a-box” kits, to rebates for installing the kind of smart controllers Aurora promotes, to training for landscapers…

    Building storage, though, must remain a part of the water acquisition mix, both Denver and Aurora argue. As the system has gotten more efficient through conservation, Denver Water said, possible future gains diminish. In the 2002 drought, Denver said, its short-term restrictions cut water use 30%. After years of conservation work, similar restrictions in the 2013 drought — for a significantly larger customer base — cut water use only 20%.

    “We are reaching the edges of supply,” Hartman said.

    A gleaming gift to the great outdoors — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    Denver Water conveying stunningly scenic parcels to Forest Service as part of Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

    It’s been getting crowded on the trails, open spaces and forests along the Front Range, especially since COVID-19 sent lock-down weary residents bursting into the backcountry in an eager search for safe, socially distanced outdoor recreation.

    That newfound enthusiasm for backcountry adventure isn’t expected to fade any time soon.

    But now, thanks to an agreement between the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Water, explorers will have just a sliver of additional elbow room.

    Open meadows and mixed forest are common among the parcels Denver Water is conveying to the U.S. Forest Service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Denver Water is in the process of conveying 539 acres of wetlands, meadows and forests in Gilpin County to the Forest Service to be managed for public use.

    The remote acreage, near the east portal of the Moffat Tunnel, protects ecologically precious lands near two wildly popular wilderness areas (Indian Peaks and James Peak) and the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. The land also complements a larger landscape protection effort in the region assembled by The Conservation Fund.

    “Denver Water is thrilled to be a part of this landscape preservation effort,” said Jim Lochhead, the utility’s CEO/Manager. “This region near these precious wilderness areas is an environmental gem and one much loved by Coloradans, especially many within our service area.

    “Ensuring its permanent protection is an outcome we are proud to be a part of, and we appreciate our partnership with the Forest Service and the Conservation Fund in putting this all together,” he said.

    Denver Water agreed to provide the land for its ecological value and public use as part of a sweeping agreement with the Forest Service to offset environmental impacts associated with the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the east of the area.

    It’s one of several steps Denver Water has already taken to complete so-called “mitigation” projects years ahead of the expansion work.

    Seasonal creeks like this one funnel spring runoff into established waterways and lend the landscape a lush character. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The lands being conveyed are part of what’s known as the Toll Property, the name derived from a ranching family that owned the land for 120 years.

    Denver Water’s contribution, scattered across 11 parcels, is part of a much larger agreement, according to reporting in the Boulder Daily Camera. A much larger area of 3,334 acres remains in the Toll family’s private ownership, but with a perpetual conservation easement to prevent development.

    An additional 823 acres also were acquired by the Forest Service.

    The entire land protection project creates a significant buffer, separating the adjacent James Peak Wilderness to the west from rural development and urban areas to the east, as described in a summary by The Conservation Fund.

    These parcels in the Mammoth Gulch area look southwest toward the Continental Divide. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    It also helps protect a four-mile stretch of the upper portion of South Boulder Creek, a key part of Denver Water’s supply.

    The landscape is familiar not only to backpackers. Train aficionados know the area as part of the route taken by Amtrak’s California Zephyr, between Denver and San Francisco.

    #Boulder County places Gross Reservoir Expansion proposal on hold

    Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

    Here’s the release from Boulder County:

    Public hearings set for August and September are canceled

    Last September (2020), Denver Water submitted an Areas and Activities of State Interest (1041) application to Boulder County Community Planning & Permitting (CPP) for its Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

    Since that time, CPP requested additional information from Denver Water. On June 29, 2021, the CPP Director acknowledged Denver Water’s intent to not provide additional requested information, and determined the 1041 review will move to public hearings.

    Denver Water filed a lawsuit against the county in July 2021. The lawsuit alleges that the county does not have the authority to regulate the project because the project requires a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Because of the lawsuit, on July 26, Denver Water’s attorney requested that the CPP Director place the 1041 application on hold, and CPP Director Dale Case granted the request the next day, July 27.

    Consequently, public hearings that were set for August and September have been canceled.

    “It makes sense to have the court resolve the legal issues about whether Boulder County can proceed before conducting hearings on the 1041 review,” said Case. “We have already devoted significant time and resources to processing Denver Water’s application, and it would take even more county resources to proceed with public hearings.”

    The Areas and Activities of State Interest (1041) application for the expansion of Gross Reservoir is a request to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet total of water, which includes increasing the dam height by approximately 131 feet, the dam length by approximately 790 feet, and the spillway elevation by approximately 126 feet; quarry operations to obtain aggregate needed for construction; construction of a temporary concrete batch/production plant and an aggregate processing plant; permanent road improvements to Gross Dam Road from State Highway 72 to Gross Reservoir; temporary road improvements to FS359 (Winiger Ridge Road) and FS97 (Lazy Z Road); and the relocation of the Miramonte Multi-Use Trail.

    View the application materials on the Docket SI-20-0003: Gross Reservoir & Dam Expansion webpage.

    Roundtable discussion at @DenverWater focuses on #collaboration in the face of #ClimateChange — YourHub

    Photo credit: Denver Water

    From YourHub (Cathy Proctor):

    Tackling the challenges surrounding climate change and water supply will require collaboration and creative thinking, Colorado’s top water leaders and senior federal officials agreed Thursday.

    More than a dozen state officials and water leaders from across the state met at Denver Water’s Operations Complex with Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the impacts of climate change, the ongoing drought across the Colorado River Basin and how leadership and collaboration at every level will be needed to help address it.

    After the discussion, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager, welcomed the group — which included Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette, Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg — to a news conference at the utility’s Administration Building, completed in 2019, that is itself a demonstration of the future of water and water efficiency in an urban setting.

    Graphic via SustainableWater.com.

    Lochhead said the roundtable also included a discussion of the investments Denver Water is making in watershed health, through its From Forests to Faucets program that includes partners at the state and federal level, water conservation, resiliency and sustainability.

    Haaland said she was glad to tour “this beautiful building” and praised the roundtable for bringing a wide range of people together for a thoughtful and important discussion…

    Greenberg said it meant a lot to the people working across Colorado’s agriculture sector to know issues surrounding climate change were “top of mind” at both the state and federal level…

    Attendees at the water leaders’ roundtable discussion were:

  • Deb Haaland, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of Interior.
  • Davis Raff, Chief Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Diana DeGette, U.S. Representative for Colorado’s First Congressional District.
  • Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
  • Colorado Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera.
  • Kate Greenberg, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture.
  • Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
  • Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
  • Jim Lochhead, CEO/Manager, Denver Water.
  • Christine Arbogast, representing Colorado Water Congress.
  • Peter Fleming, General Counsel, Colorado River Water District.
  • Jim Broderick, Executive Director, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservation District.
  • Ken Curtis, General Manager, Dolores Water District Manager (retired).
  • Steve Wolff, General Manager, Southwest Water Conservation District.
  • Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director, National Audubon Society
  • With critical #water supply project facing unacceptable risk, #Denver Water seeks relief from Boulder County process in federal court

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Here’s the release from Denver Water:

    Denver Water today [July 14, 2021] filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Boulder County, asserting the county is overreaching its authority and jeopardizing a federally ordered reservoir expansion critical to a safe and secure water supply for one quarter of the state’s population while risking long-planned benefits for the West Slope environment.

    BACKGROUND

    For nearly two decades, Denver Water has conducted an exhaustive and comprehensive planning and permitting process at the direction and oversight of six federal and state regulatory agencies. That process culminated last year in a final order to commence expansion of Gross Reservoir from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final authority over the expansion project because Gross Reservoir occupies federal lands specifically designated for hydropower production.

    For years, Denver Water has also attempted good faith efforts to work with Boulder County to secure county permits, including through two attempts at an intergovernmental agreement, robust engagement with county staff and neighbors, and participation in a local land-use review known as the “1041 process.” Unfortunately, Boulder County has been unreceptive and is using the 1041 process to frustrate the project, extending and delaying its review to the point that it is now placing the entire project at risk.

    DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON NEED FOR THE PROJECT

    It is hard to overstate the importance of the expansion of Gross Reservoir to the future of the Denver region. It will offer crucial protection to the utility’s water supplies from the urgent threat of catastrophic wildfire and prolonged drought — the same forces that nearly 20 years ago combined to threaten Denver Water’s ability to ensure drinking water to its customers.

    This risk to clean water supplies is even higher today, in an era of rapid climate change and increasing periods of extreme weather. Last year’s record wildfire fire season, which generated the three largest forest fires in Colorado history, only just missed triggering major impacts to Denver Water’s supplies. Water providers to the north haven’t been as lucky, unable to treat some supplies running black and brown with ash produced by the Cameron Peak fire. Denver Water must act now to mitigate these risks.

    The Gross Reservoir expansion conforms in every way to benchmarks in Colorado’s Water Plan, a plan developed through statewide and bottom-up guidance from eight major river basins over two years and published in 2015. That plan calls for increasing the capacity of existing reservoirs as a key element in creating 400,000 acre-feet of additional storage in the state by 2050.

    The State of Colorado, in comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, expressed its support for the Gross Reservoir expansion and has identified it specifically as fitting within the kind of project defined as necessary in Colorado’s Water Plan: “A significant portion of Colorado’s future needs will be met with the implementation of projects and planning processes that the local water providers are currently pursuing, including the Moffat Collection System Project” (aka Gross Reservoir expansion).

    The reservoir expansion also addresses the significant need for additional supplies in the metro region, as referenced in the Water Plan’s 2019 technical update. That update projected metro Denver demand will increase by 134,000 acre-feet to 280,000 acre-feet by 2050 against a 2015 baseline and the area likely will experience a supply shortfall, even accounting for the Gross Reservoir expansion and other water projects, a drop in per-capita use, and further conservation and reuse.

    DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROJECT

    Denver Water’s diligent and earnest work to build partnerships across the Continental Divide, conduct significant and ongoing environmental mitigation for the project and work closely with regulators since the early 2000s has earned the project the support of major environmental groups, Grand County and each of the last five governors of Colorado. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment concluded the project would result in net water quality improvement on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    The dam, when built in the 1950s, was designed to be raised. In the 1980s, amid discussion of the Two Forks project southwest of Denver (later vetoed by the EPA) a coalition of environmental groups recommended the expansion of Gross Reservoir as a viable, environmentally stable project. “We feel that additional capacity at Gross Reservoir is an environmentally acceptable and cost-effective way of increasing the overall yield of the system,” the coalition wrote. It included representatives of the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and Trout Unlimited, among several other groups.

    Denver Water also worked industriously with local governments and citizen groups on the West Slope to address the impacts that putting more water in an expanded Gross Reservoir would have on streams in Grand County. Those talks, often intense, and spanning half a decade, resulted in the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, an unprecedented cooperative effort involving 18 signatories and 40 partner organizations that began a new era of collaboration and conflict-resolution between Denver Water and the West Slope.

    Expanding Gross Reservoir locks in a key component to that agreement: Denver Water would place a geographic limit on its service area, putting to rest fears the utility would continue to expand its reach to an ever-sprawling suburban ring. The utility also agreed to several measures that would provide more water to West Slope rivers, towns and ski areas and invest in improvements to aquatic habitat. The landmark concord also affirmed that with the Gross Reservoir expansion, Denver Water would benefit from more flexibility in its system, and it would use that flexibility to address stream flow and stream temperature concerns more nimbly and readily in Grand County.

    Additionally, Denver Water worked with the cities of Boulder and Lafayette to establish an environmental pool in Gross Reservoir to provide additional water in South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods. Water in that pool would also supplement supplies for those two cities. Many of these commitments, however, depend on the project going forward and are therefore in jeopardy through Boulder County’s actions.

    As planning for the expansion moved ahead, the utility undertook a proactive strategy to reduce demand. It deployed a water recycling facility to reduce its dependence on West Slope water supplies, embarked on a conservation program renown nationally for its success — cutting per capita water use by 22% between 2007 and 2016 — and has now undertaken direct efforts at water efficiency that pinpoint savings opportunities at the individual customer level. These are only a sample: The utility remains committed to innovation to drive further savings and expand water reuse as a core part of its strategy, work that will continue to be essential even with an increase in storage at Gross Reservoir.

    In short, the effort to build civic and regulatory support for the Gross Reservoir expansion has been persistent, inspired and earnest. The future of the region, its access to clean, safe drinking water, protection of its urban tree canopy and environment, and its economic development rest in large part on the ability of Denver Water to protect water supplies from emerging threats, develop a climate-resilient system and remain prepared for the demands that will result from continued growth within its service area in metro Denver.

    DENVER WATER STATEMENT ON BOULDER COUNTY’S PROCESS

    Boulder County is endangering the project through delays, repeated and expanding requests for information — information demands that duplicate the already completed federal permitting process in which Boulder County participated — the potential for months of additional hearings and the fact that two of the county’s three commissioners have already publicly stated their opposition to, and desire to stop, the expansion project.

    Further, the county’s land use director informed Denver Water on June 29 that the utility — despite over nine months of diligent and painstaking work to respond to Boulder County’s ever-expanding queries — failed to provide sufficient information to county agencies about the project, setting the project up for failure and rendering further involvement with the 1041 process futile.

    These actions also put engineering and construction deadlines at risk, threaten to disrupt FERC-ordered timelines and risk other permits and actions necessary for successful completion of the project. A project of this size and complexity requires extensive preplanning, substantial resources and a highly skilled design and construction team. Delays resulting from Boulder County’s refusal to timely process the 1041 application add substantial costs and cause permitting, procurement and logistical issues that seriously disrupt Denver Water’s ability to execute the project.

    In summary, the actions of a single local jurisdiction, Boulder County, threaten to derail and undermine a federally permitted and state supported project vital to a safe and secure water supply for one-quarter of Colorado’s population. This presents an unacceptable risk to a critical project spanning nearly 20 years and involving intensive review by environmental agencies at the federal and state levels and the engagement of dozens of organizations and communities across the metro area and the West Slope.

    For that reason, Denver Water must seek relief in federal court. The complaint further details Denver Water’s attempts to work with Boulder County, the reasons that federal law preempts Boulder County’s claimed authority over the FERC-licensed expansion project, and the basis for Denver Water’s request that the court prevent Boulder County from further delaying and derailing the project.

    #ColoradoRiver’s voluntary fishing closure could be first of many in Grand due to low flows, high temps — The Sky-Hi Daily News #COriver #aridification

    From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife has asked anglers to voluntarily avoid fishing on the Colorado River between Kremmling and Rifle — and more voluntary closures could be coming.

    The closure is in effect until further notice with a possibility of a mandatory emergency closure to all fishing if conditions worsen…

    Heat, drought and low water levels are contributing to elevated water temperatures in much of Colorado, depleting oxygen levels and leaving trout vulnerable. Trout are cold-water fish that function best in 50-60 degree waters. When temperatures exceed 70 degrees, they often stop feeding and become more susceptible to disease.

    As the aquatic biologist for CPW’s Hot Sulphur Springs office, Jon Ewert has seen already seen the local impact to the fishery firsthand. After a number of public reports of fish mortality along the Colorado River, he recently floated from Radium to Rancho del Rio to verify the issue. On that float, he counted 15 fish carcasses…

    River flows have been exceptionally low this year.

    The USGS gauge on the Colorado River at Catamount Bridge has been measuring 600-700 cfs, less than half what is historically expected there. The USGS gauge on the Colorado River near Dotsero is running at 1,250 cfs, down from an expected 3,000-4,000 cfs.

    Mixed with high temperatures, these conditions spell disaster for the fishery. And it’s not just the Colorado River downstream from Kremmling.

    According to Ewert, temperatures for other river sections in Grand are also edging toward dangerous levels for fish…

    Ewert explained that these types of voluntary closures on rivers are not unheard of, but the extent of the closures might be…

    Around 60% of Grand County’s water is diverted, mostly to the Front Range, with the Denver metro area receiving about 20% of its water from Grand.

    In early June, temperatures were already spiking to 70 degrees on the Colorado River near Kremmling. Grand County coordinated with the Colorado River District, Denver Water, Northern Water and other partners to boost water levels where possible…

    Denver Water estimated that by early July it will have voluntarily foregone collecting around 11,000 acre-feet of water from Grand County…

    Northern Water said it has bypassed more than 6,000 acre-feet or about 2 billion gallons of water this year that has been sent downstream in the Colorado River…

    Representatives of the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, the partnership of Front Range and West Slope water stakeholders, said that coordination is underway to release additional flows to mitigate temperatures.

    While these voluntary efforts by those with water rights in Grand are helping, the sharp contrast in water use is hard to ignore for those invested in the health of the county’s rivers.

    “Here’s what really breaks my heart: The Front Range water diverters filled their reservoirs … they continued to divert as much water as they did in a wet year,” [Kirk] Klanke said. “They don’t seem to feel they have any more wiggle room to leave a little more water in the river …

    “Now we’re at the mercy of senior water right calls downstream. As I watch my guide friends become unemployed, I watch Kentucky bluegrass be watered on the Front Range. It’s hard to swallow.”

    Hot, dry conditions stressing Grand County waterways — News on Tap

    From Denver Water (Jay Adams):

    Denver Water cuts back on some of its West Slope supplies to help struggling streams.

    The Colorado River is hurting.

    The struggles of the river’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been well documented over the last decade as drought has ravished the West.

    The story, however, starts more than 500 miles upstream in Grand County, Colorado.

    The county is filled with streams that make up the beginning of the mighty Colorado’s journey in the mountains north of Grand Lake. Around 60% of the water in Grand County is diverted from these streams and used for agricultural and municipal water supply, mostly on the Front Range.

    That includes the Denver metro area, which receives about 20% of its water from Grand County, where Denver Water has water rights dating back to the 1920s. Most of the water is captured in rivers and streams around Winter Park when mountain snow melts in the spring.

    Rivers and creeks in Grand County are part of Denver Water’s North Collection System. Water flows through the Moffat Tunnel, under the Continental Divide, to Gross and Ralston reservoirs. Image credit: Denver Water.

    But, after a lackluster runoff season on the West Slope combined with dry soils from the past year, the hot, dry conditions in early June meant the high-country rivers and streams needed help.

    Denver Water responded by voluntarily reducing diversions from several Grand County creeks and coordinating with the Colorado River District, Grand County, Northern Water and other Learning By Doing partners to adjust operations, where possible, to help boost water levels in some of the more troubled areas.

    “While our primary responsibility is to make sure we’re supplying water to 1.5 million people in the metro area, we’re always looking for opportunities to help improve conditions on the rivers, to help the aquatic environment, recreation and communities they flow through,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.

    By reducing diversions, Denver Water foregoes collecting a portion of water it is legally entitled to collect for its water supply in exchange for improving streams and tributaries along the Colorado River.

    The Fraser River flows below a Denver Water diversion structure in Grand County in June 2021. Denver Water voluntarily released around 11,000 acre-feet of water from streams in the county from June 6 through early July in 2021 to improve aquatic habitat downstream. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    It started with a plea for help

    On June 5, the Colorado River District asked Denver Water for help after reporting extremely low water levels and critically high water temperatures on the Colorado River. The river district reported conditions were creating unhealthy habitat for fish and aquatic insects.

    “When the email came in Saturday morning, we were in a position to quickly respond and reduce the amount of water we were pulling from several Grand County creeks,” Elder said.

    Denver Water has continued making operational adjustments since that email.

    The utility estimates that by early July it will have voluntarily foregone collecting around 11,000 acre-feet of water from Grand County to help keep more water in the Colorado and Fraser rivers. That’s roughly enough water to supply over 44,000 residences for one year.

    “It has been helpful to hear directly from stakeholders in Grand County, including Trout Unlimited and ranchers along the river, on where we may be able to truly help the river, the community and the environment with our operational adjustments,” Elder said.

    “With help from the West Slope, we’ve been able to target specific areas and send some beneficial water downstream.”

    This includes adjusting water releases from Williams Fork Dam twice a day in a way that also benefits the Colorado River.

    For example, when releasing water from the dam, Elder and his team try to time the flows, so the water reaches the river in Kremmling — an area prone to higher river temperatures — during hotter times of the day.

    The higher water level helps to cool down the water, which is better for the aquatic environment.

    Warm temperatures and low water levels create unhealthy conditions for fish in Colorado streams. Denver Water worked with the Colorado River District to send cooler water downstream in June to help lower temperatures on the Colorado River near Kremmling. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Position to help

    The wet spring conditions along the Front Range boosted water supplies in Denver Water’s South Platte River collection system, which drastically reduced customers’ demand for water across the metro area — where Denver Water serves a quarter of the state’s population.

    In fact, from January to May, Denver Water’s customer water use hit a 50-year low across the metro area, despite nearly 600,000 more people in its service area since 1970. That includes years in which the metro area was on mandatory drought restrictions.

    “Some of the low use may be due to COVID-19 impacts on business and obviously a wet, cool spring helped,” said Greg Fisher, demand manager for Denver Water.

    “It’s a great sign that our customers really understand efficient water use and let Mother Nature do the watering for them when possible.”

    This wet spring on the Front Range also helped provide additional flexibility on how Denver Water collected and distributed water across its collection system during the spring snow runoff.

    “We were able to turn off the Roberts Tunnel in April, which helped bring water levels up in Dillon Reservoir for boating,” Elder said.

    “The conditions also enabled us to send more water down the Blue River below Dillon Dam to help improve fish habitat around Silverthorne instead of sending the water to the Front Range.”

    Denver Water uses the Roberts Tunnel to bring water from Dillon — the utility’s largest reservoir — under the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

    But flexibility like this is not always possible, especially with the myriad threats Denver’s water system is facing.

    “Between the rising temperatures, changes to the timing of spring runoff, extreme fire behavior and half a million more people expected in the metro area by 2040, our ability for flexible operations is decreasing in a time when we need it the most,” said Elder.

    “We must take an ‘all-in’ approach that includes conservation, water reuse and development of new water supplies so we can continue to maximize the benefits of a large system.”

    Wet conditions in the metro area during the spring of 2021 reduced demand for water for irrigation. The lower demand gave Denver Water more flexibility to fill its reservoirs and provide additional water for environmental benefits on the West Slope. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    More flexibility

    According to Elder, hot, dry weather conditions highlight the benefits of having a large water collection system, as it provides the water planning team more flexibility in its operational playbook.

    Denver Water relies on a network of reservoirs to collect and store water. The large collection area provides flexibility for collecting water as some areas receive different amounts of precipitation throughout the year. Image credit: Denver Water.

    The vision for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, which is in its final steps of permitting, is an example of how additional water storage can really help streams in times of drought.

    “As part of the Gross Reservoir Expansion, some of the voluntary things we’re doing this year — like leaving more water in the Grand County rivers — will become required annual operations for us,” said Elder.

    Denver Water is planning to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. The additional storage capacity will create more balance in the utility’s storage and give water planners more flexibility in their operational strategy. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That’s because Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin.

    As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County.

    “Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water.

    “Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”

    That’s because Denver Water is one of 18 partners who signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement in 2013, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the utility and West Slope stakeholders, all with the vested interest in protecting watersheds in the Colorado River Basin.
    As part of that agreement, a process called “Learning by Doing” was created, which has helped the utility stay better connected on river conditions in Grand County. The partnership is a collection of East and West Slope water stakeholders who help identify and find solutions to water issues in Grand County.
    “Denver Water has been part of Grand County for over 100 years, and we understand the impact our diversions have on the rivers and streams,” said Rachel Badger, environmental planning manager at Denver Water.
    “Our goal is to manage our water resources as efficiently as possible and be good stewards of the water — and Learning By Doing helps us do that.”

    Northwater Treatment Plant construction hits major milestone — News on Tap

    From Denver Water:

    Storage tanks at Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant taking shape.

    The work started in the dark, at 2:30 a.m., continued through the dawn and lasted until noon on Friday, May 14.

    Loaded concrete trucks trundled onto the site of the Northwater Treatment Plant, along Highway 93 north of Golden. A truck arrived every four minutes, delivering concrete that was pumped, then smoothed into place by an army of about 100 workers.

    They shaped the round, concrete floor of what will be the first of the new treatment plant’s two water storage tanks. The tanks will hold clean, treated water to be delivered into Denver Water’s distribution system that sends safe drinking water 1.5 million people every day.

    Placing the concrete floor for the first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks at the new Northwater Treatment Plant started at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, May 14, and continued through noon that day. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “It’s a big milestone day. Each tank can hold 10 million gallons of water — and to put that in perspective, that’s 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools,” said Bob Mahoney, Denver Water’s chief engineering officer.

    “The project is going very well. It’s ahead of schedule and — in addition to pouring the floor of the new treated water reservoir — the overall project is about 38% complete.”

    More than 100 concrete trucks were needed to deliver 1,400 cubic yards of concrete for the base of the storage tank. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    A look at the numbers behind the work:

  • 23 feet, the height of the storage tank when finished, although most of it will be buried underground.
  • 300-plus feet, the diameter of the tank, longer than a football field.
  • 1,400 cubic yards of concrete were needed for the floor of the tank.
  • 145 concrete trucks delivered the concrete.
  • 100 workers were involved with the concrete placement.
  • The first of two 10-million-gallon water storage tanks begins to take shape. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The new, state-of-the-art water treatment plant, being built next to the utility’s Ralston Reservoir, is expected to be complete in 2024 and will be capable of cleaning up to 75 million gallons of water per day. Concrete for the floor of the second water storage tank is expected to be put in place July 2, weather permitting.

    The Northwater Treatment Plant is part of Denver Water’s $600 million North System Renewal effort, which includes a new pipeline to carry water from the new plant and upgrades at the old Moffat Treatment Plant built in Lakewood in the 1930s.

    About 100 workers were involved in the project, getting the concrete into the forms and smoothing it out to dry. Photo credit: Denver Water

    The concrete work in mid-May drew a steady stream of curious onlookers, including workers building the new plant — and those who will run it when it’s finished.

    “I had to come out. I really wanted to see how they do this,” said Nicole Babyak, a water treatment plant supervisor at Denver Water.

    “The team and I, we’ve been involved in this project for years. We’re going to be running the plant and have seen parts of the facility being built from the ground up, but I haven’t seen a large concrete pour like this yet. It’s so neat to be here while they’re pouring the first tank.

    “It’s just so cool.”

    Denver Water’s new, state-of-the-art Northwater Treatment Plant is being built between Ralston Reservoir, seen in the distance on the left, and Highway 93, seen on the right. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    The Front Range May Have Gotten Soaked, But Half Of #Denver’s #Water Supply Comes From The #Drought-Stricken Western Slope — #Colorado Public Radio

    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

    The National Weather Service said Denver has seen its wettest start to a year since 1983.

    All that rain has made significant improvements to Colorado’s drought map. Three months ago, nearly the entire state was in a moderate drought or worse. Now that’s just 43 percent.

    But the map shows a tale of two Colorados. While above-average rain has brought relief to the eastern half of the state, the West Slope is in a terrible drought.

    Colorado Drought Monitor map June 1, 2021.

    “Half of Denver Water’s supply comes from that West Slope side,” said Nathan Elder, manager of water supply at Denver Water.

    So while those who live in Denver and the Front Range might be thinking, “What drought?”, Elder says it’s important to understand that water conservation is still needed, especially since half the city’s system exists in areas that are historically dry…

    Elder says he expects reservoirs in the South Platte system will fill…

    Elder says peak flows into Dillion reservoir will be about half of what’s normal. But overall, Denver’s reservoirs are 89 percent full, which Elder says is average for this time of year.

    Telling the story of what was lost as a result of our thirsty #Colorado cities — The Mountain Town News

    Headwaters Center. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Gathered around the campfire one evening during a rafting trip many years ago, the conversation was about classroom education of river guides. I remember it well almost 40 years later because I cracked a joke that got a round of laughter.

    To make the educational experience complete, I said, somebody should throw a pail of cold water over those assembled to make it like a real river trip.

    That memory was provoked by a recent visit to the Headwaters River Journey, a water-focused exhibit-slash-museum that occupies the ground floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park. It doesn’t leave you shivering like you just fell into a cold mountain stream. It does intend for visitors to gain an appreciation for mountain water and the consequences of its loss, in the case of the Fraser Valley to the benefit of metropolitan Denver.

    Colorado has 25 ditches, tunnels, and other conveyances that ferry water over and through the Continental Divide, from the Western Slope where 80% of water originates, mostly in the form of snow, to the Front Range cities and the farms beyond, where 85% of Coloradans live. No place has been dewatered so severely as the Fraser Valley, where Winter Park is located.

    Diversions that began in 1936 have resulted in 60% of the water from the Fraser Valley being diverted to metropolitan Denver. That percentage will increase to more than 80% if a long-contemplated project by Denver Water gets realized.

    Headwaters River Journey seeks to deliver an appreciation for the natural environment of the Fraser and other mountain valleys and the cost to these ecosystems. It does so with an abundance of hands-on experiences.

    One exhibit allows a literal hands-on demonstration of depletion of Jim Creek, one of the sources of metropolitan Denver’s water, as levels rise in Moffat Tunnel pipeline. Photo/Headwaters Center via The Mountain Town News

    The hands-on learning is literal in an exhibit about Denver Water’s diversion from Jim Creek. The creek originates on the flanks of James Peak, across from the Winter Park ski area, meandering through a glacial-carved valley to a confluence with the Fraser River. Or, what’s left of the creek.

    The exhibit has you lay hands on an operating wheel that is used to raise or lower a headgate at a diversion point. As you crank the red wheel, as if to divert water into a diversion ditch, a screen on the left shows water levels in the creek dropping. More cranks yet reveal cobbles, a creek nearly without its water. A panel on the right shows corresponding water levels rising in the water pipe in the Moffat Tunnel used by Denver to deliver water to South Boulder Creek, just one relatively minor hump away from Denver’s suburbs.

    This was not news to me. I once lived in that valley, proudly wearing a “Dam the Denver Water Board” (as the water agency was formerly called) bumper sticker on my car. Now, I live on the receiving end of that water, in the Denver suburb of Arvada. Here, 78% of water for this city/suburb of 120,000 people comes through the Moffat Tunnel from Jim Creek and myriad other creeks in the Fraser Valley. More yet comes from the adjacent but far more remote Williams Fork Valley, two more tunnels away.

    The plumbing before the water arrives at my garden hose is vast, complex, and expensive. The legal system for administration of Colorado’s water may be more byzantine yet.

    Headwaters doesn’t dive deep on the history, legal system, or the plumbing. It’s more like a chapter in Colorado Water 101. It is geared to someone who knows relatively little about water.

    Still, someone like myself, who has written about Colorado water off and on for more than 40 years, the exhibits can fill in gaps. One of my gaps is biology. One exhibit showed the life stages of stoneflies, an important component of the aquatic ecosystem. Through an interactive exhibit, I swam along a river bottom somewhat like a trout might, looking for food.

    Another interactive experience allowed me to flap my arms as if a condor, flying over the geography from Berthoud Pass northward to Longs Peak and west along the Rabbit Ears Range. If a museum can be this much fun for an older guy, I wonder what it would be like to be a 10-year-old.

    My companion, Cathy, was most touched by two exhibits that triggered her memories of living for almost 30 years in a very small mountain town in a house above the confluence of a creek and river.

    One was a line of the life to be found along a mountain creek, from the bugs to the four-legged critters. She says it was a lovely reminder of “all the friends that I miss” now that she lives, sometimes with regret, a citified life.

    The other was a wall-sized video immersion at the beginning of the exhibit that shows the changing of the seasons from one vantage point of a mountain slope. As the snow fell, there was a whoosh of chilled air. As the snow melted, there was the sound of water drops falling.

    Colorado’s population has grown rapidly since the early 20th century, as the Headwaters Center exhibit graphically points out. Photo/Allen Best

    The exhibit is the creation of Bob and Suzanne Fanch, owners for the last 20 years of the 6,000-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch, which is 7 or 8 miles down the valley —and, perhaps not incidentally, just below some of Denver Water’s diversions on Ranch Creek. It’s one of the nation’s most high-end cross-country ski destinations.

    Kirk Klancke, a neighbor of the Fanches on Ranch Creek and an active member of Trout Unlimited and other water-related causes, describes himself as a technical advisor.

    The Fanches, he explains, got the bug for interactive exhibits after visiting a museum in Iceland. “What a great educational tool, and the Fanches have always been interested in the future of the Fraser River,” he says.

    The vision was distilled by Suzanne, he says, in a discussion. She took the message from a Trout Unlimited movie about the plight of the river that was called “Tapped Out.” A Boulder couple, Chip and Jill Isenhart, who have a company called ECOS Communications, designed the exhibits.

    “We are natural history and environmental storytellers, and our team of content experts and designers has been doing this for more than 30 years in Colorado,” says Chip Isenhart.

    “Our passion is partnering with mission-driven clients like the Fanches, and they have done an amazing job creating a world-class exhibit in Grand County.”

    Isenhart says the primary task in creating the exhibit was to connect the dots between the Fraser River and the Front Range residential water use. To do this, he and his team needed to see the story through the eyes of the locals.

    “We would go out on the river with Kirk Klancke, and folks from CPW, and meet frustrated anglers due to fishing closures at 1 p.m. due to river temperatures being so high from the lack of water,” says Isenhart. “And at the same time we also got to work closely with Front Range water interests to make sure our story was balanced. That was very, very important to ECOS and the Fanches and Trout Unlimited, as this issue is beyond complicated. It’s actually fairly easy to paint a picture that’s more sensational than accurate.”

    Once ECOS had the essentials of the story figured out, they set out to create a variety of fun, changeable, and—they hoped—memorable interactive experiences to tell that story.

    One of my memories is of the bathroom stall. No opportunity for educational storytelling was missed.

    See Headwaters River Journey for hours and location. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    The take-home message of Headwaters River Journey is about personal responsibility.

    “It’s taking the knowledge you’ve learned and actually making a difference using that knowledge and being a participant, rather than a spectator,” says Klancke. “That is what this museum is designed to do.”

    The ideal audience would be somebody who lives in metropolitan Denver, a beneficiary of the exported water, or more broadly somebody from the Front Range. As such, it might better be located in Golden, for example, or even along the Platte River near downtown Denver. It was located in Winter Park, at least in part, because the municipality provided the 6 acres of land. Plus, there is an additional benefit. Immediately outside the backdoor of the exhibit is an illustration of beavers, willows and a braided mountain river.

    But Isenhart says the exhibit can have value for remote learning, especially for classrooms along the Front Range. “That’s hopefully one of the next steps,” he reports.

    I had intended to visit the exhibit in March 2020, on the way back to Denver after a trip to Craig. I was a bit late, and hence the curtain of covid descended the next week. My trip was delayed by 13 months.

    It was worth the wait, though. Headwaters River Journey exceeded my expectations. And I’d go back again for a refresher.

    This is from Big Pivots, an e-journal that tracks the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond. To get copies, go to http://BigPivots.com.

    Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

    Measuring the snow below, from 20,000 feet — News on Tap

    The mountain ranges above Dillon Reservoir, seen through the lens of the data collected by sophisticated equipment onboard a plane that flew over the Blue River Basin to measure the amount of water frozen in the snow above Denver Water’s largest reservoir. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory Inc.

    From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor):

    New generation of high-tech snow measurements feeds Denver area’s water supply models.

    On April 18, a Beech A90-1 King Air stuffed with sophisticated equipment took off from Gunnison’s regional airport and soared over the mountains above Dillon Reservoir.

    The flight occurred toward the end of the 2020-21 snow season, a nail-biter that has seen streaks of unusually warm, sunny days — and record-breaking heat in early April — broken by waves of storms and inches of snow that extended the ski season at some resorts.

    In the air for three hours, the plane cruised above 20,000 feet, flying back and forth across the 335 square miles of high-country snow drifts that make up the Blue River Basin. Snow melting off high peaks and tumbling down the basin’s creeks ultimately ends up in Dillon Reservoir and the Blue River below Denver Water’s dam.

    And as the Airborne Snow Observatories Inc. plane crisscrossed the sky, lidar equipment it carried shot beams of light at the snow below, capturing reflections from its frozen surface and measuring its depth. The company grew out of a seven-year research effort by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    Reams of data collected during the flight provide Denver Water with an assessment of the amount of water frozen in the snow.

    Those calculations will in turn feed the utility’s forecast of the amount of water expected to flow into the largest reservoir in the utility’s system that 1.5 million people rely on for drinking water.

    Red splashed across the mountains in the Blue River Basin show where the snow was the deepest in mid-April. The line of dots down the mountain is a ski run at Breckenridge Ski Resort where snow-making machines have added snow to the ground. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory.

    “About 80% of Denver Water’s supply comes from snowpack and we want to be able to forecast spring runoff as accurately as possible,” said Nathan Elder, Denver Water’s manager of water supply.

    “Getting more and better information improves accuracy and that helps us know if we have to go on watering restrictions, or what the impacts of runoff will be on the environment and recreation, how we should manage and move our water resources,” he said.

    The mid-April flight was timed to be at or close to the peak of the season’s snowpack. It was the first of two flights Denver Water commissioned to collect data over the Blue River Basin this season.

    Information from the first flight indicated there were normal amounts snow in the middle and lower elevations, but less than expected at higher elevations, Elder said.

    “That’s important to know, because where the snow is on the mountain will dictate when it starts melting for the runoff,” Elder said.

    A second flight in late May or early June will collect information about how much snow might be lingering at the highest elevations.

    he flight path of a plane tasked with collecting data on the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir in mid-April, as it flew a pattern back and forth across the Blue River Basin. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That’s important because by then, snow at the four SNOTEL measurement sites in the basin, perched at about 11,000 feet, will have already melted away, leaving the utility and other snow watchers blind to water that might still be frozen in place at higher elevations — or may have already melted away.

    “Based on the measurements and history we have, we can overpredict the amount of water in the snow or underpredict. Either way has consequences for how we operate our system, and is something we want to avoid,” Elder said.

    Historically, Denver Water and other water watchers gather information about snowpack and water supplies by looking at data from SNOTEL sites scattered across the mountains, including four in the Blue River Basin area, and information collected by crews snowshoeing to remote locations. Information collected during the season is compared to historical data.

    But Elder compares the SNOTEL measurement spots to pixels in a TV screen.

    “If you have four sites in the Blue River Basin, imagine watching TV and you have four pixels for the entire screen – you won’t be able to tell what’s going on. And if the pixels are in a line across the middle, like the SNOTEL sites are all between 10,500 and 11,400 feet, you can’t see anything above or below that line,” Elder said.

    Throw in additional layers of uncertainty in shifting weather patterns due to climate change, and the confidence in data collected the same way it’s been done for decades starts to slide.

    Denver Water caretaker Per Olsson snowshoes through the woods to access snow-measuring sites. Olsson retired from Denver Water in 2018 after 26 years of service. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “What we see now isn’t the same as what we’ve seen in the past. You can’t base today’s forecast on yesterday’s data, conditions are changing,” Elder said.

    Gathering data on the snowpack by flying above it started in California and Colorado in 2013 and has occurred occasionally in various river basins across Colorado for several years, as utilities and others have had money available to commission flights.

    Denver Water flew two flights above the Blue River Basin in 2019, then skipped 2020 amid the pandemic.

    But several Colorado water utilities and entities are looking at the possibility of banding together to coordinate future flights, sharing costs and also sharing the data that comes from the flights.

    “When Denver Water did the first Airborne Snow Observatory flights in 2019, we found incredible value from the information and we started to tell the story of those pilot flights at conferences,” said Taylor Winchell, a water resource engineer at Denver Water who works on climate change adaptation and water supply planning issues.

    “There’s a lot of interest, but there also are a lot of questions about the cost, the information, timing – when do you fly – and where those flights might be the most useful,” Winchell said.

    Information collected from the flights is another tool to be integrated into the wealth of information that exists about Colorado’s snowpack, and how it might change in coming years, he said.

    How many inches of water were frozen in the snow in mid-April? The shaded blue band shows how the amount of water changed as you go from 9,000 feet to 14,000 feet on the mountains above Dillon Reservoir. Image credit: Airborne Snow Observatory.

    In April, the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave $45,000 to fund the Colorado Airborne Snow Observatory Expansion Plan, allowing the group to work through all the questions.

    “This project isn’t designed to pay for the flights, but to create a plan for developing a sustainable operation in Colorado with consistent flights, across many watersheds, every year, with costs and information shared – similar to the California program,” Winchell said.

    The planning team includes Denver Water, Northern Water, Dolores Water Conservancy District, Airborne Snow Observatories Inc. (a company that grew out of the NASA-led pilot flights in California) and Lynker, which specializes in water resources planning and analysis.

    Winchell said the planning process is expected to get a diversity of water perspectives across Colorado, spanning state and federal agencies, agriculture and recreation interests, water providers, cities, researchers, environmental groups and Native American tribal groups.

    “Airborne snow flights have benefits for everyone who is involved in water management,” Winchell said. “We’re trying to make sure all perspectives are included in developing this program.”

    Looking to the south from a plane above Dillon Reservoir in June 2019, during an Airborne Snow Observatory flight to gather data on the snowpack above the reservoir for Denver Water. Photo credit: Quantum Spatial.

    #Runoff news (May 16, 2021): Commercial rafters unsure how much Blue River will run next month — The Summit Daily

    From The Summit Daily (Antonio Olivero):

    Kevin Foley, president of Performance Tours Rafting, said Friday, May 14, that recent reports he has received from Denver Water indicate the organization is likely to prioritize filling the Dillon Reservoir.

    “What we are being told is, right now, the reservoir is low and snowpack is below average, so their model this year going to be more fill and spill,” Foley said.

    Each spring and summer, Denver Water determines how much water it will release into the Blue River north of the Dillon Dam based on how much water is needed in different locations throughout an intricate network of water systems and reservoirs that service water users.

    Foley said current conditions and a low water level in Dillon Reservoir point to Denver Water filling the reservoir with any new snow or rain in the coming weeks, rather than diverting flows downstream into the Blue River.

    Foley said he will find out more from Denver Water at a meeting next week, but as of now, he said it’s unlikely there will be an extended season on the Blue…

    The Class 2 to 3 Blue River stretch, which usually takes just over an hour for commercial trips, runs 5 to 6 miles from a U.S. Forest Service put-in at Hammer Bridge through Boulder Canyon down to a take-out at Columbine Landing. Foley said Performance Tours and KODI Rafting’s cutoff for the stretch is usually 500 cfs, signaling when they can start and stop. He said the best rafting on the Blue is at 1,000 cfs.

    The commercial rafting season on the Blue is notoriously fickle, sometimes very short at just a couple of weeks in dry years to up to two months of rafting in wet seasons…

    Foley said drainages down on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista are looking much better than the Blue. He credited the voluntary flow management program on the Arkansas that enables commercial companies to raft on good, augmented flows deep into summer. Trips out of Buena Vista have been operating for some commercial companies since May 1.

    Appeal filed to sustain #ColoradoRiver flows and stop Gross Dam expansion — Wild Earth Guardians

    Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

    Here’s the release from Wild Earth Guardians (Jen Pelz):

    Coalition stays the course in fight to halt construction of tallest dam in Colorado history

    A coalition of conservation groups filed a notice of appeal today in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to halt Denver Water’s proposed expansion of Gross Dam in Boulder County and to protect sustainable flows in the Colorado River. The appeal challenges the dismissal by the lower court and asks the appeals court to order review of the merits of the case to ensure the health of the Colorado River, its native and imperiled species, and communities across Colorado that will be negatively impacted by the project…

    The conservation coalition, including Save The Colorado, The Environmental Group, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance, and the Sierra Club, originally filed suit on December 19, 2018, in the federal district court of Colorado. The groups’ litigation sought to halt Denver Water’s expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and prevent an additional diversion of water from the Colorado River through its Moffat Collection System due to violations of federal environmental laws including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The project would triple the storage capacity of Gross Reservoir and the dam would become the tallest dam in the history of Colorado.

    On March 31, 2021, the district court dismissed the coalition’s case finding that it was not before the proper court because the Federal Power Act provides the federal court of appeals with sole authority over hydropower licensing by the Federal Regulatory Commission.

    “Given the climate, water and biodiversity crises upon us, we need to be restoring river ecosystems, not destroying them,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “This battle against the powerful water institution is not over and we will continue to fight for water and climate justice by working to reform this broken system of laws and policies.”

    “The Sierra Club opposes the Gross Reservoir expansion because of the massive environmental damage it would cause,” said Rebecca Dickson, Chair of the Sierra Club-Indian Peaks Group. “If this project proceeds, hundreds of thousands of trees will be chopped down, countless habitats destroyed, and yet another waterway will be diverted from its natural course to the Front Range. On top of this, immeasurable amounts of greenhouse gasses will be released into the atmosphere during the construction and transportation process.”

    “Denver Water’s plan to build the tallest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in seven states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “The basin is slowly dying a proverbial ‘death by a thousand cuts’ as its communities and ecosystems face a water crisis driven by unsustainable demand, prolonged drought, and runaway climate change. We stand with our fellow conservation groups in continuing to oppose this misguided and reckless water grab.”

    “The expansion of Gross Dam is a shortsighted response to a long-term problem,” said Beverly Kurtz the President of The Environmental Group. “Denver Water should lead the way in finding sustainable solutions to the challenge of water scarcity, rather than destroying pristine areas of western Boulder County and further threatening the Colorado River with an antiquated dam proposal. Recent data confirm that predicted shortages of water in the Colorado River Basin due to climate change are happening even sooner than expected. Building a bigger dam does not increase the amount of water available. The District Court needs to hear the merits of our case rather than establishing a dangerous precedent by deferring authority to FERC and the federal court of appeals.”

    “The year of decision, to not divert more water from the Colorado River, came and went about twenty years ago,” said John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers in Moab, Utah. “We know this is true because the development of contingency planning agreements to avoid water shortages began in 2014 and the urgency to resolve this threat still remains. Yet the contradictions and absurdities to also develop a suite of diversion projects in the Colorado River Basin also remains. If the basin’s water managers will not even adapt to the hydrology they accept, how could they possibly adapt to the hydrology of the future? Our lawsuit is an appeal to accept the truth that the Colorado River has nothing left to give.”

    The groups’ appeal is posted here: http://pdf.wildearthguardians.org/support_docs/Notice-of-Appeal.pdf

    The organizations participating in this litigation are represented by the public interest environmental law firm Eubanks & Associates, PLLC.

    Judge tosses challenge from environmental groups to halt #DenverWater reservoir expansion — Colorado Politics

    Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

    From Colorado Politics (Michael Karlik):

    A federal judge has thrown out a legal action from multiple environmental organizations seeking to halt the expansion of a key Denver Water storage facility, citing no legal authority to address the challenge.

    “This decision is an important step,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for Denver Water. “We will continue working earnestly through Boulder’s land-use process and look forward to beginning work on a project critical to water security for 1½ million people and to our many partners on the West Slope and Front Range.”

    The expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is intended to provide additional water storage and safeguard against future shortfalls during droughts. The utility currently serves customers in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. In July 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the design and construction of the reservoir’s expansion. The project would add 77,000 acre-feet of water storage and 131 feet to the dam’s height for the utility’s “North System” of water delivery.

    FERC’s approval was necessary because Denver Water has a hydropower license through the agency, and it provided the utility with a two-year window to start construction.

    A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition in U.S. District Court for Colorado against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to rescind those agencies’ previous authorizations for the project. They argued the agencies inadequately considered the environmental impact of expansion…

    …Denver Water pointed out that under federal law, appellate courts, not district-level trial courts, are responsible for hearing challenges to FERC approvals. By challenging the environmental review process that led to the project’s go-ahead, the government argued, the environmental organizations raised issues “inescapably intertwined with FERC’s licensing process.”

    On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello agreed that the groups’ challenge was indeed wrapped up in the FERC approval.

    “[W]here a party does not challenge a FERC order itself, but challenges another agency order that is inextricably linked to the FERC order, the FPA’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision applies and precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction,” she wrote in dismissing the case.

    The Daily Camera reports that Boulder County’s approval is the final step for the expansion project.

    After the fire: A wintery check on #waterquality — @DenverWater News on Tap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Water Quality Operations crew member Nick Riney delivers water into a sample bottle secured by colleague Tyler Torelli. The pair will fill several bottles, including some that they’ll drive back to Denver Water’s laboratory in southwest Denver for testing. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From Denver Water (Todd Hartman):

    They snowshoed through a campground hidden under soft drifts, stepped carefully to the banks of the Middle Fork of the Williams Fork River, then broke the ice to find free-flowing water.

    Nick Riney and Tyler Torelli worked efficiently, dipping a long-poled scoop into the waterway and filling several pint-sized plastic bottles with samples of the cold, clear stream.

    Sturdy even in finger-pinching cold, the two set up a make-shift lab on the back end of the Sno-Cat, pulled equipment out of chubby metal suitcases and ran field tests right on the spot. Twenty degrees and snowfall aren’t the ideal working conditions for most, but these guys consider it a “pretty good office” all the same.

    And their work on a mid-February day in Grand County gave Denver Water’s Water Quality Operations team an early look at how last summer’s Williams Fork Fire, which burned nearly 15,000 acres northeast of Silverthorne, might have affected the water flowing through the area.

    See and hear what’s required to do this work:

    By sampling water as it pours through the mountains, long before it reaches any reservoirs or treatment plants, Denver Water can understand what’s happening on the landscape. Samples that veer from typical readings could indicate unexpected pollution, echoes of old mining activity or, increasingly, the impacts of forest fires.

    Understanding those impacts helps prepare water quality experts for potential impacts to reservoirs or treatment processes.

    The field test results came back in a healthy range, with no indication yet that a significant amount of sediment left by the summer of record fires in Colorado had ended up in the water.

    Riney and Torelli prepare to run field tests on water samples using portable equipment set up on the back edge of their Sno-Cat. The field tests can analyze the turbidity of the samples, offering clues as to the impacts of wildfire. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    “That’ll change,” Riney said, as the winter turns to spring and melting snow and monsoons more readily pull soil and ash from the scorched hillsides to the east of the tributary.

    “But right now, this water is clean. Turbidity is low. We like to see that,” he said. “We’ll keep tracking these spots every month and try to understand just how much damage this fire did to the landscape.”

    To be sure, the burned lands around the Williams Fork River don’t present a risk to Denver’s drinking water, primarily because this water travels to an “exchange” reservoir, where it will be sent down the Colorado River to make up for other West Slope water that is diverted to the Front Range.

    Even so, understanding the impacts of the fire on water quality is important, allowing Denver Water and its partners, including the U.S. Forest Service, to take steps to prepare for, and reduce, those effects.

    Denver Water recently began making monthly treks to this high-country stream to monitor a wetland protection project nearby. The utility has long made quarterly trips to the area as part of its broader field-testing program to track water quality across its mountain watershed.

    A topographic map showing the area targeted by water sampling crews in mid-March. This area in the Arapaho National Forest is north of Silverthorne and east of Highway 9. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    As part of that work, Water Quality Operations crews visit eight counties and collect samples from 77 locations. It’s work that’s distinct from the testing that goes on at reservoirs, water treatment plants and within the distribution system that bring water to household taps.

    To collect samples from the Middle Fork stream, Riney and Torelli towed a Sno-Cat up and over Ute Pass Road off Highway 9, turned south in County Road 30 and went to work near Sugarloaf Campground.

    “This sampling work keeps us well attuned to what’s happening in our watershed and can at times serve as an early warning for issues we may need to be watching out for further downstream,” said James Berrier, water quality monitoring supervisor at Denver Water. “We want to understand, is this just a temporary issue or something that could have a longer-term impact?”

    Sampling teams measure for an array on indicators. In the field, they look at temperature, pH (which measures acidity), conductivity (which helps determine salt levels), turbidity and dissolved oxygen, which is an important factor for aquatic life.

    Other water samples are transported back to Denver Water’s laboratory at the Marston Treatment Plant in southwest Denver (which will be moving in the future to its new home at Denver’s emerging National Western Center). Tests there include measuring for fluoride, chloride, nitrates, E. coli, nutrients and dissolved metal.

    A Sno-Cat helps Water Quality Operations crews access stream sections that are far from roadways, moving quickly over deep snow to eliminate longer walks on snowshoes. On this day, Denver Water crews were northeast of Silverthorne and just west of the Byers Peak Wilderness Area. They were about to head toward Sugarloaf Campground, a destination indicated on the nearby signage. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Samples collected a few months from now may shed light on how much damage the Williams Fork fire did to the land.

    Burned Area Emergency Response teams with the U.S. Forest Service have initially concluded that the fire did varying levels of damage. Their assessments found 23% of the area suffered high-intensity burn, while 40% was unburned or experienced low-intensity fire.

    Burn levels also can show up in water quality, through indicators such as ash, sediment, metals and other signatures.

    “Soil erosion modelling predicts that post-fire erosion rates are generally very low (close to pre-fire conditions) in areas with minimal fire impacts on ground cover and soils. However, rates of erosion increase dramatically … in moderate and high soil burn severity areas, especially on steeper slopes,” according to the response team’s December 2020 assessment.

    Denver Water has already accumulated significant expertise and partnerships related to wildfire impacts. Collaborative efforts include From Forests to Faucets, a team approach from Denver Water, the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Colorado State Forest Service.

    he Williams Fork River, lined by snow-covered banks. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    These agencies, together with local groups, address overgrown forests on the front end with tree-thinning projects and repairing landscapes damaged by the kind of intense fires that dramatically slow the recovery of soils and vegetation.

    “We have experience, unfortunately, with the havoc that wildfires and their aftermath can wreak on our water quality,” Berrier said, referencing major fires in the late 1990s and early 2000s that put enormous strain on reservoirs and treatment on the south end of Denver Water’s collection system, challenges that the utility is still working to overcome today.

    “Tracking impacts to the water once the fires are out is a key step in getting our arms around what might be in store in the years to come.”

    > Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Big storm a big boost for #water supplies, but caution flags remain — @DenverWater #drought #snowpack #runoff

    Doors across the Denver metro area opened to a scene like this as the city’s fourth-biggest snowstorm on record officially dumped 27.1 inches at Denver International Airport. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From News on Tap (Todd Hartman):

    Weekend blizzard a bounty for Denver, farmers and foothills, but not a drought-buster.

    The weekend storm that brought heaps of badly needed wet snow to Denver, the foothills and the plains is an important boost to water supplies, but doesn’t appear to be a full-fledged “drought-buster.”

    To put it in terms of a much-anticipated upcoming college basketball tournament: The weekend’s water results were like winning the first-round of March Madness. A nice thrill, but still a few wins short of a title.

    Snow, snow, so much snow, everywhere you looked. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    But let’s stay optimistic for a moment. The storm was a big victory, and here are a few reasons why:

  • It’s a big recharge for soil moisture across the Denver region, and will mean a big boost for lawns and landscapes in the metro area. Overall, the storm was officially the fourth-largest ever for Denver, with an official snow depth of 27.1 inches as recorded at Denver International Airport. That’s not too far behind the 30.4 inches that fell in November 1946, which sits in third place, and the memorable pileup of March 2003, at 31.8 inches.
  • Blizzard? Bah! It’s playtime! Hardy Denverites head out for some urban cross-country skiing during the March 2021 blizzard. Photo credit: Denver Water.
  • For Denver Water, the storm was especially helpful to Gross Reservoir in its North System, where surrounding areas clocked in at 20 to 30 inches. Some of Denver Water’s lower reservoirs, including Marston, Chatfield and Ralston also will reap rewards.
  • The moisture content of the snow was unusually high, giving everyone more bang for the buck. In short, a single storm brought the same level of water some places would typically get in a month or even two months. One Denver-based meteorologist said Monday that, with this storm, Denver has recorded 4.24 inches of liquid this year, the wettest start to a calendar year on record.
  • The suburbs northwest of Denver clocked in at 24 inches of snow before the sun came out and the melting commenced. Photo credit: Denver Water.
  • Farms and water users in northeast Colorado will benefit, and that’s a benefit to Denver Water. That’s because with downstream reservoirs on the South Platte filling, it will allow Denver Water to access its water rights sooner, without having to pass as much water down the river right away.
  • “All in all, this was an extremely helpful storm,” said Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water.

    “We see benefits all around. While it wasn’t a drought-busting storm — it didn’t hit the West Slope hard and didn’t get into the upper South Platte region — it’s a great recharge for Denver and the foothills and puts us in a much better place than we were a week ago.”

    A rain gauge at Water Supply Manager Nathan Elder’s house registers the amount of water in the snow about halfway through the March 2021 blizzard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    Even so, caveats remain.

    Despite the windfall, Denver Water’s collection system remains below average for snowpack, at 94% in the Colorado River Basin and 97% in the South Platte.

    And Colorado is coming off a very dry year, with a dry spring and a monsoon-less summer compounding an ongoing deficit in soil moisture.

    That matters because thirsty soil gets first dibs on melting snow. Water must replenish the ground before it slides down the hills and winds up in streams, rivers and reservoirs.

    It’s a snow dragon? More than two feet of snow transformed landscapes before skies cleared following the March 2021 blizzard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    That means Denver Water, along with water utilities across Colorado, will keep watching the skies for more storms to keep us wet through the rest of March and April, a period that is generally a good bet for snow and rain. Areas along the Continental Divide and upper reaches of the West Slope — the headwaters — sorely need a wet spring.

    The message to customers: Enjoy the bounty, but don’t let down your vigilance. Residents will need to continue being smart about irrigation. Denver Water’s standard summer watering rules take effect May 1, with watering limited to three days a week, and no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    And it’s still possible further watering limits could be in play, depending on how the next several weeks play out.

    Clearing a path through the snow after the March 2021 blizzard. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    A spike in temperatures that rapidly depletes the snowpack, for example, could have an impact on how we use water this summer.

    For now, it’s certainly a storm worth enjoying and appreciating, while keeping it in a healthy context.

    As a March Madness coach might say, “We’re excited as heck to make the tournament … but we’re still facing an uphill climb.”

    Thank you, Mother Nature. We appreciate and value your gift. Photo credit: Denver Water.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    This weekend’s snowstorm will likely translate to significant drought relief for portions of Colorado, while others remain mired in drier than average conditions.

    The National Weather Service estimates that areas of Colorado’s northern Front Range and northeastern plains received between 2 and 4 inches of liquid water in the form of heavy, wet snow, with some localized areas receiving more than 4 inches.

    Snow that blanketed the northern Front Range and northeastern plains will provide two to three inches of liquid water when it melts. Some localized areas are seeing even higher amounts ranging from four to five inches of water held in the snow, said Colorado’s assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger…

    The city of Burlington, for example, recorded nearly three inches of precipitation in 72 hours over the weekend. In a normal year, Burlington averages a total of 2.78 inches for the period of November through March…

    Much of Colorado’s Front Range has been locked in severe drought since August 2020. Bolinger expects the next U.S. Drought Monitor, released weekly on Thursdays, to show a contraction of severe drought on the Front Range and northeastern plains.

    The Western Slope, the part of the state in the most need of added moisture, is unlikely to see any drought relief from this storm, Bolinger said.

    From Colorado Public Radio (Sam Brasch):

    As Colorado digs out from the recent blizzard, each heavy shovel full of snow proves the storm brought plenty of moisture. But is it enough to free the state from its drought conditions?

    Russ Schumacher, the Colorado state climatologist, said the answer largely depends on location. The brunt of the storm hit east of the Continental Divide, dumping around two feet of snow in the Foothills and Eastern Plains. Meanwhile, preliminary snowfall reports show only a few inches accumulated on the Western Slope.

    Colorado’s drought conditions had improved ahead of the storm. After record dry weather over the summer and fall, snowpack levels had inched toward normal throughout the winter, but western Colorado continued to miss out on the snowfall. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 16 percent of the state faced the most extreme category of “exceptional drought” as of last week. The entirety of the area was west of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 9, 2021.

    Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, said the weekend storm brought the entire state to 91 percent of its median snowpack for mid-March.