Fort Collins takes a deep dive into @NorthernWater’s proposed NISP mitigation plan for Cache la Poudre through town

Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The plan proposed by Northern Water, proponent of Glade and the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, contains “new, useful and encouraging mitigation measures,” according to a staff memo to the Fort Collins City Council.

However, the effort falls short of addressing the city’s long-running concerns about how reducing flows on the Poudre to store water in Glade would affect the river’s ecological health and water quality.

More needs to be done in several areas addressed by the $59 million Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to make it adequate as far as the city is concerned, John Stokes, director of Fort Collins Natural Areas, told City Council members Tuesday.

Areas of concern include ensuring flows on the river during the spring runoff are high enough to flush sediment and protect fish and wildlife habitat. High flows also are needed to protect water quality, city officials said.

City staff members recommend establishing an annual three-day period during peak flow on the river when no water would be taken for NISP in hopes of “cleaning” the river and boosting its health.

Another issue is the amount of funding in the plan that would be set aside for mitigation and channel improvements. The $7.8 million in the plan for restoration and enhancement should be increased by $14.2 million, city staff said.

City Council members were divided on the staff’s comments and recommendations for the mitigation plan, with council member Ken Summers saying they seemed “extreme” while others said they weren’t strong enough…

Northern Water has listened to the city’s concerns and changed its plans to address them, said agency spokesman Brian Werner in a telephone interview.

Operational plans include “flushing flows” when river conditions and water rights allow, he said. Northern also has agreed to minimum flows through Fort Collins of 25 cubic feet per second, or cfs, in the summer and 18 cfs in winter to support habitat.

The mitigation plan could be changed as NISP continues through the permitting process, he said.

“We think this a great opportunity to make that river better,” Werner said.

The city’s comments on the NISP wildlife mitigation plan will be sent to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which must approve the plan as part of the lengthy permitting process for project. So even if the wildlife mitigation plan gets approved, other agencies would still have to approve permits for NISP to become a reality.

In 2008 and 2015, the council adopted resolutions stating the city could not support NISP as described in draft environmental impact statements…

While not supporting NISP, the city’s comments and recommendations on how it might operate are based on the scenario that “if” the project is built, “then” certain steps should be taken to protect the city’s interests, Stokes said.

If the mitigation plan is approved by the Parks and Wildlife Commission, it will be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board and then the Governor’s Office for approval.

Federal agencies that ultimately would permit NISP are likely to defer to the state’s position on mitigation plans, Stokes said, so communicating the city’s views on the project to the state is a critical step in the process…

What’s next

The Fort Collins City Council on Aug. 8 is scheduled to consider the city’s comments on the fish and wildlife mitigation plan for the Northern Integrated Supply Project that has been submitted to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.

The commission is scheduled to discuss the plan during its Aug. 10-11 meeting in Trinidad and its Sept. 7-8 meeting in Steamboat Springs.

Comments on the city’s proposed comments may be made at http://www.fcgov.com/nispreview through July 30.

Comments may be emailed directly to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission at dnr_cpwcommission@state.co.us.

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

Aspen embraces water #conservation

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The lush green mid-summer lawns that dot Aspen’s landscape don’t just rely on summer monsoon rainstorms. They depend on irrigation. The Aspen Water Utility statistics show that about 60 percent of residential water use goes toward landscaping, even though most sprinklers only run a few months of the year. City officials hope to change that.

“We have to look at the importance of having smart water use,” said Molly Somes of the Aspen Parks Department. “We have to protect our resources.”

Aspen City Council approved a new ordinance that regulates outdoor water use this past spring. Landscape architects working on new projects are required to go through a design review with the parks department, and it sets a 7.5 gallon per square foot cap on summer irrigation.

So, will this actually save water? Nate Hines is a water planner and irrigation consultant who works in Colorado, Arizona, California and other arid western states…

Hines identifies three problems with water efficiency: design, management and maintenance.

“There’s a huge breakdown between how a system is designed and then how it’s actually managed day-to-day, and there’s just an extraordinary amount of waste there,” he said.

At least in its pilot year, the city is only requiring efficient design. Areas of lush green grass will need to be offset with plantings of native, drought-resistant plants and grasses. It also means installing so-called “smart” irrigation systems that react to real-time weather. These can conserve up to half the water compared to older sprinklers.

Somes is tasked with taking inventory of the city’s own outdoor water use.

“I’m going to take a look at all of those parks and really kind of map out where we’re doing strong, where we could do some better efforts,” Somes said.

Still, large city parks, like Wagner or Paepcke in the heart of Aspen, likely won’t see native grasses replace the typical turf, like Kentucky bluegrass.

“We want to be careful not to damage the aesthetic of Aspen and the historical aspects of Aspen through this process,” she said.

That process will have implications for local landscape architects, but Patrick Rawley with Stan Clauson Associates said the new requirements won’t mean changes to his daily design work. Native grasses and smart irrigation aren’t new concepts.

“They’re a matter of course for a good landscape design office,” Rawley said.

The new ordinance does mean another set of permit approvals before developers can start projects.

“This is going to be another layer of added regulations of things we already do as best practices in the profession,” he said.

@CSUutilities hydroelectric plant at Pueblo Reservoir will supply Fort Carson

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

A hydroelectric plant is planned for construction downstream from the Pueblo Dam to generate renewable energy for Fort Carson. Developers are just waiting for the signal to start building.

The plant would significantly increase the amount of renewable energy Fort Carson consumes, fitting with the post’s “Net Zero” goals of becoming more environmentally friendly.

The Colorado Springs Utilities board will consider adding a military sales tariff during its meeting Wednesday. The tariff would cover costs for Utilities to act as an intermediary, selling the power to Fort Carson after buying it from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which would build and operate the plant, said Utilities spokeswoman Amy Trinidad.

Adding the tariff is the “last step” before the district can begin construction, said spokesman Chris Woodka.

“We’ve been ready to pull the trigger on this since January,” he said.

Currently, 8 percent of Fort Carson’s electricity is generated on-site through renewable sources such as solar panels, post spokeswoman Dani Johnson said. She could not say whether the post buys any renewable energy from off-site sources.

But Trinidad said Fort Carson does buy some renewable energy from Utilities. She could not say how much, citing customer privacy. The proposed hydroelectric deal would make up 7 percent of the post’s annual electricity purchase from Utilities, she said.

If the tariff is added, the proposal then will go before the City Council, consisting of the same members as the Utilities board, next month. If the council approves the move, construction on the plant can begin, Woodka said.

The plant would cost about $19 million, most of which comes from a loan the district took out, he said. In the years to come, energy sales are expected to cover the costs and eventually generate funds.

The plant’s construction will not have a financial impact on Utilities ratepayers, Trinidad said.

The plant is expected to generate up to 7.5 megawatts of electricity, Woodka said. Fort Carson will buy half of that, and Fountain Utilities will buy the other half.

The plant could be operational by May 2018, a peak time for generating hydroelectricity because of the high volume of water flowing from the Pueblo Dam, Woodka said.

Utilities then would buy the electricity, which will be transmitted onto its grid, and then sell it to Fort Carson without marking up the price, Trinidad said.

In the past, Fort Carson bought renewable wind energy through Utilities under short-term contracts, which have since expired, said Steve Carr, Utilities’ key account manager for Fort Carson. The pending hydroelectricity contract would last until the end of 2027.

Milton-Seaman Reservoir expansion update

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Expanding the 5,000-acre-foot capacity reservoir has been on Greeley officials’ to-do list for more than a decade. But the type of work the city is planning takes a lot of time, mainly because it involves the federal government.

If everything goes without a hitch, Greeley officials have circled 2030 as the year they’ll increase Seaman to 10 times its current capacity…

Here’s why:

» Greeley has never expanded any of its six reservoirs, and most have been around for nearly a century.

» Increasing Seaman to 53,000 acre-feet of water from 5,000 acre-feet will put Greeley in position to satisfy the city’s water needs for decades. (An acre foot of water is enough water for two families to use for a year). The city uses between 25,000-30,000 acre-feet of water per year: That’s expected to reach 40,000 acre-feet by 2030.

Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board in Greeley, likens the Seaman’s expansion to the kind of planning that has kept water flowing from the city’s Bellvue Treatment Plant area since 1907…

Right now, Greeley is working with a consultant and in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an environmental impact statement.

Greeley is still about two years away from having a draft of that statement.

In the meantime, Greeley officials are working to secure more water rights. The city doesn’t have enough rights to fill the expanded Seaman Reservoir. They’re 40 percent there, and as Reckentine said, it’s an everyday process. Every year, in fact, Greeley commits millions toward purchasing water rights.

Expanding the reservoir could cost $95 million more just in construction costs, according to an estimate provided in a Colorado Water Conservation Board document.

Water rights come from a variety of places, including retiring farms.

Today, Greeley typically uses its reservoirs as drought protection.

Basically, Greeley has water rights from the Colorado, Poudre, Laramie and Big Thompson rivers. But whether Greeley is able to get all of the water it’s owed depends on the rivers’ flow levels.

In drier years, Greeley would have to do without some of that water. That’s where reservoirs come in. Evans said the first reservoirs were used to finish Greeley area crops when river flows weren’t strong enough to do so in late fall.

Snowmelt and water diverted into reservoirs could be tapped for that purpose. Evans said it’s like putting money in the bank. Pound-for-pound, water’s worth more than money, though.

If and when the Seaman Reservoir expansion is complete, Greeley will likely use some of the water from that reservoir every year.

For Evans, that’s a perfect example, among many, of an investment in the future.

Evans mentions the new pipeline from the Bellvue Water Treatment Plant being installed now, with a lifespan of 75-100 years. The Seaman Reservoir has been around since the 1940s.

ABOUT MILTON SEAMAN RESERVOIR

» Built 1941

» Storage: 5,008 acre-feet

» Elevation: 5,478 feet

» Dam height: 115 feet

» Proposed enlargement date: 2029

» Proposed storage: 53,000 acre-feet

SET FOR LIFE?

The Seaman Reservoir expansion will put Greeley in a good position, but Deputy Director of Greeley Water Eric Reckentine hesitates to call it the final answer.

Greeley has a four-point plan when it comes to water:

» Maintain what you have — Greeley has reinforced water lines with concrete and fiberglass to reduce leaks.

» Secure supply to stay ahead of demand — The Windy Gap Project, which ensured water during lean times, is an example of this.

» Build storage for the lean times — The Milton Seaman Reservoir expansion project is the best example of this.

» Conserve the water you have — Greeley has a state-approved water conservation plan, and the new water budgets are another example of conservation.

THE OTHER RESERVOIRS

Here’s a quick look at Greeley’s other five reservoirs:

» Barnes Meadow Reservoir — Built in 1922 and located across Colo. 14 from Chambers Lake in the Roosevelt National Park, Barnes Meadow Reservoir holds 2,349 acre-feet of water.

» Peterson Lake Reservoir — Built in 1922, and located southwest of Chambers Lake and adjacent to Colo. 156, Peterson Lake Reservoir holds 1,183 acre-feet of water.

» Comanche Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Comanche Reservoir holds 2,628 acre-feet of water.

» Hourglass Reservoir — Built in 1898, and also located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Hourglass Reservoir holds 1,693 acre-feet of water.

» Twin Lakes Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located southwest of Pingree Park off Colo. 14, Twin Lakes Reservoir holds 278 acre-feet of water.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Doug Billingsley doesn’t know what he’s going to do to replicate the peace and quiet of his work when he retires and re-enters the hubbub of normal life. Greeley pays Billingsley to live at Milton Seaman Reservoir, about 15-20 minutes from the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. Billingsley lives in a city-provided house, and has lived there for the past eight years with his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and her caretaker.

Billingsley monitors the Seaman Reservoir. The reservoir is Greeley’s largest, and its water levels can rise and fall quickly. He must ensure the banks and dams are sound and functioning properly, and he’s charged with releasing water down the Poudre Canyon when necessary. Call him the water shepherd.

He’s used to the solitude, if not the quiet.

“I drove over the road truck for 18 years, and was by myself for up to 30 days at a time — I lived in a truck,” Billingsley said. “This is no biggie; this is heaven.”

The city pays him a salary as well as his living expenses. But there’s a catch: He’s on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The floods of 2013 are a prime example. And Billingsley spent the better part of a week stuck at home after a bridge went out, trapping folks up the canyon. Of course, he had to monitor Seaman’s water levels during the flood, as well.

Billingsley’s wife loves having him at home every night, and he loves being there.

Apart from animals there’s nothing to bother a Seaman Reservoir caretaker. They’ve seen elk, mountain lions, bears, but none of them hurt anybody, he says.

New manager says public boating, fishing to continue at Lonetree Reservoir

Lonetree Reservoir near Loveland, Colorado | Photo credit photokayaker via Flickr.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson) via The Denver Post:

The new lease holder for Lonetree Reservoir says that public access for boating and fishing at the reservoir southwest of Loveland will continue after Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s lease expires.

The state agency that has managed recreation at the reservoir since the 1970s announced last week that it was outbid for the lease, starting in June 2018, and claimed in a news release that public access to the reservoir would end at that time.

Tuesday, Berthoud Heritage Metropolitan District, which won the new lease, announced that they will not only continue to allow fishing and boating but have plans to improve the reservoir. Details of that access and any planned improvements have not yet been released, the district reported in a press release.

“We are thrilled to have been awarded the lease of Lonetree Reservoir,” John Turner, president of the district, said in a press release.

“We will keep this amenity open to the public. We have the resources to improve, manage and maintain this reservoir to an elevated level in which we have not seen with the current lessee.”

Gross Reservoir Expansion Project update

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

The U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers officially threw its support behind the proposed expansion of Denver Water-owned Gross Reservoir, aka the Moffat Collection System Project, to triple capacity of the storage facility this past Friday. The review process has been nearly a decade and a half in the making as the Front Range tries to keep pace with population and expected water consumption growth by pulling more of the resource off the Colorado River in headwater communities along the Western Slope.

Just to reach the milestone and obtain buy-in from the region, Denver Water spent six years in negotiations with Summit, Grand and Eagle counties and 14 other stakeholders, as well as several other subsidiary entities. The result was the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which gave way to the impacted counties accepting the terms to allow the metro area’s municipal water agency to remove water to which it already owned the rights.

“While some may say 14 years is too long, I believe complicated issues deserve thorough study,” Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO and manager, said in a news release. “In accordance with other agreements we’ve implemented along the way, Denver Water will provide millions of dollars to improve watershed health in the critical Colorado and South Platte River Basins. The project enjoys broad, bipartisan support from lawmakers, major environmental groups, chambers of commerce and water interests on both sides of the Continental Divide.”

An environmental group that does not share in the reverie, however, is Save The Colorado, a nonprofit water advocacy organization against the project to divert 15,000 more acre-feet of water from the Colorado River…

Save The Colorado’s attorneys are presently reviewing the Army Corps’ record of decision in anticipation of a suit to be filed in federal district court in Denver as part of a larger coalition that may include Boulder homeowners who live around the reservoir’s perimeter. A requested injunction may be part of the legal strategy should Denver Water begin construction on the 131-foot heightening of the existing 340-foot dam wall if a few other smaller-scale permits are secured, but the aim is preventing it from ever coming to fruition.

“Our goal is stop the project, not slow it down,” said [Gary] Wockner…

Summit’s Board of County Commissioners believes the complex deal is a fair one, considering what the area’s water future may have looked like without it in place. Aside from other considerations to keep Denver Water’s appetite in check in the years to come, $11 million in cash — $2 million of which has already been paid — will ultimately be split evenly among the county government and its four major towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne for future water and other environmental enhancement projects.

Various county entities, including Summit’s four ski resorts, also stand to receive access to a combined 1,700 acre-feet (approaching 570 millions of gallons) of water annually not previously available out of Denver Water-owned Dillon Reservoir. Grand County is to receive $6 million in payments upon the bypassing of possible legal barriers and final execution of all permits, on top of additional water and adaptive management assistance, while Eagle received some legal assurances of its own.

“This agreement provides for our economy, our environment, our way of life and are things we could have never gotten had we fought Denver Water in court,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “Denver Water already had these water rights, and that was something we from the Western Slope had to keep reminding ourselves of. Each side had to give up or give in on things they felt very passionately about not wanting to give up.”

With some exceptions, the compromise also better defines Denver Water’s service area to help prevent the expansion of those boundaries and the thirst for even more regional waters. The agency has committed to maintaining conservation activities and increasing reuse of water from the Blue River to reduce the need for more Western Slope water as part of these efforts. A guarantee to hold Dillon Reservoir at an accepted level for ideal aesthetic and recreational purposes from June 18 to Labor Day is a guarantee written into the agreement as well.

With the Army Corps’ endorsement as follow up to a prior certification granted by the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, Denver Water next needs a few remaining approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, U.S. Forest Service and most likely a permit from Boulder’s Board of County Commissioners.

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Denver Post (Danika Worthington):

Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said the project, which was approved late Friday, was important to add balance and resiliency to the agency’s system. The dam expansion still needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to increase its hydropower capacity.

“It’s been a long haul,” Denver Water Board President Paula Herzmark said of Friday’s decision. “We are just ecstatic, just elated that this permit is now in place and we can begin. To have the insurance that we’re going to have this additional source of supply as our community grows.”

[…]

Colorado Trout Unlimited was happy with the news. The group has been working with Denver Water to make the project environmentally friendly, Trout Unlimited counsel Mely Whiting said.

The project includes an environmental pool to divert water to streams that need it. It also led to the Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort that brings together groups to monitor stream conditions and quickly take action when needed. Denver Water is also giving about $25 million to Grand County and other counties for environmental advancements…

Lochhead countered that the extra water will be needed as current conservation efforts won’t be enough to cover the growing population and effects of climate change. He added that Denver Water has been working with environmental groups and local and federal governments since the start to not just mitigate damage, but rather improve rivers.

Lochhead acknowledged that the five years of construction will be hefty, especially the three years of intensive concrete placing. He said Denver Water worked with the local residents to mitigate impacts and said an onsite quarry will be built to reduce truck trips.

“With a warming climate and with growth and other issues in our system, we need to make sure that our system is resilient in the long term,” he said.

From The Jackson Hole News & Guide (Allen Best):

Denver Water finally has a key permit that it needed to begin raising Gross Dam, located in the foothills northwest of Denver. The purpose is to triple the amount of water that can be stored there, including greater volumes of water diverted from the Winter Park area.

But the city still needs several more federal permits and may get caught in a legal fight. Unlike some water battles of the past, however, this one will come from elsewhere along the Front Range…

Denver Water has been working on this plan since the great drought of 2002 caused city water officials to realize the vulnerabilities of their system. The agency provides water not only to Denver, but many suburbs — altogether about a quarter of all Colorado residents.

“While some may say 14 years is too long, I believe complicated issues deserve thorough study,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water chief executive.

Denver has diverted water from the Fraser River and its tributaries since 1936 through the pioneer bore of a railroad tunnel under the Continental Divide. The water is impounded at Gross Dam. The dam already stands 340 feet tall, and Denver wants to raise the dam another 131 feet, to accommodate increased diversions.

Grand County, whose water will be diverted, has not opposed the project…

These diversions were mostly engineered in the 1930s. “Denver had a vision; we had none,” summarized Lurline Curran, who is the now-retired county manager of Grand County, at a water conference about a decade ago.

This time, Grand County sat down with Denver and brokered a deal. Denver gets more water, but it also agrees to work with Trout Unlimited and other local groups to try to take the water in ways that are least impactful to fish and other components of the ecosystem.