Report: State of the Poudre — @fortcollinsgov

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.

While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.

Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.

The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.

Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.

This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.

In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.

City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”

The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.

The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:

  • Flows, the primary driver of river health
  • Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
    River channel, including shape, width and depth
  • Water quality
  • Aquatic life
  • Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
  • The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.

    The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.

    The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.

    Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.

    “The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”

    @OmahaUSACE: Annual sediment flushing exercise scheduled at Cherry Creek Reservoir

    Release at Cherry Creek dam during a low flush year. (Photo by USACE)

    Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha office (Katie Seefus):

    The annual sediment flushing exercise will be conducted at Cherry Creek Reservoir on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.

    Katie Seefus, water manager in the Corps’ Omaha District office, says the exercise involves high releases from each of the five main outlet gates at Cherry Creek Dam, located south of Interstate 225 in Aurora, Colo. “When the gates are opened, the high velocity of the water leaving the reservoir scours the area immediately upstream of the gates and transports sediment with the flow,” said Seefus. This sediment flush is required to allow proper operation of the outlet gates.

    Cherry Creek Dam will begin releasing 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23. The actual flushing exercise will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 11:10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 24 when the release will be set back to normal levels. The travel time from Cherry Creek Dam to the streamgage located at the Champa Street Bridge, is about 6 hours. The following table shows a schedule of the planned releases:

    Omaha District Commander Col. John Henderson asks the public to be aware that the high flows will take some time to reach the downtown channel, and flows from the last gate opened will not reach the downtown channel until late afternoon on Wednesday. The high flows will cause higher than normal creek stages and potential flooding of bike paths and stream crossings. “In the interest of public safety, I urge the public not to attempt to cross the stream during this event,” says Henderson.

    Pagosa Springs: Weminuche Audubon Society, May 17 — Stream resiliency

    Photo via Audubon (Abby Burk).

    From The Pagosa Springs Sun (John Duvall):

    Abby Burk, Western Rivers Pro- gram lead for Audubon Rockies, will be the featured speaker at the Weminuche Audubon Society’s meeting on Wednesday, May 17.

    Burk brings extensive ecological land management experience to her work with state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, businesses and community leaders. She is committed to advancing riparian habitat and stream resiliency through environmental river flow awareness and advocacy.

    She will review Audubon’s work for western rivers and will address the goals and the implementation of crucial aspects of the Colorado water plan.

    The meeting will be held at the Community United Methodist Church at 434 Lewis St. Refresh- ments and socializing begin at 6 p.m. Burk’s presentation will be- gin shortly afterwards. Everyone is welcome to attend what will be an interesting and rewarding evening.

    Rifle “State of the River” meeting recap: We, “are all in this together” — Annie Whetzel

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    The Middle Colorado Watershed Council, MCWC, aims to protect the stretch of Colorado River from the mouth of Glenwood Canyon to De Beque at the western edge of Garfield County. We work with everyone who uses water from the agricultural community, to city water users (including tooth-brushers and lawn-waterers), to oil and gas developers and every governmental agency in between to encourage wise water use and ensure safe water quality for everyone involved.

    Working with the Colorado River District for the State of the River was a great reminder that navigating these diverse interests and subsequent water uses is a common thread for the entire river, from the headwaters of the Colorado down to the river terminus. Through education, dialog and exchange of information we have a chance to better understand and manage the finite resource.

    The MCWC has a few projects on the ground and on the horizon that aim to connect our stretch of river to the larger river system. These efforts involve riparian restoration, a nice term for fighting invasive species like tamarisk and ensuring native plants have a chance to grow back, and water quality management.

    Tamarisk

    Tamarisk Coalition chose the MCWC as one of nine programs to join their Restore Our Rivers campaign. The campaign provides tools and funding for river restoration programs that combat tamarisk and Russian olive and more…

    This summer the MCWC will begin a few restoration projects and will continue to monitor existing projects. It is our way of working along our 75 mile stretch of river and understanding how we fit into the larger picture.

    As for water quality monitoring, we are undertaking a citizen science program to establish a baseline for what is in our water in the middle Colorado River and its tributaries. Upstream and downstream of us, many groups already test water quality, and therefore again, we are tasked with understanding how our section of river fits into the larger system. Our citizen science program is designed to find out what water quality looks like today, see how that compares to the past, and allows for the opportunity to evaluate trends into the future. How are we affecting water quality and are there opportunities to improve? The data we and our stakeholders collect will help us understand our basin better, but will also provide service to everyone downstream of us.

    Our little, but significant, stretch of river is ours to take care of. Managing the entire Colorado River might seem like a daunting task, but we can be stewards for our stretch, from Glenwood Canyon to De Beque. The steps we take to protect our water helps our little basin, but also, we are working a much larger system throughout the west, because we are all in this together.

    Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the council, go to http://www.midcowatershed.org. You can also find the council on Facebook at http://facebook.com/midcowatershed.

    Watering down the war: How we may move forward on the issues of growth on the Front Range

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

    From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Rentsch):

    More than 4 million acre-feet of water has left the state via the South Platte River since 2009, and in an arid environment like the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, a drop unused inside the state boundaries is considered a drop wasted – especially as the area grows in population and demand for water subsequently increases.

    Experts say that the growth of Northern Front Range towns and cities will not be limited by physical access to water – the supply exists. What is up for debate is how we allocate the resource to provide a sustainable supply of water to meet both human and environmental needs.

    One attempt to solve this problem is the Northern Integrated Supply Project, also known as NISP – a proposed water storage plan that has been in the stages of federal permitting and review since 2004. It may be the most famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – water project in the region…

    On the surface, debate over the project seems to be gridlocked as participants wait for the final Environmental Impact Assessment to be complete. Discussion has stagnated over the basic question of whether the NISP project is in fact a dam on the Poudre.

    However, at the heart of the debate are larger questions about how to manage growth on the Front Range without sacrificing the health of the region’s rivers and agricultural land.

    “It’s really a deeper question of what do we want Northern Colorado to look like and how do we want to get there,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado State University Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute.

    NISP basics

    The current project plan calls for the building of two reservoirs: Glade in Larimer County and Galeton in Weld. Additionally, there would be a small reservoir for temporary storage near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, three pump plants and pipelines to deliver the water to the participants and updates to an existing small canal.

    Designed to provide a reliable 40,000 acre-feet supply of water annually to the fifteen participating cities and water districts to meet needs through the year 2030. The project’s participant list includes the cities of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Severance and Windsor; participating water districts are Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand and Morgan County Quality. Per Northern Water’s estimates, these 11 towns and four districts serve about 240,000 residents in total.

    In order to do this, Northern plans to divert water from the Poudre during wet periods of the year — under projected conditions, the June rise of the river would be considerably lower than ecologists say is healthy. Northern Water is working on a plan to abide by guidelines that will be set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but what constitutes a healthy flow is up for debate.

    “We’re willing to work on a flushing flow plan because we know it’s a big enough issue,” said Brian Werner, a public relations officer for Northern Water.

    NISP was originally expected to cost $500 million; at this price, participants will pay about $12,500 per acre-foot of water they receive from the project. An equivalent amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson costs around $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot.

    However, more recent changes to make the project plan more feasible and sustainable have pushed the estimated price up to around $800 million.

    The project’s effects on the Poudre are of particular concern to ecologists.

    “The Poudre … is a working river, and it’s been developed to meet human needs since the late 1800s,” said Leroy Poff, a doctor of aquatic ecology at CSU. “But it continues to function ecologically in the lives of the citizens of Fort Collins… Proposed future development of the Poudre presents strong challenges to sustaining the ecosystem that we have today.”

    Planning the future of the Front Range

    The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that population in Larimer and Weld counties is forecast to increase by 92 percent from 2015 to 2045, exceeding the 53 percent growth forecast in the statewide population. In addition to the increased municipal demand for water, this level of growth has been attributed as responsible for traffic problems, both local and statewide housing shortages, and increasingly unaffordable housing.

    Despite the region experiencing a slight economic dip due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry as the price of oil lowered, the estimates of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization say that employment in the region is projected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2040.

    The rising cost of living associated with these trends is causing people who hold jobs in metropolitan areas, but who cannot afford the high price tag of living within city limits, to move to smaller communities to take advantage of the more affordable sprawl. These ‘bedroom communities,’ as they’re termed, predominantly consist of residences, schools and churches and lack the commercial development that characterizes a healthy, balanced city.

    “We’re pushing people who don’t have two good incomes out of Fort Collins because of growth,” Waskom said. “What happens is that growth is now occurring in those places that weren’t here (before) and developed water supplies early on in the game.”

    Growth in these areas indicates that there is a lot of logistical work ahead for the various entities coordinating the region’s infrastructure. In addition to issues of water supply, there must also be planning to ensure adequate water quality, air quality and transportation to support the population. Numerous infrastructure improvement plans are in the works, but none have been as publicly contentious as NISP.

    While some opponents of NISP say that stopping the project, and therefore limiting the supply of water available to these developing communities, might be a solution to curb growth, experts say that this is not the case. If absolutely no action is taken, agricultural water rights would be on the hook to make up the difference.

    “I think it’s true and evident that water is probably not going to be what limits sprawl or growth in this area,” Waskom said. “It’s just got to come out of ag, and it comes out of the environment. Those are the two sectors that are at risk, and the economics of it are such that, as agriculture dries up and houses grow on top of what were cornfields, the economy grows. It doesn’t skip a beat.”

    Solutions

    Some groups are seeking to transcend the back-and-forth over NISP by way of compromise.

    Rather than depending on large new reservoirs and diversions, the nonprofit group, Western Resource Advocates, proposes an alternative plan with a diverse water supply portfolio. WRA’s ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’ plan would, like NISP, provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to participants annually, but would utilize conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands and voluntary agreements with agriculture.

    The Poudre Runs Through It, a group of professionals facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, is looking at ways to bring together the diverse stakeholders on the river and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

    “I think until we start to engage more people in that discussion and more groups in that discussion, this is going to be a real tough thing to crack,” said Kehmeier, who is also a member of The Poudre Runs Through It. “It’s going to take more of the water users on the system than just one to make this work.”

    Fountain Creek district update: RFP on the way for first project

    Fountain Creek erosion via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tommy Purfield):

    As part of the 1041 permit for SDS, Colorado Springs is obligated to pay the Fountain Creek district $10 million per year through 2020, for a total of $50 million, which would pay for flood or erosion control measures along the creek that benefit Pueblo County. The district already has received $20 million for 2016 and 2017.

    “This is the first of what we hope are many projects utilizing the money from the land-use permit for SDS for the betterment of Fountain Creek,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, who represents the county on the Fountain Creek district. “The purpose is to do everything we can to limit the amount of flood waters, the amount of sedimentation and the amount of damage that flows south on Fountain Creek into Pueblo County.

    “The Masciantonio project is the first one where we’re literally taking knowledge that we’ve gained from past experiences and applying it. If it works successfully the way the engineers think it will, it could be a model that is used all along the creek and protect lands for generations to come. We’re very excited to get the first one going.”

    The district has a budget of $3 million for the project on the Masciantonio property to encompass all costs through completion.

    “The district’s goal is to stop the erosion, stop the loss of farmland, reduce downstream sedimentation and improve water quality,” said Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek district.

    The project on the Masciantonio property includes constructing seven bendway weirs — or rock diversionary structures — along the west bank of the creek just downstream from the mouth of Young Hollow Tributary. The weirs are intended to redirect the flow of water as it comes into the bend, slow its velocity and help redeposit sediment behind the weirs.

    “As water flows over the weirs, water slows down and sediment drops out,” Small said. “It helps the creek bank build back up, weir-to-weir.”

    A “bench” will be constructed at the base and abutted against the bank to anchor the weirs, which will be 7-8 feet wide at the base and run 8 feet deep into the creek bed. The length of each weir varies, to maintain a fixed radius from the center of creek flows.

    “It’s a pretty prominent, stable structure,” Small said, “almost a pyramid structure.”

    Although Young Hollow is dry most of the year, strong storms can cause it to run as high as 6,000 cubic feet per second, which rushes into Fountain Creek with strong force just upstream from the location of the project. Small said the placement of the first two weirs in the series of seven are important to redirecting water as it comes out of Young Hollow.

    As the land above the creek slopes from west to east, a berm also will be constructed above the structure to prevent erosion from the back side of the bank.

    “Rains get pretty heavy down there and it doesn’t take a whole lot to start the damage again,” Small said.

    Small hopes to complete the competitive bid process and have a contract in place by June. Work could start in July, with the weir structures, and their required large rocks, accounting for the bulk of construction. Flow conditions on Fountain Creek will factor heavily into when work can be conducted and how long the project may take to complete.

    The last stage of the project will include revegetation along the bank with the planting of cottonwood and willow along and above the “bench,” which likely will take place next March. The roots will help anchor soils and rocks, providing another layer of protection against erosion.