Tourist haven #GrandLake asks state to intervene in federal #water quality stalemate — @WaterEdCO

Shadow Mountain Dam, astride the main stem of the upper Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Fourteen years after Colorado adopted standards to restore Grand Lake, the state’s largest natural water body once known for its astonishing clarity and high water quality continues to deteriorate.

Frustrated and worried about the future, Grand Lake locals are asking the state to intervene to break through a log jam of federal and environmental red tape that has prevented finding a way to restore the lake’s clarity and water quality, despite a 90-year-old federal rule known as Senate Bill 80 requiring that the work be done.

At issue: Grand Lake serves as a key element of Northern Water’s delivery system, which provides water to more than 1 million people on the northern Front Range and thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands.

Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, what’s known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project gathers water from streams and rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County, and stores it in man-made Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there it is eventually moved into Grand Lake and delivered via the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Berthoud and Fort Collins respectively.

During that process, algae, certain toxins and sediment are carried into Grand Lake, clouding its formerly clear waters and causing algae blooms and weed growth, and harming recreation.

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

In a hearing before the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee on Aug. 4, Mike Cassio, who represents the Three Lakes Watershed Association in Grand County, pleaded with state lawmakers to intervene and launch a study process that would help trigger federal action.

by Jerd Smith | Aug 10, 2022 | Climate and Drought, Colorado River, Environment, Infrastructure, Recreation, Restoration, Water Legislation, Water Quality |

Tourist haven Grand Lake asks state to intervene in federal water quality stalemate
A woman paddles on Shadow Mountain Reservoir, which is caught in federal stalemate over how to improve water quality to help improve its neighboring Grand Lake. Credit: Daily Camera

Fourteen years after Colorado adopted standards to restore Grand Lake, the state’s largest natural water body once known for its astonishing clarity and high water quality continues to deteriorate.

Frustrated and worried about the future, Grand Lake locals are asking the state to intervene to break through a log jam of federal and environmental red tape that has prevented finding a way to restore the lake’s clarity and water quality, despite a 90-year-old federal rule known as Senate Bill 80 requiring that the work be done.

At issue: Grand Lake serves as a key element of Northern Water’s delivery system, which provides water to more than 1 million people on the northern Front Range and thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands.

Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, what’s known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project gathers water from streams and rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County, and stores it in man-made Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there it is eventually moved into Grand Lake and delivered via the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Berthoud and Fort Collins respectively.

During that process, algae, certain toxins and sediment are carried into Grand Lake, clouding its formerly clear waters and causing algae blooms and weed growth, and harming recreation.

In a hearing before the Colorado Legislature’s Interim Water Resources and Agriculture Review Committee on Aug. 4, Mike Cassio, who represents the Three Lakes Watershed Association in Grand County, pleaded with state lawmakers to intervene and launch a study process that would help trigger federal action.

“We have the highest respect for all of our partners,” Cassio said, referring to ongoing remediation efforts involving Northern Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“But due to the design of the system, you have this beautiful natural lake and then you fill it up with reservoir water. Usually, in July when spring runoff is going on, Grand Lake is flowing from east to west. It is extremely clear. But as soon as Shadow Mountain’s water sits and starts to cook and grow weeds and algae, and the pumps come on, this massive plume of nitrates, inorganics, just basic muddy water flows into Grand Lake,” Cassio said.

In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission moved to set a clarity standard, but it has since been replaced with a clarity goal and the aim of achieving “the highest level of clarity attainable.” Instead of working under a regulated water quality standard, Northern Water and others have implemented different management techniques, including changing pumping patterns, to find ways to improve water quality in all three water bodies.

In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took the first steps required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) to do the scientific and engineering studies and public hearings that would be required to fix the system. But Reclamation stopped the process in 2020, saying that it could not definitively establish any structural alternatives that would work, nor could it find a way forward on funding what could be a project that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Jeff Rieker, general manager of Reclamation’s Colorado Eastern Plains office.

During last week’s hearing, lawmakers said they want more information and that Northern Water’s system is too critical to the northern Front Range to do anything without careful consideration.

“We are in a moment of time like none other,” said State Rep. Hugh McKean, a Republican who represents Loveland and other northern Front Range communities. He cited the warming climate and the effects of the massive East Troublesome fire in 2020, which engulfed lands around the three lakes and created additional water quality problems, which still impact the watershed today.

“Is this the moment to create a long-term plan, when right now our water situation is in flux? I’m resistant to say let’s stop everything and study this,” McKean said.

But Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron disagreed.

“This is exactly the right time,” Kudron said. “Tourism impacts my community more than almost any other community in the state. One million people visited [Fort Collins’] Horsetooth Reservoir last year. Are we getting to the time when recreation on the East Side of the [Continental Divide] is more important than the West Side?”

Grand Lake via Cornell University

Northern Water’s Esther Vincent told lawmakers at the hearing that management efforts have improved clarity somewhat. In 1941, before the Colorado Big Thompson Project began operating, clarity was measured at 9.2 meters, Vincent said.

“The [state’s] clarity goal is 3.8 meters,” she said. “We don’t hit it every year, but we’re doing a lot better. Over the past 17 years we’ve met the 3.8-meter goal 35% of the time and in the past five years we’ve hit the goal 60% of the time,” she said. “But East Troublesome complicates everything. We are still trying to wrap our heads around what this means for the system.”

Still, she said Northern was committed to finding a path forward and indeed is legally obligated to do so under the terms of its operating contract with Reclamation.

What that path may look like isn’t clear yet. Lawmakers did not recommend any action in the form of bills to authorize a study after Thursday’s hearing, according to interim committee staff.

But Grand Lake advocates say the state rightly should step in because it was the Colorado water users in Northern’s system that repaid the federal construction loans on the project.

“We have a lake unlike any lake in the country,” Kudron said. “The moment we start talking about closing the lake, it has a long rippling effect. There isn’t a Target [store] that will make up the tax dollars that would be lost. There are just 16,000 people in Grand County. If the natural resources that attract people to our county are interrupted, the county becomes interrupted. If we can’t rely on the water resource, we are in big trouble.”

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.

Hard choices for the #ColoradoRiver — Writers on the Range #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Writers on the Range website (Quinn Harper and Mark Squillace):

The seven Colorado River states – Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming – face a daunting mid-August deadline. The federal government has asked them to come up with a plan to reduce their combined water usage from the Colorado River by up to 4 million acre-feet in 2023.

That is a massive reduction for a river system that currently produces about 12.4 million acre-feet. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Colorado River, warned that it will “act unilaterally to protect the system” if the states cannot come up with an adequate plan on their own.

The seven states have worked cooperatively over the past two decades to identify solutions to a shrinking river. But their response now, much like the global response to climate change, seems far from adequate to the enormous challenge.

In a recent letter to BuRec, the Upper Colorado River Commission, speaking for the four Upper Basin states, proposed a plan that adopts a business-as-usual, “drought-reduction” approach. They argue that their options are limited because “previous drought response actions are depleting upstream storage by 661,000 feet.”

The Commission complains that water users “already suffer chronic shortages under current conditions resulting in uncompensated priority administration, which includes cuts to numerous present perfected rights in each of our states.”

This leads the Commission to conclude that any future reductions must come largely from Mexico and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, because they use most of the water.

But the Lower Basin states have already taken a significant hit to their “present perfected rights,” and if BuRec makes good on its promise to act unilaterally, they will face another big reduction. The cooperative relationship among the Basin states will not endure if the Upper Basin refuses to share the burden by reducing its consumption.

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project involves raising the height of the existing dam by 131 feet. The dam will be built out and will have “steps” made of roller-compacted concrete to reach the new height. Image credit: Denver Water

A good place to start might lie with two Colorado projects to divert water from the Colorado River basin to the Front Range. Both began construction this summer. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will triple the size of one of Denver Water’s major storage units. Denver Water’s original justification for this project – to serve Denver’s growing urban population – seems odd given that water demand in their service area over the past two decades has shrunk, even as its population rose by nearly 300,000.

Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

Similar questions have been raised with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project, which plans to store Colorado River water to support population growth in Front Range cities.

These two projects suggest that Colorado is prepared to exacerbate the current crisis when the opposite response is so desperately needed.

Abandoning these two projects would signal that Colorado is serious about giving the Colorado River a fighting chance at survival. It might also jump-start good-faith negotiations over how Mexico, the states, and tribes might work to achieve a long-term solution to this crisis.

The homestead laws of the 19th century attracted a resilient group of farmers to the West who cleverly designed water laws to secure their water rights against all future water users. “First in time, first in right” became the governing mantra of water allocation, because, except for Tribal Nations, the farmers were first.

That system worked well for many years. As communities grew, cities and water districts built reservoirs to store the spring runoff, ensuring that water was available throughout the irrigation season.

Climate change and mega-droughts have upended that system. Nowhere have the consequences been as dire as in the Colorado River Basin. America’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead – key components of the Colorado River’s water storage system – have not filled for more than two decades. They now sit well below 30% of their capacity.

Hotter temperatures, less mountain snowpack, and dry soils that soak up runoff like a sponge have brought us to this seven-state crisis. All seven states must now share the pain of addressing this crisis.

The Upper Basin Commission’s anemic response to BuRec’s plea is not a serious plan. We can do better and we must.

Mark Squillace and Quinn Harper are contributors to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. Mark Squillace is the Raphael J. Moses professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School. Quinn Harper is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in natural resource policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Summer work begins at Glade Reservoir as #NISP awaits federal permit — The #FortCollins Coloradoan #PoudreRiver #SouthPlatteRiver

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

Click the link to read the article on the Fort Collins Coloradoan website (Sady Swanson and Jacy Marmaduke). Here’s an excerpt:

Crews began conducting rock and soil assessments in June at the site of the planned Glade Reservoir, north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287. The assessments will give Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials site-specific geotechnical and geological information that will inform the design and construction of the Glade Reservoir dam…

The assessment work is expected to continue through November, according to a Northern Water news release. This work includes:

  • Digging a 1,000-foot-long trench at the main dam site to test materials and drill the foundation
  • Building a test pad of embankment material types
  • Producing aggregates and rock fill from quarries and investigating material characteristics
  • This work is being done ahead of the project’s anticipated approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to make its final determination this year. If that happens, construction could start as early as 2023 with completion expected by 2028.

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

    @Northern_Water increases #Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota to 70 percent #SouthPlatteRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A “rooster tail” is formed by the water descending the Granby Dam spillway on July 19, 2019. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):

    The Northern Water Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to increase its 2022 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    Board members expressed their desire to take a conservative approach that protects the ability of the C-BT Project to provide a water supply to its beneficiaries while considering the current water supply conditions in the Colorado River basin and the possibility that adverse conditions persist.

    Luke Shawcross, manager of the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined water modeling showing the projected outcomes of several quota declaration options, and he also discussed the available water supplies in regional reservoirs. Water resources specialist Emily Carbone also provided board members with current water availability data.

    Public input was also considered in the board’s decision.

    While current soil moisture conditions on Eastern Plains farmland prompted several board members to ask for consideration of a higher quota, others cited the uncertainty of future hydrology to support a more-conservative approach this year.

    The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957, and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2021 water delivery season. Quotas are expressed as a percentage of 310,000 acre-feet, the amount of water the C-BT Project was initially envisioned to deliver to allottees each year. A 70 percent quota means that the Board is making 0.70 acre-feet of water available for each C-BT Project unit.

    The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Click the link to read “Northern Water sets allocation at 70% for the season” on the Loveland Reporter-Herald website (Ken Amundson). Here’s an excerpt:

    The allocation, which is the amount of water that the district will make available to owners of shares of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, means that of the 310,000 acre feet available at 100%, 217,000 acre feet will be made available to shareholders. An acre foot of water — essentially the amount of water that would cover an acre of land one-foot deep — is about 325,851 gallons of water. The board chose what has become the typical allocation. It has the option of increasing it later if conditions permit.

    Board members expressed their desire to take a conservative approach that protects the ability of the C-BT Project to provide a water supply while considering the current water supply conditions in the Colorado River basin and the possibility that adverse conditions could persist. While current soil moisture conditions on eastern plains farmland prompted several board members to ask for consideration of a higher quota, others cited the uncertainty of weather conditions to come…

    As reported by Northern Water staff Wednesday and again this morning at the board meeting, the district is in good shape on water already stored in the system’s reservoirs. A total of about 563,000 acre feet is stored in Lake Granby, Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake before the runoff season gets fully underway. That’s about 32,000 acre feet above average. The storage levels have been above average for the past eight years, the staff reported.

    As reported Wednesday, streamflow levels are predicted to be near average, and snowpack levels are about 90% of average. Uncertain is the amount of precipitation on the Western Slope or Eastern Slope yet this spring and early summer, and whether soil conditions will remain dry.

    #Snowpack and Streamflow Comparisons April 1, 2022 — @Northern_Water #runoff

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Click the link to read the April 1, 2022 streamflow forecast on the Northern Water website.

    YMCA of the Rockies inks $1.9M #water deal with #EstesPark — @WaterEdCO

    Statue at YMCA of the Rockies: Wikipedia Creative Commons

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Sometimes, when you’re a small nonprofit, the high price of water is a good thing.

    The YMCA of the Rockies, an historic Estes Park resort founded more than 100 years ago, has entered into a multimillion-dollar agreement with the Town of Estes Park in which it will transfer water rights valued at roughly $1.9 million to the town, in exchange for a perpetual water treatment contract.

    Chris Jorgensen, the YMCA’s chief financial officer, said the agreement allows the resort to forego the high cost of building a modern water treatment plant and gives Estes Park a more robust water portfolio and delivery system that has better economies of scale.

    “The cool thing about it is the collaborative nature of it,” Jorgensen said. “Our existing plant is within a mile of theirs. We’re going to go from operating two water plants to one. It speaks to good stewardship of our natural resources, and it benefits both of us.”

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    The YMCA has 312 shares in the federally owned Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project water system, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which manages the C-BT Project. Flowing straight from the Alba B. Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide from Grand Lake to the Front Range, the water is among the most highly valued in Colorado. Clean and easily delivered and traded, its value has skyrocketed in recent years.

    Under the agreement, the YMCA is transferring 32 shares of its C-BT water to the Town of Estes Park. According to Northern Water, the value of the water varies, but recent sales have been priced at $60,000 to $65,000 per share. Just four years ago the price was closer to $30,000 per share.

    That puts the water value of the deal at $1.9M with the YMCA also agreeing to pay the town $1 million over the next 10 years in system development charges.

    Reuben Bergsten, Estes Park utilities director, said the town is making an effort to incorporate more small communities who lack modern water infrastructure into their treatment network.

    “The town sees it as a civic duty,” Bergsten said.

    What the YMCA plans to do with its remaining water rights isn’t clear yet. Jorgensen declined to comment on any other potential sales, but said the resort’s water portfolio is being used fully now to serve customers.

    And Jorgensen said the value of the water isn’t the most important piece of the transaction.

    “It’s a tremendous relief to be out of the water treatment business,” he said. “Now we can maximize the value of our business for our guests.”

    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.

    The March 2022 Northern Water E-Waternews is hot off the presses

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    Click the link to read the newsletter on the Northern Water website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Registration Full for Spring Water Users Meeting on April 13

    The Northern Water Spring Water Users Meeting is now at capacity and accepting names for a waitlist. The annual meeting is from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on April 13 at the Embassy Suites in Loveland.

    The meeting includes time for water users throughout Northern Water boundaries to provide input regarding the 2022 quota level for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Information gathered at the meeting will be included in the data used by the Northern Water Board of Directors to set the quota at its monthly board meeting on April 14. If you would like to provide feedback regarding the quota via email, please email generaldelivery@northernwater.org by 5 p.m. on April 13.

    In addition, the meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about the latest activities being carried out by Northern Water, such as the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, the restoration of lands damaged by the 2020 Colorado wildfires and the future of our forested source watersheds.

    To add your name to the wait list or if you have registered and are now unable to attend, please email events@northernwater.org.

    #Granby: #ColoradoRiver Connectivity Channel Meeting Held as Part of Ongoing Public Input Period — @Northern_Water #COriver #aridification

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin. Graphic credit: Northern Water

    Click the link to read the article on the Northern Water website:

    About 20 people attended an in-person meeting to discuss the Colorado River Connectivity Channel last month in Granby. Another 30 attended via Zoom, with the group learning about the benefits of the Connectivity Channel and other impacts associated with the project. Water Resources Project Engineer and CRCC Project Manager Kevin Lock was joined by Director of Engineering Jeff Drager, Collections Systems Department Manager Craig Friar and Public Information Officer Jeff Stahla at the in-person meeting.

    The meeting took place as part of a public comment period on the Draft Watershed Plan and Environmental Assessment (Plan-EA) for the Colorado River Headwaters Connectivity Project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and project sponsors (Grand County, Trout Unlimited and Northern Water) recently announced the availability of that draft plan.

    The Connectivity Channel is one of the key elements of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project’s $90 million mitigation and enhancement package. Once complete, it will reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Reservoir.

    Members of the public took part in an in-person meeting on Feb. 22 in Granby to discuss the Colorado River Connectivity Channel.

    Counting every drop: #Colorado approves $1.9M for high-tech snow, #water measuring program — @WaterEdCO #snowpack

    Colorado and othehr Western states are hoping to increase the use of Aerial Snowborne Observatories to better measure the water content in moutain snowpacks. Credit: NASA Hydrological Services

    Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

    Colorado has approved a $1.9 million snow measuring initiative based on NASA technology that will help communities across the state better measure and forecast how much water each winter’s mountain snowpack is likely to generate, using planes equipped with sophisticated measuring devices.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has been testing the accuracy of the flight-based data measuring work since 2015, according to Erik Skeie, who oversees the program for the CWCB. The board approved funding for the new $1.9 million initiative at its March 16 board meeting.

    The new collective, known as Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement group, includes utilities, irrigation districts and environmental groups, including Northern Water, Denver Water and the Dolores Water Conservancy District, among others. In all, 37 water-related groups wrote letters in support of the grant and the measuring program, Skeie said.

    Northern Water, which supplies more than 1 million residential, commercial and farm customers on the Northern Front Range, is hopeful the grant will help create an annual monitoring and measurement effort.

    ”I think it’s a really good program if we can make it sustainable into the future,” said Emily Carbone, water resources specialist at Northern Water.

    This map shows the snowpack depth of the Maroon Bells in spring 2019. The map was created with information from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory, which will help water managers make more accurate streamflow predictions. Jeffrey Deems/ASO, National Snow and Ice Data Center

    Airborne Snow Observatory technology uses planes equipped with LiDAR, a pulsing radar, to develop a grid that contains a deeply detailed picture of the ground when it isn’t covered by snow. Then, during the winter months, those planes fly the same terrain once or more each month when it is covered with snow. In this way, the instruments are able to measure snow depth and snow reflectivity. These data, combined with computer-based models, allow the ASO to generate precise readings on when the snow will actually melt and how much water the snowpack in different regions actually contains.

    Traditional forecasts can be off by as much as 40%, and sometimes more. But ASO forecasts have been shown to have accuracy rates of 98%.

    As the megadrought in the Colorado River Basin has intensified, and climate change has altered snowfall and traditional patterns of snowmelt, finding better ways to measure the water content of snow has become critical, said Taylor Winchell, a climate adaptation specialist at Denver Water who is overseeing the utility’s flight data program.

    A flight from NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory gathers data about the snowpack above Dillon Reservoir on a flight. Information gathered from the flight helped Denver Water manage reservoir operations. Photo courtesy of Quantum Spatial

    Denver Water began using the technology in 2019.

    “As the snowpack is changing, the more accurate measurements that we can have help us adapt our operations to a new water future and it helps us make the most of every drop in the system,” Winchell said.

    Since the early 1930s, snowpacks have been measured manually and via remote ground-sensing by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Colorado and other Western states use a network of dozens of snotel sites to collect on-the-ground data, but forecasts can change dramatically if the weather becomes volatile, as has been the case more often in recent years.

    That volatility and the ongoing drought have made water forecasting even more critical for water agencies. If water supplies come in lower than forecasts indicated, cities and irrigation districts can come up short of water, causing disruptions in deliveries, among other problems.

    But ASO technology is expensive. Denver Water spends about $145,000 for two flights, a cost that includes subsequent modeling as well. But the forecasts have proved to be so accurate that the utility is committed to its ongoing use.

    California is spending roughly $7 million annually and that cost could grow to more than $20 million if the golden state opts to expand the geographic reach of its ASO program, according to Tom Painter, a former NASA scientist who helped develop the ASO technology and who is now the CEO of Airborne Snow Observatories Inc., the NASA spinoff that is commercializing the technology.

    A similar program in Colorado, one expansive enough to cover all the critical mountain watersheds, could cost as much as $15 million annually, Painter said.

    The work would include flying some 10 flights per year per river basin during January, February, March and April, with additional flights in late spring as the snow begins to melt. Then flight data would be incorporated into forecast models.

    Predicting snowmelt and its water content as warm weather arrives has been a tricky issue for researchers and water utilities because it becomes highly variable.

    “That’s when traditional models start to fall apart,” Painter said. “They can’t hold onto the snowpack well enough. So having the data from ASO is nice to keep the forecast accurate. It’s like looking at your checking account balance a couple of times a month.”

    Skeie, of the CWCB, said the new approach to measuring what’s known as snow water equivalent, or the amount of water contained in the snow, will take much of the guess work out of annual water forecasts.

    And he’s hopeful that the multi-million price tag can be covered by an array of agencies, including the water utilities, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and state governments, among others.

    “It’s going to take all of that to make it sustainable,” Skeie said. And with the backing of the Colorado Airborne Snow Measurement group, it’s more likely to occur than it has been before.

    Using ASO, in combination with snotel data, “is the difference between having someone describe a picture to you, and being able to see it in 4D,” he said. “It’s incredibly useful.”

    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.

    What does it take to build a massive new reservoir? A lot of time, trucks, and rock — KUNC

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir construction site September 2021. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Alex Hager takes a look at Chimney Hollow Reservoir in this article on the KUNC website.Click through to read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

    Right now, Chimney Hollow is a project site teeming with activity. Building a reservoir involves far more than just digging a hole in the ground. At this particular spot, it requires the construction of a massive dam – the tallest built in the United States in 25 years…To build something at this scale, machines are moving a volume of earth that’s hard to wrap your head around.

    “We’re filling 100-ton trucks,” said Joe Donnelly, Chimney Hollow’s project manager. “We need a whole load of rock placed on the dam every two minutes, five days a week, for two and a half years.”

    […]

    [Jeff] Stahla said additional water storage will help water providers gain some certainty and more smoothly supply homes across the fluctuation of wet years and dry years — a practice baked into water projects for centuries…

    “If we’re going to be able to exist and offer the same opportunities to our children and grandchildren on the Front Range,” said Jeff Stahla with Northern Water, “We should consider — and we’re doing it here — capturing the water when it’s available so that we have flexibility in those years when we don’t have it.”

    Register Now for Spring #Water Users Meeting on April 13 at Embassy Suites in #Loveland — @Northern_Water

    Cache la Poudre River drop structure. Photo credit: Northern Water

    From email from Northern Water (Brad Wind):

    On behalf of Northern Water’s Board of Directors and staff, I am pleased to invite you to return to our in-person Spring Water Users Meeting from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, at the Embassy Suites in Loveland.

    The meeting will be an opportunity to learn about current snowpack and water storage conditions, runoff and streamflow predictions, progress on future water supply projects and more. After a discussion of the region’s water outlook, attendees will be encouraged to provide input on the Board’s pending 2022 Colorado-Big Thompson Project supplemental quota declaration. Attendees also will hear about the latest activities being carried out by Northern Water, such as the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, the restoration of lands damaged by the 2020 Colorado Wildfires and the future of our forested source watersheds.

    The meeting’s speakers will include Corey DeAngelis, Division 1 Engineer from the Colorado Division of Water Resources; Jeff Rieker, Area Manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office; Monte Williams, Forest Supervisor from the U.S. Forest Service; Kevin Rein, State Engineer and Director of the Colorado Division of Water Resources; and several Northern Water staff members.

    Please register for the meeting by March 30 at http://www.northernwater.org/NorthernWaterevents. Lunch is provided, but to help us with an accurate catering count please let us know if you’ll be able to join us for lunch when you register. If you are unable to register online, please feel free to call our registration line at 970-622-2234.

    We look forward to seeing you for our 2022 Spring Water Users Meeting.

    Register here.

    Draft plan available for Windy Gap Bypass; Community meeting on February 22, 2022 — The Sky-Hi Daily News

    A draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass, is now available. Public comment will be accepted starting February 8, 2022 through March 10.
    NRCS/Courtesy photo

    From the NRCS via The Sky-Hi Daily News:

    The public is encouraged to give feedback on the draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass.

    Public comment opens [February 8, 2022] and will remain open through March 10.

    The US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service with sponsors Grand County, Trout Unlimited and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has presented the draft watershed plan and environmental assessment.

    The project proposes ecosystem improvements along the Colorado River corridor near Windy Gap Dam. Measures are being proposed to provide connectivity and improve the riparian corridor of the Colorado River to enhance stream habitat and sediment transport while moderating elevated stream temperatures and allowing for public recreation access.

    NRCS and project sponsors will hold a public meeting to provide information about the project. The meeting will be 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Grand Fire office in Granby or online with Zoom access available at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/co/programs/farmbill/rcpp/?cid=nrcseprd1326277.

    An electronic copy of the draft plan is also available at that link. Hard copies of the plan can be found at the Granby Library, Hot Sulphur Springs Library, Grand County office and Granby Town Hall.

    Submit comments to Greg Allington by emailing your comment to windygap@adaptiveenviro.com or mailing them to:

    Adaptive Environmental Planning, LLC
    2976 E State St.
    Ste 120 #431
    Eagle, ID 83616

    Comments must be received by March 10 to become part of the public record.

    Looking west across the 445 acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, which straddles the Colorado River (Summer 2011). Photo By: Jeff Dahlstrom, NCWCD via Water Education Colorado

    North Weld to control excess #water use by ag, commercial users — The #Greeley Tribune

    North Weld County Water District service area. Credit: NWCWD

    Here’s the release from the North Weld County Water District:

    The Western United States has been in 22 consecutive years of drought. In just five years, reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin have dropped to their lowest levels on record. Lake Mead and Lake Powell have lost 50% of their capacity. This past summer, the U.S. government declared the first-ever water shortage at Lake Mead and initiated Tier 1 federal drought restrictions on three states and Mexico. A second round of federal water restrictions may affect Colorado in the relatively near term and potentially result in Colorado River supply curtailments.

    This enduring drought situation is affecting North Weld County Water District (“NWCWD” of “District”), which is now considered to be in an extreme drought according to the National Drought Mitigation Center and Colorado Department of Natural Resources. We do not anticipate this situation to improve in the foreseeable future.

    In response, NWCWD has been conducting hydrologic river modelling to evaluate our drought readiness and prepare mitigation measures. The District’s water supply portfolio is derived from Colorado Big Thompson (C-BT) units, as well as some native water rights. The majority of the native water rights are associated with irrigation ditch share ownership in the Cache la Poudre River basin and trans-basin rights. When extreme drought conditions occur for an extended period, the NWCWD water supply will be limited

    Many agricultural business customers within the District currently operate using District surplus water supply. If the drought conditions continue to persist and/or Colorado River drought mitigation measures affect the amount of water available to NWCWD from the Colorado river, NWCWD’s ability to provide this surplus water will be diminished or eliminated altogether. NWCWD recommends that customers who operate on NWCWD supply begin to prepare for drought conditions and not rely solely on NWCWD water supply to supplement their allocated water.

    Due to the potential severity of an enduring drought, NWCWD will be placing flow control devices on water meters to ensure that district supply is not being used to supplement demand beyond customers’ allocations. We understand that this shift in water availability may present a challenge for customers and NWCWD is willing to assist you in identifying new water allocations and potential alternatives for supply or infrastructure. However, we strongly recommend that customers hire professional services to navigate this challenge.

    Please also be aware that NWCWD is making some adjustments to its fee schedule. Please refer to the NWCWD web page for updated rates and fees.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    From The Greeley Tribune (Christopher Wood I):

    The North Weld County Water District, which has maintained a moratorium on new water taps since last fall, will install flow-control devices on water meters to prevent agricultural and commercial users from using more than their allocation of water in times of drought.

    The district announced the new policy in a Tuesday posting on its website addressed to “Agricultural Business Owners.”

    “This enduring drought situation is affecting North Weld County Water District … which is now considered to be in an extreme drought according to the National Drought Mitigation Center and Colorado Department of Natural Resources,” the district stated. “We do not anticipate this situation to improve in the foreseeable future.

    “If the drought conditions continue to persist and/or Colorado River drought mitigation measures affect the amount of water available to NWCWD from the Colorado river, NWCWD’s ability to provide this surplus water will be diminished or eliminated altogether.”

    South Platte Update will provide information on the state of the river: Program will cover the river’s condition, new projects within the basin — The #Sterling Journal-Advocate #SouthPlatteRiver

    The South Platte River Basin is shaded in yellow. Source: Tom Cech, One World One Water Center, Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    A South Platte River Water Update will be held in Brush on Wednesday [January 12, 2022]. The half-day program includes updates on the Master Irrigator Program, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, salinity in the South Platte and the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.

    The update will be held at the Riverview Event Center, 19201 County Road 24, near Brush. It will begin at 8:50 a.m. and run until noon. Lunch will be served.

    The Colorado Master Irrigator program offers farmers and farm managers advanced training on conservation- and efficiency-oriented irrigation management practices and tools. The program is the product of efforts led by several producers, district management representatives, and others interested in conserving groundwater in eastern Colorado. The program is modeled on the award-winning Master Irrigator program created and run since 2016 by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the Texas panhandle.

    Greg Peterson of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Roxy McCormick, Master Irrigator in the Republican River Basin, will present the information.

    [Brad] Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will provide an update on NISP. Construction has been under way for several month on the project, which will provide about 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supply. The project consists of two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, a forebay reservoir, three pump plants, pipelines to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies and for delivery to participants, and improvements to an existing canal to divert water off the Poudre River near the canyon mouth.

    Grady O’Brien, CEO of Neirbo Hydrology, will present information on salinity in the lower reaches of the South Platte River. Salinity has been a growing problem as urban development and agricultural irrigation have added to the river’s saltiness. The water doesn’t taste salty – it contains only 0.12 percent salts compared with ocean water’s 3.5 percent – but the increasing salinity does have a negative impact on the soil. Salt in the soil suppresses the level of potassium, which is necessary for plants to take up nitrogen and create new plant material.

    Old-fashioned flood irrigation used to leach the salts out of the soil, but more efficient irrigation methods don’t put enough water on the ground to do that. And, while the amount of salt in the river at Sterling seems miniscule, it is nearly twice the amount in the Denver area, just above Broomfield, and more than six time the salinity of the river above Denver.

    Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, will talk about the Platte Valley Water Partnership. It is a joint water supply project by the LSPWCD and the Parker Water and Sanitation District to use a new water right that the two entities are developing along the South Platte River near Sterling.

    The project will use new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000-acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.

    Anyone wanting to attend the update presentations can register by contacting Madeline Hagan, morganconservationdistrict@gmail.com (970) 427-3362 or Amber Beeson, centennialcd1@gmail.com (970) 571-5296.

    #Greeley, Weld County #water managers look to collaborate as scarcity concerns grow — The Greeley Tribune

    New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company service area map.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid):

    As growing communities across the state require more water, supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.

    This gap can slow the growth of younger communities and has others buying up water rights from areas including Weld County, resulting in the drying of local farms.

    All this pressure has the state’s water law system coming under increasing scrutiny. Though some seek to change the system, water officials in the Greeley and Weld County area are hopeful collaboration will lead to innovative ways of managing this increasingly scarce resource inside the existing doctrine…

    …farms — which typically own relatively senior water rights — are often targets of “buy and dry” transactions in which a water provider buys a farm to use its water for industrial or municipal purposes.

    Preventing buy and dry transactions is one of the major challenges faced by the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company, a stockholder company that operates the Greeley No. 2 Ditch, which provides water for about 350 farmers on 32,000 acres of farms. General Manager Dale Trowbridge expects homes and municipal growth to eventually replace some farms in the system, but the biggest unknown is what will happen with the water.

    “You can work (agriculture) around some houses and stuff like that, but if a third of the ditch is dry … now what do you deal with?” Trowbridge asked.

    If the ditch’s water supply is severely limited by buy and drys in a couple decades, Trowbridge’s concern is the feasibility of operating the ditch when it was built to hold more water.

    As things stand, the system is already short on water. Trowbridge said more dense ag operations mean there’s a greater need than there was when they started the system, which was issued its first water right decree in 1870.

    To make up for the shortage, New Cache has relied on renting out water rights from cities like Greeley and Fort Collins, which have historically built a strong portfolio of water rights with drought protection to prevent supply issues for city residents. In the last year, though, they were only able to rent about half of what the farmers requested. The impacts of wildfire on water supplies meant cities weren’t able to rent out as much water, in an effort to reduce costs of treating water contaminated by runoff after the fire…

    New Cache tries to help farmers acquire water in dry years, but when it comes to a situation like the last year, it’s up to farmers to alter their cropping patterns or not plant.

    Agricultural operations aren’t the only ones hurting due to a lack of water supplies. Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg called water “the biggest challenge to the city’s growth.”

    While northern Colorado cities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins — the latter two having set the stage for the state’s formalization of the prior appropriation system in an early water dispute — have been able to strategically buy water over the years, medium- and small-sized cities like Evans haven’t had the same resources for such a strong water planning history, Becklenberg said…

    With a less robust water portfolio, Evans requires developers to bring water to the city. The city maintains a list of individuals with vouchers for previously dedicated water rights who could sell to prospective buyers, but there aren’t many left in the city, Becklenberg said.

    In Greeley, the city can take cash in place of dedicated water rights, thanks to the city’s extensive water planning. The city’s water portfolio hasn’t stopped growing, either. The city recently purchased about 1,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to about 1,000 football fields covered in a foot of water — more than it had acquired in the decade prior. The city’s also filed for storage rights for gravel pits, giving the city its youngest water rights, which date to the early 2000s.

    To bolster the city’s drought protection, Greeley officials recently closed on an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water, also defeating proposed City Charter changes that could have prevented use of the groundwater. For comparison, the city’s current demands average about 25,000 acre-feet per year.

    With its robust portfolio of water rights, Greeley officials can facilitate development that would be more difficult for smaller communities. Water is a major cost for developers, and prices have only gone up. Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity Executive Direct Cheri Witt-Brown, also a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, described water as “a very expensive line item” on her budget as a home developer.

    Witt-Brown gave an example of a home they built in Milliken where they paid $45,000 for the lot and were set to pay $60,000 for a share of water they had to bring to the lot.

    “We were very fortunate,” she said. “We went to a water auction, and it was a big farm being sold off in Frederick. Somehow, toward the end of that, I think there was $22 million traded that day. We walked away with one share of water — ultimately donated by the farming family to Habitat.”

    The increasing price of water is impacting housing affordability. Witt-Brown said water resources like those in Greeley help bring security to the local economy…

    Working collaboratively to get all needs met

    Northern Colorado leaders believe regional collaboration is key to a secure water future for local communities. More than a dozen cities, towns and water districts are collaborating on a project to help secure water for different interests well into the future.

    The Northern Integrated Supply Project, spearheaded by Northern Water, is an effort to build two storage reservoirs and lay pipelines for cooperative water exchanges that would help both municipal and agricultural interests. The project is still in the permitting phase, with hopes to get construction started by 2023.

    One of the approved permits on the project is under litigation by Save the Poudre and other neighborhood groups. Save the Poudre argues the project would “drain so much water out of the Poudre that the river would resemble a muddy stinking ditch in Fort Collins.”

    Northern Water notes on its website projects like NISP are subject to strict environmental laws and regulations and that Colorado’s Water Quality Division found “no significant degradation” expected from the project…

    Other environmental groups, like Ducks Unlimited, have taken the view that the state’s water laws haven’t presented an obstacle they can’t overcome, according to Greg Kernohan, director of Ducks Unlimited’s conservation programs. Ducks Unlimited works to restore wetlands to support waterfowl populations, often using water decreed for irrigation use. Kernohan said acquiring water is “brutal.” Water can cost about half a million dollars for a single project, he said, not including water court costs.

    With water only becoming more expensive, the nonprofit has been working with the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company to determine an equitable way to lease water short term. Greeley officials have also been in discussion with the irrigating company for its water marketing program.

    To prevent buy and dry while helping everyone get their water needs met, New Cache has been working to develop an alternative transfer method to tie the water rights to farmland. In return for giving up the ability to sell their water rights to other interests, the farmer would be paid.

    But those other interests would still need water too. To get them the water they need, they would be able to lease water a few years every decade. Though the farm would go dry in drought years when another user, like a city, needs to lease the water, the water remains with the farm in the long term.

    There are a few roadblocks remaining for the project. The growing value of water can make it a difficult sell for a farmer to tie up the water rights with the land. And for some, taking a year off farming every now and then doesn’t sound like the best lifestyle. They would be paid, Trowbridge said, but it leaves some wondering, “What am I going to do when the water is being leased?”

    For NISP’s water exchange system to work, agricultural water needs to remain in northern Colorado — despite continuing efforts by growing Denver metro communities to buy water and deliver it south. As part of the project, Northern Water is working to tie water rights to the agricultural land in the area…

    Though prior appropriation makes for a competitive system, those who have found success through collaborative projects like this worry a different system would introduce uncertainty.

    “I don’t know how we can operate without the certainty of the water,” Trowbridge said. “It’d be unsustainable around here if the prior appropriation system was changed.

    Greeley Water and Sewer Board Chairman Harold Evans shares Trowbridge’s concern, noting everybody there are set rules of the game under prior appropriation. Though water shortages may increase political pressure to change the system, it gives water providers better certainty about what to expect.

    2021 Brings Flurry of Activity to Northern #Water

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project hosted a groundbreaking event on Aug. 6, 2021. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Several noteworthy undertakings in 2021 led to a number of achievements for Northern Water, the Municipal Subdistrict, project participants and water users. Milestones include the start of construction on a new reservoir, fire recovery efforts, campus development projects and more. 

    January kicked off with the connection of the Southern Water Supply Project pipeline into the new Eastern Pump Plant. The plant, located near Platteville, increases capacity of the SWSP pipeline to meet the growing demands of users benefitting from the supply.  

    In March, two projects earned awards from the Colorado Contractors Association. The Poudre River Drop Structure earned an award in the best Open Flow Concrete Structure category, and the Cottonwood Siphon earned an annual award as the Best Slipline Project under $6 million.

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project hosted a groundbreaking event on Aug. 6, 2021.

    April 21 marked an exciting milestone for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project, as the Municipal Subdistrict reached an agreement with environmental groups to settle ongoing litigation over the project. The $15 million settlement will ultimately fund aquatic habitat enhancements in Grand County. It also allowed construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in Larimer County to begin. 

    Northern Water also began construction on multiple aspects of its campus development efforts in May on both the Berthoud campus and new West Slope facility. With growth to our operations and throughout the region, we are in need of additional facilities to meet our collection and delivery efforts, as well as the advancement of new water projects. Phase I construction commenced on May 13 at the Berthoud headquarters and includes new buildings to house the Operations Division, fleet storage, a parking lot expansion and other campus improvements. The West Slope’s Willow Creek Campus near Willow Creek Reservoir will include 41,000 square feet of offices, fleet maintenance space and a control room. The new facility will replace much of the existing office and shop facilities at Farr and Windy Gap pump plants. The project is making significant progress and we expect it to open its doors in August 2022. 

    In June, the first public electric vehicle charging station in Berthoud was installed at our headquarters. The station can provide a full charge to a standard EV in just three to four hours. Northern Water also opened a temporary office at the Grand Lake Center to better serve Grand County residents affected by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. This location allowed us to work with landowners and assist with watershed recovery efforts. 

    The implementation of our fire recovery efforts took full effect in July. Debris booms were placed in Grand Lake and Willow Creek Reservoir to intercept floating debris from the East Troublesome Fire burn area. Aerial seed and mulch treatments also began at Willow Creek Reservoir. This 15-minute recap video offers a look at the projects completed this year while describing future recovery needs.   

    August found its way into our historical records when Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict celebrated the groundbreaking for Chimney Hollow Reservoir on Aug. 6. The ceremony culminated an extensive permitting process that began in 2003. The project includes the construction of a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir situated behind a 350-foot dam – the tallest to be built in the United States in 25 years – all to add resilience to the water supply for more than 500,000 Northeastern Colorado residents.  

    Northern Water was honored with two more awards during October and November, including the 2021 WaterSense Partner of the Year Award and the Colorado Waterwise Gardener Award. Promoting water-efficient products, homes and gardens and continually educating individuals and organizations on the importance of water conservation continues to be a growing part of our mission.  

    As population growth in Northern Colorado persists, we will continue to manage and pursue water projects to ensure an adequate supply of reliable water well into the future.

    A #ColoradoRiver veteran takes on the top #Water & Science post at Interior Department — @WaterEdFdn #CRWUA2021 #COriver #aridification #ClimateChange

    Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Interior Secretary for Water and Science (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

    From the Water Education Foundation (Douglas Beeman):

    Western Water Q&A: Tanya Trujillo brings two decades of experience on Colorado River issues as she takes on the challenges of a river basin stressed by climate change

    For more than 20 years, Tanya Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and other crops.

    Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of California, exposing her to the different perspectives and challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s Lower Basin.

    Now, she’ll have a chance to draw upon those different perspectives as Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, where she oversees the U.S. Geological Survey and – more important for the Colorado River and federal water projects in California – the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Lake Powell, a key reservoir on the Colorado River, has seen water levels drop precipitously as a result of two decades of drought. (Source: The Water Desk and Lighthawk Conservation Flying)

    Trujillo has ample challenges ahead of her. For two decades, drought – fueled in no small part by climate change – has gripped the Colorado River Basin, starving the huge reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead of runoff. Drought plans in place since 2019 failed to stop the decline of these critical reservoirs. New operating guidelines for the river are now being discussed and the Basin’s 30 tribes, which have substantial rights to the river’s waters, want to make sure they get a seat at the negotiating table.

    The Department of Interior faces still other water challenges: For example, in southeastern desert of California, the ecologically troubled Salton Sea has nearly upended past Colorado River negotiations involving drought contingency planning.

    Trujillo talked with Western Water news about how her experience on the Colorado River will play into her new job, the impacts from the drought and how the river’s history of innovation should help.

    WESTERN WATER: You’ve worked on Colorado River issues for years, both in the Upper Basin (as a member of New Mexico’s Interstate Stream Commission) and Lower Basin (as executive director of the Colorado River Board of California). How is that informing your work now on Colorado River Basin issues?

    TRUJILLO: I’m very appreciative of having had several different positions that have allowed me to work on Colorado River issues from different perspectives. As the general counsel of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, we were finalizing the 2007 Interim Guideline process [for the Colorado River] and I very much had an Upper Basin hat on at that time. That was also right in the middle of our work in New Mexico on negotiating the Indian water rights settlements with the Navajo Nation. Both the Guidelines and the Navajo settlement work really expanded the notion of flexibility in the Basin with respect to the existing statutes and the existing regulations.

    I had a Lower Basin perspective when I was working for the state of California on Colorado River issues with the Colorado River Board of California although I was working with a lot of the same people and there were a lot of familiar legal and operational questions. But for the other half of the job, I was brand new to California and was having to learn the whole Lower Basin perspective from scratch.… It was great just to learn the perspective of the Lower Basin and because there are quite a few challenges just within the Lower Basin that are independent of what’s going on in the Upper Basin.

    WW:It’s pretty clear the Colorado River Basin is in trouble – too little snowpack and runoff, too little water left in Lakes Powell and Mead. Are we headed toward a Compact call? Or are there still enough opportunities to protect Powell and Mead and meet obligations to the Lower Basin and Mexico without draining upstream reservoirs?

    More than two decades of drought in the Colorado River Basin have left Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, at just 34 percent of capacity. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

    TRUJILLO: I think in some respects it’s the wrong way to think about this question…. A better approach is to focus on the strategies the Upper Basin develop to continue to protect the water resources and communities and economies that rely on that water. There’s a lot to build off of.

    Going back to the ‘07 guidelines, we were thinking about building off of the existing regulations that described the operating criteria. We were thinking about how to protect those resources in the Upper Basin, even when there is a drought, even when there is less water that’s naturally occurring in the system on a continual basis.

    But that translates into concerns about how to protect the system in the context of the lower reservoir levels, including the impact on hydropower generation. Each of the Upper Basin states is carefully watching that not only from a power supply perspective, but because if there’s less [hydropower] production, there’s less funding coming in and the funding supports programs that are very important and beneficial to the Upper Basin, like the salinity control program and the [endangered] species recovery programs in the San Juan Basin and the Colorado Basin.

    So I know those are concerns that the states have, to protect the elevations at Lake Powell. And another important concern that we specifically agree on is the need to be very careful with respect to the infrastructure and the structural integrity of the [Glen Canyon] dam itself. We may have to operate the facilities at levels that we haven’t experienced before. So we have no operational experience with how the turbines are going to function – and not only the turbines but also how the structures are going to function if we have to use the jet tubes if the turbines are not available.

    WW: So there’s concern about how the structures function in terms of getting water from one side of the dam to the other? Or in terms of the physical structure itself?

    TRUJILLO: I’m a lawyer and not going to be opining on the actual engineering situation. But we have lots of people who are working in the Upper Basin and Denver Technical Center who are dam safety engineers and they have not had experience in working at this facility under those low water levels. And so that’s where there’s uncertainty. We don’t know how the structures will function under those conditions and that means that people are concerned about that uncertainty because that’s such a critical piece of the infrastructure. [That is] additional motivation among the Upper Basin states for trying to think proactively about how to make sure that the supply and the flows that extend down to Glen Canyon Dam can be maintained.

    WW: Given how drought and climate change have left far less water in the Colorado River than the 1922 Compact assumes, is it time to rethink that Compact? Or do you think the Compact and the rest of the Law of the River has the flexibility to accommodate the current realities? And how?

    TRUJILLO: I might take the liberty of quarreling a bit with the context of the question because I think the focus should be a forward-looking focus as opposed to rethinking the situation that existed 100 years ago. Even just looking at the past 20 years, we’ve been able to be very innovative and very focused on continued efforts to improve the [weather] prediction capabilities and continued efforts to make sure we have additional flexibility, additional tools, and additional conservation options that can help us work at a multi-faceted level. There are multiple layers of innovations and flexibilities that we have been able to successfully pull together, and my expectation and hope is that will be the same kind of approach that we will continue to work through.

    WW: In July, you toured portions of western Colorado to discuss drought and water challenges across the Upper Colorado River Basin. What did you hear? What did you tell them?

    TRUJILLO: That was a great trip. The basis of that trip was a listening session that was co-hosted with the governor of Colorado and our Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland. It was an opportunity to hear updates and perspectives from a wide variety of water users in Colorado…. I personally was able to visit quite a few communities in the West Slope, starting in Grand Junction, and see some of the innovative agreements that are coming together in that area with respect to some upgraded hydropower facilities. So it’s great to have the aging infrastructure issues being addressed in that area.

    Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of the Interior, speaks speaks during a stop while on a tour of Colorado this summer with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (second from left). (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior)

    There is obviously a lot of strong, productive agricultural communities that are clearly watching with respect to any drought developments. I was also able to visit the Colorado River District board meeting and heard a discussion about the different perspectives relating to support for additional infrastructure and funding different infrastructure projects. There was a USGS proposal that was being approved by the River District, and they were able to really showcase the tremendous contribution that USGS is able to provide to some of their cooperative investigations. I also met with representatives from Northern Water and the Arkansas Valley Conduit Project, so it was a great opportunity to get an overview of the many important projects that are underway in Colorado.

    WW: Did they tell you anything that surprised you?

    TRUJILLO: No, I don’t think so. I have a pretty good base of background with some of the challenges that exist in that area. Maybe one way to sum up that that week of visits is that the broad variety of examples there in Colorado can be replicated in other states as well. It was great to just see a diversity of projects that are that are in place there. I would go back there in a second. It was the first trip for me in my tenure as assistant secretary and it was very informative.

    WW: As you know, the Salton Sea has been a festering environmental problem for years, and it threatened to upend California’s participation in the 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan when Imperial Irrigation District insisted that the sea’s ills needed to be addressed as part of the DCP. What can — or should — Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation do to help find a sustainable solution for the Salton Sea?

    TRUJILLO: The Salton Sea has had a long history over the past century and is a dynamic and changing terminal lake. For decades there has been a recognition that the changing conditions at the Salton Sea needed to be addressed. The Bureau of Reclamation, other entities within the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies have been involved in the Salton Sea for many decades.

    The receding Salton Sea exposes large swaths of playa that generate harmful dust emissions. (Source: Department of Water Resources)

    There are various types of federal lands surrounding the Salton Sea, the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge provides a sanctuary and breeding ground for migrating birds, and Reclamation plays an important role as a partner with respect to ongoing habitat and air quality projects in support of the state of California’s Salton Sea Management Program and the Dust Suppression Action Plan. Reclamation also works in partnership with Imperial Irrigation District to implement the Salton Sea Air Quality dust control plan. Since 2016, for example, Reclamation has provided approximately $14 million for Salton Sea projects, technical assistance and program management. Reclamation and its federal partners participate in a number of state-led committees and processes, providing technical expertise on activities related to the long-term restoration of the sea.

    #FortCollins puts new barriers in front of billion-dollar Northern Water dam and pipeline project — The #Colorado Sun #NISP

    Cache la Poudre River. Photo credit: Allen Best

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    City Council calls for local control rules in big land projects could delay approval of Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project by a year.

    Fort Collins has placed new barriers in front of Northern Water’s $1.1 billion plan to build a dam and pipeline network along the Cache la Poudre River, further slowing a decades-long project backed by 15 growing Front Range communities and water districts.

    City government put a hold on the kind of pipeline and infrastructure work Northern Water needs for its Northern Integrated Supply Project, saying Fort Collins will pause for a year to write new regulations under state “1041” permitting laws that encourage local control of big land use projects. Fort Collins’ planning commission had rejected a NISP pipeline proposal through city open space last summer, but Northern Water’s board overrode the decision, as is allowed by state law.

    Northern Water says it has already complied with local approval protocols, including receiving 1041 approval from surrounding Larimer County, and will study its options if Fort Collins tries to force NISP through a newly created layer of planning.

    “We think that we’ve completed” the city’s Site Plan Advisory Review process, which was the standard before Fort Collins started talking about creating 1041 rules, Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “We’re really going to take a close look at exactly what was passed by the city council.”

    Placing a hold on new projects and asking staff to create a 1041 process for the first time was not meant to target Northern Water specifically, though it will likely delay their Fort Collins projects, city council member Kelly Ohlson acknowledged. A new group of city council members taking office after spring elections learned Fort Collins could use the state’s 1041 law to influence projects rather than just react to them, Ohlson said…

    Mayor Jeni Arndt said the new tier of local regulations should not make a big difference in Northern Water’s decadeslong pursuit of final project approvals. Northern Water wants to build two big reservoirs northwest and east of Fort Collins, and connect them to the Poudre and the South Platte River through a series of pipelines and ditches.

    Arndt said city leaders have narrowed down their interests in creating a 1041 review process to two areas for now: water projects and development that impacts natural areas.

    “I don’t feel like that’s an evil volley against them,” Arndt said. “It’s not tit for tat. We have some legitimate concerns about our natural areas and parks.”

    Conservation groups that have battled NISP and its complex water engineering for years are happy to see a new bump in the road for Northern Water, which says it expects to receive a final federal-level permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers any month now. Opponents have filed suits and protested local government approvals since portions of NISP were first conceived in the 1980s. In July, they focused on the Fort Collins planning body’s decision whether to approve project pipelines buried in city park land and right of way…

    A delay from Fort Collins to pursue more local control rules follows Northern Water’s success in September getting Larimer County approval for another key element of the project: moving U.S. 287 east over a ridge, north of Ted’s Place, to create the dam basin where Glade Reservoir will store Cache la Poudre water.

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

    Overall, the northern supply project will build Glade and another new reservoir northeast of Greeley, Galeton, that will store South Platte River water. Some of the new supply will be delivered in the Cache la Poudre channel, while other transfers will be made by a series of pipelines and ditches.

    Northern Water says the project will bring much-needed supply to 80,000 more residents in more than a dozen growing communities that have signed up for the water. The water agency says storing Cache la Poudre water in Glade during higher runoff allows them to supply a steady stream for wildlife and recreation through Fort Collins at times when the river otherwise runs nearly dry.

    Opponents say NISP takes water from wildlife and scenic rivers, and encourages sprawling growth in communities that could do more to conserve water.

    One Year Later: Partners Reflect on #EastTroublesomeFire Recovery — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    One year ago [October 14, 2020], firefighters responded to a smoke report in the East Troublesome area of the Arapaho National Forest north of Hot Sulphur Springs. Fighting the fire in extraordinarily difficult terrain amidst shifting winds and historically dry and warm conditions with limited resources created enormous challenges, and the fire grew rapidly, repeatedly crossing containment lines as it grew east toward Colo. Highway 125.

    One week later, exhibiting behavior unlike anything scientists and fire managers had ever seen, the fire crossed Colo. 125 and made a 20-mile run across northern Grand County, burning 589 homes and structures and taking two lives before jumping the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and heading toward the Town of Estes Park.

    A winter storm Oct. 25 brought very cold temperatures and snow, resulting in a dramatic drop in fire behavior with smoldering and reduced fire spread on both sides of the Continental Divide. The fire was declared contained on Nov. 30, 2020. At 193,892 acres, East Troublesome is the state’s second largest fire in history. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

    Bent lodgepole pine in some areas revealed intensity of the wind. Photo/National Park Service via Big Pivots

    As Sheriff Brett Schroetlin reflected on the firestorm and resulting devastation from the East Troublesome Fire, he shared, “I am humbled by the strength of the people that make up the Grand County community and their resilience to persevere through the last twelve months of their very personal recovery.”

    In the 12 months since these devastating events, recovery teams, land managers and water providers have turned their attention to post wildfire emergency response and recovery efforts. A collaborative stakeholder group continues to meet monthly to discuss priorities, challenges, and successes; and to protect their critical source water infrastructure. This collaborative recovery group includes Grand County, Northern Water, the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Office of Emergency Management, and Bureau of Reclamation among others.

    Aerial mulching. Photo credit: Colorado State Forest Service

    Aerial mulching, water monitoring, utility infrastructure protections, and stabilizing and reopening trails and roads has been a critical part of the work.

    “In the weeks and months following the East Troublesome Fire, Northern Water recognized the significant impacts the fire would have on the Upper Colorado River watershed, which is the source of water for more than 1 million residents in Northeastern Colorado,” said Esther Vincent, Director of Environmental Services for Northern Water. “That’s why we partnered with Grand County to be the local sponsors for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”

    Using funds through the federal EWP Program, matched with money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water and Grand County have worked with private landowners and other public agencies to develop projects that would protect human life and property in the burn area. To date, this effort has focused on more than 5,000 acres of aerial seeding and mulching and installing debris booms to protect key water infrastructure during summer monsoon events. More work is planned in 2022, and the effects of the fire on the watershed will be felt for years to come.

    “A vast portion of the burned area was Arapaho National Forest lands that are a critical part of the Grand County tourism and recreation economy,” said acting Sulphur District Ranger Kevin McLaughlin. “Our focus has been on reopening as much of our road and trail system as we safely can.”

    Forest Service and Rocky Mountain Youth Corps crews spent the summer working with partners, collaborators, and hundreds of volunteers coordinated through Grand Lake Trailgrooming Inc. and Headwaters Trails Alliance to cut more than 10,000 burnt, broken and fallen trees from 120 miles of trails. Crews also dug hundreds of drainage bars to prevent trail washouts and hundreds of miles of roads were reopened after road crews worked to stabilize them.

    “This has been a truly massive undertaking to this point and there is an incredible amount of work yet to be done,” McLaughlin said, noting that an estimated 50 to 70 bridges, boardwalks and turnpikes burned in the fire and all need to be replaced next year in addition to various campground infrastructure that burned and roads that were impacted by the monsoons this summer. “We wouldn’t have been able to make the progress we have without our partners, and we look forward to continued collaboration on fire recovery in the years to come.”

    The Grand County Board of Commissioners released this statement: “On the anniversary the worst disaster in recent Grand County history, the Commissioners would like to extend our deepest appreciation to the emergency agencies, volunteers, organizations, and companies that helped our community survive, recover and rebuild. While there is still recovery work to be done, we have no doubt the strength and resilience of our Grand community will see us through.”

    To commemorate the anniversary of the East Troublesome Fire, the Grand Lake Chamber has planned two events at Grand Lake Town Park: “We gather to Acknowledge” at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 with a moment of silence followed by the ringing of a bell to acknowledge the night we left our homes; and “We gather to remember” at 11 a.m. Oct. 23, which includes a free Community lunch, local music, a community art piece, and an opportunity to thank first responders over a shared meal.

    Chimney Hollow, two other projects in Larimer County get state stimulus #water grants — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Preparing the site of the future construction office complex at Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Photo credit: Northern Water

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Michael Hughes):

    Three water projects in the region will get $4.7 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board’s giving doubled this year due to COVID-related stimulus funds.

    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud is getting $3.8 million toward connecting the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County to one at Chimney Hollow in Larimer County…

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin. Graphic credit: Northern Water

    The grant goes for the [bypass] channel, which is still being designed.

    “Colorado River Connectivity Channel is a major modification to Windy Gap Reservoir,” Stahla said. He said the channel’s funding is nearly complete. The grant “isn’t the final piece. We anticipate all the pieces coming together” by mid-2022…

    Two other area projects got grants.

    Bypass structure Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

    A “Poudre Headwaters Restoration — Grand Ditch Barrier” effort by Colorado Trout Unlimited in Denver got about $300,000 toward restoring 38 miles of stream and 110 acres of lake habitat.

    The specific project involves the greenback cutthroat trout.

    Efficient irrigation systems help save water and decrease leaching of salts. Photo credit: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

    A $1.2 million irrigation infrastructure effort got half its costs from this round of water board funds. The grantee is Colorado State University, through its Fort Collins campus, to use on work to boost water and energy efficiency and agricultural production.

    The specific project is to build storage ponds, upgrade the existing equipment and add irrigation systems and other infrastructure for research on soil and crops and to launch a farm management competition to improve agricultural profitability.

    Both projects are in Larimer County.

    Regional Agencies Closely Monitor Water Quality in C-BT Reservoirs — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Willow Creek Reservoir algae bloom August 2021. Photo credit: Northern Water

    From Northern Water:

    Northern Water, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Grand County and additional regional health, water and recreation officials are closely monitoring a potentially harmful algal bloom that developed at Willow Creek Reservoir in July, a component of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Grand County.

    In late July, monitoring teams found the presence of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), which can sometimes produce toxins (cyanotoxins) that can be harmful to humans and animals. With this discovery, the U.S. Forest Service’s Arapaho National Forest placed restrictions on water contact recreation and posted signs informing the public of the issue.

    Recent tests indicate the concentration of cyanotoxins in the two samples collected to be nearly negligible. However, because of evidence of algae in other parts of the reservoir where sampling has not occurred the reservoir remains under the existing restrictions for contact recreation.

    Willow Creek Reservoir is part of the collections system for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which gathers water in the headwaters of the Colorado River for delivery to cities, farms and industries in northeast Colorado.

    In the East Troublesome Fire of 2020, as much as 90 percent of the watershed that feeds into the reservoir sustained damage. This summer, the arrival of monsoonal moisture has increased the delivery of nutrients from the burn scar to the reservoir, and made these nutrients available to support increased growth of all kinds of algae. However, the vast majority of algae species are not harmful. Water recreation enthusiasts can learn more by viewing the Colorado Parks and Wildlife video and visiting the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment links available from Grand County.

    Water from Willow Creek Reservoir is pumped intermittently into Lake Granby to make room in Willow Creek Reservoir should future flooding occur. However, with a maximum capacity of 10,600 acre-feet, Willow Creek Reservoir is dwarfed by the 540,000 acre-foot Lake Granby, meaning the overall impact to the region’s water supply is negligible. In addition, water quality testing equipment installed in the aftermath of the East Troublesome Fire will be able to monitor key water quality metrics in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. A monitoring program has been implemented to watch for algae blooms and potential toxins in the Three Lakes, as well as in Willow Creek Reservoir. Agencies will continue to review data and monitor the issue until the bloom disappears.

    For information about water recreation opportunities on the Arapaho National Forest, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/arp.

    A joint press release among Northern Water, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Grand County.

    @Northern_Water overturns #FortCollins’ denial of #NISP pipeline — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Northern Water’s board of directors unanimously overturned the city of Fort Collins’ denial of infrastructure associated with the Northern Integrated Supply Project, clearing the way Wednesday for construction of a pipeline and Poudre River diversion in city limits.

    Fort Collins’ Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for NISP infrastructure in a 3-2 vote on June 30. But state law allows governing boards to overrule denials of SPAR applications for public infrastructure with at least a two-thirds majority vote.

    The Northern Water board’s decision means the water district, after getting the necessary city permits, should be able to build a river diversion on the Poudre at Homestead Natural Area and about 3.4 miles of pipeline in city limits. The diversion and pipeline are part of Northern Water’s plan to release between 18-25 cubic feet per second of the project’s Poudre River diversions through a 12-mile section of the river in Fort Collins before piping it to NISP participants.

    NISP would take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to deliver an estimated 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 small municipalities and water districts in Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor. The water would be stored in two new reservoirs: Glade Reservoir, with a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet located northwest of Fort Collins at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, and Galeton Reservoir, with a capacity of 45,600 acre-feet located northeast of Greeley.

    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.

    #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.”

    Protective Booms at #GrandLake Mark Next Phase in #EastTroublesomeFire Recovery — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    A work crew prepares to install a debris boom at Grand Lake. The boom will prevent floating debris from entering the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. Photo credit: Northern Water

    From Northern Water:

    While new wildfires across Colorado and the West are creating another year of smoky skies and damaged forests, work to contain debris and restore watersheds damaged by the East Troublesome Fire has started taking shape in Grand County.

    This month, crews started to place a series of booms at the east end of Grand Lake to capture floating debris that could move into the lake from heavy rainstorms that sometimes occur in the summertime. The bright yellow booms are anchored near the intake to the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, which delivers water from the West Slope to the East Slope components of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    In addition to the boom at Grand Lake, two more will be installed at Willow Creek Reservoir to capture debris from that heavily affected watershed. According to damage assessments, more than 90 percent of the Willow Creek watershed suffered damage in last October’s fire.

    Work will also be concentrated to capture debris before it reaches the reservoirs. Starting in July, helicopter crews will drop mulch and seeds on burned areas that are inaccessible to ground-based efforts. That material will help to keep soil and debris in place, and in future years will provide appropriate ground cover at those sites.

    Other methods for debris containment to be installed include catchment basins where smaller tributaries might be transporting loosened materials.

    Funding for the efforts has come from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Protection program and state matching funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Finally, Northern Water has also provided a self-service site in Grand Lake where property owners can get sandbags and wattle to protect their property from high-water flows that might occur this year or in the future. In May, employees of Northern Water and Grand County volunteered to fill sandbags using equipment donated by the Salvation Army.

    Because of the importance of the Upper Colorado River watershed to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and the drinking water for more than 1 million residents in Northeastern Colorado, Northern Water has taken a lead role with Grand County as local sponsors for the Emergency Watershed Program.

    The final position of the debris boom at Grand Lake will protect the inlet to the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. Photo credit: Northern Water

    #FortCollins planners, worried about #PoudreRiver impacts, reject Northern #Water’s plan for 3-mile pipeline through the city — The #Colorado Sun #NISP

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

    Disclaimer: I work for the City of Thornton.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Rejection of the NISP pipeline is yet another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out in the northern Front Range.

    The Fort Collins planning commission on Wednesday rejected an application by Northern Water to run more than three miles of pipeline in a 100-foot-wide construction zone through city parks and neighborhoods as part of the complex Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    The 3-to-2 rejection may not stall the massive project for long, as state law allows Northern Water’s own board to override the decision by a two-thirds vote, which it is sure to get. But the unrest in Fort Collins is another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out this year in northern Front Range counties.

    Water developers say they need supply to meet the demands of growing cities and suburbs, while many residents are objecting to the cost to the environment and to their own wallets.

    “What happens during that construction will forever change the activity of wildlife, the patterns of wildlife, and they may never come back to those areas,” Fort Collins planning board member Per Hogestad said before he voted against the NISP pipeline application.

    Fort Collins city planners launched the night’s hearing by recommending the board reject the NISP pipeline. Among other objections, city staff said its construction would cut down important riparian cottonwood stands without rebuilding them, and that the plan lacked detailed restoration plans for other areas in the proposed easement…

    Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind told the planning commission that the water agency, which serves more than 1 million people in parts of eight counties on the northern Front Range, has made numerous changes to the $1.1 billion NISP to accommodate the steady stream of objections made over more than 10 years. Most importantly, he said, the new system of water buckets and delivery pipes that make up NISP will put a steadier, stronger flow of water into the Poudre River through Fort Collins, improving the health of an overused river that nearly dries up in summer…

    Friday morning, Northern Water issued a statement saying in part that it would “look closely at the concerns raised by the City of Fort Collins staff, planning and zoning commissioners and public commenters. We look forward to working with the city to address those concerns while keeping the long-term goal in sight” of building the water delivery project. The board will consider its next steps at a meeting in August, spokesman Jeff Stahla said…

    The list of Front Range water fights is long

    NISP is one of the longest-running of a growing number of water delivery disputes pitting neighbors against city and county planning boards, and cities and counties against each other.

    Thornton wants to build a 74-mile underground pipeline from water it owns in a Larimer County reservoir, through Weld County and onto city treatment plants. After similar years of wrangling, Weld County listened to neighbor and landowner objections and voted against a permit through county space. But Thornton, in Adams County, on Tuesday overrode the decision, which state law allows the applying entity to do when it is financing and building the pipeline.

    In Westminster, many residents are furious at city council members for a series of steep increases in domestic water prices, among other planning decisions, and their anger has helped fuel an ongoing series of recalls and marathon voting sessions. Some longtime city residents say the council and city utilities have botched long-term planning for adequate water resources and failed to maintain treatment plants and other infrastructure.

    Brighton is also in a series of battles over water use and water prices, including conflicts over power sharing between the city manager and elected officials on water questions.

    The Fort Collins planning decision is not likely to be a major hurdle for Northern Water, which is close to breaking ground on the reservoir-and-pipe system that makes up NISP but has more regulatory problems to solve.

    The Northern Integrated Supply Project has navigated a tangled route of permits since at least 2004. Fifteen communities that are part of Northern Water want to build new reservoirs called Glade and Galeton, bracketing Fort Collins on the west and east, and connect them through the Poudre and a series of farm water ditches with complex withdrawal and return pipelines.

    As part of the overall plan, Northern Water would let about 22 cubic feet per second out of its newly-stored pool in Glade to keep a steady flow in the Poudre through most of Fort Collins, for most of the year. The pipeline under debate Thursday night would then take that water back out of the river and carry it to a separate pipeline that runs on the north side of the project.

    Conservationists ridicule that plan, saying Northern Water’s gesture toward the environment would turn the Poudre into a weedy, low-flow “ditch” populated by carp.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Commission denied a development application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, leaving the ball in Northern Water’s court for a possible overriding vote.

    Commission members voted 3-2 on Wednesday to deny the Site Planning Advisory Review (SPAR) application for NISP infrastructure that would be located in Fort Collins city limits.

    The components are part of Northern Water’s plan to run a portion of the project’s water deliveries through a 12-mile section of the Poudre River in Fort Collins. A river intake structure at Homestead Natural Area would take the water back out, and a 3.4-mile section of pipeline would shuttle the water southeast to meet up with another pipeline outside city limits.

    The decision presents an obstacle to the proposal to take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for storage in two new reservoirs, but it isn’t binding…

    Commission members who voted against the application — chair Michelle Haefele, vice chair Ted Shepard and member Per Hogestad — agreed with city staff, who recommended denial because of impacts to city natural areas and insufficient detail about several aspects of the project…

    Degradation of wildlife and riparian habitat was of particular concern for some of the commission members who voted to deny the application. City staff said the pipeline location would damage restored wetlands and prohibit replanting of cottonwoods the city has worked to restore in riparian corridors. The pipeline route passes through Williams, Kingfisher and Riverbend Ponds natural areas…

    Jeff Hansen and Jeff Schneider, the commission members who voted to move the application forward, said they had faith in Northern Water’s ability to address staff feedback. They also wanted to support the agency’s effort to mitigate some of the impacts of NISP by running between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second of water through a portion of the river, which would eliminate some dry-up spots on the river during low flow periods.

    “They don’t have to do this pipeline at all,” Schneider said. “They could pull this water out and not even run it through the river. I think there’s some good intent that they’re trying to supply water to the Poudre instead of just pulling it directly out.”

    Other points from city staff’s recommendation to deny the application stated that Northern Water didn’t adequately consider protection of natural resources and wildlife when it evaluated alternative routes. Staff also said the application didn’t include enough information about proximity of the NISP pipeline to city-owned utilities; downstream and floodplain impacts of the river intake structure; and how Northern Water will mitigate construction impacts to private property, historic and cultural resources.

    Shepard said Northern Water should consider running the water through the river until it intersects with another project pipeline planned for the Larimer-Weld county line.

    Brad Yatabe of the city attorney’s office interjected at that point in the meeting to caution commission members against suggesting alternative actions, which he said isn’t in the city’s purview for SPAR.

    Northern Water staff described the diversion structure and pipeline as the culmination of a concerted effort to blunt NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins. Northern Water staff picked the diversion point for stability and with a goal of going as far downstream as possible while preserving water quality for drinking, project manager Christie Coleman said…

    Northern Water expects that requirements associated with other permits for NISP, including the anticipated record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will address some of the planning commission’s concerns about environmental impacts, Stahla said. He added that Northern Water will take a closer look at concerns about the construction easement’s impacts to city natural areas.

    Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream sue over #FortCollins’ review of #NISP — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Citizen groups Save the Poudre and No Pipe Dream are suing to stop the city of Fort Collins from processing an application for Northern Integrated Supply Project infrastructure in city limits.

    The two groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise over Northern Water’s SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for the controversial Poudre River reservoir project. The complaint argues that SPAR is the wrong way for the city to review NISP infrastructure and seeks to terminate the SPAR application. It also seeks to cancel the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board review of the application set for June 30…

    At the heart of the dispute is whether NISP, which seeks to divert flows from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for two new reservoirs, is an appropriate fit for the SPAR process. SPAR is a type of development review intended for “improvements to parcels owned or operated by public entities,” according to the city’s land use code.

    SPAR, compared to the more commonly used development review process, puts the city’s P&Z board in an advisory position rather than giving Fort Collins City Council the final say on a proposal. The governing board of a SPAR applicant can override P&Z’s vote and proceed with the development over the city’s wishes.

    The P&Z board must review a SPAR application within 60 days of the city accepting it. The city deemed Northern Water’s SPAR application complete on May 21.

    The city directed Northern Water to submit a SPAR application for components of NISP within city limits: the Poudre intake diversion structure, a river diversion that would be located in Homestead Natural Area northwest of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, and a 3.4-mile length of pipeline running from the river diversion to the southeast, passing through Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County land as well as three city natural areas (Williams, Kingfisher Point and Riverbend Ponds)…

    The complaint also argues that Northern Water doesn’t meet the state’s legal guidelines for an entity that can overrule a municipal body’s decision on a development. The state gives that authority only to “the city council of a city … the board of trustees of a town, or any other body, by whatever name known, given authority to adopt ordinances for a specific municipality,” the complaint states…

    City attorney Carrie Daggett said the city is still reviewing the complaint and declined further comment. Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla affirmed that the water district will continue to pursue SPAR review for NISP as city staff directed…

    Fort Collins’ review of NISP is not the last step for the project. The project is awaiting a crucial record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that’s expected to come this year. An affirming record of decision would likely trigger another legal appeal.

    Two additional lawsuits filed by Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo related to Larimer County’s approval of NISP infrastructure are also working their way through the courts.

    Chimney Hollow, Northern #Colorado’s biggest new reservoir, will likely be one of its last — The #FortCollins Coloradoan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Northern Colorado is getting its biggest new reservoir in about 70 years, at the cost of diminished Colorado River flows.

    Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will begin in August southwest of Loveland, just west of Carter Lake. An April legal settlement between project proponent Northern Water and environmental advocacy groups cleared the way for the project, which began the permitting process in 2003.

    The 90,000-acre-foot reservoir is the main component of the Windy Gap Firming Project, a plan to increase the reliability of Colorado River water rights in the Windy Gap Project. The project’s 12 participants include Platte River Power Authority, Loveland, Broomfield, Longmont and Greeley. Construction is expected to take until August 2025, after which it will take about three years to fill the reservoir.

    The reservoir’s water will come from the Colorado River, decreasing flows below Lake Granby by an annual average of 15%. Most diversions will take place in May and June.

    The 18-year journey toward construction demonstrates the extensive maneuvering required to build new reservoirs in Colorado as rivers become increasingly stressed from climate change and heavy diversions as growing Front Range communities seek to shore up their water supplies. Northern Water won approval from key government agencies and some advocacy groups with a suite of mitigation measures and spending commitments for areas impacted by the project.

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla described Chimney Hollow as “in the right place at the right time.” The reservoir site has a few qualities that have helped Northern Water avoid some common setbacks for new water project construction: It’s near existing Colorado Big Thompson Project infrastructure, so Northern Water won’t have to build much new infrastructure for water deliveries, and there are no homes or businesses at the site, which Northern has owned since the 1990s.

    “The one assumption you have to make is that water storage is part of the future way that we’re going to provide water,” Stahla said, and he thinks it is. “If you get past the ‘Do we need storage’ question, this ends up being an incredible site that will meet lots of needs, including the ancillary needs of recreation, into the future.”

    […]

    Northern Water Engineering Director Jeff Drager acknowledged the new reservoir’s impact on Colorado River flows, but he said the project’s targeted mitigation efforts still offer a major value and are a key reason why it crossed the regulatory finish line.

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    One of the most significant mitigation measures, known as the Colorado River connectivity channel, will involve shrinking the existing Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County to about half its current size and building a new channel around it. The Windy Gap dam currently blocks the Colorado River, preventing movement of fish, silt and sediment.

    The connectivity channel will allow the river below the reservoir to act more like “a stream without a reservoir on it” when Northern Water’s water rights aren’t in priority, Drager said. The mitigation measures will also open up a mile of stream to public fishing in an area where private landowners possess most of the land adjacent to riverbanks…

    During wetter years, Lake Granby can overflow and the water that would’ve been delivered to Windy Gap users flows downstream. During drier years, Northern Water is often unable to divert the full extent of its water right because it is a junior right, meaning more senior water users get access to water first. During the 23-year period between 1985 and 2008, for example, no Windy Gap water was delivered for seven of those years.

    A conversation with Brian Werner, recently retired from @Northern_Water — @WaterEdCO

    Eric Wilkinson, left, and Brian Werner, on the job. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Water Education Colorado (Jacob Tucker):

    Although Brian Werner has served on the WEco Board of Trustees for just over a year, he was involved with helping found the organization nearly 20 years ago. Now retired from his 38-year career as the Communications Department Manager and Public Information Officer at Northern Water, and still a life-long water historian, Brian has written and given hundreds of presentations on the role of water in the settlement and development of Colorado and the West. We spoke with Brian about Northern Water’s storage, the impacts of fire on water storage, permitting, and more.

    How long have you been on the WEco board?

    I’ve been involved with WEco since WEco has been around. I was involved with the first couple incarnations of water education efforts in Colorado in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and then I helped when WEco came into being in 2002. I was never on the board, until a couple of years ago. It was something I wanted to do towards the end of my career and I retired just last year in January 2020. Luckily I was appointed to the board and I’ve truly enjoyed it.

    What kind of experience do you bring to the group?

    I think the fact that I had a 38-year career in the water business with Northern Water is an asset. At Northern Water, I’d established relations with people from all over the state and I also coordinated probably 150 to 200 different children’s water festivals, so clearly I was into education. I’m really a big believer in the trickle up theory of water knowledge. Where if you can educate the kids, that knowledge is going trickle up to mom and dad, and those kids will somebody be parents themselves. Ultimately, I’ve been trying to build that ethic in what I’ve been about for most of my career.

    How would you describe your experience being on the board?

    I’ve really enjoyed being on the board. I’ve watched it and been very much involved for a long time. Both Nicole Seltzer and Jayla Poppleton worked with me at Northern Water, so I have a personal vested interest in them succeeding, and they really have. Nicole moved the organization in a wonderful direction and Jayla has just been top-notch in where she has taken WEco. It has been really interesting because we have a diverse board, and I have enjoyed getting to know people who I didn’t know previously.

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    I understand you recently retired from Northern Water, can you tell me what your role with them was and maybe what Northern Water does in a general sense?

    Northern Water is the largest water conservancy district in the state of Colorado and operates a large Bureau of Reclamation project that is one of the largest in the entire western United States; the Colorado-Big Thompson project. It brings a quarter-million acre-feet a year from the West Slope into Northeastern Colorado to supplement both urban and rural supplies, meaning that it is both a municipal as well as an agricultural water supply. Now there are well over a million people that get a portion of their water supply from that project, but back in 1937, there were only 50,000 people living within Northern Water’s boundaries. So, nobody could have foreseen the growth that occurred since then. This growth has brought all sorts of issues and concerns, but Northern Water is one of the top water agencies in the state and I certainly had a wonderful career there and couldn’t have asked for anything better.

    Personally, I was a public information officer for 35 of those 38 years. My role, in essence, was to be the public face of Northern Water and so I talked about Northern Water and its activities all the time. I was able to use my historical training, I have a master’s degree in history, to discuss the historical background of both water development and Northern Water. I focused very much on education, but ultimately, I spent my entire career talking all things water, which was a lot of fun.

    I was also the manager of our communications department as we expanded and grew. As we grew, we brought on writers and pushed publications and annual reports, and then we got into the social media craze. So, for some time I managed that department. But really, it was about telling people what Northern Water was all about.

    Perhaps a topical question, but how have the numerous forest fires affected the work that Northern Water does in trying to ensure water storage?

    That is going to be Northern Water’s principal focus this coming year. Both of our major watersheds burned last year, the Upper Colorado with the East Troublesome wildfire, and then the Poudre watershed with the Cameron Peak wildfire. And both of these watersheds are where we get the vast majority of our water. Luckily, Northern Water had been looking at forest water management for years. Northern Water has been working with the U.S. Forest Service, the counties, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Parks Service. It wasn’t that these fires hit us and Northern Water had no idea what to do. We learned quite a lot from Denver Water after the Hayman Fire, with all of the issues that they had centering around water quality. Northern Water isn’t pleased, but we are certainly going to see some water quality impacts because of these fires.

    We went in with our eyes open and with some plans in place for post-fire activities. We always said, ‘it’s not if, it’s when those fires hit.’

    What do these fires mean for water supply and water quality now, as well as moving into the future?

    One of the things that we see from these fires is a greater level of awareness in terms of forest management, not just if you have a house in a forest or nearby, but for those people living in major metropolitan areas, too. Those people in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs are all paying attention now, because they saw the two largest fires in Colorado history and what it did to our environment. And I think now there will be a lot more attention focused on the post-fire impacts, which obviously include water. People will certainly be paying attention to the water piece of the post-fire mitigation and clean-up. Overall, I think moving into the future we will have a better awareness, which is always a good thing. There is no way around it, it is going to take money, and where we are at with COVID-19 that discussion is not easy, but the state is making a concerted effort to put monetary resources and people into handling the situation.

    First water through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit Northern Water.

    How the present or future storage planning is different than what the state has done historically?

    One thing I would point out is that the Federal government is no longer in the water storage building business. For years Reclamation, which had been established in 1902 helped jumpstart and build water projects, as they did the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Federal government neither has the resources nor are they paying for water storage anymore. Now, water storage is something that is having to be more or less self-funded. Meaning that the growing cities are trying to figure out how they can finance additional water for their future citizens.

    We are also now looking at the multiple uses of water. Nowadays, water is being used for environmental purposes, which means that we are looking to make sure that there is enough to release into the rivers to help the aquatic habitat. This is a much larger part of the picture today. At a base level of awareness, we want people to understand why we need storage reservoirs. It is a dry year, and it sure looks like we are only getting drier, and when you have the drier years you better make sure that you store when you have the wetter periods to carry you through. I think we are going to have difficulties trying to match up the storage, which we are going to continue to need, with all the environmental issues and issues surrounding the development of water infrastructure.

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

    In the past 20 years, Northern has been in permitting so can you talk about that process?

    We say water project permitting works at a glacial pace. When I started working on the Northern Integrated Supply Project permitting at Northern Water, I told my wife that I thought we would have a permit in around 5 years … I’m now retired. Northern Water is going on 17 years later, and they still haven’t received that permit. That’s frustrating. This wasn’t for lack of energy; I mean we were really working hard to secure that permit. These things take much longer than you would probably expect. You have to have a lot of perseverance because the process can really drive you crazy, but my hope is that in the future this process will become much better for all parties involved.

    Compromise Will Bring Conclusion to Federal Lawsuit on Chimney Hollow Reservoir — @Northern_Water

    This graphic, provided by Northern Water, depicts Chimney Hollow Reservoir, located southwest of Loveland, after it is built.

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    The Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict has voted to approve a settlement of a federal lawsuit over Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

    In a meeting Wednesday, the Municipal Subdistrict Board voted 10-1 to authorize its participation in the settlement.

    The settlement means construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will begin this summer and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel in Grand County next year. In return, the Municipal Subdistrict will contribute $15 million to a foundation to pay for projects that enhance the Colorado River and its many watersheds in Grand County.

    “This settlement shows there is an alternative to costly litigation that can provide benefits both to the environment in Grand County and the Colorado River, as well as acknowledging the need for water storage,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind.

    The compromise will bring to a close a lawsuit in federal court filed by Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club in October 2017. The suit challenged the permit issued by the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. On Dec. 19, 2020, the federal court ruled against the environmental organizations. The ruling was then appealed in February, and as part of the appeals process, both sides were required to engage in court-ordered mediation, which resulted in this settlement.

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir, the key component to the Windy Gap Firming Project, will bring a reliable water supply to the 12 municipalities, water providers and utilities paying for its construction as well as provide a much-needed recreation area to be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will be located in a dry valley just west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County and will store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for use by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and the Central Weld County Water District. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply serving those participants more reliable and meet a portion of their long-term water supply needs. Each participant will also enact a water conservation plan to comply with state law and permit requirements.

    The compromise will also move forward other environmental measures related to the Project, including the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around the existing Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the reservoir. Many other environmental protections are included, such as improving streamflow and aquatic habitat in the Colorado River, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies and more.

    The Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections and received a permit from Grand County and approvals from others, including Trout Unlimited and the State of Colorado, to move forward with the Project.

    Water storage such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning and other solutions to meet future water needs in the state. To learn more about the project, go to http://www.chimneyhollow.org.

    From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

    Northern Water will begin construction of the 25-story Chimney Hollow dam this summer.

    complex Front Range dam-building project that includes transferring water from the Colorado River will move forward this summer after Northern Water agreed to a settlement putting $15 million in trust for waterway improvements in Grand County.

    Environmental opponents begrudgingly accepted the mediated settlement of their lawsuit against Northern Water’s Windy Gap Firming Project, which involves a menu of waterworks construction including Chimney Hollow dam near Loveland and rerouting the Colorado River around Windy Gap Dam near Granby.

    The settlement resolves litigation in the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Northern Water said it now can begin construction of the 25-story Chimney Hollow dam this summer. The dam will plug the northern end of a dry valley northwest of Carter Lake. It will eventually be filled using Colorado River rights purchased by municipalities that are members of Northern Water. The Northern Water rights can be tapped only when Grand County is wet enough to supply other, higher priorities first…

    An alliance of environmental groups opposing the project wants to stop any more transfers of Western Slope water, which would ordinarily flow west in the Colorado River, to Front Range reservoirs that supply growing Colorado cities and suburbs.

    In the case of Chimney Hollow and Windy Gap, the environmentalists say damage has already been done to the Colorado River in Grand County, and the settlement can help them reverse some of the hurt…

    An aerial view of Windy Gap Reservoir, near Granby. The reservoir is on the main stem of the Colorado River, below where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado. Water from Windy Gap is pumped up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then sent to the northern Front Range through the Adams Tunnel. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    The Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict Board voted 10-1 Wednesday to participate in the settlement. A federal district court had rejected the environmental groups’ challenge of permits for the Windy Gap and Chimney Hollow projects issued by Army Corps of Engineers, and mediation was required as part of the appeal.

    Chimney Hollow water will be used by 12 of Northern Water’s members: Central Weld County Water District, Little Thompson Water District and the Platte River Power Authority, and the cities of Broomfield, Erie, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland and Superior. The members say they need more water storage to accommodate future growth in homes, industry and agriculture.

    This graphic from Northern Water shows the lay out of the Windy Gap Firming Project. The River District has voted to spend $1 million on the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, an aspect of the project meant to mitigate impacts from the dam and reservoir.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    Environmental groups, including WildEarth Guardians, Save the Colorado, Save The Poudre, Sierra Club, Living Rivers, and the Waterkeeper Alliance, filed a lawsuit in Oct. 2017 challenging the project’s federal permits. A federal judge in Dec. 2020 ruled against the environmental groups.

    In a settlement reached with Northern Water — the agency pursuing Windy Gap on behalf of a municipal subdistrict of Front Range water providers — the environmental coalition agreed to withdraw their lawsuit, while securing $15 million for projects aimed at improving water quality, river health and fish habitat. The Grand Foundation in Grand County, Colo. will be the recipient of those funds. An advisory panel will be made up of representatives appointed by Northern Water and the environmental groups, and will decide how the money is spent. The funds will be issued in installments as the project is built…

    The additional environmental mitigation joins other projects already negotiated between Grand County, Trout Unlimited and Northern Water, among other partners…

    That previously agreed to package of environmental mitigation includes the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which is to be constructed around the existing Windy Gap dam and reservoir, and is designed to reconnect a portion of the Colorado River below its confluence with the Fraser River. The channel is meant to allow for more natural conditions to return, like allowing sediment to move downstream and providing more habitat for fish and aquatic insects. Monitoring programs and riparian restoration were also a part of the deal negotiated among those parties.

    The connectivity channel was a recent recipient of a $1 million grant from the Colorado River District, becoming the first project to receive funds generated from ballot question 7A which appeared on the Nov. 2020 ballot in the district’s boundaries…

    Despite the additional funding, representatives from the environmental coalition that sued to halt construction remained alarmed about the project’s legal success, and said the $15 million is a drop in the bucket…

    Northern Water plans to begin construction on the Chimney Hollow dam this summer and on the Colorado River Connectivity Channel in 2022.

    @Northern_Water Increases Colorado-Big Thompson Quota to 70% #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Moraine Park and the headwaters of the Big Thompson River in Rocky Mountain National Park. Moraine Park is on the east side of the park and of the continental divide, near the town of Estes Park. This region has a number of areas call “parks”, which refer to open, level areas in the mountains, usage which comes from the French word parque. The names of these areas predate the establishment of the national park and are unrelated to the use of the word “park” in that context. By The original uploader was Kbh3rd at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1009783

    From Northern Water:

    Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.

    Emily Carbone, an engineer in the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.

    The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.

    The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

    @Northern_Water increases Colorado-Big Thompson quota to 70%

    Cache la Poudre River drop structure. Photo credit: Northern Water

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.

    Emily Carbone, Water Resources Specialist at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.

    The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.

    The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. Learn more about the C-BT quota.

    @Northern_Water: Spring Water Users Meeting April 6, 2021 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    Click here for all the inside skinny from Northern Water:

    Spring Water Users Meeting
    Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 8 a.m. to noon, virtual meeting via Zoom

    Each spring Northern Water meets with Colorado-Big Thompson Project allottees and water users to preview the upcoming water delivery and irrigation season, learn about current water and snowpack conditions, runoff and streamflow predictions, progress on future water projects and more. After a discussion of the region’s water outlook, attendees will be able to offer input about the 2021 C-BT quota. This year, attendees also will be able to learn about project updates, as well as Northern Water’s response to the East Troublesome fire in Grand County.

    A link to the Zoom meeting will be distributed in the days before the session to those who register.

    Click here to register.

    Opinion: If we fight each other over #water, we’ll all come out losers — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Kirk Klancke Erica Stock Fraser River. Photo credit: Bob Berwyn

    Here’s a guest column from Kirk Klancke that’s running in the Colorado Sun:

    There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking.

    of a very complex water project so succinctly. In his March 15 Colorado Sun article, “Colorado’s latest proposal to divert water from the Western Slope is a complex, disputed set of pipes,” he was able to explain a project in understandable terms that most people in Colorado have little understanding of.

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    I do want to clarify a couple of the statements made by people quoted in his article. I think that it is important to point out that the Windy Gap Connectivity Channel is not a drainage ditch, as John Fielder was quoted saying. Instead it is a multi-million-dollar stream channel designed by hydrologists and stream biologists to optimize habitat for macroinvertebrate and trout life and the riparian zone on both sides of the river.

    The existing stream channel is at the bottom of a muddy reservoir with no ability to sustain any of these environmental values. A new stream channel around the reservoir will reconnect the disappearing aquatic species below the dam with the healthy species above the reservoir. When Fielder states that this new stream reach will not restore wildlife, he could not be more wrong.

    The article ended with quotes from Gary Wockner that I feel need a reality check. His suggested solutions to Colorado’s water shortage should be taken with a grain of salt.

    His first suggestion was to dry up agricultural land. Doing so has played a major role in damaging the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers. Ranches that used to divert water from those rivers returned most of that water to those rivers. When Front Range cities bought that agricultural water and took it from the basin of origin to those cities, all of those return flows were lost to the river.

    “Buy and Dry” has been bad for our headwaters rivers and for our cultural heritage of ranching. My friends in the ranching business don’t need the target put on their back, and our rivers can’t afford to lose any more return flows.

    Gary also proposed ramping up conservation as an important solution to our water shortage. While I applaud this idea, I also know that it is only a piece of the puzzle in the water shortage problem. Every city in the West knows how important of a role conservation plays, and every city in the West has concluded that conservation will not solve their water shortage problems alone.

    Conservation, however, is under-utilized here in Colorado and we do need to pick up the pace to help preserve our rivers and the environment that depends on them. We just can’t rely on conservation alone.

    Gary’s final point was to stop all growth, stating that he will applaud the sanity of anyone that can accomplish this. I don’t find much reality in this possibility, but if he feels that there is, then I would like to see him use his talents to work toward that goal. This would allow him to work on solving most of Colorado’s problems with the exception maybe of the economy.

    There are no easy answers to water issues in the West. We have to consider all possible solutions and avoid the trap of single-minded thinking. Protecting our rivers will require cooperation from every entity that has an impact on our rivers.

    The broad priorities of the Colorado Water Plan as put forward by Becky Mitchell in a June 20, 2017 presentation to three Front Range roundtables. The slide reflects the competing priorities in Colorado when it comes to water and rivers.

    This is the reason that Colorado wrote a state Water Plan. If we allow that plan to guide us, conservation organizations, municipalities and the agricultural community will work together to assure that water is distributed equitably. If we decide instead to fight each other over water, all of us will come out losing.

    Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, “an environmental organization with lots of members who like to fish.”

    Two-year review of Watson Lake fish ladder indicates it has been a success — @COParksWildlife

    Watson Lake fish ladder. Photo credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife

    Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife monitoring efforts of the fish ladder installed on the Cache la Poudre River at the Watson Lake State Wildlife Area two years ago shows it has been a success across several fronts.

    The fishway was designed to allow passage around a diversion structure in the river for multiple species of fish. This project is a realization of a partnership formed between private and public entities.

    “Overall, we are happy with the project and have documented fish moving upstream and downstream in the structure,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Kyle Battige. “The fish ladder has improved conditions on the river and reconnected over two miles of river habitat by providing upstream movement opportunities for fish that had not existed at the Watson Lake Diversion Structure location since it was built in the 1960s.”

    Watch trout swim in the fish ladder and hear more from aquatic biologist Kyle Battige

    Two separate Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging efforts helped CPW in monitoring fish movement up and down the river after the ladder was installed. CPW tagged 71 fish on April 26, 2019 that were released in the downstream half of the fishway for initial evaluation. Researchers with Colorado State University also tagged fish downstream of the fishway as a part of a larger movement study on April 4, 2019.

    Data from the PIT tags documented successful upstream and downstream movement with 41 of the 71 CPW tagged fish utilizing the ladder and 36 of those fish successfully ascending the entire structure. The other five fish were recorded on one of the other two operational antennas within the structure, but not at the top antenna. Our detection data indicates that 51 percent of fish tagged by CPW successfully ascended the entire structure.

    Additionally, eight brown trout tagged by CSU and released 50 meters or further downstream have been documented using the fishway.

    “Documenting 51 percent of the CPW-tagged fish along with CSU- tagged fish utilizing the structure over the course of several months is exciting,” Battige said. “The fish ladder is performing as designed and is allowing fish to move freely up and downstream through the reach as they want. Further evaluation is warranted to investigate movement success across a broader size range within each fish species, but to date we have documented adult fish successfully navigating the fishway”

    Of the three species of fish tagged – longnose sucker, brown trout and rainbow trout – at least one individual across all tagged species has successfully navigated the fishway.

    Other areas monitored that indicate a successful project are measured water velocities in the fishway, discharge measurements in the fishway and water delivery to the hatchery. In addition, the cone screen constructed above the fish ladder where water gets delivered to the hatchery prevented fish entrainment by screening water delivered to the hatchery and that has not clogged during the fall leaf seasons, decreasing CPW staff time spent cleaning old inlet infrastructure. The cone screen is powered by a solar panel and has been an overall benefit to hatchery operations while not impacting water delivery.

    In order to satisfy measurement of Northern Water’s potential future augmentation flows from Glade Reservoir, the fishway was designed to carry up to 30 cubic feet per second (cfs) before spilling over the dam. Based on CPW measurements since construction was completed in the spring of 2019, the fishway more than meets that criteria, with its overall capacity being closer to 50 cfs.

    Morning Fresh Dairy, one of the project partners, is also utilizing the structure to measure future water flows.

    There was a seamless collaboration between public and private entities who came together on the project to improve the river and its habitat. Along with CPW and Morning Fresh Dairy, noosa yoghurt, Northern Water and Poudre Heritage Alliance all were key partners in the project.

    Learning lessons gleaned from this project that can be applied to help future ladder designs include careful consideration of tradeoffs between flow measurement and fish passage along with minor design tweaks to optimize water velocities in fish ladders.

    “Right now inflows across the basin are well below average. In fact we are setting records for what is in the stream today” (Dave Kanzer) — The #Colorado Sun #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Gunnison River Basin snowpack January 25, 2021 via the NRCS Colorado Snow Survey.

    From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s dire projections for Colorado River Basin reservoirs for the first time triggers drought contingency planning across seven basin states.

    The dry 2020 and the lack of snow this season has water managers in seven states preparing for the first time for cutbacks outlined in drought contingency plans drafted two years ago.

    A sobering forecast released this week by the Bureau of Reclamation shows the federally owned Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the nation’s two largest reservoirs and critical storage for Colorado River water and its 40 million users — dipping near-record-low levels. If those levels continue dropping as expected, long-negotiated agreements reached by the seven Colorado River Basin states in 2019 will go into effect, with water deliveries curtailed to prevent the federal government from stepping in and making hard water cuts.

    The Bureau of Reclamation’s quarterly report was dire, showing Lake Powell at 42% of capacity and downriver’s Lake Mead at 40% capacity. And there’s not much water coming.

    “Right now inflows across the basin are well below average. In fact we are setting records for what is in the stream today,” said Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, presenting the bureau’s latest forecasts to the district’s board last week.

    The bureau’s January report showed the impacts of a warming, drying climate peaking last year. The period from April to December was among the driest stretches ever recorded in the Southwest, with current conditions mirroring 2002, 2012, 2013 and 2018, four of the five driest years recorded in the Colorado River Basin. The bureau forecasts three scenarios for the next 24 months. Those three projections detail a most probable result, a best-case scenario and a worst-case situation.

    Snowpack conditions right now in the mountains that feed the Colorado River and eventually fill Lake Powell are perilously close to the worst-case scenario. The bureau report shows the 2021 inflow into Lake Powell most likely will land around 53% of normal, but could end up as bad as 33% of normal.

    The bureau expects the Utah reservoir will finish 2021 at 35% of capacity. If things get worse and follow that worst-case projection, the water level at Lake Powell could drop below a critical level — 3,525 feet above sea level — in early 2022 and that would threaten the ability of Glen Canyon Dam to generate electricity…

    The “bathtub ring” at Lake Powell evidences lower flows coming into the reservoir. According to preliminary data from the Bureau of Reclamation, the total inflow into Lake Powell for the 2020 water year was about 6 million acre-feet, just 55% of average. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    If the reservoir falls below that 3,525-foot elevation level, the Glen Canyon Dam will be unable to deliver hydro-electricity to more than 3 million customers and the federal government could lose as much as $150 million a year in revenue from selling that electricity. Any projection that the reservoir is headed toward that critical threshold gets water managers in all seven basin states ready for drought-response operations that spread the pain of water cuts across every region of the Colorado River Basin.

    Jim Lochhead has helmed Denver Water for half of this prolonged drought. He’s seen good years like 2011 — really the last decent year for water in Colorado — and bad years, like 2013…

    But with the lack of snow this season and snowpack in all but one of the state’s seven major river basins below median levels, Lochhead said he is “certainly very concerned about the supply outlook.”

    […]

    Kanzer, in his report to the Colorado River district board last week, said soil conditions are very dry across Western Colorado. So the state can’t blizzard itself out of this drought hole.

    “Even if we did get a good spring we would not get much benefit because all of the moisture would go into the soil and not run off,” Kanzer said.

    #ColoradoRiver restoration project crawls forward as some environmental groups call for radical change — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    The dam that forms Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County. The River District board approved $1 million toward a project to build a connectivity channel aimed at improving deteriorated conditions caused by the dam and reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

    The Colorado River Water Conservation District at a board meeting [January 19, 2021] voted to give $1 million of their taxpayer-raised funds to help construct the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, which will improve deteriorated conditions at the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    “When I look at this, it has benefits that are assisting our communities in the damage caused by transmountain diversions,” River District General Manager Andy Mueller said during the meeting.

    The district’s vote is the first step in a final push to fund and build the long-awaited channel, which has been in the works since the early 2000s. The connectivity channel is the first project to which River District board members have allocated money as part of the organization’s new Project Partnership Funding Program.

    Restoring a river channel in the Upper Colorado Basin

    If built, the channel would mitigate much of the damage to the Colorado and Fraser rivers that has been caused by the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County. While the channel itself has broad support, its fate is tangled in that of a more controversial project that will draw additional water from the Colorado River system.

    The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District constructed the original Windy Gap Project in the 1980s to divert water from the Colorado River to customers across the Continental Divide.

    “It’s an unchanneled reservoir, meaning that it’s just plopped right in the middle of the Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, the legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “It basically blocks the river all the way across, and that has serious consequences.”

    The project cut off the river’s flow and led to large stretches of river that went dry. It caused sediment buildup and a documented decline in biodiversity below the reservoir, including a 38% loss of its aquatic insect species and declines in fish populations.

    The connectivity channel, which is designed to undo some of this damage, would reconnect the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers to the main stem of the Colorado by routing the river around the dam of the Windy Gap Reservoir, creating a path for fish, water and sediment to flow down the river.

    Since the release of its original conceptual design in the early 2000s, the connectivity channel has seen its estimated costs grow from about $10 million to $23.5 million. The River District money would help close the remaining $7 million funding gap — but not completely. According to Mueller, the River District voted to give the money in hopes that it would entice other groups to do the same.

    The project has been lauded as a rare example of collaboration in the world of water management. It carries support from an unusual coalition of environmental groups, local government and water-management groups on both sides of the Continental Divide. The River District is just one of 10 of the project’s financial backers, which include Northern Water, Grand County and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    But the channel’s construction does come at a cost. Much of the funding for the project depends on the construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project — an expansion of the Windy Gap Project that would result in the construction of a 90,000-acre-foot reservoir in Larimer County.

    To date, the Windy Gap’s junior water right has meant that the project’s managers have not been able to divert water in dry years and have not had a place to store water for their customers during wet years. The reservoir would give the project’s customers a consistent supply — or “firm yield,” as it’s called — of 30,000 acre-feet annually.

    Drawing additional water from the beleaguered Colorado River was controversial, so to win support for their plan, Northern Water signed on with a battery of agreements with environmental groups and Western Slope municipalities and water managers.

    Included in these agreements was $5 million for the connectivity channel, a guarantee to maintain a minimum streamflow below the dam, construction of water storage for Western Slope communities and a promise to open negotiations over other water rights that impact the Western Slope.

    This graphic from Northern Water shows the lay out of the Windy Gap Firming Project. The River District has voted to spend $1 million on the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, an aspect of the project meant to mitigate impacts from the dam and reservoir.

    Environmental mitigation

    For many groups that traditionally oppose moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the benefits from the project were enough to win them over. Additional supporters and sponsors of the project include Trout Unlimited and the Grand Board of County Commissioners.

    “We have to look at this in a realistic light,” Mueller said of the compromise. “This won’t fix the original sin of placing the Windy Gap Reservoir right in the middle of the Colorado River channel, but it does mitigate it.”

    Trout Unlimited has used the funds from Northern Water as leverage for attracting other funding and grants for the connectivity channel and other projects to improve the habitat quality on the river. These include plans to protect the river from some of the effects of climate change by narrowing parts of the river channel to lower stream temperatures and adding fire protection.

    “Everything that we’re doing is to make the river more resilient,” Whiting said. “It’s not going to be what it would be naturally in terms of size and volume and flows, but it will function naturally and it will function as good habitat in spite of all those limitations.”

    But while many have heralded the Windy Gap Firming Project as the beginning of a new era of cooperation in water management, not everyone agrees that mitigating environmental damage to the river is enough.

    “We are past the point where we can do work around the margins,” said Jen Pelz, the Wild Rivers Program Director for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians. “There is a climate crisis, there’s a water crisis. These things are real, and they are not going away by us mitigating them around the edges.”

    WildEarth Guardians is one of six environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Save the Colorado, that filed a lawsuit against the Windy Gap Firming Project. The 2017 suit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleged that the agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by approving the permits for the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern Water was not a defendant in the case.

    In the lawsuit, the environmental groups argued that the agencies did not consider conserving water instead of building a diversion project as an alternative for providing water to Front Range communities.

    The call for conservation came as a surprise to Northern Water, which used the state’s water-demand projections to justify the need for their project. Those projections already assume that municipalities will adopt a certain level of conservation measures.

    “We’ve been pretty confident with our project that we addressed all the issues in our environmental work that they had questions about,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering. “And part of the reason they take so long is because the federal agencies are nervous about getting sued like this, and they want to make sure they check all their boxes and get things done.”

    A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in December. In his ruling, the judge did not analyze water conservation as an alternative. Instead, he noted that the agencies followed the procedural laid out in the law and that he was required to give deference to the agencies’ decisions.

    While the plaintiffs weigh whether to appeal the case, Northern Water and the other supporters of the Windy Gap Firming Project have begun taking small steps toward constructing their projects. Barring another legal challenge, they will begin construction on the project’s reservoir as soon as this summer and on the connectivity channel in the fall.

    For now, the supporters of the firming project are excited about what they see as a paradigm shift in water management: a move toward cooperation over competition for water resources. Those against the project also are hoping for an eventual shift, but their idea of what that looks like is something more dramatic.

    “This just highlights for me that federal environmental laws aren’t really working anymore. When you have deference to the agency, it’s hard for someone else to come in and say that here are other ways that this can be done,” Pelz said. “I think one of the things that needs to happen, which is a radical thing, is that we need to actually live within the river means.”

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Its water desk is supported by Sam Walton via the Catena Foundation. AJ was supported by the Walton Family Foundation from 2016 to 2018, and the foundation has also supported Trout Unlimited. This story ran in the Jan. 20 editions of The Aspen Times and The Vail Daily.

    #EastTroublesomeFire could cause water-quality impacts for years — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Drivers between Granby and Walden will encounter many scenes of hillsides where only snags remain from the 193,000-acre East Troublesome Fire in October. Water managers say the worst impacts of the fire may be felt with summer rains. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best):

    For some ranchers in Troublesome Valley, the worst impacts of the wildfire that began near there in October might not arrive until summer — or even summers beyond.

    Experts say the greatest danger of sedimentation from the East Troublesome Fire will occur during and after a hard rain, especially of an inch or more. That is when the severe soil damage from the fire will cause sediment to wash into the east fork of Troublesome Creek and into a diversion ditch used to irrigate 10,000 acres of hay.

    “It’s a real concern for us,” said Kent Whitmer, one of seven ranch owners who get water from the ditch owned by the East Troublesome Mutual Irrigation Co.

    Whitmer said he most fears sediment filling the ditch so badly that it overflows.

    “That would be disastrous,” he said.

    Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the 193,812-acre fire.

    The East Troublesome Fire, which had been burning east of Colorado Highway 125, exploded on the afternoon of Oct. 21, driven by 70 mph winds. In all, the fire grew 100,000 acres in 24 hours, eventually becoming the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. The fire was formally designated as contained Nov. 30, although small plumes of smoke could be seen in the golf course area as recently as Christmas Day. All but about 5,000 acres of the fire burned in Grand County.

    Denver Water may offer lessons useful to water managers, who will be dealing with impacts from the East Troublesome Fire for years, perhaps decades. Denver Water has struggled with sediment and debris clogging its two major reservoirs in the foothills southwest of Denver. The fires that caused problems for those reservoirs — Buffalo Creek in 1996 and Hayman in 2002 — fried soils, removing their ability to absorb moisture. Sediment has been washed up to 11 miles into Strontia Springs and Cheesman reservoirs, pushed by water during summer cloudbursts.

    Denver Water has spent $28 million in reservoir dredging, facilities repair and landscape-restoration projects. It discovered that debris and sediment can travel downstream to cause problems in critical water infrastructure. At Strontia Springs, Denver Water dredged for sediment as recently as five years ago but may need to do so again this year.

    “Dredging is very costly,” Denver Water watershed scientist Christina Burri said during the recent post-fire water impacts webinar. Retrieving sediment and debris can be challenging, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the debris. “Do you pile it? Do you burn it? Where can you take it?” Burri said.

    The East Troublesome Fire might produce fewer problems. A fire assessment called burned-area emergency response was conducted by U.S. Forest Service land managers and shows mostly low to moderate soil burn severity, suggesting lesser impacts to water quality.

    But water managers still expect significant challenges come spring, when melting snow produces debris and sediment that can clog bridges, culverts and reservoirs.

    This house north of Windy Gap Reservoir was among the 589 private structures burned in the East Troublesome Creek Fire. Water managers worry soil damage by the fire will cause sediment to clog irrigation ditches and municipal water infrastructure alike. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Assessing the damage

    The fire came through in October “so quickly that it didn’t have a chance to do long-term scarring of the soil,” said Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “However, this is still a sobering assessment because it really lays out the challenge we have going forward.”

    Northern Water operates the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion project, which employs Willow Creek, Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs as well as Grand Lake to deliver water to more than a million people and 615,000 irrigated acres along the northern Front Range and in northeastern Colorado.

    The district estimates the fire burned as much as 94% of the Willow Creek watershed, 90% of the area drained by Stillwater Creek, 29% of the Colorado River drainage above Shadow Mountain Reservoir and 42% of the North Inlet watershed. A more detailed assessment will be needed in the spring after snow has melted, Strahla said.

    “It’s not as bad as Hayman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad,” Stahla said, referring to the 138,000-acre fire in 2002 that was the largest forest fire in Colorado’s recorded history until last year. In size, Hayman was eclipsed by the three Colorado fires in 2020: East Troublesome, Cameron Peak and Pine Gulch.

    In assessing the damages caused by the East Troublesome Fire, resource specialists estimated 5% of the soil suffered high severity, 48% of it moderate severity and 37% of it low severity burns. Within the fire perimeter, 10% of the land was unburned.

    The mapping for the 22,668 acres of the East Troublesome Fire within Rocky Mountain National Park has not yet been released.

    Soil in severely burned areas has lost its structure, as the fire burned the forest litter and duff, weakening the roots of trees and other material that hold soil together.

    Areas of severe damage include the basin drained by the east fork of Troublesome Creek, where the fire was first reported Oct. 14. There, the fire hunkered down, moving slowly but burning most everything. Other notable severe burn areas are near Willow Creek Pass, between Granby and Walden, and a gulch immediately north of Windy Gap Reservoir. Some areas near Grand Lake burned with surprising severity.

    Erosion in high or moderate soil burn areas depends on the specific characteristics, such as the slope and soil texture, of each area, according to the burn report.

    Little that was live remained standing in this area along Colorado Highway 25, north of Windy Gap Reservoir, after the East Troublesome Fire. Agricultural and municipal water users will see broad, lingering effects of the fire. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism

    Watching the water

    Impacts to drinking water in Grand County will vary. Well owners generally should have no problems with the debris.

    “These folks will want to make sure that wellheads and components are not damaged, to test for coliform bacteria before drinking the water post-fire and to treat it if necessary,” said Katherine Morris, water-quality specialist for Grand County. “If a well is located in an area known to be down-gradient from an area where homes burned, it may be prudent to ensure that your water treatment is adequate.”

    At Grand Lake, the town draws water from 80-foot wells.

    “We have not seen anything yet,” said Dave Johnson, the water superintendent for Grand Lake. He said he doesn’t expect problems but that the water will continue to be monitored, as it has been.

    But Grand Lake’s microhydro plant could have problems. Located on Tonohutu Creek, the small plant constantly generates 5 kilowatts of electricity used in treating the town’s domestic water.

    “We can only filter out so much debris before we have to close the intake,” Johnson said.

    In that case, the water treatment plant will be operated solely by electricity from Mountain Parks Electric.

    Hot Sulphur Springs, which draws water from wells that tap the river aquifer, will be the only town in Grand County with municipal water supplies directly impacted by the fire. Kremmling also can tap the Colorado River, but it does so only in emergencies.

    Hot Sulphur Springs Mayor Bob McVay said his town expects challenges when the snow melts this spring, producing ash-laden water and debris. The town already has set out to take precautions, but it’s not yet clear what will be required.

    Upgrading of the filters in the town’s water treatment plant, a project that began a year ago, probably will be completed in January, providing duplicate filtering systems. But that might not be enough. Secondary wells in the groundwater along the river remain an option.

    In Troublesome Valley, Whitmer hopes to consult the expertise of the Natural Resources Conservation Service about how to mitigate effects of the fire on the irrigation ditch. He also wonders whether beaver dams in the East Fork will trap at least some sediment.

    For Northern Water, this was just one of several fires affecting its operations in 2020. It was impacted by fires on both sides of the Continental Divide, including the Cameron Peak Fire, the state’s largest wildfire, which affected the Poudre River and other creeks and drainages.

    Stahla said managers attempt to prepare for wildfire and other contingencies, but they did not prepare for such a severe wildfire season.

    “If you had come to us with a scenario that there is wildfire burning above Grand Lake, above Estes Park and throughout the Poudre River Basin, we probably would have pushed back, thinking that’s a little too over the top,” he said.

    Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with Swift Communications newspapers. Our water desk is funded in part by the Catena Foundation. This story ran in the Jan. 16 edition of the Summit Daily News and the Jan. 15 edition of Sky-Hi News.

    Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo are suing the Larimer County Board of Commissioners to contest the board’s approval of the 1041 permit for the #NISP — The #FortCollins Coloradoan

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The lawsuit, filed in Larimer County District Court, contends that former commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly were biased in favor of the project and shouldn’t have voted on the 1041 permit. The suit also argues that commissioners’ 2-1 approval of the permit in September violated criteria of Larimer County’s land use code…

    The lawsuit argues that Johnson and Donnelly demonstrated bias in several ways, citing a photo of Donnelly speaking at a “Farmers for NISP” event and an online news release from NISP proponent Northern Water reading “Larimer County Commissioners support NISP.”

    The complaint also references August 2019 text messages from Donnelly to Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla that read, according to the lawsuit: “You guys are getting ready to blow this deal …” and “Northern has no idea what is in store for them if they let this slide into the next boards (sic) term.”

    Stahla told the Coloradoan that Donnelly “reached out to me … when we were in the middle of the (intergovernmental agreement) process.” The county and Northern Water had been drafting an intergovernmental agreement to cover the siting of Glade Reservoir and associated pipelines before they pivoted to the 1041 permitting process.

    “… at that point, we were having open discussions with commissioners regarding this project, so we had not yet moved into” the 1041 part of the project, Stahla said on Tuesday…

    Stahla, the Northern Water spokesperson, said the NISP 1041 permit application was robust and addressed all the county’s criteria…

    He also noted that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December rejected Save the Poudre’s appeal of the state water quality certification. That certification addresses NISP’s anticipated impacts on Poudre River water quality and includes 30 conditions.

    He added that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the new class of commissioners to reconsider NISP’s 1041 permit.

    “If you file a permit application and county staff recommends approval, the county planning commission recommends approval, and then you get approved by the county commissioners — well then, how far down the road can you have all of those votes changed at a long future date?” Stahla said. “We felt that we met the criteria, and the commissioners, acting in their role properly, approved the application for a 1041 permit, and so we feel we have our permit.”

    […]

    Karen Wagner of lawsuit co-plaintiff No Pipe Dream told the Coloradoan that the group had hoped the commissioners would apply their 1041 criteria as thoroughly as they did in their ruling on the proposed Thornton pipeline permit — which commissioners rejected after heavy opposition from No Pipe Dream…

    While the county 1041 permit is an integral milestone for the project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a final record of decision on NISP. That decision is expected in the first quarter of 2021 after years of delays, Stahla said. The Army Corps’ decision could also be contested in court.

    No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre challenge Larimer County’s #NISP decision in court — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    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

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre filed a lawsuit in 8th Judicial District Court last week against the county commissioners, naming former commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson specifically, as well as the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.

    The lawsuit asks the judge to reverse the decision to grant a 1041 permit for the project, throw it out or send it back to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners for a new hearing.

    It targets Johnson and Donnelly, the two yes votes in a split decision, saying that both Republican commissioners, who have since left office, should not have voted on the permit because of a “decade-long” record of advocacy and support for the proposed reservoir project.

    And the suit also offers 44 examples of why the organizations believe the permit exceeded the county’s jurisdiction or abused its discretion, ranging from decisions around streamflow to pipeline routes to the number of alternatives considered.

    The suit claims that the commissioners did not adequately look at the overall picture of how the project would affect residents, the environment, wildlife and the Cache la Poudre River…

    Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, pointed out that county staff members and the nonpartisan appointed Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit based on the county’s regulations and the specific criteria that county officials were required to consider.

    “We’re confident that the strength of the entire permitting process, local, state and federal, will prevail,” said Stahla…

    “Basically the lawsuit is total crap,” Johnson responded in a text message. “Tom (Donnelly) and I were no more biased in favor of the project than John (Kefalas) was biased against the project. But as we said in the hearing, we put aside all of our opinions of the project and commented completely and exclusively on the criteria in the land use code.

    “I am confident the county will have no problem defending the propriety of our actions,” he said.

    Stahla pointed out that Save the Poudre also appealed the state water quality certification that was granted for the project, and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division rejected that challenge.

    He added, “We look at this as another attempt to delay an important project for the long-term water supply in Northern Colorado.”

    Larimer County approves development agreement for #NISP — The #Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Haystack rock near LaPorte. Photo credit: Active Rain

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Larimer County has approved a development agreement that delves into details surrounding construction of certain aspects of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    The county commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise, putting into writing some of the specific requirements that the elected board had put into place earlier in approving a 1041 permit for the water supply project…

    The agreement focuses on recreational facilities for Glade Reservoir, and the amount of money Northern Water committed to that piece, as well as pipeline details, environmental mitigations and requirements surrounding the relocation of U.S. 287.

    It puts in writing that the county will be involved in construction meetings and inspections and lays out some safety requirements.

    “This agreement really protects the interest of Larimer County … whether one supports this project or not,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, who along with Commissioner Tom Donnelly voted to approve the development agreement. (Both commissioners also voted in September to grant the 1041 permit, which allows the county some input on certain aspects of this water storage and pipeline project.)

    The county does not have final say over whether the Northern Integrated Supply Project will be built. That approval would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal agency’s decision is expected soon, following more than a decadelong environmental process.

    Johnson stressed that the county does not have final say but that he wants to have some say on safety, recreation and construction that will affect residents…

    Larimer County has agreed to manage the recreation on and around Glade Reservoir, with Northern Water committing to $20.6 million for recreational facilities and with either the county or another yet-to-be-identified partner bringing $3.775 million to the table.

    The money would cover parking lots, boat ramps, a visitors center, camping areas and environmental mitigations at the reservoir and on the surrounding land.

    Commissioner John Kefalas, the sole Democrat on the board and the lone vote against the 1041 permit in September, also voted against the development agreement Tuesday. He said he understands the purpose is to describe the water developer’s obligations to the county and “to enhance the general welfare of the county,” but that he had concerns about some pieces of the agreement and could not vote in favor of it without further information.

    The development agreement was included on the consent agenda at the commissioners’ weekly administrative matters meeting. The consent agenda typically is a list of actions approved without discussion and all by a single vote. Kefalas moved the item from that single vote so the board could discuss it.

    “My rationale for pulling this item from the consent agenda is first to highlight that approval of the NISP project is indeed one of the most significant decisions made by this board of county commissioners, one that will impact Larimer County and future generations in many ways,” Kefalas said. “As such, this development merits public attention and scrutiny and, from my perspective, it is necessary for the people to see how this NISP agreement seeks to mitigate the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Glade Reservoir.”

    He also expressed “serious concerns” about the overall project and said two provisions in the agreement add to those worries. He highlighted wording in the agreement that stresses that recreation is a secondary use to the water supply and that Northern Water, which will manage the project, may vary water levels and may modify design and location, at its sole discretion, for operations, maintenance or other issues to prioritize water supply over recreational uses.

    “So I ask the question: What will happen to the recreational benefits of the NISP project if it takes 10 years to fill the reservoir perhaps due to higher temperatures, extended droughts and reduced snowpack?” Kefalas said. “Without a science-based answer to this question today, I cannot support this NISP development agreement.”

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

    Squeezed by two megafires: @Northern_Water’s race to save #Grand Lake — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    The East Troublesome Fire in Grand County burned down to the shore of Willow Creek Reservoir, one of the lakes in Northern Water’s collection system in Grand County. Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith

    From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

    Craig Friar and Steve Anderson had seen wildfires smolder and flare before. But they had never seen one run.

    Until Oct. 21 when Grand County’s East Troublesome fire sprinted 17 miles in less than three hours, threatening to engulf communities across the county and giving these Northern Water staffers and others just hours to decide how best to move the water agency’s operations center out of Grand County and over to Northern’s emergency operations center in Berthoud, on Colorado’s Front Range.

    It was unchartered territory. The backup center had never been used before.

    Northern Water is the largest exporter of water from Colorado’s West Slope to the Front Range, serving farms and dozens of cities from Broomfield and Lafayette to Boulder, Loveland and Greeley.

    As dark, fire-stained clouds billowed over the towns of Granby and Grand Lake that day, Northern’s West Slope team grabbed operation logs from the Farr pumping plant on the banks of Lake Granby. They tracked down the half dozen or so mechanics, electricians and operators who would need to make quick exits, and figured out how to ferry everyone to safety over the Continental Divide.

    The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

    Initially they hoped to keep most of their operators on the West Slope by moving the temporary command center farther West to another Northern operations site. But the East Troublesome Fire, already known for its cranky, unpredictable nature, changed direction, blocking access to the local site.

    “Those [plans] quickly went away,” said Friar, who oversees the utility’s collection system. “When things blew up on Tuesday, we said, ‘Scrap that.’ Wednesday we had a call and began moving everyone over to Berthoud.”

    Spare rooms and horse trailers

    Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind and Director of Administration Karen Rademacher offered their homes to dislocated staffers until hotel rooms could be found.

    West Slope staff who weren’t evacuated offered trailers to those who had been, hauling household goods and horses. They tracked down housing for co-workers who feared their homes had burned.

    They had dozens of calls with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns Northern’s system, as well as emergency managers with the U.S. and Colorado State forest services and the Grand County fire and sheriff departments, and county emergency response teams.

    Hundreds of homes and structures in Grand County were threatened or destroyed, and the lakes and reservoirs there that comprise Northern’s water collection system faced the same fate. The agency serves more than 1 million people on the Front Range.

    Since mid-August, Northern’s team had watched the Cameron Peak Fire burning in Rocky Mountain National Park just to the north of Grand County, threatening some of Northern’s customers and watersheds, but not the heart of its collection system.

    When East Troublesome exploded eight weeks later, the water utility found itself suddenly squeezed between what have now become Colorado’s two largest wildfires in recorded history, with Cameron Peak consuming 209,000 acres and East Troublesome 194,000, before both were declared contained in November.

    The Colorado Big Thompson Project, which Northern Water operates for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, lies between the Cameron Peak fire, shown at the top of the map, and the East Troublesome Fire, shown at the bottom left. Credit: U.S. Forest Service

    Beyond bad

    “It was worse than any worst-case scenario we had,” said Northern’s Environmental Services Manager Esther Vincent during a debriefing with the utility’s customers and others post-fire.

    East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News

    Water infrastructure in the West is often built in high-altitude mountain ranges in order to collect the winter snows that fall and melt into streams.

    For years, Colorado and other Western States have planned for and dealt with wildfires and their aftermath: the scorched soils and trees that clog their delivery systems, fill their reservoirs with eroded soils, and cloud their once-pristine water supplies.

    But the situation now is much worse. As climate change and searing droughts have dried out the forests that blanket these watersheds, impossibly large, so-called megafires are becoming the dangerous new norm.

    These fires devastated California over the summer and the same phenomenon struck Colorado in the fall.

    That Northern Water found itself stranded between the two fires in hurricane-force winds was something no one had ever envisioned. There was a sense of awful wonder, amid all the emergency phone calls and late-night planning sessions, at the sheer size of the disaster.

    Powering down

    There was also plenty of worry. Early on, as the fire raged, Northern staffers knew power to the Farr Pump Plant would be cut off in order to keep firefighters safe from exploding transformers, falling power poles and downed electric lines.

    The East Troublesome Fire burns near the Farr Pump Plant on Lake Granby October 2020. Credit: Northern Water

    The pumping plant lies almost entirely below the surface of Lake Granby. Without power to run its dewatering system, the plant would flood.

    But there would be an even bigger problem once the electricity was cut. The Adams Tunnel takes water pumped from Lake Granby to Grand Lake and pipes it under the Continental Divide to the Front Range. If they couldn’t get the Adams Tunnel shut down before the power went off, it would continue to deliver water, dramatically lowering Grand Lake in violation of federal law, something that would trigger an environmental, legal and political firestorm.

    The prospect of such an event is unfathomable, Friar said. “I don’t know what would happen. And I don’t want to know. We don’t even go there.”

    They moved quickly to get to the controls that operate the tunnel, successfully closing it down.

    Ten minutes later, Friar said, the power went off.

    For days afterward, they would rotate the chore of going into the silent pumping plant, filling its generators with diesel fuel and checking to make sure the dewatering system was still working.

    In and out

    Roads in and out of the area remained closed and it took close coordination with the Grand County Fire Department and sheriff for Northern staffers to get past the fire barricades.

    “We had to make sure we could get in, get what we needed done, and get out of there,” Friar said.

    If there was any comfort during the tense, fast-changing days that the fires ruled Larimer and Grand counties, it was seeing local residents pulling out clothes and food for those in need, offering up spare rooms, spare trucks and trailers, and extra flash lights, snow plows and generators.

    “I don’t think anyone up here ever felt alone,” Friar said.

    December has delivered more elegant white snows to Grand and Larimer counties since October, when the first winter storm calmed the fires. The white slopes, covered with charred forests that are now stark and black, are a welcome respite from the gray smoke and flames that enveloped the area just a few weeks ago.

    Friar and others know they have four short months, the time until winter snows melt, to engineer and put into action a high-stakes rescue plan for the devastated watersheds and reservoirs.

    Roughly 30 percent to 80 percent of Northern’s four major watersheds have burned, they estimate. Cleaning them up and protecting the lakes from the debris that is sure to come after the snow melts next spring will take one to three years of “acute” work, fire officials said, and decades of additional treatment, a process so expensive that Northern hasn’t yet put a number to it.

    The East Troublesome fire as it tore through the Trail Creek Estates subdivision on Oct. 21, 2020. (Brian White, Grand Fire Protection District)

    A daunting future

    Denver Water, the only utility larger than Northern in Colorado, battled two smaller—but still epic—fires within the past three decades: the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire and the 2002 Hayman Fire, which until this year had been the state’s largest. They spent $28 million cleaning up and restoring reservoirs in the first 10 post-fire years and continue to spend millions annually planting trees and doing erosion control, according to Christina Burri, a watershed scientist with Denver Water.

    Northern’s Greg Dewey will oversee the fire restoration work. The prospect, he said, is daunting.

    “For years we’ve planned for treatments [for the overgrown forests already decimated by pine beetles]. And the ultimate treatment is a wildfire, but I don’t think anyone could have gauged the extent of this,” he said.

    The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome megafires have blazed permanent images in the minds of people across Grand and Larimer counties.

    What Anderson remembers most now is returning to his Granby home when the evacuation orders were finally lifted. There, he and his family encountered a strange sight:

    The house was unharmed, but the front door stood wide open.

    As they walked warily up the front steps the first thing they heard was the fire alarm, issuing one piercing screech after another, providing a crazy, haunting reminder of those days in October, when two megafires ruled the skies, the forests and their lives.

    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.

    Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    A US District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir — @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):

    A United States District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud. This ruling should also make it possible to move forward with environmental mitigation and enhancements related to the project, including construction of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Granby.

    Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich dismissed a 2017 lawsuit filed by environmental groups led by Save the Colorado against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling holds that those federal agencies complied with federal law in issuing a Record of Decision that authorizes the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    The Windy Gap Firming Project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will be located in a dry valley just west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for use by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and the Central Weld County Water District. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply serving those participants more reliable and help them meet a portion of their long-term water supply needs. Each participant has also enacted a water conservation plan to comply with the Record of Decision.

    Environmental measures related to the Project also include the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the reservoir.

    The Record of Decision also mandates many other environmental protections, including improving streamflow and aquatic habitat, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies and more. Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections and received a permit from Grand County and approvals from others, including Trout Unlimited and the State of Colorado, to move forward with the Project.

    Water storage such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning and other solutions to meet future water needs in the state.

    “This ruling marks an important milestone for the participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel will serve as examples of how statewide cooperation can produce water supply solutions and environmental improvements that benefit everyone.”

    Barnard Construction Co. Inc. has been chosen as the contractor to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, and work will commence on the project in 2021. Design work is well under way for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, and construction is anticipated to begin there in 2022.