@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.

Losses in #EastTroublesomeFire enormous, still mounting — The Summit Daily #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

From The Sky-Hi News (Amy Golden) via The Summit Daily:

Formal damage assessments for structures in the county have been completed after the East Troublesome Fire scorched through nearly 200,000 acres in northern Grand County. According to those reports, 555 structures were destroyed, nine buildings suffered major damage and 34 sustained minor damage.

Among the buildings destroyed, 366 were residential and 189 were outbuildings. More than 200 were people’s primary residences.

Two surveys went out — one to evacuees and one to homeowners — to begin connecting those in need of a place to stay with those willing to lease out their home. Darland said more than 190 homeowners signed up to offer their houses to the roughly 50 families who responded needing some sort of housing.

However, many of these homes are only available through the spring. Darland and the county are working with community partners like Snow Mountain Ranch and Sun Communities to find a longer-term solution while seeking funding from state and federal sources…

Ten buildings belonging to businesses were also destroyed in the fire.

That includes buildings at C Lazy U Ranch, Winding River Ranch and Highland Marina. Two longtime outfitters in the area — Dave Parri’s Outfitting & Guide Service and Samuelson Outfitters — have also suffered heavy losses.

Three generations of the Samuelson family have operated in the Troublesome Basin for more than half a century. Cathy Samuelson and her husband Richard “Sambo” Samuelson lost most of the 2020 hunting season because of the fire and two of their camps were destroyed. Two employees lost their homes in the fire as well…

East Troublesome Fire and Cameron Peak Fire map via Inciweb December 7, 2020.

Acreage-wise, the fire burned almost 15% of the land in Grand County. With tourism and recreation being Grand’s primary economic driver, the burn scar over public lands — spanning Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Rocky Mountain National Park — could hamper tourism for years to come.

The county said many ranches have reported a significant or total loss of hay intended for winter feeding of livestock. Damages and impacts associated with agricultural land and operations are ongoing.

The burned lands incorporated significant grazing leases held by local producers, and impacts to agriculture irrigation supply and delivery are being assessed…

In a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the estimated costs of the county’s response has been roughly $352,000 as of Nov. 12. Those expenses include $80,000 for staff, logistics and emergency protective actions in the Office of Emergency Management; $150,000 for evacuations and emergency protective actions for the Grand County Sheriff; and $76,000 in overtime for county government employees…

Before the East Troublesome Fire, the county had been battling the nearly 15,000-acre Williams Fork Fire for over a month. Other fires the county responded to during this dry year included the Dice Hill Fire just on the other side of the Summit County line and the Deep Creek Fire outside Kremmling.

Debris removal from the East Troublesome Fire will likely be too much for the county to handle alone. Grand has estimated that debris could exceed over 30,000 cubic yards and cost more than $27 million to haul off…

Water’s depths

Various watersheds hit by the fire — including the Poudre River, North Fork of the Big Thompson River, North Fork Colorado River, Three Lakes, Willow Creek and the East Troublesome Creek — are expected to feel the effects for a long time.

These impacts will reach far beyond Grand County, which supplies water to major cities on the northern Front Range. Northern Water provides water to more than a million people, which is equal to 615,000 irrigated acres in northern Colorado.

“Sedimentation, debris flows and water contamination will threaten drinking water supplies for years to come,” the commissioners said.

Other environmental impacts like erosion and forest health are only just beginning to be evaluated.

Hazard tree removal is another concern, as fire damage has made many trees in the burn area a falling hazard. The Colorado State Forester estimates over 1,000 trees will need to be removed in county right of ways…

Estimates peg the overall damage from the fire at nearly $200 million. That amount could go up as the aftermath grows clearer.

A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado

From the University of Northern Colorado (Kate Stahla):

Ash darkens the sky. The sun is completely blacked out. Everything has an eerie orange glow. Cinders rain down and cover every surface with soot. This isn’t some apocalyptic movie or dystopian future. This is real life on the Colorado Front Range.

2020 has been an active fire year. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year. Air quality on the front range has been dire, especially considering the ongoing respiratory pandemic. Now that the two largest fires of the summer are now both sitting at 100% containment, Colorado must face its increasingly flammable future.

The Cameron Peak fire started Aug. 13 in the mountains near Chambers Lake. It smoldered for months until a mid-October wind storm propelled it into becoming the largest wildfire in Colorado history. By the time fire crews completely contained it, on Dec. 3, it had burned up over 200,000 acres.

The East Troublesome fire has an even more explosive story. The fire was reported near Parshall Oct. 14 and contained Nov. 30, but in that short span grew to be the state’s second-largest fire. The fire grew by over 87,000 acres between Oct. 21 and 22, destroyed parts of Grand Lake and threatened Granby and Estes Park.

These fires were a consequence of the long-term drought and pine beetle epidemic that Colorado is facing. According to the official incident report for the East Troublesome fire, between 60-80% of trees burned had already been killed by pine beetles. That, combined with dry and windy conditions, created a perfect storm for fire conditions.

The outlook isn’t good for fires in the future. Many of the areas that were not burned are littered with downed and dead trees. According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the entire state of Colorado is experiencing some form of drought. Some of the hardest hit areas are the headwaters of the Colorado and Cache la Poudre rivers — right where the fires started.

These watersheds are vital to the survival of the Front Range. Water from the Colorado river is pumped into the Big Thompson and supplies farms and cities throughout Northern Colorado. The Poudre river provides water and recreation to Fort Collins and Greeley. Because of the fires at their headwaters, flash floods and ash contamination are now more likely.

Ash and smoke blotted out the sky and directly impacted air quality on the Front Range. People were advised to stay inside and avoid exercising. Temperatures under the ash plumes could be 10 degrees lower than under the sun. UNC students, already coping with a deadly respiratory virus, also had to contend with dangerous levels of smoke. Callista Gallegos, a UNC student, had a difficult time facing both at once.

“Half the time I couldn’t go outside because I would not be able to breathe, so I was literally stuck inside and it was awful,” she said.

This year’s fire season is now over, but it contains lessons for the future. Colorado has been grappling with the effects of climate change for a while. Four of Colorado’s top five wildfires burned this year, and all of Colorado’s top ten wildfires have burned since 2000. Whether or not worse things are to come depends entirely on what actions are taken now.

Northern Front Range water supply safe in spite of fires — for now — The #Greeley Tribune

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

From The Greeley Tribune (Cuyler Meade):

…while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.

According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.

The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.

That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…

“The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”

The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…

However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.

And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.

“We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”

Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…

Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.

“When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”

The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…

In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.

“Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”

@Northern_Water: #Water Efficiency Programs Aim to Fill Knowledge and Financial Gaps

Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Northern Water:

With increasingly extreme summer temperatures and continued population growth in Northern Colorado, it’s no surprise that water supplies – and their users – are feeling the heat. Colorado’s arid climate has long defined water as a scarce and valuable resource, and increased water demand makes efficient water use an even greater priority. Northern Water offers a variety of programs to help our allottees conserve water where it counts: in landscapes.

Northern Water provides supplemental water to more than 1 million people in Northeastern Colorado and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland. More than half of the region’s municipal water supplies are used for landscape irrigation. Although awareness of “Colorado-climate friendly landscapes” is growing, most residents cite lack of knowledge as their primary obstacle for not managing their landscape to use less water. Northern Water continues to develop creative ways to address both the financial and knowledge gaps that would otherwise prevent water users from pursuing outdoor water efficiency conversions. Our irrigation audits, landscape consultations and grant program aim to do just that.

Irrigation Audit Program

An irrigation audit is a great place to begin if you’re looking to reduce your outdoor water use. Northern Water’s irrigation audit program, offered in partnership with Resource Central and Irrigation Analysis, provides information to help property owners identify water waste within irrigation systems and offer direction for optimal water use. By diagnosing a variety of water-wasting issues, audits can provide a starting point for system tuning, a retrofit, or even landscape conversion project or other water-saving pursuit.

Audits offered through Northern Water are available to commercial and residential properties within district boundaries. The audit season runs from mid-June through early October. To request an appointment, please contact amazurek@northernwater.org.

Landscape Consultations

Envisioning the next steps for a landscape can be daunting, even if a property owner understands their specific irrigation inefficiencies and opportunities. Northern Water’s landscape consultations strive to educate and assist commercial property managers in planning a water efficient landscape conversion project

Landscape consultations are available to commercial water customers within Northern Water’s district boundaries. Consultations may include several topics, including plant selection, turf conversion, soil management and more. Appointments are typically 60 to 90 minutes and are first come, first served. To schedule a consultation, complete the intake form.

Grant Program

For those seeking to take the next step, Northern Water’s Collaborative Water-Efficient Landscape Grant Program is open to new or redeveloping landscapes at public or private facilities, including cities, enterprises, nonprofits, businesses, schools, multi-family complexes and HOA-managed landscapes. Potential grant applicants are required to take part in a consultation, and possibly an audit, prior to applying for funding. To schedule a pre-application consultation contact Chad Kuhnel at 970-292-2566. Consultations for the 2020 grant funding cycle must be scheduled prior to Oct. 1.

Envisioning the next steps for a landscape can be daunting, even if a property owner understands their specific irrigation inefficiencies and opportunities. Northern Water’s landscape consultations strive to educate and assist commercial property managers in planning a water efficient landscape conversion project

Landscape consultations are available to commercial water customers within Northern Water’s district boundaries. Consultations may include several topics, including plant selection, turf conversion, soil management and more. Appointments are typically 60 to 90 minutes and are first come, first served. To schedule a consultation, complete the intake form.

Grant Program

For those seeking to take the next step, Northern Water’s Collaborative Water-Efficient Landscape Grant Program is open to new or redeveloping landscapes at public or private facilities, including cities, enterprises, nonprofits, businesses, schools, multi-family complexes and HOA-managed landscapes. Potential grant applicants are required to take part in a consultation, and possibly an audit, prior to applying for funding. To schedule a pre-application consultation contact Chad Kuhnel at 970-292-2566. Consultations for the 2020 grant funding cycle must be scheduled prior to Oct. 1.

When it comes to outdoor water savings, replacing water-thirsty Kentucky bluegrass with low-water plant material provides the greatest impact, while maintaining a beautiful landscape. Our Water Efficiency programs are designed to provide resources, guidance and financial support to help customers reduce their outdoor water consumption.

Feds issue red flag warning on #LakePowell and #LakeMead — @WaterEdCO #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam, shows the effects of persistent drought in the Colorado River Basin. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Fresh Water News (Jerd Smith):

Risk of severe water shortages in the seven-state Colorado River Basin have risen dramatically since April with new forecasts indicating that lakes Powell and Mead could hit crisis levels much sooner than previously expected.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said the change in the forecast is noteworthy.

“We’re dealing with more uncertainty than we thought,” she said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.

The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing the two storage vessels and monitoring the mountain snowpack and runoff that feeds them every year.

As recently as April, when the last forecast came out, inflows to Lake Powell were projected to be roughly 75 percent of average this year. The latest report, however, indicates inflows will be just 55 percent of average.

In just five months, the risk that reservoir levels could fall low enough by 2025 to threaten power generation and the ability to release physical water to downstream users has risen 12 percent, according to Reclamation.

Carly Jerla, a hydrologist and water modeling expert, runs the modeling team for Reclamation’s Lower Basin operations.

The 21-year stretch of drought in the Colorado River Basin has made the system extremely vulnerable to changes in weather patterns, Jerla said.

“In this system, one year of poor hydrology can influence the ways these reservoirs are impacted for multiple years into the future,” she said.

Reclamation officials stopped short of saying how states should respond to the dire water supply predictions.

Seven U.S. states share water from the Colorado River Basin. These include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin. Mexico also relies on the river’s flows.

Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

The two regions in the U.S. are governed separately, with the Upper Basin states overseen by the Upper Colorado River Commission and the Lower Basin overseen by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The river is a major source of water in Colorado, where it supplies roughly half of the drinking water on the Front Range and irrigation water for ranches, fruit orchards and corn fields on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains.

Brad Wind is general manager of Northern Water. It serves cities and farms from Boulder to Greeley and is one of the largest water providers in the state. Wind said the rising risk levels aren’t that surprising.

But, he said, to help the drought-stressed system regain some semblance of balance will require much more work. “We can’t walk away from this.”

Last year, for the first time in history, the seven states agreed to adopt a basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan. The Lower Basin component of that plan is now complete and requires cutbacks in water use as levels in the reservoirs fall and reach certain elevations. Arizona has already had to cut back its water use in 2020 as a result of the agreement, and Mead’s levels have risen as a result of these actions and other conservation programs. Now at 44 percent full, the reservoir is the highest it’s been in six years, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

But the Upper Basin, though it has agreed to big-picture elements of an Upper Basin plan, has more work to do to define how a major piece of that plan involving large-scale water conservation, called demand management, would work.

Rebecca Mitchell is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency managing the demand management study process in Colorado. She also serves on the Upper Colorado River Commission, representing Colorado. In a written statement, she said the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan has provided additional security for the system and that the study will move forward even as conditions on the river worsen.

“Colorado will continue to track the hydrologic conditions, and work collaboratively with the other basin states,” she wrote.

With the new forecast, however, pressure to cut back water use is rising.

Since 2000, lakes Powell and Mead have lost nearly half of their stored water supplies. Back then the system was nearly full, at 94 percent, according to Reclamation. This year the two reservoirs are collectively projected to end what’s known as the water year, on Sept. 30, at just 53 of capacity.

Climate change and warmer temperatures continue to rob the river of its flows. In fact, water flowing into Lake Powell during that 20-year period was above average just four out of the past 19 years, according to Reclamation.

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.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

Population Growth Looms Large In Debates Over Proposed #Colorado Water Project — KUNC #NISP

Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon) via Wyoming Public Media:

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

NISP — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is close to being fully permitted, which would pave the way to begin construction of the infrastructure project to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers. The project promises to give those communities water to build new homes and businesses — without buying it from farmers.

Glade Reservoir is the proposed body of water that would fill a bathtub-shaped valley north of Fort Collins that currently acts as a straight stretch of Highway 287…

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 on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Northern Water

Glade would be one of the Western U.S.’s biggest new reservoirs to come online in the past couple decades. With a more than $1 billion price tag, a project of this size and scale has those who live near the new reservoir and along pipeline routes concerned…

Northern Water, the quasi-governmental agency that moves water through tunnels, canals and reservoirs across a broad swath of Northern Colorado, is pushing for NISP’s construction on behalf of 15 other water providers, mostly small suburbs that have ambitions to grow. The communities of Dacono, Firestone, Eaton, Lafayette, Windsor and Severance are all participants in the project, among others…

NISP is getting close to the end of a federal, state and local permitting process. Since first formally submitting for permits in 2004, the project has jumped through regulatory hurdles like a federal environmental impact statement, a water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a 1041 permit from Larimer County. The 1041 permit gives local governments in Colorado some oversight authority on large infrastructure projects within their boundaries…

[The Larimer County] voted to recommend the 1041 permit to the board of county commissioners, which then approved on a 2-1 vote the permit for the project…

The town of Erie, a rapidly growing community in Boulder County about a half hour from Boulder and north Denver, would be the largest recipient of NISP water…

After more than 15 years of permitting, countless hours of negotiation over the project’s mitigation plans, and millions of dollars spent on studies, surveys and outreach, the agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River. Opponents say the project will only hurt, not help.

The Cache la Poudre River, where NISP would draw water for its largest reservoir, is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s also home to fish, birds and other wildlife…

The project still needs one more federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it’s considered to be fully permitted, and ready to head into design and construction phases.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Larimer County Commissioners approve permit for Glade Reservoir, #NISP — @Northern_Water

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 on Wednesday night. Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Northern Water:

The Northern Integrated Supply Project achieved another important milestone on Wednesday, with the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners approving the 1041 Land Use Permit application on a 2-1 vote.

The permit will allow the construction of Glade Reservoir, its recreation components and the pipelines to convey water from the reservoir to participants throughout Northern Colorado.

Central to the permit is the framework for the development of Glade Reservoir as a future recreation area to be managed by Larimer County. Glade Reservoir, just north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287, will join Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir and the future Chimney Hollow Reservoir as a site for water recreation, fishing, hiking and more.

The participants of NISP have agreed to spend more than $16 million to develop the recreation site, and they have purchased the former KOA campground nearby to create camping opportunities.

Another part of the permit dictates the route and procedures for the placement of pipelines to deliver high-quality drinking water to communities in Northern Colorado. It reiterates the commitment of NISP to convey roughly one-third of its water deliveries via the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, increasing the overall number of days available for recreation at the new Fort Collins Whitewater Park.

NISP has now received its permit from Larimer County for land use and from the State of Colorado for Water Quality and for Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement. This fall, NISP anticipates receiving a Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Next year, NISP anticipates working with the City of Fort Collins to coordinate on a route for a pipeline to pick up the Glade Reservoir water that has been conveyed through Fort Collins via the Poudre River.

NISP is being built to address future water needs for 15 municipalities and water districts, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, the Town of Windsor and others throughout the region. Northern Water is coordinating the effort through the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.

To learn more, go to http://gladereservoir.org.

Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The vote came after lengthy hearings before the county board and the county’s planning commission. The majority of speakers at those meetings spoke about concerns over the project’s effects on the Poudre River, its main water source. The project would divert water from the river during its peak flows due to its relatively junior water rights.

Nearby residents in the Bonner Peak and Eagle Lake neighborhoods also voiced concerns about pipeline routes disrupting quiet, rural neighborhoods, and diminishing property values. Northern Water, the agency pushing for NISP’s construction, hasn’t ruled out using eminent domain to build those pipelines, if necessary…

In comments explaining his vote against the permit, Kefalas noted scientific papers show a warming trend across much of Colorado, with consequences for rivers fed by snowmelt, like the Poudre.

“Based on the modeling that has been done with the Upper Colorado River basin, I think there are serious implications to the Poudre River flow and how that affects the Glade Reservoir,” Kefalas said.

Kefalas said he was also uncomfortable with the project’s tradeoff in advocating for flatwater recreation on a reservoir a 20-minute drive outside of Fort Collins, instead of seeing high spring flows through the city as a recreational amenity…

In voting to approve, commissioner Johnson said a rejection of the permit would be an example of parochial self-interest. While much of NISP’s water would be used in communities outside of Larimer County, Johnson said Colorado is full of examples of projects where water is stored and transported from one region to another…

Commissioner Donnelly hewed closely to the county’s 1041 evaluation criteria, which assess projects based on how they fit into the county’s master plan and affect its residents. NISP’s proponents were able to satisfy all of the county’s criteria, Donnelly said…

The project is still awaiting a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can move forward into construction.

Larimer County commissioners approve 1041 permit for #NISP by 2-1 vote — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

Larimer County’s Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Wednesday, with John Kefalas casting the lone “no” vote.

Explaining his dissent, the District 1 commissioner said he felt the 12 land use criteria used by the board fell short and failed to create a “level playing field,” although he acknowledged the board’s efforts to allow public comment virtually…

He discussed the projected impacts of climate change on the upper Colorado River Basin, and echoed the concerns of many commenters regarding the reduction in flow that the Poudre River could see from the creation of the Glade Reservoir.

He pointed out that Fort Collins, which is bisected by the river, has concerns about the flows in the Cache la Poudre.

“I acknowledge that Northern (Water) has done their utmost to look at mitigation and other impacts on the Poudre River ecology, riparian areas and natural areas,” he said. “There still remains the fact that the city of Fort Collins has concerns about the potential impact on the Poudre River.”

Commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson each walked through the land use criteria and how the project satisfied them…

The vote on the permit came after an extensive public hearing — one session saw representatives of the Northern Water Conservancy District advocate for the project, two sessions invited public comment, and Northern Water representatives answered questions during a fourth session.

While a large part of the presentation Wednesday was taken up by the commissioners explaining each of their votes, the commissioners also heard from Northern Water representatives who asked for adjustments to some of the conditions placed on the proposal.

The commissioners agreed to include a suggestion by Northern Water that, if the alignment of a related pipeline had to be adjusted by more than 100 feet without a landowner’s consent, that section of the pipeline would again have to be reviewed.

They also agreed to include restrictions proposed by Northern Water on construction activities in the Eagle Lake area.

Here’s a photo gallery from the hearing via The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Proposed Water Project Tests If Northern #Colorado’s ‘Working River’ Can Handle Another Job — KUNC #NISP

Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s home to fish, birds and other wildlife.

But a reservoir proposal facing a key vote from Larimer County commissioners would give it one more big task, and the panel is hearing from community members who think it can handle the work, and those who don’t.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is seeking a 1041 permit to begin construction of the infrastructure project that would use water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers.

The agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River, while opponents say it will only hurt, not help…

But with the ribbon cutting less than a year ago, [Evan] Stafford said NISP presents an upstream threat. The project’s biggest reservoir, Glade, would be miles from the park, but it would be felt by kayakers and tubers alike. NISP would pull water out of the river at the same time whitewater paddlers flock to it.

“It’s already pretty affected, but NISP would really increase that effect to almost there being no flooding or a natural kind of rise in the river due to the snow melt,” Stafford said.

That’s important, not just for kayakers, but for the river’s ecological health too. High spring flows flush sediment downstream and are critical for fish and bird habitat…

But that characterization of NISP’s potential impact is unfair, says Northern Water’s general manager Brad Wind.

“At the end of the day to fill a reservoir you’ve got to extract some water from the river,” Wind said.

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

Because the project relies on relatively junior water rights, Wind says they would have to wait until the highest flows to divert water into the reservoir. Those flows come during the spring runoff. But, he said, once full, the reservoir would release water at other times of year when the Poudre is struggling because of demands from farmers…

NISP has committed to releasing so-called base flows through Fort Collins in certain times of the year to aid fish populations and fill-in dry up points that show up when demand from farmers spikes during the summer months. But it could be awhile before those releases take place. By Northern Water’s projections, construction on Glade’s dam and reservoir might take until 2027 to finish. Filling the reservoir could take up to a decade if the Poudre’s flows are reduced due to drought…

NISP is nearing the end of a more than 15-year permitting process. The latest stretch of public meetings has taken place almost entirely during the pandemic. NISP boasts a laundry list of endorsements from former governors, local business groups, farm groups, even two of three Larimer County commissioners. There’s been a renewed call from the project’s opponents for commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly to recuse themselves from deliberations, though both continue to participate in hearings.

Fort Collins, the biggest city along the river’s course, recently voted to oppose the project, making it one of the first governmental bodies to do so…

Fort Collins city council’s opposition is more of a symbolic gesture, given that much of the project’s infrastructure falls outside city limits. The vote from Larimer County commissioners on the 1041 permit has real potential to either slow down the project’s momentum, or ease its way into being fully permitted. It still needs a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers, which could come as early as this fall.

All three Larimer County commissioners declined interview requests due to it being a pending land use issue.

Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping rapidly but boating will continue — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Horsetooth Reservoir looking west from Soldier Dam. Photo credit: Norther Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Horsetooth Reservoir’s water level dropping around 4 feet per week in July and August certainly hasn’t go unnoticed by concerned boaters.

The water level of the popular reservoir dropped from 97% full at the beginning of the season to around 60% last week. Despite the drop, all boat ramps will be usable through Labor Day weekend, but not so much come mid-September.

Jeff Stahla, Northern Water spokesman, said an unusually dry and hot summer created an increase water demand by agriculture and municipalities, resulting in the sharp drop in water level. He said the rate of that drop is expected to lessen the rest of summer and early fall as water demand lessens…

Mark Caughlan, Horsetooth Reservoir district manager, said he expects the South Bay boat ramp to remain usable throughout the fall but that by mid-September the Satanka and Inlet Bay ramps will be closed due to the low water level.

Stahla said by late this week the reservoir’s water level will be at the lowest level since 2012, which was a historically dry year.

He said lowering the water level will also help divers to safely replace a valve at Soldier Canyon Dam, which he said is routine maintenance and does not involve major construction. He said other work to the reservoir will be done at the same time by other entities…

Stahla said Horsetooth Reservoir, which is the largest reservoir in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project East Slope distribution system, is expected to fill back up next year. He said CBT’s water storage in mountain reservoirs above Horsetooth Reservoir is in good shape with storage at more than 90% in some reservoirs.

Larimer County #NISP hearing recap

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Larimer County’s first public comment session for the Northern Integrated Supply Project’s 1041 permit application showcased heavy opposition to a reservoir plan that critics say would cause devastating impacts to the Poudre River.

About 100 people gave about 6 hours’ worth of testimony at the Monday hearing, which was the first of two hearings devoted solely to public comment on NISP’s 1041 proposal. Over 90% of the comments were in opposition to the permit.

Larimer County commissioners will accept more public comment Aug. 31, and NISP proponent Northern Water will have the chance to provide rebuttal to the comments at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permit Sept. 2, but that could be pushed back.

The 1041 permit covers only a part of the NISP project: the siting of Glade Reservoir, NISP’s main water storage component, and four water pipelines throughout the county…

NISP opponents, however, say they doubt the project will be able to deliver all that water. They also say the project’s heavy spring and summer diversions will constitute a death blow to an already strained river that loses over half of its water before it reaches Fort Collins. The project could divert between 25% and 71% of the Poudre’s stream flows, depending on the month and time of year, with most of the diversions taking place in the higher-flow months of April to August…

[David] Jones was one of many local scientists who spoke in opposition of NISP and offered pointed criticism of its wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan. The plan includes a “conveyance refinement” proposal that would run some of the diverted water through a portion of the river in Fort Collins with the goal of addressing dry-up points and improving streamflows…

[Barry Noon] also criticized the mitigation plan for not sufficiently accounting for climate change, which climatologists project will deteriorate Colorado river flows, shrink mountain snowpack and exacerbate droughts like the one currently gripping the state. The Poudre relies solely on mountain snowpack, and the Grey Mountain water right that accounts for about half of NISP’s water is a relatively junior water right that is less likely to be satisfied in drier years…

Noon and others emphasized that Northern Water won’t have to meet its river flow requirements through Fort Collins until “full buildout conditions when NISP participants are consistently taking their full NISP yield,” according to the mitigation plan. The plan does commit to conveying at least 36% of total NISP deliveries through Fort Collins before buildout…

If it does happen, CSU biology professor and ecologist LeRoy Poff fears the river will buckle under the impact of degraded springtime flows that he predicts will fossilize the river channel, dry out wetlands and degrade riparian habitat. He said he found in research conducted for the city of Fort Collins that even the flows promised after buildout wouldn’t be enough to sustain the river and would result in damaged natural areas…

Fort Collins resident Joe Rowan said there’s “ample evidence” that Northern Water’s permit application meets or exceeds the standards laid out in Larimer County’s 1041 permitting process. He added that NISP “has been subjected to the most arduous, comprehensive and objective analysis any of us have ever witnessed” over the past few decades…

Residents near proposed pipelines speak up

Also present at Monday’s hearing were over 20 county residents whose property would be impacted by the four pipelines involved in the permit. Lisa Pewe, who recently moved to a Larimer County Road 56 property with plans to open an equine-assisted therapy nonprofit there, said the Northern Tier pipeline would be “devastating to my business, my dream and my property’s value.”

A 60-foot easement would run across the western and southern borders of her property, negatively affecting about 40% of her 5-acre property, she said. She asked commissioners to reject that portion of the pipeline or require Northern Water to use existing rights-of-way and easements in the area…

Loss was a key theme among the speakers. So was a reverential, almost familial connection to the Poudre. Will Walters said the Poudre River valley is home to four generations of his family since his granddaughter, Georgie, was born last winter. He described the way her birth renewed in the family “a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world” — and underlined a desire to protect it.

There’s no more water to wring from the river, Walters said, because what remains after generations of diversions does “crucial ecological work.”

Larimer County residents question environmental impact of #NISP during public hearing — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

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

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

Second round of comments scheduled for Aug. 31

Larimer County residents weighed in on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with the majority of dozens of speakers asking the county commissioners not to grant a 1041 permit for the $1.1 billion effort…

Members of the public mostly focused on the environmental impacts of the project, which would build two reservoirs capable of holding close to 216,000 acre feet of water on the dime of the 15 area water providers that could benefit, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.

John Shenot of the Fort Collins Audubon Society brought up the group’s work to have the local stretch of the Poudre recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, meaning it includes areas such as nesting grounds, migratory stopovers or other essential habitats for at least one species of bird.

He called Glade Reservoir, which would tap into the Poudre River near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, an “existential threat” to bird habitats…

Another speaker, Larimer County alfalfa farmer Ken McCullough, said his opinion on the project turned when he learned that some of the water to be stored in Glade would be purchased from farms.

He questioned whether the project would take needed irrigation water from area farmers…

While the project has purchased Poudre River water from farms, that water has been exchanged for South Platte water, so it is not “buy-and-dry.”

Although the majority of speakers opposed the project, at least one man, Joe Rowan, who described himself as a longtime Fort Collins resident spoke in favor, describing the opposition as “sanctimonious rancor” and “ill-advised hyperbole.”

He located NISP in more than a century of water transfer and storage projects on the Cache la Poudre watershed.

“There would be no discussion of preserving habitat and sensitive ecological systems were water storage projects not pursued by prior generations,” Rowan said.

He also pointed out that county staff have recommended approval of the permit, and said commissioners deciding based on the input of some rather than the requirements of the permitting process would be the same as intimidation.

“We simply can’t be expected to self-govern if the loudest and most vitriolic of our fellow residents are allowed to cower elected representatives into submission,” Rowan said.

Others said the project would benefit communities outside of Larimer County, while county residents would bear the majority of the adverse impacts, particularly from the construction of Glade Reservoir west of Fort Collins.

David Jones, a vegetation ecologist at Colorado State University who stated he has been following the NISP project for more than a decade, said the project was “not in the interest of the vast majority of Larimer County residents.”

[…]

The next public comment session is scheduled for Aug. 31, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision on Sept. 2.

Larimer County kicks off public hearing on #NISP — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

All three Larimer County commissioners began listening to an application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly declining to step away from the upcoming decision.

“I have no doubts I can consider that application on its merits and weigh it against the land use code,” said Johnson at the start of the public hearing Monday night.

Three organized groups opposed to the project and its associated Glade Reservoir — Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCO — had asked Johnson and Donnelly, the two Republicans on the board, to step back from the decision.

They claimed that the two commissioners, both in their 12th year of service, have shown “decade-long support and endorsement of the project” and have had outside contact with Northern Water, which has applied for a 1041 permit for its reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers.

Johnson and Donnelly both stressed they would make an impartial decision on the application during this public hearing, which is scheduled to run across four days, and denied any bias…

Right now, the county is considering its 1041 permit, which allows the county to have input and impose conditions on the reservoir construction and pipeline facilities. County planning staff members recommended approval as did the Planning Commission, by a split vote, and the county commissioners have the final say…

The three-member elected board heard from the planning staff and Northern Water on Monday night during a 3½-hour hearing. Next, they will hold both afternoon and evening sessions to take public comment on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 before deliberating and making a decision Sept. 2.

To approve the permit, the commissioners must believe that the project meets 12 criteria that are listed in the land use code, including whether:

  • It would negatively impact health and safety.
  • It mitigates construction impacts.
  • It doesn’t adversely affect the environment and natural and cultural resources without adequate mitigations.
  • Alternatives were considered.
  • In evaluating the 1,600-page application, the county staff looked at issues ranging from traffic associated with construction and future recreation to water-quality and air-quality impacts to a plan for recreation on the land surrounding Glade. They dug into everything from truck traffic trips to dust levels to the costs of recreation, as well as the acres of habitat and wetland mitigations compared with the amount lost.

    The staff recommended approval with requirements that include noise, water- and air-quality monitoring and mitigation during construction.

    The three commissioners listened to staff members and representatives of Northern Water during the first segment of the hearing, asking about negotiating easements on private property, associated road work, flow levels in the Poudre River and more.

    All three said they will carefully consider all the input from both Northern Water and residents, who will be allowed to speak at hearings on the next two Mondays. Residents who want to speak during the upcoming sessions must sign up by 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.

    #Boulder reservoir to be drained starting sept. 1 for required maintenance work

    Here’s the release from the City of Boulder (Jeff Stahla, Denise White, Samantha Glavin):

    Beginning Sept. 1, 2020, until March 2021, access to Boulder Reservoir will be limited while the reservoir is drained to allow Northern Water, in coordination with the City of Boulder, to perform necessary maintenance on the reservoir and its dams.

    Boulder Reservoir. Photo credit: The City of Boulder

    This work will ensure visitor safety and effective water delivery to municipal and agricultural water users. Reservoir water levels will be significantly lower than normal during this time. This is routine, required maintenance work that will take place every 5-10 years.

    The reservoir basin will be closed to all water-based activities, including boating, watercraft, fishing, swimming, wading and other on-water recreation once the reservoir drawdown begins Sept. 1. Passive recreation opportunities (e.g., walking, cycling and running) will still be available during this time. The main trail along on the North Shore will remain open, but access to the shoreline will be restricted. Trails in the vicinity of the north and south dams may be periodically impacted during periods of construction in those areas. A map of affected areas is available on the project website at bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#.

    Performing the maintenance work this year when some recreation activities such as swimming and special events are already restricted due to COVID-19 will ensure that additional impacts will be avoided, and recreation can return to full service once the pandemic subsides. However, the city recognizes that this limitation on Boulder Reservoir use may be disappointing to impacted recreationists. The city is providing reservoir permit and pass holders with a partial refund or credit on their purchase, available through Aug. 23. Current permit and pass holders have been contacted directly with information on how to access this offer.

    Additionally, Boulder Reservoir has received approval to remain open on Friday, Aug. 7, which is designated as an unpaid city closure day to address financial challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, and offer extended hours of operation from 7-9 p.m. on Aug. 10-16. The city is able to offer these additional hours due to cost savings as a result of the draining project’s impact in shortening the fall recreation season.

    The reservoir will be drained to remove sediment from the area around the reservoir outlet, which naturally builds up over time. Maintenance will also occur on dam outlet structures, and the on the land between the north and south dams known as Fisherman’s Point. Construction equipment access and activity will be in the vicinity of the north dam and Fisherman’s Point. 

    Northern Water is coordinating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and city staff to mitigate environmental impacts of the project. The reservoir will be drained outside of nesting season, limiting effects on nesting and migrating species during the most critical point in their life cycle. The reservoir will be refilled prior to spring migration and nesting seasons. While there are currently no plans to relocate the fish in the reservoir as the water level is expected to support the fish, Northern Water will monitor their environment daily. If conditions appear problematic, fish relocation may be arranged. 

    The Boulder Reservoir is a key part of the city’s drinking water supply and provides water to other municipal and agricultural users. Water is delivered to the reservoir and its water treatment plant via the Southern Water Supply Project, completed in 2020, and the Boulder Feeder Canal. The City of Boulder owns Boulder Reservoir, but operations and maintenance related to water storage and dam safety are primarily managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Northern Water). 

    Additional information is available on the project webpage at https://bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance#. General project questions can be directed to Water Resources Manager Kim Hutton at 303-441-3115 or huttonk@bouldercolorado.gov. For questions regarding recreation impacts, contact Boulder Reservoir Facilities Supervisor Stacy Cole at 303-441-3469 or coles@bouldercolorado.gov.

    Fort Collins City Council votes to oppose #NISP, changing previous stance — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Fort Collins City Council voted [August 4, 2020] to oppose the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a departure from the city’s previous neutral stance on the controversial plan to siphon Poudre River water into two new reservoirs.

    Council members also endorsed city staff comments expressing reservations with Northern Water’s proposed Poudre intake pipeline upstream of the Mulberry Water Reclamation Facility. They adopted their position in a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, with council member Ken Summers voting “no” and Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens absent.

    The vote was the current council’s first opportunity to take a position on NISP. The city’s position on the project has vacillated over the years, wavering between opposition and a more neutral “can’t support” position. Council included in its opposition statement a note directing staff to continue working with Northern Water to address the city’s concerns about NISP and develop “a sustainable, long-term approach” to avoid, manage and mitigate the project’s impacts.

    Council’s job on Tuesday was to decide whether to endorse staff’s comments on the pipeline, which were submitted to Larimer County, and choose between four stances on NISP ranging from the most neutral “can’t support this variant of NISP” to the most outspoken “oppose (this version of NISP) and oppose the use of city natural areas.” They chose the latter.

    Poudre River whitewater park. Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Collegian

    At issue Tuesday was whether the city could take that stance on the project while maintaining a foothold in negotiations with Northern Water, the organizer of the plan to supply water to 15 small-but-growing Colorado municipalities and water districts. While the city itself isn’t among the participants, which include Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (covering the city’s southern reaches) and Windsor, the project would degrade springtime river flows through Fort Collins and the Poudre intake pipeline would affect several city natural areas…

    The intake pipeline is part of a concession Northern Water made to lessen NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins: Rather than drawing all the water off the river upstream of Fort Collins, Northern Water plans to run some of it through a 12-mile stretch of the river roughly between the Poudre Canyon mouth and Mulberry Street from fall to early spring.

    The “conveyance refinement” plan would run 18-25 cubic feet per second’s worth of water through the river, increasing the volume of water to eliminate some dry spots, lower the river’s temperature and reduce harm to fish [living] in the river. The intake pipeline near the reclamation plant is where Northern Water plans to take the water back out of the river…

    The influx of water will make “a very significant difference for fish” and offers clear environmental benefits for the river’s base flows, city watershed planner Jennifer Shanahan told council. But the structures involved with the intake pipeline will have temporary and permanent impacts to the Homestead, Kingfisher Point, Riverbend Ponds and Williams natural areas. Construction will have temporary impacts on traffic and visitors to those areas, including trail and parking lot closures, and more lasting impacts, including possible damage to sensitive wetlands, soil, wildlife and native vegetation and the sale of some land at Kingfisher Point Natural Area.

    The city submitted its comments on the pipeline to Larimer County as part of the 1041 permitting process. Staff recommended that Northern Water work with the city to refine the pipeline plan in several ways, such as shrinking the pump station and settling ponds proposed at Kingfisher Point, moving the pipeline further from the river at Kingfisher Point and creating a more ecologically sound river diversion at Homestead Natural Area…

    Council members agreed with the staff comments, but several of them offered broader criticism of NISP. Northern Water has been working for years on a broad plan to mitigate NISP’s impacts to the river, wildlife and riparian habitat, but environmental advocates say no mitigation plan can undo the irreparable damage of diverting so much water from a river that is already stretched thin. Fort Collins gets about half of its own water supply from the Poudre…

    Mayor Wade Troxell, who has the longest tenure on City Council, said he’s watched the city make progress in negotiations with Northern Water over the last 13 years. He discouraged his fellow council members from making “sweeping opposition statements that don’t get us where we need to go.”

    […]

    NISP is approaching a county decision on the 1041 permit that would allow construction of Glade Reservoir and four pipelines associated with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its record of decision on the project as a whole this year, and if the project is approved, construction could begin as soon as 2023.

    Say hello to @Northern_Water’s new website

    Screen shot of the new Northern Water website. Click the image to go to the website.

    Click here to to the new website. Easy to navigate and find data:

    Northern Water is proud to announce the launch of a new organizational website. The website offers a user-friendly experience with improved navigation and functionality.

    With a modern, sleek design, the new website uses enhanced functionality, features and content to tell the story of Northern Water and its commitment to delivering water to more than 1 million people and 615,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Northeastern Colorado while protecting water quality on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    Key features of the new website include:

  • Improved navigation that makes content easy to find;
  • A search engine that captures targeted results for visitors seeking specific information;
  • Mobile responsive design that allows website access from any device;
  • A new data portal that provides real-time data, water quality data and more;
  • A new customized water accounting portal that empowers water users to manage their portfolio, order and transfer water, and view important documents; and
  • A news blog to inform the public about Northern Water’s projects, programs and activities. New weekly content will ensure the public is kept up to date on the latest happenings.
  • The new website has been more than a year in the making with a primary goal of creating a user-friendly platform accessible from any device. Specifically, the goal was to make it easier for visitors to learn about the organization and its rich history, receive project updates and discover ways to more efficiently use water in their landscapes and daily lives.

    Larimer County Planning Commission recommends #NISP permit by split vote –The Loveland Reporter-Herald

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

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The Northern Integrated Supply Project moved a step closer to construction Wednesday when the Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the reservoir storage project.

    Four members of the volunteer planning board voted to recommend that the Larimer County Board of Commissioners approve a 1041 permit for the project that would include a new reservoir west of Fort Collins for water storage and recreation. Two voted against it, and the other three members stepped back from the decision because of perceived conflicts of interest.

    Planning Commission member Curtis Miller, a Loveland resident, said he is convinced that the project meets all the criteria for the permit and will be a benefit for the entire region…

    Drake resident Abbie Pontius, a member of the Planning Commission, also spoke in favor…

    However, Nancy Wallace, chair of the Planning Commission and a Fort Collins resident, voted against the project. She said that the water primarily will benefit residents outside Larimer County, and the reservoir would draw unwanted and unneeded traffic to the region…

    John Barnett, a Fort Collins resident on the Planning Commission, also voted against the project after saying he worries that it will affect water levels in the river downstream from Mulberry Street, particularly at several natural areas…

    The main approval for the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade of analysis, is expected sometime in 2020.

    But the project also requires a 1041 permit from the county on issues including the pipeline, realignment of U.S. 287 and recreation. A 1041 permit allows the county to make requirements on certain aspects of the project that would affect county residents.

    The Larimer County commissioners have the final say on the permit. That elected board has a public hearing scheduled over four consecutive Mondays starting Aug. 17. A final decision will come at the end of that hearing and will include consideration of the recommendation from the planning board…

    The last night of the Planning Commission hearing, on Wednesday, included several representatives of Northern Water answering questions previously posed by members of the Planning Commission as well as response to public comments. Those include:

  • Stephanie Cecil, water resources engineer, and Brad Wind, general manager, both said they realized that Northern Water needs to do a better job reaching out to people who live near the proposed Glade Reservoir and associated pipeline. Both committed to doing better at reaching residents, especially those who live in the Eagle Lake subdivision through which the pipeline will run. “Based on what we heard at the last meeting we missed the mark,” Cecil said.
  • The reservoir and dam will be built in an area that includes the North Fork and Bellvue faults. Jennifer Williams, a civil engineer with AECOM, a consultant hired by Northern Water, stressed that both faults are considered inactive, meaning they have not shown movement in the last 1.3 million years. In fact, the most recent movement is estimated to be 30 million to 60 million years ago, Williams said.
  • The project would require a new route for a section of U.S. 287 northwest of Fort Collins. This new stretch of highway would be completed before the existing route is decommissioned, and construction of the highway would commence at the same time as construction begins on Glade Reservoir. A specific schedule depends upon the timing of permits that are still outstanding. The new route will be about 1.6 miles longer than the existing highway.
  • Northern Water also clarified that the NISP participants have committed to paying $16.35 million, or 75%, of the construction of recreation facilities on the land around Glade Reservoir. The remaining 25% would be paid by other partners. Those have not been determined yet but could include corporate sponsors, grants or even Larimer County, which is looking to manage recreation at the reservoir.
  • Wallace, who voted against the permit, disagreed with that piece, saying that she believes that boating at the proposed reservoir should be changed to wakeless only without motorboats, and that associated savings could reduce the costs potentially paid by Larimer County…

    Miller and Jeff Jensen, another Planning Commission member from Fort Collins, strongly disagreed, saying that there is a demand for recreation including motorized boating. They said this added reservoir would help meet that need and provide a resource to Larimer County residents.

    The initial proposal was that Northern Water and Larimer County pursue a 25-year recreation lease with the option for a 25-year renewal. At Jensen’s suggestion, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a 35-year lease also with the option for renewal to manage recreation at Glade Reservoir in the future.

    Jensen, too, spoke strongly in favor of NISP and voted to recommend approval of the 1041 permit by the commissioners.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the permit, with commissioners Nancy Wallace and John Barnett in opposition.

    Commissioners said the long-debated project, which would provide water to 15 regional communities and water districts, would be a benefit to the county and the state.

    Commissioner Curtis Miller said the proposal met all of the county’s criteria for approval…

    The requested 1041 permit – named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects – is for siting Glade Reservoir and its proposed recreational facilities, including a visitor center, campgrounds and boat ramps…

    The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade, including one that would release water into the Poudre River to run through Fort Collins and another to take it out again for delivery to communities to the south.

    As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Natural Resources Department. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs…

    Under a condition of approval added by the Planning Commission, the county would have a 35-year management agreement for recreation on the reservoir with an option for another 25 years. The condition was one of more than 80 recommended by the commission and county staff…

    Representatives of Northern Water had answers for each of the objections, in part citing the exhaustive research and planning that went into a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP that began in 2004.

    NISP would pay $53 million to mitigate its impacts to wildlife and the environment, with more than 90% of that funding spent in Larimer County, Northern Water officials said.

    NISP would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to its participants, which include the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor…

    A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators.

    What’s next

    The Larimer County Board of County Commissioners has scheduled the following hearings on NISP:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Testimony will be taken in person and online. Registration to speak will be available online beginning Aug. 3.

    Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.

    Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    Alternative plan to Wild and Scenic River designation for upper #ColoradoRiver OK’d — @AspenJournalism #COriver #aridification

    A view of the popular Pumphouse campground, boat put-in and the upper Colorado River. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved an alternative management plan that acts as a workaround to a federal Wild & Scenic designation. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

    Participants in a 12-year process to establish protections for a stretch of the upper Colorado River are calling the finished product — which amounts to a workaround of a Wild and Scenic River designation — a success.

    Last month, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service formally approved the “Amended and Restated Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan.” The plan lays out a blueprint for protecting the “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs, of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Glenwood Springs, with an emphasis on recreational floatboating and fishing.

    The ORVs must either be a unique, rare or exemplary feature located on the river or shoreline; contribute to the functioning of the river ecosystem; or owe their existence to the presence of the river. The plan seeks to balance these ORVs with water development and use by Front Range water providers and Western Slope water users.

    To ensure protection of the ORVs, the plan includes voluntary cooperative measures that the participants could take, such as the strategic timing of reservoir releases, enhancing spring peak flows and agreements with water users to acquire water rights, which would be used to preserve the natural environment.

    The plan includes a provision that addresses two big uncertainties that would lead to more transmountain diversions from the Colorado River: Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. The “poison pill” provision would allow any stakeholder to withdraw support for the plan if those projects — which are still in the permitting phase and mired in litigation, and which would provide a combined 48,000 acre-feet of water for the Front Range — negatively impact streamflows, especially for boating.

    Six interest groups — conservation/environment/fishing; local government; recreational floatboating; state interests; Front Range water users; and Western Slope water users — have been working on crafting the plan since 2008. The Eagle River Watershed Council has been involved as a stakeholder since 2013, said executive director Holly Loff.

    “It’s really exciting, and what a huge collaborative effort this has been, and I can’t really think of other situations that have been larger in scope and larger in the number of collaborators and all with very diverse interests — and we found a way to make it work,” Loff said. “It’s an amazing feat, really.”

    The scenic, and sometimes wild, Rodeo Rapid, one of the few rapids on the upper Colorado River between Pumphouse and Dotsero. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    Opposition to W&S

    The alternative management planning process came about after the BLM in 2007 found that 54 miles of the upper Colorado River from Gore Canyon to just east of No Name Creek in Glenwood Canyon possessed enough ORVs that they were eligible for a federal Wild & Scenic River designation. Created by an act of Congress in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values in a free-flowing condition.

    There are two ways that a river can be designated as Wild & Scenic: The secretary of the Interior can designate a river if a state governor requests it or Congress can designate a river, usually after a land-use agency conducts a study to see whether it’s eligible.

    Designation as Wild & Scenic brings protection from development. For example, new dams cannot be constructed on the designated stretch and federal water-development projects that might negatively affect the river are not allowed.

    But the possibility of federal government involvement and potential restrictions on water development on the upper Colorado doesn’t sit well with some groups. Municipal water providers such as Denver Water and Northern Water divert water from the Colorado’s headwaters to Front Range cities.

    “A lot of members of the water community find the idea of a Wild & Scenic designation kind of frightening and prohibitive,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “It would prevent potentially new reservoirs along a Wild & Scenic river (and) certain types of structures, and that is why the water community has typically been a little leery of Wild & Scenic designation.”

    In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly established the Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund. Despite what its name suggests, the fund is not dedicated to establishing Wild & Scenic designations of rivers, but to avoiding the federal designation through “work with stakeholders within the state of Colorado to develop protection of river-dependent resources as an alternative to wild and scenic river designation.”

    The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group has been the recipient of money from the state fund, which is allocated up to $400,000 a year and administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. According to a CWCB memo from May, when staff reviews requests for these funds, they evaluate whether projects will promote collaboration among traditional consumptive water interests, including irrigation, and non-consumptive interests, including recreation and the environment, and whether the project will still enable Colorado to fully use water it is allocated.

    “If we tried to go through designation, we don’t know if it would have ever made it past the state of Colorado,” said Kay Hopkins, outdoor recreation planner for the White River National Forest. “The state would have had to be supportive of our determination.”

    Despite its renowned river rafting, fishing and scenic beauty, which contribute to the recreation-based economy of many Western Slope communities, Colorado has just 76 miles of one river — the Cache La Poudre — designated as Wild & Scenic. That’s less than one-tenth of 1% of the state’s 107,403 river miles.

    Instead of a federal designation, the CWCB considers its instream-flow program to be a primary tool in the effort to protect ORVs. Instream flows are in-channel water rights aimed at preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. As a part of the alternative management plan process, the CWCB secured three instream-flow rights that date to 2011 on the upper Colorado River — from the confluence of the Blue River to Piney River; from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and from Cabin Creek to the confluence with the Eagle River.

    Bassi, who runs the state’s instream-flow program, has participated in the state interests group since planning began in 2008.

    “Those flow rates are designed primarily to meet the needs of fish,” Bassi said. “But they will help to maintain flows that provide for some levels of boating experiences.”

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

    Pragmatic Discussions

    The Forest Service and BLM approval of the alternative management plan means that the stretch of the upper Colorado River has been deferred from Wild & Scenic eligibility. But if the plan fails or any of the stakeholders enact the “poison pill” provision, the river could revert to being considered for eligibility, meaning it would once again be up for federal scrutiny, something some stakeholders want to avoid.

    “That is the hammer behind the long-term commitments,” said Rob Buirgy, coordinator for the stakeholder group.

    Eagle County Commissioner and Colorado River Water Conservation District Board member Kathy Chandler-Henry believes the strength of the alternative management plan is the input of its many participants.

    “My first thought was the alternative management plan must be a lesser system of protection, but in my mind, it has not turned out to be that way because there are so many players at the table,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a lesser process. It seems like a more publicly engaged process.”

    Loff was more pragmatic.

    “I don’t think (the alternative management plan) is better, but I don’t know that this group ever would have agreed to a standard Wild & Scenic designation. I don’t think that would have happened at all,” she said. “I think it’s better that we have this.”

    Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online and printed in the Aspen Times on July 11, 2020.

    #NISP update: The Larimer County Planning Commission holds first public hearing

    Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    Dozens of in-person and remote speakers aired their concerns about the proposed $1.1 billion water storage and delivery project, which would include building Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.

    Issues raised about the massive project proposed by Northern Water included the ecological impacts of drawing water from an already heavily used Poudre River to store in the reservoir, the routing of pipelines that would carry water to participating communities, and the effects construction of the reservoir and pipelines would have on nearby communities…

    A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators…

    The Planning Commission is considering an application from Northern Water for a 1041 permit — named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects — for the siting of the reservoir and associated recreational facilities, including a visitor center, boat ramps and campgrounds. The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade.

    Commission members heard presentations on the reservoir and pipelines from county staff members and Northern Water on June 24. Wednesday’s four-hour hearing was dedicated to taking public comment.

    Of the approximately 40 people who spoke individually or as the representative of a group, only one spoke in favor of NISP. The county has received several hundred emails from residents opposing the project…

    Northern Water has said the dam site is safe and structures will be designed to withstand seismic activity and soil shifts.

    Residents of the Eagle Lakes subdivision blasted the proposed routing of a pipeline from Glade through their neighborhood that would connect with another pipeline near the county line and carry water south.

    Northern Water would likely have to use its eminent domain power to get the 100-foot easement it wants for constructing the pipeline, said Eagle Lake resident Mark Heiden…

    He said alternative routes through open land are available if Northern Water were willing to pay the additional cost, which he estimated at $3 million.

    Area homeowners complained they would have to endure many weeks of disruption from construction activity and loss of use of their property because of the easements.

    Northern Water has said it would pay property owners fair market value for easements and restore disturbed land to pre-construction condition or better.

    Several speakers compared the proposed pipeline to the city of Thornton’s plan to run a massive pipeline along Douglas Road. The proposal was fought by No Pipe Dream and others.

    The county commissioners rejected Thornton’s proposed route last year. Thornton has sued the county in District Court over the decision…

    The Planning Commission continued its hearing to July 15, when members will hear additional information from staff and Northern Water before deliberating on its recommendation on a permit to the county commissioners, who will decide whether to grant the permit.

    The commissioners have scheduled multiple hearings on the permit application for NISP in August.

    After the public comment was completed, planning commissioners listed several questions they want addressed by county staff or Northern Water at the next meeting. The questions reflected issues brought up during public comment, including whether Northern Water has sufficient water rights to fill the reservoir and provide recreational opportunities.

    Northern Water has said boating would be possible on the reservoir 90% of the time.

    Commission member Nancy Wallace said she wants to hear more about how plans for the project address climate change and other “big picture” issues…

    What’s next

    The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to have its final meeting on NISP beginning at 6 p.m. July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.

    Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

    The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.

    Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – Questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.

    Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

    #NISP update

    Cache la Poudre River from South Trail via Wikimedia Foundation.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday heard details of plans for constructing and operating the project, which would include building Glade northwest of Fort Collins and laying 35.6 miles of pipeline to carry NISP water out of the county.

    The information packet given to commissioners, including staff reports, environmental impact statements and comments from numerous government agencies, is 3,242 pages.

    The packet includes more than 500 comments from members of the public, including groups and individuals who have been fighting NISP since it was proposed in 2004.

    Concerns about the project and its impact to the Poudre River during federal and state permitting processes were raised again along with new issues on the county level by environmental group Save the Poudre and others.

    Larimer County plans several hearings

    Wednesday’s meeting was the first of three planned by the planning commission on NISP. It consisted of presentations by county staff members and representatives of Northern Water, the main proponent of NISP.

    No public comment was taken. That will happen during hearings scheduled July 8 and 15. An additional meeting would be scheduled if needed to allow Northern Water time for rebuttal following the public comment, county officials said.

    Northern Water is seeking a 1041 permit — named for the state law giving authority to local governments to make decisions on certain types of infrastructure projects — for NISP. The planning commission will make a recommendation on the application to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant a permit.

    Three of the nine planning commission members recused themselves from the proceedings citing the potential appearance of impartiality or conflicts of interest: Anne Best Johnson, community development director for the city of Evans, which is a participant in NISP; Bob Choate, an attorney who might be called upon to give legal advice on the project to the Weld County commissioners; and Sean Dougherty, a Realtor who represents a landowner who might be affected by the project…

    Under the county’s 1041 regulations, the county’s purview of NISP is limited to the siting of Glade and associated recreational facilities and the locations of four large pipelines that would carry NISP water through Larimer County.

    The project must meet 12 criteria for approval, including that the project would not negatively impact public health and safety and the “proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse (effects) and the benefits achieved by such mitigation,” according to the land-use code.

    County development review staff members said the proposal meets the criteria and recommended approval of the permit with 82 conditions, including requirements for several reports and plans for addressing issues such as noise and dust during construction.

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

    As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs.

    Facilities at Glade would include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking, fishing and boating. A four-lane boat ramp would be built on the southeast side of the reservoir.

    The facilities would increase recreational opportunities as envisioned in county master plans, said Daylan Figgs, Natural Resources director.

    Demand for access to recreation will likely increase as the county grows in the years to come, Figgs said. The facilities proposed by Northern would cost about $21.8 million. NISP would cover 75% of the cost, with the rest coming from the county directly or through partnerships.

    [Nancy] Wallace said she was “struck” that the county might have to contribute to the cost of recreational facilities. NISP doesn’t appear to “give much to the county” other than its recreation components and water for Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, she said…

    Christine Coleman, a water resources engineer with Northern, told the commissioners $49 million in NISP environmental mitigation work would be done in the county.

    The final environmental impact statement for NISP estimated development of the reservoir could bring in $13 million to $30 million a year in economic benefits, Coleman said. The project would contribute $16.35 million to recreation facilities at Glade…

    To keep water flowing in the Poudre, which can dry up in spots under certain circumstances, NISP would release water from Glade back to the river through a 1.3-mile pipeline.

    The added water would flow 13 miles through Fort Collins before it is picked up by another pipeline upstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Mulberry Street. The guaranteed flow through the city would be between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.

    “This will increase flows at the Lincoln (Street) gauge in Fort Collins and the Poudre River in eight out of 12 months in average years and 10 out of 12 months in dry years,” said Stephanie Cecil, a water resources engineer with Northern.

    Water would be pumped into a pipeline running east to a pipeline along County Road 1 running south. The pipeline would affect some city-owned natural areas.

    A fourth pipeline would carry water from Glade along a route known as the “northern tier” and connect with the county line pipeline.

    The pipe would run through the Eagle Lake subdivision, sparking resistance to the proposal from local residents…

    Cecil said the pipelines would require 100-foot easements, of which 60 feet would be permanent and 40 feet would be temporary for constructions. Property owners would be paid fair market value for easements, and surface disruptions would be reclaimed to pre-existing conditions or better.

    NISP’s pipelines would range from 32 to 54 inches in diameter. The northern tier pipeline would carry about two-thirds of the water going to NISP participants, Cecil said…

    What’s next for NISP in Larimer County

    The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to take public comment on NISP during hearings schedule July 8 and July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.

    Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.

    Comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed. Groups and individuals who wish to speak in person or remotely must register at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.

    The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.

    Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:

  • 6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
  • 2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • 3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
  • Information: http://larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041

    Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Larimer County staff has recommended approval of a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project with requirements that include noise, water and air quality monitoring and mitigation during construction of its reservoirs and associated pipelines.

    Engineering, health department and planning staff members outlined that recommendation to the Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday during the first of a three-part public hearing for the reservoir project, which over the past decade has drawn vocal opposition and support.

    Northern Water hopes to build the water project on behalf of 15 water providers as a way to pull water in wet years, from both the Poudre and South Platte rivers, to store for when needed. All of the participants have water conservation plans and have reduced their water use by 10%, but still need future water supplies, according to Northern Water…

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the main permit to build the project — a decision expected sometime this year after more than a decade of evaluation. However, Larimer County does have some authority through its 1041 permit on certain aspects of construction of the reservoir and its associated pipelines as well as recreation on and surrounding the reservoir.

    The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Larimer County commissioners, who will hold a public hearing that is scheduled across three Mondays starting Aug. 17 and will end with a decision on whether to grant the 1041 permit.

    The first of the planning commission dates, Wednesday, was a presentation by Northern Water and by Larimer County staff. Public comment is slated for the next two hearings, scheduled July 8 and July 15…

    Some highlights of the presentation, from both county staff and Northern Water representatives, include:

  • The realignment of U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins is not part of the 1041 permit, but Larimer County is asking that the design take into effect the impacts on nearby county roads including the already dangerous intersection with U.S. 287 and Colo. 14.
  • Glade Reservoir would be able to store 170,000 acre feet of water with 1,600 surface acres and water that could hit 250 feet at its deepest. The reservoir would be 5 miles long, and the project would include four separate pipeline segments spanning a total of 35.6 miles.
  • Recreation at the reservoir would be detailed closer to construction to reflect trends and interests at the time but would include a mixture of boating, camping, fishing and trails that would help meet demands for a growing Larimer County population. Overall, Northern Water has proposed $21.8 million in recreation amenities and improvements, including a visitors center. Northern Water has committed to covering 75% of those costs through the project; the remainder would be covered through partnerships.
  • Northern Water would need to mitigate impacts on traffic that would range between 400 and 1,600 average daily trips during construction of the reservoir, up to 300 daily trips associated with construction of the pipelines and an average of 1,150 daily trips associated with recreation.
  • Larimer County would require traffic management, dust and noise mitigation plans, as well as groundwater monitoring. Construction would be limited to daytime, and the county would require private well monitoring to ensure that those water sources are not polluted.
  • County staff members believe any impacts on wildlife, wetlands, streamflow, fisheries and other natural resources would be mitigated by existing measures in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that was approved by state officials in 2017, as well as through a water quality permit based on multiple studies and evaluations. The mitigation plan calls call for $53 million in improvements, including fish-friendly bypasses at diversion structures, a low flow plan to keep more water in the Poudre River through Fort Collins and enhancements to wetlands and wildlife habitat.
  • The project proposes swapping irrigation water from the Poudre River with water from the South Platte River, which will prevent “buy and dry” of farmland. This could keep more than 60,000 acres of irrigated farmland in production, according to Northern Water.
  • Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

    “Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available” — Don Anderson #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

    Humpback chub are one of four federally endangered fish species that rely on habitat in the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River. Humpback chub photo credit US Fish and Wildlife Service.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Recent abundant flows of Colorado River water between Palisade and the Gunnison River confluence during another spring runoff season weren’t entirely the work of Mother Nature.

    They also were the product of a coordinated, voluntary effort by operators of upstream reservoirs to coordinate releases of water into the river to bolster peak flows in that stretch of river and aid in the recovery of endangered fish.

    This was the 12th coordinated release since the first one occurred in 1997, and the fifth one in the last six years. The coordinated releases occur as conditions warrant and allow each year, to flush out fine sediment in gravel beds that serve as spawning habitat for rare fish. They also improve habitat for insects and other macroinvertebrates that fish feed on…

    The upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming are home to four endangered fish. Don Anderson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee who serves as the instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, a public-private partnership, said that what’s known as the 15-Mile Reach of the Colorado River between the Palisade area and the Gunnison River confluence is primarily used by two of the endangered fish, the razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow. But a third endangered species, the bonytail, sometimes makes use of the stretch. And a fourth, the humpback chub, which favors deep, rocky, fast-flowing stretches in places such as Westwater Canyon downstream, also indirectly benefits from water releases primarily aimed at bolstering flows in the 15-Mile Reach.

    The 15-Mile Reach experiences less of a spring runoff peak than some other parts of the Colorado River because of Grand Valley irrigation diversions just upstream. The goal of this year’s coordinated releases was to achieve daily flows averaging at least 12,900 cubic feet per second upstream at Cameo, an amount that was nearly achieved on some days last week. At times during a couple of days flows exceeded 13,000 cfs, Michelle Garrison, senior water resource specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told entities involved in the coordinated release program in a conference call Wednesday. She said the effort was a success, and Anderson agreed. He told participants that without getting hung up on exact numbers, flows at that level, which meant peak flows of about 12,000 cfs in the 15-Mile Reach, do good work for the endangered fish and their habitat.

    The effort involved in part coordinated releases by the Bureau of Reclamation from Green Mountain Reservoir, Denver Water from Williams Fork Reservoir, and the Colorado River District from Wolford Mountain Reservoir. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District also was a participant.

    “Man, you guys did a nice job of coordinating as well as you possibly could with the water you had available,” Anderson told reservoir operators…

    The coordinated releases can have benefits far beyond the 15-Mile Reach. Anderson said this year’s coordinated releases helped downstream in the Moab area by topping off flows into a wetland that is a potentially valuable razorback sucker nursery. Also, Utah state wildlife officials have reported concerns about seeing smallmouth bass, which prey on endangered fish, possibly spawning for the first time below Westwater Canyon. The coordinated releases may have helped combat that due to the higher and faster flows, cooler water temperatures and increased water turbidity.

    Coordinated runoff flows are just one water-delivery effort targeting the 15-Mile Reach. Each year releases of dedicated endangered fish water are made to boost low flows in the reach later in the summer. Also, releases sometimes are made around early April to supplement flows in the reach after irrigation diversions have begun but before the river levels gain from spring runoff. This year was the first year such releases occurred after stored water was specifically held over from last year with the primary goal of possibly serving that purpose.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service says various recovery efforts appear to be working, with scientific analysis showing the razorback sucker and humpback chub could be reclassified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

    This map shows the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction, home to four species of endangered fish. Water from Ruedi Reservoir flows down the Fryingpan River and into the Roaring Fork, which flows into the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Map credit: CWCB

    @Northern_Water: Regional Pool Allocation Set at 15,000 Acre-feet

    Here’s the release from Northern Water:

    The Northern Water Board of Directors allocated 15,000 acre-feet of Regional Pool Program (RPP) water during its May 14, 2020, Board meeting. RPP water is available for lease by eligible Northern Colorado water users, with sealed bids due May 28, 2020. Bid prices per-acre-foot must be greater than or equal to $27.40, a floor price the Board selected based on the 2020 agricultural assessment rate.

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, interim procedures have been instituted for the May 2020 RPP allocation. The interim procedure and additional Regional Pool information are available at http://northernwater.org/regionalpool.

    The following forms are required to submit a bid:

  • Pre-Approval Form – To confirm eligibility, interested bidders must email or mail the Pre-Approval Form to Northern Water. In person delivery will not be accepted in 2020. A new Pre-Approval Form is required each year.
  • Carrier Consent Form – If the RPP water will be delivered by a carrier, such as a ditch or reservoir company, bidders and their carriers must complete the Carrier Consent Form or provide a signed agreement stating that the carrier will deliver the RPP water to the bidder. This form must also be emailed or mailed to Northern Water; in person delivery will not be accepted.
  • Bid Form – Sealed bids will be accepted at Northern Water’s headquarters through a “self-serve” process. Bidders will sign in at a kiosk in the lobby and print a bid label for their sealed bid envelope. The label will identify the bidder name, date and time stamp, and bid number. Secure the label to the bid envelope and place in the drop box. Sealed bids may also be mailed to Northern Water, but must be received before the deadline.
  • Sealed bids are due by 2 p.m. May 28 at Northern Water’s headquarters, 220 Water Ave., Berthoud, CO 80513. As described above, sealed bids can be mailed or hand delivered; email and fax bid forms will not be accepted. RPP leases will be awarded based on highest bids per acre-foot. Sealed bids will be opened during a 9 a.m., June 1 Zoom video conference. The link to the Zoom video conference will be available at http://northernwater.org/RegionalPool.

    Many staff are working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are not available to answer questions in person. Questions regarding the Regional Pool Program and bid submittal can be emailed to regionalpool@northernwater.org or by calling Sarah Smith at 970-622-2295 or Water Scheduling at 970-292-2500.

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

    #NISP update

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Save the Poudre has asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reverse the water quality certification permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    The nonprofit that organized in 2004 in opposition of the reservoir project said it had 13 objections to the water quality permit, including criticisms of the mitigation plans as well as effects on streamflow…

    Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

    Northern Water has proposed the reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers, who are relying on Glade and Galeton reservoirs to store water for their future supplies.

    The water in the reservoirs primarily would come from the Poudre River…

    The project requires three major permits — a record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade is expected later this year; a 1041 permit from Larimer County, which has public hearings scheduled this summer; and the water quality certification.

    Staff with the Colorado Water Quality Division granted the certification in January…

    The appeal alleges 13 violations of state regulations in the project, including that Northern Water has not yet secured all of the needed water rights, that the project does not take the effect of climate change into its streamflow levels and that mitigation will not occur until full buildout of the project and does not allow peak flows to flush the river and restore the riparian areas…

    Northern Water disputes the allegations made by Save the Poudre. The water district has repeatedly said that it has worked hard to mitigate any damage that may be caused by the project and that is has addressed streamflow.

    Conditions agreed upon in the water quality certification include extensive river monitoring and an adaptive management program “that will bring stakeholders together to work formally on the future of the Poudre River,” according to a statement released by Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water.

    “Northern Water and the NISP participants submitted extensive documentation in our application to demonstrate our commitment to high water quality in the Poudre River,” Stahla said in the statement. “That commitment will extend for decades through the conditions agreed to by NISP participants.”

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

    @Northern_Water increases 2020 C-BT quota to 70 percent #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

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

    Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

    Above average regional water storage coupled with above average snowpack prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2020 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.

    The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 9, 2020, which was held via video to comply with state stay-at-home orders as part of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

    Luke Shawcross, manager of the Water Resources Department at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows and discussed the available water supplies in regional reservoirs.

    When setting the quota the Board considers current regional reservoir storage levels, forecasted snowpack runoff, availability of water within the C-BT system and public input.

    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.

    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, approximately 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.

    Larimer County sets #NISP hearings despite limits to gathering size during #coronavirus pandemic — The Loveland Reporter-Herald #COVID19

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

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Opponents ask county to delay the hearings

    Larimer County has tentatively scheduled hearing dates for a county permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project — hearings that are expected to draw crowds in a time of social distancing.

    Northern Water applied in February for what is known as a 1041 permit for the project, which calls for county approval of pieces of the project including a pipeline, highway relocation and recreation plan associated with the water project.

    Northern Water proposes pulling 42,000 acre-feet of water, primarily from the Poudre River, and storing it in two reservoirs on behalf of 15 water providers. The largest of the two reservoirs, Glade, is proposed to be built northwest of Fort Collins, with recreation to be managed by the county.

    The overall permit to build the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with some requirements from state agencies as well, the result of an environmental permitting process that has stretched over a decade. A federal decision is expected this year…

    Right now, the county is navigating ways to move to virtual public hearings, allowing public comments over the phone and through email for all of its meetings. There have been some hiccups as the county works to streamline the process to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic…

    For the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as of now, the plan is to have a public hearing before the Larimer County Planning Commission on May 6 and the Board of County Commissioners on June 8…

    However, Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the water district has been working on this project for a long time, has collected and is continuing to collect public input on the process. He said Northern Water will continue to work with the county to achieve that result through this hearing process.

    “We want to make sure the public has a chance to offer their input on this application,” Stahla said. “I applaud the county for trying to accommodate the public while acknowledging the health risks that are out there. We want to make sure there’s a public an deliberative process, so we’ll work with the county to make sure that happens.”

    The latest @Northern_Water E-Waternews is hot off the presses

    Southern Water Supply Project Map via Northern Water.

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

    Final pipeline pieces get put into place for Southern Water Supply Project II

    The contractors for the Southern Water Supply Project II reached a significant milestone last month with the installation of the final portion of pipeline.

    The final piece was placed along the 20-mile route near Carter Lake in southern Larimer County. The pipeline, funded by the City of Boulder, Left Hand Water District, Longs Peak Water District and the Town of Berthoud, will bring water supplies to those communities year-round.

    While the installation of pipeline is complete, additional work remains. Northern Water technicians are installing and programming equipment for integration into its SCADA system, and testing of the pipeline segments for quality assurance is ongoing. Northern Water anticipates the pipeline will start carrying water to its destination at Boulder Reservoir in April.

    Beyond the pipeline, however, work will continue on another important aspect of construction: reclamation of disturbed ground. The pipeline runs through easements on a variety of public and private properties, and reclamation crews will be working with those entities to ensure lands are reclaimed to their owners’ satisfaction.

    Garney Construction was the lead contractor for the $44 million project.

    A video of the final pipeline is available here.

    To learn more, go to http://swsp2.org.

    #Colorado grants 401 Water Quality Certification to Northern Integrated Supply Project #NISP

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

    From Biz West Media/Boulder Daily Camera (Dan Mika) via The Fort Morgan Times:

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave approval to efforts to build the Northern Integration Supply Project, or NISP, securing one of three final permits the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District needs before it can start on the $1.1 billion water project.

    In a letter to Northern Water earlier this week, officials said the state has “reasonable assurance” the project would comply with all required water quality standards at the state levels.

    The letter said while the project wouldn’t directly discharge pollutants into water sources, it has “the potential to cause or contribute to long-term water quality impacts.” It is requiring member cities to monitor 21 locations along the NISP for water conditions needed to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems, and to watch for bacteria, sediment and runoff material that could harm humans in contact with the river…

    NISP member cities and organizations include the Fort Collins Loveland Water District, Left Hand Water District, Erie, Lafayette, Windsor, Frederick, Firestone and Dacono…

    Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said the state’s approval is a major milestone for the project as it approaches the final few months of getting required permits.

    “This is something we’ve been working on for years to submit the required data, and we’re pleased to see this response from the state,” he said.

    Northern Water requires two more permits before it can start construction on the project. A final decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected by June, while the utility next month plans to file for a “1041 local powers” permit with Larimer County. Residents would then have 90 days to offer feedback before county commissioners make a decision.

    Northern Integrated Supply Project recreation plan update #NISP

    Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Plans for Glade Reservoir, the main storage component of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, are coming into sharper focus as the project approaches a series of landmark county hearings. Larimer County commissioners will review Northern Water’s 1041 permit application this spring. The permit covers the construction of Glade Reservoir and water pipelines for NISP, which would take water from the Poudre River to shore up supplies for 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts…

    Larimer County’s upcoming review of a project decades in the making is just one reason 2020 is expected to be a game-changing year for NISP — for the project’s leader, Northern Water, and for the sizable camp of people trying to stop it…

    You can now count some neighbors of the Glade site in the latter. Residents of the Bonner Peak Ranch, Cherokee Meadows and County Road 29 areas have banded together to form a new opposition group called Save Rural NoCo…

    Members of Save Rural NoCo, as well as NISP nemesis Save the Poudre, plan to make their position clear during public comment at the 1041 hearings. The hearings haven’t been scheduled yet because Northern Water hasn’t submitted its 1041 application, but it likely will do so in the coming weeks, spokesman Jeff Stahla said.

    The submission will trigger a 90-day deadline for Larimer County to hold planning commission and board of commissioners hearings…

    NISP’s main proposed pipeline would carry water from Glade Reservoir about 40 miles southeast toward the project’s participants. The other pipeline would carry water from the Poudre River in Fort Collins about 5 miles east to meet up with the larger pipeline at the county line. The nonfinalized pipeline map is posted on nisptalk.com. A portion of the proposed route is similar to that of the rejected Thornton pipeline.

    While Thornton’s 1041 proposal drew commissioners’ ire for a perceived lack of benefit to Larimer County, Northern Water might have an easier time selling NISP as an asset.

    Most of the project’s 15 participants are outside of Larimer County, but about 16% of NISP’s water yield is projected to go to Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor. FCLWD is mostly in Larimer County, and Windsor traverses Larimer and Weld counties.

    And Northern Water’s conceptual recreation plan for Glade Reservoir describes the reservoir as an opportunity to alleviate pressure on Larimer County’s highly trafficked reservoirs and support population growth. The Larimer County Reservoir Parks Master Plan identifies Glade Reservoir as a “future park strategy.”

    If Glade is built, Larimer County will likely manage recreation at the site. Early concept plans for the reservoir and its surrounding acreage include a visitor center, 170-acre recreation area, boat ramp, three parking lots, unpaved hiking trails east of the reservoir and five campgrounds totaling more than 60 camping sites. Northern Water plans to pay Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock the reservoir with walleye, saugeye, black crappie, bluegill, yellow perch and rainbow trout. Among an expansive list of other potential recreation opportunities are mountain biking, cross country skiing, rock climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, power boating and jet skiing.

    Northern Water predicts recreation at the reservoir will generate $13 million to $30 million annually in tourism, economic opportunities for area businesses and sales tax revenue.

    On the other hand, NISP would significantly decrease flows in the Poudre River during peak season, diverting more than 40,000 acre-feet annually from a river that is already heavily used. Northern Water plans to send some water down the Poudre through downtown Fort Collins to reduce the impacts here, and the project is projected to slightly increase flows during off-peak season. Northern Water has also committed to spend millions on stream channel and riparian vegetation improvements, among other mitigation efforts.

    But the Poudre relies on high springtime flows to flush out sediment and preserve wildlife habitat along the river corridor, and NISP opponents like Save the Poudre argue that no amount of mitigation spending can negate the detriment of taking so much water out of the river…

    The 1041 process is technically supposed to be focused purely on the siting of Glade Reservoir and the NISP pipelines, but debate about NISP often blurs the line between nuts-and-bolts infrastructure issues and the project’s larger significance for the Poudre River.

    The most significant review of NISP’s necessity and environmental impacts is being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to issue a record of decision on NISP in 2020. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is expected to issue a decision on the project’s water quality permit by the end of the month.

    “When this was first contemplated, I don’t think anyone predicted it would all come together in the first quarter of 2020,” Stahla said. “What it means is that (NISP) is going to be top-of-mind for the next several months for folks here in Larimer County.”

    Glade Reservoir construction could begin as soon as 2023, with the first water storage taking place in 2028…

    Save Rural NoCo’s opposition to NISP might have begun with the predicted nuisance of living near Glade Reservoir, but residents interviewed by the Coloradoan said it’s grown into a wider-ranging objection to the project’s impacts on the Poudre River and wildlife…

    Jan Rothe, who lives off County Road 29C, feels the project’s benefits are being outsourced to the 15 participants’ fast-growing communities, most of which are spread across Boulder, Weld and Morgan counties…

    Northern Water will work with the county to mitigate noise and traffic impacts near Glade, Stahla said, and commissioners can impose conditions on recreation for the 1041 permit. For example, he said, motorized boating could be restricted to the east side of the reservoir so residents aren’t bothered by the noise.

    He added that the area is already home to a shooting range and a quarry, though, so the reservoir wouldn’t exactly be the only source of noise.

    Stahla said about 50 comment cards collected at the last open house showed a mix of opinions. Most of the commenters were concerned about the recreation plan fitting in with the neighborhood rather than objecting to the reservoir itself, he said…

    And Stahla took issue with the idea that NISP serves no benefit for Larimer County. NISP’s largest participant, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, has a service area covering about 45,000 residents primarily in Larimer County. Windsor is located partially in Larimer County and has about 31,000 residents. The other communities are home to thousands of people who live in one place and commute to work in places like Fort Collins and Loveland, he said.

    Fort Collins itself gets about half its water from the Poudre River, and Horsetooth is filled with a mix of water from the Poudre and the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.

    “To look at your kid’s teacher who has to drive in from Eaton every day and say, ‘Well, that’s just a Weld County benefit” — I think it misses some of the larger points about where Northern Colorado is as a region,” Stahla said. “As the region has grown and become a mecca for economic and job growth, not everyone’s been able to fit within the area of Fort Collins Utilities. And therefore, the people outside of it need to have secure water supplies as well.”

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

    Bozeman construction firm chosen as Chimney Hollow Reservoir contractor — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Carina Julig):

    Montana-based Barnard Construction Inc. has been selected by the board of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam west of Carter Lake, the district announced in a press release Friday.

    The Bozeman firm will enter into a $485.4 million contract to build the dam for the 90,000-acre-foot reservoir. The company has previous experience working on water infrastructure projects, including the Keeyask Generating Station in Manitoba and a reservoir in central Florida.

    The firm was chosen from two price bids because it had previous experience with similar dams, had a strong safety record and offered the best value for its work, Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla said…

    Construction could begin as early as May, the release said, and is expected to take four years. The material for the dam will be quarried from the property that will house the reservoir…

    Barnard Construction will also build a 40-foot-tall saddle dam at the south end of the valley, opposite from the main dam at the north end, which will significantly increase the amount of water that the reservoir will be able to store.

    As part of the permitting process for Chimney Hollow, Northern Water is also building the $18 million Colorado River Connectivity Channel in Grand County to the west of the Continental Divide. The channel is an environmental enhancement and mitigation project that will connect ecosystems above and below the Windy Gap Reservoir, just west of Granby.

    Fort Morgan councillors approve water and sewer rate increases #NISP

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

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Slade Rand):

    Rate increases tied into planning for possible NISP construction, city officials say

    Brent Nation, the city’s director of water resources and utilities, proposed to City Council members on Tuesday night rate increases that would mean that city customers will pay 8% more for water utilities and 2% more for sewage utilities starting in January 2020.

    The Fort Morgan City Council then unanimously voted to approve those higher rates during the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

    “Looking at your average water bill for a resident in the City of Fort Morgan, it would go from $84 per month up to $90.75 per month, is what (our consultant) was projecting the change would be,” Nation said.

    That expected average increase of $6.75 per month for residential customers represents an 8% increase to the monthly consumer charge and a $0.29 bump in the commodity charge per 1,000 gallons of water. The consumer charge for a 3/4-inch water meter will increase from $42.39 to $45.78, and the charge for a 1-inch water meter will rise from $74.05 to $79.97 with the new rates.

    Sewer collection rates will increase, as well, in January 2020, with a $0.42 increase in the monthly charge for a 3/4″ residential water meter. The metered consumption charge per 1,000 gallons collected is rising 4 cents or 5 cents depending on the water meter size.

    The city is enforcing those higher rates as per the recommendation of a consulting firm Fort Morgan commissioned in 2018 to develop a 10-year water utility financial plan and a five-year sewer utility financial plan. Raftelis Financial Consulting gave the city a report that called for the two recent water rate increases and the sewer rate increase.

    Last year, the city also raised water consumer charge rates by a similar 8% across the board…

    Nation said the higher rates are necessary to better position the city and its cash reserves for completing the Northern Integrated Supply Project in the coming years, and to support the bond payments that project will require. NISP, which is entering its 16th official year in 2020, could provide up to 40,000 acre-feet of municipal water supplies for 15 cities in the Northern Colorado region by building two large water storage facilities.

    Fort Morgan committed to paying a $900,000 portion of NISP’s $10 million budget for the upcoming year during Tuesday’s council meeting.

    @Northern_Water district’s fall symposium recap

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Carina Julig):

    More than 300 people attended the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall symposium [November 20, 2019] at the Embassy Suites in Loveland to discuss the region’s water future.

    Several city officials from Loveland attended, including City Council member Steve Olson…

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    The majority of Northern Colorado’s water comes from the Colorado River, over the Continental Divide. Water is diverted through Rocky Mountains by the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and stored in reservoirs.

    As water flows become more unpredictable, with droughts some years and heavy snowfalls in other, having the infrastructure to store larger quantities of water is becoming increasingly important…

    The city has rights to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and the Windy Gap Project as well as rights to water from the Eastern Slope.

    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

    Most of Loveland’s water comes from the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, which stores water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Water & Power is currently updating its raw water master plan, which details how the city will provide water to customers for several decades, Bernosky said.

    As Loveland’s population has grown, water usage has remained relatively flat, due to more efficient home and building construction. The city has been on a 20-year trend of reducing its gallons per capita per day, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the city of Loveland’s water resources division.

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

    If the Chimney Hollow Reservoir project goes through, Loveland will have adequate water supply through 2060, Howard said. The city has rights to 10.5% of the water in the proposed reservoir, which is currently being held up by a lawsuit.

    Brian Werner 38 Years With Northern Water, A Celebration at the Source and Heart of Western Water Education! — Greg Hobbs

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

    Brian Werner 38 Years With Northern Water,
    A Celebration at the Source and Heart
    of Western Water Education!

    When we look to the future
    it’s no more fortuitous

    than finding each other
    on the journey of the great

    surveys of our lives.

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    @Northern_Water Fall Symposium recap #ClimateChange #ColoradoRiver #COriver #drought

    From The Sterling Journal Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Climate change will require municipal water planners to do a lot of planning in the 21st century.

    Jeff Lukas via the Western Water Assessment.

    Jeff Lukas, a water researcher at the University of Colorado, and Meagan Smith, water resource engineer for the city of Fort Collins, told the Northern Water Fall Symposium in Loveland Wednesday that water planners will have to think outside the box to keep up with risks to Colorado’s water supply.

    Lukas told the more than 300 people attending the symposium, hosted by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, that traditional methods of water planning won’t serve as well going forward.

    “Traditional water planning assumes history will repeat itself,” Lukas said. “It’s the ‘assumption of the stationary,’ and it looks at a single target for meeting water demand.”

    The drought of 2000-2002 called all of those assumptions into doubt, Lukas said, when the Colorado River showed the lowest annual flows on record.

    Meanwhile, northern Colorado experienced an increase in average temperatures of 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Projections are that Colorado will warm up by another 2 to 6 degrees by 2050. That means Colorado will become drier and the swings between wet and dry years will become greater.

    “We can expect more variability from year to year,” Lukas said. “That means the future is inherently uncertain, but we have to keep planning.”

    Concentric rings of various widths mark the annual growth of trees. Photo by Peter Brown, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research. Photo credit: NOAA

    He said tree ring studies have yielded some information going back several hundred years and, if the conclusions are correct, Colorado may have endured much worse droughts than anything humans have recorded.

    Smith said Fort Collins had embraced that uncertainty and has conducted a supply and demand study that yielded as many as 2,000 different scenarios the city could face. Smith said the study tracked 100 different river flows and 20 climate probabilities to try to find the variabilities her office might have to plan for. Looking at the Poudre River flows at the mouth of Poudre Canyon, Smith said the current average of 273,000 acre feet per year could shrink to as little as 190,000 acre feet, or about 30 percent less. But that’s not the number people should be focused on, she said…

    While much of the concern about future water supplies tends to focus on the Colorado River, Lukas said, the headwaters of the Colorado and the headwaters of the South Platte Basin share the same climate.

    Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

    @Northern_Water Symposium, November 20, 2019

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Click here for all the inside skinny:

    Video: The Colorado-Big Thompson Project — @Northern_Water

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

    The latest “E-WaterNews” is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water:

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

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

    Cool spring, late storms fill C-BT Project

    A cool and wet spring in Northern Colorado coupled by unusual late snowstorms combined to top off the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in 2019.

    At Lake Granby, water reached the spillway over the weekend of July 13-14. In the days before that, managers had been releasing additional water into the Colorado River to make room for incoming snowmelt.

    Because of a storm that dumped snow on the headwaters of the Colorado River on June 21, the inflow into Lake Granby climbed significantly. While earlier models had indicated Lake Granby wouldn’t fill, that storm boosted streamflows considerably.

    Northern Water was not the only organization surprised by the late snowmelt and heavy late-season storms. Denver Water, which manages Lake Dillon and collects water at the headwaters of the Fraser River, reported the snowpack that feeds its system was also far above normal this year.

    @Northern_Water meets with Larimer County Commissioners to craft IGA for #NISP

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

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Craig Young):

    The meeting between the three commissioners and four members of the board of Northern Water, which has been working since 2002 on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, was intended as a starting point in the two bodies’ goal to craft an intergovernmental agreement to govern certain aspects of the project.

    The project known as NISP, if it receives final approval later this year or early in 2010 from the Army Corps of Engineers, would result in Glade Reservoir in Larimer County and Galeton Reservoir in Weld County, and a system of pipelines to move water to and from the Poudre River and the South Platte River and to irrigation canals.

    The project, being funded by 11 municipalities and four water districts in northeast Colorado, would be capable of supplying 40,000 acre-feet of water each year…

    Although the meeting was intended as a work session, with no opportunity for public input, more than 30 members of the public filled the chairs set up in the commissioners’ hearing room in Fort Collins and required more to be brought in.

    At a few points in the Northern Water staff members’ presentations, low-level displays of disapproval could be heard from people in the audience.

    The meeting mainly consisted of slide presentations about the three aspects of the project that Larimer County has a say in: the route of the pipeline, the rerouting of 7 miles of U.S. 287 north of Ted’s Place that will be displaced by Glade Reservoir, and recreation on the new reservoir and the property around it.

    The two boards will meet again Sept. 23 to work more substantively toward an eventual intergovernmental agreement on those issues, according to staff members.

    Stephanie Cecil and Christie Coleman, water resources engineers with Northern Water, laid out some details of the three areas before the commissioners:

  • The pipeline in Larimer County would be 32 to 54 inches in diameter.
  • The pipe would be buried, and the construction would require a 100-foot-wide easement along its route during construction and a permanent 60-foot easement for future maintenance.
  • After construction, Northern Water would return the disturbed property to its previous condition or better, Cecil said.
  • U.S. 287 would be moved to the east, and its construction would be completed before Glade Reservoir is finished, to avoid traffic disruptions.
  • The new reservoir would provide about 16,000 surface acres for recreational uses such as boating and fishing.
  • A 170-acre area around Glade Reservoir would feature a visitor center, trails, campgrounds, boat ramp and parking areas, including a lot to allow people to carpool up the Poudre Canyon.
  • The recreational projects that Northern Water has committed to providing were worth $9 million when last calculated. The water conservancy district would arrange with a third party to run the recreation, such as Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife or a private company.
  • Coleman talked about the public outreach efforts that Northern Water has conducted so far, including the feedback-gathering during the environmental impact statement process, tours, more than 60 public events, informational mailings, one-on-one meetings and the recent launch of a new public-information website, http://nisptalk.com.

    Northern Integrated Supply Project upcoming discussion, July 24 #NISP

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

    Here’s the release from the Larimer County Board of Commissioners:

    The Board of Larimer County Commissioners and three members of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board will host a meeting at 1:30 p.m., July 24, 2019, at the Larimer County Courthouse Offices Building First Floor Hearing Room, 200 West Oak St., Fort Collins to discuss the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project [NISP] Intergovernmental Agreement [IGA].

    The IGA will address issues related to recreation, the relocation of U.S. Highway 287 and siting of conveyance pipelines in Larimer County.

    The public is invited to observe the discussion. Staff from Larimer County and Northern Water will be available following the meeting to answer questions from the public and written comments will also be accepted.

    An element of the proposed IGA is to include public meetings and public hearings with Northern Water, the Larimer County Planning Commissioners and Board of Larimer County Commissioners.

    There will be future opportunities for public input and hearings related to Northern Water’s proposal. For more information visit https://www.nisptalk.com/ or https://www.larimer.org/planning/hot-topics/northern-integrated-supply-project-nisp

    #Runoff news: Upper #ColoradoRiver reservoir releases planned to bolster streamflow for #endangered fish #COriver

    Katie Creighton and Zach Ahrens both native aquatics biologists for Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) standing on the temporary Matheson screen. The Nature Conservancy and UDWR partnered together to build the structure to allow the endangered razorback sucker larvae to enter the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve without the predators also coming in. Courtesy & Copyright Katie Creighton, Photographer via Utah Public Radio

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Entities including Front Range water utilities and the Bureau of Reclamation on Friday began coordinating water releases from upstream reservoirs in a voluntary effort to prolong peak runoff flows in what’s called the 15-Mile Reach upstream of the confluence with the Gunnison River. It’s a critical stretch of river for four endangered fish — the humpback chub, razorback sucker, bonytail chub and the Colorado pikeminnow.

    River flows at Cameo exceeded 20,000 cubic feet per second Saturday. The coordinated reservoir operations are intended to slow the decline of high flows, sustaining those flows for three to five days this week. The first releases from the coordinated program were expected to arrive Monday night; the flows at Cameo earlier Monday were at 18,900 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Strong flows help remove fine sediment from cobble bars that serve as spawning habitat for the fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They also help reconnect the river to backwaters where the fish, especially at the larval stage, can find refuge from the stronger river flows, said Don Anderson, a hydrologist with the agency.

    The releases are being made possible by this year’s ample winter snowpack, which means reservoir operators can release reservoir water without risking the ability to fill the reservoirs.

    Anderson said that in some years the releases are coordinated with the goal of raising peak flows to beneficial levels, but this year the peak flows were high enough it was decided that the reservoir water instead could be used to prolong those flows.

    According to a Fish and Wildlife Service news release, under the coordinated operations:

  • The Bureau of Reclamation is increasing releases at Ruedi Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir, with the Green Mountain releases including inflows bypassed by Dillon Reservoir, operated by Denver Water.
  • Denver Water is likely to increase releases from Williams Fork Reservoir.
  • Homestake Reservoir, operated by Colorado Springs Utilities, may participate in the releases after peak flows on the Eagle River recede.
  • The Windy Gap Reservoir and Pump Station, operated by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will delay pumping water to Granby Reservoir.
  • The current effort follows reservoir releases by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier this spring on the Gunnison River to boost flows for endangered fish there. In both cases, the efforts are planned in a way intended to keep from resulting in flooding impacts downstream.

    Anderson said the coordinated spring operations on the upper Colorado River started in 1997, and by his count have occurred in 11 years since beginning…

    He said that while the coordinated releases target the 15-Mile Reach, their benefits extend as far as Moab, Utah, improving management of a river floodplain wetlands there that is being used to help in the recovery of razorback suckers.

    Entities including the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Grand Valley Water User Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District, National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Xcel Energy also participate in the coordinated reservoir operations effort.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The river is flowing so fast right now that people can float the entire 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch in a day — even as few as four or five hours, Baier said. He said his company is running guided one-day trips there right now and he thinks some people are realizing they can float the stretch in a day rather than needing to make reservations for Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.

    In Glenwood Canyon, raft companies currently aren’t running the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River due to strong flows, as is typical this time of year. Ken Murphy, owner of Glenwood Adventure Co., said that closure might last perhaps a week longer this year than in a normal year. He said the Shoshone rapids have a brand appeal and people want to raft there, but high water provides lots of other good rafting options. Last year, the Roaring Fork River didn’t provide much of a rafting season, but this year is different. While it usually offers good rafting until maybe the first or second week of July, “now we’re going to be on it we hope maybe until August,” Murphy said.

    He said the Roaring Fork offers beautiful scenery away from Interstate 70 and sightings of bald eagles and other wildlife. And rapids that are usually rated Class 2 are currently Class 3.

    “It gives people enough whitewater to get wet but not scare them,” he said.

    Colorado River trips that put in at the Grizzly Creek area of Glenwood Canyon below Shoshone also are heading farther downstream than normal right now, to New Castle, due to the fast-flowing water, Murphy said…

    Murphy said his company also owns Lakota Guides in Vail. He said the Eagle River in Eagle County will be good for rafting for longer this summer due to the big water year, meaning the company can continue offering trips to guests there rather than having to bus them to Glenwood Springs or the upper Arkansas River. He said the Blue River in Summit County also will benefit from a longer boating season.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Brad Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District based in Berthoud, and Jim Hall, Northern Water’s senior water resources engineer, briefed the LSPWCD’s board of directors on Northern’s efforts to keep Colorado-Big Thompson water from leaving the Northern District…

    Wind told the Lower board that Northern is working to enforce Article 19 of the 1938 contract between Northern Water and the federal government, known as the Project Repayment Contract. That article, one of 27 contained in the contract, specifies that all seepage and return flows from the use of Colorado-Big Thompson project water are reserved to Northern Water and are not to be taken outside the district’s boundaries.

    On May 9, Northern adopted a resolution saying it would “take appropriate actions to enforce Article 19 consistent its interpretation of Article 19.”

    Wind said the heavy lifting in that effort will be tracking how C-BT water, and resulting seepage and return flow, are used. He used the phrase “colors of water,” which is a concept that holds that, through close monitoring and accounting, mixed waters from various sources actually can be tracked through multiple uses. For instance, water that is native to the South Platte Basin can be accounted differently from C-BT water, which is diverted from the Colorado River into Grand Lake and piped through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park and held in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake for distribution to C-BT members.

    Return flows are water that has been diverted from the river, used to irrigate crops or for municipal use, and either seeps back to the river through the ground or is discharged after treatment. Much of the river’s flow in the lower reaches in late summer and through the winter is from return flows from upstream use. Return flows are crucial to irrigators in Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

    “To protect return flows, we have to know what they are,” Wind said. “We have to be able to quantify what return flows are coming from C-BT use and what’s from native water. It’s complicated.”

    Hall told the Lower board that there is the danger that “change of use” cases going through Colorado water courts could result in return flows from C-BT water being shipped out of the Northern district in violation of Article 19.

    “We’re starting to see change cases on irrigation ditches moving water outside the district boundaries,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s important to track this stuff. It’s easier to track municipal water because we can look at their (wastewater treatment facility) discharges, but it’s harder to prove agricultural return flows.”

    Hall said return flows from native water are not subject to Article 19, only C-BT return flows.

    Wind said Northern will be watching closely all change of use cases that go through Colorado’s water courts and will continue monitoring water usage in the district to make sure C-BT water doesn’t leave the district.