The latest e-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

Graphic credit: Northern Water

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

Crews from Northern Water work to maintain hydroelectric plant equipment

Workers from Northern Water have taken apart some of the equipment at the Robert V. Trout Hydroelectric Plant at the outlet of Carter Lake as part of the organization’s annual maintenance program for the facility.

On Feb. 8, members of the Northern Water board of directors were told that 2017 was a strong year for electricity production at the plant. Energy is captured from the outlet at Carter Lake as water is delivered into the St. Vrain Supply Canal. That electricity is marketed through the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association to customers throughout the utility’s service area on the Front Range.

The power plant, one of two hydroelectric generation plants owned by Northern Water, has been in operation since 2012 and is authorized through a Lease of Power Privilege agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In addition to Northern’s two hydroelectric plants, Reclamation operates six additional Colorado-Big Thompson generation stations that supply renewable energy throughout the American West.

Learn more about power generation at Carter Lake

Thornton Water Project update

Map via ThorntonWaterProject.com.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Water quality is a sticking point for Thornton, which faces challenges getting all its water to drinking quality standards. Much of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River and requires extensive treatment because it’s diverted downstream of many areas of runoff and pollution, [Emily] Hunt said.

If Thornton drew the water from the Poudre near Windsor as suggested, the city would end up with water run downstream of three wastewater treatment plants and numerous runoff areas, [Mark] Koleber said.

“Urban runoff, agricultural runoff, wastewater plants, industrial discharge — it’s just not what you do for a municipal drinking water supply,” he said.

Especially considering Thornton bought the [rights to divert] because of its high quality, Hunt added.

South Platte Roundtable meeting recap

Illustration shows water availability, in blue circles, compared with demand at various places along the South Platte River. The yellow area is the study area. (Illustration by Stantec).

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

A yearlong study centered on a decades-long trend of Colorado sending too much water to Nebraska via the South Platte River yielded dozens of potential storage projects.

But high costs, potential environmental impacts, and bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles could doom the road ahead for any of those possibilities, according to a study presented Tuesday night at the South Platte Basin Roundtable meeting in Longmont.

Further, even if several of the identified projects happen, they would barely put a dent in what’s expected to be a Front Range water needs gap of 500,000 acre feet per year.

The $200,000 study, ordered by the Colorado State Legislature and paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, looked at the South Platte from Greeley to the state line and identifyed potential storage solutions along the way.

Putting any of those solutions — with costs estimates ranging from $190 million to $1 billion — to work most likely will take more time, money and study…

Consultants from Stantec Consulting Services and Leonard Rice Engineers completed the study in December and have toured the state making presentations. The Legislature has yet to get a presentation, but here are the key points legislators will hear:

A large amount of water is physically and legally available but only during wet years and during short periods.

Mainstream options have the most benefit but likely are not permittable and have significant social impacts.

Many off-channel options appear to be feasible and could be combined in different concepts.

Even multiple projects won’t make a big dent in the supply gap.

One reason for the lack of impact is how the South Platte works. When farmers divert water from the South Platte to irrigate crops, some of that water soaks underground and slowly moves back to the river. That’s called a return flow, and return flows feed the South Platte to allow it to flow long after snowmelt water is gone for the season.

That’s why the Sterling No. 1 ditch can completely dry out the river with a diversion and then a mile downriver it’s flowing again.

That’s why the best possible place for a reservoir would be near the Colorado-Nebraska border, and the best solution for keeping as much water as possible — a mainstream reservoir — is the solution that likely never will happen.

A mainstream reservoir along the South Platte essentially would be a lake on the South Platte, with the western portion feeding into the lake and the eastern portion running when the lake releases water.

Water experts agree that would be nearly impossible to get approved.

But the consultants did identify storage options away from the river, including old gravel pits.

Still, building ditches or pipes to fill those gravel pits would prove costly.

The consultants also talked about the 2013 flood and high flows in 2015, which ended up sending 1.9 million acre feet of water to Nebraska — exponentially more water than Nebraska is entitled to via the 1923 compact with Colorado.

But managing or diverting water during a flood event like that would take technology water experts said just doesn’t exist. Instead, ditch companies did everything they could to keep the flood water out of their ditches, lest they get damaged by the torrent.

Groundwater storage also was touched on, but concerns were raised about water losses and the co-mingling of other water rights. Once the water flows under another landowner’s property, for example, they would have the right to pump that water to irrigate crops.

The conversation circled back to the reason for the study. Essentially, lawmakers on the Western Slope long have pointed to the excess water the Front Range sends to Nebraska. Rather than divert more water from the Western Slope, the argument goes, Front Range farmers and municipalities need to figure out how to keep what they have.

Mike Schimmin, a water rights attorney on the roundtable, said his fear is the study will reinforce those feelings and that people will ignore the high cost to capture the extra water.

Elbert County growth fueled by sweet spot in the Denver Basin Aquifer system

Denver Basin aquifer map

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Marianne Goodland) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Water watchers concerned

There’s also worry about how much water the development would need, and whether that water will truly stay in Elbert County.

The county is in what some residents call a “sweet spot.” There are four major aquifers under the county: Dawson, Denver, Fox Hills and Arapahoe. No other county on the Front Range sits on all four. The Denver Basin, which includes the four aquifers, is the major water supply for the south metro Denver area, and reaches all the way to Colorado Springs to the south and Greeley to the north.

Virtually all of the water providers in the south metro area are looking for ways to save the rapidly diminishing water in the Denver Basin aquifers, which do not respect county lines. That’s meant millions of dollars spent to find other water sources.

And Colorado history is replete with examples of water rights in rural eastern plains counties or those surrounding towns being sold to urban interests, which adds to the wariness of Elbert residents.

Elbert County plans to tap the aquifer to satisfy its projected growth. Last year, a company hired by the county conducted a rural water supply study that would project water demands for the Independence project and another near Kiowa, the county seat, up to 2035 and 2050. Will Koger of Forsgren Associates told those gathered at a community forum that the two developments would require about 9,000 acre-feet per year by 2050, or about 3.2 billion gallons per year.

There are alternatives available, too, Koger said, noting that agricultural land that is developed for residential use will also provide water and the water rights that go with it to satisfy those developments.

That didn’t sit well with some of those at the forum, who pointed out that tapping the aquifer means pumping nonrenewable groundwater, and that could affect wells, the primary source of water for just about everyone in Elbert County.

The county has little in the way of options, with little surface water available from streams or rivers, according to an April 2017 presentation from the state Division of Water Resources.

But the demand for aquifer water is low compared to the available supply, Koger told the audience, and the developments would tap less than 1 percent of what’s available.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Independence project question whether the issue of water is about the development or if it’s about selling water to next door Douglas County. They point to a map included in the Forsgren presentation that they said shows a proposed one-way pipeline that goes from the Independence site to Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Douglas County.

The development schematics includes a proposal for six special districts that would manage the water, which strikes Richard Brown and other concerned residents as odd. The six districts, according to a water and sanitation proposal developed for the county, would be contained within a small section of the development that would not include any homes. One district is an “overlay” that would control the rest.

The developer, Craft Companies, and its owner and board would be the only voters in those districts, according to the water and sanitation proposal.

@ColoradoStateU: Research team monitors snow melt that feeds Colorado streams and rivers

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

When it snows in Fort Collins, Alyssa Anenberg heads west to Lory State Park, but not to snowshoe or ski. Instead, the Colorado State University graduate student gathers information about how nutrients move through the soil after snow falls and eventually melts.

Anenberg, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Watershed Science, is part of a team monitoring snowpack, soil moisture and streamflow at different elevations across the state. Their goal is to determine how melting snow affects the flow of rivers and streams, which has an impact on agriculture, recreation and Coloradans’ everyday lives.

John Hammond, who is working on a doctorate in Earth Sciences through the Warner College of Natural Resources, said the team is monitoring conditions at 11 watersheds across the state. In addition to on-the-ground tracking, researchers use satellite information from NASA and snow monitoring information from the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s SNOTEL network.

“It’s surprising how few people realize so much of their water supply depends on mountain snowpack,” said Hammond. “Snow isn’t just about recreation. It’s about everybody’s livelihood and it’s a very important resource for water used at home and in agriculture.”

Over the long haul, states like Colorado have measured high-elevation snowpack and used the measurements to forecast water supply. The CSU team is studying snowpack at middle and low elevations, where the snow does not last as long.

“These areas sometimes contribute large amounts of water to streamflow, but they aren’t measured by SNOTEL or other organizations,” said Stephanie Kampf, associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, who oversees this research in the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at CSU. “Predicting water supply is not just about high-elevation snow. Low elevations with mixtures of snow and rain also matter, and we need a better understanding of how much water they produce.”

To date, researchers have identified a few trends, including one that may not sound too surprising.

“Overall, we see that low snow years give us less streamflow,” said Hammond. “In Colorado, it’s typically drier. If you have a small input from a small snow event or rainfall, it might only partially wet the soils.”

What’s the solution? Hammond said one option is to change the way reservoirs, dams and ditches are managed. At the same time, reservoir management is complex.

“Reservoirs are only so large, and they’re managed for multiple objectives, including municipal water supply, recreation, irrigation and flood control,” he said. “If snow melt occurs earlier, by a few weeks or months, you’d have to store that water for a longer period. Management objectives can be in competition with each other.”

Poudre River Forum recap

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Trevor Reid);

One way water experts make progress is through collaboration, a key theme in Friday’s presentations and discussions at the fifth annual Poudre River Forum at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave. But working together isn’t always easy…

Even in the world of water experts, facts and evidence will often grab the attention of only the people whose biases are confirmed by the evidence. We learn in ways that don’t simply confirm our biases, Carcasson said, when we have genuine conversations with people we respect.

Ruth Quade, coordinator for Greeley’s Water Conservation program, said she’s worked with others her entire career in water conservation. Yet Carcasson’s presentation still rang true to Quade…

A panel of speakers highlighted some collaborations in the world of Colorado water: how state officials work with local water authorities to plan for water needs on a statewide scale, how the Fort Collins Water Utility worked with nearby water districts and more.

Kerri Rollins, manager of the Larimer County Open Space program, garnered the most questions after her presentation on a deal between the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources and the city and county of Broomfield. Larimer officials purchased a farm and its water rights southwest of Berthoud in 2016. They hoped to keep the farm in production, while offsetting costs through a water-sharing agreement. In August 2017, the alternative transfer method was finalized.

The agreement helps provide drought water to cities without the dichotomy that comes with “buy and dry” operations, where farms are permanently dried up. Rollins said the agreement was the first of its kind to share water from agricultural use to municipal use.

Click here to view the Twitter hashtag #poudreriverforum from last Friday.

Poudre River Forum recap

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

One way water experts make progress is through collaboration, a key theme in Friday’s presentations and discussions at the fifth annual Poudre River Forum at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave. But working together isn’t always easy…

A panel of speakers highlighted some collaborations in the world of Colorado water: how state officials work with local water authorities to plan for water needs on a statewide scale, how the Fort Collins Water Utility worked with nearby water districts and more.