Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):
Colorado’s water supply is under threat from climate change and population growth. Limiting outdoor use is an increasingly popular approach to conserving water, yet to implement effective conservation policies, utilities managers need a better understanding of local outdoor water consumption.
That’s what led Colorado State University’s Melissa McHale, an associate professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, to explore what drives outdoor water consumption in an area projected to undergo significant population growth in the years to come.
McHale teamed up with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Denver Urban Field Station – a research and practice unit of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station – and a water conservation specialist from Fort Collins Utilities.
Among the findings, McHale said trees can provide long-term benefits even if they need to be watered directly when they are first planted.
“Other modeling analyses have highlighted the benefits of tree shade,” she said. “But very rarely do we have real data that help us specifically create management decisions and policies that support the world we live in, and the balance we need to achieve.”
The research team found that residential properties with a higher ratio of vegetation cover to lot size tended toward less water consumption. McHale said that discovery was surprising.
“In semi-arid cities, tree cover is directly linked to land surface temperature,” she explained. “It’s a real positive result for us along the Front Range, because mature tree canopy may mean that people use less water outdoors.”
McHale said it would be ideal if people could use less water while also cooling the landscape with tree cover.
“But I’m not sure so far, the way we’re developing the land, if we’re providing opportunities in the best way we can,” she said.
Wealthier households and properties with small lots use more water outside, according to the study. These conditions are prevalent in current development patterns along the Front Range in Colorado.
“We need to make sure we provide enough space, in the right locations, for mature tree canopy to grow in these new developments,” McHale said.
Additional research from other semi-arid cities, like Salt Lake City, has shown that planting non-native trees may be better for reducing water consumption in such areas.
Local policies may hinder conservation efforts
McHale also said that subdivision homeowner associations may be setting and enforcing guidelines that encourage more outdoor water use. Most newer neighborhoods with houses built in close proximity to each other are governed by HOAs, and the research team wants to delve deeper into this question in future research.
Shaunie Rasmussen, research associate in the CSU Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and a co-author on the study, said with urbanization taking place so quickly, it’s imperative to get trees planted, to make sure they’re mature as people move into new houses along the Front Range.
“It’s important to establish this tree cover and to take advantage of the benefits of trees,” she said. “Based on our research, trees can be a water-saving resource.”
Rasmussen graduated from CSU in July 2020 with a master’s degree in ecosystem sustainability, a recently established program through the Warner College of Natural Resources, and is now based at the Denver Urban Field Station.
McHale said this research project aims to strengthen and expand upon the university’s land-grant mission.
“We’ve been really trying, as a university, to reinvent the way we engage with our communities,” she explained.
Teaming up with the U.S. Forest Service, which has played a central role in pushing the field of urban ecology nationally, was a natural fit. The City of Fort Collins has already made use of the research findings from other collaborative research projects with McHale’s lab, and included those results in planning documents and budget requests for city managers.
“That’s the essence of engaged research,” said McHale. “You learn something different by working together and the outcomes are more impactful. We’re all in this together.”
McHale was recently selected to be a member of Denver’s Sustainability Advisory Council, which was originally created in 2010 by Mayor John Hickenlooper, and continues today under Mayor Michael Hancock.
Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.
The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.
Emily Carbone, Water Resources Specialist at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.
The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.
The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. Learn more about the C-BT quota.
A federal judge has thrown out a legal action from multiple environmental organizations seeking to halt the expansion of a key Denver Water storage facility, citing no legal authority to address the challenge.
“This decision is an important step,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson for Denver Water. “We will continue working earnestly through Boulder’s land-use process and look forward to beginning work on a project critical to water security for 1½ million people and to our many partners on the West Slope and Front Range.”
The expansion of Gross Reservoir in Boulder County is intended to provide additional water storage and safeguard against future shortfalls during droughts. The utility currently serves customers in Denver, Jefferson, Arapahoe, Douglas and Adams counties. In July 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval for the design and construction of the reservoir’s expansion. The project would add 77,000 acre-feet of water storage and 131 feet to the dam’s height for the utility’s “North System” of water delivery.
FERC’s approval was necessary because Denver Water has a hydropower license through the agency, and it provided the utility with a two-year window to start construction.
A coalition of environmental groups filed a petition in U.S. District Court for Colorado against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, seeking to rescind those agencies’ previous authorizations for the project. They argued the agencies inadequately considered the environmental impact of expansion…
…Denver Water pointed out that under federal law, appellate courts, not district-level trial courts, are responsible for hearing challenges to FERC approvals. By challenging the environmental review process that led to the project’s go-ahead, the government argued, the environmental organizations raised issues “inescapably intertwined with FERC’s licensing process.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Christine M. Arguello agreed that the groups’ challenge was indeed wrapped up in the FERC approval.
“[W]here a party does not challenge a FERC order itself, but challenges another agency order that is inextricably linked to the FERC order, the FPA’s exclusive-jurisdiction provision applies and precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction,” she wrote in dismissing the case.
The Daily Camera reports that Boulder County’s approval is the final step for the expansion project.
The city of Greeley is clear to move ahead with the acquisition of an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water as a new source of raw water after opponents of the project fell short of the required number of signatures to force a special election.
Save Greeley’s Water, which formed in opposition to the Terry Ranch Aquifer Storage and Recovery project, needed to collect 2,192 signatures by Thursday to require city council to reconsider an ordinance change that was required to make the Terry Ranch deal viable, or turn it over to a citywide referendum. On Thursday afternoon, they turned in just 2,028 signatures, falling at least 164 signatures short, according to City Clerk Anissa Hollingshead.
With the referendum effort’s failure, the city will move ahead on the purchase, which will supplement Greeley’s existing water resources…
City leaders and water experts have promoted the deal as a way to secure Greeley’s water future, meeting the needs of more than 260,000 people by the year 2065, according to projections from the state demographer. In drought years, city leaders plan to draw from the aquifer, allowing them to build wells as necessary and preventing steep water rate hikes. In wet years, the city plans to inject water into the aquifer for future use, not only saving the water for when it’s needed, but preventing evaporation…
The city’s next steps are to complete the purchase and refine the infrastructure design and phased implementation plan of Terry Ranch.
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.
Additional moisture following a major snowstorm two weeks ago has provided additional drought relief to portions of Colorado’s eastern plains and mountain areas according to the latest update from the National Drought Mitigation Center.
The most notable change appeared in southwest El Paso County, where extreme drought decreased two categories to moderate conditions. Southern Teller and a small portion of northern Pueblo counties experienced a similar two category improvement.
Elsewhere in El Paso, Elbert, Lincoln, Pueblo, Prowers and Crowley counties, extreme drought moved into the severe category. Extreme conditions also decreased in Baca and Las Animas counties.
Central Kiowa County remained in extreme drought, while a small area of extreme conditions in the northwest of the county moved to severe.
Areas of abnormally dry conditions expanded to replace moderate drought in the San Luis Valley and northern Colorado. Abnormally dry conditions also appeared in southern Yuma and eastern Kit Carson counties.
No improvement was noted in western Colorado, which has been dominated by extreme and exceptional drought for months.
Recent heavy snowfall brought snow water content close to average for mid-March across most of Colorado despite the ongoing areas of significant drought.
Overall, 15 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, unchanged from the prior week. Extreme drought fell from 24 percent to 17, while severe conditions dropped to 30 percent from 33. Moderate drought increased from 24 to 30 percent, while abnormally dry conditions increased from four to seven percent, offsetting areas of more significant drought. None of Colorado is free from drought. Percentages do not total 100 due to rounding.
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.
Aurora Water is seeking volunteers for the 2021 High Line Canal Cleanup, slated from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 24, 2021. The event involves removing trash and debris from the 12-mile stretch of the canal that runs through Aurora to reduce the amount of pollution entering Sand and Toll Gate creeks. The High Line Canal Conservancy, a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving the future of the canal, is co-hosting the 2021 event. Denver Water is providing support.
Volunteers will be assigned to one of 15 segments along the route, which runs from the intersections of Havana Street and Alameda Avenue to Colfax Avenue and Tower Road. Trash bags and gloves will be provided. Segment leaders from Aurora Water and the High Line Canal Conservancy will be on hand to answer questions and assist throughout the morning.
The cleanup is a great way for youth, scouting or religious groups to make a difference to this popular recreational amenity. Volunteers must be 8 years old or older for most segments and minors must be accompanied by an adult. COVID-19 restrictions require participants to wear masks and practice social distancing. There will be a limit of 10 volunteers per team. Prior registration and a signed waiver of liability is required. In the event of inclement weather, the reschedule date is Saturday, May 1, 2021.
Skeptics and public health officials dueled over the issue of water fluoridation during Wednesday’s meeting of the Loveland Utility Commission, which last heard similar concerns in 2014.
The skeptics failed to sway the commission, however, which voted at the suggestion of Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky to recommend the city continue its practice of water fluoridation.
An anti-fluoridation panel spoke first, led by Traudl Renner, whose comments before the City Council in October prompted the meeting. She argued that emerging science has called into question the safety of fluoridation, which Loveland has undertaken since 1954.
She cited a study that indicated fluoride could damage the immune system (a panelist supporting fluoridation qualified this by saying the quoted section considered very high doses of the element)…
She also questioned the effectiveness of ingested fluoride in preventing tooth decay, which is the reason why communities such as Loveland introduce fluoride compounds into their water.
Renner and fellow anti-fluoride panelist Kathryn Jordan also brought up how accidents at water treatment facilities occasionally cause dangerous amounts of fluoride to be introduced into drinking water.
Joe Bernosky, director of Loveland Water and Power, later said he and water utilities manager Roger Berg were not aware of any such accidents having ever occurred in the city.
Jordan questioned the expense of programs such as Loveland’s, and asked why the city wouldn’t receive the chemical, which she said is the byproduct of certain industrial processes, for free…
Chris Neurath, research director for the American Environmental Health Studies Project, said studies also suggest the element is neurotoxic and notably dangerous for pregnant women and young children…
Neurath’s characterization of multiple studies was challenged by fluoridation advocates, particularly pediatrician Patricia Braun and dentist William Bailey of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. The latter called water fluoridation an “ideal public health measure.”
“There’s nothing that you have to remember to do,” he said. “You don’t have to make an appointment. You don’t have to stand in line. You don’t have to go to the doctor. All you have to do is drink and use the water. It’s inexpensive. It helps tremendously with dental disease.”
“Community fluoridation is the most cost-effective and far-reaching strategy we have to prevent cavities,” Braun said, adding that tooth decay was the number one reason she saw children going into surgery.
Braun and Katya Mauritson, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s dental director, also spoke about the savings in medical expenses seen by communities that fluoridate their water, with Mauritson estimating that Loveland’s program saves residents more than $2 million in medical bills every year.
Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend the city keep up its water fluoridation program.
OK is first step toward dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek
The U.S. Forest Service on Monday approved an application from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs for geotechnical drilling in the Homestake Valley, one of the first steps toward building a new dam and reservoir on Homestake Creek.
The approval allows the cities, operating together as Homestake Partners, to drill 10 bore samples up to 150 feet deep and for crews on the ground to collect geophysical data. The goal of the work, which is expected to begin in late summer and last 50 to 60 days, is a “fatal flaw” feasibility study to determine whether the soil and bedrock could support a dam and reservoir.
The project, known as Whitney Reservoir, would be located near the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, which is six miles south of Red Cliff. Various configurations of the project show it holding between 6,850 and 20,000 acre-feet of water. The area is home to a rare kind of groundwater-fed wetland with peat soils known as a fen.
Eagle-Holy Cross District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the project despite receiving a total of 775 comments on the drilling proposal during the scoping period. According to the public scoping comment summary, the most common topics commenters had concerns about included the potential loss of wilderness, the destruction of fens and wetlands, impacts to water quality and disturbance to wildlife.
But just 80 letters — about 10% — were individual comments that the Forest Service considered substantive and specific to the geotechnical investigation. Most comments were form-letter templates from organizations such as Carbondale-based conservation group Wilderness Workshop or pertained to concerns about the Whitney Reservoir project as a whole, not the geotechnical drilling.
“A lot of the public comments were pertaining to a reservoir, and the proposal is not for a reservoir; it’s for just those 10 geotechnical bore holes,” Veldhuis said.
Many commenters also said the level of analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t appropriate and questioned why the proposal was granted a categorical exclusion, rather than undergoing the more rigorous Environmental Analysis typical of big projects on Forest Service land. Veldhuis said the geotechnical investigation, a common occurrence on public lands, didn’t rise to the level of an EA; that could come later with any reservoir proposal.
“If the future holds any additional sort of proposal, then that would trigger a brand-new analysis with additional rounds of public comments,” she said. “Any future proposals for anything more would undergo an even bigger environmental analysis than this underwent.”
The proposed Whitney Reservoir would pump water from lower Homestake Creek back to Homestake Reservoir, about five miles upstream. Then it would go through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then to the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs. The idea of expanding the intrastate plumbing system to take more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River over to thirsty and growing Front Range cities doesn’t sit well with many people and organizations.
Wilderness Workshop issued a news release saying it would oppose the reservoir project every step of the way. The organization also launched an online petition Monday to rally opposers, which had already garnered more than 200 signatures as of Monday evening.
“We would like to see the Forest Service change course,” said Juli Slivka, Wilderness Workshop’s conservation director. The decision was discouraging, she said, but Wilderness Workshop will continue pressuring the federal agency. “The idea of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range is not very appreciated out here.”
Eagle River MOU
But Front Range municipalities are not the only ones set to benefit from a new water-storage project. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding lays out a plan for both Front Range and Western Slope entities to develop water in the upper Eagle River basin. The agreement, signed in 1998, provides 20,000 acre-feet of water a year to Homestake Partners and 10,000 acre-feet a year to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Vail Resorts, known collectively in the MOU as the “Reservoir Company.”
The Reservoir Company is not an applicant in the drilling proposal and none of the Western Slope entities that are parties to the MOU submitted comments on the drilling proposal.
Diane Johnson, communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the water provider supports Homestake Partners’ right to pursue an application for their water.
“We trust the permitting process to bring all impacts and benefits to light for the community to consider and weigh in total,” Johnson said in an email.
The Forest Service also determined that impacts to wetlands from the drilling are negligible. Homestake Partners plans to place temporary mats across wetland areas to protect vegetation and soils from the people and machinery crossing Homestake Creek. In a June letter, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the work did not require a permit from that agency.
The Forest Service also conducted a biological assessment and found that the drilling would not impact endangered Canada lynx.
This story ran in the March 23 edition of The Vail Daily and The Aspen Times.
U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Leanne Veldhuis approved the cities’ plan Monday to drill into the high-alpine Homestake Valley and test whether the underlying geology could support a reservoir diverting water from the Colorado River to the growing municipalities.
It’s an early, key step in the effort to build the new reservoir, which would be called the Whitney Reservoir, in the National Forest about six miles southwest of the town of Red Cliff.
The cities have long held the water rights to build the new reservoir and divert the water, usually destined for the beleaguered Colorado River, to thirsty residents in Aurora and Colorado Springs.
With approval in tow, Aurora and Colorado Springs have the green light to test for several possible reservoir sites in the Homestake Valley.
Greg Baker, Aurora Water’s manager of public relations, told the Sentinel last year the reservoir could be built in about 25 years if the complicated approval process pans out. The new reservoir in the Homestake Valley could hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Forest Service…
Notably, the project requires environmental impact studies and possibly an act of Congress, according to Baker, to shave up to 500 acres from the popular Holy Cross Wilderness. However, he added that the plan is far from set in stone.
The plan has drawn scrutiny from conservation groups concerned about devastating the ancient wetland habitant that retains water — an increasingly scare commodity in the West. Various endangered fish species would be downriver from the dam.
The Colorado River itself has seen reduced flows in recent decades, in part because of human-induced climate change. Many environmentalists argue that as much water as possible should be left in the river, which multiple states and Mexico rely on…
Baker said in an email that the drilling study is “routine.”
“We value the collaborative process involved in exploring alternatives that minimize environmental impacts, are cost effective, can be permitted by local, state, and federal agencies, and which will meet the water requirements of the project partners,” he said.
Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan represents seven counties that include communities like Aspen and Crested Butte. In a letter opposing the project, Donovan wrote that, “she can’t express how sternly the people in her district dislike water diversion projects to the front range,” according to CPR.
This map shows the location of test holes Homestake Partners plans to drill as part of its geotechnical investigation into the feasibility of a dam site in the Homestake Creek valley. The Forest Service has received more than 500 comments, most of them in opposition to, the drilling and the overall reservoir project. Credit: USFS via Aspen Journalism
These wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley are near the site of the proposed Whitney Reservoir. The Forest Service is considering whether to issue a permit for drilling and a geotechnical study to test whether the site would support a dam. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
These wetlands, located on a 150-acre parcel in the Homestake Creek valley that Homestake Partners bought in 2018, would be inundated if Whitney Reservoir is constructed. The Forest Service received more than 500 comments, the majority in opposition to, test drilling associated with the project and the reservoir project itself. Photo credit: Heather Sackett/Aspen Journalism
A map from Colorado Springs Utilities that shows how tunnels could bring water to Whitney Reservoir from Fall and Peterson creeks, and from the Eagle River. The map also shows the route of a pipeline to pump water from Whitney Reservoir to Homestake Reservoir.
A wetland area along Homestake Creek in an area that would be flooded by a potential Whitney Reservoir. The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are looking to develop additional water in Eagle County and divert it to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
A map prepared by Aurora Water that shows a potential 500-acre adjustment to the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the potential Whitney Reservoir on lower Homestake Creek. The map as current as of July 16, 2019.
Homestake Reservoir, which is partially in Pitkin County, but mainly in Eagle County. Below the reservoir the Homestake Creek valley is visible, as well as short section of what’s known as Homestake Road. Water held in the potential Whitney Reservoir would be pumped up to Homestake Reservoir and then sent to the Front Range. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam in the Eagle River headwaters that forms Homestake Reservoir, which diverts water to the Front Range. If the wetlands in the Homestake Creek valley contain ancient peat bogs called fens, it could hinder the progress of the Whitney Reservoir project. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journailsm
FromThe Colorado Sun (Michael Booth and Jason Blevins):
The decision to let the Front Range water utilities move forward in taking more Western Slope water is only one of countless regulatory hurdles for a future Whitney Reservoir, but conservation groups say they are adamantly against any new water transfers to suburban water users across the Continental Divide and will oppose every approval step.
Colorado Headwaters, which opposes any new dams and water transfers, said it expected the approval but remains steadfast against any progress on the project. “We don’t think it will ever be built,” president Jerry Mallett said. “They haven’t done a transmountain diversion in 45 years. Water on the Colorado River is dropping from climate change. We don’t want to lose those natural resources.”
The decision from White River said the approval applies only to drilling 10 test bore holes the utilities applied for, and does not have bearing on any future decisions should the cities pursue the dam north of Camp Hale. The proposed reservoir would hold about 20,000 acre feet…
The cities partnered with Eagle County, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Vail Resorts and other Western Slope water users in 1998 in a deal that gave water rights to Eagle River communities and developed the 3,300 acre-foot Eagle Park Reservoir on the Climax Mine property.
The 1998 Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding included plans for possible reservoirs along Homestake Creek. The agreement — which brought together a diverse group of downstream users as “Homestake Partners” in the Eagle River Joint Use Water Project — also affirmed that no partner could object to a new reservoir plan if it met the memorandum’s agreement to “minimize environmental impacts” and could be permitted by local, state and federal agencies.
The proposed Whitney Reservoir project is not new and “represents our continued pursuit to develop water rights in existence for many years,” Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Jennifer Kemp said.
Kemp said the cities have developed alternatives to building a new reservoir in the Homestake Creek drainage but those other options have not been proposed or discussed publicly. The results of the test boring and geotechnical work will help the two cities vet possible alternatives…
Environmental groups oppose new dams on Homestake in part because they would take water out of tributaries that feed the already-depleted Colorado River. But they are also focused on preserving complex wetlands called “fens” that develop over the long term and support diverse wildlife. They say fens cannot easily be recreated in any mitigation work that utilities traditionally include in dam proposals.
The headwaters group also questions why the Forest Service would encourage any steps when completion of a dam appears impossible. The utility proposals include shrinking the size of the Holy Cross Wilderness Area to create dam access, “which Congress will never approve,” Mallett said.
The city’s water utility introduces a fluoride compound into its drinking water to raise the concentration of the element to 0.7 milligrams per liter. About 0.2 milligrams of fluoride are naturally present in the water before it passes through the Loveland Water Treatment Plant.
Cities commonly add fluoride to their drinking water because of its effects on dental health. Loveland began fluoridating its water in 1954. Since then, the consensus among public health experts has been that fluoride is not harmful at the levels achieved by fluoridation.
The efficacy of water fluoridation is supported by the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Dental Association, American Water Works Association, U.S. Public Health Service and other agencies.
In October, Loveland resident Traudl Renner told the council that she and others believe water fluoridation causes various health problems and suppresses the immune system.
Council members ultimately agreed with a suggestion by City Manager Steve Adams that the topic be brought before the Loveland Utilities Commission, which advises the council on matters related to the city’s water and electric utilities.
The commission last addressed the fluoridation question in 2014 — after weighing presentations from health care professionals as well as citizens who voiced concerns similar to Renner’s, it voted to recommend the city continue adding fluoride to its water.
Wednesday’s meeting will be structured in a similar way, starting with presentations from a fluoride-skeptic panel, followed by a panel of doctors and representatives of agencies that support the practice.
Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky said he expects the commission will vote to recommend whether the city should continue fluoridating its water, and he will write a memo summarizing the meeting to be reviewed by the council…
The Zoom webinar will be accessible at http://zoom.us/s/98404604379. To make a video comment, Zoom attendees should use the “raise your hand” feature and wait to be unmuted.
Property owners affected by changes in the federal flood plain maps will have a 90-day period to appeal map changes once preliminary maps reach the comment stage, which is expected to occur soon.
Communities throughout Colorado are undergoing changes to maps as a result of new surveys. Those maps, when final, will control flood-insurance rates and local building codes.
Rigel Rucker, project manager with engineering firm AECOM, reviewed during a city of Loveland meeting Tuesday where property owners can find information and how to navigate the process.
The remapping process is part of the National Flood Insurance Program. Cities and counties participate in order to be eligible for federal disaster assistance should a flood occur and to permit property owners to buy flood insurance at federal rates…
On a granular level, property owners can input their addresses to see whether the map changes are affecting them. In most cases, they won’t see changes.
Changes have moved some properties in and others out of the flood zones. Rucker said 183 fewer properties are included in Larimer County but 12 more properties are listed in Loveland.
People who choose to appeal the mapping decisions were advised to work through city or county officials, who will forward those appeals to FEMA for consideration. Kevin Gingery, senior civil engineer with the city of the Loveland, is the person to contact with questions or appeals.
Rucker cautioned those who might appeal a decision that they must challenge errors based upon mathematical or measurement mistakes or changed physical conditions. Impacts of the 2013 flood were not the basis for the new maps, Rucker said, but rather assessments based upon aerial surveys coupled with on-ground review. A typical appeal might involve a building that was lifted out of the flood plain and is physically higher than the elevation shown on the maps.
Once FEMA rules on appeals, a letter of final determination will be issued — which is expected by the end of 2021 — followed by a six-month period in which communities will adopt the data.
Denver drainage carries contaminants into waterways at levels up to 137 times higher than federal safety limit
Colorado health officials this week declared water quality in the South Platte River as it flows through Denver highly deficient, pointing to E.coli contamination at levels up to 137 times higher than a federal safety limit.
This intestinal bacteria indicates fecal matter and other pollution from runoff after melting snow and rain sweeps Denver pollution through drainage pipes into the river. To deal with the problem, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment has imposed, in a permit taking effect next month, stricter requirements for managing runoff water pollution.
But Denver officials are fighting those requirements and twice petitioned the state health department to relax the new permit.
“What the new requirements do is drastically increase the amount of expensive system maintenance beyond what could make a meaningful impact on E.coli concentrations,” city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said.
Colorado public health officials last month rejected Denver’s latest appeal. They issued a statement standing by their demands for the city to reduce its water pollution, saying the agency hopes to avoid litigation.
A more aggressive approach is required, state health officials said in the statement, “because the South Platte remains in bad shape for pathogens.”
Denver officials told The Denver Post on Wednesday “no lawsuit has been filed” challenging the permit in state court and that they are “having conversations with the state on five or so new requirements with the hope of reaching compromise.”
“Denver’s storm sewer system is a clear part of the problem,” CDPHE permitting officials said in an email. When inspectors in 2019 sampled water flowing out of city drainage “outfall” pipes into the South Platte, they detected E.coli at levels as high as 1,970 cfu from one pipe and 8,400 cfu from another, state data shows…
“Denver has never opposed the numeric limit of 126 cfu per 100 milliliters,” [Nancy Kuhn] said, but opposes “the specific measures that CDPHE is mandating to achieve that limit.”
A consultant analyzing Denver stormwater runoff in 2018 proposed, in a document included in a 419-page state fact sheet accompanying the new permit, a comprehensive effort to slow down drainage flows, treating runoff water as a useful resource for re-greening in a semi-arid area. He recommended wide use of low-cost measures such as flattening crowned streets, installing small dams in alleys to re-direct culvert-bound gushing runoff, and converting sidewalks to “semi-pervious” surfaces that let water sink between stones into the soil.
Denver’s population growth and development boom have worked against greening to improve water quality. Developers have paved over more surfaces, leaving Denver as one of the nation’s most paved-over cities — especially in newly developed areas — sluicing away runoff water at high velocity without removing contaminants.
Denver officials directed contractors at the city’s new Globeville Landing outfall drainage pipe, in a park built over a former toxic dump site, to install an ultraviolet light. This light, city officials say, zaps away more than 90% of E.coli before runoff water reaches the river.
Wild animals such as raccoons in storm sewers add to the fecal pollution contaminating runoff, Kuhn said, and “dog waste that people don’t pick up is a huge problem and a significant source of E.coli.”
Contractors are building 7 miles of the Thornton Pipeline in Windsor and Johnstown, including boring a 250-foot-long section under the Poudre River.
“We’re doing sections in jurisdictions where we have agreements,” said Todd Barnes, spokesman for the city of Thornton.
“We wanted to get this in the ground before their developments, so we wouldn’t have to tear up new developments. We wanted to make it as efficient and effective as possible,” he said…
That elected board, in February 2019, denied the required permit for construction of the pipeline piece north of Fort Collins.
Thornton appealed that decision in 8th Judicial District Court. Last month, a judge upheld that denial based on three land use criteria. He did rule in Thornton’s favor on an additional four land use points, but the net ruling was to uphold the decision to deny the permit.
Officials with Thornton have not said if they plan to appeal that ruling, a request that would need to be filed by April 5, or change its permit request and reapply in Larimer County…
But they have said they are committed to transporting their water to Thornton.
For the sections of the pipeline running through unincorporated Weld County, Thornton has applied for a special review permit. That is scheduled before the Weld County commissioners May 5.
And in Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath, the city worked out construction and permanent easements that allow work to be underway, Barnes said.
In early 2020, construction began in both Johnstown and Windsor, 3.5-mile-long stretches of the pipeline in each of the towns, with Scott Contracting of Centennial as the general contractor.
The Johnstown piece is nearly complete, with one major section left that involves boring a tunnel for the 42-inch-diameter pipeline below the Little Thompson River, according to information from project manager Michael Welker and Justin Schaller, construction manager with Ditesco, a company hired by Thornton for onsite construction management.
Construction is active in Windsor, running parallel to County Road 13 on the east side of the road from just north of Colo. 392 to Crossroads Boulevard.
Crews on Wednesday were actively boring and building a horizontal shaft under the Poudre River for the pipeline.
Working from a site along the Poudre River Trail, workers had bored about 85 feet of the 250-foot section that will extend under the river. They are building a support structure and placing the pipeline inside. The pipe itself is metal with a concrete lining, with 50-foot-long sections welded together.
A week ago, crews finished boring the pipeline under Colo. 392…
The overall $428 million project is expected to be completed in 2025, Barnes said, with other sections completed as Thornton receives permits.
Once the pipe is laid, crews will reclaim the land, whether it is returning vegetation, working on wildlife mitigation or preparing fields for planting or grazing.
During deep freezes, our crews keep on fixing, plowing, ice breaking, measuring, sampling and caretaking.
Cold weather makes for harder work, so when we experienced one of the coldest weeks of the last 30 years Denver Water crews did just that: worked harder.
Last week dam supervisors, water quality trackers and pipe fixers pushed right on through the artic blast to keep the water stored, safe and moving in our system amid the harsh elements that wreaked havoc on so many across the country.
A challenge many homeowners also faced as personal pipes froze and broke as the polar plunge ensued.
Here’s a photo journey highlighting some of our dedicated and can-do colleagues doing their part to blow kisses at the Winter Warlock:
Frosty valves at dams make for a laborious day of icebreaking
On those super-cold weeks like last week, it’s common for ice to build up around valves. That means dam workers need to spend hours breaking ice off the valves, otherwise they could be damaged during operation. Said Andy Skinner, dam supervisor at Gross Reservoir: “I broke the ice away from a valve at night, and it was covered again just a few hours later. At these temperatures, it’s a twice-a-day operation.”
Emergency Services – It takes tough folks to find and stop the flow when a water main breaks in frozen temperatures
Members of Denver Water’s Emergency Services team, like Keegan May in this photo, are the utility’s first responders. They help shut off the water so crews can start their work to repair pipe breaks. (Read, “Breaking point: Temperature swings tough on water pipes,” to learn more about how the ups and downs of winter weather in Colorado impact water mains across Denver.)
But turning off the water flowing through underground pipes can be much more complex than shutting off the water in a house.
This image shows May, a utility tech at Denver Water, working through inches of ice created by below-freezing temperatures to find a shut-off valve.
On this cold, winter day in 2019, once the cover was located, Denver Water’s crew chiseled through the ice. Then they used a mallet to loosen the cover. Only then could they access the underground shut-off valve to stop the flow of water and begin to make repairs.
Clean water – critical year-round
Thirty inches of snow and finger-freezing temps don’t stop our field crews from their appointed rounds. Last week a crew from Water Quality Operations gathered their monthly water samples on the Williams Fork River northeast of Silverthorne.
One tributary stream was frozen over, so Nick Riney smashed through it with his shovel and worked with his colleague Tyler Torelli to scoop out water samples for testing, including assessments they conducted in the field using analytical equipment they set up on the back end of a Sno-cat. All this effort helps Denver Water understand what’s happening on the landscapes across 4,000 square miles of watershed and keeps the utility informed about any changes in high country water chemistry that we’ll be collecting, storing and ultimately cleaning to our high standards before distributing through the metro area.
Surveying the snow
Our crews also strap on the snowshoes for frequent high elevation treks to take snow measurements, part of our multi-pronged efforts to get a read on the snowpack levels in our collection system in preparation for spring runoff.
Our surveying team braves the cold as well, heading to all points of our system to get elevation readings for a wide variety of projects, including recalibrating gauges at remote reservoirs. Pictured here was a Sno-Cat trip our surveyors took just a year ago to Meadow Creek Reservoir northeast of Fraser.
Running the plows to keep everything running
Denver Water facilities from the mountains, to the foothills and plains all need to keep the roadways open so workers can do their thing unblocked 24/7.
One of many challenging plowing jobs can be found at Strontia Springs Reservoir where staff not only has to keep clear the 6.5-mile service road that is Waterton Canyon, they need to plow the feeder roads leading to the dam – and the top of the dam itself.
Plowing a 660-foot path across top of the dam is not for anyone with a fear of heights. The dam is 299 feet above the river. Slow and steady is the name of the game as there is no room for wrong turns or slipping.
And sometimes it’s just overcoming the cold itself
One of the coldest spots in Colorado and, indeed at times, the country: Antero Reservoir, on the high South Park plain, near Fairplay. Twice in the last two years, the site has drawn media attention for its bone-grinding readings around 50 below. Two caretakers save their inside work for those dates, but can’t avoid the daily duties outside, when as one of them, Eric Hibbs, puts it, “you can just see the cold, settled in there.” What does he do in face of Yukon-like conditions? “Put on a little heavier jacket.”
The city of Thornton is building sections of a water pipeline in northern Colorado despite Larimer County’s decision to deny a building permit…
Crews are working on the pipeline this week in Windsor. About five miles of pipeline is already in the ground, according to officials…
The dispute with Larimer County is centered around how Thornton will move that water south to its residents…
Thornton Communications Director Todd Barnes released the following statement to CBS4:
“We are certainly disappointed and disagree with elements of the Larimer County District Court’s decision. Although, we agree with the court’s decision that the commissioners exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River. Thornton was hopeful to move forward in Larimer County with the process of bringing the quality water Thornton owns via pipeline to our residents. We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision we will determine our next steps.”
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the city’s decision on whether to approve the Terry Ranch project. It was originally intended as a two-part series but new information presented after the publication of Part 1 necessitated a third part. Part 1 is available here and Part 3 will publish in Sunday’s Greeley Tribune…
Wood, following the publishing of the first part of this series, connected with the Tribune to share his group’s concerns. Much of what he shared is also found on savegreeleyswater.com, and many of the elements of the group’s fears and allegations had already been discussed with the city’s project manager for the project, and its deputy director of the Water and Sewer Department, Adam Jokerst.
What follows is the second part of Jokerst’s responses from a phone conversation, in question-and-answer format, to the issues raised by Wood, Gauthiere and their cohorts, including some further clarification from Jokerst via email about a question raised by Wood in his conversation with the Tribune.
Save Greeley’s Water: Injection of treated Bellvue water may dissolve precipitated uranium ore bodies, causing uranium levels to spike, causing problems with treatment.
Adam Jokerst: We hauled water from the Bellvue water treatment plant and collected that water at the location where the water would tee off the transmission line between Bellvue and Greeley, so the actual point it’d be directed up to Terry Ranch. We hauled that up, injected it underground, stored it for about 24 hours, then for three to four days, withdrew it, tested the quality and tested to see if there were any reactions between injected water and rock. We saw no evidence there would be adverse reactions somehow leeching or mobilizing contaminants.
Before we did this, we ran a variety of models looking at chemistry and geochemistry, predicting these reactions. This was a confirmation of what we thought would occur. Doing this pilot test again conclusively confirmed there won’t be reactions.
We’ll continue to do additional tests when we do the injection to doubly make sure, but we have no indication there will be adverse reactions.
SGW: Terry Ranch is not an exclusive water right in the underground aquifer. The State Land Board land, which checkerboards the ranch, is vulnerable to others filing water rights. Other entities drawing water could result in significantly less annual capacity in order to comply with groundwater extraction rules.
AJ: We have an exclusive right to the groundwater underlying the surface land owned by the Terry Grazing Association. The Terry Grazing Association lands are checkerboarded with State Land Board land, but part of the purchase agreement is an exclusive lease to the water under the State Land Board land. The water under the State Land Board land has not been decreed. It’s not a decreed water right, but if it were decreed, Greeley would have the exclusive lease on the water.
It’s a big aquifer. There are others that could file for non-tributary decrees of the aquifer in different locations, but our modeling shows that there will not be well interference. That means withdrawals from miles away are not going to affect the yield of our rights. This is common. In the Denver Basin, many different entities pump from the same aquifer; typically, there’s no interference between multiple wells. We localize draw-down, so the well depletes the groundwater around itself, but there isn’t interference between wells owned by different people.
Terry Ranch is also in the area of the thickest area of the aquifer, and it typically becomes less thick and shallower as you move from north to south, so Terry Ranch is where the most productive wells are expected to be.
SGW: The proposed Terry Ranch Pipeline Route is very inefficient from a cost and energy standpoint.
AJ: Terry Ranch will cost more to operate than our existing water treatment plants because of the pumping requirements. We will need to pump the water out of the ground, that’s energy, then the water will flow by gravity down to Greeley, but when we inject water, we’ll have to treat it and pump it. So yes, there are energy inputs required that make this more expensive. The point we’ve made about this being a drought supply is these are costs not that are not incurred every year.
An analogy on the spot: I have a commuter car with great gas mileage, and I have an SUV that costs a little more to drive. I don’t drive the SUV every day, though, and so my bottom-line budget is not significantly impacted by having a less-efficient vehicle. In this way, while Terry Ranch will be expensive, we won’t operate it all the time as we do our surface water. So rate impacts will not be as comparably increased, water rights won’t be increased comparably because we’re bringing on a more expensive treatment system. We fully acknowledge it’s more energy-intensive and more expensive, though.
SGW: The Terry Ranch/Wingfoot/City of Greeley talking points (have) referred to the $125 million from Wingfoot as something that Wingfoot is contributing to the deal. It is not a gift; it is a loan with interest. The city would be better served by financing through the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
AJ: It is not a loan.
It’s a complicated agreement. We negotiated in exchange for these credits that we’d get the assets and $125 million. There are options that give Wingfoot the right to sell us credits, Greeley the right to buy back credits, but it’s not like we’re on the hook for a mortgage. We aren’t making monthly or annual payments to Wingfoot.
SGW: The City of Fort Collins applies their sewage sludge to the land upstream of the Terry Ranch aquifer. Currently, Fort Collins applies 2,344 metric dry tons of sewage sludge per year to the property.
AJ: It is happening. Fort Collins owns the Meadow Springs Ranch located primarily on the west side of I-25, just west of Terry Ranch. And Fort Collins disposes the solids left over from waste water treatment through land application. We looked at the risk of these biosolids infiltrating into the ground and making their way to Terry Ranch.
Groundwater moves extremely slow, that’s why this is classified non-tributary, so our experts create da model flow and simulated it’d take about 1,400 years for any solids on the Meadow Springs Ranch to make it to the Terry Ranch aquifer. That’s the most conservative estimate — conservative as in the shortest amount of time.
Over time, contaminates break down, most do, and we feel the risk is low. As we’ve said, repeatedly, we’re not saying there’s no risk of contamination, but it’s very very low risk. And not any more risk than we currently see with our existing surface water supplies.
Surface water can flush out, but in Boyd Lake or Lake Loveland, there’s continuous input of contaminates. There’s no flushing that out. That’s why we treat it. It’d be nice to have pristine water sources untouched by man, but that doesn’t exist. The water department treats that water so it’s safe and great tasting.
Part three of this conversation will be published tomorrow. The city of Greeley announced Friday evening that City Council would allot extra time to public comment — a full hour — during the March 2 council meeting wherein the endorsement for the purchase finalization will be voted upon.
The meeting, which takes place at 6 p.m. March 2, can be commented on via the city’s Zoom platform at greeleygov.zoom.us./j/98241485414. A link is also being provided to sign up to speak, at signupgenius.com/go/4090D4BACAD2AAB9-march. Sign-ups must be made before 5 p.m. March 2.
Residents who wish to comment will be allowed three minutes each, unless more comments than can fit in an hour are presented, in which case the time will be limited to two minutes each to accommodate as many comments as possible.
Residents may also submit comments prior to the meeting in writing at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to the City Clerk’s Office, 1000 10th St., Greeley, CO, 80631.
FromKUNC (Luke Runyon) via High Plains Public Radio:
The city of Greeley wants to keep growing, and it needs water to do so.
Over the last couple years, city leaders have focused their energy on testing and developing an underground water supply to make that growth possible. The Terry Ranch project, estimated to cost upwards of $318 million to fully build out, would give the city access to an untapped water source — a rarity on the fast-growing, water-tight Front Range.
Unlike the city’s existing water storage, held in reservoirs along the Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins, the Terry Ranch project represents a pivot in how Greeley has developed new water supplies since its inception as the agricultural temperance settlement, the Union Colony, in 1870.
Instead of enlarging one of its existing reservoirs, city leaders are envisioning the massive groundwater basin on the Colorado-Wyoming border, sitting below grazing bison herds, as its way toward future growth, drought resilience and climate change adaptation…
Jokerst stood next to a test well drilled deep into an aquifer that’s held in place by layers of rock below the property. Think of it like an enormous contact lens under the surface, filled to the brim with water. State officials have deemed the aquifer “non-tributary,” meaning it doesn’t drain, or isn’t connected, to a flowing waterway.
The well is delivering treated drinking water from the city’s existing water treatment plant into the aquifer to see what happens to it after spending a few days below the surface. The treated water, the same thing you’d get if you turned on a faucet in Greeley, is trucked into the high elevation grassland by the thousands of gallons. It’s then pumped back out and tested.
As the pump whirred in the background, Jokerst ticked off the factors that he says make this project the smartest way to ensure Greeley can keep growing, without breaking the bank.
“This very well could be the future of Greeley’s water supply,” he said.
City officials have been pitching the Terry Ranch project to residents since making the project public knowledge in June 2020, while at the same time studying its efficacy. Here’s how it would work: Greeley would get the water in the aquifer, and $125 million to cover a portion of infrastructure costs, from a private company, Wingfoot Water Resources. The city would have years to build the pipelines, treatment facility and pump stations needed to draw water out of the aquifer, and put additional water in it.
Water needs aren’t so severe in the city that they’d need to bring it online rapidly, Jokerst said.
The first six miles of pipeline could begin construction in 2022, Jokerst said, while a full project build out could take 15 to 20 years. If dry conditions eat into their existing storage, that timeline could be sped up…
The idea for this new storage project was born out of an old one. The Terry Ranch project came up as an alternative to the city’s proposal to enlarge its Seaman Reservoir on the North Fork of the Poudre River. Expanding dams and flooding riparian habitat — home to at least one threatened species — comes with its own financial and legal problems. And when the aquifer project presented itself as a cheaper alternative capable of storing more water with fewer environmental concerns, Jokerst said the city took it seriously…
Climate change is already raising temperatures across Colorado, and diminishing the snowpack the city relies on. This project is an investment in diversifying how Greeley stores water, as droughts are projected to grow in length and intensity over the next several decades, Jokerst said.
If the Terry Ranch project moves forward and is approved by the city council, Jokerst said Greeley will exit the 15-year federal permitting process to make Seaman Reservoir larger, having spent roughly $19 million on that dam project so far.
Private backer bets on future water needs
The logistical diagram of how water would move from the Poudre River to the aquifer and then from the aquifer to future homes and businesses is complicated. The financial arrangement to make this deal possible is moreso.
By handing over ownership of the water, Wingfoot, which owns the aquifer now, would receive credits, redeemable by developers interested in building within city limits and in need of new water taps.
As part of the deal, Greeley gets a big underground bucket of water and some cash to develop it, while Wingfoot makes their investment back when new water users — like subdivisions, commercial districts and factories — come knocking.
The aquifer under Terry Ranch is estimated to hold 1.2 million acre-feet of water…
In the deal, Wingfoot will receive 12,121 credits, each one equal to one acre-foot.
Right now, developers without ready access to water supplies can pay what’s called “cash in lieu” to Greeley to supply water to new construction. The city’s current cash in lieu rate for one acre-foot is $36,500. When selling the credits, Wingfoot will likely come under that cost to stay competitive with Greeley’s rate, Jokerst said.
While it’s not easy to pin down with certainty the exact value of the water at stake, it’s possible to game out some scenarios. In a highly unlikely hypothetical scenario where Wingfoot sells all 12,121 credits immediately after closing for the slightly discounted price of $36,499, the water credits would be worth $442.4 million…
But the big unknown is how fast Greeley will grow, and how much water it will need…
The Greeley city council is expected to take a final vote on the deal during its March 2 meeting.
Click here to read about Greeley Water’s proposed aquifer storage and recovery project:
Greeley has a long history of investing in its water future. The foresight and diligence of past city leaders and water pioneers ensured Greeley continuously seeks opportunities to plan for, and secure, Greeley’s water needs. Terry Ranch is the next frontier.
Top 6 Things You Should Know
The Terry Ranch project would add 1.2 million acre-feet of water to the city’s vast, existing water portfolio. Terry Ranch is an aquifer storage and recovery project, in which an underground pocket of water has been isolated in the rock for thousands of years. While new to Greeley, aquifer storage and recovery is common in the West. Click here to read the facts about Terry Ranch aquifer storage.
The federal government required the city to look for alternatives to enlarging Milton Seaman Reservoir. Terry Ranch emerged as the most environmentally friendly alternative among hundreds of water storage options. Click here to read the history and background.
A group called Save Greeley’s Water, spearheaded by John Gauthiere and Paul Wood, both former longtime employees of the city water department according to their various internet profiles, has raised what it sees as concerns about the Terry Ranch project.
Their website, http://savegreeleyswater.com, includes dozens of allegations about the city’s plans for the underground aquifer, and a group of a little more than a dozen people participated in a protest Tuesday around City Hall waving signs that read “Don’t Tread on Greeley’s Water,” “Recall City Council” and “Hell No We Won’t Glow! Roy Otto You Have to Go!” among other, similar things.
The Tribune spoke at length with project manager and deputy director for the Water and Sewer Department Adam Jokerst about these concerns, line-by-line, issue-by-issue. Following are the majority of the group’s claims against the city, along with Jokerst’s answers explaining the city’s position in response, as well as some Greeley Tribune-led followup questions. Jokerst’s comments have been lightly edited for space.
Save Greeley’s Water: (Pursuing Terry Ranch) Will make acquisition of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for enlargement of Milton Seaman Reservoir impossible.
Adam Jokerst: It’s unlikely that we would be able to receive a permit to enlarge Milton Seaman Reservoir, and the unlikelihood became more and more apparent as we progressed through the permitting process. We found a less environmentally damaging, practical alternative through the Terry Ranch project. If Terry Ranch goes through, we would pause or suspend permitting for Milton Seaman — not to say we wouldn’t do it sometime well in the future, but Terry Ranch really meets our needs for the foreseeable future.
Greeley Tribune followup: Is permitting the main reason you consider Terry Ranch a better alternative to enlarging the Milton Seaman reservoir? Or are there other advantages of the Terry Ranch project?
AJ: Permitting, that’s the driving issue. It’s just that we live in reality, and it’s easy to say we should go build Milton Seaman, but we have to get those permits. If we can’t get those permits, it’s nota realistic project. That’s number one.
Some other benefits of Terry Ranch compared to Milton Seaman are affordability. Not only is it cheaper, but we can build it over time, and I can’t stress how important that is, because it means we can keep rates low.
We presented in the past rate increases with Terry Ranch versus Milton Seaman, and our rate impacts would be pretty drastic. Rate increases would be pretty drastic with Milton Seaman. We’d have to build it all at once over a few years compared to a fe decades with Terry Ranch.
There are fewer environmental impacts with Terry Ranch, which means we can build right away. That’s important. The fact that there’s no evaporation, that’s big, too.
But, yes, Milton Seaman is a smart project; that’s why the city pursued it for so many years. We’d love to do that, but we live in reality, and we have to — our charge is to develop water supply and water storage. We must do that in a way that’s realistic and cost-effective.
SGW: (The project) will result in the loss of two valuable conditional water rights totaling 14,892 acre-feet. At the current cash-in-lieu price for water, that would be a los of $506,328,000 for Greeley Citizens.
AJ: Greeley filed for what are called conditional water storage decrees. This is a process through Water Court by which an applicant can file for a water right before they have the storage reservoir in place or built where they plan to store the rights. The reason for that is we recognized building reservoirs takes a long time, so these conditional rights hold our place in line for when the reservoirs are eventually built.
There are two water rights, conditional storage rights associated with Milton Seaman. One is the Milton Seaman enlargement decree, for 10,000 acre-feet. It has a 1980s priority. To give context, 1980s priority is extremely junior — junior meaning it only comes into priority during very wet years, and by coming into priority, it means one is able to actually use the water, divert the water, under that right. The second right is called the Rockwell Ranch right. This was filed on a proposed reservoir on the south fork of the Poudre River in the 1970s, at the time a joint project between Greeley and Fort Collins. That’s a little under 5,000.
That (second) right’s already moved from Rockwell to Milton Seaman, recently. Water Court allows us to move those rights. By moving those rights, it gives water providers some flexibility to refine plans for reservoir projects the state understands takes a long time and analysis to develop. Similar to the Rockwell right, we plan on moving these rights to Terry Ranch or to other water storage reservoirs.
We won’t lose these rights. We’ll move them. That’s a fact.
I think there has been some speculation these rights are far more valuable than they are, and I say that because we want to make clear Greeley is not giving up hundreds of millions of dollars in water rights. They’re so junior — most rights we rely on year-in and year-out are 1860s, 1870s-type priorities. These are 1980s priorities. The value of the right is much less than what has been stated. That valuation is very inflated.
Here’s an example of a comparable situation: The city of Fort Collins in 2013 failed to file diligence on the Halligan Reservoir, and that right was abandoned, for somewhere around 33,000 acre-feet. This was a priority senior to Milton Seaman. The city (of Fort Collins) settled with a law firm, and the final settlement was around $2.5 million. I bring that up to illustrate the absurdity of a $500 million valuation.
These rights being so junior, they may only divert water every four or five years in a very wet year. We found with Milton Seaman, those years they come into priority, Milton Seaman may already be full. So they have some use, but they’re not a value that a senior water right on the Poudre River provides.
SGW: Terry Ranch ground water will forever change the perception that Greeley has excellent drinking water. Water samples have shown various degrees of contaminants such as uranium, arsenic and manganese. These contaminants require special treatment to remove.
AJ: Our studies, our diligence activities, are all listed on our website (greeleygov.com/terryranch). I encourage anybody to review those engineering and scientific documents, which prove conclusively the high-quality, treatable nature of the Terry Ranch water.
Judge Stephen J. Jouard of Larimer County District Court ruled in favor of the Larimer County Board of Commissioners’ decision to deny the city of Thornton’s application to build a water pipeline in the county, a major blow to the city in its years-long effort to complete the Thornton Water Project by 2025.
The ruling forces Thornton to appeal the decision with the Colorado Court of Appeals or submit a new application, creating new problems for the 26-mile stretch of proposed pipeline in Larimer County.
Jouard’s decision arrived after three years of back-and-forth conversations between Larimer County and its citizens to determine the least disruptive route for Thornton’s pipeline, which the city has determined is necessary to adequately supply water to residents in the future.
“We are certainly disappointed and disagree with elements of the Larimer County District Court’s decision,” said Thornton spokesperson Todd Barnes. “We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision we will determine our next steps.”
Thornton filed its first application for the stretch in Larimer County on Jan. 5, 2018. The route in the application was one of four viable paths the pipeline could travel. Larimer County staff said the first application met all the criteria, according to the city’s complaint in Larimer County District Court. However, the county planning commission recommended that the board of commissioners deny the application, which it ultimately did.
In subsequent months, the city revised its application several times over, proposing the alternate routes it initially identified. None of the alternative routes involved diverting water down the Poudre River in place of a pipeline, a suggestion the city has vehemently rejected. However, some citizens and county commissioners have endorsed the Poudre River alternative.
Ultimately, the board issued its final rejection of Thornton’s application March 19, 2019 and said the city’s application didn’t meet seven of the 12 criteria required for approval. The board cited the Poudre River alternative as a reason for its denial. The city filed its civil case in Larimer County District Court April 16, 2019.
Though Jouard ultimately sided with the county commissioners, he didn’t do so completely. He said three of the criteria the board used to deny the application were valid, such as the pipeline being inconsistent with the county master plan and that the pipeline would have “significant adverse effects on associated land without adequate mitigation.” Meanwhile, the judge said there wasn’t enough evidence to support the other four criteria the board cited in its denial.
One of Jouard’s big findings the city celebrated is that the board could not deny the application because of the Poudre River alternative. “We agree with the court’s decision that the commissioners exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River,” Barnes said.
Barnes said the city doesn’t anticipate delays in the overall timeline for the Thornton Water Project’s, which the city plans to complete by 2025. “We’ve prioritized other sections of the project so we have time to work on the issues in Larimer County,” he said.
So far, the city has completed five miles of it in Johnstown and Windsor. Thornton will go before the Weld County Board of Commissioners May 5 for approval of the pipeline’s other major section.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sady Swanson and Jacy Marmaduke):
Jouard’s decision, released Monday, said Thornton officials did not meet three of the criteria required: The plan submitted was not consistent with the county’s Master Plan, did not provide reasonable design or siting alternatives, and did not provide an adequate mitigation plan to any adverse environmental effects of the land, according to court documents.
“Thornton was hopeful to move forward in Larimer County with the process of bringing the quality water Thornton owns via pipeline to our residents,” Thornton’s Communications Director Todd Barnes said in an email statement. “We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision, we will determine our next steps.”
Barnes did not say if Thornton officials plan to appeal this decision…
Larimer County commissioners included Thornton’s lack of consideration of the Poudre River alternative in their initial denial. In Monday’s court decision, Jouard found the commissioners had no authority to deny the permit because Thornton officials didn’t explore that specific alternate path for the pipeline.
However, Jouard upheld their decision because the application failed to meet multiple criteria.
While disappointed with the court’s ruling, Barnes said Thornton agrees with the court’s decision that the county “exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River.”
Larimer County’s rejection of Thornton’s permit application applies only to the proposed path through unincorporated parts of the county. Thornton has intergovernmental agreements with Windsor and Timnath allowing pipeline construction and is crafting an agreement with Johnstown, Barnes previously told the Coloradoan.
Amid dry soils and struggling snowpack in Denver Water’s collection area, longer-term Colorado River challenges also loom large.
Denver Water’s supply managers are closely attuned to the dry weather, lagging snowpack and poor soil moisture in its mountainous collection area that could mean heightened efforts to conserve water this summer.
At the same time, the utility is closely engaged with a more persistent and growing long-term challenge: a drying trend across the seven-state Colorado River Basin.
The two issues go hand-in-hand.
While early snowpack has been underwhelming, a few recent storms brought us closer to average in the two nearby basins that matter most to Denver Water: The South Platte and the Colorado.
Even so, the long-running drought across the southwestern United States persists. And earlier this year, a new warning was triggered after updated projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation suggested poor inflows to Lake Powell could put the reservoir at a level low enough to take new steps.
In short, the BOR said Lake Powell — the massive storage vessel that serves as the bank account for the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah — is at risk of falling below an elevation of 3,525 feet in 2022.
That’s important to Denver Water and many Colorado water users as a century-old law requires states in the upper basin to send a certain allotment out of Lake Powell each year to the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.
Under major agreements developed between the federal government and the seven states in 2019 called drought contingency plans, Reclamation’s projection initiates a planning process with water leaders across the upper basin states to address ways to avoid further elevation declines in Powell.
This is a trigger point to say, “Hey, it’s time to ramp up our monitoring and planning, to be ready to address the potential further decline in reservoir levels,” explained Rick Marsicek, planning manager for Denver Water. “This was a metric, developed to ensure the upper basin states focus harder on next steps should Lake Powell be at risk of hitting that level.”
Planners focused on 3,525 feet as a trigger point, so as to have time to act before Lake Powell falls another 35 feet, which would threaten its ability to send enough water through turbines to generate hydropower, another important element of Powell’s operations. Hydroelectricity at the dam provides power to more than 5 million customers.
It’s an initial step toward drought contingency plans, which could be triggered as early as 2022 in the Upper Basin. The lower basin’s DCP was triggered last year, when projected shortages in Lake Mead, the other gargantuan Colorado River reservoir — a sister of sorts to Powell — required Arizona and Nevada to pull smaller amounts from supplies stored there.
All of this movement comes amid other developments important to Denver Water and water interests throughout Colorado.
The state of Colorado is working with water providers and users across the state to gauge the potential of a “demand management” plan. Such a plan would compensate water users to temporarily and voluntarily conserve water that would flow instead to Lake Powell as a deposit in a sort of bank account. Such a “pool” of water would maintain critical water levels in Lake Powell and could later be released if necessary to assure Colorado River Compact compliance.
Water users kicked off a study related to demand management in 2020. Irrigators in the Kremmling area fallowed some parcels as part of a detailed study on how high-elevation farmland would respond should water be left off the land in some growing seasons.
At the same time, the basin states, in partnership with the federal government, are beginning to dig into a new set of guidelines to help manage river supplies that must be complete in 2026, when an existing set of interim guidelines is set to expire. These guidelines co-exist with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and numerous other agreements that make of the “law of the river,” which split the river between the two big basins and the country of Mexico.
Closer to home, Denver Water and other metro area and Front Range water providers are coordinating in preparation for a year when they may have to toughen summer watering restrictions to address a dry winter and spring. It’s too early yet to know for sure how supplies will look, but the meetings that kicked off this month are an effort to get ahead of the situation and see where watering and conservation messages can be aligned to help the public understand the potential need to reduce outdoor irrigation between May and October.
“There is a lot happening, and that’s a good thing,” Marsicek said. “Far better to overplan and overprepare than to simply hope for the best. We’ve had drought years before, and we have a long-term drought now in the Colorado River Basin. By working together and planning not just for a hot summer, but for a drier long-term future, we can meet this challenge with our eyes wide open.”
Two proposed water management bills filed for the 2021 Colorado General Assembly session could prove to be problematic to water interests. Both bills were discussed Tuesday during the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy Districts board of directors meeting in Sterling.
One bill, originated by State Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron and co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, calls for an evaluation of ways to implement underground water storage, as called for in the five-year-old Colorado’s Water Plan. Another seeks to clarify the rights of various members of a mutual ditch company, especially when some shares of the company are owned by non-irrigators.
LSPWCD manager Joe Frank told his board he has “some concerns that we’re mixing apples and oranges” with the underground storage bill. Frank said that, although it’s a statewide bill, it still comes down to taking unappropriated water out of the South Platte River Basin and storing it outside the basin.
“You’d have to move the (water) out of the South Platte basin into a designated basin,” Frank said. “Almost any underground storage inside the (South Platte) basin is going to be alluvial to the river.”
That means attempts to store the water underground inside the basin would only result in water being pulled out of the river in times of excess flow and pumped right back into the river’s aquifer, resulting in no actual benefit. Instead, the water would have to be pumped and piped to a designated basin outside the South Platte basin, such as the Ogallala Aquifer, to be pumped out again at a later time.
The other problem, Frank said, is getting the water into the storage basin in the first place. He said designated basins are best recharged by pumping water into a surface reservoir and letting it seep into the aquifer below. Otherwise, high-powered pumps are required for deep injection well storage.
According to Holtorf’s bill, the Colorado Water Conservation Board would contract with “a Colorado institution of higher education” to do the study, but no specific college or university was mentioned in the draft bill.
The second draft that Frank discussed concerns water rights for members of mutual ditch companies. Sometimes called irrigation companies or just ditch companies, these companies are owned by member shareholders who receive water during the irrigation season according to the size of their shareholdings. As the name implies, the shareholders mutually agree on who gets their water when. Irrigators don’t receive their water continuously during the irrigation season, but in large quantities over short periods of time. Over the course of an irrigation season, all shareholders get their share of the water, just not all at the same time.
Problems arise when non-irrigators, such as municipalities or industries, own shares of mutual ditch companies. That ownership occurs through a change-of-use case adjudicated in Colorado Water Court. Those “change cases” can cause confusion in the running of a ditch company because the new users generally want their water continuously during the irrigating season.
There also is contention over what happens to water that a shareholder doesn’t use; at issue is whether the unused water can be used by other shareholders or must be turned back to the river or reservoir from which it came.
At the heart of the matter is a 1975 water case, Jacobucci v. District Court, which should have settled the matter. A key passage in that decision states, “the benefit derived from the ownership of such stock is the right to the exclusive use of the water it represents …” Exclusivity, as understood by most in the legal profession, means “if it’s mine and I don’t use it, you can’t use it either.”
Most ditch companies, however, don’t actually operate that way, but allow the use of unused water as long as it’s put to beneficial use. It is, according to LSPWCD Vice President Gene Manuello, a matter of common sense.
“It’s just common sense that we all work together,” Manuello said during the meeting Tuesday. “That’s why it’s called a mutual ditch company, we work to our mutual benefit. Let’s not change how we run a mutual ditch company.”
The draft legislation seeks to clarify the rights of mutual ditch company shareholders but, according to the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, it does anything but that.
Frank told the board the bill has “a lot of moving parts,” and seems to have been inspired by recent change cases. He said attempts to figure out exactly what the bill means haven’t been very helpful. Manuello, who sits on a number of water boards and committees, said he was on a conference call about the bill recently and gained no new insight from the meeting…
The draft legislation was submitted by Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Water Committee, and Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, who is the ranking Republican on that committee.
South Platte River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey
Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey
High-tech device ‘swims’ through Denver Water pipelines looking for trouble spots.
How do you inspect a water pipeline buried several feet underground and far too small to safely walk through?
In some cases, you send in a tool specifically designed to go with the flow and collect data along the way.
In the fall of 2020, Denver Water tested a somewhat unusual looking, high-tech device called a PipeDiver to inspect several miles of buried pipeline.
The PipeDiver is a state-of-the-art piece of equipment operated by Pure Technologies, a division of Xylem Inc., a company that specializes in pipeline monitoring and assessments for clients around the world. The company has been using the tool for inspections since 2010.
“We have about 3,000 miles of pipes in the metro area and we take a proactive approach toward monitoring their condition,” said Devin Shable, an engineer at Denver Water. “We have several methods to inspect our pipelines, but this was our first time using the PipeDiver.”
Denver Water used the PipeDiver to inspect two pipelines, a 3.7- mile stretch of pipe in Centennial that runs under open space, University Boulevard, East Dry Creek Road and Colorado Boulevard. The other inspection was on a 2-mile stretch of pipe under West Alameda Avenue and West Bayaud Street in Denver’s Baker and Valverde neighborhoods. The pipelines range in size from 30 to 36 inches in diameter.
Over time, pipelines can deteriorate, leading to leaks and ruptures. Many sources of stress from inside and outside the pipe can take a toll on a pipeline’s condition. These sources include soil type, how the soil interacts with the pipe, age, pipe material and how the pipe was constructed.
“Based on problems we’ve had on other pipelines of similar age and conditions, we wanted to do a thorough assessment of these two pipelines to see if there are any issues,” Shable said. “Proactive inspections are a critical part of our operations to prevent pipe breaks.”
Shable said buried pipelines are challenging to inspect for many reasons.
First off, exterior inspections of pipelines would be costly and very disruptive to the community, as they would require large excavations to expose long exterior sections of pipe for inspection.
As for inspecting a pipe from the inside, some pipes are too small for a person to walk through. Even if a pipe is large enough, there are many safety and logistical challenges to overcome before allowing someone to perform an internal “manned” inspection.
Another challenge is that traditional “manned” inspections require draining a pipe, which can lead to lengthy disruptions in water service to customers.
The PipeDiver solves many of these issues.
“One of the biggest benefits of the PipeDiver is that we can leave a pipeline in service while we do the condition assessment,” said Brian Hext, project manager for Pure Technologies. “This tool can be more convenient for water utilities.”
But using the PipeDiver to inspect a buried pipeline still requires extensive planning, coordination and proper execution.
“Each time we do an inspection, we have to custom build the PipeDiver for the specific type and size of the pipe,” Hext said. “For Denver Water, we used two different PipeDivers for the two pipelines.”
The PipeDivers used for the Denver Water inspections look like 10-foot-long, mini-submarines made of several tube-like canisters that contain the electronics systems.
The articulated sections of the PipeDiver allow it to bend around sharp turns in the pipeline, much like the joint at the middle of a “bendy bus” allows it to weave through city streets.
On the front of the PipeDiver is a special nose that helps guide it through valves inside the pipeline. About 24 flexible, flower-like plastic petals stick out of each section to keep the device centered in the pipe as it moves along.
One of the PipeDivers used in Denver Water’s inspections was equipped with high-definition cameras on the tail to capture images inside the pipe.
“We like to joke that it looks a little bit like a prehistoric fish,” Hext said. “It does not have a motor and simply uses the flow of the water to move through the pipe.”
Crews must carefully assemble, test, balance and disinfect the device before each inspection.
Maintaining safe water quality is critical during the inspection process. In addition to an extensive cleaning and disinfection process for the PipeDiver, Denver Water had a water quality operations expert on hand to run tests during the inspection to ensure the utilities’ safe drinking water standards were not impacted by the inspection.
Once the PipeDiver is put together, the Pure Technologies team inserts it into an access point in the pipeline. The devices are equipped with GPS technology so crews can keep track of them as they float through the pipe.
After the PipeDiver completes its route, crews use custom-designed nets to catch the device and pull it out of the pipe.
To inspect pipes made of metal, such as cast iron, the PipeDivers are fitted with ultrasonic technology while electromagnetic technology is used to inspect pipes made of concrete.
“What we’re looking for with the concrete pipe are the wires wrapped around the pipe that help hold it together,” Hext said. “If those wires break, it can cause the pipe to burst.”
The ultrasonic technology used for metallic pipes measures the thickness of the pipe and areas of corrosion.
“If we find a place where the thickness is less than what it should be, we pinpoint that location as a potential issue,” he said.
“As with any new inspection technique, there was a learning curve that we had to work through to complete the inspection with the PipeDiver tool,” Shable said.
Denver Water crews worked with the Pure Technologies team to open all the valves in the pipeline, to give the PipeDiver a clear path through the pipe sections it was inspecting. Another challenge involved adjusting the flow of water through the pipes to ensure the PipeDiver moved at the optimal speed for data collection.
Following the inspection, Pure Technologies will analyze the data from the inspections and then send reports with the findings to Denver Water.
“The inspection went well and the PipeDiver did its job,” said Luke Switzer, field team leader with Pure Technologies. “We should be able to get some good data to help Denver Water make informed decisions down the road.”
In addition to using the PipeDiver, Denver Water’s proactive approach to assessing pipelines includes “manned” inspection techniques and real-time pipeline monitoring equipment.
Manned inspections require draining the water from the pipeline to allow for an inspector to walk through and assess the pipe.
Real-time monitoring equipment, used on some sections of important pipelines, includes the use of acoustic fiber optic monitoring systems (read a TAP story about that technology here) and equipment designed to detect pressure changes and leaks.
Data from inspections also helps in the planning process of prioritizing when pipes should be replaced. This is important because replacing large water pipelines is expensive. For example, a project to replace 2,205 feet of pipeline in north Denver in 2020 cost nearly $4 million dollars.
Denver Water uses inspection data as well as other factors including number of leaks, breaks, maintenance projects and outages to collect a full picture of a pipelines’ overall health.
Once all the information is compiled, the utility decides if small “targeted” repairs are needed or if certain sections need to be repaired to maintain a desired level of pipeline reliability.
If those options are not deemed to be cost effective, then full replacement of the entire pipeline may be needed.
“Having a good understanding of the condition of the pipe allows us to make decisions about the timing of replacement and allows us to push expensive projects out into the future,” Shable said. “The inspections help inform our decisions on what we need to address today and what we need to plan for down the road.”
‘We have shareholders, and when there’s high demand, they’re entitled to use the water.’
As a citizen campaign presses elected officials to intervene in the depletion of Lake Loveland, the Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. this week responded to criticisms and concerns about the water level in the city’s central lake.
Lake Loveland was transformed from a natural depression into a man-made reservoir around 1900. Today, GLIC operates the lake and owns the land it covers, which fills up in April and May. The company starts delivering water to clients around June, and drainage stops at the end of the irrigation season, around October.
When the lake is drained, parts of the lake bed may become exposed, generating aesthetic complaints from residents as well as clouds of airborne dust.
Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. general manager Dan Kammerzell said Thursday that the lake was then 38% full, or about 20 feet deep at its deepest point (he said if the lake was filled enough to reach the edge of the landscaped area next to U.S. 34, it would be about 42 feet deep).
He said he believes the frustrations fueling the recent Fill the Love campaign are due to a “misunderstanding” of the fact that the lake is a water storage resource. He added that water levels have always fluctuated with the piping of water to the company’s clients in Weld County…
After a regular meeting of the company’s governing board on Wednesday, Kammerzell declined to answer additional questions about levels relative to past years but sent the newspaper a statement in which he said the lake is generally around 40% full when drainage stops in the fall.
He added in the statement that one factor causing levels to drop in recent years was a 2018 decree by the Northern Water Conservancy District limiting how Colorado-Big Thompson water may be stored…
In 2018, a rule introduced by the district ensured that project partners would only be able to store C-BT water if the water was released and used the same year, Kammerzell wrote. Greeley previously stored about 5,000 acre-feet of C-BT water in the Lake Loveland, a significant share of the lake’s 12,000-13,000 acre feet of storage capacity, but has since stopped…
Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky and City Manager Steve Adams sent a memo to the City Council last week laying out the city’s analysis the problem of “fugitive windborne sand” blowing off of the lake bed,
Council members last held a closed-door meeting on Jan. 19 to talk about the water level of the lake as well as threats of lawsuits from nearby property owners because of the blowing dust. Loveland owns rights to less than 1% of the water and uses it to irrigate city parkland.
The memo states that water levels were lower in 2018-19, when Greeley and GLIC were working on the hydraulic gates that allow filling and drainage of the lake.
A 2020 analysis by Loveland Water and Power’s Water Quality Laboratory shows the dust is primarily comprised of quartz, making up about 60% of the material by weight on the north side of the lake and 56% to the south.
The lab also tested the sediment for potentially toxic chemicals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and iron, but “none were detected at concentrations of concern.” Further analysis showed that less than 5% of the lake bed dust was 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller — small enough to be breathable…
Ultimately, the memo dismisses the possibility that the city could regulate the problem on its own or add its own water to the lake to cover more of the sand.
It recommends that “the Lake Loveland Recreation Club Inc. and affected lakefront residents work with the GLIC to implement lake bed controls such as silt fences or roughening the surface through harrowing or chiseling” to stop the dust from becoming airborne.
Peaks to People Water Fund have launched its Big Thompson Initiative in Northern Colorado to proactively treat wildfire risk through accelerated forest restoration and stewardship in the watersheds.
The Big Thompson watershed’s water infrastructure supplies between 40 percent and 55 percent of Fort Collins, Loveland, and Greeley’s annual water needs, providing water to 30 additional towns and cities along the state’s front range. The state’s forests have become dense and overgrown after years of protection from wildfire, which has increased the risk of severe wildfires such as the Cameron Peak Fire that threaten water supplies with sedimentation and debris.
“Living in an environment where fire is part of the natural cycle is our reality in Northern Colorado, but Peaks to People and its partners are working to return the forest to a healthy condition that minimizes the intensity of fires when they do strike,” said Alex Castino, Great Outdoors Colorado Land Protection Program Officer. “This allows people and small businesses, plants and animals, waterways and water infrastructure, to bounce back quickly and thrive in this beautiful place we all call home,” Alex said.
The Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires west of Fort Collins emphasize the urgent need for proactive treatment with a combined cost of over $149 million to suppress them and more than 1,000 miles of river impacted. The Peaks to People Water Fund team has analyzed and determined that treating 37,000 acres within the 575,000-acre Big Thompson watershed could reduce 90 percent of severe fire risk while conserving the forests most essential for water supply.
Peaks to People plans to invest a total of $90 million through the Big Thompson Initiative over the course of the next ten years to restore forests to their natural state and reduce the risk of severe wildfires. Treatments are costly at as much as $3,600 per acre with Peaks to People working with partners to leverage funds to stretch contributions…
Peaks to People have partnered with the Colorado State Forest Service, Nature Conservancy of Colorado, Big Thompson Conservation District, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, Brendle Group, and the Center for Collaborative Conservation to make this initiative successful. More funding must be raised to accomplish the initiative’s goals even though some funding is already in place.
Aurora Water, the city’s water utility, will co-chair the regional group.
Spokesperson Greg Baker said it’s still too early to tell whether Aurora Water’s vast network of reservoirs and sources will lose enough water to trigger use restrictions in city limits. So far, dry soils, low snowpack and extreme drought conditions in much of the state aren’t painting the picture of a summer flush with water…
The utility and others are banking on big snow-makers hitting the mountains in the spring, which tremendously benefit water networks in high river basins…
Currently, Aurora Water has about two years of water supply stored in various reservoirs and facilities. The utility usually hopes for a three-year supply in storage, and low levels may trigger restrictions, Baker said.
Aurora Water would make a decision to restrict water usage in April, Baker said. Until then, water managers have their fingers crossed for big storms in April and May, which can make the difference between a flush and lean water year for Front Range suburbanites.
The water utility last cut water usage in April 2013, according to Baker. That September, the bizarre “1,000-year flood” clobbered Front Range communities in Boulder, Jamestown and Lyons.
Baker noted that, with climate change, extreme weather events are more commonplace.
“You have extreme drought followed by extreme precipitation,” he said. “So managing that is a bigger challenge.”
Weld County Wyoming, a political committee registered last year by Christopher “Todd” Richards, wants to place a measure on the November 2021 ballot that, if passed, would instruct county commissioners to engage and explore annexation with Wyoming.
“We’re not really moving,” Richards said during a November meeting at a local church that was recorded and posted on a website built to promote the proposed measure. “We’re moving a line.”
At the meeting, Richards said he got the idea for Weld County Wyoming after reading a Denver Post opinion article, admitting he considered the idea the “funniest thing I’ve ever heard.” Still, Richards later created a Facebook page to gauge interest that has since garnered nearly 5,000 likes.
“This has never been done before, so we’re not here to tell you this can be done,” Geoffery Broughton, a local pastor, said at the meeting. “We’re telling you this is a hard thing that we think is worth trying to do.”
A pair of rural Oregon counties are one election cycle ahead of Weld County Wyoming. In November, Jefferson and Union counties approved ballot measures to push lawmakers to consider relocating to Idaho, a state they believe is more representative of their political views.
Two other counties rejected the same measure proposed by a group led by Mike McCarter called Move Oregon’s Border. What’s next? McCarter hopes to push similar ballot measures in 11 other counties as soon as this year, with a vision of ultimately taking 22 of Oregon’s 36 counties to a new “Greater Idaho.”
It won’t be easy: The reallocation of any county would require votes by the state legislatures in Oregon and Idaho as well as the U.S. Congress.
The Weld County Wyoming movement faces similar long odds, with Richards stressing at the meeting that the process would be “long” and “daunting.”
If Weld County joined Wyoming, Vermont would suddenly become the country’s most sparsely populated state, with Wyoming’s population increasing by nearly 60%. The Colorado county east of Fort Collins has a population of about 324,000.
Wyoming, with about 579,000 residents, has long celebrated its standing as the country’s least populated state since the 1990 U.S. Census. One Cowboy State radio station even pulled together a “10 Reasons NOT to Move to Wyoming” list that includes too much fresh air and not enough traffic.
Why is Wyoming a better fit for Weld County? At the meeting, Broughton said it was because Colorado was “at war with three major economic drivers for Weld County: small businesses, agriculture, and oil and gas.”
A similar idea proposed in 2013 that aimed to form a new state with several northern Colorado counties failed, though it passed in five of 11 counties where it appeared on the ballot.
“There are a lot of consideration(s) for Weld County voters if they want to secede to Wyoming: income tax, personal property tax, corporate state income tax, retirement income tax, gas tax, severance taxes on oil and gas, and water rights to name a few,” Jennifer Carroll, the mayor of Erie, said in a statement. “If Weld County residents approve the ballot question, the Colorado legislature has to approve it, the Wyoming legislature has to approve it, and it’s possible both Colorado voters and Congress will need to approve it as well.”
Tommy Butler, a member of the Greeley City Council, offered a blunter assessment to KDVR-TV.
“I absolutely love living in Colorado,” Butler told the TV station. “For those that don’t love living here, there are certainly less ridiculous ways of moving to Wyoming.”
Jeff Lukas co-wrote a Colorado River book. It deserves attention, he says, but it’s not the only river of the West!
Jeff Lukas calls the Colorado the “charismatic megafauna of Western rivers.” This riverine equivalent of grizzly bears, bald eagles, and humpback whales gets lots of attention, including national attention.
Some of that attention is deserved. It has the nation’s two largest reservoirs, among the nation’s tallest dams, and many of the most jaw-dropping canyons and eye-riveting national parks in the country. It also has 40 million to 50 million people in Colorado and six other southwestern states, plus Mexico, who depend upon its water, and a history of tensions that have at times verged on the political equivalent of fist-fights.
Just the same, Lukas admits to some crankiness about all the attention lavished on the Colorado River—including his own. It is not the only river in the West. Other rivers, including those in the state of Colorado, have problems and attributes, too. They should, he says, get more time on stage. These other rivers, too, do an awful lot of heavy lifting.
Lukas recently became a water consultant after 11 years at the CU Boulder-based Western Water Assessment, a program that works with water decision-makers across Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, along with other research institutions. Before that he was a dendrochronologist, an analyst of the rings found in the bores extracted from trees to understand past growth and hence weather and climates. He calls himself a geographer at heart.
If he has never rafted the Colorado River’s great canyons, Lukas knows the river basin very well. After all, he was the co-lead author on a recently-released 500-page synthesis report—essentially, a book—called “Colorado River Basin Climate and Hydrology: State of the Science.” Brad Udall, a former colleague of Lukas’s at Western Water Assessment, called it the “most comprehensive scientific report ever produced about the Southwest’s iconic river.” [Click here to read the Coyote Gulch post about the report.]
Even before climate change began to intrude into the hydrology of the river, as Udall and other climate scientists have now documented, the Colorado River was tasked to be all that everybody wanted it to be. It’s unlike the Mississippi, dumping vast amounts of water into the Gulf of Mexico. The Colorado is a much smaller river and, since the 1990s, has almost never delivered water to the Sea of Cortez, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. That is part of the river’s drama.
Other river basins have drama, too. The rivers may not be as long. Their canyons may not be quite as absorbing. The challenges, though, aren’t all that different.
The Colorado River Basin “doesn’t have as many unique challenges as we’ve been led to believe,” says Lukas. “It gets too much attention. It leads to a biased view of Western water issues, at least from a national perspective. Most other rivers do not get examined in the same way, either by researchers or the media.”
A case in point is the river book shelf. Every year a new book seems to come out about the Colorado River. The South Platte River? Not so much. There’s Ellen Wohl’s body of work, including “Virtual Rivers” and “Wide Rivers Crossed,” Tershia d’Elgin’s memoir about her father, “The Man Who Thought He Owned Water,” and “Confluence: The story of Greeley Water,” one of several books by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs. The shelf is short for books about these other rivers.
The South Platte is in many ways Colorado’s most important river. It arises along the Continental Divide in Colorado, near the town of Fairplay, traveling south before circling around for descent through the foothills to the Great Plains. If you’ve flown from Phoenix to Denver, you have hewed to some of this route as the plane glides down toward landing. Continuing north before veering eastward at Greeley, the river is augmented by the Poudre and the Big Thompson, along with Clear Creek, the St. Vrain, and Boulder Creek.
In its journey the South Platte and these tributaries provide water for 4 million of Colorado’s 5.8 million residents and some of its most productive farms. As recently as 2015, some 86% of the water in the South Platte gets used by agriculture – sometimes time and again. By some estimates, water from the Platte gets used seven times before the river meekly enters Nebraska, thoroughly tired.
Like the Colorado River, the Platte has problems aplenty. The Colorado has been tamed, but so has the South Platte. The Colorado becomes nothing—literally—shortly after it enters Mexico. The South Platte becomes basically nothing during its journey through Denver.
Context always matters. “You know the saying that all politics is local,” says Lukas. “All vulnerability is local.”
Even within this one basin, the challenges differ. Consider the consequences of the 2002 drought. Aurora, the strapping suburb on Denver’s eastern side, came uncomfortably close to draining its reservoirs. In response, the city tightened up conservation measures but also created a major water-reuse project called Prairie Waters. It reclaims water released after treatment at the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant after it has flowed for about 20 miles in the river’s banks and adjoining aquifers. Near Fort Lupton, the water gets drawn from an aquifer for pumping 34 miles back to Aurora Reservoir.
Denver Water, a much bigger provider, rode out that drought more easily. There were pinches, which it is still trying to address via both conservation but also expansion of Gross Reservoir. But the point is that context matters—and, oh by the way, it’s not just the Colorado River struggling to meet all the demands imposed on it.
This is from the Jan. 28, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at http://bigpivots.com
Making his case even more granular, Lukas points to the needs and vulnerabilities in just one city, Boulder.
“People who live in Gunbarrel (a community jutting out from the city’s northeast corner) have a different vulnerability relative to their water supply than do people in the central part of Boulder, because they are served by a different set of raw water sources, treatment plants, and pipelines.”
Like the Colorado River, the Platte is a contentious river among the states through which it passes. Actually, there has been contention in nearly every river originating in Colorado.
Consider the Rio Grande, which arises in the San Juan Mountains and flows through the San Luis Valley on its way into New Mexico and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. New Mexico believes that the river never delivers enough water. From south of that border, flows are carefully monitored.
The Arkansas River Basin has also provoked expensive courtroom showdowns with Kansas. Colorado and Kansas don’t even pronounce the name of the river the same, East of Holly, where the river enters the Sunflower State, it becomes the ar-Kansas River. In the Centennial State, it’s universally the Ar-kan-saw River.
Sure, the Arkansas and the South Platte both benefit from imported water from the Colorado River Basin. In the case of the Platte, a little more than 33% of the annual flows comes from the various tunnels and ditches that extract water from the Colorado River headwaters. But just because these rivers get help from the Colorado River does not diminish their own unique challenges.
Again, there’s the question of how can the co-author of a 500-page report about the Colorado River say that this same river gets too much attention, at least compared to other rivers. Lukas acknowledges he sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.
It is, he says, a matter of balance.
“It would be valuable to have this same sort of science synthesis done for other basins as well,” he said.
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor January 26, 2021.
West Drought Monitor January 26, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor January 26, 2021.
Click here to go the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
The heaviest precipitation this week fell on a swath across southwestern Kentucky and immediately adjacent locales (3.0 to 4.5 inches), and the higher elevations of Arizona (3.5 to locally over 6 inches). Moderate to heavy amounts of 1.5 to locally 4.0 inches pelted the rest of Kentucky, southern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, just north of the central Gulf Coast, and patchy areas across southern Virginia and the interior Southeast. Similar amounts dotted southern California and the higher elevations of the southern Sierra Nevada and the Four Corners region, especially across Arizona. Light to moderate precipitation extended across the remainder of the interior Southeast, from central Texas northward through the upper Midwest, across some lower elevations of the Four Corners region, in parts of the southern Great Basin, through most of the Sierra Nevada, and along much of the immediate West Coast. Much of the precipitation fell as heavy snow late in the period from Kansas and Nebraska to the lower Great Lakes. Amounts topped one foot at scattered spots across southwestern Iowa and southeastern Nebraska, with Omaha, NE reporting just under a foot. Small areas of moderate precipitation were observed in some areas to the lee of Lakes Erie and Ontario, but otherwise, the driest areas this week – reporting little or no precipitation – stretched along the northern tier of states from the Cascades through New England, most of the Intermountain West, the High Plains, southern Texas, Florida, the southern Atlantic Coast, the northern Ohio Valley, and the middle Atlantic States. No large, broad-scale changes were appropriate as a result, but numerous smaller-scale adjustments were introduced…
Moderate precipitation and/or heavy snow hit eastern Nebraska and Kansas, and isolated but heavy precipitation fell on some of the higher elevations of Colorado. Other areas received light amounts at best. Decent snowpack and recent heavy precipitation in the highest mountains led to some improvement in the protracted D2-D4 in a few ranges in north-central and south-central Colorado. Areas farther north experienced another dry week, resulting primarily in a fairly broad expansion of severe drought into northeastern Wyoming and the western Dakotas…
Persistent above-normal precipitation led to improvements across the southern tier of the region as well as the southern Oregon coast. At the same time, continued deficient precipitation led to significant expansion and/or deterioration of D3 and D4 conditions near the Nevada/California border, and D0 to D2 conditions across Montana and adjacent Wyoming. Notably, the protracted D4 conditions in central Arizona finally eased slightly as the higher elevations report above-normal precipitation and a favorably enhanced snowpack. Smaller areas of improvement due to recent increased precipitation were brought into north-central New Mexico, southwestern Arizona, and southeastern California…
Moderate to heavy precipitation fell on swaths of Tennessee and the lower Mississippi Valley, bringing improvements to some of those regions. But the precipitation was not widespread, and some parts of this area that missed the heavier precipitation saw an increase in dryness and drought. Farther east, heavier precipitation was more sparsely distributed through Oklahoma, northeastern Texas, and central Texas, with the remainder of Texas recording only light amounts. Besides adjustments to short-term cry areas in response to the rainfall pattern, moderate drought persisted in southwestern Tennessee, and expanded into larger sections of northwestern Mississippi and south-central Louisiana. In addition, an area of severe drought was assessed in an area centered near Tallahatchie County, MS where 90-day rainfall totals were 8 to 10 inches below normal and 6-month totals were 10 to 12 inches below normal. In the expanded area of moderate drought in southern Louisiana, 6-month rainfall totals were as much as 15 inches below normal, but shorter-term deficits are less remarkable…
Over the next 5 days (January 28 – February 1, 2021) the heaviest precipitation is expected along the immediate West Coast, southern Cascades, and Sierra Nevada. These areas are expecting 3 to locally 7 inches of precipitation. Meanwhile, 1 to 3 inches are expected in the central and northern Cascades and the higher elevations from northeastern Oregon to northwestern Wyoming. Up to 2 inches may fall on north-central Utah, the higher elevations of Arizona, and part of Nevada. Farther east, the western half of the Plains should be dry, and only light precipitation is forecast across the northern Great Lakes, lower Mississippi Valley, Gulf Coast, Florida, and upper New England. Moderate to locally heavy precipitation should fall on a swath from much of the Mississippi Valley eastward through the southern half of the Appalachians, middle Atlantic region, and upper Southeast. The eastern half of North Carolina should pick up 1 to 2 inches. In the portions of the Plains expecting very little if any precipitation, daytime temperatures should average at least 3 degrees F above normal, with a swath from the Texas Panhandle to eastern Montana averaging 6 to 12 degrees F warmer than normal. In contrast, most of the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts and the Southwest should average at least 3 degrees F below normal. Daytime high temperatures will average at least 6 degrees F below normal in central Arizona, northern California, the upper Northeast, and lower New England.
The ensuing 5 days (February 2 – 6, 2021) bring enhanced chances of surplus precipitation in a broad area from the Rockies to the East Coast, excluding much of Texas and Florida. Odds favor above-normal precipitation throughout Alaska as well. Meanwhile, deficient precipitation is more likely across the Florida Panhandle, the southern one-third of Texas, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Warmer than normal weather is favored east of the Mississippi Valley and north of Florida, with the highest probabilities covering New England. Milder than usual conditions are also expected in the southern half of Alaska. Meanwhile, the odds favor subnormal temperatures from the High Plains to the West Coast, especially across California and most of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.
The first six months of 2021 are predicted to be dryer than normal, and the Evergreen Metropolitan District is reminding residents that it isn’t too soon to conserve water.
All foothills residents, whether in a water district or on private wells, should be concerned about drought, and EMD General Manager Dave Lighthart is already expecting to impose water restrictions in the district as soon as April.
“The stream-flow forecast that came out in January is showing critical issues throughout the state but most importantly in the Bear Creek and the Mount Evans watersheds,” Lighthart said. “We want people to be aware that we are extremely dry. The long-range forecasts for the (foothills) are that temperatures will likely be higher than normal with an equal chance of lower-than-normal precipitation.”
According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, as of Jan. 1, Colorado’s year-to-date mountain snowpack was 83% of normal and precipitation was 70% of normal. Last year, the snowpack was 119% and precipitation was 92% of normal.
The 2020 water year, which ended on Sept. 30, 2020, finished on a record dry note, according to the conservation service. The combined precipitation in August and September 2020 totaled the lowest in the 36 years the service has kept records. Then October precipitation across Colorado was 47% of average.
Last summer, EMD instituted Level 2 drought restrictions and was concerned it would need to move to Level 3 — the strictest level — until a couple of rainstorms in July increased water flows in Clear Creek.
EMD’s Level 1 requests voluntary reductions in water usage; Level 2 requires mandatory cutbacks in both residential and commercial outside watering; Level 3 requires no outside water uses and assesses fines for violations.
Lighthart said EMD generally waits until April to begin water restrictions, hoping that the typical spring snowstorms will positively impact snowpack, but “the long-range forecasts are not being very positive in that regard.”
Disclaimer: I work for the City of Thornton and I am quoted in this article.
As drought conditions intensify across Colorado, at least 14 cities in the Denver metro area say they will join forces to warn residents of looming water shortages and the need to cut back use this spring.
Denver Water’s Jason Finehout said a metro drought coordination effort would help ensure a consistent message on reducing water use in what is shaping up to be another alarmingly dry year.
“Right now 14 cities have signed up, but I expect that number to grow,” Finehout said.
Finehout said Denver Water would likely not decide until March whether to impose tough watering restrictions, but other participating communities, such as Thornton, are likely to move ahead.
Thornton’s John Orr said the city planned to implement restrictions sooner rather than later in order to prepare for what is likely to be a water-short year.
“Our team recommends that we treat this as a start to a multi-year drought,” Orr said. “We’re trying to be cautious.”
Orr’s comments came at the Jan. 21 meeting of the state Drought and Water Availability Task Force.
Last year was the state’s second-driest calendar year on record, according to the Colorado Climate Center, leaving soils ultra dry. That is worrisome to weather trackers and water utilities, because the soil is likely to absorb much of the water coming out of this year’s snowpack.
Colorado basin-filled SNOTEL snowpack map January 27, 2021 via the NRCS.
Statewide Basin High/Low graph January 26, 2021 via the NRCS.
Right now snowpack statewide is at 78 percent of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and stored water supplies are also below average. Last year reservoirs stood at 107 percent of average at this time, but are now at just 82 percent of average.
“2020 was a doozy of a year,” said Peter Goble, climate specialist at the Colorado Climate Center. “And we just continue to fall farther and farther behind,”
In November the state announced it would activate a statewide emergency municipal drought response plan for only the second time in its history, citing the deteriorating water forecasts. The agricultural portion of the plan had already been activated over the summer.
Colorado has experienced four severe droughts since 2000, but the trend has intensified with the drought of 2018 barely lifting before 2020 brought searing temperatures and dry weather again.
Few expect this year to be any different. “My personal demeanor has gone from cautious to concerned,” said Swithin Dick with the Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch and which is a member of the new drought group. The district’s water reservoirs stand at 55 percent of capacity, a benchmark that is 25 percent lower than normal for this time of year, he said.
Denver Water will partner with Aurora Water to lead the coordinated drought communications response effort, Finehout said, with the first meeting tentatively scheduled for early February.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
A forest burns during the High Park Fire West of Fort Collins in 2012. Photo credit: University of Colorado
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
The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Mesmerized by miles of mountainsides of blackened trees and seared soil that hugs the banks of the upper Poudre River, it’s difficult not to reflect on the 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 flood.
You can’t help but wonder, given the steepness of the slopes and the severity of the riverside scar left by the Cameron Peak Fire, if Northern Colorado is poised for a repeat of history regarding the Poudre River.
Come spring, snowmelt, rainfall and potential flash floods are almost certain to wash large amounts of ash from Colorado’s largest wildfire, soil and even entire trees into the river that serves as a source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Collins and the surrounding area…
A recent Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the Cameron Peak Fire indicated a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by ash- and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.
And that’s only the half of it.
Fort Collins receives half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from Horsetooth Reservoir, whose water quality could be impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.
An assessment for the East Troublesome Fire estimated 53% of the burn area suffered moderate (48%) or high (5%) soil burn severity compared to 36% — 30% moderate and 6% high — for the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire assessment also showed more than half the soil tested to be repellent to water absorption…
By the time the 112-day Cameron Peak Fire’s flames were finally extinguished on Dec. 2, a watershed recovery collaboration of area municipalities, Larimer County, federal and state agencies, water providers and organizations such as the coalition, was already meeting to start planning efforts to address the fire’s impact.
This isn’t the first fire for many of those stakeholders, and lessons learned from the High Park Fire are helping the group quickly prepare for this spring’s impacts.
That being said, the Cameron Peak Fire was more than twice the size of the High Park Fire and paired with the 193,812-acre East Troublesome Fire — the second-largest wildfire in state history — delivered a massive one-two punch to several watersheds, making recovery even more daunting…
Mark Kempton, the city of Fort Collins’ interim deputy director of Water Resources and Treatment, said the city has implemented steps since the High Park Fire to better equip it to handle the after-effects of a major fire.
He said the city has installed warning systems along the Poudre River that alert it several hours ahead of water turbidity issues so workers can turn off the water supply. When the city turns off the Poudre River supply, it can draw on Horsetooth Reservoir water. That was the case for 100 days during the High Park Fire.
The High Park Fire taught recovery leaders to include the use of shredded tree mulch instead of straw mulch to better prevent the mulch from blowing away for soil and slope stabilization. Strategically increasing culvert size also reduced damage to roads.
Kempton said another key component will be workers removing sediment by flushing the water treatment system more often and removing sediment from the river intake system and catch basins.
Audubon works to protect wildlife like birds and their habitats.
As part of an agreement between Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas, this water transfer would help meet the state’s delivery obligations within the Republican River Compact.
But over the years, water from the Platte River has heavily been used by municipalities and agriculture.
This has led to the compact being short on water deliveries for quite some time.
The state also has an agreement with other neighboring states to balance this overused water supply through the Endangered Species Act, which began about 30 years after the river compact, and through the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program that aims to add water back to the river…
A diversion of the already short water supply to the Republican could create a ripple effect.
“Overall, taking water from one basin that is already water short and transferring it to another basin that’s water short.. that doesn’t really give us a long term solution. It doesn’t provide certainty for water users and it potentially has ecological impacts for both river basins,” said Mosier.
Taddicken said almost 70% of the water from the Platte River is gone before it even makes it to Nebraska and an interbasin transfer would heavily impact the its supply.
“This water removed from the Platte actually leaves the basin which is a real problem. Moving water around irrigation canals and things like that, eventually a lot of that water seeps back into the groundwater and back to the Platte River. This kind of a transfer takes it out completely,” said Taddicken.
He said farmers in the Platte River Valley should be really concerned if the transfer goes through…
Streamflow also helps to create multiple channels and varying depths which attract many wildlife species, especially birds.
“Sandhill cranes, whooping cranes, piping plovers and other birds.. they use those sand bars for protection. That’s where they like to nest and roost, so that’s really important. Stream flow makes that happen,” stated Mosier, “there’s also an important connection between streams on the Platte River and wetlands. Those wetlands are where a lot of birds and other wildlife find their protein sources.”
Taddicken said we’ve made a lot of compromises for wildlife already as the width of the Platte River has slowly declined and vegetation has taken over where the waters don’t extend.
The impact then extends its reach to the economy, with less sandhill cranes coming to the area that could impact tourists traveling to Central Nebraska.
Invasive species making their way into Kansas is also a concern.
Back in 2018, former Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer wrote a letter objecting to the transfer due to the risk of invasive species.
The Platte River is formed in western Nebraska east of the city of North Platte, Nebraska by the confluence of the North Platte and the South Platte Rivers, which both arise from snowmelt in the eastern Rockies east of the Continental Divide. Map via Wikimedia.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Two assessments conducted by Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests officials offered a sobering look into the devastation the Cameron Peak Fire left on Larimer County’s landscape and recreational sites.
While the Cameron Peak Fire had a fire perimeter that enclosed nearly 209,000 acres, the impacts on the landscape by the largest wildfire in Colorado history varied widely, ranging from swaths that went unscathed to areas that were severely burned.
The survey showed an estimated 36% of the area within the Cameron Peak Fire perimeter suffered high (6%) or moderate (30%) soil burn severity. That indicates an increased risk of erosion and flooding caused by the soil being less able to absorb moisture, along with a lack of vegetation to absorb water and roots to stabilize the soil…
Another 44% of the area suffered low burn severity and 20% was unburned.
The assessment said determining soil hydrophobicity, or the ability to repel water, was hampered by snowfall during the assessments. However, it estimated 55% of the burn area could contain water-repellant soil.
The assessment said there is a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by post-fire ash and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.
Options to reduce the impacts to stream flows, soil erosion and debris flows are limited due to the nature of the burn and slope characteristics, the assessment noted. It stated treatment recommendations should focus on minimizing life/safety threats and damage to property through road and trail closures, trail stabilization, campground treatments and warning signs.
Given all the recreational sites in or near the burn area, the assessment said the consequences for potential impacts on life and safety are “major.”
Where it burned hottest
Soil burn severity is the result of fire progression and intensity. The longer the fire remains in an area, the higher the likelihood of high and moderate soil burn impacts. Areas burned during large runs from the wind-driven fire generally suffered lower soil burn severities due to the fire moving more through the tree canopy than on the ground.
The assessment’s soil burn severity map shows the area around the starting point on the west side of the fire near Chambers Lake suffered high soil burn severities. Other high soil severity burn areas occurred north of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus east into the Buckhorn Road area and in the northern section of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Thompson Zone of the East Troublesome Fire that burned over the Continental Divide to near Estes Park burned mostly in the low to moderate category.
Most of the fire’s rapid growth was driven by high winds usually preceding precipitation events, mostly snow. The map shows the area to the east of the fire’s initial starting point suffered low soil burn severities during such an event.
City council this week will again consider an alternative design for flood control on South Boulder Creek, one that’s been rejected twice before. This time, staff, the open space board and an advisory group of elected and appointed officials are recommending against the plan, pushed by residents opposed to University of Colorado plans for an eventual southern campus.
If city council agrees with that assessment, it will cap an effort to protect south Boulder from flooding — a process that, by the city’s own reckoning, started, nearly half a century ago. Winnowing potential options took two decades…
Council settled on a “final” detention, dam and flood wall design in June, but their vote came with a caveat: One more look at resident-proposed design to detain water further upstream on South Boulder Creek. The Open Space Board of Trustees requested further analysis once it was revealed that flood structures would be built on open space land rather than state right-of-way along U.S. 36.
Upstream detention, as the design is referred two, was ruled inadequate by project staff in 2015 and again in 2018. This time, a staff analysis showed that upstream detention would be more costly than the current plan for the same level of protection and would impact more sensitive habitat.
OSBT agreed on Dec. 16, as did an advisory group assembled by the city that included representatives from OSBT, Water Resources Advisory Board, Planning Board and city council.
“The advisory group concluded that although an upstream alternative could be feasible, it does not perform better than the Variant 1, 100-yr design when considering the June 2020 council comparison criteria, and substantial engineered structures would still be required on OSMP lands.”
To understand, and possibly predict what happens after a river’s headwaters goes up in flames, researchers are descending on newly created burn scars across the West to gather data in the hopes of lessening some of the impacts on drinking water systems.
On a sunny winter morning, a team of researchers led by Colorado State University hydrologist Stephanie Kampf roamed through the steep drainage of Tunnel Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River. Much of the creek burned this summer and fall during the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado…
For more than an hour and a half, Kampf’s team searched for a flat spot to construct a temporary weather station. The university received a National Science Foundation grant to put instruments into the field quickly, before snows began to accumulate in the burned area. At more than 208,000 acres, the burn scar is the state’s largest on record.
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
Smoke from the Mullen Fire along the Wyoming-Colorado border as seen from the Snowy Range in Wyoming on Oct. 6. Photo/Allen Best
The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)
Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.
Two other nearby fires broke size records in 2020 as well. In late October the East Troublesome Fire exploded near the headwaters of the Colorado River, burning 193,812 acres, killing two people and causing thousands to flee their homes. To the north, the Mullen Fire on the Colorado-Wyoming border topped out at 176,878 acres. Downstream on the Colorado River, the Grizzly Creek Fire torched 32,631 acres in and around Glenwood Canyon. And in the Book Cliffs north of Grand Junction, Colorado, the Pine Gulch Fire burned nearly 140,000 acres.
In the case of Cameron Peak, which acts as the headwaters for the Poudre River, Kampf and her colleagues want to know: what happens to the snow that falls on a burned area this high in elevation and this big?
“Some of these streams have burned so much, like the whole riparian zone is burned. And so there’s nothing alive at all,” Kampf said…
Existing research shows fires can affect snowpack in different ways. With fewer trees, and without their full, bushy branches, more snow tends to accumulate on the ground. Snow that’s caught in trees often blows off or turns immediately to vapor. So when a wildfire moves through a forest, scientists say to expect more snow to pile up on the ground.
But the lack of tree cover also causes that accumulated snow to behave differently. Without a shaded canopy above it, the snow is more exposed to the sun, and in the spring, melting can become erratic. Mid-winter melting can occur, which means a lessened runoff come spring.
These general findings can change, depending on the type of forest that burned, the direction the burned slope is facing, and the severity of the burn in that area…
Studies of dust on snow have shown its dramatic effect on the timing of snowmelt. The same is true of snow that’s been mixed with charred debris and smoke particles, [Anne] Nolin said. “All that black guck on the snow makes it melt a lot faster,” she said.
A mis-matched timing of snowmelt makes the job of reservoir management much harder, Nolin said. Many water providers use long-term models to gauge when to release and store water. A burned drainage area makes those historical data less reliable…
With water supply margins already tight in many portions of the West, Boisrame said, water providers, agriculturalists and environmental groups are realizing, “that we actually need to know” the detailed effects of how each individual burn scar will affect the water cycle.
That’s because no two fires are alike. Depending on weather and fuel loads, each fire burns a landscape with varying severity. And that severity matters, not just for forest recovery, but also for water quality immediately following it, said Ben Livneh, a University of Colorado-Boulder engineering professor.
“The most severe impacts actually come from moderate severity fires,” Livneh said.
In fires with lots of high severity burn, much of the vegetation is completely combusted. Dissolved organic carbon can be one of the biggest headaches for water treatment facilities following a fire. Treating it can also result in byproducts found to be carcinogenic, Livneh said. But if there’s not much organic material left in a burned area — because it all burned — it doesn’t cause as many problems.
“And so maybe somewhat counterintuitively, the most severe fires aren’t necessarily the most damaging, at least from a water treatment and water quality perspective,” Livneh said.
Research has shown too that forest management can play a big role in lessening the impacts of fire on water systems. The Desert Research Institute’s Boisrame looked closely at one creek in Yosemite National Park. In that watershed, land managers have been more hands-off with fire suppression, and allowed smaller fires to burn more frequently…
One hurdle in understanding the relationship of burn scars and snowpack is that it’s a challenge to get good data from such dynamic environments. Landslides and floods after a fire can destroy scientific instruments.
That was top of mind for Colorado State University’s Kampf as she traversed the Cameron Peak burn scar. Finding a site for a weather station is like looking for a proper campsite. Researchers want something flat, on stable ground and free from large hazards like falling rocks and trees. That’s often hard to find in a recently burned forest…
The weather station along Tunnel Creek will be compared to another site untouched by fire. Other stations will look at impacts at higher and lower elevations. They’re likely to collect data on soil moisture, solar radiation and precipitation for the next three to four years, Kampf said, though long-term funding hasn’t yet been secured.
Click here to read Ian James’ fantastic article about the current state of the Colorado River from stem to stern that’s running up at AZCentral.com. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
The warming climate is intensifying drought, contributing to fires and drying out the river’s headwaters, sending consequences cascading downstream.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colorado — Beside a river that winds through a mountain valley, the charred trunks of pine trees lie toppled on the blackened ground, covered in a thin layer of fresh snow.
Weeks after flames ripped through this alpine forest, a smoky odor still lingers in the air.
The fire, called the East Troublesome, burned later into the fall than what once was normal. It cut across Rocky Mountain National Park, racing up and over the Continental Divide. It raged in the headwaters of the Colorado River, reducing thick forests to ashes and scorching the ground along the river’s banks.
The fires in Colorado spread ferociously through the summer and fall of 2020 after months of extreme heat that worsened the severe drought.
As smoke billowed over the headwaters, the wildfires raised warning signs of how profoundly climate change is altering the watershed, and how the symptoms of heat-driven drying are cascading down the heavily used river — with stark implications for the entire region, from Colorado’s ranchland pastures to the suburbs of Phoenix…
Over the past year, the relentless hot, dry months from the spring to the first snows left the soil parched. The amount of runoff into streams and the river dropped far below average. With reservoirs sinking toward new lows, the risks of shortages are growing.
Much of the river’s flow begins as snow and rainfall in the territory of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which includes 15 counties on Colorado’s West Slope. Andy Mueller, the district’s general manager, said the extreme conditions over the past year offer a preview of what the region should prepare for in the future.
“Climate change is drying out the headwaters,” Mueller said. “And everybody in the Colorado River Basin needs to be concerned.”
Mueller saw the effects while backpacking in Colorado’s Holy Cross Wilderness in the summer with his 19-year-old daughter. Above the tree line, at an elevation of 12,000 feet, they expected to see mushy green tundra. Instead, they found the ground was bone dry…
People who focus on the river have widely acknowledged the need to adjust to a shrinking system with less water to go around.
Many suggest solutions can be achieved through collaborative efforts — often with money changing hands in exchange for water — while working within the existing rules. Others say solutions shouldn’t fall on the backs of farming communities by taking away water that fuels their economies. Some people argue the river seems headed for a crash and its rules need to be fundamentally reimagined…
The deals between the seven states are designed to temporarily lower the odds of Lake Mead and Lake Powell dropping to critical lows over the next five years. The states’ representatives have yet to wade into the details of negotiations on what shortage-sharing rules will look like after 2026, when the current agreements expire.
Still unresolved are difficult questions about how to deal with the shortfall over the long term.
What’s increasingly clear is that the status-quo methods of managing the river are on a collision course with worsening scarcity, and that eventually something will have to give…
Watershed ‘thirstier’ with heat
Last winter, after a dry year, the Rocky Mountains were blanketed with a snowpack that was slightly above average. Then came extremely hot and dry conditions, which shrank the amount of runoff and flows into tributaries and again baked the soils dry.
[Andy] Mueller said the change occurred abruptly at the end of the snow season in the spring…
With the heat, some of the snow didn’t melt but instead evaporated directly into the air, which scientists call sublimation — something that has been happening more over the past two decades. The flows in streams dropped over the next few months, and then August brought record heat, which dried out the headwaters and fueled the fires through the fall…
In a 2018 study, scientists found that about half the trend of decreasing runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin since 2000 was the result of unprecedented warming. In other research, scientists estimated the river is so sensitive to warming that it could lose roughly one-fourth of its flow by 2050 as temperatures continue to rise…
“A warmer atmosphere is a thirstier atmosphere, and we’re seeing less runoff bang for our precipitation buck,” said Jeff Lukas, an independent climate researcher in Colorado. “We’ll still have wetter and drier years, but the baseline is very likely to be shifting downward, as it has in the last 20 years.”
And when extreme heat comes, it leaves less water running in tributaries and also translates into drier forests, leading to increased fire risk.
The soils were so dry over the past year that they soaked up moisture, contributing to below-average stream flows, said Megan Holcomb, a senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“You can think of it as like the dry sponge that you haven’t wetted in forever,” Holcomb said. “That kind of soil moisture deficit is not something that you rebound from immediately.”
After the hot spring came a dry summer. The lack of monsoon rains compounded the drought. And then came August, Holcomb said, when a map of record-hot temperatures hugged the Colorado River Basin like a “massive red handprint.”
In areas of western Colorado that drain into the river, it was the hottest and driest August on record, breaking the previous temperature record by 2 degrees F, said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist and director of the Colorado Climate Center.
The state usually gets its largest wildfires in June and July. But with the severe drought, the fires burned through August, and then exploded in October with unprecedented speed and intensity. The ultradry conditions, together with high winds, contributed to the three largest wildfires in Colorado history, which together devoured more than half a million acres.
In the future, rising temperatures will lead to more of these scorching summers.
Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by alighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.
The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun
East Troublesome Fire October 21, 2020 via Wildfire Today.
Scenes of the CalWood Oct. 17, 2020 (Jivan West/CU Independent)
Abby Burk of the conservation group Audubon Rockies noticed how low the river was in the summer when she went paddling in her kayak. In parts where the river was full and muddy a year earlier, she found bars of gravel. Where there once were channels to paddle through, she encountered dead-end lagoons.
In November, when Burk drove through the headwaters near the smoldering fires, she snapped photos of the hills and mountains, still golden-brown beneath a dusting of snow.
When the soil is so parched, it will always “take the first drink” before water reaches the streams, Burk said. “We need a lot more snow for many years to come to really replenish the soil moisture deficits that we’re seeing now.”
The fire scars will also bring challenges come spring, she said, when melting snow will send runoff carrying ash, debris and sediment into streams, potentially creating complications for water systems.
Burk said she’s hoping there will be a slow melt so the runoff comes gradually, without “bringing down the mountain into the river.”
A rancher looks to adapt
Paul Bruchez raises cattle on his family’s ranch in the headwaters near the town of Kremmling, where the Colorado River winds through pastures…
Bruchez has been involved in discussions about the river as a member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable. And while he’s heard many people voice alarm about the watershed lately, Bruchez said he and other neighboring ranchers have been talking about the need to adapt to a river with less water since 2002, when severe drought came.
The flows dropped so low then that even ranchers with the longest-standing water rights, known as senior rights, couldn’t get it to their fields.
“Within this river basin, we have seen a change over time of the quantity and volume of water that is available. And in that same time, we’ve seen a growth of population that relies on it,” Bruchez said. “We knew this in 2002 when we hit that drought, that if we didn’t change how we operated, we weren’t going to survive.”
Since then, Bruchez and other ranchers have been talking about ideas for adapting…
The closer the region gets to a scenario of curtailing water allotments, Bruchez said, the more investors and representatives of cities and towns are going to be contemplating ways of securing water from elsewhere.
For people in agriculture, he said, “we need to be at the table or we’re going to be on the menu.”
‘It affects everybody’
One of the main tributaries that feeds the Colorado is the Gunnison River, which like the mainstem has shrunk during the heat-amplified drought. Along the Gunnison, cattle ranchers got less water last year and their pastures produced less hay.
The river’s low flows also forced an early end to the river rafting season on Labor Day weekend. After that, releases from a dam had to be cut back and the Gunnison was left much shallower than usual, with rocks protruding in stretches where boats would normally be drifting until the end of September.
The river has dropped to some of its lowest levels in years, said Sonja Chavez, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.
The effects are visible at Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of the state’s largest, which has declined to less than half its full capacity.
Visiting the lake, Chavez walked on sandy ground that used to sit underwater.
Looking across the inlet where the river pours into the lake, she pointed to a gray line on the rock showing the high-water mark. During spring runoff, she said, the river in this channel can reach about 20 feet higher. But with the soil so parched, its level dropped.
“When we are dry in the Upper Gunnison Basin, it affects everybody downstream of us,” Chavez said. And the swings between high and low flows, she said, have made it difficult to plan how to operate the reservoirs…
Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.
Gunnison River in Colorado. Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation
Upper Gunnison watershed May 2019. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs
In the Gunnison Valley, a local climate action group meets to talk about potential solutions. Some conversations have focused on how to manage forests that have grown thick with vegetation over the past century as federal agencies have focused mostly on putting out fires.
While the forests have grown thicker, warmer temperatures have enabled beetles to flourish, littering the mountains with dead trees.
Chavez and others want to prioritize efforts to make the forests healthier and more fire-resilient by thinning the trees through logging, mechanical treatments or controlled burns, which they say would make the whole watershed healthier. She said the federal government needs to be more involved and the region needs funding for these projects.
“Our big push this year is to do some watershed management planning and work with the Forest Service to identify zones of concern, or areas that we can treat,” Chavez said. “We’re worried if we had a big fire what would happen.”
Alongside those efforts, water managers are discussing ways of dialing down water usage…
Ranchers, farmers consider using less
One lifelong rancher who had a smaller-than-usual hay crop was Bill Trampe, who has worked on water issues for years as a board member of the Colorado River District.
His cattle graze on meadows near Gunnison where the grasses survive year after year. He was short of water to irrigate after mid-June, which left the pastures parched.
Over the past two decades, only a few years brought good snowpack, he said, and ranchers have repeatedly had to weather the financial hits of years when they must buy hay for their cattle…
‘We need to set the terms’
In other parts of the river basin, some representatives of agricultural water agencies are worried about the potential consequences of paying farmers to leave land dry.
One such voice is J.B. Hamby, a newly elected board member of California’s Imperial Irrigation District, who said he’s concerned that while cities and sprawling suburbs continue to grow rapidly, agricultural communities are increasingly at risk. He said people in cities need to realize there is a priority system that shouldn’t be changed…
Arizona gets nearly 40% of its water from the Colorado River. Much of it flows in the Central Arizona Project Canal, which cuts across the desert from Lake Havasu to Phoenix and Tucson.
In 2020, Arizona and Nevada took less water from the river under the drought agreement among Lower Basin states, and in 2021 they will again leave some of their water in Lake Mead. The latest projections show Mead could fall below a key threshold by summer, which would trigger a shortage declaration and larger cutbacks in 2022…
Now, with less water flowing to farms, the amount of runoff into the Salton Sea has shrunk, leaving growing stretches of exposed lakebed that spew dust into the air. The dust is contributing to some of the worst air pollution in the country, and many children suffer from asthma.
Hamby said the Imperial Valley would have been better off without the water transfer deal. Looking at the proposed approach in Colorado, Hamby said, it seems to replicate what occurred in Imperial.
“When you tie money to water, you get users who become addicted to the money and don’t actually in the end start to want to farm anymore,” Hamby said. “That is really corrosive to the long-term survival, much less thriving, of rural communities when people get more hooked on money rather than the way of life and putting the water on the land.”
He argued that such an approach would be “subverting the whole priority system” and enabling cities to avoid taking cuts themselves…
‘Are we doing enough?’
At his ranch by the river, Bruchez said he wants to be on “the preventative side,” getting ahead of the looming problems instead of reacting. And that includes studying and promoting conservation, he said, because the bottom line is “we just all have to figure out how to use less water.”
In early 2019, Bruchez began talking with Perry Cabot, a researcher from Colorado State University, about a project that would help provide data on crop water use, impacts of reduced irrigation and strategies for conserving water.
Cabot gave a presentation to the Colorado Basin Roundtable, and members supported the idea of a study. The project began in 2020 with about $900,000 in funding, including support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and groups including Trout Unlimited and American Rivers.
A group of nine ranchers participated and were paid for leaving some fields dry or partially dry, Bruchez said. More than 900 acres weren’t irrigated for the entire year, and about 200 acres were “deficit irrigated,” meaning they received less water.
Bruchez’s ranch totals about 6,000 acres. He participated on about 41 acres, where he stopped irrigating on June 15 and didn’t water the rest of the year.
“My end goal is to understand the impacts of water conservation for agriculture so that if and when there are programs to participate, agriculture is doing it based on science,” Bruchez said…
Paul Bruchez said he’s seen that when people talk about solutions, they often seem to draw boxes around different approaches like demand management, water conservation, climate change and forest management, but he thinks they’re all quite connected.
“It’s all the same conversation,” Bruchez said. “To me, the question just comes down to, are we doing enough, quick enough?”
“It’s that water that is provided by the Colorado River that ties us all together,” Mueller said. “And truly, when we recognize the importance of the Colorado River and how it ties us together, that’s when we succeed as a society.”
Ian James is a reporter with The Arizona Republic who focuses on water, climate change and the environment in the Southwest. Send him story tips, comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @ByIanJames.
Here’s the release from Aurora Water (Greg Baker):
Aurora Water has won the 2020 Outstanding Water Laboratory Award from the Rocky Mountain Section of the American Water Works Association (RMSAWWA). RMSAWWA is a nonprofit, scientific and educational association serving members in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming that is dedicated to effectively managing and treating water. The annual award recognizes a drinking water analysis lab for its exceptional performance, dedication and teamwork. Aurora Water’s Quality Control Lab is a repeat winner of this prestigious award, having won the honor a total of seven times since 2008.
Aurora Water’s quality control staff of 10 laboratory specialists conduct dozens of tests daily at the Quality Control Laboratory. Hundreds of water samples are collected each month from source to tap, ensuring that the water provided to Aurora residents is consistently and reliably safe.
“This award recognizes the hardworking professionals at Aurora Water’s Quality Control Laboratory, who are dedicated to providing excellent service to our citizens,” said Aurora Water’s Environmental Compliance Principal Sherry Scaggiari. “Through their rigorous sampling, testing and reporting on every aspect of our water and waste water system, they maintained the highest level of service, even during a pandemic.
The Elizabeth Board of Trustees voted to adopt the 2021 budget at the Dec. 8 meeting. The budget was submitted in October, and a public hearing was held Nov. 24, where taxpayers were given the chance to raise any objections. The budget includes five funds—the general fund, street maintenance fund, street capital improvement fund, water sewer fund and a capital improvement fund, and the estimated balance of all funds going into 2021 totals $12,666,057…
The estimated general fund for 2021 includes $50,689 from unappropriated surpluses, and projects $2,134,782 from other sources such as water and sewer fees. Property taxes will account for $631,286, bringing the general fund total to $2,816,757. The general fund is used to pay for administration, courts, police services, community development and parks and building maintenance.
The street maintenance fund estimates $461,947, the street capital improvement fund comes in at $4,773,644, the water sewer fund is estimated at $4,243,709, and the capital improvement fund at $370,000.
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.”