#Colorado-Big Thompson operations update

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation (Elizabeth Jones):

Olympus Dam near Estes Park, Colorado impounds Lake Estes. The lake is the afterbay for Estes Powerplant, a hydroelectric powerplant that can produce up to 45 MW each hour. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water from the west slope fuels the Estes Powerplant. Project water discharged from Estes Powerplant is diverted from Lake Estes, routed to additional hydroelectric powerplants on the Front Range and is then stored in Carter Lake or Horsetooth Reservoir. Project water is rarely released from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River.

This is the season for snow-melt runoff into Lake Estes. In the past 10 days, natural inflow into Lake Estes has increased from a low of about 250 cubic feet per second (cfs) to a peak flow of about 1,020 cfs. Currently, natural inflow is decreasing (around 700 cfs); however, warmer or wetter days could result in natural inflow increasing again and the recent peak inflow could be surpassed.

Olympus Dam is not an authorized flood control structure. As such, the natural snow-melt or precipitation runoff that flows into Lake Estes is released from Olymus Dam into the Big Thompson River. Under normal operations, Olympus Dam does provide the benefit of shaving off the peak inflow. One way it does so can be explained using recent operations. During two days this week when peak inflow into Lake Estes was about 1,000 cfs, maximum release from the dam was 880 cfs. This is because outflows are generally the day’s average. Outflow does not follow the within-day variation, which ranged from 714 cfs to 1,020 cfs within a 24-hour period. Releases from Olympus Dam in the near term will be driven by whatever Nature provides from the headwaters of the Big Thompson watershed.

As the snow-melt runoff season progresses, Reclamation will provide information to the public regarding expected flows released from Olympus Dam.

Big Thompson Parks all open for the first time since 2013 floods — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

Fishing the Big Thompson River. Photo credit: Larimer County

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Narrows is one of a handful of small parks owned and operated by Larimer County in the Big Thompson Canyon, now known as the Big Thompson Parks. They opened for the season on May 15, most of them for the first time since the 2013 floods devastated the canyon.

“This is a big milestone for us,” said Chris Fleming, Big Thompson district manager for the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.

The Big Thompson Parks start just west of Loveland with Glade Park and continue 17 miles west along U.S. 34 including Narrows, Forks and Sleepy Hollow. Over the past seven years, Larimer County worked with other land agencies to restore these parks properties to allow for river access…

The Big Thompson River is home to native trout, and forests and wildlife surround the water.

The parks are different than they used to be before the flood, but they are open.

Glade, for example, previously had a parking lot and picnic area. Now, there is a pullout and a path to the river for fishing.

Narrows is accessed by a small pull-out and features a short trail to the water’s edge.

Most of the land in the park is fenced off with signs that it has been planted by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition as part of a restoration project. But there is access to the river, and a peaceful place to fish, to picnic without tables, to read a book or to sit and watch the birds fly and the water flow…

The Forks, which is just east of Drake, is probably the most dramatic change. A moonscape after the flood, the park now has a paved parking lot and bathroom, stairs down to the river and a rocky bank to walk along and fish. During the reconstruction of U.S. 34, the park was essentially home base for construction crews and filled with mounds of construction materials.

It no longer has picnic tables, but people can access the river and enjoy nature there.

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

Estes Park: Public Invited To Land Trust Event Focusing On The Future Of Land #Conservation

From the Estes Valley Land Trust via The Estes Park News:

On February 13 at 5 p.m., the Estes Valley Land Trust will host the Love Our Land Social at the Estes Valley Community Center. Drop-ins are welcome, refreshments will be provided and this event is free and open to the public.

Since 1987, the Estes Valley Land Trust, along with its partners, has preserved nearly 10,000 acres of land in and around Estes Park. “Our first 30 years were defined by major conservation successes, such as working with landowners to help them preserve Hermit Park Open Space, Meadowdale Ranch, and the Eagle Rock School,” said Jeffrey Boring, Executive Director of the Estes Valley Land Trust. “We want to continue to engage our partners and the broader community to plan the future of land conservation across the region.”

While many acres of land in the valley have already been preserved, there are more than 28,000 acres still available for development. The land trust is hosting a social event to receive public feedback on the types of land that are most important to preserve in the future.

“There is a tremendous amount of support for land conservation around Estes, but we want to know what types of land the community considers the most important to conserve,” Boring said. Lands that protect the most iconic views, lands that are critical for wildlife habitat, new outdoor recreation opportunities, or lands of historic significance are all potential conservation opportunities.

The public will be invited to complete a survey to help prioritize these conservation opportunities.

Results from the survey will be used to develop a regional Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan. The plan will highlight land conservation goals and include partnerships that could be formed to preserve key areas. “The Estes Valley Land Trust Board of Directors will consider the Open Space and Outdoor Plan our strategic plan and will guide our future conservation efforts,” said Boring.

The plan may also help guide the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and identify where growth and development is appropriate and where it is not. “Consideration of open space and outdoor recreation opportunities is a critical part of developing a good Comprehensive Plan,” said Travis Machalek, Town Administrator, Town of Estes Park. “The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan will be a valuable source document as the community works to create an updated Comprehensive Plan for Estes Park.”

The communities of Estes Park, Allenspark, Glen Haven, Drake, and residents of unincorporated Larimer County have a long legacy of preserving land and protecting habitat. The Love Our Land Social is an opportunity to continue this legacy and chart the future of land conservation.

The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan is funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and matching funds from the Town of Estes Park, Larimer County, Estes Park Economic Development Corporation and the Estes Valley Board of Realtors.

Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

@Northern_Water Symposium, November 20, 2019

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Click here for all the inside skinny:

Loveland celebrates $41.2 million in improvements to wastewater treatment plant

Photo credit: City of Loveland

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Max Levy):

Many may not care to think about what goes on in the Loveland Wastewater Treatment Plant, but the facility had plenty to brag about Tuesday, as officials showed off the fruits of a $41.02 million improvement project that wrapped up this fall.

The plant is responsible for reclaiming and returning the water used by Loveland residents to the Big Thompson River, while disposing of other waste.

Water and Power Director Joe Bernosky, who delivered one of the speeches at Tuesday’s “grand opening” and ribbon-cutting ceremony, described the plant as a crucial link in the water cycle that all of Loveland participates in.

“Water is a cycle — it’s not created, it’s recycled,” he said. “What this is doing is not necessarily treating wastewater. It’s reclaiming the water we’ve used.”

The improvements allowed the plant to be rerated to handle 12 million gallons of wastewater per day, an increase of 2 million gallons. Staff hope that increase will allow the plant to keep up with growth for an additional 10-15 years.

Bernosky added that the city’s partnership with Garney Construction was one of the most significant in Loveland’s history. Construction of the improvements alone cost $35.06 million, and the project finished under budget…

Improvements made to the facility include:

  • Installation of a new and reconfigured sewer collection system at the head of the plant.
  • Screening improvements with the addition of step screen technology, to remove pieces of trash such as wet wipes and hygiene products from the wastewater.
  • Mixing and aeration improvements to all six existing aeration basins.
  • A new and upsized digester facility.
  • The addition of a new return activated sludge anoxic tank.
  • Replacing pumps at the return activated sludge pump station.
  • Ultraviolet disinfection hydraulic improvements.
  • A new, 2,000 square foot maintenance building.
  • […]

    Project design began in March 2015 and construction started in April 2017. According to a city factsheet, over 2 million working hours were spent on the project.

    Big Thompson Watershed Coalition fundraiser, September 22, 2019

    Big Thompson River near RMNP

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Coalition shifting focus to the future

    Since the 2013 floods, the Big Thompson Watershed coalition has been leveraging grant money to rebuild and improve the river corridor, making it healthier and more resilient.

    Now, the nonprofit is shifting its focus to resiliency for the future, to improvements that will prepare the community for future flood and fire impacts and to ensure long-term river health.

    As part of that effort, the coalition is reaching out into the community to make new connections, holding a fundraiser with a goal of $50,000 and has a community bio-blitz planned…

    Fundraiser

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition is a nonprofit that has been operating for five years on grant money and disaster-recovery funds available after the 2013 floods. Two full-time employees handle all the community outreach, grant searches and more behind the scenes for the grant-funded projects.

    To help keep a staff of two going into the future and to meet the organization’s operations needs, the coalition has a fundraiser planned for Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery.

    The event, which costs $60 per ticket, will feature dinner, a live cellist, fly-fishing demonstrators, tours of an adjacent watershed project, an art auction and time to soak up the river…

    The theme centers on “inspirations and aspirations” of the river, and the event gives people a first-hand look at one of the completed river projects. Speakers also will talk about watershed issues…

    Tickets are available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

    New connections

    A major project for the watershed forum in the coming year is to create a plan for the Big Thompson River for 15 miles through Loveland with a $180,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The coalition will lead a team looking at river health as well as the community’s needs and wants surrounding both recreation as well as responsible development along Colo. 402.

    The coalition has launched an advisory committee that includes Loveland and Larimer County officials and likely will include ditch companies as well as members of the coalition board. They plan to reach out into the community for input on needs and desires and to consider a balance between those and river health.

    The goal is to create a clear understanding of the river corridor and its many demands and to end with a prioritized list of specific projects that are feasible, could be funded with grants and achieve that balance, Gutman explained…

    Community bio-blitz

    The coalition is looking for 10 to 30 community members to participate in a bio-blitz, which is where groups fan out over different sections of the river at the same time and collect data on water quality, plants and bugs. The idea is to have a “flash understanding” of the ecosystem that morning, Sept. 28.

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition will not be only agency participating. In fact, volunteers will be collecting data over three different watersheds in the region and then meet in Lyons to share ideas and to have a celebration.

    The hope is that those residents, once taught to collect data, would be willing to volunteer with another piece of the coalition’s long-term goal — monitoring the success of completed projects…

    Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co…

    Big Thompson Watershed Coalition

    Fundraiser: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at Sweetheart Winery, including music, art auction, tours of a project site, speakers, dinner and drinks. $60 per ticket, available by making a donation online at bigthompson.co/donate or by contacting courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

    Bio-blitz: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, different locations on the Big Thompson River. Volunteers can sign up at bigthompson.co or by emailing courtney.gutman@bigthompson.co

    July 31, 1976 Big Thompson Flood — @USGS

    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.
    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.

    Click here to view the poster from the United States Geological Survey:

    In the early evening of July 31, 1976 a large stationary thunderstorm released as much as 7.5 inches of rainfall in about an hour (about 12 inches in a few hours) in the upper reaches of the Big Thompson River drainage. This large amount of rainfall in such a short period of time produced a flash flood that caught residents and tourists by surprise. The immense volume of water that churned down the narrow Big Thompson Canyon scoured the river channel and destroyed everything in its path, including 418 homes, 52 businesses, numerous bridges, paved and unpaved roads, power and telephone lines, and many other structures. The tragedy claimed the lives of 144 people. Scores of other people narrowly escaped with their lives.

    The Big Thompson flood ranks among the deadliest of Colorado’s recorded floods. It is one of several destructive floods in the United States that has shown the necessity of conducting research to determine the causes and effects of floods. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts research and operates a Nationwide streamgage network to help understand and predict the magnitude and likelihood of large streamflow events such as the Big Thompson Flood. Such research and streamgage information are part of an ongoing USGS effort to reduce flood hazards and to increase public awareness.

    After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read. Here’s one passage:

    I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.

    Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.

    I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.

    Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.

    Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.

    In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.

    Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).

    Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.

    Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.

    At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.

    The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.

    #Runoff news: Northern #Colorado rivers have likely peaked for the season

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The Poudre and Big Thompson rivers are gushing as a wave of warm weather sends mountain snowmelt rushing toward Northern Colorado, but regional officials say flows should taper this week and don’t expect major flooding.

    The Poudre flowed about 4.3 feet high at the Lincoln Street gauge Tuesday afternoon. Its volume of 956 cubic feet per second was nearly three times the median for this time of year…

    A blast of summer heat will bring Fort Collins a string of days with highs above 90 degrees, starting Wednesday and holding on through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Hodges said flood risk isn’t a big concern, though, because so much of the mountain snowpack that feeds the Big Thompson and Poudre rivers has already melted…

    Remaining snowpack is plummeting in both the North Platte and South Platte river basins, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

    The onset of summer also means people will divert more water from the Poudre, which loses over 60% of its water before it even gets to Fort Collins…

    The Big Thompson and Poudre rivers have likely already reached their peaks, Hodges said. The Big Thompson reached about 5.8 feet — action stage for flooding is 6.5 — above the canyon mouth on Thursday, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources…

    The Poudre reached about 5.7 feet at the canyon mouth Friday. Action stage is 6.5 feet. It peaked at about 5.5 feet through town on Friday, well below the action stage of 9 feet.

    From OutThereColorado.com (Spencer McKee):

    The warmer temperatures in Colorado’s mountains are expected to melt quite a bit of snowpack. Be warned that Colorado’s rivers and waterways will be swollen with fast moving and powerful water, making them very dangerous. Three people have died in three separate incidents over the past week in Colorado rivers.

    Larimer County is still waiting for $20 million from FEMA for repairs after 2013 floods

    Damage to US 34 along the Big Thompson River September 2013. Photo credit: CDOT

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Nearly six years after the Big Thompson River flood wrecked U.S. Highway 34, stranded Estes Park and wiped out bridges and homes, the U.S. government has yet to fund $20 million of repairs in Larimer County.

    The county hasn’t started construction on County Road 47 (Big Elk Meadows) and County Road 44H (Buckhorn) because of the lack of funding. The county finished work on Big Thompson River bridges destroyed and rebuilt after the flood but hasn’t been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the project.

    The delay in FEMA funding for Larimer County’s last three flood recovery projects has county officials in a bind: As another construction season looms without federal money, so does a crucial state deadline.

    Colorado’s general fund has paid for about 13% of Larimer County’s flood restoration work since 2013. Come September 2020, state funding for the projects will dry up.

    “We will not be able to meet that deadline with the delays we’ve had because of this issue,” said Lori Hodges, Larimer County emergency management director. “Our biggest projects are at risk because we haven’t gotten the guidance we need.”

    The holdup is essentially a bureaucratic issue. Congress passed a law in October 2018 changing the way FEMA awards money for disaster recovery work.

    FEMA used to deny funding for all projects that didn’t meet a strict set of code compliance guidelines. The guidelines had little wiggle room for projects on roads and bridges in complex terrain — like the ones destroyed by the flood in the Big Thompson canyon. For example, a road repair in a narrow, rocky canyon probably couldn’t meet FEMA’s requirement for shoulder width.

    The Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 instructed FEMA to award money for projects that don’t meet the strict guidelines as long as a local engineer signs off on the work and agrees a waiver is necessary. Congress gave FEMA 60 days to give its regional offices guidance on how to award funding under the new law.

    But FEMA hasn’t done that yet, so regional officials won’t fund the implicated Larimer County projects, Hodges said. FEMA Region 8 spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough told the Coloradoan the office paused a Larimer County funding appeal as it waits for policy guidance from headquarters…

    CR 47, partially destroyed by the flood, branches off U.S. Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes Park. The road is accessible but unpaved. An 11-mile stretch of CR 44H, located in Buckhorn Canyon and the Roosevelt National Forest, was heavily damaged in the flood and the High Park Fire in 2012.

    #Snowpack/#Runoff news: @Northern_Water declares a 70% quota for the 2019 season #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR. Granby Dam was retrofitted with a hydroelectric component and began producing electricity earlier this year as water is released in the Colorado River.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Sam Lounsberry):

    Unit owners of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which delivers Colorado River water from the wet Western Slope to the dryer Front Range, will get 70% of their quota this year, according to a Northern Water news release.

    The 70% allocation means that a farmer who owns 10 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water will get seven in a year, with the remaining three kept in storage for use in dry years…

    In wet years like this one, Northern sometimes downsizes the quota of Colorado-Big Thompson water distributed, since native streams can be full enough to provide farmers late-season growing supply, which provides Northern a storage opportunity for use in dry years.

    But the move to boost the Colorado-Big Thompson quota from 50% — the level normally set at the start of Northern’s water year in November just to get users through the winter so snowfall can inform spring allocation rates — ensures farmers will have a more flexible late growing season.

    The quota increases available Colorado-Big Thompson water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50% quota made available in November…

    The snow-water equivalent mark for the Upper Colorado Basin is 120% of the normal median as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, with snowpack levels in other river basins across the southwest at even higher marks. But KUNC and The Aspen Times reported this year that despite the good snowfall this winter, officials predict spring runoff won’t be enough to replenish reservoirs across the southwest, because years of drought have left dry soil that sucks up extra drops.

    “Modeled soil moisture conditions as of November 15th were below average over most of the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin,” the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center stated in its April 1 report. “In the Upper Colorado River Mainstem River Basin, soil moisture conditions were below average in headwater basins along the Continental Divide, and closer to average downstream.”

    Water from the Colorado-Big Thompson 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, across parts of eight counties, the Northern release said.

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 11, 2019 via the NRCS.

    Loveland: @Northern_Water Spring Water Users Meeting Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    Click here to read the agenda.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Big Thompson Canyon construction named national “Best of the Best” — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Damage to US 34 along the Big Thompson River September 2013. Photo credit: CDOT

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The reconstruction of U.S. 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon was chosen from 820 construction projects nationwide to be named Best of the Best by Engineering New Record.

    Several partners in the project — Kiewit Construction, Colorado Department of Transportation, Jacobs, the engineering firm, and a handful of subcontractors — are named on the award that was presented Friday in New York City.

    “You would not believe the projects it beat out — vertical construction, a new cadet building for the Army, other just very complicated projects,” said Doug Stremel, project manager with Jacobs.

    “It’s really exciting … It was a collaborative effort for CDOT, Kiewit and Jacobs and the others. It was a team effort. We’re happy to share in it, but it really was a collaborative effort.”

    Upper Thompson Sanitation District and the Town of Estes Park to turn dirt on sanitary sewer project

    Estes Park

    From The Estes Park Trail-Gazette (Tyler Pialet):

    Through an Intergovernmental Agreement, the Upper Thompson Sanitation District (UTSD) and the Town of Estes Park (TEP) are partnering to complete a utility infrastructure project that will impact the Fish Creek Lift Station and Mall Road.

    The work, which is expected to start on Jan. 28, will start with replacing a single, 45-year-old sanitary sewer force main with new, dual-force mains. These will extend from the Fish Creek Lift Station, located on Fish Creek Road next to Lake Estes, across U.S. 36 to UTSD’s gravity sewer main near Joel Estes Drive.

    “UTSD recognized the lift station force main was a critical piece of infrastructure, had been in operation for 40 years, and due to its design features, had received minimal maintenance,” said UTSD District Manager Chris Bieker.

    Bieker explained that force mains are pressurized sewer pipes that convey wastewater where gravity is not possible.

    “Moving the flow uphill requires a pump,” he said. “Pumping facilities called lift stations may be required to transport the wastewater through the collection system.”

    According to Bieker, “The Fish Creek Lift Station and approximately 1,000 linear feet of 14-inch diameter cast iron force main was constructed in the mid-1970s. The interior of the force main is cement mortar lined. Approximately 600 linear feet of force main is located south of Highway 36. The remaining 400 feet crosses north underneath HWY 36 and discharges to a manhole located in Mall Road. Wastewater then flows along Mall Road through approximately 1200 linear feet of gravity sewer main to the treatment facility…

    In late 2016, the District televised the interior of the force main. The video indicated cracking and delamination of the cement mortar pipe lining within sections of the force main. The televising operation prematurely ceased when the camera could not proceed any further due to the internal conditions of the pipe.”

    New piping and valves will be added to the Fish Creek Lift Station. Old, aging pipes and valves will be replaced to facilitate new parallel force mains. As the Fish Creek Lift Station manages over a third of all of the district’s water flows, these improvements are critical to UTSD operations and public health.

    #Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: @USBR expects releases to the Big Thompson River to increase significantly

    Olympus Dam releases June 2011.

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    The Bureau of Reclamation is forecasting a notable increase in releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River beginning on September 20, 2018.

    As of today, September 18, releases from Olympus Dam into the Big Thompson River are at 26 cubic feet per second (cfs). Between September 20th and October 12, releases are expected to rise to approximately 225 cfs.

    This forecast assumes native inflows into Lake Estes as well as irrigation demands will not change significantly from our current projections, but both are subject to unexpected fluctuations.

    “I was at the #BigThompson disaster” — Allen Best

    Here’s the Coyote Gulch 40th anniversary post from 2016. There’s a great passage from Allen Best who was part of the rescue effort back then. Click through for all the links to the Coloradoan and other online content.

    If you live in Denver subscribe to The Denver Post. Their link for Allen’s article is still up. And since I”m pitching journalism here subscribe to Allen’s Newsletter.

    Larimer County and the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition score $175,342 for river restoration

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The county commissioners on Tuesday approved a contract to work with the nonprofit river coalition on continued revegetation in key areas of the flood-damaged canyon with a $175,342 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. To match the grant, the county and watershed coalition will put in $175,386, part in cash and part in staff and volunteer resources.

    Commissioners Donnelly and Steve Johnson voted 2-0 at their weekly administrative matters meeting to approve the contract, allowing county resources to be used for the project. Lew Gaiter, the third commissioner, was absent.

    The county’s in-kind contribution will be worth $23,490, including work by weed specialist Casey Cisneros, and its cash share will be $94,797 from the Larimer County Disaster Fund. The watershed coalition will pitch in $7,250 in cash and $49,849 of in-kind help, including volunteer labor.

    This project will focus on the Big Thompson River near Drake, Cedar Cove and Jasper Lake as well as the North Fork of the Big Thompson from Drake all the way to Glen Haven.

    Restoration projects have focused heavily on both private and public land along these areas, but additional work is needed for continued weed management and erosion control, said Shayna Jones, coalition director.

    “These are areas that received a lot of time and effort in the past,” said Jones. “This is about making sure those improvements are maintained and stay on the right trajectory. … We’ll be able to identify the key focal areas that need a little more attention.”

    This work, Donnelly said, is important to the fishery of the river, which is an economic driver for the region, to recreation along the river and to the quality of water that the river delivers to residents, including those who live in Loveland. These projects, he said, help restore the ecosystem and all river functions.

    #Snowpack news: @NorthernWater to set C-BT quota on April 12th

    Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 17, 2018 via the NRCS.

    From The Fence Post (Nikki Work):

    As of March 14, the state sits at about 67 percent of the average snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Things are looking slightly better in northern Colorado, with the two basins that impact Weld County — the Upper Colorado and the South Platte — at 77 percent and 81 percent of the average year, respectively…

    Eric Brown, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the dry weather is on Northern Water’s radar, just like it’s on farmers’, but there may be one saving grace — a healthy amount of water in reservoir storage.

    Northern Water’s reservoirs are at one of their highest ever levels, with storage at 121 percent of average. Across Colorado, reservoir storage is at about 117 percent of the historic average. While Brown said the water district is optimistic that, in true Colorado fashion, there’s a big spring storm a’comin’, its prepared to use some of its reserves to combat an abnormally dry year.

    “In general, farmers who have access to some sort of water in storage should be okay for 2018, as Northern Water’s C-BT Project and reservoirs across the South Platte Basin are sitting at solid levels for the most part,” Brown said. “But for the farmers who don’t have access to water that’s in storage, they really need snow and/or spring rains in the near future.”

    But for everyone, use of the water in storage this year creates uncertainties down the road, as some of the current surplus will be used up. Plus, a good, wet snow would bring some much-needed moisture to the plains and help with soil quality, which plays an important role in crop health.

    The Northern Water Board will set its quota for C-BT deliveries for the remainder of the 2018 water delivery season at its April 12 board meeting. Both snowpack and C-BT and local non-C-BT reservoir levels will factor into this decision. The board sets a quota each year to balance how much water can be used and how much water needs to stay in storage, and the historic average for the quota is 70 percent.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    A look at the #Colorado-Big Thompson Project #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Kenneth Jessen):

    The drought of the 1930s was the impetus for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Work started in 1938 and would span nearly two decades to complete.

    The first project was the Green Mountain Reservoir on the Blue River. The water stored ran north into the Colorado River and is used to compensate for water that would be diverted to the Eastern Slope.

    A significant year for the project was 1944 when work ended on the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, just over 13 miles long. It carried water under the Continental Divide.

    Lake Granby, the largest reservoir in the system, stores Colorado River water during the spring runoff. A second project was the nearby Shadow Mountain Reservoir connected to Grand Lake by a short canal. The two bodies of water are nearly 90 feet higher than Lake Granby.

    The Alva B. Adams Tunnel’s west portal is on the east side of Grand Lake which, incidentally, is the largest natural water body in Colorado.

    After the spring runoff and to keep Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake filled, a pumping station brings Lake Granby water up to their level.

    Added in 1951-52 and on the west side of the Continental Divide is the Willow Creek Reservoir. A pumping station elevates the water 175 feet to a canal flowing into Lake Granby.

    The 9 ½ -foot in diameter Alva B. Adams Tunnel drops 109 feet in its 13 miles, ending at the East Portal.

    From a small lake at the East Portal, the water is carried via a siphon under Aspen Brook to the Rams Horn Tunnel and via a penstock, down to the Marys Lake power plant. This is a drop of 205 feet.

    Running directly under the summit of Prospect Mountain, yet another tunnel and penstock delivers water to the Lake Estes power plant, a drop of 482 feet.

    From Lake Estes, water flows east first through the Olympus Tunnel to the 5 ½ -mile long Pole Hill Tunnel.

    Water is delivered to the top of a canal then to a penstock. It drops 815 feet to the Pole Hill power plant. From there, the water enters the 1 ¾ -mile-long Rattlesnake Tunnel, ending on the west side of Pinewood Lake. An intake on the east end of Pinewood Reservoir takes water through the Bald Mountain Tunnel to the penstock visible from Loveland.

    Water is delivered to the Flatiron power plant at Flatiron Reservoir over 1,000 feet below.

    This is where things get complicated.

    During times of excess water, it is pumped up to Carter Lake, 277 feet higher.

    Water also flows through a short tunnel north to the Hansen Feeder Canal to Horsetooth Reservoir.

    From the south end of Carter Lake, water is delivered into the South St. Vrain Supply Canal. This long canal takes water under part of Rabbit Mountain all the way the Boulder Reservoir.

    In all, West Slope water drops nearly 3,000 feet during its journey to the East Slope.

    The Colorado-Big Thompson Project has created a dozen reservoirs, uses 35 miles of tunnels and also generates a substantial amount of electric power. These are the power plants:

    Marys Lake

    Estes Park

    Pole Hill

    Flatiron

    Green Mountain

    Big Thompson

    Trout

    @USBR to Hold Public Meeting on Estes Valley Resource Management Plan for Lake Estes, Marys Lake and East Portal

    Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

    Here’s the release from Reclamation (James Bishop):

    The Bureau of Reclamation, in cooperation with Estes Valley Recreation and Park District (EVRPD), is seeking public input on a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for Lake Estes, Marys Lake and East Portal lands.

    The agencies will host an open house where the public can learn and ask questions about the resource management planning process, the lands affected by the plan, and provide comments. The open house will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Estes Park High School Commons, 1600 Manford Avenue, Estes Park, Colo. Public comments will be welcomed in writing at the open house and throughout the 30-day public comment period.

    The 30-day public comment period will begin on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 and will end at close-of-business on Friday, November 17, 2017. Comments must be provided in writing and can be submitted by e-mail, fax, or regular mail. E-mail comments can be sent to EstesRMP@usbr.gov, and faxed comments can be sent to the attention of Ms. Justina Thorsen at (970) 663-3212. Regular mail comments should be sent to the attention of Ms. Thorsen at: Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 W. County Road 18E, Loveland, Colo. 80537.

    Reclamation is preparing the Estes Valley RMP. The agency will also prepare an Environmental Assessment in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which includes Lake Estes, Marys Lake, East Portal, and the surrounding federal lands. Through a management agreement with Reclamation, EVRPD is responsible for managing recreation at Lake Estes, Marys Lake, and East Portal. The RMP will guide future recreation development as well as the management of natural and cultural resources on federal lands.

    Media inquiries or general questions about Reclamation should be directed to James Bishop at 970-962-4326 or jbishop@usbr.gov. Specific questions about the resource management planning process should be directed to Justina Thorsen at 970-962-4207 or EstesRMP@usbr.gov.

    Update: Big Thompson restoration project

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    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    This stretch of the Big Thompson River, from the Jasper Lake bridge to just before the Cherry Cider Store, was scoured and severely changed during the 2013 floods. It was left too wide and entrenched, with vegetation ripped away from the banks.

    The new face of the river has a narrower channel with more areas along the banks for waters to disperse in the event of another flood.

    It has large boulders specifically placed to control the flow of the water and to create pools for fish habitat.

    There are large trees that extend from under the banks into the river, stabilizing the bank, preventing erosion and creating habitat.

    And trees, forbes and shrubs were strategically planted, again to stabilize the banks, prevent erosion and create shade and habitat.

    “We’ve really made it look like a river again,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition.

    The goal was to mix several different restoration techniques — the planting, the rocks, the tree trunks — to improve the river while keeping it natural, which from the look of the river is mission accomplished.

    “It’s a really good mix of types of restoration,” added Jones.

    Even the planting is mixed for diversity and meticulously planned out. The project team chose all native vegetation and placed different shrubs, trees, forbes and grasses in different zones along the banks. The willows, live stands transplanted from the river corridor nearby, are close to and in some spots in the water, while pine trees are further away up the shore.

    The trees and shrubs are planted in clumps to mirror nature, not in neat rows as a gardener would do.

    Much of the vegetation was transplanted from the natural surroundings, while other plants were specifically grown by the Colorado State Forest Service for river restoration.

    This project is among five already completed by the Big Thompson Watershed Coalition and its partners, which have more planned this year in the Big Thompson as do other entities like the city of Loveland and Colorado Department of Transportation.

    The recently completed work, called the Jasper Lake project, spans a half mile of the river on both the north and south sides of the highway and crosses private, Larimer County and U.S. Forest Service land.

    It cost $800,000 with the money coming from a mixture of federal, state and private sources, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Rocky Mountain Flycasters and the Trout and Salmon Foundation.

    Though the river project abuts Narrows Park, that piece of public land has not yet been restored. Owned by Larimer County, that park will serve as the site of a temporary bridge crossing the river while the county replaces the Jasper Lake Bridge this fall, so restoration is planned by the county after that bridge project, according to officials involved with the restoration project.

    The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition worked with contractors and several partners, including private landowners, on this project. Walsh said one of the greatest parts was to meet the people, to listen about the river’s past and to explain the new, healthier river that was being created.

    Big Thompson Flood remembrance

    Looking west into the narrows after the Big Thompson Flood July 31, 1976

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Michelle Vendegna):

    For more than 20 years, Anderson has organized the event that commemorates the 1976 flood that started with heavy rain on July 31, 1976. It caused a massive surge of water to race down the Big Thompson Canyon with little warning, resulting in the deaths of 144 people.

    Community members have gathered yearly at the memorial outside the volunteer firehouse to remember those victims. Five candles are lit for those who were never found: Rochelle Rogers, Teresa Graham, George McCarty, Vernon Oler and Evelyn Kindred.

    Monday night, Pastor Paul Logue from Estes Park Baptist church officiated while Jerry Shaffer provided music and Daryle Klassen offered a tribute.

    Bob Graham shared his memories of losing his wife Beverly and two young daughters. Teresa and Lisa. He also lost his mother, Clara Graham.

    Graham recounted his experience both during and after the flood.

    “It would have been unbearable if not for good friends at the Loveland Fire Department,” he said.

    “The loss of one’s children is the greatest loss a parent can endure,” he added.

    Linda Marriner of LaPorte comes each year to remember her father, Doc Ealy Lee, who died in the flood.

    “He loved that river,” she said. Her father loved to fish and went every chance he got, although he would never keep his catch. Linda said he hated the taste.

    Linda was joined by her son Luke, his wife Amy and their two sons, Colby, 3, and Caden, 5.

    “It’s really about being with my mom,” Luke Marriner said. He has been to the ceremony every year.

    He said his mom always talked about his grandfather while he was growing up.

    “It was probably more me asking than her telling,” he said, and they have continued to talk about him with the two young boys as the anniversary rolls around.

    “It’s important to keep this alive,” Luke said.

    Each year, scholarships are given to living relatives of those who were lost. The scholarships come from donations, various fundraisers and sales of books “The Big Thompson Flood” and “Big Thompson Flood Disasters.”

    The four recipients for 2017 are Drew Lanig, of Missouri, who is the great-grandson Joseph Appelbaum; Haley Haskell, of Iowa, who is the great-granddaughter of William and Emma Haskell and who lost four other family members; Shannon Peistrup, of Littleton, who is the great-granddaughter of Norma Peistrup; and Trenton Drake Allison, of Kansas, who is the great-grandson of Gene and Faith Saunders.

    For more information on the yearly gathering or to donate, http://1976bigthompsonflood.org.

    Big Thompson Flood, July 31, 1976

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jason Pohl):

    All told, Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster claimed 144 lives, injured scores of others, and permanently altered memories and landscapes alike. It prompted new talks about living in flood country and became the “where were you” moment for a generation, ranking alongside Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.

    Drake: Big Thompson Memorial Service Monday, July 31, 2017, 7:00 PM

    Looking west into the narrows after the Big Thompson Flood July 31, 1976

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The annual commemoration of the 1976 Big Thompson Flood is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the site of a flood memorial one mile east of Drake Road on U.S. Highway 34.

    The flash flood of July 31, 1976, in the Big Thompson Canyon took 144 lives, making it the worst natural disaster in Colorado’s history.

    The memorial service will include speakers, music, announcement of academic scholarships to relatives of flood victims, and light refreshments. Participants should bring a lawn chair for their comfort.

    Information: http://www.1976bigthompsonflood.org

    #Runoff news: The Big Thompson has peaked, Yampa flows too high for tubing

    From The Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

    It may not look like it as the Big Thompson River and Fall River continue to race through the middle of town and a very noticeable snowpack still looms in the high country, but experts believe the peak runoff for this current season has just occurred and that we should soon see the water levels dropping.

    “Right now what we can say is that it (the seasonal runoff) is comparable with previous years and we are pretty certain that it has already peaked, probably two days ago,” said James Bishop on Wednesday afternoon. Bishop is the Public Involvement Specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado…

    The flow of the Big Thompson River at Moraine Park peaked at 755 cubic feet per second (cfs) at 2:15 a.m. Sunday morning. Since then, the flow has dropped significantly to 613 cfs on Monday to 267 cfs by late Wednesday afternoon…

    Checking U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources charts finds that the Big Thompson River flow just below Lake Estes peaked at 804 cfs at 3:15 a.m. Tuesday while the Big Thompson River flow at Loveland peaked at 492 cfs at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

    From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

    It is hot and the river looks tempting, but it is still too early to safely tube the Yampa River…

    Not only is the water currently very turbulent, but it is also very cold. Steamboat Flyfisher was reporting a water temperature Wednesday of 54 degrees.

    Many in N. #Colorado welcome the @OmahaUSACE approval for Chimney Hollow Reservoir

    From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

    Just last week, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the Chimney Hollow reservoir project, which will hold 90,000 acre feet of water and feed several Front Range communities, including Greeley.

    Such infrastructure is vital for future growth, regardless, [Brian] Werner said.

    The fight is not over. The conservancy district will continue to fight for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 northern Front Range communities with 40,000 acre feet of water. That’s been held up at the Army Corps of Engineers for more than a decade. A decision is expected next year.

    “Chimney Hollow and NISP will put a major dent into what we’ll need down the road,” Werner said. “More people are coming whether we build this or not. Our future looks a lot better having some of these storage buckets with more people than a lot more people and no storage buckets. We’ll start drying up more farms. We’ve got to have water.”

    In addition to water storage, the city of Greeley, has an intense focus on proper drainage to combat the decades-old problem of flooding in Greeley.

    Joel Hemesath, public works director, said the city has been working for the past two years with some bond money to improve drainage in and around Greeley. He said the city is gearing up for downtown projects, as well, that will route drainage to a detention pond by the Poudre River via bigger pipes.

    Since 2012, the city has spent a little more than $17 million on stormwater projects.

    The city also works hard to improve trails, dedicating just shy of $900,000 to them since 2012.

    Hemesath said the city would like to extend Sheep Draw Trail through some more western subdivisions, and extend the Poudre Trail farther east.

    Windy Gap Firming Project gets green light from @OmahaUSACE #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District (Kiel Downing/Cheryl Moore):

    The Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, finalized its Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Windy Gap Firming Project on May 17, 2017. The project is proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Subdistrict) and involves the construction of Windy Gap Firming Project Water Supply facilities for its customers and 13 other Front Range water providers. The Subdistrict requested a Section 404 Clean Water Act (CWA) Permit from the Corps’ Omaha District Denver Regulatory Branch. “Due to the potential for significant environmental impacts to the East and West Slopes of Colorado, this project resulted in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)” said Kiel Downing, Denver Regulatory Office Chief. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) was the lead federal agency preparing the EIS, and the Corps participated as a Cooperating Agency.

    The original Windy Gap Project, constructed in the early 1980’s, was intended to provide more than 40,000 acre-feet of firm yield to the east slope, but due to operational constraints that didn’t happen. The project currently captures water from the Colorado River, pumps it to existing reservoirs on the west slope and moves the water through a tunnel system (the Colorado-Big Thompson Project operated by Reclamation) to the Front Range of Colorado. Because of the historic deficiency in water deliveries and lack of storage, the Windy Gap Project participants have not been able to fully rely on existing Windy Gap Project water for meeting a portion of their annual water demand. As a result, the participants, initiated the proposed construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which would firm all or a portion of their individual Windy Gap Project water allotment units to meet a portion of existing and future municipal and industrial water requirements. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir, as proposed, is a 90,000 AF capacity reservoir that will be dammed at the northern and southern limits.

    Reclamation published the Windy Gap Firming Project, Environmental Impact Statement in November of 2011, and ROD on December 12, 2014. The State CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification began shortly thereafter with the Subdistrict submitting its application to the State in March of 2015. The State issued the Section 401 WQC for the WGFP on March 25, 2016. This determination was necessary for the Corps determination under Section 404 of the CWA. The Subdistrict provided the Corps its Mitigation Plan for permanent and temporary impacts to Waters of the U.S. associated with the WGFP on March 17, 2017 and the Corps with continued agency collaboration, updated study information, and new Federal and State requirements, finalized their ROD shortly thereafter marking the end of the federal approval process.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jeff Stahla):

    Kiel Downing, Denver regulatory office chief for the Corps of Engineers, announced Wednesday afternoon the Record of Decision for the Clean Water Act permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes the reservoir.

    With the final federal permit in hand, Northern Water officials can start planning for construction of the $400 million project, which is set to start in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Northern Water Public Information Officer Brian Werner.

    “We’re smiling,” Werner said. “These things come along once in a generation.”

    Berthoud-based Northern Water will manage the construction of a pair of dams in a valley west of Carter Lake that will hold approximately 90,000 acre-feet of water, or about 29 billion gallons — enough water for more than 90,000 households.

    Water to fill Chimney Hollow will come from the Colorado River basin in years when its flows are above average. The water will be carried through a diversion at Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County to Lake Granby and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Municipalities including Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley conceived of Windy Gap in 1970. The need for storage space for the communities involved to “firm” their ownership of the Windy Gap water rights expanded in later years to include Chimney Hollow Reservoir because in above-average precipitation years, Lake Granby often does not have enough space to store the additional water.

    Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said he was ecstatic when he heard about the Corps of Engineers’ approval, comparing it to Christmas.

    In his time serving on the Loveland City Council and then the Colorado House of Representatives, he has seen how much the storage project was needed…

    For cities such as Loveland, Windy Gap water fills an important role for its municipal users because it is a 365-day-a-year, deliverable water source, unlike in-basin seasonal water offered through local ditch companies. It will join the Colorado-Big Thompson Project shares in the city’s water portfolio…

    McKean acknowledges that because the water has not been diverted before, questions and concerns will emerge from Western Slope water users and communities. However, because the Windy Gap Firming Project water is available only in years of above-average flows on the Colorado River, municipalities on the Front Range won’t be served until water rights holders on the Western Slope get their allocations.

    He said he will be in Montrose this summer at a meeting of the Uncompahgre Water Users Association to talk about the project’s effect on the basins and in the context of the state water plan.

    From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The federal government gave final approval Wednesday for a $400 million dam and reservoir in northern Colorado where 13 cities and water districts will store water from the other side of the Continental Divide.

    The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir in the foothills about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver.

    The corps regulates some of the environmental impacts of big water projects.

    It is the last approval the reservoir needs, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which oversees the project.

    Construction could start in early 2019, after the district refines the plans, hires a project manager and awards contracts.

    Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.

    The 13 water providers own the rights to the water but have nowhere to store it. The project is formally called the Windy Gap Firming Project because it would firm up the water supply.

    The Chimney Hollow Reservoir will store up to 90,000 acre-feet (1.1 million cubic meters). One acre-foot (1,200 cubic meters) can supply two typical households for a year.

    New reservoirs are always contentious in Colorado. Water managers and urban planners argue the state needs more because it does not have the capacity to store all the water it is entitled to under agreements with other states. They also say Colorado needs more water for its growing population.

    Some conservationists oppose new reservoirs because of their environmental damage and because the state’s rivers are already overtaxed.

    “The Colorado River is on life support right now,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”

    Wockner said his group will likely challenge the Corps of Engineers permit in court.

    Trout Unlimited negotiated some environmental improvements in the Colorado River near the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the project. Mely Whiting, an attorney for the group, said she had not yet seen the final Corps of Engineers permit.

    Water providers that will pay for and benefit from the Chimney Hollow Reservoir are the cities of Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Superior, Evans, Lafayette and Fort Lupton, as well as the Central Weld County and Little Thompson water districts.

    #Snowpack/#runoff news: Big Thompson flows up

    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it has begun to increase the amount of water it is releasing from Lake Estes into the Big Thompson River by way of Olympus Dam.

    The increase began Monday, according to the bureau on its Facebook page.

    The increase will go from the current level of 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) to about 100 cfs. The exact cfs released will depend on inflows into Lake Estes, but the range will be between 50 cfs and 100 cfs, the announcement said.

    A cubic foot of water is equivalent to 7.48 gallons. That means there are 748 gallons in 100 cubic feet of water. The average American home uses 400 gallons of water a day, or about half of the flow when it’s 100 cubic feet.

    The release from the lake into the river is expected to increase through the spring as the annual runoff flows increase.

    The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates Lake Estes and Olympus Dam as part of the federal trans-basin diversion Colorado-Big Thompson water project.

    Water level and runoff information regarding Olympus Dam and Lake Estes can be found on the Bureau’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/LakeEstesandOlyDam.

    Fish Recovery and its Economic Implications in the Big Thompson — KUNC

    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation
    Fly fishing below Olympus Dam (Colorado-Big Thompson Project) September 17, 2015 via the Bureau of Reclamation

    From KUNC (Maeve Conran):

    Every fall, biologists count the fish to get an overall view of the river’s health. A healthy river means a lot of healthy fish, trout in this case, rainbow and brown. And a healthy fish population means a healthy local economy with jobs dependent on the fishing and recreation industry.

    “People come to Estes Park for a lot of reasons, and fishing is one of them,” says Jack Deloose, who has been a fishing guide in Estes Park for four years. “We get an awful lot of people. We’ll probably end up with 600 people that will fish with us this year.”

    An estimated 50,000 anglers descend on this area annually, spending on average $103 each on everything from fishing guides and equipment to lodging and food…

    About $4 million a year flows into local coffers as a result of this river. As so much tourism depends on the fish, the results of the annual fish count are closely watched.

    The biologists conduct the count at two separate sites. This area is in good shape. There are shallow spots where the fish like to spawn, and rock pools for winter habitat. Further downstream, it’s a different story.

    Immediately after the 2013 flood, the fish population there was zero. It slowly recovered, but a concrete spill into the water earlier this year during road repairs set the recovery back.

    Permanent repairs have begun on the parts of the river and adjoining highway that were most damaged by the floods, but Swigle says the repairs will also tackle problems dating back 40 years.

    “We’ve been educated from two floods, 1976 and 2013. In both cases, the flood won and the river lost,” says Swigle. “Now we’re building a road that is resilient in the face of flooding, so when it happens again—and it will—we won’t have to spend $500 million to repair the road.”

    The repairs will raise the adjoining road and create a wider floodplain. That will help the river cope with future floods.

    After collecting the fish, the task of counting, weighing and measuring them begins. The number of fish in this stretch amounts to almost 4,000 total per mile, indicating a healthy section of the river. Further downstream, as predicted, the fish count is much lower, in the low hundreds of fish per mile. But Swigle is hopeful that those numbers will improve in the future.

    “Ultimately we’d like to see the number of trout that we found here, downstream in the same abundance,” Swigle says.

    Repairs on that lower stretch started in October and will likely continue through June 2017.

    ‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

    The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

    Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

    Understanding the river, each other

    Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

    “The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

    Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

    Forests and water quality/quantity

    Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

    “Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

    Global lessons for local success

    “Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

    Change affects all sectors

    An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

    “It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

    The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

    Videos, displays and music too

    The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

    Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2017.shtml.

    For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com or 970-692-1443.

    http://www.reporterherald.com/news/ci_30684388/big-t-river-rehab-begin

    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
    Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    This year, actual work will begin to repair habitat along and inside several stretches of the Big Thompson River through a grassroots group, The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, that formed after the 2013 flood.

    “2017 is going to be a big year for projects happening on the ground,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the coalition. “We’re talking millions of dollars in river restoration.”

    A couple of projects through the coalition have already begun, but several others are going to kick off in 2017. Early in the year, the coalition will put out bids for a contractor to work on a stretch about a mile long from Jasper Lake through Narrows Park, which is in the lower section of the canyon.

    Estimated to cost $900,000, the project will include stabilizing sections of the banks, planting vegetation and creating what are called flood plain benches to allow the water space to spread out in the event of a future flood, explained Jones and Tracy Wendt, assistant watershed coordinator.

    The work also includes improving fish habitat in several ways, such as building pools within the river and planting vegetation in strategic places to provide shade and cover.

    “There will be habitat improvements for all different life stages of trout,” Wendt said. “It’s all the phases of their life to help them.”

    Because of the fish habitat component, the coalition, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Flycasters, recently received a $4,500 grant from the Trout and Salmon Foundation. And the Flycasters, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, also contributed $2,000 to the project.

    The bulk of the funding, about $500,000, will come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service with the rest of the money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jones explained.

    This piece of the river winds through both private and public properties and ends just before the Narrows near the Colorado Cherry Company.

    Other projects also are planned further west along the river with more money coming from the NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The exact amounts of money and grants are still being finalized, though Jones did confirm the total work would be in the millions.

    Other projects to rehabilitate the river and river corridor are occurring simultaneously including one that will begin in 2017 as a partnership with the coalition and Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.

    Work began in October and will continue this spring on West Creek, and other improvements began two weeks ago on Fox Creek. Both, located along the North Fork near Glen Haven, are being built in partnership with Larimer County, NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Also, Larimer County, private property owners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Department of Transportation officials are working on separate stretches of the river, with everyone working together for overall river benefit.

    “We’re making sure our projects are complementing each other to make for an overall healthy watershed,” Jones said.

    She expects the work to continue over the next three years as the Colorado Department of Transportation completes the permanent repairs of U.S. 34, which also include massive river restoration work.

    #ColoradoRiver: @USBR Lake Estes and Olympic Dam operations update #COriver

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

    From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    On Monday at 5:30 pm of this week diversions through the Adams Tunnel to the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project began. While this picks up, Lake Estes will rise slightly and is expected to be return to typical levels by next mid-week.

    The Olympus Dam slide gate remains set to release low-level winter flows to the Big Thompson River.

    This rate of fill will be maintained for several days to ensure safe operations below the Estes Power Plant. The majority of the water in Lake Estes enters through the power plant via the C-BT Project.

    Track Lake Estes’ water elevation at our tea cup page: http://www.usbr.gov/gp-bin/arcweb_olydamco.pl

    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    The November 2016 eWaterNews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

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

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

    The C-BT Project water year ended on Oct. 31. C-BT Project storage levels on Nov. 1 were above average for a third consecutive year, with 548,274 acre-feet in active storage. The Nov. 1 average is 444,177 AF. Deliveries increased in 2016 over 2015 levels, with 204,078 AF delivered (including quota, Carryover Program and Regional Pool Program water). Forty-six percent of the deliveries were from Horsetooth Reservoir, 40 percent from Carter Lake and the remaining 14 percent went to the Big Thompson River, Hansen Feeder Canal and the South Platte River. Estimated deliveries to municipal and industrial users totaled 102,157 AF, while agricultural deliveries were approximately 101,921 AF.

    Flatiron Reservoir, Marys Lake and Lake Estes drawn down for work — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    Starting Oct. 27, officials from the Bureau of Reclamation turned off the water diversion tunnel from the West Slope to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project that feeds many of the lakes and reservoirs in Larimer County. The reservoir levels have also been lowered through the release of water to storage downstream.

    According to a news release from the agency, the shutdown has allowed for the inspection of dams at Marys Lake and Lake Estes near Estes Park, and Flatiron Reservoir west of Loveland.

    While the reservoirs are at low levels, crews are also looking at the power generation facilities at the Marys and Pole Hill power plants and the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

    According to agency officials, the work will continue on the reservoirs and facilities throughout November, with water diversions through the Adams Tunnel from the Western Slope slated to resume in mid-December.

    #ColoradoRiver: Beauty, “It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science” — Esther Vincent #COriver

    Grand Lake via Cornell University
    Grand Lake via Cornell University

    From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

    Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?

    In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.

    Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.

    The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.

    The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”

    On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.

    But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.

    Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.

    “It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”

    The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.

    Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.

    During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.

    Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.

    But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”

    The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.

    Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
    Grand River Ditch July 2016. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.

    Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    The flawed design

    But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.

    The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.

    Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.

    From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.

    In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul
    In 2011, reservoirs east of the divide were full, so water was allowed to continue down the Colorado River without diversion. This photo shows what the lake looked like on Aug. 30, without pumping. Photo courtesy of Byron Metzler and pilot Steve Paul

    The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.

    Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.

    Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).

    Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.

    The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.

    “I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”

    Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.

    Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.

    As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.

    The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”

    Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.

    The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.

    The effect of persistence

    O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.

    He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”

    He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.

    But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.

    “There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.

    This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.

    It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.

    Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.

    There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.

    Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?

    “I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

    Loveland: Algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir update

    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir
    Green Ridge Glade Reservoir

    From The City of Loveland (Gretchen Stanford):

    I hear your concerns about the water quality and taste and odor issues we are experiencing in Loveland. My goal is to be as transparent as possible by sharing information about what is causing the taste and odor issues in Loveland and what Loveland Water and Power (LWP) is doing to resolve the problem.

    Loveland has been abuzz for months about the unusually large, stubborn algae bloom at Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, one source of Loveland’s drinking water. Although this bloom is fierce, the drinking water in Loveland still meets federal regulatory requirements, plus even more-stringent state standards, for drinking water.

    This algae bloom in particular is the largest we have ever seen. As a result of the 2013 flood, more nutrients have entered into runoff as it makes its way to our reservoir. The extreme heat and abundant sunshine we have had this summer developed into the perfect storm for an enormous algae bloom.

    This bloom has revealed new algae species that reproduce more quickly and produce stronger geosmin, the compound that causes taste and odor issues. Additionally, the Big Thompson River is now afflicted with a significant level of the same algae. We cannot treat the free-flowing river water in the same way as we do the reservoir. And at this time, we are blending water from both the river and the reservoir at the Water Treatment Plant (WTP).

    LWP water quality specialists are closely monitoring water quality by testing water samples at the Water Treatment Plant as well as at homes and businesses throughout the city on a daily basis. We are also treating the reservoir with a hydrogen peroxide-based algaecide that was developed as an environmentally safe alternative to copper-based algaecides. The only end-products of the treatment we use are oxygen and water. In addition, we are using a safe, absorbent activated-carbon compound inside the treatment plant to remove as much taste, odor and color from the water as possible.

    Our technical staff continues to explore safe alternatives for treating algae blooms in the future while walking a thin line between the price tag of new technology and reasonable rates for our customers. Next week, LWP will begin a feasibility study to evaluate options for algae mitigation. The study will include permanent aeration or oxygenation system in the reservoir. We will also do a preliminary design of a larger system to store and dispense the activated carbon compound at the WTP. Unfortunately, those large capital costs are currently not budgeted.

    While we would like to predict when the algae will die, it is important to note that algae is a living, unpredictable organism. Blooms usually end shortly after the first frost but we have no way to predict when that might be. We will continue to update our website http://www.cityofloveland/waterquality and Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/LovelandWaterandPower with timely information as we receive it.

    The safety and quality of our drinking water is one of LWP’s most important goals. We recognize the vital role water plays in our daily lives. LWP takes water quality very seriously and will continue to produce safe, clean drinking water for our customers. We ask for your patience while we work to resolve this problem and find a way to prevent it in the future.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    An algae bloom in Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, the worst Loveland’s Water and Power division has experienced, is to blame for the unsavory taste and odor plaguing the city’s water supply. The blue-green algae is harmless, health-wise, according to state lab test results.

    While the minuscule taste-and-odor compound released by the algae makes the taste disgusting, a lucky 25 percent of residents think the water’s fine because they can’t taste or smell the compound.

    Soon, the other 75 percent of the city will have better-tasting water. The first hard freeze will mean a slow die-off of the algae bloom, water treatment manager Scott Dickmeyer said. After that, the water’s taste and smell should return to normal within a week or two.

    But Loveland will have to invest in some new mitigation methods to keep the algae at bay.

    Green Ridge Glade has always been susceptible to algae growth because it’s deep and relatively still. It’s not a recreation hub like Horsetooth Reservoir, from which Fort Collins gets its water, and water doesn’t flow in and out of it at a rapid rate like at Horsetooth because Loveland is its sole user.

    So as temperatures rise, the reservoir’s deeper, stiller water produces nutrients that promote the growth of anabaena, a type of algae common in water systems.

    Loveland officials use a hydrogen peroxide-based product to kill the algae, but the issue has gotten worse since the 2013 Big Thompson floods because of the nutrient influx and the mysterious introduction of a new species of algae that’s harder to kill.

    That’s why even though the algae issue is nothing new, many residents noticed it for the first time late this summer…

    The city’s been using powder-activated carbon to remove the taste-and-odor compound from the water and funneling more Big Thompson River water into its treatment plant, but each method has drawbacks.

    Powder-activated carbon removes only 50 to 60 percent of the compound because it’s not great at trapping such tiny particles. Loveland’s treated water contains about 20 to 40 parts of the compound per trillion parts of water…

    “It’s a very, very small amount, but most people are very, very sensitive to it,” Dickmeyer said. “It only takes about 5 parts per trillion for our customers to start noticing it.”

    And within the last few weeks, algae started cropping up in the Big Thompson River, so diluting the taste with another water source wasn’t an option.

    Loveland Water and Power is considering adding oxygen to the reservoir to discourage algae growth. The division is also considering more aggressive treatment options that won’t “cost a fortune,” Dickmeyer said.

    Estes Park: Fish Creek restoration project

    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.
    Fish Creek Road after September 2013 floods via YouTube.

    From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (T.A. Rustin):

    Students from Estes Park High School teamed up with ecology experts from the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition on Wednesday to help rebuild the ecosystem along lower Fish Creek. That area was devastated by the flood in 2013, washing away vegetation, eroding the banks, destroying the utility infrastructure, and damaging homes.

    The Coalition has been working for the last year to restore areas damaged by the flood. They selected this area of Fish Creek as their first project, according to Molly Mills, Coordinator of the Coalition. Nearly a year ago, she met with Chuck Scott, principal of the high school, and asked if the Coalition could work on restoring the river banks adjoining school property.

    “I asked him for permission to work on school property,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Only if you involve the kids and make this a learning experience,'” said Mills.

    Mills agreed at once to the plan, and she took the responsibility for securing grant funding and obtaining legal permission to work on the river banks. That required several months, since there are numerous overlapping jurisdictions involved in the Fish Creek watershed.

    With guidance from teacher Alex Harris, the high school’s Environmental Club began planning and recruiting their classmates for this event. Mills did some training with the students, teaching them about riverine ecology, and the proper techniques for planting trees. The students in the club then created training materials for the student volunteers.

    “This has been a student-run project the whole way,” said Mills. “I brought the idea to them, and the funding; they organized the volunteers, mapped it out, and got the logistical support.”

    […]

    Beginning early in the morning on Wednesday, students transported plants and supplies in pickup trucks to three areas along Fish Creek. More than 300 students arrived and split into teams to get to work on the riverbank. They began by pulling and bagging noxious weeks that have proliferated since the flood. They also cleared the banks of accumulated flood debris and trash.

    The Coalition brought in 3,000 trees, provided by the Colorado State Forest Service. The specific species had been selected by Mills in consultation with ecology experts. They included river birch, alder, chokecherry, and cottonwood. Mills’s ecology consultants marked the locations for each tree. Working in teams, the students dug holes, planted the trees, and carried buckets of water from Fish Creek to water them.

    Nearly the entire student body has been involved in this project, including the Culinary Arts class, which planned and prepared lunch for the students, teachers and volunteers. Students in the Film Studies are making a documentary to tell the story of the project. The faculty and administrators also supported the project…

    Randy Mandel, representing the Colorado Water Conservation Board, walked among the groups of students. A water and ecology specialist, Mandel explained to the students how their efforts would improve the watershed. Mandel noticed a student struggling with the root ball of a tree. He bent down and guided her in the proper technique.

    Gary Miller, President of the Coalition, said that the flood impacted Fish Creek more severely than any other area in the Estes Valley, and therefore was chosen as the first project.

    “The Coalition was formed to bring together organizations interested in sustainable restoration of the flood damaged areas,” he said. The Estes Valley has seen three 500 year floods since 1979, and Miler predicted that we should expect more in the future. “We need to be prepared for the next huge event,” he said. He pointed out that this project has served to educate the students about the broader problem of environmental disasters.

    Mills said that this is the first phase of the revegetation of the Fish Creek watershed. The next phase will be putting up fencing around the young trees to encourage the elk and deer to browse elsewhere.

    “Otherwise,” she said, “they will eat everything we’ve planted.”

    In the next few months, the Coalition will be mulching the area and broadcasting native grass seeds to improve the ground cover.

    #ColoradoRiver: The latest “e-Waternews” is hot off the presses from Northern Water #COriver

    Graph showing historical total active storage for Sept. 1. The green line indicates average storage, which is 492,333 AF via Northern Water.
    Graph showing historical total active storage for Sept. 1. The green line indicates average storage, which is 492,333 AF via Northern Water.

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

    C-BT Project Update
    Going into September, C-BT Project storage continued to be above average. On Sept. 1, 2016, total active storage was 619,418 acre-feet, which is approximately 128,000 AF above average for this time of year.

    For the 2016 water year, 142,579 AF has been delivered with 42 percent of the deliveries 0 from Carter Lake and 49 percent from Horsetooth Reservoir. The remaining nine percent is delivered from the Big Thompson River and the Hansen Feeder Canal.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Colorado communities worried about glacier water supplies — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Big Thompson River near RMNP
    Big Thompson River near RMNP

    From the Associated Press via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Colorado communities that rely on water from dozens of glaciers and glacier features in Rocky Mountain National Park are concerned because the glaciers are shrinking as temperatures climb and winter snowfall becomes more uncertain.

    Water from the Poudre, Colorado and Big Thompson rivers get meltwater from dozens of glaciers and glacier-like features around the park.

    Park glaciers always vary in size depending on the seasons, but low snowfall amounts could keep them from being replenished. A change of a few degrees when temperatures are near the freezing point can turn snow into rain.

    Between the 1990s and 2005, the glaciers started to shrink at an increasing rate. Rocky Mountain National Park’s glaciers were already small by comparison.

    The biggest glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park is about 31 acres (13 hectares), according to a study in 2007.

    A two-year study is underway to find out how the glaciers have changed in area and volume since 2005. Scientists will be using historic maps, climate records, photographs and measurements to better understand what’s happening.

    Scientists will also study how glacier melt influences rivers, by measuring streamflow and collecting water samples to see how much water glaciers contribute to rivers…

    Even a small loss in the snow and ice that feed rivers in northern Colorado could have a big effect on water supplies to Fort Collins and other nearby communities.

    Paul McLaughlin, an ecologist at the park’s Continental Divide Research Learning Center, said changes in the amount of water and temperatures could also damage delicate river ecosystems.

    Teens help with river restoration project as part of North Fork flood recovery By Pamela Johnson — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The project, spearheaded by Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, is wrapping up, and a crew of teens attending a fly-fishing camp this week planted trees, shrubs and grass on a section of the river about 2 miles above Drake as part of the final touches…

    The Big Thompson River and the North Fork suffered severe damage during the September 2013 flood. Torrents of water wiped out homes, sheds, trees, boulders and anything else in their path and left behind destruction that, in many places, resembled a barren moonscape…

    During the aftermath of the flood, Wildland Restoration Volunteers began reaching out to find ways to help restore trails, wildlands and sections of the river.

    They connected with Chenoweth and other landowners and applied for state grants to redesign and rehabilitate a 2.5-mile section of the North Fork to be studied and used as an example for future projects. Most of the land in the project is owned by the Chenoweth family and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    With $360,000 in grants and $140,000 worth of donated time and supplies, crews and volunteers have realigned and regraded the river channel to make the river and surrounding habitat healthy and more able to survive a future flood.

    This included specifically designing the depth of pools in the river, carefully placing rocks to create ripples in the water and to stabilize the bank and creating areas along the river that will allow water to slow down and spread out in the event of another flood.

    The next step was to plant vegetation along the river to enhance habitat and to protect the banks from erosion.

    The teens from the Rocky Mountain Flycasters Fly Fishing Conservation Camp worked on the planting this week, putting in willows, cottonwoods, dogwoods, chokecherry trees and native grasses.

    Luke McNally, who works for Wildland Restoration Volunteers, pointed out to the teens the trees that survived the flood as well as grasses that have returned since. But, he noted, the amount of plant life is nothing compared with what was there before the flood…

    The goal of the camp, which is in its seventh year, is for the teens to learn about fishing as well as ecology and conservation and to stir in them a love of the outdoors and a desire to protect the lands, noted Dennis Cook, camp director and a member of Rocky Mountain Flycasters.

    Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 -- Graphic/NWS via USA Today
    Storm pattern over Colorado September 2013 — Graphic/NWS via USA Today

    Larimer pays $8.4 million for farm, water rights — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    Here’s the release from Larimer County (Kerri Rollins):

    Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased a 211-acre farm southwest of Berthoud, along with its valuable water rights. The deal closed Monday, August 8.

    Using Help Preserve Open Spaces sales and use tax dollars, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased the property, known previously as the Malchow Farm, to conserve its agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values. General public access is not permitted at this time. Larimer County plans to continue leasing the property as an active agricultural farming operation.

    The Town of Berthoud provided $100,000 to Larimer County to help purchase the farm, which will also help leverage a potential Great Outdoors Colorado funding request being submitted later this month.

    “We’re excited to acquire this farm and its myriad of conservation values,” said Gary Buffington, director of Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. “The property helps us further our mission to conserve working lands and foster an appreciation for our agricultural heritage in Larimer County.”

    This property is located one mile southwest of Berthoud, just north of the Little Thompson River and adjacent to U.S. 287 on the highway’s west side. It consists of high-quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pasture and 5 farmstead acres. Located just north of the Larimer-Boulder county line, the property serves as a gateway to Larimer County and a doorstep to the town of Berthoud, with sweeping views of Longs Peak and the Front Range. The property contains several historic features, including a pioneer gravesite, beet shack and a big red barn that can be seen for miles. The Overland Trail once crossed the property.

    The property, infrastructure and minerals were purchased along with the valuable water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson, or C-BT, water, 16 shares of Handy Ditch native water rights and 20 shares in Dry Creek Lateral Ditch.

    Larimer County is actively seeking partners to engage in a water sharing agreement on this property that will provide partnership funds toward the purchase of the water, keep the farm in active production and allow water partners to share some of the water in drought years. This water sharing agreement, known as an Alternative Transfer Mechanism, or ATM, is a cooperative solution encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan to share water across uses without permanently drying up high-quality working farms, such as this farm near Berthoud.

    Larimer County has developed a stewardship plan for the property and will develop a full management plan with public input within the next several years. The property was purchased from the Malchow family, but an official name for the property, now that it’s a Larimer County open space, will be chosen at a later date. Public tours of the property are planned for later this year.

    For additional information, contact Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager, at (970) 619-4577.

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    Larimer County now officially owns the 211-acre Malchow farm south of Berthoud and its associated water rights — a unique agreement that includes a water sharing component.

    The $8.4 million sale from the Malchow family to the Department of Natural Resources closed Monday.

    The county bought the property to conserve its agricultural, historic and scenic values and plans to continue leasing the fields as an active farm.

    One unique aspect of the sale was that the county also bought the water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, with the intention of entering into a water sharing agreement.

    Under such an agreement, the farm may vary its crops over several years, so in drought years, some of the irrigation water can be sold.

    This allows the farm to stay in production for the long-term and is an arrangement encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan.

    The farm is located along U.S. 287 one mile southwest of Berthoud, and along with rich farmland, it includes historic buildings and a pioneer grave site believed to be tied to the Overland Trail, which once crossed the property…

    The farm will not immediately be open for public access. However, a management plan that will be developed within the next few years could include an educational component in which the farm may be used to teach the public about agriculture.

    The town of Berthoud pitched in $100,000 toward the purchase of the property, and Larimer County will be applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to help with the cost.

    Broomfield purchases 120 shares of water for $3.24 million — The Broomfield Enterprise

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    From The Broomfield enterprise (Danika Worthington):

    The auction room was packed with bidders, but only 13 — including the City and County of Broomfield — emerged from the Larimer County Fairgrounds with a piece of the Reynolds portfolio. Municipalities, developers and farmers all grabbed some units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, while developers and growers signed deals for land.

    The auction was of high interest, given the land’s location in the path of northern Front Range development and the large amount of water attached to it.

    Although the numbers are still preliminary, Hall and Hall Auctions partner Scott Shuman said 276 CB-T units brought in the largest chunk of money, about $7.6 million or an average of $27,356 each. The CB-T units, already trading for high sums, were expected to be the most pricey given their scarcity and the ability to use the water for uses such as agriculture, development and industrial processes, including oil and gas extraction.

    According to Pat Soderberg, finance director for Broomfield, the city and county placed a bid for 120 shares at $26,000 per share, plus a 4 percent processing fee.

    That puts Broomfield’s purchase at $3.24 million, with a 10 percent down-payment of $324,480. The balance will be paid at closing, Soderberg said.

    But on a per-share basis, the 15.75 Highland Ditch shares stole the show, averaging $148,900 each for an estimated total of $2.3 million. All the shares were sold to farmers or investors.

    Although CB-T water got most of the attention prior to the auction, Shuman said the ditch shares provide more acre-feet of water than CB-T and are not limited to a specific geography. CB-T water, which is conveyed from the headwaters of the Colorado River near Grand Lake, can be used only within the boundaries of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    July 31, 1976: The Big Thompson Flood

    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.
    Big Thompson Flood, Colorado. Cabin lodged on a private bridge just below Drake, looking upstream. Photo by W. R. Hansen, August 13, 1976. Photo via the USGS.

    July 31, 1976, Steamboat Springs: I had been wandering around the Flat Tops Wilderness for a week or so with Mrs. Gulch. Drizzle in between downpours during the monsoon. We were holed-up in a hotel to dry out and I phoned my mother to check in.

    She asked, “Johnny are you anywhere near the Big Thompson Canyon? There’s been a terrible flood.”

    And it was a terrible flood. After the September 2013 floods Allen Best wrote about being part of the disaster response in The Denver Post. It’s a good read on this 40th anniversary. Here’s one passage:

    I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.

    Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.

    I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.

    Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.

    Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.

    In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.

    Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).

    Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.

    Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.

    At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.

    The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.

    Here’s an excerpt from a look back forty years from Michelle Vendegna writing for the Longmont Times-Call.

    Night on the ledge

    “We, Terry Belair-Hassig and Connie Granath-Hays, graduated from Berthoud Jr. Sr. High School the month before, and were anxious to begin the summer. We spent the beautiful, sunny day of July 31, 1976, at a Hewlett-Packard company picnic at Hermit Park not far from Estes Park. After the picnic, we drove up to Estes Park and had dinner at Bob and Tony’s Pizza.

    The clouds started moving in about 6 p.m., so we began the drive down to Loveland via U.S. 34. Within minutes, Connie had to pull her car over because the driving rain was causing zero visibility. We needed to get home, so she started out again, but we didn’t get too much farther before we were blocked by trees, boulders and debris washing down the canyon sides. We had just passed the Loveland Heights area — barely three miles since entering the canyon. The closest town, Drake, was miles away.

    Connie pulled over to the side of the mountain as far as she could. There were a few other cars in this section doing the same, but we all sat in our cars — planning to wait out the storm. However, once the river began to rise and the water was hitting the tires, we decided to leave the car and start climbing. Connie’s dad had taught her to always ‘be prepared,’ so she had a tarp and a few extra jackets stored in her trunk. We grabbed them before climbing. It was a dark, treacherous climb.

    A small group of people scrambled up the mountain near us. Connie gave one of the men her extra jacket. She also had a flashlight which came in handy later in the evening when the lightning wasn’t lighting up the canyon. The other people were lucky enough to find an overhang of rocks to sit under. We tentatively settled on a ledge out in the open, and wrapped ourselves in the tarp. Of course, the tarp was just an old tarp, not waterproof like the ones are today. It protected us for a while, but with the downpour of rain and runoff from the hillside, it too became drenched.

    After only a little while, we watched her car, during the lightning flashes, being lifted up and carried down the river. We decided at this point we should climb higher, so we found a ledge where we spent the long, cold night. We had spent many winters skiing and had never been as cold as we were that night.

    We sat on that little ledge (3 foot by 1 foot) with our knees drawn up to keep us from sliding off. We sang, shivered, cussed and did anything we could to keep our minds off of how cold and achy we were. We heard and saw cars, houses and propane tanks floating down the river during flashes of lightning. We thought by now it must be about morning time, but looking at our watch, it was about 10 p.m. We had a long night ahead of us.

    The next morning was another blue bird day and we were freezing and soaked to the bone. We decided it would be warmer to take our jackets off and left them on the ledge. The road below us had been washed away, but the river had receded enough that we could get off the ledge and move around a little on the steep mountainside. We heard the helicopters for a long time before we saw one. Finally, we were rescued off the side of the mountain by a four-seat helicopter,and dropped off up river on a section of the highway that had survived. There were several other people there. I remember we were all surveying the canyon in a daze. There wasn’t much conversation. I leaned over and picked up a small piece of asphalt and put it in my pocket.

    Click here to read the Fort Collins Coloradoan special about the flood.

    From Wikipedia:

    On July 31, 1976, during the celebration of Colorado’s centennial, the Big Thompson Canyon was the site of a devastating flash flood that swept down the steep and narrow canyon, claiming the lives of 143 people, 5 of whom were never found. This flood was triggered by a nearly stationary thunderstorm near the upper section of the canyon that dumped 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain in less than 4 hours (more than 3/4 of the average annual rainfall for the area). Little rain fell over the lower section of the canyon, where many of the victims were.

    Around 9 p.m., a wall of water more than 6 meters (20 ft) high raced down the canyon at about 6 m/s (14 mph), destroying 400 cars, 418 houses and 52 businesses and washing out most of U.S. Route 34. This flood was more than 4 times as strong as any in the 112-year record available in 1976, with a discharge of 1,000 cubic meters per second (35,000 ft³/s).

    From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

    Officials on Friday detailed how a Big Thompson River that was flowing at 30 cubic feet per second increased to 30,000 by the time it got to the narrows near Sylvan Ranch and the Dam Store.

    The 2013 flood, by contrast was flowing at 16,000 cubic feet per second at the same point. But Bob Kimbrough, from the U.S. Geological Survey, said that number can be misleading. Just because it was flowing at less than half the rate, doesn’t mean the water was half as high as it was in 1976. It could have been a foot or two lower, Kimbrough said.

    Further, the 2013 flood lasted longer. Where the 1976 flood dissipated nearly as quickly as it rose, the 2013 flood flowed over saturated ground for days, causing foundation failures and greater erosion than the 1976 flood.

    Click here to read the extensive coverage from The Estes Park Trail-Gazette.

    1976 Big Thompson Flood

    Jason Pohl hits a home run with his 40th anniversary story about the July 31, 2016 Big Thompson Flood. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    But Jerry Shaffer has learned to close his eyes and breathe deeply when memories surface of flailing through the milky, murky torrent of the Big Thompson Canyon. He can’t shake the mental scars of dodging missiles disguised as spewing propane tanks, crunched homes, and the bodies lifeless men, women, and children that overtook a popular tourist route to Estes Park the night of July 31, 1976.

    And he’ll never forget holding a loved one’s body in his arms before the water whooshed him away, too.

    All told, Colorado’s deadliest natural disaster claimed 144 lives, injured scores of others, and permanently altered memories and landscapes alike. It prompted new talks about living in flood country and became the “where were you” moment for a generation, ranking alongside Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001.

    It started about 9 p.m. Saturday night, on the eve of Colorado’s 100th birthday.

    #ColoradoRiver: The June 2016 eNews is hot off the presses from Northern Water #COriver

    View of the Granby Hydropower Plant with Granby Dam in the background. Photo via Northern Water.
    View of the Granby Hydropower Plant with Granby Dam in the background. Photo via Northern Water.

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

    Granby Hydropower Plant dedication ceremony

    Northern Water’s second hydropower plant is operating and producing clean, renewable power. The Granby Hydropower Plant located at the base of Lake Granby Dam began producing hydroelectric power in May. On June 3, Northern Water hosted a dedication ceremony at the plant. Attendees included Colorado water leaders, state representatives, Grand County commissioners and representatives from Mountain Parks Electric (recipient and distributor of the hydroelectric power). Speakers included Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water President Mike Applegate, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director James Eklund, Mountain Parks Electric General Manager Tom Sifers, Grand County District 2 Commissioner Merrit Linke and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Signe Snortland.

    RMNP, Roosevelt Forest scars slow to heal from fire, flood — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    High Park Fire June 14, 2012
    High Park Fire June 14, 2012

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Stephen Meyers):

    Scorched by the High Park Fire and washed out by the historic 2013 flood, Poudre Canyon’s once popular Young Gulch Trail remains closed to Northern Colorado hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

    The one-two fire-flood punch has left scars that haven’t yet healed and outdoor lovers with fewer places to play, which has frustrated some recreational groups.

    The natural disasters scoured away the first half-mile of the Young Gulch Trail, one of the most popular trails in the Poudre Canyon.

    It is one of about 20 Northern Colorado recreation areas still closed nearly three years after the flood wiped out trails, roads and fishing access in Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park and Big Thompson Canyon.

    The damage is so severe, some areas may never reopen.

    “I think people understand that this was a pretty dramatic change to our landscape,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman said. “This is a long rebuilding process.”

    Long and expensive.

    While a $329,000 project has begun to rebuild Young Gulch Trail, the best case scenario is for the trail to reopen in late 2017. A more realistic goal is 2018.

    The U.S. Forest Service estimates it will take $6.3 million to rebuild the recreation areas damaged on Roosevelt National Forest’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District west of Fort Collins.

    The deluge caused approximately $10 million of damage in Rocky Mountain National Park, which bounced back from the flood and 2013 government shutdown to post back-to-back record visitation totals in 2014 and 2015. The park is on pace this year to beat its 2015 visitation record of 4.1 million visitors. But the park may take a massive hit to visitation this fall when repairs begin on flood-ravaged U.S. Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon, the gateway to the popular park.

    As the U.S. Forest Service’s budget continues to dwindle, Canyon Lakes Ranger District must rely even more on Northern Colorado volunteers who last year dedicated more than 50,000 hours to trail projects. Only the Red Rocks District in Arizona received more volunteer hours in 2015.

    “With the fire and then the flood, it’s definitely been a challenging time for us,” Cloudman said. “We’re adapting to how we do things. Cost-saving where we can, looking at creative ways to expand what we can do and move forward in the recovery efforts.”

    One example: Working with partners like Wildland Restoration Volunteers and Great Outdoors Colorado, which helped secure funding for the Young Gulch Trail rebuild project through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s State Trails Program.

    With help from several volunteer organizations like Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, USFS has restored 63 percent of the 370 miles of flood-damaged roads on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grasslands, and 33 percent of the 157 miles of damaged trails, as of last year.

    Fifteen campgrounds, day-use and river access facilities have been rebuilt, while 12 others have been decommissioned across the Canyon Lakes and Boulder ranger districts.

    More than $100,000 and 10,000 hours have gone into reopening a portion of the North Fork Trail in Glen Haven. About as much money and work has been dedicated to the still-closed Lion Gulch Trail, which could open as early as September or as late as the summer of 2017, Cloudman said.

    In Big Thompson Canyon, several fishing access areas were washed away and won’t be restored, including the North Fork and Glen Haven picnic sites and Idylwilde rest stop. Fishing access has been restored to Sleepy Hollow Park.

    Cloudman said Canyon Lakes Ranger District hopes to offer more fishing access on the Big Thompson, one of Colorado’s premier fly-fishing destinations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the Big Thompson sees 2,559 angler days per month, totaling an annual economic impact of $2.37 million.

    But the forest service’s plans to add more fishing access won’t be finalized until the Colorado Department of Transportation’s rebuild of U.S. 34 from Loveland to Estes Park is complete in 2018 or 2019.

    Construction of the highway poses an economical and ecological impact to the Big Thompson’s fishing industry.

    The first part of CDOT’s massive rebuilding project on U.S. 34 begins after July 4, with rock blasting in the horseshoe area of the canyon, near milepost 78.4.

    The brunt of the work begins in October, after tourist season. Road crews will blast away the mountainside near the defunct Idylwilde Dam, a once-popular area for anglers. It remains to be seen if CDOT will completely close the highway for five months or enact temporary closures, allowing access during peak hours.

    “If our guides don’t have access to the river, then obviously it’s going to affect business,” Christiansen said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s not like we have anything in our control.”

    The same impact is happening on already popular hiking trails such as Greyrock and Hewlett Gulch, which are near Young Gulch Trail.

    Cloudman said both trails have seen an uptick in visitors since the Young Gulch closure. In 2012, the trails averaged 44 and 33 people a day, respectively, with 70-80 visiting on the weekends.

    But during last week’s Memorial Day weekend, more than 100 cars parked at Greyrock and along the shoulder of Colorado Highway 14 each day while passengers hiked the 7,513-foot peak.

    Prior to its closure, Young Gulch averaged 37 daily visitors, with 75 on the weekends. Thanks to its close proximity to Fort Collins, the multiuse trail was popular with hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

    But the 4.9-mile trail that meanders up Young Gulch and Prairie Gulch — crossing a stream about 20 times — was scoured by the flood, cutting 2- to 3-foot-deep ruts in the gulch and rerouting the stream channel.

    The trail requires an extensive rebuild, essentially a move out of the floodplain.

    “A monumental task,” Cloudman said.

    In 2014, the forest service debated whether to even rebuild the trail. The agency held public meetings to gather feedback and developed an environmental analysis of the sustainability of the trail.

    “It came down to, if we can find a good place and a good way to build a new, sustainable trail, then we absolutely will do it,” Cloudman said.

    The new trail design will reduce the number of stream crossings by almost one third, move more of the trail out of the flood zone and provide a more sustainable route, Cloudman said. It will remain open to all users.

    Working in a steep, constrained canyon won’t be easy for trail crews, which include Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Overland Mountain Bike Club, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and the Larimer County Conservation Corps.

    Until the new trail is completed, hikers must endure the trail closure, marked by the closed gates, barricades and cones that have become a common site in the forest since flood and fire changed the landscape.

    Construction will close US 34 from October 2016 to June 2017 — CDOT

    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

    From the Colorado Department of Transportation via The Estes Park Trail-Gazette:

    The Colorado Department of Transportation announced today that beginning in late October and continuing through early June of 2017, travel on U.S. Highway 34 between Estes Park and Loveland will be limited to Big Thompson Canyon residents only seven days a week.

    Permitted residents will be allowed access between the hours of 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.

    The highway will remain open this summer to traffic in both directions, but when work begins in July, there will be short-duration lane closures for general construction activities and traffic stops for rock blasting work between Mile Points 77 and 81 (from just east of Drake to the Cedar Cove area). People driving through this area should plan for up to 20- to 30-minute delays throughout the summer.

    This fall when travel is restricted to canyon residents, only drivers displaying the requisite vehicle permit will be allowed to follow pilot cars in either the eastbound or westbound direction between Drake and Cedar Cove. With the closure area being about 3 ½ miles long, canyon residents will encounter some delays as each pilot car completes its passage through the work zone and is ready to make the return trip in the opposite direction. This phase of work, which will focus on the east end of the canyon between mile markers 77 – 80, will start in October and continue through early June 2017.

    “We took into consideration all the public comments received in several public meetings, emails and phone calls, conversations with emergency service provides, school bus drivers, city agencies and various other project partners, when we developed this traffic management plan for the first phase of work between Drake and Loveland,” said James Usher, U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon Project Director.

    The only access to U.S. 34 from late October through June 2017 will be canyon residents, emergency services and people doing business in the canyon (i.e. waste haulers, propane companies, package delivery, etc.) through permits. In September, CDOT will distribute detailed information on how to obtain permits and how this process will work.

    All others will need to use U.S. High 36 and Colorado Highway 66 to travel between Estes Park and Loveland.

    “We realize that while this traffic control schedule accommodates most of the concerns we heard from the community, it won’t address every concern and cater to everyone’s personal schedule. In the interest of maintaining safe access to canyon residents and completing this first phase of rock blasting work as quickly as possible, it was determined that this was the best option available,” said Usher.

    This traffic control schedule also enables most of the stringent travel restrictions to occur during the tourism “off season” to minimize the impact on area businesses. While there will be traffic impacts in subsequent summers that include sections of one-lane travel through the canyon, this summer there will only be short-term traffic stops when blasting work is done. Through travel will be maintained in the canyon this summer and all businesses will be open and accessible.

    U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon was heavily damaged during the 2013 floods with many homes damaged and more than 100 air-lifted evacuations performed. The canyon and its residents also suffered from flooding in 1976. As a result of these two events, CDOT has been studying the hydraulic flow of the river in the canyon and its impact on the road and bridges along its path while looking for safety improvements and resiliency solutions to prevent/protect against future flood events.

    CDOT Project Information

    For updates to this project, the public may call (720) 263-1589 or visit http://www.codot.gov/projects/floodrelatedprojects/us-34-big-thompson-canyon-1. To sign up for “CDOT Alerts” on projects in your chosen area, visit CDOT’s website http://atwww.codot.gov and choose the envelope icon at the bottom of the page. Or, to see CDOT’s lane closure reports for projects statewide, visit http://www.codot.gov/travel/scheduled-lane-closures.html. Major CDOT project updates are also available via CoTrip.org, Twitter @coloradodot or Facebook.

    #Runoff news: Bureau of Reclamation increases water releases at Lake Estes — Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.
    Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

    From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth) via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    With the warmer weather and more snow melting, runoff is increasing, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

    In a press release Sunday, a Reclamation spokesman said the agency planned to increase releases from Olympus Dam in Estes Park on Sunday from 125 cubic feet per second to 175 cfs.

    “Please be safe around the river,” spokesman Peter Soeth said.

    The dam at Lake Estes is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    For updates on water releases from the dam, visit http://www.facebook.com/LakeEstesandOlyDam.

    Fort Collins: Area’s First Regional Water Collaboration Workshop, May 31

    stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

    Here’s the release from the City of Fort Collins:

    The City of Fort Collins is hosting a regional water collaboration workshop for water providers serving the City’s Growth Management Area (GMA), including Fort Collins Utilities, East Larimer County Water District (ELCO) and Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (FCLWD), Tuesday, May 31, 4-8 p.m., Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St., Fort Collins.

    This workshop is focused on recognizing opportunities and discussion will identify needs over the next 20 to 50 years that can be cooperatively addressed. Plans show Fort Collins is expected to grow to approximately 250,000 people in that timeframe, offering a compelling reason to address water needs of the entire area.

    The City anticipates approximately 25 attendees, including Fort Collins City Council, professional staff from Fort Collins Utilities, and board members and professional staff from ELCO and FCLWD. This is a public listening session.

    Meeting attendees may submit comments at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2710179/Regional-Water-Collaboration-Comment-Form until June 14, or via a written form at the workshop.

    Note: Because members of City Council may attend this event, it is being regarded as a meeting of the City Council and is open to the public. While no formal action by Council will be taken, the discussion of public business may occur.

    For more information, contact Water Resources and Treatment Operations Manager Carol Webb at cwebb@fcgov.com or 970-221-6231 or V/TDD 711.

    The May 2016 E-Waternews is hot off the presses from Northern Water

    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
    Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

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

    State endorses the Windy Gap Firming Project
    During Northern Water’s April 13 Spring Water Users meeting, Mr. John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s water policy advisor, read a letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    The governor said, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collorabitve public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature.” Hickenlooper continued, “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

    The state’s endorsement followed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s March 25 issuance of a 401 water quality certification for the WGFP. Project Manager Jeff Drager said, “This is the next to last step in getting the project permitted. The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

    This is the State of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water storage project.

    Loveland to work with CDOT on US 34 repairs — the Loveland Reporter-Herald

    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
    The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Saja Hindi):

    For the Colorado Department of Transportation to be able to move forward with its first phase of construction on permanent repairs to U.S. 34, the agency will have to come to an agreement with the city of Loveland.

    Part of the construction work for repairs after the 2013 flood will require crews to use some of the Loveland-owned properties, right-of-ways and easements in the Big Thompson Canyon.

    Loveland City Council members will vote at their meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday on whether to allow CDOT to move forward with its work before the two entities come to a formal intergovernmental agreement in the next 90 days.

    The meeting will take place in the Council Chambers in the municipal building at 500 E. Third St.

    City Manager Bill Cahill said this will also be another chance for Loveland residents to ask any questions they may have about the permanent repairs on U.S. 34.

    Cahill said although the city’s most commonly-known property in the canyon is Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park, it also owns land to the east and west of the park.

    The first phase of the U.S. 34 reconstruction will first require rock blasting for a new roadway alignment at the horseshoe curve, west of Viestenz-Smith, where the city owns land.

    “The Agreement will permit CDOT to move forward with construction prior to a final agreement on the value of the required Loveland right of way,” a City Council memo states.

    Additional city property that CDOT will need to use as well as compensation to the city will be discussed at the July 5 City Council meeting.

    Staff members have been working with CDOT officials for the past year on the best road alignment possibilities, according to the council memo.

    “One key goal for road reconstruction is to create a safer and more resilient roadway alignment that works in harmony with the Big Thompson River. Eliminating the horseshoe curve west of the Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park (“VSMP”) is one of the greatest opportunities to accomplish this goal,” it stated.

    The new alignment will cross through the Rosedale property, west of Viestenz-Smith, which the city owns.

    Additionally, CDOT will need to move excess rock out of the canyon during the three-year reconstruction period, Cahill said, and is looking for a staging area and site to dispose of the rock spoils on the east edge of Round Mountain, south of U.S. 34 and Viestenz-Smith

    Cahill said as more of the permanent plans are made for the roadway, there could be more possibilities near the city-owned properties for recreational opportunities along the river, falling in line with a longterm vision for the Big Thompson Canyon among Larimer County, its municipalities and CDOT.

    For more information, go to http://cityofloveland.org.