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.