Colorado reaches agreement on Chatfield Reservoir environmental water plan — @WaterEdCO #SouthPlatteRiver

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer heads out on patrol at Chatfield Reservoir. A $171 million redesign at the popular lake is now complete, providing more water storage for Front Range cities and farmers. Last week the Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a settlement that will pave the way for an environmental water plan to help offset the impacts of the new storage. Credit: Jerd Smith

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Colorado water officials have reached an agreement removing one of the last barriers to a new environmental water program in Chatfield Reservoir.

The agreement settles a dispute among water agencies about who could use storage space in a special environmental pool in the reservoir.

The agreement is one of the final steps in the re-operation of the recreational site just southwest of Denver and comes after years of permitting disputes and lawsuits.

The federally owned reservoir was built in 1967 and was initially designed for flood protection in years when the South Platte River surged beyond its banks.

But as drought and climate change, as well as population growth, increased pressure on urban and agricultural water supplies on the Front Range, federal, state and local agencies began working to convert a portion of Chatfield’s flood storage to municipal and agricultural water storage. The reallocated storage space totals 20,600 acre-feet, of which 2,100 acre-feet is designated as the environmental pool.

The new storage will give south Denver metro area cities such as Highlands Ranch more protection against drought and diminishing groundwater supplies, and will give farmers on the Eastern Plains the ability to use stored water to irrigate crops late in the season when flows in the South Platte River run low. Water from the environmental pool will be used for releases to boost streamflows downstream, improving water quality and providing other environmental and recreational benefits. Downstream irrigators will also benefit from those releases.

The physical work on the re-operation was completed last year after the project won federal approval and a major lawsuit against it failed.

The latest legal dispute stems from a disagreement between Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves Highlands Ranch, and the Greeley-based Central Colorado Conservancy District, over whose water rights could be used to fill the environmental storage space and whose space would be filled first.

Centennial’s and Central’s boards must still approve the settlement, according to Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which negotiated the deal. [Ris also serves on the Board of Trustees for Water Education Colorado, which sponsors Fresh Water News.]

“There was a disagreement among the parties about which water rights could be used,” Ris said, with ultimately the Colorado Water Conservation Board giving up some of its storage space to settle the dispute between the water agencies.

Central officials could not be reached for comment.

Centennial Water Resources Manager Rick McLoud said his agency had spent millions of dollars and more than 20 years to ensure that the new Chatfield plan would serve Highlands Ranch well, and that its ability to store water there would not get bumped too far down the priority list.

“We spent 27 years working to get it and more than $55 million. We did not want to lose out,” McLoud said.

Environmentalists, including the Denver Chapter of the Audubon Society, had long battled the re-operation of the reservoir because it inundated the existing shoreline and resulted in a loss of bird habitat, among other issues.

New habitat has been set aside farther downstream for birds and other species, and water from the environmental pool will help maintain streamflows and habitat as it is released.

Abby Burk, an Audubon Society official, said her group is still deeply worried about the loss of habitat.

But she said the fierce drought and ongoing shortages of water for environmental purposes make the Chatfield habitat water critically important.

“Chatfield was a hard go. We lost some strong riparian areas for birds,” Burk said. “But anytime we can have environmental benefits, particularly in a challenging drought year, we have to go for it.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

Chatfield Reservoir’s $171M redo complete, with new storage for #FrontRange cities, farmers — @WaterEdCO

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer heads out on patrol at Chatfield Reservoir. A $171 million redesign at the popular lake is now complete, providing more water storage for Front Range cities and farmers. But environmental concerns remain about the project’s impact on hundreds of bird species. June 8, 2020 Credit: Jerd Smith/Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Chatfield Reservoir, one of the largest liquid playgrounds in the Denver metro area, will take on a new role this year, storing water under an innovative $171 million deal completed last month between the state, water providers, environmental groups and the federal government.

For millions of boaters, campers, cyclists, runners and bird watchers, the 350,000 acre-foot reservoir that sits southwest of the city is a year-round recreational hot spot, with 1.6 million annual visitors.

But for thirsty Front Range communities and farmers nearby and downstream, including Highlands Ranch, Castle Rock, the Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and six other water providers, Chatfield represents a rare opportunity to transform a reservoir once designed strictly for flood protection into a much-needed water storage vessel, a key goal of the Colorado Water Plan.

Thanks to the redesign, the reservoir will be able to hold an additional 20,600 acre-feet of water, an amount sufficient to serve more than 40,000 new homes or irrigate roughly 10,000 acres of farm land, while maintaining its ability to protect the metro area from flooding, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“It is cool to see it done,” said Randy Ray, manager of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and president of the Chatfield Reservoir Mitigation Company, Inc., which oversees the project. “It will be better when it fills up with water.”

Originally built by the Army Corps in 1975 to help control the South Platte River during floods, by the 1990s water agencies and others began looking at ways to actually store water there.

It wasn’t easy. To raise the shore level, hundreds of acres of land along the reservoir’s banks were revegetated to replace low-lying areas that will be inundated as water is stored. The cove that houses the marina was dredged, new boat ramps were built, and new habitat for birds was created downstream in Douglas County.

A 2,100 acre-foot pool of water for environmental purposes was also set aside. It will be used to provide water for recreation and improve flows for the South Platte River through Denver, Ray said.

Though the project has been praised for its multi-purpose nature, it also triggered a long-running battle with the Denver chapter of the Audubon Society, which feared the construction damage to bird habitat would not be adequately repaired in the reservoir’s new design.

The society’s lawsuit to stop the project ultimately failed. But Polly Reetz, the chapter’s conservation chair, said they plan to closely monitor how habitat and birds respond.

“We’re still not convinced it’s going to work,” Reetz said. “They’ve done some good work out there. Plum Creek is much better. But we plan to watch it very carefully and see what happens.”

The project’s $171 million price tag was paid by the cities and farmers who will store water there, with additional funds provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the federal government.

“This project is a great example of federal, state and local authorities working together to address vital water supply issues along the Front Range,” said Army Corps Omaha District Commander Col. John Hudson in a statement.

That the reservoir is a highly valued part of the outdoor recreation scene in metro Denver was clear Monday morning. More than two dozen cars waited patiently to enter the park, campgrounds were brimming with visitors, and paddle boaters and sailors were already gliding across the lake.

Elizabeth Jorde and her son Jeremiah were waiting at the marina, hoping to reserve a slip for their family pontoon boat on Father’s Day.

Jorde said she’s looking forward to seeing what a fuller reservoir will look like on the many days she and her family come out to relax. But she also said the $171 million price tag seemed steep for the amount of water the project will store.

“I was flabbergasted,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if it is worth it.”

For Randy Ray the project will provided 4,274 acre-feet of critical new storage space for the farmers in his district, who anteed up $20 million to help get the deal done.

And he said it is proof that collaborative solutions to Colorado’s looming water shortages can be found.

“We rolled up our sleeves, put our differences aside and got this thing built,” Ray said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at or @jerd_smith.

Fresh Water News is an independent, nonpartisan news initiative of Water Education Colorado. WEco is funded by multiple donors. Our editorial policy and donor list can be viewed at

Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passes $48.7M bond for storage, acquisition projects — The Greeley Tribune

Recharge pond graphic via the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Voters in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passed a bond issue worth $48.7 million 57.99 percent to 42.01 percent, according to preliminary election results.

Central’s boundaries stretch through parts of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties and serve about 550 farmers who operate about 1,000 irrigation wells. But thousands of people live and vote in the district.

The Yes for Water campaign helped sway those voters, and in a statement sent Tuesday night to The Tribune, officials said they were pleased with the passage of Ballot Question 7E.

“Issue 7E’s passage demonstrates our region’s commitment to supporting family farms and our agricultural economy, providing water storage and resources now and in the future, and protecting and maintaining our rural way of life,” according to the statement.

The bond issue represents a property tax increase of about $22.80 per year for a home valued at $500,000.

Those taxes will go toward paying off debt for a variety of projects, including more lined reservoir storage near Fort Lupton, Greeley and Kersey to increase the district’s holdings by 25 percent, allow the district to buy more water rights and help construct a massive artificial recharge project in Wiggins near the Weld and Morgan county line.

The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District’s latest newsletter is hot off the presses

Recharge pond

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

Central’s Board Considering Bond Proposal

Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, through its Groundwater Management Subdistrict, is reviewing a potential bond question for voters in 2018. Although the proposal is in its earliest stages, Central’s board and management believe it’s important to start discussing the next steps to secure both water storage and water rights for the region.

Central’s 10-year outlook includes the development of additional reliable water supplies, including storage projects, recharge projects and senior water rights. A portion of the GMS water supply has been leased from municipal water supplies; however, as municipalities grow and can use these excess supplies, GMS will have less and less certainty that these leases will be available in the future. Additionally, as the buy and dry of irrigated lands downstream of the Denver area continue, agricultural water needs from groundwater will increase.

The possible bond projects for GMS may include 5,000 acre-feet of additional reservoir storage—which will increase Central’s holdings by 25 percent—in the Fort Lupton and Greeley/Kersey areas. The bonds may also help construct a very large recharge project near the Weld and Morgan county line named the Robert W. Walker Recharge Project. The Walker Project will divert surface and groundwater at the rate of 100 cubic feet per second from the South Platte and divert those flows to recharge basins as far as five miles from the river. In addition, Central is looking at the purchase of several senior water rights that are becoming available for the district’s portfolio. This includes the purchase of waters currently being leased by Central, which will ensure this water stays in the community to be used by local farms and businesses.

Over the coming months, Central will be reviewing different policy decisions as it builds a potential GMS bond proposal. This process will continue community outreach and communications efforts in order to get critical feedback to understand the public’s support for Central’s water-management efforts. If you have any questions about GMS and this project, please contact the Central offices at (970) 330-4540.

Central Colorado Water Conservancy District: Augmentation water, water education, wildlife habitat, regional advocacy

High Plains in eastern Colorado. Photo credit Bob Berwyn.

From The Greeley Tribune (Randy Knutson):

Since its creation in 1965, the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District has played a pivotal role in addressing that need. The district provides critical water storage for district residents and users and the communities they call home.

The district is a voice, and a force, for how we can best use our water to fuel agricultural and other local industries — and be a champion of the region’s water issues. CCWCD has taken up the task of lobbying on behalf of its water users in the General Assembly. Whether opposing detrimental legislation or promoting new laws, the district has been an active advocate to increase water availability to CCWCD constituents.

The district also helps provide wildlife habitat through irrigated farmlands and on the water it manages at northeast Colorado reservoirs by providing the necessary environment for fish, birds and animals. When needed, our storage provides flood control throughout the region. And as we move into the future, we will provide increased recreational opportunities, like boating and fishing, to complement the needs of our growing communities.

The district is exploring new options and partners to fill the water supply gap that is projected in northeastern Colorado. The district’s partnerships include the Chatfield Reallocation Project with Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Greenway Foundation and others. Partnerships like this have allowed CCWCD to receive grant funding to expand its mission as a local conservancy district.

Educating the public about wise water use, the importance of storage and the role water plays in our lives and economy, became another focus for the district during the 1990s and remains a priority today. The district organized its first Children’s Water Festival in Colorado in 1990, and it is still held every year. Grant money has been used to develop a water curriculum — “Water Wise Colorado” — for grades K-12. More recent programs include Well Watch, a system of monitor wells for data collecting at school properties, and a weeklong professional development workshop for teachers held every summer.

Foremost are the district’s efforts over the decades to shore up water-storage capacity. Colorado’s climate always has been unpredictable, and the district has helped see its users through periods of prolonged drought as well as torrential rain. Employing an extensive portfolio of water rights, wells, irrigation ditches, rivers, recharge ponds and reservoirs, the district has helped the communities it serves across northeastern Colorado navigate the ebbs and flows of water over the decades.

However, since 2005, many wells in the South Platte River Basin were shut down or now have usage restrictions. That’s why the district received voter support in 2012 for a bond to purchase water rights and new sources. Now the district once again needs to increase its storage capacity.

Without adequate storage, all the conservation efforts available won’t amount to much. While the latter is broadly popular and typically receives all the support it needs in our state legislature, it is the former, storage that ensures the water we conserve will stick around to ensure Colorado quite literally can put food on everyone’s table.

That is why the district is always planning for the future. We will be working through the Colorado Water Plan, as well as continually utilizing the district’s own water plan. Implementing these plans and accomplishing our local, regional and statewide storage goals both require coordination and cooperation among many different stakeholders.

Over the coming months, the district will start identifying storage needs and preparing to discuss with community leaders, elected officials and the broader community the investments necessary to store our water and secure our economic and agricultural future.

We are looking forward to engaging with you on this critical topic. To learn more and to follow the conversation, we ask that you join us on Facebook at

Randy Knutson is president of the board of directors of Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.