Parker and the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District hope to build storage for Ag and municipal and send 20,000 acre-feet S.

The South Platte River runs near a farm in Henderson, Colorado, northeast of Denver. Henderson is the site of one of the possible reservoirs for the regional water project proposed by SPROWG. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

A fast-growing Douglas County city has filed a new claim for water on the South Platte River, a move that could allow it to boost its future water supplies by some 60 percent.

But the action could also undermine SPROWG, an innovative, collaborative effort by more than a dozen Front Range communities to capture and reuse water on the South Platte River near the Nebraska state line and return it to Eastern Plains farm communities, northern Front Range cities, and the metro area.

Parker’s legal move to claim water rights in the same region, in partnership with the Sterling-based Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, is unfolding just as SPROWG completed a major feasibility study indicating its project could be built for roughly $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion.

Parker’s project, slated to be done in about 10 years, would add 20,000 acre-feet to the city’s current supply of 34,400 acre-feet…

Rhode Island Hotel 1908 Parker via Best of Parker

Though SPROWG’s feasibility study has been completed, years of planning lie ahead before the cooperative effort is ready to deliver water, with a completion date yet to be set.

“We are light years ahead of them,” said Ron Redd, manager of the Parker Water and Sanitation District. “We’ve offered to partner on anything they want to do. I hope, especially when it comes to storage, they will want to partner. But we are just way ahead of them.”

The Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, whose boundary encompasses much of the northern Front Range and extends out to the Nebraska border, is alarmed by Parker’s $500 million proposal, saying it violates the spirit of collaborative water planning embodied in SPROWG and that it could dramatically shrink the amount of water available for others at the table.

“It’s disappointing to me,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. “SPROWG was initiated as a community effort. We were going to share the good, the bad and the ugly. When one entity files, it’s a much different process to look at community involvement and decide how to share the yield.”

Parker and the Lower South Platte district plan to develop at least 20,000 acre-feet of water for urban use, a number that rises to 30,000 acre-feet when the agriculture component is added in, according to Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte district.

Frank also said Parker’s project is important to northeastern Colorado because it won’t result in a permanent dry-up of farmland and will give farmers in his district a more reliable source of water, helping stabilize farm communities that are already struggling.

Parker’s Redd said he’s hopeful, given the similarities between the two proposals, that a partnership can be developed with the existing SPROWG collaboration.

“I like the idea of controlling our own destiny,” he said. “And right now we’re assuming we’re going it alone. But my hope is they will join us.”

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

Rueter-Hess Dam before first fill. Photo credit: Parker Water & Sanitation

SPROWG Feasibility Study Report

Click here to read the report from the South Platte Regional Opportunites Work Group.

Executive Summary
The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group (SPROWG) Concept will provide water supplies to meet future municipal and agricultural water needs in the South Platte Basin. Several aspects of the SPROWG Concept were collaboratively researched in this feasibility study (Study) including identification of future water demands, strategies for incorporating environmental and recreational enhancements, needed infrastructure, water treatment strategies, potential costs, governance considerations, and communication needs.

Project Outreach
Extensive outreach was conducted and included meetings with potential future SPROWG participants and stakeholders and a survey that was sent to over 100 municipal, agricultural, environment, and recreation water users and stakeholders. The results of the outreach informed the types of governance structures that could be viable for a future SPROWG organization, the configuration and delivery goals for SPROWG infrastructure, water treatment strategies needed to provide supplies of suitable water quality, and communication and outreach needs.

Communications and outreach are an important aspect to developing the SPROWG Concept and tailoring it to fit the broadest spectrum of water users and needs. A Communications and Outreach Plan was developed that includes goals, suggested stakeholders, recommended near-term activities, recommended activities to facilitate recruitment of participants, recommended key messages, and metrics to track the success of various types of communication. The Communications and Outreach Plan serves to:

  • Educate stakeholders and create awareness needed to refine the recommended governance, operational, and infrastructure concepts.
  • Educate potential SPROWG Concept participants to facilitate recruitment.
  • Educate ratepayers/taxpayers on the need for the SPROWG Concept and funding.
  • Continue stakeholder engagement and transparency to build stakeholder support.
  • Graphic credit: SPROWG

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The South Platte Regional Opportunities Water Group has released the findings of its year-long study to help bridge the water shortage gap in the South Platte River Basin.

    SPROWG’s study evaluated four concept alternatives that would use a combination of off-channel water storage at multiple locations, infrastructure and water exchanges to develop additional water supplies from the South Platte River.

    The study results were presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board Thursday in Denver.

    Joe Frank, General Manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, who oversaw administration of the grant funds that paid for the study, said the purpose of the study was to find as many options as possible that would still be feasible…

    The four water supply alternatives evaluated include multiple linked storage facilities capable of holding between 215,000 and 409,000 acre-feet of water at various locations between Denver and the Colorado Nebraska state line. The water would be transported via a pipeline or through “exchanges” or trading water from one location to another. The study’s alternatives are combinations of four water storage projects: Henderson Storage, Kersey Storage, Balzac Storage and Julesburg Storage. Each is named for the approximate location of the storage facility.

    Alternative One includes Henderson, Kersey and Balzac; Alternative Two is the same three sites but with different capacities at each site. Alternatives Three and Four include all four sites but, again, each with different capacities. Alternatives Two, Three and Four also include a pipeline from the Balzac site to pump 30 cubic feet per second of water upstream to Denver.

    The alternatives seek to efficiently use these sources of in-basin supply without relying on past practices of diverting additional water from the Western Slope or permanently drying up agricultural lands in the South Platte basin…

    The SPROWG study, funded in large part by a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, built upon the work of others who had analyzed various strategies that would develop several types of South Platte water supplies to meet multiple benefits.

    The conceptual cost estimates for the concepts ranged from $18,400 to $22,800 per acre-foot for raw water and $33,600 to $43,200 per acre-foot for treated water, which are in line with other large regional water projects. These costs included the anticipated water treatment strategies that were evaluated to make the water suitable for potable uses. While the most expensive to build, Alternative 4 had the lowest per acre foot cost of the alternatives because it has the highest yield.

    Graphic credit: SPROWG
    Graphic credit: SPROWG

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap — Sterling Journal-Advocate

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Owners of 12 so-called “gap wells” in Sedgwick County won’t be double-billed for being in two augmentation plans thanks to an agreement in the works with the Republican River Water Conservation District.

    Left unanswered is the question of whether the wells would have to be curtailed if the Republican District is required to shut down its wells.

    Joe Frank, manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, told his board of directors Tuesday that the Republican District has met with the Sedgwick County well owners to discuss an agreement that would prevent them from having to pay the per-acre fee to that district as long as they’re included in another augmentation plan. Eleven of the wells are in the LSPWCD’s augmentation plan and the twelfth well is another plan.

    The proposed agreement is the upshot of state legislation establishing new boundaries for the RRWCD to include wells in Kit Carson, Cheyenne and Washington counties that are impacting the Republican River. When the Colorado Department of Water Resources used the U.S. Geological Survey’s data to redraw the boundaries, however, it was found that the 12 “gap wells” in Sedgwick County, originally thought to be in the South Platte River basin, actually were inside the Republican River basin. One of those wells is physically less than a mile from the South Platte River…

    Wells within the district are assessed an annual fee of $14.50 per irrigated acre to pay for augmentation of the Republican River to keep Colorado in compliance.

    Frank said that he doesn’t know whether that agreement has been signed yet. The Journal-Advocate had not been able to contact the Republican District Tuesday afternoon.

    While the agreement over fees would be a fairly easy fix – the legislation adopting the new boundary has nearly identical language in it protecting those well owners – the question of curtailment is stickier. Frank said a practical solution would be to not curtail the Sedgwick County wells, since they have so little impact on the Republican River…

    In other business, the LSPWCD formally adopted it 2020 budget on a voice vote.

    The district’s proposed budget is $1,173,586, about a 4 percent increase over the 2019 budget. Most of the increase is accounted for by increased personnel costs and an anticipated increase in legal costs.

    Again this year the budget is swollen by a quarter-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to fund the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative. Irrigators and other water users often have augmentation plans to offset the effects water well pumping has on the river. These plans can result in users having credits, or excess water available, that they can’t use. Rather than just lose the credits downstream, NCWC helps transfer those credits to someone who needs them in an efficient manner. Members of the cooperative also work to find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    Screenshot of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project boundaries via Northern Water’s interactive mapping tool , June 5, 2019.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Brad Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District based in Berthoud, and Jim Hall, Northern Water’s senior water resources engineer, briefed the LSPWCD’s board of directors on Northern’s efforts to keep Colorado-Big Thompson water from leaving the Northern District…

    Wind told the Lower board that Northern is working to enforce Article 19 of the 1938 contract between Northern Water and the federal government, known as the Project Repayment Contract. That article, one of 27 contained in the contract, specifies that all seepage and return flows from the use of Colorado-Big Thompson project water are reserved to Northern Water and are not to be taken outside the district’s boundaries.

    On May 9, Northern adopted a resolution saying it would “take appropriate actions to enforce Article 19 consistent its interpretation of Article 19.”

    Wind said the heavy lifting in that effort will be tracking how C-BT water, and resulting seepage and return flow, are used. He used the phrase “colors of water,” which is a concept that holds that, through close monitoring and accounting, mixed waters from various sources actually can be tracked through multiple uses. For instance, water that is native to the South Platte Basin can be accounted differently from C-BT water, which is diverted from the Colorado River into Grand Lake and piped through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park and held in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake for distribution to C-BT members.

    Return flows are water that has been diverted from the river, used to irrigate crops or for municipal use, and either seeps back to the river through the ground or is discharged after treatment. Much of the river’s flow in the lower reaches in late summer and through the winter is from return flows from upstream use. Return flows are crucial to irrigators in Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

    “To protect return flows, we have to know what they are,” Wind said. “We have to be able to quantify what return flows are coming from C-BT use and what’s from native water. It’s complicated.”

    Hall told the Lower board that there is the danger that “change of use” cases going through Colorado water courts could result in return flows from C-BT water being shipped out of the Northern district in violation of Article 19.

    “We’re starting to see change cases on irrigation ditches moving water outside the district boundaries,” Hall said. “That’s why it’s important to track this stuff. It’s easier to track municipal water because we can look at their (wastewater treatment facility) discharges, but it’s harder to prove agricultural return flows.”

    Hall said return flows from native water are not subject to Article 19, only C-BT return flows.

    Wind said Northern will be watching closely all change of use cases that go through Colorado’s water courts and will continue monitoring water usage in the district to make sure C-BT water doesn’t leave the district.

    #SouthPlatte River Master Plan presentations, February 12, 2019

    South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the South Platte Master Plan was launched two years ago to find ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

    The project area includes 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Weld-Morgan County Line to the Nebraska state line.

    Project representatives will present the plan Feb. 12 at the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors meeting at 9 a.m., then meet with the Logan County Water Conservancy District board at 11 a.m. The plan will be presented again at 1 p.m. at the CSU Engagement Center.

    Both conservancy districts are interested in seeing how they can work with the Master Plan…

    The LCWCD recently decided to change its focus away from the idea of building a flood control dam across Pawnee Creek. Miller has said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. Instead, the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future.

    The Lower South Platte district, meanwhile, is interested in finding water storage potential and funding for storage projects along the lower reaches of the river.

    The meetings on Feb. 12 are public meetings but space is limited in all of the venues.

    Sterling City Council meeting recap

    Pawnee Creek

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Brad McCloud, a public relations specialist with EIS Solutions, told the Sterling City Council Tuesday evening that the Logan County Water Conservancy District is shifting its focus away from a single large project to a series of smaller ones.

    “There have been a lot of changes over the past two years, so (LCWCD) has re-devined their mission and taken a new direction,” McCloud said. “We’re in the process of developing a master plan to take (the district) to the next level.”

    McCloud said the “major project” of building a flood-mitigation dam across Pawnee creek isn’t completely off the table, but it probably won’t be done in the foreseeable future…

    The conservancy district was formed in 2000 after flash flooding of Pawnee Creek in the spring of 1997 caused widespread damage in the Sterling area. The district was formed specifically to mitigate flooding in the Pawnee Creek drainage area of Logan and Weld Counties.

    The centerpiece of the district’s efforts at that time was a proposed dam 131 feet high and 6,800 feet long across the Pawnee about a mile north of where the creek passes under Colorado Highway 14, 11 miles west of Sterling. In the case of a flood along the order of the 1997 event, which flooded southern parts of Sterling, the dam would hold back about 90,000 acre-feet of water.

    During an interview Tuesday, prior to the city council meeting, McCloud and LCWCD General Manager Shane Miller said the “big project” simply isn’t feasible and may not be for some time. While they weren’t specific about what other projects should be done, Miller said the district will shift its focus to smaller projects that will mitigate flooding in the immediate future…

    McCloud said the LCWCD hopes to work closely with the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, which is looking into water storage possibilities in the basin. Although LCWCD isn’t legally allowed to store water for irrigation or recreational uses, McCloud said some of its work may fit with projects that would be proposed by Lower South Platte.

    LCWCD also will work closely with the sponsors of the South Platte River Master Plan, which was developed in 2017 to find ways to mitigate flooding damage on the river in Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties.

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District tentatively approves the proposed $1.35 million 2018 budget

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

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors tentatively accepted the 2019 budget. Technically, the district’s budget will soar to $1.35 million next year, but like the 2018 budget, much of that is in the form of grants for specific water study projects.

    The district will manage almost $350,000 in Colorado Water Conservation Board grant funds to create the South Platte Regional Development Concept. The project, being done by the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, would help identify viable water storage projects in the South Platte basin.

    Another grant, this one for $236,245 from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, would be used by the Northeast Colorado Water Cooperative to find ways to develop infrastructure for water exchanges, primarily when water augmentation plans are involved.

    The $1.35 million figure also includes $316,312 in leftover funds from the 2018 budget. Actual operating expenses for the conservancy district are budgeted at just under $760,000 for 2019.