Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and South Fort Collins Sanitation District said they are working with law enforcement to investigate “ongoing acts of sabotage from unknown parties” that have reportedly caused serious harm to district and employee property.
The alleged acts of sabotage are tampering with critical pump stations, emptying of primary storage tanks and fire hydrants, and malicious vandalism of employee property, the districts said in a news release. The first instance was discovered in September 2019 and may have occurred prior to that time, and the issues have continued since then, according to district officials.
District leaders are asking anyone with information about the incidents to contact local law enforcement or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The districts want to hear about any suspicious activity at district hydrants, tanks and pump stations.
The quality of water and reclamation services delivered by the districts haven’t been compromised, leaders said, and district infrastructure is safe. The districts are working with legal counsel, outside advisers and law enforcement to investigate the activities, which district officials said are felony criminal offenses…
It’s not clear which law enforcement agencies are involved in the referenced investigation. The districts wouldn’t answer that question. Representatives of Larimer County Sheriff’s Office and Loveland Police Department said their agencies aren’t involved, and Fort Collins Police Service representatives said they assisted with an investigation in 2019 but haven’t been involved recently. The Coloradoan also reached out to the FBI but hadn’t received a response as of Friday afternoon…
District officials said they haven’t been able to share information publicly until now because of the sensitive nature of the investigation. They added they’ve invested in more advanced equipment to prevent situations like this one from happening again. A dedicated FAQ about the investigation is posted at http://fclwd.com/saysomething.
After heavy public comment and debate, council voted 6-1 to change the scope of the city’s pending 1041 regulations and the moratorium they plan to put in place while staff is working on the regulations.
Both the one-year moratorium and the eventual regulations will now apply only to water and sewage treatment projects and highway/interchange projects that will be located in city parks or natural areas. The parks and natural areas component is the new part. Council narrowed the scope of the proposal in hopes of quelling concerns from developers and water providers while honoring the views of commenters who want the city to advocate for natural resource conservation.
The 1041 regulations provide an avenue for municipalities and counties to have more stringent oversight of certain types of “state interest” projects, a broad category that can include everything from water pipelines to mass transit to nuclear detonations. But the localities have to opt into the process, designate the state interest areas they want to regulate and draft their own regulations. The council majority that favors 1041 regulations sees them as an alternative to the city’s SPAR (Site Plan Advisory Review) process, which provides for nonbinding review of developments of state interest.
Now that council has designated areas of interest, a moratorium will take effect immediately and last until council adopts the 1041 regulations. It will prevent construction or development review of any water/sewer treatment or highway project that would be located wholly or partly in city parks or natural areas. The city is engineering an exemption process that may allow for some projects to bypass the moratorium, and 1041 review. Council will only exempt projects if they think adverse impacts can be avoided without a binding review process and the project meaningfully addresses an important community need that can’t be put off.
When council last discussed this topic in September, the 1041 regulations and moratorium were expected to apply to all water/sewer and highway projects in city limits. The initial scope inspired intense opposition from several developers and water districts in the region. A particular point of concern was the potential impacts of a moratorium on the NEWT III water pipeline project (short for North Weld County and East Larimer County Water Districts Water Transmission Pipeline Project). That pipeline will deliver water to many new housing developments in the region. The news of the moratorium led the North Weld County Water District board to issue a temporary moratorium on all tap sales and plant investment sales, and East Larimer County Water District leaders said they would likely do the same if a moratorium took effect.
Others who opposed or voiced concerns about the 1041 regulations and moratorium included Severance Mayor Matt Fries, the town of Timnath and the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.
Those who supported 1041 regulations and an immediate moratorium included representatives of Save the Poudre, Sierra Club and the Fort Collins Audubon Society…
Council ultimately supported the narrowed scope of regulations, paired with the immediate moratorium, 6-1. Council member Shirley Peel was the opposing vote, citing the potential for unintended repercussions to development and utility projects.
While city staff said the narrowed 1041 regulations are unlikely to affect the NEWT III pipeline, they will likely impact the Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP is a project going through the permitting process that would take water from the Poudre and South Platte Rivers for storage in two new reservoirs. NISP organizer Northern Water plans to put some components of NISP in city natural areas, a plan the city rejected during SPAR review. But SPAR review, again, is only advisory, so Northern Water’s governing board overrode the decision. Still, the moratorium means that Northern Water would be barred from beginning work on the components in city natural areas. And the project would likely be subject to 1041 review if the regulations come to fruition as council is currently envisioning.
More to come on that. In the meantime, we can expect a one-year moratorium as staff works on the city’s new 1041 regulations. Council will have the last word on those regulations and is planning a six-month check in…
Climate progress report
Fort Collins exceeded its 2020 climate goals to reduce community and municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, according to preliminary estimates presented to council Tuesday.
The 2020 goals are a step along the way to the city’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in 2030 and 100% in 2050. The goals apply to both municipal emissions and the community as a whole.
Fort Collins met its municipal benchmark for 2020 three years ahead of schedule, in 2017. As of 2020, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44% of 2005 levels.
The city met its 2020 community goal with a 24% reduction in emissions, up from a 7% reduction in 2019. The improvements came mostly from the Roundhouse Renewable Energy Project, a new wind farm that drove a 10% reduction in emissions; reduced vehicle travel, which drove a 3% decrease; and a 2% reduction in industrial emissions. Another 2% in reduced emissions were due to weather and other unspecified factors. City staff said the travel reductions were related to the stay-at-home order. It’s not yet clear what exactly drove the reduction in industrial emissions, and final numbers are expected in early 2022.
The community’s per-capita residential emissions were down 41% in 2020 compared to 2005 levels, staff said.
Staff expect Fort Collins to reach a 26% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for 2021, based on current forecasts.
To reach the 2030 communitywide goal, the city will need to enact critical strategies — increased renewable electricity adoption, transit reductions and universal composting — plus all the other strategies identified as “next moves” in the latest update to Fort Collins’ Our Climate Future Plan.
Representatives of Fort Collins Sustainability Group, a local organization that advocates for climate action, said in a statement that they were “very pleased” to see that estimated emission reductions had topped the 2020 goal…
The group is advocating for bigger climate investments in the 2022 budget, such as doubling funding for Fort Collins Utilities’ Energy Services programs and transportation-related offers that would reduce emissions. Energy Services includes incentive programs for energy efficiency and electrification, energy code development and related initiatives. It’s a particularly important focus area for greenhouse gas emission reductions because emissions from electricity and natural gas make up most of the community’s emissions (about two-thirds in 2019).
After receiving feedback from the community and council, staff added a few more climate items to the proposed 2022 budget expected to bring 2022 greenhouse gas reductions from 2.7% to 2.9%. Staff said they weren’t recommending the more substantial boost to Energy Services funding suggested by Fort Collins Sustainability Group because that will require a larger conversation about changes to the program’s portfolio and responses to local workforce capacity and supply chain challenges.
It’s been almost exactly a year since the Cameron Peak Fire tore through the foothills outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, on its way to becoming the largest fire in state history. Now, restoration efforts are underway. About 1 million people rely on water moving through this canyon, and one of the most effective ways to protect the area’s watershed uses these helicopters. Instead of scooping up water to drop on flames, pilots dip low and pick up bulging nets full of wood mulch to dump on the charred hillside.
Randy Gustafson, water resource administrator for the City of Greeley, looks on as a helicopter hovers near the ground, rumbling loudly over a pile of mulch bigger than a house. Then, it’s off as quickly as it came, zipping back and forth into the burn scar with heaving payloads in tow…
Even though Greeley is a two-hour drive away from this “aerial mulching” operation in Poudre Canyon, this is where the city’s water comes from. Snowmelt and rain make their way down from the foothills into the Cache la Poudre River before that water is piped over to the city. But Gustafson said a charred slope is slick like a frying pan. Water will run off of it, carrying dirt, ash and other debris into that water supply. So his team has to stabilize the hillside with mulch.
“I look at the Poudre as a living organism,” Gustafson said. “How do you keep it functional and operational and make it produce good, clean water for everybody down below?”
Gustafson’s team is just one part of the city’s strategy to keep the water clean. Another effort is underway above Chambers Lake, less than a mile from where the fire began. Here, fire debris threatens to cause harmful algae blooms in the reservoir. So big bundles of spongy wood shavings, held together by biodegradable nets, are laid out on the hillside.
“They form a baffle,” Gustafson said. “They stop the debris, soil, ash, and keep it from coming down into the reservoir.”
On a visit to the site, Gustafson shows how the baffles are successfully holding back sludgy piles of gray dirt in one of the most severely burned parts of forest…
In the grand scheme of things, though, these efforts could be little more than a Band-Aid. The expensive and time-consuming mulching work can only cover a fraction of the burn’s sprawling footprint. And more are likely on the way…
“These megafires are unfortunately not going to be going anywhere anytime soon,” said Hally Strevey, director of the Coalition for the Poudre River watershed. “We’re trying not to lose hope. There are plenty of things we can still do, working together collaboratively.”
That includes her organization’s precautionary forest management in areas prone to burning. The fact it’s carried out by a watershed group just further emphasizes how deeply water and fire are connected. Even after a fire is put out, it takes a lot of work to keep the water clean.
But restoration projects like the one in Poudre Canyon are not cheap. Keeping just one helicopter in the air costs $87 per minute. Greeley’s deputy water director, Adam Jokerst, says the high costs are worth it for two reasons…
The money spent on recovery work is also a precautionary measure against purification costs that could be incurred if ash finds its way into the water supply…
Greeley’s water team says restoration work will carry into the next few years, but because of the size and severity of the burn, it may never truly be the same as it was before the fire.
Three water projects in the region will get $4.7 million from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The board’s giving doubled this year due to COVID-related stimulus funds.
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud is getting $3.8 million toward connecting the Windy Gap reservoir in Grand County to one at Chimney Hollow in Larimer County…
The grant goes for the [bypass] channel, which is still being designed.
“Colorado River Connectivity Channel is a major modification to Windy Gap Reservoir,” Stahla said. He said the channel’s funding is nearly complete. The grant “isn’t the final piece. We anticipate all the pieces coming together” by mid-2022…
Two other area projects got grants.
A “Poudre Headwaters Restoration — Grand Ditch Barrier” effort by Colorado Trout Unlimited in Denver got about $300,000 toward restoring 38 miles of stream and 110 acres of lake habitat.
The specific project involves the greenback cutthroat trout.
A $1.2 million irrigation infrastructure effort got half its costs from this round of water board funds. The grantee is Colorado State University, through its Fort Collins campus, to use on work to boost water and energy efficiency and agricultural production.
The specific project is to build storage ponds, upgrade the existing equipment and add irrigation systems and other infrastructure for research on soil and crops and to launch a farm management competition to improve agricultural profitability.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Eight years ago this week, Colorado experienced one of its worst natural disasters when a week of rain flooded 20 counties, caused nearly $4 billion in damages, killed nine people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
Not only was the devastation staggering, but it marked only the second time in Colorado weather history that such a flood happened in September.
The National Weather Service ranked the 2013 flood its top weather story of the 2010-19 decade…
On Sept. 10, it started raining and didn’t stop for virtually a week, dropping copious amounts of precipitation from the Colorado-Wyoming border to Colorado Springs…
Fort Carson near Colorado Springs set a state record of 11.85 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, according to the National Weather Service. Boulder received 9.08 inches in one day and 18.16 inches in the week, which equates to more than the area’s average precipitation for a year.
Fort Collins reported 5.3 inches, Buckhorn Mountain west of the city 9.87 inches and Estes Park 9.31 inches for the week. For Buckhorn Mountain, 7.62 inches of that rain fell Sept. 11-12…
At one point, [Fort Collins] was cut off with all roads leading in and out impassable, including Interstate 25 where it crosses the Poudre River and the Big Thompson River near Loveland.
The flood is one of the reasons the I-25 bridge over the Poudre River is being raised 8 feet as part of the North I-25 Express Lanes project.
The devastation was staggering:
The flood covered 4,500 square miles, or the size of more than 10 Rocky Mountain National Parks
The damage estimate reached nearly $4 billion
More than 19,000 people were evacuated
26,000 homes were damaged
200 businesses were destroyed and 750 were damaged
200 miles of road were damaged or destroyed, including U.S. Highway 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon
50 major bridges damaged
Schumacher said a blocking ridge of high pressure parked over the Pacific Northwest and western Canada prevented other weather patterns from moving into the area.
A low pressure sat stationary in the Four Coroners area drawing up large amounts of tropical moisture and swinging that moisture out east then back west, creating an upslope condition against the foothills and mountains.
It rained early that week but then on the evening of Sept. 11 a weak disturbance coincided with the showers and thunderstorms, resulting in a slow and almost stationary area of heavy rain along the Front Range that lasted through much of Sept. 12.
The rain intensity lightened up, but rain continued through Sept. 16 with many areas of the Front Range receiving 6 to 18 inches of rain over the week.
Schumacher said another anomaly of the storm was at how high of elevation it rained. He said conventional wisdom is that intense rain rarely happens above 7,500 feet because in upslope conditions the moisture is pushing up the mountainsides, running out of moisture as it moves up in elevation.
However, the 2013 storm produced up to 10 inches of rain at 10,000 feet and higher…
Schumacher said the only other September rain that comes close to 2013 was in May of 1938.
He said heavy rain flooded the Republican River in eastern Colorado then. In 1938 and even in 1997 when Fort Collins was flooded, rainfall measurements were taken by measuring rain found in buckets, old tires or anything that collected rain, Schumacher said.
Some measurements in 1938 recorded more than 20 inches of rain, but the measurement never became official because the rain was not recorded in a gauge…
For more information about the 2013 flood, read the Bulletin of American Meteorlogical Society [report].
checking in from a twitter break…was looking at the rain that caused the awful flash flood in the Poudre Canyon on Tues. Nearly 2" in 2 hours at that elevation (9500+ ft) is really unusual, and happened in about the worst possible location with respect to the burn scar 1/ #cowxpic.twitter.com/lMIbeIJTNh
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Two Larimer County floods in July caused $2 million in damages to roads and other infrastructure and prompted a report that concluded the risk to residents of Black Hollow from another flood is too great for them to stay overnight in their homes.
Lori Hodges, the county’s director of Emergency Management, said most of the damage to county roads and culverts has occurred in Buckhorn Canyon west of Fort Collins and the Retreat area just east of Glen Haven. About 6 miles of the newly rebuilt Buckhorn Road from the 2013 flood sustained damage.
Because of the ongoing risk of another flood in the Cameron Peak Fire burn scar, the county will take a wait-and-see approach to rebuilding the roads and replacing culverts, she said, which were damaged during July 20 and July 30 flash floods.
“We have a few more weeks to get through the monsoon season, and so we will have to figure out the best way to rebuild to better be able to withstand more flooding,” she said.
She said a Colorado Geologic Survey assessment of the Black Hollow neighborhood in the upper Poudre Canyon stated the danger from the instability of the area is so great that no one should spend the night.
Northern Water’s board of directors unanimously overturned the city of Fort Collins’ denial of infrastructure associated with the Northern Integrated Supply Project, clearing the way Wednesday for construction of a pipeline and Poudre River diversion in city limits.
Fort Collins’ Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for NISP infrastructure in a 3-2 vote on June 30. But state law allows governing boards to overrule denials of SPAR applications for public infrastructure with at least a two-thirds majority vote.
The Northern Water board’s decision means the water district, after getting the necessary city permits, should be able to build a river diversion on the Poudre at Homestead Natural Area and about 3.4 miles of pipeline in city limits. The diversion and pipeline are part of Northern Water’s plan to release between 18-25 cubic feet per second of the project’s Poudre River diversions through a 12-mile section of the river in Fort Collins before piping it to NISP participants.
NISP would take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to deliver an estimated 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 small municipalities and water districts in Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor. The water would be stored in two new reservoirs: Glade Reservoir, with a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet located northwest of Fort Collins at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, and Galeton Reservoir, with a capacity of 45,600 acre-feet located northeast of Greeley.
Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):
Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict celebrated the groundbreaking for Chimney Hollow Reservoir on Friday, culminating a 20-year permitting process to add resilience to the water supply for more than 500,000 northeastern Colorado residents.
The groundbreaking also triggers a host of environmental efforts that will occur in the headwaters of the Colorado River on the West Slope. Those include construction of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel to reconnect portions of the river located above and below Windy Gap Reservoir, wastewater treatment plant upgrades in the Fraser River Valley, environmental improvement projects through the Learning By Doing coalition, and other work providing water and storage that can be used for environmental purposes.
“Today marks a long-awaited milestone that required years of hard work and cooperation among many groups with diverse interests to achieve a project that has benefits for everyone in Colorado,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind.
The addition of water storage is a key component of the Colorado Water Plan. Our population continues to grow as climate change brings higher temperatures and greater precipitation variability to the Colorado River headwaters. Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir gives the regional Windy Gap Firming Project participants a reliable water supply during dry years.
Since the Windy Gap Project was envisioned, water managers have recognized the need for additional storage specifically dedicated to storing Windy Gap water. Currently the Windy Gap Project depends on Lake Granby to store water when the project’s water rights are in priority. However, Lake Granby’s first priority is to store Colorado-Big Thompson Project water.
Chimney Hollow Reservoir is a key component for these Windy Gap Firming participants: Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Loveland, Greeley, Longmont, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and Central Weld County Water District. Each of the reservoir project participants that provide residential water service has committed to reduce per capita water supply through water conservation.
Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict and Larimer County cooperated to purchase the Chimney Hollow property in 2004 from Hewlett-Packard. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will provide a much-needed outdoor recreational opportunity that can be enjoyed by everyone in Northern Colorado.
In recent weeks crews have been preparing the site for construction by bringing water and power to temporary administrative offices. In addition, the Western Area Power Administration relocated a high voltage power line from the footprint of the reservoir to a location up the hillside to the west.
Full dam construction activities are planned to begin Aug. 16. Barnard Construction Co. Inc. of Bozeman, Montana, is the general contractor for the four-year project. The cost of dam construction is estimated at $500 million, with the complete project including West Slope improvements at $650 million. The 12 project participants are paying its cost.
When the dam is built, it will rise about 350 feet off the dry valley floor. The dam incorporates a technology common in Europe but less so in the United States. Its water-sealing core will consist of a ribbon of hydraulic asphalt instead of the clay that serves that purpose at the Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir dams. Geologists discovered there wasn’t enough high-quality clay material within the footprint of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, and instead of bringing it in from elsewhere, the hydraulic asphalt core option was chosen. The dam’s rock-fill shoulders will use material mined from the reservoir footprint, which will reduce costs, pollution and increase storage capacity.
This new storage project allows us to supply clean water reliably, even in times of drought, to the people of northeastern Colorado from the existing Windy Gap Diversion. Starting construction on Chimney Hollow Reservoir is a major step to address water supply shortages for our growing population, much like our visionary predecessors did for us, while demonstrating that modern storage projects can also improve the environment.
More than 500,000 Coloradans across the Front Range can look forward to a more resilient water supply in the near future, after a groundbreaking Friday set in motion a $650 million project that will give water providers more reliable access to a vital resource that’s become increasingly scarce due to growing populations and climate change.
A crowd of about 200 gathered Friday morning for the groundbreaking of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir at least 20 years in the making. The reservoir will be located west of the Flatiron Reservoir in Larimer County.
A dozen municipalities, water providers and a power authority are participating in the Northern Water project, which boasts a price tag of $650 million, $500 million of which is for the dam construction. Other costs are going to environmental and water quality improvements in collaboration with affected communities. Adding in things like permitting costs, project manager Joe Donnelly said the total program costs were about $690 million.
Greeley is one of the participants, making up about 10% of the project. Other participants include Longmont, Fort Lupton, Central Weld County Water District, Broomfield and more. Greeley Water and Sewer director Sean Chambers said the city is putting about $57 million toward the construction…
The project had relied on Lake Granby to store water when the project’s water rights were in priority, but the lake’s first priority is to store Colorado-Big Thompson water. Over time, it became clear Front Range water providers would need a way to store Windy Gap water because the water wasn’t available when Front Range communities needed it the most…
Northern Water cooperated with Larimer County to purchase the Chimney Hollow property from Hewlett-Packard in 2004…
Drager and other speakers detailed numerous setbacks, including years of federal litigation after environmental groups filed a 2017 lawsuit. A judge in December dismissed the lawsuit, according to BizWest. The biggest setback, according to Drager, was needing to get a 1041 permit from Grand County. State officials also took issue when project officials hadn’t developed a mitigation plan with the state.
“We kind of argued a little bit, but we came to the conclusion that to really make this thing work, we would have to give something,” Drager said.
In a meeting with a Division of Wildlife official, they eventually settled on stream restoration for the Colorado River — one of many environmental considerations and concessions that helped pave the way for the partnerships that made the project possible…
Though some environmental work is being done at the site, most is at the headwaters of the Colorado River, according to Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla. The environmental mitigation and improvements will cost more than $90 million, including about $45 million to provide water for the river when it’s running low. Other improvements include helping the town of Fraser upgrade its wastewater treatment plant and stream restoration projects.
“These are things that wouldn’t have happened if this project doesn’t get built,” Stahla said. “By doing these things, it’s … mitigation and enhancement, because we’re not just mitigating for the effects of this project, but we’re enhancing what’s already there.”
The site will also serve as an outdoor recreational opportunity managed by Larimer County.
Settlement involving Windy Gap yields $15 million for science-based work
In the early 1980s, when a dam on the Colorado River near its headwaters was proposed and Andrew Miller was a writer for the Winter Park Manifest, he wrote an editorial called “Requiem for a Cottonwood Grove.”
The headline was premature because the dam at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, had not yet been constructed. But it soon was, causing the cottonwood trees to be felled and allowing water from the new reservoir to be pumped uphill to Grand Lake. From there the water flows into diversion under the Continental Divide called the Alva Adams Tunnel to be distributed among cities and some farms in the northern Front Range.
But that story almost 40 years later continues, as news of a settlement suggests. The Grand Foundation will soon receive $15 million remediation for work in Grand County, where the Colorado River originates. The money will be used to try to create strategies for preserving trout and other aquatic life in the warming but ever-more shallow waters.
The big story here is of incremental depletions of the Colorado River at its headwaters by growing Front Range cities now colliding with the impact of the warming climate, hotter and drier. The two, each powerful, leave in doubt how long cold water-loving trout can survive.
“Trout need water temperatures below 70 degrees, and we are regularly bumping up against 70 degrees in our rivers,” says Miller, now a contractor and president of the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group.
The $15 million will come from the municipal subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District responsible for this incremental diversion. The district built Windy Gap to divert the waters to the northern Front Range. A subsequent project spurred by the distressing drought of 2002 and those of later years yielded an expansion of the diversions at Windy Gap.
The additional water will be stored, in part, at a new reservoir snuggled among the foothills rising from the Great Plain southwest of Loveland. The dam to create that 90,000-acre-foot reservoir, called Chimney Hollow, has not yet been constructed.
The political subdivision responsible for the new diversion consists primarily of towns and cities, from Broomfield, Superior and Fort Lupton on the south to Loveland and Greeley on the north.
Save the Colorado and the Sierra Club, among other groups, in 2017 had sued Northern, arguing that the process used to review the impacts was deficient in failing to adequate address cumulative impacts. In December 2020 a federal court ruled in favor of Northern, but the environmental groups appealed.
In April, a compromise was announced. The environmental groups dropped the lawsuit and Northern agreed to the $15 million settlement in what Northern described as a productive alternative to costly litigation.
The financial documents of the settlement agreement are to be signed by directors of Northern on Aug. 6 and by the Grand Foundation on Aug. 10. Because of delays in signing, Northern will transfer the first payment totaling $5 million immediately after the Grand Foundation signs, says Gary Wockner, of Save the Colorado and an allied group, Save the Poudre.
Administering the $15 million grant will be the Grand Foundation, which is to consist of three members from Miller’s organization, the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group. In addition to Miller, Dave Troutman the treasurer, and Geoff Elliott, the staff scientist, will be on the committee responsible for overseeing allocation of the grant. Northern Water has authority to name the three other members.
“Our charge over the next 10 years is to spend $15 million in ways that improve Grand County’s watershed in a collaborative process,” explained Miller. “In some ways, we are on opposite sides of the fence,” he said, referring to the Northern District’s appointment members. “But in many of the important ways we are on the same side. We both depend upon high-quality water, Northern almost more than us.”
Other measures in the agreement address water quality and provide more water for Western Slope users.
Separately, Northern plans to create a new channel around Windy Gap Dam, to allow the Colorado River to flow without impoundment. The channel is intended to allow fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the dam and reservoir. The project is called the Colorado River Connectivity Channel. The bypass channel will be the result of a settlement negotiated by Trout Unlimited and others, says Wockner. No draft environmental assessment has been released. “It remains to be seen if the channel will be permitted, funded or built,” he says.
Because of its proximity to the northern Front Range farms and cities and its relative plentitude of water-producing snow, Grand County has been the go-to place for trans-mountain diversions since the late 1880s. The two most significant are those accomplished by the 6.2-mile pioneer bore of the Moffat Tunnel, which allowed diversions from the Winter Park and Fraser area to begin in 1936; and the 13.1-mile Adams Tunnel, which began delivering water to the Estes Park area in 1947.
Miller sees pressing task of the foundation set up to administer the settlement funds will be to lay down a baseline of existing conditions. The existing data, says Miller “really aren’t that good.”
Beyond that, the challenge will be more difficult, perhaps impossible.
“Basically we need to figure out how to run a watershed when we only have 30% of the natural water, which is about all we have left after the diversions by the Front Range.”
In addition to the stepped-up diversions by Northern Water, Denver Water also wants to take additional water through the Moffat Tunnel for impoundment in an expanded Gross Reservoir.
By at least some estimates, 70% of the native water of eastern Grand County currently gets exported to the Front Range. With these new diversions, exports will increase to 80%.
When these incremental diversions were first conceived not quite 20 years ago, the science of global warming was firming up but the effects were not yet evident, at least not like now. Even a decade ago, after significant drought had begun and temperatures had clearly started rising, the big picture was more tentative.
Miller’s group contends no water remains available from the Grand County headwaters of the Colorado River for additional diversion.
“I don’t think anybody realized how persistent this drought would be,” says Miller. “It could be a forever thing. We have created a new climate, and we will never see the rainfalls and snow we have in the past.”
Wellington faces a Catch-22, caught between its desire for growth and the water issues that threaten to slow it to a crawl.
The town of about 12,000 has plenty of water — the lifeblood of any community — to serve thousands of new homes. But the cost of water is rising rapidly and the town currently lacks the capacity to store it, treat it or flush it. Both its water and wastewater treatment plants are overextended.
Expansions are underway but still three years away from completion.
It’s not a new problem for Wellington, which earlier this year raised water rates to pay for an expansion of its water and wastewater treatment plants, imposed water restrictions and limited new residential building permits to about 100 per year until the expansions are complete.
The very measures it’s taking to create that infrastructure have raised water rates to the highest in Northern Colorado, which could, in turn, adversely affect growth as builders consider their options.
It’s a fragile balance that’s frustrating residents who are now paying about double what they were two years ago and has the town asking for patience.
Residential water and sewer taps, the largest slice of new development impact fees collected when a building permit is issued, went from $5,500 to $7,500 for a typical home tap and sewer taps increased from $7,500 to $9,700.
Those fees, which also pay for things like parks, streets, water and sewer lines, are typically passed on to the homebuyer or business, which is one reason the cost of homes is going up in Wellington…
Continuing to increase impact fees while at the same time limiting the number of residential permits to stay within treatment capacities “could reach a point where developers or buildings are unwilling to build in Wellington,” the town wrote on its website, “and could result in a slowdown or stop to new development, shifting the cost of paying for improvements onto existing residents…
When treatment plant expansions are done in 2024, they will be able to support Wellington’s expected growth for about 20 years, when the population is expected to double to about 24,000, Town Administrator Patti Garcia said.
Plant expansions won’t bring rate relief, however, she said. Base water rates were raised $31 — to $66 a month — in January to pay the debt service on the water treatment plant. To get the loan, the town had to prove it could pay it back, Garcia said…
For comparison, Fort Collins’ base water rate is $18.30 with a charge of $2.83 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 7,000 gallons. Like Wellington, it has tiered rates that go up the more water used. The charge for water over 13,000 gallons is $3.75 per 1,000 gallons.
That means a Wellington resident using the average 7,000 gallons per month would pay $97.92 per month compared to $38.11 for the same amount of water through Fort Collins Utilities…
It won’t help rates, but finishing the treatment plant expansions should ease water restrictions and lift the moratorium on building permits…
Wellington is served by the North Poudre Irrigation Co., whose share costs have risen 40% since 2018, when the town wrote in its resolution to increase rates. That resolution passed in August 2020. NPIC water currently sells for $200,000 or more per share.
In response to past increases and hedging its bets against future increases, Wellington increased its raw water rates from $19,285.50 to $67,586 for 0.58 acre feet of water — the amount of water it requires for every developed dwelling unit.
“Once we have capacity in the water treatment plant we will be fine,” Garcia said. “We have plenty of water, the issue is having the capacity to provide it, store it, use it and flush it. We’re looking forward to what 2024 can bring.”
At Hays Market, gallon jugs of drinking water have been flying off the shelves for the better part of two weeks. According to grocery manager Daniel Gehring, the store has gone from ordering several cases of water to palates of it, and not because of the hot weather.
“The town’s water is smelly, funny and has a dirt taste to it, so people are buying the heck out of the gallon water,” Gehring said.
For the grocery store, the business is a plus, but around town, folks like David Salls are concerned. He’s recently turned to filtering all of the water anyone in the family drinks, including his dogs…
Town manager Matt LeCerf says the odor is harmless, and the result of chemical compounds created by algae blooms in the Lone Tree Reservoir, the city’s main water source.
Normally, the water travels into town via a pipeline and drainage ditch, but this year the drainage ditch is not being used because of the nearby Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fire burn scars…
According to LeCerf, the ditch into town naturally aerates and filters the water more than the pipeline.
“We’re basically in a position where we have to run our water through the reservoirs where we do have that standing water that’s causing some of the taste and odor issues,” LeCerf said.
After hearing similar concerns in the past, the town approved a new $2 million granular activated carbon system earlier this year, which LeCerf said is 90% effective in removing the taste and odor. Construction has been underway for more than two months, and the system is expected to be online Wednesday…
The carbon filtration system isn’t the only improvement in the works for Johnstown. According to LeCerf, the town is also upgrading its water treatment plant and putting special buoys in the reservoir that use ultrasonic wavelengths to help mitigate algae growth.
Rejection of the NISP pipeline is yet another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out in the northern Front Range.
The Fort Collins planning commission on Wednesday rejected an application by Northern Water to run more than three miles of pipeline in a 100-foot-wide construction zone through city parks and neighborhoods as part of the complex Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The 3-to-2 rejection may not stall the massive project for long, as state law allows Northern Water’s own board to override the decision by a two-thirds vote, which it is sure to get. But the unrest in Fort Collins is another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out this year in northern Front Range counties.
Water developers say they need supply to meet the demands of growing cities and suburbs, while many residents are objecting to the cost to the environment and to their own wallets.
“What happens during that construction will forever change the activity of wildlife, the patterns of wildlife, and they may never come back to those areas,” Fort Collins planning board member Per Hogestad said before he voted against the NISP pipeline application.
Fort Collins city planners launched the night’s hearing by recommending the board reject the NISP pipeline. Among other objections, city staff said its construction would cut down important riparian cottonwood stands without rebuilding them, and that the plan lacked detailed restoration plans for other areas in the proposed easement…
Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind told the planning commission that the water agency, which serves more than 1 million people in parts of eight counties on the northern Front Range, has made numerous changes to the $1.1 billion NISP to accommodate the steady stream of objections made over more than 10 years. Most importantly, he said, the new system of water buckets and delivery pipes that make up NISP will put a steadier, stronger flow of water into the Poudre River through Fort Collins, improving the health of an overused river that nearly dries up in summer…
Friday morning, Northern Water issued a statement saying in part that it would “look closely at the concerns raised by the City of Fort Collins staff, planning and zoning commissioners and public commenters. We look forward to working with the city to address those concerns while keeping the long-term goal in sight” of building the water delivery project. The board will consider its next steps at a meeting in August, spokesman Jeff Stahla said…
The list of Front Range water fights is long
NISP is one of the longest-running of a growing number of water delivery disputes pitting neighbors against city and county planning boards, and cities and counties against each other.
Thornton wants to build a 74-mile underground pipeline from water it owns in a Larimer County reservoir, through Weld County and onto city treatment plants. After similar years of wrangling, Weld County listened to neighbor and landowner objections and voted against a permit through county space. But Thornton, in Adams County, on Tuesday overrode the decision, which state law allows the applying entity to do when it is financing and building the pipeline.
In Westminster, many residents are furious at city council members for a series of steep increases in domestic water prices, among other planning decisions, and their anger has helped fuel an ongoing series of recalls and marathon voting sessions. Some longtime city residents say the council and city utilities have botched long-term planning for adequate water resources and failed to maintain treatment plants and other infrastructure.
Brighton is also in a series of battles over water use and water prices, including conflicts over power sharing between the city manager and elected officials on water questions.
The Fort Collins planning decision is not likely to be a major hurdle for Northern Water, which is close to breaking ground on the reservoir-and-pipe system that makes up NISP but has more regulatory problems to solve.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project has navigated a tangled route of permits since at least 2004. Fifteen communities that are part of Northern Water want to build new reservoirs called Glade and Galeton, bracketing Fort Collins on the west and east, and connect them through the Poudre and a series of farm water ditches with complex withdrawal and return pipelines.
As part of the overall plan, Northern Water would let about 22 cubic feet per second out of its newly-stored pool in Glade to keep a steady flow in the Poudre through most of Fort Collins, for most of the year. The pipeline under debate Thursday night would then take that water back out of the river and carry it to a separate pipeline that runs on the north side of the project.
Conservationists ridicule that plan, saying Northern Water’s gesture toward the environment would turn the Poudre into a weedy, low-flow “ditch” populated by carp.
The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Commission denied a development application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, leaving the ball in Northern Water’s court for a possible overriding vote.
Commission members voted 3-2 on Wednesday to deny the Site Planning Advisory Review (SPAR) application for NISP infrastructure that would be located in Fort Collins city limits.
The components are part of Northern Water’s plan to run a portion of the project’s water deliveries through a 12-mile section of the Poudre River in Fort Collins. A river intake structure at Homestead Natural Area would take the water back out, and a 3.4-mile section of pipeline would shuttle the water southeast to meet up with another pipeline outside city limits.
The decision presents an obstacle to the proposal to take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for storage in two new reservoirs, but it isn’t binding…
Commission members who voted against the application — chair Michelle Haefele, vice chair Ted Shepard and member Per Hogestad — agreed with city staff, who recommended denial because of impacts to city natural areas and insufficient detail about several aspects of the project…
Degradation of wildlife and riparian habitat was of particular concern for some of the commission members who voted to deny the application. City staff said the pipeline location would damage restored wetlands and prohibit replanting of cottonwoods the city has worked to restore in riparian corridors. The pipeline route passes through Williams, Kingfisher and Riverbend Ponds natural areas…
Jeff Hansen and Jeff Schneider, the commission members who voted to move the application forward, said they had faith in Northern Water’s ability to address staff feedback. They also wanted to support the agency’s effort to mitigate some of the impacts of NISP by running between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second of water through a portion of the river, which would eliminate some dry-up spots on the river during low flow periods.
“They don’t have to do this pipeline at all,” Schneider said. “They could pull this water out and not even run it through the river. I think there’s some good intent that they’re trying to supply water to the Poudre instead of just pulling it directly out.”
Other points from city staff’s recommendation to deny the application stated that Northern Water didn’t adequately consider protection of natural resources and wildlife when it evaluated alternative routes. Staff also said the application didn’t include enough information about proximity of the NISP pipeline to city-owned utilities; downstream and floodplain impacts of the river intake structure; and how Northern Water will mitigate construction impacts to private property, historic and cultural resources.
Shepard said Northern Water should consider running the water through the river until it intersects with another project pipeline planned for the Larimer-Weld county line.
Brad Yatabe of the city attorney’s office interjected at that point in the meeting to caution commission members against suggesting alternative actions, which he said isn’t in the city’s purview for SPAR.
Northern Water staff described the diversion structure and pipeline as the culmination of a concerted effort to blunt NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins. Northern Water staff picked the diversion point for stability and with a goal of going as far downstream as possible while preserving water quality for drinking, project manager Christie Coleman said…
Northern Water expects that requirements associated with other permits for NISP, including the anticipated record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will address some of the planning commission’s concerns about environmental impacts, Stahla said. He added that Northern Water will take a closer look at concerns about the construction easement’s impacts to city natural areas.
FromColorado Community Media (Liam Adams) via The Colorado Sun:
Thornton can start building a segment of a water pipeline in Weld County, even though the Weld County Board of Commissioners told the city “no” two months ago.
Thornton City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a resolution that overrides Weld County’s denial of a permit to build a segment of the Thornton Water Project, and authorized the start of construction.
The 74-mile Thornton Water Project will deliver water from a reservoir near Fort Collins, nearly doubling the city’s current water supply. Twelve miles of the pipeline will run through Larimer County, 34 miles through Weld County, and 5 miles through Adams County. The rest of the pipeline will pass through towns and cities in those counties…
The council was [approved the measure on June 29, 2021]…
Weld County landowners, including Hicks and her daughter, have been influential opponents of Thornton as the city moved through the permit application process. In 2019, the Weld County Planning Commission recommended approval of the project, but landowner protests caused the panel to reverse its recommendation in 2020. Residents’ complaints were also cited by commissioners as a reason for denying the permit at at a hearing on May 5.
The Weld County commissioners also said in a resolution dated June 3 that the pipeline would negatively affect future growth and that it was inconsistent with a new county comprehensive plan.
Some Weld County residents want Thornton to build its pipeline in the right-of-way, or literally underneath a county road, instead of on private land next to the road.
But since the beginning of the process, Thornton has pursued the private-land option, which was supported by Weld County staff.
Building in the right-of-way requires an easement from the county, while building outside of the right-of-way requires easements from private landowners. Thornton has obtained easements from 98% of landowners. Some were obtained through eminent domain proceedings, frustrating specific landowners and further provoking their protest.
The pipeline, which runs from Terry Lake near Fort Collins to just east of Cobb Lake in Weld County and then south to the Wes Brown Water Treatment Plant in Thornton, will be buried and the city will compensate any landowners, especially farmers, whose land and crops are damaged by construction…
City spokesman Todd Barnes confirmed that the city has already reached an agreement with Hicks’ family to construct part of the pipeline on their land…
Weld County negotiated terms with Thornton after the county recognized the city was able to override the denial. The terms still require the city to apply for road construction permits in areas where the pipeline crosses streets, to regularly communicate with county staff about the progress of construction, and to be diligent about dust management.
The city hasn’t said yet when it plans to break ground.
The Thornton Water Pipeline is closer to becoming reality in Weld County following a unanimous vote Tuesday night by Thornton City Council to override the county commissioners’ denial of a use by special review permit to construct the pipeline.
State law allows political subdivisions to override restrictions of county or municipal zoning regulations in certain cases. The board anticipated the city’s ability to override the decision, sending a letter acknowledging as much to Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann earlier this month.
The letter, signed by Weld County Commission Chairman Steve Moreno, requested that the city council include a commitment to comply with terms and conditions set forth by the county in its override decision. In overriding the county’s decision, the city council agreed to adhere to the terms and conditions.
Commissioner Mike Freeman said the board denied Thornton’s permit for a number of reasons, including being inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and going through multiple Opportunity Zones. Doing so will negatively affect development on those properties, Freeman said.
Thornton included in its resolution a response to the county’s concerns. The city responded that the pipeline and fiber optic cable will be buried so that it is compatible with the existing industrial zoned properties and heavy industrial use. It also worked with property owners to develop a pipeline alignment that would minimize impacts to those properties, according to the resolution. The city also said impacts to industrial properties will be of limited duration during construction.
Freeman said the county found that the permit application didn’t show that all reasonable efforts had been made to avoid irrigated cropland or minimize negative impacts to agriculture. Weld is the state’s leading producer of beef cattle, grain, sugar beets and dairy, according to the county’s website.
Thornton responded that the pipeline will be buried below the plow line to prevent interference with continuing agricultural and estate land uses. Effects on agricultural uses will be temporary during construction and are anticipated to be minimal after construction, according to the city. Thornton also said it worked with property owners to locate the pipeline, including minimizing effects to the operations of irrigation equipment.
Additional measures the city will take include stripping and storing topsoil separately from excavated trench materials and seeding or leaving land fallow in accordance with the property owner’s agreement for reclamation procedures following pipeline construction.
Another finding by the county that led to the commissioners’ unanimous denial of the permit was that the pipeline could have an undue adverse effect on existing and future development in areas along the municipal limits of Dacono, Firestone, Frederick, Johnstown, Platteville, Severance, Timnath and Windsor.
The city reiterated the pipeline will be buried and that impacts will be temporary during construction and are anticipated to be minimal after construction. Property owners are also compensated for any impacts to future residential, commercial and industrial development if that is the highest and best use of their property, the city added.
Finally, the county found that all reasonable alternatives to the proposal hadn’t been adequately addressed and that the pipeline isn’t consistent with the best interests of the people in Weld County. Multiple property owners have expressed opposition to the pipeline, with at least seven appearing at the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on May 5, when the commissioners denied Thornton’s application.
The city responded that the pipeline will not have long-term impacts to continuing agricultural uses. It noted that two property owners who opposed the pipeline have since agreed Thornton accommodated their requests. For four property owners whose relocation requests weren’t feasible, the city argues the pipeline will not hinder the property owners’ future development plans.
“What we’re supposed to be looking at on applications is, ‘Is the application in the best interest of Weld County citizens?’ and obviously this pipeline doesn’t benefit Weld County at all,” Freeman said. “At the end of the day, this board did not approve an application that wasn’t in the best interest of the citizens of Weld County, but we can’t prohibit Thornton from doing what they did.”
While the council did not address Weinmeister’s concerns, Kulmann said the city remains committed to working with communities to the north. In a pointed message, she said, “We remain committed to cooperating with you on our project … we do take their concerns seriously.” She also said the city is committed to securing access to water that it bought back in the 1980s and soon will need for its growing population.
Following the Weld County Board of Commissioners’ decision to deny the city of Thornton’s application to build a water pipeline through the county, Thornton intends to use a state statute to overrule the commissioners’ decision.
Thornton City Council will vote on a resolution at a June 29 meeting directing the city to bypass the board’s denial and commence pipeline construction, according to a meeting agenda posted Thursday. If approved by the city council at that meeting, Thornton will skip past an otherwise lengthy and cumbersome process for getting the pipeline approved at a point where the city feels like time is wearing thin…
Thornton’s goal is to complete the entire Thornton Water Project, a 75-mile-long pipeline from a reservoir near Fort Collins, by 2025. So far, the city has built six miles of the pipeline in other municipalities where Thornton has negotiated agreements. However, the two biggest sections – one in unincorporated Larimer County and the other in unincorporated Weld County – have faced setbacks.
The Larimer County Board of Commissioners denied Thornton’s application for a “1041 permit” to build the pipeline in 2019, leading to a series of ongoing court battles between the city and Larimer County board. Then in May, the Weld County board denied Thornton’s application for a “use by special review” permit, causing Thornton to file a complaint against the board in Weld County District Court.
Thornton began to seriously consider using a state statute that would essentially reverse the board’s decision right after the Weld County commissioners’ denial, said city spokesperson Todd Barnes. Colorado Revised Statutes 30-28-110(1)(c) allows a utility that is financing and authorizing the construction of a project to overrule a denial by a county board of commissioners.
Thornton can use the statute for the denial in Weld Co., but not in Larimer Co. because the two permit application processes are different. Barnes said the city’s legal challenge in Weld County District Court “remains in place to preserve Thornton’s rights.”
The Weld County board was made aware of Thornton’s intentions to overrule the commissioners’ decision before the June 29 city council meeting agenda published, and the board negotiated with the city certain terms and conditions for the pipeline’s construction. Board Chairperson Steve Moreno issued a response to the city that was included in the agenda packet.
Moreno said, “Clearly, the Thornton City Council has statutory authority to override the Board’s decision.” Moreno asks the city to comply with the newly negotiated terms and conditions that are “based upon the original Conditions of Approval and Development Standards of USR 18-0130 (use by special review permit) but have been modified to better fit the circumstance of an override by Thornton.”
Citizen groups Save the Poudre and No Pipe Dream are suing to stop the city of Fort Collins from processing an application for Northern Integrated Supply Project infrastructure in city limits.
The two groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise over Northern Water’s SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for the controversial Poudre River reservoir project. The complaint argues that SPAR is the wrong way for the city to review NISP infrastructure and seeks to terminate the SPAR application. It also seeks to cancel the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board review of the application set for June 30…
At the heart of the dispute is whether NISP, which seeks to divert flows from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for two new reservoirs, is an appropriate fit for the SPAR process. SPAR is a type of development review intended for “improvements to parcels owned or operated by public entities,” according to the city’s land use code.
SPAR, compared to the more commonly used development review process, puts the city’s P&Z board in an advisory position rather than giving Fort Collins City Council the final say on a proposal. The governing board of a SPAR applicant can override P&Z’s vote and proceed with the development over the city’s wishes.
The P&Z board must review a SPAR application within 60 days of the city accepting it. The city deemed Northern Water’s SPAR application complete on May 21.
The city directed Northern Water to submit a SPAR application for components of NISP within city limits: the Poudre intake diversion structure, a river diversion that would be located in Homestead Natural Area northwest of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, and a 3.4-mile length of pipeline running from the river diversion to the southeast, passing through Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County land as well as three city natural areas (Williams, Kingfisher Point and Riverbend Ponds)…
The complaint also argues that Northern Water doesn’t meet the state’s legal guidelines for an entity that can overrule a municipal body’s decision on a development. The state gives that authority only to “the city council of a city … the board of trustees of a town, or any other body, by whatever name known, given authority to adopt ordinances for a specific municipality,” the complaint states…
City attorney Carrie Daggett said the city is still reviewing the complaint and declined further comment. Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla affirmed that the water district will continue to pursue SPAR review for NISP as city staff directed…
Fort Collins’ review of NISP is not the last step for the project. The project is awaiting a crucial record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that’s expected to come this year. An affirming record of decision would likely trigger another legal appeal.
Two additional lawsuits filed by Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo related to Larimer County’s approval of NISP infrastructure are also working their way through the courts.
City takes same legal action it did against Larimer County
The city of Thornton formally went to court against the Weld County Board of Commissioners after the board denied the city’s application to build a water pipeline through the county.
The board’s decision, “exceeds its jurisdiction and/or is contrary to law, misinterprets and misapplies its criteria, and was arbitrary and capricious because its findings lack competent evidence to support the BOCC’s denial,” read the complaint filed June 2 in Weld County District Court.
As Thornton nears its deadline to construct a pipeline from a reservoir near Fort Collins, the quickest and most direct way for the city to get approval for a Weld County pipeline is through the courts, rather than submitting a whole new application. The city asks in the complaint for a district court judge to intervene and overturn the board’s decision.
Thornton started the process for the Weld County section of the Thornton Water Project in 2015. In 2018, the city formally submitted its application to build a pipeline through 34 miles of unincorporated county land. The city then went before the county’s planning commission twice and the board of commissioners four times. That fourth meeting, May 5, is when the board unanimously voted to deny the application…
The city is engaged in a separate legal battle — currently in the Colorado Court of Appeals — with the Larimer County Board of Commissioners, who denied a similar application from Thornton in 2019. The complaint Thornton filed in Weld County is the same kind that it filed in Larimer…
In both the Larimer and Weld County cases, Thornton argued the boards of commissioners didn’t have the jurisdiction to deny the city’s application because it has owned the WSSC rights for decades. What’s different about Thornton’s argument against Weld County is that it’s simpler, according to legal filings.
Weld County staff, the planning commission and the board initially told Thornton to not construct the pipeline in the right-of-way, or literally underneath county roads. Instead, they suggested planning to build on privately owned land next to the road. However, the planning commission and board later asked the city to consider areas for the pipeline in the right-of-way. Thornton did that and over time, submitted several amended applications.
The board asked also Thornton to obtain more construction easements from private landowners before the board reached a decision. So, by the May 5 board meeting, Thornton obtained easements for 95% of the total stretch of the pipeline.
Thornton described itself in the complaint as a good partner to Weld County, despite larger changes along the way. Still, the board denied the application. The city also argued that the board didn’t “orally find or conclude” that Thornton failed to meet five of eight criteria that the board is supposed to consult in its decision-making.
The city added in the complaint that the board still hasn’t issued Thornton a written denial…
The main reason for Thornton’s haste is rapid growth. The City council won’t approve applications related to large developments, such as Parterre, without the assurance of water from Larimer County.
Crews have started installing a 42-inch welded steel pipeline through portions of northern Colorado with the goal of bringing clean water to Thornton through 2065.
However, even though Thornton legally purchased the water rights from the Cache la Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins in the 1980s, the counties it needs to pump water through are preventing the pipeline from becoming a full reality, for now.
“We got the water in 1985. That is all done. We have the permission to move the water, we just need the facilities to move it,” said Mark Koleber, Water Supply Director for Thornton…
Thornton needs to install more than 80 miles worth of pipes from the river near Ted’s Place all the way to the Denver suburb. However, in Larimer County, they have come across issues getting permits to install the pipeline along roadways…
While Thornton navigates the next steps of building their pipeline through unincorporated Weld and Larimer counties, they have been given permission to start construction through towns like Timnath, Windsor and Johnstown.
Timnath and Windsor have seen a dramatic spike in residents in the past few years, and many homes are being built along WCR-13 in Windsor, right where Thornton planned to build their pipeline…
To avoid the stresses of more disruption, Thornton was granted permission to install their pipeline along the roadway before the neighborhoods were completed.
“We can do that so we can get ahead of the development,” Koleber said. “That is really important for us, to make sure we don’t impact the communities any more than we have to.”
More than seven miles worth of pipeline have been installed through Windsor and Johnstown. Some of that stretch has already been installed, reclaimed and built over.
The Raindance Community in Windsor has already built homes along the now-hidden pipeline, with sidewalks and landscaping covering where the construction was completed.
Following the state’s orders, Thornton had to develop a plan to cross over two rivers in Northern Colorado without disturbing them.
Koleber’s team dug massive holes on each end of the Poudre and Big Thompson rivers. Then machinery was lowered into the holes. The machinery then dug itself under the rivers, sending back carts full of mud as it continued to burrow. The pipes were then lowered into the holes and slid through the makeshift tunnels, leaving the Poudre and Big Thompson unscathed.
“That will allow us to move the water under the Poudre without disturbing the Poudre at all. We can cross it without touching the Poudre,” Koleber said.
Thornton has engaged in legal action against Larimer County, hoping the courts can help them claim what they legally purchased decades ago. The city has not ruled out taking similar action in Weld County if common ground cannot be reached in a timely manner.
CBS4 contacted Larimer County commissioners for comment on this article. However, multiple commissioners wrote back saying they could not comment on the story due to ongoing litigation.
Northern Colorado is getting its biggest new reservoir in about 70 years, at the cost of diminished Colorado River flows.
Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will begin in August southwest of Loveland, just west of Carter Lake. An April legal settlement between project proponent Northern Water and environmental advocacy groups cleared the way for the project, which began the permitting process in 2003.
The 90,000-acre-foot reservoir is the main component of the Windy Gap Firming Project, a plan to increase the reliability of Colorado River water rights in the Windy Gap Project. The project’s 12 participants include Platte River Power Authority, Loveland, Broomfield, Longmont and Greeley. Construction is expected to take until August 2025, after which it will take about three years to fill the reservoir.
The reservoir’s water will come from the Colorado River, decreasing flows below Lake Granby by an annual average of 15%. Most diversions will take place in May and June.
The 18-year journey toward construction demonstrates the extensive maneuvering required to build new reservoirs in Colorado as rivers become increasingly stressed from climate change and heavy diversions as growing Front Range communities seek to shore up their water supplies. Northern Water won approval from key government agencies and some advocacy groups with a suite of mitigation measures and spending commitments for areas impacted by the project.
Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla described Chimney Hollow as “in the right place at the right time.” The reservoir site has a few qualities that have helped Northern Water avoid some common setbacks for new water project construction: It’s near existing Colorado Big Thompson Project infrastructure, so Northern Water won’t have to build much new infrastructure for water deliveries, and there are no homes or businesses at the site, which Northern has owned since the 1990s.
“The one assumption you have to make is that water storage is part of the future way that we’re going to provide water,” Stahla said, and he thinks it is. “If you get past the ‘Do we need storage’ question, this ends up being an incredible site that will meet lots of needs, including the ancillary needs of recreation, into the future.”
Northern Water Engineering Director Jeff Drager acknowledged the new reservoir’s impact on Colorado River flows, but he said the project’s targeted mitigation efforts still offer a major value and are a key reason why it crossed the regulatory finish line.
One of the most significant mitigation measures, known as the Colorado River connectivity channel, will involve shrinking the existing Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County to about half its current size and building a new channel around it. The Windy Gap dam currently blocks the Colorado River, preventing movement of fish, silt and sediment.
The connectivity channel will allow the river below the reservoir to act more like “a stream without a reservoir on it” when Northern Water’s water rights aren’t in priority, Drager said. The mitigation measures will also open up a mile of stream to public fishing in an area where private landowners possess most of the land adjacent to riverbanks…
During wetter years, Lake Granby can overflow and the water that would’ve been delivered to Windy Gap users flows downstream. During drier years, Northern Water is often unable to divert the full extent of its water right because it is a junior right, meaning more senior water users get access to water first. During the 23-year period between 1985 and 2008, for example, no Windy Gap water was delivered for seven of those years.
Although Brian Werner has served on the WEco Board of Trustees for just over a year, he was involved with helping found the organization nearly 20 years ago. Now retired from his 38-year career as the Communications Department Manager and Public Information Officer at Northern Water, and still a life-long water historian, Brian has written and given hundreds of presentations on the role of water in the settlement and development of Colorado and the West. We spoke with Brian about Northern Water’s storage, the impacts of fire on water storage, permitting, and more.
How long have you been on the WEco board?
I’ve been involved with WEco since WEco has been around. I was involved with the first couple incarnations of water education efforts in Colorado in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and then I helped when WEco came into being in 2002. I was never on the board, until a couple of years ago. It was something I wanted to do towards the end of my career and I retired just last year in January 2020. Luckily I was appointed to the board and I’ve truly enjoyed it.
What kind of experience do you bring to the group?
I think the fact that I had a 38-year career in the water business with Northern Water is an asset. At Northern Water, I’d established relations with people from all over the state and I also coordinated probably 150 to 200 different children’s water festivals, so clearly I was into education. I’m really a big believer in the trickle up theory of water knowledge. Where if you can educate the kids, that knowledge is going trickle up to mom and dad, and those kids will somebody be parents themselves. Ultimately, I’ve been trying to build that ethic in what I’ve been about for most of my career.
How would you describe your experience being on the board?
I’ve really enjoyed being on the board. I’ve watched it and been very much involved for a long time. Both Nicole Seltzer and Jayla Poppleton worked with me at Northern Water, so I have a personal vested interest in them succeeding, and they really have. Nicole moved the organization in a wonderful direction and Jayla has just been top-notch in where she has taken WEco. It has been really interesting because we have a diverse board, and I have enjoyed getting to know people who I didn’t know previously.
I understand you recently retired from Northern Water, can you tell me what your role with them was and maybe what Northern Water does in a general sense?
Northern Water is the largest water conservancy district in the state of Colorado and operates a large Bureau of Reclamation project that is one of the largest in the entire western United States; the Colorado-Big Thompson project. It brings a quarter-million acre-feet a year from the West Slope into Northeastern Colorado to supplement both urban and rural supplies, meaning that it is both a municipal as well as an agricultural water supply. Now there are well over a million people that get a portion of their water supply from that project, but back in 1937, there were only 50,000 people living within Northern Water’s boundaries. So, nobody could have foreseen the growth that occurred since then. This growth has brought all sorts of issues and concerns, but Northern Water is one of the top water agencies in the state and I certainly had a wonderful career there and couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Personally, I was a public information officer for 35 of those 38 years. My role, in essence, was to be the public face of Northern Water and so I talked about Northern Water and its activities all the time. I was able to use my historical training, I have a master’s degree in history, to discuss the historical background of both water development and Northern Water. I focused very much on education, but ultimately, I spent my entire career talking all things water, which was a lot of fun.
I was also the manager of our communications department as we expanded and grew. As we grew, we brought on writers and pushed publications and annual reports, and then we got into the social media craze. So, for some time I managed that department. But really, it was about telling people what Northern Water was all about.
The map above displays estimates of the likelihood of debris flow (in %), potential volume of debris flow (in m3), and combined relative debris flow hazard. These predictions are made at the scale of the drainage basin, and at the scale of the individual stream segment. Estimates of probability, volume, and combined hazard are based upon a design storm with a peak 15-minute rainfall intensity of 24 millimeters per hour (mm/h). Predictions may be viewed interactively by clicking on the button at the top right corner of the map displayed above. Map credit: USGS
Perhaps a topical question, but how have the numerous forest fires affected the work that Northern Water does in trying to ensure water storage?
That is going to be Northern Water’s principal focus this coming year. Both of our major watersheds burned last year, the Upper Colorado with the East Troublesome wildfire, and then the Poudre watershed with the Cameron Peak wildfire. And both of these watersheds are where we get the vast majority of our water. Luckily, Northern Water had been looking at forest water management for years. Northern Water has been working with the U.S. Forest Service, the counties, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Parks Service. It wasn’t that these fires hit us and Northern Water had no idea what to do. We learned quite a lot from Denver Water after the Hayman Fire, with all of the issues that they had centering around water quality. Northern Water isn’t pleased, but we are certainly going to see some water quality impacts because of these fires.
We went in with our eyes open and with some plans in place for post-fire activities. We always said, ‘it’s not if, it’s when those fires hit.’
What do these fires mean for water supply and water quality now, as well as moving into the future?
One of the things that we see from these fires is a greater level of awareness in terms of forest management, not just if you have a house in a forest or nearby, but for those people living in major metropolitan areas, too. Those people in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs are all paying attention now, because they saw the two largest fires in Colorado history and what it did to our environment. And I think now there will be a lot more attention focused on the post-fire impacts, which obviously include water. People will certainly be paying attention to the water piece of the post-fire mitigation and clean-up. Overall, I think moving into the future we will have a better awareness, which is always a good thing. There is no way around it, it is going to take money, and where we are at with COVID-19 that discussion is not easy, but the state is making a concerted effort to put monetary resources and people into handling the situation.
How the present or future storage planning is different than what the state has done historically?
One thing I would point out is that the Federal government is no longer in the water storage building business. For years Reclamation, which had been established in 1902 helped jumpstart and build water projects, as they did the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Federal government neither has the resources nor are they paying for water storage anymore. Now, water storage is something that is having to be more or less self-funded. Meaning that the growing cities are trying to figure out how they can finance additional water for their future citizens.
We are also now looking at the multiple uses of water. Nowadays, water is being used for environmental purposes, which means that we are looking to make sure that there is enough to release into the rivers to help the aquatic habitat. This is a much larger part of the picture today. At a base level of awareness, we want people to understand why we need storage reservoirs. It is a dry year, and it sure looks like we are only getting drier, and when you have the drier years you better make sure that you store when you have the wetter periods to carry you through. I think we are going to have difficulties trying to match up the storage, which we are going to continue to need, with all the environmental issues and issues surrounding the development of water infrastructure.
In the past 20 years, Northern has been in permitting so can you talk about that process?
We say water project permitting works at a glacial pace. When I started working on the Northern Integrated Supply Project permitting at Northern Water, I told my wife that I thought we would have a permit in around 5 years … I’m now retired. Northern Water is going on 17 years later, and they still haven’t received that permit. That’s frustrating. This wasn’t for lack of energy; I mean we were really working hard to secure that permit. These things take much longer than you would probably expect. You have to have a lot of perseverance because the process can really drive you crazy, but my hope is that in the future this process will become much better for all parties involved.
Fort Collins City Manager Darin Atteberry signed a Declaration and Order for a voluntary Water Shortage Watch pursuant to Fort Collins City Code Section 26-167(a) and the Water Shortage Action Plan (WSAP). The Water Shortage Watch and corresponding voluntary water restrictions (water-saving actions) went into effect Thursday, April 29 for Fort Collins Utilities water customers.
The Water Shortage Watch has been enacted due to possible limitations on Utilities’ ability to treat Cache la Poudre River supplies following the Cameron Peak Fire. Runoff and thunderstorms may cause sediment and ash from the burn area to flow into the river. This erosion, in addition to irrigation demands during what is projected to be a hot and dry summer, has the potential to create a water shortage.
Upon determination that a watch is no longer needed or that conditions have worsened, the city manager will publish another Declaration and Order, either declaring the end of the watch or indicating the need for mandatory water restrictions following guidelines identified in the WSAP. For more information on the WSAP, visit fcgov.com/WSAP.
A Water Shortage Watch is a voluntary action level in the WSAP, used when our community is experiencing conditions that may lead to a water shortage. During a watch, all Fort Collins Utilities residential and business customers are encouraged to voluntarily reduce water use based on best practices for efficient outdoor and indoor water use. There are no water rate increases or citations associated with a watch.
The voluntary water-saving actions implemented during a Water Shortage Watch follow measures under WSAP Action Level I, including limiting lawn watering to two days a week, no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 ppm, and using a shutoff nozzle on hoses, including while hand watering and washing vehicles at home.
In the past year, Greeley officials purchased about 1,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to about 1,000 football fields covered in a foot of water. Adam Jokerst, deputy director of water resources for the city, said it’s more water than city had acquired in the past 10 years. Jokerst, who manages the water acquisition program, said the program has about a $9 million budget this year…
What is a water right?
Colorado’s waters are owned by the state and all its citizens, but water rights dictate the right to use the water. Water decrees, issued by water courts, confirm water users’ rights to that water.
Older water decrees were simple, Jokerst said, giving the example of a decree for the city’s senior direct rights, meaning the city has priority to divert water for direct application to beneficial use. Throughout the year, the city can use 12.5 cubic feet per second. That’s about it, he said.
Newer decrees can range from dozens to hundreds of pages, detailing how the water is to be diverted, measured and accounted for.
“Greeley owns a portfolio made up of many different water rights,” Jokerst said. “Some of those water rights are direct diversions from the Poudre River. Some are ownership in irrigation companies.”
Irrigation companies that historically provided irrigation water to farmers can issue shares of stock, basically selling a piece of the water rights held by those companies. The city converts that water from agricultural to municipal use to change the water right, though the city does rent some water rights to agricultural users, maintaining the historic use.
The city also owns water through the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects, as well as water diverted from the Laramie River. With a lot of variability across these different sources, the city’s water experts always plan for the worst case scenario: How much water could we provide to our customers in a drought situation?
Through the current plan, the city can provide about 40,000 acre-feet per year to its customers, well above the roughly 25,000 acre-feet of demand the city sees in a typical year. In a wet year, the city could potentially deliver up to 70,000 acre-feet, to give an idea of the impact of the planned drought.
When the city can, it rents a lot of that water to agricultural partners, renting about 20,000 acre-feet in the past year. In addition to maintaining historic use, this provides a source of revenue and supports Greeley’s agricultural economy, Jokerst said.
Jokerst said he’d consider the city’s “Big Three” sources to be:
Senior direct rights from the Poudre River
Ownership in the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Company, which feeds the city’s Boyd Lake System
Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) and Windy Gap projects
Jen Petrzelka, water resources operations manager, added the direct and C-BT water is available year round, whereas a lot of the ditch directs only come in during irrigation season, which typically starts about now to early May and runs through the end of September or into October.
Accounting for the city’s diverse portfolio
The city must account for its water on a daily basis, submitting a monthly report to the state. Petrzelka said they manage about 10 different spreadsheets for all the city’s water right decrees…
Petrzelka keeps an eye on the city’s water supply to help prevent the need for watering restrictions. In all, the city has four engineers and scientists who manage the various decrees and operations, plus three workers out in the field, according to Jokerst.
The state ensures water users aren’t causing injury to other users’ water rights, with local river commissioners dedicated throughout the state. Jokerst compared the commissioners to a referee in a sports game.
“Any time we change the way we’re operating, whether that be our releases or operating an exchange, we have to get their approval,” Petrzelka said.
When agricultural water rights are changed, Jokerst said, some water is owed back to the river, just as the water historically returned to the river and groundwater after agricultural use.
“A lot of what we do is add water back to the river to compensate for those irrigation rights that we changed,” he said.
In addition to enforcement by river commissioners, everybody watches their neighbors, keeping track of what other users are doing on a day-to-day basis. Part of that monitoring happens in water court, where decisions about decrees are settled…
Greeley has a steady stream of water court cases the city must defend in court, according to Jokerst, as well as cases involving other entities in which the city enters opposition to protect its water rights. As of this past week, the city was involved in 32 water court cases.
“Water court cases are really just a structured negotiation where the applicant and the opposers reach agreement on whatever it is the applicant is trying to do,” Jokerst said. “All the parties involved negotiate an outcome that protects all their water and gets the applicant what they need.”
Petrzelka and Jokerst estimated the city’s water court costs at about $500,000 this year, mostly covering the costs of outside attorneys and engineers. Internal legal counsel also helps guide the department, Jokerst said.
Adequate native water supplies coupled with improved Front Range soil moisture from March snowstorms prompted the Northern Water Board of Directors to increase its 2021 quota allocation for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project to 70 percent.
The Board unanimously approved the allocation at its meeting Thursday, April 8, 2021, with several board members participating remotely because of the ongoing pandemic. The Board also directed Northern Water staff to update them in May and June to determine whether an additional allocation would be advisable during the peak demand season.
Emily Carbone, Water Resources Specialist at Northern Water, outlined snowpack and forecasted streamflows, and the Board also heard about the available native water supplies in regional reservoirs. In addition, the Board heard a presentation about the potential water resources impacts caused by the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Public input was also considered.
The Board has been setting C-BT quota since 1957 and 70 percent is the most common quota declared. It was also the quota set for the 2019 water delivery season, while the 2020 quota was set at 80 percent. The quota reflects the amount of water to be delivered through the C-BT Project.
The quota increases available C-BT Project water supplies by 62,000 acre-feet from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November. Water from the C-BT Project supplements other sources for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area. According to recent census figures, more than 1 million residents now live inside Northern Water’s boundaries. Learn more about the C-BT quota.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks & Wildlife (Jason Clay):
Colorado Parks and Wildlife monitoring efforts of the fish ladder installed on the Cache la Poudre River at the Watson Lake State Wildlife Area two years ago shows it has been a success across several fronts.
The fishway was designed to allow passage around a diversion structure in the river for multiple species of fish. This project is a realization of a partnership formed between private and public entities.
“Overall, we are happy with the project and have documented fish moving upstream and downstream in the structure,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Kyle Battige. “The fish ladder has improved conditions on the river and reconnected over two miles of river habitat by providing upstream movement opportunities for fish that had not existed at the Watson Lake Diversion Structure location since it was built in the 1960s.”
Watch trout swim in the fish ladder and hear more from aquatic biologist Kyle Battige
Two separate Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tagging efforts helped CPW in monitoring fish movement up and down the river after the ladder was installed. CPW tagged 71 fish on April 26, 2019 that were released in the downstream half of the fishway for initial evaluation. Researchers with Colorado State University also tagged fish downstream of the fishway as a part of a larger movement study on April 4, 2019.
Data from the PIT tags documented successful upstream and downstream movement with 41 of the 71 CPW tagged fish utilizing the ladder and 36 of those fish successfully ascending the entire structure. The other five fish were recorded on one of the other two operational antennas within the structure, but not at the top antenna. Our detection data indicates that 51 percent of fish tagged by CPW successfully ascended the entire structure.
Additionally, eight brown trout tagged by CSU and released 50 meters or further downstream have been documented using the fishway.
“Documenting 51 percent of the CPW-tagged fish along with CSU- tagged fish utilizing the structure over the course of several months is exciting,” Battige said. “The fish ladder is performing as designed and is allowing fish to move freely up and downstream through the reach as they want. Further evaluation is warranted to investigate movement success across a broader size range within each fish species, but to date we have documented adult fish successfully navigating the fishway”
Of the three species of fish tagged – longnose sucker, brown trout and rainbow trout – at least one individual across all tagged species has successfully navigated the fishway.
Other areas monitored that indicate a successful project are measured water velocities in the fishway, discharge measurements in the fishway and water delivery to the hatchery. In addition, the cone screen constructed above the fish ladder where water gets delivered to the hatchery prevented fish entrainment by screening water delivered to the hatchery and that has not clogged during the fall leaf seasons, decreasing CPW staff time spent cleaning old inlet infrastructure. The cone screen is powered by a solar panel and has been an overall benefit to hatchery operations while not impacting water delivery.
In order to satisfy measurement of Northern Water’s potential future augmentation flows from Glade Reservoir, the fishway was designed to carry up to 30 cubic feet per second (cfs) before spilling over the dam. Based on CPW measurements since construction was completed in the spring of 2019, the fishway more than meets that criteria, with its overall capacity being closer to 50 cfs.
Morning Fresh Dairy, one of the project partners, is also utilizing the structure to measure future water flows.
There was a seamless collaboration between public and private entities who came together on the project to improve the river and its habitat. Along with CPW and Morning Fresh Dairy, noosa yoghurt, Northern Water and Poudre Heritage Alliance all were key partners in the project.
Learning lessons gleaned from this project that can be applied to help future ladder designs include careful consideration of tradeoffs between flow measurement and fish passage along with minor design tweaks to optimize water velocities in fish ladders.
Property owners affected by changes in the federal flood plain maps will have a 90-day period to appeal map changes once preliminary maps reach the comment stage, which is expected to occur soon.
Communities throughout Colorado are undergoing changes to maps as a result of new surveys. Those maps, when final, will control flood-insurance rates and local building codes.
Rigel Rucker, project manager with engineering firm AECOM, reviewed during a city of Loveland meeting Tuesday where property owners can find information and how to navigate the process.
The remapping process is part of the National Flood Insurance Program. Cities and counties participate in order to be eligible for federal disaster assistance should a flood occur and to permit property owners to buy flood insurance at federal rates…
On a granular level, property owners can input their addresses to see whether the map changes are affecting them. In most cases, they won’t see changes.
Changes have moved some properties in and others out of the flood zones. Rucker said 183 fewer properties are included in Larimer County but 12 more properties are listed in Loveland.
People who choose to appeal the mapping decisions were advised to work through city or county officials, who will forward those appeals to FEMA for consideration. Kevin Gingery, senior civil engineer with the city of the Loveland, is the person to contact with questions or appeals.
Rucker cautioned those who might appeal a decision that they must challenge errors based upon mathematical or measurement mistakes or changed physical conditions. Impacts of the 2013 flood were not the basis for the new maps, Rucker said, but rather assessments based upon aerial surveys coupled with on-ground review. A typical appeal might involve a building that was lifted out of the flood plain and is physically higher than the elevation shown on the maps.
Once FEMA rules on appeals, a letter of final determination will be issued — which is expected by the end of 2021 — followed by a six-month period in which communities will adopt the data.
Contractors are building 7 miles of the Thornton Pipeline in Windsor and Johnstown, including boring a 250-foot-long section under the Poudre River.
“We’re doing sections in jurisdictions where we have agreements,” said Todd Barnes, spokesman for the city of Thornton.
“We wanted to get this in the ground before their developments, so we wouldn’t have to tear up new developments. We wanted to make it as efficient and effective as possible,” he said…
That elected board, in February 2019, denied the required permit for construction of the pipeline piece north of Fort Collins.
Thornton appealed that decision in 8th Judicial District Court. Last month, a judge upheld that denial based on three land use criteria. He did rule in Thornton’s favor on an additional four land use points, but the net ruling was to uphold the decision to deny the permit.
Officials with Thornton have not said if they plan to appeal that ruling, a request that would need to be filed by April 5, or change its permit request and reapply in Larimer County…
But they have said they are committed to transporting their water to Thornton.
For the sections of the pipeline running through unincorporated Weld County, Thornton has applied for a special review permit. That is scheduled before the Weld County commissioners May 5.
And in Windsor, Johnstown and Timnath, the city worked out construction and permanent easements that allow work to be underway, Barnes said.
In early 2020, construction began in both Johnstown and Windsor, 3.5-mile-long stretches of the pipeline in each of the towns, with Scott Contracting of Centennial as the general contractor.
The Johnstown piece is nearly complete, with one major section left that involves boring a tunnel for the 42-inch-diameter pipeline below the Little Thompson River, according to information from project manager Michael Welker and Justin Schaller, construction manager with Ditesco, a company hired by Thornton for onsite construction management.
Construction is active in Windsor, running parallel to County Road 13 on the east side of the road from just north of Colo. 392 to Crossroads Boulevard.
Crews on Wednesday were actively boring and building a horizontal shaft under the Poudre River for the pipeline.
Working from a site along the Poudre River Trail, workers had bored about 85 feet of the 250-foot section that will extend under the river. They are building a support structure and placing the pipeline inside. The pipe itself is metal with a concrete lining, with 50-foot-long sections welded together.
A week ago, crews finished boring the pipeline under Colo. 392…
The overall $428 million project is expected to be completed in 2025, Barnes said, with other sections completed as Thornton receives permits.
Once the pipe is laid, crews will reclaim the land, whether it is returning vegetation, working on wildlife mitigation or preparing fields for planting or grazing.
The city of Thornton is building sections of a water pipeline in northern Colorado despite Larimer County’s decision to deny a building permit…
Crews are working on the pipeline this week in Windsor. About five miles of pipeline is already in the ground, according to officials…
The dispute with Larimer County is centered around how Thornton will move that water south to its residents…
Thornton Communications Director Todd Barnes released the following statement to CBS4:
“We are certainly disappointed and disagree with elements of the Larimer County District Court’s decision. Although, we agree with the court’s decision that the commissioners exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River. Thornton was hopeful to move forward in Larimer County with the process of bringing the quality water Thornton owns via pipeline to our residents. We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision we will determine our next steps.”
Judge Stephen J. Jouard of Larimer County District Court ruled in favor of the Larimer County Board of Commissioners’ decision to deny the city of Thornton’s application to build a water pipeline in the county, a major blow to the city in its years-long effort to complete the Thornton Water Project by 2025.
The ruling forces Thornton to appeal the decision with the Colorado Court of Appeals or submit a new application, creating new problems for the 26-mile stretch of proposed pipeline in Larimer County.
Jouard’s decision arrived after three years of back-and-forth conversations between Larimer County and its citizens to determine the least disruptive route for Thornton’s pipeline, which the city has determined is necessary to adequately supply water to residents in the future.
“We are certainly disappointed and disagree with elements of the Larimer County District Court’s decision,” said Thornton spokesperson Todd Barnes. “We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision we will determine our next steps.”
Thornton filed its first application for the stretch in Larimer County on Jan. 5, 2018. The route in the application was one of four viable paths the pipeline could travel. Larimer County staff said the first application met all the criteria, according to the city’s complaint in Larimer County District Court. However, the county planning commission recommended that the board of commissioners deny the application, which it ultimately did.
In subsequent months, the city revised its application several times over, proposing the alternate routes it initially identified. None of the alternative routes involved diverting water down the Poudre River in place of a pipeline, a suggestion the city has vehemently rejected. However, some citizens and county commissioners have endorsed the Poudre River alternative.
Ultimately, the board issued its final rejection of Thornton’s application March 19, 2019 and said the city’s application didn’t meet seven of the 12 criteria required for approval. The board cited the Poudre River alternative as a reason for its denial. The city filed its civil case in Larimer County District Court April 16, 2019.
Though Jouard ultimately sided with the county commissioners, he didn’t do so completely. He said three of the criteria the board used to deny the application were valid, such as the pipeline being inconsistent with the county master plan and that the pipeline would have “significant adverse effects on associated land without adequate mitigation.” Meanwhile, the judge said there wasn’t enough evidence to support the other four criteria the board cited in its denial.
One of Jouard’s big findings the city celebrated is that the board could not deny the application because of the Poudre River alternative. “We agree with the court’s decision that the commissioners exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River,” Barnes said.
Barnes said the city doesn’t anticipate delays in the overall timeline for the Thornton Water Project’s, which the city plans to complete by 2025. “We’ve prioritized other sections of the project so we have time to work on the issues in Larimer County,” he said.
So far, the city has completed five miles of it in Johnstown and Windsor. Thornton will go before the Weld County Board of Commissioners May 5 for approval of the pipeline’s other major section.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sady Swanson and Jacy Marmaduke):
Jouard’s decision, released Monday, said Thornton officials did not meet three of the criteria required: The plan submitted was not consistent with the county’s Master Plan, did not provide reasonable design or siting alternatives, and did not provide an adequate mitigation plan to any adverse environmental effects of the land, according to court documents.
“Thornton was hopeful to move forward in Larimer County with the process of bringing the quality water Thornton owns via pipeline to our residents,” Thornton’s Communications Director Todd Barnes said in an email statement. “We remain committed to ensuring the people of Thornton get the water they own and after taking sufficient time to review the judge’s decision, we will determine our next steps.”
Barnes did not say if Thornton officials plan to appeal this decision…
Larimer County commissioners included Thornton’s lack of consideration of the Poudre River alternative in their initial denial. In Monday’s court decision, Jouard found the commissioners had no authority to deny the permit because Thornton officials didn’t explore that specific alternate path for the pipeline.
However, Jouard upheld their decision because the application failed to meet multiple criteria.
While disappointed with the court’s ruling, Barnes said Thornton agrees with the court’s decision that the county “exceeded their authority to require any consideration of a non-pipeline alternative such as sending Thornton’s water down the Poudre River.”
Larimer County’s rejection of Thornton’s permit application applies only to the proposed path through unincorporated parts of the county. Thornton has intergovernmental agreements with Windsor and Timnath allowing pipeline construction and is crafting an agreement with Johnstown, Barnes previously told the Coloradoan.
‘We have shareholders, and when there’s high demand, they’re entitled to use the water.’
As a citizen campaign presses elected officials to intervene in the depletion of Lake Loveland, the Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. this week responded to criticisms and concerns about the water level in the city’s central lake.
Lake Loveland was transformed from a natural depression into a man-made reservoir around 1900. Today, GLIC operates the lake and owns the land it covers, which fills up in April and May. The company starts delivering water to clients around June, and drainage stops at the end of the irrigation season, around October.
When the lake is drained, parts of the lake bed may become exposed, generating aesthetic complaints from residents as well as clouds of airborne dust.
Greeley Loveland Irrigation Co. general manager Dan Kammerzell said Thursday that the lake was then 38% full, or about 20 feet deep at its deepest point (he said if the lake was filled enough to reach the edge of the landscaped area next to U.S. 34, it would be about 42 feet deep).
He said he believes the frustrations fueling the recent Fill the Love campaign are due to a “misunderstanding” of the fact that the lake is a water storage resource. He added that water levels have always fluctuated with the piping of water to the company’s clients in Weld County…
After a regular meeting of the company’s governing board on Wednesday, Kammerzell declined to answer additional questions about levels relative to past years but sent the newspaper a statement in which he said the lake is generally around 40% full when drainage stops in the fall.
He added in the statement that one factor causing levels to drop in recent years was a 2018 decree by the Northern Water Conservancy District limiting how Colorado-Big Thompson water may be stored…
In 2018, a rule introduced by the district ensured that project partners would only be able to store C-BT water if the water was released and used the same year, Kammerzell wrote. Greeley previously stored about 5,000 acre-feet of C-BT water in the Lake Loveland, a significant share of the lake’s 12,000-13,000 acre feet of storage capacity, but has since stopped…
Loveland Water and Power director Joe Bernosky and City Manager Steve Adams sent a memo to the City Council last week laying out the city’s analysis the problem of “fugitive windborne sand” blowing off of the lake bed,
Council members last held a closed-door meeting on Jan. 19 to talk about the water level of the lake as well as threats of lawsuits from nearby property owners because of the blowing dust. Loveland owns rights to less than 1% of the water and uses it to irrigate city parkland.
The memo states that water levels were lower in 2018-19, when Greeley and GLIC were working on the hydraulic gates that allow filling and drainage of the lake.
A 2020 analysis by Loveland Water and Power’s Water Quality Laboratory shows the dust is primarily comprised of quartz, making up about 60% of the material by weight on the north side of the lake and 56% to the south.
The lab also tested the sediment for potentially toxic chemicals such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and iron, but “none were detected at concentrations of concern.” Further analysis showed that less than 5% of the lake bed dust was 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller — small enough to be breathable…
Ultimately, the memo dismisses the possibility that the city could regulate the problem on its own or add its own water to the lake to cover more of the sand.
It recommends that “the Lake Loveland Recreation Club Inc. and affected lakefront residents work with the GLIC to implement lake bed controls such as silt fences or roughening the surface through harrowing or chiseling” to stop the dust from becoming airborne.
The lawsuit, filed in Larimer County District Court, contends that former commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly were biased in favor of the project and shouldn’t have voted on the 1041 permit. The suit also argues that commissioners’ 2-1 approval of the permit in September violated criteria of Larimer County’s land use code…
The lawsuit argues that Johnson and Donnelly demonstrated bias in several ways, citing a photo of Donnelly speaking at a “Farmers for NISP” event and an online news release from NISP proponent Northern Water reading “Larimer County Commissioners support NISP.”
The complaint also references August 2019 text messages from Donnelly to Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla that read, according to the lawsuit: “You guys are getting ready to blow this deal …” and “Northern has no idea what is in store for them if they let this slide into the next boards (sic) term.”
Stahla told the Coloradoan that Donnelly “reached out to me … when we were in the middle of the (intergovernmental agreement) process.” The county and Northern Water had been drafting an intergovernmental agreement to cover the siting of Glade Reservoir and associated pipelines before they pivoted to the 1041 permitting process.
“… at that point, we were having open discussions with commissioners regarding this project, so we had not yet moved into” the 1041 part of the project, Stahla said on Tuesday…
Stahla, the Northern Water spokesperson, said the NISP 1041 permit application was robust and addressed all the county’s criteria…
He also noted that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December rejected Save the Poudre’s appeal of the state water quality certification. That certification addresses NISP’s anticipated impacts on Poudre River water quality and includes 30 conditions.
He added that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the new class of commissioners to reconsider NISP’s 1041 permit.
“If you file a permit application and county staff recommends approval, the county planning commission recommends approval, and then you get approved by the county commissioners — well then, how far down the road can you have all of those votes changed at a long future date?” Stahla said. “We felt that we met the criteria, and the commissioners, acting in their role properly, approved the application for a 1041 permit, and so we feel we have our permit.”
Karen Wagner of lawsuit co-plaintiff No Pipe Dream told the Coloradoan that the group had hoped the commissioners would apply their 1041 criteria as thoroughly as they did in their ruling on the proposed Thornton pipeline permit — which commissioners rejected after heavy opposition from No Pipe Dream…
While the county 1041 permit is an integral milestone for the project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a final record of decision on NISP. That decision is expected in the first quarter of 2021 after years of delays, Stahla said. The Army Corps’ decision could also be contested in court.
No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre filed a lawsuit in 8th Judicial District Court last week against the county commissioners, naming former commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson specifically, as well as the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The lawsuit asks the judge to reverse the decision to grant a 1041 permit for the project, throw it out or send it back to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners for a new hearing.
It targets Johnson and Donnelly, the two yes votes in a split decision, saying that both Republican commissioners, who have since left office, should not have voted on the permit because of a “decade-long” record of advocacy and support for the proposed reservoir project.
And the suit also offers 44 examples of why the organizations believe the permit exceeded the county’s jurisdiction or abused its discretion, ranging from decisions around streamflow to pipeline routes to the number of alternatives considered.
The suit claims that the commissioners did not adequately look at the overall picture of how the project would affect residents, the environment, wildlife and the Cache la Poudre River…
Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, pointed out that county staff members and the nonpartisan appointed Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit based on the county’s regulations and the specific criteria that county officials were required to consider.
“We’re confident that the strength of the entire permitting process, local, state and federal, will prevail,” said Stahla…
“Basically the lawsuit is total crap,” Johnson responded in a text message. “Tom (Donnelly) and I were no more biased in favor of the project than John (Kefalas) was biased against the project. But as we said in the hearing, we put aside all of our opinions of the project and commented completely and exclusively on the criteria in the land use code.
“I am confident the county will have no problem defending the propriety of our actions,” he said.
Stahla pointed out that Save the Poudre also appealed the state water quality certification that was granted for the project, and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division rejected that challenge.
He added, “We look at this as another attempt to delay an important project for the long-term water supply in Northern Colorado.”
A forest burns during the High Park Fire West of Fort Collins in 2012. Photo credit: University of Colorado
A burnt sign on Larimer County Road 103 near Chambers Lake. The fire started in the area near Cameron Peak, which it is named after. The fire burned over 200,000 acres during its three-month run. Photo courtesy of Kate Stahla via the University of Northern Colorado
The East Troublesome Fire burns in Grand County in October 2020. Credit: Northern Water
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Mesmerized by miles of mountainsides of blackened trees and seared soil that hugs the banks of the upper Poudre River, it’s difficult not to reflect on the 2012 High Park Fire and 2013 flood.
You can’t help but wonder, given the steepness of the slopes and the severity of the riverside scar left by the Cameron Peak Fire, if Northern Colorado is poised for a repeat of history regarding the Poudre River.
Come spring, snowmelt, rainfall and potential flash floods are almost certain to wash large amounts of ash from Colorado’s largest wildfire, soil and even entire trees into the river that serves as a source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people in Fort Collins and the surrounding area…
A recent Burned Area Emergency Response assessment for the Cameron Peak Fire indicated a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by ash- and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.
And that’s only the half of it.
Fort Collins receives half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from Horsetooth Reservoir, whose water quality could be impacted by the East Troublesome Fire in Grand County.
An assessment for the East Troublesome Fire estimated 53% of the burn area suffered moderate (48%) or high (5%) soil burn severity compared to 36% — 30% moderate and 6% high — for the Cameron Peak Fire. The Cameron Peak Fire assessment also showed more than half the soil tested to be repellent to water absorption…
By the time the 112-day Cameron Peak Fire’s flames were finally extinguished on Dec. 2, a watershed recovery collaboration of area municipalities, Larimer County, federal and state agencies, water providers and organizations such as the coalition, was already meeting to start planning efforts to address the fire’s impact.
This isn’t the first fire for many of those stakeholders, and lessons learned from the High Park Fire are helping the group quickly prepare for this spring’s impacts.
That being said, the Cameron Peak Fire was more than twice the size of the High Park Fire and paired with the 193,812-acre East Troublesome Fire — the second-largest wildfire in state history — delivered a massive one-two punch to several watersheds, making recovery even more daunting…
Mark Kempton, the city of Fort Collins’ interim deputy director of Water Resources and Treatment, said the city has implemented steps since the High Park Fire to better equip it to handle the after-effects of a major fire.
He said the city has installed warning systems along the Poudre River that alert it several hours ahead of water turbidity issues so workers can turn off the water supply. When the city turns off the Poudre River supply, it can draw on Horsetooth Reservoir water. That was the case for 100 days during the High Park Fire.
The High Park Fire taught recovery leaders to include the use of shredded tree mulch instead of straw mulch to better prevent the mulch from blowing away for soil and slope stabilization. Strategically increasing culvert size also reduced damage to roads.
Kempton said another key component will be workers removing sediment by flushing the water treatment system more often and removing sediment from the river intake system and catch basins.
FromThe Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):
Two assessments conducted by Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests officials offered a sobering look into the devastation the Cameron Peak Fire left on Larimer County’s landscape and recreational sites.
While the Cameron Peak Fire had a fire perimeter that enclosed nearly 209,000 acres, the impacts on the landscape by the largest wildfire in Colorado history varied widely, ranging from swaths that went unscathed to areas that were severely burned.
The survey showed an estimated 36% of the area within the Cameron Peak Fire perimeter suffered high (6%) or moderate (30%) soil burn severity. That indicates an increased risk of erosion and flooding caused by the soil being less able to absorb moisture, along with a lack of vegetation to absorb water and roots to stabilize the soil…
Another 44% of the area suffered low burn severity and 20% was unburned.
The assessment said determining soil hydrophobicity, or the ability to repel water, was hampered by snowfall during the assessments. However, it estimated 55% of the burn area could contain water-repellant soil.
The assessment said there is a 90% to 100% chance that water quality would be impacted by post-fire ash and sediment-laden runoff, nutrient loading and potential debris flows within the first few years following the fire.
Options to reduce the impacts to stream flows, soil erosion and debris flows are limited due to the nature of the burn and slope characteristics, the assessment noted. It stated treatment recommendations should focus on minimizing life/safety threats and damage to property through road and trail closures, trail stabilization, campground treatments and warning signs.
Given all the recreational sites in or near the burn area, the assessment said the consequences for potential impacts on life and safety are “major.”
Where it burned hottest
Soil burn severity is the result of fire progression and intensity. The longer the fire remains in an area, the higher the likelihood of high and moderate soil burn impacts. Areas burned during large runs from the wind-driven fire generally suffered lower soil burn severities due to the fire moving more through the tree canopy than on the ground.
The assessment’s soil burn severity map shows the area around the starting point on the west side of the fire near Chambers Lake suffered high soil burn severities. Other high soil severity burn areas occurred north of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus east into the Buckhorn Road area and in the northern section of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Thompson Zone of the East Troublesome Fire that burned over the Continental Divide to near Estes Park burned mostly in the low to moderate category.
Most of the fire’s rapid growth was driven by high winds usually preceding precipitation events, mostly snow. The map shows the area to the east of the fire’s initial starting point suffered low soil burn severities during such an event.
To understand, and possibly predict what happens after a river’s headwaters goes up in flames, researchers are descending on newly created burn scars across the West to gather data in the hopes of lessening some of the impacts on drinking water systems.
On a sunny winter morning, a team of researchers led by Colorado State University hydrologist Stephanie Kampf roamed through the steep drainage of Tunnel Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River. Much of the creek burned this summer and fall during the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, Colorado…
For more than an hour and a half, Kampf’s team searched for a flat spot to construct a temporary weather station. The university received a National Science Foundation grant to put instruments into the field quickly, before snows began to accumulate in the burned area. At more than 208,000 acres, the burn scar is the state’s largest on record.
The East Troublesome Fire in Grand County burned down to the shore of Willow Creek Reservoir, one of the lakes in Northern Water’s collection system in Grand County. Dec. 13, 2020. Credit: Jerd Smith
Smoke from the Mullen Fire along the Wyoming-Colorado border as seen from the Snowy Range in Wyoming on Oct. 6, 2020. Photo/Allen Best
The Grizzly Creek Fire jumped Grizzly Creek north of Glenwood Canyon. (Provided by the City of Glenwood Springs)
Firefighters on the march: The Pine Gulch Fire, smoke of which shown here, was started by a lighting strike on July 31, 2020, approximately 18 miles north of Grand Junction, Colorado. According to InciWeb, as of August 27 2020, the Pine Gulch Fire became the largest wildfire in Colorado State history, surpassing Hayman Fire that burned near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2002. Photo credit: Bureau of Land Mangement-Colorado, via InciWeb and National Interagency Fire Center.
Two other nearby fires broke size records in 2020 as well. In late October the East Troublesome Fire exploded near the headwaters of the Colorado River, burning 193,812 acres, killing two people and causing thousands to flee their homes. To the north, the Mullen Fire on the Colorado-Wyoming border topped out at 176,878 acres. Downstream on the Colorado River, the Grizzly Creek Fire torched 32,631 acres in and around Glenwood Canyon. And in the Book Cliffs north of Grand Junction, Colorado, the Pine Gulch Fire burned nearly 140,000 acres.
In the case of Cameron Peak, which acts as the headwaters for the Poudre River, Kampf and her colleagues want to know: what happens to the snow that falls on a burned area this high in elevation and this big?
“Some of these streams have burned so much, like the whole riparian zone is burned. And so there’s nothing alive at all,” Kampf said…
Existing research shows fires can affect snowpack in different ways. With fewer trees, and without their full, bushy branches, more snow tends to accumulate on the ground. Snow that’s caught in trees often blows off or turns immediately to vapor. So when a wildfire moves through a forest, scientists say to expect more snow to pile up on the ground.
But the lack of tree cover also causes that accumulated snow to behave differently. Without a shaded canopy above it, the snow is more exposed to the sun, and in the spring, melting can become erratic. Mid-winter melting can occur, which means a lessened runoff come spring.
These general findings can change, depending on the type of forest that burned, the direction the burned slope is facing, and the severity of the burn in that area…
Studies of dust on snow have shown its dramatic effect on the timing of snowmelt. The same is true of snow that’s been mixed with charred debris and smoke particles, [Anne] Nolin said. “All that black guck on the snow makes it melt a lot faster,” she said.
A mis-matched timing of snowmelt makes the job of reservoir management much harder, Nolin said. Many water providers use long-term models to gauge when to release and store water. A burned drainage area makes those historical data less reliable…
With water supply margins already tight in many portions of the West, Boisrame said, water providers, agriculturalists and environmental groups are realizing, “that we actually need to know” the detailed effects of how each individual burn scar will affect the water cycle.
That’s because no two fires are alike. Depending on weather and fuel loads, each fire burns a landscape with varying severity. And that severity matters, not just for forest recovery, but also for water quality immediately following it, said Ben Livneh, a University of Colorado-Boulder engineering professor.
“The most severe impacts actually come from moderate severity fires,” Livneh said.
In fires with lots of high severity burn, much of the vegetation is completely combusted. Dissolved organic carbon can be one of the biggest headaches for water treatment facilities following a fire. Treating it can also result in byproducts found to be carcinogenic, Livneh said. But if there’s not much organic material left in a burned area — because it all burned — it doesn’t cause as many problems.
“And so maybe somewhat counterintuitively, the most severe fires aren’t necessarily the most damaging, at least from a water treatment and water quality perspective,” Livneh said.
Research has shown too that forest management can play a big role in lessening the impacts of fire on water systems. The Desert Research Institute’s Boisrame looked closely at one creek in Yosemite National Park. In that watershed, land managers have been more hands-off with fire suppression, and allowed smaller fires to burn more frequently…
One hurdle in understanding the relationship of burn scars and snowpack is that it’s a challenge to get good data from such dynamic environments. Landslides and floods after a fire can destroy scientific instruments.
That was top of mind for Colorado State University’s Kampf as she traversed the Cameron Peak burn scar. Finding a site for a weather station is like looking for a proper campsite. Researchers want something flat, on stable ground and free from large hazards like falling rocks and trees. That’s often hard to find in a recently burned forest…
The weather station along Tunnel Creek will be compared to another site untouched by fire. Other stations will look at impacts at higher and lower elevations. They’re likely to collect data on soil moisture, solar radiation and precipitation for the next three to four years, Kampf said, though long-term funding hasn’t yet been secured.
Larimer County has approved a development agreement that delves into details surrounding construction of certain aspects of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The county commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise, putting into writing some of the specific requirements that the elected board had put into place earlier in approving a 1041 permit for the water supply project…
The agreement focuses on recreational facilities for Glade Reservoir, and the amount of money Northern Water committed to that piece, as well as pipeline details, environmental mitigations and requirements surrounding the relocation of U.S. 287.
It puts in writing that the county will be involved in construction meetings and inspections and lays out some safety requirements.
“This agreement really protects the interest of Larimer County … whether one supports this project or not,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, who along with Commissioner Tom Donnelly voted to approve the development agreement. (Both commissioners also voted in September to grant the 1041 permit, which allows the county some input on certain aspects of this water storage and pipeline project.)
The county does not have final say over whether the Northern Integrated Supply Project will be built. That approval would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal agency’s decision is expected soon, following more than a decadelong environmental process.
Johnson stressed that the county does not have final say but that he wants to have some say on safety, recreation and construction that will affect residents…
Larimer County has agreed to manage the recreation on and around Glade Reservoir, with Northern Water committing to $20.6 million for recreational facilities and with either the county or another yet-to-be-identified partner bringing $3.775 million to the table.
The money would cover parking lots, boat ramps, a visitors center, camping areas and environmental mitigations at the reservoir and on the surrounding land.
Commissioner John Kefalas, the sole Democrat on the board and the lone vote against the 1041 permit in September, also voted against the development agreement Tuesday. He said he understands the purpose is to describe the water developer’s obligations to the county and “to enhance the general welfare of the county,” but that he had concerns about some pieces of the agreement and could not vote in favor of it without further information.
The development agreement was included on the consent agenda at the commissioners’ weekly administrative matters meeting. The consent agenda typically is a list of actions approved without discussion and all by a single vote. Kefalas moved the item from that single vote so the board could discuss it.
“My rationale for pulling this item from the consent agenda is first to highlight that approval of the NISP project is indeed one of the most significant decisions made by this board of county commissioners, one that will impact Larimer County and future generations in many ways,” Kefalas said. “As such, this development merits public attention and scrutiny and, from my perspective, it is necessary for the people to see how this NISP agreement seeks to mitigate the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Glade Reservoir.”
He also expressed “serious concerns” about the overall project and said two provisions in the agreement add to those worries. He highlighted wording in the agreement that stresses that recreation is a secondary use to the water supply and that Northern Water, which will manage the project, may vary water levels and may modify design and location, at its sole discretion, for operations, maintenance or other issues to prioritize water supply over recreational uses.
“So I ask the question: What will happen to the recreational benefits of the NISP project if it takes 10 years to fill the reservoir perhaps due to higher temperatures, extended droughts and reduced snowpack?” Kefalas said. “Without a science-based answer to this question today, I cannot support this NISP development agreement.”
The historic wildfire season of 2020 could impact drinking water for more than a million Colorado residents. Environmental researchers and natural resource specialists have conducted a BAER Survey, which stands for Burned Area Emergency Response.
The survey evaluated how the record-breaking Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires could impact Colorado’s snowpack and watershed.
The Poudre and Upper Colorado River Basins provide drinking water for more than a million people in northern Colorado, and soon those in Thornton. The Colorado River also flows from Willow Creek Reservoir near Granby to Las Vegas and farther southwest.
The months-long battle with both blazes charred the natural filters along rivers and creeks, which eventually provide drinking water for most of the northern front range.
“Our concerns really are actually about the entire watershed,” said Jeff Stahla, spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
In an interview with CBS4’s Logan Smith, Stahla said the approach to preserving and protecting the watershed in the years to come was directly altered by the High Park Fire of 2012, where researchers learned what to do and what not to do.
For example, pulling undersized culverts and digging water bars is more effective than reseeding or spreading hay bales.
“This is something you won’t be able to resolve by dropping seeds from a helicopter, the scale is so large,” Stahla said. “The concern is that if there is a large weather event that occurs over that area, that you will have uncontrolled removal of debris and sediment that will go in to our reservoirs.”
During the fires of 2020, water conservation experts monitored how the burn scar could impact drinking water.
“We recognized that it was no longer just a small localized event, but it was something that would effect the entire Upper Colorado River shed,” Stahla said.
Due to the extended period the fires burned, especially the Cameron Peak Fire, not every area of the burn scars impact nearby rivers and streams equally. While some portions of the terrain were significantly burned with hot fire that “resided” in the same spot for an extended period, others were more fortunate.
Stahla said many local water districts are now teaming up to help protect the health of the watershed in the years to come. By unifying and prioritizing the health of the water system as a whole, Stahla said the strength of the landscape and watershed can bounce back quicker…
Researchers hope to return to the burn scars in the spring once snow has melted to evaluate next steps. Local municipalities are working with the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite the process.
Here’s the release from Northern Water (Jeff Stahla):
A United States District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud. This ruling should also make it possible to move forward with environmental mitigation and enhancements related to the project, including construction of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Granby.
Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich dismissed a 2017 lawsuit filed by environmental groups led by Save the Colorado against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling holds that those federal agencies complied with federal law in issuing a Record of Decision that authorizes the Windy Gap Firming Project.
The Windy Gap Firming Project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will be located in a dry valley just west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for use by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and the Central Weld County Water District. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply serving those participants more reliable and help them meet a portion of their long-term water supply needs. Each participant has also enacted a water conservation plan to comply with the Record of Decision.
Environmental measures related to the Project also include the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients and sediment in the river to bypass the reservoir.
The Record of Decision also mandates many other environmental protections, including improving streamflow and aquatic habitat, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies and more. Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections and received a permit from Grand County and approvals from others, including Trout Unlimited and the State of Colorado, to move forward with the Project.
Water storage such as Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning and other solutions to meet future water needs in the state.
“This ruling marks an important milestone for the participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel will serve as examples of how statewide cooperation can produce water supply solutions and environmental improvements that benefit everyone.”
Barnard Construction Co. Inc. has been chosen as the contractor to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, and work will commence on the project in 2021. Design work is well under way for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, and construction is anticipated to begin there in 2022.
A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith
Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
This graphic, provided by Northern Water, depicts Chimney Hollow Reservoir, located southwest of Loveland, after it is built.
Site of Chimney Hollow Reservoir via Northern Water.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
Here’s the release from the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado:
Bohemian Foundation to match first $250,000 for NoCoFires Fund
Everyone loves a comeback story.
Northern Colorado’s two primary watersheds – the Poudre and the Big Thompson – each face a long, hard recovery from the damage caused by our recent catastrophic wildfires.
And with the support of the Bohemian Foundation, the NoCoFires Fund is working to get our vital rivers and streams back to sustaining wildlife, recreation, and agriculture, as well as supplying high-quality drinking water for 1,000,000 people.
And with the support of the Bohemian Foundation, the NoCoFires Fund is working to get our vital rivers and streams back to sustaining wildlife, recreation, and agriculture, as well as supplying high-quality drinking water for 1,000,000 people.
Here’s how it will work:
Bohemian Foundation has pledged to match the first $250,000 in donations made to the NoCoFires Fund.
Using that initial funding, the Community Foundation will leverage additional grant dollars from private, state, and federal sources.
The long-term goal for the NoCoFires Fund is to raise $1 million for continuing watershed restoration needs.
“The investment we can make together in NoCoFires Fund will have positive impacts for decades,” said Bohemian Foundation Executive Director Cheryl Zimlich. “This Community Foundation fund supports erosion control efforts that mitigate further degradation, as well as long-term restoration of vegetation and water quality. With this matching grant, we are standing with many generous Coloradans and the Community Foundation to help our region begin to heal.”
Early estimates show that mitigation in the Poudre River watershed alone will cost around $50 million. Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fire, the two largest wildfires in Colorado history, together burned over 400,000 acres that impact both Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds and communities downstream.
“We’re gratified that Bohemian Foundation has signed on to match the first $250,000 raised, which we hope to further leverage into additional grant dollars; our goal is to raise $1 million,” said Mark Driscoll, chair of Community Foundation Board of Trustees.
One Community Foundation partner is the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which is headed by Executive Director Dan Gibbs.
In October, Gibbs was one of the 1,400 firefighters called to fight the Cameron Peak wildfire. “This was perhaps my most intense deployment in over 13 years,” Gibbs said. “The Cameron Peak wildfire burned some of our most pristine watersheds that will require both emergency protection and long-term restoration to protect our water supplies, mitigate flood threats, and preserve the outdoor economic engines Coloradoans depend on. I’m grateful for the Community Foundation’s support. These dollars fill a crucial need to support communities that are already experiencing economic stress by funding emergency protection efforts and assisting with local cost-shares that can leverage additional funding through recovery grants.”
Another organization deeply affected by the damage to the watershed is the city of Greeley, which draws a large percentage of its water from the Poudre. Sean Chambers, director of water and sewer at the city of Greeley, hailed the attention paid to the restoration effort.
“We are working with Larimer County to develop a watershed-scale burn assessment, and with the U.S. Forest Service on plans and permits for post-fire mitigation to protect water quality that will also protect infrastructure and habitat,” Chambers said. “A small amount of mitigation work is under way, but much work lies ahead. Stakeholders need to align with resources to prevent fire debris and sediment loading in Northern Colorado streams, rivers, wetlands, and water supply reservoirs.”
It’s time to focus on mitigation, address the critical needs, and begin long-term recovery work. The Community Foundation has the track record, leadership, and relationships to positively impact Northern Colorado.
Find details about how you can help the rivers make a comeback at nocofoundation.org/fires/.
Cameron Peak Fire impacts
1,000+ river miles
124+ trail miles
40,000+ acres of designated Wilderness Areas
32 miles of Wild and Scenic River corridor
Five reservoirs that store and deliver water to the Front Range for agriculture and
16 mountain communities and neighborhoods in the burn area or immediately
adjacent to it
185,000 irrigated acres rely on the Poudre River
Data source: Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed
The Community Foundation of Northern Colorado has a 45-year history as a catalyst for community projects and as a service provider to philanthropists and nonprofit organizations. Through our flagship program, the Hach Center for Regional Engagement, we bring people together to collaborate on important issues – such as water – and lead visionary community initiatives for our region. nocofoundation.org.
The Cameron Peak fire soon after it started on Aug. 13, 2020. By Sept. 11, the fire had grown to more than 102,000 acres (now >200,000 acres) and was not expected to be considered out until Oct. 31. Photo credit: InciWeb via The Colorado Sun
East Troublesome Fire. Photo credit: Brad White via The Mountain Town News
Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):
A team of scientists at Colorado State University has received an award of nearly $50,000 from the National Science Foundation to study snowpack, streams and sediment in waterways in the areas affected by the largest wildfire in Colorado history.
Stephanie Kampf, principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, said the team came up with the study concept as they watched the Cameron Peak Fire begin to burn northwest of Fort Collins in August 2020.
The fire was at 92% containment as of Nov. 18.
“Given that the fire was burning in our local watershed, everyone is curious about what would happen with our waterways,” she said. “The Cameron Peak Fire has been unique, since it started at and burned a large area at high elevation.”
Kampf said the fire is the fifth largest in a high-elevation persistent snow zone in the Western United States since 1984.
“As researchers started looking for examples of other high-elevation fire studies, we realized that not much research has been conducted,” she said.
CSU Assistant Professor Sean Gallen and Professor Sara Rathburn, Department of Geosciences, and Assistant Professor Ryan Morrison, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, are co-investigators on this project. Kampf said that scientists from the United States Geological Survey will also collaborate on the research.
Historic wildfire provides unique research opportunity
Morrison, who will study how stream channels and floodplains in the Cache la Poudre River basin are impacted by changes in sediment transport and flow after the fire, agreed that the Cameron Peak Fire had unique aspects to study.
“The Cameron Peak Fire in northern Colorado has burned nearly 20% of the upper Cache la Poudre River basin, which supplies water to meet municipal and agricultural needs in the region,” he said. “The fire has also expanded to lower elevations, burning both transitional and intermittent snow zones.”
Morrison said water providers, including cities in northern Colorado, are concerned about the impacts of erosion on streams and reservoirs. Snowpack is crucial for the water supply in Colorado.
“This project will collect critical data for the first snow accumulation and melt season after the fire to address how the fire affects snow processes, flow paths and sediment movement,” he said.
Kampf said previous research on the impacts of wildfires on snowpack have been quite variable.
“When there’s a fire, we can see increased snow accumulation, due to fewer trees intercepting the snow,” she said. “But this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes greater exposure of the snow to the sun leads to lower snowpack after fire.”
And while snow melt doesn’t usually create high elevation snow hazards, Kampf said it’s possible that having greater snowpack in the burn area may cause other hazards like debris flows.
The research team only recently received approval to go into the burn area and begin field work. They hope to complete as much research as possible before there’s a lot more snow on the ground.
Additional researchers on this project at CSU include Paul Evangelista and Tony Vorster (Natural Resource Ecology Lab), Dan McGrath and Ellen Wohl (Department of Geosciences), Peter Nelson (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), Steven Fassnacht (Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability), and Kristen Rasmussen (Department of Atmospheric Science).
…city leaders say they are increasingly frustrated by Larimer County’s unwillingness to let them build a critical pipeline that would carry the water from the Cache La Poudre River near Fort Collins to Thornton — so much so that they have started alerting developers that the city may have to stop issuing building permits.
The new language warns that “the City does not guarantee capacity in its water or wastewater systems for proposed or future developments.”
Among the projects at stake for the state’s 6th largest city is dense multi-family housing planned around new N-Line rail stations that just went operational in September.
That’s frustrating to Thornton Mayor Jan Kulmann, who points to the thousands of acre-feet of water the city owns free and clear in the Cache La Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins — water rights it purchased more than three decades ago…
The answer goes back to February 2019, when the Larimer County commissioners unanimously voted to deny Thornton a permit for a 72-mile-long pipeline the city wants to install to carry that water to this suburb of 140,000. Jeff Coder, Thornton’s deputy city manager of city development, said the denial essentially holds Thornton’s growth plans “hostage.”
The city has enough water in its portfolio to supply 5,000 additional housing units, he said, or approximately 160,000 residents. The city’s long-term vision is for a population of 240,000 by 2065.
While no builders have pulled out of the city, Coder said, that day may not be far away. Maybe as soon as 2024 or 2025, he said.
“It’s understandably creating a great deal of concern,” he said. “In fairness to those who are making significant investments in our community, we don’t want someone who has gone through the approvals process expecting to get a building permit to have us at the last minute tell them we can’t because of this water issue.”
We want to prepare people for a worst-case scenario.”
The obvious solution, [Gary Wockner] said, is for Thornton to let its water flow down the Poudre through Fort Collins — “use the river as a conveyance” — and take it out further downstream near Windsor, obviating the need for a $450 million pipe that will require trenching and burial across 26 miles of Larimer County…
The city counters that allowing its share of water to flow through Fort Collins — and past several water treatment facilities — would severely degrade its quality and cost the city dearly to clean it. Emily Hunt, deputy infrastructure director for Thornton, said the river option was merely one of a number of alternatives the city put on the table as it was firming up plans to access its water.
“We specifically picked a site that was above urban impacts and the price we paid reflected that,” she said. “If we wanted a low-quality source that we clean up later, we could have done that and paid less money.”
According to the city, Thornton paid $578 million for 289 shares of water and storage rights in the Poudre River, along with $92 million for more than 18,000 acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties, where it has been sending its Poudre shares by ditch over the last 30 or so years.
But that level of investment wasn’t enough to sway the commissioners in Larimer County last year.
Outgoing Commissioner Steve Johnson said then that the proposed 48-inch diameter pipe, which would run across the northern edge of Fort Collins to Interstate 25 before turning south toward Thornton, ranked as one of the most contentious issues he had ever seen raised in the county.
But just this past September, the same commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a controversial $1.1 billion water storage initiative that would create Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins and a second reservoir out on the eastern plains.
It also involves several water pipelines running through Larimer County.
Thornton recently included the NISP approval in its court filings appealing Larimer County’s denial of its pipeline project, citing it as evidence that the commissioners’ 2019 decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Fort Collins City Council members approved the rate increases, 3% for electricity and 2% for water, with some hesitation in light of COVID-19’s continued economic impacts on the community. For the typical household in Fort Collins, the rate increase will mean an average monthly increase of $2.36 for electricity and $0.96 for water.
Several council members said the city should consider a possible moratorium on service shut-offs if COVID-19 risk factors trigger another stay-at-home order. Cases and hospitalizations continue to mount in Larimer County, and the health department elevated restrictions on public gatherings Wednesday.
Fort Collins Utilities recently notified about 4,000 customers that service shut-offs will resume after Nov. 13. The city is encouraging residents and businesses to apply for financial assistance with their bill or set up a payment plan…
The 3% electricity rate increase will cover a bump in wholesale power costs and bolster Utilities reserves to prepare for future capital improvements. The 2% water rate increase is a result of the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome wildfires, which have ripped across Fort Collins’ watershed and are expected to cost the city between $1 million and $4.3 million in mitigation costs…
The city had planned to request a 2% water rate increase for 2022, but moved it ahead one year because of the fire, said Lance Smith, Utilities strategic finance director. Utilities is likely to propose another modest rate increase for 2022.
The Cameron Peak Fire, approaching full containment at nearly 209,000 acres, is the biggest fire in Colorado history. Utilities staff said earlier in October they expect its impact on the city’s water quality to be similar to the 2012 High Park Fire, which filled the Poudre River with ash, soil and sediment and infamously turned the stream black for a brief period. The 2013 flood eventually washed out much of the remaining debris, but city leaders consider it unlikely that Fort Collins will get another flood of that magnitude again soon…
That means the Cameron Peak Fire’s fallout will probably persist for longer, degrading water quality in the river that makes up about 50% of Fort Collins’ water supply. The city’s share of post-fire recovery work will drain an estimated $1 million to $4.3 million from Utilities funds, and the projected 2021 rate increase will produce roughly $600,000 to offset that cost.
Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell said he understands the necessity of the unexpected water rate increase given the “extraordinary” circumstances…
The electricity rate increase will cover a 0.3% wholesale cost increase from Platte River Power Authority and partially address a gap between Utilities’ revenues and operating expenses. Utilities has also put a hiring freeze in place and won’t give salary increases in 2021 to address the gap between revenue and expenses…
Council members agreed to approve the rate increases but keep the door open for future discussion about lingering utility rate issues. The time-of-day rate structure, which charges customers higher rates for electricity used during peak-use hours, has been in place for about two years. But council members are still hearing from residents who are dissatisfied with the perceived unfairness of the change and uncertain about how to navigate the rate structure without significantly disrupting their daily routines.
Time-of-day rates, which use cost signals to flatten the community’s peak electricity demand, make “logical, connect-the-dots, engineering sense,” council member Ross Cunniff said, “but it has not made intuitive sense for most of our residents, and that’s risky.”
…while a significant portion of the water supply that is held and accessed by the project that serves the northern Front Range communities is impacted by the fires, the water supply itself is not in danger.
According to Jeff Stahla, public information officer for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — or simply Northern Water — the near-term supply is fine.
The decision to close off a tunnel — which transports water pumped from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir before traveling by gravity through the tunnel through Rocky Mountain National Park to Lake Estes and elsewhere, before eventually settling in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake in Fort Collins and Loveland — will not impact the water supply that’s eventually drawn from those two reservoirs to supply much of Northern Water’s million-plus customers in Northern Colorado, including Greeley.
That’s because, Stahla explained, the system is proactive. While new water will not be replenished quite according to the normal schedule in the Horsetooth and Carter Lake reservoirs, that water is, in essence, paying down a future withdrawal that won’t happen for a year or more…
“The water coming out of your faucet now, if it’s this project’s water, was probably snow that fell in maybe 2018,” Stahla explained. “It ran off in spring of ’18 and filled up Lake Granby, and then around the end of 2018 into 2019, it would’ve been used to fill up reservoirs on the front range. That would’ve happened over winter of 2018-2019, and then it would’ve been in reservoirs all of 2019 and probably drawn out now in 2020. This project works on a multi-year cycle of gathering runoff, feeding reservoirs and serving the public.”
The water is still in Lake Granby, but temporarily won’t be pumped up to Shadow Mountain because of concerns that the fire will impact the power supply to the pump at Lake Granby…
However, that water is only a portion — a very sizable portion, close to half — of the water that is used by Greeley customers, according to city of Greeley water and sewer director Sean Chambers.
And, truly incredibly, the other major sources of water, four in total, from which the city draws its 20,000 to 25,000 acre feet-per-year supply are also being impacted by these unfathomable wildfires.
“We have water from four different river basins,” Chambers said. “We get water from the Poudre River Basin, that’s where the year-round treatment plan by Bellevue, northwest of For Collins is. The top of the Poudre is where the fire started. You go north and cross into Laramie River Basin — the Laramie flows north into Wyoming but we have a system of ditches and tunnels that brings water back into the Poudre. The fires burned a bit of the headwaters of the Laramie. We also get water from the Big Thompson Basin, and the Cameron Peak Fire spread southeast over the last ten days, blown over the ridge line and the divide into the Big Thompson Basin. And then the last basin is the Colorado River Basin, which is where the East Troublesome Fire comes from.”
Chambers, marveling, called this phenomenon the first time “in recorded history” that this has happened, where all four major water sources are affected by fires at the same time…
Further, while snow melt over burned land could well impact other water sources as well, there are plans in place, Chambers said.
“When the High Park Fire happened, that fire had these post-precipitation water-quality events in the river, where Fort Collins and Greeley and others, who take water directly off the Poudre River for municipal treatment, we turned off our intakes and let the bad water go by, let the water quality improve. We can do that because of the beautiful supplemental supply in the Colorado Big Thompson project.”
The flexibility requires planning, though, including, Chambers said, installing source-site filtration systems where snow runoff on its way the river systems are filtered prior to entering the water supply…
In the immediate moment, though, the water supply even well into next year is in good shape, regardless of the fires Stahla said.
“Not even just into early next year,” Stahla said. “Reservoirs are there for that kind of demand management that you can have some stocked away close to meet your needs. As of now, there’s no operational changes because of the wildfires to the water supply on the Northern Front Range. Those reservoirs will be refilled by next spring.”
With five of Greeley’s six high mountain reservoirs in the burn area, erosion is expected to carry sediment into Greeley’s water supply. Left untreated, that could affect the city’s water quality. But officials are already planning to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“When fires burn, if they’re hot enough, they can actually burn underbrush and soil,” said Adam Jokerst, Greeley’s deputy director of Water Resources, adding that vegetation is burned up as well. “With the lack of the vegetation … you can get increased erosion when it rains or when the snow melts.”
That erosion carries sediment into the Poudre River, which pulls water from the reservoirs to supply water for the city. Water with high sediment content can be harder to treat, Jokerst said, but it is possible to treat safely.
For better or for worse, Jokerst said, Greeley water officials have a lot of experience handling erosion into the water supply after dealing with the impacts of the High Park Fire in 2012. That fire burned more than 87,000 acres, making it the sixth-largest in state history.
There are at least a few steps to take to mitigate erosion impacts: aerial mulching, felling trees and adding flocculants during the treatment process. For aerial mulching, crews drop shredded wheat chips or straw from a helicopter. The mulch reduces erosion and helps with revegetation. Cutting down the burned trees and letting them fall into the gullies and rills — the channels created in the soil by water erosion — prevents stormwater and meltwater from carrying added erosion into the water supply.
Jokerst said it’s common to see the water get murkier during the runoff season every year. To provide clean, clear drinking water when that happens, crews use more flocculants, which are chemicals that help to separate the water from the sediment, in the treatment process. If there’s very high sediment content at the Bellvue Treatment Plant, officials can turn off the plant so it stop pulling water from the Poudre, Jokerst said. The city can then use the Boyd Treatment Plant…
If the fire keeps on into snowfall season in the winter, Jokerst said crews will have to wait until the spring to start on erosion control measures. Greeley officials are working with the city of Fort Collins, Northern Water and the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, a nonprofit Jokerst said will be a key entity in the post-fire recovery.
Long Draw Reservoir
Chambers Reservoir July 2016. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs
Water restrictions will be implemented for residents of Fort Collins following extreme drought conditions and wildfires which have the area facing a potential water shortage, the city announced on its website.
The water use restrictions will take effect Oct. 1 and will remain in effect until the order is lifted by the city manager…
Ongoing drought conditions, the Cameron Peak Fire burning near Walden and an infrastructure repair project known as Horsetooth Outlet Project (HOP) have the city facing a projected water shortage unless action is taken, the city said.
Typically, utilities receives about 50% of its water from Colorado-Big Thompson shares via Horsetooth Reservoir and 50% from the Cache la Poudre River. During HOP, utilities will have limited access to water supplies in Horsetooth and will rely more heavily on the Poudre River.
If conditions during HOP – like continued drought or poor water quality due to the Cameron Peak Fire – prevent or limit the ability to deliver water from the Poudre River, a temporary backup pump system will convey water from a different Horsetooth Reservoir outlet to the Utilities Water Treatment Facility.
The capacity of this backup system is expected to supply only average utilities winter water demands, which does not include irrigation or other seasonal outdoor uses.
Lawn watering will not be allowed beginning Oct. 1. Trees, gardens for food production and other landscapes may be watered by hand or drip systems only. There are also restrictions on vehicle washing, power washing and street sweeping, among other things.
Now environmental and water quality experts are bracing for more substantial impacts on the Poudre River and the people who depend on it for drinking water, farming, industry and recreation. Degraded water quality, enhanced flood risk and threats to aquatic wildlife are all distinct possibilities as the blaze takes its toll on a delicate, far-branching river ecosystem that had largely recovered from the impacts of the High Park Fire.
The coming weeks and months will bring more news about what the Cameron Peak Fire will mean for the Poudre River. Until then, some staff of the agencies that monitor the river are in a similar position to the rest of us: Stuck in an anxious waiting game as the blaze continues, temperatures warm up and many details about the fire remain obscured in the ever-present haze.
“There are still so many uncertainties,” said Jen Kovecses, executive director of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed. “We’re certain about how big the fire is, but we’re not certain about its intensity on the landscape and what it will look like. That’s going to be the missing puzzle piece that we need to understand the full suite of post-fire impacts from this event.”
The aftermath of the High Park Fire offers a glimpse, albeit not an ironclad preview, of some impacts that could come from the Cameron Peak Fire. It all starts with the fire burning away the carpet of leaves, twigs, branches and other vegetation on the forest floor, known as “duff.”
“The fire can consume both the forest canopy and the material on the ground, which is a big problem, because now we have bare soil exposed,” said Pete Robichaud, a research engineer with USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station. “That forest floor duff layer is like a big sponge. It absorbs the water when it rains, it allows the water to percolate slowly into the soil — it’s great. Well, now the fire removes that, and when the rain comes, there’s no sponge.”
The other problem is smoke, which can seep into the forest floor and cling to soil particles as it cools and condenses, making them hydrophobic — or water repellent.
The two forces combined can leave the soil vulnerable to even a mild afternoon thunderstorm. Water reverbs off the forest floor and travels downslope to the river, dragging soil, sediment and ash along for the ride.
That’s what happened after High Park, which infamously turned the Poudre black in summer 2012.
“Without the ability to soak up water and temper the intensity of rain events, the system overall became a much flashier system,” said Jill Oropeza, director of sciences for Fort Collins Utilities’ Water Quality Services Division. “You’d see water levels rise really quickly; you’d see material from the hillslopes move into the river channel really quickly, and then the quality would change really quickly as well. You just had tons and tons of ash and sediment that got mobilized into the stream channel and then eventually conveyed downstream.”
Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.
That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.
NISP — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is close to being fully permitted, which would pave the way to begin construction of the infrastructure project to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers. The project promises to give those communities water to build new homes and businesses — without buying it from farmers.
Glade Reservoir is the proposed body of water that would fill a bathtub-shaped valley north of Fort Collins that currently acts as a straight stretch of Highway 287…
Glade would be one of the Western U.S.’s biggest new reservoirs to come online in the past couple decades. With a more than $1 billion price tag, a project of this size and scale has those who live near the new reservoir and along pipeline routes concerned…
Northern Water, the quasi-governmental agency that moves water through tunnels, canals and reservoirs across a broad swath of Northern Colorado, is pushing for NISP’s construction on behalf of 15 other water providers, mostly small suburbs that have ambitions to grow. The communities of Dacono, Firestone, Eaton, Lafayette, Windsor and Severance are all participants in the project, among others…
NISP is getting close to the end of a federal, state and local permitting process. Since first formally submitting for permits in 2004, the project has jumped through regulatory hurdles like a federal environmental impact statement, a water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a 1041 permit from Larimer County. The 1041 permit gives local governments in Colorado some oversight authority on large infrastructure projects within their boundaries…
[The Larimer County] voted to recommend the 1041 permit to the board of county commissioners, which then approved on a 2-1 vote the permit for the project…
The town of Erie, a rapidly growing community in Boulder County about a half hour from Boulder and north Denver, would be the largest recipient of NISP water…
After more than 15 years of permitting, countless hours of negotiation over the project’s mitigation plans, and millions of dollars spent on studies, surveys and outreach, the agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River. Opponents say the project will only hurt, not help.
The Cache la Poudre River, where NISP would draw water for its largest reservoir, is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s also home to fish, birds and other wildlife…
The project still needs one more federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it’s considered to be fully permitted, and ready to head into design and construction phases.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project achieved another important milestone on Wednesday, with the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners approving the 1041 Land Use Permit application on a 2-1 vote.
The permit will allow the construction of Glade Reservoir, its recreation components and the pipelines to convey water from the reservoir to participants throughout Northern Colorado.
Central to the permit is the framework for the development of Glade Reservoir as a future recreation area to be managed by Larimer County. Glade Reservoir, just north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287, will join Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir and the future Chimney Hollow Reservoir as a site for water recreation, fishing, hiking and more.
The participants of NISP have agreed to spend more than $16 million to develop the recreation site, and they have purchased the former KOA campground nearby to create camping opportunities.
Another part of the permit dictates the route and procedures for the placement of pipelines to deliver high-quality drinking water to communities in Northern Colorado. It reiterates the commitment of NISP to convey roughly one-third of its water deliveries via the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, increasing the overall number of days available for recreation at the new Fort Collins Whitewater Park.
NISP has now received its permit from Larimer County for land use and from the State of Colorado for Water Quality and for Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement. This fall, NISP anticipates receiving a Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Next year, NISP anticipates working with the City of Fort Collins to coordinate on a route for a pipeline to pick up the Glade Reservoir water that has been conveyed through Fort Collins via the Poudre River.
NISP is being built to address future water needs for 15 municipalities and water districts, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, the Town of Windsor and others throughout the region. Northern Water is coordinating the effort through the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The vote came after lengthy hearings before the county board and the county’s planning commission. The majority of speakers at those meetings spoke about concerns over the project’s effects on the Poudre River, its main water source. The project would divert water from the river during its peak flows due to its relatively junior water rights.
Nearby residents in the Bonner Peak and Eagle Lake neighborhoods also voiced concerns about pipeline routes disrupting quiet, rural neighborhoods, and diminishing property values. Northern Water, the agency pushing for NISP’s construction, hasn’t ruled out using eminent domain to build those pipelines, if necessary…
In comments explaining his vote against the permit, Kefalas noted scientific papers show a warming trend across much of Colorado, with consequences for rivers fed by snowmelt, like the Poudre.
“Based on the modeling that has been done with the Upper Colorado River basin, I think there are serious implications to the Poudre River flow and how that affects the Glade Reservoir,” Kefalas said.
Kefalas said he was also uncomfortable with the project’s tradeoff in advocating for flatwater recreation on a reservoir a 20-minute drive outside of Fort Collins, instead of seeing high spring flows through the city as a recreational amenity…
In voting to approve, commissioner Johnson said a rejection of the permit would be an example of parochial self-interest. While much of NISP’s water would be used in communities outside of Larimer County, Johnson said Colorado is full of examples of projects where water is stored and transported from one region to another…
Commissioner Donnelly hewed closely to the county’s 1041 evaluation criteria, which assess projects based on how they fit into the county’s master plan and affect its residents. NISP’s proponents were able to satisfy all of the county’s criteria, Donnelly said…
The project is still awaiting a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can move forward into construction.
Larimer County’s Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Wednesday, with John Kefalas casting the lone “no” vote.
Explaining his dissent, the District 1 commissioner said he felt the 12 land use criteria used by the board fell short and failed to create a “level playing field,” although he acknowledged the board’s efforts to allow public comment virtually…
He discussed the projected impacts of climate change on the upper Colorado River Basin, and echoed the concerns of many commenters regarding the reduction in flow that the Poudre River could see from the creation of the Glade Reservoir.
He pointed out that Fort Collins, which is bisected by the river, has concerns about the flows in the Cache la Poudre.
“I acknowledge that Northern (Water) has done their utmost to look at mitigation and other impacts on the Poudre River ecology, riparian areas and natural areas,” he said. “There still remains the fact that the city of Fort Collins has concerns about the potential impact on the Poudre River.”
Commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson each walked through the land use criteria and how the project satisfied them…
The vote on the permit came after an extensive public hearing — one session saw representatives of the Northern Water Conservancy District advocate for the project, two sessions invited public comment, and Northern Water representatives answered questions during a fourth session.
While a large part of the presentation Wednesday was taken up by the commissioners explaining each of their votes, the commissioners also heard from Northern Water representatives who asked for adjustments to some of the conditions placed on the proposal.
The commissioners agreed to include a suggestion by Northern Water that, if the alignment of a related pipeline had to be adjusted by more than 100 feet without a landowner’s consent, that section of the pipeline would again have to be reviewed.
They also agreed to include restrictions proposed by Northern Water on construction activities in the Eagle Lake area.
Here’s a photo gallery from the hearing via The Fort Collins Coloradoan.
The Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s home to fish, birds and other wildlife.
But a reservoir proposal facing a key vote from Larimer County commissioners would give it one more big task, and the panel is hearing from community members who think it can handle the work, and those who don’t.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is seeking a 1041 permit to begin construction of the infrastructure project that would use water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers.
The agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River, while opponents say it will only hurt, not help…
But with the ribbon cutting less than a year ago, [Evan] Stafford said NISP presents an upstream threat. The project’s biggest reservoir, Glade, would be miles from the park, but it would be felt by kayakers and tubers alike. NISP would pull water out of the river at the same time whitewater paddlers flock to it.
“It’s already pretty affected, but NISP would really increase that effect to almost there being no flooding or a natural kind of rise in the river due to the snow melt,” Stafford said.
That’s important, not just for kayakers, but for the river’s ecological health too. High spring flows flush sediment downstream and are critical for fish and bird habitat…
But that characterization of NISP’s potential impact is unfair, says Northern Water’s general manager Brad Wind.
“At the end of the day to fill a reservoir you’ve got to extract some water from the river,” Wind said.
Because the project relies on relatively junior water rights, Wind says they would have to wait until the highest flows to divert water into the reservoir. Those flows come during the spring runoff. But, he said, once full, the reservoir would release water at other times of year when the Poudre is struggling because of demands from farmers…
NISP has committed to releasing so-called base flows through Fort Collins in certain times of the year to aid fish populations and fill-in dry up points that show up when demand from farmers spikes during the summer months. But it could be awhile before those releases take place. By Northern Water’s projections, construction on Glade’s dam and reservoir might take until 2027 to finish. Filling the reservoir could take up to a decade if the Poudre’s flows are reduced due to drought…
NISP is nearing the end of a more than 15-year permitting process. The latest stretch of public meetings has taken place almost entirely during the pandemic. NISP boasts a laundry list of endorsements from former governors, local business groups, farm groups, even two of three Larimer County commissioners. There’s been a renewed call from the project’s opponents for commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly to recuse themselves from deliberations, though both continue to participate in hearings.
Fort Collins, the biggest city along the river’s course, recently voted to oppose the project, making it one of the first governmental bodies to do so…
Fort Collins city council’s opposition is more of a symbolic gesture, given that much of the project’s infrastructure falls outside city limits. The vote from Larimer County commissioners on the 1041 permit has real potential to either slow down the project’s momentum, or ease its way into being fully permitted. It still needs a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers, which could come as early as this fall.
All three Larimer County commissioners declined interview requests due to it being a pending land use issue.
Larimer County’s first public comment session for the Northern Integrated Supply Project’s 1041 permit application showcased heavy opposition to a reservoir plan that critics say would cause devastating impacts to the Poudre River.
About 100 people gave about 6 hours’ worth of testimony at the Monday hearing, which was the first of two hearings devoted solely to public comment on NISP’s 1041 proposal. Over 90% of the comments were in opposition to the permit.
Larimer County commissioners will accept more public comment Aug. 31, and NISP proponent Northern Water will have the chance to provide rebuttal to the comments at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permit Sept. 2, but that could be pushed back.
The 1041 permit covers only a part of the NISP project: the siting of Glade Reservoir, NISP’s main water storage component, and four water pipelines throughout the county…
NISP opponents, however, say they doubt the project will be able to deliver all that water. They also say the project’s heavy spring and summer diversions will constitute a death blow to an already strained river that loses over half of its water before it reaches Fort Collins. The project could divert between 25% and 71% of the Poudre’s stream flows, depending on the month and time of year, with most of the diversions taking place in the higher-flow months of April to August…
[David] Jones was one of many local scientists who spoke in opposition of NISP and offered pointed criticism of its wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan. The plan includes a “conveyance refinement” proposal that would run some of the diverted water through a portion of the river in Fort Collins with the goal of addressing dry-up points and improving streamflows…
[Barry Noon] also criticized the mitigation plan for not sufficiently accounting for climate change, which climatologists project will deteriorate Colorado river flows, shrink mountain snowpack and exacerbate droughts like the one currently gripping the state. The Poudre relies solely on mountain snowpack, and the Grey Mountain water right that accounts for about half of NISP’s water is a relatively junior water right that is less likely to be satisfied in drier years…
Noon and others emphasized that Northern Water won’t have to meet its river flow requirements through Fort Collins until “full buildout conditions when NISP participants are consistently taking their full NISP yield,” according to the mitigation plan. The plan does commit to conveying at least 36% of total NISP deliveries through Fort Collins before buildout…
If it does happen, CSU biology professor and ecologist LeRoy Poff fears the river will buckle under the impact of degraded springtime flows that he predicts will fossilize the river channel, dry out wetlands and degrade riparian habitat. He said he found in research conducted for the city of Fort Collins that even the flows promised after buildout wouldn’t be enough to sustain the river and would result in damaged natural areas…
Fort Collins resident Joe Rowan said there’s “ample evidence” that Northern Water’s permit application meets or exceeds the standards laid out in Larimer County’s 1041 permitting process. He added that NISP “has been subjected to the most arduous, comprehensive and objective analysis any of us have ever witnessed” over the past few decades…
Residents near proposed pipelines speak up
Also present at Monday’s hearing were over 20 county residents whose property would be impacted by the four pipelines involved in the permit. Lisa Pewe, who recently moved to a Larimer County Road 56 property with plans to open an equine-assisted therapy nonprofit there, said the Northern Tier pipeline would be “devastating to my business, my dream and my property’s value.”
A 60-foot easement would run across the western and southern borders of her property, negatively affecting about 40% of her 5-acre property, she said. She asked commissioners to reject that portion of the pipeline or require Northern Water to use existing rights-of-way and easements in the area…
Loss was a key theme among the speakers. So was a reverential, almost familial connection to the Poudre. Will Walters said the Poudre River valley is home to four generations of his family since his granddaughter, Georgie, was born last winter. He described the way her birth renewed in the family “a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world” — and underlined a desire to protect it.
There’s no more water to wring from the river, Walters said, because what remains after generations of diversions does “crucial ecological work.”
Larimer County residents weighed in on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with the majority of dozens of speakers asking the county commissioners not to grant a 1041 permit for the $1.1 billion effort…
Members of the public mostly focused on the environmental impacts of the project, which would build two reservoirs capable of holding close to 216,000 acre feet of water on the dime of the 15 area water providers that could benefit, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.
John Shenot of the Fort Collins Audubon Society brought up the group’s work to have the local stretch of the Poudre recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, meaning it includes areas such as nesting grounds, migratory stopovers or other essential habitats for at least one species of bird.
He called Glade Reservoir, which would tap into the Poudre River near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, an “existential threat” to bird habitats…
Another speaker, Larimer County alfalfa farmer Ken McCullough, said his opinion on the project turned when he learned that some of the water to be stored in Glade would be purchased from farms.
He questioned whether the project would take needed irrigation water from area farmers…
While the project has purchased Poudre River water from farms, that water has been exchanged for South Platte water, so it is not “buy-and-dry.”
Although the majority of speakers opposed the project, at least one man, Joe Rowan, who described himself as a longtime Fort Collins resident spoke in favor, describing the opposition as “sanctimonious rancor” and “ill-advised hyperbole.”
He located NISP in more than a century of water transfer and storage projects on the Cache la Poudre watershed.
“There would be no discussion of preserving habitat and sensitive ecological systems were water storage projects not pursued by prior generations,” Rowan said.
He also pointed out that county staff have recommended approval of the permit, and said commissioners deciding based on the input of some rather than the requirements of the permitting process would be the same as intimidation.
“We simply can’t be expected to self-govern if the loudest and most vitriolic of our fellow residents are allowed to cower elected representatives into submission,” Rowan said.
Others said the project would benefit communities outside of Larimer County, while county residents would bear the majority of the adverse impacts, particularly from the construction of Glade Reservoir west of Fort Collins.
David Jones, a vegetation ecologist at Colorado State University who stated he has been following the NISP project for more than a decade, said the project was “not in the interest of the vast majority of Larimer County residents.”
The next public comment session is scheduled for Aug. 31, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision on Sept. 2.