#Snowpack/#Drought news: Is there snow on the horizon for Fort Collins?

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 26, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Weekend rains dropped up to half an inch of rain on parts of a parched Choice City, and more rain is on the forecast for this week. But with one week left of what’s historically our snowiest month of the year, forecasters are divided on whether we’ll see any measurable snow at all.

The Coloradoan’s official Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network rain gauge at 1300 Riverside Avenue recorded 0.16 of an inch of rain Sunday…

Meanwhile, our lack of snow is becoming downright strange.

Fort Collins receives an average of 12.6 inches of snow in March, according to 1981-2010 normals from the Colorado Climate Center. This March, we’ve received only a trace of snow. Fort Collins hasn’t seen measurable snow in about a month, since a late-February storm left us with about 3.4 inches and 0.1 inches fell on the last day of February.

We’re also way behind on precipitation this month, with 0.19 inches compared to a normal amount of 1.31 inches by March 26. Rains this week should inch us a bit closer to the monthly normal of 1.59 inches, but barring any big downpours, we’ll probably still fall short for March.

The lack of moisture matters because Fort Collins has been in a drought since August. Our drought classification was recently elevated to “severe,” the third of five levels of drought intensity. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts we’ll remain in drought during the next three months.

If drought persists, residents can expect damage to crops and pastures, developing or imminent water shortages and a request for voluntary water-use restrictions. Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin mountains, which make up much of our regional water supply, has been steadily slipping during the last few weeks and now sits at 103 percent of the average for this time of year.

A snowless March is highly unusual but not unprecedented in Fort Collins. It’s happened about six times in recorded history, most recently in 2011 and 2012, when historic drought covered the state and Fort Collins received a trace of snow in March. The last March before that with no measurable snow was March 1966.

West Drought Monitor March 21, 2017.

Poudre River Forum: Powerpoints, video footage, program and more now available

CLick here to go to the website to view the materials. From the website:

Nearly 280 people registered to learn more from and about the diverse stakeholders of the Poudre River, and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

Will Fort Collins voters get a chance to weigh in on NISP?

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

After hearing dozens of public comments, and having their email inboxes flooded with input, the council voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to take a place at the table with the Northern Water Conservancy District, the lead proponent of NISP and representative of 15 backers of the project. NISP would include two reservoirs fueled by the Poudre River, including one near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon.

Council members were also clear that they didn’t view opening discussions as giving in to the project. Councilman Bob Overbeck — the only vote against it — added to the Tuesday resolution that the council outright opposed the project in 2008 and voted in 2015 not to support the project in its current form. The word “negotiate” and phrase “mutual interests,” referring to the city and Northern Water, were also struck from the resolution.

Nonetheless, Gary Wockner, of Save the Poudre, said his group is looking at putting the question of whether the city should support NISP before city voters…

Advocacy group Save the Poudre conducted an opinion poll, via 556 automated phone calls, which results found an overwhelming amount of opposition to the project among city voters.

About 50 of the 60 or so people who made public comment Tuesday opposed the resolution or NISP outright…

John Stokes, head of the city’s natural areas department, said Wednesday staff was happy to get more direction from council, in terms of having discussions with Northern Water regarding city concerns and mitigation proposals. He was also clear that staff didn’t view it as authority to make any decisions regarding the city’s support or efforts of NISP.

“Council makes the decisions about all of this, and, clearly, if we’re going to make any progress on this, it needs to be with council on board,” he said…

Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water, said his group was grateful to be able to have more robust conversations about NISP with the city. There have been some talks with the city about its concerns, but it always felt “sort of like walking on egg shells,” without formal backing, Werner said.

He noted Northern Water and its constituents have already shifted plans to address concerns about low-flow periods of when the Poudre River might dry up by including promises of base flows. Werner cited the city’s softening positions between 2008 and 2015 as proof of Northern Water’s efforts.

“They’ve gone from an almost hell no, to a we’re not happy right now, but maybe make some changes and come back with another proposal,” Werner said. “… I would argue that shows we’ve been listening to Fort Collins as we’ve been trying to craft and draft this plan.”

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Gabriel Go):

Update: The council adopted an amended version of the resolution with a 6-1 vote. Bob Overbeck was the only dissenting vote.

The Fort Collins City Council discussed Resolution 5217, which would begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a public agency which provides water to northeastern Colorado, on Tuesday. The discussion revolved around a controversial proposal known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The NISP is a proposed project meant to deliver 40,000 acres of water a year to 15 Northern Colorado communities. While the city itself would not a participate in the NISP, a portion of southeastern Fort Collins would partake in the project.

The NISP would consist of three reservoirs along the Cache La Poudre River, including a large reservoir to the north of the city known as Glade Reservoir which would divert over 1,200 cubic feet per second of the river’s peak flows. This would reduce annual river flows by 20 percent and by 30 percent during the peak flow months of May, June and July, a staff report said.

However, the project is not without opposition. According to non-profit organization Save the Poudre, the NISP/Glade Reservoir project would cause immense ecological damage to the Poudre River.

According to the organization’s website, the project’s aim of reducing peak flows would prevent the river from cleaning itself of algae, endangering the Poudre’s water quality as well as the habitat of a number of aquatic plants and animals.

The staff report also acknowledges that “it is likely the health of the river will be negatively impacted by NISP, especially without well-planned and extensive mitigation actions.” The report states that although the river is able to support a number of ecological systems, the Poudre is approaching “critical thresholds below which the river’s health and resilience will suffer.”

The city’s Natural Resources Director John Stokes recommended the City Council to begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. In particular, he recommended to negotiate with the public agency, saying it would be the best alternative outcome.

If the city were to forego consulting with Northern Water the project would be left to federal and state agencies who would not consider the NISP’s impacts on Fort Collins.

Close to 40 Fort Collins citizens approached the council for public comment, some urging the council to negotiate with Northern Water and some voicing their reservations.

“I’ve noticed a marked decline in the river corridor already… I see virtually nothing anymore,” said one Fort Collins citizen about the current state of the Poudre.

The city owns around 60 percent of the river’s corridor and the city has already engaged in a number of projects with regards to the Poudre, such as clean-ups and the creation of trails.

Negotiations with Northern Water does not mean that the city has already agreed to the NISP’s construction. In order to construct the reservoirs a permit must be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who must assess the environmental impacts of the project.

The NISP has been in the federal permitting process for 12 years and thus requires many state and federal permits in order for the project to push forward. In 2015 the council passed a resolution which stated “the City Council cannot support NISP as it is currently described and proposed (as of 2015).”

@FortCollinsGov NISP meeting recap

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

City staff members have proposed beginning in-depth discussions with Northern Water to explore areas of “mutual interest” and possibly negotiate an agreement. City Council would have to approve any agreement, if one were reached.

Discussions with Northern Water, if approved by council, would be lengthy and touch on “endlessly complicated” details, said John Stokes, director of the city’s Natural Areas Department.

Fort Collins is not among the 15 municipalities and water districts participating in NISP, though as a stakeholder it has been involved with the project’s permitting process for many years.

In 2008 and 2015, the city submitted comments critical of the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP.

The Corps and other state and federal agencies will be involved in determining mitigation measures for NISP, which would reduce flows on the Poudre through the city 20 percent a year on average and 30 percent during peak flows in spring.

Experience tells the city it cannot rely on other entities to look out for the best interests of Fort Collins in assessing the negative impacts of NISP through town, Stokes said during a recent city-sponsored open house.

“They are not likely, in our view, to require mitigation at a level that we think would be important to the city if we didn’t negotiate,” Stokes said…

The final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project is expected to be released by the Corps later this year. A record of decision on whether the project may be permitted is expected in 2018.

If the project is permitted, construction could begin in 2025, city officials say.

Discussions and negotiations between the city and Northern Water would be outside of the permitting process, said John Urbanic, project manager with the Corps of Engineers…

Mitigation of environmental impacts are part of the permitting process. It’s possible a mitigation agreement between the city and Northern Water could be included in the permit, Urbanic stated in an email to the Coloradoan.

Whether an agreement would facilitate a permit being issued “depends on what’s in the agreement,” he said.

Fort Collins’ focus regarding NISP is on the area crossed by the river between the mouth of the Poudre Canyon and Interstate 25. The city owns several natural areas along the river corridor.

Stokes said the city has many concerns about the impacts of lowering baseline and peak flows on the Poudre, including:

  • Reduced water quality and additional stresses on city water treatment facilities
  • Reductions in the health of the river’s ecology and biological resources
  • Reductions in the river’s ability to convey flood water
  • Diminished recreation and aesthetics
  • Specifics of what city staff would seek from Northern Water through negotiations and what it might have to do in return have not been determined, Stokes said.

    About 200 people attended a city-sponsored open house on the issue Monday at the Lincoln Center. Longstanding opponents and proponents of NISP were on hand, stating familiar positions.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.
    Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided Tuesday to not object to a plan to move the proposed Galeton Reservoir from its original site.

    Galeton is part of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would use water from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers to irrigate, provide domestic water, and bolster the Poudre through Fort Collins.

    Northern Water originally planned to build the reservoir on the southeast side of Colorado Highway 14 near Galeton, but in the 10 years since the project was proposed Nobel Energy has drilled almost two dozen oil and gas wells in the area. Those wells would have to be capped, at tremendous cost to Northern, in order to use the site for a reservoir.

    Northern has applied to have the water rights instead transferred to land on the northwest side of the highway.

    LSP board member Brad Stromberger, who also is on the Northern board of directors, said the Berthoud-based water district is “in the design stages” on the project already and plans to begin construction on the reservoir within about five years.

    “This is a big project,” he said. “This is a new water source we need.”

    The LSP’s water lawyer, Kim Lawrence, had recommended that the district file an objection to Northern’s request. Such objections are commonplace primarily to get access to crucial engineering and financial information about water projects. LSPWCD has previously gone on the record as being entirely in support of NISP, and during Tuesday’s meeting the district’s manager, Joe Frank, cautioned that objecting to the change in the Galeton application could be used by NISP opponents to claim that the lower South Platte doesn’t support NISP.

    “We could, potentially, see about 10,000 acre feet of return flow per year from this project,” Frank told the board. “There might be a day here and there when they would take water that might have come down (the South Platte River) but the return flows will more than make up for that.”

    After a brief conference call with Lawrence, the board decided to not take any action on the Galeton Reservoir…

    The board did, however, vote to file an objection to an application by the Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority to pipe 1,500 acre feet of water from the South Platte River into the off-channel Binder Reservoir, also known as the Brighton Lateral Reservoir. ACWWA wants to use the water to exchange with other water entities along the river. Lawrence’s recommendation to the LSP was to file an objection because the proposed project “affects many (irrigation) ditches in this reach.”

    Michigan Ditch: “the biggest excavators we could bring in were nearly hanging off the edge of the mountain on the way up” — John Beckos

    Aerial view of Michigan tunnel entrance via City of Fort Collins.
    Aerial view of Michigan tunnel entrance via City of Fort Collins.

    From TrenchlessTechnology.com (Jim Rush):

    The Michigan Ditch is a 5.2-mile conveyance system that brings water from the high mountains into the Joe Wright Reservoir, a part of City’s two water sources. Over the years, the Michigan Ditch, a combination of pipeline and open channel originally built around 1900 and purchased by Fort Collins in the 1970s, was subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Specifically, one portion of the water supply route that crosses an area known as “the mudslide” was subject to periodic damage when the slides occurred.

    The City was accustomed to making simple repairs that involved digging up the pipe and moving or replacing it when the slide moves. But in September 2014, crews noticed something unusual. The pipe, which typically moved only during snowmelt in the spring, had moved substantially since its repair that summer. The following spring, even more movement showed that a more permanent fix was needed.

    “It was apparent that this wasn’t something we could simply dig up and put back in place like previous years,” said Owen Randall, chief engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “We knew we needed a long-term solution that could cost upwards of $10 million. When I told City management the response was: ‘The water is worth $180 million, so go fix it.’”

    In summer 2015, the City got to work with a geotechnical assessment that included seismic refraction as well as vertical and horizontal borings. Meanwhile, the City put together a team of consultants and contractors to help ascertain the best way to move forward. After exploring the options, the team decided that a tunnel that would re-route the water through the mountain in stable rock was the best solution…

    The tunnel option provided the long-term solution the City was looking for while having the added benefits of less maintenance, less environmental impact and a construction cost comparable to other options…

    The logistics of working on the side of a mountain also presented challenges. The project site was located 2.5 miles up a narrow, winding dirt road that dictated the weight and dimensions of the equipment that could be safely transported. Additionally, the nearest town (Walden, Colorado; population 3,000) was located 30 miles away, with Fort Collins 70 miles away. Even cell phone service had to be brought in.

    “Due to the nature of the road, we were limited to about an 11-ft wide load,” said John Beckos, project manager for BT Construction. “We were unable to get a crane to the site, and the biggest excavators we could bring in were nearly hanging off the edge of the mountain on the way up.”

    The site access also dictated the type of tunnel boring machine that could be used to excavate the tunnel. After evaluating the options, the project team elected to use an Akkerman hard-rock TBM that had a mixed face cutterhead to deal with the highly fractured, hard rock and abundant fault and shear zones. The machine was compact enough to accommodate the limited space at both the launch and retrieval pits, light enough to be handled by the available equipment, and had enough power to drill through rock that reached strengths of 15,000 psi…

    The tunnel was mined from the downstream portal to the upstream portal. The first 40 ft of the alignment was straight before it transitioned into the 630-ft radius curve spanning 726 ft. The TBM was equipped with a conveyor system and dual muck boxes to remove the spoil. Spoil was stockpiled near the site to be used by the City for future repairs to the ditch and pipeline, as well as the access road, which the City also maintains…

    Randall said the ground made tunneling a challenge. “The only thing consistent about the ground was that the rock was inconsistent,” he said. “We would find hard zones 2-3 inches thick, 2-3 feet thick and 30-feet thick. We knew we were going to get into difficult geology, but it still posed a challenge.”

    Once the TBM was completely launched into the mountainside, the team had originally planned to be tunneling for about 6 weeks from early July through the middle of August. The inconsistent rock in the middle of the drive would end up slowing productions down and delaying the hole out until Sept. 29. And, despite the challenging ground, the TBM holed through precisely on target. Project team members credited the VMT guidance systems, typically used for larger and longer tunnels, for keeping the tunnel on line and grade…

    Over the last 20 years, Fort Collins has implemented and refined its delivery system known as the Alternative Product Delivery System (APDS). Fort Collins retains a group of prequalified contractors and consultants on an annual contract basis – known as master service agreements – and when a project is needed, the City can call on its team of service providers with expertise in a particular area to negotiate a contract. This allows the City to quickly gather a team to develop the project from start to finish.

    In the case of the Michigan Ditch Tunnel, the project team was brought on board to determine the best solution for the problem. As the project began to take shape as a tunnel, the City negotiated further contracts for tunnel design, construction and TBM procurement. The project team additionally developed a risk register to help identify and mitigate potential occurrences that could impact the project.

    “Rather than trying to write a contract for the whole project up front, we can write contracts that are very well defined, knowing what our scope of work is going to be as planning and design progresses,” Randall said.

    The added benefit of having the project team in place was that the project goals were defined by the team, rather than by an individual party or parties. “This was a very challenging and difficult project, but when you have everybody working toward the same goal, it makes all the difference in the world,” Randall added.

    “The team functioned at a very high level and with great communication,” Dornfest said. “It was extremely challenging, but there was never any finger pointing and we were able to get the job done on schedule and under budget.”

    Thanks to planning, teamwork and determination, the Michigan Ditch Tunnel project was successfully completed approximately $1 million below the initial budget of $8.5 million. The ditch system is now back online, assuring Fort Collins citizens of a reliable source of water for the years to come.

    Fort Collins water facility wins prestigious award — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    The water treatment process
    The water treatment process

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Fort Collins Utilities’ water treatment facility recently won the American Water Works Association’s “Presidents Award,” which was given to 34 treatment plants in the nation.

    The award honors water treatment plants with high-level filter performance. The Fort Collins facility uses a meticulous treatment process to remove potential contaminants from source water, and the end product has consistently met federal safety requirements and won accolades for taste.

    “Receiving the Presidents Award status demonstrates the hard work and dedication of our employees and their commitment to provide great-tasting, high-quality drinking water to our community,” Water Production Manager Mark Kempton said in a city press release.

    For more information on local water, visit http://fcgov.com/water , email utilities@fcgov.com, call 970-221-6700 or V/TDD 711. To learn more about the Partnership for Safe Water, visit http://awwa.org/partnership.