Expanding the 5,000-acre-foot capacity reservoir has been on Greeley officials’ to-do list for more than a decade. But the type of work the city is planning takes a lot of time, mainly because it involves the federal government.
If everything goes without a hitch, Greeley officials have circled 2030 as the year they’ll increase Seaman to 10 times its current capacity…
» Greeley has never expanded any of its six reservoirs, and most have been around for nearly a century.
» Increasing Seaman to 53,000 acre-feet of water from 5,000 acre-feet will put Greeley in position to satisfy the city’s water needs for decades. (An acre foot of water is enough water for two families to use for a year). The city uses between 25,000-30,000 acre-feet of water per year: That’s expected to reach 40,000 acre-feet by 2030.
Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board in Greeley, likens the Seaman’s expansion to the kind of planning that has kept water flowing from the city’s Bellvue Treatment Plant area since 1907…
Right now, Greeley is working with a consultant and in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an environmental impact statement.
Greeley is still about two years away from having a draft of that statement.
In the meantime, Greeley officials are working to secure more water rights. The city doesn’t have enough rights to fill the expanded Seaman Reservoir. They’re 40 percent there, and as Reckentine said, it’s an everyday process. Every year, in fact, Greeley commits millions toward purchasing water rights.
Expanding the reservoir could cost $95 million more just in construction costs, according to an estimate provided in a Colorado Water Conservation Board document.
Water rights come from a variety of places, including retiring farms.
Today, Greeley typically uses its reservoirs as drought protection.
Basically, Greeley has water rights from the Colorado, Poudre, Laramie and Big Thompson rivers. But whether Greeley is able to get all of the water it’s owed depends on the rivers’ flow levels.
In drier years, Greeley would have to do without some of that water. That’s where reservoirs come in. Evans said the first reservoirs were used to finish Greeley area crops when river flows weren’t strong enough to do so in late fall.
Snowmelt and water diverted into reservoirs could be tapped for that purpose. Evans said it’s like putting money in the bank. Pound-for-pound, water’s worth more than money, though.
If and when the Seaman Reservoir expansion is complete, Greeley will likely use some of the water from that reservoir every year.
For Evans, that’s a perfect example, among many, of an investment in the future.
Evans mentions the new pipeline from the Bellvue Water Treatment Plant being installed now, with a lifespan of 75-100 years. The Seaman Reservoir has been around since the 1940s.
ABOUT MILTON SEAMAN RESERVOIR
» Built 1941
» Storage: 5,008 acre-feet
» Elevation: 5,478 feet
» Dam height: 115 feet
» Proposed enlargement date: 2029
» Proposed storage: 53,000 acre-feet
SET FOR LIFE?
The Seaman Reservoir expansion will put Greeley in a good position, but Deputy Director of Greeley Water Eric Reckentine hesitates to call it the final answer.
Greeley has a four-point plan when it comes to water:
» Maintain what you have — Greeley has reinforced water lines with concrete and fiberglass to reduce leaks.
» Secure supply to stay ahead of demand — The Windy Gap Project, which ensured water during lean times, is an example of this.
» Build storage for the lean times — The Milton Seaman Reservoir expansion project is the best example of this.
» Conserve the water you have — Greeley has a state-approved water conservation plan, and the new water budgets are another example of conservation.
THE OTHER RESERVOIRS
Here’s a quick look at Greeley’s other five reservoirs:
» Barnes Meadow Reservoir — Built in 1922 and located across Colo. 14 from Chambers Lake in the Roosevelt National Park, Barnes Meadow Reservoir holds 2,349 acre-feet of water.
» Peterson Lake Reservoir — Built in 1922, and located southwest of Chambers Lake and adjacent to Colo. 156, Peterson Lake Reservoir holds 1,183 acre-feet of water.
» Comanche Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Comanche Reservoir holds 2,628 acre-feet of water.
» Hourglass Reservoir — Built in 1898, and also located along Beaver Creek and west of the Colorado State University Mountain campus, the Hourglass Reservoir holds 1,693 acre-feet of water.
» Twin Lakes Reservoir — Built in 1924, and located southwest of Pingree Park off Colo. 14, Twin Lakes Reservoir holds 278 acre-feet of water.
Doug Billingsley doesn’t know what he’s going to do to replicate the peace and quiet of his work when he retires and re-enters the hubbub of normal life. Greeley pays Billingsley to live at Milton Seaman Reservoir, about 15-20 minutes from the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. Billingsley lives in a city-provided house, and has lived there for the past eight years with his wife, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and her caretaker.
Billingsley monitors the Seaman Reservoir. The reservoir is Greeley’s largest, and its water levels can rise and fall quickly. He must ensure the banks and dams are sound and functioning properly, and he’s charged with releasing water down the Poudre Canyon when necessary. Call him the water shepherd.
He’s used to the solitude, if not the quiet.
“I drove over the road truck for 18 years, and was by myself for up to 30 days at a time — I lived in a truck,” Billingsley said. “This is no biggie; this is heaven.”
The city pays him a salary as well as his living expenses. But there’s a catch: He’s on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
The floods of 2013 are a prime example. And Billingsley spent the better part of a week stuck at home after a bridge went out, trapping folks up the canyon. Of course, he had to monitor Seaman’s water levels during the flood, as well.
Billingsley’s wife loves having him at home every night, and he loves being there.
Apart from animals there’s nothing to bother a Seaman Reservoir caretaker. They’ve seen elk, mountain lions, bears, but none of them hurt anybody, he says.