#Runoff news: Flood advisory for the Cache la Poudre

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Miles Blumhardt):

Our hottest weather of the season toady through the weekend will increase snowmelt and prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood advisory for the Poudre River.

The advisory runs today through 4 p.m. Monday from the mouth of the Poudre Canyon through Fort Collins. The hot weather in the mountains is expected to accelerate melting of an abundant snowpack, resulting in minor flooding of bike paths and trails in low-lying areas around Fort Collins…

Flood stage is 7.5 feet on the river. At 4:45 a.m. Friday, the river was at 6.2 feet. The forecast is for the river to rise to near 6.3 feet Saturday morning. At 6 feet, water spills into low-lying areas.

The Poudre was running at 2,310 cubic feet per second Friday morning through Fort Collins, which is strong enough to carry people downstream.

How NISP works — @Northern_Water

Report: State of the Poudre — @fortcollinsgov

Click here to read the report. Here’s the executive summary:

Executive Summary
The purpose of this first State of the Poudre River (SOPR) is to provide a description of the current health of the Cache la Poudre River (Poudre) from approximately Gateway Natural Area to I-25. The Poudre is a complex natural system that has been altered by nearly two centuries of human influence. This has resulted in dramatic changes to the physical structure of the river, water quantity and quality, floodplain, forests, and wildlife communities. The human footprint continues to expand, placing additional pressure (or stresses) on the river ecosystem and the natural processes that sustain it. This river health assessment provides the City of Fort Collins with a new tool to track trends and benchmark progress towards its vision of sustaining a healthy and resilient Cache la Poudre River.

While the Poudre flows 126 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte near Greeley this study focuses on a 24-mile reach from the lower canyon through Fort Collins. The study area was divided into four zones (Canyon, Rural, Urban, and Plains) and further into 18 study reaches based on natural changes on the landscape and human influences.

Overall Grade: For the 24-mile study area the Poudre River received an overall grade of C. This grade indicates the even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem.

The framework for this baseline assessment includes nine indicators of river health which are informed by 25 indicator-specific metrics. Collectively these provide a thorough evaluation of how well the system is functioning. Metrics grades are developed by collecting and incorporating many types of data, which were then translated into an A-F grading system. Indicator and metric numerical scores and their corresponding letter grades were calibrated to categorical definitions relating to degree of functionality or impairment.

Recommended ranges developed for each metric (as established in the River Health Assessment Framework, City of Fort Collins, 2015) and were developed based on the City’s concept of working towards a functioning river ecosystem. The recommended ranges consider the contemporary real- world context and reasonable expectations for future change and the potential for improvement. They should, however, be used as a guide and aspiration rather than a directive. Also, when interpreting results for a comprehensive scientific assessment such as this, it is important to consider that uncertainty and variability exists across scientific disciplines, data sources, and river reaches. The methods and grading guidelines provide an explicit description of the analytical approaches used and can help the reader understand this variability.

This report is structured to allow the reader to understand the project approach (Sections 1 and 2) followed by identification of potential influences, or stressors, on river health in Section 3. The health assessment scores (Section 4) reveal the ramifications these anthropogenic stressors are having on ecosystem condition. Results indicate there is considerable variability across aspects of river health as scores vary widely (from A to F) at smallest unit of measurement (metrics scores by reach). In Section 5, the focus shifts to an overview of river health, describing the link between stressors and degree and type of impairment for each of the four zones. Poudre River health indicator grades for each zone are compared to the ranges recommended in the City’s Poudre River Health Assessment Framework (2015)—to highlight areas where there is the greatest gap between the City’s goals for the river and today’s conditions. This section also includes an analysis of the causes of impairment and explores which problems are tractable to practical solutions. Section 6 looks toward the potential future applications and improvements for the project.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In their first-ever health assessment of a 24-mile stretch of the Poudre River, a group of Fort Collins water experts awarded the river an overall grade of a C.

In other words, the river is functional, the assessment’s authors said. But it could, and should, be better.

City officials aspire to a B grade for the river, which would mean the assessed stretch is considered “highly functional.”

The report was put together by a group of ecologists and resource managers from the city’s natural areas and utilities departments, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and several consulting firms. The goal was to develop a tool city officials can use to benchmark progress toward a healthier river.

The study focused on the Poudre from the lower canyon near Gateway Natural Area to Interstate 25 and used an A-F grading system. The spotlight was on six key indicators of river health:

  • Flows, the primary driver of river health
  • Sediment, a natural component of rivers that can be harmful if amounts are too much or too little
  • River channel, including shape, width and depth
  • Water quality
  • Aquatic life
  • Riparian corridor, including riverside forests, wetlands and grasslands
  • The overall grade of C “indicates that even though the Poudre has been altered and degraded by a suite of local and system-wide stresses that impair its health, it continues to support basic elements of a functioning river ecosystem,” the report states.

    The river’s lower canyon zone fared better than the urban, rural and plains zones, scoring an overall B-minus with high marks for riparian corridor health, water nutrients and land and channel erosion. The canyon zone scored poorly on habitat connectivity and water temperatures, the latter because warming water temperatures represent risks for aquatic life.

    The river’s urban zone earned a C grade with high marks for water nutrients, trout population and land erosion. The urban zone failed in riparian corridor health, habitat connectivity and river flows.

    Overall, river flows were an issue for most of the 24-mile stretch.

    “The Poudre is characterized by major changes in flow volumes and timing,” the report states. “Reductions have significantly altered peak and base flows, the effects (of) which are exacerbated the further one travels downstream. Diversions also cause unnatural fluctuations in flow volume, which likely affects critical habitat and reproductive needs of fish and insects in the river.”

    Fort Collins: Possible ballot initiative about Poudre River through town

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The group [Save the Poudre] is considering asking Fort Collins voters to require the city to “actively oppose and work to stop” new water projects that would reduce the river’s flow through Fort Collins, according to a city memo.

    Save the Poudre, which has fought the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and its Glade Reservoir for more than a decade, might soon start the process of getting an initiative on the November ballot that could change city water policy.

    Watering down the war: How we may move forward on the issues of growth on the Front Range

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

    From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Rentsch):

    More than 4 million acre-feet of water has left the state via the South Platte River since 2009, and in an arid environment like the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, a drop unused inside the state boundaries is considered a drop wasted – especially as the area grows in population and demand for water subsequently increases.

    Experts say that the growth of Northern Front Range towns and cities will not be limited by physical access to water – the supply exists. What is up for debate is how we allocate the resource to provide a sustainable supply of water to meet both human and environmental needs.

    One attempt to solve this problem is the Northern Integrated Supply Project, also known as NISP – a proposed water storage plan that has been in the stages of federal permitting and review since 2004. It may be the most famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – water project in the region…

    On the surface, debate over the project seems to be gridlocked as participants wait for the final Environmental Impact Assessment to be complete. Discussion has stagnated over the basic question of whether the NISP project is in fact a dam on the Poudre.

    However, at the heart of the debate are larger questions about how to manage growth on the Front Range without sacrificing the health of the region’s rivers and agricultural land.

    “It’s really a deeper question of what do we want Northern Colorado to look like and how do we want to get there,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado State University Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute.

    NISP basics

    The current project plan calls for the building of two reservoirs: Glade in Larimer County and Galeton in Weld. Additionally, there would be a small reservoir for temporary storage near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, three pump plants and pipelines to deliver the water to the participants and updates to an existing small canal.

    Designed to provide a reliable 40,000 acre-feet supply of water annually to the fifteen participating cities and water districts to meet needs through the year 2030. The project’s participant list includes the cities of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Severance and Windsor; participating water districts are Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand and Morgan County Quality. Per Northern Water’s estimates, these 11 towns and four districts serve about 240,000 residents in total.

    In order to do this, Northern plans to divert water from the Poudre during wet periods of the year — under projected conditions, the June rise of the river would be considerably lower than ecologists say is healthy. Northern Water is working on a plan to abide by guidelines that will be set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but what constitutes a healthy flow is up for debate.

    “We’re willing to work on a flushing flow plan because we know it’s a big enough issue,” said Brian Werner, a public relations officer for Northern Water.

    NISP was originally expected to cost $500 million; at this price, participants will pay about $12,500 per acre-foot of water they receive from the project. An equivalent amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson costs around $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot.

    However, more recent changes to make the project plan more feasible and sustainable have pushed the estimated price up to around $800 million.

    The project’s effects on the Poudre are of particular concern to ecologists.

    “The Poudre … is a working river, and it’s been developed to meet human needs since the late 1800s,” said Leroy Poff, a doctor of aquatic ecology at CSU. “But it continues to function ecologically in the lives of the citizens of Fort Collins… Proposed future development of the Poudre presents strong challenges to sustaining the ecosystem that we have today.”

    Planning the future of the Front Range

    The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that population in Larimer and Weld counties is forecast to increase by 92 percent from 2015 to 2045, exceeding the 53 percent growth forecast in the statewide population. In addition to the increased municipal demand for water, this level of growth has been attributed as responsible for traffic problems, both local and statewide housing shortages, and increasingly unaffordable housing.

    Despite the region experiencing a slight economic dip due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry as the price of oil lowered, the estimates of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization say that employment in the region is projected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2040.

    The rising cost of living associated with these trends is causing people who hold jobs in metropolitan areas, but who cannot afford the high price tag of living within city limits, to move to smaller communities to take advantage of the more affordable sprawl. These ‘bedroom communities,’ as they’re termed, predominantly consist of residences, schools and churches and lack the commercial development that characterizes a healthy, balanced city.

    “We’re pushing people who don’t have two good incomes out of Fort Collins because of growth,” Waskom said. “What happens is that growth is now occurring in those places that weren’t here (before) and developed water supplies early on in the game.”

    Growth in these areas indicates that there is a lot of logistical work ahead for the various entities coordinating the region’s infrastructure. In addition to issues of water supply, there must also be planning to ensure adequate water quality, air quality and transportation to support the population. Numerous infrastructure improvement plans are in the works, but none have been as publicly contentious as NISP.

    While some opponents of NISP say that stopping the project, and therefore limiting the supply of water available to these developing communities, might be a solution to curb growth, experts say that this is not the case. If absolutely no action is taken, agricultural water rights would be on the hook to make up the difference.

    “I think it’s true and evident that water is probably not going to be what limits sprawl or growth in this area,” Waskom said. “It’s just got to come out of ag, and it comes out of the environment. Those are the two sectors that are at risk, and the economics of it are such that, as agriculture dries up and houses grow on top of what were cornfields, the economy grows. It doesn’t skip a beat.”

    Solutions

    Some groups are seeking to transcend the back-and-forth over NISP by way of compromise.

    Rather than depending on large new reservoirs and diversions, the nonprofit group, Western Resource Advocates, proposes an alternative plan with a diverse water supply portfolio. WRA’s ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’ plan would, like NISP, provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to participants annually, but would utilize conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands and voluntary agreements with agriculture.

    The Poudre Runs Through It, a group of professionals facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, is looking at ways to bring together the diverse stakeholders on the river and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

    “I think until we start to engage more people in that discussion and more groups in that discussion, this is going to be a real tough thing to crack,” said Kehmeier, who is also a member of The Poudre Runs Through It. “It’s going to take more of the water users on the system than just one to make this work.”

    Denver: Federal judge dismisses Water Supply & Storage Company lawsuit

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    A water-and-fish dispute that began in 1994 just ended. A federal judge in Denver on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Fort Collins-based Water Supply & Storage Co. over a U.S. Forest Service decision about the management of Long Draw Reservoir and requirements to restore the native greenback cutthroat trout in the reservoir and surrounding streams.

    Long Draw Reservoir sits below the east side of the Continental Divide, about 35 miles west of Fort Collins in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. Some of its water comes from the Western Slope via the Grand River Ditch, which traverses a section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

    Water from the reservoir is released into La Poudre Pass Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River. The water goes toward downstream agricultural and municipal uses. The reservoir was built in 1929 and expanded in 1974.

    That 53-acre expansion was the root cause of the ensuing fight. The original 300-acre reservoir was permitted under a permanent easement, said Dennis Harmon, general manager of the irrigation company: The expansion required a separate, renewable easement and permit.

    In 1994, Trout Unlimited sued the Forest Service over an Environmental Impact Statement for the permit that would have allowed La Poudre Pass Creek to be dry during the winter.

    In 2004, a U.S. District Court threw out the permit, forcing the Forest Service to start the permitting process over and include a plan to protect trout habitat and restore the greenback cutthroat trout to the watershed.

    A deal to make that happen involving Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Water Supply & Storage was reached in 2010. But the forest supervisor at the time said the irrigation company would have to be responsible for full cost of the restoration project.

    That prompted another lawsuit and more years of haggling. Under the new deal, Water Supply & Storage will put $1,250,000 into a trust that will pay for the restoration program.

    Trout Unlimited will be the trustee. It will work closely with the Forest Service, the National Park Service and Colorado agencies to implement the largest trout restoration project in state history.

    The work will entail building barriers in the reservoir and more than 40 miles of streams to block out non-native fish species. Once non-native fish are eliminated section-section from streams, the waters will be restocked with greenback cutthroat trout.

    The project is likely to last more than 10 years, said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. It could cost more than the earmarked $1,250,000, he said, but fundraising and in-kind donations from volunteers and government entities should help get the work done.

    Water Supply & Storage is glad to have the matter settled after so many years, Harmon said. It wound up with a 30-year easement agreement to continue managing the reservoir.

    He declined to say how much the company paid in legal fees.

    Nickum said the restoration work will be challenging, especially given the limitations on equipment that may be used inside designated wilderness areas. But it will be worthwhile for the environment and people who enjoy fishing.

    And the greenback cutthroat trout – the Colorado state fish and a threatened species – will be back in it home waters.

    Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

    2017 #coleg: NISP-related bill fails in committee

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The bill would have allowed Northern Water to run Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, water through 12 miles of the Poudre River in Fort Collins and recapture it at the Timnath Reservoir inlet for storage east of Fort Collins.

    The bill failed 6-5 last week in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it…

    Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said the district will still go through with its plan to run 14,000 acre feet of water through the river in Fort Collins with the goal of maintaining flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second. He attributed the lack of consensus on the bill to “uneasiness” in the water community about unintended impacts of the legislation.

    “We’re still going to do it,” he said of the so-called “conveyance refinement plan.” “We’re just going to look at Plan B, probably.”

    Whether Northern Water needs legal permission to carry out the plan remains a “gray area,” Werner said. But he added Northern Water will pursue the plan regardless of whether formal legislation is passed.

    Werner wasn’t sure if Plan B would come in the form of another bill or pursuing the plan without legislation. He said Northern Water was trying to pass a bill to make its case “air-tight.”