St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District seeking balance in river basin — The Longmont Times-Call

CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

The St. Vrain Left Hand Conservancy District, whose mission is to protect water rights and improve management practices in the river basin, is in the first phase of developing a stream management plan for the 300,000-acre watershed. Its goal is to align strategies for maintaining the reliable delivery of water to agricultural users while also satisfying ecological and recreational goals, some of which could require higher flows in the main stretches of streams that feed the St. Vrain, such as Left Hand Creek, as well as the St. Vrain itself, which is a key South Platte River tributary.

“Whether you’re a domestic or agricultural water user, you have an opportunity to really be part of a strategic, balanced approach to meeting competing demands,” said Sean Cronin, the district’s executive director.

But Colorado water law is focused on the use of the state’s most valuable resource, and not on conservation, notes a September survey prepared by a firm hired by the conservancy district for the stream management plan.

“This causes water owners to shy away from change of use, dam modifications or other river improvements, fearing legal or financial challenges and a burden on their time — and farmers do not have time to give away,” the survey states, adding it also will be a challenge to have rights owners “‘open up’ about their decrees or the way they manage, use or store water, and there are sometimes long histories of relationships between agencies or people in how they work together with their water. Overcoming some of these social and political legacies, or positively using these relationships, will be a challenge to the process.”

Seeking balance at what cost?

Diverting water from stream beds through ditch delivery networks has long quenched otherwise dry agricultural lands on the Front Range, but the expansion of the practice over time has led to impacts some are now interested in mitigating.

Boosting the ability for fish and recreational users such as kayakers to pass diversions by altering or replacing infrastructural barriers has consistently been expressed as a priority.

So have improved ability to control timing and quantity of both ditch and stream bed flows, enhancing flood resiliency in the watershed and preventing impacts from municipal development.

“For the most part, this basin wants to work toward finding that balance,” Cronin said. “I won’t say we’re all in agreement of what the balance is, where that pivotal point is to make the balance, and I don’t think we’ll ever get there and that’s fine, as long as folks want to continue sitting at the table.”

While some Longmont-area ditch companies have already designed and implemented more passable diversions or are in talks with local officials about doing so in the near future, a move toward automating the opening and closing of ditch gates that are now moved manually to accommodate water share holders’ calls for supply also could emerge as a consideration for those relying on the watershed.

Being able to remotely open and close gates could help prevent flow heading into ditches when it isn’t needed, possibly allowing higher flows in main stream beds through areas where such water levels could benefit recreation and environmental health.

But doing so could come at a major cost. Terry Plummer, vice president of maintenance and operations for Left Hand Ditch Co., said the company, for reasons unrelated to stream management, next week will install an automated ditch gate that can be operated remotely in one location on its network at a cost of about $30,000.

If an effort to automate water delivery equipment were applied across the broader watershed, though, it would be needed in dozens of locations, and could require the construction of entirely new diversion structures in some areas, which can run cost hundreds of thousands for just one spot, Plummer said.

“We have no intentions of automating at this point in time,” Plummer said. “It’s just too expensive. The assessments (charged to share holders for ditch maintenance) are so high now because of the 2013 flood (damage) that we would have to raise assessments dramatically, and the farming can’t support that.”

He said grant funding would have to become available, with the right terms, to pursue widespread automation.

A method that helped maintain higher wintertime flows in the St. Vrain is likely no longer an option — for about 20 years until 2013, Longmont released water from its Ralph Price Reservoir storage at a rate of 3 cubic feet per second to maintain a winter flow of 5 cfs along the entirety of the river, according to city Water Resources Manager Ken Huson.

But state officials nixed that practice after changing how they account for water.

“It’s not something Longmont can just do on its own anymore like we used to,” Huson said.

Flow not only way to go

Other opportunities for bettering stream management in the St. Vrain watershed might not address flow, however, and still offer environmental and social benefits.

“What we’re going to come up with are management activities,” Cronin said. “Those could address flow, but it could be that an opportunity area doesn’t necessarily have a flow challenge, but a riparian floodplain connectivity challenge.”

Allowing streams to more easily access the floodplain by preventing their banks from becoming overly incised or congested can help avoid rushing waters during flood events via letting the excess flow spread out over flatland, instead of accumulating in steep, deep channels.

Removing the invasive crack willow tree, which has problematically proliferated across dozens of states, from local stream banks could help achieve that, and has already been worked on in some areas of the St. Vrain basin by the Left Hand Watershed Oversight Group.

“That’s really the issue with the current conditions and why there are disconnected floodplains, because we’ve had this encroachment of this invasive tree that has created a super stable bank, and has allowed incision to happen,” said Jessie Olson, the oversight group’s executive director. “We’ve got a number of places like that throughout the watershed that could use some additional connectivity basically by removing the invasive tree and laying back slopes.”

Erie population growth is driving wastewater plant expansion

Erie Town Hall. By Bahooka – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32826717

From The Longmont Times-Call (Anthony Hahn):

Trustees earlier this month approved the foundation for such change, an expansion master plan for the site that could run the town nearly $25 million in construction costs over the next few years, and an additional $2 million for consultants to steer the early stages.

Several factors — ranging from the predictable to the esoteric — are driving the need for the facility’s expansion, according to Adam Parmenter of HDR, Inc., the firm charged with shepherding the town through the project.

According to Colorado Department of Health regulations, towns must begin to make expansion plans when their facilities reach 80% capacity; at 95%, construction must begin. Delays could get state regulators to slap communities with growth restrictions.

In 2017, Erie’s North Water site hit about 81% capacity, processing roughly 1.58 million gallons of wastewater per day. By 2020, that number is expected to hit 95% of the facility’s processing capacity, equivalent to 4 ½ Olympic swimming pools…

If Erie’s projected growth keeps pace (and with current trends, there’s no reason to expect otherwise), Parmenter said the facility’s liquid capacity would be exceeded by 2021.

Consultants are recommending a plan out to 2028, expanding the plant into a 3.03 million gallons per day system, a 50% capacity increase from what the existing facility does now.

The expansion will take place in steps, however, over the next decade, according to Erie Public Works Director Todd Fessenden.

“We will be in design over the course of the next year for the expansion of the plant” he said, “then we’ll be in construction late next year or early 2021.

“The master plan is really just laying out the next 20 years so we can have a schedule to look at,” he added, “whether that be regulatory milestones or looking at certain capacity stages, a lot of those things you have to be planning ahead for before those things hit.”

Another of the drivers, and perhaps a more pressing matter, is the plant’s solid operations. Whereas the plant’s liquid-stream processing is more of a straightforward capacity issue, dealing with the deluge of solids on a daily basis is often rooted in the quality of the science.

In order to get the solids that come through the plant to the designation of “Class A Biosolids” — a standard that meets EPA guidelines “for land application with no restrictions,” meaning reclaiming it to a point where it can legally be used as fertilizer or compost — the plant’s technology needs to perform a specific set of tasks.

As it stands now, the North Water site is essentially at capacity for processing solid waste, Parmenter said, and the “system isn’t running the way it was originally designed to create Class A Biosolids.”

Without changes, the system’s current process — which includes trucks having to move solids off-site — would cost the town roughly $1 million per year in hauling costs.

According to officials, the costs of the expansion project will be footed by the town’s growth through its existing tap fees.

Fish populations are rebounding in St. Vrain Creek

New Saint Vrain River channel after the September 2013 floods — photo via the Longmont Times-Call

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

Boulder County biologists studying Preble’s meadow jumping mouse and fish populations along the St. Vrain Creek have been encouraged this summer by signs of species rejuvenating since their habitats were altered by the 2013 flood…

Restoration efforts also have been conducive to bolstering populations of certain “transition zone” fish that need shady habitat and water temperatures between the colder sections of stream at higher elevations and the warmer sections through Longmont and east of the city.

Fish trends promising, concerns remain

As Boulder County wildlife biologist Mac Kobza has tallied fish caught by his team of six research assistants this summer along the St. Vrain, he’s chalked up seven species, an improvement in the river’s fish diversity over the past five years.

White suckers, brown trout and minnows like johnny darters and longnose daces were among those caught and documented Tuesday, adding to the counts of fish in the area tracked this summer and for the past five years by Kobza…

Diversion dams and other irrigation ditch structures that pull water from the St. Vrain to deliver it to other water rights holders since the flood have been redesigned in some places to allow easier fish passage, but some ditch companies have hesitated to modify their apparatus.

“I think they’re resistant because it can be expensive. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is trying to work with those ditch companies and provide some of the funding to allow (more fish passage) to happen,” Longmont Land Program Administrator Dan Wolford said.

@OmahaUSACE: Flood risk management open house meeting scheduled in Longmont, Colorado

St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call
St. Vrain Greenway Trail washout September2013 via Longmont Times-Call

Here’s the release from the USACE Omaha office (Jeff Bohlken):

An open house to share details about a flood risk management study between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District and the City of Longmont will be held from 4:30-6:30 pm (MST) Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Longmont Museum, 400 Quail Road in Longmont, Colorado.

The flood risk management study will build on Resilient St. Vrain, Longmont’s extensive, multi-year undertaking to fully restore the St. Vrain Greenway and improve the St. Vrain Creek channel to mitigate future flood risk to the community. The Resilient St. Vrain project was created in response to the catastrophic flooding that damaged much of Longmont in September 2013.

The open house, which will also serve as a public scoping meeting per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), will give residents and others interested in the project a chance to learn why the study is important, learn what will be done during the study process, learn about the possible benefits, and provide specific concerns and input.

Through the study, the Omaha District will analyze conditions within a portion of the St. Vrain Creek’s city reach. The study area consists of the St. Vrain Creek and surrounding area between Golden Ponds Park (at the upstream confluence of the St. Vrain Creek and Lykins Gulch) to the BNSF railroad bridge (near the pedestrian bridge that connects Price Road). The study will evaluate the engineering feasibility, economic benefits, and environmental considerations for potential flood risk management improvements within the study area.

If a qualifying segment is identified within the study area, the Omaha District could ultimately partner with the City to complete a construction project as part of the Section 205 program of the Flood Control Act of 1948.
For more information, contact Jeff Bohlken with the Omaha District at (402) 995-2671 or Longmont Floodplain Administrator Monica Bortolini at (303) 651-8328.

Conflict of interest — @DenverWater watershed funding for forest health in Boulder County?

St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park
St. Vrain River Rocky Mountain National Park

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

Denver Water, which serves 1.4 million people in the city and county of Denver and surrounding communities, is currently waiting for a permitting decision to be issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on its proposed expansion of Gross Reservoir, located in southwestern Boulder County.

The USFS has filed extensive past comments critical of the Gross Reservoir project, but now says all of its concerns about that project have been resolved.

Critics, however, point to a five-year, $4.5 million contract providing Denver Water funding for the original Forsythe project as well as numerous other Colorado forest management efforts — talks are now underway for a new five-year pact for Denver Water to help subsidize projects, including Forsythe II — and they challenge the level of transparency surrounding that wildlands management initiative.

Denver Water touts its relationship with the Forest Service on its website, billed since 2010 as the “From Forests to Faucets” program. That partnership called for Denver Water from 2010 to 2015 to match a $16.5 million investment from the Forest Service, for a total of $33 million, for forest treatment projects seen as critical to protecting water supplies and water quality.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Denver Water in December for a similar new agreement between the two, setting up a new one-to-one matching effort totaling another $33 million, to cover 2017 to 2021.

The Colorado State Forest Service was also a partner to the previous pact, and will be to its successor, along with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Colorado saw a dramatic example of the healthy forests-healthy water link following the June 2002 Hayman fire, which filled Cheesman Reservoir — the oldest reservoir in the Denver Water system — with mud, ash and other debris.

Denver Water was forced to spend more than $27 million on water quality treatment, sediment and debris removal, reclamation techniques and infrastructure projects in the wake of the Hayman Fire and the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.

But Magnolia-area resident David Bahr sees the Denver Water-USFS relationship as “absolutely” representing a conflict of interest, specifically as it applies to the controversial Forsythe projects in western Boulder County.

“How can it not be?” Bahr asked. “The fact that (USFA) employees and goods are being paid for by Denver Water means that if they weren’t doing this, those employees wouldn’t be getting paid. The Forest Service has to be aware of this, so it has to influence any decisions that they make.”

Vivian Long, president of the Magnolia Forest Group, has long been vocal in opposition to the original Forsythe project and its planned successor, Forsythe II, which calls for thinning and controlled burns on 2,855 acres of national forest land within the nearly 19,000-acre project area, to be carried out over 10 to 15 years.

“While they’re saying, ‘We’re taking money from Denver Water, but they have no input on what we do,’ I don’t know if that’s true or not,” Long said. “When we have asked about them taking money from Denver Water, they have tried to either downplay it, or deny, or just say they don’t know anything about it. So we’re left wondering, whose opinion is more important here: the public’s or Denver Water?”

Paperwork documenting the Denver Water-USFS relationship was obtained by Magnolia Forest Group member Teagen Blakey through Colorado Open Records Act requests…

Forsythe II critics point out that in March 2010, the Forest Service filed 142 pages of comments on the Gross Reservoir project with the Corps of Engineers highlighting many concerns, including the adequacy of Denver Water’s consideration for habitat and wildlife issues in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.

That same year, the Forest Service signed off on the five-year operating plan for Denver Water to pitch in $4,479,251 toward improving forest and watershed health on national forest lands in numerous Colorado watersheds designated as Denver Water “Zones of Concern,” including the St. Vrain Watershed, home to Gross Reservoir.

To date, $660,000 of that Denver Water money has gone toward Forsythe work, according to Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests spokeswoman Tammy Williams.

On Oct. 17, the Forest Service and Denver Water agreed on a lengthy agreement settling any concerns over Gross Reservoir, which it states “resolves all issues raised by the Forest Service during the consultation process” relating to the Gross Reservoir expansion

Clark Chapman, vice president of the Magnolia Forest Group, is among those wondering why the Forest Service is seeming now to soft-pedal habitat concerns around both Forsythe II and Gross Reservoir…

Tammy Williams, the USFS spokeswoman, said there is no conflict of interest inherent in Denver Water’s pushing for Gross Reservoir and funding Forsythe forest work at the same time.

“Gross Reservoir was independently analyzed and considered separate and apart from the Forsythe II project,” she wrote in an email. “These projects are being proposed by different agencies, these are independent processes, with independent timelines and different decision makers.”

[…]

The western half of Gross Reservoir, as it is currently configured, is encompassed by the southeastern corner of the Forsythe II project area. But despite their proximity, the Forest Service maintains that its evaluation of Forsythe II is not influenced by its relationship with Denver Water.

‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

Understanding the river, each other

Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

“The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

Forests and water quality/quantity

Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

“Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

Global lessons for local success

“Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

Change affects all sectors

An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

“It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

Videos, displays and music too

The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2017.shtml.

For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com or 970-692-1443.

http://www.reporterherald.com/news/ci_30684388/big-t-river-rehab-begin

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

This year, actual work will begin to repair habitat along and inside several stretches of the Big Thompson River through a grassroots group, The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, that formed after the 2013 flood.

“2017 is going to be a big year for projects happening on the ground,” said Shayna Jones, watershed coordinator with the coalition. “We’re talking millions of dollars in river restoration.”

A couple of projects through the coalition have already begun, but several others are going to kick off in 2017. Early in the year, the coalition will put out bids for a contractor to work on a stretch about a mile long from Jasper Lake through Narrows Park, which is in the lower section of the canyon.

Estimated to cost $900,000, the project will include stabilizing sections of the banks, planting vegetation and creating what are called flood plain benches to allow the water space to spread out in the event of a future flood, explained Jones and Tracy Wendt, assistant watershed coordinator.

The work also includes improving fish habitat in several ways, such as building pools within the river and planting vegetation in strategic places to provide shade and cover.

“There will be habitat improvements for all different life stages of trout,” Wendt said. “It’s all the phases of their life to help them.”

Because of the fish habitat component, the coalition, in partnership with Rocky Mountain Flycasters, recently received a $4,500 grant from the Trout and Salmon Foundation. And the Flycasters, a local chapter of Trout Unlimited, also contributed $2,000 to the project.

The bulk of the funding, about $500,000, will come from the Natural Resources Conservation Service with the rest of the money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jones explained.

This piece of the river winds through both private and public properties and ends just before the Narrows near the Colorado Cherry Company.

Other projects also are planned further west along the river with more money coming from the NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The exact amounts of money and grants are still being finalized, though Jones did confirm the total work would be in the millions.

Other projects to rehabilitate the river and river corridor are occurring simultaneously including one that will begin in 2017 as a partnership with the coalition and Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch.

Work began in October and will continue this spring on West Creek, and other improvements began two weeks ago on Fox Creek. Both, located along the North Fork near Glen Haven, are being built in partnership with Larimer County, NRCS and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Also, Larimer County, private property owners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Department of Transportation officials are working on separate stretches of the river, with everyone working together for overall river benefit.

“We’re making sure our projects are complementing each other to make for an overall healthy watershed,” Jones said.

She expects the work to continue over the next three years as the Colorado Department of Transportation completes the permanent repairs of U.S. 34, which also include massive river restoration work.