@NorthernWater is drawing down Horsetooth for Soldier Canyon Dam outlet works maintenance

Horsetooth Reservoir looking west from Soldier Dam. Photo credit: Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

In all, Horsetooth dropped 32 feet between Aug. 1 and Sept. 13. The reason for the decrease is two-fold, according to reservoir manager Northern Water.

One reason for the level change is the approaching end of the irrigation season. Water users often didn’t need to take advantage of their water rights earlier in the summer, when storm clouds dropped rain on Northern Colorado several times a week.

But as the weather’s dried up, Northern Water has delivered more water to ditch companies for irrigation, spokesman Brian Werner said. The Poudre and South Platte Rivers are running lower now that snowpack has waned, so irrigation water is coming out of storage at Horsetooth.

The Soldier Canyon Dam is located on the east shore of Horsetooth Reservoir, 3.5 miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The zoned earthfill dam has an outlet works consisting of a concrete conduit through the base of the dam, controlled by two 72-inch hollow-jet valves. The foundation is limey shales and sandstones overlain with silty, sandy clay. Photo credit Reclamation.

The releases are also necessary because Northern Water is planning maintenance on the Soldier Canyon Dam outlet works in early November, Werner said. Lower water levels make it easier for divers to access dams for repairs.

Horsetooth stood at 5,391 feet on Wednesday morning, which is about average for this time of year, Werner said. On Aug. 1, Horsetooth’s elevation was 5,423 feet, or 7 feet below full…

Northern Water plans to draw down Horsetooth another 4 feet but will do so more gradually during the coming weeks, Werner said. The reservoir will probably reach more of an “equilibrium” between inflows and outflows this weekend, he added.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

A look at Vail Valley water rights

From The Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

In drought years, holders of the most senior water rights can “call” on those with junior rights. That means junior rights holders have to stop diverting water.

The town of Gypsum was in that situation not long ago.

Town water manager Matt Franklin said senior rights holders taking their allocated water put a significant strain on the town’s ability to provide water to residents.

“Nothing’s more stressful than trying to meet demand when there’s a call on the river and you can only put out a quarter of what you need,” Franklin said.

Gypsum, over the past 20 years or so, has acquired some of the most senior water rights on Gypsum Creek. The most senior rights came from the former Albertson Ranch, now the moribund Brightwater development. Other senior rights came from Cotton Ranch closer to town.

Still, Franklin said, there are some rights senior to the Albertson Ranch rights that can take precedence in April. That month in 2013 — a historic drought year — was tough to cover, Franklin said.

In those dry years, the town has to pull water from farther downstream, and the quality isn’t as good. Treating that water requires more chemicals, more electricity, more manpower … more of just about everything, Franklin said.

GOOD RIGHTS, GOOD SUPPLIES

Still, that town is in good shape today regarding its water inventory. So is most of the rest of the Vail Valley.

Front Range water attorney Glenn Porzac knows more than just about anyone about mountain water. He said local water providers have worked over the years to ensure steady water supplies.

The town of Eagle is a good example, Porzak said. Town officials there “have been very aggressive,” Porzak said. “They approve annexations and developments only with all the water rights. Over time, they’ve really cornered that market.”

Farther east, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, along with the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, has also put in a lot of effort to ensure steady, stable supplies of water.

Those two entities have separate elected boards, but share staff and other resources. The district and the authority have an integrated system, Porzak said, which allows water to move as needed from roughly Edwards to East Vail.

The third major player in the upper valley is Vail Resorts, which requires water for snowmaking between November and January.

Most of that water supply comes from the Eagle River, but there are a few reservoirs that play crucial roles as streamflows drop between late summer and late winter.

Aurora and Colorado Springs control most of the water from Homestake Reservoir roughly between Red Cliff and Camp Hale. From there, water is pumped to Turquoise Lake near Leadville. Then, water is pumped either into the Arkansas River for Colorado Springs or into the South Platte for Aurora.

But there’s some local water sitting in Homestake, used to ensure streamflows in the Eagle River.

MORE LOCAL SUPPLIES

Near the Climax Mine atop Fremont Pass is the Eagle Park Reservoir, which is used by local providers for streamflows and some supply. Black Lakes, atop Vail Pass, is also used for local supply.

Still, local streams can run almost dry. Porzak said he has 2013 pictures of Gore Creek running at just a trickle. Portions of Brush Creek near Eagle have run almost dry in other drought years.

That’s why the water-pumping systems used by the upper valley water and sanitation district and water authority are crucial to ensuring adequate supplies for everyone.

Another player in the mix of who controls local water is the Colorado River District, which oversees use of the Colorado River from its origin in Rocky Mountain National Park to the Colorado/Utah state line.

Porzak said the river district has contracts to provide water to a number of small developments between Wolcott and Dotsero. The river district also provides some reservoir water to back up systems in Eagle and Gypsum.

Then there’s the most-senior water right in the valley. That one, the only one in the valley that dates to the 1800s, came off the Nottingham Ranch at Avon and serves Beaver Creek.

The Vail Valley’s water supplies are more stable than they were even a few years ago. Starting in about the middle of the 20th century, Front Range cities came to the mountains looking for water to feed their growing communities.

Part of those efforts included buying ranches for their water. Park County — the Fairplay area — is among the most-affected high-mountain areas, since it’s on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

Denver Water, which bought thousands of acre-feet of mountain water over the years, also purchased water rights at 4 Eagle Ranch north of Wolcott and on the upper Eagle River. There was at one time talk of building a large reservoir near Wolcott.

A few years ago, thanks to an agreement with local providers, Denver gave up those rights, stabilizing the water supplies for local providers.

That cooperation is starting to show up in other parts of the mountains, Porzak said.

“Denver Water and the Western Slope get along pretty well now,” he said. “You’re seeing more cooperation in Summit and Grand counties now.”

Still, Porzak said, “Eagle County is fortunate.”

@USBR Begins Animas-La Plata Project Repayment Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller, Justyn Liff):

The Bureau of Reclamation is initiating negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The first negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 13, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

@Northern_Water signs off on Broomfield/Larimer County ATM agreement

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From The Broomfield Enterprise (Jennifer Rios):

The final nod was received by Northern Water last week, following earlier approvals by Broomfield and Larimer counties.

The agreement includes Broomfield buying 115 Colorado-Big Thompson water units for $25,550 each from Larimer, which would save Broomfield $109,250 if bought at open-market value.

It also includes an “Alternate Transfer Mechanism,” or ATM, that would give Broomfield the right to use 80 C-BT units a minimum of three out of 10 years, while paying an additional fee to use the water in those years to add to the farm’s viability.

The effort is a drought-protection effort that could be increased to five out of 10 years in extreme drought years. That period would be a rolling 10 years, meaning once Broomfield pulls water, the clock starts…

The ATM is the first of its kind in Colorado where water is shared from agricultural to municipal use in perpetuity.

“By piloting this agreement, we’ve demonstrated that, by working together and sharing valuable resources, it’s possible to conserve fast-disappearing farmland at a reduced cost while securing a source of water for Colorado’s growing cities,” Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager for Larimer County, said in a Larimer Department of Natural Resources news release this week. “Hopefully, this creates a model for farmers and municipalities to work together and avoid simple ‘buy and dry’ of farmland.”

Through the agreement, Larimer County was able to conserve 211 acres of productive farmland, along with the farm’s agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values, the release states, while reducing the cost of buying the farm and its water by 46 percent.

“Broomfield values a partnership approach to both water conservation and securing future water resources,” David Allen, director of Public Works for Broomfield, said. “We were pleased to work with Larimer County to bring this innovative Alternative Transfer Method to both of our communities.”

Larimer County retained 45 units of C-BT water unencumbered, along with native Handy Ditch water.

According to studies funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Alternative Agricultural Water Transfer Methods Grant Program, the water that will remain on the farm will be enough to keep it profitable and productive, according to the release. It will grow corn or sugar beets in wet years and water-efficient crops in dry years. In very dry years, when the farm might normally struggle to grow a profitable crop, the farm may now be better off financially with the ATM in place because it will bring in revenue from the ATM payment associated with the sharing of the water, the release states.

WISE Partnership delivers water, marks new era of cooperation #ColoradoRiver #COriver

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s the release from the WISE Project:

Denver, Aurora and South Metro region connect water systems to maximize efficiencies

DENVER, Aug. 16, 2017 – One of the most exciting water projects in Colorado’s history is now live. After years of planning and development of critical infrastructure, water deliveries have begun for the Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency Partnership, known as WISE.

“This is a significant new chapter in Colorado’s water history,” said John Stulp, special policy advisor to Gov. John Hickenlooper on water and chairman of the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee. “With the start of WISE deliveries, we are ushering in a new era of regional collaboration and partnership for the benefit of current and future generations in the Denver metropolitan area.”

WISE is a regional water supply project that combines available water supplies and system capacities among Denver Water, Aurora Water and the South Metro WISE Authority, which consists of 10 water providers serving Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Participating South Metro communities include Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock, among others.

“The state water plan identified regional collaboration and partnerships as key to a secure water future for Colorado,” said Lisa Darling, executive director of the South Metro WISE Authority. “WISE is a perfect example of the benefits that can come from such an approach.”

The innovative regional partnership is one of the first of its kind in the West and a major component to the region’s cooperative efforts to address long-term water supply needs. The WISE project has garnered unprecedented statewide support for its collaborative approach, which draws a stark contrast to water feuds of the past.

WISE allows the participating water entities to share existing water supplies, infrastructure and other assets in the South Platte River basin in ways that are mutually beneficial.

For communities in the South Metro region, WISE provides an additional source of renewable and reliable water supply and helps to reduce historical reliance on nonrenewable groundwater. Since the early 2000s, the region has made tremendous progress transitioning to a renewable water supply while ramping up conservation efforts.

For Denver, WISE adds a new emergency supply and creates more system flexibility, while allowing Denver Water to use water imported from the Colorado River multiple times for multiple purposes. For Aurora, WISE creates revenue that helps stabilize rates for municipal customers while creating added value from existing water and infrastructure.

“WISE promotes the efficient use of water through full utilization of existing resources,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Through this project, we’ve created a sustainable water supply without having to divert additional water out of mountain streams.”

“This is a positive development for Colorado’s water community,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said. “It is critically important that water utilities and providers are working together to meet Colorado’s water needs, and I commend this partnership.”

By reusing water imported from the Colorado River through Denver Water’s water rights, the project provides a new sustainable supply without additional Colorado River diversions. A portion of the WISE water rate also goes to the Colorado River District to support river enhancements within the Colorado River basin.

In 2015 WISE became the first water infrastructure project ever to receive funding from Basin Roundtables — groups of regional water leaders who help shape statewide water policy — across the state because of the example it set of regional cooperation. It also received financial support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“The WISE Partnership is a great example of communities working together to creatively address the water demands of Colorado’s growing Front Range,” said Laura Belanger, water resources engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “We commend the project partners for successfully implementing this innovative and flexible project that utilizes existing infrastructure to share water supplies between communities, increasing reuse, and helping keep Colorado rivers healthy and flowing.”

Others expressing public support of the project include Gov. Hickenlooper; U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner; U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Mike Coffman; and David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Since finalizing the WISE delivery agreement in 2013, WISE members have been hard at work putting in place the infrastructure and processes that will allow the parties across the Denver metro area to combine water supplies and system capacities.

Work included:
· Purchasing a 20-mile pipeline to carry water from Aurora to Denver and South Metro;
· Building a new water tank near E-470 and Smoky Hill Road;
· Connecting an array of existing underground pipelines; and
· Developing a new computer system that enables up-to-the-minute coordination between all entities.

#ColoradoRiver: Prep work starts for Chimney Hollow Reservoir #COriver

From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

Work has started on the new Chimney Hollow Reservoir in Larimer County. Final approval was granted for a 90,000 acre foot reservoir in May, and crews are now surveying and drilling at the site, to determine the extent of building materials.

Chimney Hollow will be operated by Northern Water. It is located just west of Carter Lake Reservoir, and is going to be close to the same size of twin to the east. This location was chosen for it’s proximity to existing Colorado Big Thompson facilities, and because there were no threatened or endangered species, no existing residences to relocate, and they were able to acquire the property from a single owner, Hewlett Packard.

Nearly 400,000 northern Colorado residents will benefit from this new water supply. Those areas are Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette, and the towns in the Central Weld County Water District.

“This project specifically is to make some supplies reliable year in, and year out, for those communities. They will be able to have more of a guarantee that they will be able to pull water from the Windy Gap Project, which today, is not possible. There are some years where there is either no water available, or nowhere to store it,” said Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water…

Contracts will start to get awarded in 2018, and Northern Water says that construction will likely start later next year, or early in 2019. It will be a three to four year build. The next step, which could happen this fall, is to relocate power lines that run through the middle of the property, and to also start clearing the vegetation.

Once construction is complete, they can start filling the reservoir with water. According to Northern Water, that could take several years to fill up.

“There are state regulations on dam safety, on how fast we can bring the water elevation up, so it’s sort of fill and seal, before we can go to that next incremental level. It could take 3, or 5, or even 10 years to fill it. A lot is dependent of mother nature as well, with how much water is available,” Werner said.

The water will come from the headwaters of the Colorado River, channeled back to the east from Windy Gap Reservoir.

The Chimney Hollow project has already been 14 years in the making. The permitting process began in 2003, and there have been $15 million spent in studies. The total estimated cost is $400 million.

The dam is estimated to be about 340 feet tall, which makes it the tallest dam to be built in Colorado since the Morrow Point Dam in Gunnison County back in 1968. Morrow Point is still the largest dam in Colorado at 468 feet. Denver Water has recently received approval to increase the size of Gross Dam, in Boulder County, to 471, which will make that the largest dam once it is finished.

Chimney Hollow Dam could be the first in the United States with an asphalt core. This type has been used in Europe and Canada for many years. The available land material in the area, made asphalt the more cost effective choice. The asphalt will be the inner seal of the dam, but the outside appearance will be more earthy, made of land and boulders. Arizona has also received approval to build an asphalt core dam, and could be completed about the same time as Colorado’s.

Larimer County will be handling the recreation on this new reservoir, and already has some initial plans for hiking, fishing, and boating. It will be a non-motorized boating lake and a day-use area. So far, there are no plans to allow overnight camping.

There had been some opposition to this project, and other proposals to build new reservoirs in Colorado. River conservation groups are concerned about the impacts of further taxing a the Colorado River system. Werner says they are addressing the future of the river, and the future of Colorado’s population at the same time.

“We are all for using water more efficiently, and water managers in this state are doing a darn good job of that, but the bottom line is that you have to provide some additional buckets, some additional water storage to meet our future demand, without drying up our agricultural lands,” he said.

#COleg: HB16-1256 South Platte Water Storage Study to debut soon

South Platte River alluvial aquifer

From Colorado Politics (Marianne Goodland):

Almost 8 million acre-feet of water has left Colorado in the past 20 years that the state could have kept, according to preliminary data from a legislative-commissioned study expected later this year…

That takes us to what happened to that 8 million acre-feet of water on the South Platte. It went to Nebraska. There’s a compact, like a contract, between Colorado and Nebraska, dating from 1923, that dictates that a certain amount of water from the South Platte goes to Nebraska, which preserves the river’s downstream environment and aquatic wildlife.

The 8 million acre-feet exceeds what Colorado was legally required to send to Nebraska. But the problem for Colorado is that there’s no place to put that water.

Lawmakers and water experts have been jawing about the lost water problem for years. In 2016, Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio sponsored a bill to put some teeth into the conversations, by asking how much water is being lost to Nebraska and where it can be stored.

The final answer won’t be known until the end of this year, but earlier this month, an interim water committee at the state Capitol took a first look at the data and some of the sites where storage might happen.

It’s not an easy conversation. Building new reservoirs takes decades and often has to survive lawsuits and complicated federal and state permitting processes.. Look at the Northern Integrated Supply Project near Fort Collins, which could lead to a new reservoir and expansion of a second. The project is in its 14th year and will likely take another five or six years to get through all the permitting. In the life of a reservoir, that’s short. Compare that to the Animas-La Plata reservoir in southwestern Colorado, where construction was declared finished in 2013. The project began construction in 1968.

While new storage is definitely possible for that South Platte water, other storage ideas are being considered in the study. According to Andy Moore, a senior water resources specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s primary water agency, 147 sites were identified on first blush for water storage.

Those sites fall into three categories: new reservoirs, rehabilitating and/or expanding existing reservoirs, or refilling underground storage. That’s water that would be pumped into aquifers, which are underground rock formations that hold water. Colorado has four major aquifers, with the three largest all along the Eastern Slope. In 2000, the South Platte aquifer, according to the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, served about 70 percent of the Front Range population.

The site list has been pared down several times, to eliminate sites too far from the main body of the South Platte or for sites that were too small to be useful. That leaves 16 sites, mostly in northeastern Colorado. Over the next several months, those sites will be evaluated for cost, benefits and other factors.

The first look at possible storage along the South Platte was welcomed by Chris Treese, external affairs manager for the Colorado River Water Conservancy District, the water agency in charge of the Colorado. “The Western Slope has long thought that as Coloradans we’re in the water world together, but every basin should look to own resources and capabilities first before looking for outside resources,” he said.

Treese wasn’t surprised by the numbers. “This is what Brown and others in the South Platte have been saying – that it’s a problem with a suitable storage location.” He added that the study will identify whether storage is “one silver bullet or a lot of smaller opportunities.”

Rep. Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins, a Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, favors refilling aquifers first and looking at other possibilities next. Arndt sponsored a bill, signed into law this year by the governor, that allows the state engineer to set up rules for the use of water that is pumped into nontributary aquifers. Those are aquifers not connected to surface water, like rivers.

Refilling aquifers, Arndt told Colorado Politics, is environmentally friendly, with less evaporation and less permitting. It is also practical from a political standpoint, she said, meaning that there should be less opposition to refilling aquifers than to building new reservoirs.

Refilling is “appealing, makes sense, it’s cost effective and it’s politically doable,” she said.

Brown was pleased with the study’s first data.

“This is the kind of information needed to make good decisions about what to do on the South Platte,” he said this week. He pointed out that the Arkansas, Rio Grande and Colorado rivers all have instream storage, and the only place without it is the South Platte.

For years, “the low-hanging fruit has been West Slope water,” Brown explained. And while Colorado has always delivered its Colorado River water as it should under the compact, the supply is just not there anymore. “It’s not just a West Slope issue – it’s an issue for the entire state. People who know water are very interested in making sure we don’t waste any and don’t send any more water to Nebraska than what they’re entitled to.”