Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:

A hefty snowpack and relatively full municipal storage means farms will get a larger than usual share of Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water this year.

About 80 percent, or 44,000 of the 55,000 acre-feet allocated by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board Thursday, will go to irrigation companies throughout the Arkansas River basin. In addition, agricultural interests were allocated 20,000 acre-feet in return flows. A total of 28 ditches and three well groups will benefit.

That water comes on top of about 12,000 acre-feet leased earlier this year by Pueblo Water to farms, ditches or well associations…

“The extra water which the municipalities have no place to store is always welcome in Crowley County and the Arkansas Valley,” said Carl McClure, a Crowley County farmer who heads the allocation committee of the district.

The Southeastern allocation is about 25 percent above average, thanks to a snowpack that remains heavy and is still growing. The Fry-Ark water is imported from the Upper Colorado River basin through the 5.4-mile long Boustead Tunnel into Turquoise Lake.

More than half of the water is reserved for cities, but if they have no place to store it, it is allocated to agriculture. Fry-Ark water sells for $7 per acre-foot, plus surcharges that pay for programs that benefit water users. By comparison, Pueblo Water leases averaged $55 per acre-foot this year.

The district expects to bring more than 68,000 acre-feet into the Arkansas River basin this year, but prior commitments such as the Pueblo fish hatchery, evaporation and transit loss adjustments are made before the amount of water sold can be determined.

The Southeastern district guarantees 80 percent of the water, holding back some in case the runoff fails to meet projections. The Boustead Tunnel can only take a certain amount of water at one time and only when sufficient flows, as determined by court decrees, are available on the Western Slope. The remaining 20 percent is delivered when the district determines flows will be sufficient.

That should not be a problem this year, as the Bureau of Reclamation projected imports to be about 77,000 acre-feet, well above the amount Southeastern factored in.

For municipal allocations, the Fountain Valley Authority was able to take about 7,000 acre-feet, or half of its entitlement. Pueblo Water and Pueblo West are not seeking any water. Cities east of Pueblo claimed 3,132 acre-feet, while cities west of Pueblo were allocated 1,164. Most chose not to request their full allocation.

Allocating Fry-Ark water is the primary function of the Southeastern District, which was formed in 1958 to provide supplemental water to the Arkansas River basin.

Chimney Hollow reservoir construction may start in late 2018

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ final decision allowing Northern Water to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland, issued 14 years after the federal permitting process began means, that construction could begin in late 2018 and water begin filling in 2022.

That same year, an open space around the reservoir with trails, backcountry camping and boating should open under the management of Larimer County’s Department of Natural Resources.

The permits that allow Northern Water to finish design and begin building the $400 million reservoir on behalf of 13 municipal water providers, including Loveland, require several different actions to mitigate environmental damage or concerns.

[Eric] Wilkinson, general manager of Northern Water, summarized some of the mitigations associated with Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will store water pulled from the Colorado River through the Windy Gap project.

• Maintaining certain water temperatures on the Colorado River to make sure the habitat for fish stays healthy.

• Paying for about $4 million worth of stream channel improvements on the Colorado River for 14 miles ending near the confluence of the Williams Fork River, to make significant enhancements to aquatic habitat.

• Flush flows every six years to move sediment and improve habitat.

• Construct a channel that will carry the water around Windy Gap Reservoir, allowing fish to migrate through that area and improving spawning conditions in the Colorado River downstream of Windy Gap.

• Replace wetlands that will be destroyed by the actual construction of the reservoir with similar acres in another location.

• Conduct stream restoration along the Little Thompson River in two locations to help restore that channel to its pre-2013 flood conditions and maintain those enhancements over the long term.

Chimney Hollow will hold about 90,000 acre-feet of water, enough for more than 90,000 households, that will be pulled from the Colorado River in wet years and stored for use in dry years.

Windy Gap Reservoir

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

The Windy Gap Firming project and its accompanying Chimney Hollow Reservoir has been approved, paving the way for more reliable water across the Front Range while also further draining the Colorado River.

The Windy Gap Project has its roots in the 1980s, and was intended to provide the Front Range with more than 40,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. But without enough storage capacity, municipalities haven’t realized that yield every year.

“We are pleased to make it to this milestone with our partners at Northern Water and all of the other communities involved,” Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said in text message Thursday.

The firming project, centered on the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake, is expected to address that problem at a cost of about $400 million.

The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval Wednesday, and construction should start in late 2018 or early 2019.

It’s a project nearly 15 years in the making.

“We’re ecstatic,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “You get one of these (types of projects) done in your whole lifetime.”

Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.

Greeley is one of 12 beneficiaries of the project, which also will create more reliable water supply for Fort Lupton, Longmont and Loveland.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir will hold 90,000 acre-feet of water, and Greeley will get about 9,200 acre-feet of water per year from the project.

An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or equivalent to a foot of water covering a football field. Greeley residents, according to the city’s new water budget, will use about 20,000 gallons per year.

Sen. Cory Gadner, R-Colo., also applauded the decision, calling the project a major component of Colorado’s longterm water needs.

“Getting to this point has been years in the making, and it is hard to state just how important it is that Northern Water can finally move forward with construction,” Gardner said in a news release.

The project’s approval was met with resistance from some water conservation advocates, though, including Gary Wockner with Save the Colorado and Save the Poudre.

“The Colorado River is on life support right now,” Wockner told the Associated Press. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”

Save the Colorado is opposed to the Windy Gap project, and Wockner told The Tribune it’s likely his group will file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the project.

“Our policy is no new dams and diversions out of the Colorado River system,” Wockner said. “This is a dam and diversion, so we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”

Wockner, who said the Colorado River is being overused, instead calls for more water conservation, including moving away from green lawns, recycling water and managing growth better.

Werner points to the endorsement of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, officials in Grand County on the Western Slope and Trout Unlimited, a trout and salmon conservation organization as proof the Windy Gap Firming project’s strong support.

Before the Windy Gap Firming project, Colorado had never endorsed a water project that has come before the federal government.

Without the project, Werner said municipalities would have to do what they’ve always done in particularly wet years: dump the excess water down the Colorado River rather than saving it for drier times.

“There is still a lot of work to do,” Otto said. “This project, along with the expansion of Milton Seaman Reservoir, are critically important to Greeley’s longterm water needs.”

Windy Gap Firming Project gets green light from @OmahaUSACE #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District (Kiel Downing/Cheryl Moore):

The Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, finalized its Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Windy Gap Firming Project on May 17, 2017. The project is proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Subdistrict) and involves the construction of Windy Gap Firming Project Water Supply facilities for its customers and 13 other Front Range water providers. The Subdistrict requested a Section 404 Clean Water Act (CWA) Permit from the Corps’ Omaha District Denver Regulatory Branch. “Due to the potential for significant environmental impacts to the East and West Slopes of Colorado, this project resulted in the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)” said Kiel Downing, Denver Regulatory Office Chief. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) was the lead federal agency preparing the EIS, and the Corps participated as a Cooperating Agency.

The original Windy Gap Project, constructed in the early 1980’s, was intended to provide more than 40,000 acre-feet of firm yield to the east slope, but due to operational constraints that didn’t happen. The project currently captures water from the Colorado River, pumps it to existing reservoirs on the west slope and moves the water through a tunnel system (the Colorado-Big Thompson Project operated by Reclamation) to the Front Range of Colorado. Because of the historic deficiency in water deliveries and lack of storage, the Windy Gap Project participants have not been able to fully rely on existing Windy Gap Project water for meeting a portion of their annual water demand. As a result, the participants, initiated the proposed construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which would firm all or a portion of their individual Windy Gap Project water allotment units to meet a portion of existing and future municipal and industrial water requirements. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir, as proposed, is a 90,000 AF capacity reservoir that will be dammed at the northern and southern limits.

Reclamation published the Windy Gap Firming Project, Environmental Impact Statement in November of 2011, and ROD on December 12, 2014. The State CWA Section 401 Water Quality Certification began shortly thereafter with the Subdistrict submitting its application to the State in March of 2015. The State issued the Section 401 WQC for the WGFP on March 25, 2016. This determination was necessary for the Corps determination under Section 404 of the CWA. The Subdistrict provided the Corps its Mitigation Plan for permanent and temporary impacts to Waters of the U.S. associated with the WGFP on March 17, 2017 and the Corps with continued agency collaboration, updated study information, and new Federal and State requirements, finalized their ROD shortly thereafter marking the end of the federal approval process.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jeff Stahla):

Kiel Downing, Denver regulatory office chief for the Corps of Engineers, announced Wednesday afternoon the Record of Decision for the Clean Water Act permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes the reservoir.

With the final federal permit in hand, Northern Water officials can start planning for construction of the $400 million project, which is set to start in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Northern Water Public Information Officer Brian Werner.

“We’re smiling,” Werner said. “These things come along once in a generation.”

Berthoud-based Northern Water will manage the construction of a pair of dams in a valley west of Carter Lake that will hold approximately 90,000 acre-feet of water, or about 29 billion gallons — enough water for more than 90,000 households.

Water to fill Chimney Hollow will come from the Colorado River basin in years when its flows are above average. The water will be carried through a diversion at Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County to Lake Granby and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Municipalities including Loveland, Fort Collins and Greeley conceived of Windy Gap in 1970. The need for storage space for the communities involved to “firm” their ownership of the Windy Gap water rights expanded in later years to include Chimney Hollow Reservoir because in above-average precipitation years, Lake Granby often does not have enough space to store the additional water.

Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said he was ecstatic when he heard about the Corps of Engineers’ approval, comparing it to Christmas.

In his time serving on the Loveland City Council and then the Colorado House of Representatives, he has seen how much the storage project was needed…

For cities such as Loveland, Windy Gap water fills an important role for its municipal users because it is a 365-day-a-year, deliverable water source, unlike in-basin seasonal water offered through local ditch companies. It will join the Colorado-Big Thompson Project shares in the city’s water portfolio…

McKean acknowledges that because the water has not been diverted before, questions and concerns will emerge from Western Slope water users and communities. However, because the Windy Gap Firming Project water is available only in years of above-average flows on the Colorado River, municipalities on the Front Range won’t be served until water rights holders on the Western Slope get their allocations.

He said he will be in Montrose this summer at a meeting of the Uncompahgre Water Users Association to talk about the project’s effect on the basins and in the context of the state water plan.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The federal government gave final approval Wednesday for a $400 million dam and reservoir in northern Colorado where 13 cities and water districts will store water from the other side of the Continental Divide.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit for construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir in the foothills about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver.

The corps regulates some of the environmental impacts of big water projects.

It is the last approval the reservoir needs, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which oversees the project.

Construction could start in early 2019, after the district refines the plans, hires a project manager and awards contracts.

Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.

The 13 water providers own the rights to the water but have nowhere to store it. The project is formally called the Windy Gap Firming Project because it would firm up the water supply.

The Chimney Hollow Reservoir will store up to 90,000 acre-feet (1.1 million cubic meters). One acre-foot (1,200 cubic meters) can supply two typical households for a year.

New reservoirs are always contentious in Colorado. Water managers and urban planners argue the state needs more because it does not have the capacity to store all the water it is entitled to under agreements with other states. They also say Colorado needs more water for its growing population.

Some conservationists oppose new reservoirs because of their environmental damage and because the state’s rivers are already overtaxed.

“The Colorado River is on life support right now,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”

Wockner said his group will likely challenge the Corps of Engineers permit in court.

Trout Unlimited negotiated some environmental improvements in the Colorado River near the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the project. Mely Whiting, an attorney for the group, said she had not yet seen the final Corps of Engineers permit.

Water providers that will pay for and benefit from the Chimney Hollow Reservoir are the cities of Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Superior, Evans, Lafayette and Fort Lupton, as well as the Central Weld County and Little Thompson water districts.

Colorado Water Trust: Please join us for RiverBank! (June 14, 2017) @COWaterTrust

Lulu City with Lake Granby in the distance from the Grand River Ditch road. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Click here for all the inside skinny. From the website:

RiverBank is our annual fundraiser, and is a great opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues, and to meet our team. We’re thrilled to have so many wonderful supporters, including you!

At RiverBank, we’ll be eating great food, drinking wonderful beverages from our open bar, shopping for one-of-a-kind items at our silent auction, and hanging out with the greatest river rats in Colorado.

We’re thrilled to announce that at RiverBank, this year’s David Getches Flowing Waters Award will be presented to Lurline Underbrink Curran! (Read more about Lurline’s accomplishments here.)

You’re invited and we can’t wait to see you there!

Click here to order your tickets!

We are accepting auction item donations through June 5th and still have some sponsorship opportunities available! Please contact Missy Yoder at myoder@coloradowatertrust.org for more information.

Click here to view a photo gallery from last year’s event.

Greg Hobbs: Ruedi Reservoir and Dillon Reservoir May 5, 2017

Greg Hobbs just can’t stay in the city.

Ruedi Reservoir (Fryingpan River) west of the Divide from upstream through the reservoir

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Dillon Reservoir (Blue River) looking east to the Divide south around the reservoir to the west at Frisco)

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Greg Hobbs

#Snowpack/#runoff news: Big Thompson flows up

Olympus Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it has begun to increase the amount of water it is releasing from Lake Estes into the Big Thompson River by way of Olympus Dam.

The increase began Monday, according to the bureau on its Facebook page.

The increase will go from the current level of 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) to about 100 cfs. The exact cfs released will depend on inflows into Lake Estes, but the range will be between 50 cfs and 100 cfs, the announcement said.

A cubic foot of water is equivalent to 7.48 gallons. That means there are 748 gallons in 100 cubic feet of water. The average American home uses 400 gallons of water a day, or about half of the flow when it’s 100 cubic feet.

The release from the lake into the river is expected to increase through the spring as the annual runoff flows increase.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns and operates Lake Estes and Olympus Dam as part of the federal trans-basin diversion Colorado-Big Thompson water project.

Water level and runoff information regarding Olympus Dam and Lake Estes can be found on the Bureau’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/LakeEstesandOlyDam.

River management plan for upper Roaring Fork surfaces for public input — @AspenJournalism

A stream gage on the upper Roaring Fork River.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

ASPEN – At the first public meeting this week about the emerging river management plan for the upper Roaring Fork River, Aspen officials wanted to ask people if, and where, they perceive the river to be struggling from factors such as diversion, development, pollution and recreation.

And while turnout was low on a cold and snowy Thursday, with only three members of the general public showing up, those who did go saw well-rendered maps of the Roaring Fork and its tributaries above the river’s confluence with Brush Creek, and were asked to place colored stickers on locations where they have noticed problems on the river.

The entire watershed above Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village and into the Roaring Fork River above Woody Creek, is being looked at in the study. That includes the main stem of the Roaring Fork River and its primary tributaries, Hunter, Maroon, Castle, Difficult, Lincoln and Lost Man creeks.

A map of the upper Roaring Fork River watershed, from the Brush Creek confluence to the Continental Divide.

Flow modification

The river management plan will look at threats to the river’s health, including “flow modification” from diversions of water into ditches and tunnels, such as in the headwaters near Independence Pass, on upper Hunter Creek, or on the Roaring Fork east of town.

Diversions from the Roaring Fork and its tributaries can frequently lead the section of river that flows through central Aspen to fall below 32 cubic feet per second, the minimum amount of water deemed by the state to be necessary to protect the environment to a reasonable degree.

“We’re doing this river management plan because of known issues on the Roaring Fork,” said April Long, an engineer and stormwater manager for the city, who is managing the project.

The reach of the Roaring Fork River through Aspen that often runs lower than the state-prescribed level of 32 cfs.
Low flows in the Roaring Fork River just above Rio Grande Park, in July 2012. City of Aspen officials say the Roaring Fork runs below environmentally-sound levels on this stretch about eight weeks of the year now.

Consultant team

The cost of the $200,000 plan is being split by the city and Pitkin County, which has concerns about the North Star area east of Aspen.

The contract was approved in June and a team of technical consultants has since been reviewing prior studies and developing new information about the upper Roaring Fork.

Seth Mason, the principal engineer at Lotic Hydrological of Carbondale, is the project manager, Greg Espegren is in charge of “river health evaluations” and Lee Rozaklis is overseeing “water rights and resource planning.”

Also on the team is Bill Miller, a river biologist who has worked extensively in the past for the city, whose firm is called Miller Ecological Consultants.

Consultants with CDR Associates and the Consensus Building Institute are managing stakeholder engagement.

Lincoln Creek between Grizzly Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River will be one reach studied by the river management plan.
Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

Various stretches

The plan will focus on at least eight stretches of the river network, such as the Roaring Fork River between Lost Man Creek and Difficult Creek, and the stretch of Lincoln Creek between Grizzly Reservoir and the creek’s confluence with the Roaring Fork, just above the Grottos.

And that approach includes Castle and Maroon creeks, and the locations of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir.

Long said the Roaring Fork River plan is on a separate track than the public process that city officials are preparing to soon roll out about storage alternatives for the city. But she said nothing is off the table for discussion.

“When we talk about water resources, we are at times talking about all of our water and all of our resources,” Long said. “We would be remiss in pulling anything off the table when we’re looking for solutions.”

The Maroon Creek valley, from the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks to the Roaring Fork RIver.
The site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks.

Recommendations coming

Ultimately the goal of the plan is to make recommendations that inform “future river-related projects,” “water development planning and approval processes,” and “management of water infrastructure,” according to material passed out at the meeting.

The Roaring Fork River management plan joins a growing number of stream management plans and integrated water management plans being developed in Colorado.

The 2015 Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by loosely defined “stream management plans,” which so far tend to be smaller versions of more common “watershed plans.”

Whatever they are called, such river plans have a technical component to them, often overseen by an informal technical advisory group, and a social component, often represented by a group of local stakeholders.

The technical advisory group for the Roaring Fork plan has been selected, according to Long, and is poised to meet for the first time May 23. The meeting is not open to the public.

Over a dozen entities have been invited to send a representative to the technical group, Long said, including officials from the city’s stormwater, parks and utilities departments and Pitkin County officials from its river and open space boards.

Also invited are representatives from the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Salvation Ditch Co., Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., Ruedi Water and Power Authority, Colorado River District, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.

Long said representatives from Salvation Ditch Co. and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. have agreed to serve on the technical advisory group.

She also said the city and county has decided against having a separate and distinct stakeholders group, as described in the approved proposal.

“There is a little bit of change in the scope, exactly, from that,” Long said. “Basically what we’re doing is having a back and forth between a technical advisory group and the public as stakeholders in the project.”

Long added, “We’re hoping that we have a broad technical advisory group so we can vet and deliver very viable and implementable options.”

Long plans to hold a second public meeting and has posted a survey, and the maps, on a city website. Aspen and Pitkin County expect to share draft actions and projects with the community this summer and present findings and recommendations to elected officials this winter.

A map of Hunter Creek showing the Fry-Ark project diversions on Midway, No Name and Hunter creeks.
A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.
A portion of the flow in Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range and to locations downvalley from Aspen.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News. The Times published this story in its print version on Saturday, April 29, 2017.