Longmont Councillors approve asking voters for Windy Gap bond issue

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From The Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

A 5-2 Longmont City Council majority decided Wednesday night to ask voters’ authorization to sell an estimated $36.3 million in bonds to help finance the city’s share of costs for the Windy Gap Firming Project…

…the city’s water customers would pay higher rates in 2018, with rates increasing by an average 13 percent above 2017 levels. There would be another 10 percent increase in 2019 and a 6 percent increase in 2020 as the city makes annual principal and interest repayments on the 20-year bonds.

The water rate-backed bonds, along with about $6.2 million the city projects it will be getting from development fees and other sources, would cover Longmont’s costs of paying for the project that would be able to provide the city with about 10,000 acre-feet of water. A council majority continued to endorse the 10,000 acre-feet level on Wednesday night.

Mayor Dennis Coombs and council members Brian Bagley, Bonnie Finley, Jeff Moore and Gabe Santos voted Tuesday to direct the city staff to prepare an ordinance that will, when adopted, advance the bonding question to November’s ballot.

Council members Polly Christensen and Joan Peck voted against the $36.3 million bonding scenario.

Christensen and Peck instead tried to get the council to support an alternative that would have lowered Longmont’s Windy Gap Firming Project level from 10,000 acre-feet of water to an 8,000 acre-foot participation. That option would have maintained a set of 9 percent annual water rate increases that already are to take place at the start of 2018 and again in 2019, but with no rate increases above that 9 percent level in either of those years.

The Christensen-Peck approach, however, failed on a 5-2 vote, with all other council members voting against that option.

Santos said that when it comes to water delivery and supplies, “it’s incumbent on us to make decisions for the future, for the next generations.”

Coombs noted that under Longmont’s tiered water-rate system, with residents’ and businesses’ actual water bills based on how much water they actually use, “people have some control,” even with the pending increases ahead.

Customers “can take some responsibility” for conserving water, and thereby reducing the water bills they get, even with the higher rates ahead in future years, he said.

Peck, however, said she was concerned that “we’re buying more (water) than we actually need” if Longmont sticks with the 10,000 acre-feet participation level from the Windy Gap Firming Project, which is to include construction of a new Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Prior to the council’s Wednesday night action to direct the staff to prepare the ballot measure language for the bonding option, a number of residents spoke about their opposition to that project and questioned its need. Some also objected to the entire concept of diverting water from the Western Slope to the Front Range.

The June 2017 e-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Chimney Hollow Reservoir receives final approval
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently signed a final Record of Decision and approved a 404 Clean Water Act Permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project. This decision paves the way forward to construct Chimney Hollow Reservoir following a 14-year federal permitting process that began in 2003. Chimney Hollow Reservoir will be located in the foothills immediately west of Carter Lake in southern Larimer County. It will store up to 90,000 acre-feet of water behind a 350 ft. tall dam, which will be one of the first constructed in the United States with an asphalt core. For further information please click any of the links below.

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

Former Grand County manager, Lurline Underbrink Curran, given award by Colorado Water Trust — @AspenJournalism

Lurline Underbrink Curran photo credit Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Lurline Underbrink Curran, the long-time Grand County manager, was lavished with praise Wednesday evening at the Denver Botanic Gardens, but she may have told the best joke.

Curran said she learned she was to be honored by the Colorado Water Trust after being asked to sit in on a conference telephone call with the group’s directors. The group’s mission is to restore flows in Colorado Rivers in need.

The news they purported to share seemed to comport with that mission. The new administration, they told her, had a keen interest in the Colorado River, and there were plans to remove all the dams —and make Mexico pay for it.

As she wondered what Water Trust directors were imbibing, they broke the real reason for wanting her on the phone: They wished to bestow her with the 2017 David Getches Flowing Water Award.

Getches was a law professor at the University of Colorado known to be an “inspired creator of new alternatives to old stalemates.”

Grand County long was Colorado’s best example of a stalemate. It was hit early and often for water diversions to solve Colorado’s intractable problem: about 75 percent of the state’s water originates west of the Continental Divide and almost 90 percent of people and the best agriculture lands lie to the east.

About a decade ago, at a water workshop in Gunnison, Curran described her county’s position simply: Denver, she said, had been thinking ahead—and Grand County had not.

But when two Front Range water agencies announced long-standing plans to incrementally expand diversions from the Granby-Winter Park area, Grand County chose a more sophisticated approach. It wasn’t neither hell no nor roll over.

The result is called Learning by Doing, which is premised in a cooperative effort to scientifically manage diversions in ways that cause least harm to native flows in the Fraser Rivers and its tributaries as well as the Colorado River itself.

The Windy Gap reservoir, located on the Colorado River near Granby, is part of a transmountain diversion system in Grand County. It’s been the focus of much of Underbrink Curran’s work. Photo credit Northern Water.

Sense of purpose

Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservation District, which distributes water to the Boulder-Fort Collins-Greeley area through the Colorado-Big Thompson project, said he wasn’t immediately impressed with Curran when negotiations began. “I vividly remember walking out of that meeting and thinking, ‘I don’t really appreciate that woman.’”

After four years of “very extensive, intense negotiations,” he instead found Curran to be a “visionary” who was nonetheless “pragmatic but with a keen sense of purpose.”

“The Colorado River is far better now and into the future because of Lurline’s efforts and her stubborn determination to make it better,” he said.

Curran grew up in Kremmling. She had a circuitous route to public service. She managed the local bowling alley before going to work at the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs, first as a secretary, then a planner before being chosen as the county manager.

Dave Taussig, a water attorney in Denver and also a director of the Colorado Water Trust, also grew up in Kremmling. His parents had a ranch at Ute Park, which is now covered by the Henderson Mill’s tailings.

“In the past, the transmountain diverters would come over and then skedaddle as quickly as they could, never to be seen or heard from again,” Taussig said.

But what Grand County did this time creates a new dynamic.

The effort is “bearing fruit already,” he said.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of rivers and water with Sky-Hi News, the Summit Daily News, the Vail Daily, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times. the Sky-Hi News published this story on June 15, 2017.

Many in N. #Colorado welcome the @OmahaUSACE approval for Chimney Hollow Reservoir

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

Just last week, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the Chimney Hollow reservoir project, which will hold 90,000 acre feet of water and feed several Front Range communities, including Greeley.

Such infrastructure is vital for future growth, regardless, [Brian] Werner said.

The fight is not over. The conservancy district will continue to fight for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 northern Front Range communities with 40,000 acre feet of water. That’s been held up at the Army Corps of Engineers for more than a decade. A decision is expected next year.

“Chimney Hollow and NISP will put a major dent into what we’ll need down the road,” Werner said. “More people are coming whether we build this or not. Our future looks a lot better having some of these storage buckets with more people than a lot more people and no storage buckets. We’ll start drying up more farms. We’ve got to have water.”

In addition to water storage, the city of Greeley, has an intense focus on proper drainage to combat the decades-old problem of flooding in Greeley.

Joel Hemesath, public works director, said the city has been working for the past two years with some bond money to improve drainage in and around Greeley. He said the city is gearing up for downtown projects, as well, that will route drainage to a detention pond by the Poudre River via bigger pipes.

Since 2012, the city has spent a little more than $17 million on stormwater projects.

The city also works hard to improve trails, dedicating just shy of $900,000 to them since 2012.

Hemesath said the city would like to extend Sheep Draw Trail through some more western subdivisions, and extend the Poudre Trail farther east.

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.

Water Education Colorado 2017 President’s Award Reception

The Denver Art Museum was the location for The Colorado Foundation for Water Education’s President’s Award Reception yesterday evening.

Eric Kuhn received the Dianne Hoppe Leadership Award and Drew Beckwith was honored as an Emerging Leader.

Each year when I attend this event I am struck by the camaraderie shown by the water folks here in Colorado. Water really does bring us together to find solutions, and at the end of the day we have so much to agree on. Water for Ag, water to drive the economy, water for the fish and bugs. It takes a great number of people to meet the water needs of the Headwaters State, collaboration is key, and this event helps us to connect.

Jim Lochhead introduced Eric Kuhn and detailed his accomplishments while leading the Colorado River District. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming agreement were at the top of the list. Lochhead also praised Mr. Kuhn as one of the two most influential persons in the Colorado River Basin along with Pat Mulroy.

Drew Beckwith

Eric Hecox told us about Drew Beckwith’s influence on the Statewide Water Supply Initiative. Eric credited Mr. Beckwith for poring over the workbooks, questioning assumptions, and advocating for conservation.

Drew is an accomplished water educator himself choosing video in the Drew in a Canoe series. He helped get the public on board with legislation passed in 2016 to legalize rain barrels.

People that install rain barrels are, “More connected to water,” he said.

This is always a great event to attend. Thanks Jayla, Caitlin, Jenny, and Stephanie.