@Northern_Water turns dirt on Southern Water Supply Project

Southern Water Supply Project

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

Work on the pipeline, known as phase two of the Southern Water Supply Project, is being overseen by Northern Water, which manages Carter Lake as part of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.

Once complete, the pipeline will improve water quality and delivery reliability compared to the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal that currently brings water from Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir.

The new pipeline will pump 50 cubic feet per second of Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap Project water, with Boulder receiving the bulk of the water among participants at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment plant, the pipeline’s terminus.

Boulder will receive 32 cubic feet per second and bear $32 million of the cost, according to city spokeswoman Gretchen King, while Left Hand Water District — which serves a 130-square-mile area between Longmont and Boulder — will receive 12 cubic feet per second and pay about $8 million for its share of the project…

Left Hand will have another $2 million of cost from the district’s addition of a hydroelectric generator at the intersection of the new Southern Water Supply pipeline and the entrance to the district’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant. The generator will produce enough power to satisfy about a third of the plant’s electricity need, according to district Manager Christopher Smith…

Berthoud and Longs Peak Water District — which serves Boulder and Weld County residents in an area north of Longmont — will each receive 3 cubic feet per second, but on Thursday officials from the town and district could not to provide their share of the costs of the remaining $4 million for the project.

Smith noted the pipeline, which has an estimated completion date of March 2020, will not only further protect water quality, but also will allow year-round water delivery to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

“During some portions of the year the pipeline will act as the primary source of raw water for the participants in the project,” the Northern Water release states.

Currently, the Boulder Feeder Canal is offline from Oct. 31 to April 1 annually, Smith said. When the canal is down, so, too, is the Dodd Water Treatment Plant…

When the pipeline is complete, the Dodd Plant will be open year-round.

The first 12 miles of new pipeline, from Carter Lake to St. Vrain Road in Longmont, will parallel the existing Southern Water Supply Project pipeline, which was runs to Broomfield and was completed in 1999.

From St. Vrain Road, the new pipeline will continue south to the Boulder Reservoir Treatment Plant.

Front Range water group pushes back project that would pull from #ColoradoRiver, citing lawsuit — @AspenJournalism #COriver

A view of the location of the proposed Chimney Hollow dam and reservoir site in the foothills between Loveland and Longmont. The 90,000 acre-foot reservoir would store water for nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility, and is being held up a lawsuit challenging federal environmental reviews. Graphic credit: Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the project.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District had hoped to have the project, now estimated at $570 million, under construction by early 2019 and completed by 2023, but now it is uncertain when construction will begin because of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver late last year.

“Our original schedule was to be out to bid about right now and we would be selling bonds right now,” Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering, said earlier this month.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir is at the core of what’s known as the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern, through its affiliated municipal subdistrict, plans to build the 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to provide a “firm annual yield” of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility.

About 9,000 acre-feet a year of additional water is expected to be diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River as a result of the project.

The 346-foot-tall dam, which would be the third tallest in Colorado, is located between Loveland and Longmont in Larimer County next to an existing reservoir, Carter Lake.

Drager said since the litigation was filed last year Northern has taken the opportunity to do more engineering and design work on the dam, including the upcoming drilling of 40 holes to further explore softer rock found at the location of the left abutment of the dam.

“We’re now scheduled to be at a point where we could go out to bid for construction and issue bonds probably in February or March,” he said.

But at that point Drager said Northern would have to see what progress has been made in the lawsuit.

“If I had to guess,” he said, “I’d say we’ll be slowed down.”

The parties in the lawsuit are waiting for the judge in the case to rule on if the voluminous administrative record in the case is complete, including on a motion to add a recent report commissioned by Save the Colorado on actual water use, and if motions to intervene in the case by Northern, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the city of Broomfield will be accepted…

The lawsuit contends that a review of the proposed project by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed and that the resulting approvals should be overturned.

The federal review of the project began 2003. Reclamation issued its approval in 2014 and the Corps issued its approval in May 2017.

Five nonprofit environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October, including Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, Living Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians. The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit in November.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an apt example of inadequate analysis and poor decision-making that will ultimately result in significant new diversions from the Colorado River to provide the Front Range with unneeded water supply,” the environmental groups told the court in a recent brief.

The delay in issuing bonds means that the 12 entities paying for the project will have to contribute $10 million in cash to allow Northern to keep the project moving forward, instead of using money expected to be available after selling municipal bonds. The 12 entities have put in $34 million to date toward the project.

“We had hoped that our funding for 2019 was going to come from sale of the bonds and starting construction, but because of the litigation that we have, that’s delayed a little bit,” Drager told Northern’s board of directors at a meeting in Berthoud on August 9. “That $10 million will be provided by the participants in early 2019 and that should carry us through, we hope, until we are ready to put the project out to bid and sell the bonds to pay the rest of the cost.”

Northern owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which includes the huge Lake Granby Reservoir and the Adams Tunnel that sends over 200,000 acre-feet of water of Colorado River each year under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east slope.

The C-BT Project also diverts water pumped up from the relatively small 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, built in the early 1980s to serve as a pumping forebay on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County.

But Windy Gap is limited in how much water it can deliver because of its junior water rights and instream-flow obligations below the dam.

Northern says Chimney Hollow Reservoir will allow it to pump water from Windy Gap in wetter years and store the water until needed in drier years by the 12 participating entities, which include Broomfield, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland.

But the environmental groups say the federal agencies reviewed the proposed project with an overly narrow focus on how to fix the Windy Gap project and not on other potential ways to meet Front Range water demands.

“Reclamation did not seriously consider reasonable alternatives to provide water to Windy Gap participants and allowed (Northern) to plow ahead with its original choice — the firming project — and double down on its busted bet,” the lawsuit states.

Reclamation and the Corps told the court in May that the agencies conducted “an independent evaluation” and concluded the project “is needed to meet a portion of the existing and future water needs of the growing east slope municipalities.”

Northern, on its website, points out “the project has been approved by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It also has support from several environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited.”

The support from some environmental organizations, including Trout Unlimited, stems from the mitigation measures designed to reduce its impact on the Colorado River headwaters, including a new bypass, or connectivity, channel that will allow more of the river to flow past the Windy Gap Reservoir.

Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, has also appealed to Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper Alliance, to drop the lawsuit.

“Any lawsuit that delays or stops this work is a detriment to the Colorado River,” Currant wrote in Oct. 2017. “If the Windy Gap Project does not go forward, the hard-won concessions evaporate, and the Colorado River will continue to degrade.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins for The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on its website on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

The latest E-Waternews is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.

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

New website offers better access to Windy Gap Firming Project info

Northern Water and the Municipal Subdistrict have launched a revamped website to provide easy-to-find data regarding the Windy Gap Firming Project and its chief component, Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

The site, http://chimneyhollow.org, offers answers to frequently asked questions, information for potential contractors and download-ready fact sheets. In addition, it offers a video from Gov. John Hickenlooper that discusses his endorsement of the project as well as its place in the the Colorado Water Plan.

As the project moves forward, the site will also present information related to the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir as well as the mitigation and enhancement efforts being conducted by Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict.

The project also has a presence on Facebook, found here.

Court battle continues over Windy Gap firming project — @AspenJournalism

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

In western Larimer County a sedimentary rock ridge runs parallel to the gradual beginnings of the Rocky Mountain foothills, forming a large valley known as Chimney Hollow.

In May 2017, federal agencies approved plans to flood the valley — which is between Longmont, to the south, and Loveland, to the north — to create a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir.

But while the 14-year federal permitting process has now come to an end and construction slated to begin early next year, a federal lawsuit from six environmental groups could stop the project from moving forward.

“We are just trying to inject some sanity and stop the madness,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado, an environmental nonprofit based in Ft. Collins that supports the Colorado River and is the lead petitioner in the case. “The Colorado River is the most dammed, drained, depleted river on the planet.”

The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir is the foundation for the $400 million Windy Gap “firming project,” a supplemental storage plan tied to the existing Windy Gap dam and reservoir, which is on the main stem of the Colorado River in Grand County. The firming project also includes construction of a bypass channel at Windy Gap’s original diversion point in order to help mitigate existing impacts on fish and water quality.

The relatively modest Windy Gap reservoir, which holds 445 acre-feet, was built in 1985 to draw water from the Colorado River and pump it uphill to Lake Granby and into the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The water is then sent under the Continental Divide and into Larimer and other Front Range counties.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservation District based in Berthoud, owns the Windy Gap reservoir, operates the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and is intent on constructing Chimney Hollow reservoir to store additional Colorado River water.

Fourteen municipalities and water districts throughout the Front Range are signed up to help pay for the Chimney Hollow reservoir, based on the share of the water they intend to use.

Though the existing Windy Gap Project can today draw as much as 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, due to junior water rights and a lack of storage, the project is often unable to provide any water at all to the Front Range.

With the Chimney Hollow Reservoir in place, the Windy Gap project could supply a guaranteed 30,000 acre-feet of water per year to its customers.

A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

Other alternatives?

Wockner and Save the Colorado have been joined by five other environmental groups — Save the Poudre, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club — in suing the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers over their environmental review of the Windy Gap firming project.

The petitioners allege that the agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by failing to consider alternatives, like water conservation, instead of building a new project.

“Rather than rigorously exploring and objectively evaluating ways to meet (Northern’s) actual water supply needs, the federal agencies accepted (Northern’s) claimed need at face value and only considered reservoir options that would further (Northern’s) preconceived goal of “firming” Windy Gap water supplies,” says the petitioner’s complaint.

Both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers declined interview requests for this story, but according to the Bureau’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, the firming project would supply only about 10 percent of its customers projected 2050 water demand.

Because conservation cannot account for the entire projected gap, the FEIS states that the agency did not consider conservation as an alternative to the firming project.

The agencies’ assumptions about the demand gap are consistent with those of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan the state’s official water strategy document, which estimates that water demand in 2050 could exceed supplies by as much as 560,000 acre-feet.

To make up for this gap, the plan calls for conservation measures and also the significant expansion of water storage facilities.

Because of the water plan’s call for storage, the Windy Gap firming project is considered a critical storage project by the state and received endorsements from both the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

Conservation included

Northern, which is not a defendant in the lawsuit, filed a motion in March to intervene on behalf of the defendants in the lawsuit to help defend the permit process.

When asked why conservation was not considered as an alternative, officials from Northern said that the demand estimates already assume that municipalities will increase water conservation.

“We did not count conservation as an alternative. We built conservation into our demand projection,” said Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering and the project manager for the Windy Gap firming project. “So when we looked at how much water our participants need we figured we factored in some level of conservation already.”

Though Northern and the state use the projected demand gap to justify the firming project, the petitioners say the demand estimates are inflated.

On May 3, the petitioners filed a motion to add a statistics report to the case’s administrative record.

According to the report, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps failed to update the estimated water use statistics in their impact statements with the actual water use data as it became available over the course of the 14-year permitting process.

The report found that the agencies’ estimates for municipal water use were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use figures.

“The thrust of our claim is that the federal government just took the project participants word for how much water they would need,” said Kevin Lynch, the attorney for the petitioners. “The agency has a duty to independently verify that need and they didn’t do anything. They took projections from 2005 and that data was wildly over-inflated.”

The court is now reviewing the petitioners’ administrative motions as well as motions by both Northern and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to intervene on behalf of the defendants.

These changes will likely delay court proceedings for at least several months.

Ongoing #SouthPlatte Basin water storage projects

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

There already are six projects being pursued in the South Platte Basin to extend the water supply. These are not included in the recent South Platte Storage Survey, but have been considered and under way for some time:

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

• The NISP/Glade project — The Northern Integrated Supply Project is a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supplies.

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

• Chimney Hollow Reservoir — A 360-foot high dam that will hold 90,000 acre feet to help supply the thirsty Thompson Valley urban area. The water will come from the Windy Gap Project, a diversion dam and pumping station completed in 1985 to provide extra irrigation and municipal water out of the Colorado River. The water originally was stored in Grand Lake, but when that is full, the water cannot be stored. Chimney Hollow, also known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, solves that problem.

Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins

• Halligan reservoir enlargements — Halligan Reservoir near Fort Collins is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water and the City of Fort Collins wants to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet.

• Milton Seaman Reservoir enlargement — Greeley originally had wanted to expand Seaman Reservoir in conjunction with Halligan, but because of diverging goals Greeley withdrew from the joint project. The expansion of Seamon now is targeted for design in 2028 and construction by 2030.

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

• Gross Reservoir enlargement — Gross Reservoir is one of 11 reservoirs supplying water to the City of Denver and surrounding urban areas. It is on the city’s Moffat System, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the metro area. Denver Water has proposed raising the dam height by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir to increase by 77,000 acre feet.

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

• Chatfield Reallocation Plan — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Chatfield Reservoir, built primarily for flood control after the 1965 South Platte River flood, can accommodate an additional 20,600 acre feet of water storage for water supply without compromising its flood control function. This additional storage space will be used by municipal and agricultural water providers to help meet the diverse needs of the state. No actual construction is required, but the legal, environmental, and engineering concerns of allowing the reservoir to hold more water all have to be satisfied.

“…why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project” — Lurline Underbrink Curran

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Lurline Underbrink Curran):

I would like to share why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

While located in Boulder County, the project obtains the water from Grand County — a county that is currently the most impacted county in the state of Colorado for transbasin diversions. You must wonder why the county and its citizens, stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin, along with Trout Unlimited support this project.

The reason is the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which is an historic agreement with statewide environmental benefits which were fought for and gained through sometimes difficult and long negotiations. It has been hailed as a new paradigm and one that will serve as an example of what can be gained when dealing with a finite resource like water. The signatories to this agreement represent the entire Colorado River Basin, and I had the honor of acting as Grand County’s lead negotiator in this agreement. I worked for Grand County for 33 years, retiring as county manager in 2015. I have lived in Grand County over 60 years and have deep roots and interest in the well-being of our waterways.

The environmental benefits gained by Grand County, which include additional flows, river ecosystem improvements, use of Denver Water’s system, participation in an adaptive management process called Learning by Doing, money for river improvements, just to name a few, are necessary to protect and enhance the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Without these benefits, these rivers will continue to degrade, with no hope of recovery or improvement.

Those who oppose the project offer no solutions to the already stressed aquatic environment of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Through the Learning By Doing format and a public private partnership, partners have already implemented a river project on the Fraser as an example of what can be done. This project immediately produced improvements that were astounding. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can verify this claim. This essential work will not continue without the CRCA.

The impacts that are associated with the construction of the Gross Reservoir Enlargement are substantial and one sympathizes with those who will experience them, but the reality is they will end. Mitigation for the construction impacts can be applied. However, without the CRCA, the impacts to the Fraser and Colorado rivers will continue with no hope of improvement.

The environmental enhancements and mitigation that are part of the CRCA cannot be replicated without the reservoir expansion project, and the loss of these enhancements and mitigation will doom the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County to environmental catastrophe.

Projects underway to bridge #Colorado’s water supply gap

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

At least seven major new reservoirs and water diversion projects are being planned in Colorado, which had a population of 5.6 million in 2017. Many would continue the controversial practice of diverting water across the Rocky Mountains from the state’s Western Slope, where the majority of Colorado’s precipitation falls, to its more arid Front Range, where people are flocking to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont and increasingly sprawling suburbs.

The water projects have been inspired partly by the Colorado Water Plan, an effort by Governor John Hickenlooper to solve a projected water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, or enough to serve more than 1 million households. The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage and an equal amount of water conservation.

The plan is only two years old. But critics say it has prioritized gray infrastructure – new dams, pipelines and pumps – over green projects like water conservation and sustainable land use…

The state water plan does not recommend any specific water development projects. But Hickenlooper has personally endorsed several of them. He also appointed all the voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity that oversees the Water Plan and awards grants for water projects.

Greg Johnson, chief of water supply planning at the Water Conservation Board, said the state’s plan emphasizes conservation just as much as new water supply projects. But he said the latter may be more more pressing in some cases.

“Some of the bigger projects that are in permitting right now are helping meet really critical supply needs that a lot of those faster-growing northern Front Range suburbs have, where they’ve got new developments going up all over the place,” Johnson said. “They have maybe a 10- or 15-year horizon to get some of those things done.”

One of the water developments endorsed by the governor won a $90 million loan in 2017 from the Water Conservation Board – the largest loan in the board’s history. Known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, it proposes a new reservoir called the Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Longmont to store Colorado River water diverted through an existing tunnel under the Continental Divide.

The loan covers nearly one-fourth of total costs for the project, which is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

As its name implies, the project is intended to “firm up” existing Colorado River water rights held by a dozen Front Range cities. The cities already draw on these water rights, but can’t fully tap them in some years because of storage limitations. The new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir will solve this problem and allow them to divert the river almost every year.

The project would result in diverting 30,000 acre-feet more water out of the Colorado River every year than is currently diverted…

Other major projects in the works include the Moffat Collection System, a plan by Denver Water to expand Gross Reservoir to hold 77,000 acre-feet of additional diversions from Colorado River headwaters streams; and the White River Storage Project, a proposal for a new reservoir of up to 90,000 acre-feet in the northwest corner of the state, near the town of Rangely…

Greg Silkensen, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the Windy Gap project is vital to many fast-growing Front Range communities that have lower-priority water rights.

“The Colorado economy is just crazy. Everybody and their brother is moving here,” Silkensen said. “There is a great deal of environmental mitigation that will go forward if the project is built. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to the Upper Colorado River if it does go through.”

Those projects include stream habitat restoration in the Colorado River and water quality improvements in Grand Lake, part of the existing Western Slope diversion system.