The plan was first approved in 2005 as a way of ensuring that the city has enough water without having to cut back, even in a once-in-a-century drought. It was updated by the council in 2012.
Prepared by city staff members, the update includes several major recommendations. First, the city recommends using a model created by Spronk Water Engineers to continue prepping for a major drought, which was modeled based on the historic drought Colorado faced in 2002.
While the plan encourages water conservation as a buffer and a way of ensuring water security in the event of an even more severe drought, the plan notes that it is not “a tool to directly reduce future demands in long-term planning.”
A target of 30,000 acre-feet remains the city’s long-term goal for water demand. Currently, Loveland has access to a firm yield of about 25,210 acre-feet per year, which should increase by about 5,680 acre-feet by 2031, if the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland and the Loveland Great Western Reservoir in east Loveland are completed as recommended.
The master plan projects the resulting 30,890 acre-feet would be enough to support the city until 2056.
Loveland customers used about 13,129 acre-feet of treated water last year, or about 0.166 acre-foot per person.
Points of the recommended policy on developer contributions to the city’s raw water portfolio include:
Requiring at least half and allowing up to 100% of most contributions to be made in the form of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water, cash-in-lieu or cash credits in the Loveland Water Bank.
Decreasing the value of a C-BT credit from 1 acre-foot to 0.9 acre-foot.
Adjusting credits for ditch shares based on the content of the Spronk analysis.
Removing the 5% administrative cost on the cash-in-lieu fee and placing no limit on the amount of cash-in-lieu transactions, as long as they’re dedicated to a specific project.
Tying storage fees to the estimated cost of storage at Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
Including a fee of $482 per acre-foot in the native water storage fee to cover the engineering and legal costs of changing the use of native water in Colorado’s water courts.
Changing the name of the native water storage fee to the “storage fee.”
The plan also leaves open the possibility of the city exploring the use of untreated water for irrigation, taking into account “concerns of cross-contamination and the relatively high expense of building a new utility in already developed parts of the community.”
Updates to water-related fees would go hand-in-hand with the plan and reflect the increasing costs of the Chimney Hollow project and C-BT water.
For the cash-in-lieu fee, in addition to eliminating the 5% administrative add-on, the new calculation would divide the average annual C-BT price by 0.9. Previously, the fee was tied to the average price over the past three to six months.
The native water storage fee would increase by between $15,132 per acre-foot of native water to $21,772 per acre-foot, depending on the source.
Raw water impact fees would increase for commercial, irrigation and some residential taps and would be phased in over a period of two to 10 years.
Loveland’s council will not vote on the items Tuesday, but members will give direction to the staff before the proposal comes back for a future vote.
Participants in a 12-year process to establish protections for a stretch of the upper Colorado River are calling the finished product — which amounts to a workaround of a Wild and Scenic River designation — a success.
Last month, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service formally approved the “Amended and Restated Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group Management Plan.” The plan lays out a blueprint for protecting the “outstandingly remarkable values,” or ORVs, of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Glenwood Springs, with an emphasis on recreational floatboating and fishing.
The ORVs must either be a unique, rare or exemplary feature located on the river or shoreline; contribute to the functioning of the river ecosystem; or owe their existence to the presence of the river. The plan seeks to balance these ORVs with water development and use by Front Range water providers and Western Slope water users.
To ensure protection of the ORVs, the plan includes voluntary cooperative measures that the participants could take, such as the strategic timing of reservoir releases, enhancing spring peak flows and agreements with water users to acquire water rights, which would be used to preserve the natural environment.
The plan includes a provision that addresses two big uncertainties that would lead to more transmountain diversions from the Colorado River: Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. The “poison pill” provision would allow any stakeholder to withdraw support for the plan if those projects — which are still in the permitting phase and mired in litigation, and which would provide a combined 48,000 acre-feet of water for the Front Range — negatively impact streamflows, especially for boating.
Six interest groups — conservation/environment/fishing; local government; recreational floatboating; state interests; Front Range water users; and Western Slope water users — have been working on crafting the plan since 2008. The Eagle River Watershed Council has been involved as a stakeholder since 2013, said executive director Holly Loff.
“It’s really exciting, and what a huge collaborative effort this has been, and I can’t really think of other situations that have been larger in scope and larger in the number of collaborators and all with very diverse interests — and we found a way to make it work,” Loff said. “It’s an amazing feat, really.”
Opposition to W&S
The alternative management planning process came about after the BLM in 2007 found that 54 miles of the upper Colorado River from Gore Canyon to just east of No Name Creek in Glenwood Canyon possessed enough ORVs that they were eligible for a federal Wild & Scenic River designation. Created by an act of Congress in 1968, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System seeks to preserve rivers with outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values in a free-flowing condition.
There are two ways that a river can be designated as Wild & Scenic: The secretary of the Interior can designate a river if a state governor requests it or Congress can designate a river, usually after a land-use agency conducts a study to see whether it’s eligible.
Designation as Wild & Scenic brings protection from development. For example, new dams cannot be constructed on the designated stretch and federal water-development projects that might negatively affect the river are not allowed.
But the possibility of federal government involvement and potential restrictions on water development on the upper Colorado doesn’t sit well with some groups. Municipal water providers such as Denver Water and Northern Water divert water from the Colorado’s headwaters to Front Range cities.
“A lot of members of the water community find the idea of a Wild & Scenic designation kind of frightening and prohibitive,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Stream and Lake Protection Section Chief Linda Bassi. “It would prevent potentially new reservoirs along a Wild & Scenic river (and) certain types of structures, and that is why the water community has typically been a little leery of Wild & Scenic designation.”
In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly established the Wild and Scenic Rivers Fund. Despite what its name suggests, the fund is not dedicated to establishing Wild & Scenic designations of rivers, but to avoiding the federal designation through “work with stakeholders within the state of Colorado to develop protection of river-dependent resources as an alternative to wild and scenic river designation.”
The Upper Colorado River Wild and Scenic Stakeholder Group has been the recipient of money from the state fund, which is allocated up to $400,000 a year and administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. According to a CWCB memo from May, when staff reviews requests for these funds, they evaluate whether projects will promote collaboration among traditional consumptive water interests, including irrigation, and non-consumptive interests, including recreation and the environment, and whether the project will still enable Colorado to fully use water it is allocated.
“If we tried to go through designation, we don’t know if it would have ever made it past the state of Colorado,” said Kay Hopkins, outdoor recreation planner for the White River National Forest. “The state would have had to be supportive of our determination.”
Despite its renowned river rafting, fishing and scenic beauty, which contribute to the recreation-based economy of many Western Slope communities, Colorado has just 76 miles of one river — the Cache La Poudre — designated as Wild & Scenic. That’s less than one-tenth of 1% of the state’s 107,403 river miles.
Instead of a federal designation, the CWCB considers its instream-flow program to be a primary tool in the effort to protect ORVs. Instream flows are in-channel water rights aimed at preserving the natural environment to a reasonable degree. As a part of the alternative management plan process, the CWCB secured three instream-flow rights that date to 2011 on the upper Colorado River — from the confluence of the Blue River to Piney River; from Piney River to Cabin Creek; and from Cabin Creek to the confluence with the Eagle River.
Bassi, who runs the state’s instream-flow program, has participated in the state interests group since planning began in 2008.
“Those flow rates are designed primarily to meet the needs of fish,” Bassi said. “But they will help to maintain flows that provide for some levels of boating experiences.”
The Forest Service and BLM approval of the alternative management plan means that the stretch of the upper Colorado River has been deferred from Wild & Scenic eligibility. But if the plan fails or any of the stakeholders enact the “poison pill” provision, the river could revert to being considered for eligibility, meaning it would once again be up for federal scrutiny, something some stakeholders want to avoid.
“That is the hammer behind the long-term commitments,” said Rob Buirgy, coordinator for the stakeholder group.
Eagle County Commissioner and Colorado River Water Conservation District Board member Kathy Chandler-Henry believes the strength of the alternative management plan is the input of its many participants.
“My first thought was the alternative management plan must be a lesser system of protection, but in my mind, it has not turned out to be that way because there are so many players at the table,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like a lesser process. It seems like a more publicly engaged process.”
Loff was more pragmatic.
“I don’t think (the alternative management plan) is better, but I don’t know that this group ever would have agreed to a standard Wild & Scenic designation. I don’t think that would have happened at all,” she said. “I think it’s better that we have this.”
Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers on coverage of water and rivers. This story was published online and printed in the Aspen Times on July 11, 2020.
Montana-based Barnard Construction Inc. has been selected by the board of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam west of Carter Lake, the district announced in a press release Friday.
The Bozeman firm will enter into a $485.4 million contract to build the dam for the 90,000-acre-foot reservoir. The company has previous experience working on water infrastructure projects, including the Keeyask Generating Station in Manitoba and a reservoir in central Florida.
The firm was chosen from two price bids because it had previous experience with similar dams, had a strong safety record and offered the best value for its work, Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla said…
Construction could begin as early as May, the release said, and is expected to take four years. The material for the dam will be quarried from the property that will house the reservoir…
Barnard Construction will also build a 40-foot-tall saddle dam at the south end of the valley, opposite from the main dam at the north end, which will significantly increase the amount of water that the reservoir will be able to store.
As part of the permitting process for Chimney Hollow, Northern Water is also building the $18 million Colorado River Connectivity Channel in Grand County to the west of the Continental Divide. The channel is an environmental enhancement and mitigation project that will connect ecosystems above and below the Windy Gap Reservoir, just west of Granby.
More than 300 people attended the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall symposium [November 20, 2019] at the Embassy Suites in Loveland to discuss the region’s water future.
Several city officials from Loveland attended, including City Council member Steve Olson…
The majority of Northern Colorado’s water comes from the Colorado River, over the Continental Divide. Water is diverted through Rocky Mountains by the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and stored in reservoirs.
As water flows become more unpredictable, with droughts some years and heavy snowfalls in other, having the infrastructure to store larger quantities of water is becoming increasingly important…
The city has rights to water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and the Windy Gap Project as well as rights to water from the Eastern Slope.
Most of Loveland’s water comes from the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, which stores water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
Water & Power is currently updating its raw water master plan, which details how the city will provide water to customers for several decades, Bernosky said.
As Loveland’s population has grown, water usage has remained relatively flat, due to more efficient home and building construction. The city has been on a 20-year trend of reducing its gallons per capita per day, said Larry Howard, a senior civil engineer in the city of Loveland’s water resources division.
If the Chimney Hollow Reservoir project goes through, Loveland will have adequate water supply through 2060, Howard said. The city has rights to 10.5% of the water in the proposed reservoir, which is currently being held up by a lawsuit.
For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.
But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.
Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…
Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.
For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.
But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.
Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.
“They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.
Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.
Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.
“It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”
“We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”
From the Engineering News Record (Thomas F. Armistead):
“In the water-scarce West, there is little to no new water,” says Laura Belanger, water resources and environmental engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “What we’re seeing is a shift to a suite of solutions that make the most of our region’s water resources. So the first line is and always should be conservation, because that’s the most cost-effective thing utilities can do, and it’s also fast.”
In Colorado’s Front Range, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is accepting qualification statements for construction of Colorado’s tallest new dam in a half-century, with selection of a contractor and notice to proceed by December, says Joe Donnelly, spokesman. The main dam will be a rockfill structure with a hydraulic asphalt core, 360 ft tall and 3,500 ft long at the crest. The dam will impound the 90,000 acre-ft Chimney Hollow Reservoir for the Windy Gap Firming Project. A contract for design was awarded to Stantec in 2016.
The reservoir would store water for 12 municipalities and other water suppliers. The project has support from both public authorities and some environmental advocates. But six environmental groups are contesting the project in federal court because it will divert 30,000 acre-ft annually from the Colorado River, taxing the already challenged flow of that body.
Denver Water is proceeding with the expansion of Gross Reservoir, built in the 1950s with a 1,050-ft-long, 340-ft-tall concrete gravity arch dam impounding 42,000 acre-ft of water. Following 14 years of planning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a 404 permit in July 2017, allowing Denver Water to raise the reservoir’s dam 131 ft and expand the reservoir’s capacity to 77,000 acre-ft.
The utility is expanding the reservoir to address a known imbalance in the city’s water system, said Jeff Martin, program manager for the project, in a video on the project’s website. The North System, where Gross Reservoir is located, stores about 30% of the water, and the South System the rest. The imbalance results from differential snowpack runoff on the system’s north and south sides. “This will provide extra insurance and extra reservoir capacity to make sure that we can weather those times when we do have issues in our system,” Martin said…
Some existing storage facilities are being expanded or are having their water reallocated, and regional water sharing also is beginning to grow, Belanger says. She cites the Chatfield Reservoir, built in 1965 on the South Platte River south of Denver for flood control, as an example. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that up to 20,600 acre-ft of the water can be reallocated to drinking water and industrial supply, agriculture, environmental restoration and other purposes without compromising its flood-control function. Environmental mitigation and modifications are expected to cost about $134 million.
Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.
The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.
But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.
“Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”
Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.
“There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”
But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.
“As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.
The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.
Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.
But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.
“We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”
While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.
Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.
The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.
Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.
The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.
With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.
Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.
The fork not taken
The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.
The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.
Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.
Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.
“We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”
In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.
Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.
“In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”
Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.
When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.
Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.
And environmental groups working on the project agree.
“There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”
While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.
Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.
“The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”
Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.
Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.
And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.
“The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”
Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.
To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.
The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.
The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.
The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.
“If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”
Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.
Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.
To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.
“The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”
Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.
Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.
Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.
Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.
“We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”
While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.
“If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.
As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.
And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.
Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.
Farmers own less, but still get half
When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.
In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.
But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.
That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.
‘Nearly out of range’
Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.
Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.
But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…
Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.
The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.
No longer a ‘go-to’ supply
Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.
“We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.
“It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”
Storage may preserve agriculture
With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.
But as the [town board] looks at other plans to add water, it could introduce higher rate increases, higher fees for developers — or a combination of both. It just depends on the projects Windsor participates in.
As the town grows, it’s looking at ways to prepare for an increase in water use. Among the recommendations Windsor Water Resource Manager John Thornhill presented to the board is to look at joining Windy Gap Firming Project and maintain participation the Northern Integrated Supply Project — both massive water supply projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Windsor is one of 15 northern Colorado communities already planning participating in NISP, which is also managed by Northern Water.
The project, which would also impact Evans, would provide 40,000 acre-feet of raw water to all of the participants — enough for 80,000 families. Of that, Windsor would get 3,300 acre-feet of water, 8.25 percent of the total project.
Still, town officials project that Windsor will need to supply 15,803 acre-feet of water in the future. That leaves the town with an 8,731 acre-foot gap in the total amount of water the town is currently has plans for — including NISP — and what officials know they will need in the future.
In addition to participating in the Northern Water projects, Thornhill recommended budgeting money for water conservation, as well as acquiring new water from other providers in the region, such as the North Weld County Water District.
As it stands now, Windsor’s treatable water supply comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a Northern Water project that delivers more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year to 960,000 people in the eight counties it serves.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project, both projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, have been decades in the making, and once they’re complete, they’ll result in three new reservoirs intended to address a growing Front Range population.
During the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall water users meeting Wednesday in Fort Collins, officials took an audience through the progress of both projects.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would affect Windsor and Evans, hit a major milestone in July after an Environmental Impact Statement was released.
“In 2019, we’re hoping for a really big, exciting year, in addition to the really big year we had this year,” said Stephanie Cecil, water resources project engineer for Northern Water.
The Windy Gap Firming Project, which would affect Greeley, is moving forward even as the project has been hit with a federal lawsuit.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement on the project — a process that took 14 years.
“It’s a really significant step in the project to be able to have all of those things done,” Cecil said.
Right now, the group is focused on design, particularly for the Glade Reservoir and the Galeton Reservoir. One pressing step in the project will be to relocate a section of U.S. 287 to allow for construction of the reservoir.
Additionally, the organization is working on mitigation projects, including one to help pass fish though a diversion structure and measure the amount of water the group is handling.
The group is also working on permitting with counties and the state, and developing a financing plan.
“How is this over $1 billion project going to be financed, and how is the construction schedule going to line up with the financing plan?” Cecil asked.
Construction could start by 2021, Cecil said, and the projects that will likely get started first are the Glade Reservoir and the U.S. 287 relocation. Cecil said the group hopes that the reservoir will be filled in 2026 and able to serve water in 2030.
“We’re looking at about a five-year timeline, but it’s dependent on weather,” she said. “Hopefully by 2026, we’ll have some really wet years and we can fill it really fast.”
The Windy Gap Firming Project, a collaboration between 12 northern Colorado water providers, including Greeley, will result in a new reservoir — the 90,000 acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir — and the largest dam on the Front Range.
When it’s complete, the project intends to make water supplies more reliable by installing the reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County.
For the past year, the project has been in the middle of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against federal agencies. The lawsuit questions the need for the project, saying it would make significant water diversions from the Colorado River, and that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Crops of Engineers did not have enough information before they issued initial permits to the district.
Still, Jeff Drager, director of engineering for Northern Water, said the project hasn’t been stalled by the lawsuit, especially because funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service requires the group to use the money within the next five years…
Right now, the project is in the permitting process. So far, the organization has $11 million and is seeking ways to fund the final $4 million…
The project has been in the process of permitting the project for 15 years, Drager said…
Drager said the group hopes to start construction in 2021 or 2022.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
• 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.
• 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.
• 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 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.
• 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.
FromThe 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.
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.
Fort Morgan triggers building water pump station: Participants in the Southern Water Supply Project pipeline long knew that an eastern pump station may be needed to ensure enough water can be delivered to its farthest-out participants: Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District, the Times reported May 13.
Fort Morgan and Quality Water both reached their capacity of Colorado-Big Thompson water multiple times in recent summers. Gravity is currently what brings the water to Fort Morgan, since Carter Lake, where it is stored, is hundreds of feet higher than Fort Morgan. But growth in use of water by the pipeline’s participants meant less and less water can reach Fort Morgan just through gravity. All of the participants in the pipeline had the right to call for a pump station to be built, as per the original agreements. The council did approve directing staff to proceed with that request to Northern Water. But getting a pump station built will be expensive for all the participants in the pipeline, since the overall project is expected to cost about $6 million. It would take about three years from its start before the pump station would be online…
New water meter system for Log Lane: The new town water meter system will cost Log Lane Village approximately $154,520, the Times reported June 16.
The town’s board of trustees had previously approved contracting with Aclara/HD Systems for providing a new water meter system, but the costs and details had not yet been finalized. That’s happened June 14, with the board approving the expenditure and choosing the more expensive but longer-lasting scalable option of two proposals offered by contractor.
On a 4-2 vote, a Longmont City Council majority on Tuesday night reduced the amount of water the city will contract to store in the Windy Gap Firming Project reservoir to be built in Larimer County.
Council members Polly Christensen, Marcia Martin, Joan Peck and Aren Rodriguez instead changed the city’s commitment to its share of the overall project expense to whatever would be needed to pay for Longmont’s storage of 8,000 acre-feet of water in the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, rather than the 10,000 acre-feet that a previous council majority had favored.
That smaller amount of Longmont water storage is expected to reduce the amount of bonds, if any, that the city would have to sell to help finance its share of the water storage.
It also is expected to reduce the amount of any additional water-rate increases — if any — that Longmont would have had to bill its customers to pay for the $36.3 million in bonds that Longmont voters in the 2017 election authorized the city to sell.
It would not, however, eliminate the 9 percent water-rate increase the previous council had already imposed for 2018, followed by another 9 percent increase in 2019.
Mayor Brian Bagley and Councilwoman Bonnie Finley dissented from the vote to reduce the amount of water that Longmont would have stored, and the resulting reduction in Longmont’s cost share for the reservoir project.
Collaboration is a lofty goal touted by political and business leaders as a potential way forward on anything from climate change to healthcare to obesity. Drop your weapons, turn your enemies into partners and achieve great things — or so the thinking goes. But collaboration is a concept that sounds great in the abstract and quickly turns messy in practice, with plenty of pitfalls along the way toward a common goal.
Avoiding drawn out fights has always been tough when dealing with water issues in the West. Collaboration wasn’t always the go-to strategy for environmentalists, political figures and water managers who held competing interests on overtaxed, overdrawn rivers.
But with the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado’s mountains, old grudges are being put aside in favor of new, collaborative tactics. While some of the West’s oldest enemies are working together, those who feel left behind by all the newfound teamwork aren’t ready to sing “Kumbaya.”
Windy Gap Reservoir — at the heart of the dispute — is a shallow, human-made lake just west of Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado River water sits in a wide, shallow pool, kept in place by a dam…
It’s just one piece of a much larger diversion project that moves water from the headwaters of the Colorado through the mountains for use along the Front Range. Water managers have proposed, and received the federal permits needed, to use this small reservoir to move more water eastward, exercising water rights they say they’re unable to use now because the system is full to the brim at inopportune times.
That type of proposal — to send more Colorado River water eastward to supplement urban and suburban growth — stirs up all kinds of West Slope anxiety about Front Range growth.
“We know the flows are going to be diverted,” [Kirk] Klancke says. “We know the state’s not going to stop growing, that’s reality.”
“The pragmatic approach would be then to figure out how to keep your aquatic habitat healthy with those diminished flows, and that’s what we’re doing,” he says.
Rather than fight powerful water managers like Denver Water and Northern Water in the duke-it-out, courtroom-style battle some environmental groups have perfected over the years, Trout Unlimited and some of its allies took an unprecedented step: working together. Since the Windy Gap project’s revival more than a decade ago, they’ve had a seat at the negotiating table. If cities want to siphon away West Slope water, Klancke says, they need to give something in return.
“These are some of the most powerful people in the state because they control one of the state’s most important resources,” he says.
Which is exactly why other environmentalists, like Ken Fucik, don’t trust the water diverters and, by association, environmental groups like Trout Unlimited for working with them.
“When you look at the process over here, there are some of us over here who are unhappy,” Fucik says.
Fucik, a retired environmental consultant from Grand Lake, is opposed to a 2012 deal brokered by Trout Unlimited, county officials and others. In exchange for a permit to allow more water be sent to the Front Range as part of Windy Gap, the negotiators got $10 million in required mitigation to upgrade water quality in the headwaters and an additional $12 million in mitigation work for fish and wildlife, projects not required by law. That includes partial funding for a bypass channel that would skirt around Windy Gap dam and reservoir, reconnecting the upper reaches of the Colorado River, allowing fish to move more freely.
Grand County was also able to negotiate additional flows out of Windy Gap Dam to flush out sediment, an agreement that Northern Water be in charge of operation of the new bypass and more flows to support endangered fish in a stretch of the Colorado near Grand Junction…
Environmental consultant Geoff Elliott agrees. He lives in Grand County and says when you’re not part of collaborative agreements and weren’t invited to the negotiations, you end up feeling left out and unheard.
“It comes down to trust and we’re asked to trust in a process where we’ve been eliminated, pushed out and punished,” he says. “It’s hard for us to trust in that process.”
Fucik and Elliott are now supporting a recently filed lawsuit from a handful of environmental groups who take a different tactic with water projects, like Save The Colorado and WildEarth Guardians. Their goal is to prevent more water pulled from the Colorado River watershed from traveling to the Front Range…
For an environmentalist concerned about the health of the river, this conundrum has become the fork in the road: When do you collaborate with someone who’s supposed to be your enemy? And when do you roll the dice in court?
Lurline Underbrink Curran says the path of most resistance has been tried before, with pretty erratic results. She’s the former Grand County manager and sat at the negotiating table with Northern Water.
“I don’t understand collaboration becoming a dirty word,” she says. “Because I can tell you, I can throw out some dirty words that will curl your hair, and that is not one of them.”
Because Grand County officials, like Curran, held the key to a permit that would allow the project to move forward, she joined forces with environmental groups like Trout Unlimited and ranchers concerned about the river’s flow downstream of Windy Gap. The negotiations took years and Curran says her team was a formidable opponent to the Front Range water suppliers, despite what detractors might think.
Curran admits some of the negotiations were done behind closed doors, as she says, to build trust among old enemies. But adds that the solutions they came up with will benefit the river in the long-term.
“Will the Colorado be as wide and deep as it used to be? Hell no. But that’s gone. Like it or not that’s been gone for decades,” she says. “But you can make it so it’s functional.”
The idea of bringing parties with old grudges to the negotiating table was meant to avoid lawsuits in the first place. Now that one’s been filed it threatens to bring down the whole deal. Northern Water has already started planning the $400 million Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Trout Unlimited is still fundraising to secure enough money to build the Windy Gap bypass channel, the crown jewel of the agreement.
Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner says the agency is moving ahead with its plans.
“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any concerns, we’d rather not have a lawsuit filed,” Werner says.
Werner doesn’t have any regrets on how the compromise went down. For decades, water managers have been seen as bullies who strong arm their opponents to get what they want. He says the Windy Gap Bypass project seemed like a turning point.
“What’s best for the river?” he asks. “We need water for growth in Colorado, there’s no question about that. How are we going to do it, folks?”
Either by working with your enemies. Or against them.
Representatives of two of the utilities that hope to store water in Chimney Hollow say that if a lawsuit filed to halt the reservoir is successful it may not stop the water from being diverted from the Colorado River, and a leading conservation group says the lawsuit will hurt the river not help it.
“It could mean that instead of one big project that holds the 90,000 acre feet, participants use a bunch of smaller options (for water storage),” said Michael Cook, district manager of the Little Thompson Water District, one of 13 participants in the reservoir project led by Northern Water.
The participants already own the supply of water, called Windy Gap, that would be diverted into the reservoir. However, they do not have a place to store it during years when water is plentiful for use in dry years when it is needed.
This reservoir would provide that storage to firm up the supply, which is why it also is called the Windy Gap Firming project.
The Little Thompson Water District accounts for about 6 percent of the overall project and has been using some of its Windy Gap water each year.
The city of Loveland, which owns 10.5 percent of the water, has used it infrequently but is relying on the water, which it purchased with money from a bond, for future water needs as the city grows.
The city needs a place to store this water to firm up the supply and would be forced to look at other storage options for its Windy Gap water if the lawsuit were to prevail, said Larry Howard, the city’s water resources manager…
However, he, like Werner, expressed confidence that the 14-year permitting process was sound and that the reservoir project will go forward despite the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.
An attorney for Trout Unlimited, too, expressed doubt that the lawsuit will stop the project, stating that, despite the lawsuit, water will continue to be diverted from the Colorado River as populations grow and other solutions are needed to turn the tide.
“This lawsuit likely won’t stop Windy Gap, but it could succeed in delaying real solutions to the problems,” Mely Whiting, attorney for Trout Unlimited, said in a written statement. Trout Unlimited was a leading participant in negotiations for mitigation and conservation efforts included in the project.
“Habitat restoration projects and other solutions are already being implemented and showing great success in improving the health of the Colorado River. That’s why many conservation groups who’ve been working the longest on this problem support our collaborative approach.
“These solutions offer the best hope for keeping the valuable resources of the Upper Colorado alive. This short-sighted lawsuit would only delay progress.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, questions the need for the Windy Gap Firming project, which would ensure the full complement of more than 40,000 acre feet of water is diverted from the Colorado and eventually stored in the planned, $400 million Chimney Hollow Reservoir the Front Range communities would share…
The lawsuit was filed by Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers and the Waterkeeper Alliance, a collection of nonprofit environmental groups that have long opposed the project.
It was filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their roles in approving the project in May and conducting the environmental impact statement. In April 2016, Gov. John Hickenlooper endorsed the project, as well.
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spokesman Brian Werner said he hasn’t had much time to review the lawsuit, but he said although he and others are disappointed, he’s confident the project will eventually move forward. Northern Water was the driving force behind the Windy Gap firming project, which was proposed as a way to ensure Front Range municipalities get the full yield they’re due based on water rights from the Colorado.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver, asks the judge to throw out the records of decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, claiming they violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act in approving the project.
Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, WildEarth Guardians, Living Rivers and Waterkeeper Alliance, together, filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming that the permitting process was flawed and did not consider the cumulative effects on the river, the resulting effect on the ecosystem and tourism or alternatives for water supply…
The main target of the lawsuit is the environmental analysis, led by the Bureau of Reclamation and relied upon by the Corps of Engineers. That environmental process, which included both a draft and final environmental impact statement, took more than a decade…
“We think that the process has worked well,” said Werner. “The EIS, we don’t think that there is any basis in fact about it (in the lawsuit). In this country, anybody can say what they want about a process. We think the federal government has done it well.”
In fact, Northern Water has agreed to a wildlife mitigation plan that will benefit not destroy the river and the trout habitat, including channel work that has already begun and control of flows and diversions to boost the ecosystem for trout and other aquatic life, Werner said.
“The Colorado River below Windy Gap is better with the mitigation and enhancement and the project than it is without it,” Werner said.
The lawsuit claims that the project should have been replaced with other alternatives but that the applicants “stubbornly” continued to push forward because of how much money they had already sunk into the reservoir…
“Federal agencies must evaluate not only the impacts of a proposed project, but also alternatives to the intended course of action,” Zach Lass, student attorney at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, said in a press release. “Reclamation and the Corps fell victim to a sunk costs bias that infected the entire review and approval process when they failed to consider alternatives that did not involve spending more money trying to salvage their failed Windy Gap Project.”
One of the big issues alleged in the lawsuit is that the extensive environmental analyses failed to consider alternative sources of water besides pulling more from the river and storing it in a brand new reservoir. The applicants failed to look at conservation, efficiency and water recycling, said [Gary] Wockner…
The lawsuit does not ask for an immediate injunction to stop work that is currently being done on the Chimney Hollow site, which includes blasting of a test quarry for construction of a small version of the dam to gather information on the geology of the area.
That work, along with planned tree removal and relocation of a power line, will continue as this lawsuit is heard in court, Werner said…
No court dates likely will be set until the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have responded to the initial complaint, and they have 60 days to do so. Often, it takes at least a year for a decision in this type of lawsuit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Site of Chimney Hollow Reservoir via Northern Water.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site via the Bureau of Reclamation
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
Windy Gap participants (2012)
Windy Gap Reservoir
Windy Gap Reservoir
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.
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.
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.
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.
Officials in charge of the Windy Gap Firming Project are checking to make sure that a Dec. 7 Colorado Supreme Court decision won’t adversely affect the $387.36 million transmountain water diversion project that will benefit the Front Range…
…in December, the Colorado Supreme Court sided with western slope interests against Aurora in case that had to deal with pumping western slope water across the continental divide and storing it on the eastern slope. Aurora had a one-half interest in the Busk-Ivanhoe Diversion Project in western Colorado.
Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River District, said the case relied on storage rights for the water.
“The big crux of the Aurora case is that they didn’t have the storage rights for the transmountain water that they took,” Pokrandt said. “So I’m sure what a lot of folks are doing is looking at their water decrees and seeing if they actually have decreed storage rights for transmountain water. That’s the question for the Windy Gap Firming Project.”
Pokrandt said that in the Colorado River District’s view, the court made the right decision.
“Our position is that water law is water law and under ordinary water law, you need a water right to store water. And Aurora argued that transmountain water didn’t need an exact water right to store it,” Pokrandt said. “But, no you do need that because water law is water law and there’s nothing special about transmountain water.”
The municipal subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is leading the Windy Gap Firming Project.
Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the municipal subdistrict, said they have staff researching to make sure the Aurora decision is unique to the case and to verify that the Windy Gap Firming Project is on legally stable ground moving forward.
“The Busk-Ivanhoe decision has a very significant application statewide … what the (Colorado) Supreme Court decision did is apply, in essence, 2016 water rights administration and laws to a decree that is dated 1928,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson added that staff are verifying that they have the water decrees to store Windy Gap water on the within the basin of use, which would be on the western slope.
Northern Spokesman Brian Werner said they are fairly certain the Colorado Supreme Court decision shouldn’t have major impacts on the Windy Gap Firming Project, which has been in the works since 2004.
“I want to emphasize that intent to store, we’ve had that all along with the Windy Gap Firming Project,” Werner said. “So if you’re asking what the impact (of the decision) is on the Windy Gap Firming Project, I can tell you there shouldn’t be any.”
Wilkinson added that with Colorado water law, nothing is certain forever.
“That’s the intent of our research to get to that point (of certainty),” Wilkinson said.
“But in Colorado water law and some of the interpretations that come out, there is not such a thing as absolute certainty. This Busk-Ivanhoe decision introduced some change in thought that didn’t exist before so say ‘here’s how it will be always and forever in absolute certainty’ is probably unreasonable, but we’re trying to get to a reasonable amount of certainty.”
Coyote Gulch contributor Brent Gardner-Smith took a deep dive into the decision to extract a summary of the water court process for a change of use. Below is his email:
You might appreciate this. In the midst of the Busk opinion is summary of the factors that go into changing a water right. I’ve stripped it of the legal references, but otherwise, it’s the court’s words. Thought you might appreciate it. Not sure what else to do with it yet.
Under Colorado’s doctrine of prior appropriation, a water right is a usufructuary right that affords its owner the right to use and enjoy a portion of the waters of the state.
One does not “own” water, but owns the right to use water within the limitations of this doctrine.
The touchstone of Colorado’s prior appropriation doctrine is beneficial use. That is, an appropriator perfects a right to use water by applying a specified quantity of unappropriated water to a beneficial use.
“Beneficial use” is “that amount of water that is reasonable and appropriate under reasonably efficient practices to accomplish without waste the purpose for which the appropriation is lawfully made.”
Colorado water law has long recognized the right of water users to make changes to the terms of their decrees—including changes to the type, place, or time of beneficial use; changes to the points of diversion; changes to storage; and changes from direct flow to storage and subsequent application and vice versa.
Permanent changes to a water right must be decreed through the adjudication process established by the legislature … and … parties wishing to change the use of a water right must obtain a water court decree allowing the change in use.
It is inherent in the notion of a ‘change’ of water right that the right itself can only be changed and not enlarged.
This is a basic predicate of water law dating to the nineteenth century; a change application merely continues the rights decreed in the original appropriation in a new form and may not expand the amount of water actually used under the original decree.
In other words, “the right to change a water right is limited to that amount of water actually used beneficially pursuant to the decree at the appropriator’s place of use.”
Thus, in order to determine that a requested change of a water right is merely a change, and will not amount to an enlargement of the original appropriation, the court must quantify the historic use of the right to some degree of precision.
Quantification of the amount of water beneficially consumed pursuant to the decree guards against rewarding wasteful practices or recognizing water claims that are not justified by the nature or extent of the appropriator’s actual need.
An absolute decree confirms that a right of appropriation has vested; the decree entitles the appropriator to use that right through its decreed point of diversion in a specified amount, usually expressed as a flow rate (for a diversion right) or in acre-feet of water (for a storage right).
The term “historic use” refers to the “historic consumptive use” or “historic beneficial consumptive use,” attributable to the appropriation of that quantity of water historically consumed by applying the water to its decreed beneficial use.
However, because “the period and pattern of use are not known with certainty at the time a water right is adjudicated,” the decreed flow rate at the decreed point of diversion is not the same as the matured measure of the water right.
Rather, over an extended period of time, “a pattern of historic diversions and use under the decreed right for its decreed use at its place of use” will become the true measure of the mature water right for change purposes, typically quantified in acre-feet of water consumed.
Crucially, proper analysis of the historic consumptive use of a water right measures the amount of water both actually and lawfully used in accordance with the decree.
Because beneficial use defines the genesis and maturation of every appropriative water right in this state, every decree includes an implied limitation that diversions are limited to those sufficient for the purposes for which the appropriation was made.
Importantly, the actual historic diversion for beneficial use may be less than the decreed rate because, for example, “that amount has simply not been historically needed or applied for the decreed purpose.”
Indeed, we have often observed that when an appropriator exercises the right to change a decreed water right, he runs the real risk that the right will be requantified at an amount less than his original decree, based on the actual historic consumptive use of the right.
In short, an initial change application reopens the original decree for determination of the true measure of the appropriative right’s consumptive use draw on the river system.
In sum, “the fundamental purpose of a change proceeding is to ensure that the true right — that which has ripened by beneficial use over time — is the one that will prevail in its changed form.”
The decision is actually a page-turner for water wonks.
This graphic shows the transmountain diversions in Colorado.
A map of the Busk-Ivanhoe system, with Ivanhoe Reservoir on the left side of the map and Turquoise Reservoir on the right.
Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris and contract employee Lurline Underbrink-Curran gave a water quality update at the first Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting of 2017.
WINDY GAP BYPASS
On Dec. 21, 2016 the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the federal US Department of Agriculture, announced The Colorado River Headwaters Project (CRHP) would receive a $7.75 million grant to apply to a series of river restoration and conservation projects in Grand County. The grant, totaling $7,758,830, comes to the CRHP through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), part of the NRCS. The grant equals 80 percent of the requested amount. Underbrink-Curran said, in an update, that there are several sources the RCPP will apply to for the remaining funds. With the amount of money secured, other funders may be more willing to sign on to a project that has the ability to be completed and do such great things for the environment, fish passage, water quality and temperature and agriculture.
The $7.75 million grant will be divided up between a series of water projects including the creation of a bypass channel that will connect the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir to the sections of the River above the Reservoir. A significant portion of the funds will also be used to improve river habitat downstream from the Windy Gap as well as improving irrigation systems for irrigating ranchers in the Kremmling area and to improve soil and water quality.
According to Underbrink-Curran, the water right issue for the bypass channel has made some progress. At the last meeting there was a real effort to find a path that all could agree upon. Steve Bushong with UCRA had drafted a position that all agreed might work. That draft was circulated with the attorneys and has undergone several revisions and inclusions but seems to be getting close to complete.
UPRR INJECTION WELL
Morris said in December of 2016 the Water Quality Board requested she submit a letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) expressing the board’s dissatisfaction of a revised discharge permit for Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR).
UPRR plans to submit a Class V Injection Well permit for a site near the Moffat Tunnel in Winter Park. Class V wells are used to inject non-hazardous fluids underground. Most are used to dispose of waste into or above underground sources of drinking water. This disposal can pose a threat to ground water quality if not managed properly.
According to UPRR, The plant would treat and return 95 percent of the contaminated groundwater issuing from the tunnel and return it, clean, to the Fraser River.
Grand County shared their concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that the plant was designed to treat only metals and total suspended solids (TSS), but the current discharge permit only recognizes TSS and metals as contaminants. According to Morris, Grand County does not know what will be the fate of the organic pollution that will also be in the discharge during annual tunnel cleaning operations, which is what caused the pollution found in September.
Morris said she has not drafted the letter yet because the permit has not been released.
BERTHOUD PASS SEDIMENT CONTROL
Morris said the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is asking for comments by Jan.30 on a draft Berthoud Pass Sediment Control Action Plan (SCAP). The SCAP will identify potential scenarios for enhanced maintenance and sediment control features to be implemented when funding becomes available. The last meeting about this effort took place in October of 2015. Morris said she will be reviewing the SCAP this month.
Following a closed-door session on Longmont’s water supply, the City Council tabled some of the water rate increases that were slated to start on Jan. 1.
The water rates were slated to increase by 17 percent in both 2017 and 2018, 8 percent of which in both years would go toward financing Longmont’s 10,000 acre-feet participation level in the Windy Gap Firming Project. However, on Tuesday, council decided rates will rise 9 percent in both years.
The council voted unanimously to table the water rate increase, which was on second reading Tuesday, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues a 404 permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project.
While design work is ongoing for the Windy Gap Firming Project, no construction work can start until the Corps issues the permit, Dale Rademacher, Longmont general manager of public works and natural resources, told the council Tuesday. While staff hoped it would come before the end of 2016, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
The C-BT Project water year ended on Oct. 31. C-BT Project storage levels on Nov. 1 were above average for a third consecutive year, with 548,274 acre-feet in active storage. The Nov. 1 average is 444,177 AF. Deliveries increased in 2016 over 2015 levels, with 204,078 AF delivered (including quota, Carryover Program and Regional Pool Program water). Forty-six percent of the deliveries were from Horsetooth Reservoir, 40 percent from Carter Lake and the remaining 14 percent went to the Big Thompson River, Hansen Feeder Canal and the South Platte River. Estimated deliveries to municipal and industrial users totaled 102,157 AF, while agricultural deliveries were approximately 101,921 AF.
The long awaited Windy Gap Bypass Project may begin moving forward in the not-so-distant future.
Officials from Grand County as well as multiple local partnering agencies and groups are patiently awaiting news on a $10 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant. The announcement regarding which applicants will receive the grant is expected sometime in Dec. this year. If the grant award is approved full funding for the Windy Gap Bypass Project will be secured.
WORKIN ON THE RIVER
The RCPP grant is administered by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is given to producers and landowners to provide conservation assistance. The grant application was submitted under a partnership of multiple local organizations and entities including: Grand County government, the Irrigators in the Lands in the Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK), the Upper Colorado River Alliance (UCRA), Middle Park, the Colorado River District, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and Northern Water.
If awarded the $10 million grant monies will go directly to two specific projects: the Windy Gap Bypass Project and a streambed habitat improvement project in the Colorado River for the ILVK. Additionally CPW is working to secure funding from the States Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan to conduct a stream enhancement project on the Colorado River between the Windy Gap and the ILVK lands. If local organizers are able to secure funding for all three projects roughly 33-miles of the Colorado River will see stream improvements.
Lurline Underbrink-Curran is a contract employee for Grand County overseeing much of the County’s efforts on water issues. She worked closely with others to develop the RCPP grant application. “This will be a big deal if we are successful,” Underbrink-Curran said. “We think we have a strong application and we have a very strong partnership collaboration.”
She cautioned against expecting results too quickly though, even if full funding is approved. “The things that happened to the River didn’t happen over night and we won’t fix them overnight. But if we have methods and plans in place we will get them fixed.”
WINDY GAP BYPASS
The total cost of the Windy Gap Bypass Project is estimated at roughly $9.6 million. A total of $4.5 million has already been secured for the project and the $10 million RCPP grant would cover the remainder, with excess funds going to the ILVK Project.
The Windy Gap Bypass Project is intended to create a free flowing channel for water from the Colorado River to [bypass] the Windy Gap Reservoir. The Windy Gap Reservoir is located just a short distance west of Granby on US Highway 40 and is one of several water storage reservoir[s] that make up the Colorado Big-Thompson Project’s water diversion system.
Water from the Windy Gap is pumped through the Northern Water diversion and pump network eventually reaching Grand Lake before moving across the Continental Divide through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. When the Windy Gap Reservoir was initially constructed no free flowing channel was created. As such the Windy Gap Reservoir divides the river habitat above and below the reservoir, preventing fish and other creatures from migrating freely.
Additionally the Windy Gap causes the Colorado River to lose nearly all of its velocity, allowing for a substantial amount of sediment to develop in both the reservoir and in the river downstream. The sediment buildup negatively impacts bug habitat, which has a domino effect on all other species living in the river.
The work that will be done for the Windy Gap Bypass is fairly simple in concept. Excavators will dig out a channel within the existing Windy Gap Reservoir. The dirt from the excavations will be used to construct a berm inside the Reservoir. The berm will establish a smaller reservoir while also creating a separate channel for the free flow of water down the Colorado.
The ILVK streambed habitat improvement project seeks to address two concerns: issues with irrigation infrastructure and improvements of streambed habitat for bug and aquatic life.
As Paul Bruchez, one of the ILVK landowners helping to spearhead the project explained, the project hopes to accomplish both goals through the same work; by rebuilding the pools and riffles that create healthy river habitat and focusing most of those efforts on areas where the irrigation pumping infrastructure already exists.
The ILVK is a landowners organization made up primarily of irrigating ranchers near the town of Kremmling. The ILVK holds some of the most senior water rights on the upper Colorado River; their senior water rights are recognized in Senate Document 80 and their rights precede the famous Colorado-Big Thompson Project (CBTP).
Prior to the establishment of the CBTP there were virtually no water storage reservoirs in the high country and no ditches bringing water to the landowners of the ILVK. At that time they were considered as having, “meadows act water rights” meaning they did not irrigate their fields using irrigation ditches, rather their fields naturally flooded each spring/summer as snow runoff from higher elevations made its way to the Colorado River.
When the CBTP was established irrigation pumps were constructed to provide water from the Colorado River to the landowners of the ILVK. As time has passed and additional water diversions and storage projects were undertaken above the ILVK region the flows that provided the ILVK members with irrigation water have diminished, along with the overall water table.
“We have a fixed station (irrigation) pump system with a river that is dynamic and changing,” Bruchez explained. “My neighbors and family struggle with irrigation issues. But I am also watching the regress of the Colorado River from a fishery standpoint. The concept of the ILVK project is to fix and repair our irrigation systems to be sustainable while using construction techniques that will improve the health of the river overall.”
In that way the ILVK project proverbially kills two birds with one stone. But for Bruchez and other landowners along the Colorado the effort isn’t just about improving their ability to access the water that is theirs by right, it is about the broader health of the River as well.
“If we can cut down water temps by even a fraction we are making headway,” Bruchez said. “It almost becomes a water quality issue. We are not just improving segments but improving the whole river system. We can’t look at one part or another as the priority. It is a system that needs a system wide repair.”
FromAspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Daily News:
The board of directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board gave conceptual approval Wednesday to a $90 million loan to help finance the $400 million Windy Gap Firming Project, which will divert more water from the Colorado River.
The CWCB, charged with facilitating water supply projects in Colorado, has both a loan program and a grant program. And while its grant program is being challenged by a sharp drop in severance tax revenue from the oil and gas sector, the agency’s loan program remains robust, especially as Aurora just repaid a $70 million loan ahead of schedule.
The $90 million loan to Northern Water, which is developing Windy Gap, is the largest in the agency’s history. It will help facilitate a project that is more popular on the Eastern Slope than the Western Slope, given it will increase the level of water sent under the Continental Divide.
The loan, which still needs final approval from the CWCB board, will be part of a financing package for a new reservoir near Loveland called Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which will cost $400 million to construct.
Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Water, said he expects the project to be approved in 2017, that test drilling has begun at the dam site — next to Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County — and design work is well underway. Gov. Hickenlooper has also endorsed the Windy Gap project, even though final federal approval is still outstanding.
Wilkinson also said that the prospect of a CWCB loan has galvanized financing discussions among the 12 different entities – including 10 cities from Broomfield north to Greeley — who are involved in the project as members of the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict.
“The difference that this has made cannot be overstated,” Wilkinson told the CWCB board about the loan.
Savings needed to backfill drop in severance tax funding
The $90 million loan makes up a big chunk of this year’s “projects bill,” which is submitted annually by the CWCB to the state Legislature for approval. This year’s projects bill is $165 million in all, which makes it the largest annual spending request in the history of the CWCB, which dates back to 1937.
Another big part of the projects bill is $55 million for an array of grants and loans spurred by the Colorado Water Plan, which was approved a year ago by the CWCB board and presented to the governor.
Of the $55 million, $10 million is for projects to be funded at the discretion of the CWCB directors, and $5 million is specifically for watershed restoration efforts and stream management plans, which is a nod to environmental interests in the state.
Another $10 million is used to fund the agency’s Water Supply Reserve Fund, which helps fund local water supply projects identified and approved by the nine basin roundtables around the state, including the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets in Glenwood Springs.
Funding for roundtable projects is supposed to come from severance taxes paid by oil and gas producers in the state to the tune of $10 million a year. But the combination of the slowdown in the gas patch and property tax rebates given to the industry means that the CWCB is only going to see about a quarter of the severance tax revenue this year that it normally receives.
As such, the CWCB is asking the Legislature to let it spend severance tax revenue it has tucked away from the good years. That approach, however, is fraught with danger, as the Legislature is busy trying to figure out how to fill a $500 million to $800 million hole in the state’s budget, which must be balanced each year by law.
James Eklund, director of the CWCB, said the Legislature will be looking in all nooks and crannies for funds, but he’s hopeful that the approval of the state water plan last year will help convince lawmakers that the CWCB has a legitimate need for the money it has set aside for future projects.
Also in the $55 million bucket in the projects bill is a $30 million “loan guarantee fund” to help water suppliers with varying credit ratings to gain better interest rates when funding new projects together.
Eklund is sensitive to criticism that not enough has been achieved after the publication of the Colorado Water Plan a year ago, which itself was the product of an intense two-year collaborative effort among water interests in the state.
On Wednesday, he told the CWCB directors that while the Water Plan was now a year old, it was “only five days old in water years.”
“We are moving forward aggressively,” Eklund said. “And I don’t think slowly at all, especially if you look at it in water time.”
Board renews Ruedi fish-water lease
Also at last week’s CWCB meeting, Eklund said that the Ute Water Conservancy District in Grand Junction has offered to once again lease 12,000 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir to the CWCB, so the agency can help maintain flows in the Colorado River, as it has done the last two years.
While the water from Ruedi benefits endangered fish in a critical 15-mile reach of the Colorado, it has also kicked up river levels in the lower Fryingpan River below Ruedi Reservoir in the late summer and fall to the consternation of some anglers.
The CWCB board also approved a $1.7 million loan for improvements to the Grand Valley Power Plant, which controls one of the senior water rights that make up the “Cameo Call” on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
The loan to the Grand Valley Water Users Association and the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District will help cover the costs of a $5.2 million project to modernize the hydropower plant, which was built in the 1930s.
Contracts were also finalized this week with a bevy of water consultants to prepare the next edition of the Statewide Water Supply Initiative, or SWSI, which is a more technical version of the state water plan.
The SWSI plan is slated to be finished by December 2017 and is designed to inform regional water plans created by the basin roundtables, known as “basin implementation plans,” as well as provide a base of data for the next version of the more policy-driven Colorado Water Plan.
Also, State Engineer Dick Wolfe informed the CWCB board he’ll be retiring in June 2017 at age 55, after nine years in his role as the state’s top water cop.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
FromAspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:
Nobody disputes that the Colorado-Big Thompson project has changed Grand Lake, the state’s largest, deepest natural lake. How could it not?
In the 1940s, Grand Lake was integrated into the giant C-BT, what the late historian David Lavender called a “massive violation of geography.” It’s Colorado’s largest transmountain diversion project. By one tally in the 1990s, it delivers an average 231,060 acre-feet annually from the headwaters of the Colorado River to cities and farms east of the Continental Divide. This compares to the 105,024 acre-feet from three tunnels through the Sawatch Range east of Aspen.
Almost immediately after the C-BT was completed in 1953, locals began to complain that the project shoehorned into the lake had sullied the lake’s clarity by introducing algae and sediments. This is, they insist, a violation of federal law.
The controversy pivots on Senate Document 80, a part of the Congressional authorization for project funding in 1937. The document describes the needs of irrigation, industrial and power production but also warns against impacts to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
The lake, if outside the park, has one of Colorado’s most memorable backdrops. The document specifies the need “to preserve the fishing and recreational facilities and the scenic attractions of Grand Lake…”
On that, say many locals, the C-BT has failed, and they say that until recently they got little response from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that built the C-BT.
But now, in a reversal, the bureau is working with 18 other stakeholders in an effort to solve the problem. Parties include Northern Colorado Water, the agency that manages the diversions for cities and farmers of northeastern Colorado, Grand County and other state and local organizations.
Grand Lake’s story fits into a broad theme of changed sensibilities in Colorado about 20th century river alterations. Restoration and remediation projects are starting or underway on the San Miguel River in Telluride, on the Eagle River at Camp Hale and on the Fraser River near Winter Park.
“It’s possible that at one time, the impacts of the CBT Project on Grand Lake clarity were thought to be just part of the price we pay for valuable water projects,” said Anne Castle, a fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Now, we are more inclined to believe that the environmental values have significance, including economic significance, and that operations can and should be adjusted to better accommodate these values.”
The work at Grand Lake also illustrates the power of persistence and spunk by advocates of environmental protection. And it involves a collaborative process called adaptive management that emphasizes consensus-based decision-making in solving stubborn issues involving water diversions.
Nobody thinks solving this problem will be easy, though. In April, after several years of working together, the Grand Lake stakeholders submitted a plan to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. The plan approved by the commission sets an interim clarity goal for summer pumping during the next five years.
During that time, the Bureau of Reclamation is to develop a plan for long-term solutions. Alternatives include expensive new tunnels, possibly bypassing Grand Lake altogether. A preview of the alternatives may emerge at a meeting of stakeholders in late November.
Not everybody in Grand Lake thinks that reduced clarity is a problem. “There are people who think there’s a problem, but there is no problem,” says Jim Gasner, a member of the Grand Lake Board of Trustees, the town’s elected body, and a fishing “teacher” at Rocky Mountain Outfitters.
But Elwin Crabtree, a real estate agent and former Grand County commissioner, sees something different. “It’s adverse to its natural being,” he said in early August in an interview at his office along the town’s main street of knotty-pined stores and lodges. “I think we look at it as a moral issue,” he added. “I think we believe in having responsibility to be good stewards of our environment.”
The C-BT is an effort to address what one historian in the 1950s called “nature’s error.” Even as Aspen was putting on its silver-lined britches in the 1880s, farmers along the South Platte River and its tributaries were struggling with inadequate water in late summer to finish their corn and other crops.
Irrigators set out to remedy this. The first large-scale transmountain diversion from the headwaters of the Colorado River began in 1890. Called the Grand River Ditch, it’s beveled into the side of the Never Summer Range in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, collecting water like a rain gutter from a roof.
Then came the 1930s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and the New Deal. Farmers in northeastern Colorado had long been agitating for added infusions of water from the Colorado River headwaters. But they couldn’t get it done themselves. They needed federal funding.
The flawed design
But the work along the Continental Divide from 1939 to 1953 created a wound at Grand Lake. In retrospect, the design was flawed.
The C-BT at the Colorado River headwaters consists of three main bodies of interconnected water. Only one, Grand Lake, is natural.
Farthest downstream is Granby Reservoir, which is Colorado’s third largest, capable of holding 539,758 acre-feet of water during runoff of spring and early summer. This compares to Ruedi Reservoir’s 102,373 acre-feet and Dillon’s 257,304 acre-feet.
From Granby, water is pumped upstream as needed by Eastern Slope diverters to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Shallow, no more than nine feet deep, Shadow Mountain is directly connected through a short canal to Grand Lake.
The canal occupies the original path of the Colorado River emerging from Grand Lake. From the interconnected Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, water is then pumped through the 13.1-mile Alva Adams Tunnel underneath the national park to the Estes Park area for storage in reservoirs there and along the northern Front Range.
Shadow Mountain is a problem, though. Its shallowness allows water to be easily warmed in summer, producing algae that can float into Grand Lake. The shallowness also allows lake-bottom sediments to be disturbed more easily and dispersed into Grand Lake.
Evidence for the historic, pre-construction clarity of Grand Lake is scant: Just one measurement, taken in 1941, of 9.2 meters (30 feet).
Detailed observations during the last decade show clarity down to 6 meters (19.6 feet), but no more.
The standard adopted in April by the state agency specifies a minimum of 2.5 meters and an average of 3.8 meters (8.2 feet to 12.4 feet) during summer diversion season.
“I think the clarity standard has really elevated the discussion,” says Lane Wyatt, co-director of the water quality/quantity committee in the Northwest Council of Governments. “This is the only clarity standard in Colorado. It’s the first one we’ve ever done.”
Clarity is not the only issue, though. Water must be delivered to farms and cities. As it is flows downhill toward the Great Plains, it generates electricity distributed by the Western Area Power Authority. Purchasers of this low-cost power include Aspen Electric and Holy Cross Energy.
Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, remembers a more pristine past.
As a boy, his family summered at Grand Lake. That was in the 1930s and 1940s. “We drank the water right out of the lake, and many families did that,” O’Donnell said.
The first complaint about the sullied water was filed in 1954, the year after the project’s formal completion. In 1956, Grand Lake trustees adopted a resolution that informed Colorado’s congressional delegation of problems. The resolution was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation.
“I think it’s fair to say that up until seven or eight years ago, the bureau pretty much stonewalled,” O’Donnell said. “They just did not want to recognize the problem, and Northern Colorado Water, the same.”
Movement has occurred during the last decade. One avenue for local protest was a proposed expansion of an existing diversion of the Colorado River at Windy Gap, about 15 miles downstream. Completed in 1985, the Windy Gap dam uses the C-BT infrastructure to deliver additional water to the Rawhide power plant north of Fort Collins, Greeley, Boulder and other cities.
The Windy Gap Firming, or expansion, plan was formally introduced after the drought of 2002. It proposes diversion of remaining water rights owned by a string of northern Front Range cities.
The effect of persistence
O’Donnell, of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, thinks the changed attitudes is explained by the persistence of individual public officials.
He singles out Lurline Underbrink Curran, then the Grand County manager. “She’s smart and she’s tough,” he said. “She just kept on beating on everybody to make it happen.”
He also points to the influence of Anne Castle, a long-time Denver water lawyer who served from 2009 to 20014 as assistant secretary for water and science in the Interior Department. Her responsibilities included oversight of the Bureau of Reclamation.
“I think part of the reason it has attention now is the fact that the Windy Gap Firming Project required the federal government to pay attention to Senate Document 80 and both C-BT and Windy Gap Firming Project do have an impact on Grand Lake’s recreation and scenic attraction. Calling attention to that issue, as both Lurline and I did, with prodding from Scally, had an impact,” Castle said.
But again, agreeing there is a problem is not the same thing as finding a solution.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about how our operations affect clarity,” said Victor Lee, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.
The precise circumstances that cause algae and sediments to degrade clarity are poorly understood. Northern has been altering its diversion regimes, to see if that will improve clarity.
This year, from July until late August, pumping was conducted about 15 hours a day at 250 cubic feet per second. Clarity degraded, though. Algae growth was suspected. So the pumping was accelerated to about 20 hours a day with two pumps. Results were mixed.
It was a success, said Lee, in that they learned something. Clarity readings exceeded the minimum but did not meet the average standard. “I would say the experiment was successful, but we did not meet our objective,” he said.
Esther Vincent, water quality manager for Northern Water, said the effort to address Grand Lake’s muddled clarity is attracting attention across Colorado by water professionals. Spurring their interest, she said, is the possibility of other bodies of water being assigned clarity standards.
There’s also interest in the adaptive management process created for Grand Lake. It’s similar to but separate from Learning By Doing, which was created in response to expanded water diversions from both Windy Gap and by Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel collection system.
Vincent also points out a deeply philosophical question. In 1937, when adopting S.D. 80, did Congress have the same notion about what constitutes “scenic attraction” as we do today?
“I am an engineer,” she said. “Asking an engineer to define what beauty is, is an interesting dilemma. It’s not a concept that lends itself very well to science.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Colorado’s rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.
The Longmont City Council opted for the middle-of-the road option for funding Longmont’s portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project, despite survey responses of residents that indicated most favored an all-cash option.
The decision, along with the March decision to participate in the water storage project at 10,000 acre-feet, will likely mean water rate increases of 8 percent in both 2017 and 2018, above the 9 percent increases in both years that have already been approved.
The council had three funding options to choose from, while many residents in a survey commissioned for the city expressed doubt that Longmont needs the 10,000 acre-feet of water storage instead of the 6,000 that was originally proposed.
The money for the 6,000 acre-feet is already in the bank and the rate increases and debt come into play to pay for the additional 4,000 acre-feet of storage, Longmont general manager of public works and natural resources Dale Rademacher said Tuesday.
Rademacher said the city needed an extra $16 million to pay for the extra water storage. The council chose to raise $10 million of that cost in “cash” that will come from the rate increases. The remaining $6 million will be debt, which will need to be approved by the council but won’t need to go on a ballot like a larger amount of debt would require.
Some council members expressed surprise that of the 848 households who returned a random city survey on the issue, most favored an all-cash option. Survey data was weighted to more closely match Longmont demographic data. The survey has a 3 percent margin of error.
The all-cash option to raise the money would have raised rates 13 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in 2018 above the already-approved 9 percent increases in both years.
Most people who completed the scientific mail survey favored this all-cash option, with 46 percent of respondents saying they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” it.
The city also released a web comment form where any resident — not just the ones who received the mailed survey — could tell the council about their preferences. While not scientific, most people online said they didn’t want any of the three options, but of the three, most supported a high-debt, low-rate increase option.
The third option would have required a vote of the people to issue $16.7 million in debt and mean water increases of 5 percent in both 2018 and 2019 above the already 9 percent increase.
Former Mayor Roger Lange spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting, urging the council to keep water rates as low as they can by reducing the participation in the project back to the 6,000 acre-foot level and use debt.
“It’s surprising that option 1 — the all-cash option — appeared to be favored by the people who got the survey,” Lange said. “In the web response survey, option 1 got the least favorable comments and many said they want none of the options. So it seems these surveys are diametrically opposed.”
Former City Manager Gordon Pedrow also spoke and reiterated that he thought the city should have stayed with the 6,000 acre-feet participation level rather than the increased 10,000 acre-feet level.
“With that rash decision, you have forced upon your residents options along with these horrible rate increases,” Pedrow said. “When residents receive their bills and realize what you’ve done, it will result in a complete loss of trust in you elected officials.”
The Times-Call published a letter to the editor from Pedrow in September that touched on many of the same points, plus urged residents to recall any “draconian” water rate ordinance so it can be put to a general vote. Nine of the respondents in the web survey referenced the letter and said they don’t see the need for the extra 4,000 acre-feet of water storage.
The amount of participation in the Windy Gap decision was strange in that the Longmont water board recommended 10,000 acre-feet while city staff recommended 6,000 acre-feet. The higher participation level passed the council 5-2 with Councilwomen Polly Christensen and Joan Peck dissenting.
Water board Chair Todd Williams spoke during the public-comment portion of the meeting on Tuesday, defending the board’s March recommendation.
Windy Gap is a relatively low-cost option to add water to the collector system, plus is the project that is farthest along in the lengthy approval process, Williams said.
“By the time Windy Gap stores one drop of water, it will have been 20 years since the project started because of all the studies and permits associated with starting it. All other projects have much more uncertainty in terms of implementation, cost and timing,” Williams said.
Williams added that the variables determining how much water Longmont will need in the future are not set in stone. If other entities that Longmont trades water with walked away from the agreement, for example, Longmont would lose some sources of water, Williams said.
Mayor Dennis Coombs said if new information becomes available on whether Longmont needs 6,000 or 10,000 acre-feet of participation, he would like it presented to council. Christensen said she didn’t vote for the 10,000 acre-feet and she would be happy to return to the lower level, but none of the other council members seemed to support the idea.
Coombs said he noticed that people older than 55 years old wanted debt while younger people seemed to lean toward cash.
“My job is to do what I think most people in the city want and not favor one age group over another,” Coombs said. “Option 2 seems to thread the needle and satisfies the most people.”
It’s been almost a century since the Colorado River Compact was created, divvying up the resources of this mighty waterway between seven states and Mexico. That means almost 40 million people are dependent on the river in some way. Traditionally, the economic value of the river was based on what the water could be used for when extracted—things like agriculture, mining, and industry. Now, more people are pointing to the economic value of keeping water in the river itself.
The Fraser River in Grand County is a tributary of the Colorado River, which starts in Rocky Mountain National Park. It runs through the heart of the town of Fraser and neighboring Winter Park. These towns attract skiers in winter and fly fishers and outdoor enthusiasts the rest of the year.
“The recreation is all based around the river… it’s the absolute base of the recreational system,” says Dennis Saffell, a real estate broker in the mountain communities of Grand and Summit Counties. Saffell says there’s a direct connection to property values and proximity to the river…
Saffell says a loss of flow in the river would likely decrease the values for all properties in these mountain communities that are dependant on the river for a tourism economy.
That’s something that others in western slope communities are well aware of, including Jim Pokrandt with the Colorado River District, the principal water policy and planning agency for the Colorado River Basin within the state.
“We understand that water left in the river is important to the economy,” says Pokdradt, “and if we have dried up rivers then we’d have degradation to our western slope economy.”
Pokrandt says the fortunes of many western slope towns hinge on understanding that the strength of local economies is beginning to shift from taking water out of the river to leaving it in.
“Rafting, that’s a big deal, skiing that’s a big deal now, hunting, fishing… this is our economy here on the west slope,” says Pokrandt. “Yes, ag is still big, and yes there’s still some mining, but our new economy is based on water in the rivers in western Colorado.”
Historically, most Colorado water rights have involved uses that divert water from the streams, but back in the early 1970s lawmakers began to recognize the need to create rights allowing water to remain in the river, to help protect ecology. But that was just a first step. Now 43 years later, a lot of water is still being taken out of the Colorado River basin and diverted to the east. There are 13 major trans mountain diversions and many other smaller ones.
It’s a concern for advocates like Craig Mackey, co-director of the non-profit Protect the Flows.
“In the 21st century we have an economic reason to have the river itself, the recreation economy, the tourism economy and I think the hardest one to quantify is a quality of life economy,” says Mackey.
Protect the Flows advocates for conservation of the Colorado River Basin, pointing to the connection between a healthy river and healthy economies.
“People want to live here, they want to locate here, they want to grow businesses here, they want to raise their families here,” says Mackey. “And water and our snow in our mountains, which becomes the water in our rivers, is a huge driver in that quality of life economy that we’re so lucky to have here in the state of Colorado.”
Protect the Flows worked with Arizona State University in 2014 on the first study on the economic impact of the Colorado River. It found that the major waterway generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually throughout the entire seven state river basin. In Colorado, the tourism and outdoor recreation economy tied to the river brings in more than $9 billion annually.
The Colorado Water Plan acknowledges the need to keep water in streams, but it also acknowledges the water needs of growing cities.
Realtor Dennis Seffell says even more needs to be done.
“Now it’s time to take a new fresh look as to why it’s important to keep rivers full of water,” Saffell says.
A prolonged drought in the south west, paired with over allocation, has left the Colorado River in a sorry state. Front Range communities, largely dependent on that western water, are having some success with conservation. But with an additional 2 million people expected to move to the Denver metro area over the next 25 years, demand will only increase.
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):
“Chimney Hollow dam will be the tallest one constructed in Colorado in the last 50 years,” said Don Mongomery, the principal engineer who will design the reservoir project, drawing on experience from dams around the globe.
“It will be in the order of 360 feet tall,” he said, with a crest estimated at 3,500 feet long.
Final design of Chimney Hollow will pare down the specific height and construction details for the dam, spillway, pipeline and inlets that will allow Northern Water to store as much as 90,000 acre-feet of Windy Gap Firming Project water.
Northern Water, the agency coordinating the project, recently hired the Broomfield-based MWH Global with an $11.9 million contract for engineering and design. Montgomery, who was raised and went to college in Boulder and Larimer counties, is leading that process.
He said he is excited to use the skills he has honed worldwide, working on projects on the Panama Canal and in Peru among other locations, in his home state to build a reservoir that will provide recreation that he, among many others, enjoys with his family.
“To be able to bring that home is pretty amazing,” said Montgomery. “To be able to help my community is pretty exciting. Once they’re done, they become these great resources to the community.”
Chimney Hollow Reservoir is expected to be completed by 2021 to begin storing water for 13 participants including Loveland, Longmont and the Little Thompson Water District. And it will become a new recreation area managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources.
The reservoir and surrounding park will be located west of Loveland near Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir and Pinewood Reservoir, which are all managed by Northern Water for water storage and by Larimer County for recreation.
Specific recreation plans are still in the works, but Larimer County Department of Natural Resources officials are looking at a mix of camping, hiking and non-motorized boating, including paddle boats and sail boats. Campsites reachable only by boat also are in the initial plans.
The design of Chimney Hollow should take about two years and will include determining the best type of structure to be built, whether it will have a clay core made from materials on site, a concrete face or an asphalt core, noted Montgomery. This will be determined by drilling, sampling and studying the area.
The process will fine-tune the construction details and the costs as well as the exact height of the dam at Chimney Hollow. It will, however, be around 360 feet tall, which will make it the tallest in Larimer County,.
Construction of Chimney Hollow will be the biggest reservoir project in Larimer County in about six decades.
Northern Water began applying for permits in 2003, and the federal government approved the project in December 2014. Since then, the water district has been working on the rest of its needed permits. All that is left is a federal wetlands permit, which Werner expects to be approved this year.
“This is the very last piece in the puzzle,” said Werner. “At this point, there’s nothing else. No other permits, no other agreements that we have to do. We’ve done it all.”
Engineering and consulting firm MWH Global Inc. in Broomfield, a division of Canada-based Stantec Inc., has received an $11.9 million contract to design the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam that will be located between Loveland and Longmont.
The Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District hired MWH to design a 360-foot-tall dam, spillway and outlet works for the 90,000-acre-foot reservoir near Loveland.
Officials said on Tuesday that the Chimney Hollow Reservoir dam, located on the west side of Carter Lake, will be the largest dam built in Colorado in 50 years. It will provide water storage for growing communities in Northern Colorado, including Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley. The subdistrict estimates that its communities could see a water-supply shortage of 64,000 acre feet, or approximately 29 billion gallons, by 2030.
The design for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project is expected to be completed in 2018, with construction completed in 2021. The engineering services provided by MWH will include evaluating alternatives, final design and support during bidding.
The Longmont City Council has opted to participate in the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would construct a reservoir in order to hold some of the water produced by Longmont’s water rights.
There are three options to finance Longmont’s projected $47 million portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project — one using all cash and two using variations of debt.
If the council chooses to pay the $47 million in cash, it would mean initial water rate increases of 13 percent in 2017 and 12 percent in 2018, above the 9 percent increase in both of those years that has already been approved, for totals of 22 percent and 21 percent.
Or, the council could choose to use $41 million cash and $6 million in debt. This would mean initial rate increases of 8 percent in both 2017 and 2018 above the already approved 9 percent increase in those years. With this option, the city would spend $50.1 million total, including interest, on the project.
Finally, the council could choose to finance the project with $30.3 million in cash and $16.7 million of debt, it would mean initiative water rate increases of 5 percent in both 2018 and 2019 above the 9 percent increase in both those years. This option would ultimately cost the city $55.8 million.
For the cash option and the $6 million debt option, the rate increases over 10 years would be similar. The $16.7 million debt option would result in the highest total rate increase over a decade.
Longmont spokeswoman Holly Milne said that the council asked for the survey and the online comment form because they wanted resident feedback before they make a decision.
Faced with three different financing mechanisms for Longmont’s $47 million portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project, the council chose to gather more information from the public first.
Longmont public works and natural resources staff told the council on Tuesday that they have three options to finance the $47 million — completely through rate increases, through rate increases and by issuing $6 million in debt or by issuing $16.7 million in debt.
The decision directly affects Longmont residents’ wallets. Essentially, paying cash up front with rate increases means steep rate jumps in the next two years but is cheaper in the long term.
If the council chooses eventually to finance it completely through cash, water rates will need to jump 21 percent in 2017 and 22 percent in 2018, including 9 percent increases already approved.
Debt, on the other hand, would cause milder rate increases for more years, and cost the city more long term.
On the other end of the extreme, council could choose to ask the voters to issue $16.7 million in debt for the project, which would mean delaying adding an additional increase to rates until 2018. In 2018, they would need to be raised 14 percent and another 14 percent in 2019, then between 5 and 7 percent each in years between 2020 through 2026.
With a projected 4.25 interest rate, a $16.7 million bond would cost an additional $8.4 million in interest, for a total of $25.1 million over 20 years.
In the middle of the two extremes is an option of a mix of cash and debt. The City Council could vote to issue up to $6 million in debt to finance Windy Gap without a vote of the general public. This would cause water rates to jump 17 percent each in 2017 and 2018, by zero percent in 2019 and between 4 and 7 percent each in years between 2020 to 2027.
Dale Rademacher, general manager of public works and natural resources, told the council that staff has timed it out so that the city wouldn’t lose any of the options by commissioning a survey of residents on the Windy Gap financing issue…
The council opted to commission a statistically valid survey be sent to 3,000 randomly chosen Longmont households explaining the three options.
The Longmont City Council on Tuesday will make several high-level decisions on how to finance the Windy Gap Firming Project.
In March, the council opted for the costlier 10,000 acre-foot level of the $387.36 million project, which would bring the pricetag for Longmont up to about $47 million. In April, the council directed they would prefer to pay with cash rather than debt for the $47 million, which would save money in the long-term but mean steep rate hikes in the short-term.
Now, staff has come back with a third option — a mix of cash and debt financing.
The council has already approved and codified raises to rates of 9 percent in both 2017 and 2018. If the council chose to finance the complete $47 million through rate increases, rates would need to rise 21 percent in 2017 and 22 percent in 2018, staff wrote to council in a memo.
But, raising rates is a little unpredictable for staff, because people might use less water in order to save money. While that helps with the city’s water conservation goals, it could make financing a huge project like Windy Gap tough.
“What we do know is that if we have a rate increase, it dampens consumption because people do react to an increased cost. What we’ve seen over time is that initial reaction tends to go away over time,” said Dale Rademacher, general manager of Longmont public resources and natural works…
By contrast, if Longmont chose to finance the $47 million project with $16.7 million in bonds, rates would not increase beyond the planned 9 percent in 2017 and then by 14 percent in 2018 and another 14 percent in 2019. The downside to debt is that it costs more in the long-term.
At a projected 4.25 percent interest rate, bonding out $16.7 million would cost the city $55.75 million over 20 years.
In the middle, staff has proposed bonding out only $6 million of the cost and financing the rest through rate increases.
This option would mean rate increases of 17 percent each in 2017 and 2018, between the two extremes of 21 percent with all cash and 9 percent with the higher debt option.
Rademacher said council could choose to bond out $6 million of the cost without a vote of the public…
Council on Tuesday needs to decide which financing option they want, and by extension, how much rates should raise in 2017.
Rademacher said all the rate raises are projected to happen by January 1, 2017 and if a major bonding issue needed to go to the ballot, staff are projecting to put it in front of voters in November, 2017.
Council could also decide to wait on the financing decision and get more public feedback on the issue. While there were questions related to Windy Gap on the regular Longmont resident survey, staff decided to remove those questions and ask council about a more specific survey.
National Research Center submitted a bid in order to survey Longmont residents about whether they would prefer to pay cash or debt for Windy Gap. To do an online-only survey would cost $3,440. To mail out a survey to randomly selected households would cost between $5,130 and $11,850 depending if NRC targeted 800, 1,500 or 3,000 households.
City of Loveland staff members will ask for approval from the Loveland City Council Tuesday to buy up to an additional 3,000 acre-feet of storage space in the Windy Gap Firming Project.
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the municipal building at 500 E. Third St…
The city of Loveland already has 7,000 acre-feet of storage committed in the project and has an immediate opportunity to buy 2,000 more, each 1,000 requiring an immediate payment of $159,851 to Northern Water, according to a council memo.
City staff members are bringing a resolution to council members to ask that they be allowed to purchase up to 3,000 acre-feet because council members previously expressed interest in bumping the city’s storage to 10,000 acre-feet, the memo stated.
“Modeling indicates that this storage acquisition would increase the City’s overall firm yield value, available during drought conditions, by 500 acre-feet,” the memo stated.
The city’s estimated costs for the 7,000 acre-feet is $32,866,434, $2,084,608 of which has already been paid, according to the memo. Adding the 2,000 acre-feet would make the city’s estimated payment costs $42,136,434. An additional 1,000 acre-feet would be another $4,635,000 in costs.
Staff members are seeking new resolutions to obtain the 10,000 acre-feet because the ones passed in 2008 were for lesser amounts.
The Loveland Utilities Commission unanimously approved the resolution being recommended to City Council.
Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:
The Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (LBD) is a unique partnership of East and West Slope water stakeholders in Colorado.
LBD emerged from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a five-year negotiation that became effective in 2013 and will be fully implemented with the successful construction of the Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming Project. The agreement establishes a long-term partnership between Denver Water and Colorado’s West Slope, including several water utilities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
A Governance Committee oversees the LBD activities, with one voting member from each of these organizations:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Colorado River District
Middle Park Water Conservancy District
Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District
A Technical Committee, made up of representatives from the Governance organizations, as well as government agencies, regional water utilities and other partners, advises on LBD efforts and activities.
Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
State endorses the Windy Gap Firming Project
During Northern Water’s April 13 Spring Water Users meeting, Mr. John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s water policy advisor, read a letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap Firming Project.
The governor said, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collorabitve public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature.” Hickenlooper continued, “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”
The state’s endorsement followed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s March 25 issuance of a 401 water quality certification for the WGFP. Project Manager Jeff Drager said, “This is the next to last step in getting the project permitted. The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”
This is the State of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water storage project.
LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.
King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.
After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”
“I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.
King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.
“And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”
Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.
The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.
The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.
Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.
The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’
“And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”
Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.
When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”
Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.
Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)
A buoyant crowd
Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.
They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.
Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.
Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.
The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A political risk
After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.
“I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.
As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.
King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”
“So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.
“Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.
“If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”
King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.
And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.
“One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”
King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.
“We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”
Other plan elements
King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.
King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”
But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”
When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.
King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of clim