The High Park Fire is affecting municipal operations on the Cache la Poudre River

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Click on the thumbnail graphic for this morning’s fire map from Larimer County. The file is quite large so it will take a while to download. Here’s a report from Brett Walton writing for Circle of Blue. From the article:

The nearby cities of Greeley and Fort Collins have closed their water intakes on the Poudre River, said Brian Werner, a public information officer with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which provides water to 850,000 people from a Bureau of Reclamation project. The cities are now drawing exclusively from the Bureau’s Horsetooth Reservoir. Lisa Voytko, water production manager for Fort Collins, told Circle of Blue that the fire has knocked out power at the utility’s Poudre River intake. “Because we can’t monitor water quality at the source,” Voytko said, “we switched to the reservoir.”

Werner told Circle of Blue that the High Park fire is by far the largest and most extensive ever in the district’s service area. “There will be impacts,” Werner said. “If you get a hard rain on these steep slopes, it’s going to bring all that gunk into your system.”

From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):

The Bellvue filter plant, which treats Greeley’s water supply, including the water you put in your coffee this morning, was in the mandatory evacuation zone from the High Park Fire. City workers, however, remained at the plant because of a considerable defense zone, which includes the concrete Hansen canal holding water and cornfields that were being soaked from sprinklers Sunday, not to mention a large chunk of open space, with only a couple of trees, around the plant. If the fire did somehow beat those barriers, it would essentially resemble a grass fire. Just for some additional comfort, the Greeley Fire Department sent a tanker and some firefighters to man it to keep watch over the plant, said Roy Otto, Greeley’s city manager.

So the problem isn’t the fire, it’s what it’s leaving behind. Actually, it’s both fires. May’s Hewlett Gulch fire is already causing issues. The runoff from Thursday’s heavy rains mixed with the remnants from that blaze, soiled the Poudre River beyond what Bellvue could treat, forcing the city to draw from its backup supply, the Hansen, which draws water from Horsetooth Reservoir.

But now Horsetooth could be soiled by runoff from heavy rains mixing with soot from the High Park fire, as well. If it does rain hard enough to cause both water supplies to fill with sludge, it’s possible the city would have to shut down the Bellvue plant and draw its water from the plant at Boyd Lake. The city typically only uses Boyd Lake in the summer months, when the demand for water is at its highest, said Jon Monson, director of water and sewer for the city of Greeley.

If the city does have to shut down Bellvue, Greeley residents would face tighter restrictions on water use. But Monson doesn’t believe it will come to that, as it would take a significant storm to force those problems. And even if some ash and soot finds its way into Horsetooth, the city draws water off the bottom, meaning the only drawback would be a smoky taste to Greeley’s drinking water.

Mitigation from both fires will be expensive regardless of what happens, Monson said, as the city plans to dump straw by helicopter to care for 400 acres blackened by the Hewlett Gulch blaze until the natural grasses can re-establish to help filter the dirty wash that runs into the river. That straw costs more than $1,000 an acre. Now the city may have to do a lot more to treat whatever the High Park fire scorches, and High Park is already much larger than Hewlett. The city is supposed to get 75 percent of its costs reimbursed from the federal government, Monson said.

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