Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Seasonal fill for Horestooth and Carter underway #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are in the process of filling both Horsetooth and Carter Lake. Currently, Horsetooth is roughly 80% full at an elevation of 5414 feet above sea level. This is its average water elevation high mark for the beginning of the summer season in a typical year. But, this is not a typical water year and Horsetooth’s water elevation is projected to continue going up.

Similarly, Carter Lake is 90% full at a water level elevation of about 5749 feet. Like Horsetooth, it is projected to continue filling. At this time, we are anticipating Carter will fill, hitting its highest water level elevation for the season by mid-May. Horsetooth will likely hit its highest water level elevation for the season by late June.


Northern Water board sets C-BT quota to 60% #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Water, which manages water stored throughout a massive system of linked reservoirs in Northern Colorado, set its annual water quota at 60 percent, despite customer requests to receive 70 percent of their full potential water allotment.

Since 1957, Northern Water has issued the water quotas, which dictate the amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that will flow to cities, industrial complexes and farmers in Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins typically gets half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and has been particularly dependent on the system after High Park Fire debris polluted the Poudre River.

Fort Collins was among customers who lobbied Northern Water for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday, during a stakeholders meeting held to discuss this year’s quota. Despite those requests, Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended that Northern Water’s board opt for a 60 percent quota.

A few factors went into Pineda’s recommendation, including Colorado’s above-average snowpack, high reservoir levels, and the general absence of drought in Northern Colorado. Spring runoff this year is expected to release an extra 100,000 acre feet of water down area streams and rivers, which should limit the region’s need for supplemental water from the Colorado-Big Thompson.

Pineda’s opinion was not shared by all. A few farmers asked the board for a 70-100 percent quota to help them plan for the growing season. Fort Collins wanted 70 percent to help offset troubles with Poudre River water quality. There is also a chance that Lake Granby reservoir will spill over this June, and a few stakeholders were concerned that water would be wasted with a reduced quota.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Northern Water hears from C-BT customers about this year’s quota #ColoradoRiver

April 10, 2014
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

City officials, farmers and industry representatives Wednesday urged the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to significantly raise the amount of water the district allocates from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this year…

The meeting comes as Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs contain an average amount of water. Officials say that water storage will swell with higher than average snowpack in the Colorado and South Platte river basins.

Farmers such as Steve Shultz, who farms corn, sugar beets and other crops, advocated a 100-percent quota at Wednesday’s meeting. Shultz said he needed the added water to finish his crops later in the growing season when he runs out of other water supplies.
“We still depend on that late season storage water,” he said.

Beth Molenaar, water resources engineer for the city of Fort Collins, said the city would support a quota of at least 70 percent this year because it has received multiple requests from farmers to rent water. The city rented very little water to farmers last year because of shorter supply of water related to poor Cache la Poudre River water quality caused by fires. Fort Collins gets about half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Much to their relief, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials aren’t in the same predicament now that they were a year ago. During presentations on Wednesday, Northern Water personnel — tasked with overseeing the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region — explained how they now have nearly enough water to meet full quotas for two years.

Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a C-BT quota every April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent, although it rarely does, and still have some in storage for the next year.

That wasn’t at all the case a year ago. Snowpack in the mountains and reservoirs were so low that a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT system. It was only the second time in the 57-year history of the project that the board had been so limited in the quota it could set. The board last year settled on a 60 percent quota, falling short of the historic average of about a 70 percent quota.

“The outlook is much brighter this year,” said Andy Pineda, water resources manager for Northern Water, referring to his numbers, some of which showed snowpack in the South Platte Basin, as of April 1, rivaling that of 2011 — one of the best snowpack years on record (although a sizeable chunk of that year’s historic snowpack came after April 1).

As part of Wednesday’s meeting, C-BT shareholders and the public — about 225 people altogether — provided input as to what they think the quota should be set at this week. While good snowpack typically calls for a low C-BT quota (the C-BT was built to serve as a supplemental supply, with high quotas usually set in dry years, Northern Water officials stress) the majority of input from the crowd called for the typical 70 percent quota. Agricultural users said that while there’s plenty of snowmelt expected to fill their irrigation ditches this spring, they’d still like to see a higher quota set to make sure water is still available later on — especially if things turn dry in the middle of the growing season, in July or August.

Water officials from the city of Fort Collins and other communities also asked for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday — not to meet their own needs, but because they’re getting a lot of inquiries from farmers in the region wanting to rent extra water this year. A number of city officials said in recent days they’re waiting to see where the quota is set before deciding how much water they’ll have to lease to farmers this year. Most cities leased little or no water to ag users last year, forcing some farmers to cut back on how much they planted.

A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

While cities and ag users were seeing eye-to-eye at this year’s water users meeting, it was a different story in 2013. Last year, farmers wanted a quota of 70 percent, stressing that with little snowpack in the mountains at the time, they would need the supplemental C-BT water to get them though the growing season. But cities, for the most part, wanted the quota set at 50-60 percent, worried about using too much water in storage last year, because of the shortages and uncertainty.

A 10 percent difference in the C-BT water quota amounts to about 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Northern Water books $40.3 million in revenue in 2013

March 29, 2014
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Revenue increased about $10.5 million for the year ended Sept. 30 primarily because Berthoud-based Northern Water received nearly $9 million from Front Range water entities, including Denver Water, Aurora Water and the Pueblo Board of Water works, for water releases from Granby Reservoir.

Northern Water provides water to portions of eight Colorado counties with a population of 860,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land.

Last year, Northern Water completed several contracts and agreements related to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The goal of the program is to recover four unique fish species listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Because they divert water from the Colorado River, Northern Water and other water users have made a permanent commitment to release 10,825 acre-feet of water annually. Northern Water releases more than 5,400 acre feet from the Granby Reservoir to support the project. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve 2.5 households annually.

The one-time compensation paid to Northern Water for the project came this year, according to the annual report. Northern Water’s expenses for the project came in previous years, said John Budde, financial services department manager for Northern Water…

Northern Water ended 2013 with $241.6 million in assets compared with. $231.4 million in assets in 2012. The organization also had $26.5 million in liabilities last year compared with $29 million in liabilities the prior year.

The organization had expenses of $29.2 million in 2013, down from $31.2 million in 2012.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

March 26, 2014
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


CSU Sponsors First Poudre River Forum Feb. 8

January 21, 2014
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:

• The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
• Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
• Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.

The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.

Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.

Pre-registration is required by Jan. 31. The cost is $25; students 18 and under are free and scholarships are available. To register, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/thepoudrerunsthroughit

The event is sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


Colorado flood recovery updates #COflood

December 6, 2013
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

The Colorado flood recovery team continues to make progress in helping communities rebuild from the September floods. Here is an update of recovery efforts:

  • The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) contracted with a debris removal company to help residents in the Big Thompson Canyon dispose of certain materials removed from homes during flood cleanup efforts. The contractor is scheduled to remove debris during the weeks of Dec. 9 and Dec. 23. Residents in the area will be asked to place debris alongside the U.S. 34 right-of-way. For more information, residents can contact the CDOT flood information hotline at (720) 263-1589.
  • CDOT implemented flood mitigation measures for the Waldo Canyon fire burn scar along U.S. Highway 24 — including stabilizing slopes and creating sediment ponds. Boulder completed the “Left Hand Creek Flood Control Project” that included upgrading bridges and channel capacity to keep storm water in the channel and away from neighborhood homes.
  • The Boulder Creek Path, a heavily used commuting pathway will reopen this week, with only a small section from Pearl Parkway to Goose Creek Path, east of Foothills Parkway still closed.
  • With completion of major sewer line repairs, remaining areas in Estes Park have been removed from the “No-Flush Zone.”
  • Lyons elementary, middle school and senior high students are back in their schools this week. Some 700 students attended classes at the Main Street School in Longmont since the September flood.
  • Meanwhile, Reclamation has started moving water through the Adams Tunnel again. The pumps had been off since the flooding in September. Here’s a report from Leia Larsen writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Bureau of Reclamation stopped pumping in mid-September after heavy rains in Estes Park and the Front Range. Crews were working to repair damage and dredge sediment loads from reservoirs caused by the ensuing floods in the Estes Park area. As of Wednesday, Nov. 27, the Bureau began running around 60 cubic feet per second through the tunnel. Most years, it runs around 550 cfs by mid-December to refill Horsetooth and Carter reservoirs. According to public information officer Kara Lamb, the Bureau of Reclamation is still hoping to meet that schedule this season.

    Currently, Lake Granby is at about 72 percent full.

    “We’re probably going to see that tick down a little bit as we starting running more (water) through the tunnel,” Lamb said. “But right now, Lake Granby is staying pretty even since we’re not taking that much.”


    ‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

    December 3, 2013
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

    “We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

    The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

    “The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

    “There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

    Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

    On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

    Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

    The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

    And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

    “It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

    The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

    That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

    The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

    “This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

    Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

    It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

    It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

    It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

    “Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

    Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

    More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The Windy Gap Firming project moves closer to implementation #ColoradoRiver

    November 26, 2013
    Chimney Hollow Reservoir site -- Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir site — Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

    Here’s a guest column written by Jim Pokrandt that is running in the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    The Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) intergovernmental agreement (IGA) is in final form but has not been totally wrapped up because two important preconditions have not been completed, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors at its October meeting.

    Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and the West Slope, the Windy Gap Firming Project IGA is a package of mitigation enhancements that would be part of the Windy Gap Firming Project once it is permitted for the Municipal Subdistrict of Northern Water by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    The preconditions for the River District’s execution of the agreement are that the United States (1) makes a satisfactory finding that the WGFP can be operated consistent with Senate Document 80 — meaning no impact to the United States’ obligations to the beneficiaries, including West Slope beneficiaries, of the Colorado Big Thompson (C‐BT) Project, and (2) adopts an enforceable provision recognizing that if the River District does not challenge the WGFP permitting decision, that it does not waive any legal rights regarding federal decisions involving the same or similar legal issues.

    Fleming anticipated that that these conditions will be satisfied in the context of Reclamation’s final record of decision on the WGFP, which is expected in the first part of 2014. In the meantime, Fleming said the River District has worked extensively with Grand County on matters related to the WGFP and the operation of the C-BT Project — including the Grand Lake Water Clarity Agreement and the upcoming initiation of the WGFP Carriage Contract negotiations.

    With respect to the Grand Lake clarity issues, Fleming reported there have been several meetings with Reclamation and Northern to help ensure that a workable solution can be reached to meet the Grand Lake water quality standard. An important goal in that regard has been to avoid a stalemate over a massively expensive “fix” that could require a separate congressional authorization and appropriation.

    With regard to the WGFP carriage contract negotiations, the River District has assisted Grand County in efforts to secure the best possible negotiating position in Reclamation’s negotiation process.

    Fleming said the River District believes Grand County’s specifically identified role in Senate Document 80 entitles the county (and its advisers) to a more involved position in the negotiations than Reclamation’s standard “sit and‐observe” role for members of the public in its contract negotiation process.

    Another goal is to ensure that the Windy Gap water that Grand County is entitled to use pursuant to the IGA can be stored in Granby Reservoir for no charge or at a very affordable rate.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Northern Water to host meeting about reporting requirements for oil and gas production and exploration, November 18

    November 16, 2013
    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

    Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

    Here’s the release from Northern Water via The Greeley Tribune:

    A meeting in Greeley next week will focus on water-reporting procedures for users providing water to oil and gas operations. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy is hosting the meeting, which will take place at 1:30 p.m. Monday in Columbine Room A at the University of Northern Colorado’s University Center, 2045 10th Ave.

    As Northern Water officials explained in a press release, the significant increase in oil and gas activity in northern Colorado requires a portion of the region’s water supply. In response to the water needs, the Northern Water board adopted rules governing the use of its Colorado-Big Thompson Project water and Windy Gap Project water for such purposes.

    The rules require water users providing project water to oil and gas development to periodically report usage information to Northern Water.

    To further describe the reporting requirements, Northern Water officials developed water-use reporting and accounting procedures that became effective June 1, 2012. Northern Water officials are now proposing modifications to those procedures. The purpose of Monday’s meeting is to discuss the proposed modifications.

    For more information, go to http://www.northernwater.org, or contact Brian Werner at (970) 622-2229, or bwerner@northernwater.org.

    More oil and gas coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project is in much better shape than last year thanks to September rains

    November 8, 2013
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    It’s still several months away, but Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials already know they’ll have a better water situation for next year’s growing season than they did this year. Northern Water’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which is the region’s largest water-supply project, took in far more water than normal during September and October, thanks to the abundance of moisture that fell on the region.

    The C-BT’s four West Slope reservoirs (there are 12 reservoirs all together, stretching from the West Slope to the Front Range foothills) took in about 31,000 acre-feet of water during those two months. That’s the second-best water intake for those four reservoirs (which make up about half of the C-BT’s total storage capacity) during September and October in the 56-year history of the project, according to Andy Pineda, the Water Resources Department manager at Northern Water, who spoke at Northern Water’s Fall Water Users Meeting on Wednesday. That recent abundance of moisture leaves the C-BT’s collective reservoir levels much better than they’ve been in recent months, and that’s good news for the region.

    C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land, and to about 860,000 people in portions of eight counties in north and northeast Colorado, according to Northern Water numbers. Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water in the system could be used by cities and farmers through the growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. However, this past April, a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs. C-BT reservoir levels were historically low after stored water had been used heavily to get through the 2012 drought. Additionally, snowpack in the mountains was limited at the time. The only other year the board had been so limited in setting its April quota was in 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002.

    But next April, the Northern Water board won’t face such a predicament. Pineda said Wednesday the Northern Water board right now could set a quota of 108 percent before depleting the system — and that’s before snow rolls into the mountains this winter and spring. That snow will eventually melt and dump even more water into the reservoirs.

    Each year, winter and spring snowpack plays the biggest role in determining how much water will be available for farmers and cities during the next growing season. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent. A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons of water.

    Last year, with supplies limited, the Northern Water board set its quota at a below-average 60 percent.


    Cache la Poudre River: Fort Collins Utilities tour recap

    August 3, 2013

    cachelapoudrehighparkpollutionusdaseptember2012.jpg

    From the North Forty News (Dan MacArthur):

    Sponsored by Fort Collins Utilities Services, the July tour took participants through forests scorched by the High Park Fire to learn about the special challenges of treating water laden with ash and sediment flowing from charred slopes.

    From there it moved to the top of Cameron Pass, where the Upper Cache la Poudre River watershed begins. A stop at the Gateway Natural Area on the return trip offered the opportunity to identify the microscopic bacteria in the river that could make one dance a more frantic jig were they not intercepted before flowing from our taps.

    “Basically the reason (Fort Collins) was founded was water,” explained Clyde Greenwood. The utility and water supply supervisor serves as the utility’s resident historian.

    Greenwood said Fort Collins was fortunate in that there were no mines in the Poudre Canyon watershed. A watershed is the territory that drains into a body of water.

    “Fort Collins is a unique town with pristine water,” he said…

    Fort Collins takes half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project’s Horsetooth Reservoir. The other half comes from the Poudre. As a result of quality problems caused by the fire, water supply engineer Adam Jokerst said last year the city took no water from the Poudre for 100 days and depended solely on Horsetooth. This helped the city avoid water restrictions, but reduced the amount of reservoir water it could carry over to this year.

    This year, last-minute heavy snows in the high country, the availability of more C-BT water, and the ability to once again take water from the Poudre allowed the city to avoid restrictions, he said.

    The main problem plaguing the city’s water supply, he said, is the lack of flexibility with limited reservoir space. “We kind of live from year to year. If we get storage, our system is pretty robust.”

    More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: 250 cfs in the river below Olympus Dam

    June 9, 2013

    coloradobigthompsonprojecteastslopesystemncwcd.jpg

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Earlier this morning, we saw run-of inflows to Lake Estes jump up. As a result, the water level elevation at Lake Estes has come up a few feet and we are increasing releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon. Flows in the Big T canyon are increasing from around 125 cubic feet per second to about 225 cfs. We might only need to keep the 225 cfs release for a few hours. It is possible we could cut the release back slightly before noon.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Granby Reservoir is 50 feet from full #ColoradoRiver

    May 25, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    It’s Memorial Day weekend and time to kick off my annual communications about run-off.

    Some of you might have noticed that we saw some peaking run-off at Willow Creek last week. Inflows to the reservoir were over 900 cfs. As a result, releases from the dam were bumped up to about 450 cfs on May 16th. They did not stay at that level for long.

    Going into Memorial Day weekend, inflows from snow melt are anticipated to peak at about 700 cfs. Releases have been adjusted to around 100 cfs as we continue to store behind the dam. We do not plan to increase releases until the reservoir fills or we see much larger peak inflows.

    Meanwhile at Granby Reservoir, we continue to release around 70 cfs. The reservoir is at a water level elevation of 8230.5–about 50 vertical feet down from full and the storage content is a little less than half full. The reservoir has started filling with some run-off flows already, bumping up ten feet in elevation over the past couple of weeks. We are anticipating seeing the reservoir water level rise another 20 feet as run-off continues.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    It’s Memorial Day weekend! That means it’s time for my annual kick-off e-mail for the run-off and recreation season across the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    We’re starting to see some run-off come from melting snow right on time for Memorial Day weekend. On the east slope of the C-BT that means we’re seeing snow that melts up in Rocky Mt. Natl. Park during the day run down the rivers, making it to Lake Estes late at night.

    To manage the inflows to Estes at night, tonight, May 24 around midnight, we’ll bump up our releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River to about 250 cfs. The 250 cfs will likely remain in place throughout the holiday weekend.

    Lake Estes is at typical water elevation levels for this time of year, fluctuating daily with power generation.

    Project water being brought through the Adams Tunnel to Estes moves on to the C-BT’s southern power arm where it is used to generate hydro-electric power at three power plants. Pinewood Reservoir, which sits between two of those plants, is also at typical water elevation levels for this time of year, fluctuating daily with power generation. Likewise, Flatiron Reservoir is also fluctuating daily, as is normal. Those visiting Pinewood and Flatiron for the holiday weekend should be mindful of the daily fluctuations in water levels and please remember that there is NO swimming or boating of any kind in Flatiron.

    The pump to Carter Lake has been turned off. Carter is ready for the weekend, sitting about 90% full with a water level elevation of 5748 feet.

    Because we are generating hydro-power, the Big Thompson power plant at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon by the Dam Store will be running this weekend. Visitors to the area and downstream will notice about 400 cfs being discharged from the plant to the Big Thompson River. To learn more about Reclamation’s hydro-power program, visit here or here.

    When the Big T plant goes on, flows to Horsetooth Reservoir will be cut back by about half. Beginning this weekend, around 175 cfs will continue to flow into Horsetooth. Currently, the reservoir is at an elevation of 5414, which is its average starting water level elevation for the recreation season and about 16 feet down from full. The water elevation is still rising.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.


    Granby: State of the Colorado River meeting recap #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

    May 24, 2013

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    A panel of water experts spoke at the public State of the River Meeting on Wednesday at the SilverCreek Convention Center to discuss the quality and quantity of the Colorado River Basin and its relationship to Grand County. Among the discussion topics were Wolford Mountain Reservoir, background on the Windy Gap Firming Project and wildfire planning. But benefits to Colorado’s water supply following April’s precipitation events dominated much of the discussion…

    Current data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s SNOTEL sites places the Upper Colorado River Headwater Basin’s snow water equivalent at 106 percent of its median levels. Total precipitation is at 93 percent of average for the area. The recent influx of precipitation comes as a relief, especially after shortages in the 2012 season. According to [Don Meyer], last year’s water demands on Wolford Mountain Reservoir, located north of Kremmling, dropped its levels by 38 feet. But Meyer now feels optimistic. “We hope to fill the reservoir this year,” he said. “We had a ton of demands because of the drought, but this year is looking a lot better.”[...]

    Granby Reservoir is projected to be at 90 percent of average, according to Andrew Gilmore of the Bureau of Reclamation…

    Releases from Granby Reservoir to the Front Range will be at normal levels, Gilmore said. The water is transported via the Colorado-Big Thompson project…

    The Windy Gap Firming Project continues to move forward. The Bureau of Reclamation is deliberating modifications to the current Windy Gap carriage contract. The carriage contract specifies the procedures and fees for water moving through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. The Bureau of Reclamation’s next step will be to issue a Record of Decision, then Northern Water and its participants will begin hashing out design plans for the project. According to Northern Water’s Eric Wilkinson, the design process will take at least two years. Actual construction will take around three years. “So the earliest we would see the Windy Gap Firming Project placed into operation is 2018 or 2019,” Wilkinson said…

    While the recent influx of precipitation will provide relief to Grand County and the Front Range, especially after snowfall shortages last year, areas downstream remain in drought. SNOTEL data for the entire Colorado River Basin above Utah’s Lake Powell indicates that the year’s precipitation remains low, at 81 percent of average. Lower Colorado users below Lake Mead project mandatory shortages as early as 2015, said Eric Kuhn, general manager for the Colorado River District.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson shares commanding a steep price as farmers deal with shortages and oil and gas demand #COdrought

    May 19, 2013

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    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, doesn’t officially track water prices, but spokesman Brian Werner said water sales this year are registering at as much as $17,000 per share, or more than $28,300 per acre foot. Three years ago, prices were about $7,000 an acre foot. At Water Colorado in Fort Collins, a water brokerage, one client wants to sell 150 C-BT shares for $20,000 apiece, water broker Hannah Kleinhans said. The last C-BT transaction at Water Colorado involved shares sold for almost $16,000 recently…

    Still another measure of water prices is how much cities charge developers. Greeley, for instance, requires developers to pay cash for water if developers can’t provide their own can’t provide their own supplies. This year, according to Greeley Water and Sewer Director Jon Monson, the city is charging $16,800 an acre foot, up from $9,300 in May 2010, an 81 percent increase…

    In addition to high sale prices, Northern Water has seen rental prices of $400 per acre foot this year, said Dennis Miller, Northern Water operations manager. Rental prices still remain below the $650 per acre foot charged in 2003, another drought period.

    Water experts say producers’ demand for water for oil and natural-gas drilling has led to higher rental and sale prices. “Those are the only people that can afford to pay that,” Miller said. “That’s what they’re willing to pay for it so that it doesn’t go to somebody else.”

    Tom Cech, director of Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water Institute and former manager of Greeley’s Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, concurs with Miller’s view. “I think it’s going to be a challenge for many years, because the oil and gas industry is going to be placing demands on local water supplies for quite a while as they continue drilling and fracking,” he said. “So that will keep the price high for rental water.”


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter Lake is about 94.5% full

    May 5, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    You might have already heard, but today [May 3] we turned off the pump to Carter Lake. Carter is now about 94.5% full. With the pump to Carter off, about 508 cfs is now flowing north to Horsetooth Reservoir. Horsetooth is about 75% full and will continue to rise through May.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Runoff news: Northern Water decides to wait see how the runoff shapes up regarding C-BT quota #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

    May 3, 2013

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    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board members met Thursday to discuss whether to raise the 60 percent quota that they issued last month. The quota means that farmers and cities will receive 60 percent of water units allotted to them under the project. The board members said they will wait at least until their next meeting before deciding whether to adjust the amount of water distributed from the project.

    Northern Water employees told board members that although state snowpack levels had risen after recent storms, concerns remained about low water-storage levels.

    Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson cautioned that raising this year’s quota could limit the organization’s flexibility when it determines how much water to distribute next year. “I’m not willing to say that the drought is over,” Wilkinson said. “We’re still water short.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: 100 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam #ColoradoRiver

    May 1, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    We’re starting to see a little bit of run-off come down the Big Thompson River and into Lake Estes. As a result, we’ll be bumping up releases from Olympus Dam on Lake Estes to the Big Thompson Canyon later tonight to pass the native flow on downstream.

    We have been releasing about 45 cfs out of Oympus Dam to the lower Big Thompson River. Tonight, April 30, at midnight, we will bump releases up by about 60 cfs to around 100 cfs.

    If the forecast storm for tonight and tomorrow cools things off, we could be making another change late in the night of May 1 to reduce releases again. I will keep you posted.


    Snowpack/drought news: Northern Water sets a 60% quota, others pray for rain #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

    April 13, 2013

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    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Water officials say they did their best Friday to find middle ground in the differing requests of city representatives and farmers and ranchers. But in the end, it’s “a situation where we don’t have any water,” Jerry Winters said after he and the rest of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors set a 60 percent quota for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    Northern Water board members said they set the quota at that mark to help meet the water demands of the region but also keep at least some of its limited water in storage for the future. The 60 percent quota struck a balance between the 50-60 percent quota some city officials had asked for and the 70 percent quota many farmers and ranchers had requested during Thursday’s water users meeting in Loveland. After hearing those suggestions from water users, the 12-member Northern Water board set its C-BT quota Friday morning to determine how much water will be released this year from the system — which, with its 12 reservoirs, is the largest water supply project in the region.

    Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Northern Water officials. A 60 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 60 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

    The C-BT Project collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13-mile tunnel that runs underneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Northern Water’s boundaries encompass portions of eight counties, 640,000 irrigated acres and a population of about 860,000 people.

    LaSalle-area farmer Frank Eckhardt said he had heard earlier in the week that the C-BT quota could be set as low as 50 percent, so he was relieved to hear it was set at 60 percent. “We’re going to need every bit we can get,” said Eckhardt, who sits on the board of directors for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent ditch companies.

    Eckhardt said his two ditch companies don’t own C-BT water, but like many other ag-water providers, depend heavily on leasing C-BT water from cities who own it. In last year’s drought, Eckhardt said, C-BT water “provided great relief” for his family’s farm.

    Last spring, the Northern Water board puts its C-BT quota to 100 percent to help farmers, and could do so at the time because there was plenty of water in storage. But even with the C-BT quota set at 100 percent, the Eckhardts still had to leave about 500 acres of farm ground fallow due to water shortages, and diverted water away from about another 500 acres of planted acres to save other crops.

    With the C-BT quota set at just 60 percent this year, Eckhardt said he and his family will likely leave even more acres unplanted this year. “Hopefully we can find some water to rent somewhere else,” Eckhardt said. “But I’m not sure where that’s going to come from. There’s just not much water out there.” For only the second time in 56 years, the quota set for the C-BT Project was limited this year by how little water is available, rather than based on the demands of the region.

    In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. But this year, a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman and historian with Northern Water. And the limited runoff from this year’s meager snowpack in the mountains isn’t going help much, Werner added.

    The only other year the board has been so limited in the quota it could set was 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002, said Werner, who’s been with Northern Water for more than 30 years.

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    It was a different approach to “irrigation.”

    Bishop Fernando Isern, accompanied by an entourage of more than 100 people, sprinkled holy water on a field near Blende on Friday as a symbolic way to bless all Pueblo County farms. And he prayed for rain. “We have to come back to basics,” said Isern, the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. “Our forefathers for generations worked the land and did not have as much technology. But they had their faith.”

    With the Arkansas Valley in the third year of drought, the event was staged at Milberger Farms on the kind of bright sunny morning that has become too typical lately. Statues of St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, graced a table on the patio at Milberger’s as the bishop addressed the crowd. “We can give thanks to God for meteorologists and all of our technology, but all of that is useless if we don’t have rain,” Isern said. “It’s about giving all to the Lord and trusting in God.”

    His prayer for rain was brief: “We seek God’s blessing on our land, seed and crops that it will produce. Unless the seed is planted, it will not yield fruit.”

    His comments later were more informal: “In the three years I have been here, I have learned that moisture is an important issue.”

    The Rev. Joseph Vigil, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church, and the Rev. Matthew Wertin, pastor at Sacred Heart in Avondale, along with altar boy Antonio Valdez, assisted in the ceremony. “St. Isidore ore was born in 1070 and died in 1130. He was the patron saint of farmers, and he was married to Maria, who is also a saint,” Vigil said. “People said that when he worked in the fields, they would see angels by his side.”

    Those who attended pledged to be faithful, or at least willing to believe prayers for rain can work. “It’s so true, what the bishop said about getting back to basics,” said Lucille Corsentino. “Intervention does happen, although sometimes we are too proud or arrogant to see it.”

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District decided in a board meeting Friday morning that they will distribute only 60 percent of water shares from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in response to a second year of drought. Local farmers had pleaded at a meeting earlier this week for 70 percent of their share. Farmers contend that the 60 percent quota will mean planting fewer fields with crops that use more water, such as corn. That will have consequences for Weld County’s dairy industry, they say…

    The decision to distribute 60 percent of shares this year should keep the city of Fort Collins from having to pass further water restrictions, according to Donnie Dustin, the city’s water resource manager. A quota of 50 percent or less would have overextended the city’s resource.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecasted the drought will persist or intensify in most of the state through June.

    From The Mountain Mail (Lonnie Oversole):

    Water restrictions for the 2013 irrigation season will again be on a voluntary basis. Salidans are encouraged to follow the same restrictions that have been in place in past years: Even-address numbers water on even calendar days, odd-address numbers water on odd calendar days. Also, the city recommends no watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and no one watering on the 31st day of the month. Should you choose not to follow voluntary water restrictions, there will be no enforcement or penalty.

    Keep in mind if you water during the heat of the day, you will lose 50 percent of the water you apply to evaporation, which is the reasoning behind not watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

    The even/odd-day system has half the city watering on one day and the other half on the next day. This provides better water pressure for all customers and firefighting personnel.

    The snowpack throughout Colorado is well below the normal average for this time of year, at 74 percent of average statewide on April 1. The Arkansas basin also was at 74 percent of normal April 1. In terms of snow totals, it would take an additional 6 feet of snow on average in Colorado to catch up to normal snowpack levels.

    If the hot summer days yield little moisture in the form of afternoon showers, there is a good possibility that mandatory water restrictions could be implemented by summer’s end.

    At their April 2 work session, city council decided to leave water restrictions voluntary with the ability to change to mandatory if conditions worsen. Water restrictions have been voluntary for the last 2 years. When comparing water totals to years prior when water restrictions were mandatory, there is little difference in water usage.

    Buena Vista has implemented voluntary watering restrictions as well. Many Front Range towns and cities have instituted mandatory watering restrictions, with Lafayette allowing no outdoor watering until April 16 and after that only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. After May 1, the city of Louisville will limit watering to only 2 days a week with no watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition, the cities of Denver and Aurora have instituted similar mandatory restrictions, citing the worst drought in Colorado since 2002.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about routine bacteria sampling that occurs within the water distribution system. We are required, based on population, to take seven bacteria samples per month.
    The samples are taken at sites predetermined by a sampling plan. The plan contains 21 routine sampling sites with seven alternate sites. If for some reason the routine site is not accessible, then an alternate site is used. The sampling each month is spread throughout the system rather than being concentrated in a certain area. Each site by year’s end will have been tested four different times.

    The water distribution system contains many miles of piping to get the treated water to our customers. Chlorine residual is maintained throughout the distribution system to assure a level of water quality.
    Chlorine levels are tested every time a bacteria sample is collected. Chlorine levels are also measured at every treatment point daily and at the surface water plant continuously. A predetermined site within the distribution system is also tested daily.

    Another important aspect to good water quality is maintenance of the distribution or piping system. The key element is a good flushing program. This part of system maintenance is often mistaken by the public as a waste of water. Flushing rids the system of accumulated sediment and discolored water. Flushing also gets rid of old water or water that’s been in the system for periods longer than normal. This can occur in areas with lower usage or dead-end lines. Getting old water out of the system reduces the potential associated with the formation of disinfection byproducts. The city is currently flushing hydrants twice per year, in the spring prior to peak water usage, and again in fall when usage begins to drop off. Based on data recorded during flushing in past years, less water is being used to flush twice per year than was used when hydrants were flushed annually. Due to the current conditions we will not be flushing this spring. Last month, several hydrants were flowed and data collected to create a water model for the distribution system. Once a working model is in place, one of the many benefits will be to fine-tune the city’s flushing program.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan, an article titled “Northern Water gives Fort Collins the water it asked for,” written by Bobby Magill. Here’s an excerpt:

    With below-average snowpack in the mountains and ongoing drought conditions in Northern Colorado, the board voted to give farmers and cities obtaining water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project 10 percent more water than the board previously said it would provide for 2013.

    Last year, the board agreed to give C-BT water users 50 percent of the available water in the system. On Friday, the board increased that amount to 60 percent.

    Fort Collins water resources manager Donnie Dustin said Thursday that if the amount of C-BT water, or quota, the city would receive stayed at 50 percent, the city might have to go to Level 2 water restrictions, which would mean Fort Collins residents would be allowed to water their lawn only once each week.

    Dustin said the city was advocating for the 60 percent quota the board decided to provide, which would likely prevent Level 2 restrictions from going into effect.

    Fort Collins gets nearly half of its water supply from the C-BT system, which pipes Colorado River water from Grand Lake on the Western Slope to Front Range reservoirs, including Horsetooth and Carter Lake. The C-BT system supplements the water supplies for 30 Front Range cities and towns and 120 irrigation companies.

    At a meeting of Northern Water water users on Thursday, farmers asked to get more water than cities, but the board decided to give everyone the same amount.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):

    Board members of Northern Water, the agency that sells the water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project, made their decision Friday, a day after hearing from Eastern Colorado farmers they needed more, and from utility managers in Front Range cities they should hold the line…

    The 60 percent quota declaration reflects concern from city water providers about low reservoir storage levels in this, the second year of Northern Colorado drought. At the same time it grants farmers an additional slice of the C-BT pie to get crops of corn, beets, onions and other water-intensive crops through the summer.

    Members of the Northern Water board said their decision was not as simple as balancing city and agricultural needs. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water,” Weld County board member Jerry Winters said. “If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water.”

    From The North Forty News:

    Directors said they approved the 10 percent increase because it offers additional supplies and flexibility for all types of water users, but will still help keep water in reservoirs for next year. Although many farmers and ranchers asked for higher quotas than municipal water providers, this year’s quota decision comes to a simple formula, said Director Jerry Winters from Weld County. “It’s not as much of an agricultural versus municipal issue, it’s a situation where we don’t have any water. If I spend my money and I’m broke that’s not good financial management. It’s the same with water,” Winters said.

    Director Bill Emslie from Larimer County also stressed that prudent quota-setting includes a range of considerations. “This is a decision that needs to have balance between demand and availability, as well as a consideration of the facts,” Emslie said. “We are all in this together, and we need to find middle ground.”

    Directors have the option to increase the 2013 quota in subsequent meetings.

    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

    An April 9 blog post by Denver Water was headlined, “It’s raining, it’s snowing, the drought is still going.” The post notes that it would take about 6 feet of new snow over the next couple of weeks in the mountain watersheds Denver relies on to have a normal snowpack — and even if the snowpack were normal, they would still be in drought because of low reservoir levels left over from last year.

    So … what did this past storm bring us? Practically nothing in the Grand Valley. 14.5 inches in Boulder. Over a foot in some mountain locations, but way less than six feet. Statewide, the storm bumped the total snowpack from 69% of the average for this time of year to 71%. So it’s safe to say that Denver’s drought is still on.

    Why do we on the Western Slope care about Denver’s water supply situation? We share a reliance on the Colorado River and its tributaries — their water supply situation mirrors our own. Also, the implementation of an agreement over how to share Colorado River water has already affected management of the river.

    In March, dismal snowpack data and low reservoir storage levels triggered an agreement between Western Slope interests, Denver Water and Xcel Energy to “relax” the senior water rights call on the river exercised by the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon. This will reduce water demanded by the power plant in order to allow junior rights upstream to fill Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

    From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

    The Northern Water board decided Friday to provide water users with a 60 percent quota, about 10 percent less than is usually allotted. Board members said the amount of water being given out from the Colorado-Big Thompson project is meant to strike a balance between cities that want to remain conservative in their water use and farmers who say they need a higher amount to keep from fallowing acres of farm land this growing season.


    [Drought] ‘It’s this slow, creeping death by 1,000 cuts’ — Chris Kraft #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

    April 12, 2013

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    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    A record crowd of 250 people attended the spring meeting of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the Ranch in Loveland. Farmers pleaded with Northern Water officials for at least 70 percent of their share of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project…

    “The worst thing in the world for agriculture is a drought, which we’re in right now,” said Chris Kraft, a Fort Morgan dairy farmer. “It’s this slow, creeping death by 1,000 cuts.”

    Northern Water board members are scheduled to decide Friday how much water they will distribute. Northern Water provides water to portions of eight counties with a population of 850,000 people and serves more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land. Farmers use about two thirds of the water coming from the project while cities use one third, while cities use one third, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said…

    …Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water’s general manager, said that this year would mark the second time in the water wholesaler’s history that it would base its quota on “availability” of water rather than “need.”

    Officials from several Northern Colorado cities argued at Thursday’s meeting that a quota of any more than 50 or 60 percent would overextend the already scarce resource. Donnie Dustin, the city of Fort Collins’ water resources manager, believes the city will face having a lower quota in future years if Northern Water adopts more than a 60 percent quota. However, Fort Collins doesn’t want Northern Water to go too low. The city would have to pass further water restrictions if Northern Water adopted a 50 percent quota, Dustin said…

    Farmers contend that a 60 percent quota will mean planting fewer fields with crops that use more water, such as corn. That will have consequences for Weld County’s dairy industry, they say. “We got so many dairies in this country,” said Bill Markham, who farms corn, barley and sugar beets in Berthoud. “I don’t know where they’re going to get their feed.”

    Kraft said a lower water quota would lead him to downsize his dairy farm. “If we don’t get the feed we need, we have to sell animals,” he said. “We’ll be shrinking down.”

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    For only the second time in 56 years, the quota set for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will be limited by how little water is available, rather than based on the demands of the region. After hearing suggestions from its water users Thursday, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s board of directors will set a quota for the C-BT Project today to determine how much water will be released this year from the system — which, with its 12 reservoirs, is the largest water supply project in the region. But, because reservoir levels are low and snowpack in the mountains is limited, the board will be restricted in how much water it can allow farmers and cities to use in 2013.

    In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent — although it rarely does — and still have at least some water in storage for the following years. But this year, a quota of 87 percent would deplete everything in the C-BT Project’s reservoirs, according to Brian Werner, a spokesman and historian with Northern Water. And the limited runoff from this year’s meager snowpack isn’t going help much, Werner added. The only other year the board has been so limited in the quota it could set was 2003 — following the historic drought year of 2002, said Werner, who’s been with Northern Water for more than 30 years.

    Although C-BT water is limited this year, it’s still needed — particularly by farmers, many of whom cut back on production last year while battling drought, and fear they’ll have to plant even fewer acres this year because of the water shortages.

    The historic predicament now facing the 12-member Northern Water board was brought on by the combination of continued drought, the board setting a historically high C-BT quota last year, the expectation of more dry weather, and because the region’s water demands are continually growing due to increased population, according to some of the experts who spoke at Thursday’s water users meeting. And, as water demands have increased, the availability of stored water hasn’t kept pace, added Werner.

    Since the C-BT project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a quota every year in April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. The historic average for the C-BT quota has been just above 70 percent, according to Werner. A 70-percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is approximately 326,000 gallons of water.

    Differences of opinion

    Before setting its quota each year, the board takes suggestions from its water users. Thursday’s water users meeting drew about 250 people — a record-high attendance for Northern Water’s April meeting, Werner said. At the meeting, officials from local cities generally pushed for a quota of about 50-60 percent, wanting to keep it relatively low and save as much water as possible for the future. However, many farmers in attendance — who either are or will soon be planting crops, and need to know soon how much water they’ll have for the growing season — asked for a quota of about 70 percent.

    The difference between a 50 percent water quota and a 70 percent quota amounts to more than 20 billion gallons of available water to northern Colorado.

    Farmers said they’ll need as much water as possible to raise their crops and the feed needed by the region’s many dairies and feedlots. Many are worried that cutting back on planting again this year will have a negative trickle-down impact on the region’s overall economy — especially in Weld County, where agriculture is a $1.5 billion contributor. Each year, about two-thirds of the C-BT Project’s water goes to agriculture uses, but farmers and ranchers only own 34 percent of the water. To make up that gap, farmers and ranchers lease water from cities. However, because of the water shortages, many cities have said it’s unlikely they’ll have any extra water available in 2013.

    Water officials from Greeley and Fort Collins said this would be the first time in about 10 years — dating back to 2003 — that they wouldn’t be able to lease extra water to local agricultural users. “You can get a flavor for the dilemma our board is in,” Eric Wilkenson, general manager of Northern Water, said to the crowd after hearing comments from concerned water users. But, with the C-BT’s overall reservoir levels 27 percent below average as of April 1, and snowpack in South Platte Basin 29 percent below average on Thursday and 24 percent below average in the Colorado River Basin, the Northern Water board can only do so much.

    C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and about 860,000 people in portions of eight counties, according to Northern Water numbers.

    Last April, concerns for farmers led the board to declare a 90 percent quota for C-BT water, the highest set in April since 1977. As drought persisted, the Northern Water board increased the C-BT water quota to 100 percent in May. The board could set that quota then because reservoir levels were high, due to above-average snowpack in previous years. With last year’s heavy water usage, reservoir levels dropped and are now expected to stay low since little snow has accumulated in the mountains.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy coverage here and here.


    It will be standing room only at the Northern Water board meeting Thursday #ColoradoRiver

    April 10, 2013

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: 80 cfs in the Big Thompson below Olympus Dam #coriver

    April 2, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Over the weekend, releases from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River bumped up slightly. We are now sending about 80 cfs down through the canyon. We are collecting about 50 cfs at the Dille Diversion Dam and sending it on to Horsetooth Reservoir.

    We are running some Colorado-Big Thompson Project water through the canyon while some routine maintenance is being conducted on the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal. When the work wraps up in a couple of weeks, we will begin moving water back through the canal rather than running it down the canyon.

    To learn more about Lake Estes and Olympus Dam, please visit our website. Data on this website is updated every night at midnight.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.


    Drought/snowpack news: Low reservoirs in South Park will impact economy this summer #codrought

    March 31, 2013

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    From The Fairplay Flume (Mike Potter):

    The planned drainage of Antero Reservoir starting in April and low water levels at Spinney Mountain Reservoir that have closed boat ramps will likely have negative impacts on Park County this summer.

    Kevin Tobey, the parks manager for Eleven Mile State Park and Spinney Mountain State Park, said the boat ramps at Spinney Mountain Reservoir have been closed because water levels are too low.
    “The water is currently at the bottom of the North Boat Ramp at Spinney Mountain Reservoir, which is only 47 percent of capacity, and there is little hope that water levels will rise much through the spring,” he said in an email. “If boat trailers backed off the ramp, they’d get stuck in the mud, so we have to close the ramps when we don’t have at least 2 to 2 1/2 feet of water on the ramps so boats can safely launch.”[...]

    It’s hard to say how all of that will impact the reservoirs as far as visitation. Tobey said when Antero was drained in 2002, he saw a slight increase at Eleven Mile and Spinney from displaced fisherman. But then when Antero reopened in 2007, he also saw a bump in the use at the other reservoirs. “Visitation at Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain State Parks actually increased slightly in 2007 when Antero re-opened,” he said…

    Park County Commissioner Dick Hodges said the impacts to the county will be most felt by businesses that have relied on people visiting Antero. He said the county would be most affected through the loss of sales contributing to the 1 percent sales tax. Michael “Griz” Egloff, a fishing guide with South Platte Anglers, said the closure and drainage of Antero Reservoir is going to hurt business. “It’s going to kill me this year,” he said. “This drought is just going to wreck Park County.”

    From The Greeley Tribune (Analisa Romano):

    Trekking atop more than five feet of snow, John Fusaro and Todd Boldt moved mechanically on Thursday, stopping with the same muted routine each time they reached a new point on their map, which looked a lot like a constellation of stars.

    A simple line connecting highlighted dots, the 1935 map guided Fusaro and Boldt to 10 spots more than 10,000 feet up the Poudre Canyon, where the pair returns each month to gauge Colorado’s mountain snowpack. Using the same map has provided a level of continuity that allows Fusaro and Boldt — conservationists for the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service — to calculate averages at each point over a 30-year timespan, they said.

    At Cameron Pass, Fusaro and Boldt found snowpack at 75 percent of its normal level. Not great, but certainly an improvement over last year, Fusaro said. One year ago, he and Boldt could casually walk through some points outlined on their map that were normally covered with feet of snow. Of course, yet another year ago — in 2011 — Colorado’s snowpack was so high that the pair had to improvise with their measuring tools to accurately record the hordes of snow that collected there, they said.

    Thursday’s readings will come out in the NRCS April 1 report, which will give water districts and municipalities the best estimate of snowmelt likely to trickle down the Poudre Canyon come summertime.

    About 85 percent of the snow that collects in the mountains over winter is already there, Fusaro and Boldt said. Typically, if snowpack hasn’t reached an average level by Jan. 1, there is a slight chance — about 10 to 15 percent — that enough snow will fall to fill the gap, Fusaro said.

    For many Weld County farmers and ranchers, the lower snowpack numbers confirm what they already knew: that larger cities such as Greeley and Longmont likely won’t have extra water this year to lease to farmers and ranchers.

    Last spring, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District set its spring quota for the Colorado Big-Thompson Project, a supplemental water source in northern Colorado, at 100 percent, meaning each unit of C-BT water would yield a full acre foot. Farmers were in need of water during the drought, and the C-BT reservoirs at the time were filled to high levels. But Brian Werner, a spokesperson for Northern Water, said recently the quota this year will likely be set at about 60 percent because those reservoirs have been depleted since last year, and this year’s below-average snowpack won’t be enough to refill them.

    According to the Colorado Snotel Snowpack Update Map on Thursday, statewide snowpack was 22 percent lower than the historic average, with the North Platte River Basin at the highest percent of the state average (83) and the South Platte River Basin at the lowest (71).

    Some points in the Poudre Canyon, such as Deadman Hill at 10,220 feet, were as high as 83 percent of the snowpack normally recorded at that site. At Big South, where elevation is 8,600 feet, snowpack was 117 percent of the average there, although snow at that level melts so quickly that the reading is hardly indicative of what to expect come summer, Fusaro said. He said details like that, or the quality of the soil beneath the snowpack, don’t occur to most people. “People don’t realize that you have to recharge the ground before you get runoff,” he said, explaining that dry soil will yield less snowmelt, because it absorbs snow before it can run off into the river for cities farther east.

    “People just think, ‘Oh, we got 12 inches of snow — the drought is over,’” Fusaro said as he and Boldt worked in synchronized motions, Fusaro recording numbers as Boldt dug into the snow. Hardly a word was exchanged between them. “We’ve been doing this together for 19 years,” Fusaro laughed. “We don’t need to talk.”

    Here’s an in-depth look at the potential for a large wildfire near the Colorado River headwaters from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Standing on the shore of Grand Lake, it’s impossible not to look across the water and notice a row of homes on the far shore sitting directly beneath a mountain flanked with countless dead trees. The water pouring from your kitchen faucet in Fort Collins is directly linked to whatever happens on that shoreline when the next wildfire roars through Grand Lake — 50 miles as the crow flies and over the Continental Divide from Fort Collins.

    Your morning coffee might not have tasted any different after the High Park Fire torched the Poudre River watershed last summer, but Fort Collins’ primary source of drinking water was compromised as rain washed ash and silt off the burned slopes and into the river and the city’s water treatment plant. The High Park Fire forced the city to temporarily switch its entire water supply from the Poudre River to the clean, ash-free water of Horsetooth Reservoir, which is filled with water piped beneath Rocky Mountain National Park from Grand Lake and the reservoirs of the headwaters of the Colorado River on the west side of the park.

    Wildfires don’t occur often in that area because the climate is generally too cool and wet. But with severe drought afflicting forests decimated by bark beetles, a wildfire, when it occurs, is likely to be explosive. “It’s not likely we’ll have a fire in a given summer, but if it occurs, get out of the way,” said Jason Sibold, a Colorado State University geography professor, forest ecologist and fire historian…

    Major wildfires burn about every 150 years or more in the Colorado River’s headwaters because the fire season is usually short and limited by the area’s late snowmelt and the summer monsoon season. But recently, the climate conditions in Grand County have changed. “The common thread is drought,” Sibold said. “It’s not fuels. It’s not fuel type. There is a lot of combustible material up there all the time. The thing that drives fire in the system is drought, drought, drought. And that’s kind of bad news for us.”[...]

    Once a severe wildfire torches mountain slopes there, intense rainstorms wash soot, silt and debris into rivers and reservoirs — the same reason the Poudre River ran black after the High Park Fire. Large debris can be filtered out of the system, but the sediment and ash may stay in the water as it is piped through the Adams Tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park and into Front Range reservoirs. “There’s no way you can keep out the sediment and the carbon,” said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner. “That will get into the C-BT system and work its way to the Front Range. It’s a treatment issue. It costs more. The communities that treat water will have to do changes to how they treat water.”

    Manganese and other contaminants in the water would spike, possibly affecting the taste and color of tap water and forcing cities to pay more to treat it, said Chris Matkins, water utilities manager for Loveland, which uses the C-BT system as a major source of its water.

    From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

    The entire state of Colorado remained in a drought. Wednesday, for the first time in 11 years, mandatory water restrictions were ordered for Denver because of the extended dryness. This is what the Denver Board of Water Commissioners calls a “Stage 2″ drought, and includes restrictions on lawn irrigation, hotel laundry, car washing and other non-essential uses of water.

    “The last time we declared a Stage 2 drought was in 2002,” Greg Austin, president of the Denver Board of Water Commissioners, said Wednesday. “We are facing a more serious drought now than we faced then.”

    The entire state of California is considered to be either abnormally dry or in a drought, which is the highest percentage for the Golden State since October 2009. California has endured its driest January and February on record.

    As of this week, almost 99% of Texas is either abnormally dry or in a drought. Parts of eastern Texas are 8 to 16 inches below normal precipitation for the past six months, meteorologist Anthony Artusa said in this week’s Drought Monitor. In the Texas Panhandle, he says, the Greenbelt Lake reservoir has dropped to 12% of capacity.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

    Due to ongoing drought, the city’s “Level 1” restrictions will limit lawn watering to two days per week. Even-numbered residences water Thursday and Sunday; odd-numbered Wednesday and Saturday; commercial, multifamily and HOAs Tuesday and Friday. Watering of trees, shrubs, flowers and gardens will not be restricted, but restrictions are in place for car washing and spraying off pavement.

    Permits through Fort Collins Utilities are available for yards with new seed and sod, properties of more than 4 acres, medical hardships and religious objections.

    Information: http://www.fcgov.com/water-restrictions or (970) 416-2881.

    From the North Forty News:

    While the storm on March 22 and 23 of this year didn’t make everything right, it did add 8 to 12 inches of fairly wet snow to much of the northern Front Range, and even more on the eastern plains. Having available moisture also helps induce more storm activity, but we don’t seem to be out of the woods yet, Doesken said.

    Of course, in a larger sense, things remain quite dry. Statewide, the mountain basins were only at 77 percent of normal in advance of the storm, and the South Platte drainage in northeastern Colorado was the driest of the bunch at 67 percent of average. The Colorado basin, where northeastern Colorado gets water from trans-mountain diversions, was only at 77 percent.

    While the mountain snowpack is still far below normal, the storm may be an indication that the best possible spring conditions for the state could set up, with Four Corners lows sucking up Gulf of Mexico moisture and pumping that into Colorado’s Front Range. Many global warming models predict that in Colorado more precipitation would move from winter months to spring, and that has also been a trend in the past decade, most notably in 2011, a record-setting runoff year.

    In the meantime, Northern Water continued to fill Horsetooth and Carter reservoirs, emptying the big bucket on the Western Slope, Lake Granby. As it did, farmers and municipal water managers alike filled the March water-users meeting, hoping to get the board to bump up its allocation quota for that Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) water.

    “There were more people there than I’ve ever seen at any meeting other than an April meeting” when the quota is actually set, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

    The big topic of discussion, of course, is how much water the board will allocate this year. Last year, the first year of drought, the board set a 100 percent quota, meaning each C-BT share realized a full acre foot of water.

    The system is set up to provide more water in times of drought, with a 70 percent quota being common in years when precipitation is normal. At the beginning of last year, however, reservoirs were full, which is certainly not the case this year, Werner said.

    “We’re starting out with a huge hole in our supply — we have 350,000 acre feet less water in storage than last year. That’s two Horsetooth Reservoirs,” he said. The quota this year may be set at 50 percent or lower…

    Farmers with more senior rights on the Poudre will probably be able to take that water for use on fields in May, June and, perhaps, into July…

    “We’re already dead here,” said farmer Bob Johnson of Wellington, whose farm received only a couple inches of light snow during the March 22-23 storm. “Of our 350 irrigated acres,” Johnson said, “we’re only going to plant 50 with corn.”

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    From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):

    [March 24] was the 179th anniversary of Powell’s birth. Our current drought and water management struggles in New Mexico and across the western United States make this a good time to revisit what Major Powell was trying to explain to the House Committee on Irrigation back in the spring of 1890…

    Powell imagined great dams to protect valleys from flooding and store water during times of plenty to use in times of drought, and would likely be pleased with the way we carried out his dreams. He would doubtless be amazed at the massive natural gas-powered groundwater pumps that now step in when river water lags during a drought. And a reading of his 19th century thinking on Western water management suggests he did not contemplate cities the size of Albuquerque, El Paso and Juárez springing up amid the farms of the Rio Grande Valley.

    Even then, he clearly understood the water battles of his day between upstream and downstream users, but more important, he saw the seeds of conflict we were planting when we carved up the landscape the way we did.

    Powell’s idea, roundly ignored in his day and clearly impossible to implement now, was to build governance in what was to become the western United States around watershed boundaries rather than the arbitrary survey-straight state lines that had been drawn as Manifest Destiny spread across the continent.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter Reservoir 80% full

    March 28, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick e-mail to let you all know that the routine work we were doing down around Flatiron has completed. As a result, Pinewood water levels are on their way back up to more typical elevations for this time of year. Flatiron Reservoir water levels will start to come back up–and begin fluctuating again, as is normal. And, the pump to Carter Lake will go back on before the end of the day Thursday, March 28. As of this afternoon, Carter Lake is 80% full.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Drought news: The drought has dried up municipal leases to farmers #codrought

    March 26, 2013

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    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    It’s been a bone-dry search this year for the many farmers and ranchers who depend heavily on leasing water from their municipal neighbors. Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland and Longmont — each typically leasing thousands of acre-feet of excess water per year to local producers — have all said it’s unlikely they’ll have any extra water available in 2013. Dismal snowpack in the mountains and not having city water as a back-up option is putting farmers in a tough spot, local crop growers say.

    With spring planting beginning in the upcoming weeks, many predict they’ll cut back on production even more than they did in a drought-stricken 2012. “There’s just nothing out there to lease,” said Randy Knutson, who farms south, east and north of Greeley, explaining that, on one of his 160-acre farms where he fallowed about 30 percent of his ground last year, he’ll likely fallow about 50 percent of that ground this year.

    Knutson — who sits on the board of directors for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Greeley No. 3 Ditch and Western Mutual Ditch companies — said, based on his conversations with farmers, there will be fallowing aplenty this year.

    Water officials from Greeley and Fort Collins said this is the first time in about 10 years they haven’t been able to lease extra water to agricultural users, and for Loveland and Longmont it’s been even longer, officials from those two cities said.

    Agriculture uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, but the ag industry doesn’t own nearly that much of the state’s supply — at least not anymore.

    In 1957, when the Colorado-Big Thompson Project first went into operation, 85 percent of the water in the project was owned by agricultural users, according to numbers from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, that oversees operations of the C-BT Project. But today, only 34 percent of the water in the C-BT — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — is owned by agricultural users.

    For years, when there was limited money to be made in ag, growing cities along the northern Front Range bought water rights from farming and ranching families that were getting out of the business. Also, some producers who stayed in business thought it could be more profitable to sell some of their water rights at a certain price to growing cities, and then rent extra water as needed. “I can’t condemn anyone at all for selling their water rights,” said Lynn Fagerberg, an Eaton-area farmer. “Times were tough for a long, long time. “It’s just led to a complicated situation now.”

    A lot of producers today — while owning some of their water rights — play the rental market heavily, according to Brian Werner, the public information officer and historian for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. While only one-third of the water in the C-BT Project is now owned by agricultural users, about two-thirds of C-BT water in most years still goes to ag users, who lease much of that C-BT water from cities who own it, Werner said. Despite the shift of ownership, the C-BT remains the largest, supplemental water supply for ag in the state, he added. But playing the rental market, Werner noted, can make life difficult in dry years when cities are reluctant to lease water — like this year.

    In 2012, the drought forced cities and farmers to use up water in reservoirs, but they did so in hopes that this year’s winter and spring would produce at least average snowfall, or better. But through Monday, statewide snowpack was only 79 percent of average, and only 71 percent of average in the South Platte River basin — not enough to replenish reservoirs back up to levels where cities are comfortable with their supplies. According to the most recent report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, statewide reservoirs were filled to level about 30 percent below-average at the beginning of March.

    Additionally, last year’s wildfires, which took place around many high-mountain reservoirs, caused additional complications.

    Fagerberg and other farmers and ranchers have expressed frustration in that cities which aren’t leasing water to agriculture this year aren’t putting additional lawn-watering measures in place that could save water — water that could then be leased to ag.

    Jon Monson, water and sewer director for the city of Greeley, said the city’s water board will continue looking at potential watering restrictions as the year goes along.

    Monson, Fagerberg and others were quick to point out the economic impact agriculture has on Weld County — amounting to about $1.5 billion agricultural goods, which ranks Weld eighth in the nation, according to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture. In 2011, the city of Greeley leased 25,427 acre-feet of water to agricultural users, but this year, only has enough available to honor its long-term ag-lease agreements of about 5,000 acre-feet, Monson said.

    Many ag water users are tying to decrease their dependency on leased water form cities. The board of directors for the North Weld County Water District nearly a year ago increased water surcharges in order to buy more water down the road. The board cited concerns that dairymen who are customers of North Weld Water don’t own very much of the water they use; collectively, the 20 largest dairies in the district owned only about 7 percent of the water they use, according to their numbers.

    The Central Colorado Water Conservancy District passed a $60 million bond issue last fall to purchase water needed by many of its ag users.

    None of those efforts, though, will help this year.

    In recent years, commodity prices have made farming more profitable, and since 2009, the percentage of CB-T water owned by agriculture has stayed steady at 34 percent — after gradually dropping nearly every year for decades. But the percentage of ag ownership isn’t increasing, and that’s because the water rights agricultural users sold years ago are too expensive for farmers and ranchers to buy now, Werner said. And water rights are certainly pricey in times of drought, Werner added. He said the price of a C-BT share has increased from about $9,000 last year to about $13,500 to $14,000 now. “We’re basically seeing the price increase by about $1,000 per month so far this year,” Werner said, noting that most of that water today is being bought for municipal and industrial uses. “It’s certainly not the farmers who can afford it.”


    Galena fire: Northern Water installs debris booms to mitigate effects to Horsetooth Reservoir #codrought

    March 24, 2013

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    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):

    Northern Water, which oversees the Colorado-Big Thompson water stored in Horsetooth, installed debris boons in 10 locations of Lory State Park to catch any debris, mud or ash before it reaches the reservoir. Crews from the water district will monitor the traps and clean them out to make sure they protect the water.

    Similar measures were taken after the High Park Fire and have worked successfully, said Amy Johnson, project manager for Northern Water. The district spent about $15,000 and completed the work in two days, Wednesday and Thursday.

    “The reason we started work so quickly was the precipitation forecast this weekend,” said Johnson. “We want to get his in place before any significant runoff.”

    The soils are still porous, so some water will absorb to feed grasses expected to sprout this season alongside trees parks staff will plant in the Galena and High Park zones.

    “When we get rain and sunshine, we will get grass,” said Butterfield. “It’s going to green up pretty quickly for us, and every little bit of moisture helps.”

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Robert Allen):

    Ten booms — mesh bags full of wood chips — were placed this week in park drainages to filter moisture entering Horsetooth Reservoir. “They’ll hopefully trap sediment and ash,” said Amy Johnson with Northern Water, adding that similar booms were placed in areas of the park affected by last summer’s High Park Fire. The Galena Fire burned at a lower intensity than the earth-scorching High Park Fire, and the charred remains aren’t expected to have near the impact on water quality.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project operations update: Flatiron power plant testing next week

    March 20, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    We have a little more maintenance to do on the power arm of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project starting top of next week. While we’re doing some testing at the Flatiron Power Plant, we will drop Pinewood down as we move water out and also suspend pumping to Carter Lake. Residents around and visitors to Pinewood Reservoir should notice the reservoir elevation going down the end of this week. By Sunday or Monday, March 24 or 25, the reservoir could get down to an elevation of 6562 feet, perhaps just a little lower. However, that is not low enough to impact local water provision to the community around Pinewood. The pump to Carter Lake will go off during that same time frame, returning to service by Thursday, March 28. The reservoir has come up quite a bit over the past several weeks. It is currently around 75% full.

    While these operations are underway, water will continue being delivered to Horsetooth Reservoir. Water to Horsetooth will drop Flatiron Reservoir down between Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Flatiron fluctuates daily, but visitors to that reservoir might notice a lower water line than typical for this time of year.

    Pinewood Reservoir is expected to start rising again on Tuesday, March 26 and should be back to a typical water elevation for this time of year by Thursday, March 28. Flatiron should start going up again by Friday and be back to a more typical water elevation by the last weekend of March.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Downstream demands on the Colorado River have been fluctuating quite a bit the last two days. Yesterday we dropped down from 145 cfs to 120 cfs. Today, March 19, we dropped again from 120 to 100 cfs. This might help us store a little water behind Green Mountain Dam. The reason for these changes is that the Shoshone Power Plant has a relaxed call on the river and part of the Green Mountain water right is in effect.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Greeley: Water utility officials worry about #soldiercanyon fire burn scar affecting Horsetooth Reservoir #codrought

    March 16, 2013

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    From The Greeley Tribune:

    In a scene reminiscent of last summer, acrid smoke hung in the air in Greeley on Friday night as an 800-acre wildfire, driven by erratic winds, threatened more than 50 homes in northern Colorado and prompted hundreds of evacuation orders.

    Like this past summer, the fire got the attention of Greeley water officials.

    “We are quite concerned. The fire on the Poudre last year blackened quite a bit of our Poudre supply,” said Jon Monson, Greeley Water and Sewer Department director. “The Lory State Park drains into Horsetooth. Now, Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and that is a second supply, so if both of those supplies are compromised then we’d be focused more on the Greeley and Loveland system for our supple coming out of the Big Thompson. This could be a fairly significant problem for us.”

    The fire began Friday west of Fort Collins and was burning west of Horsetooth Reservoir, near the scene of a large wildfire last summer that burned 259 homes and killed one person.

    Firefighters saved two homes and a state park visitors center from flames, authorities said. They said no homes had been destroyed.

    The Larimer County Sheriff’s Department said 860 phone lines got automated calls ordering evacuations Friday, but some addresses have multiple lines and other numbers were cellphones, so the exact number of homes in the evacuation area was not known.

    Some people believed to be hiking in Lory State Park were unaccounted for, but sheriff’s spokesman Nick Christensen said they were not believed to be in imminent danger. Park rangers were looking for them.

    Some evacuations ordered earlier Friday were lifted.

    The cause of the fire is under investigation and authorities had no estimate of when it would be contained.

    “The winds are playing a major factor right now,” said Patrick Love, a spokesman for the Poudre Valley Fire Authority. “We’ve had variable and erratic winds all day long.”

    The wind initially pushed the fire north, prompting authorities to evacuate neighborhoods on the northwest side of the reservoir.

    But the winds suddenly shifted to the south, and deputies and state troopers quickly barricaded another neighborhood on the southwest side of the reservoir that hadn’t been officially evacuated.

    “It’s pretty ridiculous to shut things down and not let anyone know,” said Mark Martina, a mortgage broker who was heading home to get his dog when he reached the new roadblock not far from his house.

    When authorities began allowing some residents back in for brief visits to retrieve valuables, Martina said he planned to stay as long as necessary to collect birth certificates, guns and other important items.

    “I’m not a complete idiot. I’m going to leave if it’s coming close,” he said.

    Chicago resident Terry Jones and his family were in a vacation house they own when they saw smoke billowing toward them, and then officers pounded on their door and told them to leave.

    Late Friday afternoon, as the sun turned hillsides pink and smoke obscured the reservoir, Jones was asked if he’d rather be back home in Chicago.

    “No,” he said. “Not even with the fire.”

    The fire came as much of the state dealt with drought conditions after a relatively dry winter. The snowpack in the mountains was low, leaving farmers wondering how many crops to plant and raising the possibility of lawn-watering restrictions along the Front Range.

    Monson said the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District spent more than $100,000 last year trying to stabilize the soil from the High Park fire that goes into Horsetooth. Brian Warner, spokesman for the district said officials are monitoring the fire.

    “We don’t have anybody up there right now. There’s not a lot we can do. We’re trying to stay out of the way, but obviously we’re paying attention to it because it’s right above our water supply.”


    Reclamation to start pumping to Carter Lake on Monday

    March 8, 2013

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Cache la Poudre River: Less CBT irrigation water due to High Park Fire pollution #codrought

    March 8, 2013

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley): via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    The scorching of Colorado forests by super-intense wildfires is worsening the water woes for Eldon Ackerman and other Larimer County farmers, jeopardizing thousands of irrigated acres that normally produce millions of dollars in crops. The problem: soot, sediment and debris washing from burned forests have made the Cache la Poudre River less reliable as Fort Collins’ main water supply for urban households. Particles clog treatment facilities. So, city officials say, they must heavily tap their secondary supply — water piped under mountains from the Western Slope. That water typically has been leased to farmers.

    Fort Collins officials recently notified 80 farmers not to expect any leased water this spring. And suddenly, Ackerman — instead of ordering seeds and fertilizer — is talking with insurers and preparing to lay off hired hands…

    In the big picture, this intensifying water crunch reflects a shifting balance of power between cities and the agriculture that traditionally has anchored life along Colorado’s northern Front Range. Drought and the oil-and-gas industry’s appetite for drilling water already have weakened farmers’ position. Cities in recent years have purchased interests in irrigation-ditch companies. Farmers have sold their water rights, taking advantage of high prices. Financial stress and low commodity prices forced some to sell. Others simply sought profit. The result is that city interests increasingly dominate decision-making. “Now, cities are getting very conservative because of the drought, compounded with the wildfire,” said Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Water Center…

    “We’ve got this twofold issue of drought complicated by fire, and the issue of more fires. What that will do to our water yields is very unknown,” said John Stulp, a Colorado agriculture leader serving as a special water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

    More water pollution coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson update: Reclamation is moving water through the Adams Tunnel

    December 13, 2012

    Check out the photo of a low Carter Lake.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick note to let you know that we are finishing up our annual maintenance on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. That means, we have begun to once again divert water through the Adams Tunnel from Granby and Shadow Mountain reservoirs on the West Slope.

    We began the trans-basin diversions last week. With water starting to come back through the tunnel, the water level at Lake Estes began to rise. Tonight, the reservoir is at an elevation of about 7470 feet. That’s roughly five feet down; pretty average for this time of year.

    Yesterday, 12-12-12, we began sending water through Olympus Tunnel to Pinewood Reservoir. Today, the reservoir started at an elevation of about 6563 feet and is on the rise.

    This morning, we turned the pump on to Carter Lake. With the hot and dry summer and fall, the water level elevation at Carter dropped to 36% of its full content; an elevation of 5686 feet, or about 73 feet down from full. With the pump back on, water levels should start slowly ticking up again.

    Likewise, we are once again sending water to Horsetooth; although with the pump on to Carter, inflows to the reservoir will likely fluctuate between 100-200 cfs. Horsetooth got down to a water level elevation of roughly 5377 feet, or 44% full. It’s water level will now slowly start rising, too.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Grand County Approves Windy Gap Firming Project Permit, Agreements #CORiver

    December 11, 2012

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    From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

    Last week, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance, plus county and water conservancy district officials, announced an agreement that commits cash and conservation measures to the project. The permit approved by the Grand County commissioners includes a host of conditions that should help improve river health (and water quality in Grand Lake), including a $2 million bypass channel to reconnect the river and periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river and remove sediment.

    “For years, those of us living in Grand County have seen the once-mighty Colorado in a state of serious decline,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter, in a prepared statement. “This agreement will provide protections and new investments in river health that can put the Colorado River on the road to recovery.”

    While the deal doesn’t give the activists everything they wanted, it does avoid the worst-case scenario some had feared. The headwaters defenders can now turn their energy to another looming threat: Denver Water’s plans to expand its Moffat Tunnel diversion system, sucking the life out of the much-besieged Frasier River, as well as the Colorado.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    ‘Holding back water would happen regardless of the amount of snowpack’ — Donnie Dustin #CODrought

    December 9, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    The problem: soot, sediment and debris washing from burned forests have made the Cache la Poudre River less reliable as Fort Collins’ main water supply for urban households. Particles clog treatment facilities. So, city officials say, they must heavily tap their secondary supply — water piped under mountains from the Western Slope. That water typically has been leased to farmers…

    In the big picture, this intensifying water crunch reflects a shifting balance of power between cities and the agriculture that traditionally has anchored life along Colorado’s northern Front Range. Drought and the oil-and-gas industry’s appetite for drilling water already have weakened farmers’ position. Cities in recent years have purchased interests in irrigation-ditch companies. Farmers have sold their water rights, taking advantage of high prices. Financial stress and low commodity prices forced some to sell. Others simply sought profit. The result is that city interests increasingly dominate decision-making…

    “We’ve got this twofold issue of drought complicated by fire, and the issue of more fires. What that will do to our water yields is very unknown,” said John Stulp, a Colorado agriculture leader serving as a special water adviser to Gov. John Hickenlooper…

    For farmers, the trouble is hitting five months after the High Park fire, just as they prepare to make business decisions for the coming year. Given the uncertainties of sediment polluting the Poudre, Fort Collins “is extremely unlikely to make any water rentals” next year, city water-resources manager Donnie Dustin told farmers in a Nov. 14 e-mail. Holding back water would happen “regardless of the amount of snowpack,” Dustin wrote. “The ability to consistently treat Poudre River water is likely to be an ongoing concern for the next few years.”

    Cities cannot be blamed for holding back water they now control, said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler. “Their first priority has to be domestic use, and if they think runoff from the fire is going to pollute their supplies, they have to do this,” he said. But agriculture “isn’t going to get any easier if these fires continue…

    “We’ve been under stress this whole decade,” said Grant Family Farms owner Lewis Grant, 89, who serves on advisory boards for Larimer County and Fort Collins and is involved in efforts to preserve farms amid spreading subdivisions. “It’s almost hopeless for younger farmers. Land is so expensive. Water is so expensive.”

    On the sprawling farm northwest of Wellington, Grant produces eggs that end up in Whole Foods Markets. The farm’s produce — including squash, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, kale and cabbage — is sold by King Soopers and other markets. Water rented from Fort Collins irrigates about 25 percent of his crops, he said. One solution may be for Fort Collins to install extra sediment-control tanks to enable consistent use of the Poudre. “That would seem reasonable to me,” Grant said.

    City officials say they’re considering costs. Such facilities likely would force higher water bills for city dwellers and higher prices for farmers and energy companies that vie for city water.

    More Cache La Poudre watershed coverage here.


    Frederick: Water rates to rise

    November 29, 2012

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    From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

    The town’s board voted Tuesday to raise household trash collection rates by a dollar (to $10.65 a month) and overall water rates by 20 percent. The trash charge passed unanimously; the water increase passed 4-1 with Trustee Rafer Burnham against and Trustee Jim Wollack absent. Burnham said he knew rates needed to go up, but that he wanted to see a discount for those who conserved water, and not just higher rates for heavier users…

    Frederick hasn’t raised its water rates since 2005. Town manager Matt LeCerf said the town needed to catch up on accumulating expenses and to start saving toward its share of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a project to bring 40,000 acre-feet of water to 15 partners in the northern Front Range, including Dacono, Firestone and Frederick. The town plans to pay $6.2 million toward NISP design and engineering.

    Without the increase, LeCerf said, the water utility fund will be in the hole by 2017. “We’re getting behind the ball, so to speak,” he said.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Lake Estes lowered for winter maintenance

    November 27, 2012

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    From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (John Cordsen):

    The bureau stopped diverting water through the Adams Tunnel into the lake on Nov. 5, as well as moving water from Lake Estes through the Olympus Tunnel to the southern power arm of the Colorado-Big Thompson water diversion, storage and delivery project, of which Estes, Marys and East Portal are a part. This was in preparation for some regular maintenance projects on that section.

    Water that would normally hit the three power plants between Lake Estes and the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon was instead released directly from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River. That bumped flows in the canyon up to around 150 cubic feet per second where they stayed for about a week.

    “With the 150 cfs being released from Lake Estes, but no water coming in, the water level elevation at Estes dropped a little over a foot a day until it reached the elevation it is currently at now: 7460 feet, or about 15 feet down from full,” said Kara Lamb, the Bureau of Reclamation public information officer. “Then, we curtailed the releases back to native inflow and are now holding steady. Our plan is to keep Lake Estes at this elevation until mid-December.”

    Lamb said the bureau, the agency that manages the lake, drops the water level down to this elevation every two to three years for regular maintenance projects.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Reclamation releases Supplemental Information Report to Windy Gap Firming EIS

    November 15, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of a Supplemental Information

    Report and related errata to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which analyzed impacts of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project. Both the SIR and the errata are available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

    “A SIR analyzes new information received after the completion of the Final EIS to determine if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns on the proposed action or its impacts,” said Michael J. Ryan, Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region.

    An errata is a list of corrections to a publication.

    After publication of the Final EIS in December 2011, Reclamation received new information regarding the Multiple Metric Index methodology for aquatic invertebrates in the Colorado River. Invertebrate values were updated and rerun based on this new information.

    The findings in the SIR explain that the revised aquatic invertebrate values did not change the conclusions in the Final EIS.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project: Boulder queues up to spend $800,000 on proposed Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir pipeline

    November 13, 2012

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    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Joe Rubino):

    After four years of planning, Northern Water — leading the project on behalf of Boulder, Left Hand Water District, Longs Peak Water District and the town of Frederick — is ready to begin acquiring the land needed along the pipeline’s proposed future alignment, the memo said.

    Design and construction plans likely won’t come before the City Council until 2015 or later, but city staff members indicated that property values are expected to escalate 9 percent each year acquisition is delayed, adding up to $60,000 a year to Boulder’s $800,000 contribution.

    “Right now, we are basically going to try to preserve our option for the future by moving ahead with right-of-way and easement acquisition,” said Bob Harberg, Boulder’s utilities planning and project management coordinator. “If … we decide to move forward with this project, we won’t have to contend with the difficulties of land acquisitions.”[...]

    As needs have increased, Boulder and its partners in 2007 began looking at a new pipeline that would trace the path of the old pipeline before veering off and eventually delivering water to Boulder Reservoir, according to the staff memo. The new project does not grant participants the right to draw more water from the system than is already allowed…

    The enclosed pipeline will provide water year-round — as opposed to seasonally, as is the case with the canal system — and will better protect the water from contamination, leading to more consistent drinking water quality, according to the staff memo.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Adams Tunnel deliveries off November 5, to resume after maintenance period

    November 10, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    Maintenance season for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project begins this November, with water diversions through the Adams Tunnel stopped on Nov. 5, according to Kara Lamb, spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation.

    “This will temporarily slow the draw on Granby Reservoir because we will not be pumping up to Shadow Mountain Reservoir and the tunnel,” Lamb wrote in an email to interested parties. “Releases from Granby to the Colorado River should remain at or above 20 cfs at the Y gauge for the rest of the calendar year.”

    All annual maintenance projects scheduled for this fall on the C-BT Project on the eastern side of the Divide start to wrap up the week of Dec. 7 through Dec. 14. At that time, diversions through the Adams Tunnel are scheduled to resume.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project fall operations update

    November 3, 2012

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    It’s that time of year again: maintenance season for the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. If you are receiving this e-mail it is because our maintenance schedule will be affecting a reservoir or river flows in which you are interested. Because all of these operations tie together, it’s a lengthy e-mail, so please bear with me:

    Monday, Nov. 5: We will stop diverting through the Adams Tunnel. This will temporarily slow the draw on Granby Reservoir because we will not be pumping up to Shadow Mt. Reservoir and the Tunnel. Releases from Granby to the Colorado River should remain at or above 20 cfs at the Y gage for the rest of the calendar year.

    This same day, we will also stop moving water from Lake Estes through the Olympus Tunnel to the southern power arm of the C-BT so we can start some regular maintenance projects on that section.

    Water that would normally hit those three power plants will instead be released from Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson River, bumping its flows up from around 40 cfs to 150 cfs. We will change the release from the dam in the early morning hours of Nov. 5 before 5:30 a.m.

    The project water released to the Big T River will be recaptured at the Dille Diversion Dam in the narrows section of the canyon. The Dille redirects the water back on course to Horsetooth Reservoir via the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

    With 150 cfs being released from Lake Estes and no water coming in, the water level elevation at Estes will start to drop a little over a foot a day for about a week.

    Monday, Nov. 12: The water level at Lake Estes will hit an elevation of about 7460 feet by day’s end. We will hold it there until the second week of December.

    While water through the tunnels is off and the Lake Estes water level is down, our maintenance work will be on. During this same time, the Estes Sanitation District will be performing sand removal from the western side of Lake Estes.

    Water levels at Marys Lake will not be drawn down this year.

    Nov. 13: Delivery of C-BT water from Olympus Dam to Dille Dam via the Big Thompson River will stop. Releases to the river will go back to around 40 cfs—the typical native flow of the Big Thompson River this time of year. We will start delivering C-BT water from Pinewood Reservoir.

    Pinewood, downstream of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam on the C-BT’s southern power arm, will stay at a high water elevation through the first part of the maintenance work. With no water coming from the West Slope, it will take over the role of delivering project water when Lake Estes hits its 7460 foot water level elevation. Because Pinewood’s own water levels are currently high, residents near and visitors to Pinewood will likely not notice its water level start to decline until the last week or two of November. It will continue to drop until the first week of December.

    Dec. 7-14: All annual maintenance projects scheduled for this fall on the C-BT start to wrap up. Diversions through the Adams Tunnel will resume, the water level elevation at Lake Estes will start to rise, and it will resume delivering water through Olympus Tunnel to the southern power arm. Pinewood’s water elevation will start to come back up.

    Deliveries to Horsetooth Reservoir will experience a slowdown during the middle of the maintenance work, but continue through December. The reservoir will officially start to refill in mid-to-late December, as is its normal schedule.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Fort Collins: A low winter snowpack, remaining effects of the High Park Fire may lead to restrictions

    October 29, 2012

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Brian Janonis):

    The city of Fort Collins has two main water sources: the Cache la Poudre River and water from Horsetooth Reservoir (through partial ownership in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project), both originating from snowmelt. Fort Collins Utilities continuously evaluates how much to draw from each source for treatment. Flexibility is key to maintaining high-quality drinking water, particularly in the aftermath of fire. Due to our strict adherence to treatment regulations and state-of-the-art water treatment processes, the city’s drinking water quality has not been affected by summer fires.

    Fort Collins Utilities, in cooperation with the city of Greeley, surrounding water districts (known as the Tri-District), Colorado State University and other organizations, are focused on the health of the Poudre River in the aftermath of the fire. In June, we stopped taking water from the river and installed automated monitoring systems to alert staff to water quality conditions and storm events. Mulching operations were completed in more than half of the highest-priority public lands in the watershed, and additional mitigation will occur in the spring. This helps retain moisture, prevent mudslides, and allows seeds to germinate and regenerate vegetation to stabilize hillsides. It also helps prevent large amounts of sediment and debris from running off burned slopes and into the water supply.

    Record hot temperatures in 2012, combined with low snowpack (30 percent of average) and the fires, impacted the water supply because we were not able to maximize our water rights on the Poudre River. Fortunately, water restrictions were not required, due to a high water allocation from Horsetooth Reservoir and a limited ability for Utilities to store saved water for use in 2013.

    However, given the uncertainty of water quality impacts to the Poudre River and the potential of drought conditions persisting, water restrictions in 2013 may be necessary. It’s uncertain what this winter’s snowpack will bring, how much water Utilities will be able to draw from the river, and the amount of water to be allocated through the Colorado-Big Thompson system. In the last decade, Utilities customers have reduced water use by about 25 percent; the need for wise water use remains.

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.


    Windsor: The town board approves a third water rate tier

    October 13, 2012

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    From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

    The town’s current water system for single-system residential users features a base fee of $14.81 a month, with a $3.30 charge per 1,000 gallons a month until the users reach the first-tier threshold of 15,700 gallons a month. The second tier’s charge is $4.93 a month per 1,000 gallons. The new tier rate structure would increase the first-tier usage, raising it to 16,000 gallons a month before the second tier would begin. The new tier, at 2011 prices, would begin at 22,501 gallons a month at a cost of $7.35 per 1,000 gallons. The new rate will go into effect Jan. 15…

    When developers build homes, they are required to pledge a certain amount of water from the Colorado Big Thompson, or CBT, project to account for the households’ use of water. The highest tier, the 22,501 gallons, equates to full usage of the allotted CBT water for each household. “This will still promote and encourage conservation,” said Mayor John Vazquez.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

    October 10, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.


    Grand County Commissioners continue Windy Gap Firming Project hearing to October 30

    October 4, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    Grand County commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 2, continued the hearing for the Windy Gap Firming Project permit to Oct. 30. The decision to continue the hearing was made during the Board of Commissioners regular weekly meeting.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 370 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

    October 2, 2012

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    Update: From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    This morning [October 2] around 9 a.m., we made an adjustment to the release from Green Mountain to the Lower Blue, dropping it back by 50 cfs from 370 to 320 cfs.

    The reason for the change is to keep in balance with both declining inflows to the reservoir and the declining Colorado-Big Thompson Project diversions that occur further upstream on the Colorado River, out of Granby Reservoir.

    Additional changes are possible, depending on downstream demands and weather. But, there is a slight possibility the 320 cfs could hold through the weekend.

    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    This morning, Monday, Oct. 1, we saw releases from Green Mountain to the Lower Blue River bounce back up. Substitution releases from Williams Fork and Wolford Mountain reservoirs decreased today by a total of about 160 cfs. Green Mountain is now releasing that water to its downstream customers. As a result, flows in the Lower Blue increased from 210 to 370 cfs.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Boulder: Council to consider new agreement to allow testing of graywater system for dormitory

    October 1, 2012

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    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Erica Meltzer):

    The city’s Water Resources Advisory Board has already recommended approval of the agreement. The Boulder City Council will consider it Tuesday.

    The dorm, which opened in fall 2011, houses 500 students near Baseline Road and 30th Street and received top green credentials from the U.S. Green Building Council, becoming the only residence hall of its size in the nation to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating for its sustainability features. However, the university hasn’t yet been able to take advantage of additional plumbing installed during construction that would allow water from sinks and showers to be captured, filtered, treated and reused for flushing toilets. That’s because case law around water rights in Colorado protects downstream users from the potential loss of water that gets reused instead of being returned to the watershed…

    However, that may be less of a concern when graywater is used in toilets — which ultimately send water into the same wastewater treatment system that handles water from sinks and showers — than it is when graywater is used for irrigation, Arthur said.

    As part of the agreement, CU will carefully monitor water use in the building and report all that information to the city. Arthur said that will allow city officials to assess the impact of graywater systems on the larger water delivery and treatment system and might provide the basis to lobby for changes to state law…

    In the meantime, the city is designating water from the Western Slope that it receives through the Colorado-Big Thompson water project for Williams Village North. Because that water is not from the Boulder Creek watershed, it’s subject to different rules and is eligible for reuse, Arthur said. That way, no downstream users should complain they aren’t getting all the water they are owed.

    More graywater reclamation coverage here and here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Lake Granby at 63% of capacity

    September 22, 2012

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    As we move into fall, operations on the Colorado-Big Thompson Project start to shift gears a little bit.

    I mentioned earlier this week that the pump to Carter has gone off for the season. Water we were sending up to Carter, we are now taking over to Horsetooth to begin bringing that water level up a little bit as we start to get ready for next year. This is good news for Horsetooth as it is currently just over 30% full.

    We could still see some more demands come out of both Carter and Horsetooth in late September and well into October, but right now, the water level elevation at Horsetooth has started to gain, just a little bit and the water level at Carter has held fairly steady. It remains just above 50% full. We are currently delivering around 500 cubic feet per second to Horsetooth.

    Pinewood Reservoir is back to more average operations, fluctuating with power generation down at the Flatiron Power Plant.

    Similarly, Lake Estes has maintained a typical operation schedule as we continue to bring C-BT water over from the West Slope, generate hydro-electric power and deliver the water to Horsetooth. We are no longer releasing project water through Olympus Dam to the canyon. We are bypassing what is natively in the Big Thompson River on through Lake Estes down the river. That’s been about 50 cfs all week this week.

    With the diversion from the West Slope still on and the Adams Tunnel running, the water level elevation at Granby will continue to go down. That is typical for this time of year, but more noticeable than in years past because of the heavy draws the entire C-BT system has seen this summer due to drought conditions. As a result, Granby is around 63% full.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.


    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy celebrates its 75th anniversary

    September 21, 2012

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    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):

    The Northern Water Conservancy District formed on Sept. 20, 1937, specifically to build the Colorado-Big Thompson water project to bring water from the Colorado River to what is now the growing, vibrant Front Range.

    A small group shared that idea during the country’s greatest financial crisis and during a time of unparalleled drought.

    Residents were out of work, families starving during The Great Depression.

    Walls of dust were swirling enough to cause pneumonia, to kill cattle to smother crops, to cause havoc during what is now known as the Dust Bowl.

    Yet residents had a vision and pushed through opposition, through financial roadblocks to create a then unprecedented contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to build the $164 million tunnel, reservoir and canal system, and to turn what seemed like an impossible feat of the imagination into the foundation of our region.

    “They gave this region the future, a priceless gift that many of us take for granted,” Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the water district, told hundreds at a celebration Thursday — 75 years to the day that the district, now known at Northern Water, was formed.

    Just less than 10 years after the district formed in 1937, crafted an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation and convinced voters to support the project by a 17-1 margin, the first drops of water flowed through the Adams Tunnel over the continental divide and into the Big Thompson River.

    That foundation of the project still exists with water stored in reservoirs on the west side and throughout Larimer County, including Carter Lake, Horsetooth, Flatiron and Pinewood Reservoirs.

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

    Former U.S. Rep. Hank Brown, historian Dan Tyler and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Mike Ryan were all taking part in the event.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Northern Water was established in 1937 as the first water conservancy district in the state and was tasked to work with the federal government to contract for and then build and operate the C-BT Project.

    That project is made up of 11 reservoirs that collectively divert about 260,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River headwaters on the Western Slope to the Big Thompson River, which is a South Platte River tributary on the Eastern Slope, for distribution to lands and communities in eight northern Colorado counties, including Weld.

    When constructed in 1937, the C-BT project — the brainchild of a group of Greeley residents — was then the largest transmountain water-supply project in the state. Its 13.1-mile tunnel at the time was the longest in the world dug from two headings, and in the 75 years of its existence, it’s responsible for much of the economic and population growth in northern Colorado, according to those who spoke Thursday…

    Today the C-BT Project — completed in 1957, and spreading over 250 square miles — supplies about 850,000 residents and about 640,000 irrigated farm acres. C-BT water was collectively worth about $500,000 at the time the project was built. Today, it’s worth about $3.1 billion.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: The Carter Lake pump is off for the season

    September 18, 2012

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    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    Just a quick note to let you know that as of today, September 17, the pump up to Carter Lake has gone off for the season.

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District 75th Anniversary bash September 20

    September 17, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the 75th Anniversary webpage from Northern Water:

    The public is invited to come celebrate Northern Water’s 75th anniversary at its Berthoud headquarters on Sept. 20.

    The celebration kicks off at 1 p.m. with an open house and tours of Northern Water’s award-winning Conservation Gardens and an interpretive model of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project – the reason for Northern Water’s creation on Sept. 20, 1937.

    The Sept. 20 celebratory remarks will begin at 2 p.m. Speakers include former Congressman Hank Brown, historian Dan Tyler and Mike Ryan, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    After the program, Conservation Gardens tours will continue, along with the opportunity to walk through the Berthoud campus, 200 Water Ave., and learn more about Northern Water’s operations and activities from employees firsthand. Refreshments will be provided.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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