Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 18, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

“It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

“When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

“We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

“The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐ It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

July 15, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

A number of share holders in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — will see assessment costs sharply increase during the next few years, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board recently decided.

Although the numbers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change, the board on Friday approved a general outline that over time increases open-assessment fees for municipal and industrial water users from $28 this year to $53.10 by 2018, and increases those fees for agricultural users from $10 this year to $30.20 per unit by 2018.

The increases won’t apply to those who own fixed-assessment C-BT shares. Those who bought shares before 1959 and still own those shares still pay a fixed assessment of $1.50 per unit. The majority of the city of Greeley’s C-BT shares, for example, are fixed-assessment shares, and won’t be impacted by the changes, according to Brian Werner, public information officer with Northern Water.

The recently approved uptick for open assessments was made to keep up with the always-increasing expenses at Northern Water, Werner said, noting that the uptick in wildfire-mitigation efforts, water-quality measures and overall regulation, among other expenses, are making it more and more pricey to deliver water from the C-BT’s high-mountain reservoirs to its users across northern Colorado.

“It’s just another example of how water is getting more and more expensive. There’s no getting around it,” Werner said, noting that, despite Northern Water continuing its efforts to reduce operating costs, the increase in open assessments was needed.

Increases in water costs are nothing new for users in the state, particularly in northern Colorado, where rapid population growth along the Front Range, large ag use and increased oil-and-gas production have sharply increased demand for water.

And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

In January 2013, the price of a water unit in the C-BT Project was about $9,500. Now it’s well over $20,000 per unit.

But while costs are increasing, Northern water officials stress that, in the global picture, C-BT users are still getting a good deal on good water.

Werner noted that 1,000 gallons of water is still being delivered to C-BT share holders “for pennies.”

The C-BT Project collects and delivers on average more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year (about 65 billion gallons). Most of this water is the result of melting snow in the upper Colorado River basin west of the Continental Divide. The project transports the water to the East Slope via a 13.1-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

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

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

July 14, 2014

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

Here’s a look at where our water comes from.


The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.


For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.


Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.


The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.


Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.


Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

July 12, 2014

Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

“In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

“Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

“Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Runoff news: Lake Granby spill imminent? #ColoradoRiver

July 7, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

Typically, reservoirs on the Front Range fill by May, which lowers Lake Granby enough to accept additional water during runoff season, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But flooding on the East Slope in September, coupled with additional precipitation and runoff, have kept Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s main draw points for Front Range water users, too full to accept much water. Add above-average runoff on the Western Slope to the equation, and there is a fair amount of uncertainty whether the Alva B. Adams Tunnel will have anywhere to transport water if and when Lake Granby spills.

“There could be a little pumping to help with the spill situation,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water. “It’s dependent on this side of the mountains, and if there’s any room to put any water, so demands really haven’t started, and like I said, we’re full everywhere.”

There’s a possibility that pumping could be halted until Labor Day, Werner said.

For Grand Lake residents, pumping can mean the difference between pristine clarity and a cloudy lake. Last year, reduced pumping saw the clarity of natural Grand Lake increase, while the shallower Shadow Mountain Reservoir became more turbid…

As of July 3, Lake Granby was at 2.6 feet from capacity, with levels rising around a third of a foot per day. Werner, of Northern, said if the lake does spill, forecasters expect it to do so between July 10 and July 14.

“Our forecaster, who I just talked to, said we’re still 50-50 on whether we’re going to spill,” Werner said.

Spilling is not a very common occurrence for Lake Granby. The last time the lake spilled was in 2011, and before that it was in 2000. The large amount of snowpack has led to above-average flows this year, and reservoirs on the Front Range are already near capacity. Specifically, Carter Lake is at 99 percent full, while Horsetooth Reservoir is 99.2 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s website.

Conservation front and center in Broomfield

July 7, 2014


From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to

Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to

More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at

More conservation coverage here.

Runoff/snowpack news: Good year to fill storage — if we had it to fill

June 10, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

Flooding along the Cache La Poudre River damaged nearly two dozen homes and businesses in Greeley last week, and according to officials at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Poudre River does not have any dams or reservoirs specifically for flood control. But there is an effort underway to change that.

The Poudre River is full of melted snow — so much so right now that levels are well above average in Larimer and Weld counties, spilling over banks, and flooding homes and businesses.

“We could fill a reservoir in a year like this,” Brian Werner with the Northern Colorado’s Water Conservancy District said.

He points out farmers’ irrigation dams inside the Poudre Canyon, but says water cannot be diverted to those to prevent flooding. He says there is no reservoir along the river because the idea was unpopular in the past.

“I think the general public is more aware when they see these flows and saying, ‘Boy, couldn’t we just store a little bit of that?’ Which is what this proposal does,” Werner said.

Northern Water wants to build two reservoirs off stream that could store water during high flow times. Planners estimate the project would cost $500 million, including $40 million to re-route Highway 287 to make room for Glade Reservoir, and build a smaller one north of Greeley…

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

“We’ve been working on this in some form for over 20 years, taking some of the flood flows here on the Poudre and storing it,” Werner said.

They do expect to get some news on the status of studies being conducted on the project by the end of this year. It’s unlikely building would start before 2018.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Several of the reservoirs that feed Northern Colorado are full, or approaching overfull, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the reservoirs. Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland, is full, and Lake Granby near Rocky Mountain National Park is about to overflow, Werner added.

“We wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years a year ago,” Werner said Tuesday. Only a month ago, it was fifty-fifty if the reservoir would spill. “Now it looks like it will spill.”

Horsetooth is just 2 feet shy of being full, the highest the reservoir has been in late May and early June in the past six years.

The reservoir can hold enough to submerge 156,735 football fields in a foot of water. As of June 3, Horsetooth was holding 154,480 acre-feet of water, putting it around 98.5 percent full, said Zach Allen, a spokesman for Northern Water.

But what happens if Horsetooth does get full? The answer, Werner said, is basically “nothing.”

“We can control all the inflows to Horsetooth,” he said. Flatiron Reservoir and the Big Thompson River feed Horsetooth, and Northern Water controls all the outflows and inflows to the reservoir; Horsetooth’s water level can’t get higher than Northern Water wants it to, Werner said…

Lake Granby, on the other hand, is fed with snowmelt straight from the mountains. It’s levels are uncontrollable, and it could spill over any day now, Werner said.

“You can’t control what nature is going to do” with Granby, he added…

Northern Water for years has pursued an expansion of its water storage capacity to take advantage of plentiful water years. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build a reservoir larger than Horsetooth northwest of Fort Collins. The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental groups and is in a yearslong federal review of its potential environmental impacts expected to be released late this year…

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack, around 200 percent of normal levels after an early May snow, has yet to melt, which brings the potential for much more water to come down from the mountains in the coming weeks.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have seen the water level at Green Mountain Reservoir rise to the spillway gates as snow melt runoff inflows continue to come into the reservoir. As a result, we were able to increase the release from the dam to the Lower Blue River by 300 cfs today [June 9], using the spillway.

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weekend went pretty smoothly for runoff here on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Thunderstorms boosted runoff to the Big Thompson River slightly with inflow into Lake Estes peaking early this morning around 721 cfs. But this is still a downward trend.

As a result, outflow through Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon dropped today down to about 125 cfs. As we move into the rest of the week, visitors to and residents of the canyon will continue to see nightly flows rise with snow runoff, enhanced some by rain runoff, just as they have seen for the past week.

Deliveries to the canal that feeds Horsetooth Reservoir have brought Horsetooth back up to full. Its water level elevation has been fluctuating within the top foot of its storage between 5429 and 5430 feet. With it back up near 5430, we have curtailed the canal to Horsetooth and increased the return of Big Thompson River water to the canyon at the canyon mouth using the concrete chute. By 5 p.m. this evening the chute should be running around 300 cfs.

The drop off in snowmelt runoff inflows will allow us to begin bringing some Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope water over again using the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We anticipate the tunnel coming on mid-week and importing somewhere between 200-250 cfs.

Once the tunnel comes back on, we will also turn the pump to Carter Lake back on, probably on Wednesday of this week. Carter’s water level elevation dropped slightly during runoff operations. It is around 95% full. Now that Horsetooth is basically full, Carter will receive the C-BT water. Turning the pump back on to Carter means residents around and visitors to the reservoir will see it fill for a second time this season.

Pinewood Reservoir, between Lake Estes and Carter Lake, is seeing a more typical start to its summer season. It continues to draft and refill with power generation as it usually does this time of year. This is also true for Flatiron Reservoir, just below Carter Lake and the Flatiron Powerplant. Both are expected to continue operating this way through June.

That is the plan we anticipate the East Slope of the C-BT to follow the rest of this week, June 9-13. We will post information if there is a major change; but as it stands now, I do not plan on sending an update again until next Monday. The state’s gage page is always available for those wishing to continue watching the water on a daily basis.

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

Word on the street this spring was that Blue Mesa Reservoir would be bursting at its banks this summer. Predictions were based on official and unofficial reports of above-normal river flows. However, a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has changed how local dams are operated in wet years, in deference to endangered fish species downstream. This new operational protocol will preclude the reservoir from filling this year.

“The reservoir is now only scheduled to reach a maximum storage of around 80 percent capacity in 2014,” said Upper Gunnison River District manager Frank Kugel. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began blasting water through Blue Mesa Dam last week, with simultaneous releases happening at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs, a trifecta of water storage and management that makes up what’s known as the Aspinall Unit.

The Record of Decision (ROD) states, “The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and duration necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.”

Given this new norm of operations adapted by the bureau during wet years, will Blue Mesa ever fill again?

“That’s a valid question, since the reservoir often does not fill in dry years due to lack of supply, and now with the Aspinall EIS, it will have trouble filling in wet years,” said Kugel.

“We all signed onto this because we agreed it’s important to save these fish,” said Colorado Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Species coordinator Harry Crocket.

According to the BOR’s website, an update written by hydraulic engineer Paul Davidson, unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa is 126 percent of normal this year, April through July. That’s 850,000 acre-feet of water entering the lake during the runoff months. “This sets the senior Black Canyon Water Right call for a one-day spring peak flow of 6,400 cfs, the Aspinall 2012 ROD target at a 10-day peak flow of 14,350 cfs… Reclamation plans to operate the Aspinall Unit to meet both the water right and ROD recommendations,” said Davidson.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker are the fish that stand to benefit. The big flows are expected to improve the fishes’ critical habitat, at a time when the fish will be looking to spawn. Water will inundate otherwise shallow or dry riverbank areas, creating calm, sheltered spots for hatchlings, and heavy flows will wash the larvae into those areas.

The Gunnison River, said Crocket, was “mostly omitted” from the EIS as critical habitat. However, he said, “Historically, it was home to at least a couple of these species.”

“It’s a highly migratory fish,” Crocket said of the Colorado pike minnow. “It’s adapted to this big river system.”

It’s a system irrefutably changed by humans. Critical habitat for the Colorado pike minnow includes 1,123.6 miles of river, to include stretches of the Green, Yampa and White rivers, from Rifle to Glen Canyon, and the Yampa River to its confluence with the Colorado River.

“They [US Fish and Wildlife] did designate critical habitat [from the mouth of the Gunnison] to the Uncompahgre confluence [at Delta],” Crocket said.

The Colorado pike minnow called the Gunnison River home through the 1960s. “After that,” said Crocket, “it blinked out. It’s not been possible for it to be re-colonized.” A new fish passage at the Redlands structure, two miles upriver from the Gunnison-Colorado River confluence at Grand Junction, allows fish to make their way around the barrier and upstream, marking the first time in more than 100 years for those downstream fish to gain passage to the Gunnison.

Meanwhile, upstream, a form of collateral damage resulting from the big water releases at Blue Mesa worries Fish and Wildlife personnel. The number of fish sucked into and blown out through the dam is staggering. The technical term for this is entrainment.
“Bigger water years mean more water through the dam, and more fish entrained,” said Gunnison area Colorado Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Certainly, loss of kokanee with those releases is a concern.”

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Water levels and snowpack are 121 percent of normal, with as much as 40 percent yet to melt at some higher elevation areas, according to Snotel data…

Snow water equivalent at the Fremont Pass Snotel site, the headwaters of the Eagle River, had 15.1 inches of snow water equivalent on Friday morning still to melt and run into the river. It hit 17 inches on March 18 and kept piling up until May 17 when it peaked at 25.6 inches. It usually doesn’t melt out until June 18, Johnson said.

Streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon may have peaked on May 30, when the daily mean discharge was 4,110 cubic feet per second, which was 249 percent of median for that date. Thursday’s daily mean discharge was 3,650 cfs, 197 percent of normal for Wednesday.

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

“Having 20 to 40 percent of the total snowpack remaining in higher elevations in the Colorado Basin is good overall. It should help sustain streamflows through the month,” [Diane Johnson] said…

Copper Mountain still has 4.1 inches of snow water equivalent. That would normally be melted out by now, Johnson said…

Reservoir storage in the state is running 95 percent of normal and 62 percent of capacity. That, however, depends on where you are.

Northern Water sets rates for 2015

June 6, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

While the district’s board of directors opted to wait until July to resolve the debate of how to change long-term water rates, the short-term rates for 2015 were fixed. At its monthly meeting, the board voted to raise the cost of water 9 percent for all its customers — from irrigators to cities to industrial users.

Nearly three months ago, the district announced that it needs to change its water rates, or else it will continue to borrow from its financial reserves to stay afloat. It hired Denver-based CH2MHill consulting firm to come up with three suggested changes to its rate structure.

The water in question comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, a network of reservoirs on the Western Slope that provides water to Northern Colorado. Like many cities, Fort Collins gets much of its water from the project. The city is equally dependent on water from the C-BT and from the Poudre River.

Northern Water charges for water by the acre foot. Fort Collins Utilities, for instance, owns 18,855 units of project water, 12,803 units of which go for about $28 per acre foot. That cost will likely double when Northern Water rates increase in 2016.

In addition to setting the rates for 2015, the board did agree that the rate structure should shift from being based on users’ ability to a model based on the cost of service. The board was divided, however, on how quickly the rates need to change.

CH2MHill gave the board two options: one is for a gradual increase, the other for a rapid increase that would help the district quickly recover lost revenue. The gradual increase would bump rates by 20 percent and 41 percent for cities and irrigators, respectively. The sharp increase would bump rates by a respective 61 percent and 92 percent.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

2014 Boulder County Water Tour 6/7/14

June 3, 2014

Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Carter will fill Monday, Horsetooth at 88% #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

On Monday, May 5, we will stop pumping water to Carter Lake. Carter is about 98% full and ready for the season.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project water that was going up to Carter will now go to Horsetooth. Horsetooth Reservoir is about 88% full and its water level is still rising.

Boat ramps are open.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

apologize for a late evening notice. I’m on business travel and communicating across time zones.

This e-mail is to let you all know there are some changes coming to the river flow down the Big Thompson Canyon. Run-off is increasing and so will flows down the canyon, beginning Monday.

Currently, we are seeing run-off inflows up to 200 cfs at night. But, as you have read in previous e-mails, under Free River conditions, we have been able to divert some of that at Olympus Dam to Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs like Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. This weekend, Free River conditions are ending.

As a result, we will no longer be able to pull some of the spring run-off flows native to the Big T coming into Lake Estes out of the river. Instead, the Big Thompson will resume its native outflow through Olympus Dam to the Canyon.

Currently, we are releasing about 35 cfs. Beginning Monday, May 5, we will start incrementally increasing the releases in several steps. The resulting flows down the Canyon by Monday afternoon could go up to about 140 cfs. It is possible there could be additional increases on Tuesday.

I will send an update on Monday. Meanwhile, please let me know if you have any related questions.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Northern Water slows down rate restructuring push #ColoradoRiver

May 4, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Without changes to its water rates, Northern Water’s expenses are on track to exceed its revenue in 2015. At its monthly meeting on Thursday, the board reviewed a study it commissioned to outline options for future water-rate hikes.

Northern Water released the rate study on Tuesday, and several water district managers and lawyers asked the board on Thursday to postpone its decision until they had more time to review the massive document.

The board also postponed a decision to set the water rates for 2015, which will likely increase by 9 percent for all stakeholders…

Northern Water plans to raise the cost of Colorado-Big Thompson or CB-T shares, which many districts rely on for most of their water. Regardless of the board’s ultimate decision, water rates will increase for Fort Collins Utilities, which gets about half of its water from the Big Thompson. Utilities costs for Fort Collins customers will not be affected, a city official previously said.

The rate study, done by CH2MHill in Denver, came up with three options for rate changes, all of which would double or triple the costs of water for farmers and cities alike.

At its Thursday meeting, the board eliminated one option, which would keep the existing rate system.

In June, the board will decide between the two remaining options, which could turn out to be drastically different after 10 years, according to CH2MHill’s research:

• One option could mean a sharp increase in water rates. For municipalities and industrial clients, at most, one unit of CB-T water would jump from $28 per acre foot to $51.90 per acre foot by 2016. For irrigators, this increase would bump the cost from $10 to $18.70 per acre-foot.

• The other model would likely mean a more gradual increase. By 2016, this option would bump municipal and industrial rates to $49.10 and irrigation rates to $20.90 per acre foot.

Only those who own fixed-rate contracts would escape the proposed changes. Fixed-rate allotments were created in 1957 and set at $1.50 per acre-foot. The city of Fort Collins owns 6,052 fixed-rate units among its 18,885 total units of CB-T water.

Several water district managers asked the board to reconsider the fixed-rate contracts and allow them to absorb some of the costs of modern water operations.

Dennis Jackson, who worked on the rate study for CH2MHill, cautioned that a volatile economy could drastically change some of the study’s findings. While a strong economy would make rate hike unnecessary, a weaker economy would likely mean more increases in the future, he told the board.

“If for some reason the economy were to stall, and if we had conditions that were sluggish and not as forecasted, assessments would need to be higher, 15 to 20 percent higher,” Jackson said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

You’ve likely noticed the water level at Pinewood dropping again. While this is typical for this time of year (Pinewood often fluctuates for power generation), we’ll be going a little lower, back to the 6560 foot level seen last month. The reason is the same: more canal maintenance downstream of the reservoir.

We are anticipating we’ll hit the 6560 elevation on Tuesday, April 29. Water level elevations will begin going up again on Wednesday the 30th, and the reservoir should be close to full again by next weekend, May 3.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weather front coming in over the weekend is probably raising some questions for folks. I want to reassure you all that we do not anticipate any major changes at Olympus Dam or Lake Estes as a result of this weekend’s forecast.

The reservoir’s water level has dropped down to about 85% of full. We will continue sending some of the inflow from the Big Thompson River to the Olympus Tunnel and on over to Horsetooth and Carter. We will continue releasing about 40 cfs through the dam on down to the canyon.

Also, if you missed our presentation at the Town of Estes’s public workshop for runoff preparedness on Monday, here is a link to the video they took and other related information:

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here and here.

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

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, or contact Brian Werner at (970) 622-2229, or

    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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




    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.


    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


    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


    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




    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: 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.”


    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


    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



    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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


    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.


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