Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

August 29, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

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

On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.

“I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.

Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.

So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.

Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.

This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.

Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.

Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.

“Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.

Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.

Strong monsoon season

Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.

Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.

Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.

“We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”

Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.

Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.

“We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”

Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.

“It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.

Winter outlook

Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.

A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.

Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.

“These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Northern Water is increasing rates to stop the drain on cash reserves

August 3, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District moved to triple the yearly assessment for agricultural users by 2018, beginning with a 9 percent increase this year, though North Poudre Irrigation Co. users will be largely unaffected.

“It’s a fairly significant increase for agricultural users,” said Northern spokesman Brian Werner. “But we’ve been dipping into our reserves the last couple of years, and the board felt that we had to take a more fiscally responsible path.”

The Northern board in June set the 2015 assessment for a per acre-foot unit of Colorado Big-Thompson water at $30.50 for municipal and industrial users, up from $28, and $10.90 for agricultural users, up from $10. The board also approved a plan in which the rates will rise in 2018 to $53.10 for municipal and industrial and $30.20 for farmers.

The increase does not affect subject-to-change contracts or fixed-rate contracts, established between the creation of the water district in 1937 and 1959, when the district went to open rates. Today only one third of the district’s shares have a fixed-rate contract, which pay only a $1.50 a year assessment, but that includes all 40,000 C-BT shares owned by North Poudre Irrigation Company.

“We’ve really wrestled with these fixed-rate contracts,” Werner said, noting that while attorneys have been asked to take a long look at whether they could be changed, some fixed-rate contract holders have already threatened suit if the board takes such action.

At any rate, the hit on agriculture changes a long-held emphasis at Northern Water of trying not to price farmers and ranchers out of the market.

“We’ve always been focused on ability to pay, but now we are moving to more cost-of-service,” Werner said, noting the board attempted to come somewhere in between. “More than two thirds of our shares are now owned by municipal and industrial users, and they are yelling about why they are taking the brunt of the costs.”

Taking into consideration only the assessment cost, Werner said, the water is fairly inexpensive for agriculture, moving from about 6 cents per 1,000 gallons to about 16 cents through 2018. But after next year, the steep incline begins for farmers and ranchers, as in 2016 the rate will increase 61 percent, followed by a 61 percent raise in 2017.

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the district’s future plans reveal a rate change through 2023 in which municipal and industrial users could be assessed more than $100 per acre foot and agriculture, $80…

For Colorado agriculture, however, the fastest growing cost is most probably water. A share of C-BT, with an average yield of 0.7 acre feet, is now selling for between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to $9,500 in January 2013, Werner said.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Big Thompson Canyon: 1976 flood remembrance service set July 31 #BigThompson

July 23, 2014

bigthompsonflood073176
From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The 38th remembrance service for the flood of 1976 will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 31 at the memorial site at the Volunteer Fire Department, 1461 W. U.S. 34, one mile below from Drake.

The service will feature music, three scholarship awards and a speaker who worked for search and rescue in the flood, who had to rescue himself and survive the most recent flood.

There will be a dedication of the bronze memorial, sculpted by George Walbye, which will be placed at the site in memory of Evelyn Starner and Patty Goodwine, who were killed in the September 2013 flood.

For details, call Barb at 667-6465.

Here’s an Allen Best column from The Denver Post that ran last fall after the flooding in the Front Range canyons:

The recent rainfall along the Front Range was phenomenal, by some estimates a 1,000-year event in terms of duration, volume and area. But the flooding?

Not so much, at least as measured by an obelisk along Boulder Creek in downtown Boulder.

Human memories about weather are unreliable. During many years living in Vail, how often did I hear that the latest powder storm was absolutely the best ever? Plenty. Flooding is like that, too, but maybe in reverse.

The turquoise obelisk in Boulder provides a better measure against long-term memory loss. Located near the Broadway bridge, it provides benchmarks for flood levels. The water this year lapped against the 50-year marker. Above it are others: 100 years, 500 years and, much higher yet, Big Thompson, a reference to the giant flood in that canyon between Loveland and Estes Park in 1976.

I was at the Big Thompson disaster. I was living in Fort Collins then and was among scores of young men (sorry, women, those were different times) with strong backs who could be summoned in case of forest fires. My only fire was at an old sawmill site in the foothills. The joke was that one of us had set the fire because we were so desperate for minimum-wage work.

Then came July 31. It was hot that night in Fort Collins. It hadn’t rained a drop.

I was living above Gene’s Tavern, just two blocks from the Larimer County Courthouse. When the call came, I was at the sheriff’s office almost immediately. It was 9 p.m.

Being among the first at the command center at the Dam Store west of Loveland, near the mouth of Big Thompson Canyon, I was assigned to a pickup dispatched to look for people in the water near the turnoff to Masonville. Already, the river was out of its banks. From the darkness emerged a figure, dripping and confused. “I went fishing at Horsetooth (Reservoir) and was driving home and then there was all this water,” he sputtered. He was befuddled. So were we.

Our leader decided we’d best get out of there. From what I saw the next morning, that was an excellent decision. Water later covered the road there, too. I spent the night at the Dam Store as the water rose. Helicopters were dispatched, but there was little that could be done. Our lights revealed picnic baskets, beach balls and propane bottles bobbing in the dark, roiling water that raced past us, but never any hands summoning help.

In the morning, we found those hands. The bodies were stripped of clothing and covered with mud. The first I saw was of a woman who we guessed was 18, not much younger than I was then. This thin margin between life and death was startling in my young eyes.

Eventually, 144 people were declared victims of the flooding that night (although one turned up alive in 2008 in Oklahoma).

Estes Park got some rain, but not all that much. The larger story was partway down the canyon, in the Glen Haven and Glen Comfort areas, where the thunderstorm hovered. In just a few hours, it dropped 10 to 14 inches of water.

Downstream in the canyon, just above the Narrows, some people were unaware that anything was amiss until they went outside their houses and saw the water rising in their yards. It hadn’t even rained there. One cabin I saw a few days later was stripped of doors and windows but stood on its foundations, a mound of mud 5 or 6 feet high in the interior. I seem to recall a dog barking as we approached, protecting that small part of the familiar in a world gone mad.

At the old hydroelectric plant where my family had once enjoyed Sunday picnics, the brick building had vanished. Only the turbines and concrete foundation remained. In a nearby tree, amid the branches maybe 10 or 15 feet off the ground, hung a lifeless body.

The river that night carried 32,000 cubic feet per second of water at the mouth of the canyon, near where I was stationed. It happened almost instantaneously — and then it was gone. It was a flash flood.

This year, the flows peaked at 10,000 cfs, but were more sustained and, according to reports, the damage inexplicably greater in portions of the canyon. There were horrors, too, but this year there was time for warnings.

After the 1976 flood, rain gauges were sprinkled in the foothills of the Front Range, up to 7,500 feet in elevation, where most heavy summer rains occur. That telemetrically transmitted information alerts police chiefs and sheriffs to flooding potential. That warning system may have saved lives this year.

Where does volume of this flood fit into the context of flooding in the last 150 years? That answer will have to wait. Many rain gauges were swept away, so peak flows will have to be calculated during field visits by U.S. Geological Survey personnel. That will take several weeks.

One more banner of comparison was 1965, when rivers and creeks from Castle Rock to Lamar to Fort Morgan flooded.

The flood that swept through Littleton and Denver created a mess, but led to the rethinking of the South Platte River as an asset rather than industrial afterthought.

East of Denver and Colorado Springs, the same storms transformed Bijou Creek from a lifeless expanse of sand into an angry, snarling mass of water. At Fort Morgan, after entering the South Platte River, it nearly submerged the arches of the Rainbow Bridge. This year’s flooding, according to several eyewitness accounts, didn’t even come close.

We’ve had other floods, too. Even in the midst of the Dust Bowl, there were giant floods in eastern Colorado, both on the South Platte and in the Republican River.

My guess is that this flood will be the most damaging ever in Colorado history. Part of this is due to how broad the inundation was, from Colorado Springs to Wyoming. Population growth is also part of the story. Colorado now has 5.2 million people, almost double that of 1970, most of us crowded between Castle Rock and Wellington, a good many in the foothills, those areas so vulnerable to fires but also flooding.

This flood once again points to the importance of land-use planning. Where you put sewer plants does matter. You can’t anticipate every natural disaster, but floods have an element of predictability.

Boulder has had big floods before, most notably in 1894. It also had the direct lesson of Big Thompson and the local influence of Gilbert White, who died in 2006. “Floods are ‘acts of God,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man,” he had said. Boulder has muddy feet, but the consequences would have been much worse had the city not taken his advice and removed structures from along the creek to the west and resized bridges to accommodate more water. The obelisk is in his honor.

John Pitlick, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado, says the flood this year peaked at about the 50-year marker on the obelisk.

In one of his classes, he also noted that rainfall and flooding aren’t one and the same. “It is possible from a statistical analysis to be a 1,000-year rain, but you don’t necessarily have a 1,000-year flood.”

In other words, context matters entirely. Had the water fallen in a shorter time, such as it did in the Big Thompson in 1976, Boulder’s story almost assuredly would have been different. “We might have seen a catastrophe,” he says.

That leaves us in something of a no-man’s land, as Pitlick puts it.

This year’s floods were a big deal but, aside from individual losses, not catastrophic to Colorado. What lessons do you draw for future flood planning? That’s the question for communities along the Front Range in months ahead.

More Big Thompson River watershed coverage here.


Big Thompson River restoration meeting set July 31 — Loveland Reporter-Herald

July 23, 2014
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water

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

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

A Big Thompson River master planning meeting will be held at 6-8 p.m. Thursday, July 31, at the Thompson School District Administration Building, 800 S. Taft Ave.

The third in a series of meetings held to look at options for river restoration after last September’s flood, the session will present preliminary recommendations for restoration of the river and design plans.

Stakeholders will get the chance to offer feedback.

For details, call 420-7346 or visit http://bigthompsonriver.org.


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.


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.


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