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.

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/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 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.

Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition host first of a hoped-for series of master planning meetings #COflood

April 13, 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 (Jessica Maher):

Leaning over a map of the post-flood Big Thompson River in the Loveland High School cafeteria on Saturday, John Giordanengo asked Glen Haven residents to point to their properties.

Then the million-dollar question: How do you think the river should be restored?

The first of what’s expected to be a series of master planning meetings hosted by the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition focused on gathering input to that very question, as well as explaining the numerous factors that are involved in its answer.

The coalition, chaired by Giordanengo, has grown to include hundreds of stakeholders, nonprofit groups, local businesses and government entities, representatives of which were available Saturday to meet one on one with property owners.

“As we’re turning gears toward long-term recovery, us being able to coordinate on meaningful restoration will impact the river for years to come, including where you live,” Giordanengo told meeting attendees.

In an hour-long presentation, about 70 people were introduced to the early stages of a master plan for the entire river corridor, which is being developed by Fort Collins-based Ayres Associates.

It started with an analysis of the kind of damage that occurred during September’s historic flood, including bank erosion, channel shifting, flanking of bridges, loss of hillsides and massive sediment deposition.

“Our master plan effort will be largely focused on looking at these different types of damage and do what we can to mitigate and reduce the risk of those types of damage,” said John Hunt with Ayres Associates.

More Big Thompson River Watershed coverage here.

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.

Dille Diversion Dam: making progress on our facilities in Big Thompson Canyon — Kara Lamb

March 2, 2014

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.

“Buildings were reduced to barely recognizable heaps of mud-caked rubble” — Dennis Smith #COFlood

December 20, 2013
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Dennis Smith):

The enormity and severity of devastation caused by September’s flood bewildered us. Buildings were reduced to barely recognizable heaps of mud-caked rubble. Others, their foundations ripped from under them by the raging waters, dangled precariously from washed out banks 20 to 30 feet above the river bed, itself scoured down to raw cobble and bedrock. Bridges were collapsed or swept away; massive cottonwood trees lay uprooted and strewn about like splintered matchsticks. It was heartbreaking.

Yet, in the midst of this overwhelming ruin and gloom, the beginnings of recovery and restoration were already evident. After all, the highway had been miraculously rebuilt in less than three months. And though it will take considerable time, the river corridor itself, its wild and scenic riparian habitat and superb fishery will ultimately be restored to its former world-class status.

While much of the actual reconstruction work will be directed by the Army Corps of Engineers, other government agencies and their contractors, the cooperation of all the folks who own properties abutting the river is essential to the process of reclaiming the aesthetic and dynamic health of the river and its wildlife, restoring the fishery, and mitigating future possible flood damage.

It is an expensive, complicated, bureaucratic process and not the sort of thing the average person is prepared to undertake on his or her own, so it’s in the best interest all riverfront landowners to become involved while the required agency permits governing recovery and restoration projects have been authorized and the heavy equipment is in place rather than initiate them on their own after the fact. In other words — landowners need to act now.

But not to worry. A group of concerned community members, citizens, nonprofits, state and local agencies is standing by to assist landowners enhance the river corridor next to their properties, help them develop long range plans to restore the infrastructure, fishery, and natural areas along the river and make their properties more resilient to future flooding events. Known as the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition, they have assembled a Rapid Assessment Team of technical advisers to analyze the condition of river corridor properties in order to raise funds for restoration work.

The coalition is urging all 579 riverfront landowners affected by the flood to take advantage of this service by allowing their advisers permission to access and analyze their properties for them. The service is free, but it is imperative that landowners sign on as soon as possible so that recommendations for any projects can be coordinated with government and fundraising agencies while the permits are still active and work crews are in place.

If you own property in the Big T corridor you’re encouraged to go to and click on “Information for Landowners” in the banner at the top of the page, download the Best Management Practices document and complete the permissions form on page 6. Please pass this along to any out of state Big T landowners you might know.

You can also find the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition online at

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Craig Young):

“It’s little bites at a time; that’s all you can do,” said Clifton DeWitt, a captain with the Glen Haven Area Volunteer Fire Department. “You’ve got to realize you can’t do it all at once.”

While giving a tour Thursday on roads still accessible only by four-wheel-drive or all-terrain vehicle, he pointed out some of those little bites, such as a propane truck making deliveries for the first time since the flood and excavators repairing private roads…

“The real need of Glen Haven is these private back roads,” said Dwayne Ballard, who lives just east of town on County Road 43.

“The biggest challenge is still access,” agreed Fire Chief Jason Gdovicak. “Where’s the money going to come from, and who’s going to fix the roads?”

Right now, who’s fixing the roads is Kitchen & Co. Excavators of Estes Park. Glen Haven residents Tim Sterkel and his son, Travis, have been working on the roads since the first days after the flood, using company equipment that happened to be in the community.

At first, Estes Park Light and Power contracted with the company to scratch out roads so crews could get in and restore electricity.

On Thursday, the Sterkels were being paid by a homeowner to repair the road past his house and reclaim his driveway and front yard, which had been scoured away by the North Fork of the Big Thompson River and replaced with piles of debris…

In another step forward, the Glen Haven Fire Department on Thursday accepted the gift of a new four-wheel-drive Chevy pickup with snowplow for use in the community.

Gdovicak’s aunt, who lives in Ohio, got the attention of Chevrolet executives in Detroit, and they connected with the 18 dealerships in Denver and Northern Colorado to arrange for the donation, according to Mark Heinz, Chevrolet’s district sales manager…

The brand-new fire station wasn’t quite completed when the flooding hit, but it was quickly pressed into service. In the absence of the town hall, which was one of many buildings destroyed by floodwaters, the fire station has become a community gathering place and communications hub.

From the Colorado Office of Emergency Management:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today recognized the ongoing flood recovery and progress to help communities rebuild from the September floods. The devastation impacted 24 counties, more than 28,000 individuals and more than 2,000 square miles. This Friday, Dec. 20., marks 100 days since the flooding started.

“Colorado united to help communities large and small deal with the floods,” Hickenlooper said. “When the water first started rising we witnessed people helping one another to safety. Now, they are helping one another rebuild the homes, roads, schools and businesses that make up their communities. The cooperation among our federal partners, the National Guard, state agencies and local communities has been critical to the success of all the phases of the recovery efforts. We are thankful to be 100 days past this historic disaster, and we remain committed to ongoing efforts toward permanent recovery.”

The governor and his extended family will spend Christmas in Estes Park to help support local businesses in the area impacted by the flooding.

“Estes Park is a Colorado treasure and was deeply affected by the floods,” Hickenlooper said. “We hope everyone this holiday season supports small businesses in our state’s tourist destinations and Colorado communities hit by the disaster.”

Here is an update of completed and ongoing recovery efforts 100 days since the flooding began:

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) opened all 27 flood-impacted state roadways before the Dec. 1 deadline. Most roads are in a temporary condition and require permanent repairs in the future. CDOT crews will continually monitor and assess the condition of the highways, especially prior to, during, and after storms. Additional temporary repairs may be necessary to help maintain the safety of the roads through the spring thaw. Motorists are strongly advised to obey posted speed limits, and to drive with extra care, as the temporary roadways can be narrow, are prone to rockfall, and may feature temporary alignments. CDOT has $450 million allocated in funding with $53 million used to date.

The federal government continues to be a critical partner in on-going flood-recovery efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated $27.2 million in Public Assistance funding to 233 projects from 20 flood-impacted counties. FEMA has approved $58.3 million in funding for Individual Assistance approved for 16,437 individuals in 11 flood-impacted communities. 28, 342 people have applied for individual assistance; and 91 percent of these homes have been inspected. The U.S. Small Business Administration has loaned $89.9 million to date to 1,930 homeowners and 278 businesses. The National Flood Insurance has made payments of $55.7 million to more than 1,863 claims.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan announced $62.8 million in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to assist in long-term recovery efforts. We are currently completing our overall state-wide damage assessment across housing, economic development and infrastructure which will then help us better understand where we must allocate these dollars to those areas most in need. A process to distribute the funds will be communicated in early 2014.

Mile High United Way of Denver was approached by the State of Colorado to accept funds raised by United Ways of Colorado and distribute them to local United Way agencies. So far, $7.3 million has been raised and approximately $2.8 million from both the United Ways of Colorado Flood Recovery Fund and other locally-raised funds has been distributed to the counties hit the hardest by the Colorado floods and their United Way agencies. Those agencies include United Way of Larimer County, Foothills United Way (Boulder County), United Way of Weld County and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pueblo. United Way agencies are run independently of each other with a Board of Directors providing oversight. United Way distributes funds to disaster survivors based on national best practices of providing financial support to individuals with the most needs in partnership with what survivors received from FEMA programs and insurance agencies. Immediate needs of families and individuals are being met on an as-needed, ongoing bases through an application process at their local United Way. Families and individuals can meet with a case worker to discuss what support they have already received through FEMA or insurance, and how United Way can assist. At the same time, an overall assessment of community needs is also being addressed by committees comprised of local business, neighborhood groups, individuals and other stakeholders to ensure long-term community needs are also identified.

Less than 60 days ago, there were 479 families receiving Transitional Sheltering Assistance. As of Dec. 15, the final five families have moved into FEMA Manufactured Housing Units or a rental situation.

Long-term ongoing recovery efforts continue in flood-impacted communities. There are 834 personnel from FEMA, CDOT and the Office of Emergency Management working closely together to address the ongoing needs of flood-impacted Coloradans. A total of $822 million has been allocated, with $312 million used to date including. There are 17 long-term recovery committees formed for local planning and rebuilding efforts and specific task forces for issues such as repairing ditches and streams. Also, 100 percent of the 207 flood-impacted dams have been inspected.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Local water providers say repairs to flood-damaged infrastructure — needed to be complete by this spring to deliver water to farmers for the growing season — are on schedule so far. Following September’s historic flood, a number of representatives from irrigation ditches, reservoir companies and other water providers were reporting damage along their systems — ditches, dykes, gravel pits, canals, head gates and other diversion structures that need repairs, or even to be rebuilt.

For the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District — based in Greeley, providing augmentation water for more than 1,100 irrigation wells in Weld, Morgan and Adams Counties, covering 56,900 acres — the damages occurred at four sites and added up to about $1.8 million. But already the district is about half done, with work at two sites complete, according to Randy Randy, executive director of Central Water. He added that he believes the rest of the work could be done by Feb. 1.

“Overall things are looking pretty good, and we feel pretty fortunate,” he said.

Similar optimism was expressed by Frank Eckhardt — chairman of the board for the Western Mutual and Farmers Independent irrigation companies, which, combined, deliver water to about 15,000 acres of farm ground in the LaSalle/Gilcrest areas. Eckhardt said Western Mutual Ditch had about $100,000 in damage — about 400 feet of ditch bank that had been washed out. Already it’s been repaired, he added, although some more minor touching up will be needed in the future.

Other local ditch board representatives were confident their work would be done in time.

Across the board, Weld County seems to be in better shape than its neighbors to the west, according to Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont. Cronin — who also serves as chairman for the South Platte Roundtable, a group of water experts from the region who meet throughout the year to address to region’s water issues — said water providers in Weld and farther upstream had more time to take precautionary measures before the floodwaters arrived, helping minimize some of the damage. He added that the floodwaters had more room to spread out once they made it to the plains, meaning they weren’t carrying the same intense pressure in Weld as they did in Boulder County, where the velocity wiped out much more infrastructure.

Cronin said the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District — which encompasses about 80,000 acres, mostly in Boulder County, but stretches a little into western Weld — so far is looking at about $20 million in damages, and the assessment process still isn’t complete, he added.

While there’s much more work to be done in his neck of the woods, he said work is coming along, and it’s too early for anyone to be worrying about the work not getting done in time.

While the work is coming along, Cronin, Eckhardt, Ray and others expressed uncertainty about how much of the cost of their repairs would be coming out of shareholders’ pockets. Each expressed uncertainty about whether they’d be reimbursed by Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars, or in some cases whether certain repairs would be covered by insurance.

“That’s been the toughest part. We’re still not sure how much we’re going to be paying out-of-pocket for it,” said Eckhardt, who farms corn, sugar beets, onions, beans and wheat near LaSalle, and noted that Western Mutual has so far paid for its repairs with money it had saved up and also by increasing its assessment fees for shareholders by about $50 per water unit, although he and others are hoping FEMA will eventually pitch in. “But at least we know we can get water on our fields. That’s the main thing.”

From the Longmont Times-Call (Scott Rochat):

On Wednesday, the town leaders officially kicked off the town’s long-term recovery process, which aims to have a restoration plan together by early March.

Mayor Julie Van Domelen and town administrator Victoria Simonsen acknowledged that it was a short timeline for something so big. But there wasn’t a lot of choice. The town needs to have its priorities set soon, Van Domelen said, so that it can take advantage of funding options while they’re still around…

More than 300 people showed up to the kickoff, with most staying to become part of one of the seven recovery groups, tasked with building a piece of the overall picture. The groups for housing, stream planning, and parks and recreation drew the heaviest participation — in some cases, more than 50 volunteers — but business, infrastructure, human services, and the arts, culture and historic preservation groups were far from ignored…

The groups will start to meet in January and must create their draft actions by the end of the month. By the end of February, all the groups have to integrate their actions into a single united plan, to go before the planning commission and town Board of Trustees by March…

…while the town had plenty of successes to cheer Wednesday night — water restored to the Apple Valley lines and soon to be chlorinated, the possibility of reopening US 36 through town by Christmas, and the return of most of the residents — the picture remains sobering. The flood wiped out 178 houses and 43 mobile homes, about 20 percent of Lyons’ housing stock. Two months of sales tax revenue was lost while the entire town was evacuated and next year’s budget expects to see that revenue down by 40 percent. The parks, once one of Lyons’ biggest draws, are now in rubble; one person said Bohn Park had become a “moonscape.”

‘Denver-West Slope water agreement finally final’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

December 4, 2013
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Denver can take a little more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to increase the reliability of its system, but won’t develop any new transmountain diversions without West Slope agreement and will help repair damage from past diversions.

Those are some of the key provisions in the Colorado Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 42 West Slope water providers and local governments from the Grand Valley to Grand County.

The Colorado Cooperative Agreement covers a whole suite of issues related to Denver’s diversion of water from the Fraser and Blue River drainages, tributaries to the Colorado River. In October, with little fanfare, this historic agreement received its final signatures and was fully executed. It took five years of mediation and nearly two years of ironing out the details with state and federal agencies, against a backdrop of decades of litigation, to get to this point.

According to material from the Colorado River District’s latest quarterly meeting, the agreement, “is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.” This project is expected to divert, on average, approximately 18,000 acre feet/year of water beyond the average of 58,000 acre feet/year it already diverts, which amounts to about 60% of the natural flow in the Fraser River at Winter Park.

Under the agreement, the West Slope parties agreed not to oppose the increased Moffat Collection System diversions, and Denver Water agreed not to expand its service area and not to develop new water projects on the West Slope without the agreement of the resident counties and the Colorado River District. The agreement also includes dozens of other provisions designed to limit water demands in Denver and address water quality and flow conditions in the Colorado River and its tributaries. Here’s a sampling:

Denver will contribute both water releases and several million dollars for a “learning by doing” project to improve aquatic habitat in Grand County. The project will be managed by representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and other water users.

Denver will not exercise its rights to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir and its collection system in Grand County during droughts unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its service area.

Diversions and reservoirs operated by both Denver Water and West Slope parties will be operated as if the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon were calling for its (very senior) water right, even at times when the plant is down. This is important for recreational and environmental flows in the river, as well as for junior water users downstream from plant.

Denver Water will pay $1.5 million for water supply, water quality or water infrastructure projects benefiting the Grand Valley, and $500,000 to offset additional costs for water treatment in Garfield County when the Shoshone call is relaxed due to drought conditions.

A similar agreement is under development between West Slope entities and Northern Water, which currently diverts about 220,000 acre feet/year of water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Like the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement trades West Slope non-opposition to increased transmountain diversions for mitigations to address the impacts of both past and future stream depletions.

Both the Colorado Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement have been hailed as models of cooperation. Meanwhile, East Slope – West Slope tensions continue to mount over how the Colorado Water Plan, currently under development, should address the possibility of additional diversions of water from the West Slope to meet growing urban demands on the Front Range. These agreements demonstrate that such tensions can be overcome, but also that it could take more time than allowed by the 2015 deadline Gov. Hickenlooper has set for completion of the Colorado Water Plan.

Full details on the Colorado Cooperative Agreement can be found on the River District’s website, under “features” at More information on the Colorado Water Plan can be found at

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.

Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘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.

U.S. 34 opens, flood damage still apparent #COflood

November 22, 2013
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

From KUNC (Grace Hood):

Johnny Olsen oversaw much of the repairs for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“When you think about it and you drive it, you won’t see it because they did such an amazing job. But about 60 percent of our roadway was lost,” he said.

In some ways the repaired road looks better than it did before—both lanes completely accessible and fully paved. But alongside the road you can see just how destructive the floodwaters were. Homes like this one are still severely damaged…

In Estes Park, Mayor Bill Pinkham says business has been slow at his end of the canyon, too. That’s despite the state paying to keep Rocky Mountain National Park open during the government shut down. For now, Pinkham is focusing on the positive—and the future.

“The restaurants are open, the stores are open, and we’re ready to celebrate the holidays,” he said.

During this morning’s ceremony Hickenlooper and other local leaders painted part of a yellow stripe on the road. The highway reopening is especially welcome news for Estes Park, which is hoping to boost visitations during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Whitney Bryen):

About a dozen town administrators and a few volunteers packed up the maps that covered the library bookshelves and moved them back to [Lyons] Town Hall, which underwent extensive cleanup and repairs following flooding in September.

“It feels like a little normalcy to us, or at least a baby step toward that,” said Arianne Powell, who is in charge of accounts payable and customer service for the town of Lyons.

During the past two months, the original Town Hall building, 432 Fifth Ave., got new carpet and tile, Sheetrock and paint. Construction was being completed when employees arrived with boxes at 8 a.m. Thursday.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Craig Young):

In a symbolic gesture during a day full of symbolism, the mayors of Loveland and Estes Park hugged at Thursday’s ceremony celebrating the opening of the vital U.S. 34 link between the cities.

Despite the bitter cold and falling snow, the mood was upbeat for the event outside the Big Thompson Canyon Volunteer Fire Department station in Drake.

With “Love Don’t Die” by Colorado band The Fray providing the soundtrack, scores of highway workers celebrated, officials gave speeches and Gov. John Hickenlooper helped paint the final stripes down the middle of the highway that was rebuilt after September’s flood…

With U.S. 34 running through Loveland up to Estes Park, Loveland mayor Gutierrez said his city considers itself the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. He thanked everyone responsible for reopening that gateway.

“When people start driving this road, they are not going to be impressed,” he said, “because they will not have seen what you started with.”

What the Colorado Department of Transportation, contractor Kiewit Infrastructure and many local subcontractors started with was an 18-mile stretch of canyon roadway that needed repair or rebuilding on 70 percent of its length.

To drivers getting their first look at the rebuilt road, the new temporary U.S. 34 looks much like the old highway – paved the entire way, with passing lanes and shoulders in places.

“To get this done in 10 weeks is amazing,” said [Governor Hickenlooper], who pledged in the first days after the flood that the state would build temporary roads on every destroyed highway route.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Alex Burness):

Big Thompson Canyon Fire Department Chief Bill Lundquist, one of the last canyon residents to be evacuated by helicopter, said those who braved the snow to drive on U.S. 34 Thursday will never really know what it looked like. To him, that’s a testament to the swift and high-quality work performed by road construction crews.

We flew out up over Drake and through the canyon, and we really thought it was going to be a year before we got back here,” said Lundquist, 54. “But they put this highway back together in two months. It’s so important to have it back. What it really means to most people in this community is that they can go home. That’s big.”

Lundquist added that, before the highway reopened, his department had trouble responding to even the smallest of incidents.

“We’ve got to cover our district, and this highway is essential to that. Even if we had a house fire, the only way we could fight it would be with buckets from a helicopter,” he said.

The highway’s reopening is equally vital to local businesses. Many of the ones lucky enough to have survived the flood have still been on life support for the last two months.

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.

The Loveland City Council approves 50% participation in the repair of the Big Dam #COflood

November 6, 2013
Big Thompson River near RMNP

Big Thompson River in RMNP

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

During September’s flood, the structure that diverts water on the Big Thompson River for both Home Supply and the city of Loveland sustained significant damage. As a result, the city is unable to divert river water into the Water Treatment Plant, which is located just downstream of the dam in the Big Thompson Canyon.

Because both the city and Home Supply both divert critical supplies at the structure, Home Supply officials advocated for the even split during an Oct. 15 study session, but councilors directed staff to work on a contract document that would evaluate options and return with a recommendation.

Larry Howard with Loveland Water and Power told the council that several options were considered, including following the city’s original 1895 agreement with Home Supply that lays out an 11 percent city responsibility of any repair, or splitting costs according to diversions, which would amount to about 25 percent…

The first phase of repair will cover flood-related damage and is estimated to cost about $800,000. Negotiations would continue over the next several months for future maintenance and repair of the dam.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Big Thompson River: Twilight for the Idylwilde Dam #COflood

October 9, 2013
Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power

Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

In a resolution added to Tuesday’s special meeting of the Loveland City Council, councilors voted unanimously to authorize negotiations with Kiewit Corp., the contractor selected by the Colorado Department of Transportation for the U.S. 34 reconstruction project.

The agreement will include demolishing and disposing of the Idylwilde Dam. The silt, sand, cobbles and boulders now located behind the dam would go to Kiewit for much-needed project material.

Loveland Water and Power Director Steve Adams said he worked last week with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Forest Service to fast track approvals needed to move forward with negotiations.

“We felt like this is an opportunity that presents itself to us and we wanted to take advantage of it,” Adams said. “We feel like the dam has been compromised — it was compromised in its reconstruction by a quarter of it not being anchored to bedrock — and this was even more evidence to us that the dam should be removed for safety purposes and also to help the reconstruction effort.”[...]

The Idylwilde Dam went online in 1925 and was at that time the power plant for the city. It generates about 900 kW, which is now a fraction of what Loveland Water and Power now produces, and the facility was used in recent years to help reduce the city’s costs when the Platte River Power Authority hit its peak demand.

The dam area represents about 100,000 cubic yards that contractor could use to help reconstruct the highway, according to Adams, who said the city has been in contact with Kiewit Corp officials.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Tony Kindelspire):

Longmont homeowners will see an increase in their average monthly utility bills of about 12 1/2 percent starting Dec. 1, according to votes passed Tuesday night by the Longmont City Council. Primarily because of stormwater and parks and greenway maintenance fee increases, Longmont residents’ utility fees will soon be $153 a month, up from $136 a month. The Longmont City Council voted unanimously to increase stormwater fees to $13.60 a month, which is nearly double what was proposed by the city’s public works and natural resources department. That increase — ironically — included flood control measures on stretches of the St. Vrain River.

Dale Rademacher, director of public works and natural resources, said the preliminary cost estimate of total damage to the river is about $80 million.

Barbara McGrane, the business manager for the public works department, told council that the city originally had planned $470,000 in capital projects for 2014. Post-flood, that figure is now about $3.6 million, she said. Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will reimburse the city for a portion of the needed repairs, but how much remains to be seen, McGrane said.

“We don’t really know yet what FEMA is going to want us to do with the river, but the riverbed repairs — big dollars,” McGrane said.

From The Denver Post (Electa Draper):

Garbage day after the Colorado floods is turning apocalyptic. The potential volume of flood debris is mind-blowing, given preliminary estimates of more than 1,800 homes destroyed and more than 16,000 damaged and full of soggy ruins.

State regulators are working on waivers for safety and environmental standards at landfills so they can handle the toxic mounds of refuse heaped in city drop-off sites and piled in debris fields along creeks and rivers.

Earlier this week, traffic leading to dumps, including two in Erie, was so heavy that haulers pulled out of long lines in frustration with wait times.

“It’s been wild,” said Dan Gudgel, division manager for Waste Connections, which runs the Erie landfills. “We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain here — 15 to 20 inches — and we drive on soil. We struggled Monday, but now we’re going full-bore.”

Heaps of ruined possessions are an immediate threat to public health, but they also are constant reminders of the disaster and are among the biggest obstacles to economic recovery and a restored sense of well-being, FEMA spokesman Jerry DeFelice said.

“At the forefront of recovery is debris removal,” DeFelice said.

FEMA reformed policies for helping communities with the high cost of cleanup after Hurricane Sandy, now offering reimbursement along a sliding scale for speedy removal — in excess of 75 percent of eligible costs.

“The idea is to give communities incentives to plan for disaster cleanup,” DeFelice said.

The Colorado counties so far eligible for this type of FEMA assistance are those hardest hit — Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld — among 17 flooded counties. The volume of refuse the cleanup will generate is impossible to estimate, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials said.

Waste Connections — which operates the adjacent Denver Regional and Front Range landfills in Erie — has sent out several hundred 30- to 40-cubic-yard roll-off trash containers to storm- wrecked communities. A half dozen other companies have placed hundreds more containers.

The huge debris-filled bins are due back soon, perhaps at the end of this week, Gudgel said.

“The order of magnitude here is unreal. I couldn’t begin to guess at an amount,” Gudgel said. “I worked back east, with debris from tornadoes and ice storms, but this is unbelievable.”

It’s also impossible to determine the health risks of muck-coated possessions, including some contamination by raw sewage and now mold.

Hard-hit homeowners vouch that the yuck factor is off the charts.

“There are a lot of people who are going to be involved with this (cleanup),” said Roger Doka, CDPHE’s solid-waste permitting unit leader. “We are meeting with our water quality, hazardous waste and air pollution divisions and with local governments.”

Flood-damaged furnishings and other possessions on private property are the responsibility of the property owner, said Colorado Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Micki Trost.

But with whole houses collapsed into waterways, propane tanks hissing down fast-moving creeks and unidentifiable objects bobbing along or deposited along stream banks, local governments aren’t sure when they’ll get on top of this mountain of debris.

Larimer County hasn’t had a break in disaster-generated debris since the 2012 High Park fire, county

Mark Taylor helps neighbors unload flood-damaged belongings Wednesday at a dump in Boulder, where residents started to clean up from last week’s massive flooding. (RJ Sangosti, T he Denver Post)
recovery manager Suzanne Bassinger said. Residents there were given three years from the date of the fire’s containment, June 30, 2012, to remove charred materials from their properties. Fire debris has been washing down creeks for months in post-fire flooding previous to last week’s catastrophic flooding in northeastern Colorado.
“We’ve never really had any let-up,” Bassinger said.

In Boulder County, emergency managers are still focused on evacuating people and using resources to carve routes to stranded communities.

“You are asking ‘the recovery question.’ We’re still trying to get our hands around that,” Boulder Office of Emergency Management spokesman Ben Pennymon said.

Managers from different departments are beginning to form a team to coordinate cleanup, he said.

But Boulder residents already are dumping around the clock into containers at 21 collection sites — even burying and surrounding them with trash. Crews are working around the clock to haul full containers away but are struggling to keep up.

The state health department is working to develop waivers that will allow landfills to accept some amounts of typically prohibited materials, such as asbestos-contaminated construction debris, Doka said.

“Every landfill has the right of refusal for materials,” Doka said. “But they all are positioning themselves to accept flood debris. I’ve contacted all of the landfills in the area to ask about air space — or how much room they have. They all say they have adequate space.”

Yet it could turn out that some landfill operators will have to excavate additional cells, he said.

Gudgel said the Erie landfills have room — including a new $2.5 million cell (a large hole for waste lined with clay and plastic and graded so fluids drain out). Work began on it earlier this summer and could be completed in a few weeks.

The Erie landfills have a remaining life expectancy of 40 years, he said, and he doesn’t think the flooding will significantly diminish that.

“We’ve got room,” Gudgel said.

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.

Big Thompson Flood — July 31, 1976 — remembered

August 1, 2013


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Residents of the Big Thompson Canyon and others who remember the July 31, 1976, flood there gathered at the flood memorial Wednesday night for an annual memorial service. The flood happened after a thunderstorm stalled over the area and dumped more than a foot of rain. Pounding rain caused a wall of water to roar through the canyon, 19 feet high in places.

It destroyed homes, businesses, U.S. 34 and, worst of all, took 139 lives. Six more people were never found.

More Big Thompson River flood coverage here and here.

Big Thompson Flood anniversary July 31

July 30, 2013

USDA and Interior Announce Partnership to Protect America’s Water Supply from Increased Wildfire Risk #COdrought

July 20, 2013


Here’s the release from the US Department of Interior:

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today announced a federal, local and private partnership that will reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines a comprehensive approach to reduce carbon pollution and better prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, including increased risk of wildfires and drought.

Through the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) will work together with local water users to identify and mitigate risks of wildfire to parts of our nation’s water supply, irrigation and hydroelectric facilities. Flows of sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers after wildfires can damage water quality and often require millions of dollars to repair damage to habitat, reservoirs and facilities.

USDA’s Forest Service and Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will kick off the new partnership through a pilot in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service and builds off of past agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water suppliers, such as Denver Water’s Forest to Faucets partnership.

“Today’s announcement brings together the West’s largest forest land manager with the West’s largest water provider to ensure the resilience of our forests and their capacity to provide water supply amid climate threats,” said Vilsack. “This partnership will increase forest resilience, improve water quality, and reduce the risk of catastrophic damage from wildfire. This is good news for anyone who pays a water bill, and it is good news for our environment.”

“In the West, more than forty Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” said Jewell. “This partnership can serve as a model for the West when it comes to collaborative and targeted fire threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.”

The Memorandum of Understanding signed today at Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Ft. Collins, Colo., will facilitate activities such as wildfire risk reduction through forest thinning, prescribed fire and other forest health treatments; minimizing post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation; and restoring areas that are currently recovering from past wildfires through tree planting and other habitat improvements.

Horsetooth Reservoir is part of the Colorado Big-Thompson water system which provides water to 860,000 people within eight counties (Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick, Washington and Weld) and to more than 650,000 acres of agricultural land. It also generates enough electricity to power 58,300 homes annually. The area has experienced several fires in the last few years, including the destructive High Park Fire in June, 2012.

USDA and Interior are working with state and local stakeholders toward formalizing additional partnerships in the following areas:

  • Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona;
  • Boise River Reservoir in Idaho;
  • Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California;
  • Yakima Basin in Washington State; and Horsethief Reservoir/Flathead River in Montana.
  • Nationwide, the National Forest System provides drinking water to more than 60 million Americans. The share of water supply originating on national forest lands is particularly high across much of the West, including the upper Colorado River basin where nearly half of all water comes from National Forests. Healthy forests filter rain and snowmelt, regulate runoff and slow soil erosion – delivering clean water at a far lower cost than it would take to build infrastructure to replace these services.

    The goal of the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is to restore forest and watershed health and to proactively plan for post-wildfire response actions intended to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies, infrastructures and facilities, water delivery capabilities and hydro-electric power generation. Forest and watershed restoration activities and proactive planning can help minimize sedimentation impacts on reservoirs and other water and hydro-electric infrastructure by reducing soil erosion and the impacts of wildfires, helping water managers avoid costs for dredging, water filtration, and the need to replace damaged infrastructure.

    Although comprehensive data on wildfire costs for water users is unavailable, several wildfires in recent decades illustrate the diversity and magnitude of direct costs:

  • The 1997 Buffalo Creek and 2002 Hayman Fires forced Denver Water to spend more
    than $26 million on dredging Strontia Springs Reservoir, treating water and reseeding the forests in the watershed;
  • The 2000 Cerro Grande Fire cost the Los Alamos Water Utility more than $9 million and generated about $72.4 million in emergency rehabilitation, restoration and flood mitigation cost;
  • The 2009 station fire and ensuing storms in 2010 cost the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works $30 million in the aftermath to remove sediment from debris basins. LA County Public Works plans to spend an additional $190 million dredging four reservoirs that are no longer able to reliably meet the county’s needs for flood control and water storage capacity; and
  • The 2011 Las Conchas Fire prompted the cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque to shut down their water supply intake systems in affected rivers and reservoirs due to ash accumulation.
  • From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Top U.S. environmental officials Friday began a push to protect the nation’s federally run water-supply reservoirs against wildfires. The fear is that worsening wildfires will trigger erosion that damages dams, canals and pipelines, and shrinks water storage, ultimately driving up water costs for ratepayers.

    “Climate change is upon us, our ecosystems are changing and it’s up to us to work collaboratively,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told state, federal and local participants before signing a teamwork agreement at Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, an area where 11 wildfires since 2010 have unleashed sediment that threatens to clog water facilities.

    From KUNC (Grace Hood):

    “The sad reality is that when we’re faced with ever-increasing fires and the intensity of these fires, it threatens that water supply,” said USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack. “It threatens the quality and the affordability because if this water has to be treated because of sediment and ash and so forth, it obviously can increase the cost.” Vilsack was joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Fort Collins near Horsetooth Reservoir. Burn scars from the High Park and Galena fires were faintly visible in the distance.

    Flows of ash and debris into streams after the High Park Fire have caused headaches for local municipalities like Greeley and Fort Collins. To reduce this problem, the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership will focus on restoration and prevention efforts including forest health treatments and efforts to minimize post-wildfire erosion.

    Colorado’s pilot project brings together a large group of local, state and federal agencies including the Colorado State Forest Service, Northern Water, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Forest Service.

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, signed a document committing their agencies to work with state and local officials and private landowners in reducing the risk and impact of massive fires. The partnership also is expected to enhance coordinated efforts to keep ash, sediment and other fire debris out of storage facilities such as Horsetooth Reservoir, Vilsack told dignitaries gathered for the signing ceremony. “It will improve water quality; it will protect habitat; and we believe over time it will reduce fire risk,” he said.

    Projects that would be pursued through the partnership include reducing “fuel loads” in forested areas through thinning and controlled burns. Controlling erosion after a fire to protect municipal and agricultural water supplies would be another major focus.

    A pilot program involving the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Colorado State Forest Service and federal agencies would target the watersheds of the Upper Colorado and Big Thompson rivers. The state forest service has organized a timber sale on land near Northern Water facilities. Proceeds from the sale would go toward restoration programs, said Mike Lester, the Colorado state forester.

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    The agreement — called the Western Wastershed Enhancement Partnership — will make it easier for the two agencies to work on forest thinning and prescribed fires, which reduce erosion, and restoring burned areas through tree planting and other habitat improvements, according to the agencies. The pilot program will focus on northern Colorado, the headwaters of the Colorado River and the Big Thompson River watershed.

    U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., hailed the agreement. “Rivers running thick with soot and flash flooding have tragically shown how the threats wildfires pose to Coloradans and our drinking-water supplies persist long after their final embers are extinguished,” Udall said.

    From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell inked the agreement in front of the symbolic backdrop of Horsetooth Reservoir above Fort Collins. Black and red remains of burned trees from two recent wildfires loomed over the reservoir, a reminder that fires lead to erosion that clogs water pipes. The agreement is designed to get around bureaucratic barriers and get going on forest thinning projects to prevent fires, and restoration projects after a fire. “It will improve water quality, it will protect habitat and we believe, over time, it will reduce fire risk,” Vilsack said.

    For the Forest Service, the agreement means moving quickly in response to fires such as the West Fork Complex. “We’re concerned about the Rio Grande River and the headwater area there. We’re going to be aggressive in our conservation efforts to make sure we maintain the quality and the safety of that water supply,” Vilsack said.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Saja Hindi):

    “Holding the signing here in Colorado highlights the fact that we’ve established a pilot project called the Colorado-Big Thompson partnership that brings together Northern Water Conservancy District, Colorado State Forest Service, United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Western Area Power Administration,” said Glenn Casamassa, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland forest supervisor…

    Water quality is a paramount concern, according to Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Wildfire also affects the water supplies that are vitally important to our agriculture economy in this area,” he said.

    From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Federal and local agencies will try to speed up efforts to thin vegetation that could fuel catastrophic wildfires which threaten water supplies and hydroelectric facilities, federal officials said Friday. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership was announced at Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. It will focus on accelerating forest restoration around reservoirs, dams, irrigation systems and hydroelectric projects to reduce the risk of intense fires.

    “When a forest fire takes place, it can compromise the water supply that is in those reservoirs,” Vilsack said. “Sediment can build up, and the ash created by fires can cause huge problems downstream in terms of water quality.” The partnership will help agencies leverage resources to reduce the risk of rivers and water projects getting sullied, Vilsack said.

    The U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are launching the effort with a pilot project in the Upper Colorado headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado, where the High Park Fire burned last year. Under the project, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service will work with the federal agencies on forest thinning and prescribed burns. The work also will include reseeding and restoring burned forests so not as much sediment will run off from burned areas.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, and the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Reclamation, are working to formalize similar partnerships around the Salt River-CC Cragin project in Arizona; Boise River Reservoir in Idaho; Mid-Pacific Reclamation Region in California; Yakima Basin in Washington state; and the Horsethief Reservoir and Flathead River in Montana.

    The initiative builds from the successful “Forest to Faucets” partnership the Forest Service reached with Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility, to share costs of mitigating wildfire risks and effects in Colorado.

    More water pollution coverage 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: 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.

    [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.

    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.

    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.

    Reclamation to start pumping to Carter Lake on Monday

    March 8, 2013

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

    10 Weld county students win awards in ‘Caring for our watersheds’ competition

    March 5, 2013


    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    The ambition of local youth will soon result in new drinking-water stations at school to reduce the amount of plastic bottles used, new composting programs and the implementation of many other strategies aimed at efficiency and reducing waste.

    Ten Weld County teams from five schools placed in the top 10 or earned honorable-mention recognition in the recent Caring for Our Watersheds contest.

    Now, the high-placing local students will use money from the competition’s sponsor — Canada-based Agrium, Inc., an international agricultural-products supplier with offices in Loveland — to watch their ideas come to fruition in their schools.

    In recent months, 55 total teams from schools across northern Colorado examined the local Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds, identified problems, developed strategies to address them and then created presentations, which were judged at a recent awards banquet at the University of Northern Colorado.

    All top-10 finishers walked away from the banquet with $300 to $1,000 cash prizes, and a matching cash prize went to the teachers who sponsored those students in the contest.

    Additionally, Agrium will pay up to $1,000 for each of the top-10 and honorable-mention projects to be implemented at the students’ schools.

    This is the fourth year that local schools have participated in the Caring for Our Watersheds competition.

    There are now 12 different contests across North America, South America and Australia.

    First place went to a team from Resurrection Christian School in Loveland, but it was Greeley Central High School that came away with the most prize money.

    Greeley Central had five teams finish in the top 10, while another team from the school earned an honorable-mention nod.

    Ivonne Morales of Greeley Central placed the highest among all Weld County students, taking second place with her project, Easy Peasy H2O, which looks to reduce the amount of bottled water consumed in schools.

    With the dollars from Agrium, she’ll help bring water-refilling stations to Greeley Central, encouraging students to refill reusable bottles instead of buying plastic-bottled water from vending machines.

    The water-refilling stations would replace water fountains, alleviating the sanitary concerns some students have, Morales added.

    Morales — president of the school’s Green Cats organization, and the Colorado representative for the Alliance for Climate Education who took part in a 35,000-person march in Washington, D.C., this month — has learned through her research that 1,250 plastic water bottles are thrown away every second in the U.S.

    Also, it takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce the amount of plastic used for bottled water in our country, and that doesn’t even factor in the amount of oil needed to transport the bottled water to the consumer, she noted.

    Additionally, she said, there are concerns and a lack of understanding regarding the chemicals used in the plastic, like Bisphenol A.

    Because her project placed high enough to earn money to be implemented, and because of the impact her project could have, Morales said her time dedicated to the competition was well worth it.

    “It means a lot to me,” said Morales, who also works as a part-time custodian at her school to help support herself and also to save money for a trip to Costa Rica this summer, where she’ll learn about the country’s highly regarded sustainability programs.

    Greeley Central High School science teacher Liz Mock-Murphy, who’s made the competition part of her curriculum in certain classes, and Ray Tscillard, director of the Poudre Learning Center in Greeley that organizes the competition locally, said they are amazed each year by all of the students’ effort and dedication to the contest.

    “This competition is truly empowering … allowing these students to really make a difference,” Mock-Murphy said, noting that some of Greeley’s schools today have low-flow toilets, biodegradable sporks in the cafeterias and single-stream recycling programs as a result of projects executed through the Caring for Our Watersheds competition. “It’s been an amazing thing for our students.”

    More South Platte River Basin coverage here and here.

    Big Thompson Watershed Forum meeting in Greeley Thursday

    February 25, 2013


    From The Greeley Tribune:

    The Big Thompson Watershed Forum will have its meeting Thursday in Greeley. The meeting, titled “Critical Surface Water Issues — 2013,” will focus on agriculture water sharing and development, wildfire effects on water quality and watershed management, fracking and other issues.

    The Big Thompson River Watershed, an area encompassing more than 900 square miles, provides drinking water to numerous cities in northern Colorado including Greeley, Estes Park, Fort Collins and Loveland, and is used for commercial, agricultural, recreation, and wildlife habitat purposes.

    Of the 12 presenters on hand, Patricia N. Limerick — professor of history at the University of Colorado and faculty director and chairwoman of the Center for the American West — will be the keynote speaker.

    The meeting will take place from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Island Grove Regional Park’s Events Center, 425 N. 15th Ave.

    The cost to attend the meeting is $40 and includes breakfast, snacks and lunch. Cash or check will be accepted at the door.

    For more information, go to, or contact Zack Shelley at (970) 613-6163 or

    More Big Thompson Watershed 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.

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

    November 27, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

    Reclamation releases Supplemental Information Report to Windy Gap Firming EIS

    November 15, 2012


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

    The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of a Supplemental Information

    Report and related errata to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which analyzed impacts of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project. Both the SIR and the errata are available at

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

    An errata is a list of corrections to a publication.

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

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

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project fall operations update

    November 3, 2012


    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

    Windsor: The town board approves a third water rate tier

    October 13, 2012


    From the Windsor Beacon (Ashley Keesis-Wood):

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

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

    More infrastructure coverage here.

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

    October 4, 2012


    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

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

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

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

    September 22, 2012


    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

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

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

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

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

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

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

    More Colorado-Big Thompson coverage here.

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy celebrates its 75th anniversary

    September 21, 2012


    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report:

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

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

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

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

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

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

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

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

    September 18, 2012


    From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

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

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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