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 WESTERN SLOPE

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.

LAKE GRANBY

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 RESERVOIR

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 CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

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

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.

FORT COLLINS

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.


Poudre oil spill cleanup update

June 24, 2014
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

From the Associated Press via 9News.com:

Environmental officials and work crews are dismantling a flood-damaged storage tank so they can remove oil-stained soil from an area where about 7,200 gallons of crude leaked into a northern Colorado river.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, says Noble Energy, which operates the tank, has been cleaning up the site on the Poudre River near Windsor since the leak was discovered Friday. The bank next to the storage tank was undercut by the high spring river flows, causing it to drop and break a valve.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

“We consider this a significant spill,” wrote Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman in an email Monday. “The vast majority of spills are far smaller. We’ve had larger spills, but those are true anomalies.”

Colorado hasn’t seen a spill this big since September 2013, when a deluge of floodwaters in multiple rivers spilled 48,250 gallons of oil.

The September flooding, along with spills like the one discovered Friday near Windsor, have prompted state regulators and environmental groups to consider increasing the distance between wells and Colorado’s waterways. Today, state law governing the distance between oil wells and water along Colorado’s Front Range does not take into account seasonal flooding, Hartman said.

COGCC has one law that adjusts setbacks for high water marks that applies only to gold medal fisheries or cutthroat trout habitats. The fisheries predominately operate on the Western Slope.

Following the floods, environmental advocates are pushing more than a dozen new oil and gas regulations toward ballots in the November election. One proposal suggests moving setbacks to 2,000 feet from bodies of water. Some experts say that would cripple oil and gas development in places like Weld County, where more than 21,000 wells operate today.

There are about 5,900 oil and gas wells within 500 feet of a Colorado “waterway that is significant enough to be named” and more than 20,000 wells within 500 feet of water of some kind.

The practice of drilling near water originates from “longstanding practical pressures” by mineral rights owners to confine wells to their least productive sections of land, according to a special report on oil and gas development commissioned after the September 2013 floods. It’s also easier to drill for oil in more accessible areas, particularly along waterways.

In the post-flood report, the COGCC recommended that tank batteries “be located as far from waterways as possible,” and that all wells near an ordinary high water mark should have remote shut-in equipment, allowing them to be shut down automatically when waters are high. The report also suggested that regulations should “apply within a designated distance from the ordinary high water mark of all waterways in Colorado.”

Since Friday, Noble Energy crews have been cleaning up after the Windsor-area spill. As of Monday, they have yet to identify any wildlife impacted by the spill, and drinking water has not been polluted, said Hartman. On Friday, Noble Energy, owners of the well, began a biological study of the spill’s impacts. Soil samples were also taken, but the results of those are pending.

The river flooded two tanks off Weld County Road 23, an area surrounded by a cattle ranch and farm land. As crews continued work Monday, bikers sped by along the Poudre River Trail, which winds just on the opposite side of the river from the spill.

The well feeding the tanks was shut May 24 due to spring runoff flooding. Although Noble discovered the spill June 20, the company can’t be sure exactly when the damage was done to the tank.

Each tank can hold 300 barrels of crude oil, with about 42 gallons per barrel. Flood waters had undercut the bank below one battery, releasing the contents of 178 barrels.

Noble has since drained the second tank, which was undamaged, said Hartman. Most of the spill was washed away in the floodwaters, which left a few stagnant polluted pools behind. Clean-up crews used absorbent pads to remove oil from vegetation and water pools. On Monday, crews began to excavate a shallow layer of soil.

More oil and gas coverage here.


Colorado State University to study water quality impacts of beetle kill — the Fort Collins Coloradoan

June 23, 2014

mountainpinebeetles

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Scientists from Colorado State University and Colorado School of Mines have begun a five-year study of the impacts beetle kill forests have on water quality in Northern Colorado.

The study, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Water Sustainment and Climate Program, will look at the South Platte and Colorado River basins.

Scientists from both universities will use computer models and field and lab experiments to assess changes to water quality and availability following the mountain pine beetle outbreak. Although the outbreak is on the down-swing, it has killed millions of acres of trees in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain West.

The Poudre River drains into the South Platte River Basin, where Fort Collins sits.

More Cach la Poudre River watershed coverage here.


Oil spill near Windsor ~7,500 gallons

June 21, 2014

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia

South Platte River Basin via Wikipedia


From The Greeley Tribune:

About 178 barrels of crude oil, or roughly 7,500 gallons, has spilled east-southeast of Windsor and is affecting the Poudre River, state officials said Friday.

The operator, Noble Energy, discovered the spill Friday and reported it to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said Todd Hartman, the department’s communications director.

Noble reported a storage tank affected by spring flood waters released its contents. The release appears to be due to floodwaters undercutting a bank, causing the tank to drop downward and damaging a valve, allowing oil to escape from a broken valve. The well associated with the tank is shut in, and a second tank nearby appears unaffected.

Standing water with some hydrocarbons remains in one low-lying area near the tank, Hartman said.

Vegetation is stained for about one-quarter mile downstream of the site.

Noble had environmental response personnel on site Friday afternoon.

A vacuum truck was removing standing water and response personnel were sampling soils.

The oil storage tank sits next to a field east of Weld County Road 23, on the north side of the Poudre River. The tank sits about 200 feet from the river, up a hill. A lot of flood damage was visible in the area, with washed out and eroded river banks and debris still in the water.

Hartman said water quality staff from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also were at the spill site Friday but have not discovered any impact on drinking water.

More water pollution coverage here.


Cache la Poudre River: Time-lapse footage of the removal of the Josh Ames Diversion Dam

March 17, 2014


North Poudre pulls out of the Halligan Reservoir expansion project, @fortcollinsgov last partner standing

February 13, 2014
Halligan Reservoir

Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

City officials learned this week that North Poudre Irrigation Co., which owns the storage capacity of the existing reservoir, is backing out of the permitting process for the proposed enlargement of the reservoir northwest of the city. The move likely will increase Fort Collins’ costs for building the project, if it is approved by federal regulators, by about $1 million to an estimated $31 million, said Donnie Dustin, water resources manager with Fort Collin Utilities.

The irrigation company has seen little progress on the project during the nearly 10 years it has been going through an environmental review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre.

“For as much money as the company was putting into the project, the board came to the opinion that some of that money could be going to some of our infrastructure needs and upgrades,” Hummer said. “It was a business decision.”

The Fort Collins-Loveland, East Larimer County and North Weld County water districts, also known as the Tri-Districts, cited the same reasons when they withdrew from the project in 2009…

North Poudre has put $1.8 million toward the permitting process over the years, said Nels Nelson, president of the irrigation company’s board of directors.

Initially, the cost of the environmental review, which covers the proposed Halligan expansion and a proposal by Greeley to expand Seaman Reservoir, was expected to be $4 million. Costs related to the process have reached $7.3 million, with Fort Collins paying about $3.7 million, officials said…

Halligan Reservoir is on the North Fork of the Poudre River. The 6,500-acre foot reservoir is about 100 years old.

Originally, partners in the project were seeking to expand the reservoir to 40,000 acre feet. But the size of the project has been reduced to about half after the Tri-Districts withdrew and Fort Collins’ water use changed with increased conservation efforts.

With North Poudre out of the project, the expansion will be resized again to match the smaller requirement, said Kevin Gertig, city water resources and treatment operations manager.

How the change will affect the review process is not known, he said. A draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Halligan-Seaman project is expected to be released in fall 2015.

“Fort Collin Utilities is committed to moving ahead with the project unless, of course, the City Council directs us otherwise,” Gertig said.

The city needs to acquire 8,125 acre feet of water storage capacity to meet its needs and protect against drought, Gertig said.

More Halligan/Seaman expansion coverage here and here.


Poudre River Forum recap: ‘Frankly, I think the more compelling story is the history of collaboration’ — Doug Robotham

February 9, 2014
Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds via @ftcollinsgov

Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds via @ftcollinsgov

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Josie Sexton):

“The story around water is often one of conflict,” The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Water Projects director Doug Robotham said as the event got underway. “Frankly, I think the more compelling story is the history of collaboration.”

The forum was facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute and sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, a team composed of 30 community water stakeholders with backgrounds in fields ranging from ecology and irrigation to brewing and law.

Since 2012, the group has convened to discuss differing views on the Poudre and to finally put forward a trio of initiatives, which the group presented at Saturday’s forum.

Its suggestions, or the “three F’s,” as Colorado Water Institute’s MaryLou Smith explained, are “flow, funding and forum,” the last of which the team began with Saturday’s event and now hopes to hold annually.

For the first initiative, a five-person steering committee explained a vision of improved water flow along the Poudre, utilizing methods such as a “designated instream flow reach” to essentially lease leftover water upstream and send it downriver, meeting a specified minimimum flow requirement along a certain length of the Poudre, such as the stretch running right through Fort Collins.

The cost for such a project is where the group’s funding initiative comes in.

“All of that would take big money,” Smith said, adding it would need to be public money and not just “philanthropic seed dollars.”

According to John Stokes, director of the city of Fort Collins’ Natural Areas Department, the city did test such a water leasing project early last September.

“We tried to rent water, but our little 10 (cubic feet per second) got buried in 10,000 (cubic feet per second),” Stokes said, refering to Sepember’s flooding.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here and here.


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