$1.5 Million Contract Awarded to Repair Colorado-Big Thompson Infrastructure Damaged by 2013 Flooding — Bureau of Reclamation

March 25, 2015
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

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

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a contract totaling nearly $1.5 million to Lillard and Clark Construction Company Inc., Denver, for repair to the Big Thompson Diversion Structure, an element of the Colorado-Big Thompson project that was damaged during the September 2013 flood, known as one of the worst natural disasters in Colorado history.

“Reclamation is addressing the infrastructure damage that occurred during the 2013 Colorado River flooding,” said Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López, while announcing today’s $1,457,570 contract award. “This work will ensure the project’s continued reliability.”

Big Thompson Diversion Structure, located 8.5 miles west of Loveland, Colorado, in Larimer County, requires removal and restoration of flood-damaged concrete areas, installation of a precast concrete building, repair and replacement of electrical systems, gates, gear boxes, electric motors and other rehabilitation tasks. The work is expected to begin in April 2015.

The Colorado-Big Thompson project spans approximately 250 miles in Colorado. It stores, regulates and diverts water from the Colorado River on the western slope of the Continental Divide to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, providing supplemental water to irrigate about 720,000 acres of land for municipal and industrial uses, hydroelectric power and water-oriented recreation opportunities. Major features of the project include dams, dikes, reservoirs, power plants, pumping plants, pipelines, tunnels, transmission lines, substations and other associated structures. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District apportions water used for irrigation to more than 120 ditches and 60 reservoirs. Eleven communities receive municipal and industrial water from the project. Electric power produced by six power plants is marketed by the Western Division of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


A look at the art of water board governance from The Greeley Tribune #ColoradoRiver

February 15, 2015

Here’s an in-depth look at the Greeley Water and Sewer Board from Sherrie Peif writing for The Greeley Tribune. Click through to read the whole article and for the sidebar with the details about the current board along with some historic notes:

Most anyone who works closely with the water industry agrees the commodity is taken for granted by consumers, except for in a couple of instances.

“When water doesn’t come out of the faucet,” said Harold Evans with a laugh. “And when they get their bill.”

Evans, the chairman of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said it is unlikely that most know where their water comes from or how it gets to their faucets.

It is a complicated process involving more than a dozen lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs across Colorado. And in Greeley, seven men oversee it all.

It is so complicated, in fact, that fellow board member Robert Ruyle said it takes several years on the board before a member really understands it.

“Water board members serve 10-15 years before they really know what to do,” Ruyle said. “Even if they come to the board with water experience. Our system is unique, and it takes a while to understand it.”

It is also why, Evans said, the water board needs the absolute power it currently enjoys.

“The primary reason for establishing it this way was to provide for long-term needs in a non-political way,” Evans said.

Not everyone agrees, however, including a former top Greeley official who may take a proposal to the voters to put the power back into the hands of the Greeley City Council.

Many argue the Greeley water board has too much power, and its authority to set rates, development fees and the cost to bring raw water to a new development are all too high and there is no one that can reverse its decisions.

Members of the water board say what most don’t realize is how far ahead of the game Greeley is compared to other communities and water districts in northern Colorado.

And that — they say — is because of the way the Greeley Home Rule Charter is set up, giving board members the power to set rates and fees, acquire water and manage the system that cleans and transports it.

“When you think about what you pay for a cup of coffee, we supply a gallon of safe drinking water for four-tenths of one penny,” Evans said.

Board members all believe they are assuring many more generations to come plenty of the precious resource.

But has the original intention of Greeley’s forefathers outlived its usefulness?

Should voters change the way water has been managed for nearly six decades?

It all depends on who you ask.

WHICH WAY DID IT GO?

From as far away as Lake Granby on the Western Slope, into the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and eventually the South Platte River; or from as far away as Cameron Pass and the Poudre River, spring snow melt from the mountains flows through 500 miles of pipeline into two water treatment plants and into homes and business in Greeley.

It didn’t take long after Greeley was founded in 1869 for its forefathers to realize they needed to secure the rights to the water coming out of the mountains.

W.D. Farr, known to many as Mr. Water, and former Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen are credited for bringing water from the Colorado River across the Continental Divide and to the Front Range. The Greeley water system is among the most elaborate and most rich in the nation, everyone close to the situation says.

Many say that’s thanks to the authority granted the Greeley Water Board when it was formed in the 1958 charter to manage the system.

Norman Dean, who was a member of the charter committee and one of those responsible for the Water Board’s authority, said it was a battle over who to put in charge.

“It was a very contentious subject,” Dean said. “Some guys wanted it to be a department of the city.”

But in the end, a University of Northern Colorado professor convinced the majority, including Dean, that it needed to be separate.

“Water and sewer generates a lot of money,” Dean said. “He did not want it to flow into the general fund for city council to use it as they wanted.”

Technically, it is a department of the city, but it is run by the water board.

The other option, said Leonard Wiest, former Greeley city manager who is now a consultant, would be to make the board an advisory board. Let them continue to do what they do, but leave the final decision to the Greeley City Council.

“We get a chance to vote on the city council,” Wiest said. “If we don’t like what they do, we can vote them out. The only thing the council can do right now to the water board is cut the budget. But they never do that either.”

The seven members of the water board are appointed by city council to serve a five-year term and cannot be recalled by voters. At the end of that term, they must be reappointed to serve again. However, no one can recall a time when the council did not reappoint someone.

“If at anytime they came to one of us and said, ‘We don’t think you’re doing your job,’ we would step down,” Evans said. “We may make decisions that some may not like, but we have to do what is best for the whole big picture.”

Additionally, there are no limits to the number of terms a water board member can serve. New members are recommended to the city council by the current board, leaving some to refer to it as a “good ol’ boys club.”

Many members have served for decades. Dean, who served 15 years on the board from 1989-1994, said that, too, was thought out by the charter committee.

“It seemed a shame to put term limits on them,” Dean said. “They finally get to understand it all and then they have to leave the board.”

The board controls a $26 million budget. Although city council ultimately has to approve any loans the water board requests, the water board has the authority to borrow money and sell bonds without going to voters, Wiest said.

“It’s taxation without representation,” Wiest said. “The water and sewer board is entirely independent. They do whatever they want.”

The board is responsible for setting water and sewer rates, plant investment fees (which are fees paid by a developer when a new home or business is constructed) and cash-in-lieu charges to get water to a new development.

Council can raise the rates and fees, but has no authority to lower the rates below a minimum formula set by the charter, which includes things such as depreciation and maintenance.

City Manager Roy Otto equates it to buying a car. You have to pay a minimum amount for a basic car, but all the bells and whistles are additional. If the water and sewer board wanted to raise the rates above what the formula says is needed to pay the bills, council could deny that.

“I have never since I’ve been city manager had a disagreement over the budget,” Otto said of the recommended budget versus what the council wants. “We all understand the importance of our rate structure. We have a sound system, I would put our system up against any in the area because the charter language considers depreciation and maintenance.”

Developers, however, have recently threatened to stop building in Greeley because development fees, especially for water and sewer, are too high, they say.

Many developers in the area have asked Wiest to lead an effort to ask voters to amend the Home Rule Charter in November, to make it an advisory board.

Wiest isn’t sure yet if he will, but he’s leaning toward leading the effort.

WHO PAYS THE WAY FOR GROWTH?

Greeley City Council has long charged its staff with the directive that growth pays its own way. In other words, fees should be charged to handle improvements or expansions when new developments come in.

Water and sewer is no different. New developments require the developer to supply the water rights to service the area, and new residential and commercial development must pay plant investment fees to help with maintenance and expansion to the system when it is needed because of growth.

However, the fees set by the water board are the source of disagreement.

At several recent meetings held by the city to discuss increased development fees that go in effect March 1, real estate brokers and contractors expressed concern that development was about to stop in Greeley because they can’t afford to build here compared to other communities. In particular, many believe the water and sewer fees charged against developers are too excessive.

Their contention is the increased fees drive up the cost of new homes in an area continuing to battle with poverty.

A recent attempt to lower those fees failed on a 4-3 city council vote. The argument against lowering the fees is that it puts the burden of paying for growth in the water system on the current users.

“It’s a philosophical belief,” Evans said. “Because on the other hand, you can say new development benefits everyone.”

Wiest said the water and sewer board are more concerned about someone who may move here in 50 years than they are those who live here now.

“The growth factor flies in our face,” Wiest said. “The person who moves here in 50 years will still have to bring their own water. But we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for water for the future.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Water board members say they are only trying to continue the logic of Farr, which has made Greeley the envy of many in Colorado for its long-term planning and vision in acquiring water rights.

“When you think about the previous boards and what they’ve done, we have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants,” Evans said.

He added the land around northern Colorado is drying up, and people need to remember where they live.

“We are an arid landscape, but we want to look like the Midwest,” Evans said. “We have had water restrictions in place since 1905 for a reason.”

Ruyle agreed, adding it is getting more and more difficult every day to acquire water.

“It is a challenge to be able to acquire enough raw water to supply new growth for the city,” Ruyle said. “It is a limited resource in the area we live.”

In fact, 80 percent to 85 percent of the water used in Colorado is still used for agricultural purposes. That is a real challenge, both men said, because changing water use from ag to domestic in water court is a complicated process.

So what happens when Greeley’s economy moves away from agriculture? Evans asked.

“It is predicted we will have more than double our population by 2050,” Evans said. “Where is the water going to come from? What is it going to look like in 2050? Who knows? We’ll figure it out, but it’s going to look different.

“But we are fortunate to have the system we have. It allows us to do things others can’t do. When 2100 rolls around, I hope people look back on us and say, ‘Those guys in 2015 did a great job for us.’ ”

More Greeley coverage here.


Upward is the only recent direction for C-BT share prices

February 9, 2015

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities


From BizWest (Steve Lynn):

Prices of Colorado-Big Thompson water have reached an all-time high, selling for nearly three times more than just two years ago.

Shares of the water went for more than $26,000 apiece at an auction Jan. 23, according to Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the equivalent of $52,000 an acre foot. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve 2.5 households annually.

The water was bought for industrial and municipal uses, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the district. The identity of the buyer has not yet been disclosed.

The high prices are likely to cause concern in the agricultural world, where farm water traditionally has been lower priced. Residential homebuilders also are likely to feel the squeeze, as fees for new water taps rise.

“It’s fairly expensive water these days, if you can find it,” Werner said. “Some people can’t even find it.”[…]

Built originally in the 1930s to serve the region’s massive irrigated agriculture economy, shares in the C-BT gradually have been acquired by fast-growing cities and energy companies. Now the water is largely owned by cities, and leased back to farmers or others who seek to use it on a temporary annual basis.

How much water is associated with each share in the system changes each year and is based on how much water is derived from snowpacks and precipitation. This year, a share of water equals six-tenths of an acre foot since the Northern Water Board of Directors declared a 60 percent quota last April, meaning water-rights owners can use only 60 percent of the resource they own.

The high prices for water come despite record levels of water storage in October in the district’s reservoirs, which span Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley.

“Storage remained high throughout this year and through the winter,” Werner said.

As of Jan. 1, Colorado-Big Thompson had 665,000 acre feet of water in storage, 45 percent above normal, Werner said.

The higher levels stemmed from above-average snowpack, increased precipitation and less water delivered to water users. Flooding in September 2013 also replenished groundwater supplies in many areas.

Higher water storage may mean more water available to rent, but it may not affect water-rights prices, said Tom Cech, director of One World One Water at Metropolitan State University.

“The price of (Colorado-Big Thompson) water and other water rights in the region are directly tied to demand such as from energy development, water for fracking purposes, and then urban development,” Cech said. “Those are the two big drivers.”

Fracking involves pumping millions of gallons of water under high pressure deep underground to free oil and gas from dense shale formations. As energy companies benefit from the water, Cech said, agriculture has faced increasing challenges because of the high water prices.

“Irrigated agriculture is generally short of adequate water supplies,” he said. “In the wet years, there’s enough, but you always have the dry years around the corner.”

Slowing energy development because of lower oil prices could temper high water prices in the next year or so, he said. Oil and natural-gas drilling permits approved in Weld County remained flat during the third and fourth quarters amid falling oil prices, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Urban development, however, has shown no signs of abating. The population of Weld and Larimer counties is expected to grow from 580,000 to more than 1 million people by 2040.

“You have to have water supplies for the new residents, so developers and municipalities have to go out and acquire more water rights,” he said. “That should drive the price of water up.”

Developers in Northern Colorado cities such as Greeley already face higher tap fees when they have to rely on Colorado-Big Thompson water.

\If developers do not have water to supply their developments, they instead pay cash to use Greeley’s supply. Here also, rates have skyrocketed, with Greeley charging $25,000 per share in recent months, nearly triple the $9,000 per share it was charging in October 2012, according to Eric Reckentine, the city of Greeley’s deputy director of water resources.

Mike DiTullio, district manager for the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, said the higher prices are making new homes increasingly expensive. He said he closed a deal in January for 200 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water – for about $5 million, at $25,000 per share.

The higher water prices will not affect rates of existing residential customers, DiTullio said. Instead, new homeowners and developers will foot the bill. The water district serves about 16,000 customers in Larimer County.

“That increase in raw water costs is paid for by new houses,” he said. “There’s no such thing as affordable housing in Larimer and Weld counties.”


The latest edition of Northern Water’s “Waternews” is hot off the presses

January 14, 2015


Northern Water plans hydropower plant at the base of Granby Dam

December 26, 2014
Granby Dam via Reclamation

Granby Dam via Reclamation

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

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District plans to construct a hydropower plant at the base of Granby Dam.

“It’s economically feasible to put a little power plant on the outlet structure there, so we’re going to move forward with it,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Granby Hydropower Project could generate a maximum of 7 million kilowatt-hours per year, Werner said.

Revenues from the station could reach $390,000 annually, according to documents from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The project will use existing releases from Granby Dam to the Colorado River.

Northern Water plans to sell the power generated at the station to Mountain Parks Electric Inc., Werner said.

“This fits in well with those producers that have to have green power,” he said…

Construction on the new plant could begin in summer of 2015, Werner said.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Reclamation Signs Record of Decision for Windy Gap Firming Project in North Central Colorado

December 19, 2014

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Michael J. Ryan signed the Record of Decision, contract and associated documents, for the Windy Gap Firming Project, located southwest of Loveland, Colo.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an exceptional example of the federal government working with our partners to get big things done,” said Ryan. “This project represents an immense effort from a diverse group of stakeholders who pulled together and created a workable project that provides benefits to the people of Colorado and the nation.”

The signing of the ROD culminates a years-long effort by multiple water providers to increase the reliability of, or “firm,” the Windy Gap Project water supply, increasing reliable annual yield from zero to approximately 26,000 acre-feet.

“This is an important milestone for the Windy Gap Participants who have worked tirelessly over many years to make today a reality,” said Eric Wilkinson, General Manager for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Today the development and construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project is one very significant step closer to reality. Thanks go out to all those who negotiated in good faith over the last several years to develop a number of agreements that form the foundation for the documents being signed today.”

The project potentially entails construction of a 90,000 acre-foot water storage reservoir, Chimney Hollow, south of Flatiron Reservoir on the East Slope, to provide more reliable water deliveries to Colorado’s Front Range communities and industry. The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will also provide additional recreational opportunities that would be developed and managed by Larimer County.

“The process outcome is what all future water projects should be based on,” the Grand County Commissioners said in a statement. “We believe that consultation with Grand County during the 2014 contract negotiations is an indication of Reclamation’s commitment to open decision-making on matters involving operations of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.”

Reclamation, along with Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict, have negotiated a contract allowing the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for Windy Gap Project water. New connections between Chimney Hollow Reservoir and C-BT Project facilities would allow water delivery to participants using existing C-BT infrastructure. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water would also be “prepositioned” in the Subdistrict’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help improve the reliability of Windy Gap Project water deliveries. Total allowable C-BT Project storage or yield would not change. The estimated total construction cost for Chimney Hollow Reservoir and associated facilities is $223 million (in 2005 dollars) for the dam, reservoir, appurtenances and conveyance facilities. It is estimated that Chimney Hollow could be operational in five to seven years.

To view the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement and other associated documents, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/windy_gap.html.

Here’s the release from Northern Water (Brian Werner):

The Windy Gap Firming Project received its Record of Decision Dec. 19, 2014, during a signing ceremony at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud. Mike Ryan, Great Plains Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, signed the firming project’s long- anticipated ROD.

Officials from Northern Water, Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict and Reclamation also signed a new Carriage Contract allowing Windy Gap water to be transported from the West Slope to Chimney Hollow Reservoir using existing Colorado-Big Thompson Project facilities.

The ROD identifies and confirms Chimney Hollow Reservoir as the firming project’s preferred alternative. If built as proposed, Chimney Hollow Reservoir would store up to 90,000 acre-feet of water southwest of Loveland and just west of Carter Lake.

“Signing the Record of Decision and new Carriage Contract is a major milestone for the project,” said Jeff Drager, Project Manager for the Windy Gap Firming Project. “With Chimney Hollow Reservoir, the Windy Gap Firming Project will be able to provide 26,000 acre-feet of water year in and year out to growing communities in Northeastern Colorado.”
Dennis Yanchunas, President of Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict, applauded the participants’ perseverance. “While this has taken a number of years, it is worth the effort as Chimney Hollow Reservoir is that much closer to reality.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project is a collaboration of 12 Northeastern Colorado water providers and Platte River Power Authority to improve the reliability of their Windy Gap water supplies. Windy Gap began delivering water in 1985.

The participants include 10 municipalities: Broomfield, Erie, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland and Superior; two water districts: Central Weld County and Little Thompson; and one power provider: Platte River.

The firming project’s federal permitting process began in 2003 under the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011 along with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission’s approval of a fish and wildlife mitigation plan.

Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir could begin in 2018.

Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict is a separate and independent conservancy district formed by six municipalities in 1970 to build and operate the Windy Gap Project. The Windy Gap Project consists of a diversion dam and pump plant on the Colorado River, and a six-mile pipeline to Lake Granby.

Northern Water is a public agency created in 1937 to contract with Reclamation to build the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Northern Water’s boundaries encompass portions of eight counties, 640,000 irrigated acres and a population of about 880,000 people. For more information, visit http://www.northernwater.org.Reservoir.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


Kokanee take a dive in Lake Granby — The Sky-Hi Daily News

December 19, 2014

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

The numbers are in, and once again, the cards seemed to be stacked against the kokanee salmon population in Lake Granby.

This year’s annual kokanee salmon egg collection at Lake Granby yielded around 72,000 eggs, an alarming drop from the 357,000 eggs collected in 2013.

“This is the worst egg take since 1999,” said Jon Ewert, a biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Ewert heads the annual egg count in Grand County, which includes Granby, Wolford and Williams Fork reservoirs.

“Historically, Granby used to be the biggest producer of eggs for the whole state, and it used to be the only source of eggs that we needed,” Ewert said…

Perfect storm

The question of why the kokanee are struggling in Lake Granby is a complicated one, and some are quick to point to one culprit – lake trout.

Lake trout, which eat kokanee, have grown in numbers in recent years, putting pressure on the kokanee population. But Ewert said the equation is more complicated.

Recent high water years have favored Mysis shrimp, which compete with the kokanee for zooplankton.

Lake Granby has a tendency to stratify in normal to low water years, which means warm water rises above cold to create two separate zones.

Mysis shrimp are usually confined to cold bottom layer, while kokanee and zooplankton stay in the warmer top layer, Ewert said.

In high water years, the lake takes longer to stratify, giving the shrimp access to the zooplankton for longer.

The high variability of water levels makes it difficult to maintain a consistent fishery.

“You’re always trying to achieve a balance between the Mysis, lake trout, kokanee and zooplankton,” Ewert said. “Those are kind of the main players, but the scale is always tipping one way or the other. There are very few years when you can say that it’s perfect.”

If the interplay of environmental pressures isn’t enough, Ewert said spilling over Granby Dam has also had an impact on the kokanee population.

Specifically, Ewert pointed to 2011, which was a heavy spill year. That year, CPW found kokanee at the bottom of Granby Dam.

This would be about the time when population impacts from spilling in 2011 would become apparent, Ewert said.

“There’s definitely a relationship there, too,” Ewert said.

Searching for solutions

CPW has been looking for a solution to Lake Granby’s kokanee problem in recent years.

But restocking isn’t enough to prop up Laky Granby’s dwindling population, and the CPW has been asking anglers in Lake Granby to keep their limit of Lake Trout.

Additionally, Ewert said that an increase on the bag limit for lake trout is a possibility.

But Keefe, whose main livelihood is trophy lake trout, said any future action needs to take the economic benefits of the lake trout fishery into account.

“If we’re changing the limits, we’ve got to make sure we’re changing them where it’s good for the long haul,” Keefe said. “If we take big fish out of the lake then we may never see them again.”

A healthy lake trout populations does rely on a healthy kokanee population, Ewert said.

Keefe suggested a slot limit, to help protect the trophy mackinaw that draw so many to Lake Granby.

Currently, Keefe said he asks anglers to throw back lake trout over 20 inches.

“Very few fish make it past 20 inches,” Keefe said.

An increase in the bag limit isn’t necessarily on tap for this year, but anglers could see one in the future, Ewert said.

“A lot of it is going to depend on what kind of a snow year that we have,” he said.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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