The latest Northern Water “E-Waternews” is hot off the presses

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

<blockquoteThe Northern Water Board of Directors set 2016 water assessments during an Aug. 6, 2015 public hearing. Assessments for open-rate irrigation contracts increased from $10.90 per acre-foot unit to $17.60, and assessments for open-rate municipal, industrial and multipurpose contracts increased from $30.50 per acre-foot unit to $35.90.

The Board followed its general rate-setting objectives, which are outlined in its 2014 forward guidance resolution. Among other objectives, the resolution proposed a 2-year step increase in assessments beginning in 2016, and moving irrigation assessments towards a cost-of-service based rate. Both of these objectives are represented in the 2016 assessments.

The Board will consider forward guidance that provides an estimated range for 2017 and 2018 water assessments at its Sept. 3 Planning and Action meeting.

For information on water assessments, please contact Sherri Rasmussen at 970-622-2217.

New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Debate continues to swirl around water clarity standards for Grand Lake, but recently stake holders on the Western Slope presented a new proposal in hopes of moving negotiations forward.

Western Slope stakeholders recently presented a revised clarity standard proposal to the Water Clarity Stakeholders group for consideration. The revised clarity standard proposal presented by the Western Slope stakeholders is for 3.8 meters, or 12.5 feet, with a 2.5 meter, or 8.2 feet, minimum clarity depth. This is a reduction from their previous proposal of a 4-meter standard.

Representatives from the Western slope stakeholders together with others from the east side of the continental Divide make up the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee (WCSC). The WCSC is formed from the various entities affected by water clarity in Grand Lake and the operation of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), which pulls water from the Three Lakes region that is sent through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel out of Grand Lake to the Front Range.

The WCSC includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Town of Grand Lake, Western Area Power Administration, Grand County, Northern Water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, power consumers from the affected area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, Northwest COG, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, U.S. Geological Survey, the Grand County Water Information Network, and various other groups.

Representatives from the WCSC hope to negotiate a single water clarity proposal amongst themselves that can be presented to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the entity that will give final approval of any new water clarity standard. The Commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The WCSC is working toward a deadline; their proposal is due in November.


Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran has helped shepherd the process for the county.

“The West Slope group came up with compromises we felt we could live with and presented them to the larger group,” she said.

Underbrink-Curran explained that if the various groups cannot come to agreement on a proposal then multiple proposals will likely be submitted to the Water Quality Commission.

“Sometimes the various factors to consider are at odds,” she said. “If the Stakeholders group can’t come to a coordinated proposal then the West Slope group would make a proposal and the East Slope group would likely make their own proposal.”

The debate has been ongoing for several years now and started in earnest in 2008 when a committee was formed to study possible methods for improving water clarity in Grand Lake. According to Canton O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, that committee, which later became the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee, was formed from the sustained lobbying efforts of the Three Lakes Watershed Association to improve the water clarity standard.

“All these years we have proposed a 4-meter standard,” said Canton. “Northern Water says that is not possible.”


The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, better known as Northern Water, operates the C-BT though the facilities are officially owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t think that is an attainable standard,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for Northern Water. “Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”

Werner also expressed concerns over how such a standard would be enforced and how penalties for failing to meet any new standard would be applied.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Grand Lake clarity standard

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From The Denver Post (Canton O’Donnell):

In 2008, those concerned for Grand Lake established a site-specific water clarity standard through the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission. This visionary application of a water quality standard to lake clarity, which was intended to restore the scenic attraction of Grand Lake, is unprecedented in Colorado.

Now, negotiations are ramping up to modify specifics of the standard. Western Slope stakeholders recently made broad concessions on a possible joint standard proposal with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which distributes C-BT water to Northern Front Range consumers. The concessions are intended to be motivating yet practical for all stakeholders

The Western Slope stakeholders’ proposal — a target of 12.5 feet average clarity, with a 8.2 foot minimum — is still a far cry from the 30.2 feet of clarity measured prior to implementation of the C-BT. Yet this proposed clarity standard is an effort to recognize the water-delivery mandate of the Colorado-Big Thompson system while protecting lake health and allowing time for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate a more robust permanent solution.

The Western Slope stakeholders — made up of Grand County government, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, the town of Grand Lake, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and the Colorado River District — proposed this modified standard to be applicable for all of July, August and 11 days in September at the height of the region’s tourist season.

It is the hope of Eastern and Western Slope stakeholders to arrive at an agreement prior to the start of Colorado Water Quality Control Commission submittals beginning in November, for the sake of this valued resource.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.

Granby: “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

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

During the meeting, officials from the Upper Colorado River Basin’s biggest water interests including Northern Water, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spoke about some of the basin’s biggest issues, including the state of runoff and snowpack in the region and the movement at Ritschard Dam on Wolford Mountain Reservoir.

Though snowpack seemed to falter during what proved to be a rather dry March, it’s been building steadily over the last three to four weeks, explained Don Meyer with the Colorado River District.

The variations in snowpack have pushed the basin into “uncharted territory,” he said.

“I think the message here is think 2010 in terms of snowpack,” Meyer said.

Though he added that snowpack is not analogous to runoff, Meyer said 2015 “will likely eclipse 2010 in terms of stream flow.”

Victor Lee with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation echoed Meyer, adding that recent cold temperatures across the region have allowed snowpack to persist.

Though snowpack is currently below average, it could linger past the point at which the average snowpack tends to drop…

If the current snowpack does translate into high runoff in Grand County, there may not be anywhere to put it, Lee said.

Front Range reservoirs are full, and storage in Lake Granby is the highest it’s ever been for this time of year, according to Lee’s presentation…

Though it could be a good runoff year for Grand County, Meyer said that snow-water equivalent above Lake Powell is still well below average, making it a dry year for the Upper Colorado River Basin overall.


Officials aren’t sure when the settling and movement at Ritschard Dam will stop, but it poses no threat to safety, said John Currier with the Colorado River District.

“We really are absolutely confident that we don’t have an imminent safety problem with this dam,” Currier said…


The Bureau of Reclamation will increase flows from the Granby Dam to 1,500 CFS around May 29 and maintain those flows until around June 8, Lee said.

The releases will be part of an endangered fish recovery program and will be coordinated with releases from other basin reservoirs to enhance peak flows in the Grand Valley where the plan is focused.

Wolford Mountain Reservoir will also participate in the coordinated releases, Meyer said.

The program hopes to re-establish bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and humpback chub populations to a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River above Grand Junction.


After receiving its Record of Decision last year, the Windy Gap Firming Project’s next major hurdle is acquiring a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, said Don Carlson with Northern Water.

The permit regulates dredged or fill material into water as part of the Clean Water Act.

Northern Water hopes to acquire the permit this year, with construction possibly beginning in 2016 or 2017, Carlson said.

The project seeks to firm up the Windy Gap water right with a new Front Range reservoir. The project currently stores water in Lake Granby.

Because it’s a junior water right, yield for the project is little to nothing in dry years.

Northern Water also hopes to establish a free-flowing channel of the Colorado River beside the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass Project.

The new channel would allow for fish migration and improve aquatic habitat along the Colorado River.

That project still needs $6 million of its projected $10 million cost.


Moffat Tunnel flows are hovering around 15 CFS as Denver Water is getting high yield from its Boulder Creek water right, said Bob Steger with Denver Water.

The increased yield from that junior water right means flows through Moffat Tunnel will remain low through early summer, Steger said.

“The point is we’ll be taking a lot less water than we normally do,” he said.

Denver Water expects its flows through the tunnel to increase in late summer as its yield from Boulder Creek drops, Steger said.

Williams Fork Reservoir, which is used to fulfill Denver Water’s obligations on the Western Slope, is expected to fill in three to four weeks, Steger said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Flows to increase from Granby Dam #ColoradoRiver

Granby Dam via Reclamation
Granby Dam via Reclamation

Here’s the release from Northern Water and the Bureau of Reclamation (Brian Werner/Peter Soeth):

Releases through outlet valves will make room in Lake Granby for predicted spring runoff

The Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Water will be increasing the water releases from Lake Granby on Friday, May 1. Operators will ramp up releases to 430 cubic feet per second through the outlet valves which will enable reservoir operators to better manage the peak spills later this spring.

With the Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs at record storage levels for late April, the likelihood of spills at Lake Granby are a virtual certainty.

“What we are trying to do by increasing releases now is reduce the peak of the runoff to alleviate flooding concerns below Granby,” said Noble Underbrink, Collection Systems Department Manager for Northern Water.

Northern Water and Reclamation are completing maintenance and repair project on the Lake Granby spillway. Once complete by mid-May, reservoir operators will route the peak flows through the spillway to the Colorado River downstream.

“Working together, we can alleviate the flooding concerns below Granby and maximize the amount of water we can store in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, ” Eastern Colorado Area Office Manager Jacklynn Gould said.

Lake Granby is currently at 92 percent of capacity, about 6 feet from full.

The current forecast is that operators will be able to keep the spills to below the amount at which downstream flooding occurs.

Underbrink said the preemptive releases have been used many times in previous years. “With the C-BT reservoir system nearly full, the forecasts indicate there will be more runoff than the reservoirs can hold.”

The flows and forecasts will be monitored and adjustments made accordingly as inflows pick up in the next few weeks.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

No watering restrictions for Broomfield


From the Broomfield Enterprise (Megan Quinn):

Despite a dry March, Broomfield will not impose summer water restrictions this year after learning it will receive its typical allocation from its main water supplier.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District last week announced it would provide users their typical amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, because the storage reservoir is more full than normal. The district typically allocates about 70 percent of its supply for water users unless resources are limited. Last year, the allocation was 60 percent.

That means Broomfield residents won’t have to scrimp on water this summer, but officials are still asking residents to use only what they need…

Broomfield gets more than half of its water supply from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and the rest from Denver Water and the Windy Gap project. All three rely on mountain snowpack.

Water runoff from snowpack is a major indicator of how much water there will be for cities in the coming year.

Even though precipitation was just 21 percent of average in March, Northern Water’s overall water supplies are much higher than normal, said spokesman Brian Werner.

C-BT, which provides water for Broomfield and 32 other cities and towns, was “at an all-time high” for April 1, and other local storage reservoirs were above normal, Werner said.

On top of that, a large snowstorm on Thursday dumped more moisture in the high country, which “will help slow down the melt and keep us in good shape,” he said…

In Broomfield, single-family residential users account for 56 percent of total water use, according to the city’s 2013 water rate study.

Park Services Superintendent Gary Schnoor said Broomfield also is monitoring its water use. Conserving water is just as important for Broomfield as it is for its residents, especially because the parks department uses the most water of any department in Broomfield.

To conserve and reuse that water, about half of Broomfield’s parks, about 553 acres, are watered with reclaimed water.

“We pay per 1,000 gallons, just like you do at home. It’s one of our big budget items,” he said.

Caleb Davis, an irrigation systems coordinator for the city, said the dry March weather meant employees had to start watering parks a little earlier than usual.

Rain and snow can help save the city’s water supply. Last year, Broomfield used 380 million gallons of water on the parks and landscape.

Worst case, the parks department could use up to 500 million gallons during the driest years, Davis said.

Northern Water bumps up quota to 70% for the season due to record storage

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

Northern Water’s Board increased the Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota allocation to 70 percent today. With C-BT Project storage at an all-time high for April 1, local storage reservoirs above normal and with mountain snowpacks declining, the Board chose to make available an average supplemental quota for 2015.

The approval increased available C-BT water supplies by 20 percent, or 62,000 acre feet, from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November.

The Board considered input from farmers and municipal water providers, demonstrating the varying demands and complex circumstances directors must consider when setting the quota. C-BT supplements other sources of water for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area.

Directors carefully considered streamflow forecasts, which have declined since the beginning of March to below average in all C-BT related watersheds. Snowpack in watersheds contributing to C-BT inflow have gone from above average on March 1 to approximately 15 percent below average in April. In addition, March precipitation throughout Northern Water’s boundaries was just 21 percent of average.

Directors also took into consideration the drought throughout much of the American West and the potential for a dry spring or summer. Board Vice-President Kenton Brunner emphasized, “The Board always has the option to increase the quota in future months if conditions warrant.”

“We’re in good shape storage-wise and better prepared to have a down snowpack year than in many other years,” said Andy Pineda, Water Resources Department Manager. “The weather changes from year-to-year and we never know how much precipitation the mountains will receive, so having storage reservoirs this full is very beneficial for water users.”

Directors based their decision on the need for supplemental water for the coming year, while balancing project operations and maintaining water in storage for future dry years.

To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.