Path to Grand Lake clarity standard far from clear #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2014
Grand Lake via Cornell University

Grand Lake via Cornell University

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

Keep Grand Lake Blue. If you’re a resident of Grand County, you’ve probably seen those words pasted proudly to someone’s bumper. To the uninitiated, it seems like an innocuous, if not benevolent, goal. But to some Grand Lake fisherman, the issue is far from clear…

…a recent study by Brett Johnson, a professor in CSU’s department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology.

The study found that “pumping from Shadow Mountain Reservoir has an “enriching effect that should be beneficial to Grand Lake’s fish populations.”[…]

In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission set in motion a process to develop a clarity standard for Grand Lake.

Most of the solutions proposed so far would include bypassing Grand Lake, eliminating the influx of dirty, nutrient rich water from Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

In turn, Johnson postulates this could result in declines in sport fish growth and production.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, Katherine Morris, Grand County’s water quality specialist, raised some concerns with Johnson’s study, namely that the nutrient sources that Johnson identified were primarily cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria are less edible than phytoplankton, and when they die in large quantities, they can be toxic.

Johnson has conceded that pumping cyanobacteria into Grand Lake wouldn’t be a good idea, Morris said.

Cyanobacteria are currently the primary producers in both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

“If we weren’t pumping the wrong nutrient ratio into Grand Lake, that might not be a problem,” Morris said.

Grand County will be issuing a rebuttal to the study, Morris said.


Northern Water fall meeting recap: Water, water everywhere, Granby spill in 2015? #ColoradoRiver

November 7, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

The message about northern Colorado’s water resources was decidedly positive Wednesday at Northern Water’s annual year-in-review meeting at the Hilton in Fort Collins. Wet weather from spring and summer continued momentum started by 2013’s floods and replenished reservoirs to some of their highest levels on record, the conservancy district reported.

“We are in one of the best positions we’ve been in a long time,” said Andy Pineda, water resources department manager for Northern Water.

The Colorado-Big Thompson project has the highest storage levels on record, said Brian Werner, Northern Water’s communications director.

As of Nov. 1, Granby, Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs held over 700,000 acre feet. At the same time in 2012, a notable drought year for Colorado, the same three reservoirs hovered around half of current levels.

“We’ve known for quite a while that this is one of the best water years we’ve ever had. Anytime you’re at those kinds of numbers, you’re feeling pretty good about next year,” Werner said.

Pineda said storage levels began to climb with Colorado’s massive floods in 2013. Since then, snowpack has remained high and rainfall has stayed consistent.

“Because the year was so good and the rivers produced well, there was less pressure on our water in storage. So, we have the ability to carry that over to the future. We start off the year without having to worry about filling those reservoirs,” Pineda said.

“Even if it is dry, it’s going to have to be one of those extraordinary dry years, which I don’t see right now, in order for us to not get through that year. From what we’ve got in the system right now, we have a comfortable two-year supply.”

Division 1 engineer Dave Nettles explained that water abundance has also relieved pressure on the South Platte.

“We are under a free river in basically the whole basin right now. If you want water in the South Platte Basin right now, you can take it. We have plenty of water,” he said, in sharp contrast to the messaging in 2012.

Lower pressure on the river should provide farmers the opportunity to ease off of groundwater resources.

“Generally wells and pumps are supplemental. With abundant surface supplies, there is probably going to be less reliance on that. It will also give those farmers using those wells the opportunity to do some recharge,” Pineda said.

Going into winter, Pineda forecast some El Niño weather that could bring more moisture to Colorado and possibly to drought-stricken California.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero” — Brian Werner #ColoradoRiver

October 15, 2014

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call


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

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict have negotiated a contract that would allow the subdistrict to use excess capacity in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project, according to a press release. A 30-day public comment period on the contract opened Oct. 8 and will close Nov. 7…

Currently, Windy Gap water rights are in priority during wet years, though paradoxically the C-BT project is often too full to hold excess water. Because the Windy Gap Project has a junior water right, it is often not able to divert water during dry years, when there is available capacity in the C-BT project.

“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero because there are some years where they can’t get any water out of the project,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. The added storage capacity would “firm up,” or reinforce the Windy Gap water right during dry years. The contract is needed to use federal infrastructure to firm up the Windy Gap water right.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Mike Ryan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a prepared statement. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The Windy Gap project is allowed to divert a maximum of 90,000 acre feet in a single year, and its 10-year running average cannot exceed 65,000 acre feet per year.

The cost for using the excess capacity will be $34 per acre-foot, said Tyler Johnson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Initial estimates for the Windy Gap Firming Project put the cost at $270 million.

Also up for comment is Senate Document 80, which contains guidelines for project facilities and auxiliary features, and Section 14 Determination Memos, which authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights.


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

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

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong monsoon season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter outlook

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

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

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

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

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


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

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

Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

From the North Forty News (Jeff Thomas):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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.


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