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.


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.


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