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.

Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

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.

Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

“In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

“Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

“Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.

The Windy Gap Firming project moves closer to implementation #ColoradoRiver

Chimney Hollow Reservoir site -- Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site — Bureau of Reclamation via The Denver Post

Here’s a guest column written by Jim Pokrandt that is running in the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) intergovernmental agreement (IGA) is in final form but has not been totally wrapped up because two important preconditions have not been completed, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors at its October meeting.

Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and the West Slope, the Windy Gap Firming Project IGA is a package of mitigation enhancements that would be part of the Windy Gap Firming Project once it is permitted for the Municipal Subdistrict of Northern Water by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The preconditions for the River District’s execution of the agreement are that the United States (1) makes a satisfactory finding that the WGFP can be operated consistent with Senate Document 80 — meaning no impact to the United States’ obligations to the beneficiaries, including West Slope beneficiaries, of the Colorado Big Thompson (C‐BT) Project, and (2) adopts an enforceable provision recognizing that if the River District does not challenge the WGFP permitting decision, that it does not waive any legal rights regarding federal decisions involving the same or similar legal issues.

Fleming anticipated that that these conditions will be satisfied in the context of Reclamation’s final record of decision on the WGFP, which is expected in the first part of 2014. In the meantime, Fleming said the River District has worked extensively with Grand County on matters related to the WGFP and the operation of the C-BT Project — including the Grand Lake Water Clarity Agreement and the upcoming initiation of the WGFP Carriage Contract negotiations.

With respect to the Grand Lake clarity issues, Fleming reported there have been several meetings with Reclamation and Northern to help ensure that a workable solution can be reached to meet the Grand Lake water quality standard. An important goal in that regard has been to avoid a stalemate over a massively expensive “fix” that could require a separate congressional authorization and appropriation.

With regard to the WGFP carriage contract negotiations, the River District has assisted Grand County in efforts to secure the best possible negotiating position in Reclamation’s negotiation process.

Fleming said the River District believes Grand County’s specifically identified role in Senate Document 80 entitles the county (and its advisers) to a more involved position in the negotiations than Reclamation’s standard “sit and‐observe” role for members of the public in its contract negotiation process.

Another goal is to ensure that the Windy Gap water that Grand County is entitled to use pursuant to the IGA can be stored in Granby Reservoir for no charge or at a very affordable rate.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

US Bureau of Reclamation: Final Grand Lake Water clarity technical review now available #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb/Mike Collins):

The Bureau of Reclamation has finalized its Grand Lake Water Clarity Technical Review and Work Plan that addresses concerns of water clarity at Colorado’s Grand Lake. The report is available at

“We appreciate the participation of our partners and stakeholders in this very important process,” said Eastern Colorado Area Manager, Mike Collins. “It has helped us streamline the process and take an important step forward.”

The purpose of the Technical Review is to provide a roadmap outlining the steps required to transition numerous proposed alternatives to improve the clarity of Grand Lake into a 30% engineering design. The Technical Review considers non-construction operational changes, as well as potential constructed alternatives.

To download the report in PDF, please visit

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

Grand County and Northern Water are in negotiations for a 1041 permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project #CORiver


Here’s an analysis of last week’s meeting from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Working through a list of 32 conditions for the permit, representatives from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District sat before commissioners in the boardroom of the Grand County Administration Building on Tuesday, along with Grand County’s water counsel, and hashed out wording of each of the conditions in search of agreements among stakeholders…

Aside from disagreements about three different monitoring plans mentioned in conditions of the permit, at least one other condition remains a sticking point — a condition involving the clarity of Grand Lake. The county has proposed a condition stating the permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project will not go into effect until a federal plan, on course to include a National Environmental Policy Act process, is in place — charting the way toward a solution of the Grand Lake clarity problem. Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner put pressure on Northern representatives during Tuesday’s hearing about needed “assurances” that a solution will be realized for Colorado’s largest natural water body. Bumgarner advocated for language “that holds feet to the fire.”

But Northern representatives objected to the project’s 1041 permit being conditional upon a long federal process concerning Grand Lake’s clarity problem. Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said it was a matter of “authority and responsibility.” The municipal subdistrict seeking to firm up rights to Windy Gap water “doesn’t have the authority to control the other entities involved in the clarity issue,” he said. “It puts them in a position of being responsible without the authority to do something.”[…]

Concerning another condition on the Windy Gap bypass, the county proposes the “bypass/bythrough study shall commence on or before issuance of this 2012 permit” and if the study deems it, construction of the bypass “shall proceed” with cooperation on financing it among the parties. A 2011 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report by Barry Nehring concluded that the Colorado River below Windy Gap has suffered due to the reservoir, and that creating a bypass would be a solution…

no party knows yet how much a bypass around the reservoir might cost or where the money would come from. The Subdistrict has agreed to provide $250,000 toward research of a bypass, which is expected to reduce high temperature events caused by the dam, reduce sedimentation deposition, restore river connectivity, and reduce the impacts of whirling disease. About $3 million in funds — $2 million by Northern and possibly $1 million by Denver Water if negotiations are successful — would be available to construct the bypass and the construction would take place immediately after the study finds that the bypass would be beneficial to the river. There is the possibility another $2 million could be found from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.