The latest e-WaterNews from Northern Water is hot off the presses

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

2015 Water Year Comes to an End

The 2015 water year (Nov.1 – Oct. 31) started slowly, but precipitation later in the spring more than made up for it. April and May storms brought much needed moisture to the mountains and plains, and set in motion another very good water year for Northeastern Colorado.

Deliveries in 2015 were more than the record low year of 2014, but were still below average. This year the C-BT Project delivered 187,291 acre-feet to East Slope water users. The historical average is 211,000 AF. Deliveries to agricultural users spiked in late summer due to dry conditions. These late-summer deliveries also made space available in Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake, which will allow water to be transferred from Lake Granby to the East Slope this winter. This will also create space in Lake Granby for the spring runoff.

In 2015, the total C-BT Project spill was 191,000 AF, with 148,500 AF from Lake Granby and 42,500 AF from Willow Creek Reservoir.

C-BT Project reservoir levels started the 2016 water year in good shape with more than 500,000 AF in storage. The average for Nov. 1 active storage is 442,413 AF.


How Water Is Reshaping the West — Hillary Rosner

Here’s a report from Hillary Rosner writing for Nova Next. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Be careful of rattlesnakes,” Brian Werner says as we walk near what will, a few years out, become the south end of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. I try to imagine what will happen to the snakes—and the bears and birds and burrowing animals—when these 1,600 acres become a lakebed. I’d been conducting an animated interview with Werner for more than an hour as we toured the region’s waterworks–reservoirs, pipelines, diversion ditches, pumps—but now, standing here, I’m speechless. Perhaps sensing my mood, Werner tries to be upbeat. He gestures to the west, where, as part of the reservoir land-acquisition deal, another 1,800 acres will be permanently protected. But it’s hard to stand beneath those ponderosas and not feel a kind of heartbreak.

Werner works for Northern Water, a public utility that delivers water to parts of eight northeastern Colorado counties and about 880,000 people. In conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water administers the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a sprawling collection of reservoirs and pipes built to send Colorado River water from the western part of the state across the Rockies (through a tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park) the more populous—and growing—northeastern towns. Werner’s job title is public information officer, but after 34 years with the utility, he’s also its de facto historian, with an insider’s deep knowledge of the entire state’s water past and present, including the intricacies of water rights. (Western water law is an unfathomably complex beast predicated on a first-come-first-served system, which is why newer cities, late to the game, are struggling for rights to water that often flows right past them.)

Up and down Colorado’s Front Range—the string of cities perched along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flanks—it’s a boom time. Fort Collins, the northernmost city, has doubled its population since the 1980s, with no sign of stopping. Farther to the east, in former rural communities like Frederick, Dacono, and Evans, pavement is spreading like weeds, subdivisions are sprouting in place of corn. The reservoir soon to drown the spectacular landscape under my feet that afternoon would deliver water to these bustling communities.

Nearby, another proposed reservoir would submerge a highway to store water from the Poudre River, which flows through downtown Fort Collins; this project will serve those same growing towns. “Some people think if we don’t build those projects, people just won’t come,” Werner says. “I wish that were the case. But it’s not gonna happen. People are going to keep moving here, because it’s a great place to live.”

Across much of the West, the story is similar. As cities and states grapple with urban growth alongside the impacts of global warming—crippling drought, a shifted timeline of snowmelt and stream flows, uncertainty about future water supplies—nothing is off the table when it comes to securing access to water. These days, the stories that make national news are more likely to be about old dams coming down than about new ones rising. That’s partly because dams coming down are still a rarity. But across the West, the local news is far more likely to be about smaller dams going up. The era of water mega-projects may be behind us, but engineers are still transforming landscapes to deliver water—an increasingly elusive and valuable commodity…

“The Reclamation era”—roughly the 1930s to the 1970s—“was big monster projects, massive dams that totally reshaped the watershed, rivers, and ecology,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today’s projects, Waskom says, are a series of “expansions and enlargements,” smaller-scale efforts meant to complement or shore up existing systems…

A subsidiary of Northern Water, called the Municipal Subdistrict, runs the Windy Gap project, which was built in the early 1980s to provide water for Boulder, Fort Collins, and four other Front Range cities. The system pulls water from the Colorado River and stores it in the Windy Gap reservoir on the west side of the Rockies then delivers it to Lake Granby, where it is pumped through the Big Thompson system to the eastern side. But in wet years, Lake Granby, the main reservoir for that Big Thompson system, is already full—leaving no room to store the Windy Gap water. That means in dry years, when the customers really need it, the water isn’t there.

Chimney Hollow is the solution, a way to stabilize the Windy Gap water supply. Water managers call it “firming.” Imagine that you are technically entitled to ten units of water out of a reservoir that stores 100 units. But in a dry year, the reservoir might only contain 30 units, and there are other customers besides you. In such a system, you couldn’t really depend on the reservoir for your water. That worst-case scenario is what water people call “firm yield.”

On the Windy Gap system, the firm yield is currently zero. “In the dry years, there’s no water available,” explains Werner, “and in the wet years, there’s nowhere to put it. You can’t rely on a project with zero firm yield.” Chimney Hollow, the utility contends, will give customers—the city of Erie, say— guaranteed annual delivery of their legally allotted water.

“Even with climate change, we know that there will be high flow years,” Waskom says. “When those come along, you’ve either got a place to store that water or you don’t.”[…]

There’s also the issue of whether there will continue to be enough water in the rivers to make these efforts worthwhile. “Whether you have a big reservoir or just a straw where you’re sucking water out of the river and sending it somewhere else, the question is, will the water be there?” says Jeff Lukas, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment, a think tank based at the University of Colorado. “Just because you’ve done the modeling and your scheme would’ve worked under the hydrology of last 50 years doesn’t mean it’ll work in the next 50 years.”[…]

The new world is nothing if not complex. It’s a world of tradeoffs, a world without easy answers. Still, standing on the hillside at Chimney Hollow, I’m sure of one thing: I wish there was some way to spare this spectacular place.

The October 2015 ENews is hot off the presses from Northern Water

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

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

South Platte Forum

Register today for the 26th Annual South Platte Forum, which is Oct. 28-29 at the Embassy Suites in Loveland. The South Platte Forum is an avenue for timely, multidisciplinary exchange of information and ideas important to resource management within the South Platte River Basin. A special screening of The Great Divide will be immediately following the luncheon on Oct. 29 followed by a South Platte Water Related Activities Program meeting…

Windy Gap Water Year Ends

The Windy Gap water year ended Sept. 30. For the second year in a row, Windy Gap water was not pumped due to lack of storage in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project system. In total, 32,300 acre-feet of Windy Gap water was ordered while only 13,967 AF was delivered. The need for additional storage is becoming more apparent. When constructed, the Windy Gap Firming Project will provide additional storage in Chimney Hollow Reservoir for years like 2014 and 2015 when water was available but storage was not.

Northern Water Fall Water Users Meeting November 10

From email from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

Northern Water’s Fall Water Users Meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the Riverside Cultural Center, 3700 Golden St., Evans, CO starting at 8 a.m.

The meeting is a forum to discuss the current water situation and water-related issues, the water year, the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Other items on the agenda include the Granby Hydropower Plant project, Northern Water’s water management system and an update from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Dan Haley, the new CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, will be the luncheon speaker.

The afternoon session starts at 1:30 p.m. and will feature the screening of the documentary film The Great Divide. The 90-minute film documents the history of water development in Colorado from the Ancient Puebloan cultures to present day.

See the meeting agenda.

Go to the November Calendar page to register for the meeting online by Tuesday, Nov. 3. If you are unable to register online, please call our registration line at 970-622-2220. Please provide the name(s) of those who will be attending and the organization represented, if applicable. If you register and you later find you cannot attend, please cancel your reservation by calling us at 970-622-2220

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

League of Women Voters of Larimer County comments on the @USACEOmaha #NISP SDEIS

From the League of Women Voters of Larimer County (Sarah Pitts) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

As part of its long history of studying and participating in public discussion on water and other environmental issues, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County delivered comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the second draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the proposed NISP/Glade Reservoir project. The league recommended the Corps defer issuing a permit for the project until the Corps corrects data inadequacies and omissions, addresses compatibility with the draft state water plan, and better defines and quantifies short- and long-term costs related to environmental impacts.

Inadequate data cited by the league include:

•Population growth projections are overstated because they fail to use the reliable and objective data provided by the Colorado State Demography Office.

•Per capita water consumption projections are overstated because they fail to factor in already implemented conservation measures (e.g., Fort Collins reduced per capita consumption from 188 gallons/day in 2003 to 140 now) as well as new and developing conservation initiatives.

•Water supply projections underestimate the potential for acquiring water from annexed farm land, from alternative agricultural transfers, and from growing supplies of reuse water.

•The SDEIS omits essential water quality and temperature models.

The SDEIS fails to analyze the project’s compatibility with the draft Colorado state water plan. It is also at odds with the South Platte River Basin Implementation Plan statement that the costs of building and maintaining reservoirs are questionable: “The basin, in a typical year, has little unappropriated water available for new uses. Unappropriated flows . . . come in sporadic, high peaks during wetter years, making the economics of building a reservoir to capture these supplies questionable because of the large carryover storage requirements.”

Unsubstantiated assumptions about long-term, as well as short term environmental impacts, call into question the SDEIS’s already insufficient disclosure as to the allocation, sources of funding and impact of costs to build and mitigate the effects of the NISP project.

Copies of the league’s full comment letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available at

Sarah Pitts is spokeswoman with the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.

#ColoradoRiver: Grand County and partners still need $50,000 for Windy Gap bypass study #COriver

Windy Gap Reservoir via Northern Water
Windy Gap Reservoir via Northern Water

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

Grand County and its partners have raised all but $50,000 of the $385,000 needed for the first two engineering phases of the Windy Gap Bypass Project.

The first engineering phase will cost $85,000, to which Grand County has contributed $55,000 and the Upper Colorado River alliance has contributed $20,000, and the Colorado River District pitched in $10,000, said Assistant County Manager Ed Moyer during the Tuesday, Sept. 22 board of county commissioners meeting.

Former County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran and Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited, secured $250,000 from the Gates Family Foundation to fund phase 2 of the project, leaving $50,000 to be raised, Moyer said.

Project participants hope to have the two phases completed by 2016.

The Windy Gap Bypass Project seeks to establish a free flowing channel of the Colorado River around the Windy Gap Reservoir near Granby.

Proponents say the project will vastly improve the condition of the Upper Colorado River by reconnecting fish migration corridors and addressing temperature and sediment issues in the river.

The project’s total cost is around $9.6 million.

#NISP: “In a sense, water becomes a proxy war for growth management” — Reagan Waskom

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

Even so, “it’s absurd to think the supply of water is going to keep people from wanting to be here,” [Landon Hoover] said. “Oh, sure, at some point, if the traffic is so bad, people wouldn’t want to live here anymore — or if the cost of living gets so expensive. But both of those have to get so extremely bad before it would inhibit growth.

“Just making water too expensive? That’s not a strategy for dealing with growth. People still want to live in Boulder even though housing costs are through the roof.”

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said developers are “going to find the water. It’s doubled in price but still cheap. People will still want to live in Northern Colorado. It’s the economic driver of willing buyer, willing seller.”[…]

“Seven of the 10 fastest-growing cities in Colorado are in Northern’s boundaries,” [Brian Werner] said. “We can’t ignore it.”[…]

The cities of Fort Collins and Greeley and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued reports critical of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Corps in June, citing incomplete or even flawed data on issues including water quality and temperature. Moreover, Greeley officials have said reduced flows in the Poudre would force that city to spend more on water treatment.

“It would be a large one-time capital expenditure — we can only estimate tens of millions, plus additional ongoing maintenance and operations costs,” said Eric Reckentine, Greeley’s deputy director of water resources. “If you’re reducing flows in the river, you’re decreasing water quality. Less water in the river, but the same sediment load. Sediment and nutrient load increases, which decreases water quality.”

For Northern Water officials, however, the litany of complaints are just part of the process that will shape the Corps’ final environmental impact statement, expected by early next year.

“It’s always been our understanding that the Corps basically planned the process in this way — data from Phase 1 to be used in Phase 2,” Wilkinson said. “It will be developed and analyzed prior to the FEIS.”[…]

“We’re going to talk to Fort Collins and say, ‘Let us understand your concerns.’” — [Eric Wilkinson]

“There appears to be a difference in analysis between Corps consultants and Fort Collins’ and Greeley’s consultants,” Wilkinson said, “but obviously, that’s what the public comment period is for. There’s going to be a technical analysis. That’s part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1970) process — to sift through those facts.”[…]

When Waskom talks to water-utility managers, he said, “they tell me they have buyers coming to them on a regular basis, willing to sell water.”[…]

“The NISP project is to divert water from the Poudre into Glade. Some of that is our water,” he said. “So in order to make that up to us, they’ll have to draw water out of the South Platte into Galeton. In order to make the exchange, we still need to irrigate. There has to be ag use here.”[…]

Waskom outlined some possible alternatives to buy-and-dry, including “forbearance” agreements and fallowing arrangements.

“A farmer agrees not to plant a crop, and the water they’d use to irrigate they’d transfer to another use on a short-term basis,” he said. “Water law allows that to happen three years out of 10. It’s a business deal. The farmer plays golf and gets a check from the city. The limitation is that a farmer can’t walk away from his markets and labor and expect they’ll be there next year.

“My institute has been very involved in doing research around those agreements,” Waskom said. “We believe there is potential there. That said, municipal water managers want to own their portfolios. They would rather lease to ag than have ag lease to them.

“Our current water court structure makes it difficult and expensive. Is it a pathway for the future? Yeah. Does it abrogate the need for Glade now? Probably not.”

The reason, Waskom said, is drought.

“Water resource managers are always planning for drought,” he said. “Drought is what keeps them awake at night. It looks like we’re building more than what we need, but there will be drought in the future. We just don’t know when.

“The one thing the climatologists tell me they’re pretty certain about — temperature increases. We have frequent drought anyway on the Front Range, but hotter droughts are always more serious than cooler droughts. With the wildfires in 2012, cities had their water resources compromised.

“We don’t know what precipitation is going to do, but climatological records already show increasing temperatures in Colorado. That’s a trend we’re going to stay on, and that concerns water managers.”

Explaining climate change can get political, Waskom said. “We’ve been talking to extension agents, and there’s lots of resistance based on values.[…]

Another idea the institute is studying is underground water storage.

“In this area, we get three feet of evaporation off the top per year” from an impoundment such as Horsetooth or Carter Lake southwest of Loveland, Waskom said. “Storing water underground in aquifers tends to be nonevaporative. It is feasible, but there’s scientific debate about it, and policy limitations too. Could underground storage decrease the need for NISP? There’s scientific debate about that. Because of the unknowns in the science and the energy costs of recovering that water, though, it wasn’t deemed a viable alternative to Glade Reservoir. Could it be in the future? I think so.”[…]

“I doubt most developers know enough about NISP to judge whether the tactical implementation of it is good or bad,” [Landon Hoover] said. “But developers see that there needs to be a solution for water storage in Northern Colorado if people want affordable housing, places where teachers, firefighters, middle-income families can live, $300,000, $400,000 houses.

“There’s really a limited supply of water, and we’re nearing the end of that supply. Unless demand shuts off, there’s no relief for prices. The issue isn’t whether we have enough water rights, the issue is we don’t have enough storage. By having storage, it will at least temper water prices. I don’t know if it’ll ever drastically lower them.”

The bottom line, Waskom said, is that “we’re going to need reservoirs, infrastructure, conservation, underground storage, ag deals, all of the above, to keep Colorado’s economy strong and vibrant into the future.”

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water