The May 2015 “e-WaterNews” is hot off the presses from Northern Water

May 22, 2015
Katie Melander

Katie Melander

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

Northern Water’s Katie Melander is the new president of the Colorado section of the American Water Resources Association. Katie is a water resources engineer. The gavel was turned over to Katie during the AWRA Colorado Section (@awraco) symposium May 1. An objective of the AWRA Colorado section is to promote the advancement of water resources research, planning, development, management and education.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


Northern Water: Congratulations to our own Katie Melander on becoming the president of @AWRACO

May 1, 2015

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

April 15, 2015

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 http://www.northernwater.org.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


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


NISP: Northern Water officials looking to 2019 to turn dirt for Glade Reservoir

December 30, 2014
Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site -- photo via Northern Water

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

When the Northern Integrated Supply Project was first proposed, Northern Water hoped to have Glade Reservoir complete and filled by 2013.

Now as the permitting process has stretched over a decade, the earliest date that construction could begin is 2019, with water flowing in by 2021.

“In this process, we learned a long time ago that there is no set date of when it’s going to be done,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which is spearheading the project on behalf of four water districts and 11 cities and towns…

Despite delays, Northern Water is convinced that NISP and its two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, will be built and are the answer to a growing population’s needs by storing water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

“Those 15 participants, their resolve is even stronger than ever,” said Werner. “The more time that goes by, the more important it is to have that water supply.”

However, an environmental group that opposes the project is just as convinced that construction will never begin and that participants are beginning to look to alternative options…

The Northern Integrated Supply Project is intended to provide additional water to the 15 Front Range providers by pulling excess water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers during plentiful years to fill two new reservoirs.

The water from the Poudre would be stored in a 5-mile-long reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Glade Reservoir, which would be slightly larger in capacity than Horsetooth Reservoir, would hold 170,000 acre-feet of water and require relocation of seven miles of U.S. 287.

The second reservoir, Galeton, would hold 40,000 acre-feet northeast of Greeley and would be filled from the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. This water would be delivered to two irrigation companies in exchange for their Poudre River water.

Save the Poudre and other groups that oppose NISP say that science shows this project would drain the river to a mere trickle through Fort Collins, impacting habitat, wildlife, fishing, tubing, kayaking and trails that span the river corridor…

Northern Water says say this scenario will never happen. With required minimum flows in the river, Werner has said the water would be pulled only in years when there is excess.

And as soon as a supplemental environmental impact statement is released, Northern Water will begin working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to mitigate any habitat or wildlife concerns, Werner said.

“Once the supplemental is out, we will start moving on some of these areas that have been stuck in molasses,” Werner said.

What is the process?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer is the lead federal agency on the permitting process for the proposed water project.

The first step of creating an environmental impact statement began more than a decade ago — in August 2004.

Four years later, the first draft EIS was opened to public comment. During that time, supporters and opponents rallied at several public hearings and community events.

The federal agency then announced in 2009 that a supplemental draft EIS was necessary to include additional studies.

The supplemental report was anticipated to be released this year but instead was pushed back to sometime in 2015. If that does indeed happen, a final decision could come in 2016. If it’s approved, design would take place in 2017-2018, then construction in 2019…

How much does it cost?

As the project timeline has stretched out over the years, the cost too has stretched.

Northern Water and the participating water providers are paying for the studies and costs associated with permitting. So far they have spent about $14 million just for permitting, and Werner estimates that each additional year adds $1 million to $1.5 million to the tally.

Once a final decision is issued, and if that decision allows the project, construction is estimated at $500 million. That, too, could change depending on the final design, the year it is built and the economy.

“We’re at the mercy of the process and the federal government on this one,” said Werner. “It’s been an interesting ride.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.


Feds ink $300 million Windy Gap water diversion out of #ColoradoRiver — The Denver Post

December 22, 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 Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal water authorities signed off Friday on the $300 million Windy Gap Firming Project to siphon more water out of the Colorado River Basin into a huge new reservoir for the high-growth Front Range.

The west-flowing river water — up to 8.4 billion gallons a year pumped back eastward and under the Continental Divide — is expected to meet the needs of 400,000 residents around Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decision clears Northern Water to build the 29 billion-gallon Chimney Hollow Reservoir, assuming it obtains state water quality and federal wetlands permits.

The reservoir would sit southwest of Loveland, west of Carter Lake. Work would begin by 2018, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

“It’s going to make water supplies more reliable,” Werner said. “You want to make sure you have a firm supply year in, year out so you have water for the basic needs of your communities.

“With all the growth we’ve seen in northern Colorado, we keep pushing that envelope of how close we are when that really dry year hits. We’ve got a lot more people moving in — one of the fastest-growing populations in the country — and part of this is about preparing for the future.”

For more than a decade, western Colorado communities have fought the project, contending it will degrade the ailing Colorado River Basin.

The project would divert river water near Granby and pump it through an existing 9-foot-diameter tunnel under the Continental Divide, to be stored in Chimney Hollow.

Numerous studies have found this will increase environmental harm that began in the 1930s, when federal agencies began pumping west-flowing water back eastward, through the Adams, Moffat and other tunnels, to Colorado’s semi-arid Front Range. Water temperatures spiked. Algae spread. Sediment clogged channels and choked aquatic life.

Negotiations during the past six years led to plans to try to minimize environmental harm and offset damage.

Northern Water has agreed to:

• Install temperature-monitoring devices and not divert water when the river gets too warm.

• Release trapped water for 50 hours at least once every three years, ensuring flows of 600 cubic feet per second, to simulate natural floods essential for ecosystem health.

• Give 977 million gallons a year to Grand County.

The project would increase the amount Northern Water diverts annually to more than 250,000 acre-feet, bringing total water diverted from the Colorado River Basin to 67 percent of the natural flows. Northern Water supplies 33 cities and irrigation water for 650,000 acres of crops.

From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

The record of decision states that the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir site is the preferred location for holding water transported from the Western Slope via the Colorado Big Thompson Water Project. The proposed reservoir would feed 10 municipalities across Northern Colorado including Greeley, Loveland and Fort Lupton.

Northern Water’s Brian Werner said this is an important step in a long process bringing, what he calls, water stability to Northern Colorado users.

“We have two steps remaining next year [2015], we need a state water quality certification and then a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers,” Werner said. “Once those steps happen we move forward with design, that’s probably a year, year and a half. And then we can start going out to bid and onto construction.”

Werner said a 2017 or 2018 ground breaking on the project is likely.

Project managers said the Windy Gap Firming Project could provide 26,000 acre-feet of additional yearly water to Northern Colorado cities if constructed. Currently that additional water is lost in years of high run-off since there’s no place to hold it. During low run-off years, water is unavailable because the Windy Gap Project holds junior water rights.

“This makes reliable a water supply to a number of Northern Colorado communities that haven’t had the reliability factor with their Windy Gap water supplies. So it gives them another comfort level in terms of future water supplies,” Werner said.

“With the drought throughout the Colorado River basin and always on people’s minds, this is a huge step in terms of finding and putting together a future water supply for these communities.”

The federal permitting process for the project began in 2003, and the Bureau of Reclamation issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011. A fish and wildlife mitigation plan was also approved at that time by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


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