#ColoradoRiver: Greeley Water & Sewer Board authorizes Chimney Hollow (Windy Gap Firming) expenditure

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 Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

Officials are working to make one of Greeley’s supplemental water suppliers more reliable, and the city may sign off on another million dollars to do it soon.

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been ongoing for decades. The goal: add to an existing water system by building the Chimney Hollow reservoir near Loveland to store more water from the Colorado River.

The current phase of the project includes finalizing some permitting and finding a designer. Greeley is splitting the project cost with 12 other agencies, and its share of this phase is about $1.1 million.

The Greeley Water and Sewer Board authorized the expense during its meeting Wednesday, but it has to get permission from the city council. That should happen next month.

The money will come out of the water and sewer board’s budget, which is funded and handled separately from the rest of the city departments.

Each user foots the bill for the project, and it’s pro-rated based on who will get the most water from it. Greeley is slated to get the third most. Platte River Power Authority is first.

The Windy Gap water system has been giving water to Greeley and a dozen other providers for decades. It gets water out of the Colorado River, where water access is competitive. Different agencies and projects have water rights, which prioritize them above one another and dictate how much water they are allowed.

During dry spells, some water rights aren’t good enough.

“There are some years where Windy Gap can’t give a drop of water,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Chimney Hollow guarantees they will have a yield.”

In the good years, when Windy Gap’s water rights allow it to take water, that water will travel through a pipeline into the reservoir. Windy Gap users can then use reservoir water during dry years.

In addition to coordinating the agencies participating in the project, Northern Water oversees the pipeline infrastructure used to move water from the Western Slope to the eastern half of the state.

The organization tends to head up multi-jurisdictional water projects, which can be grueling. Both Windy Gap and the region’s other predominant water storage effort, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, have been in permitting for more than a decade. But Windy Gap is making progress.

“We certainly see a light at the end of the tunnel for this project,” Werner said.

At the end of 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that oversees natural resources such as water, signed off on the project. Now, they only need two more permits — one from Colorado that certifies water quality and one from the Army Corps of Engineers that guarantees wetland mitigation.

That brings the organizers into the next phase of planning: finding a firm to design the project. They’ll take the original plans from 12 years ago and refine them, Werner said.

Once that design is finished, the agencies will find a contractor to build the reservoir. Werner said, fingers crossed, that will happen in late 2018 or in 2019.

The Chimney Hollow reservoir will hold about 90,000 acre-feet of water.

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

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

Snow accumulation season looks promising
Colorado’s 2016 snowpack is off to a good start. Most of the state’s river basins have above normal snowpack, and more importantly, above normal snow water equivalent readings. Northern Water monitors two river basins for forecasting – the Upper Colorado and the South Platte – which are at 99 percent and 105 percent of average, respectively, as of Jan. 14, 2016. Colorado’s statewide snowpack is 104 percent of average.

Precipitation in the mountains over the next few months will help determine the 2016 water supply. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a higher probability of above average precipitation for Colorado over the next three months. Beginning in February Northern Water will release monthly streamflow forecasts and which will be available here.

precipitationoutlook1217thru03312016cpc

Cache la Poudre update: NISP could diminish spring streamflow

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via Newser.com:

A picturesque Colorado river with a peculiar French name is the latest prize in the West’s water wars, where wilderness advocates usually line up against urban and industrial development.

This showdown has a new force: City dwellers who say a vibrant river flowing past their streets, parks and buildings is essential to their community’s identity and well-being.

The Cache la Poudre — pronounced KASH luh POO-dur — got its name in the early 1800s, when French fur trappers cached gunpowder on its banks. Long a vital source of water for drinking and irrigation, it has become a treasured slice of nature in the booming towns and cities along Colorado’s Front Range corridor…

A group of 15 cities and water districts wants to divert water from the lower Poudre, below the mountains, when the river is running highest and pump it into a new reservoir. The $600 million Northern Integrated Supply Project would capture water Colorado is legally entitled to keep but has no place to store, backers say.

Since 2009, Colorado could have kept another 1.3 trillion gallons from the South Platte and its tributaries, including the Poudre, but it flowed east to Nebraska because there was no place to put it, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is overseeing the project.

This debate has all the elements of a traditional Western water fight.

Backers say they need to lock up future sources of drinking water for Colorado’s fast-growing population amid the recurring droughts and uncertainty of a changing climate.

Opponents want to prevent any more losses to the “in-stream flow” of the river, already so drained by irrigation and municipal systems that short stretches run dry nearly every summer.

River advocates also want to preserve the annual spring surge that comes from melting snow, which keeps the streambed healthy by flushing out sediment and provides a thrilling ride for kayakers. They say the reservoir project could reduce the kayaking season from an average of 54 days to 35 days a year.

Rising to the surface is the argument that a vibrant urban river flowing through Fort Collins, Greeley and the towns between them is an essential part of the coveted Colorado lifestyle, where even urban residents can connect with nature.

“This is like in-stream flow for human organisms and for the replenishment and well-being of the soul,” said Patty Limerick, Colorado’s state historian and faculty director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.

Rivers have long been guarded as cultural assets around the United States and beyond, said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a nationwide network of local advocacy groups.

“It’s an argument we’ve been making for a long time,” Kennedy said. “It’s a longstanding recognition of the relationship between wilderness and free-flowing waters and America’s cultural and political institutions.”

…sections of the river are lined with parks and pathways, including the 20-mile Poudre Trail upstream from Greeley. Restoration programs are in the works, and Fort Collins plans a kayak course on the river in the city.

A big change came in 1986, when 76 miles of the upper Cache la Poudre were designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, protected by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service from changes that could harm its cultural and recreational importance. In 2009, Congress designated the river as a National Heritage Area, formally encouraging a community-driven approach to preserving its natural, cultural, and historic resources.

But preserving water resources is a challenge in the arid West, even for the most beloved river, and cultural arguments have no easy path through Colorado’s complex legal system, which includes a separate water court to settle disputes.

Colorado lawmakers established a narrowly defined recreational water right for kayak courses in 2001, but experts say setting aside water for cultural values would have to be negotiated among the state and owners of water rights.

Environmental reviews of the reservoir project continue and obtaining the necessary state and federal permits could take years. Lawsuits are probably inevitable, and no construction date has been set…

The project’s backers recognize the river’s cultural value and are working to protect it, Werner said. The new reservoir might even be able to release enough water to avoid the periodic dry-ups, he said.

“We’re trying to do right by the river, we really are,” he said.

The latest eNews from Northern Water is hot off the presses

Click here to read the latest newsletter from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Here’s an excerpt:

January water-related meetings

January is a busy month for water-related meetings throughout Colorado. The Four States Irrigation Council’s joint annual meeting with the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance (DARCA) is Jan. 13-15, 2016 at the Fort Collins Hilton. The Colorado Farm Show is Jan. 26-28, 2016 at Island Grove Regional Park in Greeley. Northern Water will have a booth at the farm show. It’s a good time to stop by and learn about what Northern Water is all about, receive project updates and grab some popcorn. The Colorado Water Congress 2016 Annual Convention is Jan. 27-29 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center. The Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention is the premier water industry event in the state, attracting 500+ attendees that convene to network and collaborate on the important water issues of the day. Northern Water will also have a booth at the convention.

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

NISP: “These studies are complex, requiring significant resources and specialized expertise” — Eric Wilkinson

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

“Participants in NISP began work on studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act in 2004,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the district known as Northern Water. “These studies are required to look at all facets of the project to clearly define the project’s impact on the environment as well as ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate those impacts. These studies are complex, requiring significant resources and specialized expertise. That is evidenced by the nearly 12 years and approximately $15 million that the participants have invested to date.

“Most studies have been completed but some require additional time, thus the reason for the extension,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday in a prepared statement. “The project participants have supported, and continue to support, a thorough NEPA process to assure the Final Environmental Impact Statement is comprehensive, complete, and defendable. Participants are working diligently to assure this extension has minimal effect on the beginning of project construction.”

The Corps said it still has more than a dozen tasks to complete, including study of the voluminous number of public comments it received when a draft version of the EIS was released in June. That document prompted a chorus of official complaints. The federal Environmental Protection Agency wrote a 20-page letter in September contending that the Corps’ draft EIS lacked sufficient information to adequately predict the project’s potential impacts or compliance with provisions of the Clean Water Act. The Fort Collins City Council, acting on its staff’s recommendation, voted unanimously to oppose NISP in its current form. City officials in Greeley, which is not a NISP participant, said the reduced flows would force that city to spend $10 million on extra water filtration, and its Water and Sewer Department wrote that the Corps’ water-quality analysis was insufficient and not in compliance with NEPA.

Larimer County commissioners, however, passed a resolution in support of NISP…

About a dozen cities and towns and four water districts have signed up to buy water from the project if it wins final approval from the Corps.

Supporters see the project as crucial to keeping up with the growing demands of development, industry and agriculture along the Front Range, as well as capturing rainfall and snowmelt in wet years that otherwise would flow out of the state.

Opponents have said it would drain water from the Poudre as it flows through Fort Collins, limiting opportunities for recreation that include tubing, whitewater kayaking and fishing,

Northern Water’s boundaries include about 880,000 people living on 1.6 million acres in portions of Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Weld, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties.

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

Corps of Engineers now see final NISP EIS in 2017

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The review timeline for the Northern Integrated Supply Project has been extended again. It’s the latest in a series of pushbacks for a proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado to supply 40,000 acre feet of water each year to 15 participating communities and water districts.

The final environmental impact statement for the project, which will come in advance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ruling on whether Northern Water can build two reservoirs drawing from Poudre and South Platte river water, is now projected to come out in 2017 instead of the previously predicted summer 2016.

The delay comes because the Army Corps needs to complete 13 complex tasks before releasing the final EIS. Some of those tasks include adding more measures to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts, completing analysis of alternatives to NISP and finishing models that predict how the project would affect water quality and temperature.

The Army Corps also wants to take “a hard look” at public comments on the last version of the environmental impact statement that came out in June, project manager John Urbanic wrote in an email. After looking at the comments, the Army Corps may decide to conduct additional analysis of the project.

“Between the anticipated activities and review of comments we do not think that a 2016 release of the Final EIS is realistic and we adjusted the estimated release into 2017,” Urbanic wrote.

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

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.

cbtstorage11012015