Supporting Creative Use of a Dam to Meet Future Water Needs – and Save Plum Creek

This picture is an example of a head cut on another stream (Image courtesy of the <a href="https://www.env.nm.gov/swqb/Wildfire/Viveash/index.html">New Mexico Environment Dept.</a>) and Western Resource Advocates.
This picture is an example of a head cut on another stream (Image courtesy of the New Mexico Environment Dept.) and Western Resource Advocates.

From Western Resource Advocates (Robert Harris):

Better management and use of existing dams is a key tool to minimize new expensive, energy-consuming, and environmentally damaging large scale new dams or diversions from the West’s rivers.

We are a conservation group with a priority goal of saving rivers in the West. So you would think we would be opposing anything to do with dams. But the reality is that we believe that better management and use of existing dams is a key tool to minimize new expensive, energy-consuming, and environmentally damaging large scale new dams or diversions from the West’s rivers. Which brings us to today’s story about supporting more creative management of Chatfield Reservoir and saving Plum Creek.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently approved storing more water in Chatfield Reservoir on the South Platte River southwest of Denver to help meet Colorado’s existing and growing water needs. Western Resource Advocates, Conservation Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club support this decision because it follows the Smart Principles of water supply management by making more efficient use of existing reservoirs and local water supplies. In our view, select new-supply projects—including holding more water in the existing Chatfield Reservoir—high rates of water conservation, accelerated water recycling and reuse, and voluntary sharing of water with agriculture for other uses all can combine to meet and exceed 2050 water demands for the South Platte Basin. “Chatfield Reallocation” exemplifies the opportunities available to state water planners to meet reasonable anticipated water needs without building more costly, politically charged, large-scale concrete and steel water project proposals that cause major harm to rivers.

However, putting more water in Chatfield Reservoir will still harm wildlife habitat provided by nearby wetlands and cottonwood stands. These habitat areas are accustomed to a lower, and less variable, water table in the reservoir. As part of the agreement to re-allocate water storage space in Chatfield reservoir, the environmental impacts must be offset, or “mitigated,” through replacement and permanent protection of other wetlands and other important wildlife habitat. To this end, the project’s beneficiaries have deposited approximately $130 million into a special bank account dedicated to environmental and recreational mitigation. Western Resource Advocates is joined by representatives of relevant state and federal agencies and other stakeholders as a member on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project, which guides implementation of the environmental protection and restoration mitigation projects.

At its first meeting in late April, the Committee urged the mitigation company to use some of the mitigation funds to address rapidly deteriorating wildlife habitat along Plum Creek, which is above the reservoir in the park. Urban development in the Plum Creek watershed has significantly increased rain runoff flows that are scouring a deep channel into the creek bottom, and in turn, lowering the water table and draining high-quality wetlands next to the creek. This erosion, called a “head cut,” is unrelated to the Chatfield water storage project.

This year, the head cut in Plum Creek is advancing dozens of feet upstream with each rain storm. Western Resource Advocates and the Committee unanimously urged the mitigation company to stabilize the creek and stop the head cut. This will help restore Plum Creek’s health and provide good creek-side habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Mitigation projects like this one on Plum Creek demonstrate the potential of creative water supply solutions, including Chatfield Reallocation, to meet communities’ water needs and to fix significant local and regional environmental challenges. It also illustrates how dynamic mitigation projects can be since few anticipated that this habitat would, on its own, deteriorate so badly in such a short period of time. Without mobilizing the mitigation funding made possible by this project, Plum Creek’s wetlands might be lost for generations. Stay tuned to the Chatfield Reallocation Project as the stakeholders develop and implement this and other exciting protections for wetlands and rivers.

Rob Harris is a Western Resource Advocates attorney representing WRA, Conservation Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation Project.

Proposed reallocation pool -- Graphic/USACE
Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

Guffey: Water districts review progress on augmentation plans — The Flume

Upper South Platte Basin
Upper South Platte Basin

From The Fairplay Flume (Flip Boettcher):

About 30 people met at the Bull Moose Restaurant and Bar June 5 in Guffey to hear how the Center of Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District’s plans for augmented water in water division 2 were progressing.

There was a town hall water meeting with CCWD and USPWCD last year in April.

Colorado has seven water basins and parts of two of them are located in Park County.

Division 1 is in the South Platte water basin and covers most of Park County. The South Platte water basin has “free water,” that is, water not claimed by water rights.

Division 2, which includes far southern Park County, in the Guffey area, is in the Arkansas water basin. The Arkansas basin is over-appropriated. This means more water has been designated as available than is actually in the river.

Therefore, the CCWCD and the USPWCD needed a plan for augmented (supplemental) water to supply Division 2’s water needs.

In attendance at the meeting were local resident Bill Betz, organizer of the meeting; Dan Drucker, Operations Manager for CCWCD; David Shohet, legal representative for CCWC and HASP (Headwater Authority of the South Platte); and the entire board of directors for the USPWCD, John Rice, Tom Wells, Lynda James, local Guffey resident Bob Slagle and Dave Wissel, president.

The CCWCD, which serves only Park County and the USPWCD, which serves Park County and parts of Teller, Douglas, Jefferson and Clear Creek counties, have been working nearly 20 years on a water augmentation program for Division 2, and it is close to being finished, Drucker said.

It is just waiting for the judge’s signature, he added. HASP was formed by the two water districts to be the business entity for the augmented water plans within their service areas.

An augmented water plan is a legal way to replace upstream water use to downstream water rights.

One doesn’t actually get the augmented water, explained Shohet. Currently, Division 1 has an augmentation plan in place.

According to Wissel, the Division 2 augmentation water plan is still in the preliminary design phase, but finally there is a legal way to divert water to Division 2.

What is really needed is the purchase of native water rights and storage vessels, including ponds, Wissel added.

One of HASP’s goals is to locate and develop water resources for use by its customers.

HASP has purchased senior water rights and storage vessels at Twin Lakes in Lake County. This will enable HASP to release water downstream for upstream augmented water use in Division 2, stated Shohet.
HASP would also like to purchase some water rights on Badger and Currant creeks in Park County.

HASP is also looking for local ponds to store water in, but these ponds need to be by a live stream, said Drucker, so HASP can take out water, store it, and release it in a timely manner.

Another goal of HASP is to help businesses and residents in their service area obtain water supplies for their water uses. HASP’s biggest interest is to help existing subdivisions – not new ones – obtain a water supply as well as commercial uses.

HASP can only supply augmented water in its service areas.

HASP’s last goal is to bring out-of-compliance water users into compliance with state regulations. HASP is not an enforcement agency, stressed Drucker. HASP can only develop and sell augmented water to its service area customers.

The state does the enforcement of out-of-compliance users. The augmented water plan is not only a way to bring out-of-compliance users into compliance, Wissel said, but also a way for those already compliant users to obtain additional water.

Drucker said many water users with an in-house use only well are running 8-10 cows and doing outside watering.

In-house use only wells means no outside tap. These users would need to purchase augmented water to come into compliance.

Domestic wells allow for an outside tap, watering for livestock and watering of a up to 1-acre garden. Any water use over that would require the purchase of augmented water.

According to Shohet, one domestic well is allowed per 35-acres.

Right now, according to Shohet, anyone can get a water right for any stream or creek in Colorado, but with the “first in time, first in line” water rule, you may not actually get water without an augmented water plan.

Since augmented water is based on usage, augmented wells will be metered. In existing compliant wells, only augmented water will be metered.

The Division 2 augmented water plan is not ready yet. There are no customers for the augmented water, but the need for water will generate customers once the plan is in place, said Drucker.

There are also plans to transport water from Division 1 to Division 2, but storage vessels are needed, Wissel said.

A question was raised about HASP holding people hostage and charging sky high rates for augmented water.
HASP is composed of three members from CCWCD and USPWCD. It takes three members to approve actions.

James said HASP would never be in a profit mode, that it is a legal entity and a beneficial monopoly.

In December 2015, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Colorado’s water plan which notes the broad, near-term actions needed to secure future water.

The plan includes continued efforts to conserve water; additional efforts to reuse and recycle water; more water options for agriculture; and a path forward for interests to agree and create benefits for basins that provide water.

If you need water, contact HASP at HASP@HaspWater.com, http://haspwater.com/, 719-466-3908, or P.O. Box 1747, Fairplay, CO 80440.

Contact CCWCD at http://centerofcoloradowater.com/. Contact USPWCD at https://www.uspwcd.org/.

Barr Milton Watershed Tour June 28th

Barr Lake State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Barr Lake State Park photo via Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

From email from the Barr Milton Watershed (Amy Conklin):

Please join us for the BMW Watershed Tour on June 28th, beginning at 9:30 at Barr Lake State Park. Attached and copied in below is the agenda and directions to the tour stops. Please be sure to RSVP so we know how much food to get. We’ll have a delicious BBQ and kayaking on Milton Reservoir, weather permitting. I hope to see you there.

Transportation will be provided. Lunch will be provided but only if you RSVP to amy.conklin@comcast.net.

Massive South Platte River flood of 1965 — 9News.com

Photo via Westword.com
Photo via Westword.com

From 9News.com (Erin Powell):

On June 16, 1965, South Platte River crested after three straight days of rain, which pushed flood water into local neighborhoods.

The flooding happened in four primary areas: north of Greeley and north and west of Sterling, the Plum Creek and Cherry Creek Basins, the Kiowa and Bijou Creek Basins and along the South Platte River from Plum Creek to North Platte, Nebraska.

According to the Littleton Museum, there had been little interest in building a dam, and the city did not anticipate a flood. The forecast showed scattered thunderstorms. In fact, storms in other places like Castle Rock and Larkspur pushed the water level over the edge…

More than 20 people were killed and 100 horses died at the Centennial Race Track. Twenty-six bridges and thousands of homes and businesses across Denver, Englewood and Littleton were ruined.

The damage totaled more than $500 million.

The Chatfield Damn (sic) was built in response to the flood, and completed in 1972.

Click through to view their photo gallery.

RMNP, Roosevelt Forest scars slow to heal from fire, flood — Fort Collins Coloradoan

High Park Fire June 14, 2012
High Park Fire June 14, 2012

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Stephen Meyers):

Scorched by the High Park Fire and washed out by the historic 2013 flood, Poudre Canyon’s once popular Young Gulch Trail remains closed to Northern Colorado hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

The one-two fire-flood punch has left scars that haven’t yet healed and outdoor lovers with fewer places to play, which has frustrated some recreational groups.

The natural disasters scoured away the first half-mile of the Young Gulch Trail, one of the most popular trails in the Poudre Canyon.

It is one of about 20 Northern Colorado recreation areas still closed nearly three years after the flood wiped out trails, roads and fishing access in Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park and Big Thompson Canyon.

The damage is so severe, some areas may never reopen.

“I think people understand that this was a pretty dramatic change to our landscape,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman said. “This is a long rebuilding process.”

Long and expensive.

While a $329,000 project has begun to rebuild Young Gulch Trail, the best case scenario is for the trail to reopen in late 2017. A more realistic goal is 2018.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates it will take $6.3 million to rebuild the recreation areas damaged on Roosevelt National Forest’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District west of Fort Collins.

The deluge caused approximately $10 million of damage in Rocky Mountain National Park, which bounced back from the flood and 2013 government shutdown to post back-to-back record visitation totals in 2014 and 2015. The park is on pace this year to beat its 2015 visitation record of 4.1 million visitors. But the park may take a massive hit to visitation this fall when repairs begin on flood-ravaged U.S. Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon, the gateway to the popular park.

As the U.S. Forest Service’s budget continues to dwindle, Canyon Lakes Ranger District must rely even more on Northern Colorado volunteers who last year dedicated more than 50,000 hours to trail projects. Only the Red Rocks District in Arizona received more volunteer hours in 2015.

“With the fire and then the flood, it’s definitely been a challenging time for us,” Cloudman said. “We’re adapting to how we do things. Cost-saving where we can, looking at creative ways to expand what we can do and move forward in the recovery efforts.”

One example: Working with partners like Wildland Restoration Volunteers and Great Outdoors Colorado, which helped secure funding for the Young Gulch Trail rebuild project through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s State Trails Program.

With help from several volunteer organizations like Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, USFS has restored 63 percent of the 370 miles of flood-damaged roads on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grasslands, and 33 percent of the 157 miles of damaged trails, as of last year.

Fifteen campgrounds, day-use and river access facilities have been rebuilt, while 12 others have been decommissioned across the Canyon Lakes and Boulder ranger districts.

More than $100,000 and 10,000 hours have gone into reopening a portion of the North Fork Trail in Glen Haven. About as much money and work has been dedicated to the still-closed Lion Gulch Trail, which could open as early as September or as late as the summer of 2017, Cloudman said.

In Big Thompson Canyon, several fishing access areas were washed away and won’t be restored, including the North Fork and Glen Haven picnic sites and Idylwilde rest stop. Fishing access has been restored to Sleepy Hollow Park.

Cloudman said Canyon Lakes Ranger District hopes to offer more fishing access on the Big Thompson, one of Colorado’s premier fly-fishing destinations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the Big Thompson sees 2,559 angler days per month, totaling an annual economic impact of $2.37 million.

But the forest service’s plans to add more fishing access won’t be finalized until the Colorado Department of Transportation’s rebuild of U.S. 34 from Loveland to Estes Park is complete in 2018 or 2019.

Construction of the highway poses an economical and ecological impact to the Big Thompson’s fishing industry.

The first part of CDOT’s massive rebuilding project on U.S. 34 begins after July 4, with rock blasting in the horseshoe area of the canyon, near milepost 78.4.

The brunt of the work begins in October, after tourist season. Road crews will blast away the mountainside near the defunct Idylwilde Dam, a once-popular area for anglers. It remains to be seen if CDOT will completely close the highway for five months or enact temporary closures, allowing access during peak hours.

“If our guides don’t have access to the river, then obviously it’s going to affect business,” Christiansen said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s not like we have anything in our control.”

The same impact is happening on already popular hiking trails such as Greyrock and Hewlett Gulch, which are near Young Gulch Trail.

Cloudman said both trails have seen an uptick in visitors since the Young Gulch closure. In 2012, the trails averaged 44 and 33 people a day, respectively, with 70-80 visiting on the weekends.

But during last week’s Memorial Day weekend, more than 100 cars parked at Greyrock and along the shoulder of Colorado Highway 14 each day while passengers hiked the 7,513-foot peak.

Prior to its closure, Young Gulch averaged 37 daily visitors, with 75 on the weekends. Thanks to its close proximity to Fort Collins, the multiuse trail was popular with hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

But the 4.9-mile trail that meanders up Young Gulch and Prairie Gulch — crossing a stream about 20 times — was scoured by the flood, cutting 2- to 3-foot-deep ruts in the gulch and rerouting the stream channel.

The trail requires an extensive rebuild, essentially a move out of the floodplain.

“A monumental task,” Cloudman said.

In 2014, the forest service debated whether to even rebuild the trail. The agency held public meetings to gather feedback and developed an environmental analysis of the sustainability of the trail.

“It came down to, if we can find a good place and a good way to build a new, sustainable trail, then we absolutely will do it,” Cloudman said.

The new trail design will reduce the number of stream crossings by almost one third, move more of the trail out of the flood zone and provide a more sustainable route, Cloudman said. It will remain open to all users.

Working in a steep, constrained canyon won’t be easy for trail crews, which include Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Overland Mountain Bike Club, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and the Larimer County Conservation Corps.

Until the new trail is completed, hikers must endure the trail closure, marked by the closed gates, barricades and cones that have become a common site in the forest since flood and fire changed the landscape.

Denver Water Steps Up Lead Pipe Removal — CBS Denver

Denver photo courtesy of Michael Levine-Clark, Flickr Creative Commons.
Denver photo courtesy of Michael Levine-Clark, Flickr Creative Commons.

From CBS Denver (Brian Maass):

“There is no safe level of lead in drinking water. The EPA says the recommended level is zero,” said Denver Water spokesperson Melissa Elliott.

She emphasized that lead is not present in the mountain streams and reservoirs of Colorado, nor is lead present when water leaves Denver Water’s treatment plants. However, thousands of older Denver homes have lead service lines, which can leach small amounts of lead into residents’ water…

Denver water says every year it collects more than 35,000 samples from older Denver-area homes and invariably finds homes with elevated lead levels in the water. Typically, homes built before 1950 were constructed with lead water lines.

Nobody really knows how many homes in the Denver metro area have lead service lines or where they are. But beginning in March, Denver Water began taking a more aggressive, proactive approach to addressing the problem of lead service lines.

Prior to March, if Denver Water discovered lead service lines through a leak or construction, the agency would replace the lead line that went from the water main to the customer’s meter. The agency would then recommend the property owner replace the rest of the lead service line which runs from the meter into the home. That replacement could cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.

Now though, Denver Water is replacing the lead service line from the meter to the home at no cost to the property owner when the utility discovers lead pipes during construction projects or leaks.

“We decided through an abundance of caution with our customers being very engaged in the issue of lead, and our policies evolving, that we would go ahead and do a full lead service line replacement when they encountered them during construction,” said Elliott.

That’s what CBS4 came across recently as Denver Water excavated and replaced lead lines to homes in a west Denver neighborhood. The agency was replacing the lead line all the way into the home of Brandeis Sperandeo, saving him thousands of dollars…

Johnny Roybal, a water distribution foreman for Denver Water working in that part of the city, told CBS4 “Denver Water is doing it as a courtesy to get the lead out.”

He said that when his crew determines there are lead lines running into a home, they provide information to the homeowner about steps to take, including running water from the tap for three minutes to flush the system before drinking.

Denver Water says in 2015 it replaced approximately 600 lead service lines and anticipates at least the same number in 2016.

“The Flint situation lays bare this simple fact: Our communities will be safer in the long run with no lead service lines in the ground. We’re not waiting for the new regulations,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said.

The American Water Works Association estimates there are 6.1 million lead service lines still in use in the U.S. and removal would cost an estimated $30 billion.

“As a community and as a broader society, we need to have a serious discussion on how we get the lead out,” said Lockheed.

Denver: Steep hike in storm and sanitary rates

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin) Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).
Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From The Denver Post (Carlos Illescas):

Storm and sewer fees will pay for the Platte to Park Hill flood control plan and other projects in the city. On average, a homeowner will see increases in fees totaling $116 over the next five years. The Platte to Park Hill project could cost up to $298 million…

The measure passed on an 8-3 vote, with councilmen Kevin Flynn, Rafael Espinoza and Paul Kashmann voting against the measure. Councilwomen Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega did not attend the meeting. A motion to postpone the vote until Aug. 29 failed…

Platte to Park Hill would reduce flooding in some parts of the Lower Montclair Basin by improving storm drainage in north and northeast Denver. A detention area would be created at City Park Golf Course. That has been the project’s most contentious issue. The golf course would have to be closed for about 16 months.

Platte to Park Hill would reduce flooding in some parts of the Lower Montclair Basin by improving storm drainage in north and northeast Denver. A detention area would be created at City Park Golf Course. That has been the project’s most contentious issue. The golf course would have to be closed for about 16 months…

Meanwhile, a lawsuit was announced Monday against Denver’s plan, claiming that a detention pond at the golf course goes against the city’s charter and zoning codes. It was filed by former Colorado Attorney General J.D. Macfarlane…

David Broadwell of the Denver City Attorney’s Office said he believes the city is in good standing on using the golf course for water detention.

From The North Denver Tribune:

For the last few years, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been hard at work to expand I-70 as it goes east-west across north Denver. Their plan is to not only increase the number of lanes from six to some fourteen (possibly more) but to dig out and build those fourteen lanes from Dahlia to Brighton Blvd some 40 feet below street level. This puts it about 22 feet below the Platte River where runoff water from Denver, flowing north, currently goes to meet the Platte River a short distance north of I-70.

And for CDOT to build this multi-lane Interstate below grade highway, it must have 100-year flood protection, meaning that such a huge rainstorm happens only once in 100 years. Practically no other section of Denver has this protection. The cost to do so is simply totally prohibitive.

This 100-year flood protection for I-70 is completely the responsibility of CDOT to do. CDOT can and, in fact, has developed its plan (called “Central 70”) to achieve the 100-year flood protection it must have.

Yet, strangely, the City and County of Denver entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement with CDOT (signed in 2015) wherein Denver took all responsibility to provide this 100-year flood protection for I-70 in return for some 53 million dollars to be paid by CDOT for taking over this flood protection. By the way, Denver must have it in place for CDOT by the 4th quarter of 2017. Thus, the reason for the sudden urgency of the City to get the Plan approved.

So to provide this 100 Year Flood protection to CDOT, Denver publicly announced, only late last fall, its “Platte to Park Hill: Storm Water Systems” Plan which continued to be modified as late as April 6, 2016. The cost of this project is now estimated to be some 200 million dollars, and may reach as high as 300 million dollars as the detailed plans are prepared and costs are estimated.

But an analysis of the Plan shows that practically all of this huge expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars does not provide any flood protection to any of Park Hill; Nada and almost no flood protection to any other neighborhoods of Denver, some of which have been waiting years for the City to do the work needed to solve their ongoing flooding problems.