Plans to rebuild U.S. 34 still a work in progress — Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 -- photo via Northern Water
Flood damage Big Thompson Canyon September 2013 — photo via Northern Water

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

In spite of what has been reported recently about the work which will likely start in late spring or early summer and last for two years or more, CDOT officials say there are just too many moving parts to say with any certainty just how long the $129 million project will take and how it will impact area residents and businesses.

“We honestly do not know a lot of these answers as the team is working to determine a lot of these variables,” said Jared Fiel, CDOT’s Communication Manager for Region 4. “The big thing to realize is that we have extensive outreach planned for the entire corridor in advance of any of the work starting.

“We will be having public meetings with both residents and businesses as well as a telephone town hall format for users of the corridor such as part-time residents, commuters, etc.”

When asked about the two-year construction time frame, Fiel said it will probably be two years.

“We are working at determining the actual scope and extent of the work to be done,” Fiel said. “Some of our early estimates for some aspects of the job proved to be too low, mainly based on logistics, meaning (as an example) if we are blasting rock in one place, we need to have a location on the corridor that needs that aggregate so we don’t have to pay more to have it shipped out, only to be brought back in later.”

Some have reported that the project will be done in stages.

“Again, probably,” Fiel said. “With the size and extent of this work, we will probably need to do different stages. How those stages (or construction packages) work, when they will happen, and if there will be overlap, are all to be determined.”


One thing that will almost definitely occur is the rerouting of Front Range (Fort Collins and Loveland) traffic to U.S. Highway 36 in Lyons as the major route to Estes Park, adding an extra half-hour of driving time.

“When construction begins in earnest, that is probably going to be a good idea,” Fiel said. “We will have detours available when (and if) we need to do any road or lane closures. We will also communicate this far in advance of any work going on.”

The section of U.S. 34 from Loveland to Estes Park, that winds through the narrows of the Big Thompson Canyon and past several smaller communities like Drake, was heavily damaged by the September 2013 flood event.

During the flooding, watershed runoff combined with flows released from Lake Estes Dam, and surges from debris dam breaches, produced huge flow surges that exceeded a 500-year flood event. As a result, the canyon section sustained widespread, massive damage.

Major sections of roadway were washed away completely, along with access bridges and retaining walls. In the narrows, much of the roadway and grade were undermined, washing out the pavement from below and exposing the wall support structures.

Temporary repairs were completed and the highway was reopened to traffic in both directions on Thursday, November 11, 2013. CDOT and its contractors worked from both the east and west ends of the canyon to assess and repair the damage and restore local access as quickly as possible. Emergency repairs were extensive and included removing debris, re-establishing shoulders and embankments, replacing damaged asphalt, filling washed out sections with concrete fill, repairing local access structures, and repairing damaged drainage structures.

After a couple years of doing research and design work, CDOT is ramping up for the permanent repair and/or rebuilt of U.S. 34. CDOT has named Kiewit Infrastructure Co. to serve as the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) for this project.

Permanent repairs will include removing and replacing much of the temporary asphalt, embankment fill, and temporary channel protection; as well as re-vegetating, replacing guardrails, and repairing fencing. Some of the roadway sections that were not destroyed, but experienced flood water overtopping the roadway, will be analyzed and possibly replaced, according to information on CDOT’s website.

For more information about the project and updates, go online to

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.


Big Thompson Canyon permanent repairs from 2013 flooding = $129 million, projected start this spring

The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Saja Hindi):

Construction on U.S. 34 permanent repairs in Big Thompson Canyon could come as early as spring, and initial estimates show it could cost much more than anticipated.

The total corridor project cost is set at $129 million, which comes from the $450 million of federal money allocated to all 2013 flood repairs, according to Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Jared Fiel.

CDOT Project Leader James Usher spoke to the Board of Larimer County Commissioners Tuesday morning about the project and education planned for residents — town meetings are planned for Loveland and Estes Park a month prior to construction, though no firm dates have yet been set. Agency officials will also host a telephone town hall, neighborhood meetings and update residents and business owners via a newsletter.

Engineers initially split the construction plans into 10 segments to be completed in packages, or phases, Fiel said, which could include several segments at a time.

They estimated that the first package, east of Idylwilde, would cost about $15 million, but the price estimates from the industry came in closer to $40 million, Usher said. That phase would cover about 150,000 cubic yards of rock work.

The main reason the price came in so high, Usher said, is because all the material that would be generated for repairs was going to have to be trucked in and out of the canyon.

But Usher said the project team is looking at potential solutions and reducing some of those risks, which will lead to a significant price drop…

Usher said CDOT is aiming to minimize the inconvenience to the public and residents along the corridor while maximizing safety.

Much of the design work was completed in the past six months, he said, and now the focus is on prioritizing work while conducting public outreach. The project itself could take about two years.

Restoring dams at Scott Ponds proving difficult — Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail-Gazette (David Persons):

It’s been over two years since the September 2013 flood ravaged the Fish Creek area, washing away roads, destroying homes and property, and making a mess of miles of water and sewer lines.

It also destroyed Scott Ponds, a wildlife and recreation area that is a big part of the quality of life for those who live in the nearby Carriage Hills subdivision.

The flood waters actually caused the dam on the lower, or eastern-most pond (Carriage Hills No. 2) to be breached, sending an additional surge of water that resulted in significant damage along the creek area below the dam.

Since then, local officials and residents have worked closely together on a resiliency plan for the Fish Creek area and a plan to restore the Scott Ponds.

Throughout 2015, plans moved forward to that end.

First, the town hired consultant Cornerstone Engineering and Surveying, Inc. in May to begin a public process to design repairs to the dams and/or ponds.

Then it obtained funding for the project. The town was awarded a $925,000 conditional Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery by the Colorado Office of Emergency Management. It requires the completion of the project within one year. The award also was partnered with another grant of $146,000 for river restoration near the Fall River power plant.

Public input was then sought in early July. The general consensus was to repair the dams rather than restore the area as a wildlife/wetlands natural area.

The Estes Park Town Board agreed with residents in mid-July and authorized town staff to move forward with plans to restore the dams. An additional public review of the plans was held in August.

In late August, the Scott Ponds dams restoration project went out to bid. That’s when the project was dealt a serious setback, or as Estes Park Public Works Director Greg Muhonen called it, “a complicated twist.”

Muhonen, addressing the Estes Park Town Board in early November, told the trustees that problems had arisen with the two companies that had submitted bids — Kelly Trucking of Golden and Dietzler Construction of Berthoud.

Muhonen said that both companies submitted bids over budget. Muhonen said Public Works staff worked with Kelly officials to reduce the scope of the project to a level that would meet the state engineer’s requirements and also meet the town’s grant funding amount. However, Kelley Trucking officials notified the town on Nov. 4 that it was withdrawing from the project due to budget constraints, redesign plan approval, and a postponed construction start date.

“My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs” — Liesel Hans

Tap water via Wikimedia
Tap water via Wikimedia

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

Thirteen gallons: It’s the volume of a standard kitchen trash bag, a 6-minute shower or a little more than a full tank of gas for a compact car.

And it’s the crux of Fort Collins Utilities’ vision for the city’s water use come 2030.

Average daily water use was 143 gallons per person in 2014. Utilities wants to reduce that to 130 gallons per person, a 9 percent cut, over the next 15 years.

The water saved would fill 2 1/2 Olympic-size swimming pools in just a year…

Conservation strategies laid out in a document released this month could affect your water bill, your lawn or even your toilet. And utilities staff hope a wide range of methods will prepare the community for inevitable dry spells in a semi-arid region vulnerable to unpredictable climate patterns.

“My colleague likes to say, instead of one silver bullet, there’s lots of little silver BBs,” said Liesel Hans, water conservation program manager with Fort Collins Utilities. “There’s a lot of ways to fit our goal, and it doesn’t have to be a one size fits all.”

Utilities is seeking feedback on its water efficiency plan update through Jan. 15. After resident and City Council review, the department will start making changes on a rolling basis in the coming months and years.

There are some big goals in the plan update, including:

  • Requiring more efficient plumbing and irrigation fixtures for re-developed homes and businesses.
  • Changing water rates to encourage conservation.
  • Increasing use of the online “Monitor My Use” tool, which shows users how much water they’re using on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. This helps customers see what time of day they’re using the most, among other features.
  • Revamping and spreading the Xeriscape Incentive Program, which pays residents to re-do their lawns with plants that conserve water.
  • Offering more rebates to businesses that conserve water.
  • Providing more education to increase community water literacy.

The strategies and their timelines are purposely vague because the department wants to hear what people think of them before deciding which ones to implement. And the plan targets residential and business use because both make up gluttonous portions of the water-use pie: Businesses account for 39 percent of water use in the district; homes account for 47 percent.

Utilities will “look at a wide range of options” for changing rates, Hans said, which could include changing the fixed rate, the variable rates or both…

Graphs of Fort Collins Utilities’ water demand over time tell a gripping story. Demand increased steadily as more people and businesses moved in during the 1990s. By 2000, the city was using more than 200 gallons per person per day to meet an annual demand of more than 10 billion gallons. That level of demand would fill Horsetooth Reservoir in about five years.

Then came the 2002 drought. Some people, including then-Gov. Bill Owens, called it Colorado’s worst drought in 350 years.

Fort Collins saw about 9 inches of rain that year, about 6 inches less than normal.

The historic drought got the city thinking about water conservation, Hans said. It wasn’t long before the utilities department switched to a “conservation-oriented” rate structure, so people who use more water pay a higher rate.

That change and other conservation efforts have helped the department cut use per person and in total. In 2014, annual demand was about 7 billion gallons, a 30 percent reduction from 2000 demand even as the city’s population swelled by 25 percent.

But progress has plateaued, Hans said, so her department hopes new methods — and a goal more ambitious than the original 2030 target of 140 gallons per person each day — will help galvanize next-level conservation.

A lot of the strategies involve building on existing programs that identify water leaks in homes, show residents how to more efficiently water their lawns, set efficiency goals for businesses and teach children and adults why water conservation matters.

Conservation fans say the 2030 water use goal is made more achievable by what seems to be an ingrained value for many in Fort Collins.

“We live in a semi-arid desert,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Water Conservancy District — the agency that facilitates close to one-third of Fort Collins Utilities’ water supply.

“From Day 1, settlers realized you had to supplement what Mother Nature gave you if you wanted to grow crops. We were very conservation-oriented from the get-go.”

Julie Kallenberger, water education and outreach specialist for Colorado State University’s Water Center, added Colorado’s headwaters state status fosters more of a conservation-oriented mindset.

“Water becomes more of a topic because people understand how important it is,” she said. “I came here in ’02, and I immediately noticed it.”

Water efficiency plan

You can find the Fort Collins Utilities water efficiency plan at

Trustees approve contract for hydroplant, hatchery flood work — Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Estes Park
Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

The Estes Park Town Board approved on Tuesday night a professional services contract and a design-build contract to the FlyWater/Otak team for the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

The Fall River channel and stream banks between the Rocky Mountain National Park boundary and downstream of the western-most Fish Hatchery Bridge (Project Reach) experienced significant damage as a result of the 2013 flood and now pose a public safety hazard.

This damage included the loss of fish habitat, damage to the channel, significant bank erosion, and areas of considerable deposition. Approximately 100 feet of the historic 30-inch iron penstock connecting the Cascade Dam and the Hydroplant was exposed due to stream bank erosion.

The proposed project work consists of approximately 3,250 linear feet of stream bank stabilization and channel restoration along a reach of Fall River. The project reach is defined by 2,700 feet from the Hydroplant Museum going west to the border of Rocky Mountain National Park and 550 feet going east of the Hydroplant Museum defined as the Upper Fish Hatchery reach. These contract agreements include finalizing the remaining portion of the design and completing all construction work.

Estes Park Environmental Planner Tina Kurtz explained to the board that the $300,000 two-phase project will be funded in two ways.

Kurtz said a CDBG-DR grant for $150,000 is pending the Environmental Assessment which should be completed later this month. The funding request is expected to be granted in December. An additional grant for $150,000 from Colorado Senate Bill 14-179 requires a 1-to-1 match. The CDBG-DR grant would be considered that match…

Later on Tuesday night, the town board voted to reallocate $780,000 in the CDBG-DR grant from the Scott Ponds and put it toward the Fall River hydroplant and upper Fish Hatchery reaches stabilization project.

Larimer Co. struggles with one-size-fits-all floodway rules — Fort Collins Coloradan

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

The Larimer County Commission on Monday put the brakes on floodway regulations that focused on a Laporte neighborhood but that would have been felt county-wide.

The Laporte neighborhood, known as Cottonwillow, led a push to reform floodway regulations after residents learned stringent re-build rules cut resale values of their home to a quarter of their value, if they were able to secure an offer at all. Several of those residents lined the public seating at a non-voting work session for the county commissioners Monday.

“I want to make sure we know what we’re getting into here,” Commissioner Tom Donnelly said, regarding the regulations, which would have impacted canyon communities and county riverbank residents. “That we’re not pushing the balloon in here to see it bulge out over there.”

Donnelly was the only commissioner physically present. Commissioner Steve Johnson was attending another meeting on child welfare and Commissioner Lew Gaiter was called into the meeting.

The commission amended the county land use code earlier this year to allow property owners in floodways — areas where floods are expected to be most severe — to rebuild in cases where their buildings are substantially damaged by non-flood activities. But two of the three members balked at further action that would essentially create different tiers and regulations of floodway.

A proposal to classify floodways based on severity of anticipated flooding, one that took into account depth and flow speeds, would remove up to 93 percent of properties in a Laporte neighborhood that bumps against the Poudre River.