Workshop to focus on Big Thompson River restoration — @coloradoan

February 26, 2015

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.”

Estes Park: Flood recovery hits some rapids, public meeting January 26

January 23, 2015
Estes Park

Estes Park

From the Estes Park Trail Gazette (David Persons):

The job of creating a master plan for the recovery and future flood mitigation of the heavily-damaged Fish Creek corridor wasn’t going to be easy.

And, it hasn’t been. It’s been hard work by a lot of well-meaning professionals and concerned individuals.

But, as it almost always is with any significant flood mitigation plan, some parts are going to rub some people the wrong way.

Count many of those living at or near Scott Ponds in the Carriage Hills subdivision on the upper reaches of Fish Creek as suitably rubbed.

When they found out that the current draft of the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan included a recommendation to remove the two dams (and related ponds) south of Scott Avenue and restore the area to historic beaver ponds, they quickly spoke out.

“I chose this (home) because of the location,” said Joe Holtzman, 1130 Scott Avenue. His home overlooks the northernmost of the Scott Ponds, the one whose dam failed and contributed greatly to a surge during the September 2013 flood.

“I’m a 50-year flyfisherman. I love it here. I have had over 250 elk go through by backyard. I’ve had numerous deer and a plethora of birds. I have seen osprey plucking fish out of those ponds. I’ve even seen bald eagles here.”

Now, he fears, he may lose all that if the Scott Ponds are removed.

Holtzman said he wasn’t aware of the recommendation to remove the ponds – one of five high priority projects recommended – until November when there was an open house presented by a representative of Walsh Environmental, the firm that has been tasked to oversee and complete the Fish Creek Master Plan.

Once completed, the Fish Creek Resiliency Plan will provide recommendations for numerous projects that may be undertaken when funding is available. If funding becomes available, for each project there will be another opportunity for public participation during the design process, town officials say.

They also point out that the master plan is just a draft and not complete yet.

“The Fish Creek master plan is still being reviewed, and even the final document will be just a recommendation from a resiliency standpoint,” said Estes Park Public Information Officer Kate Rusch. “There will be more public involvement before anything happens at Scott Ponds.”[…]

Although town officials are on record saying they would like to repair the dam as part of flood restoration work, they won’t be allowed to restore it to its former state. The state now requires that repairs and designs of dam replacements must meet current state regulations. And, that means a lot more money.

Holtzman believes that a better idea would be to reduce the size and depth of the ponds which would require a smaller dam.

He and his neighbors will get a chance to voice that opinion on Jan. 26, when the town holds a public meeting to discuss the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Estes Park Event Center, 1125 Rooftop Way, at the Fairgrounds at Stanley Park…

Shafer did praise the formation of the Estes Valley Watershed Coalition, which was formed from residents in the Fall River and Fish Creek areas. The coalition, which has two voting members from the Fall River area, two from the Fish Creek area, two from the Black Canyon area, and two from the Big Thompson River area, and three at-large members will seek grants and other funding once the Fish Creek Resiliency (Master) Plan has been adopted.

Shafer said the coalition, working as a non-profit under the umbrella of the Estes Valley Land Trust, should be able to secure the needed funding to implement the plan.

Among the many funding sources available for the coalition are the Colorado Water Conservation Board; Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund; Colorado Watershed Restoration Grant; Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA); Colorado Drought and Flood Response Fund; Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Colorado Watershed Assembly; Basin Roundtables; and the El Pomar Foundation.

For more information on the draft plan, visit online at

South Platte Roundtable meeting recap #COWaterPlan

January 14, 2015
South Platte River Basin

South Platte River Basin

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The plan for the South Platte Basin, which covers all of Northern Colorado including tributary Big Thompson River, was discussed Tuesday at a public meeting in Loveland.

Members of the roundtable asked for public input on their plan to protect and balance all the interests in Colorado water within the law and the water rights structure.

The plan so far calls for creating new, multiuse projects that pull water from diverse sources, expanding conservation and reuse of water, exploring the use of groundwater and aquifer storage and stopping the old practice of “buy and dry” up agricultural water and land.

Livermore resident Zach Thode urged the board to delve beyond what they have already studied and, through a regional innovation group, offered to help.

“We have to come up with new ideas, or we will always end up in the same place,” said Thode. “I don’t see anything new and exciting in here. I don’t think this is steering us away from the path that we were already on. I encourage you to look at innovation.”

Eastern Colorado resident Gene Kammerzell offered one suggestion for a new path: Make sure landscapers adequately prepare soil before installing trees, grasses and plants. This simple act, said the man who serves on a groundwater coalition, could cut municipal water use by 20 percent.

Members of the roundtable encourage additional public comment before the final plan in completed by April 17. More information on the plan, future public meetings and how to comment is available online at

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Post-flood master plans for three Boulder County creeks ready for review — Longmont Times-Call

December 31, 2014

From the Longmont Times-Call (Joe Rubino):

It’s been more than 15 months since Boulder County was wracked by historic rainfall that caused area creeks to jump their banks, and, in some cases, create new channels entirely, resulting in extensive damage to homes and infrastructure along the way.

Following an exhaustive public process, Boulder County officials announced earlier this month that they have finalized post-flood master plans for three local creeks: Fourmile, Left Hand and the St. Vrain.

The plans are meant to be comprehensive guides outlining how best to restore and stabilize the watersheds for each body of water, including recommendations for bank stabilization, debris removal, re-vegetation and even channel realignment on public and private properties.

While many of the individual projects contained in the plans are not funded, charting them out is expected to give stakeholders, especially municipalities, a leg up in securing the money needed.

“If we identify the improvements in the plans it makes it much more likely they will be funded by grants coming from the state and federal government,” Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle said.

Gerstle’s was among many county departments, including Land Use, Open Space, and Health and Environment, that contributed to drafting the master plans, but he credited the property owners and other groups concerned with the county’s environment with spurring the process forward.

“Though we lead the efforts it really was a coalition of all the property owners and all of the interest groups that really made this possible,” he said. “It was a pretty intensive effort by a lot of people to put together, but I think some pretty great documents have come out of it.”

The county also employed the services of engineering consulting firm Michael Baker for the process.

Naturally, there are many property owners who want to get to work on when the county’s various creeks and streams pass through their land, and Gerstle said the master plans are an important tool to make sure all work that is done has the entire watershed in mind.

“A lot of property owners want to do something to stabilize the creek and this provides guidance on how to do it while maintaining the environmental integrity,” he said. “One thing we learned is we can look at (the creeks) bit by bit, we have to see how it all works together.”

A creek of particular importance is the St. Vrain.

Gerstle pointed out that the stream completely changed its traditional alignment just west of Longmont, leading to heavy damage in the city. The master plan outlines steps to put it back in its channel and keep it there in a way the respects the natural environment.

Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s general manager of public works and natural resources, said he appreciated the opportunity for collaboration presented by the master planning process and the way it looked at the St. Vrain as a whole from it origins near the Great Divide down to it confluence with Boulder Creek.

“We’re pretty happy with the outcome. This is a foundational document necessary to go forward for state and federal funding and we think it serves that purpose pretty well,” he said.

Rademacher highlighted one project in the St. Vrain plan that he said could be underway next month. It involves creation of an overflow channel for Heron Lake that would direct flood waters away from Airport Road, an important street that still has flood barriers sitting alongside it just in case.

Rademacher said the Heron Lake project is intended to “intercept flood flows that may come through the area again,” and protect property nearby. He said the project, which is the subject to an intergovernmental agreement between city and county officials, is expected to cost around $700,000 and is being put out to bid within the next week with construction hopefully beginning in January.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Reconstruction of Big Dam almost complete — Loveland Reporter-Herald

December 1, 2014

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):

The 60-foot-plus Nelson Big Dam, just west of Loveland’s water treatment plant, suffered major damage in the 2013 flood, and crews are in the process of not only reconstructing it, but making the dam more durable than it was before.

The dam was built in 1895 after a flood the year before destroyed another dam nearby. It supplies water from the Big Thompson River that irrigates about 20,000 acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties, most of the drinking water for the Johnstown treatment plant and diverts raw water for the city of Loveland to its treatment plant.

The dam, built on 15 feet of sand and gravel on the old river bed, cost $11,000 to complete at the time, and is considered a historic landmark, with its masonry stone arch shape.

“When people see it, they don’t really realize it’s not just a little retaining wall in the river. It’s a pretty big structure,” said Gary Gerrard, a board member for the Consolidated Home Supply Ditch and Reservoir Co…

Although the 1976 flood didn’t have a major impact on the dam, the 20,000 cubic feet per second of water flow going over the dam during the 2013 flood proved to be too much. To put it in perspective, Gerrard said average flows in September are typically around 100 to 200 cubic feet per second. Witnesses said the heavy water flow carried a lot of debris and large objects that struck and damaged the top of the dam.

Home Supply hired Gerrard Excavating to not only reconstruct the dam but to also complete deferred maintenance, unrelated to the flood — such as replacing the mortar between the rocks, which has eroded, and gate repairs — and constructing an additional spillway to mitigate future floods.

The Loveland City Council approved contributing funding to the dam repairs, and FEMA has also obligated funds. According to Gerrard, the cost of the project is between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Larry Howard, city senior civil engineer, said the city agreed to split the cost in half with the company of non-reimbursed flood repairs and maintenance (excluding projects on the dam that are only the company’s).

“The city has been just a great partner throughout the whole thing,” Gerrard said.

The dam is not only important to the city for its water diversion, but Howard said it’s also where the city has developed its treatment processes over the years. While Loveland has other sources of water, such as the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir, the dam is their main source of raw water.

With more than 5-feet of the dam knocked off as well as some of the stones from the arch, crews had their work cut out for them.

Immediately after the flood, Gerrard, who is also the project’s construction manager, said the goal was to fill all the reservoirs and move the river. Then, crews built concrete abutments, or concrete structures on both sides of the dam to hold the arch secure.

“The first thing was to get the repairs made to the dam,” Howard said. “That work began last winter after the flooding and was carried on throughout the winter.”

Construction took a hiatus when flows became too high to allow for work in the spring, but work was continued on the arch during the summer months. After Aug. 1, construction was underway to fill in the rest of the crest with concrete and the stone portion was repaired.

Howard said the project is unique in that stone construction is rarely seen anymore.

“The goal from the beginning was to maintain the historical appearance of the dam, and I think we’ve been able to do that,” he said.

To replace some of the stones, crews were able to get more stones from the Arkins quarry, on North County Road 27, which is where the original stones were from.

Crews added the new spillway, which is electronically controlled and is brand new technology, Gerrard said.

“We’re excited to see that work,” he said. “Once that was completed and the rest of the arch was complete, we moved into the Home Supply system,” which included repairing gates and deferred maintenance.

The reservoirs, he said, were filled early this year, making it easier to manage the river for construction and not diversion.

Flood-related repairs are planned to be completed this winter, and then re-mortaring between rocks will begin.

More Big Thompson watershed coverage here.

Path to Grand Lake clarity standard far from clear #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2014
Grand Lake via Cornell University

Grand Lake via Cornell University

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

Keep Grand Lake Blue. If you’re a resident of Grand County, you’ve probably seen those words pasted proudly to someone’s bumper. To the uninitiated, it seems like an innocuous, if not benevolent, goal. But to some Grand Lake fisherman, the issue is far from clear…

…a recent study by Brett Johnson, a professor in CSU’s department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology.

The study found that “pumping from Shadow Mountain Reservoir has an “enriching effect that should be beneficial to Grand Lake’s fish populations.”[…]

In 2008, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission set in motion a process to develop a clarity standard for Grand Lake.

Most of the solutions proposed so far would include bypassing Grand Lake, eliminating the influx of dirty, nutrient rich water from Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

In turn, Johnson postulates this could result in declines in sport fish growth and production.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, Katherine Morris, Grand County’s water quality specialist, raised some concerns with Johnson’s study, namely that the nutrient sources that Johnson identified were primarily cyanobacteria.

Cyanobacteria are less edible than phytoplankton, and when they die in large quantities, they can be toxic.

Johnson has conceded that pumping cyanobacteria into Grand Lake wouldn’t be a good idea, Morris said.

Cyanobacteria are currently the primary producers in both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

“If we weren’t pumping the wrong nutrient ratio into Grand Lake, that might not be a problem,” Morris said.

Grand County will be issuing a rebuttal to the study, Morris said.


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