$1.5 Million Contract Awarded to Repair Colorado-Big Thompson Infrastructure Damaged by 2013 Flooding — Bureau of Reclamation

March 25, 2015
The Big Thompson River September 14, 2013 via The Denver Post

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

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

The Bureau of Reclamation has awarded a contract totaling nearly $1.5 million to Lillard and Clark Construction Company Inc., Denver, for repair to the Big Thompson Diversion Structure, an element of the Colorado-Big Thompson project that was damaged during the September 2013 flood, known as one of the worst natural disasters in Colorado history.

“Reclamation is addressing the infrastructure damage that occurred during the 2013 Colorado River flooding,” said Reclamation Commissioner Estevan López, while announcing today’s $1,457,570 contract award. “This work will ensure the project’s continued reliability.”

Big Thompson Diversion Structure, located 8.5 miles west of Loveland, Colorado, in Larimer County, requires removal and restoration of flood-damaged concrete areas, installation of a precast concrete building, repair and replacement of electrical systems, gates, gear boxes, electric motors and other rehabilitation tasks. The work is expected to begin in April 2015.

The Colorado-Big Thompson project spans approximately 250 miles in Colorado. It stores, regulates and diverts water from the Colorado River on the western slope of the Continental Divide to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, providing supplemental water to irrigate about 720,000 acres of land for municipal and industrial uses, hydroelectric power and water-oriented recreation opportunities. Major features of the project include dams, dikes, reservoirs, power plants, pumping plants, pipelines, tunnels, transmission lines, substations and other associated structures. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District apportions water used for irrigation to more than 120 ditches and 60 reservoirs. Eleven communities receive municipal and industrial water from the project. Electric power produced by six power plants is marketed by the Western Division of the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


Lawn Lake dam break inundated Estes Park — Loveland Reporter-Herald

March 16, 2015
Lawn Lake Flood

Lawn Lake Flood

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Kenneth Jessen):

In 1975, a Colorado dam inspector hiked the half-dozen miles to the Lawn Lake dam and reported that it was in need of a thorough inspection after the snow melted. Another inspector reported two years later that the dam was in fair condition and suggested that its owners make repairs.

On Aug. 8, 1978, a third inspector reaffirmed the marginal rating for the dam and recommended that it be observed when the reservoir was full.

The caulking between the outlet pipe and the release valve started to allow water to trickle along the outer surface of the pipe. Once a small channel had eaten into the earthen dam under pressure, it rapidly expanded.

On July 15, 1982, the Lawn Lake dam failed catastrophically. The release of water was heard by campers along the Roaring River. One man below the dam was swept to his death in the churning water.

The wall of water forced large boulders down 2,500 vertical feet to Horseshoe Park acting as battering rams. The forested banks of Roaring River where scoured away in a landslide of thousands of tons of material.

Much of the impact of the flood was absorbed by the broad expanse of Horseshoe Park. An alluvial fan quickly formed at the mouth of Roaring River. The debris was pushed across Horseshoe Park damming the Fall River and forming a shallow lake.

Fortunately, Steve Gillette was collecting trash at the Lawn Lake trailhead. It was 6:23 a.m. when he sighted the flood coming toward him and alerted park officials.

In an interview with the Loveland Reporter-Herald, he described the noise like that of a plane crashing. Gillette said that it looked like a mudslide of the type you see in the movies.

The vast volume of water poured into Fall River and picked up finely divided glacial silt in the process.

Below Horseshoe Park was the Cascade Dam. The force of the water first backed up behind the dam, and then suddenly toppled the 17-foot high structure at 7:42 a.m. This amplified the intensity of the flood and a wall of water raced through the Aspenglen Campground killing two people.

The mud and water coursed through motels and restaurants, then hit downtown Estes Park. The entire width of Elkhorn Avenue became a river of mud-filled water combined with a great deal of debris. It did an extraordinary amount of damage as entire inventories for the summer tourist season were washed away or ruined.

State inspectors were partially to blame along with the Park Service. Much of the responsibility, however, had to be borne by owners of the dam, the Farmers Irrigation Ditch & Reservoir Co. Its 16 stockholders became worried about legal action, but they were protected by their corporation.

National flood insurance covered only 20 property owners out of some 275 affected by the flood.

High-profile trial lawyer Gerry Spence was hired by Estes Park property owners to represent their interests. He quickly concluded that the entire assets of the ditch company consisted of little more than their $1.4 million insurance policy. This money was turned over to the court system to be disbursed.

Immunity against lawsuits was evoked by both the federal government and the state of Colorado. Damages topped $30 million, which ultimately had to be absorbed by businesses and individuals.

Low interest rate loans were made available. Other federal assistance included unemployment payments, temporary housing, up to $5,000 for out-of-pocket living expenses and food stamps. However, very little compensation was received by anyone financially injured by the Lawn Lake flood.

Less than 10 cents on the dollar was paid to flood victims, forcing the permanent closure of many businesses.

The Lawn Lake disaster became the perfect opportunity for the Park Service to dismantle selected dams.

Lost Lake dam was dismantled followed by the Pear, Sandbeach and Bluebird dams. Spared were Lily, Sprague, Snowbank and Copeland.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Estes Park to consider water rate study and system’s capital needs — Estes Park News

March 3, 2015
Estes Park

Estes Park

From the Town of Estes Park via the The Estes Park News:

To ensure continued high-quality utility services and plan for future upgrades through capital improvement projects, the Town of Estes Park periodically reviews the cost of providing services as well as projected revenue – the rates paid by customers. The Town’s public water utility is a cost-based entity that relies solely on user fees to operate. Costs and revenues must be balanced in order to maintain operations and keep utilities in line with ever-increasing federal standards. The Town’s Water Division is capable of serving Estes Park on the busiest day of summer. Yet like water utilities across the U.S., it is facing rising operational costs, aging infrastructure and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

Several upcoming public meetings will include water rate discussions. Visit http://www.estes.org/boardsandmeetings for dates and complete meeting details:

• March 10: Town Board study session to review rate study results and options

• March 24: Town Board meeting review draft rate plan

• April 28 (tentative): Final public hearing and potential adoption of new rates

The last time a water rate study was conducted, the Town opted to keep rates lower than recommended by the study in order to assist residents and businesses through the national economic downturn. Therefore, the Town has not completed a large capital project since replacing 600 feet of water main under Virginia Avenue in 2012. Funding capital infrastructure projects requires multiple years of savings, and postponement means they will cost more in the future. The following water system improvements are needed:

1. Establishment of secondary water sources for the Town’s two water treatment plants to ensure water treatment plants are not shut down due to problems with source water.

2. The Town’s system has grown and inherited older, private water distribution systems such as the one serving Carriage Hills. In 2014, the water crew repaired 27 leaks throughout the system, most caused by older pipes resting on shifting granite in acidic soil. Approximately 50 miles of the Town’s pipes need to be replaced to meet today’s standards. This costs $500,000 to $1 million per mile depending on blasting, excavation and road replacement costs.

3. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations have a direct influence on the operations and maintenance of distribution system and treatment facilities. For example, to meet the Surface Water Treatment Rules the Town uses enhanced treatment methods, which increase operating costs. Past rate increases funded the $8.25 million upgrade at Marys Lake Water Treatment Facility for membrane filtration in order to prepare for more stringent standards in the future.

For more information on the water rate study, please contact the Utilities Department at 970-577-3587.

More Big Thompson watershed coverage here.


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 http://www.fishcreekcoalition.com/master-plan.


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 http://www.southplattebasin.com.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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