Third Annual Poudre River Forum, “Cultivating Connnections,” Friday, Feb 5, 2016


SAVE THE DATE! Friday, Feb 5, 2016

Next year, the Third Annual Poudre River Forum with the theme “Cultivating Connnections” moves to a weekday following up on the recommendations from the 2015 evaluations. We will return to The Ranch in Loveland.

Participants can look forward to an emphasis on water for agriculture with a panel facilitated by Luke Runyon from Harvest Media/KUNC. Also featured will be a panel of ecologists and engineers exploring how river infrastructure can be planned and/or managed to meet both human and ecological goals, with Coloradoan journalist, Kevin Duggan, facilitating. We’ll enjoy lunch together and finish our day with Odell brews, other refreshments, and bluegrass music from Blue Grama.

More program details and registration information coming in early December.

We are actively seeking sponsorships for this self-sustaining community event. If your company or institution is interested in this opportunity to show that they value bringing diverse voices and concerns together to learn about the Poudre River, please review the attached Sponsorship Letter and Form.

We welcome your inquiries at

Check out the updated CSU website for Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group (PRTI), which facilitates the Poudre River Forum. And “Like” PRTI on Facebook – thanks!

“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

Providers utilizing the Denver Basin Aquifer are moving towards supply security

Denver Basin aquifer map
Denver Basin aquifer map

From the Centennial Citizen (Paul Donahue and Eric Hecox):

Is our water future secure?

It’s a question on the minds of many in Castle Rock and the entire south metro Denver region — and for good reason. After all, water is what makes our outstanding quality of life possible. If we want future generations to enjoy our communities as we do, we must ensure they have access to a secure and sustainable water supply that meets their future needs.

From conversations throughout the region, we know Castle Rock residents and those in the entire south metro area understand the critical role water plays in delivering the quality of life we desire for our children, in addition to supporting property values, job creation and economic growth.

We know residents are aware the region historically has relied too heavily on declining groundwater supplies and must diversify its supply for long-term sustainability. We know they view water as a top priority for the region and support an all-of-the-above approach that includes conservation and reuse, storage and new renewable supplies.

We also know Castle Rock residents as well as residents across the south metro area value partnership among leaders throughout the region to get the job done in the most economically responsible manner. Working together to secure water rights, build infrastructure and efficiently use storage space helps spread the costs and the benefits to customers throughout the region.

The answer to the question on people’s minds is not clear-cut. While our region is on the path to delivering a secure water future for generations to come, this effort is ongoing and will require continued support from our communities to see it through to the end.

The good news is that we have a plan, and we are executing that plan.

Thanks to innovative conservation approaches, the region has seen a 30 percent decrease in per capita water use since 2000. That means the typical south metro household or business, including those in Castle Rock, is using 30 percent less water than just 15 years ago. Declines in the region’s underground aquifers — historically the main water source for the region — have slowed considerably in that same time period, a testament to efforts across the region to diversify water supplies and maximize efficiency through reuse.

At the same time, major new water infrastructure projects are coming online throughout the region that bring new renewable supplies, storage capacity and reuse capabilities. These include the WISE (Water Infrastructure and Supply Efficiency) Partnership with Denver Water, Aurora and several other regional organizations including Castle Rock Water, the Chatfield Reallocation Project, Rueter-Hess Reservoir, the Northern Project and Castle Rock’s Plum Creek Purification Facility, to name a few.

The 13 members that make up the South Metro Water Supply Authority provide water to 80 percent of Douglas County and 10 percent of Arapahoe County. Together, they are partnering among each other as well as with local government leadership and water entities across the region and state to execute their plan to secure a sustainable water future for the region.

Since becoming a member of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, Castle Rock Water has helped lead implementation of the WISE project, new water storage reservoir projects and other regional renewable water supply efforts. WISE water will be available to Castle Rock residents by 2017 and even earlier for some of the other South Metro residents. A project like WISE represents as much as 10 percent of the renewable water needed for both current and future residents in Castle Rock.

The members of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, including Castle Rock, each have long-term water plans. Through partnerships, these projects are made possible by sharing in the needed investments and other resources when completing the time-consuming task of acquiring additional renewable water and building the required infrastructure.

This collaboration is supported by the state and is in line with the Colorado Water Plan. This regional support has been critical in providing feasible strategies to ensure water for future generations.

Is our water future secure? No, not yet. But we’re well on our way to getting there.

Paul Donahue is the mayor of Castle Rock and has served on the town council for eight years. Eric Hecox is the director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority, a regional water authority made up of 13 water provider members that collectively serve more than 300,000 residents as well as businesses in the south metro Denver area. South Metro Water’s membership spans much of Douglas County and parts of Arapahoe County, including Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Pines.

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.

How Water Is Reshaping the West — Hillary Rosner

Here’s a report from Hillary Rosner writing for Nova Next. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

“Be careful of rattlesnakes,” Brian Werner says as we walk near what will, a few years out, become the south end of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. I try to imagine what will happen to the snakes—and the bears and birds and burrowing animals—when these 1,600 acres become a lakebed. I’d been conducting an animated interview with Werner for more than an hour as we toured the region’s waterworks–reservoirs, pipelines, diversion ditches, pumps—but now, standing here, I’m speechless. Perhaps sensing my mood, Werner tries to be upbeat. He gestures to the west, where, as part of the reservoir land-acquisition deal, another 1,800 acres will be permanently protected. But it’s hard to stand beneath those ponderosas and not feel a kind of heartbreak.

Werner works for Northern Water, a public utility that delivers water to parts of eight northeastern Colorado counties and about 880,000 people. In conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water administers the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a sprawling collection of reservoirs and pipes built to send Colorado River water from the western part of the state across the Rockies (through a tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park) the more populous—and growing—northeastern towns. Werner’s job title is public information officer, but after 34 years with the utility, he’s also its de facto historian, with an insider’s deep knowledge of the entire state’s water past and present, including the intricacies of water rights. (Western water law is an unfathomably complex beast predicated on a first-come-first-served system, which is why newer cities, late to the game, are struggling for rights to water that often flows right past them.)

Up and down Colorado’s Front Range—the string of cities perched along the Rocky Mountains’ eastern flanks—it’s a boom time. Fort Collins, the northernmost city, has doubled its population since the 1980s, with no sign of stopping. Farther to the east, in former rural communities like Frederick, Dacono, and Evans, pavement is spreading like weeds, subdivisions are sprouting in place of corn. The reservoir soon to drown the spectacular landscape under my feet that afternoon would deliver water to these bustling communities.

Nearby, another proposed reservoir would submerge a highway to store water from the Poudre River, which flows through downtown Fort Collins; this project will serve those same growing towns. “Some people think if we don’t build those projects, people just won’t come,” Werner says. “I wish that were the case. But it’s not gonna happen. People are going to keep moving here, because it’s a great place to live.”

Across much of the West, the story is similar. As cities and states grapple with urban growth alongside the impacts of global warming—crippling drought, a shifted timeline of snowmelt and stream flows, uncertainty about future water supplies—nothing is off the table when it comes to securing access to water. These days, the stories that make national news are more likely to be about old dams coming down than about new ones rising. That’s partly because dams coming down are still a rarity. But across the West, the local news is far more likely to be about smaller dams going up. The era of water mega-projects may be behind us, but engineers are still transforming landscapes to deliver water—an increasingly elusive and valuable commodity…

“The Reclamation era”—roughly the 1930s to the 1970s—“was big monster projects, massive dams that totally reshaped the watershed, rivers, and ecology,” says Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Today’s projects, Waskom says, are a series of “expansions and enlargements,” smaller-scale efforts meant to complement or shore up existing systems…

A subsidiary of Northern Water, called the Municipal Subdistrict, runs the Windy Gap project, which was built in the early 1980s to provide water for Boulder, Fort Collins, and four other Front Range cities. The system pulls water from the Colorado River and stores it in the Windy Gap reservoir on the west side of the Rockies then delivers it to Lake Granby, where it is pumped through the Big Thompson system to the eastern side. But in wet years, Lake Granby, the main reservoir for that Big Thompson system, is already full—leaving no room to store the Windy Gap water. That means in dry years, when the customers really need it, the water isn’t there.

Chimney Hollow is the solution, a way to stabilize the Windy Gap water supply. Water managers call it “firming.” Imagine that you are technically entitled to ten units of water out of a reservoir that stores 100 units. But in a dry year, the reservoir might only contain 30 units, and there are other customers besides you. In such a system, you couldn’t really depend on the reservoir for your water. That worst-case scenario is what water people call “firm yield.”

On the Windy Gap system, the firm yield is currently zero. “In the dry years, there’s no water available,” explains Werner, “and in the wet years, there’s nowhere to put it. You can’t rely on a project with zero firm yield.” Chimney Hollow, the utility contends, will give customers—the city of Erie, say— guaranteed annual delivery of their legally allotted water.

“Even with climate change, we know that there will be high flow years,” Waskom says. “When those come along, you’ve either got a place to store that water or you don’t.”[…]

There’s also the issue of whether there will continue to be enough water in the rivers to make these efforts worthwhile. “Whether you have a big reservoir or just a straw where you’re sucking water out of the river and sending it somewhere else, the question is, will the water be there?” says Jeff Lukas, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment, a think tank based at the University of Colorado. “Just because you’ve done the modeling and your scheme would’ve worked under the hydrology of last 50 years doesn’t mean it’ll work in the next 50 years.”[…]

The new world is nothing if not complex. It’s a world of tradeoffs, a world without easy answers. Still, standing on the hillside at Chimney Hollow, I’m sure of one thing: I wish there was some way to spare this spectacular place.

#coleg: Logan County to act as fiscal agent for HB15-1178 grants — Sterling Journal Advocate

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Callie Jones):

During the work session, the commissioners voted 2-0 for Logan County to be the fiscal agent to handle dewatering grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to the recipients, which include Country Club Hills and Pawnee Ridge subdivisions. Rocky Samber recused himself from the vote, as he lives in the Pawnee Ridge subdivision.

The state approved a grant program providing financial aid for emergency dewatering when House Bill 15-1778 was signed into law by the governor on June 5. The bill authorizes the CWCB, in collaboration with the State Engineer, to administer a grant program for emergency dewatering of areas in and around Gilcrest and Sterling. The grants are intended for areas that, through the application and review process, the CWCB and the State Engineer determine are experiencing damaging high groundwater levels in recent years.

A group from Country Club Hills approached the commissioners at their work session last week, to request that the county act as financial agent for the grant. Commissioner Gene Meisner was not at the meeting; the other commissioners told the group they would talk with him and get back to them with their decision.

“I don’t think it would be that much work on the finance department,” Donaldson said Tuesday.

Samber agreed, noting the groups representing the subdivisions will do the writing and the paperwork.

They asked Meisner if he had any questions after reading the narrative he was given; he did not. With the grant application do next week, they decided to take action on the request during their work session.

Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions -- Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute
Map of the South Platte River alluvial aquifer subregions — Colorado Water Conservation Board via the Colorado Water Institute