Greeley Water closing in on new rate structure to encourage conservation

Greeley in 1870 via the Greeley Historical Society and the Denver Public Library
Greeley in 1870 via the Greeley Historical Society and the Denver Public Library

From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

Greeley water officials are continuing to push a new water rate system that would provide residents with incentives to cut their consumption, and local leaders are warming up to the idea.

The Water and Sewer Board went over the plan again during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Today, Greeley residents pay a flat rate for water that doesn’t take into account how much they use, and regionally, that’s rare.

“Really, Greeley and Loveland are the only cities left in northern Colorado that have uniform rates,” said Eric Reckentine, the department’s deputy director of water resources.

A few cities, such as Aurora and Colorado Springs, charge their residents in uniform blocks for usage.

Greeley officials find the blocks arbitrary. Someone who irrigates a lawn that’s 1,000 square feet obviously will use more water to do so than someone who owns a 500-square-foot lawn.

Greeley is opting for a tiered water rate based on a water budget, or calculated allowance, water planners give residents. Planners use the number of people in a household and the amount of land the resident could irrigate to decide how many gallons a month each home should use. They allot 55 gallons per person per day. They give a little more than two gallons per square foot of irrigable land.

A four-person family on an average lot would get 21,000 gallons per month.

Under the new plan, the family would pay $3.88 per 1,000 gallons within the budget, and the rate would increase incrementally as the water usage exceeded the budget.

There are four tiers. If residents are within budget, using 100 percent or less of the allotment, they get the reduced rate. If use falls between 100 and 130 percent of the allotment, it’s considered inefficient use, and it will cost $4.74 for each 1,000 gallons in that range. If residents keep overusing and get into the 130-150 percent of their allotment range, they’ll pay $6.04 for that segment. If they get past 150 percent of their allotment, that will cost $8.62 for every 1,000 gallons.

The extra cost didn’t come in increments when city officials first heard the plan in February. Anything outside the budgeted water was charged at the highest tier a resident hit.

“You paid that amount for all of it,” Mayor Tom Norton said during an interview. “It was kind of more of a punishment.”

Greeley and water department officials said the goal was to recover costs for overuse, which is about 300 acre-feet every year. An acre-foot of water is how much an average family uses in a year.

“That’s several million dollars worth of water,” Water Board Chairman Harold Evans said.

Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.

King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.

After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”

“I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.

King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.

“And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”

Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.

The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.

The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.

The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’

“And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”

Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.

When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”

Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.

Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)

A buoyant crowd

Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.

They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.

Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.

Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.

The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

A political risk

After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.

“I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.

As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.

King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”

“So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.

“Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.

“If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”

King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.

And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.

“One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”

King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.

“We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”

The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

Other plan elements

King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.

King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”

But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”

When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.

King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.

“We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.

“For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

New fish passage project underway on the Cache la Poudre

Crews put the finishing touches on a new diversion structure on the Poudre River near the Environmental Learning Center just west of Interstate 25 [February 2016]. Specialists used rocks to create just the right shape and size of pool, at right, at the edge of a passage for native fish species. (Fort Collins Natural Areas / Special to the Reporter-Herald)
Crews put the finishing touches on a new diversion structure on the Poudre River near the Environmental Learning Center just west of Interstate 25 [February 2016]. Specialists used rocks to create just the right shape and size of pool, at right, at the edge of a passage for native fish species. (Fort Collins Natural Areas / Special to the Reporter-Herald)

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The passage will allow many fish species to migrate upstream to expand their habitat and seek refuge from predators — a move that will counteract habitat destruction without affecting agricultural use and water rights.

“We saw this as a win-win to work with North Poudre,” said Jennifer Shanahan, watershed planner with Fort Collins Natural Areas Department.

“Our goal is, over the next decade or two or three, to improve the river by creating more fish habitat.”

[…]

North Poudre Irrigation Co. was willing to work with the natural areas specialists and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to build one such diversion into the structure that pulls water from the Poudre River to fill Fossil Creek Reservoir.

The original diversion structure was constructed between 1902 and 1910 and was rebuilt in the 1980s. Then, the 2013 floods took out the entire structure.

The North [Poudre] Irrigation Co. built a new diversion structure in the same location, next to the Environmental Learning Center, last month.

Included in the $860,000 project, completed with a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board was the fish passage, designed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

“This is the first true fish passage to be constructed into an operation (on the Poudre) that has been a truly agricultural operation,” said Scott Hummer, general manager of the irrigation company.

Fort Collins Natural Areas Department, excited to cooperate on the project, pitched in $30,000.

The passage is designed with specially placed rocks that allow the fish to migrate upstream, stopping and resting behind the rocks when needed, Shanahan explained. Also, the pool at one side of the passage was crafted with rocks to create a specialized effect for the benefit of fish.

“Fish passage is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Shanahan. “It’s opening the door to get to the next level, sustained low flow.”

This means that there would always be a certain level of water in the river, which sometimes runs dry in areas depending upon how much water is being diverted for agricultural and domestic water use.

Natural areas officials understand the importance of water rights and are in no way wanting to challenge or limit those uses, Shanahan said.

What they hope to do, and what has been happening through a local coalition called The Poudre Runs Through It, is to bring those water users together with environmentalists, rafters, researchers and farmers to find creative ways to meet all needs of the river. That effort is underway.

“It’s a creative way that is not stepping on anyone’s water rights,” Shanahan said, stressing that it is important for water users to realize the goal includes maintaining their water rights.

Added Hummer, “It’s new ground for some people, so people are cautious.”

The group, and river specialists, hope to find a unique solution that will continue to improve the fish habitat in the river, which will benefit the health or the river as well as the recreation and habitat that surround the Poudre.

Poem and photos: “Water Fluency” — Greg Hobbs

Water Fluency

Get ready you flows from mountain snows!
Get ready you host of high mountain reservoirs,
who stores last year’s melt into the golden leaves
who releases life-giving flows to trout over-wintering,
beneath the ice you Poudre Wild and Scenic!

At your mouth, out into the high plains, a Heritage Corridor
forges the old Union Colony into the newer Greeley/Ft. Collins,
who bears the work of the farming and the laboring peoples
who lifts a White Pelican along a bikeway throughout her flyway,
into the gathering communities of we the young Centennial state!

Greg Hobbs

Peterson Reservoir, Tributary to the Poudre Wild and Scenic River,

PetersonReservoirTributarytothePoudreWildandScenicRiverhobbs

Flows into Poudre River National Heritage Corridor

FlowsintoPoudreRiverNationalHeritageCorridor

Along the fence at Greeley’s Centennial Village Island Grove Park

AlongthefenceatGreeley’sCentennialVillageIslandGrovePark

The Poudre a working and singing river

ThePoudreaworkingandsingingriver

Of soaring White Pelican

OfsoaringWhitePelicanhobbs

Of an onion farmer preparing to drip-irrigate a greening field

Ofanonionfarmerpreparingtodripirrigateagreeningfieldhobbs

Kristin, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, welcomes the 2016 Water Fluency Leadership Class to a lunchtime BBQ

KristinColoradoFoundationforWaterEducationwelcomesthe2016WaterFluencyLeadershipClasstoalunchtimeBBQhobbs

Nicole convenes the group on the grounds of the 1870 Union Colony

Nicoleconvenesthegrouponthegroundsofthe1870UnionColonyhobbs

Mayor Tom Norton addresses

MayorTomNortonaddresseshobbs

Learning and centering

Learningandcenteringhobbs

Seaman Reservoir, upstream on the North Fork,

SeamanReservoirupstreamontheNorthForkhobbs

Readies to receive and deliver fresh-melt waters of the Great Divide.

Greg Hobbs 3/5/2016

Fort Collins hopes to augment instream flows through town

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution directing the city manager to work with several entities to develop a plan for adding water to the river and keeping it from being diverted.

The city has been talking about augmenting in-stream flows on the river below the mouth of Poudre Canyon and through Fort Collins for about 45 years, said John Stokes, director of the city’s Natural Areas Department.

If an augmentation plan comes to pass, it could serve as a model for river systems across the state, Stokes said.

“The idea is to identify a stretch of the river and protect that water in that reach,” he said.

State water law allows in-stream flow augmentation, but the city and its various partners would pursue a novel approach to the concept, Stokes said.

It would allow water-rights holders to dedicate water to the augmentation program. The proposal ultimately would have to be approved through the state Water Court.

Crafting an agreement involving players such as Fort Collins, Greeley, Northern Water and irrigation companies that tap into the river would be the first in a three-phase process of creating an in-stream flow program, Stokes said.

How long the three-phase process will take and how much it will cost is not clear. The first phase of the project is expected to cost Fort Collins about $20,000, with partners contributing similar amounts…

A clause was added to Tuesday’s resolution stating any agreement accepted by the city for in-stream augmentation program does not indicate support for NISP.

Council members said the proposed augmentation plan was innovative. Councilmember Gino Campana said he hopes the pieces come together and “it actually happens.”

Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.
Poudre River Bike Path bridge over the river at Legacy Park photo via Fort Collins Photo Works.

Halligan Reservoir DEIS likely delayed until 2017

Halligan Reservoir
Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

City officials say additional water-quality studies required by federal and state agencies are likely to delay release of a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the proposed Halligan Reservoir expansion until 2017. The document was expected to be released this year.

The studies are expected to cost about $475,000 on top of the $8.2 million already spent as part of the environmental review process, said Adam Jokerst, water resources engineer with Fort Collins Utilities.

Halligan Reservoir is on the North Fork of the Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins. The expansion project would more than double the capacity of the reservoir.

The project is entering the 10th year of an EIS process that’s being overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The highly detailed water-quality studies will include monitoring water temperatures along the North Fork and main stem of the Poudre from below Halligan past Fort Collins, Jokerst said.

“It’s quite an effort,” he said.

Aquatic life is sensitive to water temperature, he said. Some types of fish cannot thrive if temperatures are too warm or too cold.

Methodology used in the studies will be consistent with that used to analyze the impact of other water storage projects proposed along the river, including the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, which would build Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins.

The need for the more research was raised by various entities and the public through comments directed to the Corps regarding the draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for NISP, Jokerst said.

The Halligan EIS process is being directed by the Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state health department, Jokerst said.

“They desire, as do we, to have consistent methods between NISP and the Halligan project,” he said. “As the NISP methods were established, then we had to follow suit.”

Halligan Reservoir is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water. The city has proposed enlarging by 8,125 acre feet by raising its dam about 25 feet…

Fort Collins has requested the expansion as a way to shore up its water supply and protect against drought…

The Halligan project “makes a lot of sense” for the city, Jokerst said. It makes use of an existing reservoir and could potentially improve flows along the North Fork of the Poudre.

“We still feel it’s a smart project,” he said. “The cost per acre-foot of water development … is very competitive.”

“The Poudre Runs Through It” forum recap

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

This was the third annual forum, but a first for me. I was asked to participate in the event by its sponsor — the Poudre Runs Through It, a local study/action work group associated with the Colorado Water Institute, which is an affiliate of Colorado State University.

My role was to moderate a panel discussion on how to “get to yes” on major water projects and initiatives. Three of the four panel members participated in long and tough negotiations that eventually hammered out significant operating agreements on projects affecting the Colorado and Platte rivers.

The other panelist was Pete Taylor, a sociology professor from CSU whose research includes studying environmental and agricultural water issues.

I found the discussion interesting, and I hope the roughly 240 people who attended the forum did, too.

I’ve heard mixed reviews: Some folks told me the panel tied in well with past forum discussions.

Others told me they wanted to hear more about the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and Glade Reservoir. NISP would draw from the Poudre and store water in Glade, which would be built northwest of Fort Collins.

NISP has been tied up in a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for many years.

Supporters say the project is critical for meeting the needs of growing cities. Some opponents say they will do whatever it takes to kill the project. And so it goes.

Certain words came up frequently during the course of the panel conversation: Collaboration, consensus, commitment, understanding, trust.

The speakers noted that during the course of a negotiation, it is important for participants to understand the perspectives of others at the table.

For example, water supply interests wanting more storage have to understand environmentalists want to keep enough water in rivers to ensure healthy ecosystems.

At the same time, environmentalists have to understand that agricultural interests need to have water flow their way to keep in business. You get the picture.

Achieving understanding between people with deeply different points of view is not easy, the speakers said. Neither is building trust that the entities represented by those people will do what they say they will do as part of an agreement.

But it must be done. And all parties involved have to be committed to reaching some kind of consensus, even if they don’t agree on every element.

Would such an approach work on the Poudre? I don’t know. When it comes to NISP and other projects proposed for the river, the parties seem pretty far apart.

The first step toward finding solutions is talking about them, and that is what the Poudre Runs Through It is trying to do.