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

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.

Thornton Water Project update

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS
Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Thornton officials are developing plans to build a pipeline that would move water from north of Fort Collins to the city’s water treatment plant roughly 60 miles away.

A preferred route for the pipeline could be identified by early next year, said Mark Koleber, water project director for Thornton. Construction on the underground pipeline could begin in 2018…

Thornton water serves about 122,000 city residents plus another 16,000 in unincorporated Adams County, said Emily Hunt, the city’s water resources manager. The city’s population at “build out” is projected to be about 242,000.

The pipeline could deliver up to 14,000 acre feet of water per year to Thornton…

“That’s not how much we would be bringing down to the city on day one,” Koleber said. “That would be the total in the future.”

Thornton officials have finished an initial round of meetings with representatives of counties and cities that would be crossed by the pipeline to discuss its potential route and places to avoid.

The feedback will be used in developing alternative routes for the pipeline that will be presented to the cities and counties in the next round of meetings, Koleber said.

“Instead of drawing a line on the map and saying, ‘here is where it’s going,’ we want to work with them,” he said…

Thornton came looking for Poudre River water in the mid-1980s after checking into the availability of resources to meet its future needs in the Clear Creek, Boulder Creek and South Platte River basins.

The city bought about 100 farms, primarily in Weld County, for their water. Thornton wound up with about 21,000 acres in Northern Colorado and the rights to 30,263 acre feet of water.

The purchases left Thornton owning 47 percent of shares in Water Supply and Storage Co., which has diverted from the Poudre River to serve farmers since 1891, and 17 percent of the Jackson Ditch Co. The move stunned Northern Colorado residents, governments and water providers…

Thornton’s Farm Management keeps track of the city’s properties and leases the land to farmers who keep them in production. Over the years, some of the land has been sold to school districts in Weld County.

The Water Court decree requires Thornton to revegetate the farmland from which it removes water with dryland grasses. The non-irrigated farms must be certified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as being self-sustaining native grasslands.

So far, Thornton has converted about 7,000 acres of its property to grasslands. Of the 1,590 acres on eight farms owned by the city in Larimer County, 721 acres have been converted to dryland farming.

A couple of converted farms northwest of Fort Collins are used to graze cattle. A dryland farm west of the Anheuser-Busch brewery is used to grow hay that is regularly harvested and sold to local farmers.

Just east of Interstate 25, the city owns farms that are still irrigated by Poudre River water and wells to produce a variety of crops, including sugar beets and corn.

“For the near term at least, more farms won’t be converted until Thornton grows and needs that water,” Koleber said.

The city expects to eventually to sell all of its properties in Larimer and Weld counties.

New owners could develop the land as housing or for commercial or industrial uses, depending on local zoning, Koleber said. They also could continue farming by bringing water from other sources to the land…

Water Supply and Storage Co. draws water from the Poudre River using a large diversion structure and headgate near Bellvue. The water is carried east to farms and small storage reservoirs by the Larimer County Canal.

The irrigation company’s draw won’t be changed by the pipeline, which will likely start at a reservoir north of Fort Collins, Koleber said.

“There won’t be any additional water taken out of the Poudre than what is currently being delivered out of the Poudre to the farms under Water Supply and Storage system,” he said…

Communities that potentially would be crossed by the pipeline, such as Larimer and Weld counties, Fort Collins, Timnath, Windsor, and points south, have varied concerns about the impact of constructing the pipeline, Koleber said.

Thornton will likely have to acquire 300 to 500 permits for project as it crosses under private and public property, roads and highways, rivers, streams and ditches, and railroad tracks…

The basics

For the city of Thornton’s proposed water pipeline:

•55 to 65 miles: Length depending on alignment

•48 inches: Potential diameter

•14,000 acre feet: Maximum annual amount of water it could deliver to Thornton

•$400 million: Preliminary cost estimate

•2025: When the pipeline could go online

Source: City of Thornton

Dry August and September leaves Horsetooth at 61% of capacity

Horsetooth Reservoir
Horsetooth Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

…consistently hot temperature and little rain put the big drain on in late summer, as farmers called for more irrigation water. The reservoir on Friday was 61 percent of capacity, which is 125 percent of the average for Oct. 16.

Northern Water spokesman Zach Allen said what all that means is the reservoir is in good shape heading out of the agricultural irrigation season.

High reservoir levels at the end of 2014 coupled with a wet spring meant farmers diverted less water from the reservoir during the spring and most of the summer, water resources manager Sarah Smith said. That allowed for an excellent boating season for most of the summer.

Irrigation reservoirs, like Horsetooth, generally fill up in spring with rain and snowmelt. As summer progresses, they are drawn down as farmers’ need for irrigation increases.

While Horsetooth is doing well, the Poudre River is flowing more slowly than usual for this time of year. On Friday at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, the river was flowing 74.6 cubic feet per second. The average for this time of year is 92 cfs.

Slower flows are likely due to the dry weather and lack of rainfall during the last several months, Smith said.

League of Women Voters of Larimer County comments on the @USACEOmaha #NISP SDEIS

From the League of Women Voters of Larimer County (Sarah Pitts) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

As part of its long history of studying and participating in public discussion on water and other environmental issues, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County delivered comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the second draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the proposed NISP/Glade Reservoir project. The league recommended the Corps defer issuing a permit for the project until the Corps corrects data inadequacies and omissions, addresses compatibility with the draft state water plan, and better defines and quantifies short- and long-term costs related to environmental impacts.

Inadequate data cited by the league include:

•Population growth projections are overstated because they fail to use the reliable and objective data provided by the Colorado State Demography Office.

•Per capita water consumption projections are overstated because they fail to factor in already implemented conservation measures (e.g., Fort Collins reduced per capita consumption from 188 gallons/day in 2003 to 140 now) as well as new and developing conservation initiatives.

•Water supply projections underestimate the potential for acquiring water from annexed farm land, from alternative agricultural transfers, and from growing supplies of reuse water.

•The SDEIS omits essential water quality and temperature models.

The SDEIS fails to analyze the project’s compatibility with the draft Colorado state water plan. It is also at odds with the South Platte River Basin Implementation Plan statement that the costs of building and maintaining reservoirs are questionable: “The basin, in a typical year, has little unappropriated water available for new uses. Unappropriated flows . . . come in sporadic, high peaks during wetter years, making the economics of building a reservoir to capture these supplies questionable because of the large carryover storage requirements.”

Unsubstantiated assumptions about long-term, as well as short term environmental impacts, call into question the SDEIS’s already insufficient disclosure as to the allocation, sources of funding and impact of costs to build and mitigate the effects of the NISP project.

Copies of the league’s full comment letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available at

Sarah Pitts is spokeswoman with the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.

#NISP: “In a sense, water becomes a proxy war for growth management” — Reagan Waskom

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

Even so, “it’s absurd to think the supply of water is going to keep people from wanting to be here,” [Landon Hoover] said. “Oh, sure, at some point, if the traffic is so bad, people wouldn’t want to live here anymore — or if the cost of living gets so expensive. But both of those have to get so extremely bad before it would inhibit growth.

“Just making water too expensive? That’s not a strategy for dealing with growth. People still want to live in Boulder even though housing costs are through the roof.”

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said developers are “going to find the water. It’s doubled in price but still cheap. People will still want to live in Northern Colorado. It’s the economic driver of willing buyer, willing seller.”[…]

“Seven of the 10 fastest-growing cities in Colorado are in Northern’s boundaries,” [Brian Werner] said. “We can’t ignore it.”[…]

The cities of Fort Collins and Greeley and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued reports critical of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Corps in June, citing incomplete or even flawed data on issues including water quality and temperature. Moreover, Greeley officials have said reduced flows in the Poudre would force that city to spend more on water treatment.

“It would be a large one-time capital expenditure — we can only estimate tens of millions, plus additional ongoing maintenance and operations costs,” said Eric Reckentine, Greeley’s deputy director of water resources. “If you’re reducing flows in the river, you’re decreasing water quality. Less water in the river, but the same sediment load. Sediment and nutrient load increases, which decreases water quality.”

For Northern Water officials, however, the litany of complaints are just part of the process that will shape the Corps’ final environmental impact statement, expected by early next year.

“It’s always been our understanding that the Corps basically planned the process in this way — data from Phase 1 to be used in Phase 2,” Wilkinson said. “It will be developed and analyzed prior to the FEIS.”[…]

“We’re going to talk to Fort Collins and say, ‘Let us understand your concerns.’” — [Eric Wilkinson]

“There appears to be a difference in analysis between Corps consultants and Fort Collins’ and Greeley’s consultants,” Wilkinson said, “but obviously, that’s what the public comment period is for. There’s going to be a technical analysis. That’s part of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1970) process — to sift through those facts.”[…]

When Waskom talks to water-utility managers, he said, “they tell me they have buyers coming to them on a regular basis, willing to sell water.”[…]

“The NISP project is to divert water from the Poudre into Glade. Some of that is our water,” he said. “So in order to make that up to us, they’ll have to draw water out of the South Platte into Galeton. In order to make the exchange, we still need to irrigate. There has to be ag use here.”[…]

Waskom outlined some possible alternatives to buy-and-dry, including “forbearance” agreements and fallowing arrangements.

“A farmer agrees not to plant a crop, and the water they’d use to irrigate they’d transfer to another use on a short-term basis,” he said. “Water law allows that to happen three years out of 10. It’s a business deal. The farmer plays golf and gets a check from the city. The limitation is that a farmer can’t walk away from his markets and labor and expect they’ll be there next year.

“My institute has been very involved in doing research around those agreements,” Waskom said. “We believe there is potential there. That said, municipal water managers want to own their portfolios. They would rather lease to ag than have ag lease to them.

“Our current water court structure makes it difficult and expensive. Is it a pathway for the future? Yeah. Does it abrogate the need for Glade now? Probably not.”

The reason, Waskom said, is drought.

“Water resource managers are always planning for drought,” he said. “Drought is what keeps them awake at night. It looks like we’re building more than what we need, but there will be drought in the future. We just don’t know when.

“The one thing the climatologists tell me they’re pretty certain about — temperature increases. We have frequent drought anyway on the Front Range, but hotter droughts are always more serious than cooler droughts. With the wildfires in 2012, cities had their water resources compromised.

“We don’t know what precipitation is going to do, but climatological records already show increasing temperatures in Colorado. That’s a trend we’re going to stay on, and that concerns water managers.”

Explaining climate change can get political, Waskom said. “We’ve been talking to extension agents, and there’s lots of resistance based on values.[…]

Another idea the institute is studying is underground water storage.

“In this area, we get three feet of evaporation off the top per year” from an impoundment such as Horsetooth or Carter Lake southwest of Loveland, Waskom said. “Storing water underground in aquifers tends to be nonevaporative. It is feasible, but there’s scientific debate about it, and policy limitations too. Could underground storage decrease the need for NISP? There’s scientific debate about that. Because of the unknowns in the science and the energy costs of recovering that water, though, it wasn’t deemed a viable alternative to Glade Reservoir. Could it be in the future? I think so.”[…]

“I doubt most developers know enough about NISP to judge whether the tactical implementation of it is good or bad,” [Landon Hoover] said. “But developers see that there needs to be a solution for water storage in Northern Colorado if people want affordable housing, places where teachers, firefighters, middle-income families can live, $300,000, $400,000 houses.

“There’s really a limited supply of water, and we’re nearing the end of that supply. Unless demand shuts off, there’s no relief for prices. The issue isn’t whether we have enough water rights, the issue is we don’t have enough storage. By having storage, it will at least temper water prices. I don’t know if it’ll ever drastically lower them.”

The bottom line, Waskom said, is that “we’re going to need reservoirs, infrastructure, conservation, underground storage, ag deals, all of the above, to keep Colorado’s economy strong and vibrant into the future.”

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water