#ColoradoRiver: The Grand River Ditch — Greg Hobbs #COriver

The Grand River Ditch

A State Engineer Map of 1907-8 shows the Grand River Ditch diverting from Water District 51, upper Colorado River drainage, across the Continental Divide into Water District 3 in the upper Poudre River drainage (shown in red middle left hand side); also showing Chambers Lake (upper left hand side of map)


July 20 inspection of Grand River Ditch led by Dennis Harmon, General Manager, Water Supply and Storage Company. From left to right Randy Gustafson (Water Rights Operation Manager, City of Greeley), Dennis Harmon, and Michael Welsh (Historian, University of Northern Colorado).


The Grand River Ditch has an appropriation date of 1890 for 524.6 c.f.s of water diverted from the Colorado River Basin to irrigate 40,000 acres of land in the Poudre Basin through the Larimer County Ditch. The water flow of the ditch is continuously measured at this gauging station on La Poudre Pass.


West of the Divide, the Grand River Ditch contours towards and around the Never Summer Range in Rocky Mountain National Park (established in 1915 after construction of the Grand River Ditch) for 14.77 miles to Baker Gulch.


A wetland at the western side La Poudre Pass,


gives birth to the baby Colorado River.


Discarded horse slip scrapers bolted together perhaps to armor the spillway of a small now-breached dam in the vicinity of the ditch.


The Grand River ditch is located above the Little Yellowstone Canyon with spectacular views of the Never Summer Range.



The mining town of Lulu City was located down in the valley where, not far beyond, Lake Granby now gathers water for delivery east to Northern Colorado through the Adams Tunnel.


In the early 21st Century a stretch of the Grand River Ditch was washed away and repaired. Rehabilitation of the mountainside is proceeding under supervision of the National Park Service. Water Supply and Storage Company contributed $9 million in settlement of NPS claims.




The easement Water Supply and Storage Company owns for the Grand River Ditch also serves as a hiking path along a number of gushing creeks.



The ditch is fitted with gates that are opened to bypass creek water after the summer season comes to a close.


The water flowing through La Poudre Pass drops into Long Draw Reservoir located in the Roosevelt National Forest east of the Continental Divide.


Moose and deer share wetland meadows of a long summer evening.



Water Supply and Storage Company stores Poudre River water in Chambers Reservoir.


Greg Hobbs and Dennis Harmon on the Continental Divide.


Greg Hobbs, July 20, 2016.

How healthy is the Poudre River? — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

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

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

Citing low flows in the winter and insufficient flushing flows in the spring, river experts give the health of the Cache la Poudre River moderate marks. Ken Kehmeier, senior fishery biologist at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, gives it a “C-plus.” Ellen Wohl, a Colorado State University geosciences professor, prefers “needs improvement.”

“It’s not going to catch on fire like the Cuyahoga River did in the ‘60s, but it’s a very different river than it was in say, 1858,” she said. “I’d never give up on the Poudre. It’s ailing in health, but it can recover, and it’s not anywhere near being done.”

What does the future hold for the Poudre? That interpretation depends a lot on who you ask. It also will depend on how Northern Colorado leaders respond to potential obstacles raised by climate change, urban development and the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

Climate change

Colorado’s in a weird spot when it comes to climate predictions.

While it’s clear temperatures will increase — they already have — there’s no consensus on whether climate change will bring more, less or the same precipitation to Colorado.

Regardless, warmer temperatures are an issue for the Poudre and its aquatic life and water users. The Poudre is fed primarily by mountain snowmelt, and as Colorado’s average temperatures rise, the spring pulse — the onset of higher spring flows fed by snowmelt — will come earlier than usual.

John Stokes, Fort Collins Natural Areas director, said he already sees it happening on the Poudre.

“Our snowmelt is getting earlier and earlier. It’s probably about two weeks earlier now than it used to be,” Stokes said. “As that accelerates, what does that do to our storage in the mountains, which is snow and ice? We rely on the timing of that storage.”

Not everybody agrees with Stokes. Poudre River Commissioner Mark Simpson said flows have varied so much during the last 50 years that he doesn’t see a shift in the peak, which generally occurs around the first week of June.

[Ellen Wohl] said she hasn’t necessarily noticed that trend on the Poudre — the system is so meticulously managed that it can be hard to tell when high flows are the work of Mother Nature or water engineers, she added…


The biggest protection — literally — is a development buffer zone of 300 feet on either side of the river through most of Fort Collins. That’s nearly the length of a football field. The buffer zone, which is enhanced by city ownership of most of the land along the river, quells any fears that the Poudre will one day turn into a built-out river walk. It also mitigates flood risk.

“Maybe In a perfect world we would have had quarter- or half-mile setbacks from the river,” Stokes said. “This river used to go all over the place. It would change its course frequently. But now, it’s pretty much locked into its location because of the way we’ve developed around it.”



Proponents say Northern Colorado needed NISP yesterday. Opponents argue that the project will irreversibly damage the river that has long been a lifeblood for the region.

Reservoirs are “exhibit A” for the future of Western water, said Brian Werner, spokesman for NISP initiator Northern Water.

“We’re going to need reservoirs for the next 200 years,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out where to store that water in the wet times so you can use it in the dry times.”

It’s easy to reduce NISP to a lengthy timeline and a lot of bureaucratic jargon, but it’s more than that. The project has become symbolic of a major question about the future of water use: How do we meet the water needs of staggering population growth without harming our rivers?

NISP would divert from the Poudre during peak springtime flows. That causes concern for many because the river needs flushing flows to thrive.

“As the water moves, it has the power to carry things,” Kehmeier said. “When you take that power away from it, then all those sediment pieces drop out and deposit on the (river bed).”

Sediment buildup can make the river dirtier, smellier and fill it with algae and non-native, potentially invasive, species.

Wohl is skeptical of NISP, partially because of the flushing flows issue and partially because the river already lacks a natural flow regime.

Downstream, “the volume of the water isn’t really natural,” Wohl said. “That has a cascade of effects. If you change the amount of water in a river, you change the energy available for processes like picking up and moving sediment, you change the shape and size of the river, you change the habitat available for organisms.”

But it’s possible for NISP to coexist with a healthy river if Northern Water plans accordingly, Kehmeier said.

“With these flushing flows, you’re looking for a recurrence interval,” he said. “Every one-and-a-half to two years, you should have a flow that’s considered bank-full.”

NISP could also boost historically low winter flows on the Poudre by releasing reservoir water into the river during dry times, Kehmeier said.

“From a fisheries standpoint, the Poudre is as limited by low flows, probably more so, than it is by flushing flows,” he said. “Fish don’t survive very well without water.”

Wintertime releases are a component of Northern Water’s recently unveiled conveyance refinement proposal, which is basically a plan to run 14,000 acre feet of the diverted water through most of the Poudre’s stretch in Fort Collins. The move was partially intended to address some of the city of Fort Collins’ issues with NISP, but the city, which is not a NISP member, has yet to respond to the new plan…

What’s next for NISP:

The Army Corps of Engineers says it will release a final environmental impact statement for the project sometime in 2017. After that must come a 401 permit and a record of decision, which NISP opposition group Save the Poudre Executive Director Gary Wockner anticipates will come in 2019. If the record of decision approves the project, Save the Poudre is prepared to challenge it in court, setting off a legal battle which could take years.

Fort Collins stormwater efforts

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Flooding is part of our city’s history back to its beginning. A flash flood on the Cache la Poudre in 1864 wiped out an Army post in Laporte. The camp was moved east to a higher point along the river and it was named Fort Collins.

The city has seen several floods since then. In 1997, after about 14 inches of rain fell on the west side of town, little Spring Creek flash flooded. The flood killed five people and caused an estimated $200 million in damage.

Fort Collins Utilities was recently recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, for its work in stormwater. The city received a Class 2 rating under the Community Rating System, or CRS.

The program is intended to be an incentive for communities to pursue floodplain management efforts that exceed minimum requirements of the National Floodplain Insurance Program.

The city was one of only five communities in the nation to receive a Class 2 rating or higher. It was the only community recognized in FEMA’s Region VIII.

The designation means residents and businesses may receive up a 40 percent discount on flood insurance premiums for properties in floodplains mapped by FEMA.

CRS recognizes management efforts such as planning, public outreach, floodplain mapping, high regulatory standards, drainage system maintenance, flood warning and response, and so on, according to FEMA.

So the recognition is a big deal for the city and its professional stormwater enthusiasts. Their work was apparent during the fall 2013 flood that devastated parts of Northern Colorado but caused minimal damage in Fort Collins.

So it’s a good thing somebody cares about stormwater, right?

To learn more about flooding and what the city does to prepare for it, see http://www.fcgov.com/utilities.

Cache la Poudre River administration in wet and dry years


From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

Poudre River Commissioner Mark Simpson knows that better than anybody. It’s his job to keep track of water rights for the various groups who’ve sometimes paid roughly the price of a new car for each share of water to irrigate their crops, power their businesses and provide to their residents.

Technically, the people of Colorado own the water flowing in Northern Colorado’s Cache la Poudre River. If you want to put the water, to use, though, you have to buy a water right. That can sometimes be as simple as going to the state’s water court, paying a fee and filling out some paperwork…

If you want to use water during a dry year, you need an old water right — some date back to the 1860s and 1870s. People sell older, senior water rights for astronomical prices.

For Simpson, the last several years have been a relief because the Poudre’s flow has been higher than average. The amount of water that runs through the Poudre varies wildly annually, from 100,000 acre feet during dry years to 700,000 acre feet during historically wet years.

The average is about 300,000 acre feet, almost enough to fill Horsetooth Reservoir twice.

During dry years, when everybody wants water but few can get it, Simpson works months without a day off.

“You’ve really got to be paying attention,” he said. “You don’t want a dry-up in town because you shorted somebody. I make it a big point for myself to always be watching the river when it’s on its way down.”

Simpson estimated about 85 percent of the Poudre’s water is diverted for agriculture — mostly corn and hay — and about 15 percent is used for municipal water supplies and industry.

Some of the biggest industry users of Poudre water include breweries, microprocessor factories and other industrial manufacturers. Municipal users of the Poudre include Fort Collins and Greeley. Recreational users have an important place at the table, although their use is classified as “non-consumptive” and is free.

Click through to read the whole article. Ms. Marmaduke talks to users of the river’s water.

Weld County commissioners approve User Special Review rules for water infrastructure

Greeley in 1870 via Denver Public Library http://photoswest.org/cgi-bin/imager?10009071+X-9071
Greeley in 1870 via Denver Public Library http://photoswest.org/cgi-bin/imager?10009071+X-9071

From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

Weld County officials adopted new water line regulations Monday morning, but some say the rules meddle where they don’t belong.

The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 to require almost anyone building a water pipeline through Weld to go through a public hearing process.

Cities, towns, water districts or ditch companies will have to get a use by special review permit, or USR, which requires a lengthy written application and two public hearings. Organizations within Weld County, such as the city of Greeley, are exempt from the rules and won’t have to go through the hearings. Only organizations pumping water out of the county or across it to somewhere else will have to get the permit. For example, the city of Thornton has been buying Weld County farmland and intends to drain its water, pumping it down to the city.

One county commissioner thinks no organization should have to go through such hearings.

“For me, philosophically, I just can’t support it,” said Commissioner Julie Cozad, the sole commissioner voting against the plan. “For me, it is a private property right issue.”

When companies and other organizations build a pipeline through someone’s property, they have to get what’s called an easement. That means the organization has to work with the property owner on a legal access agreement, and often, the owner gets paid.

That process ensures the property owner is protected, Cozad said.

“I don’t think the government should get in the middle of it,” she said.

If companies have to go through hearings, it gives the county commissioners control over some of the project’s specifics. They can require mitigation efforts, which the regulations’ proponents say is vital to anyone who has a pipeline going through their yard.

But it also gives county officials bargaining chips on other parts of the project. For example, they could tell a company it will only get permission if it changes its route. Cozad said this violated the company’s private property rights.

The USR process can be expensive. The application itself can cost $2,500, and it requires studies that some companies would have to contract out. Cozad said those costs get passed down to water users.

“When we add regulation to things, it does increase the cost to consumers,” she said.

She also said this regulation was crafted to address one issue in particular. The city of Thornton bought Weld farmland in the 1980s with the intention [to move the water]…

Other commissioners voiced concerns about Weld’s future access to water and lack of resident protection.

“Right now it’s one (city), I agree,” Commissioner Sean Conway said about Thornton. “But it’s going to be others. … Up and down the South Platte, the Poudre, we’re seeing more thirsty municipalities.”

Officials believe projects like these are going to become more common, so the county needs some kind of mechanism to give input and let neighboring residents do the same.

There are already regulations on pipelines, Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer said. But there’s nothing that allows residents to speak up for themselves to regulators.

“I’ve been in those negotiations with pipelines on my property,” she said. ”I don’t know if any of you have been through it. I have.”

She said it was tough, and having another way to negotiate with the companies would help.

Although no current commissioners fell on Cozad’s side of the argument, a former one did.

Bill Jerke, who was also a state legislator and is now the executive director of energy industry advocate group FUEL Colorado, was the only resident who took the stand during the meeting.

“Obviously, I’m here because I oppose this,” he said. “I just have a number of issues.”

The state already has its regulations on water transactions, and people already go through water court, he said. Under these rules, the county commissioners could go against all those other agencies and decline a USR permit, which would block projects.

“I’m not sure you’re granted that right as the county government,” he said.

He also doubted the USR process could protect residents. Usually, a landowner has to file for the permit, not the developer. Residents and the entity working to get the pipeline would have to work on the application together.

“If (the residents are) agreeing to be represented by the entity, how are they being abused?” he said.

Last, he accused the board of interfering with business.

“As much as I dislike Weld water leaving Weld, … I think getting county government interfering … is even more bothersome to me,” he said.

Fort Collins launches mountain tunnel project — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com
Photo via https://www.herrenknecht.com

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

A custom-built tunnel boring machine has been “launched” into a mountain side near Cameron Pass as part of Fort Collins Utilities project aimed at restoring and protecting Michigan Ditch.

As of Friday, the tunneling machine built by Akkerman of Brownsdale, Minnesota, had dug 91 feet into the mountain, said Diana Royval, spokesperson for Fort Collins Utilities.

“Everything is going very well and is even a little ahead of schedule,” Royval stated in an email to the Coloradoan.

Last year, a slow-moving landslide heavily damaged a piped section of Michigan Ditch, which carries water to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir.

To ensure delivery of the ditch’s water, city officials decided to bore an 800-foot-long, 8-foot-diameter, slightly curved tunnel into bedrock and run a pipe through it.

When the tunnel is complete, a 60-inch pipe made from a fiberglass-type material will be installed and connected to the ditch, which originates in the upper Michigan River basin.

The tunnel boring machine is 27 feet long and weighs 58,000 pounds. It is “driven” by an operator who sits inside the machine. A conveyance belt and ore cars run out the back of the machine carrying material generated by a rotating cutting head.

Construction on the project is expected to be finished by fall with the ditch back in operation for spring runoff in 2017, city officials say.

Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com
Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com

RMNP, Roosevelt Forest scars slow to heal from fire, flood — Fort Collins Coloradoan

High Park Fire June 14, 2012
High Park Fire June 14, 2012

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Stephen Meyers):

Scorched by the High Park Fire and washed out by the historic 2013 flood, Poudre Canyon’s once popular Young Gulch Trail remains closed to Northern Colorado hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

The one-two fire-flood punch has left scars that haven’t yet healed and outdoor lovers with fewer places to play, which has frustrated some recreational groups.

The natural disasters scoured away the first half-mile of the Young Gulch Trail, one of the most popular trails in the Poudre Canyon.

It is one of about 20 Northern Colorado recreation areas still closed nearly three years after the flood wiped out trails, roads and fishing access in Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park and Big Thompson Canyon.

The damage is so severe, some areas may never reopen.

“I think people understand that this was a pretty dramatic change to our landscape,” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Reghan Cloudman said. “This is a long rebuilding process.”

Long and expensive.

While a $329,000 project has begun to rebuild Young Gulch Trail, the best case scenario is for the trail to reopen in late 2017. A more realistic goal is 2018.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates it will take $6.3 million to rebuild the recreation areas damaged on Roosevelt National Forest’s Canyon Lakes Ranger District west of Fort Collins.

The deluge caused approximately $10 million of damage in Rocky Mountain National Park, which bounced back from the flood and 2013 government shutdown to post back-to-back record visitation totals in 2014 and 2015. The park is on pace this year to beat its 2015 visitation record of 4.1 million visitors. But the park may take a massive hit to visitation this fall when repairs begin on flood-ravaged U.S. Highway 34 in Big Thompson Canyon, the gateway to the popular park.

As the U.S. Forest Service’s budget continues to dwindle, Canyon Lakes Ranger District must rely even more on Northern Colorado volunteers who last year dedicated more than 50,000 hours to trail projects. Only the Red Rocks District in Arizona received more volunteer hours in 2015.

“With the fire and then the flood, it’s definitely been a challenging time for us,” Cloudman said. “We’re adapting to how we do things. Cost-saving where we can, looking at creative ways to expand what we can do and move forward in the recovery efforts.”

One example: Working with partners like Wildland Restoration Volunteers and Great Outdoors Colorado, which helped secure funding for the Young Gulch Trail rebuild project through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s State Trails Program.

With help from several volunteer organizations like Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, USFS has restored 63 percent of the 370 miles of flood-damaged roads on the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grasslands, and 33 percent of the 157 miles of damaged trails, as of last year.

Fifteen campgrounds, day-use and river access facilities have been rebuilt, while 12 others have been decommissioned across the Canyon Lakes and Boulder ranger districts.

More than $100,000 and 10,000 hours have gone into reopening a portion of the North Fork Trail in Glen Haven. About as much money and work has been dedicated to the still-closed Lion Gulch Trail, which could open as early as September or as late as the summer of 2017, Cloudman said.

In Big Thompson Canyon, several fishing access areas were washed away and won’t be restored, including the North Fork and Glen Haven picnic sites and Idylwilde rest stop. Fishing access has been restored to Sleepy Hollow Park.

Cloudman said Canyon Lakes Ranger District hopes to offer more fishing access on the Big Thompson, one of Colorado’s premier fly-fishing destinations. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates the Big Thompson sees 2,559 angler days per month, totaling an annual economic impact of $2.37 million.

But the forest service’s plans to add more fishing access won’t be finalized until the Colorado Department of Transportation’s rebuild of U.S. 34 from Loveland to Estes Park is complete in 2018 or 2019.

Construction of the highway poses an economical and ecological impact to the Big Thompson’s fishing industry.

The first part of CDOT’s massive rebuilding project on U.S. 34 begins after July 4, with rock blasting in the horseshoe area of the canyon, near milepost 78.4.

The brunt of the work begins in October, after tourist season. Road crews will blast away the mountainside near the defunct Idylwilde Dam, a once-popular area for anglers. It remains to be seen if CDOT will completely close the highway for five months or enact temporary closures, allowing access during peak hours.

“If our guides don’t have access to the river, then obviously it’s going to affect business,” Christiansen said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s not like we have anything in our control.”

The same impact is happening on already popular hiking trails such as Greyrock and Hewlett Gulch, which are near Young Gulch Trail.

Cloudman said both trails have seen an uptick in visitors since the Young Gulch closure. In 2012, the trails averaged 44 and 33 people a day, respectively, with 70-80 visiting on the weekends.

But during last week’s Memorial Day weekend, more than 100 cars parked at Greyrock and along the shoulder of Colorado Highway 14 each day while passengers hiked the 7,513-foot peak.

Prior to its closure, Young Gulch averaged 37 daily visitors, with 75 on the weekends. Thanks to its close proximity to Fort Collins, the multiuse trail was popular with hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

But the 4.9-mile trail that meanders up Young Gulch and Prairie Gulch — crossing a stream about 20 times — was scoured by the flood, cutting 2- to 3-foot-deep ruts in the gulch and rerouting the stream channel.

The trail requires an extensive rebuild, essentially a move out of the floodplain.

“A monumental task,” Cloudman said.

In 2014, the forest service debated whether to even rebuild the trail. The agency held public meetings to gather feedback and developed an environmental analysis of the sustainability of the trail.

“It came down to, if we can find a good place and a good way to build a new, sustainable trail, then we absolutely will do it,” Cloudman said.

The new trail design will reduce the number of stream crossings by almost one third, move more of the trail out of the flood zone and provide a more sustainable route, Cloudman said. It will remain open to all users.

Working in a steep, constrained canyon won’t be easy for trail crews, which include Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, Overland Mountain Bike Club, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and the Larimer County Conservation Corps.

Until the new trail is completed, hikers must endure the trail closure, marked by the closed gates, barricades and cones that have become a common site in the forest since flood and fire changed the landscape.