Have you ever wondered what happens to gravel pits? Most of them turn into water storage — @Coloradoan

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The bodies of water once were strip mines where excavators and bulldozers roamed, pulling up rich deposits of gravel, sand and river rock. Noisy crushing machines sorted out the materials, which went toward building roads, bridges and buildings and decorating gardens.

In their wake, the mining operations left behind deep, gaping pits in the Poudre Valley landscape that over time were transformed into water-storage vessels and “natural” areas.

“There is not a natural lake on the Poudre,” said Rob Helmick, a senior planner with Larimer County. “All of those areas have been mined at some point. In many cases, it happened decades ago.”

A review of aerial photos of the river between Laporte and the Larimer/Weld county line near Windsor showed at least 30 permitted gravel-mining sites and about 70 ponds of various shapes and sizes, Helmick said. Many of the pits likely predate state and county regulations on gravel-mining operations.

A state law passed in 1977 put an end to the practice of abandoning spent gravel pits by requiring reclamation of mining sites, said Tony Waldron, mineral program manager with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

“It used to be a rape-and-escape mentality,” he said. “Operators moved on and left the mines behind.”

Today, an operator must post a bond with the state that is returned only after reclamation work, such as grading and planting native plants to re-vegetate a site, is completed and the permit closed.

The reclamation and treatment a pit receives depends upon its next use. The complexities of state law on water ownership also come into play…

The water volumes may be small compared to large reservoirs, but they matter to the districts, he said. The partnership expects to spend about $17 million on the project.

“We don’t have the return-flow obligations that Greeley has, so we are going for storage,” DiTullio said. “Every little bit helps. And it’s a natural use for those pits.”

State water law requires water managers to account for where their water comes from and where it goes, including evaporation. The pits are lined with clay or have “slurry walls” built around them to keep groundwater out of the facilities.

The state’s permitting process and testing requirements have strict standards, including the slope of a pit, Guggisberg said…

A mined-out gravel pit once was considered a liability by property owners, Waldron said. The pits were sold for low prices or given away to municipalities and counties to use as natural areas.

Attitudes started to change in the 1990s when water storage became a statewide issue and major reservoir projects, such as Two Forks Dam proposed west of Denver, became increasingly difficult and expensive to build.

A law passed in 1981 requiring owners of unlined pits that were connected to groundwater flow to account for evaporation and replace the lost water by was another complication.

Former pits became a viable way to store and release water to meet state regulations for augmenting water lost to evaporation, said Mark Sears, natural areas manager with Fort Collins. Being able to return water to the Poudre motivated the city’s Natural Resources Department to partner with Fort Collins Utilities to build Rigden Reservoir off East Horsetooth Road.

Some ponds are stocked for fishing by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks. The river areas are highly popular, Sears said.

“Just from their scenic value, the river natural areas are great,” he said. “And they are wonderful habitat, especially around the edges, for a variety of species.”

More Cache la Poudre watershed coverage here.

Larimer County is looking at alternatives to ban on development in floodplains

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Larimer County is going ahead with a pilot study of potentially tying rebuilding rules in the floodway to the level of hazard instead of a blanket ban.

County Engineer Mark Peterson updated the commissioners at a public meeting Tuesday that the pilot portion of the study will focus on two stretches of the Poudre River and look at ranking the hazard based on depth and velocity.

Based on a recommendation of the flood review board, the county will look at three different levels of measurement, all which are higher than the measurement used by the city of Boulder, which has a similar ranking system.

That portion of the pilot study should be complete by July, then the county will look at erosion hazards in the same two areas of the Poudre River.

The data is expected to reveal to the county how such a system would work and allow the commissioners to decide whether it is an option they would like to pursue.

The floodway is the area closest to the river within a flood plain, and currently, county rules prohibit rebuilding of any structures that are destroyed or more than 50 percent damaged within that area. The ban applies to flood damage as well as destruction from fire, earthquakes, tornadoes and other disasters.

Residents have complained that the rule affects their property values and ability to sell their homes and asked the county to repeal the ban altogether and allow them to rebuild as long as they elevate the structure to state and federal standards.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here.

Planning for Fort Collins’ future water needs — Kevin Gertig

Halligan Reservoir
Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Gertig):

Fort Collins is located in a semi-arid region where the amount of water available from month to month and year to year varies, especially during dry years and drought. Fort Collins Utilities has a responsibility to provide an adequate supply of water to existing and future customers; we made long-term water supply an essential element of our planning efforts decades ago.

For more than a century, Utilities has used an integrated approach to manage our water supply, including:

•Securing senior rights on the Poudre River,

•Purchasing and improving an existing storage facility on the upper Poudre (Joe Wright Reservoir),

•Acquiring nearly 19,000 units of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and

•Establishing water conservation programs beginning in the late 1970s.

Recent updates to the Water Supply and Demand Management Policy, which provides direction to meet our community’s future water demands, identified the need for additional long-term water storage. Though the community actively conserves water year-round, storage is a valuable tool in water resources planning. Adequate storage helps meet projected demands and provides reserves for unexpected events, including pipeline failure, fires in the watershed or issues with Horsetooth Reservoir.

This policy also references Utilities’ Water Conservation Plan, which lays out a significant expansion of the water conservation program and targets residential and commercial customers, as well as indoor and outdoor water use.

Water conservation helps ensure the wise use of available water, especially during dry, hot summer months when little moisture is available. Although conservation helps stretch our water supply, Utilities’ current limited storage capacity means conserved water cannot be stored for future use.

If the Halligan Water Supply Project is permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and approved by City Council, it will help meet Fort Collins’ future water needs. Careful planning and analysis determined that enlarging Halligan Reservoir is one of the most cost-effective solutions that minimizes environmental impacts compared to constructing a new one. The project also will provide storage of mostly existing water rights and be tailored in size and operations for our specific needs.

Fort Collins Utilities is proud of its strong conservation ethic, which provides a solid foundation for the management of our current and future water use in the Poudre River Basin. Through continued conservation efforts, smart water management and additional storage capacity, such as the Halligan Water Supply Project, Utilities will be prepared to meet the future water needs of our community.

For more information, visit http://fcgov.com/halligan.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

City report examines Poudre River’s health — the Fort Collins Coloradoan

Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County
Fort Collins back in the day via Larimer County

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Sarah Jane Kyle):

A report released by the city of Fort Collins could help define the Poudre River’s ecological future.

The Poudre River Ecological Response Model (ERM), which was created to understand possible future scenarios for the river, covers a 13-mile stretch of river through Fort Collins, from Overland Trail to Interstate 25.

A panel of river ecology experts will present the project to the public Thursday. Natural Areas Department Director John Stokes said the report identifies some challenges the urban river faces, as well as possible solutions.

“I think as a community we need to have a discussion about how much change is acceptable and what we can do to help this river feel like a river,” he said. “That’s going to be challenging because there are a lot of demands on the Poudre River.”

Stokes said the Poudre River in Fort Collins is “very much entrenched,” which has limited the river’s ability to function naturally.

“We’ve put the river in its place and it stays there,” he said. “If we can let the river move around or do some over-bank flooding where it’s safe, that gets back some of the ecological function we’ve lost over the last 100 years.”

The ERM offers 27 responses for four indicators of the river’s condition: physical setting, aquatic life, fish and riparian habitats. The report was a collaborative effort featuring nine team members from Colorado State University, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Geological Survey and city of Fort Collins.

Research began in 2011 and was finalized late last year. Stokes said the ERM will serve “as a guide post and decision support tool” for future conservation and river health efforts.

“It doesn’t tell us exactly what to do,” he said. “But it helps us understand the river.”

Learn more

•Learn more about the Poudre River Ecological Response Model in a panel presentation from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday at Colorado State University’s Lory Student Center.

•See the report at http://fcgov.com/naturalareas/eco-response.php.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here.

Poudre River Forum Jan. 31

Halligan and Seaman reservoirs expansion update

Halligan Reservoir
Halligan Reservoir

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Dougan):

An environmental review of the proposed expansion of a Fort Collins reservoir is moving forward with its separation from a Greeley water project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to consider the city’s proposal to more than double the storage capacity of Halligan Reservoir as a separate project rather than in combination with Greeley’s proposal to enlarge its Seaman Reservoir.

Both reservoirs are on the North Fork of the Poudre River. The projects have been combined under the Corps’ review process since 2006, when the cities formally proposed enlarging the reservoirs to meet future water demand.

The projects were combined because their operations were expected to be coordinated in order to impact on the river as little as possible, said Donnie Dustin, water resources manager with Fort Collins Utilities.

As part of the environmental impact statement, or EIS, process required by federal regulations, alternatives to the proposed expansions must be considered by the Corps.

Fort Collins has its alternatives lined up and ready while Greeley needs more time to develop its alternatives, Dustin said.

“The benefit of separation is Fort Collins gets to move forward without waiting for Greeley,” he said. “And Greeley gets to take their time to reassess alternatives with the Corps for their project. Both projects benefit.”

A draft EIS for the Halligan is expected to be released in spring 2016, Dustin said.

Halligan Reservoir is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water…

The city’s current request is to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet, Dustin said.

Fort Collins has requested the expansion to shore up its water supply to protect against drought.

The city needs the increased storage capacity “now,” Dustin said. Greeley does not plan to expand Seaman Reservoir for several years.

“Just given where we are right now, it just didn’t make sense to stay together,” he said.

The Halligan-Seaman project initially included the cities in partnership with the North Poudre Irrigation Co. as well as the Fort Collins-Loveland, East Larimer County and North Weld County water districts, also know as the Tri-Districts.

The water providers proposed expanding Halligan by 40,000 acre feet. The Tri-Districts withdrew from the project in 2009 citing mounting costs and a lack or progress on the environmental studies.

North Poudre withdrew in 2014 for the over the same concerns.

So far, costs related to the permitting process have reached $7.7 million, with Fort Collins paying about $4.5 million, officials said.

More Cache la Poudre River coverage here.

NISP: Northern Water officials looking to 2019 to turn dirt for Glade Reservoir

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site -- photo via Northern Water
Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

When the Northern Integrated Supply Project was first proposed, Northern Water hoped to have Glade Reservoir complete and filled by 2013.

Now as the permitting process has stretched over a decade, the earliest date that construction could begin is 2019, with water flowing in by 2021.

“In this process, we learned a long time ago that there is no set date of when it’s going to be done,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, which is spearheading the project on behalf of four water districts and 11 cities and towns…

Despite delays, Northern Water is convinced that NISP and its two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, will be built and are the answer to a growing population’s needs by storing water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers.

“Those 15 participants, their resolve is even stronger than ever,” said Werner. “The more time that goes by, the more important it is to have that water supply.”

However, an environmental group that opposes the project is just as convinced that construction will never begin and that participants are beginning to look to alternative options…

The Northern Integrated Supply Project is intended to provide additional water to the 15 Front Range providers by pulling excess water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers during plentiful years to fill two new reservoirs.

The water from the Poudre would be stored in a 5-mile-long reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Glade Reservoir, which would be slightly larger in capacity than Horsetooth Reservoir, would hold 170,000 acre-feet of water and require relocation of seven miles of U.S. 287.

The second reservoir, Galeton, would hold 40,000 acre-feet northeast of Greeley and would be filled from the South Platte River downstream from Greeley. This water would be delivered to two irrigation companies in exchange for their Poudre River water.

Save the Poudre and other groups that oppose NISP say that science shows this project would drain the river to a mere trickle through Fort Collins, impacting habitat, wildlife, fishing, tubing, kayaking and trails that span the river corridor…

Northern Water says say this scenario will never happen. With required minimum flows in the river, Werner has said the water would be pulled only in years when there is excess.

And as soon as a supplemental environmental impact statement is released, Northern Water will begin working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to mitigate any habitat or wildlife concerns, Werner said.

“Once the supplemental is out, we will start moving on some of these areas that have been stuck in molasses,” Werner said.

What is the process?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer is the lead federal agency on the permitting process for the proposed water project.

The first step of creating an environmental impact statement began more than a decade ago — in August 2004.

Four years later, the first draft EIS was opened to public comment. During that time, supporters and opponents rallied at several public hearings and community events.

The federal agency then announced in 2009 that a supplemental draft EIS was necessary to include additional studies.

The supplemental report was anticipated to be released this year but instead was pushed back to sometime in 2015. If that does indeed happen, a final decision could come in 2016. If it’s approved, design would take place in 2017-2018, then construction in 2019…

How much does it cost?

As the project timeline has stretched out over the years, the cost too has stretched.

Northern Water and the participating water providers are paying for the studies and costs associated with permitting. So far they have spent about $14 million just for permitting, and Werner estimates that each additional year adds $1 million to $1.5 million to the tally.

Once a final decision is issued, and if that decision allows the project, construction is estimated at $500 million. That, too, could change depending on the final design, the year it is built and the economy.

“We’re at the mercy of the process and the federal government on this one,” said Werner. “It’s been an interesting ride.”

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.