@USBR: The next Aspinall Unit operations meeting is Thursday #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Aspinall Unit dams
Aspinall Unit dams

From email from Reclamation (Eric Knight):

The next Aspinall Operations meeting will be held this Thursday, August 18th at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir. Start time is 1 PM.

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.

Longmont council to ask public for Windy Gap feedback — Longmont Times-Call

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonucci):

Faced with three different financing mechanisms for Longmont’s $47 million portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project, the council chose to gather more information from the public first.

Longmont public works and natural resources staff told the council on Tuesday that they have three options to finance the $47 million — completely through rate increases, through rate increases and by issuing $6 million in debt or by issuing $16.7 million in debt.

The decision directly affects Longmont residents’ wallets. Essentially, paying cash up front with rate increases means steep rate jumps in the next two years but is cheaper in the long term.

If the council chooses eventually to finance it completely through cash, water rates will need to jump 21 percent in 2017 and 22 percent in 2018, including 9 percent increases already approved.

Debt, on the other hand, would cause milder rate increases for more years, and cost the city more long term.

On the other end of the extreme, council could choose to ask the voters to issue $16.7 million in debt for the project, which would mean delaying adding an additional increase to rates until 2018. In 2018, they would need to be raised 14 percent and another 14 percent in 2019, then between 5 and 7 percent each in years between 2020 through 2026.

With a projected 4.25 interest rate, a $16.7 million bond would cost an additional $8.4 million in interest, for a total of $25.1 million over 20 years.

In the middle of the two extremes is an option of a mix of cash and debt. The City Council could vote to issue up to $6 million in debt to finance Windy Gap without a vote of the general public. This would cause water rates to jump 17 percent each in 2017 and 2018, by zero percent in 2019 and between 4 and 7 percent each in years between 2020 to 2027.

Dale Rademacher, general manager of public works and natural resources, told the council that staff has timed it out so that the city wouldn’t lose any of the options by commissioning a survey of residents on the Windy Gap financing issue…

The council opted to commission a statistically valid survey be sent to 3,000 randomly chosen Longmont households explaining the three options.

Larimer pays $8.4 million for farm, water rights — Loveland Reporter-Herald

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Here’s the release from Larimer County (Kerri Rollins):

Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased a 211-acre farm southwest of Berthoud, along with its valuable water rights. The deal closed Monday, August 8.

Using Help Preserve Open Spaces sales and use tax dollars, Larimer County Department of Natural Resources purchased the property, known previously as the Malchow Farm, to conserve its agricultural, historic, scenic, community buffer and educational values. General public access is not permitted at this time. Larimer County plans to continue leasing the property as an active agricultural farming operation.

The Town of Berthoud provided $100,000 to Larimer County to help purchase the farm, which will also help leverage a potential Great Outdoors Colorado funding request being submitted later this month.

“We’re excited to acquire this farm and its myriad of conservation values,” said Gary Buffington, director of Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. “The property helps us further our mission to conserve working lands and foster an appreciation for our agricultural heritage in Larimer County.”

This property is located one mile southwest of Berthoud, just north of the Little Thompson River and adjacent to U.S. 287 on the highway’s west side. It consists of high-quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pasture and 5 farmstead acres. Located just north of the Larimer-Boulder county line, the property serves as a gateway to Larimer County and a doorstep to the town of Berthoud, with sweeping views of Longs Peak and the Front Range. The property contains several historic features, including a pioneer gravesite, beet shack and a big red barn that can be seen for miles. The Overland Trail once crossed the property.

The property, infrastructure and minerals were purchased along with the valuable water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson, or C-BT, water, 16 shares of Handy Ditch native water rights and 20 shares in Dry Creek Lateral Ditch.

Larimer County is actively seeking partners to engage in a water sharing agreement on this property that will provide partnership funds toward the purchase of the water, keep the farm in active production and allow water partners to share some of the water in drought years. This water sharing agreement, known as an Alternative Transfer Mechanism, or ATM, is a cooperative solution encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan to share water across uses without permanently drying up high-quality working farms, such as this farm near Berthoud.

Larimer County has developed a stewardship plan for the property and will develop a full management plan with public input within the next several years. The property was purchased from the Malchow family, but an official name for the property, now that it’s a Larimer County open space, will be chosen at a later date. Public tours of the property are planned for later this year.

For additional information, contact Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager, at (970) 619-4577.

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Larimer County now officially owns the 211-acre Malchow farm south of Berthoud and its associated water rights — a unique agreement that includes a water sharing component.

The $8.4 million sale from the Malchow family to the Department of Natural Resources closed Monday.

The county bought the property to conserve its agricultural, historic and scenic values and plans to continue leasing the fields as an active farm.

One unique aspect of the sale was that the county also bought the water rights, including 240 units of Colorado-Big Thompson water, with the intention of entering into a water sharing agreement.

Under such an agreement, the farm may vary its crops over several years, so in drought years, some of the irrigation water can be sold.

This allows the farm to stay in production for the long-term and is an arrangement encouraged by the Colorado Water Plan.

The farm is located along U.S. 287 one mile southwest of Berthoud, and along with rich farmland, it includes historic buildings and a pioneer grave site believed to be tied to the Overland Trail, which once crossed the property…

The farm will not immediately be open for public access. However, a management plan that will be developed within the next few years could include an educational component in which the farm may be used to teach the public about agriculture.

The town of Berthoud pitched in $100,000 toward the purchase of the property, and Larimer County will be applying for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to help with the cost.

Longmont councillors weighing cash v. debt for Windy Gap participation

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):

The Longmont City Council on Tuesday will make several high-level decisions on how to finance the Windy Gap Firming Project.

In March, the council opted for the costlier 10,000 acre-foot level of the $387.36 million project, which would bring the pricetag for Longmont up to about $47 million. In April, the council directed they would prefer to pay with cash rather than debt for the $47 million, which would save money in the long-term but mean steep rate hikes in the short-term.

Now, staff has come back with a third option — a mix of cash and debt financing.

The council has already approved and codified raises to rates of 9 percent in both 2017 and 2018. If the council chose to finance the complete $47 million through rate increases, rates would need to rise 21 percent in 2017 and 22 percent in 2018, staff wrote to council in a memo.

But, raising rates is a little unpredictable for staff, because people might use less water in order to save money. While that helps with the city’s water conservation goals, it could make financing a huge project like Windy Gap tough.

“What we do know is that if we have a rate increase, it dampens consumption because people do react to an increased cost. What we’ve seen over time is that initial reaction tends to go away over time,” said Dale Rademacher, general manager of Longmont public resources and natural works…

By contrast, if Longmont chose to finance the $47 million project with $16.7 million in bonds, rates would not increase beyond the planned 9 percent in 2017 and then by 14 percent in 2018 and another 14 percent in 2019. The downside to debt is that it costs more in the long-term.

At a projected 4.25 percent interest rate, bonding out $16.7 million would cost the city $55.75 million over 20 years.

In the middle, staff has proposed bonding out only $6 million of the cost and financing the rest through rate increases.

This option would mean rate increases of 17 percent each in 2017 and 2018, between the two extremes of 21 percent with all cash and 9 percent with the higher debt option.

Rademacher said council could choose to bond out $6 million of the cost without a vote of the public…

Council on Tuesday needs to decide which financing option they want, and by extension, how much rates should raise in 2017.

Rademacher said all the rate raises are projected to happen by January 1, 2017 and if a major bonding issue needed to go to the ballot, staff are projecting to put it in front of voters in November, 2017.

Council could also decide to wait on the financing decision and get more public feedback on the issue. While there were questions related to Windy Gap on the regular Longmont resident survey, staff decided to remove those questions and ask council about a more specific survey.

National Research Center submitted a bid in order to survey Longmont residents about whether they would prefer to pay cash or debt for Windy Gap. To do an online-only survey would cost $3,440. To mail out a survey to randomly selected households would cost between $5,130 and $11,850 depending if NRC targeted 800, 1,500 or 3,000 households.

#ColoradoRiver — Tale of Two Basins — Circle of Blue

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

In Colorado, rivers flow not only down mountain slopes but beneath them, across them, and through them.

Nearly four dozen canals, tunnels, and ditches in the state move water out of natural drainages and into neighboring basins. Some snake across high passes. Others pierce bedrock.

All manmade water courses, meant to supply farming, manufacturing, or household use, eventually become so familiar they become part of the landscape. But old infrastructure can come to life in different form. Recently, Gov. John Hickenlooper cast renewed attention on water supply and growth in the West with a decision in a long-running process to expand a Colorado River diversion.

That diversion is the Moffat tunnel which supplies water to Gross reservoir. From its western portal at the base of Winter Park’s ski slopes the 80-year-old conduit, blasted through layers of gneiss, granite, and schist, sends water from west-flowing Colorado River tributaries to Gross reservoir, east of the Continental Divide.

Denver Water, the public utility that owns Gross reservoir, wants to triple its capacity in order to secure water for one of the country’s fastest growing big cities. The $US 380 million project, under state and federal review since 2003, gained Gov. Hickenlooper’s endorsement on the last day of June, a week after it collected a key state water quality permit. The final piece will be a dredging permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Gross reservoir expansion reflects a fundamental tension for the seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River: how many more diversions can the stressed basin tolerate? The watershed is drying but states in the upper basin still plan to pull more water out of the river. Whether they should — and how much — is a matter of constant debate.

“The challenge becomes reconciling the ability to develop water with the reality that you are assuming a ton of risk,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, told Circle of Blue..

A Game of Risk
Some observers say that the risk threshold has already been crossed. A group of respected academics calling themselves the Colorado River Research Group argued in a 2014 paper that the basin must strive to use less water, not more. “Any conversation about the river that does not explicitly acknowledge this reality is not helpful in shaping sound public policy,” they wrote.

Eklund said he understands the sentiment behind the call for restraint. However, Colorado’s constitution is set up, he said, to protect the right to develop water.

“The state is not going to call balls and strikes and say whether a project is a good investment,” he said. “You take it at your peril. You assume the risk.”

The upper basin is starting to think about those risks. Like the lower basin, it is participating in the pilot conservation program. Most of its projects are located in Colorado and Wyoming. The goal is to prop up Lake Powell with the saved water.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Basalt: Reclamation to Host Public Meeting for Ruedi Operations

Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.
Sunrise at Ruedi Reservoir October 20, 2015. Photo via USBR.

From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled the annual public meeting for Ruedi Reservoir Water Operations.

August 11: Basalt Town Hall, 101 Midland Avenue, Basalt, Colo., 7 to 8:30 p.m.

The meeting will provide an overview of Ruedi Reservoir’s 2016 projected operations for late summer and early fall, which are key tourist seasons in Basalt. The meeting will include a public question and answer session.

For more information, please contact Tim Miller, Hydrologist, Eastern Colorado Area Office, by phone or e-mail: (970) 962-4394, or tmiller@usbr.gov.