Thu April 10, 2014

Deciding The Annual C-BT Water Quota Is A Delicate Balancing Act

With mountain snowpack well above average and area reservoirs still full from last year’s flooding, it could be a banner year for water in Colorado. But just because there’s plenty of water to go around, it doesn’t mean water users will get all they want.

KUNC's Nathan Heffel explores the delicate balancing act deciding the annual spring C-BT water quota.

Last summer water managers were concerned that there might not be enough of the resource to meet demand. But right now, Kara Lamb with the Bureau of Reclamation thinks things look really good for Northern Colorado supplies.

“I’m anticipating we’re going to see Horsetooth Reservoir get above its average fill line of 5,414 feet above sea level,” said Lamb.

The agency oversees the Colorado Big Thompson project – which provides supplemental water to Front Range farmers, industry and municipalities.  April 11 is an important day for those users. It’s when the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy Board of Directors decides its annual spring C-BT water quota.

Dale Trowbridge is managing director of the New Cache La Poudre Irrigation Company northeast of Greeley. He says users want all the water they can get from the project this year.

“Looking at their reserves that they have now I understand that next year could be dry, but they’ve got the water in the bucket,” he said.

But Andy Pineda, water resources department manager at Northern Water says not so fast.

“Our water supply is actually kind of limited, so we want to stretch it as far as we can,” said Pineda.

As Northern Water’s Resources Department Manager, Pineda helps decide just how much water from the Colorado Big Thompson goes to users. There is extra water in the system because of last year’s flooding, but Pineda says it’s better to hold back in wet years.

Northern Water water users attending the annual Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland April 9th.
Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC

“We have always asked our water users to have not only, if they own some CBT water to also have a base water supply to go along with it, to compliment that. It does fill a gap, and that’s why I was recommending a little bit lower quota this year,” said Pineda.

Northern Water typically sets a higher quota for supplemental water in dry years. In 2012, it was 100 percent. The current quota stands at 50 percent. Trowbridge hopes that percentage will increase to 70 or higher, since the forecasts he’s seen show a wet season ahead.

“And I appreciate Northern doing that, not getting carried away and saying spend, spend, spend, spend and not having any water left,” he said.

Beth Molenaar is a water resources manager for the city of Fort Collins. She’s also advocating for an increased quota. The reason?


“We have a lot of water requests from farmers, so a 70% quota would give us enough water that we could meet a lot of the request that we have,” said Molenaar.

Refilling the C-BT project after back-to-back dry years is very important for Northern Water’s Andy Pineda. And while he understands the requests for more water from users, he has to balance those requests using a decade’s long view.

“I’ve been here for too many droughts so I’d like to see it saved for the dry periods,” he said.

All of this will be taken into consideration including the needs of recreational water users when Northern Water releases its official spring Colorado Big Thompson quota Friday morning.