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How The East Troublesome Fire Could Impact Water On The Front Range

File photo of Lake Granby (front), a Western Slope reservoir that is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
File photo of Lake Granby (front), a Western Slope reservoir that is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

Due to the growth of the East Troublesome Fire, the Colorado-Big Thompson project has suspended operations of the Adams Tunnel, as well as a pump that pulls water from Lake Granby. The Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) project provides water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, and includes local reservoirs like Horsetooth and Carter Lake.

KUNC's Colorado Edition spoke with Jeff Stahla, public information officer for Northern Water, about the impacts of the fire on water for the Front Range.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O’Toole: How exactly is this project impacted by the fire? What's closed?

Jeff Stahla: The Colorado-Big Thompson Project draws on water from the upper Colorado River. And its main storage bucket is Lake Granby on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

As the East Troublesome Fire moved towards it in the past few days, we recognized that there could be an impact to the C-BT system. We were surprised, however, yesterday, just with the speed of the growth of the fire and we were able to — before the fire arrived in the Grand Lake area — we were able to shut down a couple of key pieces of infrastructure over there. So that they would be taken down in an orderly manner, rather than having the power say, cut out while we're still trying to operate them.

And so to clarify, no water is currently coming to the Front Range from the Western Slope, but it sounds like portions of the C-BT project based on the Front Range, like Horsetooth Reservoir, those are fully operational?

That's correct. It's not uncommon for the tunnel to be shut off at various points during the year, either for maintenance purposes, for inspections, or sometimes just because of the way the water is positioned in the reservoirs throughout the system. So it's not uncommon that we would see a closure of this type, actually, at this time of year.

Because we've been moving water over throughout the course of the year into Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, which are the two main storage units for the C-BT on the East Slope, and those have been unaffected and are still delivering water to our customers today.

And so then, in broad terms, what will the impact be of this suspension of operations on the Front Range?

As long as the suspension doesn't go beyond the winter, we’ll be fine.

What we will be monitoring though is after the fire is contained and controlled, we’ll be taking a hard look at the watershed in the upper Colorado River on Willow Creek, even the Fraser River with some effects from the Williams Fork fire, we’ll be looking at those to determine what water quality effects there might be in the aftermath of these fires.

I know it's a little bit up in the air, but do you have a sense of how long this suspension is expected to last?

The good thing about the timing of this suspension is that it's during a period of low water use along the Front Range.

Irrigators are already through for the season and most of the outdoor uses at people's homes are also finished for the season, so we're not going to bring it on prematurely and we don't feel that we need to because again, there's that water storage along the Front Range that will help us get through the next several weeks or months. And so our big goal now is whatever we can do to help the firefighters and managers to get their arms around just the multitude of fires that are around us.

This conversation is from KUNC’s Colorado Edition from Oct. 22. You can find the full show here.

KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.