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Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge.

With Horsetooth Work Done, Fort Collins Lifts Mandatory Water Restrictions

Construction on one of Horsetooth Reservoir's outlets led to the city of Fort Collins issuing mandatory water restrictions this fall.
Nick Cote for KUNC/LightHawk
Nick Cote/Aerial support provide
Construction on one of Horsetooth Reservoir's outlets led to the city of Fort Collins issuing mandatory water restrictions this fall.

The city of Fort Collins has lifted its mandatory outdoor water restrictions due to maintenance work on Horsetooth Reservoir and the risk of water quality issues from wildfires.

Starting Oct. 1, the city’s water customers were not permitted to irrigate lawns, wash cars in driveways or run ornamental fountains, and faced fines for violations. Customers could still use water outside if it was being used to grow food. The restrictions ended Nov. 10.

Work on Horsetooth Reservoir wrapped up the first week of November, meaning the city could again draw on it for drinking water supplies. Concerns over potential water quality issues in the Poudre River watershed caused by runoff from the Cameron Peak burn scar led to the emergency restrictions. They were the first mandated curtailments for the city’s water customers since 2013.

The city’s water customers ended up decreasing their water use 35% within the first 24 hours of restrictions. The utility’s total water demand stayed below a 15 million gallon per day threshold after Oct.14, which the city estimates saved more than 100 million gallons of water compared to historical averages for autumnal water use.

Courtesy City of Fort Collins
In mid-October the city of Fort Collins's water demand fell below a 15 million gallon per day threshold the city set to avoid a potential water shortage.

That threshold was put in place because it represented the carrying capacity of an emergency pump station and pipeline from Horsetooth Reservoir to the city’s water treatment plant. It was installed in case the river’s quality was compromised during the construction, but the fallback wasn’t needed.

Smaller water providers, in south Fort Collins and Windsor, that draw from the Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir instituted voluntary restrictions during October.

Even though the Poudre River didn’t see major water quality impacts during construction on the reservoir, a statement from the city’s water utility warns the river will see effects from the Cameron Peak Fire eventually. Rainstorms over the more than 208,000-acre burn scar will periodically wash ash, sediment and burned vegetation into the river and its smaller tributaries, causing long-term water problems for users downstream.

This story is part of a project covering water in the western U.S. and the Colorado River basin, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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