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In The Line of Fire: Protecting Greeley's Water Supply

city of Greeley
Milton Seaman reservoir

In the wake of several devastating wildfires this year including the High Park Fire, Greeley officials are concerned about the city’s water supply. Two of Greeley’s main reservoirs are right in the burn zone.

It’s not the fire itself that’s a threat, but runoff from summer storms that could affect the water’s taste.

KUNC's Erin O’Toole spoke with Jon Monson, the city of Greeley’s Water and SewerDirector.

O’Toole: You drove up earlier this week to look at theMilton Seaman reservoir, which is apparently surrounded by fire on a couple of sides. You also went to the Bellevue filter plant, which is in an evacuation area, but is not directly threatened by the High Park Fire?

Monson: That’s correct. Our plant operator, John Cabot, recognized that he had considerable, as they say, defensible space around it, and wanted to stay on site to make sure the plant kept running, so he stayed.

O’Toole: Have you been forced to draw water on Greeley’s backup water supply, which comes from the Horsetooth Reservoir?

Monson: Yes, we have. The rain we had last week - that rained on the Hewlett Gulch fire - the ash there caused quite a bit of ash and sediment to get into our ponds. We have dumped that back to the Poudre so we did not have to treat that water. But that is going to be a common occurrence over the next several years.

O’Toole: So how do you plan to deal with those effects – what’s in the works?

Monson: Well, we’re going to be working with the City of Fort Collins, who also has a water intake on the Poudre. Fort Collins is installing some rain gauges up in the Hewlett Gulch area, so that when the heavy rains come and begin to wash the ash into the river, that we both get warning of that ash coming down, and we can switch to alternative supplies.

O’Toole: What about water users, customers? How will this impact them?

Monson: Greeley is blessed to have two different filter plants in two different river basins – the Bellevue filter plant, which is the one we’ve been talking about, is in the Poudre basin; the Boyd Lake filter plant is in the Big Thompson basin.

So we are hoping that if we have to shut down the Bellevue plant for any particular reason -- after a heavy rain, if the ash sediment comes down in a big way to plug the Bellevue plant, we can switch to our Boyd Lake filter plant. So that is our redundant backup that we’ve got for that.

The major issues are the sediment coming down the river after a heavy rain, and the ashy water that we have to treat. That is going to be more expensive and we may not have quite the quality of water we like to have. It will always be safe to drink, but may not be quite as good as we usually are used to.

A presentation was made to the city of Greeley on the High Park Fire and the safety of city water -- it's embedded below.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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