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Poudre River Still Troubling Water Managers Since High Park Fire


The Poudre River, revered for its normally pristine water, was contaminated by so much High Park Fire ash, it was rendered nearly useless for water managers in Greeley and Fort Collins. 

In the early months after the High Park Fire, Greeley was forced to limit its supply of Poudre River water to just five percent, taking the majority of the city’s supply from Horsetooth Reservoir.

Randy Gustafson withGreeley Watersays the city is back to using one hundred percent of the river’s supply. But a new problem has emerged.

“Things are better on the Poudre, but now you have a whole different set of parameters we’re working with.”

As the Poudre slows and begins to freeze with winter, heavier ash and debris on the bottom of the river is being stirred up by the lower flow. The contaminants then travel to Greeley and its water treatment diversion dam. 

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
Greeley Water's diversion dam near the mouth of the Poudre River

“At which point we have to close our diversion. What I do at that point is release water from another reservoir close down to build that flow up.”

Fort Collins is treating the Poudre River in much the same way.

Water managers in both cities say they are relatively unconcerned about winter snow storms, but more about the spring snow runoff in early 2013. 

“At that point we’ll have to go back to five percent of the river, and we’ll be utilizing water out of Horsetooth. You know, we’ll be able to make sure our water is there enough for our citizens of Greeley.”

Gustafson says water managers will continue to closely monitor the Poudre as the winter continues. However it will take years, and possibly decades for the pristine river water to return.

Editor’s Note: 6 months later, we’re examining different areas of life affected by the High Park Fire. You can follow this series here.

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