Reservoirs

Brendan Murphy / Utah State University

Reservoirs can get messy after a big wildfire. The issue isn’t the fire itself, it’s what happens after. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC/LightHawk

Key reservoirs along the Colorado River are collectively at their lowest point at the start of a new water year since the last one filled nearly 40 years ago.

As of Oct. 1 reservoirs that store the Colorado River’s water are at just under 47 percent  of their capacity, according to recently released data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Put another way: Reservoirs that provide water to 40 million people and irrigate 5.5 million acres of farmland in the southwest are less than half full.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Five years ago flood waters caused immense damage along Colorado’s northern Front Range and foothills, killing nine people, upending the lives of thousands of others. And just as the raging water left a lasting imprint in the minds of those who lived through it, it did the same to the land itself.

During four days of rain, and weeks of receding, rivers altered course, reservoirs filled with sediment, and soil slipped down hillslopes, ending up as sand bars and log jams downstream. The change was so abrupt and sudden maps had to be redrawn.

Courtesy Northern Water

In an attempt to halt the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir outside Loveland, and the diversion of Western Slope water to the Front Range, environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the federal government, saying an environmental analysis on the Windy Gap Firming Project failed to provide enough viable alternatives.

The environmental coalition, led by Fort Collins-based Save The Colorado and aided by the University of Denver College of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, sued both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers for what it says were faulty federal permits to build the project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District proposed the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Lance Cheung / U.S. Department Of Agriculture

At Ollin Farms in Longmont, Mark Guttridge is transitioning from spring crops to vegetables that will ripen in late summer and early fall. Having water later in the summer is crucial for Guttridge, but he knows from experience that that's not guaranteed.

"In 2012, we were in a drought year and it got hot really early just like it did this year in June," he said.

Guttridge uses a combination of ditch and municipal sources to irrigate his 10 acres. The municipal tap is a partial safety net. The part of the farm that relies on water being available in the ditch... that's more vulnerable. Climate change means water from spring runoff is coming earlier, creating new challenges for farmers.

As technology advances, many industries are being disrupted by increased automation. But when it comes to managing and protecting the water supply, there are many tasks that still require a combination of people and technology.

That's where reservoir caretakers come in. Some cities and counties employ these workers to live in remote locations and watch over the water supply.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fort Collins council members voted to oppose a project calling for the creation of two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado, at least for now. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build two reservoirs to supply water to growing towns in Larimer, Weld, and Boulder counties.

The city is not opposed to the idea of the project, but Fort Collins natural areas director John Stokes, in a presentation Tuesday night to council members, said the June supplemental draft environmental impact statement released by the Army Corps of Engineers fails to adequately evaluate and address environmental impacts.

"A key component that is currently missing from the environmental impact statement analysis is a quantitative temperature and water quality model," said Stokes.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Surrounded by “Save The Poudre” stickers, banners, books and swag, more than 100 people filled the community room at Fort Collins' Avogadro’s Number to learn about a proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado. Or, more correctly -- to learn how to oppose it.

“I want to be point-blank and loud and clear that you are getting a perfectly biased viewpoint from an organization whose mission is to protect and restore the river and we will do everything we can to fight to stop this project for as long as it takes,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save The Poudre, the group organizing the event.

He then led the crowd through a 10-point presentation of why the latest analysis released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Northern Integrated Supply Project was flawed.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

The proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado, a project known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project, reached a new waypoint with the release of an Army Corps of Engineers a draft supplemental environmental impact statement.

The analysis is an addendum and update to an environmental analysis released by the Corps in 2008. The proposal for the new reservoirs was put forward by Northern Water on behalf of several towns and water districts in the area seeking new water supplies.

In a statement, Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Water, said he was pleased "to have reached this important milestone after 12 years and nearly $15 million in expenditures by the NISP participants." 

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

A proposal to build new reservoirs that would take water from the Poudre River hit a key deadline June 19. Residents of Northern Colorado can be forgiven, though, if the Northern Integrated Supply Project doesn't ring a bell. It's been seven years since the project's last deadline.

The last time NISP and its two proposed reservoirs was in the news was in 2008 and 2009, when a draft environmental impact statement was released.

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