Drought, wildfires bring water challenges to area

Drought, wildfires bring water challenges to area

07 November 2012

published by www.coloradoan.com

USA– GREELEY — Northern Colorado’s drought shows no significant signs of abating, and that, coupled with ongoing pollution from the High Park Fire washing into the Poudre River, has water officials worried for the future of Fort Collins’ and Greeley’s water supply.

Experts from around the region painted an uncertain picture of the area’s water future Wednesday morning at Northern Water’s fall water user’s meeting in Greeley.

As ash and silt continue their relentless descent into the Poudre River during even tiny rainstorms, Fort Collins will have to spend much more money on water filtration and purification in the coming years and potentially treat drinking water with additional chemicals to ensure the muck stays away from your faucet, Fort Collins water production manager Lisa Voytko said.

The silt washing into Seaman Reservoir from the Hewlett and High Park wildfire burn areas could be costly to Greeley, said Jon Monson, the city’s water and sewer director.

“It costs 10 times more to clean out a reservoir than to build a new one,” he said, showing a picture of massive sediment deposits that washed off nearby slopes and into the reservoir during the summer.

Voytko said she’s worried about spiking levels of total organic carbon in Poudre River water every time it rains. That’s because the carbon has to be removed with chlorine, a process that creates potentially toxic byproducts in drinking water that have to be removed at great expense.

Polymers have to be used to remove the turbidity from the drinking water, and it’s expensive to dispose of the byproducts of that process, she said.

“What we’re looking at long-term, we’re not really sure,” she said.

The summer’s wildfires have clogged Fort Collins’ water intake structures on the Poudre River with sediment and debris, reducing their intake capacity.

The sediment washing off the burn areas is so extreme that the city had to flush out its intake structures four times in September. Normally, the city flushes them once a year.

Then there’s a concern all the silt and muck in the Poudre River and Seaman Reservoir could cause major algae blooms, further degrading the water quality and treatment expense, Voytko said.

Fort Collins is working with Greeley, Colorado State University, the federal government and other agencies to find ways the city can treat all potential pollutants in Poudre River water.

The drought only complicates matters, she said.

The city would prefer to use mostly Poudre water for its drinking water supply but has been relying on Horsetooth Reservoir water since the Hewlett Fire last May. With continued drought sullying the mountain snowpack and reducing the amount of water that can be pumped into Horsetooth Reservoir, the city may have to rely more on the fire-polluted Poudre, forcing it to find better ways to treat the river water.

“We have to find a way to preserve our water supply by finding ways to take this (Poudre River water) treatment,” Voytko said.

Fort Collins is working with Greeley and other water providers to treat the slopes on thousands of acres of private land in the Poudre’s watershed with mulch to prevent as much silt and ash runoff as possible, Monson said.

“The phrase, ‘no good crisis should be wasted’ comes to mind here,” he said. “The coalitions we’re building (with other cities, counties, conservation groups and water providers) are really heartwarming.”



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