Northern Colorado cities brace for water problems due to 2020 fires

Problem Solvers

GREELEY, Colo (KDVR) — Cities along the Front Range are bracing for potential water quality problems stemming from last year’s wildfires.

The Cameron Peak Fire burned in watersheds that supply water to Greeley, Fort Collins, Loveland and others, where utilities are preparing for significant problems this spring and summer.

One major concern involves snowmelt and spring rainfall pushing ash and debris into the Cache la Poudre River, which supplies about half of the water used in Greeley.

“Having that whole upper watershed burn, is of great concern to us,” says Sean Chambers. “We fundamentally can’t treat some of the really bad water that’s going to come off of this fire.”

Chambers expects that ash and debris to begin arriving in Greeley in the next few weeks, as the annual snowmelt takes shape.

He expects dirty water to flow through the region following every major storm this spring, summer and fall.

“And the reality is, we’ll have to pass a lot of that water,” he said. “We won’t be able to take it; It won’t make sense to try and divert it and treat it.”

That means northern communities will be drawing on reservoirs like Horsetooth earlier than usual, and routinely throughout the summer.

“We’re blessed with having a lot of water in storage, and we’ll utilize the best source of supply at any given time to make sure that we’re treating water to meet health standards,” he said.

Greeley, Fort Collins and Larimer County recently signed off on a work-sharing agreement to try and mitigate damage to water supplies. Along with other agencies, they’re working to stabilize hillslopes, build erosion control and stabilize stream channels.

Chambers estimates it could cost about $35 million to mitigate damages on 10,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land.

 “We need to try and get mitigation in place on the lower reaches, so the runoff doesn’t do a lot of erosion and damage,” says Chambers. “So there’s a real sense of urgency to move forward on that right now. Every year that we miss in mitigating critical areas, creates additional expense to us.”

Thursday, the city of Fort Collins will begin asking people to voluntarily reduce water use, due to anticipated impacts from the Cameron Peak Fire.

Under the Water Shortage Watch, customers are being asked to water lawns just twice a week, water overnight and use shutoff nozzles on hoses.

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