Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Initiatives

PRTI Initiatives

The heavily used Poudre River can go dry at a number of locations throughout the year. For a variety of reasons, neither a new instream flow appropriation nor one or two water acquisitions can address issues of low streamflow on the Poudre. A subcommittee of the Poudre Runs Through It is pursuing some innovative ways to increase river flows at critical times and places along the river without in any way harming private property rights.

Success in such water matters does not come overnight, but we have made steady progress on this keystone project, ably assisted by the Colorado Water Trust. We have lined up funding to develop the legal and engineering work necessary to pursue filing a river augmentation plan – the first of its kind in Colorado and one the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Water Conservation Board had never thought of! Usually, augmentation plans are used to supply substitute water for consumptive needs. If successful, using augmentation plans to structure instream flows will be enormously beneficial on many rivers statewide, not just the Poudre.

With an administrative approval system built into the initial, comprehensive water court application and agreement with the CWCB, a local managing entity (yet to be defined) can respond to a given year’s predicted hydrologic condition by purchasing or leasing available water for instream flow use without the ongoing burden of water court. Through initial scoping, we believe our augmentation plan can be created through a successful water court application, placed in the hands of a local managing entity, and overseen by an agreement with the CWCB.

Our subcommittee consists of major water users on the Poudre and others (including the Cache la Poudre Water Users Association, the City of Fort Collins Utilities and Natural Areas Departments, the City of Thornton, Northern Water, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company, North Poudre Irrigation Company, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Division of Water Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and local citizens). With funding on the horizon, we are ready to take the next step forward and steer the concept towards implementation.

In May of 2017, a subset of the Poudre Runs Through It (PRTI) group decided to launch an “initiative” to explore large, abrupt, short-lived (“transient”) flow fluctuations on the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. Through a series of physical, telephone, or email meetings interspersed with notes and progress reports, supported by an aggregation of the existing 15-minute streamflow and diversion data by Northern Water, this group made some progress in identifying likely causes, identifying potential biological or physical impacts, and reporting results back to the PRTI group, which was the charge.

There was no call to take any concrete actions with the results. This “initiative” was concluded—at least for now—with a poster made available at the 2018 Poudre River Forum.

This webpage is a repository for the materials used and analysis generated in support of this transient flow effort. The READ ME document provides information on the following files, and the files are organized based on their explanation in this document:

This new PRTI initiative serves to increase coordination and communication among consumptive and non-consumptive water users that will benefit the healthy and working aspects of the Poudre River. The Committee includes PRTI members, ditch companies representatives, staff from local municipalities, and members of the recreation and environmental communities. The committee meets on a regular basis to share information and coordinate flow activity on the river whenever possible.

The Poudre Basin Information website is an initiative to develop information that supports education, dialogue on issues, and decision-making. The Open Water Foundation is leading the effort to develop this resource, integrating cross-jurisdictional datasets and information from various sources, including the PRTI membership. The resources on this website also support current and future PRTI initiatives. 

Image of Poudre Basin Map
Poudre Basin Information Website. Courtesy of Steve Malers, Open Water Foundation

The annual Poudre River Forum brings together those on the Poudre who farm, deliver clean potable water, drink beer, recreate, and advocate for river health to learn from one another and to explore how we can move from conflict to collaboration. Join us at each year’s event to learn and engage with other Poudre River enthusiasts!

More information
www.PoudreForum.com | Connect with us on Facebook @PRTIworkgroup | #PoudreRiverForum
Subscribe to the Forum email list PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com

Collaborative Projects

There are many irrigation diversions all along the Poudre River below the mouth of the canyon. Most were designed and built years ago and did not consider the importance of fish passage in their design. As a rule, fish can only move or be swept downstream with the old style diversion structures. Once down, these fish are not able to move back upstream either because the structures are too high to jump or the water is moving too fast to navigate.

The Poudre Runs Through It has been exploring opportunities to help replace or modify existing structures to add upstream fish passage to diversions without affecting the irrigation company’s ability to divert their water rights, making these win-win projects for all involved.

In one case, it may be possible to combine two diversions into a single, better functioning structure: the B.H. Eaton and Whitney diversions just west of Windsor. In another case, the North Poudre diversion into Fossil Creek Reservoir near the Environmental Learning Center in eastern Fort Collins was severely damaged by the September 2013 flood and has been rebuilt in a more ecologically friendly way. The redesign of both projects is being aided immensely using expertise from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and with cooperation from Larimer County, Windsor, Fort Collins, Northern Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and others.

Trout and native fish such as dace, shiners, and stonerollers have been declining in population, in part due to habitat loss. The redesigned North Poudre diversion allows these fish to move upstream to repopulate habitats that may become available as conditions in the river change annually or through the seasons, or to seek refuge from non-native predators. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be monitoring the effectiveness of the new fish passage facility and modifying it if improvements are necessary.

A “fish-eye view” video of the new Fossil Creek Inlet diversion structure showing how the fish passage incorporates specially fitted river rocks to dampen the water’s velocity can be viewed to the left.

The Poudre Heritage Alliance, the organization implementing the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, was in need of a short, simple video that they could play for their various audiences to help in fulfilling their educational mission. “The Cache la Poudre River – Our River Basin Community” in cooperation with the Colorado Water Center as well as the PRTI, is an animated history of the Poudre River for children and adults. Take a look!

In Colorado, hydrologists, lawyers, the newspaper and others talk about streamflow in terms of cubic feet per second, or cfs for short. Yet the general public has little or no idea how to translate so many cfs into what they would see in the river when they fish or float or ride the bike trail.

We have now installed two river gages along the popular bike trail that make it abundantly clear how to visualize river flows real-time all year long. This was accomplished by many hours of volunteer time, as well as capable staff from the cities of Fort Collins and Windsor, and funding from the Poudre Heritage Alliance and the Bohemian Foundation.

For more technical information about our Gage the River project, which may help if you wish to start such a project on your river, please look here.

A World Café is a type of forum that facilitates an open and creative conversation on a topic of mutual interest for sharing ideas and gaining a deeper understanding of the subject and issues involved. 

The Poudre Runs Through It assisted Colorado State University’s Center for Collaborative Conservation in one such café in 2014, resulting in in-depth conversations exploring feasible and collaborative ideas about sustaining the health and productivity of the Poudre River. The objectives explicitly included:

  • To integrate diverse stakeholder visions and perspectives on sustaining the ecological health of the Poudre River while recognizing its role as a working river for agriculture and cities.
  • To discuss ways for bridging and efficiently communicating about multiple stakeholder visions concerning the Poudre River in conjunction with, an opportunity for members of the Poudre’s communities to dialogue about their values in relation to the Poudre.