LOVELAND — Much to their relief, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials aren’t in the same predicament now that they were a year ago.
During presentations on Wednesday, Northern Water personnel — tasked with overseeing the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region — explained how they now have nearly enough water to meet full quotas for two years.
Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a C-BT quota every April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years.
In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent, although it rarely does, and still have some in storage for the next year.
That wasn’t at all the case a year ago.
Snowpack in the mountains and reservoirs were so low that a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT system. It was only the second time in the 57-year history of the project that the board had been so limited in the quota it could set.
The board last year settled on a 60 percent quota, falling short of the historic average of about a 70 percent quota.
“The outlook is much brighter this year,” said Andy Pineda, water resources manager for Northern Water, referring to his numbers, some of which showed snowpack in the South Platte Basin, as of April 1, rivaling that of 2011 — one of the best snowpack years on record (although a sizeable chunk of that year’s historic snowpack came after April 1).
As part of Wednesday’s meeting, C-BT shareholders and the public — about 225 people altogether — provided input as to what they think the quota should be set at this week.
While good snowpack typically calls for a low C-BT quota (the C-BT was built to serve as a supplemental supply, with high quotas usually set in dry years, Northern Water officials stress) the majority of input from the crowd called for the typical 70 percent quota.
Agricultural users said that while there’s plenty of snowmelt expected to fill their irrigation ditches this spring, they’d still like to see a higher quota set to make sure water is still available later on — especially if things turn dry in the middle of the growing season, in July or August.
Water officials from the city of Fort Collins and other communities also asked for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday — not to meet their own needs, but because they’re getting a lot of inquiries from farmers in the region wanting to rent extra water this year.
A number of city officials said in recent days they’re waiting to see where the quota is set before deciding how much water they’ll have to lease to farmers this year.
Most cities leased little or no water to ag users last year, forcing some farmers to cut back on how much they planted.
A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year.
An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.
While cities and ag users were seeing eye-to-eye at this year’s water users meeting, it was a different story in 2013.
Last year, farmers wanted a quota of 70 percent, stressing that with little snowpack in the mountains at the time, they would need the supplemental C-BT water to get them though the growing season.
But cities, for the most part, wanted the quota set at 50-60 percent, worried about using too much water in storage last year, because of the shortages and uncertainty.
A 10 percent difference in the C-BT water quota amounts to about 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons.