A pit filled with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of water now sits in Windsor, but September’s flooding has put town officials and property owners in a unique situation that could complicate the project’s future.
As it stands currently, both sides are still anticipating a mid-December closing date on the Kyger Gravel Pit, which they intend to transform into an augmentation water reservoir benefiting Windsor for years to come. But that pit — empty one month ago — filled to the brink during the height of September’s flooding and now holds an estimated 1,000 acre-feet of water with an estimated value of about $300,000.
But what seems like a good thing — free water — actually came about 50 days through a state-mandated three-month “leak test,” which is supposed to ensure water doesn’t seep into or escape the reservoir. Now engineers and officials are now wondering whether the pit will need to be drained to complete the test, potentially delaying the $6.7 million project.
“We’re not even sure about the status or the integrity of the areas around the pit,” said Kevin Rein, deputy state engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “I’m definitely not saying we have reason to think there is a problem, but all of that needs to be assessed.”
He added that it is “difficult” to complete the leak test when such a vast amount of water is present, but stressed engineers and officials are still in “assessment mode” to evaluate what the next steps will be. Though pits sometimes fill partially with rain during the course of a leak test, it’s rare for them to become completely filled naturally.
Town Manager Kelly Arnold says that until he hears otherwise, the deal is still slated to close in December. He vividly remembers monitoring the situation through the day Sept. 13 — Friday the 13th — when things started getting serious. He remembers hearing the water pour from the river into the barren pit Friday night around 11 p.m. By 5 a.m. Saturday morning, he says the pit was filled to the brink.
“I think it probably filled in less than five hours,” he said. “I knew when it was filling that there was a lot of water still coming out of the river.”
Though he said rural and low-lying areas of town near the river — and the area on the south side of Colo. 392 — were nearly certain to flood, sites including grocery stores and small businesses on the west edge of town were never truly in jeopardy due to their higher elevations. He said if the conditions had been different and the storm had set up farther to the north, Windsor would have been in the immediate watershed and it could have fared far worse. But since it was a river-dominated event, the empty pit acted like a bucket — a really big bucket — and offset what could have been even more serious flooding downstream.
Windsor officials have been in the process of purchasing the Kyger Gravel Pit for more than a year. With an end goal of turning the rocky wasteland into a 1,100 acre-foot water storage vessel, the town has maintained it could be a major mark toward water independence and infrastructure advancements.
Each year, the town must resupply nearby rivers and ditches after drawing water from them throughout the year to irrigate area parks and open spaces. That resupply of water has to be stored somewhere in the meantime, and this has typically been Windsor Lake at Boardwalk Park. But earlier this year, those water levels were drastically low and almost jeopardized the summer recreation season, Arnold said previously.
Though the development would be a non-potable supply, many have said it could also pave the way toward even bigger development plans for the area, including a potential for a drinking water treatment facility on an adjacent lot, adding to its ideal location. Though small in scope compared to massive vessels like Horsetooth Reservoir to the west, the prime location near the Poudre River and proximity to downtown make it a perfect choice for water augmentation and potentially even recreational options in the future, officials have said.
Plus, it would keep water levels at Windsor Lake consistent all year long, eliminating concerns the town’s primary recreational amenity could open later in the season due to low water levels.
Moving forward, the issue is pending approval from the state. If the leak test can be completed with water present, the deal could still close on time with the “free water” included in the offer. Windsor would still have to purchase water shares to keep it filled in years to come, but the water in it now would definitely be an advantageous start, Arnold said.
If the pit instead has to be drained before a test can be completed and the deal can move forward, massive pumps would basically pump the water over the shoreline and put the water back in the river at a carefully monitored rate, Arnold said. It would be a primitive version of the pumping station that needs to be installed eventually.
Town leaders and the property owners are hoping for clarification in the coming days and weeks. Regardless of what that direction is, the developer and the town maintain the project will advance and benefit Windsor for years to come.
“It’s been a cooperative effort over the last year and a half,” said Dino DiTullio, manager of River Bluffs Ventures, which owns the property. “I think it will go a long ways toward helping Windsor become water independent in the future.”
“I think it probably filled in less than five hours.