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Northern Water updates Longmont Rotary on water projects

When Stephen Long deemed the Front Range area as a “Great Desert.” 
Jeff Stahla of Northern Water presents water project update to Longmont Rotary

Jeff Stahla, public information officer at Northern Water, stood before the Longmont Rotary on Tuesday to share an update on local water projects. 

Stahla began with a brief history. When Stephen Long, an American army civil engineer, explorer and inventor, led a scientific exploration of the Great Plains in the 1820s he deemed the Front Range area as a “Great Desert.”  

Long visited the area in the middle of summer and did not see anyone living in the area at the time. According to Stahla, the Native American tribes who inhabited the area had migrated to the mountains during the hot months of the year. 

By naming the area a desert, development was stalled, Stahla said. In the 1930s, people in the area learned that the soil in the area was quite fertile, the missing component was water to begin a thriving agricultural community.

According to the almanac, the Longmont area receives an average of 14-15 inches of precipitation a year. However, each year looks different, Stahla said, with some years exceeding that amount and other years falling short. 

This inconsistency in the 1930s led to the Colorado-Big Thompson project’s construction. This project collects water on the west side of the continental divide and eventually flows into a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east side of the mountains. 

In 1957, 97% of the water brought over by the CBT irrigated farms along the Front Range. In 1959, the Loveland City Council granted water rights to Hewlett Packard which launched the tech industry in the area. Today, cities own more than 70% of the water shares, leasing back excess water to farmers.

Northern Water, which manages the CBT project, supplies water to a population of over 1 million with some of the fastest-growing cities in Colorado within its boundaries. The area includes roughly 615,000 acres of irrigated agricultural land, Stahla said. 

Carter Lake is also a reservoir that stores additional water from the CBT along the Front Range. It holds 112,000 acre-feet when full, Stahla said. 

A problem with the CBT is that it can’t store all the water municipalities along the Front Range need. So officials decided to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which is under construction now. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir is located near Carter Lake in Larimer County. 


The construction on Chimney Hollow also fixed a flaw in the CBT project that did not allow for aquatic wildlife to swim up and down. The original tunnel created by the CBT project was replaced with a channel that goes around the reservoir, Stahla said. Research has demonstrated that wildlife has been using the channel within the last year. 


When the reservoir opens, it will be available for recreational use and deemed a wakeless zone, Stahla said.


Macie May

About the Author: Macie May

Macie May has built her career in community journalism serving local Colorado communities since 2017.
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