Learn about Johnstown Water

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Take a deep dive into Johnstown water; where it comes from, what requirements are on developers, and work happening to improve our water system now and into the future! These 3 Johnstown Water parts originally appeared in the Town's Monthly newsletter for May, June, and July

Where does Johnstown’s Water Come From?

In this newsletter, and upcoming newsletters, we will have a Water Series exploring and providing education about water and the value of this resource to the community. Let’s begin by exploring where our water comes from.

     Did you know that the State of Colorado has laws that govern local governments’ (and others) rights to water? The law of water in the State of Colorado is based on the doctrine of prior appropriations. Under this doctrine, a water right is acquired by the act of diverting water and placing it to a beneficial use. Within this doctrine, all surface and underground water in/or tributary to all natural streams within Colorado is subject to appropriations (Source: Browning, A Summary of Colorado Water Law). Stated another way, first in use, first in right. In the State of Colorado, water is considered a real property interest that can be bought and sold. This means that the Town needs to own water (which generally comes in the form of shares or certificates) in order to deliver water to its residents and businesses.

     The Town of Johnstown owns many different water types, the two most utilized are the Consolidated Home Supply Ditch & Reservoir Company (Home Supply) and the Colorado-Big Thompson Water Project. Historically, water from the Home Supply has been used for irrigation purposes. In order for the Town to use these shares for municipal use (potable use), there must be change of use case filed through a water court. Generally, the outcome is a decree from the water court case outlining the terms of the municipal water use. The Town has filed 4 court cases (including the active case) and they take several years to complete. Of the Town’s 575 water shares of Home Supply, water court has approved (so far) 454 shares for municipal use (each share is a minimum of 8-acre feet of water per year). The other Home Supply shares we currently own, can be used for either irrigation purposes (for example non-potable irrigation at a park), to meet return flow obligations back to the river, or rented to other users on the Home Supply system. All but 13 of the 575 shares have moved or will move through water court for change in use to Municipal Use in the coming years, providing the Town with 4,496 acre-feet of potable water, equal to nearly 1.464 billion gallons of water, or enough water to serve 9,000 single family homes per year.

     Home Supply water is provided through a dynamic ditch system which begins off of a river diversion conveyed from the Big Thompson River. As part of the ditch system, there are three off channel reservoirs utilized for storage of water, to make necessary irrigation deliveries for agricultural purposes as well as to assist with delivery of water to the Town. The aggregate total of the reservoirs is 20,000-acre feet. The specific reservoirs are the Mariano Reservoir, Lon Haggler Reservoir, and Lone Tree Reservoir. Water can be delivered to the Town’s Water Treatment Plant (WTP) in two ways. The first way, which happens during irrigation season (April-Oct) is directly from the ditch. This is the open channel that you see on the south side of Highway 60 just east of I-25. From this ditch, water is diverted from the channel, through a headgate and culvert to the Johnstown Lake. From the Johnstown Lake, the water is pumped to the WTP. The second delivery point to the WTP is directly from Lone Tree Reservoir. At the Lone Tree Reservoir, the Town owns a pump station that is connected to a 16” water trunk main, which travels for approximately 10 miles and delivers raw water directly to the WTP for treatment. The Lone Tree Reservoir delivery point is the primary point of delivery throughout the year, specifically during the non-irrigation season, when the ditch is not running water.

     The second major municipal water source currently owned by the Town is Colorado-Big Thompson, of which we own 1111 units of CBT water. The CBT system is operated and managed by the Northern Water Conservancy District (NWCD) and delivers over 200,000 AF to more than 1 million people on the front range. On average, each CBT unit yields 0.7 AF of water, but this changes annually as determined by NWCD. This water is also delivered through the Home Supply water system to the Town even though it is not a part of the Home Supply system. In order to convey this water to the Town, Home Supply charges a 50% foreign water carriage fee, so the water delivered per unit is about 0.35 AF rather than the annual yield.

     In addition to these two major sources for the Town, we also have 11.89 cubic feet per second (CFS) of Priority #1 and The Big Thompson Ditch & Manufacturing Company available for municipal use. These shares provide water in the summer from May – September and yield approximately 1,000 AF.

     Sometimes, the Town needs assistance from other water providers, such as the Little Thompson Water District, Central Weld County Water District and the City of Greeley; but this only happens in an emergency, when the Water Treatment Plant is off line, or when we have times of above average water usage. We are lucky to have these area partners.

     While the Town has a healthy water portfolio for municipal purposes, access to this water wouldn’t be possible without our partnership with the Home Supply Company. We appreciate this partnership in helping to provide residents and the community with a reliable quality water supply.

Johnstown Water and Development

   As development continues throughout Town, residents and businesses alike have made a point to ask if the Town has enough water to serve current residents as well as new development. In this article, let’s dive into this topic: What is the Town’s policy as it relates to development and water?

       In the Town of Johnstown (as in other Towns) any new developments are required to meet water dedication requirements. Every community in Northern Colorado handles water differently. In the last newsletter, we discussed the fact that water is a property right in the State of Colorado. This means that it can be both bought and sold, and in general, you can’t legally use the water unless you own it.

       In the case of a new development, three methods to meet water dedication requirements are predominantly used by communities. The first method is a cash-in-lieu option. In a cash in lieu option, at the time of a building permit issuance, the permit applicant is required to pay a specified dollar amount based on the price of water and the water volume necessary to service the property upon which the permit is being issued. In the cash-in-lieu method, there is a reasonable expectation that the entity issuing the permit would either: 1. Have an existing water portfolio with unused rights that are allocated based on the dedication of cash-in-lieu; 2. Utilize this cash-in-lieu contribution to go out to the market to purchase the water share(s) necessary; or 3. Appropriate the funds to a water construction project that provides water in the future.

       In the second method of meeting water dedication requirements, the water provider (the Town) requires dedication of water rights at, either the time of building construction or the time of final plat. In this method, the water dedication meets the needs of the land to be developed and can serve the property from day one of the building permit issuance and certificate of occupancy.

       The final method of meeting water dedication requirements is a hybrid of the first two options described above and can vary drastically. In general, this method requires a portion of the water to be dedicated in the form of actual water share(s) and then the remaining balance of water to be dedicated is in a cash-in-lieu method. The distribution of share to cash-in-lieu can range anywhere from 25% : 75% to 90% : 10% respectively. This distribution is usually based on the current water supply or needs of the community.

       So where does the Town fit in? For the most part, the Town requires the dedication of water rights at the time of development of the property, either at the final plat or site application. To memorialize the water dedication, the Town requires the developer of the land enter into a Water and Sewer Service Agreement (WSSA). This method is the most secure and fundamentally sound.

       As part of the WSSA with the development, an analysis of the water rights required to service the development is completed. This analysis, called the water demand analysis, determines exactly how much water must be dedicated to the Town by the developer. To perform the water demand analysis, the Town uses a water engineer who has a comprehensive expertise on water uses and demands based on various land uses and their applications; including but not limited to residential developments (single-family, multi-family, etc.), commercial development of all types (retail, restaurants, convenience stores, etc.), and industrial development.

       The water demand analysis measures each of the land use types as compared to a Single-Family Equivalent (SFE). A SFE, based on Municipal Code, is the standard measurement that a single-family residence uses 0.5-acre feet (AF) of water on a lot; this is 0.33 AF of in-home water use and 0.17 AF for irrigation. The 0.17-acre foot is based on 3,000 square feet of landscaped area.  Dedication of water is also required for parks within neighborhoods. The standard dedication for typical grass parks is 2.5 AF of water for every 1 acre of developed and irrigated park area. If the park has a playground, this area of the playground is not considered in the water dedication analysis. For example, if the Town approved a final plat neighborhood consisting of 50 lots of a standard size for single family development with a 2-acre irrigated area park, the water dedication would equal 30 AF of water dedicated to the Town. This same application applies to commercial developments and industrial applications.

Image of home lot and park sitting area and water illustrating the math in the text above

       Upon completion, the WSSA is presented to Town Council for approval. One of the most important elements within the WSSA is the ability of the Town perform future water audits. The audit permits the Town to review the water usage of a specific property and assess actual water usage. This is beneficial because the Town will request more water rights to be dedicated, if usage exceeds the amount dedicated per the WSSA. This ensures that no development project in the Town is water short.

       While, generally, the Town requires the dedication of water rights, there are a few instances that deviate from this policy. This can be seen in projects where there are one or two single-family lots that do not have water and were platted many years ago or when there is a significant economic development project in the community. These considerations are made on a case-by-case basis. In these few occurrences, a cash-in-lieu provision is provided subject to Town Council approval. In the past 2 years, this provision has only been provided once and was an allocation of 0.33 AF of water at a market rate of $65,000 per AF.

       The Town prioritizes access to water, from the healthy water portfolio we learned about in May’s newsletter to the required dedicated water rights from ongoing development projects. The Town is also always in the market to purchase available water that it can use for its system, from willing sellers. The Town is careful with water, as evidenced by the Town’s surplus allocation of available water that isn’t attached to specific developments. This excess also serves as available supply when water yields are less than normal due to drought conditions or dryer water years and the available water owned by the Town has also been used for projects such as the Town of Johnstown YMCA Recreation Center. The policies of the Town that require water dedication to move forward with development helps to ensure that the Town is able to serve projects and property in the future. In the future, when you stop to think whether the Town has enough water to support the new development under construction, rest easy knowing that the Town’s existing water dedication policy has it taken care of. There is enough water because the developer was required to dedicate it; the more you know!

Our Water System and Our Future

In our previous water series articles, we covered where our water comes from and how the Town manages water and development. While these are two very important factors in meeting the community’s needs, there is another part to the Town’s water story. This final topic will discuss projects that the Town has in the pipeline (pun intended) and on the horizon to ensure that we are able to continue to meet the needs of the Town today while preparing for the growth (and water demand) of Johnstown tomorrow.            

            Currently, one piece of Town water infrastructure is a 16” trunkline that runs from Lonetree Reservoir to deliver water to the Water Treatment Plant (WTP). When raw water is received and treated at the WTP, it is at our current facility that is designed for a treatment capacity of approximately of 6 million gallons per day. After the water has been treated, it is pumped into a distribution system that runs throughout the Town consisting of over 100 miles of water distribution lines in its system. During the wintertime, peak flows are about 1.5 million gallons per day; however, during the summer, demands on the system can reach that 6-million-gallon level and, at times, eclipse this level based on our current population. The support of our interconnects (treated water from other water systems) and our 3 million gallons of storage help to meet the current demands on our system during these peak times during the summer. However, these demands have provided us with clear evidence that the Town needs to be active in planning to meet future demands on the system. The Town will be accomplishing many Capital Improvement Projects that will help meet long-term water delivery and storage demands.

            One project that works towards this goal is the construction of a new trunkline that will run from Lonetree Reservoir to the WTP. While design is currently preliminary, we believe that the final design size of this trunkline will be 36” inches in size, so more than double the water can be delivered to the Water Treatment Plant.

            As for the Water Treatment Plant (WTP), the Town is in the process of completing design on a new Water Treatment Plant. This will replace the existing Mixed Media Filter Membrane system that we currently have in place. The current system also includes a Dissolved Air Flotation (DAF) System, and Granular Active Carbon (GAC) System to address taste and odor concerns. The new Water Treatment Plant that is currently being designed will provide for a total capacity of 12.5 million gallons consisting of rapid mix, flocculation, DAF, ozonation, biologically active filtration, chlorine disinfection, and high service pumping. This new WTP will have aspects of it built to accommodate future growth, beyond the 12.5 million gallon per day capacity. This is because the Town has a total estimated water demand in 50 years of about 21.5 million gallons per day. One of the best aspects about the new WTP design is the introduction of an Ozone System, which has 98% efficacy rate in eliminating taste and odor issues. Resident feedback has been clear on this issue, and the Town continues to prioritize a solution. While the system is more expensive than the typical GAC systems, it is much more effective and has a lower operational cost versus the GAC. Design of the new WTP will be completed in early 2023 and construction is estimated to be completed in 2025.

            You’ve probably seen or driven by this new project – the South Water Tower. Located just west of the intersection of Weld County Road (WCR) 17 and Weld County Road 40, the water tower that the Town is currently constructing will increase water distribution in the system. This will be a 1.5-million-gallon water tower that will be connected to the Town’s WTP by 37,000 linear foot trunkline that will generally run from WCR 17 and 42 down to WCR 40, west to WCR 13 and north to HWY 60. This will provide storage during peak demand times, ensure better water pressure throughout the system, enhanced hydrant fire flows, and improve the overall distribution of the water throughout the system.            

            These projects are estimated to cost about $90 million and they will be funded through a combination of an intergovernmental loan, new development tap fees, and current water user rates. Each project funding allocation will be based on which projects help to meet future customer demands as well as future demands on the water system.



Jamie Barker, Communications Manager



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