The Big Thompson Watershed Forum assisted with several projects in addition to Water Quality Reporting and the Cooperative Monitoring Program.
In September 2013, a significant rain event triggered a 100-year flood event in the Big Thompson River, causing substantial damage to roads and infrastructure in the watershed. Highway 34, which is the primary route from northern Colorado to the Town of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, was heavily damaged in the flood. Long-term construction to repair and improve Highway 34 began in 2016 and was completed in early 2019 at an estimated cost of $280 million.
Construction activities can have negative impacts on aquatic communities and water quality. In 2017, stakeholders for the Highway 34 construction project agreed that additional monitoring in the Big Thompson River during winter months would be advantageous.
Real-time Winter Monitoring
A sub-group of stakeholders tasked with evaluating monitoring efforts, including representatives from the Big Thompson Watershed Forum (Forum), Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Kiewit, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Northern Water, and the City of Loveland endorsed the idea of real-time winter monitoring for the winter of 2017-2018. This same group met again in the summer of 2018 and agreed that subsequent sampling during the winter of 2018-2019 was justified given continued—if less intense—construction activities during this time period.
The most optimal location was determined to be the Jasper Road bridge, which is owned by Larimer County. USGS staff contacted a landowner (Dave Lorenz) who owns riverfront property with electricity at a trailer pad approximately 100 meters downstream of the bridge. The landowner agreed to host the station on his property and allow his electricity to be used when necessary. With the permission of the landowner, the station remained in place between the winters of 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. The station performed as good or better than expected in both years.
Real-time data collection included four water-quality parameters measured every 15 minutes: temperature, specific conductance, pH, and turbidity. In addition, the USGS website provided the opportunity to subscribe to “WaterAlert.” This service sends an email or text to the user if any of the measured parameters are above user-defined limits.
For full reports on the winter monitoring, including results, see Water Quality Reports.
City of Loveland Regulation 85 Monitoring
In 2013, The Big Thompson Watershed Forum assisted the City of Loveland in developing a Sampling and Analysis Plan (SAP) to meet the requirements of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Control Commission Regulation 85.
Adopted in 2012, Regulation 85 requires domestic and selected non-domestic wastewater treatment facilities to develop, implement, and document a routine water monitoring program. The purpose of the monitoring program is to characterize the load (coincident flow and concentration) of nutrients in the discharge, the concentrations in the receiving water above the discharge, and the load of nutrients in the river or stream below the discharge.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Water Quality Control Division, analyzes all monitoring information to determine the sources and load of nutrients at the selected locations for the City of Loveland.
- Upstream and downstream of the discharge at BTWF sites M130 and M140
- At the closest active Colorado Division of Water Resources (CDWR) or USGS gaging station with daily flow available throughout the year downstream of the discharge’s mixing zone
- Total Nitrogen (TN) – Test for Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN) and Nitrate+Nitrite Nitrogen
- Total Inorganic Nitrogen (TIN) – Test for Ammonia and Nitrate+Nitrite Nitrogen
- Total Phosphorus (TP)
- Flow – The total daily effluent discharge flows (in gallons or million gallons per day) are collected at the same time the nutrient concentrations are measured.
- Flow: Daily average streamflow (cfs) on the day in-stream samples are collected is obtained where an established gaging station is present. USGS gaging station BIGLOVECO # 06741510 is located on the upstream side of the effluent discharge at station M130 and is active. In addition, the USGS collects in-stream flow measurements at each sample event on the downstream side of the effluent discharge at station M140.
- Samples are collected at least monthly.
- Ambient stream samples are collected as composite samples.
Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch Nutrient Pilot Project
Sylvan Dale Ranch is a 3,200-acre working guest ranch located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon. The Jessup family has owned and operated the ranch since 1946. The ranch raises registered quarter horses and Saler-Gelbvieh cattle, with a herd that produces 60 calves per year, some of which are sold directly to the local public as Heart-J pure grass-fed natural beef.
Years ago, cattle pens were built on a bench above the north side of the Big Thompson River. Cattle are confined in these pens during calving season (February through April), weaning time (ten days in October), and during other brief periods for vaccinations and veterinary care. Manure is scraped from the pens each year and used to fertilize the pastures. During rainstorms, water flows onto and through the pens from the hillside above, picking up nutrients as it collects in rivulets that merge in a roadside ditch that empties into the river. Thus, nutrients for use on the pastures are lost and instead contribute to pollution of river water.
In 2011, the Forum set up a nutrient monitoring project with the ranch. The primary water quality objective for this project is to measure nutrients (ammonia, nitrogen, phosphorus) and bacteria and calculate loadings that enter the Big Thompson River from the ranch’s two cattle pens during stormwater runoff events. Best management practices (BMPs) were implemented in 2013, and the project was completed in 2015.