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Members of Community Sailing of Colorado practice their boating skills at the Boulder Reservoir on July 31, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Water is about to begin disappearing, temporarily, from Boulder Reservoir.

As part of a Northern Water-led maintenance project, about 80% of the normal surface area will be drained from the reservoir popular with boaters and small watercraft users.

Campers from Avid 4 Adventure take out their watercraft at the Boulder Reservoir on July 31, 2020.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

What that means for the buyers of the approximately 220 total motorboat permits, 1,500 small watercraft permits and 20 sailing permits sold by the city for Boulder Reservoir this year is the chance to get on the water will end Sept. 1, when it will start being drawn down.

Northern Water, which provides supply to the reservoir from the Colorado-Big Thompson system that brings water from the western side of the Continental Divide, has to perform periodic maintenance on the reservoir. This year, the work will involve removing sediment from its outlets, as well as placing riprap, or rock meant to armor shorelines, along Fisherman’s Point, an area on the shore’s southeast, to stabilize its slope and reduce erosion of that spot between dam structures, officials with the city and Northern said.

The reservoir will need to be drained by Nov. 1, so the work can start by then. Northern’s recent completion of the second phase of the Southern Water Supply Project pipeline that replaced the open-air Boulder Supply Canal for municipal water delivery from Carter Lake in Larimer County will help facilitate the drawdown.

Why this year? For one reason, it has been since the early 2000s that such work was performed at the reservoir outlets, and Northern hopes to be able to resume doing it more often, perhaps every five to 10 years, said agency spokesman Jeff Stahla.

“With the installation of that new pipeline it would be easier for us to manage our water deliveries to Boulder. Now that that’s in place, we can start scheduling more routinely,” he said.

The coronavirus also played a role in the timing.

“In addition to the late start for the boating season, the swim beach has been closed, and there are special events that normally happen that have been canceled as a result of COVID,” said Kim Hutton, a Boulder water resources staffer. “There are a lot of impacts going on with recreation this year. If we can do it this year, as soon as the pandemic is over, we can get back to normal recreation operations of the reservoir.”

The reservoir should be back to its standard level by the start of next year’s boating season, officials said.

Separately from the outlet and Fisherman’s Point work, officials are set to analyze the balance of motorboats and nonmotorboat permits issued, as is done yearly. Officials this year have received complaints from some that the reservoir is dominated by motorized craft, and resident Cinda Graubard conjectured that an incident from earlier in the week involving someone detaching seven motorboats from their wet moorings was a protest against their impact on other reservoir users.

“We’ve heard that from a couple (of) people this year. As we look at our 2021 plan for boating, those decisions will be made, and that plan will be put out no later than Dec. 1,” said Boulder Reservoir Facility Manager Stacy Cole.

The boats were hooked back up by reservoir supervisors, and no damage to them from the occurrence has been reported to city officials so far. They informed police of the situation, and are unaware whether or not it truly was an action in response to motorboat activity this year.

“I’ve been using the reservoir for rowing since 2000,” said Graubard, who wants more no-wake hours on the reservoir and felt unnerved earlier this year when she felt a motorboat approached her too closely. “When one of those boats pulling wakeboards is out there, many of them hug the the no-wake buoy line; they come very close to it. The wake they throw is big enough to create a breaking wave, and the waves bounce off — for example — the dam wall, reflect and travel all the way across the reservoir and back again, and you can feel them on both trips.”

Northern Water will take the lead on the work that will rehabilitate the reservoir outlet, and Boulder and Northern will be sharing the cost of the work to stabilize the Fisherman’s Point. Just less than $200,000 has been budgeted for the project this year, but future spending will be determined by what is discovered once the water is drained, Stahla said.

Boulder Reservoir pass and boating permit holders will be eligible for a 15% refund on the costs of their permissions, and small watercraft permit holders will be eligible for a $5 coupon toward their 2021 costs as a result of the season’s early stop. Normally after Labor Day, the reservoir sees an almost 90% drop-off in usage, city Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Denise White said.

A virtual meeting for permit holders is planned for Monday, with a link to join being emailed to those reservoir users. The city has a project website with information on the planned reservoir dredging at bouldercolorado.gov/water/boulder-reservoir-maintenance, that will be updated throughout the project.

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