Municipal Water Leader
Interview

Public-Private Partnership Helps Protect Prized Western River

The Cache la Poudre River, Colorado’s only nationally designated wild and scenic river, starts high in the Rockies and flows east through the heart of Fort Collins, Colorado. Considered the lifeblood of the community, the river is a regional source of irrigation and drinking water; an essential resource for a booming craft beer industry; and a popular destination for rafters, kayakers, fishermen, and other nature lovers. It’s also subject to devastating floods, wildfires, drought, warming temperatures, and the stresses of a growing population along its banks. 

A water quality monitoring station being installed in the Poudre River.

The Cache la Poudre River, Colorado’s only nationally designated wild and scenic river, starts high in the Rockies and flows east through the heart of Fort Collins, Colorado. Considered the lifeblood of the community, the river is a regional source of irrigation and drinking water; an essential resource for a booming craft beer industry; and a popular destination for rafters, kayakers, fishermen, and other nature lovers. It’s also subject to devastating floods, wildfires, drought, warming temperatures, and the stresses of a growing population along its banks. 

To help protect the Poudre from these threats and preserve it for generations to come, In-Situ, Inc., has partnered with the City of Fort Collins and Colorado State University (CSU) to install nine water monitoring stations along the section of the river that runs through the city. In-Situ equipment at each site will continuously collect and transmit water quality data, which the city and CSU will use to assess the river’s health and conduct research. 

This unique partnership brings together the storm water and water quality divisions within the city’s utilities department, CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources, and In-Situ, an environmental monitoring equipment manufacturer headquartered in Fort Collins. 

At each monitoring station, an In-Situ Aqua TROLL 500 or Aqua TROLL 600 multiparameter sonde will collect data on temperature, turbidity, depth, pH/ORP, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity, and relay the data via telemetry to HydroVu, In-Situ’s data services platform. While both the city and CSU have direct access to this live-steaming data, CSU will process and manage the raw data and share it with the city. In-Situ will provide ongoing technical support to both the city and the university. 

“We’re committed to helping agencies and municipalities get access to high-quality data so they can be proactive in understanding and protecting water quality in their communities,” says In-Situ Application Development Manager Eric Robinson. “This is a model that can be replicated in other areas that are too small to warrant a sustained U.S. Geological Survey monitoring program but that have water resources critical to their environmental and economic health.” 

Since joining Warner’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability last year, Assistant Professor Matt Ross has had a keen interest in developing a research program around the Poudre, which he describes as a classic western river. He knew that long-term sensor deployments could produce high-quality data useful for trend analysis, immediate decision support, and as an educational tool. 

“I’m interested in looking at impacts over time—the frequency of low-flow years and anoxic events within those years, how turbidity is changing, and where those changes are happening—but also building a decision-support system that can inform action that day or that week and help the city get out in front of water quality impacts,” says Ross. 

A water quality monitoring station being installed in the Poudre River.

The city’s concern over the health of the Poudre River grew after a severe fish kill occurred in September 2018. Colorado Fish & Wildlife investigated the incident but was unable to identify a cause. With monitoring equipment now installed at points of confluence with local tributaries, it should be easier to identify a pollutant source should another incident occur. 

“This is great for us because we can get the information we need and use local resources,” says Fort Collins Storm Water Quality Engineer Basil Hamdan. “In-Situ has the equipment and technical expertise, 

CSU has the research piece, and they also manage the data, which we’re able to use to get a better understanding of what’s happening in the river.” 

Hamdan adds that the monitoring data will also provide a baseline, should the Northern Integrated Supply Project be approved. The proposed water storage and distribution project, which includes construction of two reservoirs north of Fort Collins, will divert water from the Poudre River and potentially affect water quality. 

The Poudre monitoring project has no end date, and in fact, the partners plan to install as many as 25 monitoring stations along the river and its tributaries and expand public outreach. Students will have access to the data through the university’s Environmental Learning Center, and the public will have opportunities to view and interact with it at various locations throughout the city. 

An Aqua TROLL 500 multiparameter sonde.

“My lab is not only focused on research and building processes to give the city clean data but also on making that data more accessible through visualizations and videos,” says Ross. “We want people to be able to see it and understand it.” 

Helen Taylor is content manager at In-Situ, Inc. For more about In-Situ, visit in-situ.com.