Two new gages on the Cache la Poudre River will help give passers-by a visual aid in measuring river flow through Fort Collins and Windsor.
A gage is a vertical graduated ruler that measures the height of a river’s water level. The gages, believed to be the first of their kind in Colorado, are located along the Poudre River Trail at McMurry Natural Area in Fort Collins and the County Road 13 Bridge in Windsor. They are designed for trail users, emergency responders, tubers, anglers, paddlers, farmers, ranchers and others interested in knowing the current flow rate of the Poudre River.
“The Poudre is a hardworking river. It provides water for irrigation and municipal uses, recreation and the environment,” said Jeffrey Boring, resource specialist with Larimer County and Poudre Runs Through It (PRTI) member. “With so much attention focused on the Poudre River, an easy-to-read gage that could be universally understood is a great idea.”
The gages are large, measuring 12 feet tall and 7 feet wide. They include both flow (in cubic feet per second) and stage (in feet) measurements. They are affixed to bridge abutments at both locations and are easy to read, giving a visual point of reference on the flow of the river at any given time.
Gage installation was coordinated by PRTI, an organization of water professionals committed to making the Poudre River the best example of a healthy, hardworking river. PRTI membership is diverse and includes water providers, farmers, recreationists, business leaders, environmental representatives, local and state government officials and academics.
“While the Poudre River can be a source of debate, everyone agrees that more information is essential to managing the Poudre for all its beneficial uses,” said Reagan Waskom, PRTI convener and director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The gages are great additions to the Poudre River Trail and will provide dynamic information about the river, 365 days a year.”
“CFS, or cubic feet per second, is a common unit used to measure river flow throughout the nation, but it’s not well understood or easily visualized by most people,” said John Bartholow, retired USGS ecologist and PRTI member. “The gages produced through the Poudre Runs Through It are accurate, and the information is conveyed in a simple manner, so anyone can understand how much water is in the river.”
In addition to the gages, PRTI designed and installed interpretative signs to explain the gages. The interpretative signs include the definition of CFS, the challenges and benefits that low and high flows create, and a hydrograph that depicts typical flows throughout the year.
“The flows in the river fluctuate daily,” said Dale Trowbridge, manager of the New Cache la Poudre Irrigation Company and PRTI member. “These flows are an essential component needed to fill reservoirs and for irrigation companies to deliver the water to their users.”
A big snow pack improves the health of the Poudre River by maintaining fish habitat and allows water providers to store water for irrigation. “We hope that the gage and interpretative signs can help explain that a dynamic river, one with high and low flows, is good for the environment and the beneficial use of water,” Trowbridge said. The interpretative sign also suggests that extreme high or low flows can create management challenges such as property damage or impaired river function.
The gages were installed as part of the Gage the River Project, funded by grants from the Poudre Heritage Alliance and Bohemian Foundation and by in-kind services provided by Flywater, Inc., Water and Earth Technology, City of Fort Collins, Town of Windsor, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, New Cache la Poudre Irrigation Company, Larimer County and community volunteers.