Horsetooth Reservoir levels dropping fast, marina closes slips

FORT COLLINS – The High Park Fire and drought conditions have combined to make this summer a bad one for business at Horsetooth Reservoir.

Water levels are dropping so fast that owners of about 300 boats docked at the Inlet Bay Marina at Horsetooth Reservoir will have to remove their vessels earlier than normal. The marina isn’t issuing refunds for spaces, for which it charges an average $2,200 per season.

“We can’t get the boats off the water fast enough before the marina hits the ground,” marina owner Glen Werth said. “Ten more feet and we’re on the ground.”

The reservoir was 34 feet below capacity Monday and could drop another 16 feet by the end of August, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Water levels are decreasing from a few inches to a foot daily as farmers and cities draw on their allotments from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Water levels are about 5 percent below average as farmers and cities contend with the ongoing drought, Werner said. The effects of the High Park Fire on the Poudre River also have led the city of Greeley to use more reservoir water than it normally would this time of year.

“The primary purpose is to have water for cities and farmers,” he said. “The secondary purpose, if you will, is recreation.”

Lower than average water levels won’t affect the average Horsetooth boater, who will be able to cruise the still-deep lake through September, said Mark Caughlan, Horsetooth district manager for Larimer County Natural Resources.

The marina, however, sits in a shallow bay, so it suffers more from low water levels than the rest of the lake, he said. Meanwhile, the reservoir, its boat ramps and camping remain open.

“There will still be six miles of water,” Caughlan said. “Horsetooth Reservoir will still be one of the largest reservoirs in the state.”

But less water means declining business for people like Werth. The marina normally shuts its doors in mid-October, he said.

The sluggish summer follows last year’s above-average snowpack, which led to record sales – $250,000 in boat rentals – at the marina. This summer, the marina probably will only capture 40 percent of those sales due to closures from the High Park Fire and more recently, the low water levels.

Water levels have “a great financial impact to the whole community,” Werth said.

Boaters, who pay from $1,900 to $2,600 per space, usually store their boats at the marina from spring through fall. The boats are usually large enough that owners cannot easily drive them back and forth from the lake.

Werth has asked people to remove their boats as soon as possible. Some owners will be able to leave their vessels in the marina parking lot for the next couple weekends.

Werth doesn’t know exactly when he will have to close his business for the season, but it will probably be soon.

“Everybody feels pretty good if we make Labor Day,” he said. “The fact that we’re out a month before Labor Day is a bad feeling.”

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