Drought news: Drought helps proponents of the NISP make their point about storage

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Here’s an in-depth look at the current state of the Northern Integrated Supply Project from Bobby Magill writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

…the 2012 drought has brought an often breathless sense of urgency to the debate over the need for the big alternative to damming up Poudre Canyon – a massive dam building project called NISP that would siphon water from the Poudre River and turn a valley on U.S. Highway 287 north of Fort Collins into Glade Reservoir – a lake bigger than Horsetooth Reservoir.

The drought proves that Northern Colorado still needs to find “buckets” in which to store water during wet years so the region can have a water savings account for years like this one, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, NISP’s mastermind and chief advocate…

“The current drought throughout Northern Colorado has brought home a stark reality — we need more water storage and soon! Without it, our children’s and grandchildren’s future will be at risk,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway wrote in the Windsor Beacon on July 17. He warned that a Colorado without NISP would be a Colorado with 100 fewer square miles of irrigated farmland in Weld and Larimer counties. It would be an economic and environmental disaster, he said…

“You can conserve only so much,” [State Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton] said. “When you conserve as much as humanly possible you don’t leave yourself room for a year (like) you have now.” The bottom line, she said, is that the Front Range isn’t going to stop growing, and all those new Windsorites, Erieans, and Frederickers must have access to more water.

Perhaps to illustrate the political peril surrounding NISP, Gov. John Hickenlooper‘s administration has no official position on the project except to say that it encourages water projects to have “multiple benefits.” NISP has those benefits, and the state hopes that the Army Corps has prioritized its review of the project, Hickenlooper wrote in a May letter to the Army Corps. “The governor has not endorsed NISP,” Hickenlooper’s special water policy advisor John Stulp said Thursday, adding, “There’s no question about when we have a drought that we start looking at what our options might be to help minimize the impacts of future drought.”[…]

As the river’s spring flows would be heavily reduced, more than 2,700 acres of native plant communities would be lost, the Army Corps concluded in its draft environmental review. The city of Fort Collins worries water quality in Horsetooth Reservoir could be degraded by a pipeline sending Glade water into Horsetooth Reservoir, possibly costing the city millions in capital costs to ensure the quality of its drinking water is maintained depending on how much water is transferred between reservoirs. And, in addition to harm city natural areas along the Poudre could suffer if the river is diminished, the city could have to spend in excess of $125 million to upgrade its water treatment facilities to protect the river…

…the era of big dam proposals on the Poudre River evaporated decades ago after Congress protected a long stretch of the river as wild and scenic in 1986, effectively canceling the Cache la Poudre Project, a proposal to build a chain of reservoirs throughout Poudre Canyon. A later plan to build a dam lower in the canyon was also scuttled…

…even Poudre River advocates are divided on NISP and Glade. “NISP is the natural outgrowth (of the fact that) we didn’t build a dam on the main stem at Grey Mountain,” said Bill Sears, president of Friends of the Poudre, who said the primary concern in the 1980s was to ensure that the values of a free-flowing river in Poudre Canyon trumped the value in storing water there. But now that the canyon is protected, “the need for water storage doesn’t go away,” he said. “So, where are you going to put it? “To their credit, Northern has scoured the area thoroughly,” he said. “I think they make their case for Glade, but until the Corps of Engineers makes their final ruling, I’m hesitant to make a hard and fast stand.”

From The Denver Post (Joey Bunch):

Tuesday’s forecast high of 92 degrees could be as cool as it gets in the city for a week, according to the National Weather Service office in Denver. The drought-parched Eastern Plains have a slight of rain, but “precipitation amounts will generally be light,” forecasters said Monday. Western Colorado could see slightly cooler temperatures this week, with highs in the low 80s in Steamboat Springs and Durango, and in the 70s in Aspen, according to the weather service.

All of Colorado remains in a severe, extreme or exceptional drought, according to the federal government’s U.S. Drought Monitor. After the hottest July on record in Denver, when temperatures were 4.7 degrees hotter than usual, August so far is 2.7 degrees above average.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

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