NISP EIS delayed until spring

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

…the modern struggle over Glade Reservoir — which would divert Poudre water into a lake larger than Horsetooth Reservoir — might not inspire a musket-bearing militia, it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and has already sparked two complex environmental studies and angered Poudre River advocates.

Glade Reservoir may be just a plan on paper, but some say it is key to keeping Northern Colorado from drying up in the next few decades. Others contend that the highly controversial reservoir will damage the Poudre, not to mention swallow up acres of land, displace a federal highway and transfigure northern Larimer County’s landscape.

But release of a long-awaited environmental study that could pave the way for construction of two new Northern Colorado reservoirs — including Glade — has been postponed until next spring. The delay is the latest stall in an already yearslong battle over expanding Colorado’s water storage.

“We need this project and we need it soon,” said Carl Brouwer, who has been spear-heading the reservoir project, known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project, for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “We need this project today.”..

Now, the study won’t be released until possibly spring 2015, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner. That means the plan that would add millions of gallons to Northern Colorado’s reservoirs to stave off inevitable water loss remains years from realization. Meanwhile, Front Range cities are forced to lease water rights from agriculture in order to make up for water shortages, which continue to grow each year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been studying the environmental impacts of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, for more than a decade and, in 2008, began a second study into the project after public outcry demanded it. The supplemental study has now taken more time to complete than the first draft released in 2008.

But the future of NISP is not entirely dependent on the results of that study — the project is tied to the fates of several other proposed reservoirs in Northern Colorado, all of which are snarled in years of environmental study.

The Army Corps would not confirm that it had officially changed the deadline for the next environmental impact statement but said it is “continuing to work through a deliberative process on the NISP schedule,” said spokeswoman Maggie Oldham.

But those in the Colorado water community believe the study won’t be released in December or January, as the Corps initially planned. The delay is likely due to the overlap of multiple projects along the Poudre River and their different deadlines…

Regardless, the way forward for NISP will not be simple, as the project’s success depends on the approval of two other potential reservoirs, Halligan and Seaman, both still years away from realization, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute.

Northern Water has also yet to acquire all the land necessary to build Glade Reservoir, which would also require the relocation of 7 miles of U.S. Highway 287 north of Fort Collins. But all other elements needed to pull NISP together still await approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Waskom thinks delays on the NISP study can be explained by the complex overlapping of the two water storage projects and a series of staggered deadlines for each.

“You can see why they are having trouble,” he said Tuesday. But while the Corps grapples with balancing decisions on NISP and another reservoir project, the gap between Colorado’s water availability and water use continues to grow, said Waskom.

Decades of challenges

While Brouwer believes he can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for Glade, there are myriad obstacles that stand between the project and completion. In addition to years of environmental studies and public comment, Wockner has vowed to prevent the construction of Glade at any cost by invoking the public right to challenge Army Corps decisions in court.

All these things have kept Glade and NISP wrapped up in years of controversy, to the point that proponents of the project have joked they will never see it completed in their lifetime.

But Colorado might not have a lifetime to wait for more water, according to draft versions of the Colorado Water Plan completed this summer.

The state is on track to be short 500,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 — enough to cover half a million football fields in one foot of water. The Fort Collins-Loveland Water Conservation District has already passed its water shortage date: By 2005, the district was short 1,100 acre-feet of water, an amount that could grow to 7,500 acre-feet by 2050, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The NISP project is projected to bring an extra 40,000 acre feet of water to Northern Colorado, to satisfy shortages in cities from Fort Collins to Fort Morgan.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project, of which Glade is a part, is just one of a few solutions offered by the in drafts of the state water plan for the South Platte River Basin, the most populous in the state. While Northern Water can’t begin work until the Army Corps finishes the supplemental study the project remains in limbo.

“We have our good days and our bad days, in terms of ‘is this ever going to end,’ ” said Werner.

The supplemental environmental study will not be an end to the NISP process, but instead just another step in many years’ worth of approvals and studies, not to mention potential court challenges from groups such as Wockner’s. Thanks to a 1980s purchase, Northern Water owns roughly 75 percent of the land needed to build Glade, but the district has yet to acquire land from Colorado State University, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, said Werner.

The cost of that land acquisition is unknown, Werner said. But the entire project has been given an estimated price tag of $490 million.

Glade Reservoir would begin just north of Ted’s Place, a Country Store gas station at the junction of U.S. Highway 14 and Highway 287. The reservoir, larger than Horsetooth, would fill 7 miles of highway with Poudre River water, and swallow land north of Ted’s Place and south of Owl Canyon. Only a handful of private property owners will be displaced Werner thinks, but the new reservoir would likely transform a few adjacent properties into lakeside real estate…

Meanwhile, the inevitability of greater water shortages looms. An executive order from Gov. John Hickenlooper required that the state start preparing a state water plan to reconcile water conflicts between the Western Slope and the Front Range, as well as plan for the next several decades. But that plan, the first draft of which is due to the governor by Dec. 10, will also be subject to a year of public comment.

In Fort Collins, which has been experiencing water shortages for almost 10 years, the gap between water needs and availability will grow steadily every year unless something is done.

“The gap only grows if the projects don’t get built,” said Waskom.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Plans for two new reservoirs in northern Colorado are facing more delays as a key federal review is not expected until next spring. The delay is the most recent turn in a long battle over expanding Colorado water resources.

The release of a long-awaited environmental study that could pave the way for construction of the two new reservoirs could be postponed until next spring, according to advocates and opponents.

The plan by the Northern Colorado Conservancy District to build Glade and Galeton reservoirs in northern Colorado was supposed to take a step forward this winter with the release of a second environmental impact statement. The statement has been postponed twice.

The reservoirs are part of North Colorado Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project to create 40,000 acre-feet of new supplies.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been studying the environmental impacts of the NISP for more than a decade.

In addition to the two reservoirs, the project calls for two pump plants, pipelines and improvements to an existing canal, according to a Northern Water summary.

Northern Water distributes water to portions of eight counties in northern Colorado and a population of 860,000 people.

In 2008, the corps began the second study into the project after public outcry demanded it. The supplemental study has now taken more time to complete than the first draft, released in 2008.

The Corps of Engineers said it is reviewing the schedule for the new report, but no official date has been set.

The study will not end the process, but instead is just another step in the approvals, studies and potential court challenges.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here.

“What good is a [#COWaterPlan] that does not build a consensus on the most difficult issues?” — Eric Kuhn

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Colorado is looking for 163 billion gallons of water, and a long-awaited state plan for finding it calls for increased conservation, reusing treated wastewater and diverting more water from the Western Slope. The plan, ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper to deal with a massive projected water shortfall, is about to be unveiled. Rising demand from population growth and industry, if continued through 2050, threatens to leave 2.5 million people parched.

But water suppliers east and west of the Continental Divide are clashing over details that the draft plan does not specify.

Those on the water-poor east side, where Colorado’s 5.3 million population is concentrated, prioritize diverting more western water under the mountains to sustain Front Range growth. Those on the west side oppose new diversions — and want this reflected in the plan.

“The state plan is silent on the issues the West Slope has raised,” said Colorado River District manager Eric Kuhn, a longtime advocate for western communities. “What good is a plan that does not build a consensus on the most difficult issues? What good is a plan if it does not encourage discussion and resolution of the most difficult issues?”

The core problem, Kuhn said, is that “all the water within 50 miles of the Continental Divide is already spoken for.”

If there’s nothing more to divert, said Eric Wilkinson, manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, one of the major Front Range suppliers, then irrigated agriculture will suffer.

Considering the importance of agriculture and food production, surely there’s more water to be found, Wilkinson said — water that could be removed from the Colorado River Basin before it flows to California, Nevada and Arizona.

“It is smart to use the available resources that we have,” Wilkinson said. “If you don’t pursue all the alternatives, whatever you don’t procure from conservation … is going to come out of agriculture dry-up.”

For 18 months, state planners have been trying to meld visions from eight river basins into the state plan.

The draft plan that the Colorado Water Conservation Board is expected to unveil by Dec. 10 does not specify where Western Slope water would be found. Instead, it focuses on building consensus among people in different river basins and offsetting environmental harm.

“There’s going to have to be some quantum of water that comes from other basins,” said CWCB director James Eklund. “Our history has been clashing over the Divide. The reality is the Western Slope is seeing available water in wet years for the Front Range to bring over. They are OK with that as long as there is mitigation or compensatory storage.

“To say there’s no problem over water would be pretty myopic. But I definitely think this plan boiled down is about collaboration and balance. Most people I talk with, even in the intense water community, view themselves as Coloradans first and members of river basins second.”

Every other state in the water-scarce West has produced a state water plan.

Colorado also stands out because it is the starting point for rivers, which carry 16 million acre-feet of water a year — two-thirds of it designated under court-enforced agreements to leave the state. (An acre-foot of water is generally believed to be enough for two families of four for a year.)

When Hickenlooper ordered creation of the state plan to deal with the projected shortfall, he called further dry-up of irrigated farmland unacceptable.

State water planners project a shortfall by 2050 of 163 billion gallons (about 500,000 acre-feet), which is enough to fill two Dillon Reservoirs, or double the amount used by the 1.3 million residents served by Denver Water.

State planners also estimate that, if population growth and industrial development continue at today’s pace, the South Platte River Basin that contains metro Denver will lose up to 424,000 acres of irrigated farmland — 40 percent of the current agricultural base.

Colorado’s challenge has been dealing with a difficult imbalance: 80 percent of water resources are concentrated on the west side of the Continental Divide where fewer than 20 percent of the people reside. Front Range water suppliers have relied on massive engineering projects using 24 pipelines and ditches that move 500,000 acre-feet of water a year — the size of the whole projected shortfall — west to east under the mountains.

Whether to try to divert more water looms as the most difficult issue.

Denver Water has been working to move additional water it owns in the upper Colorado River Basin to an expanded reservoir west of Boulder. Beyond that project, utility officials “are not in the near future looking at any new trans-mountain diversion projects,” said Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, who previously served as director of natural resources for the state.

Lochhead views Colorado’s projected shortfall in the context of climate-change impact on water around the West and legal obligations to deliver water to other states. An interstate agreement [Colorado River Compact splits 15 million acre-feet of water presumed to be in the Colorado River between upper basin and lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

“Our ability to develop additional water projects from the Colorado River is dependent on the security of that supply,” he said. “The problem is that we have an obligation to deliver to the lower basin a certain amount of water. So we get leftovers. And with climate change, the upper basin has to bear the hydrological risk of what is left over. We need a way to quantify that and work with the lower basin to provide security on how we are going to be sure we have that amount of water before we can move forward with any kind of big new project.”

State officials held public hearings as required by lawmakers on the draft plan. They say they will hold more before finalizing the plan by December 2015.

“Our need to do this is now. We’ve seen sustained and systemic drought and record flooding,” Eklund said. “We need to make sure we are as agile and forward-thinking as a state as we can be.”

Silt Water Conservancy District sucessfully de-Bruces to fund infrastructure projects

Silt Creek
Silt Creek

From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heidi Rice):

The Silt Water Conservancy Distict was successfully de-Bruced with unofficial election results reporting 1,943 in favor (58.5 percent) over 1,381 against (41.4 percent). The approval will mean the district will now be able to collect money for repair and replacement of irrigation equipment for Rifle Gap Reservoir and Harvey Gap Reservoir. The measure also will allow for improvements to irrigation ditches for farmers north of the Colorado River in the Rifle and Silt areas.

“We just want to thank all the voters. A lot of people worked hard to get this passed,” said Kelly Lyon, president of the Silt Water Conservancy District. “This should really help our district. Now we need to go to work and get these things done.”

The district had stressed that de-Brucing the district would not increase property or sales tax, but would give them access to government grant money to help pay for repairs. The district has been run under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or “TABOR,” which forces Colorado governments from the state to school districts to face restrictions in raising their budgets.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.