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From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):
Disagreement over the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project and its impact on the Poudre River has not mellowed with time.
Supporters of the project, which would build two new reservoirs, say NISP is needed to meet the future water needs of growing Northern Colorado communities.
Opponents say the project would drain and irreparably harm the river and its ecosystem, especially through Fort Collins.
Both sides turned out in force Wednesday for a public hearing in Fort Collins on a supplemental draft Environment Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project, just as they did when the document was initially released in 2008.
The issues haven’t changed over the years, several speakers noted.
Longtime Fort Collins resident and former City Council member Gina Janett said NISP is about growth, not about saving farmland from being bought and “dried up” by municipalities for water.
Development of irrigated farmland has gone on for decades and will continue, she said.
“The truth is, this project will provide water to buy and develop thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands, the willing sellers will be the farmers in the areas adjacent to the towns … and farms won’t be dried up and remain vacant but will be sold along with their water to developers to build new subdivisions and shopping centers.”
Proponents of the project said the “buy-and-dry” phenomenon is real and threatens to take thousands of acres out of agricultural production.
Bruce Gerk, a farmer from Julesburg, said water from NISP is needed to keep farms and cities viable in Colorado’s arid climate.
“If we are going to have a society that has the surety of water in this desert … then we have to control that resource and we need to do it in a responsible way,” Gerk said. “But we do need storage.”
Fifteen municipalities and water districts are participating in NISP through Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, also known as Northern Water.
The project would yield 40,000 acre feet of water a year to participants. An acre-foot is roughly 325,851 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.
The draft EIS looks at four alternatives for the project, including a “no action” alternative. The version of NISP preferred by Northern Water is Alternative 2, which would build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.
Glade would be a bit larger than Horsetooth Reservoir and inundate the valley through which U.S. Highway 287 currently runs from north of Ted’s Place to a point south of Owl Canyon Road.
Water would be drawn from the Poudre near the mouth of its canyon during times of peak flow, primarily May and June, to fill the reservoir with up to 170,000 acre feet. Seven miles of U.S. 287 would be rebuilt to the east.
Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and draw water from the South Platte River. It would hold about 45,000 acre feet of water.
The project would use new pipelines and existing canals to transfer water and meet requirements for returning water to the rivers.
Opponents of the project maintain the water that would be provided by NISP could be realized through conservation. Another concern is the ecological impact of reduced river flows as water is diverted into reservoirs.
Fort Collins resident Greg Speer said plans for reducing flows in the original draft EIS were “fatally flawed.” The supplement document is no better, he said.
“There are a lot of problems with NISP as well,” he said. “The bottom line is these flows still as projected are fatal for the Poudre.”
Representatives of several communities participating in NISP said they have taken steps to increase their conservation efforts. Dave Lindsay, town manager of Firestone, said the town had reduced its per capita water consumption by 13.5 percent.
“That’s substantial but it’s not enough,” he said.
To have a sustainable future, Colorado needs projects like NISP to store water that otherwise would flow out of the state, he said.
The EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for its production. The EIS process for NISP began in 2004.
Northern Water expects the final EIS to be issued next year, with a decision on the project coming in 2017.