Fort Collins City Council opposes NISP — Fort Collins Coloradoan

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to support a resolution stating the city “cannot support NISP as it currently described and proposed” in a supplemental draft environmental impact statement, or EIS.

The recommendation from city staff to conditionally oppose the massive water-storage project, which would draw water from the Poudre River, was based on what the city describes as inadequate information and scientific analysis in the 1,500-page EIS document.

The staff’s comments will be forwarded to the Army Corps of Engineers, which is developing the EIS for the project.

Council members said staff did an “excellent” job of analyzing the document and highlighting its deficiencies, such as describing the project’s impact to water quality if it were built.

John Stokes, director of the city’s Natural Areas Department, said the resolution “leaves the door open” for continuing to work with the Corps and NISP’s proponents, including the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and 15 participating municipalities and water districts…

Council tweaked the language of its resolution to hint that the city might support NISP if it were changed in the ways proposed by city staff. The modified alternative would have water drawn from the river farther downstream, leaving flows through Fort Collins relatively intact.

Rather than Glade Reservoir, water would be stored in a reservoir near Cactus Hill, near Ault.

The council’s vote came after members heard more than two dozen speakers, with opponents of NISP outnumbering supporters about five to one…

But the city plays a role in the state of the Poudre River, said Mike DiTullio, general manager of the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, which serves much of the southern third of Fort Collins.

The district is a participant in NISP, as is Windsor. Other participants are in Morgan, Weld and Boulder counties.

The city draws 12 million gallons a day from the river, he said.

“We’re all partners in this area, and Fort Collins is as much responsible for the condition of the river today as anybody else,” he said. “I hope you would take that into consideration …”[…]

The supplemental draft EIS looks at four alternatives for the project, including a “no action” alternative. The version of NISP preferred by Northern Water would build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins…

Differing views

Fort Collins city staff members and consultants who reviewed the supplemental draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project took issue with several elements of the 1,500-page document.

Below are some of their concerns as noted in a report to City Council and the response from Northern Water, which has proposed NISP in cooperation with 15 participating municipalities and water districts, in a letter to city officials.

Fort Collins: The absence of a water quality and stream temperature report that quantifies the water-quality impacts of the project. Many of the potential impacts to Fort Collins hinge on the report’s findings.

Northern Water: The draft document describes findings from the first phase of a two-phase water-quality analysis. The second phase will be included in the final EIS, and will include modeling for sensitive parameters such as water temperatures.

Fort Collins: The project has the potential for water quality degradation that could affect the city’s treatment facilities for drinking water and wastewater.

Northern Water: A study done by Black & Veatch, an international water and wastewater treatment engineering firm, concluded NISP would have negligible impacts to Fort Collins’ facilities.

Fort Collins: Flawed analyses and conclusions related to the project’s reduction of peak flows, which are likely to harm the environment and potentially increase flood risk.

Northern Water: NISP participants are developing a mitigation plan that would improve habitat along the river and guarantee flows during winter months.

Fort Collins: The project would have significant negative impacts to the recreation values of the river.

Northern Water: Glade Reservoir, which would be about the size of Horsetooth Reservoir, would offer residents increased recreational opportunities.

What’s next

Comments on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project are due Thursday. Comments may be emailed to nisp.eis@usace.army.mil.

Meanwhile the Larimer County Board of Commissioners reaffirmed their support for the project. Here’s a report from Nick Coltrain writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will receive a Larimer County advisory board’s concerns about the Glade Reservoir project, but county commissioners want to make sure their support of the proposal isn’t questioned.

Commissioner Steve Johnson rewrote a neutral cover letter to the Environmental and Science Advisory Board’s findings — the board’s chief concern was that it lacked all the analysis needed to fully weigh the Northern Integrated Supply Project — to say that the concerns shouldn’t jeopardize the project moving forward. The other two county commissioners signed off on the new letter Tuesday.

“We believe NISP to be very important to the future of Northern Colorado and we appreciate the input and concerns that many have shared,” Johnson wrote in the letter. “We believe that by working through these concerns collaboratively and constructively, NISP can and will be an even better project.”

All three commissioners have publicly voiced their support of the project to build Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which would add more than 215,000 acre-feet of water storage in Larimer and Weld counties.

From the Rocky Mountain Collegian (Rachel Musselmann):

NISP was originally proposed in 2008 by the Army Corps of Engineers and was unanimously opposed by city council. It was re-proposed this year with an updated environmental impact statement, and was opposed again, although conditionally…

Concerns about the program include economic loss due to lower river levels and water quality. According to Environment Colorado, the state of Colorado saw $18 billion spent on tourism in the past year, with over 16 million visitors, 662,601 fishing licenses sold and 83,683 registered boats.

Vivian Nguyen, an organizer with Environment Colorado, said in a press release that water levels and quality are central to Fort Collins culture.

“Our rivers and lakes are a big part of what makes summer fun,” Nguyen said. “There’s nothing quite like rafting down the Cache La Poudre River or fishing at Horsetooth Reservoir to cool off on a hot day.”

A lack of moderate water flow, called “flushing flows,” was also discussed by the council. Director of the Natural Resources Department John Stokes said he believes low water flow could be detrimental to the health of the river and lead to flooding.

“John Stokes is an incredible diplomat, and he is very kind to NISP, but as it stands the project is unacceptable,” Speer said. “It appears the updated environmental statement is not an improvement on the original.”

The council passed the motion to oppose NISP as it stands, under the condition that it may be revisited if modified.

Stokes said in his closing remarks he hopes for a more sustainable water use plan in the future.

“We need to be asking ourselves if a vision for Poudre River health is possible,” Stoke said.

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

While Fort Collins staff members have criticized Northern Integrated Supply Project for its potential harm to the Poudre River, the Larimer County commissioners have reiterated their support for the reservoir project.

“We believe NISP to be very important to the future of Northern Colorado, and we appreciate the input and concerns that many have shared,” the commissioners state in a letter written by Steve Johnson and approved Tuesday by all three elected officials.

“We believe that by working through … concerns collaboratively and constructively, NISP can and will be an even better project,” it states.

Their letter, which will be forwarded to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a report from the county’s Environmental and Science Advisory Board, stressed that Glade and Galeton reservoirs are needed to provide future water supply for a healthy and prosperous region and to prevent that needed water from being taken from farmers.

They compared NISP to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, on which the entire region relies today for a clean and abundant water supply.

“It’s impossible to imagine a healthy and prosperous Northern Colorado without it,” the commissioners’ letter states. “We should do no less for our children and their children.”

This is the opposite stance from the one released by Fort Collins staff members, who reported extreme concerns about what the project would do to the Poudre River. Echoing the concerns of long vocal opponents of the project, city staff members worry in the report that the project would degrade habitat, affect stream flow and even increase the potential for flooding.

These factors would kill the river and the community’s economy, including recreation, tourism and other businesses that are tied to the river corridor, according to opponents of the project, including three residents who spoke before the commissioners Tuesday. Also mentioned was the millions of dollars invested in natural areas and habitat along the river.

“The expected harmful impacts upon the Poudre River … are significant,” said Gina Janett, Fort Collins resident, calling the Poudre a “beloved resource.”[…]

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is wrapping up public comment on its supplemental draft environmental impact statement. Between this step and the final decision, the Corps has said it will complete additional technical analysis on stream flow and on mitigations to other concerns.

When that happens, those reports, too, should be open for public comment, according to the report created the Larimer County’s Environmental and Science Advisory Board…

The county commissioners forwarded that report to the federal agency despite two of the three commissioners (Tom Donnelly and Lew Gaiter) saying they did not want to cause more unnecessary delays in the final decision on NISP.

Donnelly said he is comfortable that the experts from the corps will complete the plan and make the right decision without public comment that could delay the permitting decision.

“This isn’t about whether you support the reservoir or not support the reservoir,” Donnelly said. “This is about if the reservoir gains support, this is what we need to do to mitigate these issues.”

“It’s a technical matter, it’s not a political matter,” he said. “We should leave the technical things, the scientific things in the hands of the experts.”

The third member of the board, Johnson, agreed that the remaining environmental concerns regarding the proposed reservoir project can be addressed by Northern Water. However, he noted that the project has been underway for eight years, so what is another 30-day to 90-day comment period.

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