EPA letter calls NISP impact statement insufficient — BizWest

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

In a 20-page letter sent last week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA listed a series of objections to the Supplemental Draft Economic Impact Statement released by the Corps in June regarding the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project. Echoing comments made in recent weeks by officials from Larimer County and the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley, the EPA said the Corps’ SDEIS lacked sufficient information to adequately predict the project’s potential impacts or to achieve the level of compliance with provisions of the Clean Water Act that the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District would need to get a federal permit to build and manage NISP…

“Although stressed and, in some instances currently degraded” by withdrawals for various uses, the Poudre and South Platte “river systems are of ecological, agricultural and recreational value to local and regional areas in Colorado and their aquatic and hydrologic functions are extremely difficult to replace,” wrote Martin Hestmark, assistant administrator in the Office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation for EPA’s Denver region, in the Sept. 3 letter to the Corps’ Denver regulatory office.

Hestmark’s letter detailed concerns about what the agency regards as insufficient Corps projections about river hydrology, water quality, permitted discharges, aquatic biological resources, wetlands and riparian areas, agricultural impacts and climate change, as well as proposed steps to mitigate those harmful impacts and possible alternatives.

The EPA gave the project an EO-2 grade. The EO, or environmental objection. “signifies that the EPA’s review identified the potential for the NISP project to cause or contribute to violations of water-quality standards or significant degradation that, without sufficient mitigation, could be substantive and would occur on a long-term basis,” Hestmark wrote. “The ‘2’ rating signifies that the EPA’s review identified the need for improved impact analysis and mitigation to adequately assess the potentially significant, long-term environmental impacts of the proposal. Given the importance of documenting the project’s consistency with requirements in the Clean Water Act, the planned Phase II water quality effects analysis and the related mitigation for those effects should include a formal and full public review in advance of the final EIS.”

In a letter dated Aug. 28, Northern Water general manager Eric Wilkinson wrote that “NISP participants have spent $12 million on the detailed SDEIS process. Under the direction of the Army Corps of Engineers, several expertly qualified independent consultants have thoroughly studied all aspects of NISP as reflected by the funding provided by the NISP participants to complete those studies. …

“As planned by the Corps, in addition to the river-water quality evaluation completed for the SDEIS, detailed water temperature and water quality analyses will be completed prior to the release of the final EIS” late this year or early in 2016, Wilkinson wrote, adding that the project has received more than 100 endorsements from around the state, including industry and economic-development groups, newspapers and the Larimer County commissioners.

Northern Water’s boundaries include about 880,000 people living on 1.6 million acres in portions of Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Weld, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties.

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The Environmental Protection Agency has qualms about the review process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, detailed in 20 pages of comments made public Thursday.

The EPA gave a rating of “Environmental Objections — Insufficient Information” to the Army Corps of Engineers’ supplemental draft environmental impact statement, which was subject to public comments until Sept. 3.

The “environmental objections” rating means the EPA has identified significant environmental impacts that the project must avoid. The “insufficient information” rating means the EPA found that the SDEIS doesn’t contain enough information to fully analyze the project’s environmental impacts.

The EPA’s comments aren’t necessarily binding, but the agency has veto power over the permitting process.

Both ratings are one step away from the worst the EPA can dole out. The EPA could have rated the project “environmentally unsatisfactory,” meaning it shouldn’t proceed as proposed, and “inadequate,” which would have required the Army Corps to release another supplemental draft.

The EPA’s rating is consistent with calls from the Fort Collins City Council, Save the Poudre and the Larimer County Board of Commissioners that the Army Corps conduct additional analysis of how NISP would affect water quality in the Poudre River, the primary source of water for a project that would create two reservoirs to provide 40,000 acre feet of water annually to 15 participants. Those include 11 cities/towns and four water districts. Towns include Windsor, Severance, Dacono, Eaton, Evans, Erie, Frederick, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan and Lafayette. The Fort Collins-Loveland Water District is a participant.

Essentially, the SDEIS includes a half-finished water quality analysis that predicts what kind of water quality effects might occur — temperature changes and increased concentration of certain sediments — but not the magnitude of those effects. The SDEIS says the full analysis will be in the final environmental impact statement, slated for release next summer.

NISP opponents took issue with the lack of full analysis because the Army Corps isn’t planning for a public comment period between the final EIS and its record of decision on the project.

In its comments, the EPA recommends the Army Corps publish the additional analysis before the final EIS and allow for a formal public comment period.

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