Thornton Water Project update

Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS
Cache la Poudre River watershed via the NRCS

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Thornton officials are developing plans to build a pipeline that would move water from north of Fort Collins to the city’s water treatment plant roughly 60 miles away.

A preferred route for the pipeline could be identified by early next year, said Mark Koleber, water project director for Thornton. Construction on the underground pipeline could begin in 2018…

Thornton water serves about 122,000 city residents plus another 16,000 in unincorporated Adams County, said Emily Hunt, the city’s water resources manager. The city’s population at “build out” is projected to be about 242,000.

The pipeline could deliver up to 14,000 acre feet of water per year to Thornton…

“That’s not how much we would be bringing down to the city on day one,” Koleber said. “That would be the total in the future.”

Thornton officials have finished an initial round of meetings with representatives of counties and cities that would be crossed by the pipeline to discuss its potential route and places to avoid.

The feedback will be used in developing alternative routes for the pipeline that will be presented to the cities and counties in the next round of meetings, Koleber said.

“Instead of drawing a line on the map and saying, ‘here is where it’s going,’ we want to work with them,” he said…

Thornton came looking for Poudre River water in the mid-1980s after checking into the availability of resources to meet its future needs in the Clear Creek, Boulder Creek and South Platte River basins.

The city bought about 100 farms, primarily in Weld County, for their water. Thornton wound up with about 21,000 acres in Northern Colorado and the rights to 30,263 acre feet of water.

The purchases left Thornton owning 47 percent of shares in Water Supply and Storage Co., which has diverted from the Poudre River to serve farmers since 1891, and 17 percent of the Jackson Ditch Co. The move stunned Northern Colorado residents, governments and water providers…

Thornton’s Farm Management keeps track of the city’s properties and leases the land to farmers who keep them in production. Over the years, some of the land has been sold to school districts in Weld County.

The Water Court decree requires Thornton to revegetate the farmland from which it removes water with dryland grasses. The non-irrigated farms must be certified by the Natural Resources Conservation Service as being self-sustaining native grasslands.

So far, Thornton has converted about 7,000 acres of its property to grasslands. Of the 1,590 acres on eight farms owned by the city in Larimer County, 721 acres have been converted to dryland farming.

A couple of converted farms northwest of Fort Collins are used to graze cattle. A dryland farm west of the Anheuser-Busch brewery is used to grow hay that is regularly harvested and sold to local farmers.

Just east of Interstate 25, the city owns farms that are still irrigated by Poudre River water and wells to produce a variety of crops, including sugar beets and corn.

“For the near term at least, more farms won’t be converted until Thornton grows and needs that water,” Koleber said.

The city expects to eventually to sell all of its properties in Larimer and Weld counties.

New owners could develop the land as housing or for commercial or industrial uses, depending on local zoning, Koleber said. They also could continue farming by bringing water from other sources to the land…

Water Supply and Storage Co. draws water from the Poudre River using a large diversion structure and headgate near Bellvue. The water is carried east to farms and small storage reservoirs by the Larimer County Canal.

The irrigation company’s draw won’t be changed by the pipeline, which will likely start at a reservoir north of Fort Collins, Koleber said.

“There won’t be any additional water taken out of the Poudre than what is currently being delivered out of the Poudre to the farms under Water Supply and Storage system,” he said…

Communities that potentially would be crossed by the pipeline, such as Larimer and Weld counties, Fort Collins, Timnath, Windsor, and points south, have varied concerns about the impact of constructing the pipeline, Koleber said.

Thornton will likely have to acquire 300 to 500 permits for project as it crosses under private and public property, roads and highways, rivers, streams and ditches, and railroad tracks…

The basics

For the city of Thornton’s proposed water pipeline:

•55 to 65 miles: Length depending on alignment

•48 inches: Potential diameter

•14,000 acre feet: Maximum annual amount of water it could deliver to Thornton

•$400 million: Preliminary cost estimate

•2025: When the pipeline could go online

Source: City of Thornton

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