@NorthernWater proposes $53 million for mitigation for NISP

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

[Northern Water] unveiled a $53 million fish and wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan for the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which proposes to funnel Poudre water into two reservoirs for 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts. Among the involved communities are Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District. The city of Fort Collins is not one of the entities that would receive water from the project.

Northern Water’s mitigation plan includes strategies to preserve some of the Poudre’s peak flows, protect wildlife habitat near the project’s larger proposed reservoir, improve the river channel and keep more water than originally planned in the river through Fort Collins.

But that’s not enough, opponents say. Project opponent Save the Poudre argues the Poudre sorely needs the high springtime flows that NISP would use to fill its reservoirs…

Northern Water project manager Jerry Gibbens, who is leading NISP mitigation efforts, highlighted four key parts of the plan for those who don’t get through all 144 pages of the document.

Keep some water in the Poudre through Fort Collins: NISP aficionados have heard of this one. Northern Water plans to run 14,000 acre feet of diverted water down a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre in Fort Collins before recapturing it for storage. The goal is to prevent dry-up spots on the Poudre in Fort Collins and preserve flows between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.

Preserve some peak flows: Basically, Northern Water would hold off on Poudre diversions for up to three peak flow days each year, depending on whether conditions are wet, dry or about average.

During wet conditions when the reservoirs are full, Northern Water would divert no water from the Poudre during the three peak flow days. On average years, Northern Water would aim for up to three high-flow days with no diversions.

“During dry years when we’re trying to get every drop, we probably won’t have any opportunity to bypass (diversions),” Gibbens said.

Improve the river channel: The plan earmarks money for a channel and habitat improvement plan along the river. Northern Water plans to focus on 2.4 miles specifically: 1.2 miles within a reach of the Poudre from the Poudre Valley Canal to the intersection of Highway 14 and Highway 287, and 1.2 miles in the Watson Lake area north of Bellvue. Northern would fund channel reconstruction and habitat improvements. Northern also identified five sites for riparian vegetation improvement.

Conserve wildlife habitat near Glade Reservoir: Northern Water plans to put a conservation easement on land it owns around the proposed location of Glade Reservoir, the project’s larger reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Northern plans to buy more land in the area for the same purpose. A conservation easement would protect the land from being sold for urban development, Gibbens said.

The plan also addresses water quality monitoring, water temperature mitigation, fish and bird habitat and a host of other issues. Check out northernwater.org for the full plan – but do it sooner rather than later. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is accepting public comments on the plan for 60 days, until early August.

CPW will hold an open house to talk to the public about the plan at The Ranch in Loveland at 4-7:30 p.m. June 27. Later this summer, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission might suggest changes to the mitigation plan…

Gibbens said NISP won’t hamper the Poudre’s peak flows during about 82 percent of years, either because of Northern’s plans to sometimes preserve peak flows or because Northern Water’s water right is out of priority during peak flow days. Colorado water rights operate on a first-come, first-served basis, so those who own older water rights get to use the water before those who own newer water rights.

Still, NISP would result in lower average springtime flows on the Poudre, according to Northern Water’s projections. Project proponents point out it would also increase low flows during the fall and winter.

“We still will have diversions for water supply purposes, but we feel that this plan really allows those water supply withdrawals and environmental needs of the river to coexist and actually make the river a better river with the project than without it,” Gibbens said.

If approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NISP will yield 40,000 acre-feet of water per year to participants. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.

NISP participants include Windsor, Eaton, Firestone, Frederick, the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Severance, Lafayette, Erie, Evans, Left Hand Water District, Morgan County Quality Water District, Central Weld County Water District and Dacono.

Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) map July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

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