CPW okays NISP wildlife mitigation plan

Aerial view of the roposed Glade Reservoir site — photo via Northern Water

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice) via The Fort Morgan Times:

The plan that was approved Thursday addresses the impacts to fish and wildlife due to the development and water diversion associated with NISP. Brian Werner, spokesman for Northern Water, said Friday the approval is a significant advancement of the plan.

“This was a significant step, there’s no question about that,” he said. “This is a big box we can check off, but there are still a few boxes ahead of us.”

The plan now goes to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which could give its approval to the project as early as the Sept. 20 board meeting, and then to the governor’s desk for signature.

There are plenty more boxes to be checked after that; the Environmental Impact Statement could be finished by the spring of 2018, Army Corps of Engineers approval could come sometime in early 2019, and then it’s back to the state level for what’s called a 401 Water Quality Certification.

Northern’s Werner said it could be 2021 or 2022 before anybody starts moving dirt. He said a proposed law to shorten the length of time it takes to bring water projects online wouldn’t affect NISP..

According to a CPW statement released on Thursday, the agency has been talking with Northern Water about the concept of this project for the last decade. Northern Water, CPW and the Department of Natural Resources have been discussing the fish and wildlife mitigation and project in earnest since October 2015. After more than two years of discussions, Northern Water presented and released a public draft of the plan at the June commission meeting. Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist with CPW, said Thursday he thinks the plan “provides a reasonable solution for fish and wildlife mitigation.”

“We understand the public’s concern for the river which is why CPW staff has been engaged in discussions for close to a decade,” he said. “If we were not involved from the onset, the level of mitigation, enhancement and protection of the river corridor and aquatic habitat would not be such a large part of Northern’s plans.”

A significant part of the mitigation plan, Kehmeier said, is what’s called the “conveyance refinement” flow, or year-round baseline flow plan for the river. The conveyance refinement intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gate will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

“The conveyance flow program is significant to the fishery and aquatic life because it keeps water in the river on a year round basis,” Kehmeier said. “Overall, the conveyance flow will significantly benefit the aquatic life in the river during the low flow times of the year.”

As part Northern Water’s plan, a new reservoir will be created for water storage and recreation opportunities for the public. Northern Water has agreed to provide $3 million plus an additional $50,000 per year for CPW hatchery expansion so that the new Glade Reservoir can be managed as a recreational fishery. Additional fishing opportunities will benefit the local and Colorado economy, as the fishing industry generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually.

Northern Water has also agreed to provide wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements on the west side of the reservoir, including the purchase of 1,380 acres to protect the reservoir drainage area and big-game habitat from development. This is critical winter range habitat for a non-migratory elk herd.

From email from Northern Water:

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission unanimously approved the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan submitted by Northern Water for the Northern Integrated Supply Project at its meeting Thursday in Steamboat Springs.

The plan will protect the environment, fish and other wildlife in and near the Cache la Poudre River during and after NISP construction.

Read the CPW press release.

“This is a significant milestone for us,” said Jerry Gibbens, Northern Water’s NISP mitigation coordinator.

“We believe the plan is one of the most robust, if not the most robust, mitigation and enhancement plans ever proposed for a water project in Colorado,” said Northern Water General Manager Eric Wilkinson.

After years of discussion and multiple modifications to the proposed plan, CPW staff and commissioners expressed satisfaction with the updated plan.

“If you look at this as a package, we’ve hit a balance,” said Ken Kehmeier, CWC’s senior aquatic biologist. “This is a reasonable approach.”

Northern Water incorporated CPW’s recommendations into the revised plan to help minimize impacts to fish and wildlife habitat during all phases of the project. Northern Water also agreed to minimize the impacts of NISP operations on peak flows in the Poudre River, including adjusting water diversion rates gradually to avoid sudden changes in river flows.

The peak flow mitigation is a first-of-its-kind commitment to maintain peak flows in the Poudre River nearly every year for geomorphic and aquatic habitat purposes.

The refined conveyance portion of the plan “will get us water in the river 24/7, 365,” said Kehmeier.

This year-round baseline flow plan will be crucial for the river’s aquatic habitat and connectivity. The conveyance refinement flow is intended to eliminate existing dry-up points on a 12-mile stretch of the Poudre River through Fort Collins. Average winter flows at the Lincoln Street Gage will be nearly doubled compared with current levels.

In addition, wildlife habitat mitigation and enhancements will be made on the west side of Glade Reservoir. This includes the purchase of 1,380 acres that will be used to protect the reservoir drainage area from development and to preserve big-game habitat, including that of non-migratory elk.

Trout Unlimited also supports the NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan. David Nickum, executive director of Trout Unlimited said at the meeting Thursday, “We feel this is a solid mitigation plan.”

After a decade of conceptualization and two years of serious discussion, CPW’s approval was made possible by the dedicated efforts of both Northern Water and CPW staff.

“The NISP participants want to thank all who have worked on this mitigation plan, CPW and Northern Water staff, for developing a plan we all can stand behind,” said Chairman Chris Smith of the NISP participants committee. “The plan makes for a better Poudre River.”

Thanks to all NISP supporters who sent comments to the CPW prior to yesterday’s vote!

Read the Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan.

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

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