West Slope lawmakers to Front Range: No more West Slope water until you use up your own — @COindependent

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Seven Western Slope Republican lawmakers have sent Gov. John Hickenlooper a message: No more water for the Front Range until it better uses what it already has.

The message, delivered through a Feb. 4 letter obtained by The Colorado Independent, is directed mostly at just one area of the state: Denver and the northern Front Range.

For the past 100 years, as the Front Range population and the state’s Eastern Plains agricultural economy have grown, water from the Western Slope has been diverted to the Front Range through a series of tunnels built through the mountains, known as transmountain diversions. But Western Slope water watchers are getting increasingly nervous about the potential for more of those diversions, pointing to a growing need for water in their area for agriculture and recreation and to fulfill multi-state contracts that require Colorado to send Western Slope water to other states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada.

The Front Range must do a better job of storage and conservation before turning to more diversions, the lawmakers wrote. To that end, they implored the governor to make sure any water projects that receive state funds match criteria outlined in the Colorado water plan. The plan calls for the state to conserve at least 400,000 acre-feet of water and to build storage, without specific projects identified, for another 400,000 acre-feet of water. One acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water used by two families of four per year.

“We would ask for the consistent – and transparent – use of those criteria” when looking at new water projects that would divert water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope, they wrote.

The letter is a follow-up to one sent in November 2015, just before the water plan was finalized. That four-page document said the water plan “cannot place Front Range development interests over the autonomy, heritage and economy of Western Slope communities. Nor can the Plan allow the protection of agriculture in one area of state [sic] to come at the expense of agriculture in other areas of the state.”

The water plan is intended to address a looming water shortage of one million acre-feet of water by 2050, when the state’s population is expected to nearly double from about 5 million to more than 10 million people.* The lawmakers worked with the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments’ water committee on both letters, said Torie Jarvis, the staff person to the committee. She said the letters are primarily directed at the South Platte Basin, which covers most of the northern Front Range, the northern half of the Eastern Plains and the Denver metro area.

Jarvis said the letter is not about current water projects underway in the region that also plan to use water from the Western Slope, most notably two reservoir projects under the control of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

“We have good agreements in place” on those projects, Jarvis told The Colorado Independent.

The issue also is the water plan itself. “It imagines what a new diversion would look like,” Jarvis said, which means a focus on development and growth rather than on conservation.

The 2015 letter was signed by eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom are on the 2017 version (two of the 2015 signees are no longer in the legislature). The five Democratic lawmakers who also represent the Western Slope were not included. Also not included: Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush of Steamboat Springs, a member of an interim water resources review committee that led a statewide review of the water plan. Mitsch-Bush said she had not been asked to sign it but would have, based on its description. Jarvis said the Republican lawmakers decided who should sign the letter, adding that she believes all of the Western Slope Democrats would have signed it.

James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which authored the water plan, said this week that the letter “underscores the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan and demonstrates that implementation will be a collaborative effort.”

He also noted that an annual water projects bill that was introduced in the state House last week would focus on implementing key parts of the state water plan and would address water needs in every part of the state.

*Correction: to note that Colorado’s population in 2050 is expected to be more than 10 million people.

Will Fort Collins voters get a chance to weigh in on NISP?

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

After hearing dozens of public comments, and having their email inboxes flooded with input, the council voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to take a place at the table with the Northern Water Conservancy District, the lead proponent of NISP and representative of 15 backers of the project. NISP would include two reservoirs fueled by the Poudre River, including one near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon.

Council members were also clear that they didn’t view opening discussions as giving in to the project. Councilman Bob Overbeck — the only vote against it — added to the Tuesday resolution that the council outright opposed the project in 2008 and voted in 2015 not to support the project in its current form. The word “negotiate” and phrase “mutual interests,” referring to the city and Northern Water, were also struck from the resolution.

Nonetheless, Gary Wockner, of Save the Poudre, said his group is looking at putting the question of whether the city should support NISP before city voters…

Advocacy group Save the Poudre conducted an opinion poll, via 556 automated phone calls, which results found an overwhelming amount of opposition to the project among city voters.

About 50 of the 60 or so people who made public comment Tuesday opposed the resolution or NISP outright…

John Stokes, head of the city’s natural areas department, said Wednesday staff was happy to get more direction from council, in terms of having discussions with Northern Water regarding city concerns and mitigation proposals. He was also clear that staff didn’t view it as authority to make any decisions regarding the city’s support or efforts of NISP.

“Council makes the decisions about all of this, and, clearly, if we’re going to make any progress on this, it needs to be with council on board,” he said…

Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water, said his group was grateful to be able to have more robust conversations about NISP with the city. There have been some talks with the city about its concerns, but it always felt “sort of like walking on egg shells,” without formal backing, Werner said.

He noted Northern Water and its constituents have already shifted plans to address concerns about low-flow periods of when the Poudre River might dry up by including promises of base flows. Werner cited the city’s softening positions between 2008 and 2015 as proof of Northern Water’s efforts.

“They’ve gone from an almost hell no, to a we’re not happy right now, but maybe make some changes and come back with another proposal,” Werner said. “… I would argue that shows we’ve been listening to Fort Collins as we’ve been trying to craft and draft this plan.”

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Gabriel Go):

Update: The council adopted an amended version of the resolution with a 6-1 vote. Bob Overbeck was the only dissenting vote.

The Fort Collins City Council discussed Resolution 5217, which would begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a public agency which provides water to northeastern Colorado, on Tuesday. The discussion revolved around a controversial proposal known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The NISP is a proposed project meant to deliver 40,000 acres of water a year to 15 Northern Colorado communities. While the city itself would not a participate in the NISP, a portion of southeastern Fort Collins would partake in the project.

The NISP would consist of three reservoirs along the Cache La Poudre River, including a large reservoir to the north of the city known as Glade Reservoir which would divert over 1,200 cubic feet per second of the river’s peak flows. This would reduce annual river flows by 20 percent and by 30 percent during the peak flow months of May, June and July, a staff report said.

However, the project is not without opposition. According to non-profit organization Save the Poudre, the NISP/Glade Reservoir project would cause immense ecological damage to the Poudre River.

According to the organization’s website, the project’s aim of reducing peak flows would prevent the river from cleaning itself of algae, endangering the Poudre’s water quality as well as the habitat of a number of aquatic plants and animals.

The staff report also acknowledges that “it is likely the health of the river will be negatively impacted by NISP, especially without well-planned and extensive mitigation actions.” The report states that although the river is able to support a number of ecological systems, the Poudre is approaching “critical thresholds below which the river’s health and resilience will suffer.”

The city’s Natural Resources Director John Stokes recommended the City Council to begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. In particular, he recommended to negotiate with the public agency, saying it would be the best alternative outcome.

If the city were to forego consulting with Northern Water the project would be left to federal and state agencies who would not consider the NISP’s impacts on Fort Collins.

Close to 40 Fort Collins citizens approached the council for public comment, some urging the council to negotiate with Northern Water and some voicing their reservations.

“I’ve noticed a marked decline in the river corridor already… I see virtually nothing anymore,” said one Fort Collins citizen about the current state of the Poudre.

The city owns around 60 percent of the river’s corridor and the city has already engaged in a number of projects with regards to the Poudre, such as clean-ups and the creation of trails.

Negotiations with Northern Water does not mean that the city has already agreed to the NISP’s construction. In order to construct the reservoirs a permit must be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who must assess the environmental impacts of the project.

The NISP has been in the federal permitting process for 12 years and thus requires many state and federal permits in order for the project to push forward. In 2015 the council passed a resolution which stated “the City Council cannot support NISP as it is currently described and proposed (as of 2015).”

@FortCollinsGov NISP meeting recap

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

City staff members have proposed beginning in-depth discussions with Northern Water to explore areas of “mutual interest” and possibly negotiate an agreement. City Council would have to approve any agreement, if one were reached.

Discussions with Northern Water, if approved by council, would be lengthy and touch on “endlessly complicated” details, said John Stokes, director of the city’s Natural Areas Department.

Fort Collins is not among the 15 municipalities and water districts participating in NISP, though as a stakeholder it has been involved with the project’s permitting process for many years.

In 2008 and 2015, the city submitted comments critical of the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP.

The Corps and other state and federal agencies will be involved in determining mitigation measures for NISP, which would reduce flows on the Poudre through the city 20 percent a year on average and 30 percent during peak flows in spring.

Experience tells the city it cannot rely on other entities to look out for the best interests of Fort Collins in assessing the negative impacts of NISP through town, Stokes said during a recent city-sponsored open house.

“They are not likely, in our view, to require mitigation at a level that we think would be important to the city if we didn’t negotiate,” Stokes said…

The final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project is expected to be released by the Corps later this year. A record of decision on whether the project may be permitted is expected in 2018.

If the project is permitted, construction could begin in 2025, city officials say.

Discussions and negotiations between the city and Northern Water would be outside of the permitting process, said John Urbanic, project manager with the Corps of Engineers…

Mitigation of environmental impacts are part of the permitting process. It’s possible a mitigation agreement between the city and Northern Water could be included in the permit, Urbanic stated in an email to the Coloradoan.

Whether an agreement would facilitate a permit being issued “depends on what’s in the agreement,” he said.

Fort Collins’ focus regarding NISP is on the area crossed by the river between the mouth of the Poudre Canyon and Interstate 25. The city owns several natural areas along the river corridor.

Stokes said the city has many concerns about the impacts of lowering baseline and peak flows on the Poudre, including:

  • Reduced water quality and additional stresses on city water treatment facilities
  • Reductions in the health of the river’s ecology and biological resources
  • Reductions in the river’s ability to convey flood water
  • Diminished recreation and aesthetics
  • Specifics of what city staff would seek from Northern Water through negotiations and what it might have to do in return have not been determined, Stokes said.

    About 200 people attended a city-sponsored open house on the issue Monday at the Lincoln Center. Longstanding opponents and proponents of NISP were on hand, stating familiar positions.

    Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

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

    From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided Tuesday to not object to a plan to move the proposed Galeton Reservoir from its original site.

    Galeton is part of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would use water from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers to irrigate, provide domestic water, and bolster the Poudre through Fort Collins.

    Northern Water originally planned to build the reservoir on the southeast side of Colorado Highway 14 near Galeton, but in the 10 years since the project was proposed Nobel Energy has drilled almost two dozen oil and gas wells in the area. Those wells would have to be capped, at tremendous cost to Northern, in order to use the site for a reservoir.

    Northern has applied to have the water rights instead transferred to land on the northwest side of the highway.

    LSP board member Brad Stromberger, who also is on the Northern board of directors, said the Berthoud-based water district is “in the design stages” on the project already and plans to begin construction on the reservoir within about five years.

    “This is a big project,” he said. “This is a new water source we need.”

    The LSP’s water lawyer, Kim Lawrence, had recommended that the district file an objection to Northern’s request. Such objections are commonplace primarily to get access to crucial engineering and financial information about water projects. LSPWCD has previously gone on the record as being entirely in support of NISP, and during Tuesday’s meeting the district’s manager, Joe Frank, cautioned that objecting to the change in the Galeton application could be used by NISP opponents to claim that the lower South Platte doesn’t support NISP.

    “We could, potentially, see about 10,000 acre feet of return flow per year from this project,” Frank told the board. “There might be a day here and there when they would take water that might have come down (the South Platte River) but the return flows will more than make up for that.”

    After a brief conference call with Lawrence, the board decided to not take any action on the Galeton Reservoir…

    The board did, however, vote to file an objection to an application by the Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority to pipe 1,500 acre feet of water from the South Platte River into the off-channel Binder Reservoir, also known as the Brighton Lateral Reservoir. ACWWA wants to use the water to exchange with other water entities along the river. Lawrence’s recommendation to the LSP was to file an objection because the proposed project “affects many (irrigation) ditches in this reach.”

    The “E-Waternews” is hot off the presses from @Northern_Water

    The Bear Lake SNOTEL (Big Thompson watershed) site's normal peak is 18.6 inches of snow water equivalent. As of Feb. 15, the site was reporting 20.4 inches of SWE. This is above the normal peak, with two additional snow accumulation months to go.
    The Bear Lake SNOTEL (Big Thompson watershed) site’s normal peak is 18.6 inches of snow water equivalent. As of Feb. 15, the site was reporting 20.4 inches of SWE. This is above the normal peak, with two additional snow accumulation months to go.

    Click here to read the news. Here’s an excerpt:

    Snow, snow and more snow

    Thank you, January. Numerous storms last month provided much-needed precipitation in Colorado’s mountains. As a result, all eight of the watersheds monitored by Northern Water currently have above-average snow water content, and the most probable streamflow forecasts are also well above average.

    As of Feb. 14, statewide snowpack was 147 percent of normal. And the two major river basins Northern Water monitors for its forecasts, the Upper Colorado and South Platte basins, were at 147 and 142 percent of normal, respectively.

    Beginning each February, Northern Water’s Water Resources Department releases monthly snowpack and streamflow forecasts. The forecasts provide:

  • Snow water content comparisons in the eight watersheds Northern Water monitors
  • April through July maximum, minimum and most probably streamflow forecasts
  • C-BT Project storage also remains above average for this time of year. On February 1, active storage in the project was 530,331 acre-feet, or 121 percent of normal.

    #Colorado’s dam safety examined

    Horsetooth Reservoir
    Horsetooth Reservoir

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    The good news: All of Larimer County’s biggest dams, including the dams at Horsetooth Reservoir, have emergency action plans designed to prepare authorities for emergencies like what happened in California this weekend.

    And the bad: A small percentage of Colorado’s higher-hazard dams don’t have emergency plans. Failure could put human lives, environment and property at risk.

    It’s a problem highlighted nationwide this week after the Oroville Dam, located about 75 miles north of Sacramento, suffered a potential failure of its emergency spillway. While the dam itself remained intact, erosion damage to the spillway raised the possibility of the structure failing and unleashing an uncontrolled torrent of water.

    This situation is unlikely to occur at any of the Horsetooth Reservoir dams, according to officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Water. That’s partially because the structures underwent an $85 million renovation in the early 2000s. The modernization project included stripping the dams’ faces and adding a roughly 16-foot-thick filter of sand and gravel. Each of the dams was also bolstered for extra strength.

    The lower risk here is also a question of magnitude, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner, who noted that the amount of water released through the Oroville Dam in 24 hours is more than Horsetooth Reservoir could hold at full capacity.

    Perhaps most importantly, Horsetooth Reservoir’s relationship to its dams and water sources is different from Lake Oroville’s relationship with the Oroville Dam and the Feather River, which the dam impounds to form the lake. No river runs into Horsetooth Reservoir; gravity transports water there from other reservoirs in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    The Bureau of Reclamation in June 2016 finished a comprehensive review of Horsetooth Reservoir’s dams, which include the Horsetooth, Dixon Canyon, Soldier Canyon and Spring Canyon dams. All passed inspection.

    Larimer County is home to 136 of Colorado’s 1,737 dams, according to 2013 data from the National Inventory of Dams. Twelve of those dams are very large…

    Each of Larimer County’s high-volume dams received a satisfactory inspection rating at its most recent inspection, and none is used for flood control. All have emergency action plans, which include critical information like emergency contacts, details about the dam and an inundation map that shows where flooding will occur at different water levels…

    Of Colorado’s 1,737 dams, about 25 percent, or 425, are considered “high hazard,” meaning one or more people are likely to die if the dam fails. About 96 percent of those dams have emergency action plans, significantly higher than the national rate of 69 percent.

    An additional 19 percent of Colorado dams are considered a “significant hazard,” which means their failure would result in possible loss of human life and likely significant property or environmental destruction. About 92 percent of those dams have emergency action plans.

    Inspection of Colorado dams falls to two agencies. The state’s dam safety division evaluates dams owned locally or by private and state agencies, and the Bureau of Reclamation monitors federally owned dams.

    @fortcollinsgov plans open house on NISP

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

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The public is invited to an open house on the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Lincoln Center, 417 W. Magnolia St.

    The open house will provide information regarding a proposal by Fort Collins staff members to explore the potential for negotiated outcomes for NISP with Northern Water, the primary proponent of the…project…

    Fort Collins has not supported the project as described in a draft Environmental Impact Statement for several reasons, including its potential impacts on city water facilities and the health of the river through the city.

    City staff members have proposed discussing mitigation for the project with Northern Water officials and possibly entering into negotiations…

    City Council is scheduled to consider staff’s recommendation during its Feb. 21 meeting.