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.

    ‘As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains’ theme of Poudre River Forum

    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)
    Scott Hummer, general manager of North Poudre Irrigation Company, talks about how his agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jim Beers):

    The Cache la Poudre River, which flows from the mountains through Fort Collins, Timnath and Windsor to the plains east of Greeley, is at the heart of countless activities: from irrigating crops and lawns to providing drinking water for more than 365,000 people and hosting numerous recreational activities.

    Those with connections to and concerns for the Poudre River will gather on Friday, Feb. 3 for the fourth annual Poudre River Forum. After its first three years at Larimer County Fairgrounds, the forum is moving down the river to Greeley as a reminder that the Poudre River is important to all who benefit from it — from its headwaters to its confluence with the South Platte. This year’s forum — the theme is “As the Poudre Flows — Forest to Plains” — will be held from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Island Grove Events Center, 501 N. 14th Ave., Greeley. Pre-registration is required for all participants.

    Understanding the river, each other

    Sponsored by the Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group, the forum serves as a community-wide gathering of people from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds to learn about and discuss issues related to the Poudre River.

    “The Poudre River Forum brings together those who use the river for agricultural and urban diversions and those who work to improve its ecological health. In the past those groups have not necessarily seen eye to eye,” said MaryLou Smith, PRTI facilitator. “Increasingly our participants are open to the idea that it takes collective vision and action to make the Poudre the world’s best example of a healthy, working river.”

    Once again, this year’s event will be facilitated by the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The Forum is a great opportunity for the communities connected by the Poudre River to come together to better understand the entire watershed, and each other,” said Reagan Waskom, director of CWI.

    Forests and water quality/quantity

    Laurie Huckaby with the U.S. Forest Service, will present “The last 1,000 years in the Poudre according to the trees,” to kick off the topic of how important the upper watershed is to water quantity and quality.

    “Water quality and forests are inextricably linked,” said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service, who will join Huckaby as one of the presenters. “Forest conditions and insects, disease and fire all can have profound impacts on water flow and quality. Only healthy, resilient forests can continuously supply clean water.”

    Global lessons for local success

    “Finding the Balance: Managing Water for People and Nature” is the message of keynote speaker Brian Richter. Richter has been a global leader in water science and conservation for more than 25 years, and currently serves as chief scientist for the Global Water Program of The Nature Conservancy in Washington D.C. Richter’s ideas about the importance of recognizing the balance of working river/healthy river are the basis for which PRTI was initially formed. He has consulted on more than 120 water projects worldwide, and has served as a water advisor to some of the world’s largest corporations, investment banks, the United Nations, and has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. Richter co-authored,with Sandra Postel, the 2003 book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature and in 2014 wrote Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability.

    Change affects all sectors

    An afternoon panel session will probe the impacts of change — positive and negative — along the Poudre River and how they have been similarly and differently addressed by agriculture, urban, and environmental sectors. They will discuss what anticipated future changes might these three sectors see as opportunities or incentives for mutually beneficial collaboration that could result in a healthier, working river?

    “It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change,” said John Bartholow, retired ecologist from U.S. Geological Survey, and panel coordinator/moderator. “The question is, can we learn to adapt to those changes sure to come on the Poudre in ways that benefit agriculture, municipalities, and the environment?”

    The panel will include Eric Reckentine, deputy director, City of Greeley Water and Sewer; John Sanderson, director of science, Nature Conservancy of Colorado; and Dale Trowbridge, general manager, New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company.

    Videos, displays and music too

    The day-long forum also includes “River Snapshots” highlighting more than 15 projects undertaken by a variety of groups on the Poudre last year; “My How the Poudre Has Changed,” featuring historical 1970’s footage of the Poudre; updates from both the cities of Greeley and Fort Collins on current water programs; and over two dozen river-focused displays from community organizations and agencies. The day concludes with a social hour including food, beer and other beverages, and river-themed door prizes.

    Registration is $50 and includes lunch. Scholarships for students and reduced rates are available. The deadline to register is Friday, Jan. 27 at http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2017.shtml.

    For more information, contact event coordinator Gailmarie Kimmel at PoudreRiverForum@gmail.com or 970-692-1443.