Federal resolution aims to streamline water storage permits

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

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP)…

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

[…]

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it…

House Resolution 1654 would set the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as the agency in charge of permitting water storage projects. That agency then would coordinate all the federal agencies involved in that process, as well as the reducing redundant requirements at state and local levels that currently are part of the permitting process.

While this legislation becoming law could have substantial impacts on some proposed water storage projects in Colorado, it would not be likely to impact the process for the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP).

That proposed water storage project would have Northern Water build two reservoirs, Galeton northeast of Greeley and Glade northwest of Fort Collins. They would provide water to the 15 NISP participants, including the city of Fort Morgan and Morgan County Quality Water District.

“Obviously we support the basic idea of streamlining the permit process,” Brian Werner from Northern Water said of the legislation. “We’re all for finding out how we can tweak this process.”

For example, many of the studies and other preparatory work on a large water storage project like NISP could have been conducted concurrently, rather than sequentially, Werner suggested.

“Streamlining doesn’t mean that we don’t do the studies,” he said, “but we could do it more efficiently.”

Congressman Ken Buck, R-CD4, voted in favor of the resolution, even speaking for it on the House floor and mentioning proposed water storage projects in Colorado, like NISP, as why he supported it.

“Unfortunately, many water storage projects in my state face significant setbacks in permitting due to a long list of regulatory checkboxes,” he said in prepared remarks. “Much of this delay occurs because each level of government-local, state, and federal-requires (its) own studies and permitting checklists, even though many of those requirements are the same or only slightly different.”

The goal would not be to eliminate environmental or safety requirements for getting the permits, Buck pointed out. Instead it would be to seek to get the “different levels of government to work together so that our water projects can earn the permits they rightly qualify for” during the initial permitting process.

The legislation next faces debate in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but a hearing date had not yet been set as of Monday afternoon. That committee includes Colorado’s Sen. Cory Gardner as a member.

@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.

Many in N. #Colorado welcome the @OmahaUSACE approval for Chimney Hollow Reservoir

From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):

Just last week, the Army Corps of Engineers approved the Chimney Hollow reservoir project, which will hold 90,000 acre feet of water and feed several Front Range communities, including Greeley.

Such infrastructure is vital for future growth, regardless, [Brian] Werner said.

The fight is not over. The conservancy district will continue to fight for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 northern Front Range communities with 40,000 acre feet of water. That’s been held up at the Army Corps of Engineers for more than a decade. A decision is expected next year.

“Chimney Hollow and NISP will put a major dent into what we’ll need down the road,” Werner said. “More people are coming whether we build this or not. Our future looks a lot better having some of these storage buckets with more people than a lot more people and no storage buckets. We’ll start drying up more farms. We’ve got to have water.”

In addition to water storage, the city of Greeley, has an intense focus on proper drainage to combat the decades-old problem of flooding in Greeley.

Joel Hemesath, public works director, said the city has been working for the past two years with some bond money to improve drainage in and around Greeley. He said the city is gearing up for downtown projects, as well, that will route drainage to a detention pond by the Poudre River via bigger pipes.

Since 2012, the city has spent a little more than $17 million on stormwater projects.

The city also works hard to improve trails, dedicating just shy of $900,000 to them since 2012.

Hemesath said the city would like to extend Sheep Draw Trail through some more western subdivisions, and extend the Poudre Trail farther east.

Watering down the war: How we may move forward on the issues of growth on the Front Range

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

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Julia Rentsch):

More than 4 million acre-feet of water has left the state via the South Platte River since 2009, and in an arid environment like the Northern Front Range of the Rockies, a drop unused inside the state boundaries is considered a drop wasted – especially as the area grows in population and demand for water subsequently increases.

Experts say that the growth of Northern Front Range towns and cities will not be limited by physical access to water – the supply exists. What is up for debate is how we allocate the resource to provide a sustainable supply of water to meet both human and environmental needs.

One attempt to solve this problem is the Northern Integrated Supply Project, also known as NISP – a proposed water storage plan that has been in the stages of federal permitting and review since 2004. It may be the most famous – or, depending on who you ask, infamous – water project in the region…

On the surface, debate over the project seems to be gridlocked as participants wait for the final Environmental Impact Assessment to be complete. Discussion has stagnated over the basic question of whether the NISP project is in fact a dam on the Poudre.

However, at the heart of the debate are larger questions about how to manage growth on the Front Range without sacrificing the health of the region’s rivers and agricultural land.

“It’s really a deeper question of what do we want Northern Colorado to look like and how do we want to get there,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado State University Water Center and the Colorado Water Institute.

NISP basics

The current project plan calls for the building of two reservoirs: Glade in Larimer County and Galeton in Weld. Additionally, there would be a small reservoir for temporary storage near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, three pump plants and pipelines to deliver the water to the participants and updates to an existing small canal.

Designed to provide a reliable 40,000 acre-feet supply of water annually to the fifteen participating cities and water districts to meet needs through the year 2030. The project’s participant list includes the cities of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Severance and Windsor; participating water districts are Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand and Morgan County Quality. Per Northern Water’s estimates, these 11 towns and four districts serve about 240,000 residents in total.

In order to do this, Northern plans to divert water from the Poudre during wet periods of the year — under projected conditions, the June rise of the river would be considerably lower than ecologists say is healthy. Northern Water is working on a plan to abide by guidelines that will be set by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but what constitutes a healthy flow is up for debate.

“We’re willing to work on a flushing flow plan because we know it’s a big enough issue,” said Brian Werner, a public relations officer for Northern Water.

NISP was originally expected to cost $500 million; at this price, participants will pay about $12,500 per acre-foot of water they receive from the project. An equivalent amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson costs around $40,000 to $50,000 per acre-foot.

However, more recent changes to make the project plan more feasible and sustainable have pushed the estimated price up to around $800 million.

The project’s effects on the Poudre are of particular concern to ecologists.

“The Poudre … is a working river, and it’s been developed to meet human needs since the late 1800s,” said Leroy Poff, a doctor of aquatic ecology at CSU. “But it continues to function ecologically in the lives of the citizens of Fort Collins… Proposed future development of the Poudre presents strong challenges to sustaining the ecosystem that we have today.”

Planning the future of the Front Range

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs reports that population in Larimer and Weld counties is forecast to increase by 92 percent from 2015 to 2045, exceeding the 53 percent growth forecast in the statewide population. In addition to the increased municipal demand for water, this level of growth has been attributed as responsible for traffic problems, both local and statewide housing shortages, and increasingly unaffordable housing.

Despite the region experiencing a slight economic dip due to layoffs in the oil and gas industry as the price of oil lowered, the estimates of the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization say that employment in the region is projected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2040.

The rising cost of living associated with these trends is causing people who hold jobs in metropolitan areas, but who cannot afford the high price tag of living within city limits, to move to smaller communities to take advantage of the more affordable sprawl. These ‘bedroom communities,’ as they’re termed, predominantly consist of residences, schools and churches and lack the commercial development that characterizes a healthy, balanced city.

“We’re pushing people who don’t have two good incomes out of Fort Collins because of growth,” Waskom said. “What happens is that growth is now occurring in those places that weren’t here (before) and developed water supplies early on in the game.”

Growth in these areas indicates that there is a lot of logistical work ahead for the various entities coordinating the region’s infrastructure. In addition to issues of water supply, there must also be planning to ensure adequate water quality, air quality and transportation to support the population. Numerous infrastructure improvement plans are in the works, but none have been as publicly contentious as NISP.

While some opponents of NISP say that stopping the project, and therefore limiting the supply of water available to these developing communities, might be a solution to curb growth, experts say that this is not the case. If absolutely no action is taken, agricultural water rights would be on the hook to make up the difference.

“I think it’s true and evident that water is probably not going to be what limits sprawl or growth in this area,” Waskom said. “It’s just got to come out of ag, and it comes out of the environment. Those are the two sectors that are at risk, and the economics of it are such that, as agriculture dries up and houses grow on top of what were cornfields, the economy grows. It doesn’t skip a beat.”

Solutions

Some groups are seeking to transcend the back-and-forth over NISP by way of compromise.

Rather than depending on large new reservoirs and diversions, the nonprofit group, Western Resource Advocates, proposes an alternative plan with a diverse water supply portfolio. WRA’s ‘A Better Future for the Poudre River’ plan would, like NISP, provide 40,000 acre-feet of water to participants annually, but would utilize conservation, reuse, water transferred as a result of growth onto irrigated agricultural lands and voluntary agreements with agriculture.

The Poudre Runs Through It, a group of professionals facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, is looking at ways to bring together the diverse stakeholders on the river and to explore the continuing challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

“I think until we start to engage more people in that discussion and more groups in that discussion, this is going to be a real tough thing to crack,” said Kehmeier, who is also a member of The Poudre Runs Through It. “It’s going to take more of the water users on the system than just one to make this work.”

2017 #coleg: NISP-related bill fails in committee

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The bill would have allowed Northern Water to run Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, water through 12 miles of the Poudre River in Fort Collins and recapture it at the Timnath Reservoir inlet for storage east of Fort Collins.

The bill failed 6-5 last week in the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, with Democrats and Republicans voting against it…

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said the district will still go through with its plan to run 14,000 acre feet of water through the river in Fort Collins with the goal of maintaining flows of 18 to 25 cubic feet per second. He attributed the lack of consensus on the bill to “uneasiness” in the water community about unintended impacts of the legislation.

“We’re still going to do it,” he said of the so-called “conveyance refinement plan.” “We’re just going to look at Plan B, probably.”

Whether Northern Water needs legal permission to carry out the plan remains a “gray area,” Werner said. But he added Northern Water will pursue the plan regardless of whether formal legislation is passed.

Werner wasn’t sure if Plan B would come in the form of another bill or pursuing the plan without legislation. He said Northern Water was trying to pass a bill to make its case “air-tight.”

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).”