Council members voted 6-1 to approve the proposed “1041 regulations” during their meeting on May 2. Council member Shirley Peel voted against adopting the regulations, which must pass a vote on Tuesday, May 16, to be implemented. Adopting these 1041 regulations gives “the city a tool in our toolbox to have a binding review of a certain set of major infrastructure projects,” Community Development and Neighborhood Services Director Paul Sizemore said during a City Council meeting in February. These projects include major new water or wastewater systems and new highway or interchange projects….Council placed a moratorium on these projects through June 30. The Northern Integrated Supply water delivery project is an example of a project that would be impacted by 1041 rules.
The city’s stated goals for the regulations include:
Address deficiencies with the city’s Site Plan Advisory Review (SPAR) process, which is the current tool used for such projects.
Establish predictability for applicants.
Establish a meaningful public process.
Incentivize project designs that avoid impacts to critical natural habitats and cultural resources.
Water providers and leadership from surrounding communities criticized the 1041 regulations for hindering regional collaboration on current and future water projects, while representatives from environmental groups asked council to adopt the regulations and continue to look at ways to further protect the city’s natural areas and resources.
Northern Water is embarking on a new source water protection program to safeguard the high-quality water that comes from the watersheds that supply water to the Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) and Windy Gap projects, as well as the Northern Integrated Supply Project, and to reduce the risk of contamination of our water sources. Our source water program includes an initial planning phase, and we have begun the process of developing a strategic source water protection plan (SWPP) to help guide our efforts.
By developing a SWPP, we will be part of a state and nationwide effort to protect water sources from the ground up. At the state level, Colorado’s Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) Program is a voluntary program designed to help public water systems take preventative measures to keep their sources of drinking water free from potential contaminants. The SWAP program came about due to the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments.
By developing a SWPP, we will be part of a state and nationwide effort to protect water sources from the ground up. The typical development of a SWPP involves identifying a source water protection area(s), creating an inventory of potential contaminants to the water sources, and subsequently developing best management practices to help mitigate those potential contaminants. We anticipate that the SWPP development and process will span a few years and are currently kicking off the first phase with outreach to key constituents. Following the completion of our SWPP, we will move into the implementation phase which will involve execution of the BMPs identified in our SWPP.
We will be communicating with various stakeholders throughout the process and providing periodic updates of the plan throughout various channels. Once the SWPP is finalized, it will be made available to the public via our website.
If you have any questions or comments about this process, please contact Kimberly Mihelich, Source Water Protection Specialist by emailing email@example.com or calling 970-622-2211.
To help watersheds recover quickly from catastrophic wildfires, federal and state funds need to be available continuously, rather than on an as-needed basis, and water districts and local governments need to be shielded from the liability that normally comes when working with federal wildfire recovery programs, according to a new report.
The draft report, 2020 Post-Fire Watershed Restoration: Lessons Learned, was presented two weeks ago at the annual convention of the Colorado Water Congress in Aurora. It focused on the post-fire recovery response to the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires in 2020. The fires are the largest in Colorado history and engulfed Northern Water’s system in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as water systems that serve Fort Collins, Larimer County and the city of Greeley. Those systems deliver water to more than 1 million people on the northern Front Range and help irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.
“Having predictable annual funding for wildfire recovery is urgent because these events are going to happen,” said Esther Vincent, who led the report team and who serves as director of environmental services at Northern Water.
After the two fires were contained, local communities and water districts began working quickly using funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. But that federal fund is replenished on an as-needed basis and is used by all 50 states when disasters occur. When it runs out, as it sometimes does, it can take years for Congress to approve more cash.
“Waiting until there is enough political will is an inefficient way to fund the EWP Program,” said Sean Chambers, who also served on the report team and who is the director of water and sewer utilities for the City of Greely. Greeley coordinated much of the recovery work on the Cameron Peak Fire.
“When we started recovering from Cameron Peak there was money available and we were able to start immediately addressing some high-risk slope stability issues on tributaries, around reservoirs, on private property. But then we ran out of money,” Chambers said.
More money was found in the EWP Program by asking other states to turn over unused funds, but it took months during a critical time window when the watershed restoration teams only had a few weeks to work before the burn scars were covered with snow and became inaccessible, Chambers said.
Another issue that hampered the immediate post-fire recovery effort is the liability that must be assumed by those who partner with key federal programs that provide funding, including the EWP Program.
Northern’s Vincent said the Northern Water Board was deeply concerned about assuming the liability, which requires local partners to assume full financial responsibility for the work, which can cost millions of dollars. But ultimately the board agreed to do so.
As a result, the report recommends that Congress remove the liability requirement from its disaster contracts and also suggests that a new insurance pool be created to limit the liability of restoration partners, according to Peggy Montaño, an attorney who serves as Northern’s legal counsel and who also served on the report team.
Todd Bolt is the state coordinator of the EWP Program and a member of the work group that wrote the report. He declined to comment on the federal funding and liability recommendations, but he said the report was “eye-opening.”
“It brought a lot of people together who have first-hand experience, state, federal, local. And it has opened everybody’s eyes that there are things we can do better with the post-fire effort in Colorado,” Bolt said.
Two additional recommendations that the report makes are to streamline data collection and modeling analyses and to refine them so that they can be used to make decisions faster. The second is to have “local navigators,” who are trained and ready to help immediately after a fire.
More than a half dozen agencies can be on the ground post-fire, gathering data and trying to understand what might happen with rain storms, sediment loads and debris flows. But agencies often use different parameters for collecting the data they use in their modeling. Some, for instance, might use only the burn area itself for modeling, when a broader watershed boundary is needed to understand what’s happening on streams above and below the burn scar.
Northern’s Vincent said there were so many different modeling and data collection efforts underway that it made it difficult to know which would be the best to use.
“Bringing all of this information together and digesting it when you are the practitioner on the ground and you have to make decisions about what these models mean and what mitigation strategies are going to work is difficult. We were swimming in this downpour of modeling outputs, with little guidance and understanding of ‘OK this is where we have a problem. This is where we need to take action and do mitigation.’”
Bolt said that a “local navigator” program would specialize in connecting local residents and local governments with the resources they need to begin restoration work post-fire.
“Someone who could lead them through the process would be helpful,” he said.
Looking ahead, report authors plan to share their findings with lawmakers and others who are working on protecting Colorado from the wildfires they say are sure to come.
“No matter how successful we are with forest management and helping our watersheds be more resilient, it is going to take a long time to do the projects that need to occur at a landscape scale,” Vincent said. “We are still going to have devastating, large-scale megafires. We need to focus on paths to being prepared and getting better at the post-fire recovery process.”
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jerd_smith.
Fifteen towns, cities and water districts in northern Colorado hope to begin building two dams and other infrastructure in 2025 to deliver enough water to meet needs for a quarter-million people, many of them along the fast-growing Interstate 25 corridor.
Northern Water, the agency overseeing what’s known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), hailed federal approval of a critical permit last month as a milestone. “This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” said Brad Wind, general manager of Northern Water. Wind said that NISP will enable the 15 project members, including Windsor, Erie and Fort Morgan, to grow without buying farmland, then drying it up and using its water for growth.
The environmental group, Save the Poudre, hopes to dash those plans. The nonprofit says it will file a lawsuit in an attempt to block the $2 billion NISP. To succeed, the group will have to overcome precedent. It failed to block Chimney Hollow, the dam that Northern Water is constructing as part of a separate project, in the foothills west of Berthoud whose construction began in 2022 after a three-year court case.
“We have a much stronger case against NISP because the project would drain a dramatic amount of water out of the Poudre River, which would negatively impact the river’s ecology, its habitat, and its jurisdictional wetlands — protected by the Clean Water Act — all the way through Fort Collins and downstream,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save The Poudre.
This new court challenge was set up by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement Dec. 9 that it was issuing a crucial permit under the Clean Water Act. Directors of Northern Water, the overarching agency for the participating jurisdictions, are scheduled on Thursday, Jan. 5, to take up whether to accept the terms of the permit. Staff members have advised them to do so.
The impetus for NISP can be traced to the early 1980s when Northern Water began drawing up plans to dam the Poudre River in the foothills near Fort Collins. Federal agencies balked at Denver’s plans for a similar project on the South Platte River at Two Forks, in the foothills southwest of Denver. Northern shelved its initial plan. But after the scorching drought that began in 2002, Northern developed plans for NISP, which it submitted to federal agencies in 2004.
Two reservoirs are central to NISP. Glade Park, an off-channel reservoir, would be built north of La Porte, bounded by the Dakota hogbacks and a dam that would cross today’s Highway 287. It would have a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet, slightly larger than the 157,000 acre-feet of Horsetooth Reservoir. Northern’s water rights are relatively junior, dating from the 1980s and would only generate water in spring months during high runoff years.
The project promises delivery via pipeline of 40,000 acre-feet of high-quality water annually to the 11 mostly smaller towns and cities and the 4 water districts. Erie is buying the largest amount of water from the new project, claiming 6,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons.
The second storage pool, Galeton Reservoir, at 45,000 acre-feet, would impound water northeast of Greeley. Unlike the water from Glade, which is to be strictly dedicated to domestic use, Galeton would hold water that will be delivered to farms in Weld County that otherwise would have received water from the Poudre River. This will be done via a water-rights swap with two ditches north of Greeley. Those agreements have not been finalized.
Preservation of agricultural land, costs of water, and water quality figure prominently in the talking points both for — and, in some cases, against — the project.
Northern and its project participants argue that NISP will allow them to grow without drying up farms. It can do so, they say, by delivering the water at a lower cost.
The federal environmental impact statement’s no-action alternative found that population growth would occur regardless of whether a federal permit was issued, said Jeff Stahla, the public information officer for Northern Water. That analysis found that in the absence of NISP, the 15 cities and water districts would look to buy water rights currently devoted to agriculture, ultimately taking 64,000 acres — or 100 square miles — out of production.
The 15 utilities will be able to get NISP’s new water at $40,000 per acre-foot, substantially below current market rates for other regional water sources such as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project shares. Those shares, which constitute seven-tenths of an acre-foot, have been selling for about $75,000.
In some cases, expanding cities will take farmland out of production — and presumably gain access to the water, but not always.
“We do not want to dry up northern Colorado,” says John Thornhill, Windsor’s director of community development.
Thornhill said that Windsor, a town of 42,000 with its 20th Century sugar beet factory still standing, is participating in NISP to improve the resiliency of its water portfolio as it prepares for another 10,000 to 15,000 residents in the next 10 to 15 years.
“The town of Windsor has just as much interest in having a clean, healthy river as anybody else does,” he says. “[The Poudre River] goes right through our town.”
Fort Collins is not participating in the project. In a 2020 resolution, it said it would oppose the proposal or any variant that failed to “address the City’s fundamental concerns about the quality of its water supply and the effects on the Cache la Poudre River through the city.”
Water quality will be at the heart of Save the Poudre’s lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers’ 404 permit. The group’s Wockner says the diversion to Glade Reservoir will reduce peak flows in the Poudre, a river already suffering from E. coli and other pollutants, by up to 40%. “The water quality in the river will worsen because as you take out the peak flows what is left is dirty water,” he says.
Also at issue, says Wockner, will be the impacts to Fort Collins’ wastewater treatment. With reduced flows downstream from its two treatment plants, those plants would have to be upgraded.
On the flip side, Fort Morgan got involved partly because of Glade Reservoir’s higher water quality, according to City Manager Brent Nation.
The city of 12,000 historically relied upon aquifer water heavily laden with minerals for its domestic supply. As the aquifer became increasingly tainted by chemicals used in agricultural production, the city, in the late 1990s, began importing water through an 80-mile pipeline from Carter Lake, a reservoir that stores imported Colorado River water southwest of Loveland.
To use aquifer water for its new population growth Fort Morgan would need to upgrade its water treatment system to use reverse osmosis. That’s a more expensive treatment that also produces a problem of brine disposal.
Both Fort Morgan and Windsor have started working on land-use regulations that will restrict high-quality water for domestic use, at least in some subdivisions, leaving lower-quality water for landscaping.
If NISP as proposed survives Save the Poudre’s legal challenge, it may still need a 1041 permit from Fort Collins. Those regulations have not yet been adopted, however.
Allen Best grew up in eastern Colorado, where both sets of grandparents were farmers. Best writes about the energy transition in Colorado and beyond at BigPivots.com.
The NISP project in the North Front Range has just received its critical permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The project, which will cost $2 billion and take years to complete, will provide water to a host of cities and agricultural water districts in Larimer, Weld, Morgan, and Boulder counties.
The review by Colorado and federal environmental agencies took 20 years and added millions in additional cost to the project in scientific study and mitigation, including sending more water down the Poudre River through Fort Collins to maintain flows above what currently exist. It also adds major recreational opportunities and flatwater fishing.
Ciruli Associates provided public relations and public opinion research to the project managers to assist in the regulatory compliance.
After years of opposition and delay, some adversaries now threaten lawsuits, their success after these long environmental reviews has been limited. Most recently, they filed lawsuits to stop the Windy Gap project on the western slope and Gross Reservoir in Boulder County and failed in both.
Fortunately, the region’s water leadership maintained a steady and determined commitment to achieving the project’s approval.
The planned $2 billion Northern Integrated Supply Project received a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday, Northern Water Conservancy District — the group leading the project — announced in a news release, calling this “a major milestone” for the project.This is the final large-scale permit needed for the project to move forward, Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla told the Coloradoan.
“This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind said in the news release. “This Project will also allow participating communities to serve their customers without targeting water now used on the region’s farms.”
NISP will divert water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to store in two new reservoirs — Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins and the smaller Galeton Reservoir east of Ault — to supply water for 15 growing North Front Range communities and water suppliers, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and others in Weld and Boulder counties.,.Northern Water is still in the design phase for NISP, and Stahla said construction could begin in late 2024 or early 2025 and should be operational four years after that, based on the timeline for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 Record of Decision for the Northern Integrated Supply Project. This is a major milestone for NISP, as it reflects the lead federal regulatory agency’s review and approval of the Project.
The Corps’ approval was based on a lengthy and rigorous scientific analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and a host of other environmental laws, including the federal Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, State Water Quality compliance certification, and State Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan requirements.
The Corps has concluded that the Project’s 40,000 acre-foot yield will meet a substantial amount of the 15 Northern Front Range participants’ future water need and that NISP is the least environmentally impactful means of satisfying that need. The Corps considered a range of other potential alternative approaches, including the adverse impacts to the region if no federal action was taken.
“This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “This Project will also allow participating communities to serve their customers without targeting water now used on the region’s farms.”
Through the federal permitting process, the Project was refined to further avoid and minimize environmental impacts and provide mitigation and enhancements to river-related resources. NISP’s operations will send more water down the Poudre River and through downtown Fort Collins in most months of the year, providing additional flows through the city in late summer, fall and winter than currently exist. NISP will also offer significant new flatwater recreation opportunities to everyone.
NISP includes Glade Reservoir, Galeton Reservoir, and associated project infrastructure to deliver high-quality water to more than 250,000 Northeastern Colorado residents.
Participants in the Project include the Town of Erie, Town of Windsor, City of Fort Morgan, Town of Frederick, City of Evans, City of Fort Lupton, Town of Eaton, Town of Severance, City of Lafayette, Town of Firestone, and City of Dacono, as well as the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, Left Hand Water District, Central Weld County Water District, and the Morgan County Quality Water District.
Registration has opened for Northern Water’s Fall Symposium, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Embassy Suites in Loveland.
Northeastern Colorado water users will hear from multiple speakers about challenges facing the Colorado River and the intricacies of land use and water planning in times of water scarcity. A theme throughout the Symposium will highlight change and how best to adapt.
Additional presentations at the event will include a look ahead at reinvesting in our forests and protecting our source watersheds, as well as offer brief updates on the Chimney Hollow Reservoir Project and the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
Registration is now open on our website. Spaces fill quickly for this event, so we encourage you to register no later than Nov. 1. This symposium is a great opportunity to invite your co-workers and industry professionals to learn more about the latest water challenges in our region. Doors will open at 8 a.m. for check-in and to allow attendees to network.
Crews began conducting rock and soil assessments in June at the site of the planned Glade Reservoir, north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287. The assessments will give Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials site-specific geotechnical and geological information that will inform the design and construction of the Glade Reservoir dam.
The assessment work is expected to continue through November, according to a Northern Water news release. This work includes:
– Digging a 1,000-foot-long trench at the main dam site to test materials and drill the foundation
– Building a test pad of embankment material types
– Producing aggregates and rock fill from quarries and investigating material characteristics
This work is being done ahead of the project’s anticipated approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to make its final determination this year. If that happens, construction could start as early as 2023 with completion expected by 2028.
Crews began conducting rock and soil assessments in June at the site of the planned Glade Reservoir, north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287. The assessments will give Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials site-specific geotechnical and geological information that will inform the design and construction of the Glade Reservoir dam…
The assessment work is expected to continue through November, according to a Northern Water news release. This work includes:
Digging a 1,000-foot-long trench at the main dam site to test materials and drill the foundation
Building a test pad of embankment material types
Producing aggregates and rock fill from quarries and investigating material characteristics
This work is being done ahead of the project’s anticipated approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to make its final determination this year. If that happens, construction could start as early as 2023 with completion expected by 2028.
A South Platte River Water Update will be held in Brush on Wednesday [January 12, 2022]. The half-day program includes updates on the Master Irrigator Program, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, salinity in the South Platte and the Platte Valley Water Partnership project.
The update will be held at the Riverview Event Center, 19201 County Road 24, near Brush. It will begin at 8:50 a.m. and run until noon. Lunch will be served.
The Colorado Master Irrigator program offers farmers and farm managers advanced training on conservation- and efficiency-oriented irrigation management practices and tools. The program is the product of efforts led by several producers, district management representatives, and others interested in conserving groundwater in eastern Colorado. The program is modeled on the award-winning Master Irrigator program created and run since 2016 by the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the Texas panhandle.
Greg Peterson of the Colorado Ag Water Alliance and Roxy McCormick, Master Irrigator in the Republican River Basin, will present the information.
[Brad] Wind, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, will provide an update on NISP. Construction has been under way for several month on the project, which will provide about 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supply. The project consists of two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, a forebay reservoir, three pump plants, pipelines to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies and for delivery to participants, and improvements to an existing canal to divert water off the Poudre River near the canyon mouth.
Grady O’Brien, CEO of Neirbo Hydrology, will present information on salinity in the lower reaches of the South Platte River. Salinity has been a growing problem as urban development and agricultural irrigation have added to the river’s saltiness. The water doesn’t taste salty – it contains only 0.12 percent salts compared with ocean water’s 3.5 percent – but the increasing salinity does have a negative impact on the soil. Salt in the soil suppresses the level of potassium, which is necessary for plants to take up nitrogen and create new plant material.
Old-fashioned flood irrigation used to leach the salts out of the soil, but more efficient irrigation methods don’t put enough water on the ground to do that. And, while the amount of salt in the river at Sterling seems miniscule, it is nearly twice the amount in the Denver area, just above Broomfield, and more than six time the salinity of the river above Denver.
Joe Frank, general manager of the Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District, will talk about the Platte Valley Water Partnership. It is a joint water supply project by the LSPWCD and the Parker Water and Sanitation District to use a new water right that the two entities are developing along the South Platte River near Sterling.
The project will use new and existing infrastructure to store and transport water for agricultural use in northeastern Colorado and municipal use along the Front Range. The partnership involves the phased development of the water right. The early phases would involve a pipeline from Prewitt Reservoir in Logan and Washington counties to Parker Reservoir, which supplies the City of Parker. Later developments would see a 4,000-acre-foot reservoir near Iliff on land owned by Parker, and a 72,000-acre-foot reservoir near Fremont Butte north of Akron. A pipeline, pump stations, and treatment facility will also be built as part of the project.
Anyone wanting to attend the update presentations can register by contacting Madeline Hagan, email@example.com (970) 427-3362 or Amber Beeson, firstname.lastname@example.org (970) 571-5296.
As growing communities across the state require more water, supplies are becoming increasingly scarce.
This gap can slow the growth of younger communities and has others buying up water rights from areas including Weld County, resulting in the drying of local farms.
All this pressure has the state’s water law system coming under increasing scrutiny. Though some seek to change the system, water officials in the Greeley and Weld County area are hopeful collaboration will lead to innovative ways of managing this increasingly scarce resource inside the existing doctrine…
…farms — which typically own relatively senior water rights — are often targets of “buy and dry” transactions in which a water provider buys a farm to use its water for industrial or municipal purposes.
Preventing buy and dry transactions is one of the major challenges faced by the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company, a stockholder company that operates the Greeley No. 2 Ditch, which provides water for about 350 farmers on 32,000 acres of farms. General Manager Dale Trowbridge expects homes and municipal growth to eventually replace some farms in the system, but the biggest unknown is what will happen with the water.
“You can work (agriculture) around some houses and stuff like that, but if a third of the ditch is dry … now what do you deal with?” Trowbridge asked.
If the ditch’s water supply is severely limited by buy and drys in a couple decades, Trowbridge’s concern is the feasibility of operating the ditch when it was built to hold more water.
As things stand, the system is already short on water. Trowbridge said more dense ag operations mean there’s a greater need than there was when they started the system, which was issued its first water right decree in 1870.
To make up for the shortage, New Cache has relied on renting out water rights from cities like Greeley and Fort Collins, which have historically built a strong portfolio of water rights with drought protection to prevent supply issues for city residents. In the last year, though, they were only able to rent about half of what the farmers requested. The impacts of wildfire on water supplies meant cities weren’t able to rent out as much water, in an effort to reduce costs of treating water contaminated by runoff after the fire…
New Cache tries to help farmers acquire water in dry years, but when it comes to a situation like the last year, it’s up to farmers to alter their cropping patterns or not plant.
Agricultural operations aren’t the only ones hurting due to a lack of water supplies. Evans City Manager Jim Becklenberg called water “the biggest challenge to the city’s growth.”
While northern Colorado cities like Loveland, Greeley and Fort Collins — the latter two having set the stage for the state’s formalization of the prior appropriation system in an early water dispute — have been able to strategically buy water over the years, medium- and small-sized cities like Evans haven’t had the same resources for such a strong water planning history, Becklenberg said…
With a less robust water portfolio, Evans requires developers to bring water to the city. The city maintains a list of individuals with vouchers for previously dedicated water rights who could sell to prospective buyers, but there aren’t many left in the city, Becklenberg said.
In Greeley, the city can take cash in place of dedicated water rights, thanks to the city’s extensive water planning. The city’s water portfolio hasn’t stopped growing, either. The city recently purchased about 1,000 acre-feet of water, equivalent to about 1,000 football fields covered in a foot of water — more than it had acquired in the decade prior. The city’s also filed for storage rights for gravel pits, giving the city its youngest water rights, which date to the early 2000s.
To bolster the city’s drought protection, Greeley officials recently closed on an aquifer containing 1.2 million acre-feet of water, also defeating proposed City Charter changes that could have prevented use of the groundwater. For comparison, the city’s current demands average about 25,000 acre-feet per year.
With its robust portfolio of water rights, Greeley officials can facilitate development that would be more difficult for smaller communities. Water is a major cost for developers, and prices have only gone up. Greeley-Weld Habitat for Humanity Executive Direct Cheri Witt-Brown, also a member of the Greeley Water and Sewer Board, described water as “a very expensive line item” on her budget as a home developer.
Witt-Brown gave an example of a home they built in Milliken where they paid $45,000 for the lot and were set to pay $60,000 for a share of water they had to bring to the lot.
“We were very fortunate,” she said. “We went to a water auction, and it was a big farm being sold off in Frederick. Somehow, toward the end of that, I think there was $22 million traded that day. We walked away with one share of water — ultimately donated by the farming family to Habitat.”
The increasing price of water is impacting housing affordability. Witt-Brown said water resources like those in Greeley help bring security to the local economy…
Working collaboratively to get all needs met
Northern Colorado leaders believe regional collaboration is key to a secure water future for local communities. More than a dozen cities, towns and water districts are collaborating on a project to help secure water for different interests well into the future.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project, spearheaded by Northern Water, is an effort to build two storage reservoirs and lay pipelines for cooperative water exchanges that would help both municipal and agricultural interests. The project is still in the permitting phase, with hopes to get construction started by 2023.
One of the approved permits on the project is under litigation by Save the Poudre and other neighborhood groups. Save the Poudre argues the project would “drain so much water out of the Poudre that the river would resemble a muddy stinking ditch in Fort Collins.”
Northern Water notes on its website projects like NISP are subject to strict environmental laws and regulations and that Colorado’s Water Quality Division found “no significant degradation” expected from the project…
Other environmental groups, like Ducks Unlimited, have taken the view that the state’s water laws haven’t presented an obstacle they can’t overcome, according to Greg Kernohan, director of Ducks Unlimited’s conservation programs. Ducks Unlimited works to restore wetlands to support waterfowl populations, often using water decreed for irrigation use. Kernohan said acquiring water is “brutal.” Water can cost about half a million dollars for a single project, he said, not including water court costs.
With water only becoming more expensive, the nonprofit has been working with the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company to determine an equitable way to lease water short term. Greeley officials have also been in discussion with the irrigating company for its water marketing program.
To prevent buy and dry while helping everyone get their water needs met, New Cache has been working to develop an alternative transfer method to tie the water rights to farmland. In return for giving up the ability to sell their water rights to other interests, the farmer would be paid.
But those other interests would still need water too. To get them the water they need, they would be able to lease water a few years every decade. Though the farm would go dry in drought years when another user, like a city, needs to lease the water, the water remains with the farm in the long term.
There are a few roadblocks remaining for the project. The growing value of water can make it a difficult sell for a farmer to tie up the water rights with the land. And for some, taking a year off farming every now and then doesn’t sound like the best lifestyle. They would be paid, Trowbridge said, but it leaves some wondering, “What am I going to do when the water is being leased?”
For NISP’s water exchange system to work, agricultural water needs to remain in northern Colorado — despite continuing efforts by growing Denver metro communities to buy water and deliver it south. As part of the project, Northern Water is working to tie water rights to the agricultural land in the area…
Though prior appropriation makes for a competitive system, those who have found success through collaborative projects like this worry a different system would introduce uncertainty.
“I don’t know how we can operate without the certainty of the water,” Trowbridge said. “It’d be unsustainable around here if the prior appropriation system was changed.
Greeley Water and Sewer Board Chairman Harold Evans shares Trowbridge’s concern, noting everybody there are set rules of the game under prior appropriation. Though water shortages may increase political pressure to change the system, it gives water providers better certainty about what to expect.
City Council calls for local control rules in big land projects could delay approval of Northern Water’s Northern Integrated Supply Project by a year.
Fort Collins has placed new barriers in front of Northern Water’s $1.1 billion plan to build a dam and pipeline network along the Cache la Poudre River, further slowing a decades-long project backed by 15 growing Front Range communities and water districts.
City government put a hold on the kind of pipeline and infrastructure work Northern Water needs for its Northern Integrated Supply Project, saying Fort Collins will pause for a year to write new regulations under state “1041” permitting laws that encourage local control of big land use projects. Fort Collins’ planning commission had rejected a NISP pipeline proposal through city open space last summer, but Northern Water’s board overrode the decision, as is allowed by state law.
Northern Water says it has already complied with local approval protocols, including receiving 1041 approval from surrounding Larimer County, and will study its options if Fort Collins tries to force NISP through a newly created layer of planning.
“We think that we’ve completed” the city’s Site Plan Advisory Review process, which was the standard before Fort Collins started talking about creating 1041 rules, Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “We’re really going to take a close look at exactly what was passed by the city council.”
Placing a hold on new projects and asking staff to create a 1041 process for the first time was not meant to target Northern Water specifically, though it will likely delay their Fort Collins projects, city council member Kelly Ohlson acknowledged. A new group of city council members taking office after spring elections learned Fort Collins could use the state’s 1041 law to influence projects rather than just react to them, Ohlson said…
Mayor Jeni Arndt said the new tier of local regulations should not make a big difference in Northern Water’s decadeslong pursuit of final project approvals. Northern Water wants to build two big reservoirs northwest and east of Fort Collins, and connect them to the Poudre and the South Platte River through a series of pipelines and ditches.
Arndt said city leaders have narrowed down their interests in creating a 1041 review process to two areas for now: water projects and development that impacts natural areas.
“I don’t feel like that’s an evil volley against them,” Arndt said. “It’s not tit for tat. We have some legitimate concerns about our natural areas and parks.”
Conservation groups that have battled NISP and its complex water engineering for years are happy to see a new bump in the road for Northern Water, which says it expects to receive a final federal-level permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers any month now. Opponents have filed suits and protested local government approvals since portions of NISP were first conceived in the 1980s. In July, they focused on the Fort Collins planning body’s decision whether to approve project pipelines buried in city park land and right of way…
A delay from Fort Collins to pursue more local control rules follows Northern Water’s success in September getting Larimer County approval for another key element of the project: moving U.S. 287 east over a ridge, north of Ted’s Place, to create the dam basin where Glade Reservoir will store Cache la Poudre water.
Overall, the northern supply project will build Glade and another new reservoir northeast of Greeley, Galeton, that will store South Platte River water. Some of the new supply will be delivered in the Cache la Poudre channel, while other transfers will be made by a series of pipelines and ditches.
Northern Water says the project will bring much-needed supply to 80,000 more residents in more than a dozen growing communities that have signed up for the water. The water agency says storing Cache la Poudre water in Glade during higher runoff allows them to supply a steady stream for wildlife and recreation through Fort Collins at times when the river otherwise runs nearly dry.
Opponents say NISP takes water from wildlife and scenic rivers, and encourages sprawling growth in communities that could do more to conserve water.
Northern Water’s board of directors unanimously overturned the city of Fort Collins’ denial of infrastructure associated with the Northern Integrated Supply Project, clearing the way Wednesday for construction of a pipeline and Poudre River diversion in city limits.
Fort Collins’ Planning and Zoning Commission rejected a SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for NISP infrastructure in a 3-2 vote on June 30. But state law allows governing boards to overrule denials of SPAR applications for public infrastructure with at least a two-thirds majority vote.
The Northern Water board’s decision means the water district, after getting the necessary city permits, should be able to build a river diversion on the Poudre at Homestead Natural Area and about 3.4 miles of pipeline in city limits. The diversion and pipeline are part of Northern Water’s plan to release between 18-25 cubic feet per second of the project’s Poudre River diversions through a 12-mile section of the river in Fort Collins before piping it to NISP participants.
NISP would take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to deliver an estimated 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 small municipalities and water districts in Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor. The water would be stored in two new reservoirs: Glade Reservoir, with a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet located northwest of Fort Collins at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, and Galeton Reservoir, with a capacity of 45,600 acre-feet located northeast of Greeley.
Conservation groups want more “cash for grass” and other plans to acquire new water by saving it. But Denver and Aurora, among others, say there’s only so much to cut before a new dam is needed.
Conservation groups applaud water savings efforts like Aurora’s. What they want is far, far more of the same.
They point to reports required by the state water conservation board showing many large agencies on the Front Range cutting back spending and personnel dedicated to water conservation since 2013, at the same time those water departments press to build massive dam complexes for new water they say they desperately need.
Large water agencies like Denver Water and Aurora Water say they do have ongoing conservation efforts they take seriously, but that fast population growth on the Front Range overwhelms potential savings and they need new water storage…
It would be much better for Colorado’s environment, the conservation groups respond — not to mention cheaper — to acquire water by using less of it, rather than spending billions of dollars on dams and diversions of Western Slope water.
And yet, several projects are on the drawing board:
Aurora wants to team up with Colorado Springs to build Whitney Reservoir and divert more of Homestake Creek over the Continental Divide to the Front Range
Denver Water wants to expand Gross Reservoir above Boulder to hold more Fraser River water diverted from the Colorado River Basin
Northern Water has a $1 billion proposal to dam more Cache la Poudre River water for more than a dozen northern suburbs and cities
All of those would be unnecessary, the conservationists say, if the agencies doubled down on water-saving efforts that cut deeply into household use in the years after the devastating 2002 Front Range drought…
“We know that water in the West is increasingly in short supply and will only become more so as climate change results in worsening drought conditions and water shortages. The answer can’t simply be to pull every last drop of water out of our rivers,” said Juli Slivka, policy director at Wilderness Workshop, which is among the groups fighting any new dams on Homestake Creek.
Some of the bigger water agencies on the Front Range respond that conservation remains a primary goal, despite the falloff in their spending evident in annual reports required by the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Aurora’s population will grow by hundreds of thousands of people by 2050, said Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker. The agency focuses intensely on conservation to expand its water supply, Baker said, through programs like the smart meters and rebates to property owners who remove thirsty lawns, and with Prairie Waters, the largest potable water recycling system in the state.
But that growth, highly visible on Aurora’s eastern edge at the Highlands or Painted Prairie, means stretching existing water use is not enough for future supply, he added. Acquisition of new water must continue. The agency just spent about $17,000 an acre-foot for 500 acre-feet of farm water in the South Platte River Basin, Baker said.
“That’s more than we could find through conservation right now, unless we took such draconian measures — you know, say we banned all outdoor water use,” he said.
Denver Water, serving 1.5 million customers as the largest water agency in Colorado, said it is proud of conservation efforts launched after the wakeup call of the 2002 drought, achieving its goal of a 22% cut in per capita water use in a campaign from 2007 to 2016. Since then, said Denver Water’s manager of demand planning Greg Fisher, some resources have shifted to the concept of “efficiency” — focusing less on absolute cuts to everyone’s use, and instead consulting with larger customers and homeowners to ensure they are using only the water they actually need…
Denver Water’s officially reported tally of its conservation work fell from 36 full- and part-time staff and a budget of $8 million in 2013 — the first year of required reporting — to five full-time staffers and $1.5 million in spending in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic shut down many field services. Denver’s peak of conservation staffing, at 40 in 2016, was the same year the agency said it achieved the long-set goal of 22% per capita reductions in use.
Denver Water says daily water use fell from 211 gallons per person in 2011, before another severe drought began in 2013, to 165 gallons a day in 2016. Since then, Fisher said daily use has declined to about 140 gallons. In the years since the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s annual overall use has gone down, even as the customer base has climbed by hundreds of thousands.
The Denver agency says the state conservation reports are partially misleading because they ask for too narrow a classification of spending that ends up cutting water use. For example, Fisher said, Denver Water is spending more money on staff time helping local agencies rewrite green building codes to require more efficient water use…
Aurora’s conservation staffing has changed less dramatically, from 15 full-time and 13 contract positions in 2013, to a total of about 24 positions now, officials said. The emphasis has shifted over the years, Baker said. Most home and building owners have long since swapped out older toilets for efficient models, and individual homeowner irrigation audits are not as productive as broader efficiency programs…
Environmental conservation groups opposed to diverting water from Western Slope rivers are especially focused this year on Boulder County’s Gross Reservoir, where Denver Water wants to raise the dam by 131 feet at a cost of $464 million. A higher dam would allow Denver to bring over more of the water it owns in the Fraser River, part of the Colorado River Basin west of the Continental Divide. Denver also says it needs more water storage on the northern end of the Front Range in case changing climate patterns and wildfire runoff threaten water collection in the southern South Platte River basin, where most of its available water is collected…
Multiple environmental groups have sued to stop Gross Reservoir and sought to scrap it during the local permitting process. Boulder County held the power over a key construction permit Denver Water needs this year. Now Denver Water has asked a federal court to take over jurisdiction for the permit because the agency believes Boulder County Commissioners have already demonstrated their intent to block it…
Aurora Water says it is one of the few Colorado utilities that is doing exactly that [paying cash for grass], with its “water-wise landscape” payments. Aurora will design a homeowner’s low-water garden for free, and pay material costs up to $3,000 for 500 square feet — even more for a zero-water landscape, Baker said…
Denver Water says it offers everything from low-water “garden-in-a-box” kits, to rebates for installing the kind of smart controllers Aurora promotes, to training for landscapers…
Building storage, though, must remain a part of the water acquisition mix, both Denver and Aurora argue. As the system has gotten more efficient through conservation, Denver Water said, possible future gains diminish. In the 2002 drought, Denver said, its short-term restrictions cut water use 30%. After years of conservation work, similar restrictions in the 2013 drought — for a significantly larger customer base — cut water use only 20%.
“We are reaching the edges of supply,” Hartman said.
Rejection of the NISP pipeline is yet another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out in the northern Front Range.
The Fort Collins planning commission on Wednesday rejected an application by Northern Water to run more than three miles of pipeline in a 100-foot-wide construction zone through city parks and neighborhoods as part of the complex Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The 3-to-2 rejection may not stall the massive project for long, as state law allows Northern Water’s own board to override the decision by a two-thirds vote, which it is sure to get. But the unrest in Fort Collins is another skirmish in a series of water and pipeline battles playing out this year in northern Front Range counties.
Water developers say they need supply to meet the demands of growing cities and suburbs, while many residents are objecting to the cost to the environment and to their own wallets.
“What happens during that construction will forever change the activity of wildlife, the patterns of wildlife, and they may never come back to those areas,” Fort Collins planning board member Per Hogestad said before he voted against the NISP pipeline application.
Fort Collins city planners launched the night’s hearing by recommending the board reject the NISP pipeline. Among other objections, city staff said its construction would cut down important riparian cottonwood stands without rebuilding them, and that the plan lacked detailed restoration plans for other areas in the proposed easement…
Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind told the planning commission that the water agency, which serves more than 1 million people in parts of eight counties on the northern Front Range, has made numerous changes to the $1.1 billion NISP to accommodate the steady stream of objections made over more than 10 years. Most importantly, he said, the new system of water buckets and delivery pipes that make up NISP will put a steadier, stronger flow of water into the Poudre River through Fort Collins, improving the health of an overused river that nearly dries up in summer…
Friday morning, Northern Water issued a statement saying in part that it would “look closely at the concerns raised by the City of Fort Collins staff, planning and zoning commissioners and public commenters. We look forward to working with the city to address those concerns while keeping the long-term goal in sight” of building the water delivery project. The board will consider its next steps at a meeting in August, spokesman Jeff Stahla said…
The list of Front Range water fights is long
NISP is one of the longest-running of a growing number of water delivery disputes pitting neighbors against city and county planning boards, and cities and counties against each other.
Thornton wants to build a 74-mile underground pipeline from water it owns in a Larimer County reservoir, through Weld County and onto city treatment plants. After similar years of wrangling, Weld County listened to neighbor and landowner objections and voted against a permit through county space. But Thornton, in Adams County, on Tuesday overrode the decision, which state law allows the applying entity to do when it is financing and building the pipeline.
In Westminster, many residents are furious at city council members for a series of steep increases in domestic water prices, among other planning decisions, and their anger has helped fuel an ongoing series of recalls and marathon voting sessions. Some longtime city residents say the council and city utilities have botched long-term planning for adequate water resources and failed to maintain treatment plants and other infrastructure.
Brighton is also in a series of battles over water use and water prices, including conflicts over power sharing between the city manager and elected officials on water questions.
The Fort Collins planning decision is not likely to be a major hurdle for Northern Water, which is close to breaking ground on the reservoir-and-pipe system that makes up NISP but has more regulatory problems to solve.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project has navigated a tangled route of permits since at least 2004. Fifteen communities that are part of Northern Water want to build new reservoirs called Glade and Galeton, bracketing Fort Collins on the west and east, and connect them through the Poudre and a series of farm water ditches with complex withdrawal and return pipelines.
As part of the overall plan, Northern Water would let about 22 cubic feet per second out of its newly-stored pool in Glade to keep a steady flow in the Poudre through most of Fort Collins, for most of the year. The pipeline under debate Thursday night would then take that water back out of the river and carry it to a separate pipeline that runs on the north side of the project.
Conservationists ridicule that plan, saying Northern Water’s gesture toward the environment would turn the Poudre into a weedy, low-flow “ditch” populated by carp.
The Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Commission denied a development application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, leaving the ball in Northern Water’s court for a possible overriding vote.
Commission members voted 3-2 on Wednesday to deny the Site Planning Advisory Review (SPAR) application for NISP infrastructure that would be located in Fort Collins city limits.
The components are part of Northern Water’s plan to run a portion of the project’s water deliveries through a 12-mile section of the Poudre River in Fort Collins. A river intake structure at Homestead Natural Area would take the water back out, and a 3.4-mile section of pipeline would shuttle the water southeast to meet up with another pipeline outside city limits.
The decision presents an obstacle to the proposal to take water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for storage in two new reservoirs, but it isn’t binding…
Commission members who voted against the application — chair Michelle Haefele, vice chair Ted Shepard and member Per Hogestad — agreed with city staff, who recommended denial because of impacts to city natural areas and insufficient detail about several aspects of the project…
Degradation of wildlife and riparian habitat was of particular concern for some of the commission members who voted to deny the application. City staff said the pipeline location would damage restored wetlands and prohibit replanting of cottonwoods the city has worked to restore in riparian corridors. The pipeline route passes through Williams, Kingfisher and Riverbend Ponds natural areas…
Jeff Hansen and Jeff Schneider, the commission members who voted to move the application forward, said they had faith in Northern Water’s ability to address staff feedback. They also wanted to support the agency’s effort to mitigate some of the impacts of NISP by running between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second of water through a portion of the river, which would eliminate some dry-up spots on the river during low flow periods.
“They don’t have to do this pipeline at all,” Schneider said. “They could pull this water out and not even run it through the river. I think there’s some good intent that they’re trying to supply water to the Poudre instead of just pulling it directly out.”
Other points from city staff’s recommendation to deny the application stated that Northern Water didn’t adequately consider protection of natural resources and wildlife when it evaluated alternative routes. Staff also said the application didn’t include enough information about proximity of the NISP pipeline to city-owned utilities; downstream and floodplain impacts of the river intake structure; and how Northern Water will mitigate construction impacts to private property, historic and cultural resources.
Shepard said Northern Water should consider running the water through the river until it intersects with another project pipeline planned for the Larimer-Weld county line.
Brad Yatabe of the city attorney’s office interjected at that point in the meeting to caution commission members against suggesting alternative actions, which he said isn’t in the city’s purview for SPAR.
Northern Water staff described the diversion structure and pipeline as the culmination of a concerted effort to blunt NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins. Northern Water staff picked the diversion point for stability and with a goal of going as far downstream as possible while preserving water quality for drinking, project manager Christie Coleman said…
Northern Water expects that requirements associated with other permits for NISP, including the anticipated record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will address some of the planning commission’s concerns about environmental impacts, Stahla said. He added that Northern Water will take a closer look at concerns about the construction easement’s impacts to city natural areas.
Citizen groups Save the Poudre and No Pipe Dream are suing to stop the city of Fort Collins from processing an application for Northern Integrated Supply Project infrastructure in city limits.
The two groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise over Northern Water’s SPAR (site plan advisory review) application for the controversial Poudre River reservoir project. The complaint argues that SPAR is the wrong way for the city to review NISP infrastructure and seeks to terminate the SPAR application. It also seeks to cancel the Fort Collins Planning and Zoning Board review of the application set for June 30…
At the heart of the dispute is whether NISP, which seeks to divert flows from the Poudre and South Platte rivers for two new reservoirs, is an appropriate fit for the SPAR process. SPAR is a type of development review intended for “improvements to parcels owned or operated by public entities,” according to the city’s land use code.
SPAR, compared to the more commonly used development review process, puts the city’s P&Z board in an advisory position rather than giving Fort Collins City Council the final say on a proposal. The governing board of a SPAR applicant can override P&Z’s vote and proceed with the development over the city’s wishes.
The P&Z board must review a SPAR application within 60 days of the city accepting it. The city deemed Northern Water’s SPAR application complete on May 21.
The city directed Northern Water to submit a SPAR application for components of NISP within city limits: the Poudre intake diversion structure, a river diversion that would be located in Homestead Natural Area northwest of Mulberry Street and Lemay Avenue, and a 3.4-mile length of pipeline running from the river diversion to the southeast, passing through Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County land as well as three city natural areas (Williams, Kingfisher Point and Riverbend Ponds)…
The complaint also argues that Northern Water doesn’t meet the state’s legal guidelines for an entity that can overrule a municipal body’s decision on a development. The state gives that authority only to “the city council of a city … the board of trustees of a town, or any other body, by whatever name known, given authority to adopt ordinances for a specific municipality,” the complaint states…
City attorney Carrie Daggett said the city is still reviewing the complaint and declined further comment. Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla affirmed that the water district will continue to pursue SPAR review for NISP as city staff directed…
Fort Collins’ review of NISP is not the last step for the project. The project is awaiting a crucial record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers that’s expected to come this year. An affirming record of decision would likely trigger another legal appeal.
Two additional lawsuits filed by Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCo related to Larimer County’s approval of NISP infrastructure are also working their way through the courts.
Although Brian Werner has served on the WEco Board of Trustees for just over a year, he was involved with helping found the organization nearly 20 years ago. Now retired from his 38-year career as the Communications Department Manager and Public Information Officer at Northern Water, and still a life-long water historian, Brian has written and given hundreds of presentations on the role of water in the settlement and development of Colorado and the West. We spoke with Brian about Northern Water’s storage, the impacts of fire on water storage, permitting, and more.
How long have you been on the WEco board?
I’ve been involved with WEco since WEco has been around. I was involved with the first couple incarnations of water education efforts in Colorado in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and then I helped when WEco came into being in 2002. I was never on the board, until a couple of years ago. It was something I wanted to do towards the end of my career and I retired just last year in January 2020. Luckily I was appointed to the board and I’ve truly enjoyed it.
What kind of experience do you bring to the group?
I think the fact that I had a 38-year career in the water business with Northern Water is an asset. At Northern Water, I’d established relations with people from all over the state and I also coordinated probably 150 to 200 different children’s water festivals, so clearly I was into education. I’m really a big believer in the trickle up theory of water knowledge. Where if you can educate the kids, that knowledge is going trickle up to mom and dad, and those kids will somebody be parents themselves. Ultimately, I’ve been trying to build that ethic in what I’ve been about for most of my career.
How would you describe your experience being on the board?
I’ve really enjoyed being on the board. I’ve watched it and been very much involved for a long time. Both Nicole Seltzer and Jayla Poppleton worked with me at Northern Water, so I have a personal vested interest in them succeeding, and they really have. Nicole moved the organization in a wonderful direction and Jayla has just been top-notch in where she has taken WEco. It has been really interesting because we have a diverse board, and I have enjoyed getting to know people who I didn’t know previously.
I understand you recently retired from Northern Water, can you tell me what your role with them was and maybe what Northern Water does in a general sense?
Northern Water is the largest water conservancy district in the state of Colorado and operates a large Bureau of Reclamation project that is one of the largest in the entire western United States; the Colorado-Big Thompson project. It brings a quarter-million acre-feet a year from the West Slope into Northeastern Colorado to supplement both urban and rural supplies, meaning that it is both a municipal as well as an agricultural water supply. Now there are well over a million people that get a portion of their water supply from that project, but back in 1937, there were only 50,000 people living within Northern Water’s boundaries. So, nobody could have foreseen the growth that occurred since then. This growth has brought all sorts of issues and concerns, but Northern Water is one of the top water agencies in the state and I certainly had a wonderful career there and couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Personally, I was a public information officer for 35 of those 38 years. My role, in essence, was to be the public face of Northern Water and so I talked about Northern Water and its activities all the time. I was able to use my historical training, I have a master’s degree in history, to discuss the historical background of both water development and Northern Water. I focused very much on education, but ultimately, I spent my entire career talking all things water, which was a lot of fun.
I was also the manager of our communications department as we expanded and grew. As we grew, we brought on writers and pushed publications and annual reports, and then we got into the social media craze. So, for some time I managed that department. But really, it was about telling people what Northern Water was all about.
The map above displays estimates of the likelihood of debris flow (in %), potential volume of debris flow (in m3), and combined relative debris flow hazard. These predictions are made at the scale of the drainage basin, and at the scale of the individual stream segment. Estimates of probability, volume, and combined hazard are based upon a design storm with a peak 15-minute rainfall intensity of 24 millimeters per hour (mm/h). Predictions may be viewed interactively by clicking on the button at the top right corner of the map displayed above. Map credit: USGS
Perhaps a topical question, but how have the numerous forest fires affected the work that Northern Water does in trying to ensure water storage?
That is going to be Northern Water’s principal focus this coming year. Both of our major watersheds burned last year, the Upper Colorado with the East Troublesome wildfire, and then the Poudre watershed with the Cameron Peak wildfire. And both of these watersheds are where we get the vast majority of our water. Luckily, Northern Water had been looking at forest water management for years. Northern Water has been working with the U.S. Forest Service, the counties, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the National Parks Service. It wasn’t that these fires hit us and Northern Water had no idea what to do. We learned quite a lot from Denver Water after the Hayman Fire, with all of the issues that they had centering around water quality. Northern Water isn’t pleased, but we are certainly going to see some water quality impacts because of these fires.
We went in with our eyes open and with some plans in place for post-fire activities. We always said, ‘it’s not if, it’s when those fires hit.’
What do these fires mean for water supply and water quality now, as well as moving into the future?
One of the things that we see from these fires is a greater level of awareness in terms of forest management, not just if you have a house in a forest or nearby, but for those people living in major metropolitan areas, too. Those people in Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs are all paying attention now, because they saw the two largest fires in Colorado history and what it did to our environment. And I think now there will be a lot more attention focused on the post-fire impacts, which obviously include water. People will certainly be paying attention to the water piece of the post-fire mitigation and clean-up. Overall, I think moving into the future we will have a better awareness, which is always a good thing. There is no way around it, it is going to take money, and where we are at with COVID-19 that discussion is not easy, but the state is making a concerted effort to put monetary resources and people into handling the situation.
How the present or future storage planning is different than what the state has done historically?
One thing I would point out is that the Federal government is no longer in the water storage building business. For years Reclamation, which had been established in 1902 helped jumpstart and build water projects, as they did the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Federal government neither has the resources nor are they paying for water storage anymore. Now, water storage is something that is having to be more or less self-funded. Meaning that the growing cities are trying to figure out how they can finance additional water for their future citizens.
We are also now looking at the multiple uses of water. Nowadays, water is being used for environmental purposes, which means that we are looking to make sure that there is enough to release into the rivers to help the aquatic habitat. This is a much larger part of the picture today. At a base level of awareness, we want people to understand why we need storage reservoirs. It is a dry year, and it sure looks like we are only getting drier, and when you have the drier years you better make sure that you store when you have the wetter periods to carry you through. I think we are going to have difficulties trying to match up the storage, which we are going to continue to need, with all the environmental issues and issues surrounding the development of water infrastructure.
In the past 20 years, Northern has been in permitting so can you talk about that process?
We say water project permitting works at a glacial pace. When I started working on the Northern Integrated Supply Project permitting at Northern Water, I told my wife that I thought we would have a permit in around 5 years … I’m now retired. Northern Water is going on 17 years later, and they still haven’t received that permit. That’s frustrating. This wasn’t for lack of energy; I mean we were really working hard to secure that permit. These things take much longer than you would probably expect. You have to have a lot of perseverance because the process can really drive you crazy, but my hope is that in the future this process will become much better for all parties involved.
The lawsuit, filed in Larimer County District Court, contends that former commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly were biased in favor of the project and shouldn’t have voted on the 1041 permit. The suit also argues that commissioners’ 2-1 approval of the permit in September violated criteria of Larimer County’s land use code…
The lawsuit argues that Johnson and Donnelly demonstrated bias in several ways, citing a photo of Donnelly speaking at a “Farmers for NISP” event and an online news release from NISP proponent Northern Water reading “Larimer County Commissioners support NISP.”
The complaint also references August 2019 text messages from Donnelly to Northern Water spokesperson Jeff Stahla that read, according to the lawsuit: “You guys are getting ready to blow this deal …” and “Northern has no idea what is in store for them if they let this slide into the next boards (sic) term.”
Stahla told the Coloradoan that Donnelly “reached out to me … when we were in the middle of the (intergovernmental agreement) process.” The county and Northern Water had been drafting an intergovernmental agreement to cover the siting of Glade Reservoir and associated pipelines before they pivoted to the 1041 permitting process.
“… at that point, we were having open discussions with commissioners regarding this project, so we had not yet moved into” the 1041 part of the project, Stahla said on Tuesday…
Stahla, the Northern Water spokesperson, said the NISP 1041 permit application was robust and addressed all the county’s criteria…
He also noted that the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in December rejected Save the Poudre’s appeal of the state water quality certification. That certification addresses NISP’s anticipated impacts on Poudre River water quality and includes 30 conditions.
He added that it wouldn’t be appropriate for the new class of commissioners to reconsider NISP’s 1041 permit.
“If you file a permit application and county staff recommends approval, the county planning commission recommends approval, and then you get approved by the county commissioners — well then, how far down the road can you have all of those votes changed at a long future date?” Stahla said. “We felt that we met the criteria, and the commissioners, acting in their role properly, approved the application for a 1041 permit, and so we feel we have our permit.”
Karen Wagner of lawsuit co-plaintiff No Pipe Dream told the Coloradoan that the group had hoped the commissioners would apply their 1041 criteria as thoroughly as they did in their ruling on the proposed Thornton pipeline permit — which commissioners rejected after heavy opposition from No Pipe Dream…
While the county 1041 permit is an integral milestone for the project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to issue a final record of decision on NISP. That decision is expected in the first quarter of 2021 after years of delays, Stahla said. The Army Corps’ decision could also be contested in court.
No Pipe Dream, Save Rural NoCo Corp. and Save the Poudre filed a lawsuit in 8th Judicial District Court last week against the county commissioners, naming former commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson specifically, as well as the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The lawsuit asks the judge to reverse the decision to grant a 1041 permit for the project, throw it out or send it back to the Larimer County Board of Commissioners for a new hearing.
It targets Johnson and Donnelly, the two yes votes in a split decision, saying that both Republican commissioners, who have since left office, should not have voted on the permit because of a “decade-long” record of advocacy and support for the proposed reservoir project.
And the suit also offers 44 examples of why the organizations believe the permit exceeded the county’s jurisdiction or abused its discretion, ranging from decisions around streamflow to pipeline routes to the number of alternatives considered.
The suit claims that the commissioners did not adequately look at the overall picture of how the project would affect residents, the environment, wildlife and the Cache la Poudre River…
Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, pointed out that county staff members and the nonpartisan appointed Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit based on the county’s regulations and the specific criteria that county officials were required to consider.
“We’re confident that the strength of the entire permitting process, local, state and federal, will prevail,” said Stahla…
“Basically the lawsuit is total crap,” Johnson responded in a text message. “Tom (Donnelly) and I were no more biased in favor of the project than John (Kefalas) was biased against the project. But as we said in the hearing, we put aside all of our opinions of the project and commented completely and exclusively on the criteria in the land use code.
“I am confident the county will have no problem defending the propriety of our actions,” he said.
Stahla pointed out that Save the Poudre also appealed the state water quality certification that was granted for the project, and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division rejected that challenge.
He added, “We look at this as another attempt to delay an important project for the long-term water supply in Northern Colorado.”
Larimer County has approved a development agreement that delves into details surrounding construction of certain aspects of the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The county commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve the agreement with the Northern Integrated Supply Project Water Activity Enterprise, putting into writing some of the specific requirements that the elected board had put into place earlier in approving a 1041 permit for the water supply project…
The agreement focuses on recreational facilities for Glade Reservoir, and the amount of money Northern Water committed to that piece, as well as pipeline details, environmental mitigations and requirements surrounding the relocation of U.S. 287.
It puts in writing that the county will be involved in construction meetings and inspections and lays out some safety requirements.
“This agreement really protects the interest of Larimer County … whether one supports this project or not,” said Commissioner Steve Johnson, who along with Commissioner Tom Donnelly voted to approve the development agreement. (Both commissioners also voted in September to grant the 1041 permit, which allows the county some input on certain aspects of this water storage and pipeline project.)
The county does not have final say over whether the Northern Integrated Supply Project will be built. That approval would come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the federal agency’s decision is expected soon, following more than a decadelong environmental process.
Johnson stressed that the county does not have final say but that he wants to have some say on safety, recreation and construction that will affect residents…
Larimer County has agreed to manage the recreation on and around Glade Reservoir, with Northern Water committing to $20.6 million for recreational facilities and with either the county or another yet-to-be-identified partner bringing $3.775 million to the table.
The money would cover parking lots, boat ramps, a visitors center, camping areas and environmental mitigations at the reservoir and on the surrounding land.
Commissioner John Kefalas, the sole Democrat on the board and the lone vote against the 1041 permit in September, also voted against the development agreement Tuesday. He said he understands the purpose is to describe the water developer’s obligations to the county and “to enhance the general welfare of the county,” but that he had concerns about some pieces of the agreement and could not vote in favor of it without further information.
The development agreement was included on the consent agenda at the commissioners’ weekly administrative matters meeting. The consent agenda typically is a list of actions approved without discussion and all by a single vote. Kefalas moved the item from that single vote so the board could discuss it.
“My rationale for pulling this item from the consent agenda is first to highlight that approval of the NISP project is indeed one of the most significant decisions made by this board of county commissioners, one that will impact Larimer County and future generations in many ways,” Kefalas said. “As such, this development merits public attention and scrutiny and, from my perspective, it is necessary for the people to see how this NISP agreement seeks to mitigate the potential unintended consequences of the proposed Glade Reservoir.”
He also expressed “serious concerns” about the overall project and said two provisions in the agreement add to those worries. He highlighted wording in the agreement that stresses that recreation is a secondary use to the water supply and that Northern Water, which will manage the project, may vary water levels and may modify design and location, at its sole discretion, for operations, maintenance or other issues to prioritize water supply over recreational uses.
“So I ask the question: What will happen to the recreational benefits of the NISP project if it takes 10 years to fill the reservoir perhaps due to higher temperatures, extended droughts and reduced snowpack?” Kefalas said. “Without a science-based answer to this question today, I cannot support this NISP development agreement.”
Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.
That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.
NISP — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is close to being fully permitted, which would pave the way to begin construction of the infrastructure project to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers. The project promises to give those communities water to build new homes and businesses — without buying it from farmers.
Glade Reservoir is the proposed body of water that would fill a bathtub-shaped valley north of Fort Collins that currently acts as a straight stretch of Highway 287…
Glade would be one of the Western U.S.’s biggest new reservoirs to come online in the past couple decades. With a more than $1 billion price tag, a project of this size and scale has those who live near the new reservoir and along pipeline routes concerned…
Northern Water, the quasi-governmental agency that moves water through tunnels, canals and reservoirs across a broad swath of Northern Colorado, is pushing for NISP’s construction on behalf of 15 other water providers, mostly small suburbs that have ambitions to grow. The communities of Dacono, Firestone, Eaton, Lafayette, Windsor and Severance are all participants in the project, among others…
NISP is getting close to the end of a federal, state and local permitting process. Since first formally submitting for permits in 2004, the project has jumped through regulatory hurdles like a federal environmental impact statement, a water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and a 1041 permit from Larimer County. The 1041 permit gives local governments in Colorado some oversight authority on large infrastructure projects within their boundaries…
[The Larimer County] voted to recommend the 1041 permit to the board of county commissioners, which then approved on a 2-1 vote the permit for the project…
The town of Erie, a rapidly growing community in Boulder County about a half hour from Boulder and north Denver, would be the largest recipient of NISP water…
After more than 15 years of permitting, countless hours of negotiation over the project’s mitigation plans, and millions of dollars spent on studies, surveys and outreach, the agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River. Opponents say the project will only hurt, not help.
The Cache la Poudre River, where NISP would draw water for its largest reservoir, is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s also home to fish, birds and other wildlife…
The project still needs one more federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers before it’s considered to be fully permitted, and ready to head into design and construction phases.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project achieved another important milestone on Wednesday, with the Larimer County Board of County Commissioners approving the 1041 Land Use Permit application on a 2-1 vote.
The permit will allow the construction of Glade Reservoir, its recreation components and the pipelines to convey water from the reservoir to participants throughout Northern Colorado.
Central to the permit is the framework for the development of Glade Reservoir as a future recreation area to be managed by Larimer County. Glade Reservoir, just north of Ted’s Place on U.S. Highway 287, will join Horsetooth Reservoir, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir and the future Chimney Hollow Reservoir as a site for water recreation, fishing, hiking and more.
The participants of NISP have agreed to spend more than $16 million to develop the recreation site, and they have purchased the former KOA campground nearby to create camping opportunities.
Another part of the permit dictates the route and procedures for the placement of pipelines to deliver high-quality drinking water to communities in Northern Colorado. It reiterates the commitment of NISP to convey roughly one-third of its water deliveries via the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, increasing the overall number of days available for recreation at the new Fort Collins Whitewater Park.
NISP has now received its permit from Larimer County for land use and from the State of Colorado for Water Quality and for Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement. This fall, NISP anticipates receiving a Record of Decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Next year, NISP anticipates working with the City of Fort Collins to coordinate on a route for a pipeline to pick up the Glade Reservoir water that has been conveyed through Fort Collins via the Poudre River.
NISP is being built to address future water needs for 15 municipalities and water districts, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, the Town of Windsor and others throughout the region. Northern Water is coordinating the effort through the NISP Water Activity Enterprise.
The vote came after lengthy hearings before the county board and the county’s planning commission. The majority of speakers at those meetings spoke about concerns over the project’s effects on the Poudre River, its main water source. The project would divert water from the river during its peak flows due to its relatively junior water rights.
Nearby residents in the Bonner Peak and Eagle Lake neighborhoods also voiced concerns about pipeline routes disrupting quiet, rural neighborhoods, and diminishing property values. Northern Water, the agency pushing for NISP’s construction, hasn’t ruled out using eminent domain to build those pipelines, if necessary…
In comments explaining his vote against the permit, Kefalas noted scientific papers show a warming trend across much of Colorado, with consequences for rivers fed by snowmelt, like the Poudre.
“Based on the modeling that has been done with the Upper Colorado River basin, I think there are serious implications to the Poudre River flow and how that affects the Glade Reservoir,” Kefalas said.
Kefalas said he was also uncomfortable with the project’s tradeoff in advocating for flatwater recreation on a reservoir a 20-minute drive outside of Fort Collins, instead of seeing high spring flows through the city as a recreational amenity…
In voting to approve, commissioner Johnson said a rejection of the permit would be an example of parochial self-interest. While much of NISP’s water would be used in communities outside of Larimer County, Johnson said Colorado is full of examples of projects where water is stored and transported from one region to another…
Commissioner Donnelly hewed closely to the county’s 1041 evaluation criteria, which assess projects based on how they fit into the county’s master plan and affect its residents. NISP’s proponents were able to satisfy all of the county’s criteria, Donnelly said…
The project is still awaiting a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can move forward into construction.
Larimer County’s Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Wednesday, with John Kefalas casting the lone “no” vote.
Explaining his dissent, the District 1 commissioner said he felt the 12 land use criteria used by the board fell short and failed to create a “level playing field,” although he acknowledged the board’s efforts to allow public comment virtually…
He discussed the projected impacts of climate change on the upper Colorado River Basin, and echoed the concerns of many commenters regarding the reduction in flow that the Poudre River could see from the creation of the Glade Reservoir.
He pointed out that Fort Collins, which is bisected by the river, has concerns about the flows in the Cache la Poudre.
“I acknowledge that Northern (Water) has done their utmost to look at mitigation and other impacts on the Poudre River ecology, riparian areas and natural areas,” he said. “There still remains the fact that the city of Fort Collins has concerns about the potential impact on the Poudre River.”
Commissioners Tom Donnelly and Steve Johnson each walked through the land use criteria and how the project satisfied them…
The vote on the permit came after an extensive public hearing — one session saw representatives of the Northern Water Conservancy District advocate for the project, two sessions invited public comment, and Northern Water representatives answered questions during a fourth session.
While a large part of the presentation Wednesday was taken up by the commissioners explaining each of their votes, the commissioners also heard from Northern Water representatives who asked for adjustments to some of the conditions placed on the proposal.
The commissioners agreed to include a suggestion by Northern Water that, if the alignment of a related pipeline had to be adjusted by more than 100 feet without a landowner’s consent, that section of the pipeline would again have to be reviewed.
They also agreed to include restrictions proposed by Northern Water on construction activities in the Eagle Lake area.
Here’s a photo gallery from the hearing via The Fort Collins Coloradoan.
The Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado is often referred to as a “working river.” It provides drinking water for cities and irrigation water for farms. During the summer months it’s popular with kayakers, tubers and anglers. It’s home to fish, birds and other wildlife.
But a reservoir proposal facing a key vote from Larimer County commissioners would give it one more big task, and the panel is hearing from community members who think it can handle the work, and those who don’t.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) — with its two new reservoirs, and network of pipelines across a broad sweep of Northern Colorado — is seeking a 1041 permit to begin construction of the infrastructure project that would use water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers to satisfy the needs of 15 fast-growing Front Range municipalities and water providers.
The agency pushing for NISP, Northern Water, says it has made significant changes to the planned project in order to help the already overtaxed Poudre River, while opponents say it will only hurt, not help…
But with the ribbon cutting less than a year ago, [Evan] Stafford said NISP presents an upstream threat. The project’s biggest reservoir, Glade, would be miles from the park, but it would be felt by kayakers and tubers alike. NISP would pull water out of the river at the same time whitewater paddlers flock to it.
“It’s already pretty affected, but NISP would really increase that effect to almost there being no flooding or a natural kind of rise in the river due to the snow melt,” Stafford said.
That’s important, not just for kayakers, but for the river’s ecological health too. High spring flows flush sediment downstream and are critical for fish and bird habitat…
But that characterization of NISP’s potential impact is unfair, says Northern Water’s general manager Brad Wind.
“At the end of the day to fill a reservoir you’ve got to extract some water from the river,” Wind said.
Because the project relies on relatively junior water rights, Wind says they would have to wait until the highest flows to divert water into the reservoir. Those flows come during the spring runoff. But, he said, once full, the reservoir would release water at other times of year when the Poudre is struggling because of demands from farmers…
NISP has committed to releasing so-called base flows through Fort Collins in certain times of the year to aid fish populations and fill-in dry up points that show up when demand from farmers spikes during the summer months. But it could be awhile before those releases take place. By Northern Water’s projections, construction on Glade’s dam and reservoir might take until 2027 to finish. Filling the reservoir could take up to a decade if the Poudre’s flows are reduced due to drought…
NISP is nearing the end of a more than 15-year permitting process. The latest stretch of public meetings has taken place almost entirely during the pandemic. NISP boasts a laundry list of endorsements from former governors, local business groups, farm groups, even two of three Larimer County commissioners. There’s been a renewed call from the project’s opponents for commissioners Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly to recuse themselves from deliberations, though both continue to participate in hearings.
Fort Collins, the biggest city along the river’s course, recently voted to oppose the project, making it one of the first governmental bodies to do so…
Fort Collins city council’s opposition is more of a symbolic gesture, given that much of the project’s infrastructure falls outside city limits. The vote from Larimer County commissioners on the 1041 permit has real potential to either slow down the project’s momentum, or ease its way into being fully permitted. It still needs a record of decision from the Army Corps of Engineers, which could come as early as this fall.
All three Larimer County commissioners declined interview requests due to it being a pending land use issue.
Larimer County’s first public comment session for the Northern Integrated Supply Project’s 1041 permit application showcased heavy opposition to a reservoir plan that critics say would cause devastating impacts to the Poudre River.
About 100 people gave about 6 hours’ worth of testimony at the Monday hearing, which was the first of two hearings devoted solely to public comment on NISP’s 1041 proposal. Over 90% of the comments were in opposition to the permit.
Larimer County commissioners will accept more public comment Aug. 31, and NISP proponent Northern Water will have the chance to provide rebuttal to the comments at an upcoming meeting. Commissioners are expected to vote on the permit Sept. 2, but that could be pushed back.
The 1041 permit covers only a part of the NISP project: the siting of Glade Reservoir, NISP’s main water storage component, and four water pipelines throughout the county…
NISP opponents, however, say they doubt the project will be able to deliver all that water. They also say the project’s heavy spring and summer diversions will constitute a death blow to an already strained river that loses over half of its water before it reaches Fort Collins. The project could divert between 25% and 71% of the Poudre’s stream flows, depending on the month and time of year, with most of the diversions taking place in the higher-flow months of April to August…
[David] Jones was one of many local scientists who spoke in opposition of NISP and offered pointed criticism of its wildlife mitigation and enhancement plan. The plan includes a “conveyance refinement” proposal that would run some of the diverted water through a portion of the river in Fort Collins with the goal of addressing dry-up points and improving streamflows…
[Barry Noon] also criticized the mitigation plan for not sufficiently accounting for climate change, which climatologists project will deteriorate Colorado river flows, shrink mountain snowpack and exacerbate droughts like the one currently gripping the state. The Poudre relies solely on mountain snowpack, and the Grey Mountain water right that accounts for about half of NISP’s water is a relatively junior water right that is less likely to be satisfied in drier years…
Noon and others emphasized that Northern Water won’t have to meet its river flow requirements through Fort Collins until “full buildout conditions when NISP participants are consistently taking their full NISP yield,” according to the mitigation plan. The plan does commit to conveying at least 36% of total NISP deliveries through Fort Collins before buildout…
If it does happen, CSU biology professor and ecologist LeRoy Poff fears the river will buckle under the impact of degraded springtime flows that he predicts will fossilize the river channel, dry out wetlands and degrade riparian habitat. He said he found in research conducted for the city of Fort Collins that even the flows promised after buildout wouldn’t be enough to sustain the river and would result in damaged natural areas…
Fort Collins resident Joe Rowan said there’s “ample evidence” that Northern Water’s permit application meets or exceeds the standards laid out in Larimer County’s 1041 permitting process. He added that NISP “has been subjected to the most arduous, comprehensive and objective analysis any of us have ever witnessed” over the past few decades…
Residents near proposed pipelines speak up
Also present at Monday’s hearing were over 20 county residents whose property would be impacted by the four pipelines involved in the permit. Lisa Pewe, who recently moved to a Larimer County Road 56 property with plans to open an equine-assisted therapy nonprofit there, said the Northern Tier pipeline would be “devastating to my business, my dream and my property’s value.”
A 60-foot easement would run across the western and southern borders of her property, negatively affecting about 40% of her 5-acre property, she said. She asked commissioners to reject that portion of the pipeline or require Northern Water to use existing rights-of-way and easements in the area…
Loss was a key theme among the speakers. So was a reverential, almost familial connection to the Poudre. Will Walters said the Poudre River valley is home to four generations of his family since his granddaughter, Georgie, was born last winter. He described the way her birth renewed in the family “a sense of awe and wonder in our natural world” — and underlined a desire to protect it.
There’s no more water to wring from the river, Walters said, because what remains after generations of diversions does “crucial ecological work.”
Larimer County residents weighed in on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with the majority of dozens of speakers asking the county commissioners not to grant a 1041 permit for the $1.1 billion effort…
Members of the public mostly focused on the environmental impacts of the project, which would build two reservoirs capable of holding close to 216,000 acre feet of water on the dime of the 15 area water providers that could benefit, including the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District.
John Shenot of the Fort Collins Audubon Society brought up the group’s work to have the local stretch of the Poudre recognized as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society, meaning it includes areas such as nesting grounds, migratory stopovers or other essential habitats for at least one species of bird.
He called Glade Reservoir, which would tap into the Poudre River near the mouth of Poudre Canyon, an “existential threat” to bird habitats…
Another speaker, Larimer County alfalfa farmer Ken McCullough, said his opinion on the project turned when he learned that some of the water to be stored in Glade would be purchased from farms.
He questioned whether the project would take needed irrigation water from area farmers…
While the project has purchased Poudre River water from farms, that water has been exchanged for South Platte water, so it is not “buy-and-dry.”
Although the majority of speakers opposed the project, at least one man, Joe Rowan, who described himself as a longtime Fort Collins resident spoke in favor, describing the opposition as “sanctimonious rancor” and “ill-advised hyperbole.”
He located NISP in more than a century of water transfer and storage projects on the Cache la Poudre watershed.
“There would be no discussion of preserving habitat and sensitive ecological systems were water storage projects not pursued by prior generations,” Rowan said.
He also pointed out that county staff have recommended approval of the permit, and said commissioners deciding based on the input of some rather than the requirements of the permitting process would be the same as intimidation.
“We simply can’t be expected to self-govern if the loudest and most vitriolic of our fellow residents are allowed to cower elected representatives into submission,” Rowan said.
Others said the project would benefit communities outside of Larimer County, while county residents would bear the majority of the adverse impacts, particularly from the construction of Glade Reservoir west of Fort Collins.
David Jones, a vegetation ecologist at Colorado State University who stated he has been following the NISP project for more than a decade, said the project was “not in the interest of the vast majority of Larimer County residents.”
The next public comment session is scheduled for Aug. 31, and the commissioners are expected to make a decision on Sept. 2.
All three Larimer County commissioners began listening to an application for the Northern Integrated Supply Project on Monday, with Steve Johnson and Tom Donnelly declining to step away from the upcoming decision.
“I have no doubts I can consider that application on its merits and weigh it against the land use code,” said Johnson at the start of the public hearing Monday night.
Three organized groups opposed to the project and its associated Glade Reservoir — Save the Poudre, No Pipe Dream and Save Rural NoCO — had asked Johnson and Donnelly, the two Republicans on the board, to step back from the decision.
They claimed that the two commissioners, both in their 12th year of service, have shown “decade-long support and endorsement of the project” and have had outside contact with Northern Water, which has applied for a 1041 permit for its reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers.
Johnson and Donnelly both stressed they would make an impartial decision on the application during this public hearing, which is scheduled to run across four days, and denied any bias…
Right now, the county is considering its 1041 permit, which allows the county to have input and impose conditions on the reservoir construction and pipeline facilities. County planning staff members recommended approval as did the Planning Commission, by a split vote, and the county commissioners have the final say…
The three-member elected board heard from the planning staff and Northern Water on Monday night during a 3½-hour hearing. Next, they will hold both afternoon and evening sessions to take public comment on Aug. 24 and Aug. 31 before deliberating and making a decision Sept. 2.
To approve the permit, the commissioners must believe that the project meets 12 criteria that are listed in the land use code, including whether:
It would negatively impact health and safety.
It mitigates construction impacts.
It doesn’t adversely affect the environment and natural and cultural resources without adequate mitigations.
Alternatives were considered.
In evaluating the 1,600-page application, the county staff looked at issues ranging from traffic associated with construction and future recreation to water-quality and air-quality impacts to a plan for recreation on the land surrounding Glade. They dug into everything from truck traffic trips to dust levels to the costs of recreation, as well as the acres of habitat and wetland mitigations compared with the amount lost.
The staff recommended approval with requirements that include noise, water- and air-quality monitoring and mitigation during construction.
The three commissioners listened to staff members and representatives of Northern Water during the first segment of the hearing, asking about negotiating easements on private property, associated road work, flow levels in the Poudre River and more.
All three said they will carefully consider all the input from both Northern Water and residents, who will be allowed to speak at hearings on the next two Mondays. Residents who want to speak during the upcoming sessions must sign up by 10 a.m. Aug. 24 at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.
Fort Collins City Council voted [August 4, 2020] to oppose the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a departure from the city’s previous neutral stance on the controversial plan to siphon Poudre River water into two new reservoirs.
Council members also endorsed city staff comments expressing reservations with Northern Water’s proposed Poudre intake pipeline upstream of the Mulberry Water Reclamation Facility. They adopted their position in a 5-1 vote on Tuesday, with council member Ken Summers voting “no” and Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens absent.
The vote was the current council’s first opportunity to take a position on NISP. The city’s position on the project has vacillated over the years, wavering between opposition and a more neutral “can’t support” position. Council included in its opposition statement a note directing staff to continue working with Northern Water to address the city’s concerns about NISP and develop “a sustainable, long-term approach” to avoid, manage and mitigate the project’s impacts.
Council’s job on Tuesday was to decide whether to endorse staff’s comments on the pipeline, which were submitted to Larimer County, and choose between four stances on NISP ranging from the most neutral “can’t support this variant of NISP” to the most outspoken “oppose (this version of NISP) and oppose the use of city natural areas.” They chose the latter.
At issue Tuesday was whether the city could take that stance on the project while maintaining a foothold in negotiations with Northern Water, the organizer of the plan to supply water to 15 small-but-growing Colorado municipalities and water districts. While the city itself isn’t among the participants, which include Fort Collins-Loveland Water District (covering the city’s southern reaches) and Windsor, the project would degrade springtime river flows through Fort Collins and the Poudre intake pipeline would affect several city natural areas…
The intake pipeline is part of a concession Northern Water made to lessen NISP’s impacts on the Poudre through Fort Collins: Rather than drawing all the water off the river upstream of Fort Collins, Northern Water plans to run some of it through a 12-mile stretch of the river roughly between the Poudre Canyon mouth and Mulberry Street from fall to early spring.
The “conveyance refinement” plan would run 18-25 cubic feet per second’s worth of water through the river, increasing the volume of water to eliminate some dry spots, lower the river’s temperature and reduce harm to fish [living] in the river. The intake pipeline near the reclamation plant is where Northern Water plans to take the water back out of the river…
The influx of water will make “a very significant difference for fish” and offers clear environmental benefits for the river’s base flows, city watershed planner Jennifer Shanahan told council. But the structures involved with the intake pipeline will have temporary and permanent impacts to the Homestead, Kingfisher Point, Riverbend Ponds and Williams natural areas. Construction will have temporary impacts on traffic and visitors to those areas, including trail and parking lot closures, and more lasting impacts, including possible damage to sensitive wetlands, soil, wildlife and native vegetation and the sale of some land at Kingfisher Point Natural Area.
The city submitted its comments on the pipeline to Larimer County as part of the 1041 permitting process. Staff recommended that Northern Water work with the city to refine the pipeline plan in several ways, such as shrinking the pump station and settling ponds proposed at Kingfisher Point, moving the pipeline further from the river at Kingfisher Point and creating a more ecologically sound river diversion at Homestead Natural Area…
Council members agreed with the staff comments, but several of them offered broader criticism of NISP. Northern Water has been working for years on a broad plan to mitigate NISP’s impacts to the river, wildlife and riparian habitat, but environmental advocates say no mitigation plan can undo the irreparable damage of diverting so much water from a river that is already stretched thin. Fort Collins gets about half of its own water supply from the Poudre…
Mayor Wade Troxell, who has the longest tenure on City Council, said he’s watched the city make progress in negotiations with Northern Water over the last 13 years. He discouraged his fellow council members from making “sweeping opposition statements that don’t get us where we need to go.”
NISP is approaching a county decision on the 1041 permit that would allow construction of Glade Reservoir and four pipelines associated with the project. The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its record of decision on the project as a whole this year, and if the project is approved, construction could begin as soon as 2023.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project moved a step closer to construction Wednesday when the Larimer County Planning Commission recommended approval of the reservoir storage project.
Four members of the volunteer planning board voted to recommend that the Larimer County Board of Commissioners approve a 1041 permit for the project that would include a new reservoir west of Fort Collins for water storage and recreation. Two voted against it, and the other three members stepped back from the decision because of perceived conflicts of interest.
Planning Commission member Curtis Miller, a Loveland resident, said he is convinced that the project meets all the criteria for the permit and will be a benefit for the entire region…
Drake resident Abbie Pontius, a member of the Planning Commission, also spoke in favor…
However, Nancy Wallace, chair of the Planning Commission and a Fort Collins resident, voted against the project. She said that the water primarily will benefit residents outside Larimer County, and the reservoir would draw unwanted and unneeded traffic to the region…
John Barnett, a Fort Collins resident on the Planning Commission, also voted against the project after saying he worries that it will affect water levels in the river downstream from Mulberry Street, particularly at several natural areas…
The main approval for the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade of analysis, is expected sometime in 2020.
But the project also requires a 1041 permit from the county on issues including the pipeline, realignment of U.S. 287 and recreation. A 1041 permit allows the county to make requirements on certain aspects of the project that would affect county residents.
The Larimer County commissioners have the final say on the permit. That elected board has a public hearing scheduled over four consecutive Mondays starting Aug. 17. A final decision will come at the end of that hearing and will include consideration of the recommendation from the planning board…
The last night of the Planning Commission hearing, on Wednesday, included several representatives of Northern Water answering questions previously posed by members of the Planning Commission as well as response to public comments. Those include:
Stephanie Cecil, water resources engineer, and Brad Wind, general manager, both said they realized that Northern Water needs to do a better job reaching out to people who live near the proposed Glade Reservoir and associated pipeline. Both committed to doing better at reaching residents, especially those who live in the Eagle Lake subdivision through which the pipeline will run. “Based on what we heard at the last meeting we missed the mark,” Cecil said.
The reservoir and dam will be built in an area that includes the North Fork and Bellvue faults. Jennifer Williams, a civil engineer with AECOM, a consultant hired by Northern Water, stressed that both faults are considered inactive, meaning they have not shown movement in the last 1.3 million years. In fact, the most recent movement is estimated to be 30 million to 60 million years ago, Williams said.
The project would require a new route for a section of U.S. 287 northwest of Fort Collins. This new stretch of highway would be completed before the existing route is decommissioned, and construction of the highway would commence at the same time as construction begins on Glade Reservoir. A specific schedule depends upon the timing of permits that are still outstanding. The new route will be about 1.6 miles longer than the existing highway.
Northern Water also clarified that the NISP participants have committed to paying $16.35 million, or 75%, of the construction of recreation facilities on the land around Glade Reservoir. The remaining 25% would be paid by other partners. Those have not been determined yet but could include corporate sponsors, grants or even Larimer County, which is looking to manage recreation at the reservoir.
Wallace, who voted against the permit, disagreed with that piece, saying that she believes that boating at the proposed reservoir should be changed to wakeless only without motorboats, and that associated savings could reduce the costs potentially paid by Larimer County…
Miller and Jeff Jensen, another Planning Commission member from Fort Collins, strongly disagreed, saying that there is a demand for recreation including motorized boating. They said this added reservoir would help meet that need and provide a resource to Larimer County residents.
The initial proposal was that Northern Water and Larimer County pursue a 25-year recreation lease with the option for a 25-year renewal. At Jensen’s suggestion, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a 35-year lease also with the option for renewal to manage recreation at Glade Reservoir in the future.
Jensen, too, spoke strongly in favor of NISP and voted to recommend approval of the 1041 permit by the commissioners.
The Planning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend approval of the permit, with commissioners Nancy Wallace and John Barnett in opposition.
Commissioners said the long-debated project, which would provide water to 15 regional communities and water districts, would be a benefit to the county and the state.
Commissioner Curtis Miller said the proposal met all of the county’s criteria for approval…
The requested 1041 permit – named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects – is for siting Glade Reservoir and its proposed recreational facilities, including a visitor center, campgrounds and boat ramps…
The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade, including one that would release water into the Poudre River to run through Fort Collins and another to take it out again for delivery to communities to the south.
As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Natural Resources Department. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs…
Under a condition of approval added by the Planning Commission, the county would have a 35-year management agreement for recreation on the reservoir with an option for another 25 years. The condition was one of more than 80 recommended by the commission and county staff…
Representatives of Northern Water had answers for each of the objections, in part citing the exhaustive research and planning that went into a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP that began in 2004.
NISP would pay $53 million to mitigate its impacts to wildlife and the environment, with more than 90% of that funding spent in Larimer County, Northern Water officials said.
NISP would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to its participants, which include the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor…
A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators.
The Larimer County Board of County Commissioners has scheduled the following hearings on NISP:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
Testimony will be taken in person and online. Registration to speak will be available online beginning Aug. 3.
Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.
Dozens of in-person and remote speakers aired their concerns about the proposed $1.1 billion water storage and delivery project, which would include building Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.
Issues raised about the massive project proposed by Northern Water included the ecological impacts of drawing water from an already heavily used Poudre River to store in the reservoir, the routing of pipelines that would carry water to participating communities, and the effects construction of the reservoir and pipelines would have on nearby communities…
A decision of record on the Environmental Impact Statement for NISP is expected to be released this year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project has received water quality certification from state regulators…
The Planning Commission is considering an application from Northern Water for a 1041 permit — named for the state law that grants local governments permitting authority over certain infrastructure projects — for the siting of the reservoir and associated recreational facilities, including a visitor center, boat ramps and campgrounds. The permit also covers the routes of four pipelines needed to convey water from Glade.
Commission members heard presentations on the reservoir and pipelines from county staff members and Northern Water on June 24. Wednesday’s four-hour hearing was dedicated to taking public comment.
Of the approximately 40 people who spoke individually or as the representative of a group, only one spoke in favor of NISP. The county has received several hundred emails from residents opposing the project…
Northern Water has said the dam site is safe and structures will be designed to withstand seismic activity and soil shifts.
Residents of the Eagle Lakes subdivision blasted the proposed routing of a pipeline from Glade through their neighborhood that would connect with another pipeline near the county line and carry water south.
Northern Water would likely have to use its eminent domain power to get the 100-foot easement it wants for constructing the pipeline, said Eagle Lake resident Mark Heiden…
He said alternative routes through open land are available if Northern Water were willing to pay the additional cost, which he estimated at $3 million.
Area homeowners complained they would have to endure many weeks of disruption from construction activity and loss of use of their property because of the easements.
Northern Water has said it would pay property owners fair market value for easements and restore disturbed land to pre-construction condition or better.
Several speakers compared the proposed pipeline to the city of Thornton’s plan to run a massive pipeline along Douglas Road. The proposal was fought by No Pipe Dream and others.
The county commissioners rejected Thornton’s proposed route last year. Thornton has sued the county in District Court over the decision…
The Planning Commission continued its hearing to July 15, when members will hear additional information from staff and Northern Water before deliberating on its recommendation on a permit to the county commissioners, who will decide whether to grant the permit.
The commissioners have scheduled multiple hearings on the permit application for NISP in August.
After the public comment was completed, planning commissioners listed several questions they want addressed by county staff or Northern Water at the next meeting. The questions reflected issues brought up during public comment, including whether Northern Water has sufficient water rights to fill the reservoir and provide recreational opportunities.
Northern Water has said boating would be possible on the reservoir 90% of the time.
Commission member Nancy Wallace said she wants to hear more about how plans for the project address climate change and other “big picture” issues…
The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to have its final meeting on NISP beginning at 6 p.m. July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.
Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.
Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – Questions, final deliberation and decision
Speakers will be limited to 2 minutes each. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed.
The Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday heard details of plans for constructing and operating the project, which would include building Glade northwest of Fort Collins and laying 35.6 miles of pipeline to carry NISP water out of the county.
The information packet given to commissioners, including staff reports, environmental impact statements and comments from numerous government agencies, is 3,242 pages.
The packet includes more than 500 comments from members of the public, including groups and individuals who have been fighting NISP since it was proposed in 2004.
Concerns about the project and its impact to the Poudre River during federal and state permitting processes were raised again along with new issues on the county level by environmental group Save the Poudre and others.
No public comment was taken. That will happen during hearings scheduled July 8 and 15. An additional meeting would be scheduled if needed to allow Northern Water time for rebuttal following the public comment, county officials said.
Northern Water is seeking a 1041 permit — named for the state law giving authority to local governments to make decisions on certain types of infrastructure projects — for NISP. The planning commission will make a recommendation on the application to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide whether to grant a permit.
Three of the nine planning commission members recused themselves from the proceedings citing the potential appearance of impartiality or conflicts of interest: Anne Best Johnson, community development director for the city of Evans, which is a participant in NISP; Bob Choate, an attorney who might be called upon to give legal advice on the project to the Weld County commissioners; and Sean Dougherty, a Realtor who represents a landowner who might be affected by the project…
Under the county’s 1041 regulations, the county’s purview of NISP is limited to the siting of Glade and associated recreational facilities and the locations of four large pipelines that would carry NISP water through Larimer County.
The project must meet 12 criteria for approval, including that the project would not negatively impact public health and safety and the “proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse (effects) and the benefits achieved by such mitigation,” according to the land-use code.
County development review staff members said the proposal meets the criteria and recommended approval of the permit with 82 conditions, including requirements for several reports and plans for addressing issues such as noise and dust during construction.
As part of the project, Northern would build recreational facilities that would be managed by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources. The department manages recreation at Carter Lake and Horsetooth, Pinewood and Flatiron reservoirs.
Facilities at Glade would include a visitor center, campgrounds, hiking, fishing and boating. A four-lane boat ramp would be built on the southeast side of the reservoir.
The facilities would increase recreational opportunities as envisioned in county master plans, said Daylan Figgs, Natural Resources director.
Demand for access to recreation will likely increase as the county grows in the years to come, Figgs said. The facilities proposed by Northern would cost about $21.8 million. NISP would cover 75% of the cost, with the rest coming from the county directly or through partnerships.
[Nancy] Wallace said she was “struck” that the county might have to contribute to the cost of recreational facilities. NISP doesn’t appear to “give much to the county” other than its recreation components and water for Windsor and the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, she said…
Christine Coleman, a water resources engineer with Northern, told the commissioners $49 million in NISP environmental mitigation work would be done in the county.
The final environmental impact statement for NISP estimated development of the reservoir could bring in $13 million to $30 million a year in economic benefits, Coleman said. The project would contribute $16.35 million to recreation facilities at Glade…
To keep water flowing in the Poudre, which can dry up in spots under certain circumstances, NISP would release water from Glade back to the river through a 1.3-mile pipeline.
The added water would flow 13 miles through Fort Collins before it is picked up by another pipeline upstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Mulberry Street. The guaranteed flow through the city would be between 18 and 25 cubic feet per second.
“This will increase flows at the Lincoln (Street) gauge in Fort Collins and the Poudre River in eight out of 12 months in average years and 10 out of 12 months in dry years,” said Stephanie Cecil, a water resources engineer with Northern.
Water would be pumped into a pipeline running east to a pipeline along County Road 1 running south. The pipeline would affect some city-owned natural areas.
A fourth pipeline would carry water from Glade along a route known as the “northern tier” and connect with the county line pipeline.
The pipe would run through the Eagle Lake subdivision, sparking resistance to the proposal from local residents…
Cecil said the pipelines would require 100-foot easements, of which 60 feet would be permanent and 40 feet would be temporary for constructions. Property owners would be paid fair market value for easements, and surface disruptions would be reclaimed to pre-existing conditions or better.
NISP’s pipelines would range from 32 to 54 inches in diameter. The northern tier pipeline would carry about two-thirds of the water going to NISP participants, Cecil said…
What’s next for NISP in Larimer County
The Larimer County Planning Commission is scheduled to take public comment on NISP during hearings schedule July 8 and July 15 at the County Courthouse Offices Building, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.
Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. Attendance will be limited to 50 people because of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings.
Comments will be limited to 2 minutes per person. Borrowing, lending or grouping time will not be allowed. Groups and individuals who wish to speak in person or remotely must register at larimer.org/planning/NISP-1041.
The planning commission will make a recommendation on a permit for NISP to the Board of County Commissioners, which will decide on the application.
Hearings by the commissioners are scheduled:
6 p.m., Aug. 17 – Presentations only; no public testimony.
2 p.m. Aug. 24 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
3 p.m. Aug. 31 (break from 5:30-6:30 p.m.)
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 – questions, final deliberation and decision
Larimer County staff has recommended approval of a 1041 permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project with requirements that include noise, water and air quality monitoring and mitigation during construction of its reservoirs and associated pipelines.
Engineering, health department and planning staff members outlined that recommendation to the Larimer County Planning Commission on Wednesday during the first of a three-part public hearing for the reservoir project, which over the past decade has drawn vocal opposition and support.
Northern Water hopes to build the water project on behalf of 15 water providers as a way to pull water in wet years, from both the Poudre and South Platte rivers, to store for when needed. All of the participants have water conservation plans and have reduced their water use by 10%, but still need future water supplies, according to Northern Water…
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for the main permit to build the project — a decision expected sometime this year after more than a decade of evaluation. However, Larimer County does have some authority through its 1041 permit on certain aspects of construction of the reservoir and its associated pipelines as well as recreation on and surrounding the reservoir.
The planning commission will make a recommendation to the Larimer County commissioners, who will hold a public hearing that is scheduled across three Mondays starting Aug. 17 and will end with a decision on whether to grant the 1041 permit.
The first of the planning commission dates, Wednesday, was a presentation by Northern Water and by Larimer County staff. Public comment is slated for the next two hearings, scheduled July 8 and July 15…
Some highlights of the presentation, from both county staff and Northern Water representatives, include:
The realignment of U.S. 287 north of Fort Collins is not part of the 1041 permit, but Larimer County is asking that the design take into effect the impacts on nearby county roads including the already dangerous intersection with U.S. 287 and Colo. 14.
Glade Reservoir would be able to store 170,000 acre feet of water with 1,600 surface acres and water that could hit 250 feet at its deepest. The reservoir would be 5 miles long, and the project would include four separate pipeline segments spanning a total of 35.6 miles.
Recreation at the reservoir would be detailed closer to construction to reflect trends and interests at the time but would include a mixture of boating, camping, fishing and trails that would help meet demands for a growing Larimer County population. Overall, Northern Water has proposed $21.8 million in recreation amenities and improvements, including a visitors center. Northern Water has committed to covering 75% of those costs through the project; the remainder would be covered through partnerships.
Northern Water would need to mitigate impacts on traffic that would range between 400 and 1,600 average daily trips during construction of the reservoir, up to 300 daily trips associated with construction of the pipelines and an average of 1,150 daily trips associated with recreation.
Larimer County would require traffic management, dust and noise mitigation plans, as well as groundwater monitoring. Construction would be limited to daytime, and the county would require private well monitoring to ensure that those water sources are not polluted.
County staff members believe any impacts on wildlife, wetlands, streamflow, fisheries and other natural resources would be mitigated by existing measures in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that was approved by state officials in 2017, as well as through a water quality permit based on multiple studies and evaluations. The mitigation plan calls call for $53 million in improvements, including fish-friendly bypasses at diversion structures, a low flow plan to keep more water in the Poudre River through Fort Collins and enhancements to wetlands and wildlife habitat.
The project proposes swapping irrigation water from the Poudre River with water from the South Platte River, which will prevent “buy and dry” of farmland. This could keep more than 60,000 acres of irrigated farmland in production, according to Northern Water.
Save the Poudre has asked the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to reverse the water quality certification permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The nonprofit that organized in 2004 in opposition of the reservoir project said it had 13 objections to the water quality permit, including criticisms of the mitigation plans as well as effects on streamflow…
Northern Water has proposed the reservoir project on behalf of 15 water providers, who are relying on Glade and Galeton reservoirs to store water for their future supplies.
The water in the reservoirs primarily would come from the Poudre River…
The project requires three major permits — a record of decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which after more than a decade is expected later this year; a 1041 permit from Larimer County, which has public hearings scheduled this summer; and the water quality certification.
Staff with the Colorado Water Quality Division granted the certification in January…
The appeal alleges 13 violations of state regulations in the project, including that Northern Water has not yet secured all of the needed water rights, that the project does not take the effect of climate change into its streamflow levels and that mitigation will not occur until full buildout of the project and does not allow peak flows to flush the river and restore the riparian areas…
Northern Water disputes the allegations made by Save the Poudre. The water district has repeatedly said that it has worked hard to mitigate any damage that may be caused by the project and that is has addressed streamflow.
Conditions agreed upon in the water quality certification include extensive river monitoring and an adaptive management program “that will bring stakeholders together to work formally on the future of the Poudre River,” according to a statement released by Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water.
“Northern Water and the NISP participants submitted extensive documentation in our application to demonstrate our commitment to high water quality in the Poudre River,” Stahla said in the statement. “That commitment will extend for decades through the conditions agreed to by NISP participants.”
Larimer County has tentatively scheduled hearing dates for a county permit for the Northern Integrated Supply Project — hearings that are expected to draw crowds in a time of social distancing.
Northern Water applied in February for what is known as a 1041 permit for the project, which calls for county approval of pieces of the project including a pipeline, highway relocation and recreation plan associated with the water project.
Northern Water proposes pulling 42,000 acre-feet of water, primarily from the Poudre River, and storing it in two reservoirs on behalf of 15 water providers. The largest of the two reservoirs, Glade, is proposed to be built northwest of Fort Collins, with recreation to be managed by the county.
The overall permit to build the project will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with some requirements from state agencies as well, the result of an environmental permitting process that has stretched over a decade. A federal decision is expected this year…
Right now, the county is navigating ways to move to virtual public hearings, allowing public comments over the phone and through email for all of its meetings. There have been some hiccups as the county works to streamline the process to promote social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic…
For the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as of now, the plan is to have a public hearing before the Larimer County Planning Commission on May 6 and the Board of County Commissioners on June 8…
However, Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the water district has been working on this project for a long time, has collected and is continuing to collect public input on the process. He said Northern Water will continue to work with the county to achieve that result through this hearing process.
“We want to make sure the public has a chance to offer their input on this application,” Stahla said. “I applaud the county for trying to accommodate the public while acknowledging the health risks that are out there. We want to make sure there’s a public an deliberative process, so we’ll work with the county to make sure that happens.”
FromBiz West Media/Boulder Daily Camera (Dan Mika) via The Fort Morgan Times:
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment gave approval to efforts to build the Northern Integration Supply Project, or NISP, securing one of three final permits the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District needs before it can start on the $1.1 billion water project.
In a letter to Northern Water earlier this week, officials said the state has “reasonable assurance” the project would comply with all required water quality standards at the state levels.
The letter said while the project wouldn’t directly discharge pollutants into water sources, it has “the potential to cause or contribute to long-term water quality impacts.” It is requiring member cities to monitor 21 locations along the NISP for water conditions needed to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems, and to watch for bacteria, sediment and runoff material that could harm humans in contact with the river…
NISP member cities and organizations include the Fort Collins Loveland Water District, Left Hand Water District, Erie, Lafayette, Windsor, Frederick, Firestone and Dacono…
Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said the state’s approval is a major milestone for the project as it approaches the final few months of getting required permits.
“This is something we’ve been working on for years to submit the required data, and we’re pleased to see this response from the state,” he said.
Northern Water requires two more permits before it can start construction on the project. A final decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected by June, while the utility next month plans to file for a “1041 local powers” permit with Larimer County. Residents would then have 90 days to offer feedback before county commissioners make a decision.
Plans for Glade Reservoir, the main storage component of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, are coming into sharper focus as the project approaches a series of landmark county hearings. Larimer County commissioners will review Northern Water’s 1041 permit application this spring. The permit covers the construction of Glade Reservoir and water pipelines for NISP, which would take water from the Poudre River to shore up supplies for 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts…
Larimer County’s upcoming review of a project decades in the making is just one reason 2020 is expected to be a game-changing year for NISP — for the project’s leader, Northern Water, and for the sizable camp of people trying to stop it…
You can now count some neighbors of the Glade site in the latter. Residents of the Bonner Peak Ranch, Cherokee Meadows and County Road 29 areas have banded together to form a new opposition group called Save Rural NoCo…
Members of Save Rural NoCo, as well as NISP nemesis Save the Poudre, plan to make their position clear during public comment at the 1041 hearings. The hearings haven’t been scheduled yet because Northern Water hasn’t submitted its 1041 application, but it likely will do so in the coming weeks, spokesman Jeff Stahla said.
The submission will trigger a 90-day deadline for Larimer County to hold planning commission and board of commissioners hearings…
NISP’s main proposed pipeline would carry water from Glade Reservoir about 40 miles southeast toward the project’s participants. The other pipeline would carry water from the Poudre River in Fort Collins about 5 miles east to meet up with the larger pipeline at the county line. The nonfinalized pipeline map is posted on nisptalk.com. A portion of the proposed route is similar to that of the rejected Thornton pipeline.
While Thornton’s 1041 proposal drew commissioners’ ire for a perceived lack of benefit to Larimer County, Northern Water might have an easier time selling NISP as an asset.
Most of the project’s 15 participants are outside of Larimer County, but about 16% of NISP’s water yield is projected to go to Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and Windsor. FCLWD is mostly in Larimer County, and Windsor traverses Larimer and Weld counties.
And Northern Water’s conceptual recreation plan for Glade Reservoir describes the reservoir as an opportunity to alleviate pressure on Larimer County’s highly trafficked reservoirs and support population growth. The Larimer County Reservoir Parks Master Plan identifies Glade Reservoir as a “future park strategy.”
If Glade is built, Larimer County will likely manage recreation at the site. Early concept plans for the reservoir and its surrounding acreage include a visitor center, 170-acre recreation area, boat ramp, three parking lots, unpaved hiking trails east of the reservoir and five campgrounds totaling more than 60 camping sites. Northern Water plans to pay Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock the reservoir with walleye, saugeye, black crappie, bluegill, yellow perch and rainbow trout. Among an expansive list of other potential recreation opportunities are mountain biking, cross country skiing, rock climbing, horseback riding, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, power boating and jet skiing.
Northern Water predicts recreation at the reservoir will generate $13 million to $30 million annually in tourism, economic opportunities for area businesses and sales tax revenue.
On the other hand, NISP would significantly decrease flows in the Poudre River during peak season, diverting more than 40,000 acre-feet annually from a river that is already heavily used. Northern Water plans to send some water down the Poudre through downtown Fort Collins to reduce the impacts here, and the project is projected to slightly increase flows during off-peak season. Northern Water has also committed to spend millions on stream channel and riparian vegetation improvements, among other mitigation efforts.
But the Poudre relies on high springtime flows to flush out sediment and preserve wildlife habitat along the river corridor, and NISP opponents like Save the Poudre argue that no amount of mitigation spending can negate the detriment of taking so much water out of the river…
The 1041 process is technically supposed to be focused purely on the siting of Glade Reservoir and the NISP pipelines, but debate about NISP often blurs the line between nuts-and-bolts infrastructure issues and the project’s larger significance for the Poudre River.
The most significant review of NISP’s necessity and environmental impacts is being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to issue a record of decision on NISP in 2020. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is expected to issue a decision on the project’s water quality permit by the end of the month.
“When this was first contemplated, I don’t think anyone predicted it would all come together in the first quarter of 2020,” Stahla said. “What it means is that (NISP) is going to be top-of-mind for the next several months for folks here in Larimer County.”
Glade Reservoir construction could begin as soon as 2023, with the first water storage taking place in 2028…
Save Rural NoCo’s opposition to NISP might have begun with the predicted nuisance of living near Glade Reservoir, but residents interviewed by the Coloradoan said it’s grown into a wider-ranging objection to the project’s impacts on the Poudre River and wildlife…
Jan Rothe, who lives off County Road 29C, feels the project’s benefits are being outsourced to the 15 participants’ fast-growing communities, most of which are spread across Boulder, Weld and Morgan counties…
Northern Water will work with the county to mitigate noise and traffic impacts near Glade, Stahla said, and commissioners can impose conditions on recreation for the 1041 permit. For example, he said, motorized boating could be restricted to the east side of the reservoir so residents aren’t bothered by the noise.
He added that the area is already home to a shooting range and a quarry, though, so the reservoir wouldn’t exactly be the only source of noise.
Stahla said about 50 comment cards collected at the last open house showed a mix of opinions. Most of the commenters were concerned about the recreation plan fitting in with the neighborhood rather than objecting to the reservoir itself, he said…
And Stahla took issue with the idea that NISP serves no benefit for Larimer County. NISP’s largest participant, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, has a service area covering about 45,000 residents primarily in Larimer County. Windsor is located partially in Larimer County and has about 31,000 residents. The other communities are home to thousands of people who live in one place and commute to work in places like Fort Collins and Loveland, he said.
Fort Collins itself gets about half its water from the Poudre River, and Horsetooth is filled with a mix of water from the Poudre and the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.
“To look at your kid’s teacher who has to drive in from Eaton every day and say, ‘Well, that’s just a Weld County benefit” — I think it misses some of the larger points about where Northern Colorado is as a region,” Stahla said. “As the region has grown and become a mecca for economic and job growth, not everyone’s been able to fit within the area of Fort Collins Utilities. And therefore, the people outside of it need to have secure water supplies as well.”
Rate increases tied into planning for possible NISP construction, city officials say
Brent Nation, the city’s director of water resources and utilities, proposed to City Council members on Tuesday night rate increases that would mean that city customers will pay 8% more for water utilities and 2% more for sewage utilities starting in January 2020.
The Fort Morgan City Council then unanimously voted to approve those higher rates during the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
“Looking at your average water bill for a resident in the City of Fort Morgan, it would go from $84 per month up to $90.75 per month, is what (our consultant) was projecting the change would be,” Nation said.
That expected average increase of $6.75 per month for residential customers represents an 8% increase to the monthly consumer charge and a $0.29 bump in the commodity charge per 1,000 gallons of water. The consumer charge for a 3/4-inch water meter will increase from $42.39 to $45.78, and the charge for a 1-inch water meter will rise from $74.05 to $79.97 with the new rates.
Sewer collection rates will increase, as well, in January 2020, with a $0.42 increase in the monthly charge for a 3/4″ residential water meter. The metered consumption charge per 1,000 gallons collected is rising 4 cents or 5 cents depending on the water meter size.
The city is enforcing those higher rates as per the recommendation of a consulting firm Fort Morgan commissioned in 2018 to develop a 10-year water utility financial plan and a five-year sewer utility financial plan. Raftelis Financial Consulting gave the city a report that called for the two recent water rate increases and the sewer rate increase.
Last year, the city also raised water consumer charge rates by a similar 8% across the board…
Nation said the higher rates are necessary to better position the city and its cash reserves for completing the Northern Integrated Supply Project in the coming years, and to support the bond payments that project will require. NISP, which is entering its 16th official year in 2020, could provide up to 40,000 acre-feet of municipal water supplies for 15 cities in the Northern Colorado region by building two large water storage facilities.
Fort Morgan committed to paying a $900,000 portion of NISP’s $10 million budget for the upcoming year during Tuesday’s council meeting.
The meeting between the three commissioners and four members of the board of Northern Water, which has been working since 2002 on the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, was intended as a starting point in the two bodies’ goal to craft an intergovernmental agreement to govern certain aspects of the project.
The project known as NISP, if it receives final approval later this year or early in 2010 from the Army Corps of Engineers, would result in Glade Reservoir in Larimer County and Galeton Reservoir in Weld County, and a system of pipelines to move water to and from the Poudre River and the South Platte River and to irrigation canals.
The project, being funded by 11 municipalities and four water districts in northeast Colorado, would be capable of supplying 40,000 acre-feet of water each year…
Although the meeting was intended as a work session, with no opportunity for public input, more than 30 members of the public filled the chairs set up in the commissioners’ hearing room in Fort Collins and required more to be brought in.
At a few points in the Northern Water staff members’ presentations, low-level displays of disapproval could be heard from people in the audience.
The meeting mainly consisted of slide presentations about the three aspects of the project that Larimer County has a say in: the route of the pipeline, the rerouting of 7 miles of U.S. 287 north of Ted’s Place that will be displaced by Glade Reservoir, and recreation on the new reservoir and the property around it.
The two boards will meet again Sept. 23 to work more substantively toward an eventual intergovernmental agreement on those issues, according to staff members.
Stephanie Cecil and Christie Coleman, water resources engineers with Northern Water, laid out some details of the three areas before the commissioners:
The pipeline in Larimer County would be 32 to 54 inches in diameter.
The pipe would be buried, and the construction would require a 100-foot-wide easement along its route during construction and a permanent 60-foot easement for future maintenance.
After construction, Northern Water would return the disturbed property to its previous condition or better, Cecil said.
U.S. 287 would be moved to the east, and its construction would be completed before Glade Reservoir is finished, to avoid traffic disruptions.
The new reservoir would provide about 16,000 surface acres for recreational uses such as boating and fishing.
A 170-acre area around Glade Reservoir would feature a visitor center, trails, campgrounds, boat ramp and parking areas, including a lot to allow people to carpool up the Poudre Canyon.
The recreational projects that Northern Water has committed to providing were worth $9 million when last calculated. The water conservancy district would arrange with a third party to run the recreation, such as Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife or a private company.
Coleman talked about the public outreach efforts that Northern Water has conducted so far, including the feedback-gathering during the environmental impact statement process, tours, more than 60 public events, informational mailings, one-on-one meetings and the recent launch of a new public-information website, http://nisptalk.com.
Here’s the release from the Larimer County Board of Commissioners:
The Board of Larimer County Commissioners and three members of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board will host a meeting at 1:30 p.m., July 24, 2019, at the Larimer County Courthouse Offices Building First Floor Hearing Room, 200 West Oak St., Fort Collins to discuss the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project [NISP] Intergovernmental Agreement [IGA].
The IGA will address issues related to recreation, the relocation of U.S. Highway 287 and siting of conveyance pipelines in Larimer County.
The public is invited to observe the discussion. Staff from Larimer County and Northern Water will be available following the meeting to answer questions from the public and written comments will also be accepted.
An element of the proposed IGA is to include public meetings and public hearings with Northern Water, the Larimer County Planning Commissioners and Board of Larimer County Commissioners.
A key element of NISP, the “Water Secure” program represents a shift away from “buy-and-dry” and is instead an outside-the-box approach to meeting the future water needs of Northern Colorado’s growing communities while also preserving our vital ag industry and environment.
Northern Water will have to buy “dozens and dozens” of Larimer and Weld county farms to lock down enough Poudre River water to fill a proposed reservoir for the planned Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The unprecedented approach could substantially raise the price of NISP, a $1.2 billion storage and delivery project funded by the 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts that will use the water. Northern Water leaders say the approach will also prevent the dry-up of thousands of acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties because the agency won’t strip the properties of water.
Instead of taking the buy-and-dry route of diverting a purchased property’s water rights to a new use, Northern Water plans to trade its South Platte River water rights for the farms’ Poudre River water rights. That means Northern Water will divert water from the Poudre River to store in the proposed Glade Reservoir and give the farmers a slightly larger portion of South Platte water from the proposed Galeton Reservoir.
Northern Water’s newly minted Water Secure program addresses a giant question mark that has lingered on the NISP road map for more than 15 years: The agency only has about half of the Poudre River water it needs for NISP. But it does have a lot of water from the South Platte River, which is less-suited for drinking than Poudre water and more expensive to treat.
This problem has never been a secret, but until now, Northern Water’s public plans included the assumption that farmers would willingly trade their water with the agency for free.
Those voluntary exchanges aren’t off the table, but Northern Water now plans to secure much of the water it needs by buying farms in two irrigation ditch systems — the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Co. and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Co. Once Northern Water owns those farms and their water, the agency will essentially be trading water with itself.
“We’ve just become the most willing shareholder on the ditch,” said Greg Dewey, a Northern Water water resources engineer and Water Secure project manager.
How we got here
Shares of Poudre River water in the New Cache la Poudre and Larimer and Weld ditches are coveted because they’re senior water rights, which means their owners have first dibs for usage. That becomes important during dry years when there isn’t enough water for everyone who’s claimed a slice of an overallocated pie.
Senior water shares are crucial for NISP because Northern Water’s current Poudre River supply (known as the Grey Mountain right) is a junior water right that will only be useful during wet years.
Dewey called Water Secure’s approach a “risk management strategy” born during negotiations with the two ditch companies. He said it became clear that the farms Northern Water was eyeing for trades are vulnerable to buy-and-dry, a controversial practice that has fed Colorado population growth at the expense of irrigated farmland.
“If that happens over the long-term, that jeopardizes our ability to exchange water with those systems,” Dewey said. “So this is a way to help preserve that exchange and also (address) a common interest we have with those companies to keep water in the system.”
Northern Water unveiled the Water Secure program in February after closing a deal on its first farm, a 28-acre property northeast of Greeley. The farm cost $330,000 and came with 30 acre-feet of Poudre River water. Northern Water will need to buy “dozens and dozens” of farms to secure about 25,000 acre-feet’s worth of water exchanges for NISP, spokesman Brian Werner said. An acre-foot of water meets the annual needs of about three or four urban households…
[Brian] Werner said staff is still evaluating how Water Secure will affect the price of NISP. He said the cost impact will depend on the ratio of farm purchases to willful water exchanges — and how much money Northern Water makes when it eventually sells the farms back to farmers.
Northern Water plans to pursue legal contracts that permanently bind the water to the farmland regardless of its owner, which would shield the farms from buy-and-dry and protect the agency’s water exchange agreements. The water provider plans to lease the land to the original owner or another farmer until selling it to another entity that would be required to keep the South Platte River water on the property.
“If we buy a farm and establish that water agreement, then we’ll be looking to sell it back into private hands,” Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “Our goal is not to be the major landowner up there.”
The legal agreements, likely conservation easements or covenants, would be the first of their kind in the region if not the state. Boulder County leaders have found success with a similar approach for preserving open space, Werner said.
He argued more federal review is unnecessary because Northern Water has included the water exchanges in its NISP planning documents since at least 2004. Northern Water’s water court decree for the South Platte River water allows the trades.
Dewey, a Kersey native and former farmer, is Northern Water’s “boots on the ground” for the program, Werner said. Dewey said Water Secure is getting positive feedback from farmers who’ve watched irrigated agriculture dwindle in Larimer and Weld counties.
Here’s the release from Northern Water (Brian Werner):
The recent purchase of a Weld County farm marks a new venture for Northern Water and Northern Integrated Supply Project participants – one that’s part of the ongoing, collaborative effort to secure future water supplies for both the region’s communities and our vital agricultural industry.
On Jan. 31, Northern Water and the NISP participants purchased a 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley and the property’s water rights. The farm was purchased through the NISP Water Secure program, a cooperative effort to maintain the exchange of water for NISP while keeping water on participating farms. This investment is a shift from the “buy-and-dry” approach that has stressed our agricultural communities.
This innovative program will eventually provide supplemental water to approximately 500,000 residents in northern Colorado while preserving thousands of acres of irrigated farmland. Water Secure is part of a strategic long-term plan to better plan for future growth and to consistently apply Colorado Water Plan principles to protect water for our communities, farms and the environment. Without innovative approaches such as Water Secure, the region is on pace to see hundreds of thousands of irrigated acres dried up by mid-century.
“This is an outside-the-box, ‘buy-and-supply’ approach we’re taking to address the tightening water supplies facing Northern Colorado and its future generations,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind.
The recently purchased farm sits within an area of Weld County that is key to NISP – a project that, once built, will include Glade Reservoir near Fort Collins and Galeton Reservoir near Ault, and deliver approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 local communities and water districts.
As part of the project, Northern Water and the NISP participants are working with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County, to use a portion of their senior water rights in exchanges that will ensure the NISP participants receive the water from the project.
These exchanges with the two systems will keep water flowing to those farms, as well as include compensation that will enhance the long-term viability of their operations.
To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange.
The senior water rights in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are currently among the most sought after by water providers looking to obtain future supplies.
Farms in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems bought by Northern Water will remain in production, through limited land use easements on the property, lease-back agreements or other arrangements that will require continued irrigation on those farms.
Furthermore, the purchase of any irrigated lands will be done with the goal of eventually returning them to private ownership.
“The Water Secure program maintains irrigated agriculture and provides open space benefits while eliminating many of the long-term challenges with the practice of buying and drying,” Wind added.
As part of the newly implemented Water Secure program, Northern Water purchased the 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley on Jan. 31 with communities that participate in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which will result in two reservoirs and more water for 15 communities…
Instead of municipalities buying up water rights on farmland and leaving them to dry out, the district is looking at the initiative as a way to both preserve irrigated farmland and provide supplemental water to an estimated 500,000 northern Colorado residents.
During a phone interview Thursday, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said it’s critical to make sure water is delivered annually to farms.
“It’s what makes this project work,” he said. “Keeping water on farms, as opposed to the good old way it’s been done in the past in this state. The American West, you bought land and you dried it up. We’re buying it and we’re calling it ‘buy and supply’ rather than buy and dry. So we need to keep the water on the property.”
This is how the program will work:
Northern Water and the NISP participants, which include Evans and Windsor, will work with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County to use a portion of their senior water rights to make sure the NISP communities get water from the project.
In turn, the exchanges with the two systems will ensure water keeps flowing to participating farms and include compensation. Farms in both systems purchased by Northern Water will remain in production through arrangements such as limited land use easements and lease-back agreements.
“To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange,” according to the news release.
For the district, getting rights from both systems is significant — senior water rights in New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are among the most sought after by water providers who are looking for supplies.
Werner said the company isn’t sure yet how much the district will invest in the program but said it will likely take millions of dollars.
Still, Northern officials emphasized that the purchase of any irrigated land will happen with an end goal in sight: return the farms to private ownership again eventually.
The Windsor Town Board voted unanimously Monday to approve the second water rate increase of the year for residents as officials look to strengthen their plans to add more water supplies.
The increase will bring rates up by an additional 6.21 percent, a hike that will appear on water bills April 1. In December, the board approved an annual increase of 3.29 percent that will be reflected on the March bill.
For water users, the increase means average single-family monthly consumption charges will be about $38.37. In 2018, bills were $35.06 per month on average.
During Monday’s meeting, town board said they didn’t come to the decision to raise the rates easily.
When one resident expressed concerned about how the rate increase might impact residents, Mayor Kristie Melendez said town officials came to the decision over several meetings…
The town, which currently owns shares in the North Poudre Irrigation Company and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is seeking to strengthen its participation in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a massive project that will result in two new reservoirs and serve 11 communities and four water districts along the Front Range…
As it stands now, Windsor owns 4,100 acre-feet of water. But it’s going to need another 15,800 acre-feet in the future to keep up with demand, officials said…
In the town’s agreement with Northern Water, which manages the supply project, the town is scheduled to pay $100 million to the project by 2026, Town Manager Shane Hale said. The town won’t have enough money on its own to pay for that, he said, so officials will need a base of between $30 million and $33 million to issue debt to help pay for the cost in the future.
Of the total cost Windsor will pay toward NISP, 12 percent will come from water users who will pay the rate approved Monday. The other 88 percent comes from town development fees.
But Hale said town officials didn’t want to place the burden solely on developers and discourage them from coming to Windsor.
Windsor has worked with consulting firms since 2009 to work on ways to secure water. Most recently, officials worked with Stantec Consulting to develop a plan to pay for Windsor’s place in the water supply project and operations, including collecting, cleaning, filtering, disinfecting and testing water.
Windsor’s residential water rates will increase by 6.21 percent to help fund the town’s involvement in the Northern Integrated Supply Project…
The rate increase, paired with another increase that took effect Jan. 1, will raise the average single-family residential water bill from $35.06 a month in 2018 to $38.37 a month in 2019.
Windsor is one of 15 municipalities and water districts that will receive water from the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, a proposal to build two new reservoirs and fill them with Poudre River water. Participants are funding the costs of the project, and Windsor’s involvement will cost over $100 million, according to Mayor Kristie Melendez…
The town is looking to ratepayers to fund about 12 percent of the project cost. The other 88 percent will come from a water resource fee leveled on each new home in Windsor, an approach that Melendez called “growth pays for growth.”
NISP will supply about 3,300 more acre-feet if it jumps through all regulatory hoops. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the average annual water use of 2 to 3 urban households.
In all, NISP is expected to provide about 40,000 acre-feet of water to its participants. Windsor’s share of NISP is the third-largest among municipalities involved in the project.
The two proposed NISP reservoirs include Glade Reservoir, which would be located near Ted’s Place north of Fort Collins, and Galeton Reservoir, which would be located northeast of Greeley.
For comparison’s sake, Glade Reservoir’s capacity of 170,000 acre-feet is about 108 percent of the capacity of Horsetooth Reservoir. Galeton would hold about 46,000 acre-feet.
The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a record of decision on NISP in 2019. Affirmation from the Army Corps will likely trigger a legal challenge from NISP opponent Save the Poudre. Northern Water expects to begin storage in Glade Reservoir in 2025.
Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:
CPW partners with noosa yoghurt, Northern Water and Morning Fresh Dairy on project
[In December 2018] a project [broke ground] that will help reconnect a fragmented Poudre River.
In a collaborative effort, Morning Fresh Dairy, Northern Water and noosa yoghurt are partnering with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to put in a fish ladder at the Watson Lake Diversion. They hope this will be one of many ladders along the Poudre River that will allow fish to travel freely, improving the health of the fishery and the ecosystem.
This Watson Lake fish ladder will reconnect over two river miles. The stretch contains important spawning habitat and deep pools that provide refuge for aquatic life.
Watson Lake Diversion Structure is a channel spanning structure that represents a complete barrier to all upstream fish movement in the Poudre River. The structure delivers water to Watson State Fish Hatchery and is owned and operated by CPW.
“We appreciate the collaboration from the project partners on this important fishway that will reconnect over two miles of stream habitat for the aquatic species,” said Kyle Battige, aquatic biologist for CPW. “Supporting fish passage at Watson Lake aligns with CPW’s goal through improving several facets: ecosystem health, angler access, public safety and public education.”
Designed by OneFish Engineering, the fish ladder will provide upstream fish movement through the diversion structure for all species present within the river reach including longnose dace, longnose suckers, white suckers, brown trout and rainbow trout. The State Wildlife Area and Hatchery, where this project is located, receives a lot of visitors whether they are fishermen, birders, or families enjoying nature. Onsite educational material discussing fish passage will be an important component of the project providing a learning experience for school children and all other visitors.
“The Poudre River has been an integral part of our family farm for over 100 years. We would like to be part of the solution for fish passage along the Poudre River, starting at Watson Lake,” says Rob Graves, owner of Morning Fresh Dairy and co-founder of noosa yoghurt. “We would like to find additional community partners and reconnect the river from Fort Collins all the way up through the Poudre Canyon.”
The new fish ladder also fulfills one of the promises made by the participants of the Northern Integrated Supply Project to improve the Poudre River, outlined in the NISP Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan.
“This project shows the commitment of project participants to address the overall health of the Poudre River,” said spokesman Jeff Stahla. He noted that participants have committed to spending $50 million on a state of Colorado Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Plan that includes minimum daily flows on the Poudre River through downtown Fort Collins, the construction of fish bypasses and other measures throughout the area
The project started in December 2018 and will be completed in March 2019 before spring runoff begins on the Poudre River. One of the goals is to help move other fish passage projects forward on the Poudre River. Local ditch companies will be able to observe one of these projects first-hand and see that there is no negative impact to water delivery. This will be an important resource to move fish passage initiatives forward with other diversion structures.
But as the [town board] looks at other plans to add water, it could introduce higher rate increases, higher fees for developers — or a combination of both. It just depends on the projects Windsor participates in.
As the town grows, it’s looking at ways to prepare for an increase in water use. Among the recommendations Windsor Water Resource Manager John Thornhill presented to the board is to look at joining Windy Gap Firming Project and maintain participation the Northern Integrated Supply Project — both massive water supply projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Windsor is one of 15 northern Colorado communities already planning participating in NISP, which is also managed by Northern Water.
The project, which would also impact Evans, would provide 40,000 acre-feet of raw water to all of the participants — enough for 80,000 families. Of that, Windsor would get 3,300 acre-feet of water, 8.25 percent of the total project.
Still, town officials project that Windsor will need to supply 15,803 acre-feet of water in the future. That leaves the town with an 8,731 acre-foot gap in the total amount of water the town is currently has plans for — including NISP — and what officials know they will need in the future.
In addition to participating in the Northern Water projects, Thornhill recommended budgeting money for water conservation, as well as acquiring new water from other providers in the region, such as the North Weld County Water District.
As it stands now, Windsor’s treatable water supply comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a Northern Water project that delivers more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year to 960,000 people in the eight counties it serves.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project, both projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, have been decades in the making, and once they’re complete, they’ll result in three new reservoirs intended to address a growing Front Range population.
During the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall water users meeting Wednesday in Fort Collins, officials took an audience through the progress of both projects.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would affect Windsor and Evans, hit a major milestone in July after an Environmental Impact Statement was released.
“In 2019, we’re hoping for a really big, exciting year, in addition to the really big year we had this year,” said Stephanie Cecil, water resources project engineer for Northern Water.
The Windy Gap Firming Project, which would affect Greeley, is moving forward even as the project has been hit with a federal lawsuit.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement on the project — a process that took 14 years.
“It’s a really significant step in the project to be able to have all of those things done,” Cecil said.
Right now, the group is focused on design, particularly for the Glade Reservoir and the Galeton Reservoir. One pressing step in the project will be to relocate a section of U.S. 287 to allow for construction of the reservoir.
Additionally, the organization is working on mitigation projects, including one to help pass fish though a diversion structure and measure the amount of water the group is handling.
The group is also working on permitting with counties and the state, and developing a financing plan.
“How is this over $1 billion project going to be financed, and how is the construction schedule going to line up with the financing plan?” Cecil asked.
Construction could start by 2021, Cecil said, and the projects that will likely get started first are the Glade Reservoir and the U.S. 287 relocation. Cecil said the group hopes that the reservoir will be filled in 2026 and able to serve water in 2030.
“We’re looking at about a five-year timeline, but it’s dependent on weather,” she said. “Hopefully by 2026, we’ll have some really wet years and we can fill it really fast.”
The Windy Gap Firming Project, a collaboration between 12 northern Colorado water providers, including Greeley, will result in a new reservoir — the 90,000 acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir — and the largest dam on the Front Range.
When it’s complete, the project intends to make water supplies more reliable by installing the reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County.
For the past year, the project has been in the middle of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against federal agencies. The lawsuit questions the need for the project, saying it would make significant water diversions from the Colorado River, and that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Crops of Engineers did not have enough information before they issued initial permits to the district.
Still, Jeff Drager, director of engineering for Northern Water, said the project hasn’t been stalled by the lawsuit, especially because funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service requires the group to use the money within the next five years…
Right now, the project is in the permitting process. So far, the organization has $11 million and is seeking ways to fund the final $4 million…
The project has been in the process of permitting the project for 15 years, Drager said…
Drager said the group hopes to start construction in 2021 or 2022.
Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers have released a Final Environmental Impact Statement that explores the alternatives for supplying a reliable water supply to 15 municipalities and water providers in northeastern Colorado.
The document outlines the impacts of Northern Water’s preferred alternative, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, as well as three other potential reservoir projects. It also looks at the effects to the environment if no action alternative is approved.
Northern Water officials began the formal permitting process to build NISP on behalf of the 15 participants in 2004, which resulted in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2008. A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released in 2015.
“This is another step in the process and a very thorough one at that,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “We’re encouraged that it shows that no new significant issues have popped up and that the impacts can and will be mitigated.”
The Northern Integrated Supply Project includes the construction of Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins and Galeton Reservoir northeast of Greeley. Five pump stations and 85 miles of pipeline would convey water to communities participating in the project as well as some farmers in the Cache la Poudre River basin.
The operation of the project would include minimum guaranteed stream flows through downtown Fort Collins, bypass of peak flows in most years, improvements to stream channel and riparian areas along the Poudre River and establishment of a recreation complex at Glade Reservoir.
“The NISP participants have really come a long way and stepped up to put together one of the most-robust mitigation and enhancement plans ever,” said NISP Participants Committee Chairman Chris Smith. Smith, the general manager of the Left Hand Water District added, “We are committed to the $60 million plan to protect and enhance the environment.”
In the 14 years since the permitting began, Northern Colorado has continued to grow at a record pace with seven of the top-growing cities within the NISP Participants Committee. Smith said, “we are the bullseye for growth in Colorado with the fastest-growing cities in the state all being NISP participants.”
In addition to NISP, which is the preferred alternative, federal officials looked at alternatives that included a different combination of reservoirs and conveyance methods. Out of 215 elements studied such as reservoir expansion, new reservoirs and groundwater storage, the Corps identified four that would meet the project purpose and need. The Corps also considered the impact of removing irrigation water from nearly 100 square miles of land in Northern Colorado, which, the FEIS illustrates, would occur if NISP is not approved.
NISP participants include the communities of Erie, Windsor, Fort Morgan, Evans, Fort Lupton, Eaton, Severance, Lafayette, Firestone, Frederick and Dacono. Also, the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, Left Hand Water District, Central Weld County Water District and Morgan County Quality Water District are participants.
The public has 45 days to provide comments to the Corps on the FEIS. A Record of Decision based on the document and public input will be issued by the Corps and is expected in 2019.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ report, about 1,400 pages in all, explores all facets of the project, which leverages water rights purchased by Northern Water in the 1980s along with proposed reservoirs to store and release those rights as necessary.
Getting to this point has taken 14 years, and puts in site potential approval of the project in 2019.
“There’s a lot of smiles around here today,” said Brian Werner, Northern Water spokesman. “This has been a long process.”
Werner said the participants can now see light at the end of the tunnel. He could have said water, as the NISP plan would provide 40,000 acre feet of water per year to the partners. That’s roughly enough water for 80,000 families.
The proposal calls for two reservoirs: one called Glade Reservoir north of Fort Collins, and the other, Galeton Reservoir, north of Eaton.
The Glade Reservoir would be fed by the Poudre River, and the Galeton Reservoir would be fed via a pipeline from the South Platte River.
The Corps also looked at three potential alternatives, and analyzed impacts ranging from fish and wildlife to vegetation and water quality.
Most of the impacts analyzed in the report were considered minor or subtle, but there were areas of concern highlighted:
» Water quality in the proposed Galeton Reservoir, north of Eaton.
» Destruction of wildlife habitat with the Glade and Galeton reservoirs.
» Reduced flows along the Poudre River, particularly during peak flow months.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has now opened a public comment period, which will stay open until Sept. 4.
Werner said he saw no surprises in the report, and he said Northern Water is prepared to mitigate any impacts.
Werner said there will be a guaranteed minimum flow through Fort Collins throughout the year, something he said hasn’t been done.
“It’s taken 15 years, and those participants’ need hasn’t lessened. They still need the water, and that need has increased,” Werner said.
Windsor stands to get about 3,300 acre-feet of water, which would amount to double what the town’s currently uses, 3,400 acre-feet per year. When reached for comment Friday, Town Manager Shane Hale said officials there are pleased to have reached this step.
“Windsor’s one of the fastest growing communities in the state,” Hale said. “This is the cost of growth.”
Evans will get 1,600 acre-feet of water from the project, and City Manager Jim Becklenberg called the environmental impact statement an important milestone.
“Evans looks forward to continued community discussion of the project’s value to the community and how it fits into our long-term water and development planning,” Becklenberg said in a prepared statement.
The Central Weld County Water District, which supplies much of the rural residential tap water in Weld County, would gain 3,100 acre-feet from the project, adding to it’s 5,800 acre-foot annual allotment today.
“This would carry us for many years,” said Jim Park, president of the district’s board.
Greeley is not part of the project, and officials here have expressed concerns throughout the process. The official line, City Manager Roy Otto said, is that the city recognizes the need for all reservoirs in northern Colorado.
“Our only concerns are impacts to our water supplies, and how to mitigate (those impacts),” Otto said.
First and foremost, Otto said, he wanted to congratulate Northern Water.
“I think it’s very safe to say our water board is on the record supporting every single water storage project,” Otto said.
The plan goes beyond storage, or at least it’s storage-plus. The proposed Glade Reservoir would offer recreation opportunities, including boating and fishing, and would feature a visitor’s center.
There’s no such luck for Weld County residents, as the Galeton Reservoir would be off limits to those kind of recreation opportunities, apart from, perhaps, wildlife viewing, Werner said.
Even then, the Galeton Reservoir is expected to remove 215 acres of prairie dog colonies, 1,753 acres of swift fox habitat, 777 acres of grasslands and 964 acres of native shrublands, according to the report.
Werner, for his part, stands by Northern Water’s work to mitigate the negative impacts of the NISP.
“They’re always saying it’s not enough mitigation,” Werner said. “I would argue this is the most robust mitigation plan of any Colorado water project — it’s 136 pages. There will be impacts whether you’re building a highway, a school or a reservoir. We certainly believe we’ll mitigate those impacts.”
Here’s the notice from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Rob Viehl):
Proposed Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Dedication of Mitigation Releases for Instream Flow Use in the Cache la Poudre River (Water Div. 1)
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be considering a proposal from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (“Northern Water”) for a proposed donation of a contractual interest in “Protected Mitigation Releases,” as defined in section 37-92-102(8), C.R.S. for instream flow use in a segment of the Cache la Poudre River (“Poudre River”). The Board will consider this proposal at its July 18-19, 2018 meeting in Glenwood Springs. The agenda for this Board meeting can be found at: http://cwcb.state.co.us/public-information/board-meetings-agendas/Pages/July2018NoticeAgenda.aspx
Consideration of this proposal initiates the 120-day period for Board review pursuant to Rule 6b. of the Board’s Rules Concerning the Colorado Instream Flow and Natural Lake Level Program (“ISF Rules”), which became effective on March 2, 2009. No formal Board action will be taken at this time.
Information concerning the ISF Rules and water acquisitions can be found at:
The reach of stream proposed for use of Northern Water’s Mitigation Release water is the Cache la Poudre River extending downstream from the Poudre River Delivery Pipeline (the point where releases from Glade Reservoir enter the Poudre River) to the Poudre River Intake Diversion. The segment extends from near the mouth of the canyon through the City of Ft. Collins for approximately 13 river miles.
Purpose of the Acquisition:
The water rights proposed to be donated to the CWCB would be up to 14,350 acre-feet per year of water available to Northern in the to-be-constructed Glade Reservoir and Glade Forebay in Larimer County. Based upon discussions with Northern Water and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (“CPW”) regarding the need for and use of the donated water, Staff recommends that the CWCB acquire a contractual interest in the mitigation release water of up to 14,350 acre-feet.
The acquired water would be used to preserve and improve the natural environment in the Poudre River to a reasonable decree by protecting Mitigation Releases up to 18-25 cfs to meet the Mitigation Plan targets and CPW’s recommended flows in the Poudre River. The CWCB shall use the Protected Mitigation Releases to help maintain stream flows in the Cache la Poudre River to preserve and improve the natural environment to a reasonable degree within the Qualifying Stream Reach in amounts up to the target rates of (a) winter flows of up to 55 cfs to preserve, and flows from 55 cfs to 85 cfs to improve, the natural environment to a reasonable degree, and (b) summer flows of up to 85 cfs to preserve, and flows from 85 to 130 cfs to improve, the natural environment to a reasonable degree.
Proposed Season of Use:
The CWCB does not currently hold an ISF water right within this reach of the Poudre River. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (“CPW”) and others have been studying and collecting field data in this segment of the Poudre River for over 10 years. CPW evaluated the studies and data by means including R2CROSS and PHABSIM modeling techniques to develop target flow rates for this section of the Poudre River. CPW’s preliminary target flow recommendations for this stream segment are as follows:
Season of Use: Winter (approx. November-April), Preserve Target Rates: Up to 55 cfs, Improve Target Rates: Between 55 and 85 cfs.
Season of Use: Summer (approx. May-October), Preserve Target Rates: Up to 85 cfs, Improve Target Rates: Between 85 and 130 cfs.
In a fast-growing state that places greater demands on its water supply each day, a state that regularly faces withering droughts, Hickenlooper has spent his eight years in office navigating water issues and leading the development of a state water plan that Denver’s chief water official calls a “real act of political courage.”
But not everyone believes the governor has made all the right choices on water. Colorado still faces daunting water-supply challenges. Some say Hickenlooper should have done more to promote dams and reservoirs and there’s no clear way to pay for the ambitious state water plan he fostered.
Still, many give Hickenlooper credit for reshaping how Colorado deals with water.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” said veteran northern Colorado water manager Eric Wilkinson.
Hickenlooper’s legacy may depend on what is done with the water plan that he is leaving for his successor. Colorado Politics talked to members of Colorado’s water community to see what they think his legacy in water looks like – and the governor weighed in on that, too.
When Hickenlooper became mayor of Denver in July 2003, the state was already entering the second year of a record-setting drought. Gov. Bill Owens, in his 2003 State of the State address six months earlier, claimed the 2002 drought was the worst in 350 years, with most of Colorado in what the U.S. Drought Monitor called “exceptional drought,” the worst stage in their rankings.
So water got into the future governor’s mind early on, although as mayor, his control was limited primarily to appointing commissioners to Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility.
But as he saw it, he wasn’t dealing with just Denver’s water. It was water that belonged to the entire state, he said.
At the time, state officials were also trying to figure out how to solve the water problem. In the midst of devastating drought, the General Assembly and Owens began working on several ideas that still hold water today, including a new assessment of Colorado’s water supply, known as the Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI)…
In the 2005 session, the General Assembly approved a law setting up groups known as basin roundtables, which divided Colorado into nine regions, each representing a major river, plus one for Denver.
But the groups weren’t required to work with each other. There were differences among the regions, including claims from the Western Slope that the Denver area was seeking more “transmountain diversions” to channel water from the Colorado River and other western waters through the mountains to the Front Range. That claim still sticks today.
And there were long-standing hard feelings over what happened about 15 years earlier, when ski towns joined forces with environmentalists to help defeat a major Denver reservoir project…
Two Forks was a proposed dam on the South Platte River that would have created a million acre-feet reservoir, flooding 30 miles of canyon from Deckers south to the river’s confluence with its north fork.
Advocates said the project was vital to supplying growing metro Denver. But environmentalists sounded the trumpets, complaining of the potential drowning of much of Cheesman Canyon with its prime fishing, hiking and kayaking areas, and the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed a permit for the project in 1990.
Denver Water, which exhausted its appeals of the rejection in 1996, was forced to shift to conservation rather than looking for major new water supplies from storage.
That’s the environment that Hickenlooper walked into as mayor. And that’s when his water legacy started, says Eric Kuhn, who has spent 40 years working on the Colorado River, including as general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
It was then, he said, that the groundwork was laid with Denver Water board members to build cooperation with Western Slope water providers.
Knowing that Denver Water controlled a quarter of the state’s water supply, it meant new conversations with the Western Slope water community. Those discussions started in 2006 between Denver Water and 42 Western Slope partners, ranging from water providers to local governments to ski resorts.
That eventually became the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, first reached in 2011 and signed by all parties by 2013. The agreement resolved at least some of the historic fights over the Colorado River. It focused on efforts to improve the river’s health and looked for ways to provide additional water supplies to Denver Water…
Hickenlooper got one other big advantage during his time as mayor: The Denver Water board selected a new general manager, Jim Lochhead, who would continue the agenda set forth by the board and with Hickenlooper’s vision in hand. That took place in 2010.
Hickenlooper “made very thoughtful appointments” to the Denver Water board, including people like Tom Gougeon, John Lucero and George Beardsley, Lochhead told Colorado Politics. They were “really strong leaders with the ethics for moving Denver Water forward but with having us take a far-sighted approach with the Western Slope,” he said.
Part of a strategic plan
Hickenlooper says he tackled water issues again shortly after being elected governor in November 2010. The state found itself in another multi-year drought starting in 2011, and that’s when Hickenlooper asked if drought would be the new normal and how Colorado would deal with it.
He talked to other governors to research the best practices they employed, and found that what Colorado lacked was a comprehensive water plan, which he called a “serious vacuum” in the state’s framework. It was a risky proposition, given that Coloradans were historically polarized around the issue of water, he said.
There were things – like boosting water conservation – that he knew would be difficult. He knew rural Colorado’s farmers and ranchers did not want to be told what to do. “We couldn’t deny people the right to sell their property,” he said, referring to water rights. But the plan would look at how to incentivize farmers to at least temporarily lease their water rather than sell.
With the traditional east-west divide over water evolving with the completion of the Colorado River agreement, the time to strike came early on in Hickenlooper’s first term. He began asking his cabinet about a water plan.
According to James Eklund, who first served as Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel and then as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the governor was asked if he was willing to spend his political capital by wading into the water wars.
“Some governors only touch (the issue) on a superficial level,” Eklund told Colorado Politics. Previous governors would go to the Colorado Water Congress (the state’s leading water advocacy organization), pound the table, say that water is the lifeblood of the West and then get out.”
After the discussions with the other governors, that wasn’t going to be Hickenlooper’s way. “We have no choice but to treat this as a serious discussion” and to engage in strategic planning, according to Eklund.
Hickenlooper – a former restaurateur – looks at everything through a business lens, Eklund said. That meant that if water is so important to Colorado’s bottom line and there isn’t a strategic plan, that’s not acceptable.
In May 2013, Hickenlooper announced he would task Eklund and the CWCB to come up with a state water plan…
In November 2015, the water plan was unveiled after more than 30,000 public comments from all over the state. “We wanted to make sure all the interests were represented, not just conservation,” Hickenlooper said. “We also put in water storage,” meaning reservoirs, but that also ruffled the feathers of environmentalists, he said.
Hickenlooper said he was most pleased with the ability of the basin roundtables – set up in that 2005 legislation – to take the long view, especially for groups historically polarized over water.
According to many in the water community, it’s the statewide water plan that most defines Hickenlooper’s water legacy…
‘Water at the forefront’
The water plan attempts to address what is now expected to be a 1 million acre-feet shortage of water in Colorado by 2050, based in part on projected population growth of another 3 to 5 million people on top of the state’s current population of 5.6 million.
It focuses on a number of strategic goals: 400,000 acre-feet of water to be gained through conservation, another 400,000 to be gained through new or enhanced storage (dams and reservoirs), and the rest from other steps, such as agricultural water sharing.
The plan has its detractors who have criticized it for lack of specific objectives in how to achieve those goals. And some lawmakers believe the General Assembly has been shut out of the process and that storage gets short shrift.
Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling told Colorado Politics that he’s been frustrated with the plan’s lack of attention to storage and that there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how to avoid “buy and dry” – the practice of buying up agricultural land for its water rights and then draining the land dry…
Sonnenberg disagrees that the water plan is a positive legacy for Hickenlooper.
“He tried to put the plan together and it didn’t get a lot of attention other than from the environmental community that wants to make sure we leave more water in the rivers. If you want to be a water leader with a water legacy, you must support water storage that is paid for by the communities planning for growth,” Sonnenberg said, citing the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), which plans two reservoirs – Glade, near Fort Collins and Galeton, east of Greeley.
Sonnenberg complained that the governor has not yet endorsed those projects, although Hickenlooper did endorse two other reservoir projects two years ago: Chimney Hollow, near Loveland, and expansion of Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.
But Eric Wilkinson, who recently retired as general manager of Northern Water, which runs NISP, does believe in Hickenlooper’s water legacy.
“He was the first governor to put water at the forefront,” Wilkinson told Colorado Politics. He was pleased with Hickenlooper’s endorsement of Chimney Hollow, a Denver Water reservoir project, which he said tells federal agencies that the project has cleared Colorado’s permitting and is ready to go forward. That was part of the state water plan, too, Wilkinson noted.
ilkinson also pointed to the people Hickenlooper put in charge of water issues as part of the legacy: Stulp, Eklund and Becky Mitchell, the current head of the CWCB; and both of his heads of the Department of Natural Resources, first Mike King and now Bob Randall.
In the water plan, the balance between conservation and new storage is a pragmatic solution for the state’s future, Wilkinson said. “We need to have a greater ability to manage the water resources, and to do that, conservation is first, but infrastructure is very much needed. The water plan calls that out.”
The timing was right and the leadership was right, Stulp told Colorado Politics.
Hickenlooper saw what had been taking place for the past seven to eight years, after the formation of the basin roundtables, which came up with projects for their own regions. The time was right to pull all that together, Stulp said.
Eklund, now with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, is still involved in water issues, partly as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. He said Hickenlooper’s legacy isn’t only about the water plan; it’s also where he positioned Colorado internationally on water issues.
Colorado’s position as a headwater state that provides water to 18 downstream states and Mexico means “we punch above our weight on water policy,” Eklund said. The eyes of the water-stressed world are on the Southwest United States.
Colorado finally has a platform in that discussion by coming up with the water plan, which he called a “gold standard” for water planning. Other states and nations can look at what Colorado is doing and judge for themselves, he said.
Colorado now speaks with one voice on water, said Mitchell, who was in charge of water planning prior to becoming the CWCB’s latest director.
“The default starting point now on water talk is cooperation, not confrontation,” she told Colorado Politics.
The water plan shows what’s possible, she added, when people with polarized perspectives and faulty assumptions sit down together, listen and speak with civility and respect…
Hickenlooper told Colorado Politics he hopes the next governor recognizes the funding gap for implementing the plan. The General Assembly has so far devoted about $17 million over the past two budget cycles to funding projects in the water plan, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need, which is estimated at around $20 billion.
Water providers are expected to shoulder most of that, but the state’s obligation is expected to be around $3 billion, at $100 million per year for 30 years, starting in 2020.
No one, including Hickenlooper, has come up with a solid plan for where that money is coming from. Lots of ideas have been floated, such as changes to the state’s severance tax structure on oil and gas operations – a no-go with Senate Republicans – bottle taxes, water tap fees and the like.
Hickenlooper said he believes funding for the water plan is sufficient for the next few years, but there is a gap, and at some point, the state will need to spend more money on water infrastructure…
That political courage, and part of the legacy, as Lochhead sees it, is that Hickenlooper opened the door for the next governor to come in and pick up where Hickenlooper ended and made it a little safer for a governor to jump into water issues.
So how does Hickenlooper view his legacy in water?
“If I was to look at the one thing that changed the most in my public life, it’s the collaborative approach,” the governor said. “This is everyone’s issue.”
There already are six projects being pursued in the South Platte Basin to extend the water supply. These are not included in the recent South Platte Storage Survey, but have been considered and under way for some time:
• The NISP/Glade project — The Northern Integrated Supply Project is a proposed water storage and distribution project that will supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of new, reliable water supplies.
• Chimney Hollow Reservoir — A 360-foot high dam that will hold 90,000 acre feet to help supply the thirsty Thompson Valley urban area. The water will come from the Windy Gap Project, a diversion dam and pumping station completed in 1985 to provide extra irrigation and municipal water out of the Colorado River. The water originally was stored in Grand Lake, but when that is full, the water cannot be stored. Chimney Hollow, also known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, solves that problem.
• Halligan reservoir enlargements — Halligan Reservoir near Fort Collins is about 100 years old. Its capacity is about 6,400 acre feet of water and the City of Fort Collins wants to add 8,125 acre feet to the reservoir by raising its dam about 25 feet.
• Milton Seaman Reservoir enlargement — Greeley originally had wanted to expand Seaman Reservoir in conjunction with Halligan, but because of diverging goals Greeley withdrew from the joint project. The expansion of Seamon now is targeted for design in 2028 and construction by 2030.
• Gross Reservoir enlargement — Gross Reservoir is one of 11 reservoirs supplying water to the City of Denver and surrounding urban areas. It is on the city’s Moffat System, which diverts water from the Western Slope to the metro area. Denver Water has proposed raising the dam height by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir to increase by 77,000 acre feet.
• Chatfield Reallocation Plan — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that Chatfield Reservoir, built primarily for flood control after the 1965 South Platte River flood, can accommodate an additional 20,600 acre feet of water storage for water supply without compromising its flood control function. This additional storage space will be used by municipal and agricultural water providers to help meet the diverse needs of the state. No actual construction is required, but the legal, environmental, and engineering concerns of allowing the reservoir to hold more water all have to be satisfied.
The council voted 5-2 to allow city staff to negotiate, with Councilmembers Ross Cunniff and Bob Overbeck against, and those in agreement largely arguing it couldn’t hurt anything. City staff would need to go to council to approve any final deals.
“We need to be in the game and to negotiate and look out for Fort Collins’ best interests,” Mayor Wade Troxell said.
The agreement to negotiate doesn’t affect the city council’s overall negative disposition toward the Northern Integrated Supply Project. NISP would lead to the creation of two reservoirs, the Glade to the northwest of the city and the Galeton near Greeley. It would divert nearly 40,000 acre feet of water from the Poudre River. Fort Collins Water Resources Engineer Adam Jokerst noted for comparison that the city typically treats about 25,000 acre feet of water a year, about half of which is from the Poudre.