Thornton Water Project update

Map via ThorntonWaterProject.com.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The [Larimer County Planning Commission] voted 4-2 [May 16, 2018] to recommend that county commissioners turn down the project at their July 9 meeting. The Board of County Commissioners doesn’t have to listen to the planning commission’s guidance, but it holds special weight.

At the end of a packed five-hour hearing, several planning commissioners said Thornton’s application for the Larimer County portion of its proposed 75-mile pipeline lacked detail, especially when it came to potential alternatives and a proposed pump house that would sit adjacent to the Douglas Road section of the pipeline…

Now county staff will convene with the planning commission to determine where Thornton’s proposal needs more detail. Thornton leaders will provide that information to county commissioners before their July meeting, Thornton Water project spokesman Mark Koleber said.

Thornton hopes to begin construction of its pipeline in 2019 and use it for water deliveries by 2025. The pipeline would eventually funnel an average of 14,000 acre-feet of water annually along Douglas Road, then south…

Thornton’s pipeline wouldn’t draw additional water from the Poudre because the city purchased the water rights in the ’80s from farms that have continued to use it. Still, opponents argued that adding additional water to the beleaguered Poudre through Fort Collins would offset other diversions and make the river healthier…

[Mark] Koleber told the board running the water through the Poudre would present several issues for the city and its residents:

  • The water would run past three wastewater treatment plants and sections of urban runoff, degrading its quality and making it expensive and complicated to treat. Fort Collins and other municipal users divert their water upstream for the same reason.
  • Running the water down a roughly 18-mile section of the Poudre would result in a 9 percent loss of water.
  • Thornton’s water court decree requires diversion from the Larimer County canal upstream, and the city’s water rights could be reduced if it asked water court for a modification.
  • The city wouldn’t be able to use reservoirs north of Fort Collins for storage of its water, and building new reservoirs elsewhere “is no easy prospect,” Koleber said.
  • But some of the commissioners were unconvinced that Thornton did enough to fully evaluate all alternatives and declare the Douglas Road route the best option…

    Commissioners spent little time discussing Thornton’s larger plans during deliberation. Commissioner Gary Gerrard, who joined commissioner Curtis Miller in dissenting votes for the recommendation for denial, said he doesn’t have the right to “stand in the way” of another community’s access to water it legally purchased.

    “It’s not like they’re Russians,” he said. “They are our neighbors. …They’re people just like us; they need water. Clean, potable water is important to all of us.”

    Chairman Sean Dougherty, commissioner Mina Cox, Caraway and Jensen voted to recommend denial of the Thornton pipeline permit.

    From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):

    Although it’s true that long-term plans could include more pipelines, the city is currently proposing just one, Thornton Water Project director Mark Koleber said.

    This much is clear: Thornton is moving through the permitting process for a single pipeline, not three, to convey water from reservoirs north of Fort Collins to the growing Denver metro city. The 70-mile pipeline, if approved, will eventually funnel an average of 14,000 acre-feet of Poudre River water annually along Douglas Road, then south to Thornton…

    The city has rights to more water that it could one day seek to transport through additional pipelines. Its long-term water plan could look a lot like what’s described in the decades-old documents, but nothing is for sure at this point.

    The operative word here is “could.” Thornton will only pursue additional pipelines if they prove necessary, Koleber said, and any additional infrastructure must be permitted through a lengthy review process similar to what’s going on now. The city would also need to go through water court proceedings to use its additional water rights.

    Thornton projects the single pipeline will meet its water needs through 2065, so additional pipelines wouldn’t be necessary for half a century, Koleber said…

    Construction along the pipeline route could begin in 2019. The project, currently estimated to cost $430 million, needs to be operational by 2025 to meet Thornton’s water supply needs, Koleber said…

    Dick Brauch, who owns the farm where Thornton plans to place its pump house, is worried the city will hurt his operations.

    “The farm’s been in my family for 60 years, and I have no desire to sell,” he said, but he’s negotiating with the city to avoid eminent domain.

    The planned location for the 2.8-acre pump house would “take a big chunk out of the middle” of Brauch’s land and be difficult to farm around, he said. Koleber said Thornton is working with Brauch and can probably accommodate his concerns.

    From The North Forty News (Theresa Rose):

    The plan would pull the water from the Poudre River from a location close to Ted’s Place where the river crosses U.S. 287, to be stored in a network of reservoirs north and west of Douglas Road. A pump station would be built near the intersection of Douglas Road and Starlight Drive just east of North Shields Street. The permit was filed in January 2018…

    In the 1990s, the case went to the Colorado Supreme Court to determine if Thornton could use the water rights to convert the water from agriculture to municipal use. At this time, Thornton leased some of the farms back to farmers along with the water. Many of these farmers were the same people from whom Thornton bought the land. Some of the farmers use the dryland grass cover as forage for their animals. In addition, Thornton has been making voluntary tax payments to Larimer and Weld counties, $45,000 to Larimer and $257,000 to Weld in 2017.Koebler estimated Thornton has paid close to $6 million in voluntary tax payments since 1985.

    Four years ago, Thornton attempted to address the concerns of their water program and pipeline. Open houses were held in Firestone, Johnstown, Windsor and Fort Collins. HOAs were consulted. The locals were asked for advice on the routing of the pipeline.

    Construction would begin in Windsor and proceed in Weld County. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2025.

    WISE water arrives in Castle Rock; join the celebration June 8 — @crgov

    WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

    Here’s the release from the Town of Castle Rock:

    For years, Castle Rock Water has made providing long term, renewable water a priority. Now, a major milestone has been reached and the first drops of WISE water are headed to Town. Join the celebration to help commemorate this accomplishment and take a look at what’s coming up next for water in Castle Rock.

    The fun-filled family celebration will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 8. Bring the kids, sunscreen and a great attitude to Gemstone Park, 6148 Sapphire Pointe Blvd., to join the festivities and celebrate the WISE water partnership.

    After stakeholders officially cut the ribbon, the community is invited for a festival full of games, food trucks, bump soccer, bounce houses, a foam party, giant bubbles, water colors and more. Plus, get a chance to meet the Most Hydrated Man in Castle Rock.

    Learn more about the celebration at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

    The celebration will help mark more than 9 years of planning and $50 million in infrastructure to help ensure the community’s strong water future. When the WISE partnership was created, many communities in Colorado were faced with a drought. With limited, non-renewable resources, communities knew they needed to come up with a plan. Regional water providers saw the opportunity to partner in a solution and share in the expense to buy, transport and treat renewable water.

    The WISE partnership is an arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and 10 other south metro water providers to import renewable water. Castle Rock is the southernmost community partner.

    Castle Rock Water finished the last piece of infrastructure – connecting a pipeline from Outter Marker Road to Ray Waterman Treatment Plant – in late 2017. The first drops of imported WISE water came to Town in late April.

    Follow the entire journey for WISE water with the Most Hydrated Man at http://CRgov.com/WISEWater.

    CDPHE fines Western Sugar $2 million

    Fort Morgan manufacturing facility. Photo credit: Wester Sugar Cooperative

    From KNOPNews2.com:

    The Western Sugar Cooperative has been fined $2 million as part of a settlement of air, water and solid waste violations and non-compliance found at the company’s Fort Morgan, Colo. plant.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced a settlement between the department and Western Sugar in a release Friday.

    Violations of Colorado’s Colorado’s Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act included exceeding the state’s regulatory odor limits. Water quality violations include discharges of pollutants, including fecal coliform and sulfide, which significantly exceeded the company’s permit limits. The department also cited Western Sugar for unauthorized spills, and said water quality violations likely contributed to odor issues affecting Fort Morgan residents.

    In addition to air and water quality violations, CDPHE says Western Sugar operated two large waste stockpiles of coal ash and precipitated in violation of state solid waste regulations. The piles of the manufacturing by-products are visible from Interstate 76 and Route 52…

    Under the terms of the settlement, Western Sugar agreed to:
    – Identify and implement wastewater treatment.
    – Eliminate and/or properly dispose of waste stockpiles and any new waste generated through its processes.
    – Investigate groundwater and soil impacts, and implement corrective measures if necessary.
    – Implement and comply with an odor management plan.
    – Retrofit existing coal-fired boilers with natural gas burners.
    – Establish financial assurance.
    – Provide funding for a local water quality restoration project.
    – Accept suspension of its environmental permits or licenses if it fails to comply with certain terms of the settlement.

    Thornton Water Project update

    Map via ThorntonWaterProject.com.

    From TheDenverChannel.com (Russell Haythorn):

    Residents along Douglas Road north of Fort Collins are standing in the way of the pipeline project that would deliver Poudre River water to Thornton. It’s water the city of Thornton says it will desperately need in just seven years, in order to sustain its current and projected population booms.

    “This will (help) take us from the current population of about 130,000 up to about 242,000,” said Mark Koleber, water project director for the City of Thornton.

    Koleber said Thornton is simply trying to tap the water rights it bought from Weld County farmers decades ago.

    “The city started — in the mid-1980’s — to acquire these water rights and the farms that went along with it,” Koleber said…

    “We’re certainly going to give it our best try,” said Lynn Utzman-Nichols, Hillman’s neighbor who also lives just a few blocks from Douglas Road. “We really hope we can find a solution that works for everyone.”

    One of those solutions: Keep the water in the Poudre River until it’s further downstream near I-25.

    Thornton says that plan doesn’t work for them, because then it becomes a water quality issue; the further the water must travel, the more contaminated and polluted it becomes, especially passing through the City of Fort Collins. And that would add to the cost of water treatment.

    Thornton wants the water to come directly out of the reservoirs it owns north of Fort Collins.

    “Those are the reservoirs that Thornton invested in back in the mid-1980’s,” Koleber said…

    But Larimer County officials also see an opportunity in working with Thornton on the plan to bury the pipeline under Douglas Road. The county wants to widen the road – and sees the pipeline as a chance to widen the road earlier than expected.

    “If (Larimer County is) going to be tearing up the pavement, there’s an opportunity there to put the pipeline in at the same time and minimize the disruption to the area residents,” Koleber said.

    Aaron Million’s proposed project and the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    The blues. On the Green River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

    “It’s a plumbing project,” Million said. “We’re just looking at a small piece of the surpluses to bring new water supplies over.”

    But others say it isn’t so simple; it’s not clear that there actually is extra water. More than 30 protests have been filed with the Utah Division of Water Rights. Many of these come from organizations that think Million’s team is skirting some major issues.

    “What you’re doing is putting everyone at great risk,” said Andy Mueller, executive director of the Colorado River District, which is tasked with safeguarding Colorado’s water supply. Much of that comes from the Colorado River Basin.

    That’s a big, complex system that feeds 40 million people across seven states and part of Mexico. The Green River is part of that; it connects to the Colorado River in Utah. So when you pull water from the Green, it affects a delicate balance that has been in the works for nearly a century.

    The Colorado River Compact

    In 1922, seven states signed the Colorado River Compact, a legally binding agreement. The four upper basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico — agreed to let a set amount of water flow downriver into the lower basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada and California.

    But it’s really dry in these states and climate change means there’s even less water in the river. So when new players like Million try to jump in the game, it adds some real tension.

    In the worst-case scenario — a serious, long-term drought — the lower basin states can cash in on that agreement, the so-called compact call.

    As Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District explained, we’ve never been through that before, but he thinks a proposal this big would push us closer to the edge.

    “We don’t know what’s on the other side of that cliff, because we’ve never been through it,” Kessler said. “We do know that it could cause chaos on a number of different levels, and that’s the biggest concern for a lot of us.”

    But Million isn’t too concerned about a compact call. He’s said basically it’s an empty threat, and he points blame for any shortages at the lower basin states, saying they use more than their share. Plus, he said, this water is needed right here in Colorado.

    “We shouldn’t let the water go to the lower basin when we are faced with the impacts we are on the upper basin,” Million said.

    The River District thinks he’s over-simplifying, because it’s actually not totally clear how much water Colorado has left to claim. Mueller explained that recent studies have shown the state is probably already using its full share.

    “We think that we are at a point where we no longer have water to develop in the state of Colorado in the Colorado river system,” Mueller said.

    He said the key to managing water in this complex system is working together; it’s what has worked so far.

    “The entire river system is short of water, and we’re all watching this very careful balance,” he said. “That’s the biggest concern, I think, is that [Million is] going around this developed consensus in our state.”

    The consensus surrounds all kinds of water users, concerning everything from how to conserve water in cities to how to protect fish. Bart Miller is with Western Resource Advocates, which opposes Million’s project on environmental grounds.

    “The Green River is really a stronghold, has been a stronghold, for some of these endangered fish, and so it’s a place that I think a lot of folks are concerned about the impacts of a large quantity of water being taken out,” he said.

    Plus, Miller said, it’s not clear how exactly the diverted water will be used and that breaks the anti-speculation rules in water law.

    Million has said the water would be used for hydropower, irrigating agricultural lands and for municipal uses, like drinking water. But he hasn’t said specifically who would use it in those ways…

    “There aren’t any identified users of the water,” he said. “And in both Utah and Colorado, speculation — developing water just so you can have it — is highly discouraged.”

    That could set the foundation of a legal fight. For now, it’s up to the Utah Division of Water Rights to decide if the project moves forward.

    Wringing what’s left out of the booming South Platte river basin

    Development along the I-25 corridor north of Denver is booming, according to water providers in the South Platte basin. A new proposed storage and re-use plan will help meet demands they say.

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    KEYSTONE – Representatives of various water providers in the South Platte River basin said Wednesday they intend to develop a new water-storage project that includes 175,000 acre-feet of storage at three locations on the South Platte River system.

    The potential project would store 50,000 acre-feet of water in Henderson, just north of Denver, 100,000 acre-feet in Kersey, downstream of Greeley, and 25,000-acre-feet further downriver on the Morgan County line at the Balzac Gage, east of Snyder.

    By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt holds about 100,000 acre-feet of water and Dillon Reservoir in Summit County holds about 257,000 acre-feet.

    “We think we have something that could help the Front Range and the South Platte, and the state as a whole,” said Jim Yahn, who represents the South Platte basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is manager of the North Sterling Irrigation District.

    The proposal, which does not include a new transmountain diversion, is coming from an informal and collaborative working group that included officials from Denver Water, Aurora Water, and Northern Water, along with officials from other water providers and users, such as Yahn.

    The group called itself the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group, or SPROWG, which rhymes with frog.

    Now a new regional water organization is expected to be formed to guide the proposal toward permitting and funding, said Lisa Darling, the executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority.

    Darling was on the working group and she was presenting the project to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, in Keystone on May 2.

    She said the various water providers in the South Platte realized that “not unifying was not an option” and that the group developed “a series of projects that could be linked together to benefit everybody as a whole.”

    Darling also said, “We have to be able to maintain control of the supply, and not have it leave the state unnecessarily.”

    The South Platte River rises in the mountains west of Denver, runs through the city north to Greeley, and then turns east toward the Nebraska line.

    According to slides presented to the IBCC, the reasons to do the big project because it would “maximize use and effectiveness of available water on South Platte” and “minimize traditional agricultural ‘buy and dry.’”

    “There is no choice,” Darling told the IBCC. “We have to work together to do this, and we really don’t have a choice.”

    The project, which would provide 50,000 acre-feet of “firm yield,” is based on capturing water in the river at times when it is physically and legally available, such as in wet years, and then storing it for release as needed in a regional water re-use system.

    New facilities would include off-channel reservoirs, reclaimed gravel pits, and underground storage facilities, at the three strategic locations along the river to give providers more flexibility. There might also be some storage at Julesburg, near the Nebraska state line.

    A key component of the project is a long pipeline and pump system from the lower river back to the metro area north of Denver, in order to re-use the water released earlier from the upstream storage facilities. Each time the water went through the system, up to 40 percent could be re-used, Yahn said.

    “It’s a big one,” said Yahn, of the project. “It doesn’t fulfill all the needs, especially on the other basins, but on the South Platte it could be a pretty big deal.”

    He also said the storage and re-use project would be in addition to all the other planned water projects in the South Platte basin, as listed in the “basin implementation plan” developed by the Metro and South Platte basin roundtables.

    “It’s not in place of anything,” Yahn said. “It’s not in place of NISP (Northern Integrated Supply Project). It’s not in place of Gross (Reservoir) enlargement. It’s not in place of any of those other things that all of our entities are trying to do on the South Platte to meet some of our water demand.”

    The project also builds upon a recently completed study of available storage sites in the lower South Platte basin. That study found there was available water to store, and a “long list of possible storage sites,” as well as a wide range of types of facilities, and costs.

    A map shown by representatives of the South Platte Regional Opportunities Working Group to the members of the Interbasin Compact Committee on May 2, 2017, Keystone. The map shows three large water-storage facilities and a re-use pipeline back to the north metro area.

    Help ag, and cities?

    Yahn said that storage on the river upstream of irrigators on the lower South Platte would allow farmers to sell their water to cities in a more flexible way. They could, for example, fallow a portion of their fields instead of selling the whole farm.

    He also said that would spread the potentially negative economic impact of “buy and dry,” which can change the economies of agricultural communities, across a bigger area in the South Platte basin.

    “You’re not hurting, economically, any one area,” Yahn said. “You’re spreading it out and farmers are getting a little bit of extra money for their water, using it a little differently, treating it as a commodity, getting some interest out of it. But really, to do that, you need storage.”

    Yahn also told the IBCC, “Basically, we’re trying to give farmer’s options. But you’ve got to have a place to put the water.”

    Sean Cronin, the executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District in Longmont, also served on the working group, which was formed after the 2015 Colorado Water Plan was completed.

    “I want to emphasize how significant this analysis and this effort has been, because it’s really a fundamental shift in how the South Platte was thinking of things at that time,” Cronin told the IBCC members. “It was told ‘you need to get your house in order.’ And this is very much in that vein, of getting the South Platte’s house in order.”

    He also said “there is a sense of urgency for this. If you’ve traveled on I-25 between, say, north of Thornton to Ft. Collins, there is an absolute crazy boom going on right now in that corridor.”

    A new home, complete with lush lawn, not far from I-25 in Thornton. The northern metro area is booming and water providers are willing to use 'buy-and-dry' as a way to move water from the ag sector to the municipal sector.

    Price tag?

    The project proponents did not provide a cost estimate during their presentation on Wednesday.

    “As for costs, the number is, gazillions,” Darling told the IBCC members. “It is a very, very large number.”

    But not large enough that the working group thought state funding would be needed.

    “That was never really talked about at SPROWG, as to where the funding was coming from, or whether there was going to be state funding,” Cronin said. “In fact, it was sort of a presumption that the individual water providers would find enough value in this on a cost per acre foot that they could collectively get there and pull off a project. But we didn’t get there. There was no cost-benefit analysis.”

    He said water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project, which serves the northern Front Range, was now “going for $38,000 an acre-foot, and developers aren’t even batting an eye, because houses are now going for $400,000. So, it is on in the South Platte.”

    He said the storage and re-use project might actually take pressure off of water supplies from the Western Slope.

    “The urgency for what we’re trying to do I think helps, ultimately, the West Slope because these guys are going to be scrambling for buy-and-dry, and when that’s all done they’re going to be looking elsewhere,” he said.

    The Moffat Tunnel and water pipe, at Winter Park, is an example of existing transmountain diversion that brings water to the South Platte River basin. While the South Platte working group's project does include new transmountain water, there are concerns it could lead to more such water being shipped under the Continental Divide.

    Interbasin view

    The Interbasin Compact Committee, or IBCC, operates under the auspices of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is charged with sorting out potential conflicts between basins, especially those brought up by transmountain diversions under the Continental Divide.

    It includes two representatives from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, six governor’s appointees and two members of the state legislature.

    The South Platte project does not include new sources of West Slope water, but concerns were still raised by West Slope interests on the IBCCC last week that the South Platte project could eventually draw more water through existing transmountain diversions.

    Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District who remains a governor’s appointee to the IBCC, suggested that the West Slope might want to see “some protections that these reservoirs don’t end up sitting there empty for a long time and that it doesn’t just drag additional transmountain water over the hill.”

    T. Wright Dickinson, a rancher along the Green River, also serves as a governor’s appointee on the IBCC.

    “I think the South Platte is clearly demonstrating what many around this table has asked, in the context of fully utilizing your own resources,” Dickinson said. “But I have a concern that the project could in fact pull water through existing projects – more water across the divide.”

    Bruce Whitehead, the executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District in Durango, commented on the South Platte basin’s apparent stance that the project was happening regardless of what the West Slope thought.

    “I’m a little concerned about ‘we’re moving forward, with or without you,’” Whitehead said. “I’m not sure that’s the way we’re going to get cooperation.”

    He also suggested the West Slope might embrace the project if it also included “an acknowledgement there won’t be any more development of water from the West Slope.”

    That drew a chuckle from some IBCC members, as Front Range water interests have said they do not intend to walk away from the Western Slope as a source of water.

    There are two “water development concept workshops” set up for the public to learn more about the South Platte project, one on May 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Denver Water’s headquarters in Denver and one on May 15 at 3 p.m. at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud.

    Yahn said the two meeting locations does not mean the project is coming from Denver Water and Northern Water.

    “Denver and Aurora were part of it, and Northern, but it wasn’t them,” Yahn said. “It was all of us just thinking outside the box together. And taking off our agency hats.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on the coverage of rivers and waters with The Aspen Times. The Times published a shorter version of this story on Monday, May 7, 2018.