$100 million Hillcrest project among infrastructure improvements that support thousands of local construction jobs.
From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):
Rafael Espinoza opposed a series of big flood-control projects planned by Denver city officials as a city councilman — by voting last June against steep increases to storm drainage and sewer fees that are helping to pay for the work.
Now Espinoza has found a new way to voice his misgivings about one of the controversial projects. He was one of several residents who asked a judge’s permission late Tuesday to be added as plaintiffs to an ongoing lawsuit challenging the city’s plan to reshape much of City Park Golf Course. The city wants to create a storm water detention area on the course’s western portion that would fill up during heavy storms but remain part of the course.
Essentially, the councilman wants to sue his own city over the project — if a judge lets him.
“I voted against this (fee) increase because it missed the opportunity to not only address the stormwater drainage problems of District 1, but of the entire city,” Espinoza said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, this project misappropriates the use of the public good to focus on a flood plain that directly eases the development of the I-70 Ditch at the expense of a more comprehensive citywide solution.”
A motion filed late Tuesday by attorney Aaron Goldhamer, who has pressed the lawsuit since last year, says a city attorney has indicated to him that the city plans to oppose only the addition of Espinoza as a plaintiff. The two sides disagree on whether a legal concept called “government deliberative privilege” prevents a sitting councilman from joining such a lawsuit, the filing indicates.
Espinoza and many critics of the city’s Platte to Park Hill storm water projects — estimated to cost $267 million to $298 million — have based their opposition in part on the link to the state’s $1.2 billion Interstate 70 plan.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):
After hearing dozens of public comments, and having their email inboxes flooded with input, the council voted 6-1 late Tuesday night to take a place at the table with the Northern Water Conservancy District, the lead proponent of NISP and representative of 15 backers of the project. NISP would include two reservoirs fueled by the Poudre River, including one near the mouth of the Poudre Canyon.
Council members were also clear that they didn’t view opening discussions as giving in to the project. Councilman Bob Overbeck — the only vote against it — added to the Tuesday resolution that the council outright opposed the project in 2008 and voted in 2015 not to support the project in its current form. The word “negotiate” and phrase “mutual interests,” referring to the city and Northern Water, were also struck from the resolution.
Nonetheless, Gary Wockner, of Save the Poudre, said his group is looking at putting the question of whether the city should support NISP before city voters…
Advocacy group Save the Poudre conducted an opinion poll, via 556 automated phone calls, which results found an overwhelming amount of opposition to the project among city voters.
About 50 of the 60 or so people who made public comment Tuesday opposed the resolution or NISP outright…
John Stokes, head of the city’s natural areas department, said Wednesday staff was happy to get more direction from council, in terms of having discussions with Northern Water regarding city concerns and mitigation proposals. He was also clear that staff didn’t view it as authority to make any decisions regarding the city’s support or efforts of NISP.
“Council makes the decisions about all of this, and, clearly, if we’re going to make any progress on this, it needs to be with council on board,” he said…
Brian Werner, spokesperson for Northern Water, said his group was grateful to be able to have more robust conversations about NISP with the city. There have been some talks with the city about its concerns, but it always felt “sort of like walking on egg shells,” without formal backing, Werner said.
He noted Northern Water and its constituents have already shifted plans to address concerns about low-flow periods of when the Poudre River might dry up by including promises of base flows. Werner cited the city’s softening positions between 2008 and 2015 as proof of Northern Water’s efforts.
“They’ve gone from an almost hell no, to a we’re not happy right now, but maybe make some changes and come back with another proposal,” Werner said. “… I would argue that shows we’ve been listening to Fort Collins as we’ve been trying to craft and draft this plan.”
From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Gabriel Go):
Update: The council adopted an amended version of the resolution with a 6-1 vote. Bob Overbeck was the only dissenting vote.
The Fort Collins City Council discussed Resolution 5217, which would begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a public agency which provides water to northeastern Colorado, on Tuesday. The discussion revolved around a controversial proposal known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The NISP is a proposed project meant to deliver 40,000 acres of water a year to 15 Northern Colorado communities. While the city itself would not a participate in the NISP, a portion of southeastern Fort Collins would partake in the project.
The NISP would consist of three reservoirs along the Cache La Poudre River, including a large reservoir to the north of the city known as Glade Reservoir which would divert over 1,200 cubic feet per second of the river’s peak flows. This would reduce annual river flows by 20 percent and by 30 percent during the peak flow months of May, June and July, a staff report said.
However, the project is not without opposition. According to non-profit organization Save the Poudre, the NISP/Glade Reservoir project would cause immense ecological damage to the Poudre River.
According to the organization’s website, the project’s aim of reducing peak flows would prevent the river from cleaning itself of algae, endangering the Poudre’s water quality as well as the habitat of a number of aquatic plants and animals.
The staff report also acknowledges that “it is likely the health of the river will be negatively impacted by NISP, especially without well-planned and extensive mitigation actions.” The report states that although the river is able to support a number of ecological systems, the Poudre is approaching “critical thresholds below which the river’s health and resilience will suffer.”
The city’s Natural Resources Director John Stokes recommended the City Council to begin discussions with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. In particular, he recommended to negotiate with the public agency, saying it would be the best alternative outcome.
If the city were to forego consulting with Northern Water the project would be left to federal and state agencies who would not consider the NISP’s impacts on Fort Collins.
Close to 40 Fort Collins citizens approached the council for public comment, some urging the council to negotiate with Northern Water and some voicing their reservations.
“I’ve noticed a marked decline in the river corridor already… I see virtually nothing anymore,” said one Fort Collins citizen about the current state of the Poudre.
The city owns around 60 percent of the river’s corridor and the city has already engaged in a number of projects with regards to the Poudre, such as clean-ups and the creation of trails.
Negotiations with Northern Water does not mean that the city has already agreed to the NISP’s construction. In order to construct the reservoirs a permit must be obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who must assess the environmental impacts of the project.
The NISP has been in the federal permitting process for 12 years and thus requires many state and federal permits in order for the project to push forward. In 2015 the council passed a resolution which stated “the City Council cannot support NISP as it is currently described and proposed (as of 2015).”
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):
City staff members have proposed beginning in-depth discussions with Northern Water to explore areas of “mutual interest” and possibly negotiate an agreement. City Council would have to approve any agreement, if one were reached.
Discussions with Northern Water, if approved by council, would be lengthy and touch on “endlessly complicated” details, said John Stokes, director of the city’s Natural Areas Department.
Fort Collins is not among the 15 municipalities and water districts participating in NISP, though as a stakeholder it has been involved with the project’s permitting process for many years.
In 2008 and 2015, the city submitted comments critical of the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the Environmental Impact Statement process for NISP.
The Corps and other state and federal agencies will be involved in determining mitigation measures for NISP, which would reduce flows on the Poudre through the city 20 percent a year on average and 30 percent during peak flows in spring.
Experience tells the city it cannot rely on other entities to look out for the best interests of Fort Collins in assessing the negative impacts of NISP through town, Stokes said during a recent city-sponsored open house.
“They are not likely, in our view, to require mitigation at a level that we think would be important to the city if we didn’t negotiate,” Stokes said…
The final Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project is expected to be released by the Corps later this year. A record of decision on whether the project may be permitted is expected in 2018.
If the project is permitted, construction could begin in 2025, city officials say.
Discussions and negotiations between the city and Northern Water would be outside of the permitting process, said John Urbanic, project manager with the Corps of Engineers…
Mitigation of environmental impacts are part of the permitting process. It’s possible a mitigation agreement between the city and Northern Water could be included in the permit, Urbanic stated in an email to the Coloradoan.
Whether an agreement would facilitate a permit being issued “depends on what’s in the agreement,” he said.
Fort Collins’ focus regarding NISP is on the area crossed by the river between the mouth of the Poudre Canyon and Interstate 25. The city owns several natural areas along the river corridor.
Stokes said the city has many concerns about the impacts of lowering baseline and peak flows on the Poudre, including:
Reduced water quality and additional stresses on city water treatment facilities Reductions in the health of the river’s ecology and biological resources Reductions in the river’s ability to convey flood water Diminished recreation and aesthetics
Specifics of what city staff would seek from Northern Water through negotiations and what it might have to do in return have not been determined, Stokes said.
About 200 people attended a city-sponsored open house on the issue Monday at the Lincoln Center. Longstanding opponents and proponents of NISP were on hand, stating familiar positions.
From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):
The Lower South Platte Water Conservancy District’s board of directors decided Tuesday to not object to a plan to move the proposed Galeton Reservoir from its original site.
Galeton is part of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would use water from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers to irrigate, provide domestic water, and bolster the Poudre through Fort Collins.
Northern Water originally planned to build the reservoir on the southeast side of Colorado Highway 14 near Galeton, but in the 10 years since the project was proposed Nobel Energy has drilled almost two dozen oil and gas wells in the area. Those wells would have to be capped, at tremendous cost to Northern, in order to use the site for a reservoir.
Northern has applied to have the water rights instead transferred to land on the northwest side of the highway.
LSP board member Brad Stromberger, who also is on the Northern board of directors, said the Berthoud-based water district is “in the design stages” on the project already and plans to begin construction on the reservoir within about five years.
“This is a big project,” he said. “This is a new water source we need.”
The LSP’s water lawyer, Kim Lawrence, had recommended that the district file an objection to Northern’s request. Such objections are commonplace primarily to get access to crucial engineering and financial information about water projects. LSPWCD has previously gone on the record as being entirely in support of NISP, and during Tuesday’s meeting the district’s manager, Joe Frank, cautioned that objecting to the change in the Galeton application could be used by NISP opponents to claim that the lower South Platte doesn’t support NISP.
“We could, potentially, see about 10,000 acre feet of return flow per year from this project,” Frank told the board. “There might be a day here and there when they would take water that might have come down (the South Platte River) but the return flows will more than make up for that.”
After a brief conference call with Lawrence, the board decided to not take any action on the Galeton Reservoir…
The board did, however, vote to file an objection to an application by the Arapahoe County Water and Wastewater Authority to pipe 1,500 acre feet of water from the South Platte River into the off-channel Binder Reservoir, also known as the Brighton Lateral Reservoir. ACWWA wants to use the water to exchange with other water entities along the river. Lawrence’s recommendation to the LSP was to file an objection because the proposed project “affects many (irrigation) ditches in this reach.”
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacy Marmaduke):
The good news: All of Larimer County’s biggest dams, including the dams at Horsetooth Reservoir, have emergency action plans designed to prepare authorities for emergencies like what happened in California this weekend.
And the bad: A small percentage of Colorado’s higher-hazard dams don’t have emergency plans. Failure could put human lives, environment and property at risk.
It’s a problem highlighted nationwide this week after the Oroville Dam, located about 75 miles north of Sacramento, suffered a potential failure of its emergency spillway. While the dam itself remained intact, erosion damage to the spillway raised the possibility of the structure failing and unleashing an uncontrolled torrent of water.
This situation is unlikely to occur at any of the Horsetooth Reservoir dams, according to officials from the Bureau of Reclamation and Northern Water. That’s partially because the structures underwent an $85 million renovation in the early 2000s. The modernization project included stripping the dams’ faces and adding a roughly 16-foot-thick filter of sand and gravel. Each of the dams was also bolstered for extra strength.
The lower risk here is also a question of magnitude, said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner, who noted that the amount of water released through the Oroville Dam in 24 hours is more than Horsetooth Reservoir could hold at full capacity.
Perhaps most importantly, Horsetooth Reservoir’s relationship to its dams and water sources is different from Lake Oroville’s relationship with the Oroville Dam and the Feather River, which the dam impounds to form the lake. No river runs into Horsetooth Reservoir; gravity transports water there from other reservoirs in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.
The Bureau of Reclamation in June 2016 finished a comprehensive review of Horsetooth Reservoir’s dams, which include the Horsetooth, Dixon Canyon, Soldier Canyon and Spring Canyon dams. All passed inspection.
Larimer County is home to 136 of Colorado’s 1,737 dams, according to 2013 data from the National Inventory of Dams. Twelve of those dams are very large…
Each of Larimer County’s high-volume dams received a satisfactory inspection rating at its most recent inspection, and none is used for flood control. All have emergency action plans, which include critical information like emergency contacts, details about the dam and an inundation map that shows where flooding will occur at different water levels…
Of Colorado’s 1,737 dams, about 25 percent, or 425, are considered “high hazard,” meaning one or more people are likely to die if the dam fails. About 96 percent of those dams have emergency action plans, significantly higher than the national rate of 69 percent.
An additional 19 percent of Colorado dams are considered a “significant hazard,” which means their failure would result in possible loss of human life and likely significant property or environmental destruction. About 92 percent of those dams have emergency action plans.
Inspection of Colorado dams falls to two agencies. The state’s dam safety division evaluates dams owned locally or by private and state agencies, and the Bureau of Reclamation monitors federally owned dams.
From The South Platte Sentinel (Jeff Rice):
Roughly half of the landowners attended a meeting Thursday afternoon to get the latest information and when they were finished NSID Executive Director Jim Yahn said they’d signed up enough acreage to make the project a reality.
“We have enough; it’ll be a go,” Yahn said.
The project would lease up to 6,800 acre feet of water to BNN Energy, a subsidiary of Tallgrass Energy. BNN supplies water to Tallgrass’ oil and gas development operations in Weld County. The plan calls for BNN to hook a pipeline directly to one of North Sterling Reservoir’s outlet pipes and pump the water more than 30 miles west into the Tallgrass drilling field.
“It’s a historic thing, I’ve never heard of anyone pumping water directly out of a reservoir,” Yahn said after the meeting.
Estimates given to the landowners Thursday indicate that BNN could pay up to $1,551 an acre foot for the water. While that comes out to over $10 million a year to be distributed among landowners, Yahn said it’s doubtful BNN would ever use that much. More probable estimates were between 5,000 and 6,000 acre feet per year, and final numbers could change slightly before an agreement is signed. Yahn said Thursday he expects that could happen by early March.
“These were some big numbers we put up there, but we wanted (the landowners) to have an idea of how much water they’re giving up,” Yahn said after the meeting. “Some of them could be giving up 10 to 20 percent of their water.”
He emphasized, however, that the “giving up” isn’t permanent. It is only a 10-year lease, and the water needed for BNN does drop after the first five years.
The advantage of the lease agreement being spread over so many landowners, Yahn said, is that farmers can still farm, but will have to manage their irrigation differently.
“We don’t have to dry up any acres,” he said. “Farmers can manage the acres they have, maybe decide to not irrigate their hay for a third cutting, or not to plant some of the least productive land.”
The agreement would be similar to one the irrigation district made with Xcel Energy to provide 3,000 acre feet of water to the Pawnee Power Station as a backup to the company’s regular water right.. He said the district had a change decree done on their water rights in 2006 so 15,000 acre feet of the district’s water could be used for things other than irrigation. He said Xcel has never called for water.
The North Sterling has plenty of water to lease, with two storage decrees, a 1908 storage decree for 69,446 acre feet and a 1915 decree for an additional 11,956 acre feet. Those two together equal 6,812 acre feet more than the reservoir can hold. What that means is that the district can drain that much from the full reservoir and fill it again, even if there are calls on the river, and as long as the North Sterling’s decrees are in priority.
In addition, the district has a 1914 direct flow decree for 460 cubic feet per second, which means that it can run water into its inlet ditch, through the reservoir, and out into the discharge ditch. The lease with BNN would be from the storage decrees only, not from the direct flow decree.