Cache la Poudre River: Fort Collins, Greeley, Thornton, and other stakeholders are drafting a plan to mitigate low streamflow

Cache la Poudre River May 2018. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

A group of Northern Colorado water users and stakeholders is quietly piecing together a plan to prevent that from happening down the road. If the group’s efforts succeed, their plan could increase flows in the Poudre through Fort Collins and beyond. It could also mitigate the impacts of future water storage projects.

The project is somewhere between back-of-the-napkin and final draft stage, but the goal is to create a virtual barter market on the Poudre where cities, farmers and ditch companies can lend their water rights to a stretch of the river before taking it back further downstream. Fort Collins, Greeley, Thornton and other stakeholders are involved in the project, which has been in the works for years.

“All these diverse interests are collaborating and cooperating on an approach to help flows in the Poudre,” said Linda Bassi, the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream and Lake Protection Section chief. “Everyone’s putting all their brain power into it to find a way to make it work.”

The Poudre starts running out of water as soon as it tumbles from the canyon mouth. More than 20 major diversions suck water from the river before it even gets to Fort Collins…

For decades, the river that fostered growth in Northern Colorado communities has been plagued with low flows and dry spots that hurt recreation, tourism, water quality and flood resilience.

Preserving river flows “is not just about ecology and fish,” Fort Collins Natural Areas Director John Stokes said. “It’s also about how we manage this volatile natural system in order to create all the co-benefits we care about.”

The cities, joined by the Cache la Poudre Water Users Association, Colorado Water Trust, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Northern Water, are parsing nearly 50 miles of the Poudre into five segments running from the canyon to the river’s confluence with the South Platte. They’re working together to decide target flows for each section and draft a water court application.

A lot of crucial details still need to be worked out: The water users involved in the plan need to identify “seed water” for the project and figure out where to release it and where to pick it back up. The organizers say it’s crucial to craft a plan that doesn’t infringe on other people’s water rights.

Putting the plan in action could take years, if it works. But Poudre water users have already spent decades trying to tackle the problem of low river flows.

The Poudre was the birthplace of western water law, a notoriously complex system that allows people who possess older or “senior” water rights to use their water before junior users. Seniority becomes important during dry times when there might not be any water left for the users at the end of the line.

Our water laws have allowed cities, farmers and industry to coexist along the Poudre, but the system can make it hard to keep water in the river.

“There really isn’t any water out there that isn’t going to be managed and used and owned by somebody,” Stokes said.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is the only entity in the state allowed to hold a water right purely for the purpose of preserving or enhancing river flows. Everyone else must prove they’re using the water for something else, like municipal drinking supply or irrigation.

The board has a couple ways to protect water in rivers: It can create a new, junior water right, or it can buy an older water right from someone else.

“Both of those have limitations,” said Emily Hunt, water resources manager for city of Thornton. “Appropriating new water rights on a stream that’s already stressed isn’t going to get you very far, because you’re at the end of the line. And acquiring senior water rights requires a willing seller and money.”

The new approach is different because it would basically allow water users to temporarily sell or lease their water to the Colorado Water Conservation Board. That means the water would be protected from diversions or exchanges and the user that loaned the water would be able to take it back downstream.

“There’s currently no mechanism to protect that flow from point A to point B,” Hunt said. “That’s the real issue. If entities are going to voluntarily do this, we want to make sure the water is protected.”

The planning group was born as a sub-group of the local Poudre Runs Through It work group. Colorado Water Trust, a statewide group that works to restore river flows, pitched the concept. It’s essentially a scaled-up version of the program that allows the Colorado Water Conservation Board to purchase senior water rights, said Zach Smith, Colorado Water Trust’s staff attorney.

Building the legal foundation for the water transactions ahead of time will simplify the process, and the program will also offer flexibility because people who participate won’t be obligated to put water in the program every year, Smith said.

“Colorado already has a water market,” Smith said. “Water rights are property rights, and they’re bought and sold all the time. A program like this just gives the environment a seat at the table.”

The group could submit its application to Colorado water court as early as next year. Group leaders plan to conduct more outreach with Poudre River water users to help them nail down the specifics of the plan.

“People are committed to solving the problem,” Hunt said. “This is one approach. It has some legs and we hope it keeps them, but by no means are we there yet.”

Poem: Poudre Heritage — Greg Hobbs

Poudre Heritage

O, my Lady,
how you lead me along

Wherever water is
there I am.

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Greg Hobbs 5/17/2018

@Northern_Water: NISP Final EIS released

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

Here’s the release from Northern Water:

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.

To view the document, go to: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory- Program/Colorado/EIS-NISP/
Hard copies may be found at locations listed at http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Releases/Article/1580028/final-environmental-impact-statement-for-the-northern-integrated-supply-project/

Comments about the FEIS may be sent via email to the Corps, NISP.EIS@usace.army.mil. For more information, visit http://www.gladereservoir.org.

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

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.”

Fort Collins folks lower per capita water consumption

US Drought Monitor June 25, 2002.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

As anyone who has watched as more and more cars stack up during the morning commute can attest, the population here keeps booming.

But if that’s the case, why is the city’s water use continuously going down?

Seriously. In 2000, the city of Fort Collins treated 31,594 acre-feet of water.

In 2017, the city treated three-fourths of that, or 23,512 acre-feet — despite an additional 15,400 people tapping into the city’s water. (Fort Collins Water serves the majority of businesses and residences in the city limits, but not all.)

[…]

People are paying attention and they’re asking about (water),” Fort Collins Water Conservation manager Liesel Hans said. “Are we going to be on restrictions this year? Is there enough water to go around? So I think people are more aware of it, for sure.”

Hans traces the awareness back to the multi-year drought that gripped Colorado and the West starting in 2001. People, presumably in an effort to save their lawns and otherwise stave of the heat, were using on average 200-plus gallons of water per day. It was also when water conservation messages starting sprouting up in Fort Collins and statewide.

Then, average gallon-per-capita use in Fort Collins started falling. In 2017, that measurement hit 141 gallons per capita per day, a 33 percent drop. Residential use dropped at an even greater clip: It went from 126 gallons of water per person per day to 73 — a 43 percent decline.

That put overall water use within the city’s goal of 2020 water use. That is a moving target, however. The city has since shifted to a 2030 goal of 130 gallons per capita per day and plans to make another goal change come 2022.

Greeley: Bellvue Water Treatment Plant undergoes first major upgrade since 1947

The water treatment process

From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

These days, the historic plant is in the process of changing. Greeley is building a new water treatment plant on the same property to replace water filtration systems, marking the first major change to the facility since 1947. The $25 million project will centralize water filtration processes that currently are spread out between two buildings, and with further expansion one day could give the plant the capability to treat 40 million gallons of water per day. The initial phase of the project is expected to be completed by mid-2019.

During the city’s annual summer water and sewer tour, a group of Greeley residents saw the past and into the future, learning about the extensive filtration, miles of pipeline that bring water from Bellvue to Greeley and the construction that will upgrade the system.

“We’re kind of turning the page on what the treatment plant will look like between yesterday and into the future,” said Burt Knight, Greeley’s water and sewer director.

CENTURY-OLD SYSTEM

For Mohr, the Bellvue plant is fascinating. Between breaking down the technical process associated with treating water at the plant and showing residents decades-old filters during the tour, he stopped a few times to express his awe for the plant, first envisioned by Greeley leaders at the turn of the century, back when the city had a population of 5,000.

In 1905, 97 percent of Greeley’s voters approved a ballot measure to build the plant at the mountain location — just west of Fort Collins — to bring the city water produced by Rocky Mountain snowmelt.

“The one thing I’m overly impressed with is we’ve got over 30 miles of pipeline from this facility to Greeley, and we don’t use pumps to move water from there to there,” Mohr said.

The 36-mile pipeline envisioned by Greeley water pioneer W.D. Farr brings water to the city’s storage facilities by gravity as it flows down from the mountains. Mohr said choosing Bellvue for the plant was a strategic part of the process.

“W.D. Farr over 100 years ago worked together with a number of other very smart people and said, ‘If we’re going to serve water to the residents of Greeley, this is a great place to do it,’ ” he said. “And it is, for a number of reasons.”

For one, Mohr said, Bellvue is still responsible for filtering most of Greeley’s water more than a century later. Though the Boyd Lake Water Treatment Plant in Loveland helps supplement the city’s production in the summer when residents use more water for lawns and plants, it runs only seasonally, leaving most of the work to Bellvue.

And in 2017, water produced at the plant won the American Water Works Association’s award for best tasting water in the nation, beating 33 other regional winners. It also won the competition’s People’s Choice Award, making Greeley the first city to win both awards in the contest’s 13-year history.

But even with the recognition and the plant’s long life, Mohr said Bellvue needs to be upgraded.

Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said for the city, the job is fairly commonplace. It’s important for the water and sewer department to constantly expand and upgrade its facilities, he said, and the Bellvue project is just one of several projects the city is working on to accomplish that goal.

At Bellvue, upgrades will replace equipment that has been in place for decades.

With water filters that have been in operation since the late 1940s and early ’50s, Mohr said, Bellvue’s current buildings are going to be obsolete soon.

“It’s been working very, very hard for a very long time,” he said, “and it’s kind of time for us to think about the future.”

NEXT PHASE

After the city won the American Water Works Association awards, Knight, the water and sewer director, said he called Bellvue’s Water Treatment Manager Andrew Kabot, jokingly, to suggest the city cancel the project because Greeley’s water was right where it needed to be.

“He assured me that was a bad idea,” Knight said during the tour.

The project, which broke ground in October, started after the water and sewer department found it would cost more to rehabilitate Bellvue’s vintage filters, placed there in 1948 and 1953, than it would to start from scratch to build a modern system. Mohr said the new technology will automate the filtration processes. City officials also plan to improve piping at the plant so water can enter the system more quickly.

At the current plant, the city brings water in through the system between two different buildings to complete the water treatment process.

Knight said when the new plant is completed those processes will be under the same roof. The city will maintain the plant’s old buildings, he said, and use them as gathering places for tour groups or meetings.

Before construction started, Knight said, the city decided to award the project to Fort Collins-based Hydro Construction as part of a construction manager risk contract, a form of a design-build contract. That means city officials will make decisions with the company as construction progresses.

“Our choice, predominantly, is investment in water treatment,” Knight said. “So we’ll have an attractive building, but it’s really about the equipment inside the building.”

Halligan Reservoir expansion update

Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins

From Kevin Duggan writing on the opinion pages of The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The cost of a water-storage project Fort Collins has been pursuing for more than a decade continues to float higher and higher.

But even at its current estimated cost of $74.1 million — $27.3 million more than estimated just a few years ago — city officials say expanding Halligan Reservoir along the North Fork of the Poudre River remains the city’s best and most affordable option for securing future water supplies that would be needed in the event of drought.

That’s a big-ticket item by any measure. The cost would be covered by reserves in a fund that gets money from water rates paid by Fort Collins Utilities customers and fees charged to developers for tapping into the city’s water system.

Those development fees could go up 23 percent in coming years to help pay for Halligan, according to a memo to City Council…

Part of the reason for the project’s rising cost estimates is the uncertainty that comes with going through the National Environmental Policy Act process. The current projected cost includes $16.3 million in contingency funds to cover potential surprises in federal and state requirements for permitting and mitigation.

Fort Collins has been working on and paying for an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, for the proposed expansion of Halligan for 12 years. The latest estimate for when a draft EIS for the project will be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is April 2019, said Adam Jokerst, the city’s project manager.

Construction costs have gone up over the years and continue to rise. If the project is permitted, construction on the expansion, estimated to cost $31.3 million, could begin in 2023 and be completed in two years.

It would be quite an effort. The city has proposed enlarging Halligan’s capacity from 6,400 acre-feet to about 14,525 acre-feet by raising its concrete dam 25 feet…

The Halligan project has faced a lot of issues over the years. For a time, the EIS process included the city of Greeley’s proposal to expand its Milton Seaman Reservoir, which also is on the North Fork of the Poudre. Greeley wanted to expand its 5,000-acre-foot reservoir to 53,000 acre-feet.

The Halligan-Seaman project included the cities in partnership with North Poudre as well as the Fort Collins-Loveland, East Larimer County and North Weld County water districts, also known as the Tri-Districts.

The Tri-Districts backed out of the project in 2009, citing mounting costs and a lack of progress on environmental studies. North Poudre withdrew in 2014 over the same concerns.

Those withdrawals required scaling back the project, changing its environmental impacts and adding time to the review process, Jokerst said. There’s also been a lot of turnover at the Corps over the years with personnel overseeing the EIS.

The Seaman project was separated from Halligan in 2015 because of changing scopes for the projects and differing time frames. Greeley is now proposing to expand Seaman to 88,000 acre-feet to meet its water supply needs to 2065, according to the Corps’ website.

Fort Collins officials maintain the Halligan project still makes sense for the city even with its escalating costs. It makes use of an existing reservoir and could potentially improve flows on the North Fork through mitigation. The city has the water rights it needs to fill the reservoir, Jokerst said.

And Halligan is still less expensive than other water supply sources, according to the city. The going rates for an acre-foot of firm yield from the Colorado-Big Thompson project is $60,000. Under current estimates, water from the Halligan project would cost $8,800 per acre-foot.

So far, Fort Collins Utilities has spent $12.6 million on the project. The city has appropriated $37.4 million for it and would have to come up with another $36.7 million under current projections.

Court battle continues over Windy Gap firming project — @AspenJournalism

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

In western Larimer County a sedimentary rock ridge runs parallel to the gradual beginnings of the Rocky Mountain foothills, forming a large valley known as Chimney Hollow.

In May 2017, federal agencies approved plans to flood the valley — which is between Longmont, to the south, and Loveland, to the north — to create a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir.

But while the 14-year federal permitting process has now come to an end and construction slated to begin early next year, a federal lawsuit from six environmental groups could stop the project from moving forward.

“We are just trying to inject some sanity and stop the madness,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado, an environmental nonprofit based in Ft. Collins that supports the Colorado River and is the lead petitioner in the case. “The Colorado River is the most dammed, drained, depleted river on the planet.”

The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir is the foundation for the $400 million Windy Gap “firming project,” a supplemental storage plan tied to the existing Windy Gap dam and reservoir, which is on the main stem of the Colorado River in Grand County. The firming project also includes construction of a bypass channel at Windy Gap’s original diversion point in order to help mitigate existing impacts on fish and water quality.

The relatively modest Windy Gap reservoir, which holds 445 acre-feet, was built in 1985 to draw water from the Colorado River and pump it uphill to Lake Granby and into the Colorado-Big Thompson project. The water is then sent under the Continental Divide and into Larimer and other Front Range counties.

The Northern Colorado Water Conservation District based in Berthoud, owns the Windy Gap reservoir, operates the Colorado-Big Thompson system, and is intent on constructing Chimney Hollow reservoir to store additional Colorado River water.

Fourteen municipalities and water districts throughout the Front Range are signed up to help pay for the Chimney Hollow reservoir, based on the share of the water they intend to use.

Though the existing Windy Gap Project can today draw as much as 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, due to junior water rights and a lack of storage, the project is often unable to provide any water at all to the Front Range.

With the Chimney Hollow Reservoir in place, the Windy Gap project could supply a guaranteed 30,000 acre-feet of water per year to its customers.

A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

Other alternatives?

Wockner and Save the Colorado have been joined by five other environmental groups — Save the Poudre, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance and the Sierra Club — in suing the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers over their environmental review of the Windy Gap firming project.

The petitioners allege that the agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act by failing to consider alternatives, like water conservation, instead of building a new project.

“Rather than rigorously exploring and objectively evaluating ways to meet (Northern’s) actual water supply needs, the federal agencies accepted (Northern’s) claimed need at face value and only considered reservoir options that would further (Northern’s) preconceived goal of “firming” Windy Gap water supplies,” says the petitioner’s complaint.

Both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers declined interview requests for this story, but according to the Bureau’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, the firming project would supply only about 10 percent of its customers projected 2050 water demand.

Because conservation cannot account for the entire projected gap, the FEIS states that the agency did not consider conservation as an alternative to the firming project.

The agencies’ assumptions about the demand gap are consistent with those of the 2015 Colorado Water Plan the state’s official water strategy document, which estimates that water demand in 2050 could exceed supplies by as much as 560,000 acre-feet.

To make up for this gap, the plan calls for conservation measures and also the significant expansion of water storage facilities.

Because of the water plan’s call for storage, the Windy Gap firming project is considered a critical storage project by the state and received endorsements from both the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Outflow from the dam across the Colorado River that forms Windy Gap Reservoir. Taken during a field trip the reservoir in September, 2017.

Conservation included

Northern, which is not a defendant in the lawsuit, filed a motion in March to intervene on behalf of the defendants in the lawsuit to help defend the permit process.

When asked why conservation was not considered as an alternative, officials from Northern said that the demand estimates already assume that municipalities will increase water conservation.

“We did not count conservation as an alternative. We built conservation into our demand projection,” said Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering and the project manager for the Windy Gap firming project. “So when we looked at how much water our participants need we figured we factored in some level of conservation already.”

Though Northern and the state use the projected demand gap to justify the firming project, the petitioners say the demand estimates are inflated.

On May 3, the petitioners filed a motion to add a statistics report to the case’s administrative record.

According to the report, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps failed to update the estimated water use statistics in their impact statements with the actual water use data as it became available over the course of the 14-year permitting process.

The report found that the agencies’ estimates for municipal water use were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use figures.

“The thrust of our claim is that the federal government just took the project participants word for how much water they would need,” said Kevin Lynch, the attorney for the petitioners. “The agency has a duty to independently verify that need and they didn’t do anything. They took projections from 2005 and that data was wildly over-inflated.”

The court is now reviewing the petitioners’ administrative motions as well as motions by both Northern and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources to intervene on behalf of the defendants.

These changes will likely delay court proceedings for at least several months.