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.

Ongoing #SouthPlatte Basin water storage projects

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate:

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:

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

• 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.

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.

• 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.

Reservoirs NW of Fort Collins

• 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 Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

• 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.

Proposed reallocation pool — Graphic/USACE

• 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.

Fort Collins: “We need to be in the game [NISP] and to negotiate and look out for Fort Collins’ best interests” — Wade Troxell

Northern Integrated Supply Project July 27, 2016 via Northern Water.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

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.

NISP: Fort Collins continues to try to influence final project

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

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Nick Coltrain):

With a key final report looming for two proposed Poudre River-fueled reservoirs, Fort Collins City Council will weigh whether staff will try to negotiate over the city’s remaining concerns.

Past city comments helped steer the Northern Integrated Supply Project in a more agreeable direction, according to a staff report for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. But concerns still remain. Staff members hope a negotiation might quell, or at least mitigate, some of them…

According to city staff, the prime concerns are:

  • a reduction of peak flows in the river, and related loss of river health and increased flood risk;
  • the unknown effect the project may have on water quality;
  • an unclear and “inadequately funded” adaptive management plan;
  • concerns that there’s not enough money gong to mitigation or river enhancement.
  • Officially, the city does not support NISP, but it has engaged in conversations with project organizer Northern Water on the project that has been talked about for more than a decade.

    City staff is pushing for more formal negotiations — the City Council stripped that specific language in a similar resolution in February 2017 — because the permitting process is nearing its end. The Army Corps of Engineers is poised to release its final environmental impact statement at the end of June, according to the city.

    The city isn’t a direct participant in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, though it is considered a stakeholder. The Corps doesn’t usually accept public comment on final environmental impact statements but is poised to do so this time, according to city staff. However, it will also likely be late enough in the process that public comment alone won’t be able to make change much.

    Any negotiations would likely include a give-and-take with Northern Water, such as the city’s help in expediting remaining permits, though staff didn’t speculate about what else it may be.

    “As with any such discussions regarding complex matters and potential agreements, there are no guarantees of success,” according to the staff report [ed. Click through to the Coloradoan to read the report]. “Furthermore, the approach will depend on Northern Water’s willingness to participate.”

    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.

    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.