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Fish passage begins its work reconnecting Poudre River segments
Construction crews have completed a new fish passage along the Poudre River at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area northwest of Fort Collins.
Built with the cooperation of the participants of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, noosa yoghurt and Morning Fresh Dairy, the passage serves to reconnect stretches of river that had been separated by a diversion dam.
Fort Collins company OneFish Engineering designed the project, and the construction company L4 Environmental built it over the past four months.
A dedication ceremony for the new structure is planned for early May. The Poudre Heritage Alliance and Trout Unlimited are also providing assistance, and a public celebration for the new passage is planned during the Pleasant Valley Rendezvous on June 2 at Watson Lake.
Thornton has filed a lawsuit against Larimer County commissioners in protest of their rejection of the Thornton pipeline, kicking off a legal battle on the Poudre River.
The city is asking the Larimer County District Court to overturn the commissioners’ decision and either approve one of the two proposed pipeline routes or force the county to do so.
Thornton’s complaint, filed in the Larimer County District Court on Tuesday night, argues the Board of Commissioners’ decision “exceeds its jurisdiction and/or is contrary to law, misinterprets and misapplies its criteria, and was arbitrary and capricious because its findings lack competent evidence to support the Board’s denial of Thornton’s application.”
In a statement, city spokesman Todd Barnes said Thornton “has taken action to represent the interests and property rights of their constituents.”
Thornton’s water plans wouldn’t diminish flows in the Poudre River because the project’s water is already diverted from the river for agriculture. But the “Poudre River alternative,” which would involve running Thornton’s water down the river and nixing the northern segment of the pipeline, picked up considerable public support during a series of hearings on the project.
“In discussion of Thornton’s proposal during the hearings, it is clear that the Board, contrary to its authority, factored into its decision the notion that Thornton should not build a pipeline but rather send its water down the Cache la Poudre River or down the Larimer County canal,” Thornton wrote in its complaint.
Larimer County attorney Jeannine Haag told the Coloradoan she learned Thornton would be filing a lawsuit when she called the city’s attorney and asked whether the city would pursue legal action contesting the pipeline decision.
Thornton will file a lawsuit in Larimer County District Court next week, Haag said. Thornton spokesman Todd Barnes told the Coloradoan the city doesn’t comment on issues of potential litigation…
Thornton officials have kept quiet about their plans since commissioners unanimously rejected their proposal to build a pipeline to carry Poudre River water through Larimer County. Thornton leaders said they wouldn’t decide what to do until they could review commissioners’ written explanation of the vote. Commissioners approved that document March 18…
It was also possible that Thornton officials would pursue an agreement with the city of Greeley, which has extra capacity in a water pipeline that might have been useful for Thornton. The cities met on the matter last month.
In the written explanation of their decision on the pipeline, Larimer County commissioners said Thornton didn’t meet eight of the 12 criteria for the 1041 permit required to build the pipeline. The commissioners’ ruling was the county’s first-ever rejection of a 1041 permit.
Commissioners wrote that Thornton didn’t meet the following criteria:
The proposal is consistent with the county’s master plan for land use and development
The applicant presented reasonable siting or design alternatives or explained why no reasonable alternatives are available
The proposal conforms with county standards and mitigation requirements for environmental impacts
The proposal won’t have a significant adverse effect on the land on which it’s situated and adjacent land, or will adequately mitigate significant adverse effects
The proposal won’t negatively impact public heath and safety
The benefits of proposed development outweigh the losses of any natural resources or resulting reduction of productivity of agricultural lands
The proposal demonstrates a reasonable balance between the costs to the applicant to mitigate significant adverse effects and the benefits achieved by that mitigation
A key element of NISP, the “Water Secure” program represents a shift away from “buy-and-dry” and is instead an outside-the-box approach to meeting the future water needs of Northern Colorado’s growing communities while also preserving our vital ag industry and environment.
Northern Water will have to buy “dozens and dozens” of Larimer and Weld county farms to lock down enough Poudre River water to fill a proposed reservoir for the planned Northern Integrated Supply Project.
The unprecedented approach could substantially raise the price of NISP, a $1.2 billion storage and delivery project funded by the 15 Northern Colorado municipalities and water districts that will use the water. Northern Water leaders say the approach will also prevent the dry-up of thousands of acres of farmland in Larimer and Weld counties because the agency won’t strip the properties of water.
Instead of taking the buy-and-dry route of diverting a purchased property’s water rights to a new use, Northern Water plans to trade its South Platte River water rights for the farms’ Poudre River water rights. That means Northern Water will divert water from the Poudre River to store in the proposed Glade Reservoir and give the farmers a slightly larger portion of South Platte water from the proposed Galeton Reservoir.
Northern Water’s newly minted Water Secure program addresses a giant question mark that has lingered on the NISP road map for more than 15 years: The agency only has about half of the Poudre River water it needs for NISP. But it does have a lot of water from the South Platte River, which is less-suited for drinking than Poudre water and more expensive to treat.
This problem has never been a secret, but until now, Northern Water’s public plans included the assumption that farmers would willingly trade their water with the agency for free.
Those voluntary exchanges aren’t off the table, but Northern Water now plans to secure much of the water it needs by buying farms in two irrigation ditch systems — the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Co. and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Co. Once Northern Water owns those farms and their water, the agency will essentially be trading water with itself.
“We’ve just become the most willing shareholder on the ditch,” said Greg Dewey, a Northern Water water resources engineer and Water Secure project manager.
How we got here
Shares of Poudre River water in the New Cache la Poudre and Larimer and Weld ditches are coveted because they’re senior water rights, which means their owners have first dibs for usage. That becomes important during dry years when there isn’t enough water for everyone who’s claimed a slice of an overallocated pie.
Senior water shares are crucial for NISP because Northern Water’s current Poudre River supply (known as the Grey Mountain right) is a junior water right that will only be useful during wet years.
Dewey called Water Secure’s approach a “risk management strategy” born during negotiations with the two ditch companies. He said it became clear that the farms Northern Water was eyeing for trades are vulnerable to buy-and-dry, a controversial practice that has fed Colorado population growth at the expense of irrigated farmland.
“If that happens over the long-term, that jeopardizes our ability to exchange water with those systems,” Dewey said. “So this is a way to help preserve that exchange and also (address) a common interest we have with those companies to keep water in the system.”
Northern Water unveiled the Water Secure program in February after closing a deal on its first farm, a 28-acre property northeast of Greeley. The farm cost $330,000 and came with 30 acre-feet of Poudre River water. Northern Water will need to buy “dozens and dozens” of farms to secure about 25,000 acre-feet’s worth of water exchanges for NISP, spokesman Brian Werner said. An acre-foot of water meets the annual needs of about three or four urban households…
[Brian] Werner said staff is still evaluating how Water Secure will affect the price of NISP. He said the cost impact will depend on the ratio of farm purchases to willful water exchanges — and how much money Northern Water makes when it eventually sells the farms back to farmers.
Northern Water plans to pursue legal contracts that permanently bind the water to the farmland regardless of its owner, which would shield the farms from buy-and-dry and protect the agency’s water exchange agreements. The water provider plans to lease the land to the original owner or another farmer until selling it to another entity that would be required to keep the South Platte River water on the property.
“If we buy a farm and establish that water agreement, then we’ll be looking to sell it back into private hands,” Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said. “Our goal is not to be the major landowner up there.”
The legal agreements, likely conservation easements or covenants, would be the first of their kind in the region if not the state. Boulder County leaders have found success with a similar approach for preserving open space, Werner said.
He argued more federal review is unnecessary because Northern Water has included the water exchanges in its NISP planning documents since at least 2004. Northern Water’s water court decree for the South Platte River water allows the trades.
Dewey, a Kersey native and former farmer, is Northern Water’s “boots on the ground” for the program, Werner said. Dewey said Water Secure is getting positive feedback from farmers who’ve watched irrigated agriculture dwindle in Larimer and Weld counties.
It’s important to pick metaphors carefully. Writers try to explain complex subjects in few words and in ways everyone can understand. Metaphors — words or phrases that imply that one thing can symbolically represent another — become one way to accomplish that task. This thought crossed my mind when I attended the 6th Annual Poudre River Forum on Feb. 1. (See http://prti.colostate.edu/forum_2019.shtml)
Trying to sort out what allows a river to serve human needs while still providing the ecological services that keeps the world over which it flows alive is about as complex a problem as one can imagine. So, I picked my article title carefully. Rivers do not deliver water like a concrete ditch. Instead, like the arteries and veins of a living organism, they convey not only water, but also oxygen, nutrients and host of microbial servants to needed destinations in the biosphere. As we use a river’s resources for human needs, we should take her pulse regularly to ensure the health of the greater body she nourishes.
After attending the forum last year, I wrote a four-month series in the “North Forty News” that ran from March to June 2018. Please refer to that for background information on some of the basic issues of Poudre River ecology and management. This year I would like to focus on some of the people who make the forum work, and the process of talking TO each other rather than AT each other. That process was largely established under the leadership of MaryLou Smith, policy and collaboration specialist with the Colorado Water Center at Colorado State University. Since she will retire after this year, someone else must replace her leadership — and her optimism.
John Stokes, head of the Natural Areas Department of the city of Fort Collins, made a special point of highlighting Smith’s optimism. It’s easy to get pessimistic about complex problems with no simple solutions, but Smith manages to stay upbeat. She says she has “devoted her career to encouraging an open dialogue between people.” That was exemplified in 2011 when the concept for the Forum first developed.
In 2011, Ray Caraway, chief executive officer of Community Foundations of Northern Colorado, invited Smith to host a community forum discussing issues relating to NISP — the Northern Integrated Supply Project (https://www.northernwater.org/sf/nisp/home) — a collection of communities along the Front Range intending to build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Opposed by Friends of the Poudre and other conservation groups, Smith felt that a conference built solely around NISP would tend to create more polarization. She proposed the Poudre River Forum instead, with the intent of bringing together a wide swath of people from agriculture, urban planning, recreation, conservation and business — all with a stake in maintaining “a healthy working river.”
This year, approximately 360 people met to have that discussion — roughly, a 17 percent increase over last year. Smith said she was gratified that discussions at the various tables seemed earnest and forthright. They listened to water commissioners, city managers, water lawyers, engineers, ecologists, farmers, conservationists, land developers, and others. The keynote speaker, Professor Edward B. Barbier, from the Department of Economics at Colorado State University, tackled the growing problem of water scarcity. (Yale University Press will release his new book about this problem, “Water Paradox,” in February.)
Another Colorado State researcher, Brad Udall (not in attendance at this conference), highlighted this problem in a 2017 study published in “Water Resources Research.” Colorado River flows in the 21st century are 19 percent lower than those in the 20th. Predicted flows could drop by up to 55 percent by 2100 as a consequence of global warming. (See “Re-engineering the Colorado River” in the February issue of Scientific American.) We can expect similar reduced flows in the Poudre River.
Ecologist Dr. LeRoy Poff from Colorado State said, “We need to face up to the ecological damage our pioneering spirit has caused to the Poudre River.” To do that requires gathering the data necessary to understand just what makes a river healthy. In an online report (https://natsci.source.colostate.edu/sustainable-dams-possible-csu-expert-weighs/) he said, “As a researcher, I am concerned about biodiversity conservation, and about sustaining rivers at a level of functional integrity that enables them to provide both biodiversity support as well as ecosystem goods and services.”
Here’s the release from Northern Water (Brian Werner):
The recent purchase of a Weld County farm marks a new venture for Northern Water and Northern Integrated Supply Project participants – one that’s part of the ongoing, collaborative effort to secure future water supplies for both the region’s communities and our vital agricultural industry.
On Jan. 31, Northern Water and the NISP participants purchased a 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley and the property’s water rights. The farm was purchased through the NISP Water Secure program, a cooperative effort to maintain the exchange of water for NISP while keeping water on participating farms. This investment is a shift from the “buy-and-dry” approach that has stressed our agricultural communities.
This innovative program will eventually provide supplemental water to approximately 500,000 residents in northern Colorado while preserving thousands of acres of irrigated farmland. Water Secure is part of a strategic long-term plan to better plan for future growth and to consistently apply Colorado Water Plan principles to protect water for our communities, farms and the environment. Without innovative approaches such as Water Secure, the region is on pace to see hundreds of thousands of irrigated acres dried up by mid-century.
“This is an outside-the-box, ‘buy-and-supply’ approach we’re taking to address the tightening water supplies facing Northern Colorado and its future generations,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind.
The recently purchased farm sits within an area of Weld County that is key to NISP – a project that, once built, will include Glade Reservoir near Fort Collins and Galeton Reservoir near Ault, and deliver approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 15 local communities and water districts.
As part of the project, Northern Water and the NISP participants are working with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County, to use a portion of their senior water rights in exchanges that will ensure the NISP participants receive the water from the project.
These exchanges with the two systems will keep water flowing to those farms, as well as include compensation that will enhance the long-term viability of their operations.
To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange.
The senior water rights in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are currently among the most sought after by water providers looking to obtain future supplies.
Farms in the New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems bought by Northern Water will remain in production, through limited land use easements on the property, lease-back agreements or other arrangements that will require continued irrigation on those farms.
Furthermore, the purchase of any irrigated lands will be done with the goal of eventually returning them to private ownership.
“The Water Secure program maintains irrigated agriculture and provides open space benefits while eliminating many of the long-term challenges with the practice of buying and drying,” Wind added.
As part of the newly implemented Water Secure program, Northern Water purchased the 28-acre farm northeast of Greeley on Jan. 31 with communities that participate in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which will result in two reservoirs and more water for 15 communities…
Instead of municipalities buying up water rights on farmland and leaving them to dry out, the district is looking at the initiative as a way to both preserve irrigated farmland and provide supplemental water to an estimated 500,000 northern Colorado residents.
During a phone interview Thursday, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said it’s critical to make sure water is delivered annually to farms.
“It’s what makes this project work,” he said. “Keeping water on farms, as opposed to the good old way it’s been done in the past in this state. The American West, you bought land and you dried it up. We’re buying it and we’re calling it ‘buy and supply’ rather than buy and dry. So we need to keep the water on the property.”
This is how the program will work:
Northern Water and the NISP participants, which include Evans and Windsor, will work with the New Cache la Poudre Irrigating Company and the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company ditch and reservoir systems in Weld County to use a portion of their senior water rights to make sure the NISP communities get water from the project.
In turn, the exchanges with the two systems will ensure water keeps flowing to participating farms and include compensation. Farms in both systems purchased by Northern Water will remain in production through arrangements such as limited land use easements and lease-back agreements.
“To avoid water leaving those farms permanently through buy and dry purchases from other entities, Northern Water will buy land and water from willing sellers to ensure those supplies remain in the two ditch systems and available for exchange,” according to the news release.
For the district, getting rights from both systems is significant — senior water rights in New Cache and Larimer-Weld systems are among the most sought after by water providers who are looking for supplies.
Werner said the company isn’t sure yet how much the district will invest in the program but said it will likely take millions of dollars.
Still, Northern officials emphasized that the purchase of any irrigated land will happen with an end goal in sight: return the farms to private ownership again eventually.
The Windsor Town Board voted unanimously Monday to approve the second water rate increase of the year for residents as officials look to strengthen their plans to add more water supplies.
The increase will bring rates up by an additional 6.21 percent, a hike that will appear on water bills April 1. In December, the board approved an annual increase of 3.29 percent that will be reflected on the March bill.
For water users, the increase means average single-family monthly consumption charges will be about $38.37. In 2018, bills were $35.06 per month on average.
During Monday’s meeting, town board said they didn’t come to the decision to raise the rates easily.
When one resident expressed concerned about how the rate increase might impact residents, Mayor Kristie Melendez said town officials came to the decision over several meetings…
The town, which currently owns shares in the North Poudre Irrigation Company and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is seeking to strengthen its participation in the Northern Integrated Supply Project, a massive project that will result in two new reservoirs and serve 11 communities and four water districts along the Front Range…
As it stands now, Windsor owns 4,100 acre-feet of water. But it’s going to need another 15,800 acre-feet in the future to keep up with demand, officials said…
In the town’s agreement with Northern Water, which manages the supply project, the town is scheduled to pay $100 million to the project by 2026, Town Manager Shane Hale said. The town won’t have enough money on its own to pay for that, he said, so officials will need a base of between $30 million and $33 million to issue debt to help pay for the cost in the future.
Of the total cost Windsor will pay toward NISP, 12 percent will come from water users who will pay the rate approved Monday. The other 88 percent comes from town development fees.
But Hale said town officials didn’t want to place the burden solely on developers and discourage them from coming to Windsor.
Windsor has worked with consulting firms since 2009 to work on ways to secure water. Most recently, officials worked with Stantec Consulting to develop a plan to pay for Windsor’s place in the water supply project and operations, including collecting, cleaning, filtering, disinfecting and testing water.
Windsor’s residential water rates will increase by 6.21 percent to help fund the town’s involvement in the Northern Integrated Supply Project…
The rate increase, paired with another increase that took effect Jan. 1, will raise the average single-family residential water bill from $35.06 a month in 2018 to $38.37 a month in 2019.
Windsor is one of 15 municipalities and water districts that will receive water from the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, a proposal to build two new reservoirs and fill them with Poudre River water. Participants are funding the costs of the project, and Windsor’s involvement will cost over $100 million, according to Mayor Kristie Melendez…
The town is looking to ratepayers to fund about 12 percent of the project cost. The other 88 percent will come from a water resource fee leveled on each new home in Windsor, an approach that Melendez called “growth pays for growth.”
NISP will supply about 3,300 more acre-feet if it jumps through all regulatory hoops. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the average annual water use of 2 to 3 urban households.
In all, NISP is expected to provide about 40,000 acre-feet of water to its participants. Windsor’s share of NISP is the third-largest among municipalities involved in the project.
The two proposed NISP reservoirs include Glade Reservoir, which would be located near Ted’s Place north of Fort Collins, and Galeton Reservoir, which would be located northeast of Greeley.
For comparison’s sake, Glade Reservoir’s capacity of 170,000 acre-feet is about 108 percent of the capacity of Horsetooth Reservoir. Galeton would hold about 46,000 acre-feet.
The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a record of decision on NISP in 2019. Affirmation from the Army Corps will likely trigger a legal challenge from NISP opponent Save the Poudre. Northern Water expects to begin storage in Glade Reservoir in 2025.