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.
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.”