The latest Northern Water “E-Waternews” is hot off the presses

Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water
Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

<blockquoteThe Northern Water Board of Directors set 2016 water assessments during an Aug. 6, 2015 public hearing. Assessments for open-rate irrigation contracts increased from $10.90 per acre-foot unit to $17.60, and assessments for open-rate municipal, industrial and multipurpose contracts increased from $30.50 per acre-foot unit to $35.90.

The Board followed its general rate-setting objectives, which are outlined in its 2014 forward guidance resolution. Among other objectives, the resolution proposed a 2-year step increase in assessments beginning in 2016, and moving irrigation assessments towards a cost-of-service based rate. Both of these objectives are represented in the 2016 assessments.

The Board will consider forward guidance that provides an estimated range for 2017 and 2018 water assessments at its Sept. 3 Planning and Action meeting.

For information on water assessments, please contact Sherri Rasmussen at 970-622-2217.

Reservoirs Are Dead. Long Live Reservoirs: Water Bosses Eye The Cache La Poudre — CPR

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Colorado’s water planners…see the Cache la Poudre as an opportunity to help quench Colorado’s seemingly endless growth and thirst for water. That’s why Northern Water has proposed building two large reservoirs on behalf of 11 cities. It’s a project that sets them in emblematic conflict with environmentalists and other groups.

Resolving environmental disputes on large-scale water projects takes time. So does the federal permitting process. Water managers say that even without the conflict, projects take years–sometimes decades–to acquire the necessary permits.

“We would not look to short circuit the diligence and the rigor associated with environmental permitting processes. That’s really important,” said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water. “That having been said, the permitting process if you look at it in total between federal and state, and everything else we need to do is broken.”

The Northern Integrated Supply Project

To quench Northern Colorado’s growing thirst for more water, the local agency Northern Water has proposed the Northern Integrated Supply Project. The effort would build one reservoir north of Fort Collins, and another near Greeley. Once both reservoirs are filled, about 40,000 acre feet of additional water supply would be released every year from storage. Households typically use between one-half to 1 acre-foot of water annually.

We can’t conserve our way to future supply. No matter how we phrase it, you just can’t do it,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

Northern Water is pursuing the project on behalf of 11 cities along the Front Range. Werner said his agency wants an “all of the above strategy” to meet growing water demand. So it’s eyeing more conservation and the exchange of water rights from agricultural land. Agriculture uses about 80 percent of the state’s water supply.

There were environmental studies done on the river to evaluate problems and propose solutions. Mark Easter with the environmental group Save The Poudre said the measures don’t go far enough.

“I think there’s a new conversation that’s starting around this, asking the question, do we really need these reservoirs?” said Mark Easter, board chair of Save The Poudre.

A swinging pendulum

A century of dam projects across the West have caused ecological harm to some Western rivers. Today the federal permitting process to build a dam or a reservoir is far stricter compared to the early 1900s. But some water managers fear the pendulum has swung too far.

Take Denver Water. It decided in 2002 it needed to expand the reservoir outside Boulder. The agency won’t find out whether it can do this until later this year.

For large-scale projects, it’s up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide whether a project gets built. But you need permits from other federal agencies. And there are state permits. Meantime, Denver Water has employees devoted full-time to moving the reservoir expansion forward.

“If we look at a future with climate change and rapidly evolving conditions in terms of climate, and weather and drought, we need to be a lot more nimble in our ability to build critical infrastructure in this country,” said Lochhead.

Water managers like Lochhead say a rigorous environmental assessment is needed for projects. What slows the process down is that each permit has unique requirements…

These two proposed reservoirs in Northern Colorado will take time and money before they get off the ground. The environmental group Save the Poudre says it will continue to fight these efforts. Meanwhile a final decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on whether these reservoirs can be built won’t happen until 2017 at the earliest.

Duggan: Fort Collins still has deep concerns about NISP — Coloradan

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

In 2008, the City Council passed a resolution stating its opposition to the project, which would draw water from the Poudre River and store it in a new facility — Glade Reservoir — that would be built northwest of the city. Another reservoir, Galeton, would be built near Greeley and draw from the South Platte River.

The council at that time cited a variety of concerns raised by city staff members and consultants after reviewing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or DEIS, for the project. Issues included potential negative impacts to the river’s water quality, riparian areas and wildlife habitat as a result of substantially reduced flows through Fort Collins.

Here we are seven years later and a Supplemental DEIS for the project has been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which took a deeper dive into the project in response to comments made by Fort Collins and other stakeholders.

Don’t be surprised if the same concerns about NISP are raised this time around when the city submits comments to the Corps. Time and some tweaking of plans for the massive project haven’t made it any more palatable, according an early analysis of the SDEIS by city staff.

The document is improved, city staff say, but in the end, cutting the Poudre’s flow through the city by as much as 66 percent in May, 25 percent in June and 54 percent in July during years of average precipitation and river flows would have significant impacts.

Water quality would suffer — potentially raising the city’s costs for treating drinking water and wastewater — the number of “boatable” days on the river would drop, and the river’s ecology and overall health would be diminished, staff told council members Tuesday.

More Northern Integrate Supply Project coverage here and here.

Public comments on NISP accepted through Sept. 3 — The Fort Morgan Times

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

From The Fort Morgan Times:

Although public hearings on the Northern Integrated Supply Project have been completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will continue to accept written comments about the project from the public until Sept. 3.

NISP is a proposed water storage project in which the City of Fort Morgan is one of 15 participating entities. The project involves the creation of two reservoirs near Fort Collins and Greeley, and Fort Morgan officials consider it the best possible way to secure a stable water supply for the city’s future, according to a city news release. The project is spearheaded by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

NISP has been in the permitting stages for many years, and the public hearings and comment period on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement mark a significant step toward final permitting of the project by the Corps of Engineers.

The SDEIS was finally released on June 19 and public comments are being accepted now. A copy of the SDEIS is available at the Fort Morgan Public Library and it can also be viewed on the Army Corps website at http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/RegulatoryProgram/Colorado/EISNISP.

Written comments can be submitted via e-mail to NISP.EIS@usace.army.mil. Comments can also be mailed to:

John Urbanic, NISP EIS Project Manager
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District – Denver Regulatory Office
9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Littleton, CO, 80128

For additional information on NISP visit http://www.gladereservoir.org.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

The July 2015 Northern Water E-Waternews is hot off the presses

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Supporters Gather at NISP Rally

More than 150 Northern Integrated Supply Project supporters rallied at Northern Water’s headquarters on July 2 to celebrate momentum created by the recent release of the project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Speakers U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, State Senators Mary Hodge and Jerry Sonnenberg, Chris Smith (Left Hand Water District general manager and NISP participants Committee chairman) and Eric Wilkinson (Northern Water general manager) addressed an enthusiastic audience comprised of NISP participant representatives, mayors, county commissioners, lawmakers and private citizens.

Several speakers warned that without NISP, more farmland will be dried up as water providers find necessary supplies for their needs. The SDEIS studies show this could lead to a dry-up of an additional 100 square miles of irrigated farmland – an area approximately twice the size as the City of Fort Collins.

“That would mean a $400 million loss of agricultural output,” said Gardner. “That is economic devastation. We can’t keep pushing it down the road. The longer this takes, the higher the cost, and the more acres that get dried up,” he added.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

CSU releases informational video about NISP and the NEPA process

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

What is NISP? What is a supplemental draft environmental impact statement? Why should I care? Colorado State University is today releasing an animated video to answer those questions – “NISP (and its SDEIS) in a Nutshell.”

NISP is the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, and the 1500-page Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), released a month ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is part of a federal process to assess the environmental effects of NISP to inform permitting decisions.

CSU hopes the eight-minute video – featuring colorfully animated characters – gives the public a basic understanding of the project and the process. The university has no formal position on the project.

“We produced the video to be an objective resource, knowing that much of what the public hears about the subject comes from either project proponents or opponents, promoting their respective views,” said MaryLou Smith, policy and collaboration specialist with the Colorado Water Institute, part of CSU’s Office of Engagement. “This piece gives the public a foundation from which to dig deeper, if they wish.”

To view the video go to http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/NISP. There are a number of other helpful resources that can be accessed there as well.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.

“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.

Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.

The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.

“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.

“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”

The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.

The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.

Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.

The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Not legally binding

The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”

Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.

But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.

As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.

“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.

The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

A cap on the Colorado?

Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.

A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.

And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.

“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.

The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.

“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.

But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.

“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.

“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”

rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

Vet other projects too?

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.

As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.

“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.

“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.

At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.

“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.

He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.

On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”

But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 25, 2015.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.