“The Poudre Runs Through It” forum recap

Cache la Poudre River
Cache la Poudre River

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

This was the third annual forum, but a first for me. I was asked to participate in the event by its sponsor — the Poudre Runs Through It, a local study/action work group associated with the Colorado Water Institute, which is an affiliate of Colorado State University.

My role was to moderate a panel discussion on how to “get to yes” on major water projects and initiatives. Three of the four panel members participated in long and tough negotiations that eventually hammered out significant operating agreements on projects affecting the Colorado and Platte rivers.

The other panelist was Pete Taylor, a sociology professor from CSU whose research includes studying environmental and agricultural water issues.

I found the discussion interesting, and I hope the roughly 240 people who attended the forum did, too.

I’ve heard mixed reviews: Some folks told me the panel tied in well with past forum discussions.

Others told me they wanted to hear more about the controversial Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, and Glade Reservoir. NISP would draw from the Poudre and store water in Glade, which would be built northwest of Fort Collins.

NISP has been tied up in a federal Environmental Impact Statement process for many years.

Supporters say the project is critical for meeting the needs of growing cities. Some opponents say they will do whatever it takes to kill the project. And so it goes.

Certain words came up frequently during the course of the panel conversation: Collaboration, consensus, commitment, understanding, trust.

The speakers noted that during the course of a negotiation, it is important for participants to understand the perspectives of others at the table.

For example, water supply interests wanting more storage have to understand environmentalists want to keep enough water in rivers to ensure healthy ecosystems.

At the same time, environmentalists have to understand that agricultural interests need to have water flow their way to keep in business. You get the picture.

Achieving understanding between people with deeply different points of view is not easy, the speakers said. Neither is building trust that the entities represented by those people will do what they say they will do as part of an agreement.

But it must be done. And all parties involved have to be committed to reaching some kind of consensus, even if they don’t agree on every element.

Would such an approach work on the Poudre? I don’t know. When it comes to NISP and other projects proposed for the river, the parties seem pretty far apart.

The first step toward finding solutions is talking about them, and that is what the Poudre Runs Through It is trying to do.

Cache la Poudre update: NISP could diminish spring streamflow

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via Newser.com:

A picturesque Colorado river with a peculiar French name is the latest prize in the West’s water wars, where wilderness advocates usually line up against urban and industrial development.

This showdown has a new force: City dwellers who say a vibrant river flowing past their streets, parks and buildings is essential to their community’s identity and well-being.

The Cache la Poudre — pronounced KASH luh POO-dur — got its name in the early 1800s, when French fur trappers cached gunpowder on its banks. Long a vital source of water for drinking and irrigation, it has become a treasured slice of nature in the booming towns and cities along Colorado’s Front Range corridor…

A group of 15 cities and water districts wants to divert water from the lower Poudre, below the mountains, when the river is running highest and pump it into a new reservoir. The $600 million Northern Integrated Supply Project would capture water Colorado is legally entitled to keep but has no place to store, backers say.

Since 2009, Colorado could have kept another 1.3 trillion gallons from the South Platte and its tributaries, including the Poudre, but it flowed east to Nebraska because there was no place to put it, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is overseeing the project.

This debate has all the elements of a traditional Western water fight.

Backers say they need to lock up future sources of drinking water for Colorado’s fast-growing population amid the recurring droughts and uncertainty of a changing climate.

Opponents want to prevent any more losses to the “in-stream flow” of the river, already so drained by irrigation and municipal systems that short stretches run dry nearly every summer.

River advocates also want to preserve the annual spring surge that comes from melting snow, which keeps the streambed healthy by flushing out sediment and provides a thrilling ride for kayakers. They say the reservoir project could reduce the kayaking season from an average of 54 days to 35 days a year.

Rising to the surface is the argument that a vibrant urban river flowing through Fort Collins, Greeley and the towns between them is an essential part of the coveted Colorado lifestyle, where even urban residents can connect with nature.

“This is like in-stream flow for human organisms and for the replenishment and well-being of the soul,” said Patty Limerick, Colorado’s state historian and faculty director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado.

Rivers have long been guarded as cultural assets around the United States and beyond, said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a nationwide network of local advocacy groups.

“It’s an argument we’ve been making for a long time,” Kennedy said. “It’s a longstanding recognition of the relationship between wilderness and free-flowing waters and America’s cultural and political institutions.”

…sections of the river are lined with parks and pathways, including the 20-mile Poudre Trail upstream from Greeley. Restoration programs are in the works, and Fort Collins plans a kayak course on the river in the city.

A big change came in 1986, when 76 miles of the upper Cache la Poudre were designated as a National Wild and Scenic River, protected by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service from changes that could harm its cultural and recreational importance. In 2009, Congress designated the river as a National Heritage Area, formally encouraging a community-driven approach to preserving its natural, cultural, and historic resources.

But preserving water resources is a challenge in the arid West, even for the most beloved river, and cultural arguments have no easy path through Colorado’s complex legal system, which includes a separate water court to settle disputes.

Colorado lawmakers established a narrowly defined recreational water right for kayak courses in 2001, but experts say setting aside water for cultural values would have to be negotiated among the state and owners of water rights.

Environmental reviews of the reservoir project continue and obtaining the necessary state and federal permits could take years. Lawsuits are probably inevitable, and no construction date has been set…

The project’s backers recognize the river’s cultural value and are working to protect it, Werner said. The new reservoir might even be able to release enough water to avoid the periodic dry-ups, he said.

“We’re trying to do right by the river, we really are,” he said.

NISP: “These studies are complex, requiring significant resources and specialized expertise” — Eric Wilkinson

From BizWest (Dallas Heltzell):

“Participants in NISP began work on studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act in 2004,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the district known as Northern Water. “These studies are required to look at all facets of the project to clearly define the project’s impact on the environment as well as ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate those impacts. These studies are complex, requiring significant resources and specialized expertise. That is evidenced by the nearly 12 years and approximately $15 million that the participants have invested to date.

“Most studies have been completed but some require additional time, thus the reason for the extension,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday in a prepared statement. “The project participants have supported, and continue to support, a thorough NEPA process to assure the Final Environmental Impact Statement is comprehensive, complete, and defendable. Participants are working diligently to assure this extension has minimal effect on the beginning of project construction.”

The Corps said it still has more than a dozen tasks to complete, including study of the voluminous number of public comments it received when a draft version of the EIS was released in June. That document prompted a chorus of official complaints. The federal Environmental Protection Agency wrote a 20-page letter in September contending that the Corps’ draft EIS lacked sufficient information to adequately predict the project’s potential impacts or compliance with provisions of the Clean Water Act. The Fort Collins City Council, acting on its staff’s recommendation, voted unanimously to oppose NISP in its current form. City officials in Greeley, which is not a NISP participant, said the reduced flows would force that city to spend $10 million on extra water filtration, and its Water and Sewer Department wrote that the Corps’ water-quality analysis was insufficient and not in compliance with NEPA.

Larimer County commissioners, however, passed a resolution in support of NISP…

About a dozen cities and towns and four water districts have signed up to buy water from the project if it wins final approval from the Corps.

Supporters see the project as crucial to keeping up with the growing demands of development, industry and agriculture along the Front Range, as well as capturing rainfall and snowmelt in wet years that otherwise would flow out of the state.

Opponents have said it would drain water from the Poudre as it flows through Fort Collins, limiting opportunities for recreation that include tubing, whitewater kayaking and fishing,

Northern Water’s boundaries include about 880,000 people living on 1.6 million acres in portions of Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer, Weld, Logan, Morgan, Sedgwick and Washington counties.

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

Corps of Engineers now see final NISP EIS in 2017

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Jacy Marmaduke):

The review timeline for the Northern Integrated Supply Project has been extended again. It’s the latest in a series of pushbacks for a proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado to supply 40,000 acre feet of water each year to 15 participating communities and water districts.

The final environmental impact statement for the project, which will come in advance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ruling on whether Northern Water can build two reservoirs drawing from Poudre and South Platte river water, is now projected to come out in 2017 instead of the previously predicted summer 2016.

The delay comes because the Army Corps needs to complete 13 complex tasks before releasing the final EIS. Some of those tasks include adding more measures to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts, completing analysis of alternatives to NISP and finishing models that predict how the project would affect water quality and temperature.

The Army Corps also wants to take “a hard look” at public comments on the last version of the environmental impact statement that came out in June, project manager John Urbanic wrote in an email. After looking at the comments, the Army Corps may decide to conduct additional analysis of the project.

“Between the anticipated activities and review of comments we do not think that a 2016 release of the Final EIS is realistic and we adjusted the estimated release into 2017,” Urbanic wrote.

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

#COWaterPlan: “…we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side” — James Eklund

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Colorado Water Plan set to be released Nov. 19 will include a goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage in Colorado and a corresponding goal of reducing water use in the state by 400,000 acre-feet.

“The gap between supply and demand that we are forecasting is 560,000 acre feet by 2050, and if you add up 400,000 acre feet in conservation and 400,000 acre feet in storage, we zero out the gap,” said James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has been preparing the water plan for the last two years.

“And,” Eklund said, “while we are not saying which specific projects are going to have to come on line, we are saying that as an entire state we’ve got to work the problem of the gap from both the supply side and the demand side.”

Eklund said the goal of developing 400,000 acre-feet of additional water storage by 2050 was realistic.

As examples, Eklund cited, without officially endorsing, the proposed Moffat, Windy Gap and NISP projects, all of which are under review and include expanded reservoir storage.

Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder, is proposed to be enlarged to hold an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water as part of the expansion of the Moffat Collection System.

The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, part of the Windy Gap Firming Project, would add 90,000 acre-feet of storage southwest of Loveland.

The proposed Glade and Galeton reservoirs, which are at the core of NISP, or the Northern Integrated Supply Project, would add 170,000 and 45,000 acre feet of new storage, respectively, near Fort Collins.

And the planned expansion of Chatfield Reservoir, south of Denver, of which the CWCB is an official sponsor, would add 20,600 acre-feet of storage.

In all, that’s 402,600 acre-feet of proposed additional storage on the Front Range.

“We think the projects on the books are going to get us most of the way there,” Eklund said. “So I don’t see the storage goal as pie-in-the-sky. And I don’t see it requiring some really big nasty project that somebody has been worrying about emerging.”

W. SLOPE NEEDS STORAGE

He also pointed to the growing potential to store water in underground aquifers near Denver as an additional opportunity. And, he noted, the Front Range “does not have a copyright on the idea of more storage.”

“The Western Slope needs more storage, too,” Eklund said. “They have gaps, municipal and industrial supply and demand gaps, just the like the folks on the Front Range. “

But the storage projects now in process may not be enough, or happen fast enough, for many Front Range water providers and planners, at least judging by the comment letters sent to the CWCB on the draft water plan by a Sept. 17 deadline.

Colorado Springs Utilities, in a Sept. 17 comment letter, told the CWCB it was “disappointed with the relative lack of discussion on storage” in the water plan.

“While we appreciate the plan’s focus on enlarging existing storage, we believe more attention should be paid to developing storage of all types, e.g., on-channel storage, off-channel storage, gravel pit storage, etc.,” wrote M. Patrick Wells, the managing engineer for water resource planning for CSU.

“The plan should include an affirmative statement that it is state policy to develop additional storage,” Wells said. “This cannot be stressed enough, and Colorado needs to do as much as it can to secure as much additional storage of all types within its borders as is possible.”

‘STRETCH GOAL’

The city of Westminster, which sits between Denver and Boulder, “believes that many of the components of the water plan will be successful only if there is the political will to create more water storage, including identifying new storage locations, expanding existing storage and encouraging regional storage solutions,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

And John Kaufman, the general manager of Centennial Water and Sanitation District, which serves customers south of Denver, told the CWCB “more storage, particularly on the East Slope of the Continental Divide, is needed. And creative ways to bring more West Slope water to the East Slope should be explored in a manner that also benefits West-Slope interests.”

Kaufman also said in his Sept. 17 letter that the water plan “will not achieve full success if conservation is viewed as the keystone of the plan.”

While there is abundant enthusiasm for additional storage among Front Range water providers, there is less support for, and even belief in, the CWCB’s goal of conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet, which has been dubbed a “stretch goal” during the development of the water plan.

Aurora Water, for example, questioned the assumptions used by CWCB in reaching its 400,000 acre-foot goal.

Joe Stibrich, Aurora Water’s water resources policy manager told the CWCB in a Sept. 17 letter he understood CWCB added up 154,000 acre-feet of potential “passive conservation” savings, 166,000 acre-feet of “active conservation” savings, and 80,000 acre-feet of “aspirational stretch” savings to reach its goal.

Stibrich said “additional work is needed to validate the numbers” and that it would be more useful to “define potential saving in a range” such as 320,000 to 400,000 acre-feet.

And he said CWCB should make sure people know its “stretch goal” is just aspirational.

“By its very nature, a stretch goal is aspirational and is not achievable under current policies and with existing technology and programs,” Stibrich said.

CONSERVATION LIMITS?

And the Front Range Water Council, made up of the largest water providers in Colorado, told the CWCB that reaching the conservation goal couldn’t be expected to come before new storage.

“The plan should reject the notion that project approvals should be contingent of first meeting any sort of conservation goals or targets,” the letter from the council said. “Passive and active conservation savings occurs over time as a result of technological innovation, education, market penetration and other factors and as a result, does not naturally lend itself to being ‘sequenced’ ahead of other water supply options. “

Burt Knight, Greeley’s director of water and sewer, bluntly warned against relying on conservation.

“We cannot conserve our way out of the anticipated gap, and the conservation mandates proposed in this draft could have a domino effect on our environment, our economy, our public health and our quality of life,” Knight wrote.

Offering another perspective, Richard Van Gytenbeek, the outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the state should go beyond the 400,000 acre-foot goal in the plan and set a goal of saving 460,000 acre-feet.

“A stretch goal, by its very definition, should be aggressive and go beyond what we know we can do using the types of strategies already in place,” Van Gytenbeek told the CWCB in a Sept 17 letter. “Colorado needs to be aggressive and discover how far we truly can go in water efficiency.”

And in addition to the full-throated call for more storage in the comment letters to the CWCB, there are also words of caution about new dams and reservoirs.

“Reservoirs can provide beneficial stream flows downstream, but they can also do the opposite,” said Ken Neubecker, the assistant director for the Colorado River Program at American Rivers, in a Sept. 14 comment letter.

While Neubecker concedes that additional water storage “must be considered,” he told the CWCB ”we must also recognize that politically such storage will be difficult.”

“It is easy for politicians and roundtables to demand more storage,” Neubecker said, “until they identify the specific ‘backyard’ they want to fill, the source they wish to deplete and the existing uses they intend to deprive.”

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Northern Water Fall Water Users Meeting November 10

From email from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

Northern Water’s Fall Water Users Meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the Riverside Cultural Center, 3700 Golden St., Evans, CO starting at 8 a.m.

The meeting is a forum to discuss the current water situation and water-related issues, the water year, the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Other items on the agenda include the Granby Hydropower Plant project, Northern Water’s water management system and an update from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Dan Haley, the new CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, will be the luncheon speaker.

The afternoon session starts at 1:30 p.m. and will feature the screening of the documentary film The Great Divide. The 90-minute film documents the history of water development in Colorado from the Ancient Puebloan cultures to present day.

See the meeting agenda.

Go to the November Calendar page to register for the meeting online by Tuesday, Nov. 3. If you are unable to register online, please call our registration line at 970-622-2220. Please provide the name(s) of those who will be attending and the organization represented, if applicable. If you register and you later find you cannot attend, please cancel your reservation by calling us at 970-622-2220

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

League of Women Voters of Larimer County comments on the @USACEOmaha #NISP SDEIS

From the League of Women Voters of Larimer County (Sarah Pitts) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

As part of its long history of studying and participating in public discussion on water and other environmental issues, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County delivered comments to the Army Corps of Engineers on the second draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) for the proposed NISP/Glade Reservoir project. The league recommended the Corps defer issuing a permit for the project until the Corps corrects data inadequacies and omissions, addresses compatibility with the draft state water plan, and better defines and quantifies short- and long-term costs related to environmental impacts.

Inadequate data cited by the league include:

•Population growth projections are overstated because they fail to use the reliable and objective data provided by the Colorado State Demography Office.

•Per capita water consumption projections are overstated because they fail to factor in already implemented conservation measures (e.g., Fort Collins reduced per capita consumption from 188 gallons/day in 2003 to 140 now) as well as new and developing conservation initiatives.

•Water supply projections underestimate the potential for acquiring water from annexed farm land, from alternative agricultural transfers, and from growing supplies of reuse water.

•The SDEIS omits essential water quality and temperature models.

The SDEIS fails to analyze the project’s compatibility with the draft Colorado state water plan. It is also at odds with the South Platte River Basin Implementation Plan statement that the costs of building and maintaining reservoirs are questionable: “The basin, in a typical year, has little unappropriated water available for new uses. Unappropriated flows . . . come in sporadic, high peaks during wetter years, making the economics of building a reservoir to capture these supplies questionable because of the large carryover storage requirements.”

Unsubstantiated assumptions about long-term, as well as short term environmental impacts, call into question the SDEIS’s already insufficient disclosure as to the allocation, sources of funding and impact of costs to build and mitigate the effects of the NISP project.

Copies of the league’s full comment letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available at http://www.lwv-larimercounty.org.

Sarah Pitts is spokeswoman with the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.