“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.

Fort Collins plans an 800 foot bore to bypass Michigan Ditch pipeline section

Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com
Michigan Ditch photo via AllTrails.com

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

The city of Fort Collins is preparing to pay $6.3 million to repair a water pipeline more than 60 miles from city limits.

This would be on top of about $2 million already directed toward dealing with a section of Michigan Ditch that was taken out by a slow-moving landslide south of Cameron Pass.

That’s a lot of money. But given the value and importance of the city’s water supply system, the expenditure is necessary and well-spent, city officials say.

Michigan Ditch moves water from the upper Michigan River basin high in the mountains to the Poudre River basin and city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir.

Portions of the 6-mile-long ditch are open, but a stretch of the ditch carries water through a 54-inch iron pipeline. A 2015 landslide separated the pipeline at its joints, filling it with mud and taking the ditch out of commission.

The city plans to bore an 800-foot tunnel through bedrock behind the slide to protect the pipeline from further disruption. Construction is expected to begin in spring with the goal of having the pipeline ready to carry water in time for the 2017 spring runoff…

the city needs to get the pipeline fixed in order to meet long-term obligations under the terms of a water-use agreement involving Fort Collins, Platte River Power Authority and the Water Supply and Storage Co.

Water from Joe Wright Reservoir and nearby Chambers Lake also must be released to meet terms of an agreement between Fort Collins and Greeley to support aquatic life in the Poudre River, according to city documents.

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

Fort Collins to spend $7M fixing water pipeline — The Fort Collins Coloradan


From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Fort Collins is preparing to spend about $7 million to repair a mountain water pipeline damaged by a slow-moving landslide south of Cameron Pass.

A portion of the 54-inch iron pipeline that carries Michigan Ditch to city-owned Joe Wright Reservoir was broken apart by tons of dirt and mud sliding downhill last spring.

The landslide has been active for many years, said Carol Webb, water resources and treatment operations manager for Fort Collins Utilities. Short-term repairs have been made to stabilize the pipeline, including realigning a section affected by the slide area in fall 2014.

“It’s been moving several inches at a time for quite a while,” Webb said. “But this last time it moved several feet.”

The slide separated the pipeline at its joints, filling it with mud and taking the ditch out of commission. As a long-term solution, the city plans to bore an 800-foot tunnel through bedrock behind the slide to protect the pipeline from further disruption, Webb said.

Construction is expected to begin in spring with the goal of having the pipeline ready to carry water in time for the 2017 spring runoff…

Michigan Ditch is about six miles long. It captures water from the upper Michigan River basin and carries it into the Poudre River basin.

City officials expect to tap into reserve funds to pay for the project. City Council likely will be asked to appropriate funds in January, Webb said.

The construction project has been prequalified for a loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but the city is leaning toward funding the work itself, Webb said.

The city’s water supply is not expected to be negatively affected by the pipeline problem. Abundant snowfall last spring filled Joe Wright Reservoir and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, meaning the city should be able to meet its needs and water-release obligations through fall 2016, according to a memo to City Council.

About 2,500 acre feet of water is released from Joe Wright Reservoir each year to meet terms of a water-use agreement involving the city, Platte River Power Authority and the Water Supply and Storage Co.

Another 900 acre feet is released from the reservoir and nearby Chambers Lake to meet the terms of an agreement between Fort Collins and Greely to support aquatic life in the Poudre River, according to city documents.

Longmont councilors approve exempting low-income customers from monthly service charge

Water hauler early Longmont via the Longmont Times-Call
Water hauler early Longmont via the Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):

The Longmont City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved expanding a pilot water-bill discount for some low-income people in the coming year.

The city has an existing program that knocks roughly 28 percent off the average water bill for senior citizens who meet low-income requirements.

This pilot program would exempt low-income Longmont residents — with no age requirement — from the monthly service charge, which for the average bill is about a 15 percent discount.

The discount program is only available to people who live in single-family homes. Because apartment buildings or other multi-family buildings have one meter for several households, the city is unable to offer individual discounts to residents of those buildings.

Barb McGrane, the business services manager for Longmont public works and natural resources, said Tuesday the program should be ready to launch in the first quarter of 2016.

To qualify for the new program, residents would need to meet income limits based on state numbers for a property tax/rent/heat credit rebate. To qualify for Longmont’s new water bill rebate pilot program, a single resident would need to make less than $12,720 in a year or a married couple would need to earn less than $17,146 in a year.

Those are the most recent income limits available, but McGrane said she expects the state will soon release new limits for the coming year.