Environmentalists float alternative to water-storage

An environmental group proposed Thursday an alternative to a huge Northern Colorado water-storage project, calling for water conservation, recycling and sharing water with irrigators instead of building new reservoirs.

A report by Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates released Thursday sought to show that its alternative options can meet projected demand through 2060 for 15 cities and water districts in Northern Colorado. The report also questioned population and demand projections behind the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

“We can meet the water needs of Northern Colorado for the next 50 years without sacrificing the health of the Poudre River,´ said Laura Belanger, Water Resources and Environmental Engineer at Western Resource Advocates and the chief author of the report. “The Poudre River is an iconic piece of Northern Colorado’s natural landscape, and it plays a critical role for farmers and businesses in the outdoor recreation industry.”

NISP, led by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, is expected to supply participants with 40,000 acre-feet of water annually if approved by the federal government. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to fill an acre one foot deep and is enough to supply 2.5 households annually.

Northern Water criticized Thursday’s report, arguing that the agricultural industry would continue to suffer without adequate water supplies. Supporters of the project say water storage also is essential for a growing population.

Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said that Colorado lost 1.4 million acre-feet that flowed into Nebraska beyond what it owed the state in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

“Over 1 million acre feet left the state because we didn’t have buckets to put it in,” Werner said. “We’re huge believers in conservation, and we can do a better job.”

But, Werner said, “We can’t conserve our way to future supply.”

Northern Water received the environmentalists’ report Thursday afternoon, so it could not immediately comment on questions raised by the report on population and demand projections.

Western Resource Advocates’ report follows another study released this week from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and states in the Colorado River Basin forecasting a shortage of 3.2 million acre-feet of water from the river by 2060.

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, responded to the government’s report by reiterating his calls for construction of NISP.

“The Colorado River Basin Study highlights that demand will outpace supply in the near future, making it imperative we start construction on new water-storage infrastructure immediately,” Gardner said.

The project would include two new reservoirs: Glade Reservoir, which would hold 170,000 acre-feet north of Horsetooth Reservoir, and Galeton Reservoir, which would store 45,000 acre-feet east of Ault. Two water pumping stations and pipelines also would be built.

The 15 participants in the project have paid more than $10 million since 2004 for analysis of the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it will complete its supplemental draft environmental impact statement of the project by fall next year.

The corps then will release it to the public for comment and schedule public hearings. A final decision will follow.

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