Gardner: Government must set deadlines for reservoir project analyses

Rep. Cory Gardner is planning to introduce legislation to set deadlines for federal review of water-storage projects, the Yuma Republican said in an interview Friday.

“The concept is to put some time parameters around project approvals or denials,” he said. Gardner said his aim is “to make sure the agencies and the permitting processes are either approving or denying the permits in a timely manner.”

Gardner has worked with water users to decide what those deadlines should look like as he drafts the legislation, for which he hopes to gain bipartisan support. He plans to introduce the measure during the next session.

Gardner and other Northern Colorado leaders have criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for delays in evaluating the Northern Integrated Supply Project. The Corps wrote Gov. John Hickenlooper earlier this year to say that studying the project has taken longer than expected “due to concerns regarding potential cumulative impacts to the Cache la Poudre River.”

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District first submitted an application for the huge reservoir-building project to the Corps in 2004.

“It’s unacceptable that we don’t have answers, that we don’t have a clear path forward,” Gardner said.

The Corps says it will complete its supplemental draft environmental impact statement of the water-storage project by next fall. It then will release the environmental impact statement to the public for comment and schedule public hearings. A final decision will follow.

Environmentalists contend the project will harm the Poudre River. Supporters say additional water-storage is needed for agriculture and for a growing population.

“We have got to store more water or this nation is in serious trouble,” Gardner said.

Gardner’s remarks follow a letter he sent to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other officials in which he stressed the effects of the drought on water levels of Colorado reservoirs and rivers.

The letter pointed to a study released this week by 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.

“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 in the letter.

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