Northern Water proposes re-route plan to replenish the Poudre

FORT COLLINS – Adding water to a stagnant five-mile stretch of the Cache la Poudre River to restore trout populations and whitewater rafting during summer could be done in conjunction with a major reservoir project, under a proposal put forth by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Northern is discussing raising flows in the stretch that runs from the mouth of Poudre Canyon to an area near Gateway Park. The river normally runs at a trickle in that section, but Northern Water says it could increase flows 30 to 40 cubic feet per second from June to September.

That would amount to10,000 to 20,000 acre feet running through the five-mile section. An acre foot equals 326,000 gallons.

The North Poudre Irrigation Co. normally siphons that water for its customers, which include the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley. The irrigation company, whose majority stakeholder is the city of Fort Collins, isn’t ready to sign on to the re-route plan yet, however, because it could mean losing valuable water credits with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Northern Water is exploring the possibility as part of its $490 million Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). The project involves diverting water from the Poudre and South Platte rivers into the planned Glade and Galeton reservoirs. The project will serve four water districts and 11 cities and towns if it receives approval from the Corps of Engineers.

Save The Poudre, a citizens group which opposes NISP, has been deeply skeptical of Northern’s plans to replenish the river. Save The Poudre executive director Gary Wockner did not return calls seeking comment.

As part of the reservoir project, Northern Water has proposed that the irrigation company leave the water in the stream through the five-mile stretch and allow Northern to divert it farther down and pump it back up to the proposed Glade Reservoir, where it would be stored for the irrigation company’s use.

Under this scenario, Northern Water would receive credit from the Corps of Engineers for adding water to the river as it draws from the river during spring runoff to fill Glade.

However, the irrigation company believes it would lose out on credit from the Corps of Engineers if Northern Water moved the diversion downstream. It wants credit for its Halligan-Seaman Water Management Project, which involves expanding Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Milton Seaman Reservoir.

Northern Water and North Poudre Irrigation Co. value those credits because they give the water companies standing to remove water from other places of the river at various times for storage in reservoirs.

“We’re not going to give up potential mitigation credits on our project,” said Steve Smith, operations manager for the irrigation company. “They actually would be in competition with ours.”

Both the irrigation company and Northern Water said they intend to keep negotiating to see if mutually acceptable terms can be reached.

“We’ll keep talking with Steve and North Poudre,” said Brian Werner, Northern Water spokesman. “We think that we can offer enough incentives to make it worthwhile.”

Northern Water has not worked out the details of the plan, including its cost, Werner said.

The increased flow would improve whitewater rafting trips through the Picnic Rock area, as well as improve fish habitat, he said.

In addition to the five-mile stretch northwest of Fort Collins, Northern Water also would add flows to the Poudre River in downtown Fort Collins from Glade between November to March, Werner said.

“We’ll have some water there that can help the river when it’s needed most,” he said.

Low flows in the Poudre River have confined fish to smaller pools where they must compete for food and cannot thrive, said Ken Kehmeier, senior aquatic biologist at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Increased flows in the lower part of the Poudre River would encourage the proliferation of insects that fish depend on for food and give them more space.

“From a business standpoint, the more anglers, the more fishing we have, the more money gets spent in the local economies,” he said.

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