Public to get say next year on final NISP impact statement

The public will get another chance to comment on a controversial Northern Colorado water project next year when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues its final environmental impact statement.

“We don’t know if that’s early or late 2017,” said Brian Werner, communications manager for the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the driving force behind the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project. Noting that the planning process for NISP now is in its 13th year, he added that “given the pace so far, we’d expect to see it released to the public toward the latter part of the year.”

NISP, awaiting final approval by the Corps, would include creating Glade Reservoir, northwest of Fort Collins, and Galeton Reservoir east of Ault, along with a system of linking pipelines to pump water to users to the south.

The additional opportunity for public input “is not something we’d ordinarily do,” said John Urbanic, a Littleton-based senior project manager for the Corps’ Omaha District. “There’s typically no comment period on the final because the studies have been completed.”

The change in Corps policy was decided, Urbanic said, because the Corps has done additional water-quality analyses since it issued a Supplemental Draft EIS in June 2015. The final EIS will include updated environmental studies, as well as refinements that project manager Northern Water has made to its proposal.

In April, Northern Water responded to last year’s sharp criticism from citizens and some governmental bodies by revising its plans in order to provide a larger, steadier flow of water in the Cache la Poudre River as it flows through Fort Collins. The change would include releasing 14,000 acre-feet of water a year from Glade Reservoir into the Poudre for a 12-mile stretch through the city, then capturing it again at the “Timnath Inlet” near East Mulberry Street west of Interstate 25 through a pumping station and pipeline that would carry it down the Larimer-Weld county line to Northern Water’s Southern Water Supply Project, which serves communities from Broomfield to Fort Morgan.

Northern Water designed the revision to help allay opponents’ fears that by draining water from the Poudre, NISP would limit opportunities for recreation that include tubing, whitewater kayaking and fishing. The Fort Collins City Council late last summer unanimously voted to conditionally oppose the project, based on a report from a broad range of city departments that listed concerns about water-quality degradation because of reduced streamflow that could cause the city to spend tens of millions of dollars on extra water treatment, as well as what they saw as an incomplete supplemental draft EIS by the Corps.

Northern Water’s revised plan also would eliminate a proposed pipeline from Horsetooth Reservoir, west of Fort Collins, into the NISP system, Werner said — another response to public concerns.

Then in July, Werner said the proposed Galeton Reservoir might have to be moved because the site is home to about two dozen active oil and gas wells operated by Noble Energy. The energy company has warned that water contamination could result if its wells are left uncapped.

Werner has said the changes would come at some cost, but contested a contention in an email sent Monday by Gary Wockner, director of Save the Poudre, a group that has been fighting NISP, that the proposed water project is “collapsing into chaos.

“More delays, more changes, more cost overruns, and no agreements for water to fill the reservoirs and operate the project,” Wockner wrote. “This scheme is more and more looking like a ruse that Northern Water is playing on the people of Northern Colorado.”

Wockner said inadequate water-quality analysis in last year’s supplemental EIS and Northern Water’s proposed changes were responsible for delaying issuance of the final EIS. However, Werner and Urbanic said the estimated completion of the final EIS has not changed in the past year.

“The move of the Galeton Reservoir site will not slow down the process further,” Werner told BizWest on Monday.

Urbanic said all public input received during the comment period for the final EIS will be reviewed and addressed in the “Record of Decision,” which completes the Corps’ permitting process.

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 NISP as crucial to keeping up with the growing demands of development, industry and agriculture along the Front Range and catching rainwater and snowmelt for use in drier years.

Contending that “after 12 years, NISP has not secured any water leases or purchases with farmers — as identified was necessary in the SDEIS — in order to fill either reservoir or operate the project in average and dry precipitation years,” Wockner vowed to keep up the fight against the project.

“If you are a city participating in NISP, you should look elsewhere for water,” he wrote. “NISP is a never-ending pipe dream that we will fight to stop for as long as it takes because it would further drain and destroy the Cache la Poudre River.”

However, Werner countered that “the 15 NISP participants are more committed than ever to seeing this project permitted and built. As the northern Front Range continues to grow, the need for future supplies only gets more critical. NISP will help the region meet some of its future water needs.”