Corps clears major milestone for massive water project

BERTHOUD — A final verdict on whether a massive Poudre River water-storage project will be built in Northern Colorado could come next year, now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its long-awaited final environmental impact statement.

The voluminous document released today assesses impacts of the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, which has been studied for more than 15 years. The report weighs in at 2,272 pages — and the public has just 45 days to review and comment on it, unless opponents succeed in winning an extension.

Proponents said they were pleased that the report cited no major new challenges in building the project, while opponents vowed to continue efforts to stop it.

NISP, coordinated by the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, would provide approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water each year to more than a dozen cities and towns and four water districts. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, which could meet the average water needs of three to four households for a year.

If approved, NISP’s two reservoirs would store a total of more than 215,000 acre-feet of water. Glade Reservoir, which would be larger than Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins, would be built north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 287 and Colorado Highway 14 northwest of Fort Collins and would hold up to 170,000 acre-feet of water diverted from the Poudre River. Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and Eaton in Weld County and hold up to 45,000 acre-feet of South Platte River water. Without the new reservoirs to capture that water during wet years, it would flow east into the South Platte River and then out of the state.

The communities that would benefit “have not quit growing,” said Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner. “The three fastest growing cities in in Colorado are NISP participants.”

Werner said Northern Water officials “were pleased that there was nothing new, nothing major that popped up, no new issues that haven’t been identified. This document includes a 136-page fish and wildlife mitigation plan, the most robust one ever done in the state of Colorado.”

Placing fill material into U.S. waters to build water-storage and distribution facilities requires Corps approval under the terms of the Clean Water Act.

“The Corps will listen to the public and take that into consideration,” Werner said, adding that he expects the Corps’ final “Record of Decision” — a formal yes or no — sometime in 2019.

Part of the controversy surrounding the project stems from the fact that NISP would substantially decrease spring water flows along a 23-mile stretch of the Poudre through Fort Collins. The Corps has determined that flows would be cut nearly in half — 45 percent — during May and 39 percent in June, whereas the decrease would be less in summer and water flows would be slightly increased in winter.

“These impacts would occur exactly where the city of Fort Collins will begin construction of a new whitewater park this fall,” said Gary Wockner, who heads the Save the Poudre activist group that opposes the project.

“It’s Groundhog Day on the Poudre River,” he said. “Every day for 15 years, we’ve been waking up and nothing has changed — and now this FEIS clearly indicates, again, that NISP would further drain and destroy the Poudre River through Fort Collins.

“The first thing we will do is send the Corps a request to extend the public comment period,” Wockner said, “and then our team of scientists and attorneys will dig in for our summer of reading. We’ve been at this for 15 years, and we are digging in for the home stretch. We are bigger, stronger, and better funded than ever, and we will never stop fighting to protect the Poudre.”

Werner countered that Northern Water was guaranteeing year-round flows through downtown Fort Collins, “and that’s never happened before.

“We think that there will only be a reduction of from 47 to 43 usable days for the water park if we’re taking the maximum out,” Werner said. “We think it is minimal.” Werner quoted the FEIS as saying that the project would “have a minor beneficial effect on tubing opportunities, no effect on kayaking and a minor adverse effect on freestyle kayaking.” He also said the document shows that tubing days would increase from 64 to 79 days with the project.

The city of Greeley, which is not a participant in NISP, also has expressed reservations about  the project, noting that the reduced volume of water that diversion would leave in the Poudre presents problems for Greeley — at its wastewater treatment plant, but also especially its Bellvue water-treatment plant along the Poudre just downstream from the Glade diversion point. Officials have said the reduced flow could allow sediment to build up at the plants.

Northern Water officials began the formal permitting process to build NISP in 2004, which resulted in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2008. A Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released in 2015.

“This is another step in the process and a very thorough one at that,” said Brad Wind, Northern Water general manager. “We’re encouraged that it shows that no new significant issues have popped up and that the impacts can and will be mitigated.”  

“The NISP participants have really come a long way and stepped up to put together one of the most-robust mitigation and enhancement plans ever,” said NISP Participants Committee chairman Chris Smith. Smith, general manager of the Left Hand Water District. “We are committed to the $60 million plan to protect and enhance the environment.”

The entities that would receive NISP water include the towns of Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette and Severance as well as the Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand, Central Weld County and Morgan County Quality water districts.

The final EIS is available for review on the Corps’ website — http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory-Program/Colorado/EIS-NISP — and printed copies have been sent to various libraries and offices including:

  • Colorado State University’s Morgan Library, 1201 Centre Ave., Fort Collins;
  • Poudre River Public Library District’s Old Town Library, 201 Peterson St., and its Harmony Library, 4616 S. Shields St., both in Fort Collins;
  • University of Northern Colorado’s James A. Michener Library, 14th Avenue and 20th Street, Greeley;
  • Windsor Recreation Center, 250 N. 11th St., Windsor; and
  • Northern Water’s headquarters at 220 Water Ave., Berthoud.

All written comments must be received by Sept. 4. They can be sent to John Urbanic, NISP EIS Project Manager, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, Denver Regulatory Office, 9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton, CO 80128, or emailed to nisp.eis@usace.army.mil

 

BERTHOUD — A final verdict on whether a massive Poudre River water-storage project will be built in Northern Colorado could come next year, now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its long-awaited final environmental impact statement.

The voluminous document released today assesses impacts of the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, which has been studied for more than 15 years. The report weighs in at 2,272 pages — and the public has just 45 days to review and comment on it, unless opponents succeed in winning an extension.

Proponents said they were pleased that the report cited no major new challenges in building the project, while opponents vowed to continue efforts to stop it.

NISP, coordinated by the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, would provide approximately 40,000 acre-feet of water each year to more than a dozen cities and towns and four water districts. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, which could meet the average water needs of three to four households for a year.

If approved, NISP’s two reservoirs would store a total of more than 215,000 acre-feet of water. Glade Reservoir, which would be larger than Horsetooth Reservoir west of Fort Collins, would be built north of the intersection of U.S. Highway 287 and Colorado Highway 14 northwest of Fort Collins and would hold up to 170,000 acre-feet of water diverted from the Poudre River. Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and Eaton in Weld County and hold up to 45,000 acre-feet of South Platte River water.…