Legal & Courts  January 26, 2024

Group sues Army Corps over NISP permit

FORT COLLINS – A group that has been fighting a large proposed Northern Colorado water project for years has sued the Army Corps of Engineers over its issuance of a permit for the project last year.

The group Save the Poudre filed suit in U.S. District Court for Colorado on Thursday in what its director, Gary Wockner, called “the 20th year of bungled and massively delayed permitting” for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which he said “was proposed to cost $143.9 million in 2005 permitting documents but was recently revealed to cost $2.25 billion in a 2023 Colorado Open Records Act filing.”

Spearheaded by the Berthoud-based Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, also known as Northern Water, NISP would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water each year from a new municipal water supply. NISP includes Glade and Galeton reservoirs and associated project infrastructure to deliver water to more than 250,000 Northeastern Colorado residents. Participants in the project include the cities of Fort Morgan, Evans, Fort Lupton, Lafayette and Dacono as well as the towns of Erie, Windsor, Frederick, Eaton, Firestone and Severance. Also included are the Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand, Central Weld County and Morgan County Quality water districts.

The project’s impact on the flow of the Cache la Poudre River through Fort Collins has been one of the primary points of contention as NISP has worked its way through the study and permitting process.

“NISP proposes to divert a very large amount of water out of the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, which would cause severe damage to the river, the aquatic life in the river, the new Poudre River Whitewater Park in downtown Fort Collins, as well as to the riparian corridor through Fort Collins and downstream,” Wockner said. “In some months and years, NISP would divert 65% of what water is left in the river which is already heavily diverted by farms and cities.”

Save the Poudre’s lawsuit alleges that the Army Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act when it awarded a permit to NISP.”

In what Wockner described as “a 2021 Hail Mary attempt to get a massive $464 million bailout from the U.S. taxpayer through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency loan program, NISP revealed in the application that it only needed 20,000 acre feet of water and could get by building only half of the project for now. A smaller half-sized project would’ve required a completely different NEPA analysis, revealing smaller and much less environmentally damaging alternatives, including more conservation options.”

The half of the project that would be built with the EPA loan, Wockner said, was the Glade Reservoir complex in Larimer County, while the other half of the project, the Galeton Reservoir complex in Weld County, would be put on hold due to what he called “the exorbitant cost overruns.” Those overruns, he said, “didn’t even include the cost of buying, or buying out, thousands of acres of irrigated farms in Weld County for Galeton Reservoir’s so-called ‘water secure’ program.”

Wockner said Save the Poudre in 2022 offered a compromise plan that would allow NISP to be built if it sent all of its water downstream in the Poudre River in Larimer County “instead of draining the river and diverting the water out into pipelines.”

“It’s outrageous that NISP refuses to compromise to benefit the river and the vast majorities of people of Fort Collins and Larimer County who love the river,” Wockner said. “After 20 years, we now have no choice but to file this lawsuit and let it play out in court which will likely take several more years.”

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the Corps violated NEPA and the Clean Water Act, and to set aside the permit. It asks that the Corps be enjoined from taking any further action on NISP until it has “fully complied with federal law.”

Wockner told BizWest on Friday that he did not seek injunctive relief because Northern Water has said it likely wouldn’t begin construction before 2025.

“This could be just a paper process,” he said. “The judge will set a date for first briefs, and all this could take two years.”

In an email to BizWest on Friday, Northern Water spokesman Jeff Stahla said that organization “has not had the opportunity to explore the issues brought forth in the action against the federal government, but we are confident in the thorough work performed by the Army Corps of Engineers that the permit issued to NISP will be affirmed based on the detailed work done over the years and extensive mitigation being included.”

Save The Poudre is represented in this case by the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm Eubanks & Associates PLLC.

The case is Save the Poudre, a Colorado nonprofit corporation, v. Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, in his official capacity as the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Case No. 1:24-cv-00235-KAS.

FORT COLLINS – A group that has been fighting a large proposed Northern Colorado water project for years has sued the Army Corps of Engineers over its issuance of a permit for the project last year.

The group Save the Poudre filed suit in U.S. District Court for Colorado on Thursday in what its director, Gary Wockner, called “the 20th year of bungled and massively delayed permitting” for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which he said “was proposed to cost $143.9 million in 2005 permitting documents but was recently revealed to cost $2.25 billion in a 2023 Colorado Open Records…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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