The Thornton Pipeline Project – How the city of Thornton plans to pull water from the Poudre River

Douglas Road looking east
Thornton Water Project Logo

In an early March meeting at Vern’s in Laporte, Mark Kolebler, water project director of the city of Thornton, outlined a proposal for a massive pipeline to be installed under Douglas Road in north Fort Collins.

The plan would pull the water from the Poudre River from a location close to Ted’s Place where the river crosses U.S. 287, to be stored in a network of reservoirs north and west of Douglas Road. A pump station would be built near the intersection of Douglas Road and Starlight Drive just east of North Shields Street. The permit was filed in January 2018 and a letter from the Community Development Division of Larimer County stated, “additional information/materials are required from the city of Thornton in order to complete the review of the Thornton Pipeline application.” Although Koleber couldn’t give an exact time frame, a new proposal will be submitted “soon.” Should the application be approved, construction would begin in Windsor. Larimer County has 90 days to approve or reject the project and should the pipeline be approved, Koleber expects the project to be completed by 2025.

In the 1980s, the rapidly growing city of Thornton was faced with a problem typical of many cities and suburbs up and down the Colorado Front Range — a water shortage. At the time, the proposed water project was the Two Forks Reservoir, through which water would come from the South Platte River. The 7,300-acre dam would have flooded a section of the river from the North Fork confluence to the town of Deckers. Vetoed by the EPA as an environmental disaster, the city of Thornton was forced to look elsewhere.

A search from Pueblo to Fort Collins determined the Poudre River to have the quality of water desired for municipal use. In 1986, the city of Thornton purchased almost half the stock in the Water Supply and Storage Company (WSSC) which had been incorporated in 1891 to supply irrigators in the Cache La Poudre Valley. The diversion began in the late 1880s, diverting water to the Larimer Canal just upstream from where U.S. 287 crosses the Poudre (near Ted’s Place) and running past U.S. 85 east to the small agricultural towns of Ault and Pierce. This system irrigated 40,000 acres of farm land. The city of Thornton bought about half of the farms. In the mid-1990s, numerous farms were converted from irrigated to nonirrigated agriculture. Rob Helmick, senior planner for Larimer County, confirmed the Thornton water rights were purchased in the mid-1980s and that the city would not be allotted any more water than they already had.

In the 1990s, the case went to the Colorado Supreme Court to determine if Thornton could use the water rights to convert the water from agriculture to municipal use.  At this time, Thornton leased some of the farms back to farmers along with the water. Many of these farmers were the same people from whom Thornton bought the land. Some of the farmers use the dryland grass cover as forage for their animals. In addition, Thornton has been making voluntary tax payments to Larimer and Weld counties, $45,000 to Larimer and $257,000 to Weld in 2017.Koebler estimated Thornton has paid close to $6 million in voluntary tax payments since 1985.

Four years ago, Thornton attempted to address the concerns of their water program and pipeline. Open houses were held in Firestone, Johnstown, Windsor and Fort Collins. HOAs were consulted. The locals were asked for advice on the routing of the pipeline.

Construction would begin in Windsor and proceed in Weld County. The pipeline is expected to be completed by 2025.

Residents of the Douglas Road corridor are outraged about the impact of the construction on their neighborhood and have suggested another takeout point further south, near the town of Windsor. Koleber rejected the Windsor solution, partly because of three wastewater treatment plants between the reservoir and the proposed Windsor takeout. He also pointed out that urban runoff, agricultural waste and industrial discharge would render the water unsuitable for municipal use. Should Thornton apply the Windsor solution, the city would have to resort to a treatment called reverse osmosis. This process would concentrate pollutants to a 5 percent to 10 percent portion of the water, but the residual brine from the treatment would be too polluted to discharge back into the river.

The impact upon Douglas Road and the residents would be as massive as the pipeline. Should the pipeline not be approved for the city of Thornton, the entire city would be affected.




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  1. In late 2016, the City of Thornton mailed outreach notifications to potentially impacted residents of their original, Eagle Lake, pipeline route; providing those residents a means to voice their concerns and complaints to Thornton, as well as Larimer County. Through a continuing series of consultations, Thornton and Larimer County worked hand in hand with Eagle Lake residents as planning partners to create an alternate route which was specifically formulated to remedy the concerns and complaints of Eagle Lake residents.

    This was a precedent setting collaboration which resulted in, not only the creation of an alternate route along Douglas Rd., but abandonment of Larimer County’s long standing policy of not allowing pipeline construction within County road ROW. Additionally, it significantly advanced the time-frame for work on Douglas Rd. from long range to immediate status, while also expanding the anticipated width of the road and overall scope of the project, resulting in a hastily conceived plan which would necessitate the taking of private property to accommodate proposed increased road width.

    Extraordinary steps were taken in a number of areas to accommodate the residents of Eagle Lake.

    When Thornton and Larimer County finalized the decision to encumber Douglas Rd. with Thornton’s pipeline, there was no commensurate outreach to Douglas Rd. residents, a community consisting of a substantially greater number of impacted residents. There was only a notification meeting where the community was told that Thornton had decided Douglas Rd. was their preferred pipeline route and that homeowners would be contacted by a representative from Thornton if their land was needed for the pipeline.

    The egregious, discriminatory decision to deprive residents of the Douglas Rd. community the same outreach, consultation, planning partner status as had been accorded the residents of Eagle Lake, was the tipping point at which the Thornton-Larimer pipeline plan went horribly off the rails.

    Each of those “No Pipe Dream” signs in yards throughout the community is a reflection of the pain that was unnecessarily created by the Thornton-Larimer Douglas Rd. pipeline decision. That pain has fostered a commensurate and wholly justified deep-seated anger and distrust of Thornton-Larimer, which is exacerbated every time Thornton-Larimer publicly makes a deliberately misleading statement.

    There is also the issue of Thornton contacting Northern Water in May of 2017 to negotiate a scheme to change the proposed route of the massive NISP pipeline (so that it too would run down Douglas Rd.), as a means of creating the appearance that Thornton’s pipeline would be beneficial as a “Coordinated Project Opportunity” and would “minimize community impacts”, as cited in Thornton’s 1041 Permit Application.

    Which community was benefiting from the specious claim to “minimize community impacts”? Certainly not Douglas Rd. The only impact the Douglas Rd. community had been facing before Thornton altered their original pipeline route was a simple, long range plan to rebuild the road and possibly add bike lanes at some far off future date.

    After the exclusive Thornton-Larimer-Eagle Lake planning partnership was completed, Douglas Rd. residents had suddenly been encumbered with not just one, but two massive pipelines and a significantly wider road with increased truck traffic and taking of private property to accommodate the expanded (84’ total ROW) road width.

    It is hard to imagine a more ill-conceived debacle had Thornton-Larimer deliberately set out to create one. Who of you would like to have been excluded, blindsided, silenced and marginalized in this manner? Behind those yard signs are people. They matter and they should have been treated fairly and with dignity. They deserve no less.

    Rather than having their PR Firm plant misleading articles in local newspapers, I would urge Thornton to take a more human approach to resolving the cited “outrage” that they are responsible for creating.

    As a first step to resolving this calamity, I believe it is both prudent and imperative that Thornton, Larimer County and Northern Water hold a joint public question and answer meeting (with prior written notification mailed to all impacted residents), at the earliest date possible, to address these and other ongoing related citizen concerns.

    If there is nothing to hide, why hide it?

  2. Here we go again.

    Apparently the No Pipe Dream group finds a conspiracy behind every bush along the Poudre.

    First it was NISP, Larimer County and Thornton Water ‘colluding’ to come up with a solution that might solve many issues before the County regarding their proposed pipelines. When that went nowhere they’re now trotting out the conspiracy between Larimer County, Thornton Water and Eagle Lake to deprive residents along Douglas Road.

    What they won’t admit is that the Douglas Road option is the best solution for the pipeline route especially since the locate information shows that the pipeline can be constructed completely within the road right of way. Without taking a tree, fence or anyone’s property. This is a property rights issue, not an us vs. them issue they are so desperately trying to paint.

    As president of the Eagle Lake HOA through all of this, I can emphatically say that the version presented above is full of misrepresentations and outright falsehoods. And they know it.

    The late 2016 meeting showed a preferred pipeline route through the middle of Eagle Lake, across private property and a wetland area, then up through Woody Creek and across HWY 1 into other private property near the Tri-Lakes area before heading east under I-25 to a storage facility. The pump station was located at the very end of Water Supply Reservoir #4 close to homes in Eagle Lake, Braidwood, and on Starlite Drive.

    With much concern about this route across private property, between homes, and through people’s back yards, I organized and our HOA paid for a meeting at the Northside Aztlan Center between Thornton Water, the Braidwood, Woody Creek and Eagle Lake HOA’s plus private property owners in the path of the pipeline including residents from Starlite Drive, some of whom did attend that meeting. Larimer County was not invited nor were they represented at that meeting which occurred on February 27, 2017. No one along Douglas Road was invited because Douglas Road was not considered a route at that time – the County had told Thornton that they couldn’t use the public Right of Way there because they didn’t know what their long term plan was for the road or whether they might need to use it for some other purpose.

    A heated and lengthy discussion about the pipeline route was had that evening with Thornton agreeing to reconsider the route. Residents made it clear that we did not want it going through private property and to find options that either used public land, Thornton’s own land from farms they had bought, or across open ground that did not bisect property or people’s yards. That was the last face to face meeting I or anyone from the Eagle Lake HOA had with Thornton Water before the September 2017 public meeting where they revealed their new route that named Douglas Road as the preferred path for the pipeline.

    What changed in the interim were two decisions by Larimer County; 1) to include Douglas Road in the revised County Master Transportation Plan (concluded in August 2017) and 2) to allow Thornton Water access to the Larimer County Right of Way for pipeline construction. Neither of which I or anyone at Eagle Lake were consulted about or had a hand in deciding beforehand.

    To say that “Through a continuing series of consultations, Thornton and Larimer County worked hand in hand with Eagle Lake residents as planning partners…” is a fanciful recreation of something that did not happen. Also “Extraordinary steps were taken in a number of areas to accommodate the residents of Eagle Lake”? What steps were those? Over half of our 80 plus resident’s homes also use Douglas Road for access to their properties. And this – “The egregious, discriminatory decision to deprive residents of Douglas Road the same outreach, consultation, planning partner status as…Eagle Lake” I can only call a deliberate falsehood to create a neighbor vs. neighbor attitude for the motivation of creating victimhood status. Us vs. them. Something they stated they didn’t want to do but purposefully have.

    On several occasions I have asked this group to sit down and discuss options and opportunities for all parties to work together on this – that would include Larimer County and Thornton Water. At each instance, they have refused. They would rather perpetrate falsehoods about how this process has played out and don’t want to hear any solution that includes Douglas Road because it is the one that makes the most sense and there are no victims there, just temporary inconveniences. Just like all the other construction projects we see around Fort Collins. Their strategy of espousing platitudes, emotions and moral indignation is not the same as trying to provide solutions.

    I’m sure that if the shoe was on the other foot and the original pipeline route came out of Terry Lake instead of Reservoir 4, came across Terry Point instead of Eagle Lake, down through the Point Townhomes into Terry Cove instead of Woody Creek and then up to Hwy 1 through Terry Shores instead of the Tri Lakes area, they would have called for a meeting with Thornton Water. And once the public Right of Way of Douglas Road was determined to be the best route – one that completely utilizes public, not private land – the residents would have been happy with that solution.

    It will be nine months since the Douglas Road route was identified for the pipeline until the public Planning Commission meeting in May. What else needs to be said? Douglas Road is really County Road 54 – the people’s road we pay taxes for, not someone’s private drive. Let’s use it for what it was intended – public transportation and public right of way.

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