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.