Time does appear to be of the essence for the water future of Northeastern Colorado, but whether it’s too much or too little still appears to be in debate.
Opponents of the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) were already calling for more time for public comment before the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was released on June 19.
After seven years in review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, proponents were relieved to finally have the 1,475-page report on in hand.
“We’ve been at their mercy for 12 years (since the initial review was begun), and we’re going to be at their mercy for as long as it takes,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Water, which is shepherding the controversial reservoir project through the process for 15 Front Range municipalities and water conservancy districts. “At the end we think it’s going to show the project is needed — we’re still losing a lot of water out of the state.”
The project consists of two reservoirs. The larger 170,000-acre-foot Glade Reservoir would be located just north of the intersection of Colorado 14 and U.S. Highway 287, where 14 heads up the Poudre Canyon. Galeton Reservoir, which would be east of Ault, would hold 45,600 acre feet and would be filled primarily during winter, when the South Platte is a free river.
But Glade would primarily be filled during the spring runoff, and by exchange with water districts for Galeton water, and eliminating high spring flows can have significant alluvial habitat effects. Addressing those concerns was largely what the supplemental EIS was concerned with, along with coordinating data for two other Poudre River projects planned by the cities of Loveland and Fort Collins.
“Our initial review of the document is this is rancid wine in a new fancy bottle,” said Gary Wockner, executive director of Save the Poudre. “It will destroy the river as it flows through Fort Collins — so we are committed as ever to stop this project, as long as it takes.”
“The proposed mitigation, in our estimation is a farce, … and includes a $1 million bribe to the city of Fort Collins,” said Wockner, referring to a proposed $1 million payment to the city to mitigate habitat damage.
The study does address the effect on fish habitat through Fort Collins, including suggested remediation that would include some fish bypasses and releases from Glade during low flows that would be aerated to increase the oxygen content of the water.
There is also an alternative to Glade in the study, the 190,000-acre-foot Cactus Hill reservoir, which would be located east of Wellington and Interstate 25. Using that alternative would keep high runoff water in the Poudre through Fort Collins, though with decreased water quality and increased evaporation.
Wockner and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis have requested an extension to the 45-day comment period, which would be followed by public meetings in July. Meanwhile U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner headed an effort to speed up the Corps review last year.
Should the Corps approve the project, supporters are hopeful construction could begin by 2019.
“Seven years, for some people, is a long time for a supplemental report to be reviewed,” Werner said. “We certainly appreciate Sen. Gardner’s concern for the state’s water resources.”