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Future of Boxelder Creek Flood Control Project Uncertain

The city of Thornton almost touched off a modern-day water war when it bought thousands of acres in Northern Colorado for the water rights back in the 1980s. Now it may sell some back for flood control. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report, about those plans.

O’Toole:  Lots of people in the northern part of the state have been thinking about flood control this year, but there are longstanding plans to protect properties along Boxelder Creek from damage. What’s the latest with those plans?

Nuttall: The Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority – its official name – has been working since 2008 on improvements along the creek to reduce potential damage in the event of a 100-year flood. It is now looking at a 300-acre property east of I-25 and a few miles north of Fort Collins as a possible site for temporary flood water storage.

O’Toole: Isn’t that the area where Thornton bought up some farms to secure water rights for the city?

Nuttall: Exactly right, Erin. Back in the 1980s, the move was seen as a serious water grab, and helped propel plans for the Northern Integrated Supply Project forward, to prevent what critics call “buy and dry” acquisitions. But the land the Boxelder Authority wants to purchase from Thornton is still in agricultural use, as are most of the properties owned by the city.

O’Toole: Is Thornton willing to sell that land to the Authority?

Nuttall: Our conversations with the city manager of Thornton indicate that they wouldn’t be opposed to it. Jack Etheredge said that the city’s ultimate plan has always been to sell all the properties, and that they want to transfer their land holdings in the best possible way to support the region’s economy. Representatives of the city and the authority were scheduled to discuss that particular parcel on Wednesday.

O’Toole:  If the Boxelder Authority does buy that land, what will happen to it?

Nuttall: They plan to construct a flood storage facility that could temporarily hold up to 1,700 acre-feet of water. That’s a lot of water, but part of the authority’s mission is to help take land out of the flood zone to facilitate future development. The authority was formed by the town of Wellington, but the improvements would naturally help out towns downstream as well, including Timnath.

O’Toole: Do we know how much a facility like this would cost?

Nuttall: Not yet. The authority hasn’t finalized a budget for this part of the project, but the entire Boxelder project is estimated to cost about $10.5 million.

O’Toole: What are some of the other facets of the Boxelder project?

Nuttall: An Eastside Storage facility is also planned east of I-25. For about six months, the authority has been focusing on establishing the 200-plus acre facility at the thousand-acre Agricultural Research, Development and Education Center south of County Road 56, owned by CSU.

O’Toole: What has been CSU’s reaction to that plan?

Nuttall: Not as positive as Thornton’s, actually. The Boxelder proposal to construct an earthen dam along County Road 50 to catch flood water and release it slowly after a major flood event would likely disrupt ag research being conducted at the center. CSU is particularly concerned about the effect on cattle grazing and crop operations.

They haven’t ruled out allowing the facility somewhere at ARDEC, but they have asked the authority to explore other options. On the other hand, the authority wants to have a site secured by the first half of next year, so I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next.

O’Toole: Well, we look forward to following that story with you as it develops.

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
Northern Colorado Business Report publisher Jeff Nuttall helped establish the business journal in 1995 and its expansion to a biweekly format in 1999. Jeff is involved with numerous community activities in Ft. Collins. He discusses regional business and economic issues impacting northern Colorado every other Thursday at 5:35 and 7:35 during KUNC’s Morning Edition.
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