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Army Corps Delivers Long-Awaited Northern Colorado Reservoir Study

Stephanie Paige Ogburn
The proposed Glade Reservoir would be slightly bigger than Horsetooth Reservoir, pictured here.

The proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado, a project known as the Northern Integrated Supply Project, reached a new waypoint with the releaseof an Army Corps of Engineers a draft supplemental environmental impact statement.

The analysis is an addendum and update to an environmental analysis released by the Corps in 2008. The proposal for the new reservoirs was put forward by Northern Water on behalf of several towns and water districts in the area seeking new water supplies.

In a statement, Eric Wilkinson, the general manager of Northern Water, said he was pleased "to have reached this important milestone after 12 years and nearly $15 million in expenditures by the NISP participants." 

One of the new basins, Glade Reservoir, would take water from the Poudre River. It would be slightly larger than Horsetooth Reservoir and require the rerouting of 7 miles of Hwy 287 between Fort Collins and Laramie. Glade would sit just north of Ted's Place, an intersection marking the entrance to Poudre Canyon.

Two environmental groups, Save the Poudre and Western Resource Advocates, had proposed alternatives to the project during the comment period in 2008 and 2009, following the first environmental impact statement.

Those alternatives suggested options like transferring water from agriculture to cities, using more water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, creative sharing agreements allowing cities to use agricultural water in times of need, without drying up farm fields. Both of those proposals were dismissed from consideration by the Army Corps after the Corps determined the ideas put forward were not proven to deliver firm supplies of water.

Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, called the NISP project "expensive, unnecessary, and will damage the Cache La Poudre river. It's just not needed."

He and Gary Wockner, executive director of Save the Poudre, both criticized the Corps for failing to consider alternatives that did not rely on constructing large new reservoirs.

Climate change, Beckwith pointed out, will make the future more uncertain, including changing the amount and location of rainfall and snowpack. Given that, building a large project may not make sense.

"When you pour a bunch of concrete, the project is there. You have locked yourself into a bucket in one place regardless of what happens to rainfall," said Beckwith. A smarter approach, he said, is smaller projects with more flexibility.

There is a 45-day comment period following the publication of the nearly 1,500 page long supplemental draft environmental impact statement. That comment period may be extended. Congressman Jared Polis and the Boulder-based environmental group Western Resource Advocates have already expressed concern over the short time period for commenting on a lengthy document seven years in the making.

There are two open houses followed by public hearings related to the project. One will be at 5 p.m., July 22, 2015 at the Fort Collins Hilton. The second will be at 5 p.m. July 23 at the Weld County Administrative Building.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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