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Poudre Allies Mobilizing To Oppose Long-Sought NISP Reservoirs

Stephanie Paige Ogburn
Signs outside of Avogadro's Number. Save The Poudre is organizing to make comments on the latest NISP proposal.

Surrounded by “Save The Poudre” stickers, banners, books and swag, more than 100 people filled the community room at Fort Collins' Avogadro’s Number to learn about a proposal to build two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado. Or, more correctly -- to learn how to oppose it.

“I want to be point-blank and loud and clear that you are getting a perfectly biased viewpoint from an organization whose mission is to protect and restore the river and we will do everything we can to fight to stop this project for as long as it takes,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save The Poudre, the group organizing the event.

He then led the crowd through a 10-point presentation of why the latest analysis released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Northern Integrated Supply Project was flawed.

The NISP is a proposal to build two new reservoirs that would supply 40,000 acre-feet of water to 14 small, fast-growing Front Range cities -- the Windsors, Eries and Lafayettes of the region. Those in favor of the project say taking water from the river is preferable to taking it from farms, effectively drying up more agriculture to fuel rapid growth.

The project’s two reservoirs would sit northwest of Fort Collins and just outside Greeley. The Fort Collins area reservoir, called Glade, would take around half of the flows of the Poudre River during the months of May, June, and July. That water would be pumped up behind a dam into a reservoir that would require the rerouting of several miles of Hwy 287 between Fort Collins and Laramie, Wyoming.

Wockner thinks there is another way. He proposed conservation and efficiency measures, and suggested taking water from farmland, some of which will be developed anyway, as an acceptable option.

John Bartholow, a retired U.S. Geological Survey ecologist who studied rivers for a living, attended the presentation.

“Rivers are a passion of mine,” he acknowledged.

Bartholow believes the Army Corps options to mitigate the dam’s impact are insufficient. He said the project will shrink the river, making it more prone to floods. It will make it harder to flush sediments and ash from fires down the river, and hurt fish and other aquatic life.

Also, Fort Collins has been working to improve the river, taking down old diversion structures and trying to make it healthier.

“What I found most troubling about the environmental impact statement is the attitude that the river is already going downhill so this will just be a minor, additional incremental deficit for the river,” said Bartholow.

“That's not where we want to go,” he said. “That's the wrong goal.”

Others at the meeting expressed concern that this project would change the character of their town. Fort Collins is built around the river, said Connie Ohlson, a volunteer for Save The Poudre.

“I really think that it's the lifeblood of the city and I think it should be left alone for us to use for recreation and contemplation and nature and open space and preserving it as it is.”

Still more said the river is already a trickle of its former self, with nearly half of its waters diverted for agriculture and municipal use. Taking more water would add insult to injury, said Doug Swartz, a kayaker who also loves to watch birds by the river. Over the years, he said, “it behaves less and less like a real river and more like a manipulated ditch, to be honest with you.”

In the recent draft supplemental environmental impact statement the U.S. Army Corps rejected proposals to use conservation and other measures to meet future water needs.

While this may seem like a setback for those who don’t want the dams to be built, no one at the meeting seemed deterred. Doug Swartz plans to attend a public meeting with the Corps and offer his comments.

“I certainly hope I can have an impact and slow this train down.”

The Army Corps is holding two hearings on the project. The first is Wednesday, July 22, at 5 p.m. at the Fort Collins Hilton. The second is Thursday, July 23, at 5 p.m. at the Weld County Admin Building in Greeley.

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