Fort Collins City Council Votes To Oppose NISP

Sep 2, 2015

Fort Collins council members voted to oppose a project calling for the creation of two new reservoirs in Northern Colorado, at least for now. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build two reservoirs to supply water to growing towns in Larimer, Weld, and Boulder counties.

The city is not opposed to the idea of the project, but Fort Collins natural areas director John Stokes, in a presentation Tuesday night to council members, said the June supplemental draft environmental impact statement released by the Army Corps of Engineers fails to adequately evaluate and address environmental impacts.

"A key component that is currently missing from the environmental impact statement analysis is a quantitative temperature and water quality model," said Stokes.

The water for the larger of the two reservoirs, named Glade and situated above Fort Collins, would come from the Poudre River, and be taken out of the river at the mouth of Poudre Canyon above town. This means many of the impacts would be seen in the river as it runs through town, which is one reason Fort Collins is more concerned than other municipalities in the area.

Many of the city's 108-pages of comments on the draft impact statement focus on this missing water quality model. The city also has other issues with the environmental analysis. It disagrees with the modeling the Corps has done on the impacts to fish and other river wildlife, calling it "incomplete."

Stokes said the city also disagrees with the Corps' definition of flushing flows, the high flows that travel down the Poudre River in spring, which contribute to river health. The project currently does not propose to fill in the missing flushing flows with periodic releases of water, something the city would like to see happen.

NISP currently proposes releasing small quantities of water down the river during the winter, but the city is also worried that the water rights owned by Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which proposed the reservoir, do not legally allow for this, said Stokes.

For its part, Northern Water hopes to assuage the fears of the city, said Brian Werner, spokesman for the district.

"We, they, the city of Greeley, Windsor, everybody involved in the Poudre has the same goal, we want a healthy and sustainable river, what we're saying is we are going to develop this project in an environmentally responsible manner," said Werner.

Northern Water hand delivered a letter attempting to ease city concerns last week, and its representatives attended the Sept. 1 city council meeting.

Other government entities are also weighing in on the project, submitting comments to the Army Corps. Greeley is supportive, and Larimer County officials also expressed support, along with some concerns about the environmental impacts of the project.

Citizens of Fort Collins overall seem less supportive than the city council, with dozens filling the council chambers to spend 2 minutes speaking their opposition at the meeting.

While the city comments express a qualified opposition, many council members acknowledged the need and rights growing area cities have to water. Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak pointed out that the water supply for the city comes from large projects where the costs were mostly born by communities outside Fort Collins. The city water supply comes partially from the Western Slope via the Colorado Big Thompson Project and partially from Horsetooth Reservoir, which takes water from the Poudre. Horak pointed out that without those supplies, which come from big water projects like the one the city is currently opposing, the city would not exist in its current state.

The deadline for comments on the Army Corps' draft supplemental environmental impact statement is Sept. 3 at midnight.