Northern Water rallies supporters for NISP
By John Gardner
Proponents from all of the 11 participating communities involved in the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) attended a rally at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s headquarters in Berthoud on July 2. It was the fifth rally of its kind since work began on the project more than a decade ago.
“We are here to celebrate a milestone,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager for Northern Water, speaking of the issuance of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the project that was issued on June 19. The draft EIS is open for public comment until Sept. 3 and that is where supporters can help, Wilkinson told the crowd.
“It’s your involvement in that public input as to the need and the value of this project,” he said. “We all look forward to the challenges that need to be conquered to move this project forward to construction, and we know that we will find those solutions to move that project forward.”
Additional support came from elected representatives from several of the municipalities included in the project, all three Larimer County Commissioners; Tom Donnelly, Lew Gaiter III and Steve Johnson, were in attendance as well as U.S. Congressman Ken Buck, R-Colo., Congresswoman from Colorado’s 49th district Perry Buck, and keynote speaker U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo., rallied for support for the project.
The NISP is a regional water supply project coordinated by Northern Water on behalf of 15 Front Range water providers. The project is currently working its way through the environmental permitting process. The project includes construction of two reservoirs: Glade Reservoir, a 170,000-acre-feet reservoir northwest of Fort Collins, and Galeton Reservoir, a 45,000-acre-feet reservoir northeast of Greeley. Glade Reservoir would be the larger than Horsetooth Reservoir that is 156,000-acre-feet capacity.
The two reservoirs, if built, would potentially supply as much as 40,000 acre-feet of water annually to 11 cities and towns in the Northern Colorado area. NISP participants include: Dacono, Eaton, Erie, Evans, Firestone, Fort Lupton, Fort Morgan, Frederick, Lafayette, Windsor, and Severance, as well as the water districts of Central Weld County, Fort Collins-Loveland, Left Hand, and Morgan County.
The City of Fort Collins opposes the project, and the Town of Berthoud isn’t a participant either after, in 2008, the Berthoud trustees approved the sale of Berthoud’s shares of water in the project to the Town of Frederick for $30,000. According to reports in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor, then Town Administrator Jim White reported to the board that, to that point, the town had invested roughly $160,000 for the town’s shares in the project.
However, Town Administrator Mike Hart said the project has value to Berthoud if shares became available again.
“Yes,” Hart said. “NISP is on the list of desirable resources that the town would be interested in acquiring.”
Hart said it was his understanding the town sold its shares in 2009 because the town simply didn’t have the revenue to keep them.
While Berthoud may not be a participating municipality in the project, not approving the project will impact the area, according to Northern Water’s President Mike Applegate.
“The idea that if you don’t do something that things are going to stay the same is wrong,” Applegate said. “There are going to be unintended consequences; and doing nothing doesn’t solve the problems.”
Applegate said the communities to benefit from NISP believe it’s the least damaging environmentally and it makes the most sense regionally. He said one alternative of taking water away from irrigated farm land isn’t a realistic option.
“Buying and drying of agricultural water, it seems cheap and easy but the unintended consequences for the area, you certainly start changing the dynamics of the local economy,” he said.
And that would impact Berthoud’s economy, too.
“Berthoud’s growing and doing some things, but this is a community that has its roots in farming,” Applegate said. “If you start losing irrigated ag, it starts impacting more than just the farmers; people who supply the farmers are going to be hit too.”
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner said not building the reservoir doesn’t make sense.
“If we don’t build it, we’re going to be 600,000 to one million acre-feet short of projected needs,” Gardner said.
That water shortage means prospective companies may opt not to locate in participating communities or Berthoud, and that means families that want to move here may not have the opportunity, he said.
To have irrigated land converted into dry land would lead to an economic and environmental catastrophe as well, Gardner said.
“It also means that farmers who built this country, and our state, are going to be leaving and going away,” Gardner said. “That 500,000 to 700,000 acres of dry-up will be hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact leaving our economy.”
With the approval of the SDEIS and if everything else went smoothly from this point forward, it’s speculated the project could still be years from actually being constructed.
“It could be,” Applegate said. “It’s a long project.”
But the participants have enough faith in this process, he said, they have already authorized preliminary geotechnical studies on the damn site and already have preliminary information in place just to get ahead of the game, so once the permits are issued they can move forward with design.
“They’re confident that this is the best alternative; they’ve done their homework,” Applegate said. “They want to get this thing built.”
The lengthy process also needs to be more defined to allow necessary projects to move along more quickly, according to Gardner.
“Government has developed bad habits over the past several decades that it needs to fix,” Gardner said. Those bad habits are too much bureaucratic process and red tape.”
Cutting the red tape and streamlining the process is as much a part of the debate as where and how to build a reservoir. Gardner suggested book-ending decision times during the process to expedite projects.
“From the time a permit is applied for, I’m not saying the agencies have to say ‘yes’ to everything, but I’m saying, say yes or no after a specific amount of time so that if you say ‘no,’ they know how to correct it, and if they say ‘yes,’ they can move on to the next permit,” Gardner said.
“Whether it’s a matter of resources that need to be allocated, a matter of human resources, capital, spending their time to get the job done, Congress has a role to make sure those questions and answers are being solved.”
Meetings and public comments:
- The Army Corps of Engineers released the project’s 1,500-page Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on June 19, which is currently available for public comment until Sept. 3. Comments can be submitted in writing to:
John Urbanic, NISP EIS project manager
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
Denver Regulatory Office
9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd.
Littleton, CO 80128
or by email at: [email protected]
- There are also two public meetings scheduled for presentations:
- One in Fort Collins on July 22 at 5 p.m. at the Fort Collins Hilton located at 425 W. Prospect Rd.
- The second is scheduled in Greeley on July 23 at 5 p.m. at the Weld County Administration Building located at 1150 O St.
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