By Shari Phiel
Last week we looked at the history and structure of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s eastern slope facilities. But of course, no discussion about water in Colorado would be complete without looking at how the NCWCD will respond to growing needs for water along the northern Front Range and environmental changes could affect our water supplies.
The NCWCD currently delivers 213,000 acre feet of water each year to 30 towns and cities across the Front Range and eastern plains through the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Water is brought from the NCWCD’s western slope facilities at Grand Lake east across the Continental Divide and stored in a series of reservoirs which includes Pinewood, Flatiron, Horsetooth and Boulder reservoirs along with Carter Lake.
Despite the economic downturn, Colorado — and especially the Front Range — will continue to grow, creating greater and greater demand for water. But, of course, there is only so much water available through the C-BT.
In response to this demand, the NCWCD has proposed two separate reservoir projects. One being the Windy Gap Firming Project which would create Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the other is the Northern Integrated Supply Project which would create Glade Reservoir through the construction of dams in both valleys.
Jeff Drager, project manager for the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, says the project is needed to provide for more storage during wet years when Lake Granby is often full. “If the Colorado-Big Thompson is full or if the Adams tunnel is full of water … there’s no room to put Windy Gap water in and that’s turned out to be a bit of a constraint over the last 20-some years of operation.”
Per the NCWCD, Chimney Hollow would only use the same Colorado River water rights granted in the 1960s and 70s, and is expected to deliver a “firm annual yield” of up to 30,000 acre feet of water by 2010 at a cost of $270 million. The dam would be constructed just west of Carter Lake.
The other, and certainly more controversial project, is the NISP project and construction of 170,000 acre-foot Glade Reservoir. The NISP project is expected to bring 40,000 acre feet of water to 15 communities “without drying up the Poudre River or our agricultural communities,” says the NCWCD. The water district also sees the project as the answer to the question of how to meet the demand for more water without drying up either the Poudre River or agricultural lands in the process.
The NISP project plan includes construction of Glade Reservoir, which will require relocating nearly seven miles of U.S. Highway 287, a pumping facility, a pipeline to deliver water for exchange with two irrigation companies, and necessary improvements to an existing canal to fill the reservoir. Water woud be diverted from the Poudre River north into Glade Reservoir. Total cost for the entire NISP project is anticipated to reach $426 million.
But not everyone supports the NCWCD’s plans. Save the Poudre, a grassroots “collection of like-minded individuals” has been joined by partners like the National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Poudre, the Poudre Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, the Fort Collins Audubon Society and many others to stop the project.
The group contends that not only will the proposed dams harm the sensitive ecosystem of the Cache la Poudre, but may not even be necessary to provide adequate water to the area.
“Northern Colorado communities, industry, and agriculture can meet their needs for water for drought protection and growth by conserving existing water resources, utilizing them at maximum efficiency, and working in close partnership with agriculture to share the wealth of water we are already using on farms,” say their Web site.
Eric Wilkinson, general manager of NCWCD, disagrees. “We looked at nearly 200 different ways of doing this, everything from dams and pipelines to non-structural.” He added, “Ultimately, to get a new reliable supply, you still need storage.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to look at how the Glade Reservoir and the NISP project will affect the Poudre river, especially in combination with other proposed projects further downstream.
But what has not been planned for are any environmental changes looming on the horizon. Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the world’s climate is changing. Whether that is due to man-made influences or is just a natural process doesn’t matter when it comes to planning our water future. As temperature rise, lakes and reservoirs will lose more and more water through evaporation while increased snowpack in the winter could change runoff patterns and lead to increased flooding.
We may not have to wait another 30, 40 or 50 years to see environmental changes to our water system. The NCWCD has already begun to realize changes caused by the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation. With the death of countless trees in northern Colorado, excessive runoffs and faster snowmelts have already begun to occur. And the NCWCD has already seen an increase in algae growth related to changes in that runoff.
What is clear is that there are no easy answers. The northern Front Range will continue to grow creating additional demand for water. While no one wants to end up like Arizona, California or Nevada — which pay a premium for pumping water in from Colorado — finding a solution that is environmentally sound, economically feasible and structurally sound could take a very large wishing well.
<p>Site of the controversial Glade Reservoir project</p>