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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

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Water Education Colorado

Northern Integrated Supply Project

By Kevin Darst

Smaller cities and water districts in northern Colorado are courting Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s first proposed storage project in more than two decades to help them meet the demands of population growth.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, would construct two new reservoirs with water rights from the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers to supply 17 “emerging providers”—generally small towns and rural-domestic suppliers—in northern Colorado with a combined 34,400 acre-feet of water annually for their growing populations. It would also provide 12,000 acre-feet of storage for water from NCWCD’s existing Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Glade Reservoir, the larger of the two proposed NISP reservoirs, would hold about 177,000 acre-feet of Cache la Poudre River water in a 260-foot-deep, five-mile long lake in a valley north of Fort Collins. U.S. Highway 287, which currently runs north through the valley, would be moved east.

Galeton Reservoir north of Greeley would hold 30,000 acre-feet of water from the South Platte and Poudre rivers. This could be traded with two local ditch systems for water upstream, allowing the NCWCD to deliver water to NISP participants when and where they need it. Participants say the water exchange with downstream irrigators is crucial to the viability of NISP.

The project won’t come cheap. It’s expected to cost about $370 million, or about $10,000 per acre-foot. That’s less expensive than a share of existing NCWCD water, but still a sizeable investment for the smaller providers.

The town of Erie expects to get 5,000 acre-feet of new water and an additional 2,500 acre-feet of storage from NISP. The new water alone could cost Erie about $50 million but would likely cover Erie’s water needs through the town’s buildout, says Gary Behlen, Erie’s director of public works.

“I don’t know what the alternatives are,” Behlen says. “That’s the concern the other towns have.”

The project could cost Little Thompson Water District, which serves more than 6,500 customers between Longmont and Loveland, about $40 million for 4,000 acre-feet. While the district needs more new water supplies, funding Little Thompson’s stake in the project could be challenging, District Manager Hank Whittet says.

“It’s a financing issue,” Whittet explains. “There’s no question about whether we need it.”

But David Wright, who heads Citizen Planners in northern Colorado, has questions about the feasibility of the project, given the smaller providers involved. He says the project would complement or even subsidize “rapid growth” in the area and argues that rate payers should have a chance to vote on whether they want their provider to participate in NISP. Some NISP participants say growth would pay for the project.

“If people don’t want the growth, they wouldn’t want to pay for a reservoir,” Wright contends. “People like me and the people I represent really don’t want this rapid growth.”

Fort Lupton, which until several years ago relied on groundwater wells to supply its residents, would get 2,300 acre-feet from NISP, enough to double the town’s population. Fort Lupton’s town administrator says the community needs new water, but the $23 million price tag has tempered some expectations.

“We’re fully committed (to NISP),” Fort Lupton Town Administrator Jim Sidebottom says. “The only question that may arise is—can we afford 2,300 acre-feet. We’ve been trying to plan to be able to do it.”

East Larimer County Water District, which serves about 5,300 taps in northeast Fort Collins and unincorporated Larimer County, opted against new water from the project but could store 2,000 acre-feet of its current NCWCD water in NISP’s reservoirs. Storing more water would allow the district to stretch existing supplies by storing water in wet years for use in dry years, ELCO General Manager Webb Jones says.

“We looked at buying new yield in the NISP project, but it’s pretty expensive,” Jones says. “Our board doesn’t want to saddle current customers with a lot of debt.”

The NISP project is currently in the National Environmental Policy Act process, and has just completed is project scoping which included several public comment meetings and identification of numerous project alternatives. Work on its Environmental Impact Statement could start in early 2005.

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