Thornton looks to boost Cache La Poudre flow

Effort could help planned pipeline approval

Posted 11/21/18

A Thornton plan to improve the flows of water through Cache Poudre River isn’t meant to clear the way for a drinking pipeline Larimer County officials demurred on this summer — but it might help. …

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Thornton looks to boost Cache La Poudre flow

Effort could help planned pipeline approval

Posted

A Thornton plan to improve the flows of water through Cache Poudre River isn’t meant to clear the way for a drinking pipeline Larimer County officials demurred on this summer — but it might help.

Thornton City Councilors pledged their support to an effort called Poudre Flows with Greeley and Fort Collins officials, the Cache La Poudre Water Users Association and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to redirect an estimated 3,000 acre-feet of water Thornton owns to flow through the river annually.

“All along the river there are flow targets, flow rates set by the Colorado Department of Park and Wildlife, that required to keep the fish alive in the river,” Thornton Water Resources Manager Emily Hunt said. “There’s a higher threshold required to improve the environment to a reasonable degree and those are the flows we are trying to reach.”

An acre foot is 325,851 gallons, the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land — like a football field — one foot deep in water. The water Thornton wants to include in the Poudre Flows deal would fill that football field 3,000 feet deep.

The water is part of 14,000-acre feet of water rights the city of Thornton owns that flow along the Cache La Poudre. That water is diverted upstream of Fort Collins, and part of it is diverted to a Thornton-controlled canal. The rest is sent to agriculture users along the Larimer County Canal, which runs alongside the river.

According the current plan, 3,000 acre feet would no longer be diverted through the Larimer County Canal and would instead be left in the river to flow through Fort Collins. The agriculture users that own the rights to that water could be able to pull it directly from the river downstream of the city.

But it’s not as easy as turning on a spigot, Hunt said, and Thornton and the coalition behind the Poudre Flows proposal need to negotiate difficult legal and water rights issues before it can happen.

“Say we dump that water someplace upstream and we hope to deliver it some 20 miles downstream,” Hunt said. “If there’s no specific water right associated with that water, any user can come along and divert it themselves. And the users downstream that own those rights lose it.”

The coalition hopes to designate that water as an “instream flow,” but that’s a designated water right that only the state can hold currently. The coalition will have to work to get that instream flow designation recognized.

If the Colorado Water Conservation Board signs off on the idea, the Poudre Flows coalition can file a request with the state Water Court. Hunt said she expects a decision from the conservation board early in 2019.

Hunt said the coalition and the City of Thornton have been working on the plan for three years.

“But made public now, because”

Thornton is still working with Larimer County officials to get their approval for a 26-mile pipeline designed to feed Cache La Poudre River water into the city. Larimer County Commissioners tabled Thornton’s plan in August. It’s scheduled to come back before the commission on Dec. 17.

Thornton began working on the plan in 2016, filing a request for a permit to allow the city to build a pipeline, bringing the water south from Larimer County to Thornton. The water in question has been diverted from the Cache La Poudre River to a reservoir since the 1800s. The city bought water right shares from Water Supply and Storage Company in the mid-1980s but has left the water there.

Thornton’s proposed 48-inch pipeline would run for 26 miles through Larimer County and 45 miles in Weld County and would transport 40 million gallons of water per day. The total cost is estimated at $435 million.

The pipeline would be designed to bolster the city’s water supply through 2065. Thornton’s current water supply able to serve only 158,000 residents. A new water supply is needed to provide for predicted growth up to 242,0000 residents by 2065, according to the executive summary for a permit request submitted by the city of the Thornton.

Opponents of the plan fell into two groups: neighbors who consider the project a nuisance and a group defending the Cache La Poudre River that runs through Fort Collins. Larimer County Commission hosted three reviews of Thornton’s plan in July and August before tabling the measure and telling the city to work more closely with neighbors.

Todd Barnes, Thornton’s public information officer, said the details of the Poudre Flows plan were still unsettled when Larimer County tabled Thornton’s plan.

“We had hinted at it to them, but we were unclear about the amount of water we would be able to commit to it,” Barnes said. “But we told them then that we had water that we planned to use for this.”

Hunt said the city has been working the county planning staff since August regarding the pipeline.

“The process we are in now is a community engagement process,” Hunt said. “The commissioners directed their staff to go through a really robust community process and we’ve been doing it when we’ve been asked. They’ve been asking the residents what they want and residents overwhelmingly they say low flows in the Poudre are a community interest and they’d like Thornton to help with that.”

Poudre Flows is not a direct response that, she said, but it is related.

“We have been working on this for three years, but it would help meet that community need,” Hunt said. “So we wanted to demonstrate our committment to the process. In our mind, it shows those residents we are committed to the problem and we are making efforts.”

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