The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a key permit for the long-debated project in Northern Colorado that will draw water from the Cache la Poudre River and create two new reservoirs to support the region’s growing population, a move that one opposition group has already pledged to battle in court.
The permit — announced by the Corps on Friday — is the latest step in a process that’s stretched for nearly two decades and brings the Northern Integrated Supply Project closer to fruition. It follows the issuance of two state permits, plus a third from Larimer County, in recent years, placing the project on a path to break ground in the next three years and be completed in the next decade.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which is backing the project, says on its website that the work is “on track” to be completed by 2032, at an estimated cost of $2 billion. Fifteen partner municipalities and water districts will foot the bill for the project.
Jeff Stahla, spokesman for Northern Water, said the district is still reviewing the entirety of the permitting documents. But he described its issuance as the last of four major permits the project needed, 18 years after that process began.
“Now, there is still work for us to do,” he said. “We do need to get some land use permits from city of Fort Collins, for instance. But this is the big federal milestone for this.”
The final designs should be completed in 2024, Stahla said, and work could begin that year or, more likely, in 2025. Once completed, the project is projected to supply its 15 participating entities with 13 billion gallons of water each year, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which it says is enough to support roughly 80,000 families.
Gary Wockner, whose Save the Poudre group opposes the project, told the Post that the permit’s issuance was expected but still disappointing. He said the group plans to sue both the Corps of Engineers and Northern Water to contest the decision.
“We still adamantly oppose the project, we have for 20 years, and we have every intention of fighting in court as long as it takes,” he said. “I have notified our legal team, and we expect that lawsuit will be imminent.”
Should the project go through, it would create two new reservoirs: the 45,600-acre-foot Galeton Reservoir northeast of Greeley, and the 170,000-acre-foot Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.
The city’s leaders passed a resolution in August 2020 opposing the project, and they contend it will harm the river and their water supply. The city’s zoning commission had rejected an infrastructure application for the project in June 2021, according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan, but Northern Water’s board overturned that decision later that summer.
A city spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment Friday afternoon.
The project is needed, the district says, because the region’s population will double by 2050. Supporters also say the new reservoirs — the larger of which is projected to be bigger than the Horsetooth Reservoir — will be an economic boon to the region, bringing in an estimated 500 new jobs for contractors and suppliers, along with investments in and expansion of outdoor activities.
In a late Friday statement, the district praised the Corps’ decision to issue the permit and said the process determined that the project “is the least environmentally impactful means of satisfying that need. ”
“This action is the culmination of nearly 20 years of study, project design and refinement to develop water resources well into the 21st century,” Brad Wind, Northern Water’s general manager, said. “This project will also allow participating communities to serve their customers without targeting water now used on the region’s farms.”
Opponents, however, contend the project will harm the Poudre River and impair its ability to recover from extreme events like the High Park Fire, among a litany of other concerns. Save the Poudre had pledged on its website to fight the issuance of the permit before Friday’s announcement. The organization and its allies have already sued the Larimer County commissioners after the commission issued a permit for the project.
Asked about the potential litigation, Northern Water spokesman Stahla said the district’s successful effort to obtain a permit “shows that sound science went into all the decision points along the way.”
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