To meet a projected increase in the demand for municipal water supplies over the coming decades, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) has proposed the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP). The main feature of this project would be two reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, which would provide water to a number of smaller communities and water districts in northeastern Colorado.
The main problem with NISP is that it is a $405 million investment that inadequately addresses the fundamental issue.
The Demography Office of the Colorado Division of Local Affairs estimates that Colorado will gain nearly three million residents by 2030, with the Front Range gaining nearly two million residents in that same period.
The NCWCD (www.ncwcd.org) projects the water needs of 16 participants in the region will increase from roughly 50,000 acre-feet at present to about 100,000 acre-feet by 2030. The proposed construction of Glade and Galeton Reservoirs would provide 40,000 acre-feet of water per year by diverting high flows of the Poudre River to an off-channel reservoir. Although Glade Reservoir would be located north of town and affect the flow of the Poudre through town, the city of Fort Collins is not among the sixteen participants in NISP.
The central problem accompanying population growth is that Colorado cannot absorb millions of additional residents over coming decades while maintaining our current water use. Ultimately, the solution will rely on conservation on the part of homeowners, more efficient household use and greater efficiency in agricultural use, combined with a focus on crops that produce the most value for every acre-foot of water.
As a fish biologist, I’m concerned with the effects of siphoning water from high flows from the Poudre. Such flows are necessary for the health and structure of a river, and diverting high flows from the already stressed Poudre could lead to substantial environmental costs.
But even those with no interest in the health of the Poudre should have reason to be concerned. The increased supply from Glade and Galeton Reservoirs will still leave the participants 10,000 acre-feet shy of their projected water needs in 2030, according to estimates from the NCWCD. As time passes and the population climbs higher, this gap will only increase.
Some argue that a small diversion of water from agriculture to municipal use is a better alternative. As Dr. John Loomis of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at CSU stated in an e-mail, “A few percentage points of market reallocation of water from irrigated agriculture to municipal uses is economically more sensible than building new reservoirs and less environmentally damaging than diverting more water from the Poudre River.”
Others argue that water conservation measures can allow for growth in the area. However, there does not appear to be a consensus on the actual rate of growth in the Front Range and the rate of water consumption over coming years.
If Colorado is to grow at the predicted rates over coming decades, we must reallocate water currently used by agriculture or greatly improve the efficiency of both municipal and agricultural use. Doing so will not be easy, especially if the districts in need have already spent more than a third of a billion dollars to pay for NISP – and that’s without any accumulated interest they may have to pay.
If any consensus has emerged, it seems to be that a tough road lies ahead. NISP is not the worst option at hand, and NCWCD has done a decent job of trying to tackle a hefty problem. But we need thorough and complete answers to our water needs. NISP is simply too expensive and fails to get at the heart of the problem.
Daniel Gibson-Reinemer is a fishery and wildlife biology masters student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to email@example.com .