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The Dam Truth – Glade Myths Debunked

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle had an exceptional full-color 2-page article about Larimer County's Cache la Poudre River (and the proposed threats/dams, and a new book titled Pulse of the River) in a recent (1/18/2007) article. This article also contains many quotes from a spokesperson for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD), a public agency.

The statements in the article made by the spokesperson for NCWCD are reprinted below. After each statement, SaveThePoudre (STP) offers a "TRUTH TEST" based on our analysis of the facts.

The NCWCD "TRUTH TEST" Statement 1:

"The status quo is not sustainable," she said. "Things are going to change in the future, whether or not (the reservoir) gets built. It's a choice between pooling resources and building a joint water project or having all of these folks supply water to their towns on their own. That's more expensive, and it will mean drying up irrigated agriculture."

The Truth:

1. What is not sustainable is building dams and reservoirs. It's a gross misuse of the word "sustainable" to suggest that a dam and reservoir is sustainable, and Save The Poudre challenges anyone to find any definition anywhere that suggests it is. Sustainable means you can continue to do it repeatedly in the future and not hinder your capability to keep doing it. Dams are not sustainable; conservation is.

2. The price of NISP/Glade -- ~$24,000/acre-foot, and counting -- is close to the price of buying some water rights on the open market right now. NISP/Glade is more expensive than most other choices. The total cost of NISP/Glade, with interest on the bonds, could be up to one billion dollars, part of which might come from loans backed by the State of Colorado. And none of the costs we mention include very substantial annual operating expenses. More to the point, conservation and efficiency are proven to supply water at 1/2 to 1/20th of that price. Thus, the "choice" referred to in Statement 1 is a false choice and does not need to be made. (See Facing Our Future for reference to conservation costs: http://www.westernresourceadvocates.org/facingourfuture/facingourfuture_lowres.pdf)

3. The NISP/Glade Reservoir would require the dry-up, sell-off, and development of about 25,000 acres of open space and agricultural lands to pay off the debt that would be incurred to pay for the project. This reservoir would be funded by debt that is to be paid back by growth -- growth that would occur on open space and agricultural lands. Dry-up of agricultural lands would likely occur at a slower rate if NISP/Glade is not built. (Visit NCWCD's website for information about the required growth and acres of farms/open-space that would need to be developed to pay back the NISP/Glade debt.)

The NCWCD "TRUTH TEST" Statement 2:

"We would only be diverting water (into the reservoir) during the high water months of above-average years," she said. "These projects wouldn't drain the Poudre - it's already protected by minimum stream flows through Fort Collins, and something like 60 percent of the river above the Poudre Canyon is protected as a wild and scenic river."

The Truth:

1. The Glade Reservoir would hold 177,000 acre-feet (over 57 billion gallons), and deliver approximately 40,000 acre-feet every year. All of this water would come directly from the Poudre. The NISP/Glade diversion would primarily capture what's called the "June Rise," the spring snowmelt absolutely essential for river health through its cleansing and restorative action. The river's hydrograph would increasingly be "flat-lined" with water potentially being removed throughout the year -- anytime there is no "call" on the river.

2. The "above-average" years referred to in Statement 2 are already 50% below the Poudre's native flows, and the NISP/Glade diversion would take about another 50% of that, meaning up to 75% of the rivers’ original high water flows would be gone. (See this image of the river's hydrograph). Also, by taking off the "June Rise," NISP/Glade would dramatically change the hydrological system around the Poudre such that the area-wide water table would be lower, likely reducing river flows year-round. Additionally, the NISP/Glade project is one of three huge planned projects on the Poudre -- the other two would remove even more water. The cumulative effects of these projects (which few want to talk about) could be even more devastating to the ecology and recreation in the river. Though most water would be removed during peak flows, water would most assuredly be removed at most any time of the year.

3. The Poudre currently has no functional minimum stream flow protections as it travels through Fort Collins. Northern’s statement is factually incorrect. As an example, provides this photo taken in 2007 just northwest of Fort Collins:

Poudre River dry

4. NCWCD says NISP/Glade won't drain the Poudre, but the river is already dry like this for many months every year. Here is a map of just some of those dry-up spots:

Poudre River dry

5. This map was created by NCWCD staff. The minimum stream flow that is referred to is not enforced, is a junior water right, and only amounts to a trickle (between 5 and 30 cfs, seasonally). A call to the City Natural Areas program or the FC Water Utility will confirm the fact that the Poudre is frequently dry through town and that senior water rights holders can and do take all the water. To float a canoe through town, at least 100 cfs are needed.

6. The river below the canyon mouth, which is not currently legally protected, would be doomed by NCWCD/NISP. The economy and quality of life that citizens in Fort Collins enjoy is increasingly dependent on the natural areas and the Poudre River. The City, County, GOCO, and federal government have spent tens-of-millions of dollars buying and preserving open space along the Poudre River. The UniverCity group is assessing the economic potential of the naturalness of the corridor as a tourism attraction. The recreational use along the Poudre in Fort Collins is growing dramatically. All of this is occurring in the 40% of the river that NCWCD/NISP/Glade is proposing to dry up. Justifying these dams by saying that 60% of the upper river is protected is like justifying having your leg cut off below the knee and saying that's okay because you've saved 60% of your leg when in fact you're leg was not diseased in the first place. NCWCD is cutting off the leg of the river that runs through Fort Collins, Windsor, and Greeley.

The NCWCD "TRUTH TEST" Statement 3:

”[The District spokesperson] said the methods currently used by Front Range cities to buy up irrigated land and transfer water rights from agricultural use to municipal use won't work forever. "Colorado has doubled its population in the last 35 years," ”[The District spokesperson] said. "In that time, we've only built one major water storage project - Windy Gap - and that was 20 years ago. In short, we can't meet the water needs of future generations by taking shorter showers."

The Truth:

1. About 85% of the water that flows down the Poudre (~290,000 acre-feet/year) is currently used for irrigated agriculture. If all the cities bought all of that water (and the water on all the farms in the South Platte basin), Colorado could likely have enough water to grow forever and fill the eastern plains from top to bottom with subdivisions.

For a fact, cities -- on a per-acre basis -- use about the same amount of water as irrigated agriculture. STP doesn't believe it is preferable or sustainable to transfer all of the agricultural water to cities, but it is a false statement to say it won't work. More usefully, if we conserved just 15% of the water currently used in irrigated agriculture in the Poudre and South Platte basins, we'd have enough water to double the supply to all the communities in the region.

This level of water conservation could happen through "interruptible supply" agreements and water sharing between utilities and farmers. Such agreements would both enhance the farmers’ bottom lines and allow cities to grow. Legalizing such agreements has been of increasing concern at the Colorado legislature in recent sessions. [The Colorado Water Conservation Board reports that 87% of the water in the South Platte basin is used for irrigated agriculture, and 13% for cities. If we conserve 15% of that 87% of agricultural water, we'll double the water available to cities from 13% to 26%. Additionally, statewide, 91% of water is used for irrigated ag, whereas only 9% is used for cities.

2. No serious water conservation strategy involves taking shorter showers. Water conservation scientists/economists have a proven regimen of options available to meet increased demand, and this statement is a silly political spin of a serious scientific/economic topic. A call to any water conservation consultant will confirm this.

The NCWCD "TRUTH TEST" Statement 4:

”Water conservation is vital,”[the District spokesperson] said, but it won't go far enough. "Conservation is really important - it's a tool that all our municipalities use, but it's only one leg of a stool," she said. "Even if you do conserve a bunch of water, where are you going to put it? More storage ultimately needs to be the answer."

The Truth:

1. A recent survey in SWSI (statewide water supply initiative) showed that the counties in the NCWCD have very weak water conservation programs. Moreover, the 16 municipalities that are proposing to use the NISP/Glade water have very little, or no, water conservation programs. (Visit their websites and call their water departments for verification) As one example, here is a graph of the per capita daily water use of several of the NISP sponsoring cities:

Potential Household Water Conservation Savings

Note the city at the far right, Aurora, is not in NISP, but has one of the best water conservation programs in Colorado -- Aurora has gotten its per capita daily use down to 125 gallons and it has not affected their quality of life. Most of the other cities aren't even close to 125, but they're proposing to drain the Poudre when they haven't addressed conservation adequately, or at all.

2. See the "Facing Our Future" report for a realistic version of conservation's ability to supply water to the Northern Front Range. Conservation and efficiency can save up to 50% of water, and do it more cheaply than dams/reservoirs. As just one example of how Statement 4 is wrong, the City of Fort Collins has increased population from 1994 - 2005 by ~25,000 people (24%), but our average daily water use and peak daily water use have actually gone done. See chart:

Conservation Effectiveness in Fort Collins

This decrease in water use is due, in part, to conservation programs, and to better land-use planning. More people do not require more water storage. Conservation and interruptible supply agreements can meet the demand of growing populations, and meet it on a sustainable pay-as-you-go basis rather than an unsustainable, debt-ridden, one-size-fits-all “solution” of dams/reservoirs.

3. Conserved water does not require new storage; rather, it dramatically lowers demand, year-round, and eliminates the need for new storage.

4. If water conservation is "vital" and "really important," then why doesn't NCWCD require that NISP participators conserve water? Instead, NCWCD has lobbied the EPA to set nominal per capita water use rates at over 200 gals per day. Such levels would be among the highest in the country -- especially in the West -- and would not encourage conservation. There are minimal conservation requirements on how the Poudre River water would be used in NISP.

By comparison, the cities of Aurora, Boulder, and Fort Collins are not in NISP, but they all have conservation programs, and none of the cities participating in NISP/Glade have programs even near that of Fort Collins (see chart below - Source: city web pages)

City Water Conservation Programs
 
Aurora
Boulder
Fort Collins
Metering
X
X
X
Tiered Rate Structures
X
X
X
Watering Schedules
X
X
?
Clothes Washer Rebates
X
X
X
Commercial Clothes Washer Rebates
X
X
X
Low Flow Toilet Rebates
X
X
X
Drip Irrigation Rebate
X
X
 
Matched Precipitation Head Nozzle Rebate
X
X
 
Sprinkler Controller Rebate
X
X
 
Soil Amendments Rebate
 
X
 
Buffalo Grass Rebate
X
X
 
FREE STUFF
(landscape/xeriscape consulting, conservation consulting, irrigation audits)
X
X
X
Lawn Permits
X
 
 
Water Reclamation for Parks and Golf Courses
X
 
X
Car Wash Certification
X
 
 
Neighbor Leader Program
X
 
 
Business Leader Program
X
 
 
Household Water Budget
X
 
 
Youth Education
X
 
X
High-tech Water Meters
X
 
 
Zero-interest Loans
 
 
X
ITEMS
20
12
9

Further, NCWCD currently requires no water conservation programs from its participating utilities throughout the District, they merely "recommend" it.

TRUTH TEST: FAILED

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