Community activists, environmental watchdogs say current analysis doesn’t go far enough to evaluate reasonable alternatives; use of water for fracking another major concern
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY —Community activists along the northern Front Range say they want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a comment period for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap firming project, based on what they say are omissions, and significant new information on potential impacts to the Colorado River.
That includes recent reports that cities served by Northern are selling “excess” water for fracking on the Front Range.
“Cities on the Front Range participating are selling the water for fracking, and that use is not mentioned in the FEIs,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. “Should we be draining the Colorado River so that sprawling Front Range cities can make millions of dollars … At a minimum, the FEIS for the Windy Gap Firming Projects needs to address and analyze this new industrial use of water – fracking – in its ‘Purpose and Need’ section of the document.”
The main feature of the project is the proposed new 90,000-acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir that would be located southwest of Loveland and just west of Carter Lake.
Northern says the project would ensure reliability of its existing water rights from the Colorado River, benefiting 10 cities, two water districts and an electric power provider. According to Northern’s Windy Gap website, “These residential providers face a serious lack of water supply as the region continues to grow and develop. Although they continue to increase and expand water conservation measures, conservation alone cannot meet projected demands.”
On the West Slope, there are huge concerns over how additional depletions would affect the already suffering Upper Colorado ecosystem.
Wockner said the FEIS omits information about accurate growth rates in the cities that want the water; omits information about potential water conservation savings and does not discuss alternatives to the project other than more depletions from the Colorado River, such as increased conservation or water-sharing with farmers on the Front Range.
“Every alternative in the FEIS involves diverting more water from the Colorado River – there’s a very serious question about whether that complies with the Clean Water Act,” Wockner said.
Federal environmental laws require a “hard look” at project deemed to have significant impacts, and the Clean Water Act requires federal agencies to choose the least damaging alternative.
Based on the information that’s included — and not included — in the FEIS — it’s not clear that the federal agencies involved in the project have met their obligations under federal law, he said.
“We request that the Corps open up a new public comment period – we believe it is essential and in the public’s interest to increase the public’s scrutiny of this project.”
The Corps of Engineers is a cooperating agency — with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — on the Windy Gap project. The project requires a Clean Water Act wetlands fill and discharge permit, so that’s why Save The Poudre is asking the Corps for a public comment period.
Last month, the EPA’s formal comments on the project also pointed out errors and ommissions and highlighted missing scientific information and inconsistent conclusions.
In its letter to the Corps, Save the Poudre requested that the Corps address EPA’s concerns. Save the Poudre also requested that the Corps address the concerns that EPA stated in its original comment letter on the Draft EIS in 2008 which still have not been addressed in the FEIS more than 3 years later.
Save the Poudre’s letter to the Corps is here (link to letter).