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Anticipating growth and climate change, Fort Collins looks to expand reservoir

The cost of the project has soared to more than $300 million.
Halligan Reservoir
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 09, 2024

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The Fort Collins City Council received an update Tuesday on a project to expand the size of the Halligan Reservoir, which is located about 25 miles north of town.

Expanding the Halligan Reservoir is something Fort Collins leaders have been talking about for nearly two decades.

With Fort Collins projected to grow significantly in the coming decades, city leaders say the current water supply system won’t be able to keep up with demand, especially during emergencies or periods of prolonged drought.

Anticipating growth and climate change, Fort Collins looks to expand reservoir

“[It would] provide more certainty and resilience in the water that we provide them against things like what you’re hearing in the Colorado River basin,” said Donnie Dustin with the City of Fort Collins Utilities. “Over half of our supply comes out of that basin so this will give us some flexibility to deal with any issues that come up there, maybe climate change and those kind of impacts."

But that’s easier said than done.

City officials have spent the past 18 years just working on permitting for the expansion.

Last October, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed its final environmental impact statement, which was a significant milestone for the project.

You can read that document below.

Also in 2023, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission along with the Colorado Water Conservation Board signed off on the fish and wildlife mitigation plan.

Meanwhile, the projected costs have soared to $308 million.

“You shouldn't be building this project. It's going to damage the river and it's exorbitantly expensive,” said Gary Wockner with Save the Poudre, an environmental group.

Wockner has been following the project since city leaders began working on it.

“We've been following it for all 18 years,” he said.

Wockner is pushing the city to find cheaper alternatives.

“This isn't about growth, it's about grass,” he said.

One idea he thinks would work is paying people to replace their grassy lawns with landscape that doesn’t require much watering.

The city has a program that does this.

Wockner would like to see it expand.

“Because it's cheaper to pay people to take out their grass by far than it is to try to get new water through a major dam diversion project,” Wockner said.

The City of Fort Collins said the project costs have soared mostly due to factors outside of its control, including permitting, environmental mitigation requirements and labor and construction costs.

The city said it has identified about $68 million in funding for the Halligan Water Supply Project and is looking at grants and low-cost loans to fund the remaining $240 million.

The project will store about 8,200 acre-feet of additional water. City officials said that will be enough to meet customer water needs through 2065.

"It will also provide a storage reserve for emergency water supply and in turn, increase drought security and improve water system reliability and flexibility," according to an update from the utilities department.

The city now needs to get a Larimer County 1041 Permit, which involves public hearings before the county planning commission and county commissioners.

The city hopes to receive final approval from the county by winter 2024-2025.

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