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Plan to build 70-mile pipeline from Ft. Collins to Thornton sets off water war

City wants to dig up road, neighbors stand in way
Posted at 10:25 AM, Feb 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-28 13:23:08-05

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Plans to build a 70-mile pipeline from Fort Collins all the way to Thornton have touched off a water war.

The issue is pitting a small northern Colorado neighborhood against a booming metro area suburb.

Residents along Douglas Road north of Fort Collins are standing in the way of the pipeline project that would deliver Poudre River water to Thornton. It’s water the city of Thornton says it will desperately need in just seven years, in order to sustain its current and projected population booms.

“This will (help) take us from the current population of about 130,000 up to about 242,000,” said Mark Koleber, water project director for the City of Thornton.

Koleber said Thornton is simply trying to tap the water rights it bought from Weld County farmers decades ago.

“The city started -- in the mid-1980’s -- to acquire these water rights and the farms that went along with it,” Koleber said.

So, they’ve come here to northern Colorado. Where they want to dig up Douglas Road and bury a water pipe.

“For me – I just thought – that’s a really crummy thing to do,” said Penny Hillman, one of the founders of the group No Pipe Dream. “It’s unconscionable.”

Hillman, along with many of her neighbors, now stand in the way of Thornton’s pipe dream.

“We’re certainly going to give it our best try,” said Lynn Utzman-Nichols, Hillman’s neighbor who also lives just a few blocks from Douglas Road. “We really hope we can find a solution that works for everyone.”

One of those solutions: Keep the water in the Poudre River until it's further downstream near I-25.

Thornton says that plan doesn’t work for them, because then it becomes a water quality issue; the further the water must travel, the more contaminated and polluted it becomes, especially passing through the City of Fort Collins. And that would add to the cost of water treatment.

Thornton wants the water to come directly out of the reservoirs it owns north of Fort Collins.

“Those are the reservoirs that Thornton invested in back in the mid-1980’s,” Koleber said.

“Where is the evidence that the water will be more contaminated?” questioned Hillman. “Not only is allowing the water to flow further downstream a viable alternative, it’s the best alternative.”

But Larimer County officials also see an opportunity in working with Thornton on the plan to bury the pipeline under Douglas Road. The county wants to widen the road – and sees the pipeline as a chance to widen the road earlier than expected.

“If (Larimer County is) going to be tearing up the pavement, there’s an opportunity there to put the pipeline in at the same time and minimize the disruption to the area residents,” Koleber said.