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Fall colors in Poudre Canyon
Vista from Greyrock Trail, Poudre Canyon
The Cache la Poudre River ( ; sometimes called the Poudre River, or the Poudre for short) is in the state of Coloradomarker in the United Statesmarker.

Its headwaters are in the Front Range in Larimer Countymarker, in the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Parkmarker. The river descends eastward in the mountains through the Roosevelt National Forest in Poudre Canyon. It emerges from the foothills north of the city of Fort Collinsmarker.

It flows eastward across the plainsmarker, passing north of the city of Greeleymarker, and flows into the South Platte River approximately five miles east of Greeley.

The name of the river means "hiding place of the powder" in French. It refers to an incident in the 1820s when French trappers, caught by a snowstorm, were forced to bury part of their gunpowder along the banks of the river.

The river is a popular summer destination for trout fishing, whitewater rafting, tubing, and kayaking in the Poudre Canyon.

Trout fishing

From its headwaters downstream, through the city of Fort Collins, the Cache la Poudre River contains abundant populations of self-sustaining wild trout, with none of these salomnid populations being native to the river. The vast majority of trout that live within the river system are Brown Trout. The community of Fort Collins contains devoted Poudre River Anglers, who seek brown trout of all size, ranging from juvenile trout all the way up to piscivorous and predominantly nocturnal five to eight pound trout. Anglers pursue these trout most actively in the guise of a fly fisher and dozens, if not hundreds, of local fly patterns have been developed purely for use on the Poudre.

Many locals consider the Cache la Poudre River to be the life blood of the Fort Collins community. Yet, water rights run deep in the community's history and water ownership for uses such as irrigation, drinking and industry create unstable flow environments, greatly impacting the abundance of wildlife in and around the river. As a result, several conservation organizations have been formed in an effort to protect and enhance the natural state of the river.

Anglers seeking success on the Cache la Poudre River can find it in all seasons, as water remains open in certain areas year-round. Fishers in the winter often pursue skittish trout with flies the size of a pinhead at distances of up to forty feet. In the fall, Brown Trout spawn and in the spring, so do the Rainbow Trout, making for aggressive and active fish that are more than willing to take a fly, dressed of fur and feather and will fight the angler well. Spring, Summertime and Fall mark the highest amounts of anglers on the stream, but enough public water exists that one may always find solitude if he or she so desires it.

Because of increasing fishing pressures on a finite resource, special regulations have been designated for certain stretches of the Poudre by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. These regulations include the use of flies and lures only and strict catch and release designations. This ensures that trout populations are left to thrive naturally and that fish who are caught for sport are released, unharmed, to live on as a wild creature, a worthy adversary, and also as an introduced invasive species. Special regulation waters include, The Indian Meadows Section, The Hatchery Section and a small tailwater stretch of the North Fork of the Cache la Poudre River, which flows from Seamen Reservoir to the main fork of the Poudre. As the Cache la Poudre leaves the canyon for the valley to flow through Fort Collins the water quality decreases significantly. Although trout still live in the lower Cache la Poudre, the population is increasingly diminished due to marginal water flows and water quality, both of which greatly hinder self-sustained trout reproduction in the lower Poudre. Because of this, all fishermen whether bait or artificial should release their catch in town in order to make sure the fishery on the lower Cache la Poudre will remain for years to come.

Many believe that with the right combination of flow, habitat and regulation, that the Cache la Poudre River can become a world-class trout fishery. Furthermore, the Cache la Poudre River has and will continue to support tremendous fly fishing in a wild and beautiful setting.

Glade Reservoir Controversy

What is Glade Reservoir?

The Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) has been proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservation District. NISP includes several water supply projects, the major one being the Glade Reservoir, which would supply of water annually to 15 communities in Northern Colorado. Glade Reservoir would be filled by a diversion from the Cache la Poudre River and would store that water for use by these communities. The project has been studied by the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) since 2005, resulting in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released in September, 2008 . Due to the number and complexity of significant comments received during the public comment period , the COE has determined that additional analysis is required before a decision on whether to approve or deny the permit can be made. They plan to release a supplemental DEIS in late 2009 or 2010, likely delaying construction of the project—if approved—by two years until 2013.

To supply of water from Glade Reservoir, significant quantities of water would be diverted from the Poudre River above the city of Fort Collinsmarker, Colorado. Most diversions would occur during the peak snow melt runoff in May and June. Essentially all the water that is diverted (and pumped) into the off-stream Glade Reservoir would be released back to the river at a later time. But these releases into the Poudre from Glade would be entirely offset by water that would normally be released from Horsetooth Reservoirmarker into the Poudre, also upstream of Fort Collins. This Horsetooth water, originating from Colorado's west slope, would be piped to most of the NISP subscriber communities outside the Poudre basin instead of going to agricultural users downstream on the Poudre River and South Platte River. According to the first DEIS, the net diversion from the Poudre would represent anywhere from 26 to 71% of the flow as measured in downtown Fort Collins . These flow reductions are in addition to existing diversions that have removed approximately 50-60% of the river's water since European settlement began in the valley.

Opposition to Glade

Several organizations, led primarily by the Save The Poudre (STP) group, and the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley, have raised several significant issues with the project. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also expressed serious reservations about certain elements of the project. The 'controversy' emerges because of the effects expected from such large diversions from the river.

Unsettled Issues

A list of the unsettled issues would include:
  • Hydrological effects
  • Aquatic system effects
  • Water quality effects
  • Recreation/aesthetics effects
  • Agricultural effects
  • Economic effects
  • Environmental and social justice effects


Hydrological Effects

Perhaps the keystone issue cited by the Save The Poudre coalition stems from removing peak flows from the river, a river already with considerably lower flows than it once had. According to the group, removal of the periodic "flushing flows" would substantially alter the river because accumulated sediment loads and seasonal nutrient buildup would not be scoured from the channel. Reducing the peak flows would also have out-of-channel effects too, such as interfering with the maintenance of the native riparian vegetation, says the STP group. Prominent aquatic scientists at Colorado State University (CSU, located in Fort Collins near the Poudre River), concur with the scenario painted by the Save The Poudre Coalition is correct. Interfering with the annual hydrologic "pulse" of the river would indeed further worsen the river's already degraded character and harm both the cooler upstream portion of the river currently supporting trout, as well as harm the lower, warmer portion of the river that serves as a transition zone between a mountain and a plains stream. By contrast, the DEIS states in multiple places (though inconsistently) that the hydrologic and aquatic system changes would be "minimal", drawing strong rebuke from the CSU scientists. In addition, the Cities of Fort Collins and Greeley have both stated that they are very concerned about changes to the river. Both cities are troubled about sediment aggradation exacerbating flooding damage, and both worried about effects on their investment in streamside natural areas. See http://fcgov.com/nispreview/ for more on these subjects.

Impact on Water Quality

Removing more water from the already heavily diverted river would also exacerbate existing water quality problems. Among the variables under discussion are water temperature, heavy metals such as selenium, nutrients such as ammonia, and pathogens such as E. coli. The DEIS states that these water quality issues are almost certain to be negatively affected, but also states (though without much specificity) that their effects would be minimal or mitigated. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)(http://savethepoudre.org/docs/epa-comments-on-nisp.pdf) and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (http://savethepoudre.org/docs/wqcd-nisp-letter-and-comments-9-12-08.pdf) confirm that these problems are on their agencies lists of concerns and that further removing water could only worsen them. Further, the Cities of Fort Collins and Greeley have expressed additional concerns regarding degradation of their drinking water, inadequate dilution of their wastewater, and possible contamination with a carcinogen (Trichloroethyene, TCE), all potentially costly to mitigate. See http://fcgov.com/nispreview/ for more on these subjects. However, recent materials (http://www.gladereservoir.org/Docs/Fact%20Sheet%20B%20&%20V%20analysis.pdf) have mentioned new studies commissioned by Northern that discount these last three concerns, saying (1) that no new water treatment would be required by Fort Collins, (2) that there would be no impact to the Fort Collins wastewater treatment, and (3) that concentrations of TCE in the groundwater are so low as to be “undetectable.” After a review of these new reports, the City of Fort Collins, however, continues to believe that water quality issues remain a concern.

Recreation Impacts

Recreation effects do not appear to be been well or thoroughly studied, but they would certainly occur if the project were built as described in the DEIS. Recreation is widespread along the Poudre, including fishing, canoeing, rafting and tubing, bird watching, trail running and biking, and the like. Project proponents seem to have largely dismissed these uses, noting that the upstream canyon reaches of the Poudre River receive far more documented use than the plains’ portion. Project opponents dismiss such an argument as irrelevant since NISP would not directly affect the canyon portion (with perhaps some minor effects) but it would affect the entire river below the point of diversion at the mouth of the canyon which does get a lot of use, especially by people who live in Fort Collins and Greeley. Closely related are aesthetic impacts, which are also tied to water quality. Aesthetic impacts, too, have only been sketchily described, but range from odor problems below the wastewater treatment plants that would worsen if dilution flows were reduced, to possible die-off of native riparian vegetation if existing peak flows are not maintained.

Agricultural Impact

One set of impacts that has received considerable press (some would say hype) deals with agricultural lands. Northern Water maintains that NISP would protect NE Colorado's agricultural heritage by at least postponing the permanent transfer of water from irrigation to municipalities—a statement that taken at face value may be true. Save The Poudre, however, argues that no one has played the scenario out to its logical conclusion, namely that the growth engendered by the NISP subscribers is already consuming irrigated agricultural lands at a fast pace, a trend that would accelerate if NISP were built. STP also argues that farmers would be negatively affected by some of the water transfers inherent in NISP, either by increasing salinity from using the South Platte Water Conservation Plan (a component of NISP) waters out of the S. Platte River, or by diverting peak flows that are currently being used on the eastern plains out to Nebraska that would ‘dry up’ if Glade Reservoir were constructed. Both sides can claim some truth to their argument.

Economic Impact

Economic effects other than those implied by permanent agricultural water transfers have not generated as much targeted discussion. Clearly the NISP-subscribing communities want the water to foster growth; water is an essential element of their plan, but we have not seen any estimate of these communities economic loss should the water not be available. On the other hand, the City of Fort Collins commissioned an economic study (http://fcgov.com/nispreview/pdf/loomis_report.pdf) to estimate the economic benefits of maintaining streamflows in the Poudre through the City. Though some of the assumptions underpinning this study may be questionable, the results did indicate a sizable willingness for the community to pay to maintain peak instream flows to maintain the recreational and aesthetic benefits that the river currently provides. In essence, citizens were willing to pay to lease water (if available) to sustain streamflows. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a truly efficient market for water were available, not solely a legally proscribed market.

Such a question opens the door for perhaps the least discussed project effect: social and environmental justice. One writer (http://3dsoundblog.com/2008/10/02/glade-reservoir-locals-disproportionately-bear-impacts.aspx) eloquently expressed dismay that, in essence, if NISP/Glade were built, the subscribers east and south of the Poudre basin would garner all the project’s benefits while Fort Collins and Greeley would bear the economic and environmental costs—scenic valley inundation, highway relocation, negative impacts to local agriculture, and so on—with little recourse to intervene in the decision process.

The DEIS nominally contained but a few alternatives to the applicant's preferred alternative, specifically Glade and Galeton Reservoirs. The so-called no-action alternative was described as every-community-for-itself as opposed to a “region-wide” approach, with the assumption that a regional perspective would lead to economies of scale. (Oddly, the region remains fractionated, with Fort Collins, Greeley and a handful of other towns and water districts pursuing their own water development, the Halligan-Seaman proposal, ironically under the very same COE project lead.) Other alternatives were essentially minor variations on the Glade/Galeton outline.

Save The Poudre has questioned the reasonableness of the larger regional approach, stating that its very scale implies large up-front costs that would be better meted out over time by the NISP subscribers pursuing more local projects, each on their own time frame and filling needs as they arise. One noted economist’s calculations from the University of Colorado seem to buttress the go-slow local approach. Regardless, Save The Poudre went on to suggest that a revised no-action alternative, driven by more realistic population estimates and satisfied largely through water conservation they believe is realistic—even if it were not less expensive—would have fewer negative effects on the natural environment. Calling their proposal the “Healthy Rivers Alternative”, that group is pushing for the COE to recast and reevaluate the no-action alternative in the next (ongoing) round of EIS studies.

Though the DEIS does not present a consistent or detailed picture of what Northern's vision for the Poudre post-project would be, one gets the feeling that they see a stream engineered to be a smaller cousin of what is there today. Apparently, they have plans to re-sculpt the river's channel, creating a narrower (and deeper) low-flow channel surrounded by a wider "floodplain". The narrower and deeper channel might, in theory, be good to address some issues like water temperature, but leaves unaddressed who would pay for these "improvements" when they get destroyed by the inevitable large floods. Save The Poudre does not seem to have addressed this issue, but if they did, they would likely point to research showing that the majority of engineered streams do not accomplish what they were meant to do and do not have a good track record for withstanding the extreme forces of high flows.

Alternatives to Glade

In marked contrast to Northern's view, the Save The Poudre Coalition has put forth a markedly different vision. The crux of their argument, called the Healthy Rivers Alternative (http://www.savethepoudre.org/docs/stp_healthy_rivers_alternative.pdf), is that water conservation (municipal, industrial, and agricultural) can collectively be used to address most of the (revised) demand outlined in the DEIS. When and if the demand is still not satisfied, water sharing agreements with agriculture and water storage in small local reservoirs and gravel pits (and perhaps eventually in aquifers) are feasible institutional and engineering solutions. Save The Poudre goes even further, declaring an intent to "restore" the Poudre River by acquiring or arranging for instream flows that would at least supply an (unstated) minimum flow through Fort Collins. Even more intrepidly, STP alludes to a plan that would, in the long term, supply even higher flows to achieve environmental and recreational objectives.

Conclusion

It is not clear what the Corps of Engineers’ long term vision for the Poudre River is, or even if they have one. The Corps seems to be playing a narrowly-defined regulatory role: to verify the purpose and need, lay out the alternatives to meet that need, and choose the least environmentally damaging practical alternative (LEPDA) regardless of cost. After choosing an alternative, the Corps is at liberty to superimpose mitigation to eliminate or mitigate adverse impacts. As endangered species arguably play a minor role in the NISP go or no-go decision, the Corps pretty much is the sole "decider", although the EPA could conceivably veto the project.

See also



References

  1. https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/html/od-tl/eis/nisp.deis.apr08.pdf Corps of Engineers original DEIS
  2. http://fcgov.com/nispreview/pdf/core-news.pdf Corps of Engineers news release regarding supplemental DEIS
  3. http://fcgov.com/nispreview/ Fort Collins Draft EIS comment
  4. http://www.savethepoudre.org/docs/epa-comments-on-nisp.pdf EPA comments on the draft EIS


External links




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