By Dillon Thomas
THORNTON, Colo. (CBS4)– The City of Thornton could soon capitalize on an investment made decades ago, that would provide their growing city with enough access to drinkable water for decades to come.
The city’s current water provider, the South Platte River, hasn’t provided sufficient quality and flow as of late.
Mark Koleber, project director for the City of Thornton, spent the last several years with his team, planning for the city’s future.
Koleber was assigned the task of finding a way to pipe water rights, which were purchased in the 1980s, from Larimer County to Thornton. His team surveyed environmental impact, impact on residents and roadways, and other factors before selecting the route for their 75-mile-long pipeline.
The water, which is diverted from the Poudre River north of Lory State Park, is accessed by several municipalities and entities. However, Thornton owns 48 percent of the water’s rights.
“(The Poudre) has been diverted here for over 100 years,” Koleber told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.
For decades, Thornton has purchased dozens of farms in Larimer and Weld counties. By purchasing the farms, and leasing them back to the original farm owners, the city was able to secure water rights for the future.
With a need for more water by 2025, Thornton planned to lay a 48-inch pipeline through the 75-mile route. In order to do so, the city met with each impacted municipality, from Fort Collins, to Timnath, Johnstown and Firestone.
However, with years of planning past, the city was met with strong opposition by many residents in Fort Collins. A grassroots organization, titled “No Pipe Dream” took a stand against Thornton’s proposal.
Many vocalized concerns with the project’s possible impact to the Poudre River, roadways, and private property.
“Thornton bought the water rights. They did not buy a designated route,” said Lynn Utzman-Nichols, founder of No Pipe Dream.
Utzman-Nichols said many residents along Douglas Road, in northern Fort Collins, were caught off guard by Thornton’s proposal. She said many were never made aware of the possibility, until a meeting was announced by the county and Thornton.
In order to get their water from the Poudre, and city-owned manmade lakes, Thornton will have to build a pump station along Douglas Road.
From there, by request from Larimer County, Koleber said the city plans to run their pipeline under Douglas Rd, as a way to avoid affecting private property to the best of their abilities.
“We are concerned about the traffic increase (during construction,” Utzman-Nichols said.
Utzman-Nichols said there were also concerns of environmental impacts, if the pipeline were to be cracked due to vibrations from the above roadway.
Also of concern to those with No Pipe Dream, was the need for a pump station on a nearby farm.
“People who live in these hills right behind (the farm) are worried about the high disciple of noise,” Utzman-Nichols said.
Thornton has established plans to purchase the property in order to build their pump station on Dick Brauch’s farm.
“I have no desire to sell this farm. It has been in my family for 60 years,” Brauch said.
Thornton met with Brauch several times, and discussed the process of building a pump station on his farm. The project would take around three acres of his property, with two of the acres going towards a parking lot and structure.
The city hopes to reach a deal before utilizing imminent domain.
Koleber said the city would pay fair price for the property, and would work with those impacted to design the pump station to fit many of their preferences. Koleber said the pump station can be built to look like a barn, house, or any other structure that would make it best-fit the surroundings.
Brauch said he was not in favor of sharing an access road with the pump station. The city then mapped out where their pump station would go. If approved, it would be located at the center of his farm, with access to Douglas Road.
“They are taking the middle right out of (my farm),” Brauch said. “It makes it pretty much impossible to farm any of this.”
Thornton only needed to construct two pump stations for the entire 75-mile pipeline. The other pump station would be built in Firestone. The exact location, and design, was still being finalized with that town.
Some also voiced concerns over the possibility of a pipeline corridor, which could encourage future projects along the same route. A spokesperson for the City of Thornton said they were not planning on future projects right now, and were only focused on the current pipeline.
“For myself, (the problem) more so was the disruption of the Poudre River,” said Warren Lemerich, a local resident.
Lemerich said he understood Thornton’s right to the water, and wanted them to have access to it. However, he preferred Thornton to pull the water from the southeastern portion of Larimer County, instead of northwest.
He proposed that access point would still provide the city access to the water, while also giving Fort Collins residents what some wanted.
“By getting Thornton to do the right thing… we can see an additional 20 to 25 percent regain in flow in the Poudre River through Fort Collins,” Lemerich said.
However, according to Koleber, the flow of the river currently reflects what it would after the pipeline was completed, citing the water already being diverted for the past century.
“It won’t change the amount of flow that goes down the Poudre River in to Fort Collins,” Koleber said.
In an effort to be “good neighbors” to other cities impacted by their pipeline, Thornton said they were doing their best to follow requests from other counties, towns and cities.
For example, Thornton paid to lay 100 feet of their 48-inch pipeline in Windsor in 2017, allowing the city to avoid future construction disruption to the incoming Raindance housing development.
The city also agreed to dig underneath the Poudre River in Windsor, instead of cutting across it, as an effort to avoid environmental impact.
The City’s 1041 Permit proposal has not been approved. A meeting was planned for Wednesday, May 16, to further discuss the topic in Larimer County.
If approved, Thornton would take one significant step forward towards providing cleaner, and more reliable, water to their future residents.
The city hoped to start construction by 2018 on the pipeline, with completion targeted for 2025.
Koleber suggested the proposal would carry the city near their population capacity, which could happen in 60 years.
With both Thornton, and the No Pipe Dream organization, looking to properly preserve and utilize the Poudre River, there could be at least one thing they agree on.
“The future of the Poudre River is the future of the front range,” Lemerich said.
Dillon Thomas is a reporter at CBS4 and a Colorado native. He believes everyone has a story, and would love to share yours! You can find more of his stories by following him on Twitter, @DillonMThomas.