THORNTON, Colo. (CBS4) – The City of Thornton is running out of drinking water for its residents as the population surrounding Denver continues to swell. The city’s decades-old plan to combat that forecasted problem is now breaking ground.

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Crews have started installing a 42-inch welded steel pipeline through portions of northern Colorado with the goal of bringing clean water to Thornton through 2065.

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However, even though Thornton legally purchased the water rights from the Cache la Poudre River northwest of Fort Collins in the 1980s, the counties it needs to pump water through are preventing the pipeline from becoming a full reality, for now.

“We got the water in 1985. That is all done. We have the permission to move the water, we just need the facilities to move it,” said Mark Koleber, Water Supply Director for Thornton.

Thornton spent decades purchasing properties and water rights throughout northern Colorado, as well as reservoirs north of Fort Collins. The plan since the 1980s has been to own the rights while waiting for the demand. That demand is now knocking at the door, yet commissioners in Larimer and Weld counties are pushing back on giving Thornton the access they are requesting.

Thornton needs to install more than 80 miles worth of pipes from the river near Ted’s Place all the way to the Denver suburb. However, in Larimer County, they have come across issues getting permits to install the pipeline along roadways.

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Some outspoken locals near Fort Collins have expressed their distaste for Thornton’s plans. Some have said the construction along roadways would cause disruption for months while others said they didn’t want Fort Collins missing out on the best clean water.

Those taking concern with the clean water have suggested Thornton move their access point closer to Interstate 25, where the Poudre River has already left Fort Collins. By doing so, those residents believe the concerns around construction will also be avoided.

“The water down here is not the same quality as it is up northwest of Fort Collins. That is the quality we bought, that is the quality we need, that is quality we are going to get,” Koleber told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas.

While Thornton navigates the next steps of building their pipeline through unincorporated Weld and Larimer counties, they have been given permission to start construction through towns like Timnath, Windsor and Johnstown.

Timnath and Windsor have seen a dramatic spike in residents in the past few years, and many homes are being built along WCR-13 in Windsor, right where Thornton planned to build their pipeline.

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To avoid the stresses of more disruption, Thornton was granted permission to install their pipeline along the roadway before the neighborhoods were completed.

“We can do that so we can get ahead of the development,” Koleber said. “That is really important for us, to make sure we don’t impact the communities any more than we have to.”

(credit: CBS)

More than seven miles worth of pipeline have been installed through Windsor and Johnstown. Some of that stretch has already been installed, reclaimed and built over.

The Raindance Community in Windsor has already built homes along the now-hidden pipeline, with sidewalks and landscaping covering where the construction was completed.

Following the state’s orders, Thornton had to develop a plan to cross over two rivers in Northern Colorado without disturbing them.

Koleber’s team dug massive holes on each end of the Poudre and Big Thompson rivers. Then machinery was lowered into the holes. The machinery then dug itself under the rivers, sending back carts full of mud as it continued to burrow. The pipes were then lowered into the holes and slid through the makeshift tunnels, leaving the Poudre and Big Thompson unscathed.

“That will allow us to move the water under the Poudre without disturbing the Poudre at all. We can cross it without touching the Poudre,” Koleber said.

Thornton has engaged in legal action against Larimer County, hoping the courts can help them claim what they legally purchased decades ago. The city has not ruled out taking similar action in Weld County if common ground cannot be reached in a timely manner.

CBS4 contacted Larimer County commissioners for comment on this article. However, multiple commissioners wrote back saying they could not comment on the story due to ongoing litigation.

Koleber said the stretch of the pipeline they’ve already installed is expediting the process of someday moving millions of gallons at a time to Thornton. He said the construction should also show both Larimer and Weld counties that the city is actively working on getting the water they purchased.

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“The idea is to build as much pipeline as we can as soon as we can, so as soon as we have everything in place we can turn it on and get water down to the city of Thornton,” Koleber said. “We are going to have water flowing through this in the next few years.”

Dillon Thomas