The Dam Truth About Glade Reservoir

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

14 September 2007
Eric Fried

If it weren’t for the Poudre River, none of us would be here. Some towns start because they’re on a bay, others because they’re at a railhead, and still others because they are at the crossroads of two trade routes. We’re here because the US Army wanted a fort by the river, near the stage route. The Poudre is our raison d’etre, our icon, our very lifeblood. We hope to build a kayak park near downtown, maybe a San Antonio-style River Walk, and to connect Old Town to the river. So why do some people want to kill what’s left of the spirit of the Poudre, and leave us a tame, glorified irrigation ditch instead of a wild and scenic river?

I’m talking about the proposed Glade Reservoir, which would be 20% bigger than Horsetooth, and would divert peak flows from the river in wet years via humongous pumps located near the mouth of Poudre Canyon. The project is estimated to cost over $350 billion, and would siphon off a third to a half of the river’s water during peak flows.

In the topsy-turvy world of Colorado water law, almost any diversion of water, from irrigation to household use to fountains shooting water straight up in the air, is considered “beneficial,” but leaving the water in the river for fish, birds, animals, and the whole natural ecosystem is considered “waste.” Even though most of the Poudre is already dammed and diverted, and the river sometimes dries up entirely, a small amount of the river’s water runs freely and naturally peaks every three or four years in spring, depending on snow melt. To most of us, this June Rise is a triumph of nature, like grass growing through sidewalks, and is essential to the overall health of the river we love. But to the “water buffaloes” who profit from developing, diverting and dealing water, this peak flow is a wasted opportunity.

Glade would be one of two new reservoirs built by the Northern Integrated Supply Project to serve fast-growing towns along the Front Range. Proponents say it is necessary to supply the water needs of the hundreds of thousands of people who plan to move here in coming decades, and to keep irrigated agriculture alive. The truth is, we could get much more water at a much lower price through greater conservation and efficiency, aggressive public education programs, and innovative water sharing agreements. We can line ditches, use more efficient crop irrigation techniques, and stop watering our sidewalks, curbs and driveways. According to Western Resource Advocates, in its report entitled “Facing Our Future: A Balanced Water Solution for Colorado,” average per capita US water use is about 69 gallons per day. Aurora uses about 60 gallons a day. Boulder is down to 57 gallons per day. The report estimates we could get household use down to 45 gallons per person per day in coming years. Yet none of the towns conspiring to kill the Poudre have even bothered with serious water conservation efforts yet.

To finance Glade, the small towns and water districts would issue bonds and take on tremendous debt load. Paying off the debt would mandate high levels of municipal growth, making growth a self-fulfilling prophecy. Facing an uncertain economy and rising government and consumer debt, one town (Berthoud) has already pulled out of the project. Others may follow, putting the whole scheme in jeopardy. Because of continuing high levels of interest by northern Coloradoans, further environmental impact studies are being done, and are due soon.

To continue the dialogue, the Poudre Valley Green Party is sponsoring “The Dam Truth About Glade Reservoir,” a free multi-media presentation on Thursday, September 18 at 7 pm at River Rock Commons, 520 N. Sherwood, Fort Collins. The speaker will be Mark Easter, conservation chair of the local Sierra Club. Come fine out how to restore, not finish off, our river.

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