Weld planners favor portion of Thornton pipeline

Controversial water project moving on to Weld commissioners in July

Posted 5/31/19

Thornton’s proposed drinking water pipeline cleared one hurdle last week, getting a positive recommendation for a portion planned to pass through Weld County. The Weld County Planning Commission …

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Weld planners favor portion of Thornton pipeline

Controversial water project moving on to Weld commissioners in July

Posted

Thornton’s proposed drinking water pipeline cleared one hurdle last week, getting a positive recommendation for a portion planned to pass through Weld County.

The Weld County Planning Commission voted 5-3 to recommend approval of a 15 mile portion of the planned pipeline that would bring drinking water the city owns from northwest of Fort Collins to Thornton.

Weld’s Board of County Commissioners are expected to vote in July.

“I think this is a very good step for us, and we’re ready to work with Weld County for the rest of it,” Thornton Water Supply Director Mark Koleber said.

The section represents the southernmost portion of the proposed pipeline, from the border of Weld and Adams County north about 15 miles.

Koleber said his staff is working on applications or three other sections in unincorporated Weld County as well as sections in Johnstown and Windsor.

“We’ve been working with them for a couple of years and there are still a few things to get tied up, but we will have those approvals done this year,” he said. “We did that to get ahead of some development planned in those areas. We didn’t want to tear something up for a pipeline after they’d just finished doing a bunch of work.”

The portion of the 75 mile pipeline that begins in Larimer County and continues to the Weld County border is tied up in the courts. The Larimer Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners both came out against the plan and the City of Thornton is challenging Larimer County’s Feb. 11 denial.

“Eventually, we’re eager to work with Larimer County as well,” Koleber said.

The pipeline is meant to bolster the city’s water supply through 2065.

Thornton’s current water supply is able to serve only 158,000 residents, according to estimates. A new water supply is needed to provide for predicted growth up to 242,0000 residents by 2065, according to the executive summary for the permit request submitted by the city of the Thornton.

Thornton began working on the pipeline in 2016, filing a request for a permit to allow the city to build a pipeline, bringing the water south from Larimer County to Thornton. The water in question has been diverted from the Cache La Poudre River to a reservoir since the 1800s. The city bought water right shares from Water Supply and Storage Company in the mid-1980s but has left the water in the reservoir.

Thornton is seeking a permit under the state’s 1041 process. The 1041 permit process recognizes that one municipal or county entity cannot stop another from gaining access to public utilities but can determine how that access happens within its boundaries. Cities have the right to run power lines, canals or pipelines through a neighboring city but the neighbors have the right to say where the power lines, canals or pipelines can or cannot be built.

Thornton’s original plan called for a 48-inch pipeline to run for 26 miles along Larimer County’s Douglas Road and 45 miles in Weld County and would transport 40 million gallons of water per day. The total cost was estimated at $435 million.

Larimer County residents balked at having the pipeline go under Douglas Road, a busy stretch bounded by homes. A second group objected, demanding Thornton put the water back in the river.

The city came back with a new version last winter with a new route, the more rural County Road 56, that would have avoided residential neighborhoods and busy street.

County Commissioners hosted numerous meetings on the plan, but ultimately voted to deny the application at their Feb. 11 meeting, suggesting the city didn’t adequately consider putting the water back in the river.

The city filed the lawsuit April 16 in Larimer District Court in Fort Collins.

Thornton’s suit claims that the commissioners abused their discretion and exceeded their jurisdiction by turning down the city’s request to build a pipeline.

The suit claims that commissioners turned down the pipeline, favoring instead having Thornton put their water back in the Cache La Poudre River and collect downstream from Fort Collins and the city’s own storm and sanitary sewer outflows.

It also claims that the county is denying the city access to water it owns and has rights to claim and then asks for a declaratory judgement, asking the court to either approve one of the top two pipeline plans or require the Board of County Commissioners to approve one of the pipeline plans.

So far, Larimer County has not responded to Thornton’s suit.

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