How to save the Poudre River in Greeley
by Gary Wockner

Guest Commentary
October 17, 2007

If you live near Greeley and enjoy the Poudre River, you might want to walk down to the river and take one long look -- it could be your last chance.

Several new dam and reservoir projects are planned on the Poudre upstream of Greeley, and one of these -- the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) -- will take the last unappropriated flows out of the Poudre. After this project is built, the river through Greeley will be even more degraded than it is now.

You may not know this, but only about 25 percent of the water that comes down Poudre Canyon actually makes it all the way out to the confluence with the South Platte past Greeley. Around 75 percent of the Poudre's water is already diverted for farms and cities. This new NISP project will take another 20,000 acre-feet of water out of the Poudre, reducing the flow through Greeley to about one-third to one-half of its current degraded state, and to about one-tenth of its natural state. Your Poudre River will run lower and drier, and look even more like a muddy stinking ditch than it does now.

Last Sunday's editorial in this newspaper made two points that need to be rebutted in order to provide a broader understanding of northern Colorado's water needs. The Tribune's editors incorrectly stated that the public does not need a longer comment period for the NISP draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), and that the NISP project is necessary to meet future water needs.

On the first point, the DEIS for NISP took about 3 years to complete and cost over $2 million. It only makes sense that the public -- that's you and me-- should have the longest possible time to review this extremely complex and expensive document. Recently, long public comment periods have been granted for the Nunn uranium mine, and for oil and gas drilling on Roan Plateau in western Colorado. The potential negative impacts of the NISP project are dire for the river and for the economy in northern Colorado that depends on the river, and so a longer public comment period is needed.

On the second point, the Tribune pointed out that the total demand for new water in northern Colorado would be around 400,000 acre-feet in the next 30 years. This may be true, but the NISP project would only provide 40,000 acre-feet, and is thus merely a Band-Aid approach to address our future water needs. Unfortunately, this Band-Aid will be applied by draining the Poudre River of its ecological and economic life while not looking at realistic options to conserve water and partner with farmers to obtain water.

Alternatives exist for providing water to northern Colorado that do not involve draining the Poudre River. Here's what you can do to help Save the Poudre:

1. Help stop the NISP project--this project is a Band-Aid that will not adequately address our future water needs. Participants in this project need to first conserve water, and second to get water from sources other than the Poudre River.

2. Help get an "instream flow program" set up for the Poudre River as it flows through Greeley. Talk to the Greeley Water Department about how to do this - there are legal and financial mechanisms that can keep water in the Poudre year-round.

3. Conserve water. By reducing your water use, you can help change the ethic in Colorado that leads to draining rivers first and conserving water as a last resort.

To find out more information about how you can get involved to help Save The Poudre, please visit

And again, walk down the Poudre there in Greeley and just enjoy it. Let's hope it's not your last chance.

Gary Wockner, Ph.D., ( is a writer, ecologist, and conservation advocate in Fort Collins.