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Larimer County reluctantly approves controversial Colorado water pipeline to send drinking water south to Thornton, following years of blockades

County in Northern Colorado reluctantly approves water pipeline
County in Northern Colorado reluctantly approves water pipeline 03:18

Late Wednesday night, Larimer County Commissioners -- with reluctant, and heavy hearts -- unanimously approved a hotly contested water pipeline proposal that will deliver drinking water to residents of the city of Thornton. 


The pipeline is something Thornton city officials have been trying to build for nearly a decade, unsuccessfully, due to heated opposition from community members and environmental groups. 

Wednesday, Larimer County Commissioners said the decision was not an easy one to make, especially following the outpouring of public comment they received, which they said made up a total of 800 printed pages. 

Commissioner John Kefalas was in tears during his deliberation of the matter Wednesday. 

"If I could turn back the clock... I would," Kefalas said. 

Commissioner Jody Shadduck-McNally told members of the public at Wednesday's hearing she has felt torn this week about how she would vote. 

"This is not about Thornton's residents, this is about our residents, and how our landowners, and our residents are impacted... think about what's best for Larimer," Shadduck-McNally said. 

She said she wanted to make sure they could have every tool in the toolbox to ensure the county's interests were protected. 

"I really am proud that we have been able to work together and let the hearing move forward as it did," Shadduck-McNally said. "It's not easy sitting in this seat, I want to thank them (the public) for sharing their passion and concerns with us... I want to thank the applicant for being open to our questions." 

The saga began when Thornton purchased 19,000 acres of water located in Larimer County back in the 1980s, and now that its population is growing, the city says it desperately needs to tap into that resource.

In order to do so, the city needs to build a pipeline that would send the drinking water through Larimer County and then further down south to Thornton. 

Various environmental groups and community members were outspoken against the pipeline for numerous reasons, including potential impacts to the wellbeing of wildlife and residents along the construction path. 

Some people have previously argued the water should instead be sent down the Cache la Poudre River, to help improve the river's flow. However, Thornton said Wednesday night that courts have already ruled that is not a viable option. 

"I wish there was a way that we could keep the water," said Commissioner Shadduck-McNally. "I looked really thoroughly and critically through this application, and I wish we could do more, but this is the system that we have in Colorado... and it's been that way for a long time, and I wish it was different, but it's a system I can't change today."

Thornton also said sending the water down the river would pollute the drinking water's quality, and would later require more advanced water treatment, which is not as energy efficient.

Wednesday night concluded the final of three nights of hearings with the Larimer County Commissioners about Thornton's new project proposal. 

Thornton officials said this newest proposal received approval from Larimer's planning committee last month, prior to going before the commission, something that didn't happen the first time around years ago when the city's original plan was shot down.

Wednesday, commissioners spent two and half hours paying painstaking attention to every detail of the plan, questioning a variety of issues, including air pollution emissions reductions, wetlands impacts, farm and irrigation impacts, and even the hours of construction and the lighting impacts on migratory birds and wildlife. 

The city agreed to create an air quality management plan to reduce emissions during construction, and also agreed to retain an arborist to help mitigate impacts to trees along the pipeline route, among several other concessions added to its proposal on Wednesday prior to approval. 

Thornton officials also assured commissioners they've spent significant time reaching out to community members who would be impacted, and have received helpful community feedback that helped shaped their new plan. 

Regarding impacted farms, Thornton officials said they have 17 property owners with whom they will need to work, and they've been in contact with all of them.


To read the city's proposal and addendums, visit Larimer County's Upcoming Commissioners' Meetings and Broadcasts page

Wednesday night, the city's attorney told commissioners the city went above and beyond this time around to ensure the pipeline planning process was "community driven."

"The city has followed this process very thoroughly and very respectfully, and as a result, there was a better outcome," Thornton's attorney said Thursday night. "We have fewer impacted properties... fewer impacted wetlands."

She also reminded Larimer County Commissioners that even after the pipeline is approved, the county will still have extensive oversight of the project as it's carried out. 

Larimer County Commissioner Kristin Stephens said Thornton's added concessions helped her to feel satisfied with the city's proposal.

Brett Henry, Thornton's city manager, thanked the commissioners for their "clear guidance," adding this time around "the entire atmosphere has been different." 

"We tried to demonstrate how we learned from the last hearing," Henry said. "We tried to be as collaborative as possible... we are excited about what we are doing with this project." 

Meanwhile, Save The Poudre, an environmental group that has staunchly opposed the project from the beginning, issued the following statement Wednesday night: 

"Nearly 100% of public comment from constituents asked the Commissioners to require Thornton to send the water down the Poudre River . We believe that the Commissioners violated their own land use code and we are considering our options."

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