Northern Colorado growth causing tensions, excitement about possibilities

Water, traffic and urban sprawl among the issues

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DENVER -- Colorado is exploding — in both popularity and population. Traffic, water and the tug-of-war between urban sprawl and farmland are some of the major issues in Northern Colorado.

"The challenge today is that water rights are getting very expensive," said Cameron Gloss, planning manager for the City of Fort Collins.

"This is not the way a river in Colorado should look," said Gary Wockner, an environmentalist with a group called Save the Poudre as he pointed out low flow on the Poudre River.

Both Greeley and Fort Collins are projected to double in size over the next 20 to 30 years. Because of that, most experts agree water will be paramount.

"The price of water in Northern Colorado hit an all-time high last year," Wockner said.

Both cities are forward thinking — already securing water rights to serve future growth.

"We're working on our water supplies for 2065," said Harold Evans, chairman of the Water and Sewer Board of Greeley.

Fort Collins even requires developers to purchase raw water before building anything new.

"It's becoming rapidly more expensive," Gloss said.

Just to give you an idea of how expensive: the Colorado-Big Thompson Project pipes water from the Western Slope, under the Continental Divide and back to the Front Range.

It's called C-BT water. Ten years ago, in 2008, a single acre-foot cost $9,350. Today, an acre-foot is worth $31,000. A 232 percent jump in a decade.

There’s certainly a big opportunity for conservation.

"The big kahuna is lawns,” Wockner said.

Wockner suggests Northern Colorado adopt Southern California's model of paying people per square foot to rip out their lawns.

"About half of all the water that's used in the city is used to keep grass green," Wockner said. “There are better ways to do this.”

Farmers are using more innovative conservation methods as well, including drip irrigation systems and low-flow center pivot sprinklers rather than flood irrigation.

"It's not something we're wasting,” said Dale Trowbridge, general manager of the New Cache La Poudre Irrigation system. “It's being put to use."

Traffic is also an issue. There are plans to widen U.S. Highway 34 between Greeley and Loveland to six lanes. There's an effort to do the same on I-25 all the way from Denver to Fort Collins.

“Traffic congestion is up near the top of the list in terms of community challenges," Gloss said.

Greeley and Weld County just built a new four-lane super slab highway called the Weld County Parkway and Corridor 49 from the Greeley airport all the way to I-76 east of DIA.

“It seems there's an opportunity for communities within our region to work more collaboratively," Gloss said.

But while Greeley and Fort Collins seem to be growing responsibly, Wockner questions whether others are doing the same.

Save the Colorado is suing a new reservoir project called Chimney Hollow that would serve more than ten Northern Colorado cities including Loveland, Greeley, Erie and Broomfield.

The suit — which has halted progress on the reservoir temporarily — claims those cities didn't do enough to mitigate environmental impacts.

"They're growing way faster than they should be,” Wockner said. “If they should be at all."

The water rights scramble is also causing tension with farmers.

"You're seeing farms change,” Trowbridge said. “You're seeing communities change. You're seeing a culture shift."

"If we're going to find a positive way to do this, it's got to be more positive ways to work with farmers," Wockner said. “They have an incredibly valuable asset.”

"It's great to be a part of the changes,” Otto said. “I'm really, really excited about that."

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Explosion of growth in Greeley, Fort Collins

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