Thornton pipeline plan irks Larimer residents

Project could bring farm water to city for future growth

Kevin Smith
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 1/22/18

A Thornton plan designed to provide water to the city for the future via a 70 mile pipeline from north of Fort Collins has run into backlash from the proposed project’s neighbors. The project is in …

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Thornton pipeline plan irks Larimer residents

Project could bring farm water to city for future growth


A Thornton plan designed to provide water to the city for the future via a 70 mile pipeline from north of Fort Collins has run into backlash from the proposed project’s neighbors.

The project is in anticipation of growth in Thornton over the next seven years, according to Mark Koleber, Thornton Water Project director.

“We projected we would eventually need this water,” Koleber said.

With Thornton’s population currently estimated at 136,574, the city expects its current water supply able to serve only 158,000 residents. A new water supply is needed to provide for predicted growth up to 242,0000 residents by 2065, according to the executive summary for a permit request submitted by the city of the Thornton to Larimer County to build the water pipeline.

The city bought shares from Water Supply and Storage Company in the mid-1980s. That included water on farms north of Fort Collins in Larimer County. Thornton now hopes to tap into those water sources as its populations nears the capacity of the current water supply.

Testing options

In the past few years, Thornton city officials have been working on plans to bring that supply south. They’ve detailed 10 scenarios for transporting the water the 70 miles necessary after talking to Larimer County officials, officials in towns that it could pass through and area residents who may be affected.

The section through Larimer County would start eastward on Douglas Road then turn south on County Line Road on the eastern edge adjacent to Weld County.

The total cost is estimated at $435 million, according to Koleber. He said some of that money is in the city coffers collected from water rates and tap fees while some will likely be paid for through bonds that would be paid back by future collection of those rates and fees.

The 48-inch pipeline would go through 26 miles of Larimer County and transport 40 million gallons of water per day.

“It’s an extensive project,” Koleber said.

Public input

City of Thornton officials said they’ve met numerous times with Larimer County and town officials as well as held public meetings.

However, the first part of the formal public-input process begins next month. The water pipeline project is slated for a public hearing at the Larimer County Planning Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21, at the county courthouse office, 200 W. Oak St. in Fort Collins.

If the planning commission approves the project, it would go the the Larimer County Board of Commissioners, which would hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. March 26, before getting the greenlight for construction.

However, some residents have already expressed dismay. A group calling itself No Pipe Dream met Jan. 16, at the Larimer County Courthouse to discuss its concerns. Rick Rickard, a Larimer county homeowner in the path of the proposed pipeline, said he’s worried.

“Everything we worked for, stands to get took,” Rickard said at the Jan. 16 meeting.

No Pipe Dream founding member Lynn Nichols echoed his concerns, saying she’s worried about governments taking property through emminent domain.

“While the construction period concerns residents due to the size and scope of the project, it’s the long-term effects that bother residents the most,” Nichols said.

Todd Barnes, communications director for the city of Thornton, said in an email to the Sentinel that there are no plans to take property.

“The plan currently is to stay entirely in the right of way along the Douglas Road,” he wrote.

He said the city would work with property owners on easement agreements if needed, but eminent domain is not planned nor anticipated by the city of Thornton for this project.

About 275 residents attended the meeting and echoed Nichols’ sentiments. Others were concerned that they learned about the plan only recently.

Barnes and Koleber said they held numerous public meetings to inform area residents and gather feedback as a courtesy, they also noted the public hearings scheduled that are the formal, legal and official means for the public to voice opposition or support to public officials.

“When we did this, the county’s position was: `We would like you to stay out of county right of way,’” Koleber said. “Once we talked to the residents and we let the county know the residents want us to go in the county road right of way, they reconsidered their position.”

Some residents suggested diverting the water into Poudre River to transport it to Thornton, eliminating a need for the pipeline. Koleber said the river passes by wastewater treatment plants and discharge points and passes through industrial areas that may have runoff.

“The water quality when you get down into Windsor is much less than what you have at the top of the river,” Koleber said.

Pipeline path

The city is asking for a 500-foot to 1,300-foot wide corridor for pipeline components.

“Typically, a 50-foot permanent easement for the water pipeline and an additional 40-foot temporary easement for construction will be purchased from property owners except with the TWP will be construction in road right of way,” the executive summary states.

Easements grant access to private land for the purposes of construction and maintenance, but does not take the land use away from the property owner. Barnes said that fences or any other objects that must be removed during the construction phase would be replaced.


If the Larimer County Commission approves the project, there would still be a design process before construction.

Along the Douglas Road portion, the county would like to reconstruct that street to coincide with laying the pipeline, so the city would wait on the county to fund and plan that portion of the project. Koleber said the deadline for the project is 2025, but he hopes it will be finished sooner.


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