Yesterday, on behalf of several conservation organizations, we submitted extensive public comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) concerning its Final Environmental Impact Statement (“FEIS”) for the Northern Integrated Supply Project (“NISP”), a major water diversion and supply project undertaken by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (“Northern Water”) in northeastern Colorado. As proposed, NISP will involve the construction and operation of two new reservoirs along the Poudre River, and requires a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). However, our comments explain that the FEIS utterly fails to demonstrate NISP’s compliance with the Section 404 Guidelines that set forth the requirements for permitting discharges of fill material into the waters of the United States. First, the FEIS fails to demonstrate that less environmentally damaging practicable alternatives to NISP do not exist. To the contrary, the Corps impermissibly relied on narrow “screening criteria” to artificially constrain the range of reasonable alternatives and exclude less environmentally damaging practicable alternatives from detailed consideration in violation of its obligations under both the CWA and the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). Second, it is clear that the preferred alternative will permanently destroy or degrade aquatic habitat that is crucial to the survival of the federally-listed threatened and endangered species, and will destabilize the Poudre River’s ecosystem, precipitating an ecological regime shift that will adversely impact hundreds of acres of high-functioning wetland and riparian habitat. The overwhelming evidence regarding these effects alone requires denial of the permit. Moreover, the Corps’ failure to adequately analyze these impacts, meaningfully respond to expert comment, and satisfactorily explain its decision render the FEIS legally inadequate to support the issuance of the permit. The comment letter also addresses the Corps’ failure to comply with its other obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act by narrowly construing its purpose and need statement to constrain its alternatives analysis, failing to include a true “no action” alternative, and considering only action alternatives that are substantially similar. Finally, the comment letter emphasizes the Corps’ obligation to reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in light of the fact that the Corps’ water quality analyses are fundamentally flawed and as such, cannot serve as a basis for an effects determination under the ESA, as well as its obligation to ensure that Northern Water obtains an incidental take permit under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prior to issuing any permit. Our comments can be found here.
Image courtesy of Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper