Water Wars: Thornton’s Struggle and Triumph in Obtaining Pipeline Permits

Jeffrey Kahn By Jeffrey J. Kahn and Michelle R. Soule

On May 8,2024 the City of Thornton finally obtained the last permit necessary to build a pipeline to convey water from the Poudre River to Thornton. Thornton already has installed sections of the pipeline in Weld County but had been denied a permit by Larimer County after the initial permit application was filed in Larimer County in 2018.

After that denial was upheld by an appellate court in 2022, Thornton revised its application and reapplied. The primary issue in the permit application was the location of Thornton’s diversion of water from the Poudre River. Thornton wanted to divert at the historic location upriver of the City of Fort Collins. Fort Collins and many local residents insisted that the diversion be downstream of Fort Collins at the Weld County line. A downstream diversion point would have enhanced river flow through Fort Collins. Thornton resisted the downstream diversion because water quality at the downstream location would be degraded. The county commissioners determined that they could not require the downstream location and granted the permit at the upstream location.  The permit, however, contains many onerous conditions imposed on Thornton.

The black line in the above picture shows the preferred route through Larimer County while the yellow depicts the route from the 2018 application.  The new route is shorter and relocates the pump station.  Provided by City of Thornton.

Thornton originally purchased the water from the Poudre River in the 1980’s and now has the potential to deliver 14,000 acre feet per year to its residents.  It obtained water court approval to use the water in 1996. However, the City delayed its permit application to Larimer County until 2018.

The case illustrates an important principle of building water projects. “It never gets easier.” Thornton would have had a much less challenging permitting process if it had started in the 1990s. However, at that time Thornton had neither the demand nor financial resources to construct the pipeline.  Nonetheless, delay cost the city dearly. Delay almost always works against completing a water project.

At Lyons Gaddis, we understand the complexities and challenges of water and real estate law. Our experienced team is dedicated to guiding you through every step of the process, ensuring you achieve your goals efficiently and effectively. The City of Thornton’s experience demonstrates the importance of timely action in water projects—delays can complicate and prolong the process. Don’t let your water or real estate issues become more difficult than they need to be. Contact Lyons Gaddis today to get expert assistance and avoid unnecessary delays.