Will Front Range growth trump river health? — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 20, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Climate change might not be the end-all, be-all in the state’s water discussion, but Brad Udall knows it needs to at least be a part of it.

“The proper way to deal with climate change is to get out of the scientific battles and deal with it as a risk,” said Udall, who is the director and principal investigator of the University of Colorado-National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Western Water Assessment.

While Colorado isn’t dealing with what Udall says is the biggest climate change impact, sea level rise, it is dealing with impacts of the overall water cycle. The West faces an unprecedented 14-year drought, resulting in low water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, supply-demand gaps, power losses and threats to conservation.

As the atmosphere warms, it also holds more moisture, resulting in water cycle changes. Udall said the effects are already appearing as more rain and less snow, earlier runoff, higher water temperatures and more intense rain.

The higher water temperatures are something that water conservation folks throughout the Western Slope are concerned about. At a recent Colorado Basin Roundtable meeting, Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, introduced to the group a recent assessment of the Upper Colorado River. The study shows that elevated water temperatures are occurring in the Upper Colorado that are above the known thermal tolerance of trout.

Loff said more transmountain diversions out of the basin to the Front Range would only further affect aquatic life, which goes beyond just fish and bugs.

“It impacts everything that uses the riparian area, which is every creature,” Loff said. “Temperature, that is huge. When you take the water out [of the streams for diversions], the water that’s left heats up more. Water temperatures rise, and it completely changes the fish that want to be in that water. Our fishermen are going to see that.”

Loff said she isn’t so quick to join in on the finger-pointing to the Front Range. The Front Range has cut back on wasteful bluegrass lawns, for example, and is doing a great job in terms of per-capita water use.

“They’re actually doing much better than we are” in per-capita water use, she said. “We are all going to have to make some changes.”[...]

[Martha Cochran] points out that agriculture efficiencies could help improve water supplies, but the use-it or lose-it concept hampers progress.

Use-it or lose-it means that a water user who fails to divert the maximum amount of water that their right allows loses some of their rights the next time they go to court to transfer those rights.

“Sprinkling systems for agriculture are more efficient and use less water, they’re easier to control, you can direct them better, they’re more specific about how and when,” Cochran said. “And that’s a good thing, but it’s not [a good thing] if it means you lose your water rights because you’re not using all the water you traditionally used.”[...]

As the state crafts the Colorado Water Plan, one development holds out hope that East and West Slope entities can work together. Just last year, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was signed between Denver Water and Western Slope water providers and municipalities. The agreement is a long-term partnership that aims to achieve better environmental health in the Colorado River Basin, as well as high-quality recreational use.

The agreement, which included 43 parties from Grand Junction to Denver, states that future water projects on the Colorado River will be accomplished through cooperation, not confrontation. It’s debatable whether that will happen, given the finger-pointing cropping up during the draft stages of the Colorado Water Plan process.

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and head of the development of the Colorado Water Plan, believes it can happen, but he admits it won’t be easy.

“The idea is to take that paradigm shift that occurred with the Cooperative Agreement and exploit that and replicate and scale that up to the entire state,” he said. “Doing that is going to require some work.”

But positions like Loff’s that are 100 percent against more transmountain diversion projects are widespread on this side of the Continental Divide, and it’s going to take more than some conversations and a few handshakes to find some middle ground.

“The biggest thing for us, and the entire basin, is that we want to make it perfectly clear that having another transmountain diversion over to the Front Range is really going to damage our recreation-based economy,” she said. “And that it’s going to have more impacts on the environment and on agriculture. They need to understand that we’re not saying we don’t want to share the water, it’s just that there isn’t any more water to share. We have obligations through the compact [to downstream states with legal rights], so more water leaving our basin — that water doesn’t ever come back.”[...]

So that will be part of the process in the coming months as each of the nine basins drafting implementation plans polish up their drafts before sending them off to the state. Two of the Front Range basins, Metro and South Platte, are combining theirs into one document, for a total of eight plans being rolled into the Colorado Water Plan.

It’s like a community development plan that lays out a vision and direction, but it will require execution, said Jim Pokrandt, communications and education director for the Colorado River District.

“Hopefully it will address how we can get down the path of efficiency and the land use discussion,” he said. “It’s a very painful discussion, but not as painful as the need to start digging a new transmountain diversion tomorrow.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The latest newsletter from the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 2, 2014

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

“CONCEPTUAL AGREEMENT” ON FUTURE TRANSMOUNTAIN DIVERSIONS RELEASED
Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee has released a draft conceptual agreement on how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement, which is being circulated for comment, is that the East Slope recognizes that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with back-up non-West Slope sources of water.

The document is available here, and includes an annotated bibliography that summarizes many of the studies, pilot projects and white papers that have been developed over years of debate over how to meet Colorado’s future water needs. Feedback can be submitted via the Colorado’s Water Plan website, which contains draft chapters and information on the individual basin plans that were due at the end of July. The CO legislature’s Water Resources Review Committee is also holding hearings on the plan around the state. See the schedule here.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

July 16, 2014


From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

March 26, 2014
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Colorado Basin Roundtable advises the Front Range to look elsewhere for new supplies #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

December 9, 2013
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado can’t have less water running west down the Colorado River, a coalition of water agencies and organizations said in a missive that urged state officials contemplating a state water plan to look elsewhere.

“The West Slope of Colorado, indeed no part of Colorado, can be sacrificed for Front Range growth,” the Colorado River Basin Roundtable said.

It would be “unrealistic to look for significant new supplies of water for the East Slope from the Colorado River as a primary source,” the roundtable said, noting that any new depletions of water from the Colorado River boost the risk that downstream states will demand water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The roundtable’s position paper was presented to the Interbasin Compact Committee last week in Golden. The committee will play a role in the drafting of a state water plan. There, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Colorado River Basin position was largely understood.

Most of the state’s transmountain diversions siphon water away from the Colorado and into Front Range waterworks.

“Somebody has already given at the office,” Kuhn said. “They’ve given and given.”

Kuhn is a governor’s appointee to the Interbasin Compact Committee.

Gov. John Hickenlooper charged the Colorado River Water Conservation Board with delivering a draft plan by December 2014 and a final plan by December 2015. One element of the plan is finding a new supply of water and the roundtable said the term “new supply” amounts to a euphemism for another transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system. Any new transmountain diversion must be a last option “after all means of significant conservation, reuse, land use and agricultural transfers based on substantial improvements in efficient water use are exhausted,” the roundtable said.

Several Colorado River water agencies and Denver Water have signed onto a cooperative agreement that includes additional development of Colorado River water for the Front Range.

Those projects should be completed before any new diversions are contemplated, Kuhn said.

The Colorado River basin already supplies between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water to the East Slope for growing cities, farms and industries. Under the compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin is required to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin. That amount is figured on a 10-year rolling average.

State officials, including Colorado Water Conservation Board director James Eklund, have urged statewide participation in drafting the plan. A plan emanating from Denver would be “anathema” to the rest of the state, Eklund said at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Conference at Colorado Mesa University last month.

Whatever comes out of the state plan, it should “protect and not threaten the economic, environmental and social well-being of the West Slope,” the roundtable said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


‘Denver-West Slope water agreement finally final’ — Glenwood Springs Post Independent #ColoradoRiver

December 4, 2013
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Denver can take a little more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to increase the reliability of its system, but won’t develop any new transmountain diversions without West Slope agreement and will help repair damage from past diversions.

Those are some of the key provisions in the Colorado Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and 42 West Slope water providers and local governments from the Grand Valley to Grand County.

The Colorado Cooperative Agreement covers a whole suite of issues related to Denver’s diversion of water from the Fraser and Blue River drainages, tributaries to the Colorado River. In October, with little fanfare, this historic agreement received its final signatures and was fully executed. It took five years of mediation and nearly two years of ironing out the details with state and federal agencies, against a backdrop of decades of litigation, to get to this point.

According to material from the Colorado River District’s latest quarterly meeting, the agreement, “is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.” This project is expected to divert, on average, approximately 18,000 acre feet/year of water beyond the average of 58,000 acre feet/year it already diverts, which amounts to about 60% of the natural flow in the Fraser River at Winter Park.

Under the agreement, the West Slope parties agreed not to oppose the increased Moffat Collection System diversions, and Denver Water agreed not to expand its service area and not to develop new water projects on the West Slope without the agreement of the resident counties and the Colorado River District. The agreement also includes dozens of other provisions designed to limit water demands in Denver and address water quality and flow conditions in the Colorado River and its tributaries. Here’s a sampling:

Denver will contribute both water releases and several million dollars for a “learning by doing” project to improve aquatic habitat in Grand County. The project will be managed by representatives from Denver Water, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and other water users.

Denver will not exercise its rights to reduce bypass flows from Dillon Reservoir and its collection system in Grand County during droughts unless it has banned residential lawn watering in its service area.

Diversions and reservoirs operated by both Denver Water and West Slope parties will be operated as if the Shoshone hydroelectric power plant in Glenwood Canyon were calling for its (very senior) water right, even at times when the plant is down. This is important for recreational and environmental flows in the river, as well as for junior water users downstream from plant.

Denver Water will pay $1.5 million for water supply, water quality or water infrastructure projects benefiting the Grand Valley, and $500,000 to offset additional costs for water treatment in Garfield County when the Shoshone call is relaxed due to drought conditions.

A similar agreement is under development between West Slope entities and Northern Water, which currently diverts about 220,000 acre feet/year of water from the Upper Colorado River to the Front Range through the Colorado Big Thompson Project. Like the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement trades West Slope non-opposition to increased transmountain diversions for mitigations to address the impacts of both past and future stream depletions.

Both the Colorado Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement have been hailed as models of cooperation. Meanwhile, East Slope – West Slope tensions continue to mount over how the Colorado Water Plan, currently under development, should address the possibility of additional diversions of water from the West Slope to meet growing urban demands on the Front Range. These agreements demonstrate that such tensions can be overcome, but also that it could take more time than allowed by the 2015 deadline Gov. Hickenlooper has set for completion of the Colorado Water Plan.

Full details on the Colorado Cooperative Agreement can be found on the River District’s website, under “features” at http://www.crwcd.org/. More information on the Colorado Water Plan can be found at http://coloradowaterplan.com/.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Windy Gap Firming Project update: Analysis paralysis #ColoradoRiver

September 6, 2013

chimneyhollowsitedpviareclamation.jpg

From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Joshua Zaffos):

Begun in 2003 and scheduled to be up and running by 2011, the project, known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, like many others across the state, still is mired in regulatory delays. Whether or when Windy Gap will be built is still unclear 10 years after the first regulatory review took place.

Three other major water projects face similar delays and uncertainty…

Northern is working with 13 Northern Colorado water providers to develop the latest phase of Windy Gap, which is designed to serve 60,000 households.

Northern Water initially submitted the project for environmental he project for environmental review to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2003. Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a project’s environmental impacts are reviewed during several stages of technical analysis and public comment. A 2005 Northern Water fact sheet projected a final “record of decision” could come by the end of that year, meaning construction could start soon after and the reservoir would be ready by 2011.

That forecast was wildly optimistic. The bureau didn’t issue a final environmental impact statement, a key step in NEPA, until late 2011. Reviews by federal and state scientists, environmental groups and western Colorado interests each triggered calls for mitigation and changes that added months and then years of delay…

Project partners have spent $12 million to date just on permitting, agreed to pay millions more than expected for environmental mitigation and watched the cost estimate jump nearly 28 percent, from $223 million to $285 million. That’s roughly $1,033 per household.

Similar delays and cost overruns have plagued nearly every other major Colorado water-development project that has sought regulatory approval since the 1990 defeat of Two Forks Dam. Proposed by Denver Water, the $1 billion Two Forks project passed through NEPA with government approval before the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the decision because of study inadequacies and unresolved water-quality impacts.

After more than a decade of drought and a new wave of growth, water utility planners believe the project review system is broken and must be fixed. Legal experts and environmental watchdogs say the projects themselves are outdated in concept and that utilities need to rethink how they obtain, store and deliver water…

Drager has had to ask Windy Gap Firming Project partners for an extra $1 million four separate times in the past five years to pay for unexpected mitigation. Consideration of the upper Colorado River as a federally designated wild and scenic river triggered additional analysis. State fish and wildlife managers required further mitigation plans, including a study for a fish bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir. Northern Water also had to agree to enhance river habitat and operate water diversions to support endangered fish in the Colorado River. The EPA filed comments that led to further changes. When an end seemed near in June 2012, Grand County exercised its “1041 powers,” requiring a new permit and an agreement from partners to improve clarity for Grand Lake, which has deteriorated in part because of Northern’s water diversions. Now mostly settled, the Grand Lake revision marked the fifth major project stoppage.

“It’s not just NEPA,” Drager said. “There are a whole bunch of federal requirements – the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act – and then you’ve got a group of state laws which don’t always work well with the federal laws. So, it’s very hard to know when is the last step. When are you done?”

Communities and water districts that are footing the bill have weathered the delays and tacked-on costs so far. The Little Thompson Water District in Berthoud has avoided charging existing customers extra, said district manager Jim Hibbard, because one developer is shouldering the district’s share of the costs and adding those dollars to the cost of new homes he is building. “Probably the most significant impact is the costs of the project keep going up,” Hibbard said.

The city and county of Broomfield, another project partner, has used money from water tap fees for its share of the project and paid the additional costs with reserve funds stashed away for such purposes, said public works director David Allen. But even with the added mitigation and expenses, both managers say the project remains an inexpensive and preferred alternative to purchasing shares in existing water projects, such as the Colorado-Big Thompson system or buying out farmers’ water rights and drying up local agriculture…

Since Two Forks, federal agencies involved with NEPA reviews are “gun shy,” said Dave Little, planning director for Denver Water, which also has spent more than 10 years seeking approval for its own major water project, the Moffat Collection System…

Cost overruns may look excessive, but initial estimates often come in low to ease early acceptance of a project, [Western Resource Advocates Drew Beckwith] said, adding that some delays are squarely on the shoulders of project managers who haven’t adequately analyzed certain impacts or mitigation actions. “I don’t think anyone is really happy with the way the process works right now,” Beckwith said. “Utilities think it takes too long. Conservationists would say there’s not enough good input.”

He said he would like to see a more open-ended, upfront approach to water-supply challenges instead of a water agency selecting a preferred solution and then following a “decide and defend” strategy.

The changing pressures from environmental organizations also have factored into delays. The proposed $140 million Chatfield Reservoir Reallocation southwest of Denver, another storage expansion project under consideration, has received support from several conservation groups, including Western Resource Advocates, because it avoids building an entirely new reservoir, but the Audubon Society of Greater Denver opposes the development because it would flood wetlands and other bird habitat…

The plodding pace of regulatory review may remain an annoying reality – unless a water utility can devise ways to provide water without massive new storage or delivery pipelines.

Aurora did just that. A decade ago, facing water shortages and drought, Aurora Water planners recognized the need for swift action to protect system reliability and service for existing customers. The utility decided to build its Prairie Waters Project, an $854 million pipeline and treatment facility that would allow the city to reuse 50,000 acre-feet of water annually and meet its water demands through 2030. Since the project didn’t include new storage, managers avoided prolonged federal review, said Darrell Hogan, the project manager, and Aurora Water further expedited its work by tunneling under waterways. To have disturbed the waterways otherwise would have required Clean Water Act 404 permits. Hogan said the project didn’t evade environmental protections; planners still consulted with government scientists and conservationists, and had to acquire more than 400 permits for local construction and operations. However, working around the federal system facilitated progress. Prairie Waters went from concept to completion in less than six years, delivering water in October 2010 on time and under budget.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


‘The unpredictable nature of snowpack and rainfall…underscores the need for more water storage’ — Cory Gardner

April 4, 2013

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From the Denver iJournal (J.D. Thomas):

With Colorado cities facing austere watering restrictions and farmers unable to plant crops this year, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, believes the wait for a decision on the Northern Integrated Supply Project has gone on too long.

“The unpredictable nature of snowpack and rainfall in Colorado underscores the need for more water storage in good years, so we are better prepared for the bad ones,” said Garner who is hoping to hurry along a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision regarding the project. “NISP would provide the water storage we need to support northern Colorado’s growing communities and provide protection to farmers and families when the weather turns dry.”

An Environmental Impact Study process conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the project has already taken nine years and cost the participants about $11 million. The congressman is currently drafting water-storage legislation to streamline the approval process for projects like NISP, according to a statement from his office.

“This will ensure that these projects don’t drag on for decades and waste millions of dollars,” said Rachael Boxer-George, Gardner’s spokeswoman. “We are going to set a deadline on when the initial application needs to be approved or denied. The length of the EIS process is being discussed as we draft this bill, but so far we’re focusing on just the permits.”

Ten-year waits on an EIS are certainly not unprecedented, for instance the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District has gone through a similar wait on the Windy Gap firming project. But as growing municipalities on the Front Range seek new quality water sources, the undammed Cache-La Poudre is a natural place to look, and participants in NISP includes not only Weld and Larimer county water districts and municipalities, but also Erie, Lafayette and the Left Hand water district in Boulder County.

Though the two project elements will not actually dam the Poudre, the project has also attracted substantial opposition, including Western Resource Advocates of Boulder. That organization has suggested a program of water conservation, reuse of municipal water and transfer and coordinated use of agricultural water could provide the same amount of water while maintaining the riparian ecosystem of the Poudre.

“I certainly hope the congressman doesn’t believe that he can cut out public input on this process,” said Laura Belanger, the water resources engineer with the Boulder environmental organization.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here. More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here.


Drought news: New storage or conservation to weather future droughts? #codrought

March 29, 2013

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From 9News.com (Dave Delozier):

Almost a decade ago, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District formulated a plan to deal with the growing demand for water. They came up with two projects: The Windy Gap Firming Project and the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

The Windy Gap Firming Project calls for the creation of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a 90,000 acre-feet facility that would be built near Carter Lake. It would supply water to two water districts, 10 cities and the Platte River Power Authority.

The Northern Integrated Supply Project calls for the creation of two reservoirs: Glade Reservoir and Galeton Reservoir. Glade would be the biggest in the project with a capacity of 170,000 acre feet of water. That would make it a larger water storage facility than Horsetooth Reservoir. It would stretch for five miles and be located northwest of Fort Collins.

Galeton Reservoir would be built northeast of Greeley and have a storage capacity of 45,000 acre-feet of water. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would serve 15 municipal water providers and two agriculture irrigation companies…

“We need more storage to meet that gap between supply and demand,” [Dana Strongin, a spokesperson for Northern Water] said…

“They’re just trying to get the last legally allowed drops of water off the river and we’re saying no. Let’s stop doing that old idea and let’s move forward with a new paradigm in water management where we conserve, we recycle and we start sharing water with farmers. That is going to be the future,” Gary Wockner, director of the Save the Poudre organization, said.

Wockner fears that building the Glade Reservoir will destroy the Cache La Poudre River by lowering water levels in it. He says that will do damage to the economy in northern Colorado by taking away from fishing, rafting and tourism.

“Because here is the bottom-line, if they get the last legal drops of water off the river then in 10 years or 20 years they’re going to have to start sharing and conserving and recycling eventually. We’re saying let’s do it now and protect this river so there’s at least a small amount of water,” Wockner said.

Say hello to Western Resource Advocates Drought portal. From the website:

In 2012, Colorado experienced its worst drought in 10 years and what Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken has called one of the all-time worst droughts in state history. It appears that 2013 will bring a second consecutive drought season which will include many more watering restrictions than Coloradans saw in 2012.

Drought is a fact of life in the arid West, but experts agree that climate change will lead to an increase in drought frequency and severity.

As the population in the West continues to grow, there will be a greater demand for water for all sorts of uses…and drought will have a greater impact.

Click here to download their drought fact sheet.


Grand County Approves Windy Gap Firming Project Permit, Agreements #CORiver

December 11, 2012

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From Westword (Alan Prendergast):

Last week, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance, plus county and water conservancy district officials, announced an agreement that commits cash and conservation measures to the project. The permit approved by the Grand County commissioners includes a host of conditions that should help improve river health (and water quality in Grand Lake), including a $2 million bypass channel to reconnect the river and periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river and remove sediment.

“For years, those of us living in Grand County have seen the once-mighty Colorado in a state of serious decline,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter, in a prepared statement. “This agreement will provide protections and new investments in river health that can put the Colorado River on the road to recovery.”

While the deal doesn’t give the activists everything they wanted, it does avoid the worst-case scenario some had feared. The headwaters defenders can now turn their energy to another looming threat: Denver Water’s plans to expand its Moffat Tunnel diversion system, sucking the life out of the much-besieged Frasier River, as well as the Colorado.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


Grand County Approves Windy Gap Firming Project Permit, Agreements

December 4, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners, after extensive public hearings, testimony and deliberation, have approved a permit and related agreements for the Windy Gap Firming Project. Today’s approval marks a major step forward in the permitting process for the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict’s proposal to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake near Loveland.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir will provide dedicated storage to improve the reliability of the Windy Gap Project, which diverts Colorado River water from Windy Gap Reservoir and moves it through Colorado- Big Thompson Project facilities for delivery to Northeastern Colorado. The Municipal Subdistrict is coordinating the firming project’s permitting on behalf of 13 municipal entities.

By granting the permit, the Board of Commissioners established mitigation measures to offset impacts of the Windy Gap Firming Project in Grand County. Commissioners also secured environmental benefits to address current river conditions, and they provided a process that keeps the Municipal Subdistrict committed to working to improve and stabilize the Colorado River. The Municipal Subdistrict’s Board of Directors is expected to formally accept the permit on Thursday.

“Grand County has secured protections for water quantity and quality in the Colorado River that never would have happened without the project and this permit,” said Grand County Commission Chair Nancy Stuart.

The permit requires implementation of several other agreements that address additional Grand County and West Slope concerns, including the clarity in Grand Lake. The permit secures Northern Water’s support for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to address the lake’s clarity, an important issue for residents and visitors alike.

Grand County also gains access to up to 4,500 acre feet of Windy Gap water stored in Lake Granby for release to benefit aquatic life in the Colorado River, based on an agreement between Grand County, the Municipal Subdistrict, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. This is in addition to more than 5,400 acre feet of water that will be released each year to help endangered fish while also increasing flows in the Colorado River between Grand County and Grand Junction.

The permit advances another agreement, drafted in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance of landowners, which addresses the potential construction of a bypass through or around Windy Gap Reservoir in order to improve river habitats. The Municipal Subdistrict committed $2 million toward construction as well as ongoing maintenance of facilities for a bypass that will be built if studies show it would benefit habitat conditions in the Colorado River.

“The permit and bypass agreement are the product of good faith negotiation and compromise,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “The subdistrict and project participants are to be commended for their efforts to address our concerns and do the right thing for the river.”

When he voted to approve the county permit conditions, Grand County Commissioner James Newberry said, “It is one thing to know the right thing to do, but it is entirely another to have the guts and conviction to make it happen. We just did that for the future of Grand County.”

Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s project manager, said, ”The permit conditions, along with the benefits they will provide to the Colorado River, demonstrate a great deal of dedication and commitment from the 13 firming project participants to address Grand County’s concerns.”

The participants – 10 cities, two rural water districts and a power provider – are relying upon the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help meet their growing needs. The municipal water providers are expected to serve about 825,000 residents by 2050. The firming project will increase their supplies and add flexibility to their operations.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue a final decision on the firming project in 2013.

Here’s a release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

TU supports Windy Gap project in light of new river protections: Says new permit conditions put threatened river and fishery on road to recovery

Trout Unlimited today praised a multiparty agreement reached with the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Municipal Subdistrict) that provides significant protections for the Upper Colorado River to offset impacts from the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP). The package of protections—negotiated among the Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County staff, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance (UCRA)—was approved today by the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) as part of a permit issued for the Windy Gap firming project.

“These permit conditions provide critical measures for protecting the health of the Upper Colorado River and its world-class trout fishery,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “TU has not been able to support this project in the past. But the subdistrict and the project participants have gone the extra mile to try to address our concerns and do what’s right for the river.”

Already, water diversions remove about 60 percent of the native flows of the Colorado headwaters. The proposed Windy Gap expansion would further reduce native flows. Without additional protections, said TU, the water-deprived river would be on life support.

“For years, those of us living in Grand County have seen the once-mighty Colorado in a state of serious decline,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter. “This agreement will provide protections and new investments in river health that can put the Colorado River on the road to recovery.”

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist’s study last year pointed to Windy Gap Reservoir as a primary cause for steep declines in aquatic life and habitat in the Colorado River.

The study flagged the need for periodic flushing flows to help scour the river bottom and prevent the buildup of choking algae and sediment, along with a “bypass” channel around or through Windy Gap that would reconnect the river, improve water quality, and boost river health. Trout also depend on cold water, and excessively warm stream temperatures have been a problem, with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission listing the Colorado River as being impaired due to high water temperatures. The conditions included in the permit approved by the BoCC today include restrictions on water diversions and other requirements that address each of these needs by:

  • preventing stream temperature impacts during low flows in the summer.
    providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff.
    requiring the construction of a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass to reconnect the river, in accordance with the bypass study and funding agreement.
  • The bypass agreement is one of the most important components of the WGFP approval package, said TU leaders, who called the bypass “critical” in addressing the root causes of habitat problems in the Upper Colorado. A bypass study, paid for by the subdistrict, is expected to be completed by October 2013. If river benefits are shown, WGFP participants committed up to $2 million to construct the bypass. An additional $2 million would be available from the Colorado Water Conservation Board if approved by the Colorado Legislature during its upcoming session.

    In addition, the permit includes measures to address impacts to water quality and clarity in Grand Lake and to riparian vegetation and wetlands, as well as monitoring requirements.

    The overall package also includes an agreement with Grand County to enable pumping and storage of water to deal with summer low flow problems and the subdistrict’s commitment—approved by the state Wildlife Commission last year—to contribute $4 million and in-kind services for stream improvement projects in the Colorado River downstream of Windy Gap Reservoir.

    “This is not a perfect deal,” said Whiting. “This is the product of compromise. But looking at the entire package, we firmly believe it offers the best chance for the upper Colorado River’s recovery. It also offers an opportunity for a new way of doing business—where stakeholders work side by side with water providers in an effort to protect our valuable streams. TU is proud to be a part of this effort to find balanced, pragmatic solutions.”

    TU noted that the agreement is the product of years of hard work, negotiations and collaboration. “We thank Grand County for its leadership role and tireless efforts to improve the conditions of the Colorado River,” said Klancke. “The efforts of our landowner partners, UCRA, were instrumental. And, of course, we commend the subdistrict and its participant water providers for their willingness to listen to our concerns and work together to find solutions.”

    Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project, said the agreement had larger lessons for Colorado water planning.

    “In our Filling the Gap report, we said that WGFP, if done right, had the potential to be part of a smart supply portfolio for Colorado’s Front Range, along with stronger conservation and reuse programs and better ag-urban water sharing strategies,” said Peternell. “We’re pleased that Northern’s subdistrict has stepped up to address WGFP’s impacts on the Colorado headwaters so that it can achieve that potential as a smart supply project. Through a balanced portfolio including smart supply projects like WGFP, Colorado can meet diverse water needs, from municipal needs to recreation, while keeping our rivers healthy.”

    Peternell added, “The job of protecting the Upper Colorado isn’t finished. Denver Water needs to step up to provide additional protections for the Fraser River in its Moffat expansion project, which if done right, also has the potential to be a ‘smart’ project. We’re not there yet, but this agreement provides a roadmap of how we can get there.”

    More coverage from Scott Willoughby writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

    After years of negotiation, a multiparty agreement was approved Tuesday by the Grand County board of commissioners. The agreement is expected to provide significant protections for the threatened river by offsetting impacts from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP). The agreement negotiated in part by Trout Unlimited, the Upper Colorado River Alliance and Grand County staff is part of a permit issued in order for the WGFP to move forward…

    For the moment, though, impacts to fish and wildlife dependent upon the state’s namesake river appear reduced to some degree because of the conditions included in the permit approved by Grand County Commissioners. Highlighting the requirements for water diversion:

    • Prevent stream temperature impacts by restricting the ability to divert water during low flows in the summer.
    • Provide periodic “flushing flows” every third and fifth year to cleanse the river bottom during runoff.
    • Require the construction of a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass to connect the river, in accordance with a bypass study and funding agreement.

    The bypass requirement is considered the linchpin of the agreement after a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist’s study last year pointed to Windy Gap Reservoir as a primary cause for steep declines in aquatic life and habitat in the Colorado River. The study flagged the need for periodic flushing flows to help scour the river bottom and prevent the buildup of choking algae and sediment, along with a bypass channel around or through Windy Gap that would reconnect the river, improve water quality and boost river health.

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

    In a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Gary Bumgarner dissenting, commissioners granted the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict a boost in their plans to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake near Loveland.

    During the board’s initial approval on Nov. 20, Commissioner James Newberry called the arrival to a consensus among various parties “a historic moment.” The words echoed from the signing of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement earlier this year, which also drew the interest various West Slope stakeholders…

    The permit’s package includes critical measures that may resuscitate the Upper Colorado River, listed by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission as being impaired due to high water temperatures.

    A commitment from the subdistrict, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and the Upper Colorado River Alliance spells out how a possible river bypass at Windy Gap may be paid for.

    And in spite of Northern’s earlier contention that the Windy Gap 2012 permit — allowing for a greater supply of water to municipalities on the Front Range — should not be weighted down by past ruins of the federal Colorado-Big Thompson Project, an agreement tied to the permit secures the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s support for addressing Grand Lake’s clarity along with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The municipal subdistrict is expected to formally accept the permit conditions on Thursday.

    But Commissioner Bumgarner, a Middle Park rancher, is still not convinced the collaboration that resulted in these agreements is enough to save the river and repair the “cloud” that plagues Colorado’s largest natural lake.

    “The river is in decline now. I’m not sure how taking more water out of it is going to make it better,” he said after Tuesday’s vote. Of the conditions and agreements tied to the permit, “there’s no guarantee that’s happening,” he said, saying he fears the firming project may just be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

    The permit package has the support from Colorado’s Trout Unlimited, as well as expected endorsements from the Upper Colorado River Alliance, The Middle Park Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, among key players…

    In the permit package, Grand County gains up to 4,500 acre feet of Windy Gap water stored in Lake Granby for release to benefit aquatic life in the Colorado River, based on an agreement between Grand County, the subdistrict, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. This is in addition to more than 5,400 acre-feet of water to be released each year to help endangered fish while also increasing flows in the Colorado River between Grand County and Grand Junction.

    On the Windy Gap bypass through or around Windy Gap in order to improve river habitats, the Municipal Subdistrict is committing $2 million for it to be built. An additional $2 million would be available from the Colorado Water Conservation Board if approved by the Colorado Legislature during its upcoming session. Grand County and an alliance of landowners and Trout Unlimited also are committed to helping finance the bypass.

    The construction of the bypass would be based on findings from a $250,000 study the subdistrict is currently funding, a report expected to be out by October 2013…

    The subdistrict’s participants of 10 cities, two rural water districts and a power provider, are relying on the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help meet their growing water needs. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue a final decision on the firming project in 2013.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Reclamation releases Supplemental Information Report to Windy Gap Firming EIS

    November 15, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of a Supplemental Information

    Report and related errata to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which analyzed impacts of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project. Both the SIR and the errata are available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao.

    “A SIR analyzes new information received after the completion of the Final EIS to determine if there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns on the proposed action or its impacts,” said Michael J. Ryan, Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region.

    An errata is a list of corrections to a publication.

    After publication of the Final EIS in December 2011, Reclamation received new information regarding the Multiple Metric Index methodology for aquatic invertebrates in the Colorado River. Invertebrate values were updated and rerun based on this new information.

    The findings in the SIR explain that the revised aquatic invertebrate values did not change the conclusions in the Final EIS.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Grand County and Northern Water are in negotiations for a 1041 permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project #CORiver

    November 4, 2012

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    Here’s an analysis of last week’s meeting from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Working through a list of 32 conditions for the permit, representatives from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District sat before commissioners in the boardroom of the Grand County Administration Building on Tuesday, along with Grand County’s water counsel, and hashed out wording of each of the conditions in search of agreements among stakeholders…

    Aside from disagreements about three different monitoring plans mentioned in conditions of the permit, at least one other condition remains a sticking point — a condition involving the clarity of Grand Lake. The county has proposed a condition stating the permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project will not go into effect until a federal plan, on course to include a National Environmental Policy Act process, is in place — charting the way toward a solution of the Grand Lake clarity problem. Grand County Commissioner Gary Bumgarner put pressure on Northern representatives during Tuesday’s hearing about needed “assurances” that a solution will be realized for Colorado’s largest natural water body. Bumgarner advocated for language “that holds feet to the fire.”

    But Northern representatives objected to the project’s 1041 permit being conditional upon a long federal process concerning Grand Lake’s clarity problem. Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said it was a matter of “authority and responsibility.” The municipal subdistrict seeking to firm up rights to Windy Gap water “doesn’t have the authority to control the other entities involved in the clarity issue,” he said. “It puts them in a position of being responsible without the authority to do something.”[...]

    Concerning another condition on the Windy Gap bypass, the county proposes the “bypass/bythrough study shall commence on or before issuance of this 2012 permit” and if the study deems it, construction of the bypass “shall proceed” with cooperation on financing it among the parties. A 2011 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report by Barry Nehring concluded that the Colorado River below Windy Gap has suffered due to the reservoir, and that creating a bypass would be a solution…

    no party knows yet how much a bypass around the reservoir might cost or where the money would come from. The Subdistrict has agreed to provide $250,000 toward research of a bypass, which is expected to reduce high temperature events caused by the dam, reduce sedimentation deposition, restore river connectivity, and reduce the impacts of whirling disease. About $3 million in funds — $2 million by Northern and possibly $1 million by Denver Water if negotiations are successful — would be available to construct the bypass and the construction would take place immediately after the study finds that the bypass would be beneficial to the river. There is the possibility another $2 million could be found from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

    October 10, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.


    Grand County Commissioners continue Windy Gap Firming Project hearing to October 30

    October 4, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    Grand County commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 2, continued the hearing for the Windy Gap Firming Project permit to Oct. 30. The decision to continue the hearing was made during the Board of Commissioners regular weekly meeting.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District 75th Anniversary bash September 20

    September 17, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the 75th Anniversary webpage from Northern Water:

    The public is invited to come celebrate Northern Water’s 75th anniversary at its Berthoud headquarters on Sept. 20.

    The celebration kicks off at 1 p.m. with an open house and tours of Northern Water’s award-winning Conservation Gardens and an interpretive model of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project – the reason for Northern Water’s creation on Sept. 20, 1937.

    The Sept. 20 celebratory remarks will begin at 2 p.m. Speakers include former Congressman Hank Brown, historian Dan Tyler and Mike Ryan, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    After the program, Conservation Gardens tours will continue, along with the opportunity to walk through the Berthoud campus, 200 Water Ave., and learn more about Northern Water’s operations and activities from employees firsthand. Refreshments will be provided.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Grand Lake: Reclamation lays out alternatives to help restore the lake’s historical clarity

    September 2, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

    Some of the alternatives for improving the clarity of Grand Lake that are discussed in the report include: Stopping pumping at the Farr Pumping Plant in July, August, and September; modify pumping at the plant during these three months; bypass Grand Lake with a buried pipeline and pump flows directly to Adams Tunnel; or bypass both Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir with a buried pipeline and pump flows directly to Adams Tunnel…

    Two standards for the clarity of Grand Lake were adopted by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in 2008.

    The first standard is a narrative clarity standard requiring “the highest level of clarity attainable, consistent with the exercise of established water rights and the protection of aquatic life,” according to the report.

    The second standard is a numerical clarity standard of a 4 meter Secchi disk depth that will be assessed by comparing 85 percent of available recordings from the months of July, August, and September. That means at least 85 percent of the measurements taken during those three months must meet the 4 meter Secchi disk depth standard, while 15 percent can be below the minimum requirement.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: Larimer County offerred tours of the site for the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir this summer

    August 31, 2012

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    Here’s a report from the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Dickman). Click through for the photo slide show. Here’s an excerpt:

    Four times this summer, the county and Northern Water have opened the land — 1,847 acres purchased in 2004 by Larimer County with open space sales tax and a Great Outdoors Colorado grant and by Northern Water — to residents through a tour.

    The trek winds past two old homesteads, through meadows and into mountainous areas, through protected ground and sunny slopes. The scenery ranges from cottonwoods to pines with grasses and wildflowers filling the gap. A lone deer, wild turkeys and a rattlesnake made appearances during a recent tour, but signs of larger creatures abound — scat, areas where bear have snuggled down under a tree and the bones of large prey.

    Much of the beauty will be covered with water, but the western edge will be open to recreation and improved for the wildlife that call the habitat home.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Governor Hickenlooper requests speedier reviews for Moffat Collection System and NISP

    August 15, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A letter to Obama seeks help spurring decisions on Denver Water’s diversion of 18,000 acre-feet of Colorado River Basin water from the west side of the Continental Divide to an expanded Gross Reservoir west of Boulder. A separate letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asks that the Northern Integrated Supply Project — which would siphon the Cache la Poudre River into new reservoirs storing 215,000 acre-feet of water — be given a high priority.

    Colorado faces “a significant gap in our supplies to provide water for future growth — a gap that cannot be met by conservation and efficiencies alone,” Hickenlooper began in a June 5 letter sent to the White House and copied to cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs. “We urge you to exercise your authority to coordinate your agencies and bring an expeditious conclusion to the federal permitting processes for this essential project, in order that we can have certainty moving forward as a state,” he wrote.

    Click here to read the letter to President Obama. Click here to read the Governor’s letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here. More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: ‘No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit’ — Kirk Klancke

    August 9, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

    The hearing gave all of the interested parties a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about the project before it was submitted to the Grand County Commissioners for approval or denial.

    Enhancements and mitigations to the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek are part of the proposed agreement and include a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir, larger flushing flows for the Upper Colorado River, and a list of other possible mitigation measures.

    Planned mitigation measures

    The existing diversions at Windy Gap take 60 percent of native flows out of the Upper Colorado and the proposed expansion to the project would take another estimated 15-20 percent of flows, according to Trout Unlimited.

    “Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Amelia Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project.

    Mitigations and enhancements meant to address the impacts are proposed in the agreement for the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek.

    “We are not opposed to this project, we just want to see the right mitigations take place,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Headwaters of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited. “No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit.”

    The enhancements that are proposed were the main topic of discussion during the meeting as interested parties made arguments for specific mitigation’s and enhancements.

    Each party agreed that the river would be better off with the proposed mitigations and enhancements than it would be without them. However, the parties differed about which mitigations should take priority.

    Some of the parties who voiced their opinions about the proposed mitigation’s and enhancements include the Upper Colorado River Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Town of Grand Lake, and members of the public.

    Some of the main enhancements that are proposed are the construction of a bypass around or through Windy Gap Reservoir and increased flushing flows to the Colorado, which would help to restore the habitat of the gold-medal fishing waters below the Windy Gap Dam.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: Grand County Commissioners’ public hearing recap

    August 7, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

    The hearing drew a full crowd comprised of invested and concerned parties to the Grand County Board of Commissioners meeting room during the two days. Testimony was presented by a number of interested parties about the negative environmental impacts Windy Gap Reservoir has had on the Upper Colorado River as well as the possible mitigations and enhancements to the river that could take place if the commissioners approve the permit with those conditions attached.

    Denver Water offered an additional $1 million to the downriver mitigation and enhancement fund, which in turn would be used by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District toward the construction of the bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir.

    The Subdistrict has pledged $250,000 to research the bypass, which would be conducted immediately after the approval of the permit by the commissioners. If it is found that the bypass would benefit the Colorado River, construction of the bypass would start immediately and the Subdistrict would put a total of $3 million toward the project, including the $1 million pledged by Denver Water.

    A condition of the agreement of the Subdistrict to apply funds toward the construction of the bypass would be that construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir would start at the same time they apply the funds and that this would be an endpoint to the permit process…

    Increased flushing flows are a proposed part of the agreement and are set at a minimum of 600 cubic feet per second…

    The Grand County staff members who worked on this agreement recommended that the board of commissioners approve the permit. The commissioners have 120 days to take the 1041 permit agreement under advisement and to provide the Subdistrict with an answer.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project public hearing recap: Northern pledges dough to study reservoir bypass

    August 6, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

    Two days of public hearings opening comment on the proposal to expand the Northern Water Conservancy District’s transmountain diversion built around the 445-acre-foot reservoir near Granby drew a crowd to Hot Sulphur Springs last week. As has become the norm in the lengthy process, much emphasis was placed on the negative environmental impacts Windy Gap Reservoir already has had on the upper Colorado River and potential ways to fix the problem. The stretch of river directly below Windy Gap Reservoir is considered the least healthy portion of the upper Colorado because of impacts of the dam used to capture river water pumped across the Continental Divide via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. State studies show a sharp decline in river health since the construction of Windy Gap, attributing increased water temperatures, algae and sediment to the reservoir.

    The proposal facing Grand County commissioners seeks to remove another 15 percent to 20 percent of river flows on top of about 60 percent of native flows already being removed from the upper Colorado…

    “Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “Grand County must press Northern to build the bypass.”
    In addition to the bypass, Whiting and TU advocate increased minimum flows and regular flushing flows to cleanse the river bottom, among other measures.

    Northern Water has pledged $250,000 to research the bypass. If it is found beneficial, Northern would put an additional $2 million toward construction along with $1 million pledged by Denver Water. The permit process would end and construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Fort Collins would begin as a condition of the agreement to put the money toward a bypass.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: Chimney Hollow Reservoir site tour August 23

    August 2, 2012

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    From Larimer County via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    By popular demand, Larimer County Natural Resources and Northern Water has planned another field trip to the Chimney Hollow Open Space in the Blue Mountain Conservation Area, which is not currently open to the public.

    The next tour will be offered at 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Aug. 23.

    The field trip will include an easy, round-trip walk of 0.5 mile for the whole group. After learning about the Windy Gap Firming Project’s proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Chimney Hollow property, the group will split up, and one group will have an opportunity to hike farther, and the other group will receive a historical interpretive tour of the property.

    The tour is free, but space is limited. Register at larimer.org/naturalresources/registration.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    The Grand County Commissioners are pondering the Windy Gap Firming Project 1041 permit this week

    August 1, 2012

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The Windy Gap Project consists of a diversion dam on the Colorado River, a 445-acre-foot reservoir, a pumping plant, and a six-mile pipeline to Lake Granby. Windy Gap water is pumped and stored in Lake Granby before it is delivered to water users via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s East Slope distribution system…

    “The Upper Colorado River is under severe stress from multiple impacts, from drought to diversions,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Headwaters chapter. “This is the last best opportunity for Grand County officials to push for stronger protections to ensure that the Windy Gap project doesn’t destroy the health of our rivers.”[...]

    The Grand County Commissioners are currently accepting comments and have scheduled a two-day hearing in Hot Sulphur Springs that will include public testimony on August 1-2…

    State studies show that the Upper Colorado below Windy Gap Reservoir has suffered a sharp decline since the construction of the reservoir , including an almost total loss of once-plentiful stoneflies and mottled sculpin — key aquatic species that are an important link in the food chain for trout and other fish. The studies point to the reservoir’s contribution of silt combined with a lack of healthy flows, which has caused a spike in water temperatures, algae, sediment and other negative impacts on river and fishery health.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: Grand County 1041 permitting process underway #coriver

    July 30, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Kirk Klancke):

    The county is negotiating enhancements to help the degradation that we are already experiencing in the Colorado River below the Windy Gap reservoir but without additional mitigation for the new project, the enhancements will not solve all of the issues facing the river. We need to make sure that our elected officials here in Grand County require all of the mitigation needed to protect the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap from the new Windy Gap Firming project.

    This is our best opportunity as individuals to influence the permit process. This influence can be exercised through letters or emails to the commissioners or by attending the public hearings in the commissioners’ board room on Aug. 1 and 2…

    This is your chance to influence the future of the headwaters of the Colorado River. If you were wondering what you could do to help, this is your best opportunity. Please write your letter and come to the hearing to speak.

    Update: Here’s the release from Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    Trout Unlimited today urged the Board of County Commissioners of Grand County (BOCC) to deny a permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project unless the BOCC is willing to include protective measures to keep the Upper Colorado River and its gold-medal trout fishery alive.

    “The Upper Colorado River is under severe stress from multiple impacts, from drought to diversions,” said Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Headwaters chapter. “This is the last best opportunity for Grand County officials to push for stronger protections to ensure that the Windy Gap project doesn’t destroy the health of our rivers.”

    He added, “Without stronger protections, this river faces a long, slow decline—and so do our communities, ranches and recreation economy. That’s just not acceptable. I want my grandchildren to be able to fish here and enjoy this river, as I have. I want our local businesses to thrive. I know that many other Grand County citizens feel the same way.”

    The BOCC will soon decide whether to issue a 1041 permit for Northern Colorado Water Conservation District’s Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) and, if so, under what conditions. The BOCC is currently accepting public, written comments and has scheduled a two-day hearing in Hot Sulphur Springs that will include public testimony on August 1-2.

    At present, Northern’s Windy Gap diversion is taking about 60 percent of flows out of the Upper Colorado and pumping it through the Continental Divide to Front Range communities. The proposed expansion of the project would take another 15-20 percent of flows, putting the river at a dangerous tipping point for aquatic life and ecosystem health. State studies show that the Upper Colorado below Windy Gap Reservoir has suffered a sharp decline since the construction of the reservoir , including an almost total loss of once-plentiful stoneflies and mottled sculpin—key aquatic species that make up an important link in the food chain for trout and other fish. The studies point to the reservoir’s contribution of silt combined with a lack of healthy flows, which has caused a spike in water temperatures, algae, sediment and other negative impacts on river and fishery health.

    “Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project.

    According to a recent Colorado Parks and Wildlife report, construction of a bypass around Windy Gap reservoir and maintenance of adequate runoff are essential. “Without a bypass, it’s hard to see how the river can remain healthy when even more flows will be taken out,” said Whiting. “Grand County must press Northern to build the bypass.”

    TU called on the BOCC to include several requirements in the permit, including:

    - Northern should stop Windy Gap pumping when stream temperatures approach State acute and chronic standards.
    – Northern should be required to not only study a bypass channel around the Windy Gap Reservoir, but also build it if the study determines that a bypass is beneficial.
    – Northern must work with Grand County to monitor spring river flows and provide an adequate flushing flow to prevent sediment from collecting in the river bed and smothering aquatic habitat.
    – Northern must fund a robust stream monitoring program that can accurately track the health of the aquatic species in the river and react to any declines that can’t be explained by normal fluctuation.

    Trout Unlimited will present testimony at the BOCC public hearings in Hot Sulphur Springs on Aug. 1-2.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Colorado TU Gives Conservation Award to Grand County

    May 9, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    Colorado Trout Unlimited today announced that Grand County government – led by County Commissioners Gary Bumgarner, James Newberry, and Nancy Stuart – is the recipient of TU’s 2012 Trout Conservation Award for its work protecting the Upper Colorado River watershed in the face of Front Range water diversions and other threats.

    The award is presented each year to recognize outstanding achievements in conserving Colorado rivers and trout habitat.

    “I have never seen a local government place the level of attention, resources, and overall emphasis on river conservation as has been the case with Grand County over the past five years,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Commissioners Bumgarner, Newberry and Stuart, and County Manager Lurline Curran, have worked tirelessly to preserve healthy river flows along with the wildlife, local communities, and quality of life that depend on them. They have been true champions for the Colorado headwaters.”

    “As a resident of Grand County for 40 years, and as a father who wants his children and their children to experience the same natural wonders that I’ve enjoyed here over the years, I am deeply appreciative of the unified effort from our commissioners and staff in their fight to save our rivers and lakes,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of TU. “I am proud of my county for having courageous leaders like these, who are an example to all of the Davids that are facing Goliaths.”

    Nickum called Grand County “a longstanding and valued partner” with Trout Unlimited in working to protect and restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. He noted that Grand County officials have invested more than $3 million into assessing and addressing the needs of its rivers, and spent thousands of hours negotiating with Front Range water users and advocating to federal permitting agencies for better protections for the Upper Colorado River watershed.

    Among other accomplishments in the past year, Grand County (along with other west slope governments and Denver Water) unveiled a historic “cooperative agreement” that includes many important benefits for the Colorado River and its tributaries, including millions of dollars for river restoration and environmental enhancement; 1,000 acre-feet of water to help with low flows in the Fraser River watershed; guarantees that the vital Shoshone call continues to operate in the future to keep water in the Colorado River year-round; and an agreement that any future transbasin projects will only be pursued with the consent of the West Slope. The agreement is also important in establishing a stakeholder partnership called “Learning by Doing” to provide ongoing monitoring of river health to ensure adequate protection measures.

    Grand County has also worked with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to use Windy Gap pumping capabilities to re-manage some “excess” water for the benefit of flows in the Colorado River and has filed for a Recreational In Channel Diversion to help support a new in-river water right on the Colorado mainstem.

    Moreover, Grand County leaders are negotiating with Northern for enhanced funding for river restoration projects—including a needed bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to improve Colorado River habitat—and additional water for use in Grand County to boost flows and river health. Grand County is also promoting an agreement to release water for endangered fish in the downstream Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir – thereby benefiting the Colorado through miles of key trout habitat – instead of releases solely from Ruedi Reservoir, as has been done in the past.

    For all the progress in recent years, the health of the Upper Colorado River ecosystem will continue to decline unless further protections are put in place to address looming impacts from two new Front Range diversion projects, Denver’s Moffat Tunnel expansion and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project. Nickum noted that EPA recently issued recommendations that supported Grand County and TU’s case for stronger mitigation on the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    “Grand County officials understand that the Colorado headwaters are the lifeblood of their communities and of our state’s tourism economy and outdoor quality of life,” said Nickum. “They have set an example for our public leaders of what strong river stewardship looks like.”

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Colorado Water 2012: The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District turns 75 this year

    April 4, 2012

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    Here’s the latest installment of the Valley Courier’s Colorado Water 2012 series written by Brian Werner. From the article:

    The rich water development history of the South Platte Basin goes back another 75 years before Northern Water’s creation. In fact the earliest water rights in the basin date to 1861 when the first farmers began diverting water from the Poudre River near Fort Collins.

    A little more than a decade later, in 1874, a confrontation between the downstream Greeley residents and the upstream Fort Collins residents led to the codification of the doctrine of prior appropriation and eventually as part of the State Constitution in 1876.

    As ditch, reservoir and irrigation companies were developed and canals built during the remainder of the 19th century the region flourished and developed a robust agricultural economy. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing for 20 years, hundreds of storage reservoirs were built to store water for late summer irrigation or for future dry years.

    When Northern Water was created in the 1930s as a direct result of the ongoing drought and depression, there were more than 120 ditch, reservoir and irrigation companies in existence within the boundaries of what was to become the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

    Northern Water was established under the Water Conservancy Act of Colorado in September 1937. Its first order of business was to work with the Federal government – the Bureau of Reclamation which had been established in 1902 – to build what was to become the largest transmountain diversion project in the state. The project, the Colorado-Big Thompson, was a direct result of the 1930s drought and depression and was viewed as a life saver for the economy of northeastern Colorado…

    Today, Northern Water is working through the environmental permitting on two water storage projects – the <a href="Today, Northern Water is working through the environmental permitting on two water storage projects – the Windy Gap Firming and the Northern Integrated Supply projects. When built these will provide an additional 70,000 acre feet of new supply to the region and lessen the pressure on agriculture to supply those needs.”>Windy Gap Firming and the Northern Integrated Supply projects. When built these will provide an additional 70,000 acre feet of new supply to the region and lessen the pressure on agriculture to supply those needs.

    More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.</p


    Don’t suck the Colorado River dry billboard part of grassroots campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River

    March 16, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Schofield):

    A coalition of river advocates has unveiled a billboard on I-70 that highlights the threat to the upper Colorado River from massive water diversions to the Front Range—diversions that are sucking the life out of the upper Colorado and degrading irreplaceable mountain areas where many Coloradans love to fish, hunt, and recreate.

    The billboard is part of a larger grassroots campaign that is rallying Coloradans to help protect this popular western slope recreation destination.

    The billboard, in the foothills of Golden near the 470 exit, shows a state flag image being drained of water and warns, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.” The message will reach an estimated 180,000 people each day who travel this major east-west corridor.

    “Coloradans need to know that the health of the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers is jeopardized by these water diversions,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We’re asking our state leaders to step up and finish the job of protecting these special places.”

    For years, large-scale water diversions to Denver and the Front Range have severely depleted and at times nearly sucked dry entire stretches of the upper Colorado River and its tributaries, including the Fraser River. The low flows and higher temperatures have caused dramatic declines in fish and other benchmarks of aquatic health. Low flows have also contributed to the spread of smothering silt and choking algae.

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    The billboard is aimed at the tens of thousands of Front Range residents who travel up I-70 each week to hike, ski, fish, raft and play on the West Slope. Outdoor recreation is a $10 billion a year business in the state, supporting 107,000 jobs and generating nearly $500 million in state tax revenues. Many towns in the Fraser and upper Colorado River valleys depend heavily on outdoor tourism for their economic health.

    “It’s important that Front Range residents understand the seriousness of these diversion impacts and show their support for healthy rivers,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We can meet our water needs while preserving our rivers, but that will only happen with stronger protections for the Upper Colorado.”

    Gov. Hickenlooper and other state leaders have a responsibility to protect these rivers and the state recreation economy that depends on them, said Peternell.
    A 2011 state study that showed stronger measures were needed to keep the upper Colorado system healthy. Moreover, in a recent letter citing that study, the EPA called for a “more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” for the Windy Gap proposal.

    The groups are calling on state and federal officials to support stronger protection measures for the upper Colorado, including higher spring flushing flows and a monitoring plan for the river.

    “We’re asking Gov. Hickenlooper to speak up for the Colorado River,” said Peternell. “He has an opportunity to be a hero for the river.”

    In response to the campaign, thousands of Coloradans have raised their voices for river protection. The Defend the Colorado website features a “Voices of the River” gallery profiling Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their concern for the river. Moreover, thousands of Coloradans and more than 400 businesses have signed petitions asking state leaders to protect the rivers and state tourism.

    “These are special places,” said Jon Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks in Denver. “Many Coloradans live here because of our state’s magnificent rivers and recreation opportunities. That quality of life is at risk unless our leaders act.”

    To learn more about diversion impacts on the river and how you can raise your voice to help, go to www.defendthecolorado.org

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

    From all the feel-good language about a global solution and Front Range-West Slope collaboration, you’d never know that there’s a bitter war being waged over what’s left of the Colorado River. A coalition of river advocates hopes to cast a spotlight on the fight with a new billboard going up along I-70, where mountain-bound travelers will see the bold message, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”[...]

    At issue is a pair of planned new diversions, based on existing water rights, by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that would further deplete the Colorado River’s native flows.

    Northern’s Windy Gap firming project would divert water through the Colorado-Big Thompson system to a proposed new reservoir on the northern Front Range, southwest of Loveland.

    Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project would produce 18,000 acre-feet of new supply by expanding Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.

    Both projects are under review, and Colorado has developed mitigation plans that address at least some of the potential impacts. The state’s water establishment claims the mitigation plans will not only protect the Colorado River from new impacts, but actually improve existing conditions. Environmental advocates are skeptical, and are asking for additional specific mitigation and monitoring, and recently got some backing from the EPA, which pointed out weaknesses in the proposed mitigation plans…

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, et. al., request new comment period for the Windy Gap Firming Project

    March 16, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper (Gary Wockner):

    Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper (STP) [ed. link not safe to open at work] has contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request that federal agency open up a new public comment period for the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP) Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Citing regulations in the Clean Water Act, STP believes that the FEIS omits important information, contains significant new information, and thus additional public scrutiny is both warranted and essential. Save the Poudre also asked the Corps to “supplement” the FEIS and conduct additional scientific analyses.

    Save the Poudre’s letter to the Corps is here (link to letter).

    “This extremely controversial project could have significant impacts to the Poudre River, and the Final Environmental Impact Statement contains significant new information,” said Gary Wockner of Save the Poudre. “We request that the Corps open up a new public comment period – we believe it is essential and in the public’s interest to increase the public’s scrutiny of this project.”

    Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commented on the WGFP FEIS, pointing out errors and highlighting missing scientific information and inconsistent conclusions. In its letter to the Corps, Save the Poudre requested that the Corps address EPA’s concerns. Further, Save the Poudre requested that the Corps address the concerns that EPA stated in its original comment letter on the Draft EIS in 2008 which still have not been addressed in the FEIS over 3 years later.

    Save the Poudre also requested that the Corps address the issue of water used for fracking. Recent news reports reveal that several WGFP cities are selling what they call “excess” water for fracking, and one WGFP city, Greeley, which is also in the Poudre River basin, made $1.6 million selling water for drilling and fracking in 2011. In the 1,472 pages of the WGFP FEIS, water for drilling and fracking is not discussed.

    “Should we be draining the Colorado River so that sprawling Front Range cities can make millions of dollars selling water for fracking?” asked Gary Wockner. “At a minimum, the FEIS for WGFP needs to address and analyze this new industrial use of water – fracking – in its ‘Purpose and Need’ section of the document.”

    In order for the project to move forward, federal law mandates that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issue a Clean Water Act section 404 permit for the project — that permit requires the Corps to ensure that there is no alternative to WGFP that would cause less damage to Colorado’s rivers and wetlands. The Corps is also a cooperating agency that assisted the Bureau of Reclamation in the preparation of the FEIS.

    More coverage from the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Community activists along the northern Front Range say they want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start a comment period for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap firming project, based on what they say are omissions, and significant new information on potential impacts to the Colorado River…

    The main feature of the project is the proposed new 90,000-acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir that would be located southwest of Loveland and just west of Carter Lake…

    The Corps of Engineers is a cooperating agency — with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — on the Windy Gap project. The project requires a Clean Water Act wetlands fill and discharge permit, so that’s why Save The Poudre is asking the Corps for a public comment period. Last month, the EPA’s formal comments on the project also pointed out errors and ommissions and highlighted missing scientific information and inconsistent conclusions.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Today: ‘Rally for the River II’ — Conservationists hope to get Governor Hickenlooper’s ear regarding the Windy Gap Firming Project

    February 22, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

    Building on the boisterous success of last month’s Rally for the Upper Colorado River at the Environmental Protection Agency building in Denver, a coalition of conservationists hoping to derail a pair of transmountain water diversion projects is taking its message to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s doorstep today. Sportsmen, boaters, wildlife enthusiasts and others concerned about the collapsing upper Colorado River are being encouraged to meet outside the Capitol at 11 a.m. for Round 2.

    The EPA, apparently having heard Defend the Colorado’s message, recently issued a letter to federal permitting authorities at the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raising concerns of “critical adverse impacts” resulting from the Northern Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project. The agency determined the proposal to divert up to 67 percent of the upper Colorado River’s natural flows into a tunnel across the Continental Divide may cause “significant degradation” to the struggling river and recommended “a more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” to protect it. Now it’s the governor’s turn.

    As reported last week by Bruce Finley of The Denver Post, state officials stand behind Hickenlooper’s contention that Northern Water’s current plan to pull an extra 21,296 acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River near Granby “comprehensively addresses impacts to Colorado’s fish and wildlife.”[...]

    To their credit, Northern and Denver Water both bolstered mitigation efforts while seeking approval of their respective projects by the Colorado Wildlife Commission last summer. Northern has committed $250,000 to study a possible bypass around the Windy Gap Reservoir, a collection pond that pumps water back uphill.

    With the federal permit decision looming, the governor can expect to be asked to help broker an agreement making the bypass a reality. He might also be asked to explain his April comment: “This state has to realize, people in the metropolitan Denver have to realize, that their self-interest is served by treating water as a precious commodity and that its value on the Western Slope is just as relevant as its value in the metro area.”

    More coverage from Alan Prendergast writing for Westword. From the article:

    …environmentalists say the further depletion of the river will alter the temperature, kill fish and insects that a healthy river needs, increase sediment — and generally trash the tourism business for folks in places like Fraser and Granby. A state study found a dramatic drop-off in aquatic insect species over the past two decades from previous diversions, and a recent EPA report is calling for more study and better monitoring of the project.

    Opponents say the Upper Colorado can survive additional Front Range incursions, but only by developing further mitigation measures, including periodic water releases to flush out sediment gathering in the depleted riverway. Hoping to bend Hickenlooper’s ear a bit, speakers at tomorrow’s rally, which starts at 11 a.m., include Drew Peternell of Trout Unlimited and Field and Stream columnist Kirk Deeter.

    More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, both dated Feb. 6, the agency outlined its concerns with the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, saying more mitigation needs to be tied to an upcoming record of decision.

    Among recommendations, the agency would like to see a bypass channel constructed around Windy Gap Dam for times when the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and municipal subdistrict are out of priority.

    The bypass channel was identified in a 2011 report by researchers of division of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The report spells out ongoing problems in the Upper Colorado River basin that have been worsening over the past half-century, primarily chronic sedimentation, high temperatures and a lack of high flushing flows that have already caused the disappearance of the mottled sculpin, a native fish.

    “Two things must be done if there is to truly be any hope of enhancement of aquatic ecosystem in the upper Colorado River in the future,” the 2011 Nehring Parks and Wildlife study reads. “A bypass channel around Windy Gap Dam and a major investment in stream channel reconfiguration for the Colorado River below Windy Gap Dam are both equally important and the only way true enhancement has any possibility of success. Either one without the other will have virtually no chance of succeeding.”

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    The EPA recommends more protection of the Upper Colorado River in light of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project

    February 17, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    An Environmental Protection Agency review of data used in planning the project found mathematical errors and a downplaying of “critical adverse impacts” from the $270 million project, which Colorado leaders consider crucial for millions of residents. EPA reviewers cited a separate 2011 state study that documented the disappearance of all native sculpin fish and 38 percent of aquatic insect species over 20 years as a result of existing water diversions.

    An EPA document, sent to federal permitting authorities last week, recommends further analysis of the Northern Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project to prevent new violations of state water-quality standards and “a more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” to protect the river. “The EPA has not recommended delaying this project,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin said. “Our recommendations are intended to provide a path forward that also protects the Colorado River…

    Conservation groups say the EPA review backs what they have been saying for years. They are hoping the report will bolster their push for a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir, which has broken the flow of the river. They also want to make sure at least 2,400 acre-feet of water — or 1,200 cubic feet per second — is released every other year to clear sediment. The state’s own study found such flushing flows are essential. But the Northern Water Conservancy District has agreed to devote only about half that much water to ensure ecosystem health.

    “This project could be done in a way where the Front Range gets its water and the river is protected. But to do that, we need more mitigation and monitoring. You have to make sure you have enough high flows,” said Trout Unlimited attorney Mely Whiting. “Our hope is to have folks see the light on this and come to an agreement. Litigation is an option.”

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    The EPA recommends more protection of the Upper Colorado River in light of the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project

    February 14, 2012

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    Here’s the letter from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers via Defend the Colorado.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Brian Werner: ‘Tell me when the next big drought comes, and you’re going to see people screaming about storage’

    February 1, 2012

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

    “Tell me when the next big drought comes, and you’re going to see people screaming about storage,” said Brian Werner, spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud. “Their willingness (to consider building new reservoirs) ebbs and flows based on when your last drought was.”

    The uncertainty about the mountain snowpack, which fluctuates every year, is the primary argument for building new reservoirs in the West, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “The amazing thing is, it comes down to three or four big storms every year, whether they get them, or they bypass us,” he said…

    One of five major proposed water storage projects in Larimer County that are in various stages of planning, [Northern Integrated Supply Project] calls for storing about 170,000 acre-feet of Poudre River water in the proposed Glade Reservoir north of Ted’s Place. A final decision could come sometime in 2013 or 2014…

    The other four proposed projects include expansions to Fort Collins’ Halligan Reservoir and Greeley’s Seaman Reservoir, the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake and the more uncertain Cactus Hill Reservoir proposed for a site on the Weld County line between Wellington and Nunn. If those projects are built, Waskom said, it’s hard to conceive of other such large projects being built in Northern Colorado regardless of the need because there are few other places to build them, at least in Larimer County. “Unless we can get Aaron Million’s project or a West Slope diversion built, we don’t have any more water left,” he said…

    “All the easy projects have been built,” [Waskom] said. “Now we’re dealing with the hard projects. What comes after the projects, that’s the question, right? Where’s the water and reservoir sites, and where’s the political will to build projects?”

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    ‘Rally for the Rivers’ asks EPA to protect the Upper Colorado River from diversions

    January 30, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    More than 100 river advocates holding signs and chanting slogans gathered in front of the Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Denver Thursday to ask federal regulators to protect the Upper Colorado River system from proposed water diversions to the Front Range.

    “This is a moment of truth for the state,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited, which helped organize the gathering of Denver residents, kayakers, anglers, outdoor recreationists and other river supporters. “We have to do something to save our state’s namesake river from dying.”

    Scores of signs at the event underscored that theme, including “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry,” “Protect Our Flows,” and “EPA: Be a Hero.”

    The rally is part of an ongoing campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The Denver rally, say organizers, was meant to show EPA and other federal decision-makers that Denver residents care about the state’s outdoor quality of life and the health of rivers.

    The Defend the Colorado coalition is asking EPA–which Eberle called a “partner” on river protection–to take additional steps to ensure the health of the river in the face of two proposed water diversions.

    Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap Firming Project proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. The current proposed Windy Gap protections from the Bureau of Reclamation fall short of what’s needed to address mounting problems, such as low flows, rising temperatures, spreading algae and smothering sediment.

    As Eberle told the lunchtime crowd, a state study released earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have virtually disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir due to past diversions.

    “Is this what we want to see happen to our rivers?” Eberle asked.

    “NO!” the crowd responded.

    Field and Stream magazine editor-at-large Kirk Deeter, a Colorado resident, said he was lucky enough to travel the world in his job but always looks forward to coming home to his home state and home waters. He called the Upper Colorado a ”special place” that deserves protection.

    Also speaking was Jon Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks in Denver, who stressed the economic impact of water-based recreation, which he noted contributes “hundreds of millions of dollars” annually to the state’s economy. “I am just one of hundreds of business owners whose livelihoods depend on healthy flows in our rivers,” he said.

    According to the Defend the Colorado coalition, additional steps must be taken to protect the rivers, including:

    · Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
    · Ensuring healthy flushing flows to prevent river habitat from filling in with silt.
    · Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
    · Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

    “The health of the Colorado and Fraser rivers is critical to local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans don’t realize that these rivers are having the life sucked out of them. At some point, they cease to become functioning rivers—and we lose a huge part of what makes our state a great place to live. Our state and federal leaders need to finish the job of protecting these incredible places.”

    The group is planning additional rallies and events this spring to highlight the plight of the rivers and demand action from state and federal decision-makers.

    The Defend the Colorado coalition includes Colorado Trout Unlimited and a range of stakeholders, including conservation and wildlife groups, landowners, and outdoor recreationists. More than 400 western slope businesses have signed a petition asking state leaders to protect the Upper Colorado.

    For more information, go to www.DefendTheColorado.org

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

    Colorado conservation activists last week gathered outside EPA headquarters in Denver, asking federal regulators to protect the Upper Colorado River system from proposed water diversions to the Front Range.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project update: Chimney Hollow Reservoir could get a green light for construction later this year

    January 8, 2012

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    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

    The reservoir, which would sit southwest of Loveland, is intended to shore up the water supplies of a dozen Front Range communities and water districts as well as Platte River Power Authority. An initial decision on its future is expected this year, possibly by summer.

    The reservoir also would provide access to nonmotorized boating and miles of trails expected to be built on 1,800 acres of adjacent Chimney Hollow Open Space managed by the Larimer County Natural Resources Department. The open space is part of the larger Blue Mountain Conservation Area.

    Chimney Hollow Reservoir would sit directly west of Carter Lake on the other side of a towering hogback formation. With the two reservoirs about a half-mile apart, the area is expected to attract a variety of recreation enthusiasts, said Kerri Rollins, manager of the county’s open lands program…

    Its main purpose is to provide water storage for its participating entities, said Dana Strongin, communications specialist with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, or Northern Water, which would build the project. The participants already own rights to the water, which would be drawn from the Colorado River and conveyed to the Front Range through existing facilities of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. But they have no way to store the water for use during dry years…

    After years of studies and public debate required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the federal Bureau of Reclamation late last year released a final environmental impact statement for the project that looks at various options. A record of decision, which would designate the preferred option and the steps that must be taken for it to be approved — such as mitigating its impact on wildlife — is expected later this year. The decision could come by summer, Strongin said…

    The reservoir would be created with the construction of a 350-foot-tall dam on the north side of the valley and a smaller structure on the south. Underground pipes would carry water in and out of the reservoir. Chimney Hollow would be slightly smaller than Carter Lake. Building the project would cost about $270 million, Strongin said. Going through the environmental review process has already cost about $9 million.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?

    December 25, 2011

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    Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

    Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

    We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.

    The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

    The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

    That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Windy Gap firming project update: More water for Boulder County

    December 11, 2011

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    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

    “It’s been a long haul for us, but we see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dana Strongin, spokeswoman for Northern Water, which is spearheading the project that will serve a number of local towns, including Louisville, Lafayette, Longmont, Broomfield, Erie and Superior. “We entered into this process in 2003. It takes a lot of work to take this water planning and put it into action.”

    The goal of the Windy Gap Firming Project is to make the supply of water from the original Windy Gap project, which was finished in 1985, more reliable. The original Windy Gap project was never able to deliver all the water promised to towns on the Front Range because it has to piggyback on some parts of the Colorado-Big Thompson diversion system to make it across the mountains.

    That’s a problem because in wet years — when there’s more water to divert from the river — the Colorado-Big Thompson system doesn’t have room to store the Windy Gap water in its already-full reservoir. During dry years, there’s room to store Windy Gap water, but the project’s water rights are so junior that it can’t draw water from the river.

    The key feature of the $270 million firming project, if approved, would be the construction of a new reservoir in Larimer County to solve the storage problem. The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir would sit just west of Carter Lake and have a capacity of 90,000 acre-feet. The water to fill the reservoir would largely be pumped through existing pipes and canals.

    Environmentalists have been concerned about the effects the Windy Gap project could have on the upper reaches of the Colorado River, which already has been severely depleted. In particular, they worry that taking more water from the headwaters of the Colorado will cause an increase in water temperature, which can be lethal for fish, and a decrease in “flushing flows,” which are critical for cleaning out the sediment that can armor the bottom of riverbeds, smothering aquatic insects.

    When the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Windy Gap Firming Project was released in 2008, Trout Unlimited was one of the groups that said the document was inadequate. Now, the nonprofit organization says the final version of the document is an improvement over the draft, though still not good enough.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Windy Gap Firming: Recently released final EIS acknowledges potential declines in streamflow in the Upper Colorado River basin

    December 7, 2011

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Even more worrisome to conservation advocates are the projected declines in summer flows. Below Windy Gap Reservoir, July flows could drip by as much as 20 percent, according to the Bureau’s study, which also acknowledged that extensive mitigation measures will be needed to protect West Slope aquatic ecoystems…

    But the proposed mitigation falls short of what’s needed to protect the Upper Colorado, according to Trout Unlimited, a cold-water fisheries conservation group.

    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    A new federal report on the environmental impacts of a plan to expand the Windy Gap water diversion project in Colorado falls short of recommending what’s needed to protect the fragile Upper Colorado River, according to Trout Unlimited.

    The Final Environmental Impact Statement, released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Nov. 30, outlines the anticipated effects of the proposed project and recommends needed mitigation.

    “This new document is an improvement over the previous version in that it acknowledges the Windy Gap project will worsen conditions in the Upper Colorado River and Grand Lake unless measures are taken,” said Drew Peternell, executive director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. However, the mitigation proposed by the bureau falls far short of what is needed and critical problems continue to be ignored. We urge the Bureau to require additional protective measures to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource.”

    “Trout Unlimited’s concerns with the Environmental Impact Statement are echoed by the Upper Colorado River Alliance, a nonprofit group that is also seeking to require more mitigation to protect the river,” said Boulder attorney Steven J. Bushong, a representative of the Alliance.

    The report comes out as Trout Unlimited is launching a petition campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The petition campaign, based online at DefendTheColorado.org, is being spearheaded by Trout Unlimited to engage advocates for the iconic but threatened rivers. The website allows advocates to sign on to a petition that will be delivered to decision makers before the bureau makes a final decision on the Windy Gap project. That decision is expected in early January.

    “The good news is that the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Impact Statement says additional mitigation measures may be added before the agency makes a final decision. That highlights the importance of taking action to stand up for the river now,” Peternell said.

    Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. According to Trout Unlimited, steps must be taken to protect the rivers including:

    · Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
    · Funding to deepen river channels and create streamside shade.
    · Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
    · Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

    “The Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to ignore existing problems that will be made much worse by the Windy Gap project,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “A study released by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have all but disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir. The state study blames the reservoir and the lack of spring flows that clean sediments from the stream beds and warns that expansion of the Windy Gap project poses additional threats to the health of the river and the aquatic life in it.” See http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/op/wqcc/Hearings/Rulemaking/93/Responsive/93rphsTUexG.pdf

    The Windy Gap project also impacts the health of Grand Lake. “Grand Lake – once a pristine lake of dramatic clarity and scenic beauty – has become cloudy, weedy and silty because of diversion water pumped into the lake from Shadow Mountain reservoir,” said John Stahl of the Greater Grand Lake Shoreline Association. “Nothing in the FEIS mitigation plan is helpful in addressing the existing problems–at best it maintains the status quo while more likely creating even bigger problems.”

    The Environmental Impact Statement indicates that the Bureau of Reclamation will monitor to ensure that mitigation is adequate and will impose additional measures if necessary. “That’s helpful but needs to be more clearly articulated. Another critical addition is the construction of a bypass around the Windy Gap dam,” Eberle added.

    The DefendTheColorado.org campaign highlights the people who depend on the rivers.

    “The Colorado and Fraser rivers aren’t just bodies of water, they are the lifeblood for wildlife, local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans are unaware that these rivers are on the brink of collapse because of diversions. DefendTheColorado.org’s purpose is twofold – to raise awareness about the threats facing the Colorado and Fraser and to give people a way to stand up for our rivers.”

    Eberle added, “We can’t afford to let these rivers literally go down the drain.”

    A new feature of the website called “Voices of the Fraser” profiles local Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their connection to the Fraser River and the need to preserve healthy flows. Among the individuals profiled are Olympic skier Liz McIntyre, logger Hoppe Southway and landscape artist Karen Vance.

    “It would be a shame to see any of these tributaries dry up just for the sake of developing the Front Range,” said Southway in his profile. “It’s the water my children and grandchildren are going to want to see someday, and I hope it’s protected for future generations.”

    Visitors to the site also have added their voices about why the river is important to them.

    “I have fished and hiked the Fraser and Upper Colorado river regions for over 30 years and am deeply saddened by the degradation of these great watersheds,” a Golden, Colo., resident wrote.

    A Bonita Springs, Florida, resident wrote: “I LOVE fishing that stretch of water and find such a simple peace of being in that area. Please don’t mess with such a special place.”

    “As a visitor and fisherman to Colorado on a regular basis, my tourist dollars help the local communities,” noted a resident of Blue Springs, Missouri.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Conservationists worry that impacts to the Upper Colorado River basin have not been adequately addressed in the final EIS for the Windy Gap Firming Project

    December 2, 2011

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    From The Denver Post (Monte Whaley):

    …watchdog groups aren’t satisfied that the impact of the water-storage project on fish and wildlife habitat on the Western Slope has been adequately addressed. The report details how Chimney Hollow will increase diversions and reduce flows in the Colorado River below the Windy Gap reservoir, decrease some fish habitat and affect vegetation, wetlands and wildlife. “We have very serious concerns about this project and its intersection with projects and participants in the Poudre River watershed as well as its potential negative impacts on the Colorado River and Grand Lake,” said Save the Poudre executive director Gary Wockner…

    Northern Water — the agency coordinating the project on behalf of 13 Front Range cities and water utilities — says it is working with other groups and agencies to mitigate the impact of the project. “In our minds, we have addressed the impacts, and we have gone through a long public process … to develop measures to protect fish and wildlife,” said project manager Jeff Drager.

    More coverage from the Northern Colorado Business Report. From the article:

    The FEIS states that the best course of action, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, is to construct Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a proposed 90,000 acre-foot reservoir southwest of Loveland. The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir is the project’s key feature and would increase the reliability of the existing Windy Gap project, which started delivering water to Front Range municipalities in 1985…

    The FEIS was the last document in the Windy Gap project’s National Environmental Policy Act review. The project is now awaiting an official decision from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is expected in early 2012.

    Participants in the project include: Platte River Power Authority, Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Evans, Superior, Lafayette and Fort Lupton, Weld County Water District and Little Thompson Water District.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Final EIS for Windy Gap Firming Available to Public

    November 30, 2011

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    Here’s the release from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

    The Bureau of Reclamation announces the availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project.

    To access the Final EIS, Executive Summary, and supporting technical reports please visit www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao. A list of libraries where the Final EIS is available is also included on the website.

    To receive a copy of the Final EIS on compact disk, please submit a written request to the attention of Lucy Maldonado through regular mail or e-mail:
    Bureau of Reclamation
    11056 W. County Rd. 18E
    Loveland, Colorado 80537
    lmaldonado@usbr.gov

    The Windy Gap Firming Project was proposed to Reclamation by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Reclamation prepared the Final EIS in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

    The Final EIS discloses and summarizes the anticipated effects of the proposed project and four alternatives, including a No Action Alternative. It also recommends a preferred alternative and outlines environmental commitments and mitigations.

    More coverage from Tom Hacker writing for the Loveland Reporter-Herald. From the article:

    Chimney Hollow, just west of and slightly smaller than Carter Lake, is the key feature of the Windy Gap Firming Project and would store 30,000 acre feet of water. Thirteen municipalities and utilities, including Loveland, share ownership of the project…

    The project, like its Colorado-Big Thompson predecessor, would divert Western Slope water from the upper Colorado River Basin to the east slope, where it would be stored at Chimney Hollow and delivered to Front Range water users.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    DefendTheColorado.org website launches to build awareness of upper Colorado River basin streamflow issues

    November 6, 2011

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    Say hello to DefendTheColorado.org, a new website designed to connect interested people and raise awareness of the issues around transbasin diversions from the Upper Colorado River here in Colorado. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    For the Trout Unlimted Project, [Editorial Photographer and Videographer Ted Wood of Story Group, Boulder] brought in Boulder colleagues Beth Wald, a photojournalist who of late has been covering environmental and cultural stories in Afghanistan, and Mark Conlin, a seasoned underwater photographer.

    “We launched the project as a way to get more visibility of the stream-flow issues on the Fraser and Upper Colorado,” said Trout Unlimited’s Randy Schoefield. “What we’re trying to portray is the community’s deep connection to the river.”

    The Story Group plans to add more portraits to the website in coming days and weeks. Eventually, Trout Unlimited hopes to host public events that display the portraits as well as work by other photographers, granting a full sense of the river’s significance in Grand County and the consequences of further transbasin diversions.

    Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for a map of Denver Water’s collection system. More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    ‘Future Horizons for Irrigated Agriculture’ tour recap: Greeley and other Weld County Communities are gearing up for population growth

    September 21, 2011

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    Here’s an in-depth look at efforts by northern Colorado cities to water the expected growth in population from The Greeley Tribune. Click through and read the whole article and check out the photo gallery. Here’s an excerpt:

    Water storage for the future is viewed as so vital to the northern Front Range that the 15 participating municipalities and water districts of the Northern Integrated Supply Project, or NISP, have spent about $10 million during the past seven years just to plan and analyze the endeavor. But there is no guarantee that NISP — a project that includes the construction of two new reservoirs in northern Colorado — will ever take shape. The federal government continues to analyze the Environmental Impact Statement…

    Jon Monson, director of the city of Greeley’s Water and Sewer Department, said the city’s current supply will meet the needs of the community for only 25 more years, maybe less. In preparation, Greeley officials want to expand the Milton Seaman Reservoir, one of six high-mountain reservoirs from which the city draws its water. The reservoir holds about 5,000 acre-feet of water, and the proposed project calls for it to be expanded more than 10-fold to 53,000 acre-feet. The expansion would allow Greeley to pull 7,800 acre-feet of water off the reservoir annually, up from the 750 acre-feet it can pull now. Greeley uses about 45,000 acre-feet of water per year; demand is expected to grow to about 65,000 acre-feet by 2050. After initiating efforts in 2004, the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project is expected by 2013, and a final EIS is expected by 2015. Afterward, construction would take two years and filling the reservoir could take another five to 10 years…

    Another water storage effort is The Windy Gap Firming Project. The 25-year-old Windy Gap Project near Granby diverts water from the Colorado River to the Front Range via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project on a space-available basis. According to Monson, during wet years when water is available for Windy Gap diversions, Lake Granby is often full with little or no space for the water. During dry years, the water right can be too junior to come into priority, so no water is available to pump. Greeley is allotted 4,400 acre-feet of water annually from the Windy Gap Project, but that supply hasn’t always been available. The Windy Gap Firming Project was proposed to ensure reliable future deliveries. Nine other municipalities, including Evans, participates in the project, along with the Central Weld County Water District and two other districts. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to publish the final Environmental Impact Statement for the Windy Gap Firming Project in November.

    More Colorado Foundation for Water Education coverage here.


    Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District tour attracts nearly 100 taxpayers, city officials, water district employees and students

    August 2, 2011

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    From the Carbon Valley Miner and Farmer (Gene Sears):

    Nearly 100 participants attended the tour, a mix of taxpayers, city officials, water district employees and students, split between two buses hired by the district for the trip. Starting at NCWCD headquarters in Berthoud, the tour headed northeast up Big Thompson Canyon, through Estes Park and onto Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, headwaters for much of the district’s supply…

    Built at a cost of $162 million, the project began full water deliveries in 1957. As it stands now, the Colorado-Big Thompson system consists of 12 reservoirs, 35 miles of tunnels, 95 miles of canals and 700 miles of power transmission lines. Spanning 150 miles east to west and 65 miles north to south, C-BT provides water to almost 700, 000 irrigated acres and more than 750,000 people in the South Platte River Basin.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project/Moffat Collection System Project update: Denver and Northern plan to fully mitigate project impacts

    July 10, 2011

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    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Laura Snider):

    The developers of the two water projects, Denver Water and Northern Water, say they plan to not only offset any future environmental problems created by their new projects in the upper Colorado River basin, but to also work together to voluntarily “enhance” the existing habitat in the area. “By fully mitigating our impacts, we keep (the basin) the same,” said Denver Water’s Travis Bray. “Through enhancement and through our cooperative efforts we’re making it better.”

    But [Kirk Klancke], who works as a water manager in Grand County, and some Colorado environmental groups contend that more aggressive mitigation and rehabilitation plans are needed to save what’s left of the Colorado River. “Both of these (water utilities) wrote an environmental statement that said there would be no impacts,” said Klancke, who also serves as the president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “But the third-grade class at Fraser Elementary can tell you what happens when you take 80 percent of a river.”[...]

    Because Windy Gap’s water rights are relatively junior, the project only can divert water during wet years. But in wet years, Lake Granby — a critical storage reservoir for the Colorado-Big Thompson system — is often full, leaving no room for the Windy Gap water to travel to the Front Range. This makes the water supplied by Windy Gap to its original participants extremely unreliable…

    If approved, the firming project calls for building a new reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County. The Chimney Hollow Reservoir would be able to store 90,000 acre-feet of water, giving the Windy Gap water that can be drawn in wet years a place to go…

    In Boulder County, Denver Water plans to offset the impacts of flooding hundreds of acres of land to expand Gross Reservoir by replanting woody riparian vegetation and by buying credits from buying credits from an approved “wetlands mitigation bank” to offset the two acres of wetland that will be inundated…

    But what both water providers are most proud of is their cooperatively created “enhancement plan,” which they say will go beyond mitigating the impacts of the new project and actually improve the current conditions in the upper Colorado River basin. The idea is to restore the section of the Colorado River that lies downstream of both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects where the populations of giant stoneflies and sculpins, both of which are food for trout, have declined over the years. Together, Denver Water and Northern Water have agreed to spend $4.5 million on the restoration effort and put another $1.5 million into a reserve fund that can be used to tweak elements of the restoration project that aren’t working as designed. “This is not what we think is required by the state. We are not required to go back and make changes based on the impacts of past projects,” said Dana Strongin, spokeswoman for Northern Water. “This is a benefit — it’s something extra. We don’t have to do this, but we wanted to…

    Mely Whiting, senior attorney with Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, said the plans don’t adequately address stream temperature problems and flushing flows. When the mountain snowpack begins to melt in the late spring and early summer, the influx of water “flushes” the rivers, scraping sediment off the streambed and, in some years, overflowing the banks and recharging adjacent wetlands. Because both of the new projects plan to draw water during the periods of high runoff, Whiting said the rivers are being robbed of the critical flush. When flows stay low throughout the summer, the sediment builds up on the bottom of the rivers and destroys the habitat used by aquatic insects. The low flows also increase the danger that stream temperatures will climb higher earlier in the summer…

    The solution proposed by Trout Unlimited is to essentially reconstruct the habitat of the Fraser and the upper Colorado River to create narrower channels that would allow the remaining water to run deeper, faster and cooler…

    Trout Unlimited commissioned a study to see how much it would cost to do the work that it believes needs to be done on the Fraser and upper Colorado rivers. According to the study, $3 million to $5 million more needs to be budgeted in the mitigation plan to adequately rehabilitate the Fraser and about $5 million more is needed for the upper Colorado River. Western Resource Advocates then analyzed how much an additional $5 million each from Denver Water and Northern Water would cost their customers. The result is that Denver Water customers would have to pay an additional $0.53 a year for 30 years and Northern Water customers would have to pay an additional $1.60 a year for 30 years. “Is protecting a river worth a dollar a year?” Beckwith asked. “It’s not a lot of money. People lose that much money in the couch.”

    But Denver Water’s Travis Bray said it’s not fair to expect his utility and Northern Water to shoulder the entire burden of rebuilding the upper Colorado River basin, which has been degraded over the decades due to multiple projects. “In a perfect world, Denver Water and Northern Water would have unlimited funding and we could just make the whole Fraser River a gold medal (trout) river,” he said…

    The final environmental impact statements for both projects are expected to be released late this year or next year. When each statement is released, the public will have the opportunity to give public comment before a final decision is made about whether to give the projects final approval.

    More coverage from Laura Snider writing for the Boulder Daily Camera. From the article:

    If a Denver Water plan to nearly triple the size of Gross Reservoir gets the final OK, hundreds of acres of shoreline, tributaries, wetlands and vegetated slopes in southwest Boulder County would be underwater. The construction necessary to raise the dam more than 100 feet also would require trucks laden with sand to make 44 round trips up to the reservoir each day during peak construction from sand quarries near Longmont. Denver Water estimates that it will take five years to complete the project. These impacts have raised concerns with the Boulder County commissioners as well as reservoir neighbors…

    Earlier this year, Denver Water also released its proposal for how the utility plans to mitigate fish and wildlife impacts for the project. The plan, which was approved in June by the Colorado Wildlife Commission, calls for mitigating the loss of about two acres of wetlands by buying credits from an approved “wetlands mitigation bank.” Denver Water also plans to replant native woody riparian vegetation along the edge of the newly enlarged reservoir to replace the four acres of riparian habitat that would be flooded if the expansion goes forward. Since the reservoir is largely fed from water traveling through the Moffat Tunnel from the Western Slope and emptying into South Boulder Creek, Denver Water would also monitor the effects of a greater volume of water on stream bank stability. The Boulder County commissioners have said that they do not believe Denver Water’s mitigation plan adequately addresses the impacts of the reservoir expansion.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    Colorado River basin: Mitigating further declines to the riparian and stream environment from transmountain diversions in the upper river watersheds

    July 5, 2011

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    A while back Trout Unlimited signaled pretty strongly that the Moffat Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project were in for a fight, even as Denver Water and Northern Water were making efforts to appease west slope concerns with increased diversions from the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers. Despite the historic agreement between Denver Water and west slope water wonks and the recently announced Colorado Division of Wildlife approval for mitigation there may be a long battle ahead for the two Front Range providers to move more water through the Adams and Moffat tunnels.

    Here’s a guest commentary about new proposed diversions from Drew Peternell running in The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

    Earlier this month, Denver Water and the Northern District presented to the Colorado Wildlife Commission plans to mitigate the impacts of their projects. While the plans do include some meaningful provisions, they do not go far enough.

    First, under the proposed mitigation, Denver can divert from the Fraser River even when diversions violate stream temperature standards designed to prevent fish mortality.

    Second, the increased diversions could eliminate the spring high-water flows necessary to flush stream channels of sediment, which is choking many stretches of the river to death.

    Third, the mitigation plans do not include a bypass of Windy Gap Reservoir, a measure that would reduce rainbow trout whirling disease and significantly improve conditions in the Colorado River downstream of the reservoir.

    And fourth, while the mitigation plans include some funding for habitat projects to adapt the streams to the new, lower flow reality, the dollar figures fall short of what is needed by nearly $10 million, according to estimates by independent restoration contractors.

    Yes, protecting the health of the upper Colorado River basin from the impacts of the proposed water diversions requires money. And $10 million may sound like a lot. But for Denver Water customers, it would be less than $1 a year per household, according to an analysis by Western Resource Advocates.

    Denver Water and the Northern District won’t have to pay a nickel for the water they propose to take from the upper Colorado River basin, and they refuse to pony up the money needed to offset the impacts of their diversions, arguing that their customers won’t tolerate the rate increase.

    Is saving our state’s namesake river worth a buck a year to you?

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Trout Unlimited: Upper Colorado River Mitigation Package ‘Not Enough’

    June 12, 2011

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Schofield):

    Trout Unlimited today expressed disappointment in a June 9 Colorado Wildlife Commission decision to approve without changes mitigation plans offered by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District for two new water diversion projects, saying the plans fall short of what’s needed to protect the fish and wildlife resources of the upper Colorado River basin.

    “We appreciate the hard work the commission and its staff have put into reviewing the proposed Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap expansion projects,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “While the mitigation package the commission approved yesterday is an improvement over the plans Denver and Northern offered originally, it is not enough to protect the rivers and streams of the upper Colorado River basin from the impacts of the new projects.”

    For decades, large-scale water diversions to the Front Range have severely depleted and damaged the upper Colorado River and its major tributaries, including the Fraser River. Already, transbasin water diversion projects, including Denver Water’s Moffat Tunnel pipeline and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap project, take about 60 percent of the native flows of the upper Colorado River basin. The proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap projects would take an additional 15 percent of flows and further stress an ecosystem that is on the tipping point of survival.

    Trout Unlimited vowed to seek additional mitigation conditions in the next phases of project permitting and urged Denver Water and Northern to do more to offset the impacts of the proposed projects on the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    At the Wildlife Commission meeting in Grand Junction Thursday, several wildlife commissioners expressed concerns that the final mitigation plans submitted by Denver Water and Northern were inadequate, but the commission voted unanimously to approve the plans anyway, without changes.

    “We’re disappointed that commissioners apparently believed they didn’t have the statutory authority to recommend additional protections,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project. “We don’t believe that’s an accurate reading of the statute.”

    Last week, TU, West Slope landowners and other stakeholder groups urged the Wildlife Commission to include several provisions in the final mitigation package to ensure the health of the rivers:

    - Reconnecting the Colorado River by creating a “bypass” around Windy Gap Reservoir.
    – A halt to diversions when water temperatures are on the verge of state “impaired” standards – water warm enough to kill trout.
    – Adequate spring flushing flows to keep the rivers healthy and sustain riparian areas that are critical to wildlife.
    – An ongoing plan to monitor stream conditions and identify needed habitat restoration projects.
    – An endowment fund to pay for those restoration projects as an “insurance policy” for river health.

    TU leaders stressed that these were reasonable requests. “We weren’t asking for perfection,” said Whiting. “We were simply asking for adequate mitigation, an ‘insurance policy’ that provides the minimal level of protection needed to keep the rivers and streams of the upper Colorado basin healthy into the future. Yesterday’s decision puts these irreplaceable resources at risk.”

    The Fraser River was a big loser in the decision, said TU. Under the plan approved by the commission, Denver Water can divert through the Moffat Tunnel even when those diversions violate stream temperature standards designed to prevent lethal effects on fish. And the project could take so much water that flushing flows critical to clean the stream of harmful sediment would no longer be available. The mitigation plans had several other deficiencies, including:

    - Funding for stream projects to protect the Colorado River fell significantly short—between $3 and $5 million short, according to TU’s calculations, based on estimates by independent restoration contractors.
    – Funding for a potential bypass of Windy Gap Reservoir, which could significantly improve downstream Colorado River conditions, was not included in the package.
    – Northern’s plan allows chronic stream temperature problems and provides insufficient flushing flows in the Upper Colorado River.

    TU thanked the commissioners for their efforts and acknowledged the complex, difficult nature of these mitigation decisions. But the sportsmen’s group said that the overriding goal of ensuring the future of the river’s wildlife habitat and fisheries was not achieved.

    “The bottom line is that under this mitigation package, the health of the upper Colorado River and its tributaries will continue to decline,” said Peternell.

    To learn more about diversion impacts on the river and watch TU’s short video “Tapped Out,” go to www.defendthecolorado.org

    More coverage from Scott Willoughby writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

    Several wildlife commissioners echoed the sentiment that the final mitigation plans submitted by Denver Water and Northern were not ideal, but the commission voted unanimously to approve the plans anyway. The projects’ Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans now move to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which has 60 days to affirm or modify the state’s position. Gov. John Hickenlooper will also have 60 days to affirm or further modify it before it’s submitted to federal permitting agencies…

    Prompted by a coalition of stakeholders led by Trout Unlimited, both water utilities made concessions to plans previously submitted. Among the additional measures are improved safeguards for maintaining cool water temperatures and minimum flow protections, creation of contingency funds for unanticipated impacts and enhanced funding for river restoration plans. The restoration plans were not required by the permitting process but were offered by Denver and Northern to help address impacts from past water development. The agreements hinge on final federal approval of the water projects.

    The additional measures are a step in the right direction, watchdogs say, but don’t go far enough. Trout Unlimited vowed to seek additional mitigation conditions in the next phases of project permitting and urged Denver Water and Northern to do more to offset the impacts of the proposed projects on the Colorado River and its tributaries…

    Most significant among the stakeholders’ requests is a “reconnection” of the Colorado River by creating a yet-to-be- designed bypass around the 445-acre-foot Windy Gap collection pond that the group has pinpointed as a major problem area near the confluence of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Most agree that the proposal has merit, although further study is required. “We feel that the reconstruction of the channel downstream is just as important,” DOW aquatic biologist Ken Kehmeier told the commission. “We feel that we can’t determine the necessity for a bypass until a study is done.”

    More coverage from Janice Kurbjin writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

    Trout Unlimited representatives say the plans fall short of what’s needed to protect the fish and wildlife resources of the Upper Colorado River Basin. They vowed in early June to fight the projects on several fronts, including at the federal permitting level, if the plan didn’t include strong protections for the Upper Colorado River. They are now focused on other permitting levels. “We want more,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project.

    Groups such as the Fraser River Basin Landowners and the Upper Colorado River Alliance are on board with the fight…

    According to the Division of Wildlife, restoration plans aren’t required by the permitting process but were offered voluntarily by the utilities. A DOW statement said the commission’s authority is limited to mitigating impacts from the proposed projects and restoring the river to a past condition is beyond the scope of commission authority…

    Trout Unlimited and other West Slope landowners and stakeholders asked the wildlife commission earlier this month to include several provisions, they called it an “insurance policy,” to protect the health of the rivers. What’s been offered isn’t enough, they say. Despite flow and temperature monitoring proposed by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited claimed the utility is still allowed to divert through the Moffat Tunnel even when those diversions violate stream temperature standards designed to prevent lethal effects on fish. The diversions could also negatively affect flushing flows that clean the stream of sediment, they said. Both utilities agreed to a $600,000 “mitigation insurance policy” that falls between $3 and $5 million short, Trout Unlimited representatives said. In particular, there’s no funding for a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass, meant to improve downstream Colorado River conditions, nor was an endowment fund established to pay for future restoration projects that would be planned and monitored.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Moffat Collection System Project and Windy Gap Firming Project: The Colorado Division of Wildlife commissioners approve both mitigation plans

    June 11, 2011

    A picture named fraservalleycollection.jpg

    From The Denver Post (Mitchell Byars):

    Now the plan must clear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to release its final environmental impact study later this year. If the Army Corps gives the project the green light, construction on the expansion of Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County could start as early as 2015. The project is expected to take four years. The wildlife commission voted unanimously to accept Denver Water’s environmental mitigation plan. “We take this unanimous vote as an endorsement of our cooperative approach with local stakeholders,” said Denver Water’s planning director Dave Little. “Now we want to move aggressively towards implementing these measures.”[...]

    In the mitigation plan, Denver Water agreed to stop diverting water from July 15 through the end of August if temperatures in the river reached levels that could possibly threaten local fish populations. The utility also pledged money to enhance stream habitats in cooperation with local counties and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Make the river better, that’s sort of our mantra,” Little said. “We’ve addressed all of the impacts in the scientific study the Army Corps of Engineers did, which was an exhaustive effort. But we know the Corps did not capture the impacts that some others have brought up and that’s why we went above and beyond in our mitigation plan.”

    More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    In a series of unanimous votes, the commissioners approved mitigation plans for Denver’s Moffat Collection System project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project and also authorized the Colorado Division of Wildlife to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Denver and Northern to help manage a significant restoration project for the upper Colorado River…

    The votes came after Denver and Northern described to Commissioners several new or modified plan elements, which include enhanced temperature and flow protections, creation of contingency funds for unanticipated impacts and enhanced funding for river restoration plans. The restoration plans were not required by the permitting process but were offered voluntarily by Denver and Northern to help address impacts from past water development. The agreements hinge on the water providers obtaining final federal approval for their projects…

    Prior to the vote, Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn summarized concerns expressed by several commissioners regarding the complex package of plans and the potential that development of the projects may have unintended consequences for the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers. “Is it perfect?” Glenn asked “No. But staff has evaluated it inside and out and I’m confident that it’s better than where we are.” The Commission’s recommendation will now be transmitted to the federal permitting agency for each project…

    To further address impacts from its Moffat Collection System project, Denver has agreed to new elements including increased safeguards for maintaining cool water temperatures and minimum flows in the Fraser during high summer and additional funds for aquatic habitat improvements in that river. Denver also agreed to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is in addition to Denver’s previous proposal to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work on the Fraser. On the Colorado River, Denver would maintain two water temperature gauges and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish…

    East of the Divide, Denver would allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water in the enlarged Gross Reservoir for release during winter months, replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability.

    In its final proposal, Northern agreed to increase minimum peak flows during drought conditions to maintain fish spawning habitat, to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures and to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Windy Gap being developed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Northern’s proposal included mitigating impacts on the Upper Colorado River system by managing their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and keep water temperatures cool, looking for ways to improve flushing flows in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir and contributing to water quality projects that reduce nutrient loading in Lake Granby, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

    East of the Divide, Northern proposed to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow reservoir…

    In their final plans, Denver and Northern agreed to add $1 million in funding to the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project to $4.5 million and increase money set aside to address future contingencies or operating and maintenance costs on that project to $1.5 million. Denver and Northern also pledged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the DOW to manage the habitat project, and urged that the DOW be given a more direct role in developing and managing stream restoration projects contemplated under the Learn By Doing adaptive management process created by Denver’s global settlement with Grand County and other stakeholders…

    Senior Northeast Region aquatic biologist Ken Kehmeier said Division staff believes that in total, the agreements, including those made with mountain communities, would not only address impacts from the new projects but also help repair impacts to the Colorado and Fraser rivers caused by previous projects.

    More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

    Commissioners were generally still worried about the “unintended consequences for the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers” but felt the revised mitigation plans – including greater temperature and flow protections for aquatic life, more funding for river restoration and a contingency fund for unanticipated impacts – were a lot better than previous plans. “It has always been Denver Water’s goal to go beyond mitigating the project impacts to make the river better than it is today,” Denver Water’s director of planning Dave Little said: “We look forward to working with stakeholders on mitigation for the project and the significant enhancement plan also accepted by the Commission that will improve aquatic habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

    The fish and wildlife mitigation plans still must be approved by federal regulators. Also on Thursday, Denver Water provided a statement on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report that includes one scenario in which water levels in the Colorado River decrease by 10 to 20 percent by the middle of this century as a result of global climate change.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Moffat Collection System Project and Windy Gap Firming Project: The Colorado Division of Wildlife commissioners approve both mitigation plans

    June 10, 2011

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    Here’s the release from the Colorado Division of Wildlife:

    The Colorado Wildlife Commission Thursday endorsed Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plans submitted by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to mitigate impacts that would be caused by two proposed transmountain water development projects.

    In a series of unanimous votes, Commissioners approved mitigation plans for Denver’s Moffat Collection System project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project and also authorized the Division of Wildlife to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Denver and Northern to help manage a significant restoration project for the upper Colorado River. Three members of the Colorado State Parks Board joined the Commission at the workshop, which was held at the Doubletree Inn on Horizon Drive.

    The votes came after Denver and Northern described to Commissioners several new or modified plan elements, which include enhanced temperature and flow protections, creation of contingency funds for unanticipated impacts and enhanced funding for river restoration plans. The restoration plans were not required by the permitting process but were offered voluntarily by Denver and Northern to help address impacts from past water development. The agreements hinge on the water providers obtaining final federal approval for their projects.

    Prior to the vote, Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn summarized concerns expressed by several commissioners regarding the complex package of plans and the potential that development of the projects may have unintended consequences for the upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers.

    “Is it perfect?” Glenn asked “No. But staff has evaluated it inside and out and I’m confident that it’s better than where we are.”

    The Commission’s recommendation will now be transmitted to the federal permitting agency for each project. Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System project would firm up the yield from Denver’s existing water rights on the West Slope, primarily by enlarging Boulder’s Gross Reservoir and diverting additional water from the Fraser, Williams Fork and Blue rivers. Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project proposes to firm up the yield from its existing water rights in the Upper Colorado River by diverting additional water to the proposed new Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland.

    Since last fall, Denver and Northern have been in discussions with Division of Wildlife staff to address concerns voiced by the public and by Wildlife Commissioners. The two utilities have simultaneously been negotiating a complimentary set of agreements with a diverse group of stakeholders, including affected local governments like Grand County.

    To further address impacts from its Moffat Collection System project, Denver has agreed to new elements including increased safeguards for maintaining cool water temperatures and minimum flows in the Fraser during high summer and additional funds for aquatic habitat improvements in that river. Denver also agreed to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

    This is in addition to Denver’s previous proposal to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work on the Fraser. On the Colorado River, Denver would maintain two water temperature gauges and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish. East of the Divide, Denver would allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water in the enlarged Gross Reservoir for release during winter months, replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability.

    In its final proposal, Northern agreed to increase minimum peak flows during drought conditions to maintain fish spawning habitat, to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures and to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Windy Gap being developed by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Northern’s proposal included mitigating impacts on the Upper Colorado River system by managing their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and keep water temperatures cool, looking for ways to improve flushing flows in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir and contributing to water quality projects that reduce nutrient loading in Lake Granby, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. East of the Divide, Northern proposed to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow reservoir.

    Under state statute, the Wildlife Commission’s authority was limited to mitigating impacts from proposed projects. Restoring the river to a past condition was beyond the scope of Commission authority. However, Denver and Northern voluntarily proposed to help enhance conditions for fish and wildlife resources on both sides of the Continental Divide.

    The enhancement plans would support the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project, a collaborative plan designed to re-establish a functional channel system and improve habitat for trout and other important aquatic species on a roughly 14-mile stretch of river between Windy Gap Reservoir and the Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area.

    In their final plans, Denver and Northern agreed to add $1 million in funding to the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project to $4.5 million and increase money set aside to address future contingencies or operating and maintenance costs on that project to $1.5 million. Denver and Northern also pledged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the DOW to manage the habitat project, and urged that the DOW be given a more direct role in developing and managing stream restoration projects contemplated under the Learn By Doing adaptive management process created by Denver’s global settlement with Grand County and other stakeholders.

    That global settlement, announced recently by Denver Water, would address longstanding concerns about the health of the Colorado River. The settlement includes funding for aquatic habitat and for an adaptive management process designed to help maintain river health.

    Northern is also working on similar agreement with communities on the Upper Colorado River.

    Senior Northeast Region aquatic biologist Ken Kehmeier said Division staff believes that in total, the agreements, including those made with mountain communities, would not only address impacts from the new projects but also help repair impacts to the Colorado and Fraser rivers caused by previous projects.

    Commissioner David Brougham credited the Division, Denver and Northern for negotiating agreements which went beyond the Commission’s limited jurisdiction under the statute.

    “I think in looking at this the Division has gone beyond and done more than that statute gives us the power to do,” Brougham said. “Denver and Northern could have said no, but they didn’t and I think that’s telling.”

    Additional information regarding the Wildlife Commission’s review, including links to the mitigation and enhancement plans being offered by Denver Water and Northern, can be found on the Division’s web site at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/LandWater/Water/MoffatWindyGapMitigationProjects/.

    During the morning session, North Park District Wildlife Manager Josh Dilley was presented with the 2010 Shikar-Safari Club International Officer of the Year Award. Dilley, who for the past three years has had responsibility for two wildlife management districts in the high mountain basin, was presented with the award by Bob Boswell of Shikar Safari Club International.

    Dilley, who was surrounded by his family, said he was honored by the award. “I don’t have to go to work every morning, I get to go to work every morning,” Dilley told the Commissioners. “Wildlife officers in Colorado have a passion like no other. I work with my heroes every day.”

    Grand Junction’s Lynn Ensley, who founded the nonprofit Pathways for Fishing, was recognized for his outstanding service in recruiting young anglers in Colorado. “I can’t say enough about Lynn’s continued dedication, his passion and his enthusiasm,” said Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde. “Since 1995, Lynn has introduced almost 15,000 kids to the sport of fishing.”

    Ensley expressed to the Commissioners his appreciation for the Division’s support over the years, adding that he is looking to develop a new program to recruit young deer hunters.

    Commissioners also received an update on draft black bear management plans for the northern Front Range, the Sangre de Cristos, the Uncompahgre and the Bears’ Ears area of northwestern Colorado, as well as an update on the impending July 1 merger of the Division of Wildlife with Colorado State Parks.

    In other action, the Commission adopted final regulations removing bag and possession limits at Bonny Reservoir State Park and allow the use of trotlines and jugs. This action permanently implements an emergency regulation passed by the Commission at its last meeting in May 2011. Bonny Reservoir is scheduled to be drained in the fall of 2011, and this change is intended to allow the public to use all game fish prior to the draining of the reservoir.

    The Wildlife Commission meets monthly and travels to communities around the state to facilitate public participation in its processes. The complete agenda for the June Wildlife Commission meeting can be found on the Wildlife Commission web page at:

    http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeCommission/Archives/2011/June92011.htm.

    The Colorado Wildlife Commission is an 11-member board appointed by the governor. The Wildlife Commission sets Division of Wildlife regulations and policies for hunting, fishing, watchable wildlife, nongame, threatened and endangered species. The Commission also oversees Division of Wildlife land purchases and property regulations.

    More coverage from Wayne Harrison writing for TheDenverChannel.com. From the article:

    Plans for minimizing the effects on wildlife include ways to maintain cool water temperatures and minimum water flows, restoring fish habitat and increasing flows during drought to maintain fish spawning areas. Denver Water planning director Dave Little says the goal is to improve the rivers.

    More coverage from the Boulder Daily Camera. From the article:

    Members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission voted unanimously Thursday to accept a plan by Denver Water to mitigate the impacts of a proposed expansion to Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County. The mitigation plan addresses impacts in Boulder County as well as impacts to the headwaters of the Colorado River, where more water will be drawn to fill the enlarged Gross Reservoir.

    More coverage from the Longmont Times-Call. From the article:

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which has its headquarters in Berthoud, provides water for agricultural, municipal, domestic and industrial uses in portionis of Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Broomfield, Morgan, Logan, Washington and Sedgwick counties. According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Northern has agreed: to increase minimum peak flows during droughts to maintain fish spawning habitat; to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures, and to reserve a $600,000 “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified in a final Windy Gap environmental impact statement being developed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


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