#ColoradoRiver: Windy Gap Firming project gets Gov. Hickenlooper’s endorsement #COWaterPlan #COriver

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Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today formally endorsed the Windy Gap Firming Project, a water project that will serve cities and farmers on the northern Front Range as well as provide environmental benefits on the Western Slope.

The project expands the existing Windy Gap system built in the 1980s and includes the planned Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland to ensure more reliable supplies for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and other project participants. It also includes several protective measures for fish and waterways on the Western Slope.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been in the process of obtaining federal, state and local permits and certifications since 2003, including the required Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and, most recently, the Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Colorado moves the needle today with endorsement of a project that makes gains for the environment and water supply together,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency that facilitated development of Colorado’s Water Plan. “Grand County, environmental stakeholders, and Northern Water set an excellent example of the collaboration necessary to achieve the bold measurable objectives of Colorado’s Water Plan and the Colorado and South Platte Basin Implementation Plans.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project includes several measures to mitigate environmental impacts to protect fish, ensure stream protection, and reduce water quality impacts to Grand Lake and the Colorado River. These and other agreements were key to building support for the project across a spectrum of interests and for earning endorsement from the state. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Northern Water worked closely with state biologists to ensure that impacts on streams and rivers – and the fish and wildlife that depend on them – were identified and addressed through mitigation for the benefit of the environment, wildlife and recreation,” said Bob Broscheid, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This was a thorough and unified process and shows what we can accomplish when we work together to reach shared goals.”

With necessary permits and certifications for the project in hand, Hickenlooper also today directed his staff to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the federal agency’s issuance of a Section 404 Permit, the final federal regulatory step for the project.

Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Brian Werner):

Chimney Hollow Reservoir close to reality

Today the State of Colorado officially endorsed the Windy Gap Firming Project and Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

John Stulp, Governor John Hickenlooper’s Water Policy Advisor, made the announcement at Northern Water’s Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland. Reading a letter signed by Gov. Hickenlooper, Stulp told the 200 attendees that this is the state of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water project under the Colorado Water Plan, which was finalized last November.

“Further, the WGFP aligns with the key elements of the Colorado Water Plan…” Hickenlooper wrote.
Hickenlooper continued, “Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for assessing, reviewing and developing a project of this nature.”

Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict President Dennis Yanchunas spoke for the project’s participants in saying, “It’s really exciting to have that endorsement, the first ever by the state.” [ed. emphasis mine] Colorado’s endorsement came on the heels of state water quality certification in late March.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued its 401 water quality certification for the Windy Gap Firming Project on March 25, bringing the project permitting process nearer to completion.

“This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” said Project Manager Jeff Drager.

“The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

The state’s endorsement of the WGFP culminates 13 years of diligent effort and lengthy negotiations to permit and authorize a project that will assure a reliable water supply for more than 500,000 northern Front Range residents.

The federal permitting process began in 2003 under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation served as the lead federal agency and issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011 and a Record of Decision in 2014 for Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

In addition, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and Colorado Water Conservation Board approved a fish and wildlife mitigation plan in 2011. The following year the Grand County Commissioners issued a 1041 permit and reached an agreement with Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict on a mitigation and enhancement package.

A wide variety of organizations, including Trout Unlimited, support the CDPHE’s long-awaited ruling.

“This permit is another step toward fulfilling the Windy Gap Firming Project’s potential to be part of a balanced water supply strategy for Colorado Front Range,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water and Habitat Project.

“Through a balanced portfolio – including responsible supply projects like WGFP – along with stronger conservation and reuse programs and ag-urban water sharing — Colorado can meet its diverse water needs…” Peternell added.

The Windy Gap Firming Project is a collaboration of 12 Northern Front Range water providers and the Platte River Power Authority to improve the reliability of their Windy Gap water supplies. Windy Gap began delivering water in 1985.

The participants include 10 municipalities: Broomfield, Erie, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland and Superior; two water districts: Central Weld County and Little Thompson; and one power provider: Platte River. They currently provide water to 500,000 people.

The current cost estimate for WGFP is $400 million. To date the participants have spent $15 million on associated permitting costs.

From The Greeley Tribune (Nikki Work):

The Windy Gap Firming Project is one step closer to being more than just big dreams and big dollar signs. The project, which would allow for the construction of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland, received the first endorsement a water project has ever gotten from the state of Colorado.

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

John Stulp, special policy adviser for water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a letter from the governor at the Northern Water Spring Water Users meeting Wednesday at the Ranch in Loveland. In the letter, Hickenlooper applauded Northern Water for the Windy Gap Firming Project’s ability to bring communities together, protect fish and wildlife, and make Colorado’s water more sustainable, along with other ideals outlined in the Colorado Water Plan, which was adopted last November.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said in a news release from his office. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

While the endorsement from the state doesn’t advance the plan in earnest, it does give it credibility in the next and final step to getting its building permit completed.

“This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” said Windy Gap Firming Project manager Jeff Drager in a release from Northern Water. “The final step is the federal 404 wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which we believe will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers the project for the permit, it will want to know if the state approves of it. Now, with an official recommendation from the governor, the path should be smoother for the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Chimney Hollow Reservoir, Stulp said.

“I think this (project) is being done right,” Stulp said. “Now, we have the state’s endorsement and I think that will inform the fed agencies, the Corps at this point, that this has got strong support in Colorado.”

The city of Greeley was one of the original six cities to invest in the existing Windy Gap Reservoir. Now, the city is a participant in the Windy Gap Firming Project. Once the Chimney Hollow reservoir is built, Greeley will receive 4,400 acre-feet of water per year. An acre-foot of water is roughly the equivalent of one football field filled with a foot of water — that’s almost 326,000 gallons of water, or more than 8,000 bathtubs full.

Evans, Fort Lupton and the Central Weld County Water District are also participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project.

The project is estimated to cost about $400 million and participants have thus far spent $15 million, according to the Northern Water release. The reservoir will store 90,000 acre-feet of water and will be located near Carter Lake and parts of Northern Water’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

The Windy Gap Firming Project’s participants are primarily municipalities, but also include two water districts and one power company. The purpose of the project is to create an alternative water source for cities and companies to purchase water from instead of resorting to tactics like buy-and-dry or competing with agricultural land for water resources.

During his presentation at the Northern Water Spring Water Users Meeting, Metropolitan State University of Denver professor Tom Cech talked population growth. He said right now, Colorado is home to more than 5 million people. By 2030, that number’s projected to rise to more than 7 million after having already grown about 30 percent since 1990. In the South Platte Basin alone, that kind of population growth will equal a shortage of about 410,000 acre-feet of water, or about 134 billion gallons. Between 133,000 and 226,000 acres of irrigated land in the South Platte River Basin are expected to dry up by 2030.

With the rapid population expansion and resulting urban sprawl happening in Colorado, projects like these are more important than ever, said Eric Wilkinson, Northern Water’s general manager.

“People need water and we’re going to grow. Obviously people like this area, people move to this area and people will continue to come and we have to find ways to provide that water supply,” Wilkinson said. “This is a good way of doing it.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday weighed in formally backing the long-delayed and controversial $400 million Windy Gap project to divert more water from the Colorado River to the booming Front Range.

Hickenlooper ordered state officials to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain a final federal wetlands permit needed for work to begin. His endorsement is expected to aid that effort.

Northern Water would expand its existing river diversion system built in 1985 by installing a new reservoir southwest of Loveland to hold diverted Colorado River water. That 29 billion-gallon Chimney Hollow Reservoir would supply farmers and growing cities.

“This is the first time he has endorsed this project. We were certainly hoping for it. We were pleasantly surprised,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

“This means that construction, starting in 2019, is a reality.”

Northern Water has been planning the project, working with state and federal officials on permits, since 2003. A mitigation plan, approved by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, lays out measures to protect fish and off-set environmental harm including altered river flows.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials, responsible for ensuring water quality, signed off on March 25.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model for a project of this nature,” Hickenlooper said. “This is precisely the kind of cooperative effort envisioned for a project to earn a state endorsement in Colorado’s Water Plan.”

Front Range users would would siphon additional west-flowing water — up to 8.4 billion gallons a year — out of the Colorado River and pump it back eastward under the Continental Divide. That water, stored in the new reservoir, is expected to meet needs of 500,000 residents around Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley.

Environment groups on Wednesday reacted with fury.

“This project will further drain and destroy the Colorado River and imperil endangered fish,” said Gary Wockner, director of Save the Colorado River. “We’ve registered 23 complaints with the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government should deny the permit. This project is reckless.”

From the Fort Collins Coloradan (Kevin Duggan):

Colorado officials endorsed a long-sought water storage project that would include construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday voiced his support for the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would divert water from the Western Slope to the Front Range to shore up supplies for municipalities and farmers…

Participants in the water-storage project include Loveland, Longmont, Greeley, Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority and two water districts.

The project recently received a key water quality certification from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The certification is needed to receive a final permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the project…

Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

If the expected permits come through, final design on Chimney Hollow Reservoir would begin later this year with construction beginning in 2018-19, Werner said.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir would hold up to 90,000 acre feet of water. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of three to four urban households.

Larimer County would build and operate recreational facilities at the reservoir, which would be built west of Carter Lake. Carter Lake holds up to 112,000 acre feet of water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been under federal, state and local review since 2003. It has been challenged by environmentalists over the years because of its impact on the Colorado River’s ecosystem through increased water diversions.

In a recent email to the Coloradoan, the group Save the Colorado stated it would scrutinize the 404 permit decision from the Corps to ensure the project adheres to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Supporters say the Windy Gap Firming includes measures that would mitigate its environmental impacts and protect fish, streams and water quality in Grand Lake and the Colorado River.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

The project — formally called the Windy Gap Firming Project — calls for the construction of a new reservoir, called Chimney Hollow Reservoir southwest of Loveland. The reservoir will be designed to hold up to 90,000 acre feet of water, and reliably deliver about 30,000 acre feet of water every year, enough to support the needs of 60,000 families of four people.

It’s an expansion of the existing Windy Gap system built in the 1980s to divert water from the Colorado River to the Front Range. But the construction of a new reservoir is crucial, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the lead agency on the project.

Because of the Windy Gap project’s relatively junior water rights, water cannot be diverted in years when the snow pack is low. And during wet years, there’s not enough storage space in Lake Granby to store the Windy Gap water, which means it runs down the river.

“Windy Gap right now doesn’t have any firm yield,” Werner said, meaning that the system can’t be counted on to have water available for customers every single year.

“In wet years there’s no where to put it [the water], and in dry years there’s nothing to pump,” Werner said.

About 500,000 people live in the water districts that would be served by the Windy Gap Firming Project, including Broomfield, Lafayette, Louisville, Loveland, Erie and Evans. To date, the cost of planning and permitting the project has risen to $15 million, according to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

And with population numbers expected to jump in coming years, this project and others will be needed to ensure there’s enough water for the communities to grow, Werner said.

The project’s leaders have worked on agreements to mitigate environmental impacts to protect fish, ensure stream protection and reduce water quality impacts to Grand Lake and the Colorado River.

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this week released its final “401 water quality certification,” meaning that the state had signed off on the plans to mitigate the environmental impact of the project on the Upper Colorado River.

Trout Unlimited, said the conditions imposed by the state health department put the “threatened river and fishery on road to recovery.

“We firmly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited, in a statement.

It took a long time to get here. Click here to take a trip back in time through the Coyote Gulch “Windy Gap” category. Click here for posts from the older Coyote Gulch blog.

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