The major water bodies around Summit County and throughout most of the state are in strong shape after a slightly above-average winter season. However, the region is far from out of the woods on the matter of water in the West.
That was the thrust of speakers at Summit’s 23rd annual State of the River meeting on Wednesday evening, May 4 at the Silverthorne Pavilion — the first of six such meetings along the Colorado River Basin. With the Western Slope encompassing an average of 28 percent of the state’s water and spanning 15 counties, including Summit, this meeting of water wonks often sets the tone on consumption strategy and planning for rest of the year.
“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth,” Troy Wineland, Summit County’s water commissioner, told the congested room, “there are only crewmembers. We’re all in this together.”
Wineland stressed that despite snowpack totals currently at about 115 percent of average above Dillon Reservoir — and with peak flows still to come around the first or second week of June once meltoff takes hold — circumstances are not as favorable. Other states in the country that also primarily rely on the Colorado River remain at near-critical shortages.
“While things are nice and rosy and wet and looking great here in the county,” he said, “you look throughout the entire Colorado river basin … not quite as rosy. The Lower Basin states right now are facing some very serious problems with access to water and need.”
Both Wineland and Denver Water’s Bob Steger were sure to discuss the present levels at Lake Powell during their respective presentations. Each noted how vital the resource is to every state along the Colorado Basin, even though water has already passed by many of them to arrive to Powell.
Aside from Powell functioning as the chief water supply for drinking, crop irrigation and recreation for 30-to-40 million residents in the region, the Glen Canyon Dam there also provides hydroelectric power. Besides contractual obligations of an annual average of 7.5 million acre-feet at Powell through that basin compact, of course, when water there gets below necessary levels, that has an impact back up to the Upper Basin states with increased electrical bills…
“(Lake Powell) is our bank account against accounts payable to the Lower Basin states,” re-iterated Wineland. “We’re probably within 20 feet of the critical threshold, at which point, Arizona and Nevada are going to have to make some hard decisions and really cut back on their water use.”
Despite the challenges even in what seems a healthy water year locally, all hope is not lost. The overall tenor of the meeting was mostly positive, with emphasis on how collaborative efforts across Colorado, as well as through such multi-state interdependence and agreements, proper attention on this limited resource is increasing.
Steger, Denver Water’s manager of raw water supply, brought encouraging news that the water from snowpack averages just a couple days ago are not only well above both the 20-year average on Dillon Reservoir (14.6 inches), but also ahead of 2015 (16.5 inches) as well. Current measures are 19.5 inches from this winter’s snowfalls.
On top of that, snowpacks on the South Platte River are also above normal for this time of year. That means Denver Water can most likely avoid pulling much water from Dillon Reservoir through one of its primary transmountain water diversion, Roberts Tunnel, this season for the South Platte and Denver’s consumption needs.
In fact, if that happens, that will continue a beneficial trend where 2014 and 2015 were actually the two lowest years within a 50-plus-year span for how much water has had to be removed from Dillon Reservoir through Roberts for the Platte and North Fork rivers.
“I attribute that partly to Mother Nature,” explained Steger to the audience, “because we’ve had good water supplies on the South Platte, but also our customers are doing a better and better job every year I think of conserving water. When our Eastern Slope supplies are good, that means we don’t have to take as much water from the Western Slope to the other side of the divide. That indirectly helps Lake Powell.”
Wineland also discussed how momentous the unveiling of Colorado’s statewide water plan — years in the making — in November is for the general conservation movement. To boot, regional endeavors like the recent $32,000 Colorado Water Conservation Board grant awarded to the Frisco-based High Country Conservation Center (HC3) for development and execution of a countywide water efficiency program are additional steps in the right direction. His parting words were of encouragement and optimism for the Colorado River Basin’s future.
“I just want to bring it back to the bigger picture,” he said. “We have leaders who are putting forth all this legislation and these cooperative efforts. But what we’re lacking are champions, and those champions, really, are you and I — everyone in this room. We need to take this legislation and work to the next level and implement these changes.”
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In its effort to secure water rights for three proposed whitewater parks on the Colorado River, the city of Glenwood Springs has reached formal or conceptual agreements with a list of opposing parties in the water court case, including Denver Water, but it’s still facing opposition from Aurora and Colorado Springs.
“We have a number of parties that have already settled,” said Mark Hamilton, an attorney with Holland and Hart representing Glenwood. “And while there are still some significant question marks, we think the process so far has been productive and continues to be productive.”
Since December 2013, the city has been seeking a recreational in-channel diversion (RICD) water right tied to three whitewater parks on the popular Grizzly-to-Two Rivers section of the Colorado River, at No Name, Horseshoe Bend and the upper end of Two Rivers Park.
The two wave-forming structures in each of the three whitewater parks would operate under a common water right that could call for 1,250 cubic feet per second of water from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2,500 cfs of water for up to 41 days between April 30 and July 23, and 4,000 cfs on five consecutive days sometime between June 30 and July 6.
The 1,250 cfs level is the same as the senior water right tied to the Shoshone hydropower plant, which is upstream from the three proposed whitewater parks. Glenwood officials have previously said, however, that 2,500 cfs is a better level for boating and floating than 1,250 cfs, and the city wants the flows of 4,000 cfs for five days around the Fourth of July to hold expert whitewater competitions.
But Aurora and Colorado Springs, both as individual cities, and together as the Homestake Partners, have told the water court that Glenwood is seeking more water than it needs.
“Glenwood has ignored the law limiting a RICD to the minimum flow necessary for a reasonable recreation experience, and instead has reverse-engineered its proposed RICD to tie up half the flow of the mainstem of the Colorado River,” the Front Range cities said in a June 2015 statement filed with the court.
And the cities, which own conditional water rights upstream of Glenwood, said that the city’s proposed water right “would dramatically and adversely affect the future of water use in the Colorado River drainage, if not the entire state.”
Hamilton has met twice this year with representatives of Aurora and Colorado Springs, most recently on April 22 in Denver, to see if a deal can be worked out on how much water is appropriate.
“We’re talking,” said Joe Stibrich, the water resources policy manager at Aurora Water. “But, we’ll see where it goes.”
“There are ongoing negotiations and discussions that seem to be productive at this time,” said Kevin Lusk, principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities. “Whether or not we can reach agreement, of course, is really up to how those discussions go.”
A status conference with the water court referee is set for June 23. The referee could then decide to send the application up to James Boyd, the judge who hears Division 5 water court cases in Glenwood Springs, or the parties in the case could ask for more time to keep talking before heading to trial.
“We are actively communicating with Colorado Springs and Aurora concerning the possible development of additional call reduction provisions in order to protect future yield to their systems,” Hamilton said. “And we remain hopeful that a stipulated decree may be able to be entered after completion of these ongoing negotiations.”
Glenwood has recently worked out a “call reduction provision” with Denver Water.
“There has been a lot of progress on our end with the RICD discussions,” said Travis Thompson, a senior media coordinator at Denver Water. “In fact, in the collaborative spirit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA), Denver Water has agreed to allow Glenwood Springs to exceed 1,250 cfs under certain conditions.”
In the CRCA, signed in 2013, Denver Water agreed not to oppose a future recreational water right application if it did not seek flows greater than 1,250 cfs. But given that Glenwood is also seeking 46 days at 2,500 cfs and five days at 4,000 cfs, above the relatively consistent flow of 1,250 cfs, Denver did file a statement of opposition in this case.
Glenwood and Denver have now agreed that Glenwood would reduce its call for the whitewater parks to 1,250 cfs if continuing to call at a higher rate, such as 2,500 cfs, would limit a potential future water project that is described in the CRCA as providing 20,000 acre-feet to the East Slope.
Staff at Denver Water approved such an agreement with Glenwood on March 9, according to Thompson, and Hamilton said a copy would soon be filed with the court.
Glenwood enjoys the support of three “opposers” in the case: American Whitewater, Western Resource Advocates and Grand County, as the entities have filed statements “of opposition in support,” which is an option in Colorado’s water courts.
And Glenwood has now filed formal agreements in water court that it has reached with five other true opposers with a range of issues: Glenwood Springs Hot Springs & Lodge Pool, Inc., BLM, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, and Ute Water Conservancy District.
The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge & Pool is concerned about the project disrupting the deep Leadville limestone aquifer that provides its hot water.
But they’ve reached an agreement with the city that allows them to review construction plans for the wave structures at the Two Rivers Park location and requires the city to monitor the resulting wave structures for five years to watch for scouring of the riverbed, among other provisions.
And an agreement between Glenwood and the BLM was filed with the court in June 2015. It says that if the city needs to cross BLM property to create a whitewater park in Horseshoe Bend then the city will go through the required federal land use process.
The city has also signed a memorandum of understanding with CDOT that moves issues coming from the use of land at the No Name rest area on I-70 out of water court and into a future potential land-use application.
“One of the conditions is that the city will have to work with CDOT as they move forward with building the whitewater park, as the (No Name) location falls in CDOT right-of-way,” said Tracy Trulove, a communications manager for CDOT. The agreement has yet to be filed with the court.
The city is also close to finalizing agreements with the Colorado River District, the town of Gypsum, and the West Divide Water Conservancy District, according to Hamilton.
Peter Fleming, general counsel for the Colorado River District, which represents 15 West Slope counties, said staff at the district is now comfortable with proposed settlement language in the Glenwood case.
And he said once the district’s initial goals in a RICD case are met, the district often stays in the case on the side of the applicants “in order to support the right of its constituents to use water for recreational purposes that will support and/or enhance the local economy.”
“We anticipate that such participation may be necessary in the Glenwood Springs RICD case,” Fleming said.
At the end of the list of opposers is the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency whose board of directors in June 2015 recommended against the proposed RICD after concluding it would “impair Colorado’s ability to fully develop its compact entitlements” and would not promote “the maximum beneficial use of water” in the state.
“While we stand by our initial decision on this RICD, we’re encouraged that the applicants are actively seeking resolution with stakeholders and hope they will resolve the issues we raised,” James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said this week.
Eklund said the CWCB staff will likely reconsider Glenwood’s proposal after it has reached agreements with other opposing parties in the case, and if staff is satisfied, bring the proposed decree back to the board.
“Water for recreation in Glenwood Springs and around Colorado is essential and we want to make sure all RICDs strike the right legal, design, and safety balance,” Eklund said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of water and rivers in Colorado. The Daily News published this story on Saturday, April 30, 2016.
Here’s the release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ben Wade):
Recent precipitation delivered 103 percent of average April precipitation to-date, helping to boost overall snowpack and alleviate drought conditions across parts of Colorado. Regions of the central mountains and Front Range saw as much as 3 inches of precipitation, Monte Vista received a quarter of their average annual precipitation in just one storm. With short and long term forecasts favoring continued precipitation, and good reservoir storage, water providers have no immediate concerns. Agricultural producers are also in good shape with many looking to increase production this season to compensate for low commodity prices.
Statewide water year to-date precipitation as reported from NRCS is at 98% of average, with the southern portion of the state experiencing drier conditions than the northern half.
Despite recent precipitation, much of the state has seen above normal temperatures in March and April. Forecasts indicate that warmer temperatures are likely to continue into the spring.
Statewide NRCS SNOTEL water year-to-date precipitation is 98 percent of normal. The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest year-to-date precipitation at 87 percent of average, while the South Platte has the highest at 112 percent of average.
Reservoir storage statewide remains above normal at 111 percent. The Arkansas and Yampa/White basins have the highest storage levels in the state at 120 percent of average; the Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 94 percent, just slightly below normal.
The Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) as of April 1st is near or above average across the majority of the state. At this time of year the index reflects reservoir storage and streamflow forecasts. The lower Arkansas has seen large increases in storage over the last year and has some of the highest SWSI values in the state.
Streamflow forecasts are slightly below normal across many regions of the state with most forecasts ranging between 70-89 percent of average. The North Platte has the highest forecast in the state at 111 percent of average while the Purgatoire has the lower at just 69 percent of average.
The long term experimental forecast favors above average probability of precipitation through spring, with eastern Colorado favored more than the rest of the state. The strong El Nino event is likely to dissipate over the coming months but it is unclear if persistent La Nina conditions will develop. La Nina events tend to result in drier conditions across Colorado, but more so during later years of long-lived events.
The Pacific Decadal Oscillation tied its record high in March after more than two years above normal, which would tend to inhibit the development of a strong La Nina event or lessen its impacts.
Click here to read my Tweets from the meeting on Monday.
LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.
King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.
After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”
“I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.
King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.
“And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”
Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.
The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.
The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.
Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.
The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’
“And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”
Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.
When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”
Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.
Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)
A buoyant crowd
Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.
They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.
NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.
Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.
Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.
The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A political risk
After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.
“I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.
As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.
King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”
“So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.
“Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.
“If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”
King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.
And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.
“One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”
King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.
“We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”
Other plan elements
King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.
King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”
But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”
When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.
King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.
“We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.
“For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.
The last time the community funded a Yampa River management plan, in 2004, it was all about balancing the health of the town stretch of the Yampa with recreation. More than a decade later, plans are underway for a new river management plan, and this time, there is more emphasis on protecting the health of the river to help ensure ample water for the community in times of drought.
“In part, this is an update of the 2004 plan. But it’s more of a streamflow management plan, where we’ll be looking for target flows that support aquatic life and water quality,” city of Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Heaney said Tuesday after meeting with Routt County officials. “It’s almost like a drought resiliency plan for the river.”
And the new study will take in a longer stretch of the river — from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area downstream to the city’s wastewater treatment plant west of town.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Tuesday to earmark $5,000 in its 2017 budget for a contribution toward a 50 percent local match of a $51,875 grant to fund the new management plan. The grant is part of $1 million allocated to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in accordance with one of the measurable objectives in Colorado’s landmark 2015 state water plan…
The [Colorado Water Plan] set the goal of covering 80 percent of a list of locally prioritized rivers with new stream management plans by 2030.
Heaney told the BOC that, with this grant, the Yampa will be among the first in the state to be the subject of such a study.
There is a plan underway on the Crystal River (upstream from Carbondale), Aspen and Pitkin County have begun work on a plan for the Roaring Fork and plans are in the works for the Colorado River and the San Miguel on the western side of the San Juan Mountains, Heaney reported.
“We’re kind of like pioneers, along with them,” she said.
Heaney said the Colorado Water Trust, which has, in the past, facilitated efforts to secure supplemental summer flows for the Yampa in drought years such as 2002 and 2012, will participate in the study. In 2002 and 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife placed a voluntary ban on fishing on the town stretch of the Yampa, because the shallow flows were too warm to hold desirable levels of dissolved oxygen for trout.
Water temperature and dissolved oxygen will be a part of the new river study, which will include a streamflow management plan meant to manage for target flows that support both aquatic life and water quality, Heaney said.
“We’re working with the Colorado Water Trust to get us to a place where we have a sustainable plan,” Heaney said.
The Water Trust will undertake a legal analysis of the city’s water rights and advise on different strategies to make the best use of them, she said. For example, strategies could include securing storage contracts, stream improvement projects and re-timing flows through wetlands.
A Gunnison Basin Ag Producers’ Water Future Workshop will take place on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Delta-Montrose Technical College in the Enterprise Room. The Colorado Water Plan encourages the use of “alternative transfer methods” to keep water in agriculture while addressing the anticipated gap in future water supply given projected population growth. What does this mean for agricultural water users in the Gunnison Basin? Irrigators will hear about opportunities for cost sharing of efficiency improvements, water leasing programs, and concerns about “use it or lose it” at this workshop sponsored by the Colorado Ag Water Alliance with assistance from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.
Brief presentations will be followed by dialogue in which agricultural producers will have a chance to discuss challenges and barriers to these opportunities. Those presenting include Carlyle Currier from the Colorado Ag Water Alliance, Frank Kugel from the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, State Engineer Dick Wolfe, Perry Cabot from Colorado State University Extension, Aaron Derwingson from The Nature Conservancy, Phil Brink from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, and MaryLou Smith from CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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…
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.
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.
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera
Windy Gap and C-BT Granby area facilities
Windy Gap Reservoir
Windy Gap Reservoir
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site
Chimney Hollow Reservoir site via the Bureau of Reclamation