Feds ink $300 million Windy Gap water diversion out of #ColoradoRiver — The Denver Post

December 22, 2014
Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Federal water authorities signed off Friday on the $300 million Windy Gap Firming Project to siphon more water out of the Colorado River Basin into a huge new reservoir for the high-growth Front Range.

The west-flowing river water — up to 8.4 billion gallons a year pumped back eastward and under the Continental Divide — is expected to meet the needs of 400,000 residents around Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and Greeley.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decision clears Northern Water to build the 29 billion-gallon Chimney Hollow Reservoir, assuming it obtains state water quality and federal wetlands permits.

The reservoir would sit southwest of Loveland, west of Carter Lake. Work would begin by 2018, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

“It’s going to make water supplies more reliable,” Werner said. “You want to make sure you have a firm supply year in, year out so you have water for the basic needs of your communities.

“With all the growth we’ve seen in northern Colorado, we keep pushing that envelope of how close we are when that really dry year hits. We’ve got a lot more people moving in — one of the fastest-growing populations in the country — and part of this is about preparing for the future.”

For more than a decade, western Colorado communities have fought the project, contending it will degrade the ailing Colorado River Basin.

The project would divert river water near Granby and pump it through an existing 9-foot-diameter tunnel under the Continental Divide, to be stored in Chimney Hollow.

Numerous studies have found this will increase environmental harm that began in the 1930s, when federal agencies began pumping west-flowing water back eastward, through the Adams, Moffat and other tunnels, to Colorado’s semi-arid Front Range. Water temperatures spiked. Algae spread. Sediment clogged channels and choked aquatic life.

Negotiations during the past six years led to plans to try to minimize environmental harm and offset damage.

Northern Water has agreed to:

• Install temperature-monitoring devices and not divert water when the river gets too warm.

• Release trapped water for 50 hours at least once every three years, ensuring flows of 600 cubic feet per second, to simulate natural floods essential for ecosystem health.

• Give 977 million gallons a year to Grand County.

The project would increase the amount Northern Water diverts annually to more than 250,000 acre-feet, bringing total water diverted from the Colorado River Basin to 67 percent of the natural flows. Northern Water supplies 33 cities and irrigation water for 650,000 acres of crops.

From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

The record of decision states that the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir site is the preferred location for holding water transported from the Western Slope via the Colorado Big Thompson Water Project. The proposed reservoir would feed 10 municipalities across Northern Colorado including Greeley, Loveland and Fort Lupton.

Northern Water’s Brian Werner said this is an important step in a long process bringing, what he calls, water stability to Northern Colorado users.

“We have two steps remaining next year [2015], we need a state water quality certification and then a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers,” Werner said. “Once those steps happen we move forward with design, that’s probably a year, year and a half. And then we can start going out to bid and onto construction.”

Werner said a 2017 or 2018 ground breaking on the project is likely.

Project managers said the Windy Gap Firming Project could provide 26,000 acre-feet of additional yearly water to Northern Colorado cities if constructed. Currently that additional water is lost in years of high run-off since there’s no place to hold it. During low run-off years, water is unavailable because the Windy Gap Project holds junior water rights.

“This makes reliable a water supply to a number of Northern Colorado communities that haven’t had the reliability factor with their Windy Gap water supplies. So it gives them another comfort level in terms of future water supplies,” Werner said.

“With the drought throughout the Colorado River basin and always on people’s minds, this is a huge step in terms of finding and putting together a future water supply for these communities.”

The federal permitting process for the project began in 2003, and the Bureau of Reclamation issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011. A fish and wildlife mitigation plan was also approved at that time by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


Windy Gap Firming Project one step closer — the Sky-Hi Daily News

December 20, 2014

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call


From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has given its go-ahead to the Windy Gap Firming project which, if brought to fruition, will supply up to 26,000 acre-feet of additional Upper Colorado River water to the Front Range. The delivery system for the Colorado-Big Thompson project includes Windy Gap Reservoir, Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir, Grand Lake and the Alva B. Adams Tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park.

Look for more details next week in the Sky-Hi News and at http://www.skyhidailynews.com. Following are excerpts from the press release about the decision from by the Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Michael J. Ryan signed the Record of Decision, contract and associated documents, for the Windy Gap Firming Project, located southwest of Loveland.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an exceptional example of the federal government working with our partners to get big things done,” said Ryan. “This project represents an immense effort from a diverse group of stakeholders who pulled together and created a workable project that provides benefits to the people of Colorado and the nation.”

The signing of the ROD culminates a years-long effort by multiple water providers to increase the reliability of, or “firm,” the Windy Gap Project water supply, increasing reliable annual yield from zero to approximately 26,000 acre-feet. …

The project potentially entails construction of a 90,000 acre-foot water storage reservoir, Chimney Hollow, south of Flatiron Reservoir on the East Slope, to provide more reliable water deliveries to Colorado’s Front Range communities and industry. The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will also provide additional recreational opportunities that would be developed and managed by Larimer County.

“The process outcome is what all future water projects should be based on,” the Grand County Commissioners said in a statement. “We believe that consultation with Grand County during the 2014 contract negotiations is an indication of Reclamation’s commitment to open decision-making on matters involving operations of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.”

Reclamation, along with Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict, have negotiated a contract allowing the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for Windy Gap Project water. New connections between Chimney Hollow Reservoir and C-BT Project facilities would allow water delivery to participants using existing C-BT infrastructure. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water would also be “prepositioned” in the Subdistrict’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help improve the reliability of Windy Gap Project water deliveries. Total allowable C-BT Project storage or yield would not change.

The estimated total construction cost for Chimney Hollow Reservoir and associated facilities is $223 million (in 2005 dollars) for the dam, reservoir, appurtenances and conveyance facilities. It is estimated that Chimney Hollow could be operational in five to seven years.

To view the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement and other associated documents, visit: http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/windy_gap.html.

From The Greeley Tribune (Kayla Young):

The future of water storage for Greeley and several other northern Colorado municipalities became a little more clear on Friday.

The Windy Gap Firming Project hit a historic milestone with the signing of its long-awaited record of decision at the Northern Water headquarters here.

Officials from Northern Water and the Bureau of Reclamation also signed a new contract to allow Windy Gap water to be transported from the Western Slope to Chimney Hollow Reservoir, to be located southwest of Loveland, through the Colorado Big Thompson Project infrastructure.

“For the participants in this project that have worked so tirelessly over a number of years to make today a reality, today the development of construction of the Windy Gap project has taken one significant step toward reality,” said Northern Water’s general manager, Erik Wilkinson.

The signing concludes 11 years of efforts and six years of negotiations to establish Chimney Gap Reservoir as the preferred alternative for the Windy Gap project. Once built, the reservoir will hold 90,000 acre-feet of water for 13 participating municipalities and water districts on the Front Range. The Windy Gap Firming Project will provide 26,000 acre-feet of water a year to the project to supply northeastern Colorado.

Although Friday’s signing marks a significant step forward in the project, several key steps remain, including certification on water quality, permitting from the Board of Engineers and the actual construction of the project. Construction is expected to begin on Chimney Hollow Reservoir in 2018.

Burt Knight, water and sewer director for Greeley, one of the top participants in the project with 4,400 acre-feet, recognized the signing as an important step forward in securing the city’s water assets.

“This strengthens our supply portfolio. We get water from four different basins. This strengthens our water that comes from the Western Slope and actually helps us with our reuse and irrigation side of the system, since this water can be reused over and over,” Knight said.

While the interests of the Front Range and Western Slope were often at odds during negotiations, Grand County Manager Lurline Curran said the relationships built during discussions were ultimately what allowed the project to move forward.

“I believe these negotiations have set a precedence on how water projects should be done in the future, not just here in Grand County but in the whole West,” she said.

Mike Applegate, president of Northern Water’s board of directors, said the project provides benefits to both sides of the divide.

“It’s one where there were definitely some tough negotiations but both sides listened to each other. Both sides got something out of the agreements. We’ve made the river better than it has been in a long time over in the Colorado River Basin,” he said.

He pointed to the importance of the plan statewide and its role in the recently released Colorado Water Plan draft.

“This project is recognized even in the Colorado Water Plan as critical for the future of the region, a project that really needs to get built if we really want to protect agriculture in the South Platte Basin,” Applegate said. “These communities that are signed up for this, they have the need right now, so we need to get this project built and get it working.”

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said that much like the state water plan, this step forward on the Windy Gap Firming Project has been a long time coming.

“It’s really indicative of something you’ll find in the draft plan, that we, in this very board room, approved sending to the governor’s office last week. What that is, is this idea that there is a path for projects that involve water from the West Slope to the East Slope that are win-win type projects, that it’s not a situation where it’s a zero sum game,” he said.

From the Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonacci):

The new Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which is expected to be complete in five to seven years, will allow member communities to store water during wet years.

While many Front Range cities and water districts get their water from the Windy Gap project near Lake Granby, water from Windy Gap can be pumped to the communities only in a year that’s not too dry or not too wet.

Too dry and there’s not enough water to pump. Too wet, and the water pumped to Lake Granby fills the lake past capacity and it just flows back to Windy Gap. The proposed Chimney Hollow reservoir could fix this problem, holding water in wet years to use in dry years.

The 31,575-acre-feet reservoir just west of Cater Lake will cost an estimated $273 million for the dam, reservoir and pumping facilities, according to a Bureau of Reclamation news release.

The federal permitting process for Chimney Hollow began in 2003, culminating Friday as a representative from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signed a contract and environmental impact statement as a consortium of county officials, mayors, water district board members and other public officials looked on.

The event celebrated the culmination of not just the permitting process but successful — yet many times contentious — negotiations that went on among entities on both the eastern and western sides of Rocky Mountain National Park. The water must be pumped from Windy Gap to Lake Granby, on the western slope, and then to the Front Range communities on the eastern slope via an underground tunnel already in place.

As the various environmental and other permits were being acquired, negotiations were occurring between entities on the Western and Eastern slopes.

“We didn’t start off in a big group hug,” Greeley Water and Sewer Board Vice Chairman Mick Todd told the group of assembled mayors and water officials Friday.

Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s director of public works and natural resources, said the effort was important for not only Longmont but for all of the other surrounding communities.

“The entire West is water short, and these types of collaborative efforts are going to be important and are going to work for a wide variety of people,” Rademacher said.

Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs said moving forward with Chimney Hollow is especially exciting for him because Longmont Mayor Ralph Price is the one who filed for water rights for the Windy Gap project in 1967.

“We are standing on the shoulders of some great leaders,” Coombs said. Among the 13 entities sharing use of the future Chimney Hollow reservoir, Longmont will have the third most shares at roughly 16.2 percent. Broomfield will own the most shares at about 18 percent, and Platte River Power Authority will own the second most at about 16.3 percent. The authority provides electricity to Longmont, Estes Park, Loveland and Fort Collins.

Platte River Power Authority General Manager Jacqueline Sargent said that when completed, Chimney Hollow will make the supply of water they need for cooling during power generation more reliable.When there isn’t enough Windy Gap water available, Platte River Power Authority must buy it from other sources, which in dry years can get expensive.

“What this really means to us is that it enhances our ability to have a reliable source of energy to serve our communities and that’s really important to us,” Sargent said.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


Reclamation Signs Record of Decision for Windy Gap Firming Project in North Central Colorado

December 19, 2014

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Michael J. Ryan signed the Record of Decision, contract and associated documents, for the Windy Gap Firming Project, located southwest of Loveland, Colo.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an exceptional example of the federal government working with our partners to get big things done,” said Ryan. “This project represents an immense effort from a diverse group of stakeholders who pulled together and created a workable project that provides benefits to the people of Colorado and the nation.”

The signing of the ROD culminates a years-long effort by multiple water providers to increase the reliability of, or “firm,” the Windy Gap Project water supply, increasing reliable annual yield from zero to approximately 26,000 acre-feet.

“This is an important milestone for the Windy Gap Participants who have worked tirelessly over many years to make today a reality,” said Eric Wilkinson, General Manager for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Today the development and construction of the Windy Gap Firming Project is one very significant step closer to reality. Thanks go out to all those who negotiated in good faith over the last several years to develop a number of agreements that form the foundation for the documents being signed today.”

The project potentially entails construction of a 90,000 acre-foot water storage reservoir, Chimney Hollow, south of Flatiron Reservoir on the East Slope, to provide more reliable water deliveries to Colorado’s Front Range communities and industry. The construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir will also provide additional recreational opportunities that would be developed and managed by Larimer County.

“The process outcome is what all future water projects should be based on,” the Grand County Commissioners said in a statement. “We believe that consultation with Grand County during the 2014 contract negotiations is an indication of Reclamation’s commitment to open decision-making on matters involving operations of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.”

Reclamation, along with Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict, have negotiated a contract allowing the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for Windy Gap Project water. New connections between Chimney Hollow Reservoir and C-BT Project facilities would allow water delivery to participants using existing C-BT infrastructure. Colorado-Big Thompson Project water would also be “prepositioned” in the Subdistrict’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help improve the reliability of Windy Gap Project water deliveries. Total allowable C-BT Project storage or yield would not change. The estimated total construction cost for Chimney Hollow Reservoir and associated facilities is $223 million (in 2005 dollars) for the dam, reservoir, appurtenances and conveyance facilities. It is estimated that Chimney Hollow could be operational in five to seven years.

To view the Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement and other associated documents, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/windy_gap.html.

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

The Windy Gap Firming Project received its Record of Decision Dec. 19, 2014, during a signing ceremony at Northern Water’s headquarters in Berthoud. Mike Ryan, Great Plains Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, signed the firming project’s long- anticipated ROD.

Officials from Northern Water, Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict and Reclamation also signed a new Carriage Contract allowing Windy Gap water to be transported from the West Slope to Chimney Hollow Reservoir using existing Colorado-Big Thompson Project facilities.

The ROD identifies and confirms Chimney Hollow Reservoir as the firming project’s preferred alternative. If built as proposed, Chimney Hollow Reservoir would store up to 90,000 acre-feet of water southwest of Loveland and just west of Carter Lake.

“Signing the Record of Decision and new Carriage Contract is a major milestone for the project,” said Jeff Drager, Project Manager for the Windy Gap Firming Project. “With Chimney Hollow Reservoir, the Windy Gap Firming Project will be able to provide 26,000 acre-feet of water year in and year out to growing communities in Northeastern Colorado.”
Dennis Yanchunas, President of Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict, applauded the participants’ perseverance. “While this has taken a number of years, it is worth the effort as Chimney Hollow Reservoir is that much closer to reality.”

The Windy Gap Firming Project is a collaboration of 12 Northeastern Colorado water providers and 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.

The firming project’s federal permitting process began in 2003 under the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011 along with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission’s approval of a fish and wildlife mitigation plan.

Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir could begin in 2018.

Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict is a separate and independent conservancy district formed by six municipalities in 1970 to build and operate the Windy Gap Project. The Windy Gap Project consists of a diversion dam and pump plant on the Colorado River, and a six-mile pipeline to Lake Granby.

Northern Water is a public agency created in 1937 to contract with Reclamation to build the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which collects water on the West Slope and delivers it to the East Slope through a 13-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park. Northern Water’s boundaries encompass portions of eight counties, 640,000 irrigated acres and a population of about 880,000 people. For more information, visit http://www.northernwater.org.Reservoir.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero” — Brian Werner #ColoradoRiver

October 15, 2014

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir -- Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call

Site of proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir — Windy Gap Firming Project via the Longmont Times-Call


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict have negotiated a contract that would allow the subdistrict to use excess capacity in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project, according to a press release. A 30-day public comment period on the contract opened Oct. 8 and will close Nov. 7…

Currently, Windy Gap water rights are in priority during wet years, though paradoxically the C-BT project is often too full to hold excess water. Because the Windy Gap Project has a junior water right, it is often not able to divert water during dry years, when there is available capacity in the C-BT project.

“Right now the firm yield of Windy Gap is zero because there are some years where they can’t get any water out of the project,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water.

The Windy Gap Firming Project proposes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake Reservoir in Larimer County. The added storage capacity would “firm up,” or reinforce the Windy Gap water right during dry years. The contract is needed to use federal infrastructure to firm up the Windy Gap water right.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Mike Ryan with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in a prepared statement. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The Windy Gap project is allowed to divert a maximum of 90,000 acre feet in a single year, and its 10-year running average cannot exceed 65,000 acre feet per year.

The cost for using the excess capacity will be $34 per acre-foot, said Tyler Johnson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Initial estimates for the Windy Gap Firming Project put the cost at $270 million.

Also up for comment is Senate Document 80, which contains guidelines for project facilities and auxiliary features, and Section 14 Determination Memos, which authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights.


Reclamation, Northern Water Reach Tentative Agreement on Windy Gap Firming Project #ColoradoRiver

October 10, 2014

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict have been negotiating a contract that would allow the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project.

The 30-day public comment period will open October 8, and close November 7. The comment period provides the public the opportunity to comment on the Contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 (Reclamation Project Act of 1939) Determination Memos.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Mike Ryan. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The contract will allow for the introduction, storage, conveyance, exchange, substitution, and delivery of water for Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and allows the flexibility to move or preposition water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Colorado.

Section 14 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights. Senate Document 80 contains guidelines for Project Facilities operations and Auxiliary Features.

“There has been a need for a storage reservoir for Windy Gap water for more than 25 years,” said Ryan. “We are getting much closer to making that a reality, and making better use of America’s infrastructure, while also creating needed jobs in the process.”

For more information on the contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 Determination Memos, contact Lois Petersen at (406) 247-7752 or lapetersen@usbr.gov.

More Windy Gap coverage here.


Whatever else is in it, the biggest element of #COWaterPlan plan will be cooperation — Chris Woodka

August 24, 2014


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Whatever else is in it, the biggest element of Colorado’s water plan will be cooperation.

“Water can either divide or unite us. In the end, it’s our choice,” Gov. John Hickenlooper told the Colorado Water Congress last week. “In this state, we work together, and we have to make sure it doesn’t divide us.”

When Hickenlooper called for a state water plan last year, it had a direct impact on most of the water professionals attending the summer workshop. Four months from the finishing line, the governor reiterated the importance of water to Colorado. The draft plan will be on the governor’s desk in December, whether or not Hickenlooper survives an election challenge from Republican Bob Beauprez. Beauprez addressed the Water Congress Friday.

Hickenlooper heaped praise on the work of basin roundtables, which have been meeting since 2005, and have spent the past year developing basin implementation plans.

“The roundtables, while not as glamorous and sexy as bare-knuckle water brawling in neighboring states and here in the past, have moved forward,” he said.

“It has not been just a small group of people in Denver directing how it will be used, but a broad group of people working together to write a plan.”

Hickenlooper highlighted the Arkansas Valley Conduit as an example of water projects that benefit the outlying areas of Colorado. Hickenlooper said he and Colorado Water Conservation Board Executive Director James Eklund talked with Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior, earlier this year to ask him to move funds to provide more money for the conduit. Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation announced $2 million in funding for the conduit this year.

“That $2 million is a good first step for Southeastern Colorado, an area that has been in a drought for years,” he said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Whether it’s putting in a new dam or pipeline, leasing water from farms or simply conserving water, municipal customers should be prepared to pay more for mitigation.

“With any project, we have to be prepared to look at the question: What are the underlying costs?” said Mark Pifher, permit manager for the Southern Delivery System being constructed by Colorado Springs Utilities.

Pifher led a panel of those who have worked on Colorado’s largest municipal water projects to explore the obvious and hidden add-on costs of water development. The event was part of the Colorado Water Congress summer convention.

In the case of SDS, an $840 million pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, about $150 million in additional costs to meet permit requirements has been tacked on.

Aurora paid additional costs for its lease of High Line Canal water 10 years ago, with an additional $1.3 million on top of $10.8 million in direct payments to farmers and $1.4 million for a continued farming program now in its tenth year on the Rocky Ford Ditch.

In the Rocky Ford Ditch program, Aurora provides some of the water it purchased to allow farmers to stay in business.

“We’re thinking we’ll continue the program in the future,” said Tom Simpson, Aurora’s engineer in the Arkansas Valley. “One thing of concern is the availability of water in the Arkansas basin.”

New storage projects also come with a price tag for mitigation.

Travis Bray of Denver Water said the $360 million Gross Reservoir expansion project, designed to increase yield by 18,000 acre-feet, has cost an additional $30 million in mitigation so far, as it moves toward full permitting, projected to happen in 2015.

Jeff Drager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District said its $300 million Windy Gap Project, designed to increase storage by 90,000 acre-feet, has cost $19 million in mitigation and 3,000 acre-feet of water.

Along with the money, agreements with affected communities cost time. Both projects are a decade behind schedule.

“I was a young guy when we started, and now my kids are out of college,” Drager said. “I’d just be happy to get this done by the end of my career.”

Even conservation has hidden costs, said Jason Mumm with MWH Global, a consultant on many municipal projects. He presented detailed analysis that showed how reduction of water use drives water rates up. As a result, customers may wind up paying the same amount of money or more after paying for appliances that reduce water use.

“Conservation is good, but we do need to understand that it comes with its own costs,” Mumm said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here. More conservation coverage here. More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here. More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here. More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


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.


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