The May 2016 E-Waternews is hot off the presses from Northern Water

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

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

State endorses the Windy Gap Firming Project
During Northern Water’s April 13 Spring Water Users meeting, Mr. John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper’s water policy advisor, read a letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap Firming Project.

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

The state’s endorsement followed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s March 25 issuance of a 401 water quality certification for the WGFP. Project Manager Jeff Drager said, “This is the next to last step in getting the project permitted. 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.”

This is the State of Colorado’s first endorsement of a water storage project.

Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

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.

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

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.”

The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

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.

Windy Gap Firming Project: Longmont Councillors eschew debt, ready to pony up $47 million cash

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

From The Longmont Times-Call (Karen Antonucci):

The Longmont City Council reached a consensus Tuesday night — they would rather the city pay roughly $47 million in cash instead of using debt for a portion of the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Water rates are set to increase by 9 percent in 2017, 2018 and 2019, then 8 percent in 2020 and 2021, said Dale Rademacher, general manager of public works and natural resources.

Paying cash for Windy Gap is cheaper for the city in the long run, but staff estimates it will raise water rates by 21 percent in 2017 and then by another 22 percent in 2018, rather than the planned 9 percent. Debt financing would have cost almost $25 million more in the long term with a predicted 5 percent interest rate but resulted in more gradual rate increases between 5 and 14 percent in the short term…

City Manager Harold Dominguez said there are plans in the works to test utility rate discounts for low-income households. To qualify, a single Longmont resident would need to make less than $12,720 in a year or a married couple would need to earn less than $17,146 in a year, although those limits could have adjusted slightly since the test program was introduced.

The City Council also directed Rademacher to explore alternative financing so the entire burden of the $47 million doesn’t fall on ratepayers. There’s a Windy Gap surcharge on new water taps that sunsets at the end of 2017. Councilmembers said they’d rather the surcharge just stayed in place in order to generate funds for the Windy Gap project.

Additionally, a property owner can either transfer non-historical water rights to satisfy a raw water requirement or pay cash-in-lieu. Staff will study limiting it to cash payment only in order to pay for Windy Gap.

Meanwhile, here’s the view from Grand County (Lance Maggart):

The long awaited development of Northern Water’s Chimney Hollow Reservoir cleared one of the final two hurdles on the road to construction in late March when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) released its 401 water quality certification for the project, generally referred to as the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP).

The issuance of the 401 water quality certification from the CDPHE was one of two final steps in the permitting process required for construction on the project to begin. The 401 certification from the state comes after 13 years of work. According to Northern Water’s Public Information Officer Brian Werner Northern Water began the formal permitting process for the development of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in 2003. Since beginning the formal permitting process Northern Water and other participants have spent roughly 15 million dollars on the projects permitting process.

Now that Northern Water has received their 401 certification from the state the municipal water provider is awaiting a 404 wetlands permit from the US Army Corp of Engineers, the final permitting step before construction can begin on Chimney Hollow.

404 WETLAND PERMITS

As a matter of practice 404 wetlands permits from the Corp of Engineers require issuances of state certifications, like the CDPHE 401 water quality certification, before the Corp of Engineers can complete their own permitting processes. “This is the next to the last step in getting the project permitted,” stated Project Manager Jeff Drager.

Officials at Northern Water said they expect the 404 wetlands permit is forthcoming and anticipate its issuance in the next few months. Werner was quick to point out that Governor John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed the project, a first in the history of the state according to a press release from Northern Water highlighting the endorsement.

“Northern Water and its many project partners have worked diligently, transparently and exhaustively in a collaborative public process that could stand as a model fro assessing, reviewing and developing a project of this nature,” stated Hickenlooper in a letter read at Northern Water’s Spring Water Users meeting in Loveland last week by the Governor’s Water Policy Advisor John Stulp.

Once Northern Water has secured the final permit for the project from the Corp of Engineers work on Chimney Hollow Reservoir can begin. Chimney Hollow is eventually expected to store 90,000 acre-feet of water and will be located just west of Carter Lake Reservoir in southern Larimer County. The development of the reservoir will mean additional water diversions out of Grand County. The total estimated price tag for the WGFP is around $400 million.

ENDORSEMENTS

Despite environmental concerns produced by the additional diversions both Grand County and the conservation group Trout Unlimited have endorsed the project, following sustained negotiations between Northern Water and various stakeholders from the western slope regarding environmental mitigation and adaptive management plans for the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. A press release from Trout Unlimited praised the river protections that were reaffirmed with the state 401 certification.

“We strongly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” stated Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. In their press release Trout Unlimited outlines conditions within the 401 certification the organization feels will address both fish habitat issues and water quality needs including: monitoring of stream temperatures, key nutrients and aquatic life, providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff and requiring ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are detected.

The 401 certification and the environmental protections included with it were made possible in part from a more collaboratively minded interaction between west slope stakeholders such as Grand County and Trout Unlimited and east slope diverters Northern Water and Denver Water. “This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’ and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” stated Whiting. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”

Grand County local Kirk Klancke is the president of the Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited and has long championed the health of both the Fraser and Colorado Rivers. Klancke spoke positively about the adaptive management and collaborative spirit that has made negotiations for the WGFP possible. “We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” stated Klancke. “The Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”

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

windygapparticipantmapnorthernwater

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.

#ColoradoRiver: Trout Unlimited praises river protections in 401 permit for Windy Gap project #COriver

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

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

TU praises river protections in Windy Gap project permit
Says 401 permit conditions put threatened river and fishery on road to
recovery

(Denver)-The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this week released its final 401 water quality certification for the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP), which would divert additional water from the Upper Colorado River to northern Front Range communities. Trout Unlimited praised the 401 permit conditions for reaffirming the health of the Upper Colorado River and its world-class trout fishery.

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

For years, Front Range water diversions have removed about 60 percent of the native flows of the Colorado headwaters, severely impacting fish and other aquatic life that depend on healthy flows to clean cobble and prevent the buildup of habitat-choking algae and sediment. The proposed Windy Gap expansion would further reduce native flows.

TU said the conditions included in the 401 permit for WGFP address critical fish habitat and water quality needs by:

* preventing stream temperature impacts during low flows in the summer.
* providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff.
* requiring ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are detected.

The 401 permit conditions largely incorporate the protections included in earlier agreements involving the WGFP sponsor, the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Subdistrict) and its project participants, and other stakeholders, including Grand County, Trout Unlimited, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance.

Under the 401 permit, the Subdistrict is required to monitor specifically for stream temperature, key nutrients, and aquatic life and submit results with an annual report that identifies any evidence of impairment (standards not met). If impairment is identified, the Subdistrict has to investigate to determine whether WGFP is causing or contributing to the impairment. If WGFP is found to play a role, then the Subdistrict is required to come up with a plan to solve the problem, consistent with state water quality laws.

“This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’-and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” said Whiting. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”

TU noted that the permit builds on years of hard work, negotiations and collaboration. “We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter. “And the Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”

“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’s 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, from municipal needs to recreation, while keeping our rivers healthy.”

Under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, the state of Colorado must provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a permit certifying that the project will comply with federal water quality standards. The remaining regulatory hurdle for the Windy Gap Firming Project is the final 404 wetlands permit by the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Corps could issue in 2016.

Issuance of all permits for the project will release resources, including money needed for the design and construction of the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass to create a new river channel and reconnect the river and its fisheries upstream and downstream of the reservoir.

“It’s been a long and arduous process,” said Whiting of the WGFP permitting process, which has taken over 10 years. “It is time to roll up our sleeves and go to work for the river.”

4 Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin projects and the #COWaterPlan

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Colorado unveiled a statewide water plan this past November to better prepare for an estimated doubling of its population by the year 2050, from about 5 million to an estimated 10.5 million. In the meantime, both intra- and interstate interests are presently at work attempting to gobble up every ounce of the Colorado River before it flows to the next.

Between four separate proposed diversion projects across Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — three states that make up the Upper Basin section of the Colorado River — about another 250,000 acre-feet of water would be pulled from these vital headwaters…

Specific to Colorado, those projects are the Moffat Collection System Project (A Denver Water enterprise that would remove 18,000 acre-feet), and the Windy Gap Firming Project (A Northern Water undertaking to obtain 30,000 acre-feet). And then Wyoming is in the initial stages of the Fontenelle Dam Re-engineering proposal, which would claim the largest amount of water at 123,000 acre-feet, and finally Utah’s Lake Powell Pipeline, which would require 86,000 acre-feet.

The idea is, basically, to stockpile water for each individual community before it can get downstream. The impediment standing in the way though — aside from their respective project approval processes, of course — is senior rights to the water source, as per the Colorado River Compact of 1922, from the states of the Lower Basin: California, Nevada and Arizona…

TAPPING OUT

All of these advancing claims on the Colorado River, on top of another plan suggested by Wyoming concerning 10 new Green River reservoirs over the next 10 years, several others in Colorado, as well as a small diversion project in New Mexico, are fast tapping the source out. The state’s water plan, produced through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), was designed in part to help offset such concerns. But even this program is already running into its own set of troubles.

The director of the CWCB, James Eklund, recently scheduled a stakeholders meeting to discuss permitting of water diversions and additional storage but did not invite any of the counties and other entities associated with these headwaters. After learning of the meeting after the fact, the counties of Summit, Pitkin, Grand and Eagle (and joined by Gunnison and Park counties) sent a letter to Eklund stating that holding such meetings without this group was improper.

“We expressed our extreme disappointment,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “and this was not in the spirit of the letter of the Colorado Water Plan. “It was great frustration that right after this was passed, and we think we have good understand, and there have been so many hours and hours of meetings about how we should move forward and not leave local government out, and there was this meeting.”

[…]

A headwaters local government representative will now attend the next such meeting. The letter’s message was clear, said Stiegelmeier, who is also the vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

“You may figure out how to comply with the EPA and all of the different federal agencies,” she said, “but if you’re not looking at local authorities and regulations, then you may be spinning your wheels and missing the boat. If you don’t include the local governments, you’re basically wasting time, and then it puts us on the defensive.”

DOWN THE RIVER

The water plan, which is not law but merely a consensus agreement, has now moved toward the next stages. No longer are the proposals to secure more water throughout the state, in particular for its most populous cities, a theory, but it’s transitioned to figuring out how to pay for all of it, with estimates coming it at $100 million a year.

Statewide tap fees and taxes are two funding sources currently be investigated by the CWCB. In the meantime, these other water diversion plans from within Colorado, in addition to those of neighboring states, move forward.

Decisions on the next steps for the two Colorado projects are due some time in 2016, while the Lake Powell Pipeline is on a federal fast-track plan and could be executed as early as the next two or so years. The Wyoming projects are still in the early phases of development.

#ColoradoRiver: Greeley Water & Sewer Board authorizes Chimney Hollow (Windy Gap Firming) expenditure

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 Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):

Officials are working to make one of Greeley’s supplemental water suppliers more reliable, and the city may sign off on another million dollars to do it soon.

The Windy Gap Firming Project has been ongoing for decades. The goal: add to an existing water system by building the Chimney Hollow reservoir near Loveland to store more water from the Colorado River.

The current phase of the project includes finalizing some permitting and finding a designer. Greeley is splitting the project cost with 12 other agencies, and its share of this phase is about $1.1 million.

The Greeley Water and Sewer Board authorized the expense during its meeting Wednesday, but it has to get permission from the city council. That should happen next month.

The money will come out of the water and sewer board’s budget, which is funded and handled separately from the rest of the city departments.

Each user foots the bill for the project, and it’s pro-rated based on who will get the most water from it. Greeley is slated to get the third most. Platte River Power Authority is first.

The Windy Gap water system has been giving water to Greeley and a dozen other providers for decades. It gets water out of the Colorado River, where water access is competitive. Different agencies and projects have water rights, which prioritize them above one another and dictate how much water they are allowed.

During dry spells, some water rights aren’t good enough.

“There are some years where Windy Gap can’t give a drop of water,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Chimney Hollow guarantees they will have a yield.”

In the good years, when Windy Gap’s water rights allow it to take water, that water will travel through a pipeline into the reservoir. Windy Gap users can then use reservoir water during dry years.

In addition to coordinating the agencies participating in the project, Northern Water oversees the pipeline infrastructure used to move water from the Western Slope to the eastern half of the state.

The organization tends to head up multi-jurisdictional water projects, which can be grueling. Both Windy Gap and the region’s other predominant water storage effort, the Northern Integrated Supply Project, have been in permitting for more than a decade. But Windy Gap is making progress.

“We certainly see a light at the end of the tunnel for this project,” Werner said.

At the end of 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that oversees natural resources such as water, signed off on the project. Now, they only need two more permits — one from Colorado that certifies water quality and one from the Army Corps of Engineers that guarantees wetland mitigation.

That brings the organizers into the next phase of planning: finding a firm to design the project. They’ll take the original plans from 12 years ago and refine them, Werner said.

Once that design is finished, the agencies will find a contractor to build the reservoir. Werner said, fingers crossed, that will happen in late 2018 or in 2019.

The Chimney Hollow reservoir will hold about 90,000 acre-feet of water.