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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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