Grand County Approves Windy Gap Firming Project Permit, Agreements


Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners, after extensive public hearings, testimony and deliberation, have approved a permit and related agreements for the Windy Gap Firming Project. Today’s approval marks a major step forward in the permitting process for the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict’s proposal to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake near Loveland.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir will provide dedicated storage to improve the reliability of the Windy Gap Project, which diverts Colorado River water from Windy Gap Reservoir and moves it through Colorado- Big Thompson Project facilities for delivery to Northeastern Colorado. The Municipal Subdistrict is coordinating the firming project’s permitting on behalf of 13 municipal entities.

By granting the permit, the Board of Commissioners established mitigation measures to offset impacts of the Windy Gap Firming Project in Grand County. Commissioners also secured environmental benefits to address current river conditions, and they provided a process that keeps the Municipal Subdistrict committed to working to improve and stabilize the Colorado River. The Municipal Subdistrict’s Board of Directors is expected to formally accept the permit on Thursday.

“Grand County has secured protections for water quantity and quality in the Colorado River that never would have happened without the project and this permit,” said Grand County Commission Chair Nancy Stuart.

The permit requires implementation of several other agreements that address additional Grand County and West Slope concerns, including the clarity in Grand Lake. The permit secures Northern Water’s support for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to address the lake’s clarity, an important issue for residents and visitors alike.

Grand County also gains access to up to 4,500 acre feet of Windy Gap water stored in Lake Granby for release to benefit aquatic life in the Colorado River, based on an agreement between Grand County, the Municipal Subdistrict, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. This is in addition to more than 5,400 acre feet of water that will be released each year to help endangered fish while also increasing flows in the Colorado River between Grand County and Grand Junction.

The permit advances another agreement, drafted in cooperation with Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance of landowners, which addresses the potential construction of a bypass through or around Windy Gap Reservoir in order to improve river habitats. The Municipal Subdistrict committed $2 million toward construction as well as ongoing maintenance of facilities for a bypass that will be built if studies show it would benefit habitat conditions in the Colorado River.

“The permit and bypass agreement are the product of good faith negotiation and compromise,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “The subdistrict and project participants are to be commended for their efforts to address our concerns and do the right thing for the river.”

When he voted to approve the county permit conditions, Grand County Commissioner James Newberry said, “It is one thing to know the right thing to do, but it is entirely another to have the guts and conviction to make it happen. We just did that for the future of Grand County.”

Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s project manager, said, ”The permit conditions, along with the benefits they will provide to the Colorado River, demonstrate a great deal of dedication and commitment from the 13 firming project participants to address Grand County’s concerns.”

The participants – 10 cities, two rural water districts and a power provider – are relying upon the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help meet their growing needs. The municipal water providers are expected to serve about 825,000 residents by 2050. The firming project will increase their supplies and add flexibility to their operations.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue a final decision on the firming project in 2013.

Here’s a release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

TU supports Windy Gap project in light of new river protections: Says new permit conditions put threatened river and fishery on road to recovery

Trout Unlimited today praised a multiparty agreement reached with the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Municipal Subdistrict) that provides significant protections for the Upper Colorado River to offset impacts from the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP). The package of protections—negotiated among the Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County staff, Trout Unlimited and the Upper Colorado River Alliance (UCRA)—was approved today by the Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) as part of a permit issued for the Windy Gap firming project.

“These permit conditions provide critical measures for protecting the health of the Upper Colorado River and its world-class trout fishery,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “TU has not been able to support this project in the past. But the subdistrict and the project participants have gone the extra mile to try to address our concerns and do what’s right for the river.”

Already, water diversions remove about 60 percent of the native flows of the Colorado headwaters. The proposed Windy Gap expansion would further reduce native flows. Without additional protections, said TU, the water-deprived river would be on life support.

“For years, those of us living in Grand County have seen the once-mighty Colorado in a state of serious decline,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter. “This agreement will provide protections and new investments in river health that can put the Colorado River on the road to recovery.”

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist’s study last year pointed to Windy Gap Reservoir as a primary cause for steep declines in aquatic life and habitat in the Colorado River.

The study flagged the need for periodic flushing flows to help scour the river bottom and prevent the buildup of choking algae and sediment, along with a “bypass” channel around or through Windy Gap that would reconnect the river, improve water quality, and boost river health. Trout also depend on cold water, and excessively warm stream temperatures have been a problem, with the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission listing the Colorado River as being impaired due to high water temperatures. The conditions included in the permit approved by the BoCC today include restrictions on water diversions and other requirements that address each of these needs by:

  • preventing stream temperature impacts during low flows in the summer.
    providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff.
    requiring the construction of a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass to reconnect the river, in accordance with the bypass study and funding agreement.
  • The bypass agreement is one of the most important components of the WGFP approval package, said TU leaders, who called the bypass “critical” in addressing the root causes of habitat problems in the Upper Colorado. A bypass study, paid for by the subdistrict, is expected to be completed by October 2013. If river benefits are shown, WGFP participants committed up to $2 million to construct the bypass. An additional $2 million would be available from the Colorado Water Conservation Board if approved by the Colorado Legislature during its upcoming session.

    In addition, the permit includes measures to address impacts to water quality and clarity in Grand Lake and to riparian vegetation and wetlands, as well as monitoring requirements.

    The overall package also includes an agreement with Grand County to enable pumping and storage of water to deal with summer low flow problems and the subdistrict’s commitment—approved by the state Wildlife Commission last year—to contribute $4 million and in-kind services for stream improvement projects in the Colorado River downstream of Windy Gap Reservoir.

    “This is not a perfect deal,” said Whiting. “This is the product of compromise. But looking at the entire package, we firmly believe it offers the best chance for the upper Colorado River’s recovery. It also offers an opportunity for a new way of doing business—where stakeholders work side by side with water providers in an effort to protect our valuable streams. TU is proud to be a part of this effort to find balanced, pragmatic solutions.”

    TU noted that the agreement is the product of years of hard work, negotiations and collaboration. “We thank Grand County for its leadership role and tireless efforts to improve the conditions of the Colorado River,” said Klancke. “The efforts of our landowner partners, UCRA, were instrumental. And, of course, we commend the subdistrict and its participant water providers for their willingness to listen to our concerns and work together to find solutions.”

    Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project, said the agreement had larger lessons for Colorado water planning.

    “In our Filling the Gap report, we said that WGFP, if done right, had the potential to be part of a smart supply portfolio for Colorado’s Front Range, along with stronger conservation and reuse programs and better ag-urban water sharing strategies,” said Peternell. “We’re pleased that Northern’s subdistrict has stepped up to address WGFP’s impacts on the Colorado headwaters so that it can achieve that potential as a smart supply project. Through a balanced portfolio including smart supply projects like WGFP, Colorado can meet diverse water needs, from municipal needs to recreation, while keeping our rivers healthy.”

    Peternell added, “The job of protecting the Upper Colorado isn’t finished. Denver Water needs to step up to provide additional protections for the Fraser River in its Moffat expansion project, which if done right, also has the potential to be a ‘smart’ project. We’re not there yet, but this agreement provides a roadmap of how we can get there.”

    More coverage from Scott Willoughby writing for The Denver Post. Here’s an excerpt:

    After years of negotiation, a multiparty agreement was approved Tuesday by the Grand County board of commissioners. The agreement is expected to provide significant protections for the threatened river by offsetting impacts from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP). The agreement negotiated in part by Trout Unlimited, the Upper Colorado River Alliance and Grand County staff is part of a permit issued in order for the WGFP to move forward…

    For the moment, though, impacts to fish and wildlife dependent upon the state’s namesake river appear reduced to some degree because of the conditions included in the permit approved by Grand County Commissioners. Highlighting the requirements for water diversion:

    • Prevent stream temperature impacts by restricting the ability to divert water during low flows in the summer.
    • Provide periodic “flushing flows” every third and fifth year to cleanse the river bottom during runoff.
    • Require the construction of a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass to connect the river, in accordance with a bypass study and funding agreement.

    The bypass requirement is considered the linchpin of the agreement after a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist’s study last year pointed to Windy Gap Reservoir as a primary cause for steep declines in aquatic life and habitat in the Colorado River. The study flagged the need for periodic flushing flows to help scour the river bottom and prevent the buildup of choking algae and sediment, along with a bypass channel around or through Windy Gap that would reconnect the river, improve water quality and boost river health.

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

    In a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Gary Bumgarner dissenting, commissioners granted the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict a boost in their plans to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake near Loveland.

    During the board’s initial approval on Nov. 20, Commissioner James Newberry called the arrival to a consensus among various parties “a historic moment.” The words echoed from the signing of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement earlier this year, which also drew the interest various West Slope stakeholders…

    The permit’s package includes critical measures that may resuscitate the Upper Colorado River, listed by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission as being impaired due to high water temperatures.

    A commitment from the subdistrict, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and the Upper Colorado River Alliance spells out how a possible river bypass at Windy Gap may be paid for.

    And in spite of Northern’s earlier contention that the Windy Gap 2012 permit — allowing for a greater supply of water to municipalities on the Front Range — should not be weighted down by past ruins of the federal Colorado-Big Thompson Project, an agreement tied to the permit secures the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s support for addressing Grand Lake’s clarity along with the Bureau of Reclamation.

    The municipal subdistrict is expected to formally accept the permit conditions on Thursday.

    But Commissioner Bumgarner, a Middle Park rancher, is still not convinced the collaboration that resulted in these agreements is enough to save the river and repair the “cloud” that plagues Colorado’s largest natural lake.

    “The river is in decline now. I’m not sure how taking more water out of it is going to make it better,” he said after Tuesday’s vote. Of the conditions and agreements tied to the permit, “there’s no guarantee that’s happening,” he said, saying he fears the firming project may just be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

    The permit package has the support from Colorado’s Trout Unlimited, as well as expected endorsements from the Upper Colorado River Alliance, The Middle Park Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Water Conservation District, among key players…

    In the permit package, Grand County gains up to 4,500 acre feet of Windy Gap water stored in Lake Granby for release to benefit aquatic life in the Colorado River, based on an agreement between Grand County, the subdistrict, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, the Colorado River District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments. This is in addition to more than 5,400 acre-feet of water to be released each year to help endangered fish while also increasing flows in the Colorado River between Grand County and Grand Junction.

    On the Windy Gap bypass through or around Windy Gap in order to improve river habitats, the Municipal Subdistrict is committing $2 million for it to be built. An additional $2 million would be available from the Colorado Water Conservation Board if approved by the Colorado Legislature during its upcoming session. Grand County and an alliance of landowners and Trout Unlimited also are committed to helping finance the bypass.

    The construction of the bypass would be based on findings from a $250,000 study the subdistrict is currently funding, a report expected to be out by October 2013…

    The subdistrict’s participants of 10 cities, two rural water districts and a power provider, are relying on the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir to help meet their growing water needs. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to issue a final decision on the firming project in 2013.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.

    Forecast news: Chances for snow are increasing for Saturday #COwx #CODrought

    From The Mountain Mail:

    Some weather programs predict a “pretty vigorous” storm moving into Colorado and the Chaffee County area going across Monarch Pass, Eric Petersen, National Weather Service meteorologist in Pueblo, said…

    Weather Service programs show the system moving more slowly than systems the area has seen recently, and that means a better chance to accumulate snow.

    Snowpack news: ‘So we’re below the worst year ever so far’ — Rick Bly #CODrought


    Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Colorado River Basin High/Low snowpack graph from November 29. It does not reflect any snowfall from the disturbance that went through the mountains yesterday.

    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    The first two months (October and November) of the 2013 water year have been among the driest on record in Breckenridge, where weather observer Rick Bly tracks precipitation on a daily basis, adding to a data set that goes back more than 100 years.

    Bly tallied just four inches of snowfall in November, only about 20 percent of the 20.9 inches that’s average for the month. That snow melted down to just .26 inches of water, compare to the average 1.5 inches for the month. The historic average snowfall for October and November combined is about 33 inches. This year Bly has measured just 12 inches, less than about 64 percent below the average. Less than 1 inch of moisture has accumulated for the year to-date.

    “I’ve been looking through the worst of the worst,” Bly said, explaining that was looking for similarly dry years. What he found is that, so far this year is tracking even behind 1980-81, when the entire season brought only 57 inches. In that winter, October and November snowfall total 15.4 inches.

    “So we’re below the worst year ever so far,” he said, adding that odds favor continued dry conditions after a dry early season. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing — there have been other seasons that started dry and turned wet in the heart of winter, but all things being equal, there’s not much reason to believe that the winter will bring significant drought relief…

    Many of the state’s rivers and streams are flowing near historic lows, with streams farther west especially hard-hit, according to Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute. Attending a water conservation roundtable in Silverthorne, Neubecker said Monday that Pitkin County streams like the Crystal River and the Roaring Fork have all reached historic low flows for this time of year.

    From Steamboat Today

    The 3 inches of snow that fell at mid-mountain on Steamboat Ski Area early Monday morning didn’t amount to a game changer, but it was the most that fell at any Colorado ski area currently operating. Colorado Ski Country USA reported that Copper Mountain and Crested Butte each picked up 1 inch of snow overnight Sunday, and Loveland chimed in with a half-inch. Vail also reported 1 inch. A weather station between downtown Steamboat and the mountain reported just more than 1 inch of snow.

    From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

    The snowpack at Independence Pass east of Aspen is at 40 percent of average for Nov. 30, according to data from an automated snow-measurement site maintained by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    For the Roaring Fork River basin as a whole — which engulfs 1,451 square miles, including the Fryingpan and Crystal river watersheds — the snowpack is at 43 percent.

    To put the dry fall into perspective, the Roaring Fork Conservancy reported Thursday that Schofield Pass has the beefiest snowpack in the basin right now, but it’s only half of what it was in 2002 — another major drought year…

    The Roaring Fork River near Aspen was flowing at 18 cubic feet per second on Thursday. The median flow for that date is 29 cfs. An in-stream flow of 32 cfs is advised for river health…

    All of Pitkin County is considered in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Large parts of the state are in extreme drought, and part of the eastern plains is considered in exceptional drought…

    Precipitation in western Colorado has been below average for 10 months this year. It’s only been above average for one month, in July. And there’s cause for concern to start the winter, Kuhn said. While scattered snow showers are expected on some days over the next week, no major storm systems appear to be developing. If western Colorado reaches mid- to late-December with a lower-than-average snowpack, it would be difficult, though not impossible, to catch up, [Eric Kuhn] said.

    From Aspen Public Radio (Luke Runyon):

    Colorado’s drought is unrelenting. Much of the state is still under severe and extreme drought. That’s left the state’s reservoirs below where they need to be. And water managers are already starting to hedge their bets in case of another dry winter. Driving around the state, it’s no secret that Colorado’s dozens of reservoirs are low. Muddy shorelines can be seen on nearly all of them. But some of that is normal for this time of year. Reservoirs are always low in the late fall after irrigation season has ended.

    “So to a certain extent you would expect that this time of year,” says Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer Kevin Rein. “However, looking statewide, the reservoirs are actually about 70 to 80 percent of what their average level would be right now.” That means many reservoirs are missing a fourth of the water they usually hold. Rein says the numbers aren’t alarming, but they’re enough to make water managers wary. And Rein says all eyes will be on this winter’s snowpack.

    Meanwhile, 2012 is heading for the history books as the warmest year on record. Here’s a release from the World Meteorological Organization:

    The years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the first ten months indicate that 2012 will most likely be no exception despite the cooling influence of La Niña early in the year.

    WMO’s provisional annual statement on the state of the global climate also highlighted the unprecedented melt of the Arctic sea ice and multiple weather and climate extremes which affected many parts of the world. It was released today to inform negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.

    January-October 2012 has been the ninth warmest such period since records began in 1850. The global land and ocean surface temperature for the period was about 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the corresponding 1961–1990 average of 14.2°C, according to the statement.

    The year began with a weak-to-moderate strength La Niña, which had developed in October 2011. The presence of a La Niña during the start of a year tends to have a cooling influence on global temperatures, and this year was no different. After the end of the La Niña in April 2012, the global land and ocean temperatures rose increasingly above the long-term average with each consecutive month. The six-month average of May–October 2012 was among the four warmest such periods on record.

    “Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale. But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

    “The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere. Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” added Mr Jarraud.

    The Arctic reached its lowest annual sea ice extent since the start of satellite records on 16 September at 3.41 million square kilometers. This was 18% less than the previous record low of 18 September, 2007. The 2012 minimum extent was 49 percent or nearly 3.3 million square kilometers (nearly the size of India) below the 1979–2000 average minimum. Some 11.83 million square kilometers of Arctic ice melted between March and September 2012.

    WMO will release a 10-year report on the state of the climate, “2001-2010, A Decade of Extremes” on 4 December 2012. It was produced in partnership with other United Nations and international agencies and highlights the warming trend for the entire planet, its continents and oceans during the past decade, with an indication of its impacts on health, food security and socio-economic development.

    Highlights of 2012 provisional statement

    During the first ten months of 2012, above-average temperatures affected most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America (warmest on record for contiguous United States of America), southern Europe, western and central Russia and northwestern Asia. Much of South America and Africa experienced above average temperatures during the first ten months of the year, with the most anomalous warmth across parts of northern Argentina and northern Africa. Much of Asia had above-average temperatures, with cooler-than-average conditions across parts of northern China. South Asia and the Pacific were also predominantly warmer than normal, except for Australia.

    Extremes: Notable extreme events were observed worldwide, but some parts of the Northern Hemisphere were affected by multiple extremes during January–October 2012.

  • Heat waves: Major heat waves impacted the Northern Hemisphere during the year, with the most notable in March–May across the continental United States of America and Europe. Warm spells during March 2012 resulted in many record-breaking temperatures in Europe and nearly 15,000 new daily records across the USA. Russia witnessed the second warmest summer on record after 2010. Numerous temperature records were broken in Morocco in summer.

    Drought: According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly two-thirds of the continental United States (65.5 percent) was considered to be in moderate to exceptional drought on 25 September 2012. Drought conditions impacted parts of western Russia and western Siberia during June and July, and Southeast Europe, the Balkans and some Mediterranean countries during summer. In China, the Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan province experienced severe drought during winter and spring. Northern Brazil witnessed the worst drought in 50 years. The April–October precipitation total, in Australia was 31 percent below normal.

    Floods: Many parts of western Africa and the Sahel, including Niger and Chad, suffered serious flooding between July and September because of a very active monsoon. Heavy rainfall from the end of July through early October prompted exceptional floods across Nigeria. Parts of southern China experienced their heaviest rainfall in the last 32 years in April and May. Devastating monsoonal floods impacted Pakistan during September. Central and parts of northern Argentina suffered from record rainfall and flooding in August, and parts of Colombia were affected by heavy precipitation for most of the year.

    Snow and Extreme Cold: A cold spell on the Eurasian continent from late January to mid-February was notable for its intensity, duration, and impact. Across eastern Russia, temperatures ranged between -45°C to -50°C during the end of January. Several areas of eastern Europe reported minimum temperatures as low as -30°C, with some areas across northern Europe and central Russia experiencing temperatures below -40°C.

  • Tropical Cyclones: Global tropical cyclone activity for the first ten months was near the 1981–2010 average of 85 storms, with a total of 81 storms (wind speeds greater or equal than 34 knots, or 63 kilometers per hour). The Atlantic basin experienced an above-average hurricane season for a third consecutive year with a total of 19 storms, with ten reaching hurricane status, the most notably being Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the USA East Coast. Throughout the year, East Asia was severely impacted by powerful typhoons. Typhoon Sanba was the strongest cyclone, globally, to have formed in 2012. Sanba impacted the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, dumping torrential rain and triggering floods and landslides that affected thousands of people and caused millions in U.S. dollars in damage.

    Colorado River Basin: Your Water Colorado Blog takes a look at the recent agreement between the U.S. and Mexico #CORiver


    Click through to read the whole post from Your Water Colorado Blog. They’re linking to a video discussion of the Colorado River featuring Justice Greg Hobbs, Jennifer Gimbel (CWCB) and Dick Wolfe (State Engineer):

    At the end of the November, The U.S. and Mexico signed a monumental agreement to overhaul how the countries share the water from the Colorado River…

    Last week on Rocky Mountain PBS, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs, Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Jennifer Gimbel, and State Engineer Dick Wolfe discussed water law, the state of the Colorado River and the new agreement. Watch the full video online.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

    The Flaming Gorge Task Force October meeting summary is hot off the press


    Click here to read a copy.

    More Flaming Gorge Task force coverage here.