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

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:

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

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

Kokanee take a dive in Lake Granby — The Sky-Hi Daily News

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

The numbers are in, and once again, the cards seemed to be stacked against the kokanee salmon population in Lake Granby.

This year’s annual kokanee salmon egg collection at Lake Granby yielded around 72,000 eggs, an alarming drop from the 357,000 eggs collected in 2013.

“This is the worst egg take since 1999,” said Jon Ewert, a biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Ewert heads the annual egg count in Grand County, which includes Granby, Wolford and Williams Fork reservoirs.

“Historically, Granby used to be the biggest producer of eggs for the whole state, and it used to be the only source of eggs that we needed,” Ewert said…

Perfect storm

The question of why the kokanee are struggling in Lake Granby is a complicated one, and some are quick to point to one culprit – lake trout.

Lake trout, which eat kokanee, have grown in numbers in recent years, putting pressure on the kokanee population. But Ewert said the equation is more complicated.

Recent high water years have favored Mysis shrimp, which compete with the kokanee for zooplankton.

Lake Granby has a tendency to stratify in normal to low water years, which means warm water rises above cold to create two separate zones.

Mysis shrimp are usually confined to cold bottom layer, while kokanee and zooplankton stay in the warmer top layer, Ewert said.

In high water years, the lake takes longer to stratify, giving the shrimp access to the zooplankton for longer.

The high variability of water levels makes it difficult to maintain a consistent fishery.

“You’re always trying to achieve a balance between the Mysis, lake trout, kokanee and zooplankton,” Ewert said. “Those are kind of the main players, but the scale is always tipping one way or the other. There are very few years when you can say that it’s perfect.”

If the interplay of environmental pressures isn’t enough, Ewert said spilling over Granby Dam has also had an impact on the kokanee population.

Specifically, Ewert pointed to 2011, which was a heavy spill year. That year, CPW found kokanee at the bottom of Granby Dam.

This would be about the time when population impacts from spilling in 2011 would become apparent, Ewert said.

“There’s definitely a relationship there, too,” Ewert said.

Searching for solutions

CPW has been looking for a solution to Lake Granby’s kokanee problem in recent years.

But restocking isn’t enough to prop up Laky Granby’s dwindling population, and the CPW has been asking anglers in Lake Granby to keep their limit of Lake Trout.

Additionally, Ewert said that an increase on the bag limit for lake trout is a possibility.

But Keefe, whose main livelihood is trophy lake trout, said any future action needs to take the economic benefits of the lake trout fishery into account.

“If we’re changing the limits, we’ve got to make sure we’re changing them where it’s good for the long haul,” Keefe said. “If we take big fish out of the lake then we may never see them again.”

A healthy lake trout populations does rely on a healthy kokanee population, Ewert said.

Keefe suggested a slot limit, to help protect the trophy mackinaw that draw so many to Lake Granby.

Currently, Keefe said he asks anglers to throw back lake trout over 20 inches.

“Very few fish make it past 20 inches,” Keefe said.

An increase in the bag limit isn’t necessarily on tap for this year, but anglers could see one in the future, Ewert said.

“A lot of it is going to depend on what kind of a snow year that we have,” he said.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.

Mark Udall: Bringing out the best in us

Mark Udall, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, President's Award Reception,
Mark Udall, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, President’s Award Reception,

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mark Udall):

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me what it’s like to lose an election. It stings, that’s for sure. And while I wouldn’t recommend it, falling short in a race is a very humbling way of appreciating just how far you’ve come. In fact, as a lifelong mountain climber, I’ve learned far more from the mountains I did not summit, than those I did.

For the past 18 years, my most rewarding challenge has been exercising the power lent to me by the people of Colorado to fight on their behalf, first in the State House and then in the U.S. Congress. Throughout my career in public service — my six years in the U.S. Senate being but one chapter — I have always been guided by the rugged independence, strength and cooperative spirit that defines who we are as Coloradans and as Westerners.

This uniquely Western perspective holds that compromise is not capitulation, and that we are stronger when we all have a seat at the table — not only the privileged. This is a cause that my family has championed for generations and it is a creed that will continue to drive all Coloradans who answer the call to serve.

At this point in our politics, Americans are rightly impatient with the willful, partisan gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Yet, in Colorado, we also know that by working together we have been able to keep our nation and our state moving forward and do our part to overcome Washington silliness for the good of the nation.

The idea that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents — we borrow it from our children — is the central idea of my long record of accomplishment. Throughout my career, this has led me to champion protecting our public lands and the special places that define Colorado, including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the James Peak Wilderness Area and Browns Canyon. It also has driven me to lead the fight to confront the real problem of climate change.

Colorado has spearheaded the nation’s pursuit of a balanced energy strategy. Most of the progress Colorado has made came after I fought alongside Republican Speaker of the Colorado House Lola Spradley to pass our state’s first renewable electricity standard. That important policy has meant Colorado is leading the clean energy revolution, creating good-paying jobs while fighting the causes of climate change. I’ve been proud to continue this fight in the U.S. Senate by successfully extending the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and introducing a national renewable electricity standard mirroring Colorado’s.

I also have led the charge to meet the promise of the Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson once said that a true patriot loves her country not just for what it is but what it can be. We still have a ways to go, but I am proud to have followed in the footsteps of leaders like my father to meet the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution. That includes leading the successful fight to repeal the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and supporting policies that help women, the middle class and our immigrants get a fair shot at the American Dream.

I’ve said for years that Coloradans pull together come hell or high water. Little did I know that this saying would be proven true during my time in the U.S. Senate, from wildfires that left thousands homeless to a biblical flood in 2013 that swept over much of the Front Range. I was proud to help Coloradans rebuild in the wake of disasters and to secure resources that will help fight tomorrow’s wildfires, including a series of next-generation air tankers. I also went to work immediately after the 2013 flood and partisan federal government shutdown and successfully delivered more than $770 million in emergency flood support and marshalled nearly $2.5 billion in additional federal assistance so that Colorado could rebuild better and stronger than before.

And while there is much work left to be done to protect our privacy from government interference, I’m proud to have led the effort to reconcile the enormous power of our nation’s intelligence agencies with the bedrock principles of our democracy. We’ve proven that the choice between ensuring our security and protecting our privacy is a false choice, and that we can keep faith with our nation’s founding principles while also safeguarding our communities.

When I first came to the U.S. Senate, I told my colleagues that we were not elected to deal with Democratic or Republican problems, but to find uniquely American solutions to our toughest challenges. Just like mountain climbers who are all on the same rope, we know that we’re all in this together — and that we are only truly successful when we all succeed together.

The great writer Wallace Stegner challenged us to build communities to match our scenery. In a narrow sense, that means that we should strive to make our society as beautiful and thriving as the natural landscape that surrounds us. But in a broader sense, it also means that our communities should bring out the best in us, and that we should never stop building on the uniquely independent yet cooperative spirit that makes Colorado great.

That’s the spirit that has guided me throughout my time in public service, and it’s the spirit that will continue to guide me as I find new ways to help Colorado and our country move forward.

Mark Udall is Colorado’s outgoing senior U.S. senator.

More 2014 Colorado Novembee election coverage here.

UAWCD continues efforts to complete Thompson Ditch dry-up — The Mountain Mail

Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District
Graphic via the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors discussed several topics at its December board meeting, including the district’s efforts to complete the dry-up of Thompson Ditch near Buena Vista. The dry-up is necessary for the district to be able to use its Thompson Ditch water right to augment out-of-priority water usage in the Cottonwood Creek drainage.

District General Manager Terry Scanga reported that the district has entered into an
agreement with the Yale Lakes Homeowners Association to stop diverting water into Yale Lake.

Scanga said the next step is to install piezometers to monitor groundwater levels in the area previously irrigated by the Thompson Ditch, and hydrologist Jord Gertson and engineer Chris Manera will install the devices soon.

Harvard Lake will not be drained, Scanga said, until Gertson and Manera can assess the effects of draining Yale Lake.

Scanga also said the owners of nearby Ice Lake are trying to prevent the lake from being drained by finding ways to reduce evaporative losses from the lake as well as possible sources for augmentation water to offset evaporative losses.

Addressing an issue that arose following maintenance work on the outlet ditch at the district’s Conquistador Reservoir in central Chaffee County, attorney Kendall Burgemeister reported on a “disappointing” meeting with local landowner James Hood and his attorney.

The work involved removing an overgrowth of willows along the ditch. Willows are phreatophytes, deep-rooted plants that draw water directly from the water table, and failure to remove them can cause water losses that injure downstream water users.

Burgemeister said the meeting was scheduled 2 months out after Hood’s attorney contacted Upper Ark district officials to complain about work performed on the outlet ditch where it crosses Hood’s property.

The ability of a water-right holder to maintain a ditch used for that water right is protected by Colorado law, and while Burgemeister said Hood was “not happy,” he had no proposals to address the situation.

During the engineers’ report, Manera said the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will analyze the use of DeWeese-Dye Ditch with the intention of improving the efficiency of the ditch.

The ditch diverts water from Grape Creek, southwest of Cañon City in Custer County, and that water is stored in DeWeese Reservoir, one of the lakes in which the Upper Ark district stores water.

Manera said information provided by the district’s new gauge “was really helpful” in convincing the Bureau of Land Management to analyze water losses in the ditch.

In a brief discussion of the state water plan currently under development, long-time water attorney John Hill commented, “You could solve the problem if you could declare bluegrass a noxious weed.”
In other business, Upper Ark directors:

  • Unanimously approved contracting with Hancock Froese & Co. LLC to conduct the district’s 2015 audit.
  • Learned that Manera recently updated the emergency action plans for Boss Lake and North Fork Reservoir.
  • Learned that Manera has begun the mapping to support a new Fremont County augmentation plan.
  • Heard updates on district filings in Water Court from Burgemeister, including a report on the resolution of a Victor-Cripple Creek exchange case that the district opposed and then stipulated out of.
  • Learned from Director Greg Felt that scientific research demonstrates that the last time the Earth’s atmosphere contained current levels of carbon dioxide, there were no polar ice caps, without which ocean levels would rise 60 feet.
  • More Upper Arkansas River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

    Why saving water makes sense, and how one Front Range utility does it award-winningly well

    “The West is founded on an understanding of scarcity issues” — Michael Connor

    MillerCoors, Pepsi, Wells Fargo donate $1M to Colorado forests — Denver Business Journal

    Upper South Platte Basin
    Upper South Platte Basin

    From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

    MillerCoors, PepsiCo and the Wells Fargo Foundation announced Tuesday that the three organizations will donate $1 million to The Nature Conservancy to help restore forests along Colorado’s Front Range.

    The money will help pay for the nonprofit to spend three years designing, implementing, and measuring the progress of forest restoration projects intended to “improve water security” for the Denver metro area and also reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires.

    The projects will include thinning tree stands, removing dry vegetation and conducting prescribed burns to clear out underbrush in controlled conditions, according to the announcement.

    The projects are important because the mountain snowpack is the source of most of Colorado’s drinking water.
    “Water is an essential ingredient in beer, so at MillerCoors we are deeply invested in water stewardship efforts,” said Kim Marotta, MillerCoors director of sustainability, in a statement.
    “We rely on Rocky Mountain Water from the Front Range Forests to brew our quality beers, so we are proud to stand alongside our partners and The Nature Conservancy to preserve this vital resource for years to come,” she said…

    The project is the first one that PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to do, said Meagan Smith, the director of sustainability for PepsiCo North America Beverages.

    “We believe simple acts can have a big impact and this project is a great way to begin our relationship with

    The Nature Conservancy and show our ongoing commitment to the communities in which we operate,” Smith said.
    Decades of work putting out fires as well as prolonged drought has put more than 6 million acres of Colorado’s forests at risk for catastrophic wildfires that could damage the land and the drinking water supplies, the group said.

    Along the Front Range, about 1.5 million of the 6 million forested acres are at similar risk, the group said.

    “Wells Fargo is committed to being environmentally minded in all that we do. This includes finding ways to protect one of our most precious resources: water,” said Ashley Grosh, Wells Fargo’s vice president of environmental affairs.

    More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

    WWA Intermountain West Climate Dashboard: New Briefing Available

    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 18, 2014 via the NRCS
    Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal December 18, 2014 via the NRCS

    Click here to go to the Western Water Assessment Intermountain West Climate Dashboard to read the latest briefing. Here’s an excerpt:


  • November brought mixed results for precipitation for the region, with most Colorado and Wyoming mountain areas wetter than average, and nearly all of Utah much drier than average.
  • The snowpack is still lagging behind normal conditions in most of the region’s basins, with southwestern Colorado, southern and eastern Utah, and southeastern Wyoming under 70% of median.
  • Most indicators continue to move in the direction of El Niño, with the forecasts indicating that the probability of onset is around 60% through the winter months.
  • Snowpack news

    Click on a thumbnail to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.