The latest briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

Click here to read the assessment (scroll down). Here’s an excerpt:

Highlights

  • March was wetter than normal for the northern half of our region, including Wyoming, northern Utah, and northern Colorado, with drier conditions to the south.
  • Snowpack conditions held steady or improved in the northern basins in the past month, but declined in most southern basins, with rapid melt since April 1. Most of region’s basins have 80–110% of median SWE for early April, with an increasing number now below 80%.
  • The April 1 spring-summer runoff forecasts improved from the March 1 forecasts in the northern basins with high recent precipitation, but worsened in southern Colorado and southern Utah. Most of the region’s forecast points are expected to have near-average (90–109% of average) or below-average (70–89%) runoff.
  • The current El Niño event continues to wind down and is barely hanging onto “strong” status. The likely persistence of El Niño conditions through the spring and early summer is reflected in a wet tilt for most of the region in the seasonal precipitation forecasts.
  • Fair treatment: Busting the myth of recycled water

    Mile High Water Talk

    It’s a lot cleaner than you think. And that means more drinking water for drinking.    

    By Kim Unger

    Recycled water sometimes gets a bad rap for its unsavory image.

    Rest assured, we treat recycled water with the same loving care we give our drinking water. This infographic breaks it all down.

    Water is a fickle resource. Some years we have full reservoirs, while other years we face drought. To weather the mood swings of nature, water providers have to consider a variety of options to serve their customers, from cooling towers to golf courses.

    Infographic of recycled water treatment process

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    Looking for ‘hot spots’ — in all the right places

    Mile High Water Talk

    New analysis pinpoints water mains at risk, allowing crews to upgrade whole neighborhoods at once. 

    By Travis Thompson

    Denver Water crew installs a new 12-inch-diameter pipe as part of 2015 pipe replacement program in southeast Denver neighborhood. A Denver Water crew installs a new 12-inch-diameter pipe as part of the 2015 pipe replacement program in a southeast Denver neighborhood.

    When a water pipe breaks under the road, there’s no telling what it’s going to do. Some shoot geysers into the air large enough to make Old Faithful jealous. Others turn neighborhood streets into muddy rivers, and some barely send a trickle of water up through the cracks in the pavement.

    But even if there isn’t major disruption when the pipe breaks, there will be when it’s time for the repairs. Work crews can’t fix a pipe buried eight feet underneath the street without creating some commotion, from traffic disruptions to noisy equipment and temporary water outages.

    Knowing emergency repairs can be a headache — especially when they happen in…

    View original post 429 more words

    #Drought news: D0 extended northward in southwestern parts of the San Juan Range

    Click here to go the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Summary

    This week was generally uneventful in those parts of the country experiencing abnormal dryness and drought, with only a few patchy areas received 1 to 3 inches of precipitation. As a result, dryness and drought either remained unchanged or deteriorated where it existed…

    The Plains

    In central and southern parts of the Plains, between 1 and 3 inches of precipitation fell on southern Oklahoma, and in a narrow swath from southwestern Oklahoma northeastward through southeastern Kansas and into central and southwestern Missouri; however, D0 was removed from only a few small spots where the largest amounts fell. A few patches in other parts of southern Kansas and central Texas reported about an inch, but light precipitation at best was observed elsewhere. D2 (severe drought) was introduced in parts of northwestern Oklahoma, and moderate drought expanded to cover west-central Kansas and an area from east-central Kansas into northwestern Missouri. Some locales from central Kansas southwestward across northwestern Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and adjacent New Mexico reported less than 25 percent of normal precipitation for the last 90 days, and amounts totaled 4 to 8 inches below normal in parts of central and eastern Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, southern and western Missouri, and northwestern Arkansas.

    Farther north, only a few tenths of an inch of precipitation, if any, fell across the northern Plains, causing expansion of the areas experiencing abnormal dryness and moderate drought. Deterioration to D1 was noted in northeastern South Dakota and adjacent sections of North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as a smaller area in northwestern South Dakota. Farther south, abnormal dryness was introduced throughout the remaining northern tier of South Dakota, and in a band extending through south-central parts of the state. Over the last 30 days, 0.5 to 1.5 inches of precipitation fell on most locations, with little or none observed in western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and the parts of South Dakota and adjacent areas where deterioration occurred on the Drought Monitor…

    The Rockies and Intermountain West

    The past 7 days brought 0.5 to locally 2.5 inches of precipitation to much of southeastern Nevada, northwestern Arizona, and adjacent areas of Utah and the desert in California. Similar amounts were noted in central New Mexico and a few other scattered small areas, but in general, a few tenths of an inch of precipitation fell on the southern half of the Rockies and Intermountain West, and only scattered areas to the north reported measurable precipitation. Dryness and drought persisted unchanged in most of the region. D0 was extended northward in southwestern parts of the San Juan Range where snowpack peaked at only 80 percent of the typical annual maximum. Farther north, a reassessment of conditions led to the removal of D0 and a slight reduction of the drought area in part of northeastern Wyoming…

    The Far West

    Significant precipitation (1.5 to 3.0 inches) fell on the northern half of the area of exceptional drought in California, including part of the San Joaquin Valley, while lesser measurable totals fell on the rest of California and Nevada. In the context of the protracted drought that has gripped California and adjacent areas for the past few years, the benefit of one week of moderate to heavy precipitation in the most intensely affected areas was minimal, and no changes were introduced in any of the dry areas in California, Nevada, and Oregon…

    Looking Ahead

    Heavy precipitation is expected in some of the driest parts of the Plains during the next 5 days (April 14 – 18, 2016). Generally 3 to locally over 6 inches is forecast from the Texas Panhandle northward through western sections of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska as well as eastern Colorado. Forecast totals decrease markedly outside of this area, but amounts approaching or exceeding an inch are expected for much of the Plains from southern Texas northward through the central Dakotas. Moderate to locally heavy precipitation is also anticipated for southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida, but only light precipitation, if any, is anticipated in the remaining areas of dryness and drought across the contiguous 48 states.

    Over the ensuing 5 days (April 19 – 23, 2016), the odds favor wetter than normal weather from the southern half of the Plains eastward across the Gulf Coast States, and in the northwesternmost part of the Alaskan Panhandle. In contrast, enhanced chances for subnormal precipitation exist for the areas of dryness and drought in the central Appalachians, Northeast, northern Plains, Rockies, Intermountain West, and Far West. In addition, the odds favor below-normal precipitation in part of the east-central Alaskan dry area.

    “In sum the Dolores River is truly a unique river with a special character” — Jimbo Buickerood

    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
    Dolores River Canyon near Paradox
    From The Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

    The federal Bureau of Land Management announced March 4 that it was soliciting public comment about the possibility of establishing Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, or ACEC, designation in 18 areas in southwest Colorado.

    Conservation groups and local governments — including San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties — weren’t pleased with the news.

    They say the BLM’s announcement was poorly timed and could jeopardize their years-long negotiations for legislation protecting parts of the Dolores River while respecting the concerns of private landowners in the area.

    The BLM contends local groups have known about these ACECs since at least 2007, and that the timing of its announcement was simply coincidental, the result of the unpredictability of the federal bureaucracy.

    Yet members of these groups aren’t so sure.

    “To have the BLM out of the complete blue say suddenly they’re going to impose ACECs on some of the same property we’ve been negotiating over for 6, 7, 8 years…That was really disturbing,” San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes said. “I want to chastise the BLM. This is the third or fourth instance of them making a decision — without notifying people — that has been potentially damaging to their ongoing efforts.”

    San Miguel, Dolores and Montezuma counties, along with the environmental nonprofit San Juan Citizens Alliance, private landowners and other stakeholders, have been working for several years on possible legislation to protect portions of the Dolores River. They say they were getting close to a deal that satisfied, or at least didn’t offend, both sides of the environmentalist/land-user coin, and that the BLM’s announcement could stall that work.

    BLM Tres Rios Field Office Manager Connie Clementson countered that the groups’ disgruntlement with the BLM’s alleged “poor timing” could have something to do with faulty memories: “One of the things that can happen when things take a lot of time is people forget about them.”

    For example, Clementson said, the ACECs were first mentioned in the 2007 draft resource management plan for the region (if not before) and then again in 2013. She said she’s been reminding each of the county commissions of the pending ACEC amendments in quarterly updates for four years. She said she again informed the counties and community groups in early 2015 when she initiated the process to have the ACECs published in the Federal Register.

    “We had about three days’ notice. We were told on a Tuesday that it was going to be in the Federal Register on Friday,” she said. “I guess people felt like it was a surprise because they had forgotten that we had been telling them for a long time this was going to happen.”

    The proposed ACECs deemed relevant and important are Anasazi Culture/Mud Springs, Cement Creek, Cinnamon Pass, Coyote Wash, Disappointment Valley, Dry Creek Basin, Dolores River Canyon (Slick Rock to Bedrock), Grassy Hills, Gypsum Valley, Lake Como, McIntyre Canyon, Mesa Verde Entrance, Muleshoe Bench, Northdale, Silvey’s Pocket, Slick Rock, Snaggletooth and Spring Creek.

    Among all the talk about the intricacies of how to protect the Dolores River, the purpose of preserving parts of the river can get lost.

    “The set of canyons and valleys the river incises and crosses as it meanders in its somewhat-odd northwesterly trajectory are home to a diversity of habitats that spread from riverine otters to gypsum-soil loving plants to towering old growth Ponderosa pine and more,” said Jimbo Buickerood, Lands and Forest Protection Program Manager for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “In sum the Dolores River is truly a unique river with a special character that charms its human visitors whether they fly fish its headwaters or are challenged by the significant rapids throughout the river corridor, as well as providing critical habitat to an immense array of animal and vegetative species across the amazing 9,000 foot altitudinal drop of its watershed.”

    Some local stakeholders acknowledged they should have been paying more attention to the imminent ACEC announcement.

    “It kind of did (take us by surprise), and it shouldn’t have,” Montezuma County Natural Resources and Public Lands Coordinator James Dietrich said. “The BLM planning process has gone on for so long. When they tell you at the beginning of the process that 11 years later you’re supposed to remember it, everybody has the responsibility to keep up.”

    The local groups have mostly been working on legislation to establish a National Conservation Area, or NCA, along parts of the Dolores. Those negotiations won’t stop, according to Marsha Porter-Norton, who has been facilitating the negotiations.

    “The NCA is by no means going away because of this ACEC proposal,” she said.

    Ernie Williams, a Dolores County commissioner who has been central to the NCA negotiations, agreed that discussions would continue.

    “We’ve been working on this thing for years. We still plan on moving forward, but we don’t know what the fallout (from the BLM’s announcement) is going to be yet,” he said.

    According to Williams and others at the local level, an NCA designation is more flexible than an ACEC because it allows local communities to tailor the designation to their own needs.

    “An NCA crafted locally is a much better fit for the communities. You get some of the nuances figured out that you might not get” with another designation, said Buickerood, of the SJCA. “With a lot of local involvement on this, we can really craft something that works well for local communities.”

    Environmentalists aren’t the only ones involved in the negotiations. Indeed, the talks involve a balancing act between many, occasionally competing interests: local governments, private landowners, ranchers, recreational river users and those who rely on the lands adjacent to the river to make a living.

    Williams, the Dolores County commissioner, said private landowners were already concerned about the prospect of an NCA designation, but that the announcement of possible ACECs has them even more worried, and this hampers his ability to negotiate. Williams and Dietrich, of Montezuma County, pointed out that Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez had once been an ACEC before being designated a national monument, and that private landowners were therefore worried about what new ACEC designations might mean for their grazing, water and property rights: some envision ACECs along the Dolores as a first step toward a national monument.

    “We were working with the landowners within the Dolores River corridor trying to get the best answers for private land, then (the BLM announcement) comes out two weeks later and they felt like they got pressure put on them by the BLM,” Williams said.

    Along with most of his local colleagues across the political spectrum, Williams would like to see the river protected by an NCA crafted by local interests.

    “An NCA is put together with local people, local conservation groups, local landowners, local governments,” Williams said. “A (national monument) is a stroke of a pen out of Washington, D.C.”

    […]

    For the time being, NCA negotiations among local groups and leaders will continue in parallel with, yet separate from, the current ACEC comment period. (The original deadline for comments on the ACECs was April 4, but counties asked for, and received, an extension until May 4. Both Dolores and Montezuma counties are currently working on letters opposing the ACEC designations.)

    #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.