Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s Office:
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today applauded the groundbreaking of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project in the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
“Because our parents and grandparents made necessary investments in water infrastructure, agriculture has thrived on the Western Slope,” Bennet said. “We need to make these same investments for future generations. The demands on our rivers are greater than ever as we face the challenges of climate change and a growing population. Collaborative efforts like the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement project are critical to making irrigation systems more efficient to support our agricultural economy.
“Congratulations to all of the local, state, and federal partners who collaborated to make this project a reality. Our work to secure the Critical Conservation Area designation, and federal funding through the Farm Bill, are the first of many actions we can take to invest in Colorado’s water security,” Bennet concluded.
In 2014, Bennet secured the Critical Conservation Area (CCA) designation for the Colorado River Basin, making the lower Gunnison basin eligible for federal funding. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Bennet then helped craft a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) in the 2014 Farm Bill, which secured $8 million for the Colorado River District project in the Lower Gunnison River Basin. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet worked to reauthorize and increase funding for the RCPP and direct more funding toward water infrastructure and drought resilience across Colorado and the West.
The $4.6 million Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project will build a buried, large-diameter pipeline along four miles of currently unlined canal. The project is part of the $50 million Lower Gunnison River Basin Project, spearheaded by the Colorado River District, with combined funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and local irrigation companies such as the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Company.
Here’s the Finding of no significant impact from March 2018 via USBR.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A sweeping, multi-entity effort in the lower Gunnison River Basin to boost irrigation efficiency and help the environment is marking a milestone with the start of work on a pipeline project in the North Fork Valley.
A groundbreaking celebration Tuesday marked the beginning of the Fire Mountain Canal Improvement Project. The $4.6 million undertaking, which is expected to take two years to complete, is part of the larger, $50 million Lower Gunnison Project.
The Fire Mountain work involves converting more than four miles of open, unlined, earthen canal to a buried, large-diameter pipeline.
That will eliminate water loss along the canal route and also result in a pressurized supply reaching irrigators who can then use methods such as sprinklers or drip systems to water crops more efficiently than with flood irrigation…
Dave Kanzer, deputy chief engineer with the Colorado River District, which is managing the Lower Gunnison Project, said the Fire Mountain project will benefit some 5,000 acres of irrigated ground.
The potential benefits to the Fire Mountain system were made evident last summer when drought taxed its water supply. Kanzer said Fire Mountain is what’s called a “water-short” system.
It has a brief, limited water supply season, relying on water from Paonia Reservoir and unable to tap supplies from the Gunnison River mainstem.
Kanzer said converting to sprinklers allows for switching to minimum- or low-till agriculture, which allows for carbon capture and accumulation of organic matter in soil, as an alternative to using chemical fertilizers.
These changes in irrigation approaches also mean less concentration of salts and other chemicals in soil, less salt and selenium in waterways and improved river flows, which benefit wildlife, including endangered fish downstream.
While several projects in the lower Gunnison basin have gotten underway as part of the umbrella Lower Gunnison Project, Kanzer said the Fire Mountain project is the first large one. A $5 million pipeline project in the Uncompahgre River Valley also is going forward this year, he said.
The Lower Gunnison Project incorporates funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, local water conservancy and conservation districts, and irrigation companies including the Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Co.
The project is the product of a diverse partnership and is focusing on improving agricultural water use efficiency in areas covered by the North Fork Water Conservancy District, Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District near Montrose, the Crawford Water Conservancy District and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association.