Battle for Colorado River finds common ground at Windy Gap: Collaboration instead of competition makes Granby’s #ColoradoRiver Connectivity Channel Project a Reality — The Sky-Hi News #COriver #aridification

Dignitaries from across the region gathered on Aug. 23 to celebrate the start of construction at the Colorado River Connectivity Channel located in Grand County. Led by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, leaders of public agencies and private non-governmental organizations extolled the value of the project that will reconnect two segments of the Colorado River above and below Windy Gap Reservoir. Dirt was turned on the existing Windy Gap Dam, which lies on the Colorado River just west of the river’s confluence with the Fraser River. In the project, the existing dam’s length will be reduced by about 800 feet, and a new channel will direct water around the reservoir for most weeks of the year. The project will take about three years to build, at a cost of nearly $30 million. Funding will come from many sources, including the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water, Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Upper Colorado River Association, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a number of corporate sponsors. The channel was identified as a recommended improvement during the process of receiving a 1041 Permit from Grand County during consideration of the Windy Gap Firming Project. On the East Slope, the project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Berthoud.

Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi Daily News website (Meg Soyars). Here’s an excerpt:

The Connectivity Channel Project will move the reservoir’s existing southern embankment 300 yards, reducing the reservoir’s surface area by about 30%, allowing for a new channel and floodplain. This will reconnect the river upstream of the dam and downstream at the confluence of the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. Construction will be completed in the fall of 2024.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, individuals spearheading the project spoke to a crowd gathered beside the reservoir’s soon-to-be-realized channel. The speakers represented an unprecedented collaboration between diverse groups across Colorado, including: Grand County government, state entities, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River District and many more. Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict leads the project. Brad Wind, Northern Water’s General Manger, told the crowd the project will improve “all the ecology that make high mountain streams important to the environment and to Colorado.”

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Reconnecting the Colorado will allow for the free passage of fish and sediment, plus create around 50 acres of floodplain and riparian habitat, restoring stream health. The channel will provide over 1 additional mile of public fishing access for the Gold Medal trout fishery, an important benefit for Grand’s recreation industry. Lastly, the project will support additional restoration efforts, such as improving irrigation and aquatic habitat near Kremmling…

An essential facet of the Connectivity Project is its relation to the Windy Gap Firming Project. Shortly after Windy Gap’s construction, Northern Water realized this was an inefficient means for them to draw water from the Colorado River. Their rights are for 30,000 acre-feet annually. But during wet years, Lake Granby was too full to take this water for delivery to the Front Range, so it sat in Windy Gap. Other years, especially during recent drought, Lake Granby was too low for Northern to pump the water they needed. On top of this, the Front Range population was increasing. Northern Water began creating a better storage option…Northern began construction on the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland to ensure the reliability of, or make “firm,” its deliveries of Windy Gap water, even during drought. Instead of being stored in Lake Granby, water from Windy Gap will travel through Lake Granby, then over the Continental Divide, to be stored at Chimney Hollow instead. 

A draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass, is now available. Public comment will be accepted starting February 8, 2022 through March 10. NRCS/Courtesy photo

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