From the Engineering News Record (Thomas F. Armistead):
“In the water-scarce West, there is little to no new water,” says Laura Belanger, water resources and environmental engineer with Western Resource Advocates. “What we’re seeing is a shift to a suite of solutions that make the most of our region’s water resources. So the first line is and always should be conservation, because that’s the most cost-effective thing utilities can do, and it’s also fast.”
In Colorado’s Front Range, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District is accepting qualification statements for construction of Colorado’s tallest new dam in a half-century, with selection of a contractor and notice to proceed by December, says Joe Donnelly, spokesman. The main dam will be a rockfill structure with a hydraulic asphalt core, 360 ft tall and 3,500 ft long at the crest. The dam will impound the 90,000 acre-ft Chimney Hollow Reservoir for the Windy Gap Firming Project. A contract for design was awarded to Stantec in 2016.
The reservoir would store water for 12 municipalities and other water suppliers. The project has support from both public authorities and some environmental advocates. But six environmental groups are contesting the project in federal court because it will divert 30,000 acre-ft annually from the Colorado River, taxing the already challenged flow of that body.
Denver Water is proceeding with the expansion of Gross Reservoir, built in the 1950s with a 1,050-ft-long, 340-ft-tall concrete gravity arch dam impounding 42,000 acre-ft of water. Following 14 years of planning, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a 404 permit in July 2017, allowing Denver Water to raise the reservoir’s dam 131 ft and expand the reservoir’s capacity to 77,000 acre-ft.
The utility is expanding the reservoir to address a known imbalance in the city’s water system, said Jeff Martin, program manager for the project, in a video on the project’s website. The North System, where Gross Reservoir is located, stores about 30% of the water, and the South System the rest. The imbalance results from differential snowpack runoff on the system’s north and south sides. “This will provide extra insurance and extra reservoir capacity to make sure that we can weather those times when we do have issues in our system,” Martin said…
Some existing storage facilities are being expanded or are having their water reallocated, and regional water sharing also is beginning to grow, Belanger says. She cites the Chatfield Reservoir, built in 1965 on the South Platte River south of Denver for flood control, as an example. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that up to 20,600 acre-ft of the water can be reallocated to drinking water and industrial supply, agriculture, environmental restoration and other purposes without compromising its flood-control function. Environmental mitigation and modifications are expected to cost about $134 million.
Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
Map from Northern Water via the Fort Collins Coloradan.
Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.
The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.
But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.
“Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”
Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.
“There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”
But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.
“As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.
The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.
Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.
But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.
“We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”
While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.
Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.
The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.
Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.
The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.
The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.
With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.
Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.
The fork not taken
The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.
The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.
Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.
Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.
“We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”
In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.
Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.
“In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”
Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.
When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.
Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.
And environmental groups working on the project agree.
“There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”
While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.
Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.
“The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”
Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.
Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.
And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.
“The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”
Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.
To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.
The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.
The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.
The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.
“If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”
Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.
Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.
To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.
“The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”
Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.
Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.
Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.
Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.
“We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”
While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.
“If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.
As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.
And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.
Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.
Farmers own less, but still get half
When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.
In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.
But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.
That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.
‘Nearly out of range’
Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.
Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.
But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…
Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.
The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.
No longer a ‘go-to’ supply
Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.
“We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.
“It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”
Storage may preserve agriculture
With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.
But as the [town board] looks at other plans to add water, it could introduce higher rate increases, higher fees for developers — or a combination of both. It just depends on the projects Windsor participates in.
As the town grows, it’s looking at ways to prepare for an increase in water use. Among the recommendations Windsor Water Resource Manager John Thornhill presented to the board is to look at joining Windy Gap Firming Project and maintain participation the Northern Integrated Supply Project — both massive water supply projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.
Windsor is one of 15 northern Colorado communities already planning participating in NISP, which is also managed by Northern Water.
The project, which would also impact Evans, would provide 40,000 acre-feet of raw water to all of the participants — enough for 80,000 families. Of that, Windsor would get 3,300 acre-feet of water, 8.25 percent of the total project.
Still, town officials project that Windsor will need to supply 15,803 acre-feet of water in the future. That leaves the town with an 8,731 acre-foot gap in the total amount of water the town is currently has plans for — including NISP — and what officials know they will need in the future.
In addition to participating in the Northern Water projects, Thornhill recommended budgeting money for water conservation, as well as acquiring new water from other providers in the region, such as the North Weld County Water District.
As it stands now, Windsor’s treatable water supply comes from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a Northern Water project that delivers more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year to 960,000 people in the eight counties it serves.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project, both projects managed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, have been decades in the making, and once they’re complete, they’ll result in three new reservoirs intended to address a growing Front Range population.
During the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s fall water users meeting Wednesday in Fort Collins, officials took an audience through the progress of both projects.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project, which would affect Windsor and Evans, hit a major milestone in July after an Environmental Impact Statement was released.
“In 2019, we’re hoping for a really big, exciting year, in addition to the really big year we had this year,” said Stephanie Cecil, water resources project engineer for Northern Water.
The Windy Gap Firming Project, which would affect Greeley, is moving forward even as the project has been hit with a federal lawsuit.
In July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released its final Environmental Impact Statement on the project — a process that took 14 years.
“It’s a really significant step in the project to be able to have all of those things done,” Cecil said.
Right now, the group is focused on design, particularly for the Glade Reservoir and the Galeton Reservoir. One pressing step in the project will be to relocate a section of U.S. 287 to allow for construction of the reservoir.
Additionally, the organization is working on mitigation projects, including one to help pass fish though a diversion structure and measure the amount of water the group is handling.
The group is also working on permitting with counties and the state, and developing a financing plan.
“How is this over $1 billion project going to be financed, and how is the construction schedule going to line up with the financing plan?” Cecil asked.
Construction could start by 2021, Cecil said, and the projects that will likely get started first are the Glade Reservoir and the U.S. 287 relocation. Cecil said the group hopes that the reservoir will be filled in 2026 and able to serve water in 2030.
“We’re looking at about a five-year timeline, but it’s dependent on weather,” she said. “Hopefully by 2026, we’ll have some really wet years and we can fill it really fast.”
The Windy Gap Firming Project, a collaboration between 12 northern Colorado water providers, including Greeley, will result in a new reservoir — the 90,000 acre-foot Chimney Hollow Reservoir — and the largest dam on the Front Range.
When it’s complete, the project intends to make water supplies more reliable by installing the reservoir west of Carter Lake in Larimer County.
For the past year, the project has been in the middle of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups against federal agencies. The lawsuit questions the need for the project, saying it would make significant water diversions from the Colorado River, and that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Crops of Engineers did not have enough information before they issued initial permits to the district.
Still, Jeff Drager, director of engineering for Northern Water, said the project hasn’t been stalled by the lawsuit, especially because funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service requires the group to use the money within the next five years…
Right now, the project is in the permitting process. So far, the organization has $11 million and is seeking ways to fund the final $4 million…
The project has been in the process of permitting the project for 15 years, Drager said…
Drager said the group hopes to start construction in 2021 or 2022.
Work on the pipeline, known as phase two of the Southern Water Supply Project, is being overseen by Northern Water, which manages Carter Lake as part of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project.
Once complete, the pipeline will improve water quality and delivery reliability compared to the open, above-ground Boulder Feeder Canal that currently brings water from Carter Lake to Boulder Reservoir.
The new pipeline will pump 50 cubic feet per second of Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap Project water, with Boulder receiving the bulk of the water among participants at the Boulder Reservoir Water Treatment plant, the pipeline’s terminus.
Boulder will receive 32 cubic feet per second and bear $32 million of the cost, according to city spokeswoman Gretchen King, while Left Hand Water District — which serves a 130-square-mile area between Longmont and Boulder — will receive 12 cubic feet per second and pay about $8 million for its share of the project…
Left Hand will have another $2 million of cost from the district’s addition of a hydroelectric generator at the intersection of the new Southern Water Supply pipeline and the entrance to the district’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant. The generator will produce enough power to satisfy about a third of the plant’s electricity need, according to district Manager Christopher Smith…
Berthoud and Longs Peak Water District — which serves Boulder and Weld County residents in an area north of Longmont — will each receive 3 cubic feet per second, but on Thursday officials from the town and district could not to provide their share of the costs of the remaining $4 million for the project.
Smith noted the pipeline, which has an estimated completion date of March 2020, will not only further protect water quality, but also will allow year-round water delivery to Left Hand Water District’s Dodd Water Treatment Plant…
“During some portions of the year the pipeline will act as the primary source of raw water for the participants in the project,” the Northern Water release states.
Currently, the Boulder Feeder Canal is offline from Oct. 31 to April 1 annually, Smith said. When the canal is down, so, too, is the Dodd Water Treatment Plant…
When the pipeline is complete, the Dodd Plant will be open year-round.
The first 12 miles of new pipeline, from Carter Lake to St. Vrain Road in Longmont, will parallel the existing Southern Water Supply Project pipeline, which was runs to Broomfield and was completed in 1999.
From St. Vrain Road, the new pipeline will continue south to the Boulder Reservoir Treatment Plant.
The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the project.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District had hoped to have the project, now estimated at $570 million, under construction by early 2019 and completed by 2023, but now it is uncertain when construction will begin because of the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver late last year.
“Our original schedule was to be out to bid about right now and we would be selling bonds right now,” Jeff Drager, Northern’s director of engineering, said earlier this month.
Chimney Hollow Reservoir is at the core of what’s known as the Windy Gap Firming Project. Northern, through its affiliated municipal subdistrict, plans to build the 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to provide a “firm annual yield” of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to nine Front Range cities, two water districts and a utility.
About 9,000 acre-feet a year of additional water is expected to be diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River as a result of the project.
The 346-foot-tall dam, which would be the third tallest in Colorado, is located between Loveland and Longmont in Larimer County next to an existing reservoir, Carter Lake.
Drager said since the litigation was filed last year Northern has taken the opportunity to do more engineering and design work on the dam, including the upcoming drilling of 40 holes to further explore softer rock found at the location of the left abutment of the dam.
“We’re now scheduled to be at a point where we could go out to bid for construction and issue bonds probably in February or March,” he said.
But at that point Drager said Northern would have to see what progress has been made in the lawsuit.
“If I had to guess,” he said, “I’d say we’ll be slowed down.”
The lawsuit contends that a review of the proposed project by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers under the National Environmental Policy Act was flawed and that the resulting approvals should be overturned.
The federal review of the project began 2003. Reclamation issued its approval in 2014 and the Corps issued its approval in May 2017.
Five nonprofit environmental groups filed a lawsuit in October, including Save the Colorado, Save the Poudre, Living Rivers, the Waterkeeper Alliance and WildEarth Guardians. The Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club joined the lawsuit in November.
“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an apt example of inadequate analysis and poor decision-making that will ultimately result in significant new diversions from the Colorado River to provide the Front Range with unneeded water supply,” the environmental groups told the court in a recent brief.
The delay in issuing bonds means that the 12 entities paying for the project will have to contribute $10 million in cash to allow Northern to keep the project moving forward, instead of using money expected to be available after selling municipal bonds. The 12 entities have put in $34 million to date toward the project.
“We had hoped that our funding for 2019 was going to come from sale of the bonds and starting construction, but because of the litigation that we have, that’s delayed a little bit,” Drager told Northern’s board of directors at a meeting in Berthoud on August 9. “That $10 million will be provided by the participants in early 2019 and that should carry us through, we hope, until we are ready to put the project out to bid and sell the bonds to pay the rest of the cost.”
Northern owns and operates the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which includes the huge Lake Granby Reservoir and the Adams Tunnel that sends over 200,000 acre-feet of water of Colorado River each year under Rocky Mountain National Park to the east slope.
The C-BT Project also diverts water pumped up from the relatively small 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir, built in the early 1980s to serve as a pumping forebay on the Colorado River, just below its confluence with the Fraser River in Grand County.
But Windy Gap is limited in how much water it can deliver because of its junior water rights and instream-flow obligations below the dam.
Northern says Chimney Hollow Reservoir will allow it to pump water from Windy Gap in wetter years and store the water until needed in drier years by the 12 participating entities, which include Broomfield, Greeley, Longmont and Loveland.
But the environmental groups say the federal agencies reviewed the proposed project with an overly narrow focus on how to fix the Windy Gap project and not on other potential ways to meet Front Range water demands.
“Reclamation did not seriously consider reasonable alternatives to provide water to Windy Gap participants and allowed (Northern) to plow ahead with its original choice — the firming project — and double down on its busted bet,” the lawsuit states.
Reclamation and the Corps told the court in May that the agencies conducted “an independent evaluation” and concluded the project “is needed to meet a portion of the existing and future water needs of the growing east slope municipalities.”
Northern, on its website, points out “the project has been approved by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Grand County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It also has support from several environmental groups such as Trout Unlimited.”
The support from some environmental organizations, including Trout Unlimited, stems from the mitigation measures designed to reduce its impact on the Colorado River headwaters, including a new bypass, or connectivity, channel that will allow more of the river to flow past the Windy Gap Reservoir.
Lurline Underbrink Curran, the former county manager for Grand County, has also appealed to Robert Kennedy, Jr., of Waterkeeper Alliance, to drop the lawsuit.
“Any lawsuit that delays or stops this work is a detriment to the Colorado River,” Currant wrote in Oct. 2017. “If the Windy Gap Project does not go forward, the hard-won concessions evaporate, and the Colorado River will continue to degrade.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering the Roaring Fork and Colorado River basins for The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on its website on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, as did the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.