Feds approve final permit for Chimney Hollow | SkyHiNews.com

Feds approve final permit for Chimney Hollow

The long-awaited Chimney Hollow Reservoir cleared its final permitting hurdle for construction last week, concluding a process that has taken nearly 15 years.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed a permit May 18 that provides final regulatory approval from the federal government for Northern Water's yet-to-be-constructed 90,000-acre Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Construction of Chimney Hollow is slated to begin in 2019, according to representatives of Northern Water, which is headquartered in Larimer County.

Once constructed, Chimney Hollow will be located slightly west of Carter Lake near the town of Berthoud on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. Chimney Hollow will become a part of the larger Colorado-Big Thompson Project, diverting western slope water to the Front Range, and is a required element for Northern Water's planned Windy Gap Firming Project in Grand County.

After announcement of the permit approval, officials from Grand County offered congratulations to Northern Water on its success.

Grand County Commissioner Kristen Manguso said she was looking forward to implementing the Windy Gap Firming Project's intergovernmental agreement and other associated agreements "that benefit Grand County, the Colorado River and the west slope, including the Wind Gap Reservoir Modification/Connectivity Channel and the Colorado River Headwaters Project."

While the legal details surrounding the firming project can be considered complicated, the overall goal of the project is for Northern Water to fill Chimney Hollow Reservoir using the original 1980s water rights decrees governing the Windy Gap. A statement on the Northern Water website stated that "diversions would adhere to previously-agreed-upon limits."

The road to approval of the reservoir project has been lengthy.

Northern Water began the environmental permitting process in October 2003. It was just over one year ago, in mid-April, when the state of Colorado issued the second to last permit required for construction of Chimney Hollow. Other permits obtained for the project included a Grand County 1041 Permit, approved in 2012 and a Colorado Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan, finalized in 2011.

"This has been a lengthy process and Northern Water, its municipal subdistrict and the 12 project participants are elated with the news of the 404 permit," Project Manager Jeff Drager said. "We're smiling and it makes the time-consuming and resource-intensive permitting process worth it."

Kirk Klancke, Grand County resident and president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, was happy with the permit approval and what it means for future river rehabilitation projects. "Everything we negotiated with Northern Water hinged on them getting their permits," Klancke said. "This means the millions of dollars and all the water they committed will be a commitment they keep. I look at it as a positive thing."

While some county residents were optimistic about the permit approval, not everyone was thrilled by the news.

"I have concerns about how the process was driven," said Ken Fucik, Grand Lake resident and retired environmental scientist. "The process we have gone through is not the process I am familiar with during my 40 years of doing (National Environmental Policy Act) studies."

Project designers estimate the Chimney Hollow Reservoir project will cost roughly $400 million. Officials from Northern Water stated they hope to begin storing water in Chimney Hollow by 2021 or 2022.