Granby " Draft EIS for Windy Gap Firming Project released
September 11, 2008
Rafters, anglers, irrigators, municipalities and citizens who appreciate water in Grand County are being urged to make their voices heard about the state of the area’s lakes and rivers.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Windy Gap Firming Project is out. The 2.5-inch thick document studies potential impacts associated with plans to divert more water to the eastern side of the Continental Divide.
Some Grand County officials and water defenders plan to read the study cover-to-cover, but citizens may want to opt for the Executive Summary, the “Cliff Notes” version.
Water demand for Broomfield, Erie, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland as well as water districts and power authorities on the East Slope is expected to increase by 251,000 acre feet (an acre foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre, one foot deep in water) by 2050.
With that demand, the Northern Water Conservancy District Municipal Subdistrict estimates it will face a shortage of 110,000 acre-feet. Meanwhile, studies say Grand and Summit counties can expect a water demand increase of 17,000 acre-feet by 2030, with a total build-out demand of 32,000 acre feet.
“While water conservation is an important strategy used by the participants to improve the efficiency of water use, extend supplies and reduce overall demand, conservation measures will not be sufficient to meet projected water demands,” the EIS states.
Even with the total amount allowed taken from Windy Gap Reservoir, the subdistrict would still face a 34 percent shortfall, according to the EIS.
The Windy Gap Firming Project, pre-empted by drought years early in the decade, represents 10 percent of East Slope participants’ water supply needs for the next four-plus decades.
But that 10 percent means about 80 percent of Fraser and Colorado river water will end up diverted, and more Big Thompson water will be pumped through Grand Lake.
The Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, analyzes different methods of accomplishing the added diversion and the effects each might have.
Included in the document is also the option to “do nothing,” and keep delivering water by way of the Windy Gap pumping facility the way it’s been doing “according to demand, water rights, availability of storage in Granby Reservoir and existing Adams Tunnel Conveyance constraints,” the EIS reads. Ralph Price Reservoir in Longmont would enlarge its storage by 13,000 acre feet in the event of “doing nothing.”
“Windy Gap diversions will increase in the future regardless of whether one of the action alternatives is implemented because of increased demand,” the EIS states.
That’s because East Slope water users have rights to Windy Gap water that they have not yet had to divert to the Front Range. How and when that water is delivered, however, and how its stored is being reviewed from an environmental standpoint.
Meanwhile, Grand County has intensified negotiations with the East Slope to secure West Slope interests in keeping rivers and lakes healthy for not just the recreational and economic benefits they provide, but also for expected growth on the Western Slope.
Participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project have made their choice, called the “proposed action.”
It includes construction of a 90,000 acre-foot reservoir called Chimney Hollow on the East Slope. Water would be sent to Chimney Hollow Reservoir by way of a pipeline connection to Colorado-Big Thompson facilities on the East Slope.
This reservoir, East Slope stakeholders say, would free up storage in Granby Reservoir for more Windy Gap water.
The EIS states that with more water taken from Grand County rivers, the amount and frequency of available fish habitat would decrease under all alternatives. The greatest change would occur under the “action” alternatives, in which rivers may see a 24 percent decrease in adult rainbow trout habitat just upstream of the Williams Fork confluence four out of 10 years.
Willow Creek fish habitat would decrease, the EIS states, and rafting conditions in Gore Canyon would diminish in June and July under any of the actions.
Grand Lake would also see a greater decrease in water clarity as phosphorous and chlorophyll concentrations in Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake increase from more water traveling through the water-delivery system, according to the EIS.
And, since levels on Lake Granby would decrease, accessibility to boat ramps at Arapaho Bay, Stillwater and Sunset might become a problem, the document says.
People concerned about decreased flows or diminished water quality “need to verbalize it,” said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran.
“And they need to not be afraid that it isn’t in the right way, or they’re not saying it the right way, that they didn’t look at it right, because they just need to verbalize their concerns.
“Their concerns are a mirror of what Grand County has been trying to convey all over the state,” she added. “These transmountain diversions are an impact to our economy, our way of life, our recreation, our aesthetics and our environment.”
Even if a citizen doesn’t know how to comment, questions can be submitted, Underbrink Curran said.
“No matter (what) you have a concern about, you need to say it,” she said.
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.