Grand County citizens should weigh in about Windy Gap Firming Project |

Grand County citizens should weigh in about Windy Gap Firming Project

The Windy Gap Firming Project will send more Grand County water to the Front Range to feed the growing communities of Greeley, Broomfield, Loveland and Fort Collins.

And tomorrow night, you will be given a chance to comment on if, when and how this should happen.

There isn’t anything going on in Grand County tomorrow night that is more important to the future of this area than the 7 p.m. public meeting with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the Inn at Silvercreek in Granby.

Northern Water is looking to “firm up” water rights it owns but has not been using in Grand County.

The process of “firming up” these water rights has only just begun.

And what you say in the beginning of this process not only matters but will echo through all the decisions made hereafter.

Recently, Northern Water released a draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) that explored the different ways water could be transported from the Western to Eastern Slope.

The study shows that the construction of a storage reservoir near Loveland is the best choice for Northern Water, environmentally and economically.

The next step in the process is the production of the “final” EIS, which takes into consideration all the legitimate concerns that have been expressed during the public comment period that ends Oct. 28.

As an editorial board, we have spoken to water attorneys, activists, residents and to employees of Northern Water about the contents of the draft EIS and the future of the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Among the many concerns about this project, these are a few that seem logical to us and should be among the talking points at tomorrow’s meeting.

– Develop a water conservation master plan. According to a Northern Water spokesperson, the Conservancy District’s role is to provide water to its customers. Northern cannot legally require its customers to conserve.

However, anyone who cares about the future of water in Colorado ” on the East or West Slope ” should hold conservation among its highest priorities. In the ’90s, Denver Water developed a master plan of conservation strategies to “achieve our goal of saving 29,000 acre feet of water annually by 2045.”

Northern Water should develop a similar plan for its users.

– Protect Grand County’s aquatic wildlife and habitat by reconstructing streambeds where necessary. According to the draft EIS, the Colorado River below the Windy Gap diversion would experience an average monthly flow reduction of up to 23 percent if the Front Range storage reservoir is constructed. Reduced flows mean shallower water that warms quickly and becomes a difficult place for fish to survive.

Deeper, narrower streambeds could be constructed to protect our wildlife during low flow months.

– The final EIS and all future decisions made in the Windy Gap Firming Project should include the environmental and flow recommendations in the Grand County Stream Management Plan.

– Efforts must be coordinated. The Windy Gap Firming Project was set into motion around the same time as the Denver Water Board’s Moffat Firming Project. Both projects are diverting water from Grand County to the Front Range. The efforts of these two entities must be coordinated. If there is poor communication between Northern and Denver Water about the rate and timing of water releases from this area, Grand County will suffer.

– Clarity of Grand Lake must be a priority. This summer, Northern Water stopped its late season pumping to see if the water quality improved. But the experiment was cut short when the levels of Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins began to drop noticeably.

Though it was cut short, the clarity of the lake did improve during the test period.

This research should continue. Northern Water and the Grand County commissioners should work together, using this research, to define mutually agreed upon guidelines for the clarity of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

These talking points are by no means the only local concerns about the Windy Gap Firming Project, but they are a logical starting point for this complicated discussion.

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