Grand County has a big stake in Windy Gap Firming Project |

Grand County has a big stake in Windy Gap Firming Project

Water rights.

With those two words, we probably lost 90 percent of our readers.

As a topic of discussion, water is ” ironically ” dry. To speak in an educated way about water, you must have the mind of a lawyer, the education of an engineer and the savvy of a politician.

Which is why, when water comes up in conversation ” most people shut up and shut off.

But now is not the time to be intimidated.

Now is the time to get involved in one of the most important political discussions in decades.

On Aug. 29, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a two and one-half inch document ” not the final document, but a draft ” of the Windy Gap Firming Project Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This document examined the impacts of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s plans to start using all its water rights. (To read a 22-page summary, read the online version of this editorial on

The goal of the firming project is for NCWCD to divert as much of its 30,000-acre feet of water as possible from Grand County every year to the Front Range.

The EIS showed that the best way ” from Northern Water’s point of view, economically and environmentally ” to do this is to build a reservoir on the Front Range to store the needed water. The reservoir, if built, will be called Chimney Hollow Reservoir and will be located nine miles southwest of Loveland.

This water would supply, among others, Broomfield, Erie, Evans, Fort Lupton, Greeley, Lafayette, Longmont, Loveland and Superior.

And here’s why you should care:

1. When water is used by local agriculture for a hay meadow, as an example, most of it seeps back into the water table. The water is used, but much of it is reclaimed.

When water is diverted through pipes under the Continental Divide and on to the Front Range ” it is lost to us forever.

2. Unless we get involved and express our concerns, the Windy Gap Firming Project, combined with the simultaneous Moffat Firming Project under way by the Denver Water Board, could dry up Grand County.

When you dry up the riverbeds of Grand County, you dry up a majority of our tourism industry. You dry up our economy. You dry up the reason that fishermen, rafters, kayakers and picnickers come here to spend their vacations and their vacation dollars. You dry up critical wildlife habitat. You dry up the reason that many of us live here.

In an ideal world, these Front Range communities would look at water conservation first before grabbing for more water from the Western Slope.

But this is not an ideal world.

Instead, this is a practical world, where Northern Water has a duty to provide its participants with the water they need and they are searching out the best way to do that.

Northern Water has the right to take every drop of the 30,000 acre-feet of water they hope to “firm up.”

At the same time, Grand County has the right to make sure that before the first drop of water moves we have protected our interests ” our economy, our environment and our quality of life.

We have faith that Northern Water and Grand County can work together to forge a path that is beneficial to both sides.

Already this summer, Northern Water and Grand County set the possible tone for future negotiations when Grand County was able to pump extra water during a high runoff year. Through a handshake agreement, that water was made available for us at the cost of pumping it. We were able to release it late in the summer, when streamflows were low.

We hope that tone will continue in the present negotiations. But Northern Water cannot respond to Grand County’s concerns, unless those concerns are expressed.

There are two chances for your voice to be heard.

The first is in Loveland. This Oct. 7 meeting at McKee Medical Center will be a gathering of the potential Front Range water users. This is a very important place for Grand County residents’ interests and concerns to be heard.

The second public meeting is on Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Inn at Silvercreek in Granby.

If you can’t make either meeting, written comments are welcome ” due before Oct. 28.

Send comments to:

Will Tully

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

11056 West County Road 18E

Loveland, CO 80537

Fax: (970) 663-3212


” Part 2 of this editorial, including more in-depth discussion of how your concerns will affect the EIS process, will run in Friday’s edition of the Sky-Hi Daily News.

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