Issues hashed out at Grand County permit hearing for Windy Gap Firming Project |

Issues hashed out at Grand County permit hearing for Windy Gap Firming Project

Reid Tulley
Grand County, CO Colorado

A two-day public hearing for a 1041 permit for the Windy Gap Firming Project took place Aug. 1 and 2 in the Grand County Board of County Commissioners meeting room.

A 1041 permit allows the county to place conditions on activities designated as matters of state interest.

The Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, referred to as the “Subdistrict,” are the owners of the Windy Gap Project and are applying for the permit in order to “firm” an additional 30,000 acre feet of water from the existing project and to build Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a 90,000 acre-foot storage capacity reservoir, which would be located in Larimer County.

The proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir would be used to “preposition” water pumped through the Colorado Big Thompson Project, leaving more room in Granby Reservoir.

The hearing gave all of the interested parties a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about the project before it was submitted to the Grand County Commissioners for approval or denial.

Enhancements and mitigations to the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek are part of the proposed agreement and include a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir, larger flushing flows for the Upper Colorado River, and a list of other possible mitigation measures.

Planned mitigation measures

The existing diversions at Windy Gap take 60 percent of native flows out of the Upper Colorado and the proposed expansion to the project would take another estimated 15-20 percent of flows, according to Trout Unlimited.

“Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Amelia Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project.

Mitigations and enhancements meant to address the impacts are proposed in the agreement for the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek.

“We are not opposed to this project, we just want to see the right mitigations take place,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Headwaters of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited. “No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit.”

The enhancements that are proposed were the main topic of discussion during the meeting as interested parties made arguments for specific mitigation’s and enhancements.

Each party agreed that the river would be better off with the proposed mitigations and enhancements than it would be without them. However, the parties differed about which mitigations should take priority.

Some of the parties who voiced their opinions about the proposed mitigation’s and enhancements include the Upper Colorado River Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Town of Grand Lake, and members of the public.

Some of the main enhancements that are proposed are the construction of a bypass around or through Windy Gap Reservoir and increased flushing flows to the Colorado, which would help to restore the habitat of the gold-medal fishing waters below the Windy Gap Dam.

The stretch of the Colorado below the dam has suffered a large amount of degradation due to higher temperatures of the water being released from the dam, low stream and flushing flows, and increased sediment deposits.

Studies completed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and EPA have shown that the declining condition of the Upper Colorado below the Windy Gap Dam, including the almost total loss of stoneflies and molted sculpin, macro invertebrates that are an important source of food for trout, is due to the dam.

The sediment that is trapped in the habitat below the dam is now armored due to years of inadequate flushing flows and increased amounts of sediment deposit, said Peggy Baily, a senior project manager for Tetra Tech, a environmental engineering consulting firm.

The habitat requires a much larger flow in order to clean and move the larger rocks that provide a habitat for macro invertebrates.

Windy Gap Reservoir is shallow and therefore allows for the temperature of the water to rise, creating a “petri dish” for whirling disease to multiply, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist.

The higher temperature of the water that is released from the reservoir can also be dangerous to fish below the dam.

The increased amount of silt accompanied with lower stream flows has not allowed for the river to be cleaned by flushing flows. Flushing flows are an important part of the river’s cycles and help to clean the silt that collects in the habitats of macro invertebrates to allow them to reproduce.

The Subdistrict has agreed to provide $250,000 toward research of a bypass, which is expected to reduce high temperature events caused by the dam, reduce sedimentation deposition, restore river connectivity, and reduce the impacts of whirling disease.

About $3 million in funds would be available to construct the bypass and the construction would take place immediately after the study finds that the bypass would be beneficial to the river.

The bypass project was estimated to cost around $5 million to $6 million during the hearing. Northern offered to seek the additional funding.

The agreement states that the Subdistrict would also increase the flushing flows from the previous 450 cubic feet per second for 50 hours to 600 cfs.

Trout Unlimited as well as other parties believed the 50 hours of 600 cubic feet per second flow would not be adequate to clean the river and requested a flow of 1,900 cubic feet per second, while the EPA believes 1,245 cubic feet per second should be used.

The Subdistrict will also agree to implement a nutrient reduction plan that is designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water pumped through the project.

The nutrient reduction proposed by the Subdistrict includes an estimated $3.3 million in improvements to the Fraser Valley Consolidated Plant, the only feasible wastewater plant capable of meeting the proposed reductions, and non-point source reduction, which includes the reduction of irrigation and fertilizer used by two ranches above Windy Gap Reservoir.

The clarity of Grand Lake has been an issue since the original project was put into place, and nutrient loading from the Windy Gap Project is thought to be partially the cause of the reduced clarity of Grand Lake. The proposed nutrient reduction plans should help to improve the clarity.

A bypass around Grand Lake was brought up and discussed by a member of the public during the meeting; however, there is no mention of such a project in the agreements.

An estimated total of $4.3 million would be provided to reduce the nutrient inflow into “Three Lakes,” which include Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir, and Grand Lake.

Temperature and nutrient monitoring systems would be installed in multiple areas on the Colorado and the information would be continually monitored to make sure the temperature of the stream does not exceed temperature guidelines.

The Subdistrict would reduce or curtail pumping from the Windy Gap Project if temperatures exceed the guidelines.

Part of the agreement is the Subdistrict’s and other entities participation in a “Learning By Doing” program, which is an adaptive management program intended to monitor the river and other resources and make enhancements and mitigation’s as deemed necessary by the participants in the future.

A total of $4 million will be dedicated to restoring the aquatic habitat of the Colorado River from Windy Gap Reservoir to Kemp-Breeze State Wildlife Area with up to $3 million in additional funding from Denver Water.

The Subdistrict would also start a $500,000 fund to make improvements and repairs to irrigation pumps located on the Upper Colorado.

The Subdistrict has also agreed to make provisions to protect open space and public access in the areas that are associated with the project.

A stipulation of the agreement to construct the bypass of Windy Gap would be that the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir would be conducted at the same time of the construction of the bypass and would act as an end to the permit process.

The county manager’s office has recommended approval for the permit and the commissioners have 120 days from Aug. 2 to approve or deny the permit.

Closing arguments about the permit are scheduled to take place Aug. 28.

If approved

The additional 30,000 acre feet at issue in the firming project is the remainder of the 56,000 acre feet of water the Subdistrict is allowed to pump under the original Windy Gap permit.

An acre-foot is equal to 325,851gallons of water, or the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land in one foot of water.

The original Windy Gap project was estimated to actually deliver about 48,000 acre feet of firm yield after evaporation losses, referred to as “shrink,” and allocations to Middle Park Water Conservancy District of 3,000 acre feet.

The project has delivered an average of 36,532 acre feet annually since its start and, if the preferred action of the project were approved, an estimated total of 46,084 acre feet would be diverted.

This 9,500 acre foot difference would be a 26 percent increase in the amount of water diverted from the Upper Colorado.

Because of the necessity to store the water that is pumped out of Windy Gap Reservoir in Granby Reservoir and the limited ability of the Colorado Big Thompson Project to deliver water through the Adams Tunnel to the East Slope, Northern hasn’t been able to deliver or store the additional water from Windy Gap.

The 1041 permit, if approved, would allow the remaining water to be pumped up through the Adams Tunnel to the East Slope. The increased amount of water would be distributed among a list of users who would then be able to lease or sell their share of the water.

The previous Windy Gap Project did not specifically allow the users to sell or lease the water.

The certificate of recommendation for the permit, which was prepared by the Grand County Manager’s Office, specifically states that one permitted use of the water would be for fracking, an oil and gas process that involves injecting water in to the ground.

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