Letter to the Editor: Palmer
Grand County holds the cards on Windy Gap Firming Project
To the Editor:
The County Commissioners are currently deliberating the fate of the Colorado River in Grand County by determining whether to permit the Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP), a project designed to increase diversions through Windy Gap Reservoir for delivery to cities on the Front Range, and what conditions to impose if they do permit the project. Here is what the public should know:
Chronic sedimentation is armoring the stream channel and suffocating the Colorado River. That combined with temperature and other problems is killing the aquatic life.
• The primary culprit is Windy Gap Reservoir coupled with a lack of adequate flushing flows.
∞ Most of Windy Gap Reservoir is only a few feet deep. Windy Gap discharges fine silts and sediments at low flows. This begins armoring the stream channel if not flushed out.
∞ Stream armoring problems are documented downstream of Windy Gap – but not upstream.
∞ Once armored, even a 5,000 cfs flush in 2011 was inadequate to break up that armoring as shown by the County’s own consultants.
• The well-documented loss of aquatic insects, sculpin and other species occurred after Windy Gap was built, yet those same species are still prevalent upstream of Windy Gap.
A well-designed bypass channel around Windy Gap Reservoir coupled with adequate flushing flows is absolutely critical before allowing WGFP to proceed.
• The biggest effect of WGFP will be on flushing flow (35 percent loss in critical months).
∞ Since existing flushing flows have been inadequate, losing 35 percent will make conditions worse.
∞ The source of silt at low flow must be taken off the river by constructing a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir in order for any other mitigation to have a chance of succeeding.
The Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) being negotiated by the County helps, but it does not solve the biggest problems.
• Releases of water from Lake Granby under the IGA may help with late season temperature issues, but that does nothing to address the chronic sedimentation that is killing the river.
∞ Much of the potential storage under the IGA is conditional upon various factors and will not always be available when needed.
∞ The most reliable storage releases from Lake Granby (5,412.5 AF) are already going to be required to address Endangered Species recovery.
WGFP will cost approximately $300 million.
• The cost of constructing a well designed bypass should have been studied a long time ago and that cost borne by the Front Range municipal rate-payers that benefit from the water.
∞ The cost to Grand County if it is not done correctly is immeasurable
Windy Gap was an ill-conceived, poorly studied project that is killing the upper Colorado River and has placed a huge burden on the County. It should not have been permitted in 1980. To make matters worse, the County has not enforced the existing conditions of that permit. The County now has the chance to make it right by requiring strong mitigation to protect the river from the effects of WGFP and, in the process, give the River a chance to heal itself. This affords a rare opportunity for Grand County to protect its aquatic resources and its local economy.
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