Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District prepares to ‘firm’ Windy Gap water rights |

Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District prepares to ‘firm’ Windy Gap water rights

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Courtesy photoThe proposed site of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Loveland would store up to 90,000 acre feet of water diverted from Windy Gap.

The draft environmental impact statement for Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project is set to be released in May, when the public will have the chance to weigh in on the district’s water plans.

The district proposes to “firm up” its water rights and transfer more water than it has been from just below the confluence of the Fraser and Colorado rivers at Windy Gap by creating a place to store the water on the East Slope.

Although Windy Gap is not a main player of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), Windy Gap water travels through the project to reach municipalities and other water users and providers that service a growing population on Colorado’s eastern plain.

As many as 14 entities, including 10 cities, the Platt River Power Authority and rural water districts are participating in the firming project.

Northern Water has identified its preferred location for storing the water it is entitled to through water rights established in 1967. By building the storage reservoir, this district would be firming those rights.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir would store 90,000 acre feet of water, or the maximum amount Windy Gap is permitted to divert in one year. It would be located just west of Carter Lake near Loveland.

In comparison, the C-BT’s Carter Lake stores 112,000 acre feet.

At present, Windy Gap supplies an average of 30,000 acre feet of water annually, according to Jill Boyd, communication specialist for Northern Water.

The purpose of the project is to “make Windy Gap’s supply more reliable,” Boyd said.

The storage component of the Windy Gap project was included in plans and agreements prior to when the project was built in 1985, according to Northern Water’s General Manager Eric Wilkinson.

The water rights predate the reservoir construction, and the water that would be stored in Chimney Hollow Reservoir is water “that would come through anyway because the demand on the Windy Gap project has matured,” Wilkinson said. “In the next five to 10 years, Windy Gap should be in full operation.”

By agreements established when the West Slope reservoir was constructed, Windy Gap can’t take more than 90,000 acre feet in any one year, or 650,000 acre feet in any 10-year period.

But the Windy Gap water right is still “fairly junior in the scheme of things,” Boyd said, and water would most-likely be captured during wet years so it could be stored to have a supply during dry times.

The potential for an additional 60,000 acre feet of water ” or about 13 percent of the water actively stored in Lake Granby ” flowing through the Big Thompson system through Grand Lake on its way to the East Slope has local lake advocates racing to establish a water standard for the lake to protect its clarity.

But asked if efforts spearheaded by Grand County and the Grand Lake Shoreline Association to protect that lake pose issues in its firming plans, Northern Water maintains the issues are “unrelated.”

“The problem of Grand Lake occurred from an algae bloom after we drew the water down to kill aquatic weeds the winter before,” said Northern Water’s John Carlson, assistant general manager. Northern, he said, is working with the Bureau of Reclamation and Grand County stakeholders to work out pumping schedules to limit the possibility of another such bloom occurring.

Grand County took the opportunity to comment on the Bureau’s draft EIS for the Windy Gap Firming Project before its scheduled release to the public.

According to County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, the county commented on reports concerning river flows, aquatics, vegetation and wildlife. As the overseeing agency, BuRec will ultimately issue Northern Water the permit for the firming project and will determine if the county’s comments have merit.

Specifically how the county reacted to details of the draft EIS is considered “privileged information” among all agencies until the draft EIS is released, Underbrink Curran said.

Before the end of the April, Phase 2 of the county’s Stream Management Plan will be ready for distribution, she said. The plan can be used as a scientific tool and a jumping off point for discussions with both Denver Water ” with its firming project ” and Northern Water, with Windy Gap.

“We believe that in order to address the full extent of the impacts of both projects, we need to specifically say what we need in both reaches,” Underbrink Curran said. “And ask ourselves does this have an impact? Or through negotiations with Denver and Northern find out a way to sit down and figure things out. The Stream Management Plan is a defensible way to provide what we see as issues in our streams, through true science. It puts us in a better position to start to be able to talk about those issues.”

Northern Water officials paid Grand County commissioners a visit Tuesday to update them on the draft EIS and to provide answers to questions.

“We’re willing to sit down and talk with them, reach compromises, address concerns that are found and find solutions,” Wilkinson said.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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