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Colorado's public lands are faced with new challenges but water and land management depend on working together. Read about the relationship between water and land in Colorado and how Coloradans are converging to restore Colorado's public lands in the Spring 2018 issue of Headwaters magazine.

Browse articles and find a flipbook of the magazine here.

Connecting the Drops

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Water Education Colorado

Windy Gap Firming Project

By Kevin Darst

The idea wasn’t new: store water on the Western Slope and pump it to the Eastern Slope to satisfy rising water demand in the state’s most populated river basin, the South Platte.

In 1985, after nearly 18 years of planning and permitting, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Project pumped its first water from the 445-acre-foot Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River to Lake Granby. From Lake Granby, the water traveled east through the 13-mile-long Alva B. Adams to the Front Range.

Intended as a supplement to northern Colorado’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, Windy Gap water is stored in a reservoir near Granby and pulses through C-BT reservoirs and pipelines on a space-available basis. But that arrangement has led to problems that have reduced water availability for Windy Gap benefactors. In wet years, the C-BT system has been too full to pipe Windy Gap water to the Eastern Slope. In dry years, Windy Gap’s junior water rights haven’t produced much water.

In Spring 2003, nine Windy Gap participants submitted a plan for reservoirs that would store nearly 100,000 acre-feet and improve, or firm, the reliability of 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project for Broomfield, Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville, Loveland, Superior, Central Weld County Water District and Platte River Power Authority.

Northern initially identified five possible reservoir sites with nine variations or combinations for its in-house review. Some of those alternatives could be scrapped because they don’t meet U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines for reservoir sites.

A district spokesperson said Northern isn’t ready to release its new list of proposals. She said, however, that the project would probably be a combination of reservoirs on both sides of the mountains because a single Eastern Slope reservoir would not hold enough water to deliver the annual yield requested by Windy Gap participants.

One option previously cited by officials at Northern is Chimney Hollow Reservoir, a proposed 110,000-acre-foot lake west of Loveland and Carter Lake. But the impoundment might not be big enough if interested parties Fort Lupton, Lafayette, Little Thompson Water District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District join the project.

“That’s why we have a West Slope site we’re also pursuing,” district spokesperson Nicole Seltzer explains.

One of the district’s original Western Slope site proposals, the so-called Jasper North site, was eliminated after engineers found peat-forming, groundwater-fed wetlands called fens. And plans for a Little Thompson Reservoir site near Lyons, which generated much ire from residents in the area, likely will be dropped because of Army Corps screening criteria eliminating sites that would inundate streams with year-round flows, such as the Little Thompson River.

Regrouping will probably set Windy Gap Firming Project construction back to early 2008, which could hurt project participants who need the additional water for their customers, project manager Jeff Drager explains. “We want to make sure it complies with the Corps’ requirements first,” Drager says.

Exploration of new sites has upset some Western Slope residents, Drager admits. One potential reservoir site west of the Continental Divide has several homes on it, and homeowners won’t let district engineers onto their property to survey the land, he reported.

“Those homeowners aren’t thrilled about being on the list,” Drager says. “It’s a handful (of opponents) compared to (the proposed Little Thompson site), but they’re not really excited about it and I can’t blame them.”

As part of the environmental review process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act, Northern just recently completed its scoping process where it solicited input from interested parties about various project alternatives. In the coming year, it will work with the Bureau of Reclamation to draft an Environmental Impact Statement—a crucial step toward obtaining the necessary federal permits that could make this project a reality.

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