Colorado's Windy Gap Firming Project: Troubling Trend?
Late December saw the Bureau of Reclamation approval of the Windy Gap Firming Project, yet another major diversion of the imperiled Upper Colorado River. And while AW has worked hard over the years to ensure that projects like this don’t further impact the health of the upper Colorado, we are disappointed to see that recent federal action doesn’t lock in the protections that are essential to mitigating the worst effects of yet another trans-mountain diversion.
The final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Windy Gap Firming Project doesn’t include the protections that conservation groups have worked hard for over the past several years. Instead, The EIS glosses over the findings of a 2011 study that found that existing Windy Gap diversions are harming the river, and points to more dire consequences if additional water is taken out of the river. The EIS also doesn’t memorialize the solutions that were agreed on by a diverse group of stakeholders. The most important of those are:
* preventing stream temperature impacts during low flows in the summer.
* providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff.
* requiring the construction of a Windy Gap Reservoir bypass to reconnect the river.
“You can only take so much water out of a river before it ceases to be a functioning river”, says Kirk Klanke, a local advocate for the Upper Colorado River system. “These agreements are about protecting enough flows and habitat to keep Colorado’s namesake river and a world-class fishery alive. We’ve made great strides—but it doesn’t help when a federal agency overseeing the project doesn’t fully acknowledge the problem.”
While we support the mitigation agreements that were negotiated, the fact that they got left out of the official approval of the project is deeply troubling. We’ll be working to ensure that the spirit, even if not the letter, of those agreements is honored as the project moves forward.
Photo: Sneak Line Rapid in Gore Canyon, Upper Colorado River by Brian Adkins, Boulder, Co
Windy Gap Firming Project (CO)
American Whitewater is working to protect outstanding paddling opportunities in Colorado, and a healthy Colorado River system from future water development.