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Upper Colorado River in danger of being Flat-Lined!

Posted: 10/04/2008
By: Nathan Fey

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Windy Gap Firming Project. If approved, the Project will increase transmountain diversions from the headwaters of the Colorado River for storage in Chimney Hollow - a new, 90,000 acre-foot reservoir to be built near Carter Lake. The Project, proposed by the Municipal Subdistrict of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District would then supply water to northern Front Range cities including Longmont, Broomfield, Greeley and Lafayette. The project will move the Colorado River another step closer to being a "flat lined" river, with flows perpetually at low base flow levels. It would divert Colorado River water mainly from May to August; according to the DEIS this would result in declines in monthly flows of as much as 24 percent. This would be in addition to existing diversions from the Colorado, including the Colorado Big-Thompson Project, Denver Water's Moffat Tunnel, and the current Windy Gap Project, which together take over 50 percent of the Colorado's native flows across the Continental Divide.

Decades of transmountain diversions by these projects have taken their toll on the river. In 2007, in an effort to protect the Upper Colorado under the US BLM's Resource Managment Plan, American Whitewater launched a series of studies aimed at quantifying flow needs for the $150 Million annual rafting and kayaking industry. The preliminary results of these studies identify a range of flows necessary to support the Outstandingly Remarkable rafting, float-fishing, and kayaking on the Colorado River that make it eligible for inclusion into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  With such reduced flows in the basin from the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project, recreation and river health is significantly threatened.

What can you do? Attend a public meeting to voice your concerns. The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled two public meetings where citizens can offer written and oral comments: one in Loveland on October 7 and one in Granby on October 9. Attending the Loveland meeting is particularly important as the voice of Front Range citizens that use and value the Colorado River is critical and has not yet been heard. The specifics:

October 7, 2008, at 7 pm, McKee Conference Center, 2000 Boise Avenue, Loveland, CO 80538, (ph. 970-669-4640). Food, drink, & information will be provided at a 5pm pre-meeting sponsored by American Whitewater and our partners.
October 9, 2008, at 6 pm, Inn at Silver Creek, 62927 US Highway 40, Granby, CO 80446, (ph. 970-887-4080)

AW realizes that Front Range cities need to provide for future growth, and the Windy Gap Firming Project is listed by the conservation community in Facing Our Future as a workable alternative to other, more damaging water development plans, provided that the project is made "smart." For a project to be considered "smart supply", effective water conservation measures must be in place and potential environmental impacts must be fully analyzed and either prevented or properly mitigated.

Unfortunately, as it is now proposed the Windy Gap Firming Project falls short. Some of the participant cities have minimal conservation measures - at least one of them is still on a flat water rate system with no price incentive for conservation. Impacts to aquatic resources are masked in the DEIS - for example, by focusing on monthly averages and glossing over day-to-day flow conditions that may have major effects on fish. The DEIS offers minimal, if any, prevention or mitigation measures. As it stands, AW opposes the project. The Colorado River is already stressed by low flows and elevated temperatures, and the Windy Gap Firming Project would only increase the periods of time where those conditions exist. The Colorado River is already suffering, and those issues need to be resolved - the last thing we need is to divert even more water and continue to ignore the underlying problems.

Can Windy Gap be made environmentally sound? We believe so - but until its sponsors take the necessary steps to incorporate meaningful water conservation and to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts to the Colorado River, the project should not be approved.

If you cannot make it to the public hearings, you can still help by submitting public comments on the DEIS. Comments are currently due on October 28, 2008, but AW and its partners are seeking a 60-day extension. Our staff are currently reviewing the DEIS, and we will post more detailed information and concerns that emerge from that review, and we will provide details on how to submit comments in a future action alert.


Colorado Stewardship Director

Nathan Fey

1601 Longs Peak Ave.

Longmont, CO 80501

Phone: 303-859-8601
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Upper Colorado River (CO)

American Whitewater is working with various stakeholders to develop a resource management plan for the BLM, as an alternative to "Wild and Scenic River" management.

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