Water diversions across Colorado's Continental Divide have taken their toll on the Upper Colorado River for decades. In combination, the Colorado Big-Thompson Project, Denver Water's Moffat Tunnel, and the Windy Gap Project divert over 50 percent of the Colorado's native flows from the West Slope to the Front Range. The aquatic ecosystem and regional recreation economy have suffered as a result of these reduced flows, and unfortunately the Colorado River faces additional threats of further flow degradation.
In 2003, the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District began the permitting process to “firm” the Windy Gap Project by increasing transmountain diversions and creating additional storage. If approved, the Project would move the Colorado River one step closer to being a “flat lined” river, with flows perpetually at low base flow levels. According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released by the Bureau of Reclamation in 2008, Project diversions would mainly take place between May and August and reduce existing flows in the Upper Colorado by as much as 24 percent. The additional water would be transported through the existing Colorado Big-Thompson Project and stored in the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir, which would be built west of Carter Lake.
AW realizes that Front Range cities need to meet water resource needs 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.
American Whitewater believes that the project can be made more environmentally sound and has been working hard since 2007 to advocate for protection of the Upper Colorado's flows. In addition to tracking the project and supporting local communities in commenting on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Bureau of Reclamation, 2008), we also launched a series of studies aimed at quantifying flow needs for the $150 million annual rafting and kayaking industry. We seek to protect all of the flow related Outstandingly Remarkable values, including recreational rafting, kayaking and fishing, and wildlife habitat and scenery. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released in 2011 - Stay tuned for updates on the process and for more information on how you can help protect the Upper Colorado!
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|Nathan Fey||Longmont CO||Details...|
Recreational Water Rights Sought for the Upper Colorado River
January 31, 2011
Colorado's Windy Gap Firming Project: Troubling Trend?
January 22, 2015
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This document summarizes the alternatives analyzed in detail under the Environmental Impact Study, and their environmental effects.