$400 million northern Colorado reservoir gets final approval
Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.
Windy Gap Firming project participants
The 12 participants in the project currently provide water to 500,000 people. Here’s how many acre-feet of water each will get:
» Broomfield — 26,000
» Erie — 6,300
» Fort Lupton — 1,100
» Greeley — 9,200
» Lafayette — 1,900
» Longmont — 10,000
» Louisville — 2,800
» Loveland — 9,400
» Superior — 4,700
» Central Weld County Water District — 347
» Little Thompson Water District — 5,000
» Platte River Power Authority — 12,600
An acre-foot of water is enough to provide two families with a year’s supply of water or cover an area about the size of a football field with a foot of water.
The Windy Gap Firming project and its accompanying Chimney Hollow Reservoir has been approved, paving the way for more reliable water across the Front Range while also further draining the Colorado River.
The Windy Gap Project has its roots in the 1980s, and was intended to provide the Front Range with more than 40,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River. But without enough storage capacity, municipalities haven’t realized that yield every year.
“We are pleased to make it to this milestone with our partners at Northern Water and all of the other communities involved,” Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said in a text message May 18.
The firming project, centered on the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Carter Lake, is expected to address that problem at a cost of about $400 million.
The Army Corps of Engineers gave final approval May 17, and construction should start in late 2018 or early 2019.
It’s a project nearly 15 years in the making.
“We’re ecstatic,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “You get one of these (types of projects) done in your whole lifetime.”
Water for the reservoir would be pumped from the Windy Gap Reservoir on the Colorado River near the town of Granby, west of the Continental Divide, through an existing tunnel under the Rocky Mountains to the east side of the divide.
Greeley is one of 12 beneficiaries of the project, which also will create a more reliable water supply for Fort Lupton, Longmont and Loveland.
Chimney Hollow Reservoir will hold 90,000 acre-feet of water, and Greeley will get about 9,200 acre-feet of water per year from the project.
An acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons, or equivalent to a foot of water covering a football field. Greeley residents, according to the city’s new water budget, will use about 20,000 gallons per year.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also applauded the decision, calling the project a major component of Colorado’s long-term water needs.
“Getting to this point has been years in the making, and it is hard to state just how important it is that Northern Water can finally move forward with construction,” Gardner said in a news release.
The project’s approval was met with resistance from some water conservation advocates, though, including Gary Wockner with Save the Colorado and Save the Poudre.
“The Colorado River is on life support right now,” Wockner told the Associated Press. “If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to try and heal it. Instead, you should work to protect and restore the river, not further drain it.”
Save the Colorado is opposed to the Windy Gap project, and Wockner told The Tribune it’s likely his group will file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the project.
“Our policy is no new dams and diversions out of the Colorado River system,” Wockner said. “This is a dam and diversion, so we’re going to do everything we can to stop it.”
Wockner, who said the Colorado River is being overused, instead calls for more water conservation, including moving away from green lawns, recycling water and managing growth better.
Werner points to the endorsement of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, officials in Grand County on the Western Slope and Trout Unlimited, a trout and salmon conservation organization as proof of the Windy Gap Firming project’s strong support.
Before the Windy Gap Firming project, Colorado had never endorsed a water project that has come before the federal government.
Without the project, Werner said municipalities would have to do what they’ve always done in particularly wet years: dump the excess water down the Colorado River rather than saving it for drier times.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” Otto said. “This project, along with the expansion of Milton Seaman Reservoir, are critically important to Greeley’s long-term water needs.” ❖
— Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.
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