Breaking news: Northern Water moves forward with Windy Gap Firming Project

Northern Water moves forward with Windy Gap Firming Project

By John Gardner
The Surveyor

After more than a decade of negotiating, and even more time planning, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District moved closer to the construction of its proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir project, Friday, as it received a Record of Decision during a signing ceremony at its Berthoud headquarters.

“This is an important milestone for the Windy Gap participants who have worked tirelessly over many years to make today a reality,” said Eric Wilkinson, Northern Colorado water Conservancy District’s general manager. “Today the development and construction of the Windy Gap Firming project is one very significant step closer to reality.”

Mike Ryan, Great Plains Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, signed the firming project’s long-anticipated Record of Decision, along with Northern Water’s board President, Mike Applegate, and Vice President, Bill Brown.

“The Windy Gap Firming Project is an exceptional example of the federal government working with our partners to get big things done,” Ryan said. “This project represents an immense effort from a diverse group of stakeholders who pulled together and created a workable project that provides benefits to the people of Colorado and the nation.”

Also signed was a new Carriage Contract allowing Windy Gap water to be transported from the Western Slope to Chimney Hollow Reservoir using existing Colorado-Big Thompson Project facilities, according to a press release from Norther Water Conservancy District.

The Record of Decision identifies and confirms Chimney Hollow Reservoir as the firming project’s preferred alternative. If built as proposed, Chimney Hollow Reservoir would store up to 90,000 acre-feet of water directly west of Berthoud and west of Carter Lake.

The Windy Gap Firming project is a collaboration of 12 Northeastern Colorado Water providers and Platte River Power Authority to improve the reliability of their Windy Gap water supplies. The Windy Gap project began delivering water in 1985.

The firming project’s federal permitting process began in 2003, under the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation issued a final Environmental Impact Statement in 2011 along with a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission’s approval of fish and wildlife mitigation plan.

Construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir could begin in 2018, according to Northern Water officials. However, the project must still receive a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. The estimated cost of the project is approximately $223 million.

Gary Wockner, executive director of Save the Colorado, an environmental group opposed to the Windy Gap Firming Project, said the organization believes the project violates federal law.

“We believe the Windy Gap Firming Project violated federal law and would further drain and destroy the Colorado River,” Wockner said. “We are reviewing the Record of Decision and considering all options.”

Read more about this story in next week’s Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.