White Jankowski Lawyers

$8 million grant approved to restore Colorado River

February 14, 2017

 On December 21, 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that it agreed to provide $7.75 million in funds to the Colorado River Headwaters Project (the “Project”).  The Project is designed to create a bypass channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River and maximize restoration work being done by the Irrigators of Land in Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK).  The Project is part of Grand County’s and its partners’ efforts to restore river systems impacted by trans-mountain diversions of water out of Grand County to Colorado’s Front Range.

The Project had its beginnings as part of the Windy Gap Bypass Funding Agreement between the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and several West Slope entities.  This grant application was the final push for funding led by Trout Unlimited, a fishery conservation group, and was joined by many other partners representing an array of interests, including agriculture, local government, water service, state agencies, and landowners.

The Project intends to use the funds to: construct a “bypass channel” around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River as a free-flowing river allowing fish passage and reestablishing the stone fly and sculpin populations; improve irrigation systems of the ILVK; and improve water quality and fish habitat downstream of the bypass.  Once the Colorado River is connected, the Project will directly benefit over 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands.

Currently, over 60 percent of the upper Colorado River’s native flows is diverted under the continental divide via trans-mountain diversions for use in the Front Range and northern Colorado.  This causes low flows which have undermined irrigation systems and the health of the Colorado River.  The low flows also result in higher temperatures and sediment buildup, which degrades aquatic habitat.

The Project will install innovative stream structures designed to maintain adequate water levels for irrigation and to improve fish habitat.  This will be the first project in the country to implement these engineering designs on such a large scale.

The Windy Gap Reservoir bypass and the improvements downstream near Kremmling, Colorado are pieces of a larger, regional effort by Grand County and its partners to restore the upper Colorado River. Other efforts include agreements such as the Windy Gap Firming Project Intergovernmental Agreement between the Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Board of County Commissioners of Grand County, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, and Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, between Denver Water and western slope entities, which contain  significant river protections and a long-term monitoring and management process called “Learning by Doing” that requires stakeholders to work together to ensure the health of the Colorado River long-term.

This type of cooperative planning is what the Final Colorado Water Plan had in mind, and which may enable it to succeed.

Enter your email address to receive our latest blog posts.