Front Range projects are river threats, group says

The upper reaches of the Colorado River are endangered by proposed expansions of two transmountain-diversion projects, an advocacy group said.

The projects, the Windy Gap Firming Project and the Moffat Tunnel Collection System Project, would increase diversions from the upper Colorado River by at least 48,000 acre-feet a year.

The threat to the river’s fishery, boating and water supply to downstream users placed the Upper Colorado River at No. 6 in the 2010 list of the nation’s most-endangered rivers by American Rivers.

If the projects proceed, the flows of the Upper Colorado could be reduced to levels that can no longer maintain a healthy river, American Rivers said in a statement.

“Conversely,” American Rivers said, “if the projects incorporate appropriate river protections, they could herald an era of water-supply planning that better balances water development with the needs of the river.”

The American Rivers list puts a needed spotlight on how much water is taken from the Colorado River Basin, Ken Neubecker of Colorado Trout Unlimited said.

“We need to start looking at whole picture not just the balkanized water-supply picture” of the way the Colorado River is divided up between the Front Range and Western Slope, Neubecker said.

Trout Unlimited hopes it can use American Waters’ listing of the river as endangered “as a vehicle to raise awareness on the Front Range about the cost of their water” in terms of water quality and quantity on the other side of the mountains, Neubecker said.

The Windy Gap project was supposed to go online a year ago, but it was sent back by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a revised draft environmental-impact statement, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The project calls for the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir in Larimer County to be supplied by an annual average of 30,000 acre-feet of water diverted through the existing Windy Gap project. It would supply water to more than a dozen municipalities in northern Colorado.

The Moffat project is designed to divert an annual average of 18,000 acre-feet of water collected on the Fraser River Basin through the Moffat Tunnel to an enlarged Gross Reservoir on the Front Range.


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