The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released its final 401 water quality certification for the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP). The 401 permit affirms the health of the Upper Colorado River and it's world-class trout fishery. The WGFP would divert additional water from the Upper Colorado River to the northern Front Range. Currently, Front Range diversion projects have removed about 60 percent of the native flows of the Colorado River headwaters. The proposed Windy Gap expansion would reduce the native flows even further.
But through the collaborative effort of Trout Unlimited, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (subdistrict), Grand County, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance, the 401 permit for WGFP will address stream temperature impacts during summer low flows, provide periodic flushing flows, and require ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are discovered.
“This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’—and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”
“We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter. “And the Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”
As the flows of the river are diverted and reduced, the water temperature could rise to a level threatening to trout and aquatic life- but with the 401 permit, these conditions will be monitored to ensure the fishery remains Gold. Also with lower flowers, the sediment and algae buildup cements between the cobblestone, preventing invertebrates to hatch and trout to spawn. By providing these flushing flows the sediment will be washed away and leave the cobblestone clear for aquatic habitat to survive.
If the water quality and the fishery is in danger from these changes, the subdistrict will have to investigate to determine if WGFP is contributing or causing the impairment. If it is deemed that WGFP is causing the problem, the subdistrict is required to develop a plan to solve the problem.
Under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, the state of Colorado must provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a permit certifying that the project will comply with federal water quality standards. The last part of the Windy Gap puzzle is the 404 wetlands permit by the Army Corps of Engineers, which could be issue in 2016.
Once all the permits are issues, resources will be released- including money needed for the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass to create a new river channel and reconnect the river and its fisheries upstream and downstream of the reservoir.