HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS - The construction of a river bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir and increased flushing flows for the Colorado River were main topics of discussion during the first phases of the public hearing conducted by Grand County for the Windy Gap Firming Project's 1041 permit, which took place Aug. 1 and 2.
The hearing drew a full crowd comprised of invested and concerned parties to the Grand County Board of Commissioners meeting room during the two days.
Testimony was presented by a number of interested parties about the negative environmental impacts Windy Gap Reservoir has had on the Upper Colorado River as well as the possible mitigations and enhancements to the river that could take place if the commissioners approve the permit with those conditions attached.
Denver Water offered an additional $1 million to the downriver mitigation and enhancement fund, which in turn would be used by the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District toward the construction of the bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir.
The Subdistrict has pledged $250,000 to research the bypass, which would be conducted immediately after the approval of the permit by the commissioners.
If it is found that the bypass would benefit the Colorado River, construction of the bypass would start immediately and the Subdistrict would put a total of $3 million toward the project, including the $1 million pledged by Denver Water.
A condition of the agreement of the Subdistrict to apply funds toward the construction of the bypass would be that construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir would start at the same time they apply the funds and that this would be an endpoint to the permit process.
The stretch of the Colorado directly below Windy Gap Reservoir is believed to be the unhealthiest stretch of the river due to the impacts on the river by the reservoir. Windy Gap Reservoir has been shown to contribute to higher temperatures in the river below the dam, increased sediment deposits, and flows lower than those necessary to flush out the river.
Increased flushing flows are a proposed part of the agreement and are set at a minimum of 600 cubic feet per second.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in a letter dated Feb. 6, recommends that flushing flows below the reservoir be increased to 1,245 cubic feet per second during certain times.
The letter also notes that a bypass around Windy Gap reservoir would reduce or eliminate high temperature events that stress trout populations, reduce sediment deposition and transport issues, restore river connectivity, and reduce whirling disease impacts on fish populations.
It is believed that sediment deposits and the lack of flushing flows to move those deposits are a major factor in the decrease in population of aquatic invertebrates, which are an important source of food for fish populations.
Higher flushing flows are necessary to move the sediment to create a healthy environment for both fish and the invertebrates they feed on.
The Grand County staff members who worked on this agreement recommended that the board of commissioners approve the permit.
The commissioners have 120 days to take the 1041 permit agreement under advisement and to provide the Subdistrict with an answer.