FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – Grand County commissioners approved a permit Tuesday for a project designed to provide more water to about 825,000 people as northeast Colorado grows, with conditions included to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts.
The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project would include building Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake near Loveland. It is meant to shore up existing reservoirs and infrastructure to make better use of existing water rights.
The project still needs approval from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is expected to issue a final decision next year.
Conservation groups including Trout Unlimited had complained that the project’s plans to divert more Colorado River water from western Colorado to Front Range cities would deplete the river and lead to higher stream temperatures that could threaten trout.
They also worried about the loss of “flushing flows” strong enough to wash away sediment and algae from the river bottom.
The permit approved Tuesday advances an agreement for Northern Water to study whether building a bypass channel through or around Windy Gap Reservoir can help improve river health. It would spend $2 million on a bypass if the study shows it could help.
The water district says western Colorado groups have agreed Grand County will gain access to up to 4,500 acre-feet of Windy Gap water stored in Lake Granby that can be released to benefit aquatic life in the Colorado River.
Ten cities, two rural water districts and a power provider are participating in the Windy Gap Firming Project.
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