In January 2015, Gary Wockner, Executive Director of Save the Colorado and Save the Poudre, published an opinion in The Daily Camera, arguing that “environmentalists should focus on river destruction.” Wockner charged environmentally conscious citizens in Boulder County, Colorado with not addressing the issues relating to the wellness of their rivers with the vigor that they employed in their fight against fracking.
Wockner decries three major water projects—the Windy Gap Firming Project, the Northern Integrated Supply Project and the Moffat Collection System—claiming that they will have unacceptable adverse effects on the rivers.
The original Windy Gap Project was designed to divert water from the Colorado River and convey it by pipeline to Lake Granby for storage and diversion. The plan was to provide an average of 48,000 acre-feet per year to participants in the Northern Water Municipal Subdistrict. However, because of the project’s junior water rights, water could not be diverted in low flow conditions—and in wet conditions there was no storage capacity for Windy Gap water in Lake Granby. The Windy Gap Firming Project would resolve part of the problem by building the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir as dedicated storage for the Windy Gap Project, thereby increasing the project’s reliable annual yield from zero to 30,000 acre-feet. Design planning for this project is projected to begin in summer 2015 and construction to begin in 2018.
The Northern Integrated Supply Project would supply 15 Northern Front Range water partners with 40,000 acre-feet of annual reliable water supplies. This project would store during the wet years for future low rainfall years in the proposed Glade and Galeton Reservoirs. This project will cost $490 million and has a final permit decision set for some time in 2016.
The Moffat Collection System, also known as the Gross Reservoir Expansion System, is a Denver Water Project that will increase the reliability of water for the growing population in the Denver-metro area. The proposed expansion will nearly triple the capacity of Gross reservoir, which is currently at about 42,000 acre-feet. Construction for this project is projected to start in 2017 and last until 2021. Denver Water is funding the project through water rates, connection fees and hydropower sales.
Wockner’s dissatisfaction comes from the tacit support for these projects by the taxpaying citizens (whose tax dollars fund said projects). His argument comes at a critical time for Colorado, as these projects are included in the recently drafted Colorado Water Plan.
The issue of environmentalists funding environmentally unfriendly water projects delves beyond the financing processes of these projects into the roots of the demand for water in Colorado’s Front Range. These projects all require redirection of water from either the Colorado or Poudre Rivers to the developing metropolis area surrounding Denver in the region that’s called the Front Range.
The Colorado River Plan’s first draft was released in December 2014—a month prior to Wockner’s article. As the Plan is still in the early stages of development, the proposed projects are expected to start in the next few years. The Plan outlines the need to create sustainable future approaches to water storage and consumption given the increased demand for water in Colorado and a decreased supply. The Plan mentions the Windy Gap and Moffat projects as potential sources of water for the Front Range, and Wockner doesn’t mention the need for this water supply by the increasing population not located in Boulder County.
Written by Stratecon Staff