Channel around Windy Gap Reservoir receives final approval

DENVER — Construction of a new channel to reconnect pieces of the Colorado River is expected to begin in June now that the Natural Resources Conservation Service has issued a “finding of no significant impact,” the final federal approval needed for channel construction.

The channel, a project related to the Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County, will permit Colorado River water to flow around the reservoir instead of through it. Since the reservoir’s creation in the 1980s, its dam has blocked fish and sediment from flowing naturally. Construction of the connectivity channel will route Colorado River and Fraser River flows around the reservoir, reconnecting aquatic habitat, reducing stream temperatures and restoring natural river processes impacted by the presence of the dam.

The channel will be a $30 million project jointly proposed by Trout Unlimited, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance. 

“The idea to reconnect the Colorado River channel was conceived more than 20 years ago by local residents like Bud Issacs, whose vision, passion and persistent hard work built the partnerships and gathered the many resources needed to do this important project,” John Andrews, NRCS state conservation engineer in Colorado, said in a written statement. “NRCS is just thrilled that we can combine the Watershed Program’s funding authority with all they have done over these many years to ensure that the community’s vision for a healthy, thriving Colorado River becomes a reality.” 

Mely Whiting, project lead for Trout Unlimited, said the no-significant-impact ruling is a major step forward. “This project is the linchpin connecting all other ongoing efforts to prepare the headwaters of the Colorado River for a much hotter and drier future,” Whiting said.

“The Colorado River connectivity channel is an example of the positive outcomes that can occur when diverse groups come to the table to meet the challenges of delivering a reliable water supply to Colorado residents, all while addressing important habitat in the Colorado River,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “The connectivity channel project also serves as a key enhancement for the Windy Gap Firming Project that provides critical water supplies to beneficiaries situated on both sides of the Continental Divide.”

According to a press statement, the NRCS has committed $4 million to the channel  construction.  

In addition to the environmental benefits, the channel will also open up a mile of new river for public fishing. 

“Local anglers can celebrate this project, which will both improve the treasured Gold Medal fishery of the Colorado River and open up a new mile of public fishing through the restored channel,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Work on the project is scheduled to begin in June 2022 and be complete by the end of 2023. 

DENVER — Construction of a new channel to reconnect pieces of the Colorado River is expected to begin in June now that the Natural Resources Conservation Service has issued a “finding of no significant impact,” the final federal approval needed for channel construction.

The channel, a project related to the Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County, will permit Colorado River water to flow around the reservoir instead of through it. Since the reservoir’s creation in the 1980s, its dam has blocked fish and sediment from flowing naturally. Construction of the connectivity channel will route Colorado River and Fraser River flows around the reservoir, reconnecting aquatic habitat, reducing stream temperatures and restoring natural river processes impacted by the presence of the dam.

The channel will be a $30 million project jointly proposed by Trout Unlimited, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance. 

“The idea to reconnect the Colorado River channel was conceived more than 20 years ago by local residents like Bud Issacs, whose vision, passion and persistent hard work built the partnerships and gathered the many resources needed to do this important project,” John Andrews, NRCS state conservation engineer in Colorado, said in a written statement. “NRCS is just thrilled that we can combine the Watershed Program’s funding authority with all they have done over these many years to ensure that the community’s vision for a healthy, thriving Colorado River becomes a reality.” 

Mely Whiting, project lead for Trout Unlimited, said the no-significant-impact ruling is a…