Federal Court Rules in Favor of Windy Gap Firming Project

An abandoned building sits in the footprint of the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site in southern Larimer County. Visible to the north is Horsetooth Mountain. Photo courtesy of Northern Water.

A United States District Court judge has ruled in favor of the Windy Gap Firming Project, clearing the way for construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud.

Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich dismissed a lawsuit from 2017 filed by environmental groups led by Save the Colorado against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. The ruling should also allow forward progress with environmental mitigation and enhancements related to the project, including constructing the Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Granby.

The ruling also holds that those federal agencies complied with federal law regarding issuing a Record of Decision that authorizes the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, intended to be located in a dry valley west of Carter Lake in southwest Larimer County.

The reservoir will store a total of 90,000 acre-feet of water from the Windy Gap Project to be used by 12 participants, including Broomfield, Platte River Power Authority, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Erie, Little Thompson Water District, Superior, Louisville, Fort Lupton, Lafayette, and the Central Weld County Water District.

A computer graphic shows the layout of Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Carter Lake in southern Larimer County. Photo courtesy of Northern Water.

Chimney Hollow Reservoir will make the Windy Gap water supply more reliable and help meet a portion of the participant’s long-term water supply needs. Each participant has additionally enacted a water conservation plan to comply with the Record of Decision.

Environmental measures related to the Project also include the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, a newly proposed channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River above and below the reservoir. The channel will restore the ability for fish, macroinvertebrates, nutrients, and sediment into the river to bypass the reservoir.

The Record of Decision also mandates other environmental projects such as improving streamflow and aquatic habitat, addressing water quality issues, providing West Slope water supplies, and many more. Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict negotiated with Colorado River stakeholders to develop this package of environmental protections.

Water storage like Chimney Hollow Reservoir was specifically identified in the Colorado Water Plan as a necessary component for Colorado’s long-term water future. It joins conservation, land use planning, and other solutions to meet future water needs within the state.

“This ruling marks an important milestone for the participants in the Windy Gap Firming Project,” said Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind. “Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the Colorado River Connectivity Channel will serve as examples of how statewide cooperation can produce water supply solutions and environmental improvements that benefit everyone,” Brad said.

For more information regarding Northern Water, visit: https://www.northernwater.org

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