Colorado River District launches Partnership Project Funding Program

Board approves funding for first Partnership project: Colorado River Connectivity Channel in Grand County

The Colorado River District is kicking 2021 off with the new ability to infuse funding into West Slope projects that protect our water supply.

The Colorado River District’s Board of Directors approved the framework that outlines how project applications will be considered under its new Partnership Project Funding Program.

a trout underneath the waterThe program funds multi-purpose water projects on the Western Slope in five project categories: productive agriculture, infrastructure, healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality, and conservation and efficiency. Funding for the program comes from the passage of Ballot Question 7A which was passed overwhelmingly by Western Colorado voters in November 2020.

“This is a program by the West Slope, for the West Slope,” said River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “We will be able to use these funds to support critical water projects that benefit West Slope water users, protect our water and sustain it for future generations.”

These funds will be spent in a way that disperses benefits of the program geographically across the District and between the identified project categories. Funding from the River District will also provide a catalyst for projects that are priorities for residents in the District to receive matching funds from state, federal and private sources.

While the framework is expected to be modified as River District staff and Directors find ways to improve the application process, the finalized framework provides a starting point for proponents of  West Slope water projects to seek funding from the River District. About $4.2 million will be available for West Slope water projects annually.

The Colorado River District will also host a webinar about the program at noon Wednesday, Feb. 10. The webinar is free, but registration is required. You can sign up to participate now at bit.ly/WWLfunding.

The Board also approved the first project to receive funds from the program. The proposed Colorado River Connectivity Channel near Windy Gap Reservoir in Grand County will receive $1 million in funding. The long-planned yet underfunded project supports healthy rivers, watershed health and water quality. The Colorado River District’s financial commitment will allow project proponents to successfully leverage additional funding sources.

“This infusion of funding for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel is imperative to the health of the upper Colorado River and our work at Trout Unlimited to see this project to completion,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado water project legal counsel for TU. “Seeing a healthy river flowing with improved habitat for trout and other wildlife and increasing the economic opportunities for this region will be a dream realized as this funding will help leverage the final push to complete this crucial project.”

“On behalf of the citizens of Grand County, we thank our partners at the Colorado River District for their decision to fund $1 million toward the Windy Gap Reservoir Connectivity Channel Project,” said Grand County Commissioner Kristen Manguso.

“These funds will help leverage the remaining dollars needed to construct this much-needed project that will reconnect the Colorado River around Windy Gap Reservoir and provide so many environmental and hydrological benefits to the Colorado River and Fraser River in Grand County, and downriver,” said Grand County Commissioner Richard Cimino.

“Thank you to all that are working so hard to get funding for this important project. This million-dollar award is exactly the kind of project these funds are to be used for,” said Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke.

Windy Gap Reservoir is a shallow, on-channel reservoir that obstructs the movement of fish and other aquatic organisms in the Colorado River and degrades downstream habitat. The health of the river below the reservoir has been in decline since the reservoir was built in the mid-1980s, with documented losses of 38% of macroinvertebrate diversity – including the complete loss of giant stoneflies (a major food source for trout), the loss of native sculpin populations and a decline in trout biomass in this Gold Medal Trout fishery. The goal of the Connectivity Channel is to establish a reconstructed river channel around Windy Gap Reservoir to reconnect the Colorado River and mitigate the reservoir’s negative impacts. Upon completion, the project is expected to improve river health and habitat and provide significant economic benefits to Grand County communities that rely on recreation. The channel is also expected to improve water quality for agricultural irrigators downstream. Trans-mountain diversions that supply water to Northern Colorado and the Front Range have had a significant impact on agriculture and aquatic resources in the headwaters of the Colorado River. After years of dispute, an array of partners representing local agriculture, local government, East Slope water providers, and conservation groups have come together to implement projects, including the connectivity channel, designed to reconnect and restore the Colorado River at a landscape-scale level.

The project consists of four components:

  • Modification of the Windy Gap Reservoir to create room for the construction of the connectivity channel;
  • A natural channel, approximately one mile long, that connects the Colorado River around the newly configured reservoir;
  • A diversion structure  that  will  divert  water  from  the  connectivity  channel  into  the reservoir; and
  • Removal or alternative means to improve fish passage at a weir upstream of the reservoir.

For more information, you can read Partnership Project Funding Program documents presented to the board by clicking here. You can read the Windy Gap Connectivity Channel documents presented to the board by clicking here.

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