Windy Gap Firming Project Update

February 22, 2012

In a letter dated February 6, 2012, EPA Region 8 expressed "remaining concerns on Windy Gap Firming Project" following the FEIS release.  Excerpt from the EPA's letter: "We understand that following release of the BOR's (Board of Reclamation) Record of Decision, the Corps may rely, in part, on the FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement) to meet their obligations under the Guidelines (Clean Water Act Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines), and as a result we are concerned that determinations provided in the Preliminary Draft Section 404(b)(1) Effects Analysis...need to be supplemented.  In particular, re recommend the following: 1) further analysis regarding potential violation of State water quality standards from the proposed project, including temperature and aquatic life standards in the Colorado River, and dissolved oxygen, methyl mercury and manganese standards in the affected lakes and reservoirs; 2) revision to the existing analysis and additional analysis to accurately determine the current baseline and potential for the proposed action to cause or contribute to significant degradation of waters of the U.S.; and 3) a more robust monitoring and mitigation plan to offset any significant adverse effects anticipated from the proposed project.  We recommend that the Corps make this supplemental information available for public comment and review."   The letter was coupled with detailed comments on the concerns and recommendations.  If you want a copy of the letter and the detailed comments, please let us know. 

 Below are the comments document submitted by National Wildlife Federation and Colorado Wildlife Federation on January 6, 2012 re the Windy Gap Firming Project Final Environmental Impact Statement. For background, see Mitigation Plans for Moffat and Windy Gap Firming Projects on the CWF home page under Our Stand (December 19, 2011).

January 6, 2012

Lucy Maldonado

Kara Lamb

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

11056 West County Rd. 18E

Loveland, CO 80537–9711

 

Via email to lmaldonado@usbr.gov and klamb@usbr.gov and via fax to (970) 663–3212

Re: Proposed Windy Gap Firming Project Final Environmental Impact Statement

 

Dear Ms. Maldonado and Ms. Lamb,

On behalf of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Colorado Wildlife Federation (CWF),

the Colorado Environmental Coalition (CEC), and Western Resource Advocates, we are writing

to submit our comments on the Windy Gap Firming Project Final Environmental Impact

Statement (WGFP FEIS). In addition to these comments, the undersigned organizations join the

separate comments provided by Trout Unlimited.

 

NWF, CWF, CEC, and WRA collectively represent thousands of Coloradoans statewide, and

share a vision to work towards the adoption of water supply and management decisions that are

environmentally and economically sustainable in order to conserve, protect and restore

Colorado’s rivers and wildlife. Our organizations have been following the WGFP for several

years and each submitted comments on the Draft EIS in 2008. We commend the Bureau of

Reclamation for its efforts to address public comments in the Final EIS and we recognize the

considerable time invested by your staff in responding to each comment individually in

Appendix F.

 

However, we continue to have a number of concerns regarding the WGFP. Due to the nature of

these concerns, which are described in detail below, we request that Reclamation delay its final

decision on the proposed WGFP pending release of a revised or supplemental Final EIS. Our

concerns as they relate to the FEIS are as follows.

 

1. Flushing flows proposed in the Final EIS are insufficient

 

In the Final EIS, Reclamation proposes to increase flushing flows from 450 cfs to 600 cfs. While

this is an improvement over flushing flows proposed in the 1980 MOU, 600 cfs is still

insufficient. Barry Nehring's report cites a need for flushing flows of at least 1,000 cfs for several

weeks. Barry Nehring et al., Colorado River Aquatic Resources Investigations Federal Aid

Project F-237R-18, at p. 81. The FEIS itself acknowledges at least 850 cfs is needed to mobilize

coarse gravel. FEIS Appendix F at p. 625. Reclamation should include the scientifically

developed flow figures and other habitat recommendations from this report and the Grand

County Stream Management Plan in its analysis of the proposed WGFP. As such, Reclamation

should publish a revised or supplemental EIS including this data and analysis, so that it can be

subject to public review and comment prior to publication of a Record of Decision.

 

 

2. The FEIS should include a commitment to enhance Upper Colorado River fisheries and

should better integrate the Fish and Wildlife Management Plan

 

The aquatic habitats of the Upper Colorado River upstream from the Blue River are already

negatively impacted by low flows in that portion of the river. The proposed WGFP should not go

forward unless the Final EIS guarantees that the fishery habitat on the Upper Colorado will be

improved beyond current conditions. The Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan (FWMP), as

written, does not guarantee improvements in the quality of aquatic resources on the Upper

Colorado River. Furthermore, the FEIS fails to describe how the FWMP relates to ongoing and

future impacts. Reclamation should publish a revised or supplemental EIS that integrates the

recommendations from the FWMP into the analysis of environmental impacts and proposed

mitigation measures.

The project proponent should join with the Moffat project to pay for downstream habitat

improvements, as determined by Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife (CDPW) after

adequate surveys. Furthermore, the amount of funding proposed in the FWMP and the method

for determining that amount must be described in the FEIS.

 

 

3. The wildlife mitigation plan for the Chimney Hollow Reservoir area is inadequate

 

The wildlife mitigation plan for the 850 acres that will be inundated by the proposed Chimney

Hollow Reservoir on the east slope is insufficient. First, the FWMP dedicates only $50,000 to

revegetation and invasive weed control in the communities surrounding Chimney Hollow

Reservoir, even though this area provides critical deer wintering habitat during tough winters and

important elk habitat. Larimer County will not be able to accomplish much habitat management

with a mere $50,000 and the county and CDPW should not be stuck with the bill. Second, the

FWMP mentions neither migration corridors nor habitat fragmentation. The FWMP should be

revised to ensure important migration corridors will be maintained and habitat fragmentation will

be minimized using corridors to connect habitats.

 


4. If a new east slope reservoir is to be stocked with fish, the FEIS should state that the

Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife will be responsible for all fish stocking

activities and that the project proponent will cover all related costs

 

The FEIS states that Larimer County will manage the proposed Chimney Hollow Reservoir for

recreation use, including fishing. However, the FEIS fails to point out that the proposed reservoir

must be stocked with fish to accommodate anglers, fails to state who will be responsible for

stocking the proposed reservoir, and fails to allocate any funding for fish stocking. The CDPW is

responsible for rearing and stocking fish in Colorado reservoirs. Adding a new reservoir to this

program will increase the burden on a budget that currently fails to meet existing demands. The

FEIS should be revised or supplemented to include a commitment from the project proponent to

transfer funds to the CDPW to rear and stock fish for Chimney Hollow Reservoir and to

contribute to renovations at a number of outdated fish propagation facilities in the CDPW

system.

 

5. The Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan should be revised to emphasize adaptive

management

 

Adaptive management is a crucial tool for monitoring and mitigating wildlife impacts, especially

where wildlife face cumulative impacts from a number of sources or projects. Adaptive

management involves pre-construction collection of baseline data, generation of a monitoring

and mitigation plan, including thresholds that will trigger project adjustments, collection of

monitoring data and assessment of data trends throughout all stages of the project, and

modification of project operations where necessary. See Stem et al., Monitoring and Evaluation

in Conservation: A Review of Trends and Approaches, CONSERVATION BIOLOGY, Vol. 19 No. 25,

p. 295 (2005; W.H. Moir & W.M. Block, Adaptive Management on Public Lands in the United

States: Commitment or Rhetoric?, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Vol. 28 No. 22, p. 141

(2001); James P. Gibbs et al., Effect of Monitoring for Adaptive Wildlife Management: Lessons

from the Galapagos Islands, JOURNAL OF WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT, Vol. 63 No. 4, P. 1055 (Oct.

1999); George F. Wilhere, Adaptive Management in Habitat Conservation Plans,

CONSERVATION BIOLOGY, Vol. 16 No. 1, P. 20 (2002).

 

The FWMP contains no mention of adaptive management, wildlife population monitoring, or

mitigation measures that will be carried out should wildlife populations decline as a result of the

proposed WGFP. The FEIS and the FWMP should be revised to include an explicit commitment

to use the principles of adaptive management to ensure the Fraser and Upper Colorado River

fisheries are not adversely affected by the WGFP and related projects that have cumulative

impacts on the river system. Careful selection of data collection sites, collection of baseline data,

and selection of threshold triggers must occur early in the planning process in order for adaptive

management to be effective. Pre-project surveys should be conducted by CDPW and funded by

project proponents. Monitoring must occur before, during and after implementation of the

project for many years. We are concerned that the proposed number of monitoring stations is

inadequate. The revised FWMP should establish habitat and population thresholds, which ensure

that action will be taken to improve conditions before irreversible effects are felt. The two

reports mentioned in Comment #1, above contain valuable information on adaptive management

that should be considered in the FWMP and revised FEIS.

 

 

6. Reclamation should revise its approach for responding to potential temperature

standard exceedances

 

The FEIS states that the chronic maximum weekly average temperature (MWAT) and acute

daily maximum temperature (DMT) will be exceeded in five out of every fifteen years. FEIS §

3.8.2. To mitigate, the FEIS proposes to stop pumping Windy Gap water when temperatures are

within 1°C of the MWAT. Yet allowing the water get within 1°C of maximum may be cutting it

too close because at that point fish are stressed, more vulnerable to disease, and certainly not

growing. Furthermore, it appears that Windy Gap pumping will be halted to prevent MWAT

exceedances only where Windy Gap water is not in priority, i.e. when water supplies are high.

Thus, the project will not mitigate for MWAT exceedances in low water years, during which fish

are already stressed naturally from the heat lower water volumes.

 

The FEIS must be revised or supplemented to include the outline of an operations plan that

would ensure rapid response when temperature standards are likely to be exceeded. In other

words, the monitoring stations must provide alerts at some point before those levels are reached

(e.g., 3 - 5 degrees lower) so that pumping will be stopped in an efficient and rapid manner when

needed. Otherwise, if there are delays, many fish may die or become vulnerable to disease.

The FEIS mentions that if the water is drawn through the bottom of Lake Granby through a

bypass valve, the release can have a cooling effect on the river downstream from the lake. FEIS

§ 3.8.4.2. We encourage Reclamation to pursue this option and to allow more cooling releases to

help maintain proper water temperatures, provided such releases do not degrade overall water

quality and stream bottom habitat conditions. Also, if studies demonstrate that it would be

biologically productive to construct a flow bypass around Windy Gap dam and its reservoir, the

project proponents should pay for it.

 

 

7. Nonpoint Source Nutrient Reduction measures must be described in greater detail

 

While the proposed measures to improve water quality have merit, the nonpoint source nutrient

reduction measures described in FEIS § 3.8.4.1 are too vague to determine if they will be

effective. The FEIS should be revised to describe proposed nonpoint source measures in more

detail (i.e. plantings and fencing). In the FEIS, the project proponent should explicitly commit to

paying for nonpoint source mitigation measures. Reclamation should clarify whether it analyzed

implementation of nonpoint source measures at operations aside from the two mentioned in the

FEIS. It is not clear from the FEIS whether Reclamation approached other agricultural

operations (aside from E-Diamond H Ranch and C-Lazy-U Ranch) to determine whether they

would be willing to contribute to nutrient reduction efforts. Considering that E-Diamond H

Ranch has not entered into an agreement to implement mitigation measures, Reclamation and the

Subdistrict may have to approach additional landowners to ensure that adequate nonpoint source

reduction measures are carried out.


 

8. The project proponent must commit to pay for operations and management for the life

of the project

 

The FEIS does not include a commitment by the project proponent to pay for operations and

management for the life of the project. The FEIS should be revised to include this crucial detail.

 

 

9. The Final EIS Overestimates Population Growth and Fails to Use the Best Available

Information

 

The Final EIS continues to rely upon inaccurate projections of population growth in participant

cities. For example, the FEIS (at page 1-22) asserts that Broomfield’s population is projected to

grow at 2.9 percent annually from 2004 through build out in 2035. In contrast, State

demographer projections from 20111 for Broomfield County have projected annual rates of

growth from 2004 through 2035 that average 1.98% with the highest rates already having

occurred. The average annual growth rate for the remaining 2012 to 2035 period is 1.60%.

Other recent reports2 have revised downward, often substantially, growth rates for communities

in northern Colorado.

 

Appendix F (at page F-615) concedes that Bureau of Reclamation guidance requires the use of

best available information. Colorado Department of Local Affairs regional projections from

autumn 20093 have been substantially revised (downward) from 2008. In general, it appears the

FEIS does not make any effort to revise population projections based on the national and statewide

economic downturn now in its fourth consecutive year. Importantly, population projections

are heavily dependent on the initial estimate of population and the rate of population growth,

where errors in the first few years are compounded greatly over time.

 Data info provided at http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=DOLAMain%

2FCBONLayout&cid=1251593346867&pagename=CBONWrapper

Harvey 2011. Water Supplies and Demands for Participants in the Northern Integrated Supply Project

Final Report. Prepared by Harvey Economics for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and

the Northern Integrated Supply Participants. January 21, 2011.

See http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=DOLAMain%

2FCBONLayout&cid=1251593302917&pagename=CBONWrapper

 

 

10. The Final EIS Continues to Downplay the Role of Conservation

 

The FEIS recognizes that WGFP participants must have and maintain an approved water

conservation plan on file with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, pursuant to Colorado

House Bill 04-1365 (as amended). Elsewhere, however, the FEIS suggests that conservation

savings are hard to quantify or cannot be relied upon. The FEIS fails to make the connection that

one requirement of H.B. 1365 is to estimate actual water conservation savings. These savings

are being “counted on” by water providers implementing their conservation plans – otherwise

why would they invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in conservation programming – and thus

should be reflected in estimates of future demand.

 

The FEIS (page 1-18) continues to rely upon an unreasonable standard for gallons per capita per

day (gpcd). The Utah report cites gpcd in communities in Las Vegas, Nevada, and southwest

Utah—some of the driest places in the United States—utilizing data from over a decade ago. Not

only have those communities lowered their gpcd in the past decade, they have considerably drier

climates than those found in growing communities in Colorado’s South Platte Basin. Objections

to the 217 gpcd standard—spelled out in detail in Western Resource Advocates’ comments on

the Draft EIS (see pages 10-13 of that document)—apply with even greater force today, as great

strides have been made in conservation. A recent study of Northern Integrated Supply Project

(NISP) participant water use (Harvey 2011) includes data that show water use is already below

190 gpcd for most northern Colorado communities. The FEIS (Table 1-4) also notes recent

average use below 190 gpcd.

 

Although some future water demand in northern Colorado cities will be at special agricultural

facilities (e.g., dairies) where water use may be relatively high, the vast majority of new water

demands stem from residential and commercial development that is, over the course of time,

generating lower gpcd.

 

Respectfully,

 

Kate Zimmerman, Senior Policy Advisor, Public Lands Program

National Wildlife Federation

 

Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director

Colorado Wildlife Federation

Dennis G. Buechler, Director Emeritus

Colorado Wildlife Federation

 

Becky Long, Water Caucus Coordinator

Colorado Environmental Coalition

 

Bart Miller, Water Program Director

Western Resource Advocates

 

Cc:

Sadie Hoskie, Water Program Director, EPA Region 8

Rena Brand, Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Office

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