The Colorado River remarkably provides water resources to over 40 million people and nearly five million acres of farmland before reaching Mexico. But as the drought persists, wildfires continue to spread, and the population grows, the river system is becoming increasingly threatened and exhausted.

Loss of Health and Habitat

Half a million Colorado northern Front Range residents rely on water captured in the Windy Gap Reservoir. The on-channel reservoir, developed in the 1980s, uses the dam to permanently flood the elk meadow. Since its establishment, there has been a 38% decrease in macroinvertebrate diversity and a decline in overall river health. This stretch of river has been classified as the least healthy for both the people and wildlife who rely on it. The area has seen the complete loss of giant stoneflies (major trout food source), an alarming decrease in native sculpin, and a decline in trout biomass. The Windy Gap Reservoir impedes the movement of fish and other aquatic organisms while degrading the downstream habitat. The Colorado River Connectivity Channel aims to fix this.

Windy Gap Reservoir
A panoramic view of Windy Gap Reservoir, with the Windy Gap Pumping Plant on the left. Photo: Western Area Power

Working Together for Better

Trout Unlimited, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water, and local agriculture and government partners have worked together towards a solution that would benefit residents, anglers, and water providers alike. The solution? A bypass channel. The channel would snake around the Windy Gap Reservoir to restore cold, clean, and free-flowing water to the Colorado River.

$16 million has already been pledged from various sources. However, $6 million more must be secured for construction to begin summer 2021. The project is expected to be finalized in the summer of 2023.

Design of the rerouting around Windy Gap Dam and Resevoir.
Conceptual design of the rerouting around the reservoir. Image: Northern Water.

At the end of completion, the channel will be open to the public. General outdoor recreation and over a mile of Gold Medal trout waters will be open to enjoyment. Furthermore,  the immediate 30 miles downstream of the new connectivity will benefit from increased biodiversity due to the healthy waterway.

As challenges are inevitable, working together in good faith is the future of conservation efforts. Common sense solutions can be enacted for the common good.

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