Windy Gap Bypass Project Aims to Reconnect the Colorado River
Terry Nelson 05.05.21
The Colorado River gives life all across the western US. Its drainage basin covers 246,000 square miles and directly influences seven western states. As you might imagine the Colorado River begins in the state of Colorado and serves over 40 million people and irrigates nearly five million acres of farmland before it enters Mexico. It is the hardest-working river in the West. The river also provides some of the finest trout fishing in the country and attracts millions of dollars in associated outdoor-related revenue to local communities. So, in essence it is critical to the survival of the Western US and its wildlife. The Windy Gap Bypass Project aims to reconnect the Colorado River in a critical area.
As you can imagine with today’s onslaught of demands on water, especially in the west and the current drought (the worst since the 1950’s), the Colorado River is facing challenges. One of those challenges is along a section of the Colorado River near Granby. This section of river is severely degraded from a shallow, on-channel reservoir called Windy Gap. Enter Trout Unlimited. This conservation/sportsman organization aims to improve this portion of the Colorado River for the benefit of trout and macroinvertebrates, the community, and its recreation-based economy. Of course, anglers will also reap the benefits, while also making this river more resilient to the impacts of climate change and wildfires along the way. A win-win for all involved. In the following press release from Colorado Trout Unlimited via the Fishing Wire, all the details of this project and organizations involved are brought to light:
The Windy Gap Reservoir blocks the movement of fish and other aquatic organisms and degrades the downstream habitat. The health of the river below the reservoir declined since it 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 the decline of trout biomass in this state-designated Gold Medal trout fishery.
The goal of the Colorado River Connectivity Channel is to establish a natural river channel around Windy Gap to reconnect the river and eliminate the reservoir’s negative impacts. When completed, the project is expected to restore lost and declining aquatic species and improve the river’s resiliency in the face of increasing water diversions and climate change. The Channel will be open to the public, providing over a mile of Gold Medal trout quality waters for public fishing, providing significant economic benefits to the small Grand County communities that rely on recreation.
The Connectivity Channel is the linchpin connecting multiple restoration efforts, including removal of fish barriers and channel improvements upstream of the reservoir, over $6 million worth of channel improvement and flood reconnection projects downstream of the reservoir, and a series of projects designed to restore both irrigation and aquatic habitat in the Kremmling area. The project is expected to benefit over 30 miles of Colorado River. Without it, the likelihood of success of this landscape scale effort is dramatically reduced.
Over $16 million have been committed to the project from various sources, including Northern Water, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Grand County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Colorado River Alliance, and private donors. Trout Unlimited and its partners are working hard to raise the additional $6 million needed to fully fund the project. Provided funds are raised, construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 and will be completed in the summer of 2023.
These are the kind of projects born through a conglomerate of conservation groups and dedicated private parties that should give us all the incentive to give back to wild places and all that thrive there. Good job Colorado Trout Unlimited and all those aiding in a most worthwhile project!