Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

July 2, 2014

westportalmoffattunnel

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

“It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

“This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

“Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

More Fraser River watershed coverage here.


Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

June 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

“There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging,” said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. “Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme.”[...]

At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners’ staff voiced concerns about the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project.

“There wasn’t a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project,” said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners’ staff deputy. “Specifically, there wasn’t any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative.”

Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure.

Though most of the discussion focused on the project’s impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope.

“We would want to draw the Corps’ attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County,” Jones said.

More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions.

“The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they’ve brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps,” said Little.

The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

June 19, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter.

View original 500 more words


Boulder County Commissioners’ hearing about Moffat Collection System Project now online #ColoradoRiver

June 19, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

To listen to Monday’s Boulder County commissioners public hearing on Gross Reservoir (Requires installation of Silverlight).

The Environmental Protection Agency has added its voice to those with critical comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ analysis of the potential impact of a Gross Reservoir expansion.

“This letter and enclosed detailed comments reinforce the primary concern as stated in the EPA’s draft EIS letter that the Project would adversely impact water quality and aquatic resources in an already degraded system,” the EPA’s letter stated, referring to criticisms it initially raised when the analysis was in draft form.

The letter, from the EPA’s office of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation, asserts that the Army Corps’ analysis describes all mitigation measures “as conceptual, and does not include mitigation commitments for some Project impacts that are significant to regulatory requirements” of the Clean Water Act.

The official 45-day public comment period for the finalized environmental impact statement for what is formally known as the Moffat Collection System Project closed on June 9, and the EPA’s letter carries that date.

The project manager for the proposed expansion has said, however, that the Army Corps would continue to take “meaningful” and “substantive” comments on the analysis until the agency makes a decision on the project, likely by April 2015…

The EPA in its letter also states that it hopes its comments will stimulate further discussions with the Army Corps, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Denver Water to ensure that its concerns are addressed prior to issuance of a project permit, so that the project is compliant with the Clean Water Act and “protective of waters of the U.S.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., had implored the Army Corps on June 5 to extend its public comment period. And, the same day, the Boulder County Commissioners unanimously approved a letter detailing their objections to the adequacy and accuracy of the Army Corps’ analysis of the project, also saying the 45-day window for public comment should be extended.

On Monday, the commissioners held three hours of public comment on the project, which will be distilled and used to contribute to a follow-up letter the commissioners will be sending to the Army Corps.

“We had a full room, and I would say it was very well attended, and that people came in with quite a bit of research, science and data,” said commissioners’ spokesperson Barbara Halpin.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Environment: Feds release final study on Denver Water’s proposed new transmountain water diversions

May 12, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Massive study evaluates and discloses impacts of new Fraser River diversions, expanded Gross Reservoir

jg

Will Denver Water get permission to divert more water from the West Slope?

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Not developing new water diversions from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range would increase the chances of a major Denver Water system failure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded in its final environmental impact study for the Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion.

The federal agency, charged with evaluating and disclosing impacts of the proposal, claims that Denver Water customers could experience periodic raw water and treated water shortages in dry years, with Arvada, Westminster and the North Table Mountain Water and Sanitation District especially vulnerable to raw water shortages.

“Severe and more frequent mandatory watering restrictions, including surcharges, may result in a reduced quality of life and place financial burdens on customers. Though still infrequent…

View original 351 more words


Breckenridge: “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it” — Tim Gagen #ColoradoRiver

May 9, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The town council is considering legislation that would cap outdoor use at three days a week. It’s part of an effort to put a new emphasis on water conservation and efficiency, says Tim Gagen, the town manager.

“We have to walk the talk,” says Gagen. “We can’t just sit up here and say we have all the water, now we’ll use it.”

Breckenridge is not alone. Other mountains towns in Colorado are devoting more attention to water conservation and efficiency. A coalition in the Roaring Fork Valley is assembling plans for public outreach to elevate water efficiency. The Vail-based Eagle River Water and Sanitation District began crimping water use in 2003. Aspen’s water-efficiency measures go back even further, to the 1990s…

Colorado’s Front Range cities, where 85 percent of state residents live, have become more efficient with existing supplies. But they have also expanded supplies in recent decades by buying farms in the South Platte and Arkansas River valleys for their water rights, and allowing the farms to then dry up. They have also purchased mountain ranches in such buy-and-dry transactions.

Front Range water providers also want to retain the option of going to the Colorado River and its tributaries for one final, big diversion. Western Slope water leaders urge caution. But to have credibility, leaders in the mountain valleys realize they first must put their own houses in order.

“The Western Slope needs to be goosed,” says Chris Treese, director of external affairs for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Frankly, the Front Range has led most of the water-conservation efforts in Colorado to date.”[...]

Gagen says that Breckenridge has been nibbling at water conservation efforts for several years. Leaking segments of existing pipes, which can cause loss of 8 to 15 percent of all the municipal water supply, are being replaced. Sprinklers in parks are being changed out in favor of more efficient devices. And the town is now looking at narrowing irrigation at its golf course to avoid watering of the roughs.

Breckenridge, in its municipal operation, has also adopted more xeriscaping, using plants that don’t require irrigation, reducing irrigation of remaining turf, and, in some cases, installing artificial turf.

Still on the agenda is elevating rates for high-consumption users. The average water bill in Breckenridge is just $35 every two months, not much more than dinner at one of the town’s higher-end restaurants. As such, most people probably pay little, if any attention, to the idea of conserving water in order to reduce their costs. They just write the check, says Gagen.

While Breckenridge has broad goals of improved sustainability, Gagen says the plan to reduce outdoor lawn irrigation to three days a week was pushed by two council members who have been persuaded by books they’ve read: “Blue Revolution,” by Cynthia Barnett (2011), “Cadillac Desert,” by Marc Reisner (1986), and “Getting Green Done,” by Auden Schendler (2011)…

Eagle River Water and Sanitation District has achieved a 20 percent per capita reduction in use, according to Diane Johnson, communications director. That’s in line with the reduction in water use since 2000 by Denver Water’s 1.3 million direct and indirect customers.

However, Eagle River has not pushed indoor water savings. Because 95 percent of indoor water is treated and released into the Eagle River, explains Johnson, the impact is small on the valley’s creeks and rivers. This compares with just 15 to 40 percent of water returned to streams after outdoor irrigation. Given limited resources for messaging, the better return is to hammer home the message of reduced outdoor use.

“What we really try to work with local people to understand is that their outdoor use affects how much water is in the rivers,” says Johnson. “If you are using water indoors, save yourself some money and be efficient, but most of that water comes back to the treatment plant and returns to the river.”[...]

In adopting its regulations on outdoor lawn watering, Eagle River Water was motivated by the searing drought of 2002. But laws also provide incentives. When seeking permits for new or expanded reservoirs, county regulations ask about “efficient use” of existing resources. State and federal regulations approach it with different wording, but essentially the same intent. “Efficient use of resource is going to be a consideration in any of those permitting processes,” says Johnson.

Eagle River Water has also adopted tiered rates, charging higher rates per 1,000 gallons as consumers step up consumption. But what do you do about those pockets of consumers for whom money is no deterrent?

That’s an issue in the Vail Valley that water officials are starting to wrestle with. Aspen recognized years ago that price was no object to some homeowners—and charges nosebleed rates.

Aspen’s municipal utility, which delivers both electricity and water, uses the income from high-use water customers to pay for front-end renewable energy programs and demand-side energy efficiency, says Phil Overeynder, the former utilities director and now the utilities engineer for special projects.

Aspen in the early 1990s approached the forked paths of water use. But instead of continuing to build capacity for existing water demands, the city instead reined in use. Last year, Aspen used the same amount of water as it did in 1966, despite having three times as many residents. (See more detailed story).

Now, an effort has been launched to frame a broad water efficiency strategy for the Roaring Fork Valley. The seed was planted in 2010 by the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE, a non-profit founded in the mid-1990s. The effort has several motives—including energy.

Formation of the group was at least partly influenced by the writings of Amory Lovins, a resident of the area, who for decades talked about “negawatts”—the idea that efficiency in energy was as good as new supply. The group he co-founded, Rocky Mountain Institute, further applied this idea of a soft path to water efficiency.

CORE’s Jason Haber explains that saving water also saves energy in several ways. Developing water resources requires energy, but it also takes energy to pump water. Energy is also embedded in treatment of sewage, he points out. Typically, water and sewage are the largest components of any municipality’s energy budget…

Whether Colorado truly has any water to develop on the Western Slope is debatable—and has been debated frequently in state-wide water forums. The Colorado River Water Conservation District has suggested that major new diversions would be risky, simply because of the lack of certainty of legally entitled water in future years. Colorado’s use of the river that bears its name is tightly capped by two inter-state water compacts and one international treaty.

More conservation coverage here.


Live panel on the Gross Reservoir expansion, April 30 #ColoradoRiver

April 26, 2014

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Grand County Commissioners announce benefits from pact with Denver Water — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the Grand County Commissioners via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners has announced a major economic win for the county. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2013, is already paying off – literally – in the county. The agreement between Denver Water and Grand County, as well as other West Slope governments, water providers and ski areas, was reached after years of negotiations.

Earlier this year, Denver Water began to meet dozens of obligations outlined in the agreement. In January, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects:

• The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. In addition, the project will be constructed following a competitive bid process, which will be an economic boost for the county. Because Denver Water is funding the Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline project, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District will not need to raise service fees to pay for it.

• The Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, which pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley. The project will enhance Winter Park ski area’s snowmaking capability, allowing the resort to open more ski areas earlier in the season, which will drive early-season income to local businesses, as well as provide additional jobs for local residents. In addition, water previously provided by Denver Water only in the winter to the ski area, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, Grand County Water and Sanitation District, and the Towns of Fraser and Granby, will now be available on a year-round basis. The pond also will provide a source of water for wildfire suppression.

“More than five years of negotiations with Denver Water have paid off,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “It was important to us to make sure Grand County’s future was secure, and we believe the economic value we’re receiving from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement achieves that.”

The agreement ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope entities to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources.

“The relationship forged through this agreement was bearing fruit for Grand County even before the agreement was officially in place,” said Newberry.

Commissioner Newberry pointed to the recent drought as an example of this cooperation. “In 2012, Denver Water implemented a critical component of the agreement in Grand County to provide more water for county streams than would have been available without the agreement. Instead of the historic practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water gave approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver.”

Another project, which created a settling pond on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area, was also completed and has been operated by Denver Water since before the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was official. The pond improves water quality in Fraser Basin by trapping sand applied to Berthoud Pass by CDOT before it is carried down the river. The project was completed in 2011, and 680 tons of sediment was removed in 2013.

“The removal of sediment not only improves water quality, which assists the wastewater plants, but over time it will help restore the trout fishing habitat that President Eisenhower travelled to the Fraser River to enjoy,” said Newberry. “It’s these types of collaborative projects that will serve Grand County well into the future.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


Breakthrough water agreement benefits cities and rivers

March 11, 2014

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

Water management is never easy. And in Colorado, where the resource is scarce, everyone’s interest is valuable, and needs are often widely divergent.

Last year, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited came together to pen a guest editorial for The Denver Post, Together, we can meet Colorado River challenges, acknowledging the fact that there are differences over how to best use water to meet our diverse needs. But, more important, the editorial highlighted the fact that smart water planning and cooperation are the only way to meet the future water needs of all interests along the Colorado River.

Less than a year later, Denver Water and Trout Unlimited have come together again, this time with Grand County, to reveal an agreement that balances municipal needs and environmental health. And, just like the recently finalized Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this partnership demonstrates the benefits of working together to protect our…

View original 790 more words


Sides agree to innovative Fraser River deal to help slake Denver Water thirst — Colorado Independent #ColoradoRiver

March 6, 2014

eisenhowerfishing

From the Colorado Independent (Bob Berwyn):

Ranchers, anglers and big-city water bosses raised a white flag in Colorado’s long-running water wars this week by setting aside bullying and threats of lawsuits and permit appeals. Instead, Grand County and Trout Unlimited have agreed to let Denver Water siphon another 18,000 acre feet from the headwaters of the Colorado River — but only under a strict checklist of requirements designed to ensure the Fraser River recovers from decades of depletion.

The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout…

Denver Water – Colorado’s biggest and thirstiest water provider — currently diverts more than half the Fraser River’s flow to keep toilets flushing, dishwashers running and sprinklers spouting along the Front Range. The dispute started in 2003 when the utility applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the permit it needs to divert more water from the river — as much as three-quarters of its average annual flow — to keep up with growth in the Denver metro area…

This week’s pact seeks to honor Denver Water’s longstanding river rights while ensuring the Fraser will be protected no matter how much more water is diverted for urban use. The restoration plan will use real-time data to track critical temperature increases in key streams caused either by Denver Water’s seasonal diversions or the long-term effects of climate change. When temperatures spike, additional flows will be released to cool the water when needed. In good water years, the deal will give Denver up to 18,000 acre feet of additional water, which will mostly be tapped during the peak spring runoff season. The timing of the diversions is a key part of the utility’s promise to improve the Fraser.

“We’re not going to be diverting water all the time. We won’t divert water in critically dry years, and we’ll only divert water during spring runoff. At other times of year, we’ll put water back into the river and improve conditions,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water’s CEO and manager.

The agreement also will require shifts in the timing of the water harvest. High flows are needed in the spring to help flush sediments that gunk up habitat for trout and aquatic bugs…

The Army Corps of Engineers’ final environmental study is due in late April, with a formal decision on the proposed diversion project expected in early 2015.

This week’s pact minimizes the likelihood of a permit appeal or a time-consuming lawsuit by conservationists. That’s important for Denver Water, which is eager to dig its shovels into the ground as soon as possible. Some of the extremely dry years in the early 2000s — especially 2002 — already have put the water giant’s delivery system to the test.

The deal also gives Grand County some assurances that the Fraser will remain a vibrant part of its outdoor recreation economy. Anglers from throughout the state and country visit Grand County to wet their lines in a river that was favored by President Dwight Eisenhower.

The additional water will help Denver Water balance its supplies. Currently, the utility gets about 80 percent of its water through the southern portion of its collection system, from the Blue River in Summit County via the Roberts Tunnel and a chain of reservoirs along the South Platte River. Lochhead says increased diversions from the Fraser River will make urban water supplies less vulnerable to extreme events such as forest fires, which are expected more frequently because of drought and climate change. The ability to pump more water out of the Fraser when needed would give Denver a much-needed back-up plan in case of another massive blaze like the 2002 Hayman Fire in a key watershed…

West Slope water managers acknowledge Denver Water’s legal rights. But they question whether any new trans-divide diversions are needed, claiming that Front Range communities could easily meet existing and future needs with more efficient use of the water the utility already is diverting over the Continental Divide. Under any plan, they say, drawing more water from any Colorado River tributary will have ripple effects felt far downstream, from endangered Colorado River fish near Grand Junction to lettuce growers in the salty deserts near the Mexican border.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Trout Unlimited, Denver Water, Grand County reach agreement on river protections for Moffat Project #ColoradoRiver

March 5, 2014
Gross Dam

Gross Dam

From email from EarthJustice (McCrystie Adams):

As Denver Water’s proposed Moffat Collection System Project has undergone initial federal permitting review, numerous stakeholders on both sides of the Continental Divide have raised serious concerns about the scheme to bring more water from the Fraser River to the Front Range. Today, two entities announced an agreement with Denver Water that will lead to what is being termed a Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.

McCrystie Adams, attorney in the Rocky Mountain Office of Earthjustice issued the following statement today:

“We look forward to thoroughly reviewing this private agreement to determine whether it fully addresses the impacts of the potentially river-killing Moffat expansion proposal. Any plan to mitigate additional diversions from this already heavily-stressed river system—or repair past damage—must be independently enforceable and fully funded before a decision to approve the project is made.

“The Fraser and the other streams targeted by this project are the headwaters of one of America’s great river systems, the Colorado, and are of importance far beyond Grand County. We and our conservation partners are committed to keeping these waters flowing. The Moffat permitting process is not complete, and we will continue to evaluate all alternatives to protect the long-term health and preservation of these streams.”

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Three major stakeholders involved in a project to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, as part of Denver Water’s proposed $250 million Moffat Collection System Project, have reached an agreement to protect the Fraser River and its trout population if the project is ultimately approved. Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County were party to the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, which was struck on Tuesday. The three parties have submitted it to state and federal agencies reviewing the project…

The Moffat project is designed to shore up Denver Water’s supply system on the north side of metro Denver, an area that came dangerously close to running out of water during the drought of 2002-2003. Denver Water first proposed enlarging Gross Reservoir, so it can hold more water from the Western Slope including the Fraser River, in 2003.

At the center of the agreement is a program to monitor the health of the stream — including water temperature, aquatic life and plant health, according to the announcement. If problems emerge, Denver Water would provide water, money and other resources to improve the condition of the river, according to the agreement.

“This plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and manager of Denver Water…

The management team will include representatives from the three parties to the agreement as well as from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District.

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited…

Lurline Curran, Grand County’s manager, said the county reached out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to try to get past previous disagreements about the impact of the Moffat Project.

“To all parties’ credit, this effort has succeeded,” Curran said.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

As long as I’ve been old enough to hold a fishing rod, maybe longer, I’ve heard there’s no substitute for experience. I suppose that’s why the new Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan announced Tuesday for the Fraser River’s Moffat Collection System Project seems to make so much sense at first glance.

The centerpiece of the package of river protections designed to keep the fragile Fraser River and its fish and wildlife populations healthy in the face of Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is a concept stakeholders refer to as “learning by doing.” In the working world, it might be considered on-the-job training, only with the enterprising twist of entering into uncharted waters, so to speak.

The notion behind learning by doing is managing the ecological impacts of diverting a significant slice of the Fraser to Front Range water users on a cooperative basis as problems arise. Should the project permit be issued, a management team that includes Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District will enact a monitoring program to assess stream health based on specific parameters such as stream temperature, aquatic life and riparian vegetation health.

Rather than focusing efforts on finger pointing when the Fraser’s health suffers from water depletion, the plan is to focus available resources on addressing the actual issue at hand. That means water, money and other resources committed by Denver Water through project mitigation, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and other agreements will be deployed to prevent declines and improve conditions as they are identified. Ideally, what’s learned from the experience will help keep the same problems from recurring again and again.

“Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said in a statement released Tuesday. “Since the beginning of our planning for the Moffat Project, we set out to do the right thing for the environment, and we believe coming together with Trout Unlimited and Grand County on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan demonstrates a monumental step in making the river better. It’s satisfying that after more than 10 years of study and discussion, Trout Unlimited and Grand County have stayed at the table with us in good faith.”

Calling the agreement “a victory for the river,” Trout Unlimited said the plan closes discussions over the proposed Moffat project designed to improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system by capturing remaining water rights in the upper Colorado basin. Denver Water, Grand County and TU have submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan to federal and state agencies charged with permitting the Moffat Project and have requested that it be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Trout Unlimited, Denver Water, Grand County reach agreement on river protections for Moffat Project #ColoradoRiver

March 4, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release via Denver Water, Grand County, and Colorado Trout Unlimited (Stacy Chesney/Lurline Curran/Mely Whiting):

Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County today announced agreement on a package of river protections designed to keep the Fraser River and its trout populations healthy.

The Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan brings to a close several years of discussions over the proposed Moffat Collection System Project and its potential impacts on the Fraser River. All sides hailed the stakeholder agreement as a breakthrough that balances municipal needs and environmental health.

Trout Unlimited called the agreement “a victory for the river.”

“This package of protections and enhancements, if adopted in the final permit, gives us the best opportunity to keep the Fraser River and its outstanding trout fishery healthy far into the future,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This pragmatic agreement underscores the value of a collaborative approach to water planning — one that recognizes the value of healthy rivers. It shows that, working together, we can meet our water needs while protecting our fisheries and outdoor quality of life.”

“In an effort to move past a disagreement on impacts from the Moffat Project, Grand County reached out to Denver Water and Trout Unlimited to propose additional environmental mitigations,” said Lurline Curran, Grand County manager. “To all parties’ credit, this effort has succeeded.”

“The Fraser is a river beloved by generations of anglers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts — it’s the lifeblood of our community,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter in Fraser and a longtime advocate for the river. “As an angler and Fraser Valley resident, I’m gratified that this agreement keeps our home waters healthy and flowing.”

The package includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it, said Denver Water. The Moffat Project will improve the reliability of Denver Water’s system, which serves 1.3 million people in the Denver-metro area.

The centerpiece of the agreement is Learning by Doing, a monitoring and adaptive management program overseen by a management team that includes Denver Water, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado River District and the Middle Park Water Conservancy District. Upon the project permit being issued, the management team will implement an extensive monitoring program to assess stream health based on specific parameters including stream temperature, aquatic life and riparian vegetation health. Water, financial and other resources committed by Denver Water through project mitigation, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and other agreements will be deployed to prevent declines and improve conditions where needed.

Learning by Doing is a unique and groundbreaking effort to manage an aquatic environment on a permanent, cooperative basis. Notably, the program will not seek a culprit for changes in the condition of the stream, but will provide a mechanism to identify issues of concern and focus available resources to address those issues. Mitigation measures to prevent impacts of the Moffat Project on stream temperature and aquatic habitat will also be implemented through Learning by Doing.

“Like the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this plan represents a new, collaborative way of doing business together when dealing with complex water issues,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “Since the beginning of our planning for the Moffat Project, we set out to do the right thing for the environment, and we believe coming together with Trout Unlimited and Grand County on the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan demonstrates a monumental step in making the river better. It’s satisfying that after more than 10 years of study and discussion, Trout Unlimited and Grand County have stayed at the table with us in good faith.”

Denver Water, Grand County and Trout Unlimited have submitted the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan to federal and state agencies charged with permitting the Moffat Project and have requested that it be made part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Moffat Project is expected by the end of April, and a final permitting decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is expected in early 2015.

For more information about the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, see the full agreement here.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


Conversation with James Newberry (Colorado River District @ColoradoWater) via Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

February 23, 2014
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

James Newberry is starting his second year as the Colorado River District board president, and has represented Grand County on the board since 2004. Through his time on the board and serving as a county commissioner, Newberry has made protecting the area’s valuable water resources a high priority.

Chief among water concerns are developing Colorado’s first water plan, which is currently being drafted, and obligations from the 1922 Colorado River Compact. As drought menaces water supplies in downstream states, those obligations could spell trouble for those living at the Colorado River’s headwaters in Grand County. Newberry spoke about the challenges facing the state’s water supply and thoughts about our water future.

What are you goals as president of the Colorado River District board for the coming year?

I don’t know it’s a goal, but what’s been laid out in front of us is the Colorado water plan, and we as a district have been involved in formulation of that plan. We’re also looking into compact calls to lower basin states, and how that integrates into the Colorado water plan. For example, how do we match up being able to divide up water on the East and West slopes within Colorado, while still managing those compact agreements? I think the Colorado River District will be a leader in advocating for different methods, such as water banking and risk-management in the different river basins. Statewide, we’re looking at what it means to develop a water plan while meeting a compact call, should it go into place. As a river district, we don’t believe it’s just a West Slope issue.

Explain the problems Grand County could face from drought issues farther downstream.

That truly is the problem with a compact call. The only water rights that wouldn’t be subjected to a compact call are those made before 1922, the very senior water rights. Some people say if we get compact calls it’s great for Grand County, because not as much water will go to the Front Range as we send it down river to meet our obligations. But there are going to be a lot of junior rights that people wouldn’t be able to use.

The bottom line is, it works in all water users’ interests to work on a water plan. That way if there is a call, we’ll have water stored up or credited, and we can work out those preexisting diversions.

One thing the Colorado River District is fighting for is to make sure whatever the risk of that future that call is, it’s not just going to be the West Slope bearing the brunt of meeting compact obligations downstream.

The West’s water future is looking grim. Is there anything that makes you feel optimistic?

We’re now taking a hard look at the water situation we’ll have in the future. When they decided the Colorado River Compact, it was one of the wettest periods in the history of the Colorado River. I don’t think that model is viable. Whether you believe in climate change and its effects or not, maybe this is making us aware of the amount of water we really do have, and it’s getting us to do a better job of managing it. Is that optimism? Maybe not, but it’s the reality we’re facing.

What projects are you advocating to increase conservation of Colorado River water?

We’re always looking at ways of conservation. In the next 30 years or so, the state projects we’re going to have a 500,000-acre-foot water shortage. One of our engineers looked at the study (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010), then turned around and said we could address that gap without further diversions from the West Slope, some of that through conservation. There is no ‘new water,’ and we’ll have to go back to conservation, like installing low-flow faucets and lining irrigating ditches. We’re always backing ways to better use water we have.

Are there any accomplishments you’re proud of during your time on the Colorado River District board?

I think the involvement with the Windy Gap firming project in Grand County. Without the river district, I don’t know how far we would’ve gotten back at the federal level and the Bureau of Reclamation, the heavy hitters, without their help.

The Colorado River District has also been heavily involved in Vail Ditch water shares and trying to move water to the upper Fraser River. And they’ve done a huge amount of work on the Colorado River here. The river district basically came into existence to be a watchdog on the Colorado-Big Thompson project. That’s truly the root of their existence, and we have held true to that. For example, we’re working on water clarity in Grand Lake, and the river district is helping hand-in-hand.

More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.


USACE: Moffat Collection System final EIS to be released on April 25 #ColoradoRiver

February 11, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the US Army Corps of Engineers:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, has announced April 25, 2014 for the release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project. At this time the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the Final EIS, which will in turn be considered prior to final decision-making by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Final EIS and public comments, will serve as a basis for the Corps’ decision on whether to issue or deny a Section 404 Permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County, Colo. The Corps is charged with the responsibility of impartially reviewing Denver Water’s proposal in light of environmental and other Federal laws.

A year ago, the Corps had tentatively predicted that the Final EIS would be released in February 2014, however, due to further agency coordination, and a request from Denver Water to work with stakeholders to further refine a mitigation plan to present in the EIS, the schedule was extended.

Background:

Through the Moffat Collection System Project, Denver Water proposes to meet its water supply obligations and provide a more reliable supply infrastructure, while advancing its environmental stewardship. The project intends to enlarge the existing 41,811-acre foot Gross Reservoir to 113,811 AF, which equates to an expanded water surface area from 418 acres to 842 acres. Using existing collection infrastructure, water from the Fraser River, Williams Fork River, Blue River and South Platte River would be diverted and delivered to Denver’s existing water treatment system during average and wet years.

In June 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the president use his authority to coordinate federal agencies to work together more effectively and expeditiously to release a Final EIS. Cooperating agencies involved in the EIS include the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Division, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Grand County.

To remain up-to-date on the progress of the final report, please visit our Web site at: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/RegulatoryProgram/Colorado/EISMoffat.aspx

Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


‘The [Colorado Water Plan] needs your input’ — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver

November 26, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

How will Colorado share the Colorado River? How much irrigated land will be dried up to slake the thirst of growing cities? How far should the state and local governments go in requiring residents to conserve?

These are some of the questions that will be addressed in Colorado’s statewide water plan, which is currently under development. Back in May, Gov. Hickenlooper ordered the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to develop a draft plan by Dec. 10, 2014, which is to be finalized by Dec. 10, 2015…

Both the CWCB and the Basin Roundtables are now seeking public input on the plan. There’s a survey link at the end of this article for you to provide general input, and future articles and surveys will address more specific issues.

First, though, let’s consider this basic question – why does Colorado need a water plan?

The Governor’s Executive Order notes that the gap between the state’s developed water supplies and growing urban demands could exceed 500,000 acre feet by 2050 (an acre foot is about enough for 2-3 families for a year at current usage rates). The biggest gap is anticipated in the South Platte River Basin, home to Colorado’s largest cities. A central challenge for the water plan is to fill the gap in a way that matches Colorado’s values. That’s a tough nut to crack.

The easiest way for cities to fill that gap is by taking it from agriculture, which currently accounts for about 85% of the water consumed in the state. But there’s a heavy price to pay for continuing to rely on that approach. A state water supply study released in 2010 projected a 15-20% decline in irrigated acreage statewide by 2050, with a 22-32% decline in the South Platte Basin over the same period. “Buying and drying” of agricultural water rights has already devastated some rural communities, and most stakeholders agree that this should be minimized in the future.

If not from agriculture, then where? East Slope Roundtables have been arguing for the need to preserve the option to develop additional West Slope water supplies. West Slope Roundtables point to environmental and economic impacts already felt from the roughly 500,000 acre-feet/year already transferred across the divide each year. More than 60% of the natural flows of the Upper Colorado River above Kremmling, for example, are diverted to the Front Range, impacting both Grand County building permits and gold medal trout streams.

Another concern is that increased depletions from the Colorado River and its tributaries would increase the risk of failing to meet legal obligations to downstream states. If downstream flow obligations are not met, water rights junior to the 1922 Compact between Upper Colorado River Basin states (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming) and Lower Colorado River Basin States (Arizona, Nevada and California) on how to share the river could be curtailed. If that means cutting off urban taps, it could set off a mad scramble for senior agricultural water rights on the West Slope.

Of course, neither drying up irrigated agriculture nor putting another straw into the Colorado Basin would be necessary if urban users reduced their consumption sufficiently. But how to achieve that isn’t easy either. Updated fixtures and education campaigns are a good start, but conserving enough to eliminate the need for other water sources would likely be impossible without the broad application of land-use and landscaping restrictions that may not be politically palatable.

There are no easy answers to the state’s large-scale water challenges. Creative solutions are needed to find more “win-win” solutions, with less of a need for losers – but hard choices may still need to be made. The more people that contribute their insights and opinions, the better the chances are that the final plan will fully reflect Colorado’s water values.

To begin contributing your insights to your Basin Roundtable and the CWCB, fill out this quick survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ColoBasinPlanValues.

If you want to get a little more background first, check out the new Colorado Water Plan website at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com/.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The #ColoradoRiver Cooperative Agreement is now fully executed

November 21, 2013
Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Map

Colorado River Cooperative Agreement Map via the Colorado River District

From the Colorado River District:

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA) is now fully executed with final approval coming from irrigators and water suppliers in the Grand Valley, General Counsel Peter Fleming reported to the Colorado River District Board of Directors.

The CRCA creates a long-term partnership between Denver Water and 42 entities on the West Slope. The agreement is a framework for numerous actions by the parties to benefit water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

It is the direct result of Denver Water’s desire to expand its Moffat Tunnel transmountain water supply from the Fraser River in Grand County and to enlarge Gross Reservoir in Boulder County. While that project is still being permitted, the CRCA represents an enhancement of beneficial actions beyond mitigation yet to be spelled out in the record of decision.

Negotiations on the CRCA concluded in early 2011 and the engaged parties began their approvals. The Grand Valley entities, however, waited until they were satisfied that federal and state reviews of Green Mountain Reservoir and Shoshone Hydro Plant aspects in the agreement were finished and the agreement could be implemented as envisioned.

The CRCA also means the West Slope will not oppose permitting of the Moffat Project. [ed. emphasis mine]

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement (CRCA) begins a long-term partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope. The agreement is a framework for numerous actions by the parties to benefit water supply, water quality, recreation, and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Fraser River is 680 tons better

November 5, 2013

Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

From October 21-22, 2013, crews worked to remove sediment from settling pond on the Fraser River on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area. (Photo courtesy of Colorado Department of Transportation)

Oct. 21-22, 2013, crews worked to remove sediment from settling pond on the Fraser River. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation.)

Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo. — The Fraser River is breathing a bit better after 680 tons of sediment — created by sand applied to Berthoud Pass to improve winter driving conditions — were removed.

Completed in 2011, a project between entities on both sides of the divide to construct a settling pond on the Fraser River has paid off.

The settling pond was constructed in Denver Water’s existing diversion facility. The project included building an access road and establishing a mitigation pond – or, new wetland area – downstream of the project. The settling pond traps and removes sediment that enters the Fraser River below Berthoud Pass. This project builds on previous efforts funded by a Colorado Nonpoint Source Program grant from the Colorado Department of Public…

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‘The Town of Fraser is locked in an epic battle with beavers on the Fraser River’ — Reid Tulley

October 20, 2013

North American beaver (Castor canadensis)

North American beaver (Castor canadensis)


From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

Dams have caused flooding on portions of the Fraser River Trail, closing the trail for longer than three weeks.

Other municipalities would just exterminate the creatures for damaging a town asset such as the Fraser River Trail, said Town Manager Jeff Durbin. But according to Durbin “we take a more friendly approach in this community.”

The town isn’t in the business of beaver brutality, he said, and doesn’t necessarily want to remove all of the beavers from that particular section of the river.

What the town is planning to do is to “strategically remove” the beavers causing the biggest problems. This process involves bringing in trappers to capture the beavers alive and relocate the rodents, according to Durbin. The process of live trapping and relocating the beavers also requires the approval of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure where the beavers are relocated can sustain the animals.

More Fraser River coverage here and here.


Dillon Reservoir: Happy fiftieth birthday #ColoradoRiver

September 8, 2013

morninggloryspillwaydillonreservoir

Here’s the announcement from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Summit County residents and visitors are invited to the Dillon Reservoir 50th Anniversary celebration this weekend. This free event will feature Dillon Reservoir’s high-quality recreation activities, including pontoon boat tours, canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a preview of the 2014 air and water show, a free performance by the band Eyes Wide Open, balloon sculptures and tasty treats from local vendors.

The event is sponsored by the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee, an interagency committee comprised of Denver Water, Summit County government, Town of Dillon, Town of Frisco and the U.S. Forest Service.

Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963 and is Denver Water’s largest reservoir. With 3,300 acres of surface and 27 miles of shoreline, it also is an important recreational amenity, with two marinas and countless activities for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Here’s an guest commentary about the reservoir written by Allen Best that is running in The Denver Post:

Recreational activities on Sunday will be the lion’s share of activities on Sunday when the 50th anniversary of the completion of Dillon Reservoir is marked. That’s proper, in that locals long ago took to calling it “Lake Dillon,” emphasizing its role as a tourism amenity rather than as a vital storage vessel for metropolitan Denver.

But if history were to be properly commemorated, there should be a shouting match as well.

As recent books by both George Sibley and Patty Limerick make clear, there was no small amount of arguing about the water to store behind the dam.

Denver representatives began studying Summit County as a future source for water in 1907. Several other loosely sketched proposals were assembled for tunnels under the Continental Divide to export water. Instead of pursing them, Denver made use of the Moffat Tunnel, which opened for railroad traffic in 1928. After modifying the pioneer bore, Denver in 1936 used it to deliver water from the Fraser Valley and, a few years later, the Williams Fork Valley. The latter is located just north of today’s Eisenhower Tunnel. That water gave Denver and its suburbs the ability to sustain rapid growth after World War II.

But the drought of the mid-1950s demanded additional supply. Denver set out to develop its water rights in Summit County.

Summit County after World War II was “receding into the wilderness,” in the words of the late Ed Quillen, who remembered visiting Breckenridge in the 1950s. Arapahoe Basin started skiing operations in 1946, but Breckenridge didn’t come until 1961, and Keystone and Copper much later yet.

The Western Slope, however, remained wary of water heists. That first significant protest came in the 1930s, when northern Colorado farmers proposed the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The project, built between 1938 and 1957, was later described by historian David Lavender as a “massive violation of geography.” He referred to the staggering scope of the diversion of waters naturally headed west, but instead steered through a tunnel under Rocky Mountain National Park to the Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins area.

But in the congressional horse-trading before federal authorization, the Western Slope did get a major benefit: construction by the federal government of Green Mountain Reservoir. This impoundment on the Blue River hold water for late-summer use on farms and orchards in the Grand Junction area and, more recently, for ski area snowmaking.

The Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District commissioned Sibley to write a history of the district’s 75th anniversary. In researching his 2012 book, “Water Wranglers,” Sibley arrived at a low opinion what was then called the Denver Water Board. “There was not a sense of rational to what Denver did in those years,” says Sibley, mirroring criticism from the Grand Junction Sentinel and other Western Slope opinion leaders of the time.

Central to Denver’s efforts was Glenn Saunders, who refused to accept the senior of the Green Mountain water rights of 1935. Denver could do no better at Dillon than a 1948 decree. It angered Saunders so much, Sibley says, that “he could not be rational about it.”

Denver’s investment at Dillon was instead salvaged by another of its lawyers, Harold Roberts. The 23.3-mile tunnel that delivers water from Dillon to the North Fork of the South Platte River near Grant, 40 miles southwest of Denver, carries Roberts’ name. As for Saunders, very likely Denver’s most forceful and colorful water figure of the 20th century, his name is absent from maps.

In her book, “A Ditch in Time,” which was commissioned by Denver Water, Limerick devotes a full chapter to Saunders, finding him a “fluent speaker of the language of 19th century westward expansion.” In this language, Denver had a right to carve up available natural resources, and in the context of water, had no need to consult the Western Slope.

Denver Water, under the late Chips Barry and now continued by Jim Lochhead, a long-time resident of the Western Slope, have taken a very different tack, seeking collaboration instead of defiance. This attitude is evident in the city’s willingness for lengthy negotiation outside the courtrooms. Lochhead, speaking at a Colorado Oil & Gas Association conference, advised drilling companies to adopt a similar process of up-front community collaboration.

Will the result be any different? Vulnerabilities of the existing water supply in places like Arvada, where I live, became evident in the 2002 drought. Denver, as the water provider for 1.3 million in the metropolitan area, is seeking to haul yet more water from the Fraser Valley. But the trout fishermen I know in Fraser and Granby say there’s just not much water left to take, and warmer, longer summers just may make the problem worse.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.


Colorado Water Trust: ‘The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short’ — Christine Hartman

August 8, 2013

eisenhowerfishing.jpg

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Christine Hartman):

Summer is flying by, and the Colorado Water Trust’s “Request for Water” projects are sailing ahead along with it.

After CWT made our Request for Water this spring, asking water rights owners to offer their water for lease to benefit streams, our projects team went to work screening the 19 official offers we received. Below you can see details of three projects that are in place, adding water to their local stream systems.

CITY OF ASPEN/ROARING FORK RIVER

For decades, large water diversions have reduced the amount of water flowing in the upper Roaring Fork River; only a fraction of the native flow reaches the City of Aspen.

To begin exploring long-term streamflow solutions for the Roaring Fork, the City of Aspen is leading local efforts this year by using one of its senior water rights to benefit flows through a critical reach of the Roaring Fork River. On June 10, the Aspen City Council authorized a nondiversion agreement with the Colorado Water Trust to bypass some water that Aspen would otherwise divert from this reach of the Roaring Fork.

STAGECOACH RESERVOIR/YAMPA RIVER

On July 16, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District signed a contract to lease 4,000 acre feet of water in Stagecoach Reservoir to CWT for the second year in a row. CWT is working with Upper Yampa; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; Catamount Development, Inc.; and the Colorado Water Conservation Board on planning releases to provide environmental benefits to the Yampa River. In coordination with CWT, Upper Yampa began releasing water from Stagecoach Reservoir at a rate of 30 cfs on Tuesday, July 23, to bolster streamflows in the Yampa.

WINTER PARK RANCH W&S/FRASER RIVER

The amount of water flowing in the heavily negotiated Fraser River has long been a topic of statewide concern. The instream flow water rights on the Fraser River are often water-short because they are junior to other rights on the stream.

After hearing about CWT’s pilot Request for Water program in 2012, the board of directors for Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District saw an opportunity to lease some of the District’s water rights to supplement streamflows in St. Louis Creek and the Fraser River and pursued a local project to benefit their home river. This short-term lease was approved by the State Engineer’s Office on June 6, 2013, accepted by CWCB Assistant Director Tom Browning on June 11, and ratified by the CWCB Board of Directors on July 16 at their meeting in Alamosa.

To learn more about the Colorado Water Trust’s work to use market approaches to benefit streams, visit http://www.coloradowatertrust.org.

More instream flow coverage here.


Fraser River: The Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District has leased some water to the CWCB for instream flows

July 20, 2013

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

The Winter Park Ranch Water and Sanitation District has successfully negotiated a short-term water rights lease with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the State Engineer’s Office. The Colorado Water Conservation Board officially ratified the lease on Tuesday, June 16. The lease is seen as a tool to help boost local streamflows in St. Louis Creek and the Fraser River at a time when a significant portion of the river’s water is diverted to the Front Range via the Moffat Tunnel, which impacts fish and flows to the Colorado River. But through a 2003 Colorado statute, water rights can be loaned or leased to improve the volume of water flowing through rivers and streams. Winter Park Ranch saw the statue as an opportunity to benefit its home river.

More Fraser River coverage here and here.


Denver Water’s bypass flows enhance the Fraser River fishery #ColoradoRiver #COdrought

June 5, 2013

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Here’s an opinion piece running in the Sky-Hi Daily News written by the Grand County Commissioners. They take on the execution of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

As your Commissioners, we believe it is important to let you know the status of the agreement and how the agreement is already benefitting the county.

In the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water commits to providing environmental enhancements to address existing flow and temperature concerns throughout Grand County. It is important to note that the enhancements contained in the Cooperative Agreement are not a substitute for mitigation for the Gross Reservoir Enlargement Project (Moffat Project), as the agreement clearly states. Grand County continues to advocate in the federal permitting process for complete mitigation for all impacts caused by the Moffat Project.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not yet been signed by all parties, awaiting federal agency sign-off on allied agreements. Final signatures and full execution is expected this summer. However, even though the Cooperative Agreement has not been fully executed and the Moffat Project is not yet permitted, let alone built, Denver Water voluntarily implemented fundamental and critical components of the agreement last year and again this spring providing more water for county streams than would have been present without the agreement.

Denver Water contacted Grand County officials to determine how to maximize benefit to Grand County of bypassed water. In short, instead of the historical practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water is bypassing water for the benefit of the environment and Grand County water users. This benefit amounted to about 1,500 acre-feet of water that Denver Water gave back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver in 2012. According to the municipal water and wastewater providers in the Fraser Valley, this additional water made a huge benefit last year to stream flow and stream temperatures, as well as operations of water and wastewater facilities.

Again this year, Denver Water instituted drought restrictions in April, which meant they had the right to reduce the flows in the Fraser River. Despite grave concerns about their water supply — overall reservoir storage was below 2002 levels and early projections showed reservoirs may not fill this season — Denver Water contacted us to discuss the bypass flows and the best way to work with Grand County to maximize water available for the county in 2013.

This example of cooperation and communication is what was envisioned when Grand County entered into the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement with Denver Water. The relationship forged through this agreement is bearing fruit for Grand County even though the agreement is not officially in place.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


USACE: Moffat Project Final EIS to move toward completion

March 4, 2013

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Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Margaret Oldham):

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, has announced a tentative date for the release of its Final Environmental Impact Statement for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project. With federal and state agency and the applicant, Denver Water’s concurrence, the Corps anticipates that the projected Final EIS will be released in February 2014. At that time, the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the Final EIS, which will in turn be considered prior to final decision-making by the Corps.

The Final EIS and public comments will serve as a basis for the Corps’ decision on whether to issue or deny a Section 404 Permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County, Colo. The Corps’ regulatory program is authorized by Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to regulate certain waterways-related activities. As the lead regulatory agency for the Moffat Project EIS, the Corps is charged with the responsibility of impartially reviewing Denver Water’s proposal to ensure compliance with environmental and other federal laws.

“We are confident that our latest schedule gives us a path forward toward an expeditious conclusion to the federal permit evaluation process,” said Omaha District Commander Col. Joel R. Cross. “Everyone involved with the project is committed to working together to fulfill the requirements of a Final EIS, which will bring us closer to making a final decision on Denver Water’s project.”

Background:

The state of Colorado is proactively seeking solutions for meeting its future water needs while ensuring the health of its rivers and streams. Through the Moffat Collection System Project, Denver Water proposes to meet its water supply obligations and provide a more reliable supply infrastructure, while advancing its environmental stewardship. The project intends to enlarge the existing 41,811-acre foot Gross Reservoir to 113,811 AF, which equates to an expanded water surface area from 418 acres to 818 acres. Using existing collection infrastructure, water from the Fraser River, Williams Fork River, Blue River and South Platte River would be diverted and delivered to Denver’s existing water treatment system during average and wet years.

In June 2012, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the president use his authority to coordinate federal agencies to bring an expeditious conclusion to the federal permitting process for the project. The Corps, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Water Quality Division, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Grand County have worked together to meet Federal requirements for the Final EIS while satisfying state and local concerns.

To remain up-to-date on the progress of the final report, please visit our Web site at: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/RegulatoryProgram/Colorado/EISMoffat.aspx

Or, email us at: cenwo-web-regulatory-co@usace.army.milto be added to our email distribution list.

Here’s a statement from Jim Lockhead (Denver Water) about the Corps release:

“We are pleased to see the state and federal agencies come together to commit to a sound timeline for the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project next February.

We’re in the second year of a severe drought. If the Moffat Project were in place today, we would have been able to store more water during the high flow runoff two years ago that we could now use. In a dry year like this one, we would not be diverting additional water under this project.

Moreover, under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, we would actually be giving water back to the environment in this dry year.

As a result, Denver Water’s Moffat Project would be a win-win for this state: it would make possible our ability to benefit the environment in dry years like this one, and it would bring additional water for our metro area, which we desperately need in this drought.”

Here’s a statement from Colorado Trout Unlimited (David Nickum):

“We’re pleased that the Army Corps of Engineers is taking more time to evaluate the impacts of the Moffat expansion project on the Fraser River, a great trout river cherished by generations of Coloradans and crucial to the economy of Grand County.

The draft EIS was badly flawed, in that it failed to adequately address project impacts on the river. It’s more important to do this permit right than to do it fast. We urge the Corps to take these additional months to correct those deficiencies and ensure that the Fraser receives adequate protection.

Denver Water’s 2011 Cooperative Agreement with West Slope water users was a great step forward in addressing current impacts on the Fraser caused by diversions -but as TU, Grand County officials and others noted at the time, the agreement did not address the future impacts of the Moffat expansion on the Fraser. That’s why it’s critical that the EIS thoroughly documents the expected project impacts so that appropriate protections can be designed.

From day one, we’ve pointed to several protections that need to be included with this project: preventing elevated stream temperatures, providing adequate flushing flows, and using monitoring and adaptive management to deal with future uncertainty about the project’s impacts and the river’s health.

Without these additional protections, the Fraser River could be diverted to death. Denver residents and Denver Water customers want healthy rivers-and they’re looking to Denver Water and federal agencies to protect this magnificent resource.”

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

“We had projected a date of January 2013 … It was not intended to be a firm date, but it got presented as a firm date,” said Tim Carey, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulatory office.

“I would not say this is a delay … We’re really trying to make certain that we have adequately studied and addressed the impacts,” Carey said, adding that the new release date is also tentative at this point.

Once the final environmental impact statement is released, there will be another opportunity for public comment before the Corps decides whether, and under what conditions, to permit a Section 404 Permit for the enlargement of Gross Reservoir, in Boulder County.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


Fraser River: Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project is focus of short film from Trout Unlimited #coriver

February 3, 2013

From The Denver Post Spot Blog (Lynn Bartels):

“It’s a lighthearted effort to highlight a serious problem: diversions are killing the Fraser River,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release.

“Trout and other aquatic life need cold, clean water to survive,” said Nickum. “But at present, Denver Water is sucking many tributaries to the Fraser completely dry through its Moffat Tunnel Collection System. We’re in danger of destroying a priceless state resource and major recreation area for Front Range residents. Coloradans need to tell Denver Water: don’t kill the river.”[...]

“Denver residents care about our mountain resources — as customers, we’re asking Denver Water to be a good steward of these resources,” said Becky Long of Conservation Colorado…

“Denver Water understands the importance of a healthy river,” said spokeswoman Stacy Chesney. “We understand that water supply projects do have impacts, but not only will we offset those impacts through required mitigation, but also we will go above and beyond to make the river better.”

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (David Nickum):

Denver Water already sucks 60% of the annual flows from the Fraser River, and they now want to take more: another 15%. Sign the Defend the Colorado petition today and tell Denver that before they take more water, they need to protect the Fraser River. Tell Denver Water: Don’t Suck the Fraser River Dry!

If you see a lost-looking trout walking the streets of downtown Denver in coming weeks, don’t be alarmed. He’s just looking for some water. Any water.

He urgently needs your help.

We recently filmed this trout’s sad dilemma. Left high and dry in the Fraser Valley, where Denver Water is sucking the life out of the Fraser River and its tributaries, our refugee trout hitchhiked to Denver to try to find out who moved his water and where he can get a few drops.

Check out the short video– it’s a lighthearted effort to highlight a serious problem: Denver Water is diverting the Fraser River to death…

You might not know that much of Denver’s water comes from across the Continental Divide, in Grand County, where the Moffat pipeline each year drains 60 percent of the Fraser River’s annual flows, leaving dozens of tributaries sucked completely dry. Denver Water’s proposed expansion of that pipeline would take another 15 percent of flows, leaving an already damaged river on life support.

It’s not just trout and wildlife at risk—our mountain towns and state tourism economy are also threatened. If you love to fish, ski, raft, hike, camp or otherwise recreate in the mountains, this hits you where you live.

We simply can’t keep sucking the lifeblood out of the Fraser and expect it to remain a living river.

If Denver Water is to move forward with the Moffat expansion, they must take steps to ensure it is done in a way that won’t destroy the Fraser River. For months, a coalition of conservation organizations, landowners, and recreation businesses have been calling on Denver Water to take a few responsible, cost-effective steps to protect the Fraser:

  • ensure healthy “flushing” flows in the river to clean out silt and algae.
  • avoid taking water during high water temperatures, when trout and aquatic life are vulnerable.
  • monitor the river’s health and take action as needed to prevent further declines.
  • We’ve presented these concerns to Denver Water, but so far they’ve been unwilling to work with us to adopt this common-sense package of protections.

    This is where you come in. Denver Water will listen to their customers. We need Denver-area residents—and anyone who cares about Colorado’s rivers and wild places—to tell Denver Water that you want them to “finish the job” of protecting the Fraser River.

    Please—go right now to the Defend the Colorado webpage to sign a petition asking Denver Water board members to protect the Fraser. We know they will respond to public pressure—but that means you need to take a few minutes and sign the petition. It will make a difference for the Fraser River and for our homeless trout, but only if you act now.

    Denver Water won’t act if they think Coloradans don’t know enough or care enough to demand a higher level of river stewardship.

    So do something good for our rivers today. Sign the petition and tell Denver Water: don’t suck—protect the Fraser River.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here.


    Boulder County won’t yet sign IGA with Denver Water for Moffat Collection System Project

    January 9, 2013

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    From the Boulder Daily Camera (Amy Bounds) via the Longmont Times-Call:

    The Boulder County commissioners on Monday night declined to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Denver Water, withholding their approval for a planned expansion of Gross Reservoir.

    About 40 residents and environmentalists, in a public hearing that lasted three-and-a-half hours, urged the county commissioners not to sign the agreement, citing concerns that ranged from noise to traffic safety to Denver Water’s need to conserve instead of expand…

    The intergovernmental agreement would have established a pool of at least $500,000 to compensate area residents and another $2 million the county could use to limit urban sprawl or pay out to residents. Another $4 million would have gone toward the preservation of land around Gross Reservoir. Another $500,000 would have been contributed to use for forest treatments on private property, $1 million to assist the Coal Creek Canyon Parks and Recreation District with its master plan goals and $250,000 for recreation projects recommended by the Preserve Unique Magnolia Association. Other conditions included requiring dust mitigation on gravel roads and improvements to Colo. 72 and affected county roads.

    But, public speakers said, the limits were too vague and the amount of money that would be contributed much too low. “Don’t take the minuscule bribe that Denver Water is proposing,” said Coal Creek Canyon resident Anita Wilks. “No amount of mitigation will be enough.”[...]

    County staff members, who recommended approval of the intergovernmental agreement, have said a 1041 permit denial likely would result in a legal fight. County open space attorney Conrad Lattes previously said that Denver Water has contended that Boulder County’s 1041 powers would be pre-empted by a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit that Denver Water is seeking. Although the county has not conceded that issue, he said the agreement would give the county more flexibility than the 1041 process and would avoid extensive litigation.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.


    Conservation groups raise issues with fast-tracking the Moffat Collection System Project

    October 28, 2012

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    Here’s the text of a letter from the Colorado Environmental Coalition, et. al., to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers:

    We write to express our serious concerns with the permitting process for the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project proposed by Denver Water. Governor Hickenlooper has submitted a letter calling for the permitting process to be expedited, and our understanding is that finalizing the Environmental Impact Statement has been put on a fast track for completion. While we certainly support the agencies in working promptly and efficiently on this project – indeed on any of their permitting work – the desire for speedy completion should not come at the expense of completing the studies and analyses needed to accurately assess and disclose impacts, and to honestly determine the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative” pursuant to the Clean Water Act.

    The Governor’s letter touts the benefits of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement between Denver Water and west slope interests as an important factor in moving Moffat permits forward. We agree that the Cooperative Agreement takes many important steps in addressing the current challenges facing the Upper Colorado River watershed. What it does not do is address the impacts of the new Moffat Collection System Expansion Project. Any suggestion that the Cooperative Agreement has somehow reduced or eliminated concerns about the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project or the need to rigorously evaluate its impacts and design mitigation is simply wrong. Our constituencies are not satisfied with Moffat Collection System Expansion Project moving forward without significant further environmental disclosure and mitigation requirements.

    Our organizations remain gravely concerned with the potential impacts on the Fraser and Williams Fork watersheds and the Upper Colorado River due to the depletions proposed under the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project. Specific concerns which have been raised previously in the public process surrounding this project include:

    Temperature. Already sections of Ranch Creek, the Fraser River, and the Upper Colorado exceed water quality standards for temperature and are listed on the Colorado 303(d) list of impaired waters. Further flow depletions during the summer months, as proposed under the Moffat Collection System Expansion, cannot help but extend and worsen these problems absent operational restrictions (such as curtailment of diversions during periods of elevated temperature) or strong mitigation (channel reconfiguration, riparian restoration). The Draft EIS can, at best, be said to have given short shrift to this issue – particularly since it is a water quality issue where the affected environment is already experiencing water quality standard violations.

    Sedimentation. This issue was similarly given a dismissive treatment in the Draft EIS. However, as evidenced by a sediment transport study completed by Dr Brian Bledsoe (previously submitted to you and shared with us by Trout Unlimited) – and as is obvious to all of us who have spent time in the Fraser River and seen the evidence of excessive sediment building up with our own eyes – sedimentation is a significant issue and one that will be worsened by the loss of flushing flows under the Moffat Collection System Expansion. As with temperature, operating requirements (such as mandatory flushing flows) or mitigation measures (such as channel reconfiguration to promote sediment transport at a lower flow) are needed.

    Impacts to Recreation and Tourism. The river-based recreation and tourism economy of Grand County and the Colorado River basin are highly dependent on predictable and sufficient streamflows to attract visitors to the area seeking world-class rafting, kayaking, and float-fishing opportunities. In the Upper Colorado River, commercial rafting alone contributes nearly $10 Million dollars in economic benefit, and is enjoyed by over 32,000 visitors a year. Our concern is that not enough analysis has been made of how the Moffat Collection System Expansion will reduce streamflows that support this important industry. The impacts from additional depletions out of the Fraser and Colorado River Systems on existing river-based recreation have not been adequately disclosed, nor have the project proponents made available to the public the models of how future streamflow conditions are likely to change – attributable to the Moffat Collection system solely. Changes in streamflow, and the potential loss of a sustainable recreation economy in Colorado is very concerning to us, and we feel deserves a more substantive review.

    Adaptive management. Even if the Corps and EPA were able to complete thorough impact studies that gave adequate guidance to disclose impacts and design mitigation for temperature and sedimentation – a premise that we fear may in itself be flawed given the rush to move forward a Final EIS – there will still be major uncertainty about the impacts associated with Moffat Collection System Expansion. Simply put, there is a real risk that diversions at the level proposed for the Fraser – with a cumulative total of 75% of water being removed from the environment – may cause unanticipated adverse effects. Scientists call these “nonlinear” responses, points where passing a certain threshold can lead to dramatically increased impacts.

    Front Range Impacts. In addition we remain seriously concerned about impacts that would occur on the Front Range, namely in Boulder County where Gross Reservoir and dam would be dramatically increased in size. These impacts—and the concerns of County property owners— have not be adequately addressed yet either.

    In light of these unpredictable impacts, coupled with the apparent desire to quickly complete analysis of even more predictable impacts, we urge you to include strong monitoring and adaptive management requirements in any permit for Moffat Collection System Expansion. These should include monitoring of the physical, chemical and biologic conditions of the streams affected by the project and require implementation of measures to prevent degradation of aquatic and riparian ecosystems, to be paid for by the project beneficiary—Denver Water. Monitoring must be broad and thorough enough to determine changes in fish, aquatic invertebrate, and plant populations, as well as assessing water quality, and particularly water temperature as indicators of degradation.

    While these efforts should be coordinated with the “Learning by Doing” effort from the Cooperative Agreement, they must be a specific and separate requirement of the permit. Learning by Doing – like the rest of the Cooperative Agreement – was not designed to address the impacts of the new Moffat Collection System Expansion, indeed by its own terms it does not address mitigation. It is the job of the Corps and EPA to ensure mitigation as a condition of any approved permit, and a robust adaptive management plan should be required. Given the inherent difficulty of predicting impacts at such high levels of diversion from a river, and in light of the Governor’s stated desire to expedite permitting for Moffat Collection System Expansion, a program by which river health continues to be monitored and Denver Water remains responsible for mitigating the actual effects of their project – not just those that can be accurately predicted in the current EIS process – offers the best opportunity for moving the project forward while ensuring that water quality and ecosystem health can be protected for the future.

    In short “fast tracking” this process will only undercut the good work that has been done to date. Any assurances you have heard that “everyone” is on board with the Moffat Collection System Expansion proceeding without the required review and mitigation are simply not true. Our organizations and the more than 180,000 members we represent remain deeply concerned about what the Moffat Collection System Expansion will mean for the health of the Fraser, Williams Fork and Upper Colorado watersheds. We support the permitting process moving forward only if it includes thorough assessment and mitigation to address temperature and sedimentation concerns, and a robust monitoring and adaptive management requirement.

    As Colorado moves forward in planning for our water supply future we must ensure that we “do it right”. This is both an enormous opportunity as well as an incredible responsibility. Let’s work together to ensure that the river, our communities and our state are not short-changed in an effort to move quickly.

    The letter was signed by: Becky Long, Colorado Environmental Coalition; Bart Miller, Western Resource Advocates; Steve Glazer, Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club; Nathan Fey, American Whitewater.

    Update: A thousand pardons. I left three signatures off in the list above: Gary Wockner, Clean Water Action; Jen Bock, High Country Citizens Alliance; Matt Rice, American Rivers.

    Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Doug Pflugh for the heads up.

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily Voice. Here’s an excerpt:

    “We’re worried that that we’re going to hit fast forward and miss some things,” said Becky Long, water caucus coordinator with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, explaining why several groups recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, reiterating their concerns about water temperatures and sediment loading in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    The fast-tracking was requested by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper back in June. In a June 5 letter to President Barack Obama, Hickenlooper touted a far-reaching water agreement as “removing” West Slope opposition to the Moffat project, and urged the Corps to release a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2012, followed by a formal decision in early 2013.

    The letter illustrates the governor’s fundamental misunderstanding of the NEPA process, which requires agencies to take a “hard look” at impacts and alternatives. It shows that, despite claims to the contrary, the Colorado water establishment is still focused on the folly of more water development and storage as the primary answer to the state’s drought woes. It also shows that state leaders still don’t understand that Colorado could easily — and much less expensively — use basic conservation measures to save as much or more water than would be stored by the Moffat project.

    And while it’s true that institutional West Slope water users agreed to not oppose the Moffat Project — a devil’s bargain to some — the environmental community still has serious concerns about the increased diversions.

    On top of all that, Long said rumors have circulated that the conservation community is OK with the Moffat project and the mitigation measures that have been proposed during the early phases of the review process. The letter to EPA regional director Jim Martin and Corps of Engineers regional commander Joel Cross was sent partially to refute those rumors.

    More Moffat Collection System coverage here and here.


    ‘Water Wranglers’ is George Sibley’s new book about the Colorado River District #coriver

    October 10, 2012

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    Here’s the link to the web page where you can order a copy. Here’s the pitch:

    Water Wranglers
    The 75-Year History of the Colorado River District:
    A Story About the Embattled Colorado River and the Growth of the West

    The Colorado River is one of America’s wildest rivers in terms of terrain and natural attributes, but is actually modest in terms of water quantity – the Mississippi surpasses the Colorado’s annual flow in a matter of days. Yet the Colorado provides some or all of the domestic water for some 35 million Southwesterners, most of whom live outside of the river’s natural course in rapidly growing desert cities. It fully or partially irrigates four-million acres of desert land that produces much of America’s winter fruits and vegetables. It also provides hundreds of thousands of people with recreational opportunities. To put a relatively small river like the Colorado to work, however, has resulted in both miracles and messes: highly controlled use and distribution systems with multiplying problems and conflicts to work out, historically and into the future.

    Water Wranglers is the story of the Colorado River District’s first seventy-five years, using imagination, political shrewdness, legal facility, and appeals to moral rightness beyond legal correctness to find balance among the various entities competing for the use of the river’s water. It is ultimately the story of a minority seeking equity, justice, and respect under democratic majority rule – and willing to give quite a lot to retain what it needs.

    The Colorado River District was created in 1937 with a dual mission: to protect the interests of the state of Colorado in the river’s basin and to defend local water interests in Western Colorado – a region that produces 70 percent of the river’s total water but only contains 10 percent of the state’s population.

    To order the book, visit the Wolverine Publishing website at http://wolverinepublishing.com/water-wranglers. It can also be found at the online bookseller Amazon.

    More Colorado River District coverage here.


    Colorado River Cooperative Agreement implementation at hand

    September 13, 2012

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    Here’s a short report from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

    Colorado’s largest water utility and more than 30 western slope providers are expected to begin implementing an agreement balancing the Denver-area’s demand for water with the needs of mountain communities as early as next month. According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel a project spokesman said Tuesday a few more signatures are needed.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    Patty Limerick’s ‘A Ditch in Time: The City, the West, and Water’ book signing Wednesday on the CU campus

    September 4, 2012

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    Limerick is a terrific speaker and writer so I’ve been looking forward to her book about Denver Water for a while now. Here’s the book description from the Tattered Cover website.

    “The history of water development…offers a particularly fine post for observing the astonishing and implausible workings of historical change and, in response, for cultivating an appropriate level of humility and modesty in our anticipations of our own unknowable future.”

    Tracing the origins and growth of the Denver Water Department, this study of water and its unique role and history in the West, as well as in the nation, raises questions about the complex relationship among cities, suburbs, and rural areas, allowing us to consider this precious resource and its past, present, and future with both optimism and realism.

    Patricia Nelson Limerick is the faculty director and board chair of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she is also a professor of history and environmental studies. She currently serves as the vice president for the teaching division of the American Historical Association. Her most widely read book, “The Legacy of Conquest,” is in its twenty-fifth year of publication.

    Here’s a review of the book from Jane Earle writing for Your Colorado Water Blog. Here’s an excerpt:

    The line [for a history of Denver Water] went back in the budget and, backed by Chips Barry, then Manager of Denver Water, it was passed by the Board. This time, the proposal was to ask Patricia Limerick, Colorado’s McArther prize winning historian, to write the history. And that was my idea. This time, it was [Charlie Jordan] who was incredulous. After all, Professor Limerick was not always kind to the white builders in her history of the West, “The Legacy of Conquest.” But that was why I wanted her: No one could accuse Denver Water of commissioning a coffee table book about the glories of its past if Patricia Limerick was the author. Chips was beguiled by the idea. The rest is history, as they say. This time, literally.

    Professor Limerick doesn’t call her book a history of Denver Water. She subtitles it, “The City, the West, and Water.” It’s well named. She has set the story of some of the major events in the development of Denver’s water system in their proper geographic and historic context. The contributions of the people who built the water system and their legacy are stories that needed to be told. They were men of vision who could imagine a great city on the treeless plain next to the (mostly dry) South Platte River.

    Here’s an interview with Ms. Limerick from the Colorado Water 2012 website.

    More Denver Water coverage here and here.


    Colorado River Basin: Denver Water, et. al., are operating under the Shoshone Outage Protocol

    September 3, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    Even though the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement has not been executed by all parties, Denver Water and the Colorado River Water Conservation District have provided some of the benefits promised.

    The U.S. Forest Service “bypass” flows to the Fraser River can be reduced if Denver Water institutes restrictions. In April, Denver Water enacted a Stage 1 drought calling for customers to voluntarily reduce their water use.

    Under the Cooperative Agreement, Denver Water has agreed not to reduce Forest Service bypass flows unless it institutes “in-house” only restrictions. The Cooperative Agreement is not in force yet, awaiting execution by a few remaining parties, but regardless, Denver Water, in the spirit of a new way of doing business, did not reduce bypass flows. As a result, more water stayed in the Fraser River.

    In this year of historically low runoff, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Denver Water and the Bureau of Reclamation are cooperating to add flows to the Colorado River for the benefit of irrigation, fish and rafting from the Williams Fork confluence with the Colorado River beyond the Grand County boundary. The additional water is the result of the Shoshone Outage Protocol, a part of the Cooperative Agreement .

    The Protocol is designed to add water to the Colorado River when the Shoshone Hydro Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not using its senior water right due to operational issues. The Shoshone water right normally would have the river flowing at 1,250 cubic feet per second (cfs) at Dotsero.

    The week of June 10, the three reservoir operators (Denver Water, the Conservation District, Bureau of Reclamation) increased river flows by about 450 cfs through releases from Williams Fork Reservoir, Wolford Mountain Reservoir, and Green Mountain Reservoir.

    Flows in Glenwood Canyon were boosted to around 1,100 cfs. The 71-year average of flows for this time of the year in Glenwood Canyon is more than 6,000 cfs.

    The additional flows provided by the Outage Protocol helped lower water temperature levels in the river to help trout survive.

    “The Shoshone Outage Protocol made a real difference in the river,” said Colorado River District general manager Eric Kuhn. “Since we started, you can see by the gauge that the temperature of the water has come down 4 degrees Fahrenheit.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Northern Integrated Supply Project: Supplemental Draft EIS due Fall 2013

    August 22, 2012

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    Here’s an excerpt from a recent Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District eNews email:

    Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May requesting an expeditious conclusion to the National Environmental Policy Act study being conducted by the Army Corps for the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    In a response to the governor, Corps of Engineers Colonel Robert Ruch, responded that his agency anticipates the Supplemental Draft EIS for NISP will be released to the public in the Fall of 2013. “The size of the proposals, types of analyses, and the amount of interest they have generated has resulted in substantial reviews,” Colonel Ruch wrote. “Please be assured that I have made the review of all ongoing water supply actions in the Omaha District’s purview a high priority for my Regulatory staff.”

    This was positive news on many fronts. First, is that a definite date for the release of the SDEIS has been given. The SDEIS process began in February 2009. Second, having Gov. Hickenlooper weigh in on the project is enormous. While not an endorsement, his insistence that the studies be brought to conclusion and his affirmation that wise water development, including projects like NISP, are a necessity in Colorado, was welcome indeed.

    The Governor also referenced the ongoing drought in Colorado and the pressing need for water for NISP water providers. He also committed the State to moving through their approval process in a timely manner.

    Governor Hickenlooper also wrote a letter to President Obama where he addressed Denver Water’s Moffat Enlargement Project and its ongoing permitting process.

    In the letter he states, “Colorado is at a critical juncture in forging a more secure future for the development and management of water supplies critical to both our economy and the natural environment that makes our state so great.” Governor Hickenlooper added, “Therefore, we urge you to exercise your authority to coordinate your agencies and bring an expeditious conclusion to the federal permitting processes for this essential project, in order that we can have certainty moving forward as a state.”

    More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here


    Governor Hickenlooper requests speedier reviews for Moffat Collection System and NISP

    August 15, 2012

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    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A letter to Obama seeks help spurring decisions on Denver Water’s diversion of 18,000 acre-feet of Colorado River Basin water from the west side of the Continental Divide to an expanded Gross Reservoir west of Boulder. A separate letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asks that the Northern Integrated Supply Project — which would siphon the Cache la Poudre River into new reservoirs storing 215,000 acre-feet of water — be given a high priority.

    Colorado faces “a significant gap in our supplies to provide water for future growth — a gap that cannot be met by conservation and efficiencies alone,” Hickenlooper began in a June 5 letter sent to the White House and copied to cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs. “We urge you to exercise your authority to coordinate your agencies and bring an expeditious conclusion to the federal permitting processes for this essential project, in order that we can have certainty moving forward as a state,” he wrote.

    Click here to read the letter to President Obama. Click here to read the Governor’s letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here. More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here.


    Windy Gap Firming Project: ‘No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit’ — Kirk Klancke

    August 9, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

    The hearing gave all of the interested parties a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about the project before it was submitted to the Grand County Commissioners for approval or denial.

    Enhancements and mitigations to the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek are part of the proposed agreement and include a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir, larger flushing flows for the Upper Colorado River, and a list of other possible mitigation measures.

    Planned mitigation measures

    The existing diversions at Windy Gap take 60 percent of native flows out of the Upper Colorado and the proposed expansion to the project would take another estimated 15-20 percent of flows, according to Trout Unlimited.

    “Under present plans, expanding Windy Gap would make a bad situation worse because it would increase periods of low flows and significantly reduce runoff, which is critical to clean the river of excess silt and sediment contributed by Windy Gap Reservoir,” said Amelia Whiting, counsel for TU’s Colorado Water Project.

    Mitigations and enhancements meant to address the impacts are proposed in the agreement for the Colorado River, Grand Lake, and Willow Creek.

    “We are not opposed to this project, we just want to see the right mitigations take place,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Headwaters of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited. “No bypass or increased flushing flows, no permit.”

    The enhancements that are proposed were the main topic of discussion during the meeting as interested parties made arguments for specific mitigation’s and enhancements.

    Each party agreed that the river would be better off with the proposed mitigations and enhancements than it would be without them. However, the parties differed about which mitigations should take priority.

    Some of the parties who voiced their opinions about the proposed mitigation’s and enhancements include the Upper Colorado River Alliance, Trout Unlimited, Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Town of Grand Lake, and members of the public.

    Some of the main enhancements that are proposed are the construction of a bypass around or through Windy Gap Reservoir and increased flushing flows to the Colorado, which would help to restore the habitat of the gold-medal fishing waters below the Windy Gap Dam.

    More Windy Gap coverage here and here.


    Fraser River: ‘Eisenhower Reach’ dedicated July 14

    July 19, 2012

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    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Reid Tulley):

    President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who vacationed and fished in the Fraser Valley, will receive recognition across the state and this will help to preserve the history of the valley, [Fraser Mayor Peggy Smith] said.

    Thanks were given by the speakers at the event to the sponsors of the state resolution which created the Eisenhower Reach, state Rep. Randy Baumgardner and state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson. The resolution passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives without a single nay vote, according to Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited…

    The dedication was lighthearted and fun, but the elephant in the room seemed to be the Moffat Firming Project. Denver Water’s Moffat Firming Project has been in the works since 2003, and the approval process is nearing completion, according to Klancke…

    Trout Unlimited is not totally opposed to supplying more water to the Denver area; however, they are asking for certain mitigation efforts to be undertaken if the Moffat Project is approved…

    The proposed mitigations Trout Unlimited wants to see as part of the deal include:

    • Management of water supply to ensure adequate flows with seasonal flushing to clear out sediment and to keep the temperature of the river cool;

    • Funding to deepen the river channels and add streamside plants for shade;

    • Intensive monitoring of the river and aquatic life in order to prevent and respond to negative changes in trout and other aquatic species;

    • And a bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to help restore the Colorado River’s flow and overall health below the Windy Gap Dam (to offset reduced flows from Windy Gap diversions).

    More Fraser River coverage here and here.


    ‘Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water’ — Alan Hamel

    June 10, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    “We have to protect the water we have, as well as provide water for endangered species,” said Alan Hamel, executive director of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and a member of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “Oil shale development would involve intensive use of water, particularly for use in power generation.” Last month, the Pueblo water board and other members of the Front Range Water Council weighed in on the Bureau of Reclamation’s environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands…

    The Front Range Water Council includes the major organizations that import water from the Colorado River: Denver Water, the Northern and Southeastern Colorado water conservancy districts, Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. and the Pueblo water board. Collectively, they provide water to 4 million people, 82 percent of the population in Colorado.

    More Front Range Water Council coverage here and here.


    Glenwood Springs: Council approves the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement

    June 9, 2012

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    From The Aspen Times (John Stroud):

    Glenwood Springs City Council voted 5-1 at its Thursday meeting to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The vote came more than a month after the proposal was first presented for council’s consideration.

    “It’s unheard of that so many entities are willing to talk about what works for everyone,” Councilman Stephen Bershenyi said, in favor of signing onto the agreement.

    Added Mayor Matt Steckler, “It’s not perfect, but this is something we have been working on for over a year. I don’t see what not signing it is going to do.”

    Councilman Dave Sturges dissented, saying he supports the efforts to reach an agreement on the use of Colorado River water. But he felt the agreement fell short in some areas and that the public had not had an adequate opportunity to weigh in.[ed. True, the agreement was hammered out under Non-Disclosure agreements amongst the parties.] “We’re not under the gun to act on this,” Sturges said. “There are still some questions, and I think the public ought to assist us in how we view those questions.”

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    The Denver Post editorial board weighs in on the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement

    May 20, 2012

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    From The Denver Post:

    One of the linchpins is that Denver Water, which serves more than 1.3 million customers on the Front Range, gets approval for the expansion of Gross Reservoir near Boulder. The utility needs the project so it may ensure adequate water for customers on the northern edge of its service area…

    The agreement calls for Western Slope parties to not oppose — and in some cases support — the Moffat Collection System project, which includes the reservoir expansion.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    Denver Water, Grand and Summit counties sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement

    May 19, 2012

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    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Gov. John Hickenlooper presided over a ceremonial signing of agreements among Denver Water, Grand and Summit counties and the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Co. on Tuesday in Hot Sulphur Springs.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Denver Water: ‘A historic moment for Colorado water’

    May 16, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

    Leaders from Grand and Summit counties, Denver Water and the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Co. — entities that for decades battled in court over water — stood today with Gov. John Hickenlooper and signed the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, changing the way water will be managed in Colorado.

    The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement is the product of years of negotiations, and ultimately included more than 40 parties stretching from Grand Junction to the Denver metro area. The historic agreement is the largest of its kind in the history of the state. It shifts Colorado away from a path of conflict to a path of cooperation and collaboration in managing the state’s water resources.

    Signatories described the agreement as a meaningful way forward to protect the Colorado River.

    “Our goal through the whole negotiation was to be better off tomorrow than we are today with our water resources,” said Grand County Commissioner Nancy Stuart.

    “The collaborative spirit is alive and well in Colorado,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “This is a state where we get things done. From farmers and families to businesses and wildlife, this agreement will help protect Colorado’s water and is a testament to how collaboration can overcome even long-standing differences in managing this vital resource.”

    The comprehensive agreement focuses on significantly enhancing the environmental health of Colorado’s rivers and streams, as well as supporting many West Slope cities, towns, counties and water providers as they work to improve water quality and quantity of water through new municipal projects and river management initiatives.

    “This is a new way of developing water in Colorado,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “Only through cooperative effort can we do the right thing for the resource.”

    “The agreement we sign today marks the beginning of a new era of inter-regional cooperation with one broad goal: a brighter and more sustainable future for Colorado,” said Penfield Tate, vice president, Denver Board of Water Commissioners. “Today, we are saying there is a better way — a way that will make the Colorado River and its tributaries healthier, ensure a more reliable water supply for our customers, and that will develop and use water in a way that protects and improves the environment and benefits all users from the West Slope to the Front Range.”

    In exchange for environmental enhancements, including financial support for municipal water projects and providing additional water supply and service area restrictions, the agreement, with the required mitigation, will remove opposition to Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project.

    “This agreement honors the recognition that protecting water resources and tourism in our headwaters counties also protects the entire state of Colorado’s economy,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier.

    Bill Baum, president of the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Company, said: “Since 1992, Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Company has been a monument to what cooperation can achieve. Governmental entities and private industry have worked together through Clinton to provide a source of water for the residents of Summit and Grand County, for the visitors who are our economic lifeblood, and for the industry that provides the resources that allows all of us to live and play in this magnificent part of Colorado.” He continued: “Twenty years later, this new cooperative agreement carries on and extends that spirit of collaboration to a wider group and a new century. Clinton is pleased to be a part of it, and we will all be better off as a result of it.”

    The entities also signed on to the “Learning by Doing” process, by which Denver Water, Grand County, the Colorado River District, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District and others will use the flexibility in Denver Water’s water system to manage flows for the benefit of the environment in Grand County.

    In addition to today’s signatories, the agreement has been signed by Eagle County, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Eagle Park Reservoir Company. Other West Slope entities are expected to sign in the near future.

    From the Denver Business Journal:

    “The collaborative spirit is alive and well in Colorado,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “This is a state where we get things done. From farmers and families to businesses and wildlife, this agreement will help protect Colorado’s water and is a testament to how collaboration can overcome even long-standing differences in managing this vital resource.”

    The agreement specifies that any new water project by Denver Water in the Colorado River Basin will be developed only in cooperation with those entities impacted by the development.

    Other provisions of the agreement:

    • Additional water for towns, districts and ski areas in Grand and Summit counties to serve the needs of residents and to improve the health of rivers and streams.

    • An agreement to operate key Denver Water facilities, such as Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, and Williams Fork Reservoir and the Moffat Collection System in Grand County, in a way that better addresses the needs and concerns of neighboring communities and enhances the river environment.

    • Greater certainty for Denver Water to develop future water resources for its customers by resolving long-standing disputes over its service territory, its ability to use West Slope water, its ability to develop future water supplies in the Colorado River Basin, and other legal issues.

    • Additional water and enhanced system reliability for customers of Denver Water, representing nearly 25 percent of the state’s population, by moving forward the Moffat Collection System Project.

    • Agreement by all partners to not oppose Denver’s storage of its Blue River and Moffat Project water on the Front Range.

    • Reinforcement of the priority and increased conservation and reuse within Denver Water’s service area.

    • Improves the health of Colorado’s rivers and streams by dedicating funds to pay for watershed, water treatment and aquatic habitat improvements in the Colorado River Basin.

    • Changes in water management associated with the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon that preserves historic flows in the middle and lower Colorado River.

    A key part of the agreement allows Denver Water to move ahead with the Moffat Collection System Project to address shortages like the one that occurred in the drought of 2002, when the north end of the system nearly ran dry.

    “It is critical to the Denver region that this project moves forward,” said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver. “I applaud Denver Water and all of the signatories for their dedication to settling old conflicts and coming together to the benefit of our quality of life and economy.”

    From email from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    Statement by Trout Unlimited on Denver Water Cooperative Agreement:

    Colorado Trout Unlimited today praised the Cooperative Agreement to be signed Tuesday, May 15 in Hot Sulphur Springs by Denver Water, west slope officials and other stakeholders, but cautioned that additional measures are needed to protect the Upper Colorado River ecosystem.

    “The Cooperative Agreement shows that by working together, we can find ways to meet our water needs while protecting our natural resources,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “But the job isn’t finished. It’s important to remember that this agreement does not cover the future impacts of Denver Water’s proposed Moffat Tunnel expansion on the Fraser River Basin, nor does it address the combined impacts of the Moffat Tunnel expansion and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project on the Upper Colorado.” Collectively, these diversion projects will take another 15-20 percent of the flows of the Upper Colorado River, which is already significantly impacted by water diversions. Unless the impacts of these new projects are mitigated, the river habitat will continue to decline, according to the state’s own studies.

    “The Colorado River is still very much a river at risk,” said Whiting. ”We call on Gov. Hickenlooper, Denver Water, Northern and other key players to follow through on this achievement by securing a package of protections that offsets these looming impacts on the Upper Colorado.”

    For more info: http://www.defendthecolorado.org

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

    Against a backdrop of an intensifying mountain drought, Hickenlooper said this year’s dry conditions magnify the need for cooperative solutions and highlight the fragility of the state’s rivers in the face of possible climate change impacts and increasing demand from a growing population. “Some of our watersheds are reporting the driest conditions in our recorded history … this puts Colorado on a better footing, with more secure water sources both for headwaters counties and Denver,” Hickenlooper said.

    Most importantly for Denver Water, Summit and Grand counties agree not to oppose a plan to expand diversions from the West Slope through the Moffat Tunnel Collection System, a project that, in its present form, is still bitterly opposed by conservation and river advocacy groups.

    In return, the headwaters counties get some assurances on flows, as well as money for mitigation and enhancements. All the agreement documents are online at the Colorado River District website. Denver Water also agrees not to expand its service area and to increase water recycling and storage for reuse.

    More coverage from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper joked that the water wars have now been scaled back to “rubber bullets and bean bag shotguns.” He said he hoped other similar deals would be worked out across Colorado, where 80 percent of the water comes from west of the Continental Divide but 80 percent of the demand is in the more populous east.

    “Colorado is the ultimate beneficiary,” he said.

    Denver Water — which serves about 1.3 million people in the Denver area — and nearly three dozen Western Slope water users announced the proposal last year. Eagle County and its water districts became the first to sign in February. The endorsement of the cities of Rifle and Glenwood Springs and some irrigation districts is still pending.

    Under the deal, Denver Water will contribute $25 million to western Colorado projects and limit its service area. In return, the signers won’t oppose Denver Water’s proposal to hold more mountain water in Gross Reservoir…

    In Summit County, home of the utility’s largest reservoir, Denver Water agreed to pay $11 million for projects including improvements to a wastewater treatment plant and to provide 250 acre-feet of water to districts and towns for free. Denver Water also plans to keep Dillon Reservoir full enough to support summer boating and fishing.

    More coverage from KUNC (Kirk Siegler). From the article:

    “This agreement solidifies and shows a new way of doing water business in Colorado,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newbury. Newbury spoke at a signing ceremony in Hot Sulpher Springs that included Governor John Hickenlooper, the head of the Colorado River District and others.

    More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News via the Summit Daily News. From the article:

    The signing took place more than one year after Gov. John Hickenlooper last visited Grand County, when he first rolled out the Colorado Cooperative Agreement, deemed an unprecedented water agreement for our time. The agreement aims to settle years of East and West Slope water disputes. “I’m not sure the fighting’s ever going to completely stop,” Hickenlooper said…

    Denver Water’s Moffat Firming Project and its goal to enlarge Gross Reservoir to divert more water from the West Slope, plus its 2006 diligence application in federal court regarding water rights under the Blue River decree, sparked negotiations in an arena when litigation and political disputes between Colorado’s West and East Slopes were ripe with potential. A mediator was hired in 2007 under then-Denver Mayor Hickenlooper’s advisement, and as many as 35 parties from the Front Range to the western state line joined in to try and resolve some of the state’s longest-standing water issues.

    The result is a 50- page document, plus pages upon pages of legal attachments, that spells out water resolutions or “enhancements” for the Fraser and Blue rivers, certain tributaries and the upper and middle rivers of the Colorado River to the Grand Valley…

    Besides $11 million in Denver Water dollars promised to address some river issues specifically in Grand County, with more dollars for Summit and Eagle counties, the agreement highlights the importance of the Shoshone Power Plant to the entire Western Slope. The plant, which has been around since 1902, “puts a demand on the stream,” according to Eric Kuhn, executive director of the Colorado River District, during an annual State of the River meeting last week. “When it puts a demand on the stream, water is released from Wolford to Green Mountain and from Williams Fork (reservoirs). All that water reaches Kremmling and runs downstream and provides stability,” he said. “The thing we’ve been concerned about is the 110 year-old plant has started to behave like a 100 year-old plant. We’ve asked, and Denver has agreed … to operate its system like the plant was operating, so we wouldn’t put a hole in the river. That hole in the river causes problems for irrigators, causes problems for fishing and causes problems for rafting.”

    The agreement is also poised to settle a Green Mountain Reservoir administration dispute, which has been brewing since 1955, according to Kuhn, as well as the Blue River Decree settlement. And in the agreement, Denver Water set its service area so that it does not become a conduit for expansion on the Front Range.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Hot Sulphur Springs: Denver Water along with Grand and Summit counties to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement today

    May 15, 2012

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    From the Associated Press via The Aspen Times:

    Denver Water and the leaders of Grand and Summit counties are set to sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement at noon Tuesday in Hot Sulphur Springs. Denver Water and nearly three dozen Western Slope water users announced the proposal last year. Eagle County and its water districts became the first to sign in February. The endorsement of the cities of Rifle and Glenwood Springs and some irrigation districts is still pending.

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    Denver Water, et al: A historic moment for Colorado water — Signing of historic agreement for cooperative water management and supply

    May 10, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

    WHO: Governor John Hickenlooper; Grand County Commissioners James Newberry, Nancy Stuart Gary Bumgarner; Penfield Tate, Denver Water Commissioner; Summit County Commissioners Dan Gibbs, Karn Stiegelmeier; William J. Baum, Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Co.; Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District, General Manager.

    WHAT: Leaders from Grand County, Summit County, Denver Water and the Clinton Ditch & Reservoir Co. will sign the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. This unprecedented agreement achieves better environmental health for the Colorado River Basin, maintains high-quality recreational use and improves economics for many cities, counties and businesses impacted by the river. The agreement is the result of five years of negotiations.

    WHEN: Tuesday, May 15, 2012, noon

    WHERE: Grand County Administration Building, 308 Byers Ave., Hot Sulphur Springs, CO 80451

    More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


    Colorado TU Gives Conservation Award to Grand County

    May 9, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    Colorado Trout Unlimited today announced that Grand County government – led by County Commissioners Gary Bumgarner, James Newberry, and Nancy Stuart – is the recipient of TU’s 2012 Trout Conservation Award for its work protecting the Upper Colorado River watershed in the face of Front Range water diversions and other threats.

    The award is presented each year to recognize outstanding achievements in conserving Colorado rivers and trout habitat.

    “I have never seen a local government place the level of attention, resources, and overall emphasis on river conservation as has been the case with Grand County over the past five years,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Commissioners Bumgarner, Newberry and Stuart, and County Manager Lurline Curran, have worked tirelessly to preserve healthy river flows along with the wildlife, local communities, and quality of life that depend on them. They have been true champions for the Colorado headwaters.”

    “As a resident of Grand County for 40 years, and as a father who wants his children and their children to experience the same natural wonders that I’ve enjoyed here over the years, I am deeply appreciative of the unified effort from our commissioners and staff in their fight to save our rivers and lakes,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of TU. “I am proud of my county for having courageous leaders like these, who are an example to all of the Davids that are facing Goliaths.”

    Nickum called Grand County “a longstanding and valued partner” with Trout Unlimited in working to protect and restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. He noted that Grand County officials have invested more than $3 million into assessing and addressing the needs of its rivers, and spent thousands of hours negotiating with Front Range water users and advocating to federal permitting agencies for better protections for the Upper Colorado River watershed.

    Among other accomplishments in the past year, Grand County (along with other west slope governments and Denver Water) unveiled a historic “cooperative agreement” that includes many important benefits for the Colorado River and its tributaries, including millions of dollars for river restoration and environmental enhancement; 1,000 acre-feet of water to help with low flows in the Fraser River watershed; guarantees that the vital Shoshone call continues to operate in the future to keep water in the Colorado River year-round; and an agreement that any future transbasin projects will only be pursued with the consent of the West Slope. The agreement is also important in establishing a stakeholder partnership called “Learning by Doing” to provide ongoing monitoring of river health to ensure adequate protection measures.

    Grand County has also worked with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to use Windy Gap pumping capabilities to re-manage some “excess” water for the benefit of flows in the Colorado River and has filed for a Recreational In Channel Diversion to help support a new in-river water right on the Colorado mainstem.

    Moreover, Grand County leaders are negotiating with Northern for enhanced funding for river restoration projects—including a needed bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to improve Colorado River habitat—and additional water for use in Grand County to boost flows and river health. Grand County is also promoting an agreement to release water for endangered fish in the downstream Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir – thereby benefiting the Colorado through miles of key trout habitat – instead of releases solely from Ruedi Reservoir, as has been done in the past.

    For all the progress in recent years, the health of the Upper Colorado River ecosystem will continue to decline unless further protections are put in place to address looming impacts from two new Front Range diversion projects, Denver’s Moffat Tunnel expansion and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project. Nickum noted that EPA recently issued recommendations that supported Grand County and TU’s case for stronger mitigation on the Windy Gap Firming Project.

    “Grand County officials understand that the Colorado headwaters are the lifeblood of their communities and of our state’s tourism economy and outdoor quality of life,” said Nickum. “They have set an example for our public leaders of what strong river stewardship looks like.”

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Fraser: Part of the Fraser River may be designated as the ‘Eisenhower Memorial Reach’

    April 22, 2012

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    Back when I was a kid I remember folks talking about how much President Eisenhower loved fishing the Fraser River. We thought it was cool that he came to Colorado once in a while. His wife Mamie spent part of her time growing up in Denver and Colorado Springs. Here’s a report about the proposed “Eisenhower Memorial Reach” from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    State Rep. Randy Baumgardner (R-Cowdrey), is sponsering the bill that could authorize the Colorado Department of Transportation to accept and expend gifts, grants, donations and federal funds for sign placement on US Highway 40 in downtown Fraser, directing motorists to the river’s newly designated “point of interest.”[...]

    The effort to designate the Fraser River’s two-mile stretch from the bridge-crossing at Rendezvous Road to the bridge-crossing at County Road 8 was spearheaded by the Grand County chapter of Trout Unlimited. TU plans to pay for additional signage to direct visitors to the Eisenhower statue along the river and to talk about the river designation, according to chapter president Kirk Klancke of Fraser. The designation, Klancke said, “is to draw attention to the fact that the Fraser River is a pristine environment, pristine enough to have drawn the leader of the free world back in the ’50s.”

    Naming this reach of the Fraser after 34th president Dwight David Eisenhower makes a “historical and political statement,” Klancke said. River advocates hope the resolution highlights “what’s being sacrificed for the sake of municipal water supplies,” he said…

    According to a draft of the resolution, Eisenhower first made his way to Byers Peak Ranch in the Fraser Valley as late as 1952 and returned each year until his heart attack in 1955. Eisenhower enjoyed fishing in the Fraser River and its tributary St. Louis Creek, which he referred to as his “home water” when visiting Colorado.

    More Fraser River coverage here and here.


    Don’t suck the Colorado River dry billboard part of grassroots campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River

    March 16, 2012

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    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Schofield):

    A coalition of river advocates has unveiled a billboard on I-70 that highlights the threat to the upper Colorado River from massive water diversions to the Front Range—diversions that are sucking the life out of the upper Colorado and degrading irreplaceable mountain areas where many Coloradans love to fish, hunt, and recreate.

    The billboard is part of a larger grassroots campaign that is rallying Coloradans to help protect this popular western slope recreation destination.

    The billboard, in the foothills of Golden near the 470 exit, shows a state flag image being drained of water and warns, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.” The message will reach an estimated 180,000 people each day who travel this major east-west corridor.

    “Coloradans need to know that the health of the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers is jeopardized by these water diversions,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “We’re asking our state leaders to step up and finish the job of protecting these special places.”

    For years, large-scale water diversions to Denver and the Front Range have severely depleted and at times nearly sucked dry entire stretches of the upper Colorado River and its tributaries, including the Fraser River. The low flows and higher temperatures have caused dramatic declines in fish and other benchmarks of aquatic health. Low flows have also contributed to the spread of smothering silt and choking algae.

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    The billboard is aimed at the tens of thousands of Front Range residents who travel up I-70 each week to hike, ski, fish, raft and play on the West Slope. Outdoor recreation is a $10 billion a year business in the state, supporting 107,000 jobs and generating nearly $500 million in state tax revenues. Many towns in the Fraser and upper Colorado River valleys depend heavily on outdoor tourism for their economic health.

    “It’s important that Front Range residents understand the seriousness of these diversion impacts and show their support for healthy rivers,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We can meet our water needs while preserving our rivers, but that will only happen with stronger protections for the Upper Colorado.”

    Gov. Hickenlooper and other state leaders have a responsibility to protect these rivers and the state recreation economy that depends on them, said Peternell.
    A 2011 state study that showed stronger measures were needed to keep the upper Colorado system healthy. Moreover, in a recent letter citing that study, the EPA called for a “more robust monitoring and mitigation plan” for the Windy Gap proposal.

    The groups are calling on state and federal officials to support stronger protection measures for the upper Colorado, including higher spring flushing flows and a monitoring plan for the river.

    “We’re asking Gov. Hickenlooper to speak up for the Colorado River,” said Peternell. “He has an opportunity to be a hero for the river.”

    In response to the campaign, thousands of Coloradans have raised their voices for river protection. The Defend the Colorado website features a “Voices of the River” gallery profiling Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their concern for the river. Moreover, thousands of Coloradans and more than 400 businesses have signed petitions asking state leaders to protect the rivers and state tourism.

    “These are special places,” said Jon Kahn, owner of Confluence Kayaks in Denver. “Many Coloradans live here because of our state’s magnificent rivers and recreation opportunities. That quality of life is at risk unless our leaders act.”

    To learn more about diversion impacts on the river and how you can raise your voice to help, go to www.defendthecolorado.org

    More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

    From all the feel-good language about a global solution and Front Range-West Slope collaboration, you’d never know that there’s a bitter war being waged over what’s left of the Colorado River. A coalition of river advocates hopes to cast a spotlight on the fight with a new billboard going up along I-70, where mountain-bound travelers will see the bold message, “Don’t Suck the Upper Colorado River Dry.”[...]

    At issue is a pair of planned new diversions, based on existing water rights, by Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District that would further deplete the Colorado River’s native flows.

    Northern’s Windy Gap firming project would divert water through the Colorado-Big Thompson system to a proposed new reservoir on the northern Front Range, southwest of Loveland.

    Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project would produce 18,000 acre-feet of new supply by expanding Gross Reservoir, near Boulder.

    Both projects are under review, and Colorado has developed mitigation plans that address at least some of the potential impacts. The state’s water establishment claims the mitigation plans will not only protect the Colorado River from new impacts, but actually improve existing conditions. Environmental advocates are skeptical, and are asking for additional specific mitigation and monitoring, and recently got some backing from the EPA, which pointed out weaknesses in the proposed mitigation plans…

    River advocates warn that the proposed expansions of the Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap diversion projects could push the upper Colorado ecosystem to the brink of collapse unless environmental mitigation plans for the projects contain stronger flow protections for the rivers. Those proposals are currently in the final stages of permitting and under review by federal regulators.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?

    December 25, 2011

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    Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

    Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

    We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.

    The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

    The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

    That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

    More Colorado River basin coverage here.


    Windy Gap Firming: Recently released final EIS acknowledges potential declines in streamflow in the Upper Colorado River basin

    December 7, 2011

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    From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

    Even more worrisome to conservation advocates are the projected declines in summer flows. Below Windy Gap Reservoir, July flows could drip by as much as 20 percent, according to the Bureau’s study, which also acknowledged that extensive mitigation measures will be needed to protect West Slope aquatic ecoystems…

    But the proposed mitigation falls short of what’s needed to protect the Upper Colorado, according to Trout Unlimited, a cold-water fisheries conservation group.

    Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

    A new federal report on the environmental impacts of a plan to expand the Windy Gap water diversion project in Colorado falls short of recommending what’s needed to protect the fragile Upper Colorado River, according to Trout Unlimited.

    The Final Environmental Impact Statement, released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Nov. 30, outlines the anticipated effects of the proposed project and recommends needed mitigation.

    “This new document is an improvement over the previous version in that it acknowledges the Windy Gap project will worsen conditions in the Upper Colorado River and Grand Lake unless measures are taken,” said Drew Peternell, executive director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. However, the mitigation proposed by the bureau falls far short of what is needed and critical problems continue to be ignored. We urge the Bureau to require additional protective measures to preserve this irreplaceable natural resource.”

    “Trout Unlimited’s concerns with the Environmental Impact Statement are echoed by the Upper Colorado River Alliance, a nonprofit group that is also seeking to require more mitigation to protect the river,” said Boulder attorney Steven J. Bushong, a representative of the Alliance.

    The report comes out as Trout Unlimited is launching a petition campaign to protect the Upper Colorado River and its tributary, the Fraser River, and the mountain communities, businesses, people and wildlife that depend on them. The petition campaign, based online at DefendTheColorado.org, is being spearheaded by Trout Unlimited to engage advocates for the iconic but threatened rivers. The website allows advocates to sign on to a petition that will be delivered to decision makers before the bureau makes a final decision on the Windy Gap project. That decision is expected in early January.

    “The good news is that the Bureau of Reclamation’s Environmental Impact Statement says additional mitigation measures may be added before the agency makes a final decision. That highlights the importance of taking action to stand up for the river now,” Peternell said.

    Already 60 percent of the Upper Colorado is diverted to supply Front Range water users. The Windy Gap proposal, along with a separate Moffat Tunnel water project, could divert as much as 80 percent of the Upper Colorado’s natural flows. According to Trout Unlimited, steps must be taken to protect the rivers including:

    · Managing the water supply to keep the rivers cool, clear and healthy.
    · Funding to deepen river channels and create streamside shade.
    · Monitoring of the rivers’ health and a commitment to take action if needed to protect them.
    · Bypassing the Windy Gap dam to reconnect Colorado River and restore river quality.

    “The Final Environmental Impact Statement continues to ignore existing problems that will be made much worse by the Windy Gap project,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “A study released by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife earlier this year shows that entire populations of native fish and the insects they feed on have all but disappeared from the Colorado River below the Windy Gap Reservoir. The state study blames the reservoir and the lack of spring flows that clean sediments from the stream beds and warns that expansion of the Windy Gap project poses additional threats to the health of the river and the aquatic life in it.” See http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/op/wqcc/Hearings/Rulemaking/93/Responsive/93rphsTUexG.pdf

    The Windy Gap project also impacts the health of Grand Lake. “Grand Lake – once a pristine lake of dramatic clarity and scenic beauty – has become cloudy, weedy and silty because of diversion water pumped into the lake from Shadow Mountain reservoir,” said John Stahl of the Greater Grand Lake Shoreline Association. “Nothing in the FEIS mitigation plan is helpful in addressing the existing problems–at best it maintains the status quo while more likely creating even bigger problems.”

    The Environmental Impact Statement indicates that the Bureau of Reclamation will monitor to ensure that mitigation is adequate and will impose additional measures if necessary. “That’s helpful but needs to be more clearly articulated. Another critical addition is the construction of a bypass around the Windy Gap dam,” Eberle added.

    The DefendTheColorado.org campaign highlights the people who depend on the rivers.

    “The Colorado and Fraser rivers aren’t just bodies of water, they are the lifeblood for wildlife, local communities and the state’s recreation economy,” Eberle said. “But many Coloradans are unaware that these rivers are on the brink of collapse because of diversions. DefendTheColorado.org’s purpose is twofold – to raise awareness about the threats facing the Colorado and Fraser and to give people a way to stand up for our rivers.”

    Eberle added, “We can’t afford to let these rivers literally go down the drain.”

    A new feature of the website called “Voices of the Fraser” profiles local Fraser Valley residents and visitors who speak eloquently about their connection to the Fraser River and the need to preserve healthy flows. Among the individuals profiled are Olympic skier Liz McIntyre, logger Hoppe Southway and landscape artist Karen Vance.

    “It would be a shame to see any of these tributaries dry up just for the sake of developing the Front Range,” said Southway in his profile. “It’s the water my children and grandchildren are going to want to see someday, and I hope it’s protected for future generations.”

    Visitors to the site also have added their voices about why the river is important to them.

    “I have fished and hiked the Fraser and Upper Colorado river regions for over 30 years and am deeply saddened by the degradation of these great watersheds,” a Golden, Colo., resident wrote.

    A Bonita Springs, Florida, resident wrote: “I LOVE fishing that stretch of water and find such a simple peace of being in that area. Please don’t mess with such a special place.”

    “As a visitor and fisherman to Colorado on a regular basis, my tourist dollars help the local communities,” noted a resident of Blue Springs, Missouri.

    More Windy Gap Firming Project coverage here and here.


    DefendTheColorado.org website launches to build awareness of upper Colorado River basin streamflow issues

    November 6, 2011

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    Say hello to DefendTheColorado.org, a new website designed to connect interested people and raise awareness of the issues around transbasin diversions from the Upper Colorado River here in Colorado. Here’s a report from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

    For the Trout Unlimted Project, [Editorial Photographer and Videographer Ted Wood of Story Group, Boulder] brought in Boulder colleagues Beth Wald, a photojournalist who of late has been covering environmental and cultural stories in Afghanistan, and Mark Conlin, a seasoned underwater photographer.

    “We launched the project as a way to get more visibility of the stream-flow issues on the Fraser and Upper Colorado,” said Trout Unlimited’s Randy Schoefield. “What we’re trying to portray is the community’s deep connection to the river.”

    The Story Group plans to add more portraits to the website in coming days and weeks. Eventually, Trout Unlimited hopes to host public events that display the portraits as well as work by other photographers, granting a full sense of the river’s significance in Grand County and the consequences of further transbasin diversions.

    Click on the thumbnail graphic above and to the right for a map of Denver Water’s collection system. More Colorado River basin coverage here.


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