Recently executed agreement designed to increase river health in the Upper #ColoradoRiver and Fraser River

March 26, 2014
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Grand County is that part of the snow-rich Western Slope most proximate to the farms and cities of the Front Range. It juts like a thumb eastward, the most easterly point of the Pacific drainage in North America.

As such, it became a target, early and often, of transmountain diversions. The first major diversion across the Continental Divide was completed in 1890 and the last, located at Windy Gap, where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado, in 1985. Several others, more audacious in scale, came between.

Taken together, these great engineering achievements annually draw 60 percent or more of the native flows of this headwater region eastward, over and through the Continental Divide. The water delivered to cities between Denver and Fort Collins have made them among the most vibrant in the country, and the water that flows to farms as far east as Julesberg, hundreds of miles away, among the nation’s most productive.

But this achievement has had a hidden cost that became more apparent in recent years. Combined with the frequent drought since 2000, the depletions have left the Colorado River shallow and warm as it flows through Middle Park. It is, according to environmental advocates, a river on the edge of ecological collapse, unable to support sculpin, trout, and other fish…

Now come new efforts, the most recent announced earlier this month, to bring the Colorado River and its tributaries back from this brink.

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…

David Taussig, a native of Grand County and now the county’s water attorney, working from the 16th Street firm of White & Jankowski in downtown Denver, also sees the agreement as a model. “Nobody knows what (the agreements) will look like, but there are ways to develop things that benefit the Western Slope,” he says.

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…

Under terms of this agreement, however, Denver Water is required to spend $10 million in direct costs in Grand County.

A major concern on the Fraser River is higher temperatures caused by more shallow flows, harmful or even deadly to fish. The money would go to such things as temperature-monitoring stations, to track how warm the Fraser is getting in summer months.

In places, creeks and the Fraser River will be rechanneled. A river with 75 percent of its flows diminished over a year’s cycle has less need for width. Instead, it needs a narrower course, to allow more depth and hence the colder water needed for aquatic life. Such work was already started several years ago on a segment near the Safeway store in Fraser.

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…

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…

Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited, says the new deal builds on both the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Windy Gap settlements. They mesh together and, downstream from Windy Gap, should have great benefit.

The weakness is that in the Fraser Valley, there is little existing baseline data. “We don’t have a very good grasp on either what we have lost or what we may lose in the future,” she says. “We know there have been declines, but don’t have nearly as much information (as below Windy Gap). So the effort will be to develop a strong baseline and get a strong understanding of what is going on up there.”

At the end of the day it is a compromise, and Whiting admits that not all environmentalists are thrilled.

“On my side of the equation, when I talk to people in the conservation community, some people want language that nails Denver to the ground, so that they have no wiggle room. They want things very predictable,” she says.

“This Learning by Doing agreement is not extremely predictable,” she added. “We have some basic parameters. There are three ways we are going to measure, to monitor to make sure the values of the streams aren’t going down.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


RMNP plans to restore the Lulu City wetland

February 20, 2014
Grand Ditch

Grand Ditch

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

According to National Park Service officials, the 47,600 cubic-yard debris flow changed the river channel, deposited a large debris fan, increased sedimentation in the Colorado River, degraded ecosystems and damaged the aesthetics of a wilderness area. Because the area now contains more sediment and debris that it would under natural conditions, had the man-made canal never existed and never breached its bank, the Park began exploring solutions for restoration.

On Feb. 12, Park representatives announced the availability of their “Record of Decision,” which selected the referred alternative from the Environmental Impact Statement guiding the restoration process. Plans are to remove large debris deposits from the alluvial fan in the Lulu City wetland, stabilizing slopes and banks and restoring the Lulu City wetland by removing debris piles. Some small-scale motorized equipment will be used in the stabilization and revegetation efforts, and large equipment will be used to remove debris deposits and reconfigure the Colorado River through the Lulu City wetland.

According to a Park statement, there will be “short-term, adverse impacts on natural soundscape, wilderness, water resources, weltands, visitor use and experience, and wildlife from restoration activities and the use of mechanized equipment.” The long-term benefits, however, will be the high-level restoration to the area. At this time, he Park does not have any information regarding when restoration activities will begin.

A copy of the Record of Decision is available online at http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/romo or by calling 970-586-1206.


CSU Sponsors First Poudre River Forum Feb. 8

January 21, 2014
Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre River

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Jennifer Dimas):

The Cache la Poudre River is life-blood for Northern Colorado. In recognition of its importance to the area, the community is invited to the first Poudre River Forum, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland. The forum, “The Poudre: Working River/Healthy River,” will focus on all of the river’s stakeholders, representing perspectives from agricultural, municipal, business, recreational and environmental backgrounds. Topics to be discussed include:

• The water rights of agricultural and municipal diverters;
• Where the water in the Poudre comes from and what it does for us;
• Ecological factors such as flow, temperature, fish and sedimentation.

The forum will feature presentations and dialogue, including remarks by State Supreme Court Justice Greg Hobbs about how the Poudre itself was the site of early conflict and cooperation leading to the development of the doctrine of prior appropriation in the West, and how water law has evolved in recent years.

Following the event, a celebration of the river will be held until 6 p.m. with refreshments and jazz by the Poudre River Irregulars.

Pre-registration is required by Jan. 31. The cost is $25; students 18 and under are free and scholarships are available. To register, visit http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/thepoudrerunsthroughit

The event is sponsored by The Poudre Runs Through It Study/Action Work Group facilitated by CSU’s Colorado Water Institute.

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


Cache la Poudre River: Fort Collins Utilities tour recap

August 3, 2013

cachelapoudrehighparkpollutionusdaseptember2012.jpg

From the North Forty News (Dan MacArthur):

Sponsored by Fort Collins Utilities Services, the July tour took participants through forests scorched by the High Park Fire to learn about the special challenges of treating water laden with ash and sediment flowing from charred slopes.

From there it moved to the top of Cameron Pass, where the Upper Cache la Poudre River watershed begins. A stop at the Gateway Natural Area on the return trip offered the opportunity to identify the microscopic bacteria in the river that could make one dance a more frantic jig were they not intercepted before flowing from our taps.

“Basically the reason (Fort Collins) was founded was water,” explained Clyde Greenwood. The utility and water supply supervisor serves as the utility’s resident historian.

Greenwood said Fort Collins was fortunate in that there were no mines in the Poudre Canyon watershed. A watershed is the territory that drains into a body of water.

“Fort Collins is a unique town with pristine water,” he said…

Fort Collins takes half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson project’s Horsetooth Reservoir. The other half comes from the Poudre. As a result of quality problems caused by the fire, water supply engineer Adam Jokerst said last year the city took no water from the Poudre for 100 days and depended solely on Horsetooth. This helped the city avoid water restrictions, but reduced the amount of reservoir water it could carry over to this year.

This year, last-minute heavy snows in the high country, the availability of more C-BT water, and the ability to once again take water from the Poudre allowed the city to avoid restrictions, he said.

The main problem plaguing the city’s water supply, he said, is the lack of flexibility with limited reservoir space. “We kind of live from year to year. If we get storage, our system is pretty robust.”

More Cache la Poudre River watershed coverage here and here.


‘Trouble on the Colorado River’ — Fort Collins Coloradoan #ColoradoRiver

May 19, 2013

coloradoriverbasin2012doiviatheaspentimes.jpg

Bobby Magill is a terrific writer. Click here to read his in-depth report on the current state of the Colorado River, running in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado River — the carver of the Grand Canyon and the chaotic stage for river runners in Glenwood, Westwater, Cataract and numerous other canyons — is bridled by urban growth from its headwaters at La Poudre Pass at the Larimer-Grand county border all the way to its dry delta in Mexico…

Top to bottom, the story of the Colorado River is one of a plumbing system for the west’s cities, farms and backyards — a story that is both national in scope and intensely local to Northern Colorado even though the course of the river itself never touches Front Range cities.

The first drops are stolen from the Colorado River by the Grand Ditch, which girdles the Never Summer Mountains near La Poudre Pass, diverting spring snowmelt into the Poudre River for the benefit of farmers far below on the plains.

A few miles south, Colorado River water filling Lake Granby and Grand Lake is piped beneath Rocky Mountain National Park to provide water to Fort Collins, Loveland, Boulder and other cities via the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. That project supplements the water Fort Collins takes from the Poudre River — a lifeline for the city after the High Park Fire dirtied Fort Collins’ Poudre River water.

Denver diverts even more water from the Colorado River, and as ongoing drought leaves the mountain slopes bare of snow, those who rely on the Colorado River farther downstream worry about what the river’s future means for them…

Nearly all Colorado River water managers agree that the river’s headwaters are likely to become hotter and drier as the climate changes, making flows more erratic and less predictable from year to year. So, the problem is this: Because 90 percent of the people who rely on the Colorado River for water live in the Southwest, but 90 percent of its water comes from Colorado and Wyoming’s mountains, the laws of supply and demand on the Colorado River don’t benefit Coloradans.

Sometime down the line — maybe 20 years, maybe 30 or more — Colorado residents may be forced to cut back how much of the river’s water they use if there isn’t enough water in the river basin to give Front Range cities the water they need while sending Colorado’s legal quota of water down the river to Arizona and California, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


A Brief History of the South Platte River Basin

February 10, 2013

Here’s a great use of social media to get the word out about HB12-1278. The YouTube video — produced and directed by Colorado Water Institute, animated by Noah Besser — follows the history of the appropriation and administration of the South Platte River downstream of the mountains.

Good luck implenting HB12-1278 Reagan and team.

Thanks to Coyote Gulch reader Greg from Nebraska for the link.

More South Platte River Basin 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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waterwranglersgeorgesibley2012.jpg

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.


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