The July 2015 Northern Water E-Waternews is hot off the presses

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Supporters Gather at NISP Rally

More than 150 Northern Integrated Supply Project supporters rallied at Northern Water’s headquarters on July 2 to celebrate momentum created by the recent release of the project’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Speakers U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, State Senators Mary Hodge and Jerry Sonnenberg, Chris Smith (Left Hand Water District general manager and NISP participants Committee chairman) and Eric Wilkinson (Northern Water general manager) addressed an enthusiastic audience comprised of NISP participant representatives, mayors, county commissioners, lawmakers and private citizens.

Several speakers warned that without NISP, more farmland will be dried up as water providers find necessary supplies for their needs. The SDEIS studies show this could lead to a dry-up of an additional 100 square miles of irrigated farmland – an area approximately twice the size as the City of Fort Collins.

“That would mean a $400 million loss of agricultural output,” said Gardner. “That is economic devastation. We can’t keep pushing it down the road. The longer this takes, the higher the cost, and the more acres that get dried up,” he added.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project coverage here and here.

CSU releases informational video about NISP and the NEPA process

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

What is NISP? What is a supplemental draft environmental impact statement? Why should I care? Colorado State University is today releasing an animated video to answer those questions – “NISP (and its SDEIS) in a Nutshell.”

NISP is the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project, and the 1500-page Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), released a month ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is part of a federal process to assess the environmental effects of NISP to inform permitting decisions.

CSU hopes the eight-minute video – featuring colorfully animated characters – gives the public a basic understanding of the project and the process. The university has no formal position on the project.

“We produced the video to be an objective resource, knowing that much of what the public hears about the subject comes from either project proponents or opponents, promoting their respective views,” said MaryLou Smith, policy and collaboration specialist with the Colorado Water Institute, part of CSU’s Office of Engagement. “This piece gives the public a foundation from which to dig deeper, if they wish.”

To view the video go to http://www.cwi.colostate.edu/NISP. There are a number of other helpful resources that can be accessed there as well.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.

“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.

Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.

The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.

“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.

“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”

The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.

The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.

Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.

The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Not legally binding

The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”

Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.

But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.

As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.

“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.

The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

A cap on the Colorado?

Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.

A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.

And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.

“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.

The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.

“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.

But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.

“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.

“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”

rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

Vet other projects too?

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.

As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.

“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.

“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.

At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.

“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.

He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.

On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”

But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 25, 2015.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

NISP water project hearing draws support at Greeley hearing — The Greeley Tribune

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of NISP maps.

From The Greeley Tribune (Catherine Sweeney):

A Northern Colorado water project had its second public hearing in Greeley on Thursday night, and speakers were overwhelmingly in favor.

About 150 people attended the meeting for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which aims to cure the region’s water woes by diverting from the Cache la Poudre River via pipeline into two newly constructed reservoirs.

The Army Corps of Engineers held the meeting. The agency is acting as the project’s federal supervisor, making sure it is in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and it will ultimately decide whether the plan will come to fruition.

More than 30 people offered to speak, and less than a handful voiced opposition to the project. Those who spoke in favor — which included local farmers, government officials speaking on behalf of their constituents, water policy experts and environmentalists — were passionate. Some were angry, others on the verge of tears.

The project, which has been in the planning process for 12 years, had its first public meeting in Greeley seven years ago. The Corps had released its first report on the project’s potential environmental impacts. Participants in that meeting and a similar one in Fort Collins raised enough concerns to prompt the Corps to conduct a second report. It was published this year.

In 2008, the Greeley meeting’s speakers were predominantly in favor of the project, according to Tribune reports from the time.

Fort Collins’ speakers were staunchly opposed, said Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway. This time, he said, it was 60-40 in support.

The commissioner chalked it up to two changes since 2008: the Corps’ second environmental report and natural events that have transpired since the last meeting.

He said the second report calmed some fears residents might have had. But more importantly, since 2008, Colorado faced one of the worst droughts in its history, as well as some of the worst floods.

It made people realize the need for a water system like NISP, he said…

Proponents voiced their support for a variety of reasons; fear for future generations’ water needs, the damage of “buy and dry” deals, and the effect of population growth. Opponents were inspired by environmental concerns and lifelong love for the Poudre River.

Josh Cook, a speaker who said he has worked for several water districts, approached the stand with a shaking voice.

“I don’t know what we’ll do without NISP,” he said. “I don’t know where my children are going to get food. I don’t know where farmers are going to get water.”

There is already a water shortage in Colorado, said Conway said in his speech. He was speaking on behalf of the South Platte Roundtable.

The current water gap is estimated at 190,000 to 630,000 acre-feet across Colorado, he said.

The gap illustrates the difference between how much water the state needs and how much is available. One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

NISP is projected to add 40,000 acre-feet to the region’s water supply.

One solution Coloradans have used to cure water shortages is “buy and dry” deals. Here, municipalities and water districts lease land from farmers to use their water.

These arrangements render farmland useless.

U.S. Congressman Ken Buck’s area representative, Wes McElhinny, was one of the many who raised population growth concerns.

“The population has doubled since 1970, but our storage abilities have barely increased,” McElhinny said.

The region is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, and the discrepancy is only going to get worse.

One of the opponents was Gina Jannet, a Fort Collins resident and Save the Poudre member. She raised water quality concerns. Namely, reducing the amount of water in the river could lead to a higher concentration of pollutants.

“What may appear to be modest changes to water quality… can have significant impacts on the bottom line of Fort Collins,” she said.

This was the last open meeting the Corps has scheduled, but the public input period, during which people can write in to the agency, lasts until September 3rd.

The Corps will take about a year to analyze all of that input and public the final environmental impact report, said John Urbanic, a project manager for the Corps. It’ll be another year until a final decision is made.

“We’re feeling confident,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water, which is overlooking the project.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Sentiments on NISP continue to run high — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of NISP maps.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

Disagreement over the proposed Northern Integrated Supply Project and its impact on the Poudre River has not mellowed with time.

Supporters of the project, which would build two new reservoirs, say NISP is needed to meet the future water needs of growing Northern Colorado communities.

Opponents say the project would drain and irreparably harm the river and its ecosystem, especially through Fort Collins.

Both sides turned out in force Wednesday for a public hearing in Fort Collins on a supplemental draft Environment Impact Statement, or EIS, for the project, just as they did when the document was initially released in 2008.

The issues haven’t changed over the years, several speakers noted.

Longtime Fort Collins resident and former City Council member Gina Janett said NISP is about growth, not about saving farmland from being bought and “dried up” by municipalities for water.

Development of irrigated farmland has gone on for decades and will continue, she said.

“The truth is, this project will provide water to buy and develop thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands, the willing sellers will be the farmers in the areas adjacent to the towns … and farms won’t be dried up and remain vacant but will be sold along with their water to developers to build new subdivisions and shopping centers.”

Proponents of the project said the “buy-and-dry” phenomenon is real and threatens to take thousands of acres out of agricultural production.

Bruce Gerk, a farmer from Julesburg, said water from NISP is needed to keep farms and cities viable in Colorado’s arid climate.

“If we are going to have a society that has the surety of water in this desert … then we have to control that resource and we need to do it in a responsible way,” Gerk said. “But we do need storage.”

Fifteen municipalities and water districts are participating in NISP through Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, also known as Northern Water.

The project would yield 40,000 acre feet of water a year to participants. An acre-foot is roughly 325,851 gallons, enough to meet the water needs of three to four urban households for a year.

The draft EIS looks at four alternatives for the project, including a “no action” alternative. The version of NISP preferred by Northern Water is Alternative 2, which would build Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins.

Glade would be a bit larger than Horsetooth Reservoir and inundate the valley through which U.S. Highway 287 currently runs from north of Ted’s Place to a point south of Owl Canyon Road.

Water would be drawn from the Poudre near the mouth of its canyon during times of peak flow, primarily May and June, to fill the reservoir with up to 170,000 acre feet. Seven miles of U.S. 287 would be rebuilt to the east.

Galeton Reservoir would be built east of Ault and draw water from the South Platte River. It would hold about 45,000 acre feet of water.

The project would use new pipelines and existing canals to transfer water and meet requirements for returning water to the rivers.

Opponents of the project maintain the water that would be provided by NISP could be realized through conservation. Another concern is the ecological impact of reduced river flows as water is diverted into reservoirs.

Fort Collins resident Greg Speer said plans for reducing flows in the original draft EIS were “fatally flawed.” The supplement document is no better, he said.

“There are a lot of problems with NISP as well,” he said. “The bottom line is these flows still as projected are fatal for the Poudre.”

Representatives of several communities participating in NISP said they have taken steps to increase their conservation efforts. Dave Lindsay, town manager of Firestone, said the town had reduced its per capita water consumption by 13.5 percent.

“That’s substantial but it’s not enough,” he said.

To have a sustainable future, Colorado needs projects like NISP to store water that otherwise would flow out of the state, he said.

The EIS is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for its production. The EIS process for NISP began in 2004.

Northern Water expects the final EIS to be issued next year, with a decision on the project coming in 2017.

More Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) coverage here and here.

Pro-Con: The Northern Integrated Supply Project — The Fort Collins Coloradoan

Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative
Northern Integrated Supply Project preferred alternative

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Michael D. DiTullio is general manager of Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, a proponent of the Northern Integrated Supply Project. Mark Easter, an opponent, is the board chair for Save the Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper. Here’s what they had to say about the proposal to build two reservoirs that would add 40,000 acre feet of water to the Front Range’s inventory.

Question: Recently released is the Army Corps of Engineers’ nearly 1500-page supplemental draft environmental impact statement for proposed NISP. What do you want community members to know?

DiTullio: The biggest takeaway is that the SDEIS reveals the impacts of the project are minor and can be successfully mitigated. The participants are committed to making sure this project is built in an environmentally responsible manner. For instance, the low-flow augmentation release will increase the flows in the river at the times it is most needed, which is generally through the summer. By building bypass structures at four diversion dams through Fort Collins the project will allow those minimum flows to move downstream and also allow fish passage back upstream. Both of which do not occur today.

Easter: In nearly every aspect, NISP/Glade Reservoir is as bad, or worse than was previously proposed. The SDEIS reveals that NISP/Glade has not fundamentally changed — it would further drain and destroy the Cache la Poudre River, stripping the heart of the June Rise and diverting a huge chunk of the river at the canyon mouth. The Poudre will not survive if NISP/Glade is built. The Poudre would become a silted up, stinking ditch through Fort Collins.

Q: There’s debate about whether Glade Reservoir, if built, would reduce flows in the Poudre River.

DiTullio: This issue has been studied extensively for the past six years, and the results show there will be a small reduction during the spring rise but only when the snow pack is above normal. The biggest take to the river is that the project will provide more water when it is needed most, when the river is at its lowest level. This will provide for a live stream through Fort Collins year-round and to maintain a trout fishery in downtown Fort Collins. No other group or entity have done anything close to cleaning up the river that this project will.

Easter: The Water Resources Technical Report, published with the SDEIS, shows the stark truth — flows below the canyon mouth would be hurt in almost all years. May, June and July flows — the peak flows so critically important to healthy Front Range rivers — would be cut the most, nearly 15 billion gallons in wet years, 3.8 billion gallons in dry years and 6.1 billion gallons on average at the Lincoln Street Bridge.

Q: A lot of people talk about Glade Reservoir and damming the Poudre River as one in the same. Is that correct?

DiTullio: The Glade Reservoir is not a dam on the main stem of the Poudre River. The reservoir is located off stream, making NISP more environmentally friendly. The reservoir will create a new flat water fishery and recreational area that will benefit the citizens of Northern Colorado.

Easter: No matter where you put the reservoir, the result would be the same. The last free-flowing, unallocated water left in the Poudre would be diverted at the canyon mouth, along with an additional 20,000 acre feet per year (6.5 billion gallons) of water typically diverted by farmers downstream. The river downstream suffers identical fates when that water is diverted, regardless of where the water is stored.

Q: With this project, there is so much information to digest. What are falsities you’d like to address?

DiTullio: There are two major misconceptions that are advanced by the opponents to NISP: No. 1. That the project will dam the Poudre River, and No. 2. is the project will cause the Poudre to dry up. The Glade Reservoir will be located in a dry valley north of Ted’s Place and will have minimal impact on the area. Although the project will take water from the river during the spring runoff, it will not cause the Poudre to run dry. To the contrary, it will in fact add water back to the Poudre, 3600 acre feet annually at critical times to enhance the environment and the fisheries. Further, in response to the concerns of Fort Collins, the NISP participants have agreed not to divert water into Glade if the minimum streamflow’s are not being met.

Easter: The proponents absurdly claim a winter flow “augmentation” plan would leave the river better than before. They refuse to acknowledge the devastating impact of stripping the peak flows off the river. The proponents have some of the highest per-capita water use rates in the region, yet they claim further water conservation is impractical. And, they turn a blind eye to the fact that NISP would harm agriculture at least as much or worse than if no project were built.

Q: It could be years until the final EIS is released and further public comment collected, not to mention the possibility of a group challenging the decision in a court of law. Will Glade Reservoir come to fruition? How many years from now?

DiTullio: We don’t think it will take years. The project is needed now and should be built as soon as possible. The Army Corps on their website states they will release a final EIS next year. When the record of decision is released in 2017 we believe the project will move forward at that time. Obviously, any one or group has the right to challenge the Army Corps if they so choose to do so. One of the reasons that the Corps moved forward with a SDEIS was to have certainty that whatever decision they make is defensible in court.

Easter: It could take the Corps at least three more years to permit or deny the project. If permitted, both EPA and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division have to sign off, taking years more. The Corps faces lawsuits, court battles, and legal action from any proponent or opponent who doesn’t get what they want. Expect at least a decade before a resolution or the project dies of its own weight. We will oppose the project as long as it takes.

Q: What, if any, are alternatives to NISP?

DiTullio: There are no reasonable alternatives. This is well documented in the SDEIS documents. The “no action alternative” is to significantly increase the purchase of water that is used by agriculture which would lead to dry up of existing farmland. Many of the participants rent irrigation water to the ag community and value what they do to enhance the quality of live here in Northern Colorado. Conservation alone will not solve the water issues for Northern Colorado. The opposition champions a scheme that simply is not realistic and will not work.

Easter: The Corps touts the project proponent’s straw man “no action alternative,” an unrealistic and ironic “alternative” that is really no such thing. The Corps and NISP/Glade proponents refuse to accept that new water diversions are a thing of the past, and that conservation, efficiency and partnerships with agriculture must be embraced to keep our rivers alive. The fate of the Cache la Poudre — our home river — depends on collaboration and innovative thinking.

Q: How do we address water in Fort Collins, while also looking at the state’s water future as a whole?

DiTullio: The City of Fort Collins has done a good job of taking care of its citizen’s water needs. They were able to secure senior river water rights on the Poudre before many of the participants existed. However, not all of the citizens of Northern Colorado reside in Fort Collins. The water right for the NISP is junior to those of Fort Collins and the city will not be harmed by the project. The participants have an obligation to their citizens to provide a water supply for the future. It is ironic that my district, the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, currently serves approximately 32,000 residents within the City of Fort Collins.

NISP is only part of how we address the future water needs of Northern Colorado. The water community and this includes the City of Fort Collins must come together in harmony to collectively manage the water resources that we have. None of us can do it alone or should we. We are all citizens of this planet and we all have the right to choose where we live with our families and this includes Northern Colorado.

Easter: The Fort Collins water utility is not a NISP/Glade participant. Fortunately, our water utility “gets it.” City staff appears to understand the critical importance of innovation in keeping our home river healthy and vibrant while it meets our water needs. In contrast, Northern Water and the NISP/Glade proponents rely on 19th Century solutions to solve 21st Century problems. It is time to embrace the future.

Want to weigh in?

•There is an open house at 5 p.m. Wednesday and a 6 p.m. hearing thereafter at the Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road. Attendees may share their perspectives during a public comment period.

•Those who can’t attend may submit comments in writing to:

John Urbanic, NISP EIS Project Manager

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Denver Regulatory Office

9307 S. Wadsworth Blvd.

New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake — The Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

Grand Lake via Cornell University
Grand Lake via Cornell University

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Debate continues to swirl around water clarity standards for Grand Lake, but recently stake holders on the Western Slope presented a new proposal in hopes of moving negotiations forward.

Western Slope stakeholders recently presented a revised clarity standard proposal to the Water Clarity Stakeholders group for consideration. The revised clarity standard proposal presented by the Western Slope stakeholders is for 3.8 meters, or 12.5 feet, with a 2.5 meter, or 8.2 feet, minimum clarity depth. This is a reduction from their previous proposal of a 4-meter standard.

Representatives from the Western slope stakeholders together with others from the east side of the continental Divide make up the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee (WCSC). The WCSC is formed from the various entities affected by water clarity in Grand Lake and the operation of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), which pulls water from the Three Lakes region that is sent through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel out of Grand Lake to the Front Range.

The WCSC includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Town of Grand Lake, Western Area Power Administration, Grand County, Northern Water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, power consumers from the affected area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, Northwest COG, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, U.S. Geological Survey, the Grand County Water Information Network, and various other groups.

Representatives from the WCSC hope to negotiate a single water clarity proposal amongst themselves that can be presented to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the entity that will give final approval of any new water clarity standard. The Commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The WCSC is working toward a deadline; their proposal is due in November.

WEST SLOPE COMPROMISE

Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran has helped shepherd the process for the county.

“The West Slope group came up with compromises we felt we could live with and presented them to the larger group,” she said.

Underbrink-Curran explained that if the various groups cannot come to agreement on a proposal then multiple proposals will likely be submitted to the Water Quality Commission.

“Sometimes the various factors to consider are at odds,” she said. “If the Stakeholders group can’t come to a coordinated proposal then the West Slope group would make a proposal and the East Slope group would likely make their own proposal.”

The debate has been ongoing for several years now and started in earnest in 2008 when a committee was formed to study possible methods for improving water clarity in Grand Lake. According to Canton O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, that committee, which later became the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee, was formed from the sustained lobbying efforts of the Three Lakes Watershed Association to improve the water clarity standard.

“All these years we have proposed a 4-meter standard,” said Canton. “Northern Water says that is not possible.”

UNATTAINABLE

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, better known as Northern Water, operates the C-BT though the facilities are officially owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t think that is an attainable standard,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for Northern Water. “Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”

Werner also expressed concerns over how such a standard would be enforced and how penalties for failing to meet any new standard would be applied.

More Grand Lake coverage here and here.