Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.

King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.

After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”

“I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.

King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.

“And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”

Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.

The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.

The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.

The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’

“And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”

Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.

When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”

Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.

Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)

A buoyant crowd

Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.

They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.

Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.

Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.

The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

A political risk

After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.

“I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.

As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.

King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”

“So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.

“Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.

“If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”

King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.

And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.

“One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”

King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.

“We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”

The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

Other plan elements

King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.

King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”

But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”

When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.

King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.

“We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.

“For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

Activists continue effort in Boulder to block Gross Reservoir expansion — Boulder Daily Camera

Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera
Moffat Collection System Project/Windy Gap Firming Project via the Boulder Daily Camera

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Alex Burness):

Environmentalists are rallying support for a renewed fight against a long-standing proposal from Denver Water to nearly triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir by diverting from the Colorado River Basin…

Before a group of about 30 Monday night at Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place, the directors of two non-profits united in the fight against the expansion — Save the Colorado River and The Environmental Group — made presentations alleging impropriety on Denver Water’s part and soliciting donations to a legal fund.

“They’ve been working on their decision, and we assume, feel very strongly, that (Army Corps) will issue the permit,” said Chris Garre, President of The Environmental Group, which is based in Coal Creek Canyon. “As soon as that happens, the clock starts ticking.”

The Colorado River, the presenters said, is the most dammed and diverted on the planet. At the Colorado River Delta, there is no longer water, and there is concern that an expansion of Gross Reservoir would see some creeks and tributaries drained at the 80 percent level, with some “zero flow” dry days.

An expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is a roughly 25-minute drive west from Boulder on Flagstaff Road, would have a significant local impact. In fact, it would be the biggest construction project in Boulder County history, and would likely take about four or five years to complete.

The proposal seeks to increase the height of the dam by 131 feet, and would require the clearing of about 200,000 trees…

“Caring for the environment,” Garre added, “particularly those who live in the environment, in the forest, is crucial to your experience in Boulder County. This has never been addressed by Denver Water. It’s been ignored.”

While the universal downsides such major construction — noise and temporary aesthetic downgrade, among others — aren’t up for debate, Denver Water tells a very different story about the project.

The public agency that serves 1.3 million people in the Denver metro area gets about 80 percent of its water from the South Platte River System, and another 20 percent from Moffat, a smaller clump up north. Expanding Gross Reservoir and thereby Moffat, Denver Water says, will help balance the existing 80/20 split.

“This imbalance makes the system vulnerable to catastrophic events, such as the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, which caused massive sediment runoff into reservoirs on the south side of our system,” the agency published on its website.

During times of severe drought, the argument continues, “We run the risk of running out of water on the north end of our system,” which would primarily impact customers in northwest Denver, Arvada and Westminster.

Denver Water also maintains that as the Front Range continues to be one of the country’s fastest-growing areas, a shortfall in water supply is imminent unless addressed through projects like the one pitched for Gross Reservoir.

#ColoradoRiver: Trout Unlimited praises river protections in 401 permit for Windy Gap project #COriver

Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day
Ike enjoying the Fraser River back in the day

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

TU praises river protections in Windy Gap project permit
Says 401 permit conditions put threatened river and fishery on road to
recovery

(Denver)-The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this week released its final 401 water quality certification for the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project (WGFP), which would divert additional water from the Upper Colorado River to northern Front Range communities. Trout Unlimited praised the 401 permit conditions for reaffirming the health of the Upper Colorado River and its world-class trout fishery.

“We firmly believe these permit conditions establish a strong health insurance policy for the Upper Colorado River,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

For years, Front Range water diversions have removed about 60 percent of the native flows of the Colorado headwaters, severely impacting fish and other aquatic life that depend on healthy flows to clean cobble and prevent the buildup of habitat-choking algae and sediment. The proposed Windy Gap expansion would further reduce native flows.

TU said the conditions included in the 401 permit for WGFP address critical fish habitat and water quality needs by:

* preventing stream temperature impacts during low flows in the summer.
* providing periodic “flushing flows” to cleanse the river during runoff.
* requiring ongoing monitoring and response if degraded conditions are detected.

The 401 permit conditions largely incorporate the protections included in earlier agreements involving the WGFP sponsor, the Municipal Subdistrict of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Subdistrict) and its project participants, and other stakeholders, including Grand County, Trout Unlimited, and the Upper Colorado River Alliance.

Under the 401 permit, the Subdistrict is required to monitor specifically for stream temperature, key nutrients, and aquatic life and submit results with an annual report that identifies any evidence of impairment (standards not met). If impairment is identified, the Subdistrict has to investigate to determine whether WGFP is causing or contributing to the impairment. If WGFP is found to play a role, then the Subdistrict is required to come up with a plan to solve the problem, consistent with state water quality laws.

“This long-term monitoring and flexibility of response is called ‘adaptive management’-and it’s a critical feature of the permit requirements,” said Whiting. “Adaptive management recognizes that stakeholders can’t foresee every problem, and it provides a process for ongoing monitoring and mitigation of river problems as they arise.”

TU noted that the permit builds on years of hard work, negotiations and collaboration. “We wouldn’t be at this point without the leadership of Grand County and their persistent efforts to improve the health of the Colorado River,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters chapter. “And the Northern subdistrict also deserves credit for listening to our concerns and working with all stakeholders to find solutions.”

“This permit is another step toward fulfilling the Windy Gap Firming Project’s potential to be part of a balanced water supply strategy for Colorado’s Front Range,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water and Habitat Project. “Through a balanced portfolio-including responsible supply projects like WGFP, along with stronger conservation and reuse programs and ag-urban water-sharing-Colorado can meet its diverse water needs, from municipal needs to recreation, while keeping our rivers healthy.”

Under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, the state of Colorado must provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a permit certifying that the project will comply with federal water quality standards. The remaining regulatory hurdle for the Windy Gap Firming Project is the final 404 wetlands permit by the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Corps could issue in 2016.

Issuance of all permits for the project will release resources, including money needed for the design and construction of the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass to create a new river channel and reconnect the river and its fisheries upstream and downstream of the reservoir.

“It’s been a long and arduous process,” said Whiting of the WGFP permitting process, which has taken over 10 years. “It is time to roll up our sleeves and go to work for the river.”

When the ground shifted under the hooves of #Colorado’s water buffaloes — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

During the next few years, two major installations will take shape in Denver that will seek to inform urban development of the future, including the use of water.

Along I-25, jut southwest of downtown, Denver Water has already started redeveloping its administrative campus. Most of the buildings there are more than 50 years old, but the water agency also sees it as an opportunity with the $195 million redevelopment to demonstrate the technology and concepts of the future.

Jim Lochhead -- photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)
Jim Lochhead — photo via Westword (Alan Prendergast)

With all that it has planned said Jim Lochhead, the chief executive of Denver Water, the agency thinks it can reduce the amount of water needed for the campus by 50 percent. The agency, he said, is embracing “total reuse.”

The other project to keep an eye on within Denver is at the Coliseum and Western Stock Show complex along I-70 north of downtown Denver. With state backing, the aging complex will be redeveloped by Denver in concert with Colorado State University using cutting-edge building technologies but also minimal water uses.

Denver and the West have entered a new era that recognizes limits. Lochhead, in a recent presentation at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute. During the 25 years of the conference there has been an “extraordinary remarkable transition in the paradigm of water,” he said.

In the first half of the 20th century, water developers, commonly called “water buffaloes,” encountered little opposition to their work. But after World War II, they “really ran into this new world that they didn’t understand,” said Lochhead.

The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best
The South Platte River typically all but vanishes as it passes through Denver’s industrial neighborhood north of downtown, downstream of the Burlington Ditch diversion, near the Cherokee power plant. Photo/Allen Best

The buffaloes understood water development in ways that were both monolithic and linear. Major cities and other agencies developed water, and they just ran over the opposition. Their development was linear, in that they just expected to do one more project after another. Their attitude, he said, was “if we run out of water, we’ll just get more.”

Lochhead identified a pivotal change in the 1950s, when a proposal to dam the Yampa River at Echo Park in northwest Colorado was fought by environmental groups and conservationists such as Wallace Stegner.

“They really didn’t see the first signs of the world shifting from under them as the Sierra Club was able to defeat construction of the dam in Echo Park,” he said. The water buffaloes didn’t see what was coming as Congress adopted the Wilderness Act and then a raft of environmental legislation. They didn’t see it when Jimmy Carter issued his “hit list” of federally funded reclamation projects in 1977, which effectively became the end of the era of dam building.

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

In Colorado, according to Lochhead, the pivot came in the early 1990s, when Two Forks Dam was defeated. It was a stern rebuke to the thinking of Colorado’s water developers, who believed if “just only they could get one more big water project.”

Denver, in the 21st century, has been part of the new wave of thinking. This has been evident most clearly in the plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir, southwest of Boulder. The increased water will come from stepped-up diversions from across the Continental Divide, in the Fraser and Williams Fork valleys, at the head of the Colorado River.

At first glance, this looks like business as usual. But this project has been different. Nobody questioned Denver’s right to the water under Colorado water law. But Denver at the outset admitted that there were other considerations, especially when the streams were already nearly tapped out. With the increased diversions, up to 80 percent of the flows of the Fraser River will be diverted.

West portal Moffat Water Tunnel
West portal Moffat Water Tunnel

The plan worked out after lengthy negotiations between Denver Water representatives and those from Grand County and the Western Slope is complex. What is pertinent is that some of the major environmental groups, most notably Trout Unlimited, endorsed the settlement. And here’s a key principle:

When diversions occur will matter equally, or even more so, than how much is diverted.

Lochhead also pointed to the need for partnerships with irrigators downstream on the South Platte River. Denver has pledged to step up the reuse of the water it imports from the Western Slope, and it is entitled, by law, to use that water to extinction. Using the water to extinction, however, means less water for those downstream.

“We will have to have partnerships in how we deal with those impacts,” said Lochhead.

Also speaking on the same panel at the Rocky Mountain Land Use institute was Lawrence McDonnell, an adjunct professor of water law at the University of Colorado. The broad change in the West in the last quarter-century has been a small shift of water from agricultural produce to municipal uses, to accommodate rapid population growth. In the eight states, population grew 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, with most of that growth occurring on urban areas.

“Leadership has to come from cities,” he said, and it has. Growth has occurred “in ways that often resulted in far less per-capita water use.”

#ColoradoRiver: Milestone decree protects environmental flows in Grand County — @DenverWater

Here’s the release from Denver Water:

A major milestone in implementing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was reached last week when the water court signed a decree to secure and preserve environmental water flows in the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado rivers.

The decree protects releases of 2,000 acre-feet of water made available from Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System and Williams Fork Reservoir to preserve and improve the aquatic environment in the Fraser and Colorado rivers all the way through Grand County — a continuous stream reach of 73 miles — and beyond.

“This is truly a unique transbasin collaborative and milestone that provides the additional environmental flows on the Fraser River as contemplated by the CRCA,” said Grand County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jane Tollett.

Once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is complete, Denver Water will be able to provide more water for county streams by delivering water to the Fraser River Basin at diversion points along its system, and by releasing water from Williams Fork Reservoir to the Colorado River.

The decree also provides for the delivery of 375 acre-feet to a number of Grand County water users for municipal and snowmaking purposes. If the water is not needed for those purposes, it can be added to the water being provided for environmental benefit.

The decree represents the most recent success in meeting the agreements outlined in the CRCA.

“In only a few short years since the CRCA went into effect, we’re already seeing that through collaboration, we can help improve the health of the Fraser and Colorado rivers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “This decree is another step in ensuring that we are prepared to fully implement the CRCA conditions as they become effective.”

In 2014, 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. And, the Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board will use the delivered water to preserve and improve the natural environment through its Instream Flow Program.

“The CWCB is extremely pleased to be able to work with Grand County and Denver Water to implement this important agreement,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is a great example of how effective the state’s Instream Flow Program can be in the context of multipurpose projects.”

The CRCA ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water, West Slope entities and conservation groups to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources through “Learning By Doing,” a monitoring and adaptive management program with the goal of maintaining, and where possible, improving the health of Colorado River headwater streams in Grand County.

“Thanks to the Learning by Doing framework, we’re finding ways to maintain healthy flows for fish and wildlife in the Upper Colorado,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We’re learning — by doing — that collaboration and cooperation can help ensure the health of our rivers while meeting other diverse needs, like municipal water. These flows will make a real difference for the river and for Grand County’s important recreation economy.”

Partner contact info:
Grand County: Ed Moyer, emoyer@co.grand.us, 970-725-3102
Denver Water: Travis Thompson, travis.thompson@denverwater.org, 303-628-6700
Colorado Water Conservation Board: Linda Bassi, Linda.bassi@state.co.us, 303-866-3441 ext. 3204
Trout Unlimited: Mely Whiting, MWhiting@tu.org, 720-375-3961

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A state water judge has signed off on a deal between Denver Water and Grand County to leave 651 million gallons of water a year that otherwise would be diverted in headwaters of the Colorado River.

That water would be left each year for the purpose of improving stream health — habitat for fish and other wildlife — once Denver completes its Moffat Project to divert more water under the Continental Divide to the heavily populated Front Range.

Denver Water officials said the water, at least 2,000-acre feet, is enough to sustain 5,000 metro households each year.

State water judge James Boyd signed the decree last week.

The deal was done under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, finalized in 2013 between Denver and western slope communities, to try to balance growing urban demands with environmental needs.

Colorado’s Water Conservation Board would protect the water left in streams and use it to preserve natural conditions.

Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said the deal shows Denver is prepared to fully implement the agreement.

Grand County authorities could not be reached for comment.

Under the agreement, Denver Water must conserve and recycle water and transfer up to 45,000 acre-feet a year in treated wastewater to suburbs on the condition that the suburbs agree not to pursue their own diversion projects and pay a surcharge. Western Slope communities, not including Grand County, would drop opposition to Denver’s Moffat Project.

4 Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin projects and the #COWaterPlan

From the Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Colorado unveiled a statewide water plan this past November to better prepare for an estimated doubling of its population by the year 2050, from about 5 million to an estimated 10.5 million. In the meantime, both intra- and interstate interests are presently at work attempting to gobble up every ounce of the Colorado River before it flows to the next.

Between four separate proposed diversion projects across Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — three states that make up the Upper Basin section of the Colorado River — about another 250,000 acre-feet of water would be pulled from these vital headwaters…

Specific to Colorado, those projects are the Moffat Collection System Project (A Denver Water enterprise that would remove 18,000 acre-feet), and the Windy Gap Firming Project (A Northern Water undertaking to obtain 30,000 acre-feet). And then Wyoming is in the initial stages of the Fontenelle Dam Re-engineering proposal, which would claim the largest amount of water at 123,000 acre-feet, and finally Utah’s Lake Powell Pipeline, which would require 86,000 acre-feet.

The idea is, basically, to stockpile water for each individual community before it can get downstream. The impediment standing in the way though — aside from their respective project approval processes, of course — is senior rights to the water source, as per the Colorado River Compact of 1922, from the states of the Lower Basin: California, Nevada and Arizona…

TAPPING OUT

All of these advancing claims on the Colorado River, on top of another plan suggested by Wyoming concerning 10 new Green River reservoirs over the next 10 years, several others in Colorado, as well as a small diversion project in New Mexico, are fast tapping the source out. The state’s water plan, produced through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), was designed in part to help offset such concerns. But even this program is already running into its own set of troubles.

The director of the CWCB, James Eklund, recently scheduled a stakeholders meeting to discuss permitting of water diversions and additional storage but did not invite any of the counties and other entities associated with these headwaters. After learning of the meeting after the fact, the counties of Summit, Pitkin, Grand and Eagle (and joined by Gunnison and Park counties) sent a letter to Eklund stating that holding such meetings without this group was improper.

“We expressed our extreme disappointment,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, “and this was not in the spirit of the letter of the Colorado Water Plan. “It was great frustration that right after this was passed, and we think we have good understand, and there have been so many hours and hours of meetings about how we should move forward and not leave local government out, and there was this meeting.”

[…]

A headwaters local government representative will now attend the next such meeting. The letter’s message was clear, said Stiegelmeier, who is also the vice chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

“You may figure out how to comply with the EPA and all of the different federal agencies,” she said, “but if you’re not looking at local authorities and regulations, then you may be spinning your wheels and missing the boat. If you don’t include the local governments, you’re basically wasting time, and then it puts us on the defensive.”

DOWN THE RIVER

The water plan, which is not law but merely a consensus agreement, has now moved toward the next stages. No longer are the proposals to secure more water throughout the state, in particular for its most populous cities, a theory, but it’s transitioned to figuring out how to pay for all of it, with estimates coming it at $100 million a year.

Statewide tap fees and taxes are two funding sources currently be investigated by the CWCB. In the meantime, these other water diversion plans from within Colorado, in addition to those of neighboring states, move forward.

Decisions on the next steps for the two Colorado projects are due some time in 2016, while the Lake Powell Pipeline is on a federal fast-track plan and could be executed as early as the next two or so years. The Wyoming projects are still in the early phases of development.

Saving the Fraser River — Grand Water #ColoradoRiver

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

Drive around Grand County for a little while and you’ll notice our profusion of bumper stickers with slogans admonishing you to “Save the Fraser River”.

For many folks in the valley their bumper stickers are a sign of solidarity but for others such statements are more than mere words, they represents a visceral call to action. The issues and obstacles that confront the Fraser River are deeply rooted and solutions can be difficult to agree on, let alone implement. The Fraser River and its tributaries experience what is called an altered flow regime, meaning the natural stream flows of the river have been altered. According to Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited located in Grand County, currently around 60 percent of the native flows of the Fraser River are diverted out of the valley.

“One of the problems is the stream bed is native but the flows are not,” Klancke said. “Over half are diverted out of the Fraser valley. When you have diminished flows like that the stream loses its velocity. The river needs enough velocity to flush sediment out of the rocks on the bottom.That is where the macroinvertebrate life is.”

Macroinvertebrate life, or bugs, live within the voids in the rocks on the bottom of the river, Klancke said. As the river loses its velocity the flows are not able to flush the sediment out from the rocks and the amount of bug habitat is diminished, which has a corresponding effect on the amount of bug life on the river. The amount of bug life on the river has a direct correlation to the amount of fish within the river.

The reduced native stream flows also have a strong impact on the temperature levels within the streams and rivers. “When you have diminished flows the stream becomes wide and shallow and it heats up in ways it never did before,” said Klancke. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand. We are seeing temps in some places higher than that.”

In an effort to address both of these issues several western slope interests along with eastern slope diverters such as Denver Water have partnered together to form a group called Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing is a cooperative group that seeks to address the environmental impact concerns of Grand County organizations while still providing sustained diversion of water to the Front Range. The group has been developing project ideas and in the fall of 2016 they expect to begin a large rechanneling project on the Fraser River called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.

Project organizers are planning to rechannel approximately half a mile of the Fraser River on the Fraser Flats, just outside of the Town of Fraser. The works is being done on a section of the river owned by Devil’s Thumb Ranch. So far around $100,000 have been raised to fund the project with roughly half of those funds coming from Denver Water and the other half coming from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Trout Unlimited also has a $5,000 grant they will apply to the project, allowing for an additional 135 feet of rechanneling.

“The idea of rechanneling is to match the stream bed to the stream flows,” said Klancke. “We create a channel within a channel.”

In the simplest terms the rechanneling work is accomplished by physically digging a deeper channel within the center of the existing streambed where water can recede to at low flow times. The new channel provides a deeper and narrower pathway for the stream to follow, increasing the velocity of water while also decreasing temperatures. The work must be performed carefully so as not to damage the natural streambed either. The native streambed remains essential for allowing larger flows of water during spring runoff. Along with digging a new channel within the Fraser River workers will also move and adjust rocks to create a healthy ratio of riffles to pools within the river.

The collaborative project is the first from the Learning by Doing group and represents a very exciting step forward for people like Klancke who spoke highly of Denver Water and that organizations willingness to engage in the process and work to further the proposed actions. Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead echoed his views.

“The most exciting aspect to this project is that all the parties to Learning by Doing are beginning work before it is technically required under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Lochhead stated. “This is due in large part to the partnerships and relationships that have developed over the past few years, and the value we place on the environmental resources in Grand County. We don’t want to lose momentum, and the fact that Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Trout Unlimited and others in the county have stepped up to move this effort forward is a great indication of our common commitment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enhance the health of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

Learning by Doing plans to put the rechanneling project out for bidding in mid Jan. and hope to have a contractor chosen by the end of Feb. Work on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2016.