Boulder turns down Denver Water!
Boulder County refused to sign an intergovernmental agreement with Denver Water on the expansion of Gross Reservoir, which is in Boulder County. The County Commissioners listened to hours of testimony from local residents who would be affected by this massive expansion project. Its a huge win for the Fraser and Colorado Rivers as well. Without an expanded reservoir the additional diversions proposed by Denver from the Fraser can’t happen. Denver Water has refused to take any real mitigation seriously, on either side of the divide. Maybe now they will start. You would think they’d have learned something after all this time. Their attitude doesn’t indicate that they will take the “learning by doing” part of the Headwaters Agreement very seriously either.
Agreement and Conservation from the Windy Gap Firming project
Grand County, The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and groups like Trout Unlimited have reached an agreement on appropriate mitigations for the Windy Gap Firming project. These mitigation measures will go a long way in helping to restore some semblance of healthy to this severely damaged reach of the Colorado River.
Now if Denver Water will only step up as Northern has and help with meaningful mitigation for the Fraser.
A dying river… The Upper Colorado
The upper Colorado River has long been a poster child for streams damaged and degraded to the point of collapse by trans-mountain diversions. The river ecosystem from Granby to Kremmling is already showing signs of collapse. Decisions and actions taken this year may help, but most likely will only make matters worse.
After several years the upper Colorado River is looking at a three way alignment of the “water” stars this spring. The “global settlement”, alternative to Wild & Scenic designation and the mitigation for Windy Gap and Moffat diversion expansions are all coming to a conclusion. All of these can and will have a significant impact on the integrity of the upper Colorado River.
Global Settlement: The so called “global settlement” process is an attempt to reach a negotiated agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado headwater Counties and stakeholders on how much more water Denver will take from the Fraser and Blue rivers. These talks began over five years ago and have been held in the strictest secrecy.
Wild and Scenic alternative: The Wild & Scenic alternative process is an attempt to meet the same level of protections for identified “Outstanding Remarkable Values”, or ORV’s that full Wild & Scenic designation would provide. The Bureau of Land Management found that all of their lands along the Colorado River from Glenwood Springs to Kremmling, as well as other reaches on tributary rivers and streams were eligible for Wild & Scenic listing. The next phase prior to designation is to determine what reaches are “suitable”. When a river reach is found suitable it is then managed as if a Wild & Scenic designation was in place, until Congress decides one way or the other.
Before the suitability phase began though a group of stakeholders, including west slope interests, conservation organizations and Front Range water providers asked the BLM to let them try and find some more flexible alternative to actual Federal Wild & Scenic listing. After a long and often frustrating process this group has released its final recommendation to the BLM. The BLM must now decide whether to follow this plan or pursue its original process for suitability and designation, or some combination.
Windy Gap and Moffat Mitigation: Earlier this year both the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Denver Water released draft Mitigation and Enhancement plans for their Windy Gap Firming (Northern) and Moffat Expansion projects to the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). These proposals are intended to offset and mitigate the substantially increased diversions these projects would cause. Neither seem to come close.
A study last year by the DOW discovered that the ecosystem of the Colorado River from Windy Gap downstream to Kremmling appears to be on the verge of collapse. The populations of the giant stonefly (Pteronarcys californica) along with several species of other stoneflies and mayflies have virtually disappeared. So have the mottled sculpin, a small native fish sensitive to changes in water quality. The identified culprit appears to be the long years of increasing trans-mountain diversions.
The mitigation and enhancement proposals throw a lot of money, but precious little water at the problem. Unfortunately mitigation here is limited to protecting the existing degraded and collapsing condition of the river. A token amount of water is being made available through the proposed enhancements. It really won’t be enough to make any impact though. More water may be available from mitigations, depending on what the Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers want.
What the river needs most is water! Water delivered in sufficient amounts, and at the proper time, to have a real impact. Even if water is made available through the mitigations or global settlement, will it be enough to offset the damage already done, much less help “mitigate” the vastly greater amount of water taken out of the river?
The Western Rivers Institute doubts it. The only way real relief and recovery will come to the upper Colorado is through the direct action of ratepayers and voters within the Denver Water and Northern Metropolitan Subdistrict service areas.