Denver Water, Northern and Grand County agree to cooperate on instream flows

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Denver Water (Moffat Collection System), the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Colorado-Big Thompson Project and Windy Gap Project) and Grand County have struck a deal to cooperate on instream flows in the Upper Colorado River. Here’s a report from Mark Jaffee writing for the Denver Post. From the article:

The agreement among Grand County, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District aims to balance Front Range demands with more flow for the Upper Colorado River basin. The deal also is expected to smooth the progress of plans for two new water projects to bring 16 billion gallons of water from Grand County to the Front Range…

Diversions of water are a sore point with Grand County officials. Pipelines and tunnels already move about 60 percent of the county’s waters across the Continental Divide to serve towns and cities from Fort Collins to Littleton. As a result, flows are often low in the Fraser and Colorado rivers in summer, which threatens the county’s $18 million-a-year recreation economy…

In all, Denver Water and Northern are committed to keep 5,800 acre-feet of water on the Western Slope…

The plan will be bolstered by coordinated releases of another 5,400 acre-feet to the Colorado River from Lake Granby. This is water supplied by Front Range diverters — including Aurora Water and Colorado Springs — to meet a requirement to protect endangered fish species at Grand Junction.

“It’s all a more comprehensive approach to managing the river,” said Mely Whiting, an attorney with Trout Unlimited. “Just getting Denver Water and Northern to coordinate is a big step.”

After negotiating with Grand County and environmental groups for a year, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District have made promises to protect stream flows and water supplies on the Western Slope. They include:

• Denver Water will allow 1,000 acre-feet of water to head down the Fraser River annually, instead of diverting it to Denver.

• Denver Water will release 1,000 acre-feet every year from Williams Fork Reservoir, near Parshall, into the Fraser River.

• Northern will guarantee 2,300 acre-feet to the Middle Park Water Conservancy District, Kremmling, every year. The district now sometimes receives only 800 acre-feet.

• Northern and Denver Water will provide $8 million to improve wastewater treatment plants and stream habitats in the county.

• Northern will slow its draw of water during the annual Gore Canyon Race week in Kremmling to improve rafting and boating conditions.

• Denver Water will release some water into the river system from irrigation ditches it owns.

More coverage from the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

“This is a history-setting occurrence,” stated Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, referring to a meeting last Thursday during which Northern and Denver representatives rolled out a list of compromises that when added up, equates to at least 11,200 acre-feet of water that could be left in Grand County rivers, to be released as needed on an annual basis…

Northern and Denver Water are under the watchful eye of West Slope water users as they work to achieve permitting on two separate projects that would firm up water rights to allow more water to be taken from both the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Already, Northern has gone through its Draft Environmental Impact Statement public comment period for the Windy Gap Firming Project, and Denver is about to release its draft statement for the Moffat firming project. In comments on Northern’s DEIS in December, the Environmental Protection Agency came out against the project’s assessment, saying the environmental impact statement failed to weigh “secondary and cumulative effects of this and other reasonably foreseeable water projects within the Upper Colorado River Basin.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should “hold the (Northern) permit in abeyance,” the EPA letter read…

…the offerings still needs to be weighed against the county’s stream management plan — now in it’s third phase — to see how what is being offered satisfies Grand County’s stream and river needs identified in the plan, according to Underbrink Curran…

Among offers, Denver Water’s willingness to give up 1,000 acre feet of annual firm yield that would normally be delivered to the East Slope is considered rare. “We’ve been very careful in all the things that we’ve done to preserve our yield because it’s very important to us,” Little said. “Yield replacement on the East Slope goes anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 dollars an acre foot,” he said. “But In this instance, we thought of Grand County’s environmental issues.”[…]

Water and sanitation district representatives, town board members, ditch shareholders, members of the ag community and others are taking the time to digest Northern and Denver’s offer — at the same time commending them for producing it. “I think that this is a paradigm shift in the relations between the East Slope water diverters and the West Slope,” said Kirk Klancke, manager of the Winter Park West Water and Sanitation District. Even so, there’s more work to be done, he said. “I would like to see the flushing flows well defined where they are not mentioned specifically in this proposal.”[…]

What Northern and Denver are offering:

• 1,000 acre-feet of firm annual yield from Fraser River Collection System
• 1,000 acre-feet annual release from Williams Fork Reservoir resulting from Fraser System bypass
• Denver Water would only take bypass water after restricting all lawn watering in Denver
• Curtail or reduce diversions in August to minimize temperature impacts to river life
• 3,000 acre-feet annually to the Middle Park Water Conservancy District
• Grand County may store 1,500 acre-feet of late-season free water in Granby Reservoir using the Windy Gap pumping facility. Denver to pay half of pumping costs shared with Grand County
• Cooperate with Grand County on the timing of releases of 5,412 acre-feet stored in Lake Granby for endangered fish recovery near Grand Junction, as part of the federal “Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program”
• Provide $6 million in improvements to the three largest wastewater facilities in Grand County to reduce discharge of nutrients to Grand County streams and lakes
• Provide $2 million for river restorations to improve aquatic habitats
• Contribute an estimated $200,000 to develop a viable cutthroat trout fishery in Grand County
• Northern offers to modify operations to lessen the impact on Granby Reservoir levels
• Provide lands for wildlife habitats, open space and/or public fishing accesses
• Curtail diversions during the Gore Canyon Race weekend each year
• Operate Big Lake Ditch, the Vail Ditch, Rich Ditch and Hammond No. 1 Ditch water in a way that enhances the Colorado and Fraser rivers.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, here and here.

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