Grand County Commissioners present Grand County Stream Management Plan to Denver Water Board

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From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

Commissioners, the county manager and their water experts attended a Denver Water Board meeting on Wednesday to officially present the Stream Management Plan to the utility’s board members. Their team of water consultants has been checking the methodology behind the Grand County-initiated plan since the start, but some board members have only a vague knowledge about Grand County’s direction, according to Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “I thought it went well,” said Newberry on Thursday. “The Stream Management Plan was well-received.”[…]

From the use of widely-accepted practices studying 80 miles of river system including seven tributaries in Grand County, the draft report of the Stream Management Plan paints a sobering picture of the area’s rivers. It shows that adult trout habitat is in short supply. Late-summer flows on the rivers are too low, causing late-summer water temperatures to frequently exceed state standards. Rapid flow changes near dams are problematic. And, the rivers suffer from too much sediment (most severe on the upper Fraser). Flushing flows — high-magnitude flows that flush sediment, bring needed oxygen to spawning beds and carry away waste— are too low and infrequent on some reaches, and control structures in the system create barriers for fish to pass. “There is a high PH on the Fraser upstream of Ranch Creek, we don’t know why but we’re monitoring it,” Wesche said of some key findings in the study, adding that a stretch of the Fraser River was flagged for pollutants from leaked discharge at the Moffat Tunnel’s west portal.

Target flows, or flows needed for stream health during winter and summer, as well as flushing flows, are specifically identified in the draft stream plan to mark what is needed to improve river health. There is also a working list of restoration projects, such as channel bar improvements, improved spawning habitat at Ranch Creek, culvert enlargements and implementation of sediment ponds on the upper Fraser.

The “million-dollar question,” however, centers on phase three of the plan, according to county officials who at Wednesday’s meeting with Denver aimed to get a nod of agreement that the city water providers were willing to work with Grand County in recognition that the plan is a valid testament of river health. Denver Water is “comfortable working within that science,” as long as the plan is used as a “guidance” document and not used in “some sort of regulatory fashion,” said Denver Water’s Director of Planning Dave Little on Thursday. “Science is subjective,” he said. “Some think that putting the word ‘science’ on it means it’s absolute, but there is a lot of personal judgment and personal opinion involved in interpreting data.”

Denver Water has not objected to the county’s approach in using the stream management plan as a basis for negotiating ways to manage impacts to the river system. “We’ve agreed not to argue the science but to concentrate on providing solutions for the impacts,” Little said, adding that the Denver Water Board is behind using the plan on “how to best apply limited resources to get the best value from a stream-health point.”[…]

While phase one of the plan included inventory and review of stream data and phase two presents scientifically-based recommendations of stream flow, phase three will take the involvement of Denver Water and the Northern Water Conservancy District, the Division of Wildlife and others to ensure coordination of diversions, reservoir releases and restoration of river reaches actually happen. Grand County officials call it “sharing the risk.” For part of phase three of the plan, they are also sharing the cost. Denver Water and Northern each put in $100,000 to help pay for the study.

As part of Denver and county negotiations in regard to the Moffat Firming project, a list of enhancements to river health has been offered by Denver Water, and how those items fit into the findings of the stream management plan are still being talked about among stakeholders.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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