Governor Hickenlooper, Denver Water, the Colorado River District, et al. announce the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement

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Bump and update:

Here’s the joint release from the Colorado River District and Denver Water (Lori Peck/Audrey Hughes):

Leaders from Grand, Summit and Eagle counties stood with representatives from Denver Water, the Colorado River District, the ski industry and other main stem Colorado River Basin water interests to announce a historic proposed agreement, the “Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.” This proposed agreement will change the way water is managed in Colorado.

Focused on cooperation, the proposed agreement brings parties who traditionally have been at odds together as partners on a path to responsible water development benefitting both the East and West Slopes. It achieves better environmental health for the Colorado River Basin, maintains high-quality recreational use and improves economics for many cities, counties and businesses impacted by the river. The proposed agreement, which was five years in the making, will now be considered by towns, counties, and water entities from the headwaters to the Utah state line.

“This cooperative effort represents a new way of doing business when it comes to water,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper at today’s announcement. “It shows that water solutions must be crafted from a statewide perspective. We hope and expect that this process will ripple across Colorado to other areas of water conflict.”

With 34 partners stretching from Grand Junction to the Denver metro area, the proposed agreement is the largest of its kind in the history of the state. In addition to its benefits for Denver Water and the West Slope, the proposed agreement will trigger a major water-sharing and conservation arrangement between Denver Water, Aurora Water and water providers in the South Denver metro area. Taken as a whole, these landmark agreements mark the most significant change Colorado has seen in how the state’s water resources are managed.

“This all comes down to the health of the Colorado River Basin for us,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “I believe we can all agree that, in the end, the Colorado River and many of its tributaries will be healthier under the terms of the proposed agreement than it is today.”

The comprehensive proposed agreement focuses on significantly enhancing the environmental health of much of the Colorado River Basin and its tributaries, as well as supporting many West Slope cities, towns, counties and water providers as they work to improve the quality and quantity of water through new municipal water projects and river management initiatives.

“Denver Water is proud to be part of this new vision for water management in Colorado that seeks to ensure the good of the whole,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “We hope this first-of-its-kind agreement sets the standard for how the state thinks about building a secure water future.”

In exchange for environmental enhancements, including financial support for municipal water projects and providing additional water supply and service area restrictions, the agreement will remove opposition to Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss with our constituents this proposed agreement, which benefits Grand County and much of the Colorado River Basin,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “The specifics of the proposal have been a long time in the making, but we believe they represent the best opportunity to improve the health of the Fraser and Colorado rivers, the economy of our county, and provide additional water for community and recreational use.”

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement also establishes a process, dubbed “Learning by Doing,” by which Denver Water, Grand County, the Colorado River District, the Middle Park Water Conservancy District and others will use the flexibility in Denver Water’s water system to manage flows for the benefit of the environment in Grand County.

“We hope our constituents will see the proposed agreement as a win for all of us by substantially moving away from the confrontational way water has been managed in the past to a more inclusive, collaborative process that seeks the best solutions for everyone,” said Thomas Davidson, Summit County commissioner. “It’s an impressive accomplishment when groups as diverse as the partners on this agreement come to the table and find common solutions.”

See more details about the proposed Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

Here’s the link to the executive summary.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

“This cooperative effort represents a new way of doing business when it comes to water,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper at the announcement of the agreement Thursday at the town of Tabernash in Grand County. “It shows that water solutions must be crafted from a statewide perspective. We hope and expect that this process will ripple across Colorado to other areas of water conflict,” said Hickenlooper, who was Denver mayor through the course of negotiations…

“This all comes down to the health of the Colorado River basin for us,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District. “I believe we can all agree that, in the end, the Colorado River and many of its tributaries will be healthier under the terms of the proposed agreement than it is today.”[…]

“While recognizing that much work remains, we join in celebrating what this agreement does accomplish: putting new resources to work to improve the health of the Upper Colorado River, and offering a new model for greater cooperation between the Front Range and Western Slope,” said David [Nickum], executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Mr. Nickum sent out this release to the Colorado Trout Unlimited email list:

By now, you likely have heard about the historic agreement between Denver Water and a number of Western Slope water and governmental entities. I wanted to share with you some perspective on what this deal means for the Upper Colorado River watershed.

For decades, large water diversions to the Front Range have depleted the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers, damaging fish populations and critical wildlife habitat. TU has sounded the alarm that the Upper Colorado River is on the verge of ecological collapse. The new agreement is a great step forward and offers promise for the future – but it addresses only a part of the problems facing the Colorado and its tributaries, and we still have much work ahead of us if we hope to defend our state’s namesake river and its gold medal fisheries.

Today, we can celebrate good news for the Colorado River. Denver Water and a broad group of west slope local governments and water districts have entered into a major agreement that will provide resources to benefit the struggling Colorado River headwaters and set a more collaborative approach for future water management and development.

The agreement includes a number of important provisions in terms of river conservation:

– Future water projects using Denver’s facilities (notably the Moffat and Roberts tunnels) will require approval from the west slope – they will need to address concerns on both sides of the Continental Divide.
– Safeguards are included for the Shoshone water right, which helps keep year-round flows in the Upper Colorado.
– Denver agrees to provide 1,000 acre-feet per year of water to help address low flow concerns in both the Fraser and Williams Fork systems.
– Denver will provide $2 million to assist with river habitat restoration.
– Water and funds (including an additional $2 million) will be managed through a partnership effort designed to adapt to changing conditions, called “Learning by Doing.” Notably, TU is the sole conservation organization that has been included in the management committee for Learning by Doing.

These are significant new tools to help protect the Colorado River’s future and to address some of the past impacts that have put it at risk, and Denver Water and key west slope players including Grand County and the Colorado River Water Conservation District deserve great credit for crafting this agreement.

But our work is far from over.

There are also vital issues that are not addressed by the agreement. The deal does not include mitigation to offset the future impacts of Denver’s currently-proposed Moffat Firming project, which will draw another 15,000 acre-feet yearly from the Colorado headwaters. The Wildlife Commission is currently reviewing the mitigation plan for this project – and TU will continue to work for the necessary river protections in the mitigation plan.

Perhaps even more notably, the agreement addresses only Denver Water’s facilities. It does not include the single largest user of Upper Colorado River water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which draws Colorado River water through the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects, and is proposing to take another 30,000 acre-feet per year through its new Windy Gap Firming Project.

As you can see, our work in defending the Colorado River has just begun. TU will continue to fight for mitigation from both the Moffat and Windy Gap Firming projects, and we will work to get the Northern District to step up to the plate in addressing its impacts to the Colorado. And of course, we will work constructively with Denver and the West Slope to maximize the benefits of the new “Learning by Doing” effort. Your membership and support helps make these efforts possible.

To get a feel for the challenges facing the Colorado headwaters, I encourage you to take a look at this video, “Tapped Out,” developed by Trout Unlimited and our Colorado River Headwaters Chapter.

Thank you for helping us continue the fight to defend our state’s “Home Waters” and ensuring that the mighty Colorado will be part of our outdoor heritage for generations to come.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Gov. John Hickenlooper and top leaders said Thursday that meeting projected water shortfalls likely will require increased storage. But rather than a massive new reservoir, like the ill-fated Two Forks decades ago, they’re leaning toward a strategy of enlarging existing reservoirs. “Certainly, expansion of existing reservoirs has a couple things going in its favor: Less expensive. Less controversial,” Hickenlooper said. Inundating a large area, as Two Forks would have done, “is a 25-year battle that really ends up with no winners,” he said…

Hickenlooper’s senior water adviser, John Stulp, is charged with identifying potential expansions that would allow some future growth without drying up more acres of cropland. Stulp said the Chatfield and Rueter-Hess reservoirs south of Denver can hold more water, as can Halligan and Seaman reservoirs near Fort Collins. Hickenlooper suggested aquifers depleted by south Denver suburbs also could serve as a reservoir if recharged with water…

Moving ahead to address looming water shortages could not be done without a new collaborative framework, Hickenlooper said in an interview.
“This state has to realize, people in metropolitan Denver have to realize, that their self-interest is served by treating water as a precious commodity and that its value on the Western Slope is just as relevant as its value in the metro area,” he said. “Certain parts of this water may be legally Denver’s water, or Aurora’s water. But it’s all Colorado’s water.”

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

“The reality is that ever since the Two Forks [dam] veto [in 1990], with federal permitting requirements and local and state land use controls, the old method of just taking water and moving it from one place to another regardless of impacts — those days are over,” Lochhead said. “We need to be responsible to Western Slope communities and recognize that we impact those communities.”[…]

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper attended the Thursday press conference and said he supports the agreement. “This is an historic agreement in every sense of the word,” he said. “It sets a model of how we can have these discussions without pitting one part of the state against another, to figure out where our water comes from while pushing for reuse and conservation. “As more people hear about this and understand the significance of this, Coloradans will applaud the compromises that were made,” Hickenlooper said…

Tom Davidson, a Summit County commissioner, thanked members of the Denver Water Board of Commissioners at the press conference. “For many generations, Coloradans on the Western Slope have watched our water flow uphill, flow toward the money, flow toward the Front Range,” Davidson said.

“It’s important to recognize that the board members of Denver Water are no going to have some of that money, and the water that’s been flowing to the Front Range, flow back to the places where the water came from. Thank you for understanding and providing significant funds to Western Slope communities to mitigate some of the impacts that we’ve been dealing with for generations. It will make Colorado a better place, and the Western Slope a more sustainable place.”

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

Key parts of the agreement, including changes in operations at Green Mountain Reservoir, and water use related to operation of the Shoshone power plant, still require buy-in from entities not party to the current agreement. Though hailed as a “global” solution, the deal also would sanction an additional 15,000 acre-feet of diversions from the Colorado River headwaters to the Front Range, exacerbating an entirely different set of issues farther downstream — in the Grand Canyon, for example, where a recent report concluded that existing diversions are already damaging natural resources. It covers existing diversions and projects, but conservation advocates were careful to point out that the agreement does not encompass the effects of two large Grand County projects currently under review — the expansion of the Moffat Tunnel collection system and the Windy Gap firming project, along the upper Colorado. Click here to read the full legal version of the deal…

Kirk Klancke, president of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Headwaters chapter in Fraser, praised Grand County, the Colorado River Water Conservation District and other West Slope stakeholders who pushed for river protections. “They realized that a healthy river is the basis for healthy communities and local economies. They realized that if we don’t save our rivers, we’ll lose the heart and soul of this magnificent place,” Klancke said…

Many West Slope leaders credited Hickenlooper with nudging the negotiations forward when he served as Denver’s mayor, in part by appointing collaboratively minded people to the Denver Board of Water Commissioners…

More coverage from Dennis Webb writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

Parties to the landmark proposal say it would be the largest agreement of its kind in the history of a state that previously has seen big fights over Front Range efforts to divert Western Slope water. Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, praised it as a means of moving from confrontation to a “culture of cooperation.”[…]

Kuhn said a similar effort already is ongoing between the Western Slope and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Some conservationists have voiced concern that as the largest user of Upper Colorado River water, Northern Colorado isn’t a party to the Denver proposal. Kuhn said he’s optimistic about how negotiations are proceeding with that district.

More coverage from Scott N. Miller writing for the Vail Daily News. From the article:

A deal between Denver Water and the Western Slope may have been hatched in Grand County Thursday, but the incubation started in a Beaver Creek conference room in 2004. That first meeting, pulled together by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, the Eagle Park Reservoir Company, Vail Resorts and other local water users and providers, resulted in the framework of the agreement announced Thursday between Denver water and more than 30 Western Slope water districts and agencies. Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak, who has long represented local water agencies, has a lot of experience in the battles between Front Range and Western Slope water interests. Porzak said what came out of that meeting had never happened before — for the first time, Denver Water was going to negotiate with a unified group, and not just individual communities or agencies.

While a summary of the deal released Thursday doesn’t seem to have much for Eagle County residents, Porzak said the process that started in Beaver Creek has some important ramifications for people who live in the Eagle River basin. Thanks to a 2007 case that was settled out of court, Denver Water gave up most of its water rights in the Eagle River basin. Those water rights could have potentially affected flows in the Eagle River, Gore Creek and other up-valley streams to fill a proposed reservoir in Wolcott. Thanks to that settlement, there’s still a chance that a reservoir could be built at Wolcott, but not without the approval of local water districts and Eagle County.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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