Colorado River Cooperative Agreement: Should the agreement have included more from a fisherman’s point of view?

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The Fraser River was a favorite fishing hole for President Eisenhower whose wife had Colorado roots. The stream has changed much since those days and more changes are coming. In today’s Denver Post Scott Willoughby tempers his enthusiasm for the landmark agreement by asking the obvious question. Where do Colorado-Big Thompson diversions fit in? From the article:

If we can dismiss politics for a moment, the fisherman’s perspective might help simplify things. And by simplify, I mean, point out the obvious flaws in the plan before uncorking the champagne.

For starters, this so-called “global” pact regarding future use of the Colorado River was designed to push Colorado away from trans-basin water diversions, yet it failed to include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the single largest user of Upper Colorado River water. Northern’s Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap trans-mountain diversions are responsible for removing more water from the Upper Colorado than anything else, and Northern currently has plans on the table to take another 30,000 acre-feet per year through its Windy Gap Firming Project. Yet, during the course of the five-year negotiation, Northern wasn’t at the table.

Denver Water was. And among the greatest rewards it received for playing is a tacit approval of the proposed Moffat Collection System Project that will draw another 18,000 acre-feet annually from the Colorado headwaters and move it to an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder…

The Windy Gap Firming Project alone is likely to decrease water level in Lake Granby, reduce trout habitat and food sources in the Colorado River and impose challenges to boaters floating the river at certain times of the year.

And, it seems, the Ute Water Conservancy District is not on board with the agreement. Here’s a report from From the article:

The Grand Junction-based district is concerned about its water rights if the Shoshone Generating Station stops operating. The water right for the station is among the most senior on the Colorado River. Ute Water also doesn’t like the way water stored in Green Mountain Reservoir in central Colorado would be accounted for.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The agreement does not involve water from Southwest Colorado, although it will help the entire western half of the state by creating a new culture that requires agreement from everyone before water can be pumped east, said Eric Kuhn, head of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “The West Slope’s interests were very simple and that is to preserve what makes Western Colorado special and unique, and that is the ecosystem, and the Colorado River is key to that,” Kuhn said.

Denver and 33 Western Slope groups, including towns and ski areas, signed on to the agreement. But other major Front Range utilities did not join in the accord.

Under the agreement, when water is scarce, Denver Water agrees not to use its legal right to draw down streams in Grand County unless Denver has banned residential lawn watering. In return, Denver secured Western Slope agreement to expand its service area by providing recycled water to its suburbs. The southern suburbs have been among the fastest-growing areas of the country the last 15 years, but they lack a reliable long-term water supply. Denver also agreed not to drain Lake Dillon – its main reservoir – too low, and to support a kayak park in Glenwood Springs that would require water to flow downstream, away from Denver’s system of pumps and reservoirs.

Western Colorado has long been wary of Denver because the city owns legal rights to pump Colorado River water east over the Continental Divide. The Denver suburbs are also on a desperate hunt for water, and their high populations give them the money to buy the rights to even more Western Slope water. Thursday’s agreement is historic because Denver agreed to take less water than it has the legal right to use. The city will devote some of its supply to Western Slope ski resorts and communities.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.

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