Moffat Collection System Project and Windy Gap Firming Project: The Colorado Division of Wildlife commissioners approve both mitigation plans

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From The Denver Post (Mitchell Byars):

Now the plan must clear the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to release its final environmental impact study later this year. If the Army Corps gives the project the green light, construction on the expansion of Gross Reservoir in southwest Boulder County could start as early as 2015. The project is expected to take four years. The wildlife commission voted unanimously to accept Denver Water’s environmental mitigation plan. “We take this unanimous vote as an endorsement of our cooperative approach with local stakeholders,” said Denver Water’s planning director Dave Little. “Now we want to move aggressively towards implementing these measures.”[…]

In the mitigation plan, Denver Water agreed to stop diverting water from July 15 through the end of August if temperatures in the river reached levels that could possibly threaten local fish populations. The utility also pledged money to enhance stream habitats in cooperation with local counties and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “Make the river better, that’s sort of our mantra,” Little said. “We’ve addressed all of the impacts in the scientific study the Army Corps of Engineers did, which was an exhaustive effort. But we know the Corps did not capture the impacts that some others have brought up and that’s why we went above and beyond in our mitigation plan.”

More coverage from Tonya Bina writing for the Sky-Hi Daily News. From the article:

In a series of unanimous votes, the commissioners approved mitigation plans for Denver’s Moffat Collection System project and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project and also authorized the Colorado Division of Wildlife to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Denver and Northern to help manage a significant restoration project for the upper Colorado River…

The votes came after Denver and Northern described to Commissioners several new or modified plan elements, which include enhanced temperature and flow protections, creation of contingency funds for unanticipated impacts and enhanced funding for river restoration plans. The restoration plans were not required by the permitting process but were offered voluntarily by Denver and Northern to help address impacts from past water development. The agreements hinge on the water providers obtaining final federal approval for their projects…

Prior to the vote, Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn summarized concerns expressed by several commissioners regarding the complex package of plans and the potential that development of the projects may have unintended consequences for the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers. “Is it perfect?” Glenn asked “No. But staff has evaluated it inside and out and I’m confident that it’s better than where we are.” The Commission’s recommendation will now be transmitted to the federal permitting agency for each project…

To further address impacts from its Moffat Collection System project, Denver has agreed to new elements including increased safeguards for maintaining cool water temperatures and minimum flows in the Fraser during high summer and additional funds for aquatic habitat improvements in that river. Denver also agreed to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement being developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is in addition to Denver’s previous proposal to fund a Colorado River cutthroat restoration project and other aquatic habitat restoration work on the Fraser. On the Colorado River, Denver would maintain two water temperature gauges and agree to release water in August if high temperatures threatened fish…

East of the Divide, Denver would allow Boulder and Lafayette to store water in the enlarged Gross Reservoir for release during winter months, replace wetlands inundated by the larger reservoir and monitor stream channel stability.

In its final proposal, Northern agreed to increase minimum peak flows during drought conditions to maintain fish spawning habitat, to further restrict or curtail pumping during extreme conditions to protect cool water temperatures and to reserve $600,000 for a “mitigation insurance policy” to address any new impacts identified by the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Windy Gap being developed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Northern’s proposal included mitigating impacts on the Upper Colorado River system by managing their pumping to maintain water levels in Lake Granby and keep water temperatures cool, looking for ways to improve flushing flows in the Upper Colorado River below Windy Gap Reservoir and contributing to water quality projects that reduce nutrient loading in Lake Granby, Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir.

East of the Divide, Northern proposed to replace lost wetlands and improve enhance wildlife habitat near the new Chimney Hollow reservoir…

In their final plans, Denver and Northern agreed to add $1 million in funding to the Upper Colorado River Habitat Project to $4.5 million and increase money set aside to address future contingencies or operating and maintenance costs on that project to $1.5 million. Denver and Northern also pledged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the DOW to manage the habitat project, and urged that the DOW be given a more direct role in developing and managing stream restoration projects contemplated under the Learn By Doing adaptive management process created by Denver’s global settlement with Grand County and other stakeholders…

Senior Northeast Region aquatic biologist Ken Kehmeier said Division staff believes that in total, the agreements, including those made with mountain communities, would not only address impacts from the new projects but also help repair impacts to the Colorado and Fraser rivers caused by previous projects.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Commissioners were generally still worried about the “unintended consequences for the Upper Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork rivers” but felt the revised mitigation plans – including greater temperature and flow protections for aquatic life, more funding for river restoration and a contingency fund for unanticipated impacts – were a lot better than previous plans. “It has always been Denver Water’s goal to go beyond mitigating the project impacts to make the river better than it is today,” Denver Water’s director of planning Dave Little said: “We look forward to working with stakeholders on mitigation for the project and the significant enhancement plan also accepted by the Commission that will improve aquatic habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

The fish and wildlife mitigation plans still must be approved by federal regulators. Also on Thursday, Denver Water provided a statement on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report that includes one scenario in which water levels in the Colorado River decrease by 10 to 20 percent by the middle of this century as a result of global climate change.

More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

More Windy Gap coverage here and here.

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