Colorado TU Gives Conservation Award to Grand County

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Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):

Colorado Trout Unlimited today announced that Grand County government – led by County Commissioners Gary Bumgarner, James Newberry, and Nancy Stuart – is the recipient of TU’s 2012 Trout Conservation Award for its work protecting the Upper Colorado River watershed in the face of Front Range water diversions and other threats.

The award is presented each year to recognize outstanding achievements in conserving Colorado rivers and trout habitat.

“I have never seen a local government place the level of attention, resources, and overall emphasis on river conservation as has been the case with Grand County over the past five years,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Commissioners Bumgarner, Newberry and Stuart, and County Manager Lurline Curran, have worked tirelessly to preserve healthy river flows along with the wildlife, local communities, and quality of life that depend on them. They have been true champions for the Colorado headwaters.”

“As a resident of Grand County for 40 years, and as a father who wants his children and their children to experience the same natural wonders that I’ve enjoyed here over the years, I am deeply appreciative of the unified effort from our commissioners and staff in their fight to save our rivers and lakes,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of TU. “I am proud of my county for having courageous leaders like these, who are an example to all of the Davids that are facing Goliaths.”

Nickum called Grand County “a longstanding and valued partner” with Trout Unlimited in working to protect and restore the Upper Colorado River watershed. He noted that Grand County officials have invested more than $3 million into assessing and addressing the needs of its rivers, and spent thousands of hours negotiating with Front Range water users and advocating to federal permitting agencies for better protections for the Upper Colorado River watershed.

Among other accomplishments in the past year, Grand County (along with other west slope governments and Denver Water) unveiled a historic “cooperative agreement” that includes many important benefits for the Colorado River and its tributaries, including millions of dollars for river restoration and environmental enhancement; 1,000 acre-feet of water to help with low flows in the Fraser River watershed; guarantees that the vital Shoshone call continues to operate in the future to keep water in the Colorado River year-round; and an agreement that any future transbasin projects will only be pursued with the consent of the West Slope. The agreement is also important in establishing a stakeholder partnership called “Learning by Doing” to provide ongoing monitoring of river health to ensure adequate protection measures.

Grand County has also worked with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to use Windy Gap pumping capabilities to re-manage some “excess” water for the benefit of flows in the Colorado River and has filed for a Recreational In Channel Diversion to help support a new in-river water right on the Colorado mainstem.

Moreover, Grand County leaders are negotiating with Northern for enhanced funding for river restoration projects—including a needed bypass around Windy Gap Reservoir to improve Colorado River habitat—and additional water for use in Grand County to boost flows and river health. Grand County is also promoting an agreement to release water for endangered fish in the downstream Colorado River out of Granby Reservoir – thereby benefiting the Colorado through miles of key trout habitat – instead of releases solely from Ruedi Reservoir, as has been done in the past.

For all the progress in recent years, the health of the Upper Colorado River ecosystem will continue to decline unless further protections are put in place to address looming impacts from two new Front Range diversion projects, Denver’s Moffat Tunnel expansion and Northern’s Windy Gap Firming Project. Nickum noted that EPA recently issued recommendations that supported Grand County and TU’s case for stronger mitigation on the Windy Gap Firming Project.

“Grand County officials understand that the Colorado headwaters are the lifeblood of their communities and of our state’s tourism economy and outdoor quality of life,” said Nickum. “They have set an example for our public leaders of what strong river stewardship looks like.”

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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