From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Ute Water manager lauded for leadership: Endangered fish will benefit from efforts to improve water levels
The head of the Ute Water Conservancy District is being honored by a Colorado nonprofit agency for his leadership in leasing association water to benefit endangered fish.
Larry Clever, Ute Water’s general manager, is receiving the David Getches Flowing Waters Award from the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit group dedicated to using market-based transactions to restore and protect flows on Colorado’s rivers. He will receive the award in Denver on June 14 at RiverBank, the nonprofit group’s annual fundraising event.
The honor derives from Ute Water’s decision last year to lease water from Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to the Colorado Water Conservation Board to benefit endangered fish in what’s known as the 15-mile reach of the Colorado River upstream of its confluence with the Gunnison River. The board ended up using 9,000 acre-feet under the deal.
The entities have agreed to renew the lease this year. The deal involves water that serves as a backup supply for Ute Water and a source to meet potential new demand.
Clever described the lease as “kind of a joint idea” between him, assistant manager Steve Ryken and Ute Water attorney Mark Hermundstad. It involves water that Ute Water contracted for in 2013 from the Bureau of Reclamation reservoir.
“What we wanted to do was get the water to Lake Powell so we could increase the water level in Lake Powell. This was a mechanism to get it there,” Clever said of the deal with the water conservation board.
Ute Water is concerned about the potential for levels in Powell to fall low enough to threaten hydroelectric power generation at the reservoir or to jeopardize the ability of upstream states in the Colorado River Basin to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states. Either situation could result in restrictions on Upper Basin water use.
“We had this water sitting in Ruedi and the idea was to get it into Lake Powell just so we could raise the water level a little higher,” Clever said.
It’s not very much water compared to Powell’s size, he conceded.
“But it’s better than not putting anything in it, and the fish definitely benefit,” he said.
The 15-mile reach is critical habitat for four endangered fish — the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail. Low flows in late summer can stress the fish.
The award Clever is receiving is named for a man who helped found the water trust, served as executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, advised the Interior secretary during the Clinton administration, and served as dean of the University of Colorado School of Law.
“If people for whatever motivations want to put more water back in rivers, that is close to sort of David’s vision for Colorado and ours as well,” said Zach Smith, staff attorney for the trust.
He said the deal involving Ute Water, making use of water in upstream reservoirs that isn’t needed in a particular year, is the kind the trust would like to see more of.
Hannah Holm, coordinator of the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, said that Ute’s action “demonstrates a proactive, creative approach to providing long-term water security for Ute customers while also taking tangible steps to address regional water challenges.”