Denver: Federal judge dismisses Water Supply & Storage Company lawsuit

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):

A water-and-fish dispute that began in 1994 just ended. A federal judge in Denver on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Fort Collins-based Water Supply & Storage Co. over a U.S. Forest Service decision about the management of Long Draw Reservoir and requirements to restore the native greenback cutthroat trout in the reservoir and surrounding streams.

Long Draw Reservoir sits below the east side of the Continental Divide, about 35 miles west of Fort Collins in the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. Some of its water comes from the Western Slope via the Grand River Ditch, which traverses a section of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Water from the reservoir is released into La Poudre Pass Creek, a tributary to the Poudre River. The water goes toward downstream agricultural and municipal uses. The reservoir was built in 1929 and expanded in 1974.

That 53-acre expansion was the root cause of the ensuing fight. The original 300-acre reservoir was permitted under a permanent easement, said Dennis Harmon, general manager of the irrigation company: The expansion required a separate, renewable easement and permit.

In 1994, Trout Unlimited sued the Forest Service over an Environmental Impact Statement for the permit that would have allowed La Poudre Pass Creek to be dry during the winter.

In 2004, a U.S. District Court threw out the permit, forcing the Forest Service to start the permitting process over and include a plan to protect trout habitat and restore the greenback cutthroat trout to the watershed.

A deal to make that happen involving Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Water Supply & Storage was reached in 2010. But the forest supervisor at the time said the irrigation company would have to be responsible for full cost of the restoration project.

That prompted another lawsuit and more years of haggling. Under the new deal, Water Supply & Storage will put $1,250,000 into a trust that will pay for the restoration program.

Trout Unlimited will be the trustee. It will work closely with the Forest Service, the National Park Service and Colorado agencies to implement the largest trout restoration project in state history.

The work will entail building barriers in the reservoir and more than 40 miles of streams to block out non-native fish species. Once non-native fish are eliminated section-section from streams, the waters will be restocked with greenback cutthroat trout.

The project is likely to last more than 10 years, said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. It could cost more than the earmarked $1,250,000, he said, but fundraising and in-kind donations from volunteers and government entities should help get the work done.

Water Supply & Storage is glad to have the matter settled after so many years, Harmon said. It wound up with a 30-year easement agreement to continue managing the reservoir.

He declined to say how much the company paid in legal fees.

Nickum said the restoration work will be challenging, especially given the limitations on equipment that may be used inside designated wilderness areas. But it will be worthwhile for the environment and people who enjoy fishing.

And the greenback cutthroat trout – the Colorado state fish and a threatened species – will be back in it home waters.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

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