#FraserRiver improvement project begins in #Granby #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Construction has begun for the Fraser River improvement project in Granby. The project will improve fish and sediment flows at the Granby Diversion Dam.
Courtesy Trout Unlimited via The Sky-Hi Daily News

From Colorado Trout Unlimited via The Sky-Hi Daily News:

A project designed to improve the Fraser River in Granby began construction Thursday.

Construction is expected to be completed by the end of November and the bridge across the Fraser River at Kaibab Park will be closed during the work.

The Granby Diversion Dam, which helps divert the town’s water supply and agricultural irrigation water, is an 80 foot wide, 3.5 foot high boulder structure that spans the Fraser River. At low flows, the dam is a barrier that prevents fish movement critical for a healthy fishery and blocks the movement of small non-motorized crafts that currently portage around it, according to a release from Trout Unlimited.

The project is the result of a partnership between Granby, Trout Unlimited and Grand County. Funds were contributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Open Lands, Rivers and Trails Fund, with the Northern Colorado Water Conservation Board contributing most of the materials for the project and Colorado Parks and Wildlife providing assistance.

The goal of the project is to provide fish passage for trout and native species and for non-motorized boating recreation without interfering with water diversion for municipal and irrigation purposes. The project will also provide resilience for future flood events, facilitate natural stream processes like sediment transport and no rise in the 100 year floodplain.

This daagram shows fish passage from the proposed project on the Granby Diversion along Fraser River. Red represents fish passage during high flow and blue represents passage during low flow. Courtesy of Town of Granby via the Sky-Hi Daily News

@DenverWater: River of words when the heat is on #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Members of Learning By Doing tour the Fraser Flats on Sept. 27, 2016. Photo credit: Denver Water

Here’s a guest column from Stacy Chesney that’s running in The Sky-Hi Daily News:

When it comes to collaboratively managing water supplies on the West Slope, Denver Water understands that we must walk the talk.

When talking about our new era of doing business, Denver Water’s CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead regularly cites that “instead of platitudes, politics or parochialism, you need to sit down and work together.”

And that is exactly what has happened since the signatories of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement sat down on Sept. 26, 2013, to put the new framework into action that ultimately benefits water supply, water quality, recreation and the environment on both sides of the Continental Divide.

From it came the Learning By Doing cooperative effort to maintain and enhance the aquatic environment in Grand County, which has already seen huge successes in the Fraser Flats River Habitat work, stream sampling programs and the removal of 2,500 tons of traction sand from Highway 40 before it could impact water quality and trout habitat downstream in the Fraser River.

We’re also aware that dry and hot summers, like we saw in 2018 and are experiencing again this year, bring added stress to the fisheries, environment and ultimately the entire communities of Grand and Summit counties.

When the rivers are low, talking the talk also becomes imperative.

Water efficiency is always top of mind for the Denver metro area, and during times like this, conservation dominates our communication channels. If you live on the West Slope, you may not see Denver Water’s communications about efficiency, but we are focusing on conservation measures and fostering appreciation for our source water where it matters: our customers.

We know that using less water means more water can be kept in the reservoirs, rivers and streams that fish live in and Coloradans enjoy. And ultimately, Denver Water’s customers are answering that call despite enduring what is turning out to be one of the hottest and driest years on record.

Overall, residents of the Denver metro area are using less water than they did in other summers when it was similarly hot and dry. We see them being cautious and judicious with their water use and adjusting based on the weather. In fact, Denver Water customers cut their water use in half in a matter of days when it snowed earlier in September.

This is nothing new though. After the 2002 drought, Denver Water’s conservation campaign led to our per-person reduction goal of 22% from pre-drought levels — one that we’ve continued to maintain since 2016. We’ve taken that momentum and are now working directly with our customers, sending water use reports along with rebates and tips to inefficient users on how to better use water wisely.

We also continue to evolve everything we do, from leading the way with new water reuse solutions, to upgrading our Water Shortage Plan – developed with feedback from our partners at Trout Unlimited, Grand County and other Learning By Doing stakeholders.

Denverites value where their water comes from. We live in this great state because of communities like Grand and Summit counties that provide resources precious to all of us. This benefit was made even more valuable because of the pandemic this year – a reality that we don’t take for granted and continually stress to the 1.5 million people we serve.

Stacy Chesney is Denver Water’s director of public affairs.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Some Environmental Groups In #Colorado Still Hope To Stop The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Corey H. Jones):

The fight over expanding Gross Reservoir in Boulder County continues, despite the project’s recent approval from federal officials

“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, said in a recent statement

At the same time, Denver Water has its own case with Boulder County, which initially denied the utility’s request to be exempt from a local review of its plan. A Boulder district judge ruled in December that Denver Water must go through the county’s review process. Denver Water has appealed that decision through the Colorado Court of Appeals and must file an opening brief by Aug. 4.

This means that ultimately county officials could have a say over approval of the expansion. Boulder County Deputy Attorney David Hughes said they have that power thanks to a series of Colorado statutes referred to as 1041 Regulations.

Boulder County could also request another hearing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hughes declined to say whether his office will do so.

After receiving that federal approval, Denver Water said it plans to finish the design phase of the expansion next year, followed by four years of construction.

“The FERC order is an important advance for the project,” a Denver Water spokesman said in an email to CPR News. “From here, related to legal matters, we’ll need to take some time to evaluate our options and the appropriate next steps.”

Final federal approval secured for Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — @DenverWater #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

Here’s the release from Denver Water:

[On July 17, 2020], the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Denver Water to proceed with design and construction to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County.

Seventeen years ago, Denver Water began the federal environmental permitting process that lead to approvals by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2016 and 2017.

“Obtaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order to move forward with the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project brings a comprehensive 17-year federal and state permitting process — one that involved nearly 35 agencies and organizations — to a close,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead. “This order directs Denver Water to move ahead with construction to meet mandated milestones and timelines.”

“Expanding Gross Reservoir is a critical project to ensure a secure water supply for nearly a quarter of the state’s population. The project provides the system balance, additional storage and resiliency needed for our existing customers as well as a growing population. We are seeing extreme climate variability and that means we need more options to safeguard a reliable water supply for 1.5 million people in Denver Water’s service area,” Lochhead said.

The design phase of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is expected to wrap up by mid-2021 and will be followed by four years of construction. The project involves the raising of the existing 340-foot-tall Gross Dam by an additional 131 feet, which will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 77,000 acre-feet, and includes 5,000 acre-feet of storage dedicated to South Boulder Creek flows that will be managed by the cities of Boulder and Lafayette.

“We are committed to working closely with the Boulder County community to ensure safety, be considerate neighbors and retain open, two-way communication channels during this construction project,” said Jeff Martin, program manager for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. “We will continue to seek community input on topics such as traffic control plans, hauling traffic schedules, tree removal plans, and other construction-related activities.”

The FERC order, along with the permitting conditions put in place by CDPHE and the Corps, further commits Denver Water to implement environmental improvements by putting in place measures evaluated in the environmental assessment issued in February 2018.

The project relies on the expansion of an existing footprint — without the placement of a new dam, reservoir or diversion structure; it also benefits from an original design that anticipated eventual expansion. Increasing the capacity of Gross Reservoir was a specific and formal recommendation from the environmental community as an alternative to construction of the proposed Two Forks Reservoir in the 1980s.

Denver Water has committed more than $20 million to more than 60 different environmental mitigation and enhancement projects that create new habitat and flow protections to rivers and streams on both sides of the Continental Divide as a result of the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project. According to Colorado officials, those commitments will have a net environmental benefit for the state’s water quality.

This project has earned the support of major environmental groups including Colorado Trout Unlimited, The Greenway Foundation and Western Resource Advocates; local, state and federal elected officials (including Colorado’s last five Governors); and major business and economic development groups, among others.

An expanded Gross Reservoir is critical to Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach — including efficient water use, reuse and responsibly sourcing new storage — to improve system balance and resiliency while contributing to water security for the more than 1.5 million people in the Denver metro area.

The FERC regulates the production of hydropower in the United States. As a Federal Power Act project dating back to 1954, expanding Gross Reservoir required the FERC’s approval of Denver Water’s application to amend its hydropower license. This approval and order carry the force of law and are the final federal authority over the reservoir project.

For more information on the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, visit http://grossreservoir.org.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

@DenverWater ‘evaluating options’ after Gross project ruling — The Arvada Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir, west of Boulder. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Arvada Press (Casey Van Divier):

A court ruling from the end of 2019 determined Denver Water officials must obtain an additional permit for the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — a project that Arvada is depending on so it can continue developing land…

Arvada has a contract to purchase raw water from the reservoir and, in return, is sharing the cost of the project with Denver Water…

Denver Water is one of two sources through which Arvada obtains its water, with the other being Clear Creek, said Jim Sullivan, the city’s former director of utilities.

In total, the city has the rights to roughly 25,000 acre-feet of water, with about 19,000 of that provided through its existing contract with Denver Water, he said.

“We have a comprehensive plan that shows what the city limits will eventually grow to” by 2065, when an estimated 155,000 people will live in Arvada, Sullivan said. This plan would require approximately 3,000 additional acre-feet of water, which will be provided by the expansion project.

If the project was canceled, the city would need to halt development until it could secure alternate resources, Sullivan said.

Those other resources “have been harder and harder to come by,” said Arvada water treatment manager Brad Wyant. Other entities have already laid claim to the other major water supplies in the area, he and Sullivan said.

“The next big water project will be some kind of diversion of water from the Western Slope to the Denver area,” Sullivan said. This would be a major endeavor and “there’s nothing even on the horizon at this point,” he said, making the success of the Gross project a necessity for Arvada development.

So far, the city has contributed about $3 million to the project, with plans to contribute about $100 million by 2030.

The contributions are funded through Arvada Water’s capital improvement budget, which consists of one-time tap fees that customers pay when they first connect to the Arvada Water system. Resident’s bimonthly water billing funds ongoing operations and will not be used for the Gross project, Sullivan said.

Denver Water has estimated the project will cost a total of $464 million.

Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald affirms Boulder County’s 1041 oversight for @DenverWater’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

In a seven-page ruling, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald stated that based on evidence placed on the record by both sides in the controversy, he found Boulder County “did not exceed its jurisdiction or abuse its discretion, or misinterpret or misapply the law,” when it asserted its permitting authority.

That authority, Boulder County has maintained, is established by State House Bill 1041, passed by the Legislature in 1974, which allows local governments to review and regulate matters of statewide interest through a local permitting process.

Denver Water challenged that authority by filing suit in Boulder District Court in April of this year, claiming what it termed a “zoned law exemption” which it asserted excused it from having to pass through the county process. Denver Water’s complaint claimed the zoning at the reservoir that existed at the time of the passage of the 1041 legislation — officially known as the Activities and Areas of State Interest Act — permitted its planned activities.

Additionally, the suit stated Boulder County commissioners had exceeded their jurisdiction and/or abused their discretion at a March 14 hearing at which they unanimously upheld Land Use Director Dale Case’s finding that the county review process must apply to Denver Water.

Macdonald’s ruling struck down Denver Water’s claim to an exemption based on prior zoning.

“There is nothing on the record that Denver Water had any well-established development rights to expand Gross Dam and Gross Reservoir prior to May 17, 1974,” he ruled. “Any prior contemplated expansion projects cannot be determined to be well-established development rights because the proposed Expansion Project is essentially an entirely new construction project.”

[…]

In an email Friday night, Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said, “As we continue to follow the process of determining the appropriate permitting methods, we will review the order and evaluate our next steps. No matter the path forward, we remain committed to considering input from Boulder County and from community members to minimize and mitigate the impacts of the Project.”

An additional hurdle remains for the project. Denver Water is still waiting for a final decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on a hydropower licensing amendment that Denver Water needs in order to go forward with its planned expansion of the reservoir.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

“If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed” — Kirk Klancke #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Colorado Sun (Moe Clark):

For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders…

Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

A winter wonderland in Winter Park, Colorado, near the west portal of the Moffat Tunnel, which delivers water from the Fraser and Williams Fork River basins, under the Continental Divide and on to the Moffat Treatment Plant in Lakewood, Colorado. Photo credit: Denver Water. (Photo taken in winter of 2016-2017.)

For decades, the Fraser River has struggled with low flows, rising stream temperatures, sediment build-up, plummeting fish populations and degrading aquatic habitats due in large part to Front Range water diversions that drain 65% of the river.

But after years of heated negotiations — and the formation of a partnership between environmentalists, Grand County officials and Front Range water diverters — some stretches of the Grand County tributary of the Colorado River have started to show improvement.

Some are heralding the success as the beginning of a new era of collaboration between historically fraught Front Range and Western Slope water stakeholders. But with future restoration projects being contingent on two new water diversion projects that will siphon even more water from the Fraser to the Front Range, some worry that the efforts might only be a mirage.

“They’re basically putting a Band-Aid on the issue, they’re not helping the underlying cause of the problem, which is that too much water is being taken out of a river to meet human needs,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director for the organization WildEarth Guardians.

Proponents of the collaboration have rejoiced at the results of the work, saying that it’s the first time that major Front Range water diverters have participated in meaningful river restoration projects, and have taken responsibility for damage done to Colorado’s rivers. The partnership, dubbed the Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort, or LBD, includes the two biggest water utilities in the state, Denver Water and Northern Water, as well as Trout Unlimited, Grand County officials and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The partners celebrated their first success in 2018: the completion of a $200,000 restoration project called the Fraser Flats Habitat, which rehabilitated a mile of the river near Tabernash by narrowing the streambed to increase the river’s depth and velocity, to improve the aquatic ecosystem.

Kirk Klancke, pictured Aug. 21, 2019, in front of the Fraser Flats area, was the visionary for the restoration efforts that improved fish habitat along the 1-mile stretch of the Fraser River. The efforts, which were partially funded by Denver Water, involved narrowing parts of the river to create deeper channels and faster flows. (Matt Stensland, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Seeing the river flowing again brought tears to the eyes of Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited and longtime resident of Grand County.

“It was like I was looking at a completely different river,” said Klancke, who has been an integral part of the collaborative. “In the 48 years I’ve lived in Grand County, it was the first time that I saw the river actually looking healthier.”

“We’ve got the most heavily diverted county in Colorado, about 300,000 acre-feet a year comes out of Grand County. The next highest competitor is Pitkin County, with 98,000… We consider ourselves ground zero. If we can’t save the rivers in Grand County, every river in Colorado is doomed.”

Eco-vandals shut down high country water diversions bound for the #FrontRange, causing $1 million in damage — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Vandals caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage to the City of Northglenn’s collection system on top of Berthoud Pass earlier this month, shutting the system down for several days. As the Grand County Sheriff investigates, Northglenn water officials say they fear the damage is the work of eco-vandals, upset over ongoing diversions from the drought-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

For years, the City of Northglenn has captured water on top of Berthoud Pass and delivered it down to its customers north of Denver.

But on Aug. 2, when water should have been flowing freely, the reading on the measuring gauge on what’s known as the Berthoud Pass Ditch fell to zero. On investigation, the city found the system had been vandalized, with diversion structures torn apart and locks cut, allowing millions of gallons of water to flow back into the Fraser River, a tributary to the upper Colorado River, instead of Northglenn’s ditch.

“It seemed very intentional,” said Tamara Moon, Northglenn’s manager of water resources. “They did a doozy on us.”

Roughly $100,000 worth of damage was done to the diversion system, with another $900,000 in water lost, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s office.

Lesser damage to the structure, part of which can be accessed off a hiking trail near the old Berthoud Pass ski area, occurred in March, Moon said.

But she believes now that both efforts are linked to the political tension over transmountain diversions from the water-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

Two major expansion projects, including an effort by Denver Water to bring more water from the Fraser River and one by Northern Water to bring over more from the upper Colorado River near Granby, have sparked major lawsuits by several environmental groups, including Save The Colorado, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, among others. The lawsuits are pending in court…

Though Northglenn isn’t involved in either project, Moon said the fact that her city’s diversion system is pulling from the same watershed has likely exposed it to the frustration over the diversions.

The week the system was disabled, Northglenn was delivering water to the City of Golden, one of its customers on the system.

Golden lost several days’ worth of water as a result of the incident, but because its system, like most, has benefited from an abundance of water this year, the temporary cut-off didn’t affect the city’s ability to provide water to its own customers.

“It really hasn’t had an impact on us,” said Anne Beierle, Golden’s deputy director of public works. “From our perspective though, it’s a little disconcerting and it’s disappointing. If it turns out to be [eco-vandalism], it is unfortunate.”

The Grand County Sheriff’s office is still investigating the incident.

Grand County, home to Winter Park and Granby, is also one of the most heavily diverted counties in Colorado, with millions of gallons of water from the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers being diverted to the Front Range to serve dozens of communities.

“This was a purposeful, deliberate act,” said Lieutenant Dan Mayer, the Grand County Sheriff’s public information officer.

The four diversion gates that were broken were roughly one-half mile apart, Mayer said. “Somebody wanted to break these gates. You had to [hike in to] find them.

“We have a lot of water agencies running [water] out of here. But we haven’t seen any incidents like this at other systems. It makes it seem as if it could very well be some kind of eco-terrorism, and we would very much like to find out who did it.”

Mayer said the charges any suspect would face include felony theft, felony criminal mischief, and first degree criminal tampering and trespass, all of which could result in significant jail time and fines.

In addition to installing new diversion gates and locks, Northglenn’s Moon said the city is installing remote cameras in an effort to better monitor the site and to be able to identify the culprits should they return.

“We don’t even have power up there,” she said. “There’s not a lot more we can do.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

View down Clear Creek from the Empire Trail 1873 via the USGS

Gross Reservoir Expansion Project update

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From TheDenverChannel.com (Jace Larson):

The project will require significant construction over seven years to increase the reservoir’s holding capacity to 119,000 acre-feet of water.

When built, the dam will be the tallest in Colorado.

Denver Water says the additional space is needed to spread out capacity outside of Denver for the water utility used by 1.4 million people in the city and its surrounding suburbs.

The proposed construction project is not without opposition from neighbors and environmentalists who say they will endure years of construction on a water project that will never provide water to their taps.

“Boulder County is going to host this reservoir but gets no water from it. We derive no benefit from it. We only pay the price of having this thing in our county,” said Tim Guenthner, who lives just above the dam in a subdivision of about 1,000 people.

Denver7 decided to take a 360 look at this issue and gathered perspectives from five people connected to the proposed construction project…

Boulder County Commissioners have also taken a stance that Denver Water must get local permits before it can start the project.

Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said Denver Water doesn’t believe the law requires that and points out it has undergone numerous environmental studies and worked through the state permit process. This issue will likely be decided by another judge…

Denver Water’s Gross Dam project manager, Jeff Martin, acknowledges the project will cause noise for neighbors.

“Well we don’t hide from the fact there’s going to be some disruption from the noise, but we are looking at ways of minimizing that noise,” Martin said.

As an example, Denver Water decided to move the quarry needed to make cement to a portion of the lake that will be covered by water once more capacity is added. The original plan had the quarry on a portion of land jetting out into the lake.

Have an on-site quarry will also mean less truck traffic.

Martin said even with conservation efforts, Denver Water needs more capacity. He said experts have provided the water utility with data showing there will be 5 million more people in Colorado by 2050.

Denver water has 90% of its storage lakes west and south of the metro area, but only has 10% up north. This new dam project will add significantly more water storage north of the city.

“That’s important because if we have a catastrophic event or a drought in one of the systems, it leaves us depending on the other system,” he said. “What we want to do is create a little bit more balance and put more water in Gross Reservoir. This project is going to triple the size of the reservoir.”

[…]

Kirk Klanke is a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group seeking to protect and restore rivers across the country.

His perspective is one many wouldn’t expect from a member of the environmental group. He’s a supporter of the new dam.

“I think it’s extremely selfish to think we shouldn’t grow,” he said.

He says Denver Water has the legal right to build more capacity someplace. Gross Reservoir is the best option.

“Raising an existing dam has far less environmental damage than building a new one somewhere else,” Klanke said.

He says Denver Water has agreed to put significant effort into protecting the Colorado River. When it is hot out, river temperatures rise if there’s only a little water flowing.

Denver Water has agreed to keep water in the river during those periods and fill the lake during spring runoff. It will also draw water at different places in the river to minimize the impact to one area.

Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Say hello to the “Headwaters River Journey” in Grand County #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.

Click here to go to the website:

Every Drop Matters.

Welcome to Headwaters River Journey, the only off-the-power-grid exhibit venue, and Colorado’s most interactive place for people of all ages to dive into water conservation and conversation.

Exhibits Open to the Public July 14th

HEADWATERS RIVER JOURNEY TICKETS

Immersed in a Mission

The intent of the Headwaters River Journey is to raise awareness about the critical role the Colorado River headwaters play in our environment, economy, and Colorado lifestyle, as well the vital actions we must take to conserve and protect our rivers and water supply. The Headwaters River Journey is housed within the Headwaters Center, a nonprofit operation created by the Sprout Foundation. The Headwaters Center aims to provide enriching cultural and educational opportunities, unique meeting and event spaces, and access to higher education through both hands-on and distance learning experiences.

Water We Talking About?

The water we drink. The water we bathe in. The water we use to clean our clothes, wash our dishes, and water our lawns. Where does it come from? Are we using it wisely? Will there always be a reliable supply?

In Colorado, the water we use comes primarily from our rivers, including the Fraser River flowing right outside Headwaters River Journey.

These rivers we rely on are greatly impacted by diversions, climate change, population growth, and the personal choices we make about water usage.

Headwaters River Journey, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), is a self-guided adventure through 31 immersive exhibits inviting visitors to explore the wonder of Colorado’s rivers, learn more about the threats to our water supply, gather to discuss water-related issues, and take action in conserving our greatest resource.

From The Sky-Hi News (McKenna Harford):

Between regularly watering thirsty lawns, enjoying lengthy showers and running the dishwasher too frequently, the average person uses over 18,000 gallons of water in just six months.

Since water is a finite resource and deeply ingrained in the Colorado lifestyle, a new museum at the heart of the Fraser Valley opening Sunday [July 14, 2019] is dedicated to educating visitors about the issues and potential solutions for water conservation.

The Headwaters River Journey, located on the first floor of the Headwaters Center in Winter Park, takes visitors on a journey to discover where their water comes from, the details of the river environment, how water is used and wasted and what is being done to protect the precious resource.

“It’s about getting people to focus on (water) because it’s a huge issue in the west,” said Bob Fanch, owner of the Headwaters Center and Headwaters River Journey. “I think what we’re trying to get across is to be part of the solution. If one individual turns into every individual and the actions are positive, the impacts on the river can be very significant.”

On Saturday, invited guests attended the grand opening of the Headwaters River Journey, which featured remarks from Fanch; Jimmy Lahrman, mayor of Winter Park; Philip Vandernail, mayor of Fraser; Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources; and Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.

“This is unique to say the least,” Gibbs said. “There’s nothing like this in the state or even the country where (…) there’s something so that a two-year-old can understand water conservation and for anyone in their 90s to understand the importance of water conservation.”

[…]

Situated right along the Fraser River, the museum focuses on the local ecosystem, the real issues it faces, such as diversions to the Front Range and rising temperatures, and features local stories of people taking steps to preserve Grand County’s rivers.

Visitors not only learn through the usual means of reading and watching video, but also interact with the over 30 exhibits. There are games where players virtually experience the life of a trout or the journey of an osprey, there are quizzes to test knowledge and encourage feedback, as well as stations to share ideas and solutions.

“We’re trying to make sure people understand the connection between water and lifestyle in Colorado,” Fanch said. “We also wanted to make it interesting and we didn’t want to dumb it down, but bring it up to a higher contemplative level.”

The whole experience is immersive in the same way a 4D amusement park ride is. Audio tracks of trickling creeks, tweeting birds and bugling elk play, bursts of cool air accompany video clips of a blizzarding Berthoud Pass and feel the difference between a 50 degree river and a 70 degree river.

The museum doesn’t just talk about sustainability either, it embodies it. The Headwaters River Journey is the only off-the-grid exhibit in the country, powered completely by solar, and it utilized local beetle kill wood and old water flumes in the design. The bathrooms also have low-flow toilets and all the lighting is LED.

Ultimately, Fanch hopes the Headwaters Center and its museum can be the “water mecca of the west,” where people can get together to discuss issues and come up with solutions.

“We want to be the Switzerland of the water world, where different interests can come here and talk about issues and figure out solutions together,” he said.

@DenverWater hires contractor for Gross Reservoir Expansion Project

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

From Denver Water:

Denver Water’s five-member Board of Water Commissioners on Wednesday approved a two-year, $4.5 million contract with Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, for planning and pre-construction work during the final design phase of the $464 million Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

If the team’s performance during the planning and pre-construction phase meets Denver Water’s expectations, a separate contract to build the dam may be signed between Denver Water and Kiewit Barnard.

“This is a major milestone in our 16-year effort to expand Gross Reservoir, as its original designers intended decades ago, to ensure a more reliable water supply in a future marked by greater uncertainty in weather patterns,” said Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead.

Denver Water, the state’s largest water utility, serves 1.4 million people in Denver and surrounding suburbs.

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam, completed in 1954, by 131 feet, allowing the reservoir to nearly triple in size. When complete, the reservoir will be capable of holding about 119,000 acre-feet of water to provide greater system balance and resiliency.

The selection process for a construction manager/general contractor for the project began in August 2018 with information meetings, followed by a formal Request for Qualifications in October 2018. Three teams responded to the request and underwent extensive evaluations and interviews by a selection team that included experts from Denver Water, the project’s design engineer and subject matter experts.

The selection team focused on a value-based competitive process that examined each team’s qualifications, project approach, technical approach and cost.

“Kiewit Barnard met Denver Water’s high bar for doing a project that’s important not only to the 1.4 million people who rely on us for their drinking water, but also to the people who live around the reservoir,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s program manager for the expansion project.

“We were impressed by the team’s experience with roller-compacted concrete dam construction, innovative approach and commitment to safe and responsible building practices,” Martin said.

The project calls for adding 900,000 cubic feet of concrete to the existing structure and building the first roller-compacted, concrete, arch dam in the United States. When complete, the Gross Dam will be the tallest in Colorado and the tallest roller-compacted concrete dam in the U.S.

“Kiewit Barnard, a Joint Venture, is very pleased to have been selected to work on this important project to support water demand for the greater Denver area,” said Jamie Wisenbaker, senior vice president of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., and an executive sponsor of the project. “We believe the team’s collective infrastructure experience in dam and reservoir construction and engineering will be a huge asset and look forward to safely delivering a high-quality project on time for Denver Water and the region.”

Kiewit is one of North America’s largest construction and engineering organizations with extensive heavy-civil experience in water/wastewater construction, including serving as lead contractor on the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery project in California. Kiewit is the No. 1 contractor for dams and reservoirs in the United States according to Engineering News-Record. The company also has strong roots and experience in Denver and across Colorado, including having constructed the Interstate 25 T-REX Expansion project, the U.S. 34 Big Thompson Canyon emergency repair project and the I-225 Light Rail Line project. The company also is building Denver Water’s new Northwater Treatment Plant.

Barnard Construction Co. Inc. brings a long track record of safety and quality on infrastructure projects in the U.S., including construction on more than 80 dams, reservoirs and dikes over the last four decades. The company’s work in this area includes new construction, raising dams and conducting emergency repairs. In 2019, Barnard was honored as a “Global Best Project” award winner by Engineering News-Record in the dam/environment category for the Muskrat Falls North and South Dams project located in Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is awaiting a final federal government approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Provided the remaining federal approvals come by the end of this year, the project is slated to be complete in 2025.

When finished, the expanded reservoir and associated mitigation projects will create what the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has described as a net environmental benefit to state water quality by generating a wide range of environmental improvements to streams, river flows and aquatic habitats.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency” — Jeff Martin

Gross Reservoir , in Boulder County, holds water diverted from the headwaters of the Colorado River on the West Slope. The reservoir is part of Denver Water’s storage system. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Colorado Sun (Amanda K. Clark):

Raising the 55-year-old dam near Boulder is essential to keep a stable water supply in a changing climate, utility says. Residents insist conservation could be just as effective.

Denver Water — Colorado’s largest and oldest utility company — in July 2017 received one of the final permits needed to raise Gross Reservoir Dam by 131 feet to increase water storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet, or an additional 25 billion gallons of Western Slope water…

The expansion, in the works for more than a decade, is part of the company’s long-term plan to help meet increasing water demands along the Front Range and buffer customers from future water-supply variability due to climate change…

Denver Water has been met with sustained opposition from Boulder County residents and a handful of environmental groups who say the utility can address its water needs through expanded water conservation efforts on the Front Range.

But with Colorado’s population growth showing no signs of slowing, water conservation may be inadequate to address projected shortages in the coming decades.

Other concerns raised by opponents include sustained disruption to surrounding residents, increased traffic, health concerns and environmental impacts to fish and wildlife.

Gross Reservoir is filled primarily from snowmelt that flows from the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The water is transported underground from west of the Continental Divide to the east by a pipeline called the Moffat Water Tunnel.

The controversy over the Gross Reservoir expansion, estimated to cost $464 million, echoes an all-too-familiar story: a highly contentious discussion of tradeoffs that has rippled across the Western United States for decades.

As cities and states across the West grapple with swelling population alongside diminishing water supplies as a result of climate change, water-resource agencies such as Denver Water are faced with the delicate task of balancing the health of ecosystems with municipal, agricultural and recreational needs…

Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s project manager for the expansion project, doesn’t skirt around the controversy. He recognizes that the project is going to cause disruption and says that Denver Water has worked with the residents to find ways to minimize the project’s impact.

“This has been a process,” Martin said. “We started in 2004, it took 13 years to move through the environmental assessment and permitting process. And we’ve made a lot of changes and adjustments to our plans since the beginning.”

“No single solution is out there,” he said. “Our problem is rooted in demand and resiliency, and what I mean by resilience is that we have to make sure we have the water when we need it, and where.”

[…]

For Patty Limerick, director of the CU Boulder’s Center for the American West and former Colorado Historian, you can’t talk about water issues on the Front Range without first looking back in time.

When early white explorers arrived here, they deemed the Front Range unfit for settlement due to lack of water. Today, 1.4 million Denver residents have access to clean drinking water due in large part to Denver Water’s enormous infrastructure web that diverts water from the South Platte, Blue, Williams Fork and Fraser river watersheds to be stored in a network of reservoirs spread over eight counties, including Dillon, Strontia Springs and Cheesman.

“One thing that I find fascinating, and is important to talk about, is the incredible amount of engineering that had to occur to make any of this possible in the first place,” Limerick said.

“We, as a society, have to recognize the improbable comfort that was made possible by a taken-for-granted, but truly astonishing, water infrastructure that was put in place a hundred years ago.”

[…]

“The year 2018 was very similar to what we would expect to see under a climate change regime. And that was a very intense but short-term drought,” said Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We saw some reservoirs in the state declined by 50 percent in a three- to four-month period. So that obviously could not be sustained multiple years in a row,” she said. “Water providers are increasingly integrating climate change models into their water supply projections. They know that what we’ve seen in the past might not fully represent what we might see in the future. Denver Water is one of the more advanced utilities when it comes to this.”

Finnessey says it’s not just about how much precipitation falls from year to year. It also has a lot to do with increasing temperatures, contributing to the long-term drying out of the West, a phenomenon scientists are referring to as aridification. As temperatures rise, more moisture is sucked up by the atmosphere through evapotranspiration, leaving less viable water for humans-use in the system.

“We are planning for infrastructure that will be built in the next 20 years, that is supposed to last for the following 100 years,” said Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute. “Our world is changing significantly faster than that. And not in a linear way. How do we adapt to that?

“Water managers have to plan for extremes,” he added. “A year like this year is an argument for reservoirs. Even with climate change, you’re still gonna have some good years. And we need to be able to capture it and save it for the bad years, whether that’s in underground aquifers or in reservoirs.”

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

On Stressed #ColoradoRiver, States Test How Many More Diversions Watershed Can Bear — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

In the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, you can pinpoint when the lines crossed somewhere around the year 2002. It’s a well-documented and widely accepted imbalance.

That harsh reality — of the river’s water promised to too many people — has prompted all sorts of activity and agreements within the seven Western states that rely on it. That activity includes controversial efforts in some states in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin to tap every available drop before things get worse.

The utility that owns [Gross Reservoir], Denver Water, wants to increase the size of the dam by 131 feet, and fill the human-made lake with more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River via a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide.

Imagine a tractor trailer hauling dam-building materials making this turn, Long says.

“If they truck all of this material up our canyon, people in our community are gonna get killed by those trucks. Period,” Long said. “There’s a lot of other issues here but the safety thing should really be a serious priority.”

Long and his wife, April Lewandowski, live near the reservoir in a community called Coal Creek Canyon. Like many of her neighbors, Lewandowski commutes from the sparsely populated canyon to her job on the state’s dense Front Range. Her daily commute on the canyon’s two-lane highway is the same as a haul route for trucks needed to build the dam addition.

Long pulls up to a small parking area that overlooks the dam. It’s a deep wall of concrete, stretched between the tree-lined canyon walls of South Boulder Creek.

“I mean you look at how the land splays out, you can see why they want to (build it),” Long said. “It’s so much wider all the way around.”

If the expansion goes through, the place where we’re standing will be submerged in water. The addition to Gross Dam will raise it to 471 feet in height, making it the tallest dam in Colorado…

Denver Water first started taking an expansion of Gross Reservoir seriously after the dry winter of 2002. Exceptional drought conditions took hold across the Mountain West. The utility’s CEO, Jim Lochhead, said in the midst of those historic dry conditions, a portion of its service area nearly ran out of water.

“This is a project that’s needed today to deal with that imbalance and that vulnerability and to give us more drought resiliency,” Lochhead said.

Since then, Denver Water has filed federal permits to start construction, and negotiated an agreement with local governments and environmental groups on the state’s Western Slope to mitigate some effects of the additional water being taken from the headwaters.

Before leaving office, former Colorado Democratic governor and current presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw his weight behind the project, giving it an endorsement and suggesting other water agencies in the West take notice how Denver Water approached the process.

But despite the political heft behind the project, it faces considerable headwinds.

Environmentalists are suing, arguing the expansion will harm endangered fish. A group of local activists say the additional water will spur unsustainable population growth along the state’s Front Range. In recent months, the utility began sparring with Boulder County officials over whether they were exempt from a certain land use permit.

Building a 131-foot dam addition does come with baggage, Lochhead said. But he argued his agency has done its part to address some of the concerns, like reducing the number of daily tractor trailer trips up Coal Creek Canyon and planning upgrades to the intersection where trucks will turn onto Gross Dam Road.

“It is a major construction project. I don’t want to gloss over that. It will have impacts to the local community,” Lochhead said.

Denver Water staff are doing more outreach in the canyon as well, Lochhead said.

“We are committed to the project and seeing it through. We’re also committed despite the opposition to working with the local community in doing this the right way,” he said…

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

The latest scuffle with Boulder County has brought the Gross Dam expansion squarely back into public view. At a county commissioner’s meeting in March, residents criticized Denver Water on all fronts, from specific concerns about the construction itself, to broader concerns about water scarcity in the Colorado River basin…

“This project represents an effort by Denver Water … to actually grab water while they can, before federal legislation and management of the Colorado River Basin is imposed,” McDermott said.

What McDermott is referring to is a stark disconnect in the Colorado River watershed. States downstream on the river — Arizona, Nevada and California — signed a new agreement in May called the Drought Contingency Plan that keeps them from becoming more reliant on the Colorado River. It requires cutbacks to water deliveries should levels in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, continue to drop.

Meanwhile, upstream in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, no such agreement was made. Those states wound up agreeing to study the feasibility of a program that would compensate farmers to stop irrigating their cropland if reservoirs dropped, with no solid way to pay for it. They agreed too to better coordinate releases from their biggest reservoirs to aid an ailing Lake Powell. While they figure out how to develop those two concepts, the Upper Basin states keep inching along on their development projects to divert more from the river.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s foundational governing document, gives Upper Basin states the legal cover to continue developing projects like the Gross Reservoir expansion. In the compact, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Over the decades the rapidly growing and intensely farmed Lower Basin has used much more than that. The less populated Upper Basin has never reached its full allotment. Those state have been using roughly 4.5 million acre-feet for the last 13 years, with the rest flowing downstream for the Lower Basin to use as it sees fit…

Conservation programs tend to be less expensive than massive new projects, [Doug] Kenney said. But additional water supplies stored in reservoirs give more security and reliability. It’s why water leaders push for them, even when the economics don’t make sense.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Boulder County will not process @DenverWater’s 1041 application with lawsuit winding its way through the courts #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan) via The Denver Post:

Boulder County has notified Denver Water it will not process the utility’s land use review application for a Gross Reservoir expansion at the same time it is defending itself in a lawsuit by Denver Water challenging the need to even submit to that procedure.

Denver Water on April 18 filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court claiming a zoned-land exemption should excuse Denver Water from having to submit to the land use review process for the expansion, which — should it go through — would be the largest construction project in county history.

However, at the same time, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead had said the utility was taking the steps to satisfy that county requirement, even while the lawsuit was pending.

“We remain committed to finding a path forward with the county that respects the community’s needs and concerns while allowing the project to proceed, which is why we have initiated the 1041 application process,” Lochhead said at the time…

Denver Water’s bid to participate in that process and simultaneously challenge it legally, however, is not going to work, according to Boulder County.

In a letter to Denver Water dated April 18, Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case said, “While the County believes it will prevail in litigation, it would not be appropriate for the Land Use Department to proceed with an application under these circumstances.”

It is Case who initially made the determination that Denver Water, although holding a permit for the expansion project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, still needed to submit to the county’s permitting process — a judgment Denver Water already unsuccessfully appealed before the county commissioners on March 14.

“It would be an imprudent expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the County to process an application when the process itself is the subject of a lawsuit,” Case added in his letter. “Accordingly, the Land Use Department will not accept an application for processing until the lawsuit is resolved.”

[…]

Denver Water public documents once showed a 2019 start date on construction, but that is no longer the case, and the lawsuit against Boulder County is not the only legal hurdle to launching the project. In separate courtroom action, a coalition of six environmental groups has sued at U.S. District Court in Denver, challenging the Corps of Engineers’ July 2017 decision to issue its permit for the $464 million (in 2025 dollars) project…

The current Denver Water project timeline now shows 2020 to 2026 for the project’s start to completion.

Denver Water Program Manager Jeff Martin answered Case’s recent letter with an April 29 letter, stating that Denver Water nevertheless intends to submit an application to initiate a land review process, citing the “significant resources” it has already expended in preparing its application in “a good faith effort” to comply with county requirements.

Denver Water also argues that processing the utility’s application should not put a financial strain on the county, because “Denver Water will reimburse Boulder County for its time in considering the application.”

@DenverWater appeal of @BoulderCounty’s 1041 decision about the Moffat Collection System Project scheduled for March 14, 2019

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Longmont Times-Call (Charlie Brennan):

Thursday looms as an important day for both proponents and opponents of an expansion at Gross Reservoir, as Boulder County commissioners meet to hear Denver Water officials make the case that the massive project should not be subject to the county review process.

Denver Water, which serves about 1.4 million customers in the Denver metro area, but none in Boulder County, had hoped to start construction this year on a project to raise the Gross Reservoir Dam in southwestern Boulder County by 131 feet to a height of 471 feet and expend the reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet.

The project is subject of a federal lawsuit filed by a half-dozen environmental groups, and still must also obtain a licensing amendment at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in order to go forward.

Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case on Oct. 22 issued a finding that Denver Water’s plans were subject to the county’s so-called “1041” review process, a decision Denver Water asked without success for Case to reconsider, before finally appealing the question to the commissioners.

Commissioners will hear Denver Water’s appeal starting 4:30 p.m. Thursday in a public hearing expected to last at least four hours. It will take place in the commissioners’ third-floor hearing room at 1325 Pearl St. in Boulder.

In-person sign-ups to speak will be taken beginning an hour in advance of the hearing, and commissioners are expected to issue a decision that night.

Pair of lawsuits challenges need for more #ColoradoRiver water — @AspenJournalism #COriver

The spillway and dam at the Windy Gap Reservoir on the headwaters of the Colorado River. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Lindsay Fendt):

Two lawsuits making their way through the federal court system are challenging two significant water projects in Colorado designed to divert more water from the Colorado, Fraser and Williams Fork river basins in Grand County.

The projects — Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming project and Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System Project — would provide a combined firm yield of 48,000 acre-feet of water for the sprawling Front Range.

But environmental groups say government agencies violated the law in the environmental permitting processes of both projects.

“Our biggest claim is that [the agencies] claim they looked at reasonable alternatives [to the projects],” said Gary Wockner, the director of Save the Colorado, the lead plaintiff on both cases. “But they didn’t look at conservation or efficiency. Water providers are trying to go to big water projects first and not the cheaper option of conservation.”

Both Northern and Denver Water say they factored in conservation efforts when they calculated water demand and that even aggressive conservation efforts won´t be enough to meet water demand in the future.

“There are only a few answers for water supply in the future and Windy Gap Firming is one of those options,” said Brad Wind, the general manager of Northern Water. “Without that project, I can’t fathom where we will end up.”

But some water experts say that the state’s use of population growth as one of the major drivers of water demand was flawed.

“As population goes up, water demand continues to go down and it’s been that way for decades,” said Mark Squillace, a water law expert at the University of Colorado Law School.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Decoupled demand

The phenomenon of increasing populations with declining water use is known as “decoupling,” and it has been happening in nearly every part of Colorado since the 1990s.

Higher efficiency appliances, utility-driven conservation programs and greater citizen awareness of water shortages have all driven the change.

But water managers say the state’s growing urban areas are reaching the point of “demand hardening,” where the additional water that can be conserved will not outweigh the amount needed in the future.

“We have been hearing those kind of stories for a long time and it never happens,” Squillace said. “There are a lot of things that we could still do on the conservation end that would be a lot cheaper [than new infrastructure] and a lot more consistent with the environment that we live in.”

While they differ, the pair of lawsuits being spearheaded by Save the Colorado could both hinge on demand and conservation estimates, and the assumption that additional conservation won’t be sufficient in the future.

Both lawsuits were filed in federal district court and are now awaiting action by a judge to move forward.

The Windy Gap Firming case was filed in October of 2017 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Moffat Collection System case was filed in December against the Army Corps, the U.S. Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An aerial view of Windy Gap Reservoir, near Granby. The reservoir is on the main stem of the Colorado River, below where the Fraser River flows into the Colorado. Water from Windy Gap is pumped up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then sent to the northern Front Range through the Adams Tunnel.

The projects

Both the Windy Gap and Moffat projects were conceived decades ago to address projected water shortages on Colorado’s Front Range and to add resilience to both Northern and Denver Water’s supplies.

Now estimated to cost about $600 million, the Windy Gap project will include a new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir in western Larimer county called Chimney Hollow Reservoir.

The reservoir is designed to store water from the Colorado and Fraser rivers transported from the Western Slope through the existing infrastructure of the Colorado-Big Thompson project.

Windy Gap Reservoir, built in 1985, is created by a low river-wide dam across the main stem of the Colorado River, just downstream from where the Fraser River flows in.

The reservoir is relatively small, holding 445-acre feet, but it’s well situated to gather water from the Fraser, pump it up to Lake Granby and Grand Lake, and then send it through the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide.

With the Moffat project, Denver Water plans to spend an estimated $464 million in order to expand Gross Reservoir in Boulder County, by raising the height of the dam by 131 feet, in order to store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water.

Gross Reservoir is a part of the utility’s existing northern collection system and is filled with water from the headwaters of the Fraser and Williams Fork river basins. The water is moved through a pipeline in the Moffat Tunnel, which runs east through the mountains from the base of the Winter Park ski area.

The upper South Platte River, above the confluence with the North Fork of the South Platte. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The fork not taken

The plans to expand Gross Reservoir started in 1990 after the EPA rejected Denver Water’s plan to build Two Forks Reservoir on the South Platte River.

The EPA’s rejection of Two Forks signaled the end of an era of large dams and forced groups planning large water infrastructure projects to give more consideration to the environmental impacts of their plans.

Following this rebuke, Denver Water turned to the environmental groups that had opposed their project and solicited advice.

Throughout the 1990s, the utility implemented water conservation and recycling programs and started making plans to expand an existing reservoir instead of building a new dam.

“We embarked on the path that the environmental groups suggested. We implemented a conservation program and reduced our demands,” said Jim Lochhead, the CEO and manager of Denver Water. “But you can’t get to zero. We continue to be committed to conservation, but at the end of the day we still need more water.”

In partnership with environmental groups like Western Resource Advocates and Trout Unlimited, Denver Water has agreed to spend $20 million on environmental improvements in watersheds on the Western Slope as part of the Gross Reservoir expansion.

Denver Water has also agreed to a monitoring program that will require them to mitigate any unforeseen environmental problems caused by the project, a compromise between environmental groups and the largest water utility in the state.

“In some sense this project was the development of an alternative from a number of groups,” said Bart Miller, the director of the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates. “In some respect you are putting this in context next to what could happen or could have happened.”

Concerned with having their own projects fail, as Two Forks did, other water managers emulated Denver Water’s strategy.

When Northern Water started planning for the Windy Gap Firming project it also reached out to environmental groups, and ended up committing $23 million to mitigate problems caused by past projects and to make other improvements in the upper Colorado River watershed.

Even though there will be impacts from taking more water from the river, Northern Water says that these “environmental enhancements” will leave the river better off than it would be without the project.

And environmental groups working on the project agree.

“There is a lot of damage on the river that will continue to go on without an intervention,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is probably the best shot.”

Gross Reservoir in the mountains to the southwest of Boulder. Denver Water hopes to increase the height of the dam 131 feet, to a new height of 471 feet, to store three times as much water, which it says will help it meet increasing demands and to better weather severe droughts.

The lawsuits

While some environmental groups have seen compromise as the best step forward, Save the Colorado and the other plaintiffs in the two lawsuits take a harder stance.

Save the Colorado, in particular, is against any new dams or diversions.

“The river has already been drained enough,” Wockner said. “The mitigation, in our mind, is not consequential.”

Colorado and the six other states that use Colorado River water are now negotiating a plan to better manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead in response to drought and acidification.

Last week, an engineer from Northern Water told the city council of Loveland that it may have to take a ten percent cut in the water it draws from the headwaters of the Colorado River, sending the water instead to Lake Powell, where water is held before being moved through the Grand Canyon and into Lake Mead for use in California, Arizona and Nevada.

And Northern’s statement did not go unnoticed by the plaintiffs in the Windy Gap and Moffat lawsuits.

“The old guard in water have the default setting that we need to build more reservoirs and we need to find more ways to bring water from the western slope,” said Kevin Lynch, the lawyer representing the environmental groups in the Windy Gap Firming case. “The argument my clients are hoping to make with this case is that that may have made sense in the past but it doesn’t now. We are definitely trying to buck the status quo and change the historical way of doing things.”

Lynch and his team are arguing that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corp of Engineers — the two government agencies being sued in the Windy Gap Firming case — failed to update and independently verify the water demand data used to justify the project.

To back up this allegation, the plaintiffs petitioned the court to include a statistics report in the administrative record.

The report, which looks at water use statistics in communities with stakes in Windy Gap Firming water, showed that their demand projections made back when the agencies conducted their environmental assessments were between 9 and 97 percent higher than the actual water use rates in those areas.

The lawyers in the Moffat Project lawsuit also found that Denver Water used old data from 2002 to project their demands future demands.

The complaint filed by the plaintiffs says that the Army Corps and the Department of the Interior — which are the two agencies being sued in the Moffat case along with the Fish and Wildlife Service — ignored more recent data that was available when they conducted their assessments.

“If they were to use today’s data they would no way be able to justify that they need the water,” said Bill Eubanks, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Moffat Project case. “Here we are talking about almost two decades. Two decades where we have seen the most transformative uses of water in a century.”

Both legal teams say that even if the data did reveal a demand for more water, the agencies failed to analyze the alternatives to two large infrastructure projects, including conservation.

Specifically, Wockner and Eubanks both spoke about how a “cash for grass” program — where the government pays people to dry up their lawns — was never analyzed as an alternative. Looking at similar programs in California, they say the same amount of water could be saved, but for less money than either of the two infrastructure projects.

To this claim both Northern Water and Denver Water say that additional conservation measures are already planned for the future, but that they are not enough.

“The state has done a lot of studies for need for water on the Front Range,” said Jeff Drager, Northern Water’s director of engineering and the project manager for the WIndy Gap firming project. “We agree that there can be more conservation, but it won’t be enough to meet our participants needs.”

The pipeline, at the base of the Winter Park ski area, that moves water as part of the existing Moffat Collection System Project. The portal of the railroad tunnel is behind the pipeline, in this view. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Looking forward

Due to a long backlog in the court, both lawsuits are unlikely to see their day in court any time soon. According to both lawyers, it could be months or years until the cases are decided. The court’s slow pace could impact the construction of both projects.

Citing the lawsuit, Northern Water delayed bonds to build the project back in August.

Executives at Northern say they are using the time to hammer out the last of the details of the project’s design, but that if the project is delayed it may cause costs to rise or endanger the water supplies of the project’s participants.

Denver Water is still waiting on several permits before they can begin planning construction and is less concerned about a delay. Both Lochhead and Wind say they believe that the projects will go forward once the lawsuits are resolved.

“We feel confident that our permitting processes are on solid ground,” Wind said. “I don’t think there is anyone in this organization at all that has thought this lawsuit would be effective.”

While both Northern Water and Denver Water are confident that their projects will move forward, the plaintiffs in the cases are hoping for an upset that could topple the entire water system in Colorado.

“If we win this case, using this particularly egregious example of inaccurate water demand projections, we think we can set a precedent that would force the state to look at more recent data for different types of projects,” Eubanks said.

Moffat Collection System Project update: “I think their position is pretty clear” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Denver Water is seeking approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Colorado to expand Gross Reservoir, which is southwest of Boulder. The 77,000 acre-foot expansion would help forestall shortages in Denver Water’s water system and offer flood and drought protection, according to Denver Water.

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

On Wednesday a collection of six environmental advocacy groups – Save the Colorado, the Environmental Group, Wildearth Guardians, Living Rivers, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and the Sierra Club – filed a lawsuit in Colorado’s federal district court against the proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, alternately called the Moffat Firming Project…

The legal process surrounding Gross Reservoir has deep significance to Grand County. The county serves as the source for much of the water Denver Water relies upon, which is transported out of the county through the Moffat Tunnel near Winter Park Resort. The county is also party to a collaborative water management group called Learning By Doing. The group looks to improve river habitat in Grand County by conducting environmental water projects and through other means.

The lawsuit filed by the environmental groups does not name Denver Water and instead is directed at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The 57-page complaint lays out 32 separate specific claims related to alleged violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The alleged violations claimed by the environmental groups cover a wide range of technical issues related to the formal processes by which large construction projects, such as the Gross Reservoir Expansions, are approved by federal agencies. Many of the claims made by the environmental groups revolve around allegations that the Corps of Engineers, Interior Dept. and US Fish and Wildlife failed to exercise independent judgment related to claims made by Denver Water about the project.

“Denver Water’s proposal to build the largest dam in Colorado history will hurt the 40 million people in six states and two countries who depend on the Colorado River – a critical but disappearing, resource – for their water supply,” said Daniel E. Estrin, general counsel and advocacy director at Waterkeeper Alliance. “Waterkeeper Alliance stands united with our many Colorado River Basin Waterkeepers who are fighting to protect their waterways and their communities from this senseless and destructive water grab.”

For their part officials from Denver Water said the court filing did not surprise them.

“We expected it,” Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, said. “This is a really critical project for Denver Water. In the last 15 years we have come close to running out of water a couple of time at the north end of the system.”

Lochhead noted that those two incidents came in 2002 and 2013.

While Denver Water is not directly named in the lawsuit Lochhead said the organization will be entering the lawsuit to “provide our own perspective on the adequacy of the approvals.”

“We are confident the federal agencies follow regulations and federal law,” Lochhead said. “I think a court will uphold the findings by those agencies.”

When asked whether he believed Denver Water and the environmental groups who oppose the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project could reach some form of compromise agreement Lochhead answered, saying, “I think their position is pretty clear.”

Moffat Collection System Project update: Environmental groups file lawsuit

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

A suit filed against three U.S. government agencies seeks to stop the expansion of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir in Boulder County…

Gross Reservoir provides water to 1.4 million Front Range customers. The expansion would divert more water from Colorado River headwater tributaries during wet years. In a nutshell, the project seeks to raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet; storage capacity would increase by 77,000 acre feet.

The environmental groups who sued say the U.S. government permitting process inadequately evaluated the impact of the large project on streamflows. There are also concerns about how construction would affect wildlife.

“We went above and beyond mitigation of environmental impacts under the permits,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead said. “We sat down with Grand County, Eagle County… and a host of agencies across Western Colorado, and developed a series of environmental enhancements to the streams of Western Colorado.”

Trout Unlimited is one such group that has supported the Gross Reservoir expansion, citing successful stream augmentation programs along the Fraser River…

Revving up the legal gears could pose a setback for Denver Water, which has spent years securing the necessary permits. Now that it has those in place, environmental groups are seeking to stop construction.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Lawsuit filed to set aside CWCB and Boulder County floodway expansion

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

From The Longmont Times-Call (Anthony Hahn):

According to the complaint filed this week, commissioners approved the floodway expansion over the resistance of local residents, who said the re-mapping would limit development on their private properties — some of which are functioning farms — and cause their flood insurance rates to skyrocket…

The re-drawing was performed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with assistance from Boulder County staff, and was approved last month 2-0 by commissioners. Commissioner Cindy Domenico was absent. When the change officially takes effect Oct. 1, it will substantially widen the floodway along portions of Lower Boulder Creek northwest of Erie.

A floodway is a narrow channel where, in the event of a flood, water will be flowing. A floodplain is where shallow water is likely to be during the event of a flood, though shallower and flowing at a lower volume, if at all, than water in a floodway.

The former, by definition of Boulder County’s standards, is more heavily regulated than a floodplain. Land regulated under floodway status is often limited to very specific redevelopment.

According to the complaint, plaintiffs’ efforts to have the hearing delayed to learn more about proposed expansion went unheeded…

The Colorado Water Conservation Board in 2015 changed the definition of a floodway, triggering a review of flood-hazard areas across the state. Wheeler Open Space, however, was not reassessed, given the lack of residential buildings on the land, Boulder County Senior Assistant Attorney Kate Burke said earlier this year.

In light of the planned oil and gas development on the site, a modeling with the new standards was performed. Under the new guidelines, the entirety of well site Section 1, which is in the open space, is within a floodway, according to documents Boulder County submitted in mid-April with its formal comments to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

“…why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project” — Lurline Underbrink Curran

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Boulder Daily Camera (Lurline Underbrink Curran):

I would like to share why I support Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir Expansion project.

While located in Boulder County, the project obtains the water from Grand County — a county that is currently the most impacted county in the state of Colorado for transbasin diversions. You must wonder why the county and its citizens, stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin, along with Trout Unlimited support this project.

The reason is the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which is an historic agreement with statewide environmental benefits which were fought for and gained through sometimes difficult and long negotiations. It has been hailed as a new paradigm and one that will serve as an example of what can be gained when dealing with a finite resource like water. The signatories to this agreement represent the entire Colorado River Basin, and I had the honor of acting as Grand County’s lead negotiator in this agreement. I worked for Grand County for 33 years, retiring as county manager in 2015. I have lived in Grand County over 60 years and have deep roots and interest in the well-being of our waterways.

The environmental benefits gained by Grand County, which include additional flows, river ecosystem improvements, use of Denver Water’s system, participation in an adaptive management process called Learning by Doing, money for river improvements, just to name a few, are necessary to protect and enhance the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Without these benefits, these rivers will continue to degrade, with no hope of recovery or improvement.

Those who oppose the project offer no solutions to the already stressed aquatic environment of the Fraser and Colorado rivers. Through the Learning By Doing format and a public private partnership, partners have already implemented a river project on the Fraser as an example of what can be done. This project immediately produced improvements that were astounding. Colorado Parks and Wildlife can verify this claim. This essential work will not continue without the CRCA.

The impacts that are associated with the construction of the Gross Reservoir Enlargement are substantial and one sympathizes with those who will experience them, but the reality is they will end. Mitigation for the construction impacts can be applied. However, without the CRCA, the impacts to the Fraser and Colorado rivers will continue with no hope of improvement.

The environmental enhancements and mitigation that are part of the CRCA cannot be replicated without the reservoir expansion project, and the loss of these enhancements and mitigation will doom the Fraser and Colorado rivers in Grand County to environmental catastrophe.

Boulder County asks FERC to deny @DenverWater’s Gross Dam hydroelectric permit amendment for the Moffat Collection System Project

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Boulder Daily Camera (Charlie Brennan):

Citing the success of Denver Water’s conservation efforts since it first issued its “purpose and need” statement for the project, and the fact that no service shortfall has yet materialized for its 1.4 million customers in the metro area, Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman said that based on prior environmental reviews, “Boulder County does not believe Denver Water has shown that the project’s purpose and need have been met and the FERC must deny Denver Water’s application to amend its permit.”

[…]

“We don’t think they have undertaken the duty they have (under federal environmental law) to analyze this problem thoroughly,” [Conrad] Lattes said…

Denver Water officials on Friday answered back by reasserting the project’s merits.

“The Gross Reservoir Expansion project represents an enormous amount of work, input and collaboration to ensure it is done in the most responsible way possible,” Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager said in a statement. “And Denver Water will continue to develop noise, transportation and tree removal plans with input from stakeholders to minimize the impacts to Boulder County and its residents.”

Projects underway to bridge #Colorado’s water supply gap

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

At least seven major new reservoirs and water diversion projects are being planned in Colorado, which had a population of 5.6 million in 2017. Many would continue the controversial practice of diverting water across the Rocky Mountains from the state’s Western Slope, where the majority of Colorado’s precipitation falls, to its more arid Front Range, where people are flocking to Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Longmont and increasingly sprawling suburbs.

The water projects have been inspired partly by the Colorado Water Plan, an effort by Governor John Hickenlooper to solve a projected water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, or enough to serve more than 1 million households. The plan calls for 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage and an equal amount of water conservation.

The plan is only two years old. But critics say it has prioritized gray infrastructure – new dams, pipelines and pumps – over green projects like water conservation and sustainable land use…

The state water plan does not recommend any specific water development projects. But Hickenlooper has personally endorsed several of them. He also appointed all the voting members of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the entity that oversees the Water Plan and awards grants for water projects.

Greg Johnson, chief of water supply planning at the Water Conservation Board, said the state’s plan emphasizes conservation just as much as new water supply projects. But he said the latter may be more more pressing in some cases.

“Some of the bigger projects that are in permitting right now are helping meet really critical supply needs that a lot of those faster-growing northern Front Range suburbs have, where they’ve got new developments going up all over the place,” Johnson said. “They have maybe a 10- or 15-year horizon to get some of those things done.”

One of the water developments endorsed by the governor won a $90 million loan in 2017 from the Water Conservation Board – the largest loan in the board’s history. Known as the Windy Gap Firming Project, it proposes a new reservoir called the Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Longmont to store Colorado River water diverted through an existing tunnel under the Continental Divide.

The loan covers nearly one-fourth of total costs for the project, which is proposed by the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

As its name implies, the project is intended to “firm up” existing Colorado River water rights held by a dozen Front Range cities. The cities already draw on these water rights, but can’t fully tap them in some years because of storage limitations. The new 90,000 acre-foot reservoir will solve this problem and allow them to divert the river almost every year.

The project would result in diverting 30,000 acre-feet more water out of the Colorado River every year than is currently diverted…

Other major projects in the works include the Moffat Collection System, a plan by Denver Water to expand Gross Reservoir to hold 77,000 acre-feet of additional diversions from Colorado River headwaters streams; and the White River Storage Project, a proposal for a new reservoir of up to 90,000 acre-feet in the northwest corner of the state, near the town of Rangely…

Greg Silkensen, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said the Windy Gap project is vital to many fast-growing Front Range communities that have lower-priority water rights.

“The Colorado economy is just crazy. Everybody and their brother is moving here,” Silkensen said. “There is a great deal of environmental mitigation that will go forward if the project is built. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to the Upper Colorado River if it does go through.”

Those projects include stream habitat restoration in the Colorado River and water quality improvements in Grand Lake, part of the existing Western Slope diversion system.

Fraser River restoration: “The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year” — Mely Whiting

From The Sky-Hi News (Lance Maggart):

The Fraser Flats Habitat Project is a cooperative venture conducted by Learning By Doing, an amalgamation of local water stakeholders who several years ago formed a committee in an effort to increase cooperation and decrease litigation between Front Range water diverters, local governments and High Country conservation groups. The Fraser Flats Project is the group’s pilot project, restoring a roughly one-mile section of the Fraser River.

Work on the project, which was conducted on a section of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash, wrapped up in late September and the members of Learning By Doing are, to put it mildly, thrilled with the success of the project.

“We are elated,” said Mely Whiting, legal counsel for Trout Unlimited. “This is amazing. The biomass [in the river] has more than tripled, just from last year, and only in the matter of a couple of weeks since the project was completed.”

Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander explained the intention of the project.

“To start, we wanted to improve the habitat of the river for fish and aquatic insects,” Alexander said. “We saw problems with the way the river channel looked and behaved before the project and we wanted to improve those things, to provide more habitat.”

Alexander went on to explain that the Fraser River channel was too wide and shallow to provide good habitat and resulted in high sedimentation in the river rocks that are essential to development of bug life, which in turn serves as base of the food web within the river. Additionally there was little large vegetation on the river banks at the project site, resulting in river bank erosion and higher stream temperatures due to lack of a shade canopy.

To fix these problems work on the project centered on a few key areas. Project organizers wanted to deepen and narrow the river’s main channel, allowing the water that does flow down the Fraser to flow deeper and faster, helping clear sediment out of river rocks. Additionally they planted roughly 2,500 willows and cottonwoods on the river’s banks, to address erosion and shade concerns.

The project got underway last fall as Learning By Doing secured permits for the project and conducted design work. In May this year about 150 local local and regional volunteers spent two days harvesting and planting willows and cottonwoods along the banks of the Fraser in the project area.

Over the summer and fall contracting firm Freestone Aquatics, specializing in aquatic habitat restoration, conducted the physical work of narrowing and deepening the river channel…

The total cost of the project was roughly $200,000. The cost was broken down between several stakeholders including the Colorado River District, Northern Water, Trout Unlimited, and more. Denver Water pitched in roughly $50,000 and the project received a Fishing is Fun grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Moving forward Learning By Doing is looking at a few different projects in Grand County and is trying to decide which project it will tackle next.

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

For decades, the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County has turned into a trickle every fall as the snowmelt that powers the river dissipates. The low flows have led to warmer water temperatures and less wildlife.

That changed this year, at least along a short stretch of the Fraser. And it’s due to an unusual partnership that includes Denver Water, which diverts most of the river to the Front Range, and Trout Unlimited, which has fought for decades to protect it. The group, dubbed Learning by Doing, focused its efforts on nearly a mile of the river near Tabernash. Work wrapped up on the $200,000 project earlier this fall.

“I had man tears when I saw this for the first time,” said Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was very emotional to see the river look healthier than it has in the 47 years I’ve lived there.”

Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to a preliminary assessment by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We found about a four-fold increase in trout population,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist at CPW who surveyed the river both before and after the project was finished. “It was pretty exciting to see that.”

Ewert was cautious not to get too far ahead of his data. He plans to survey the fish population again next year to see if they reproduce like he hopes they will. But he says he’s very encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

Klancke credits cooperation by Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, Grand County and others for this initial success. Before his Trout Unlimited days, Klancke said he was “radical” in his opposition to the diversion of water to the Front Range. He even used to urinate in diversion ditches, he told me last year. He’s since changed his tactics.

“Working with the people who have impacts on your river is far more effective than trying to fight them, or just trying to stop them,” he said.

Fraser River health should improve some with Moffat Collection System Project

The plan includes environmental enhancements and protections to ensure the Fraser River will be better off with the Moffat Project than without it.

Here’s a guest column from Kirk Klancke that’s running in the Boulder Daily Camera:

As a long-time resident of Grand County, I’ve been disappointed by recent articles in the Camera about the Moffat Firming Project permit and especially about the west slope implications of the project. Coverage has been misleading in highlighting potential negative environmental impacts while ignoring the stream habitat improvements and flow benefits in the permit that will actually improve the health of the Upper Colorado River system.

It’s important for readers to get the total picture in weighing the environmental impacts of the project.

Trout Unlimited is also a group “dedicated to protecting and restoring the Colorado River” — and we’ve spent more than a decade closely following the proposed Moffat project and working to protect the Upper Colorado. Then, a couple years ago, TU helped negotiate a settlement with Denver Water and local stakeholders in Grand County that included tough permit requirements that we believe will best protect the Upper Colorado and Fraser Rivers.

It’s true that the Moffat project will increase total diversions from the Colorado headwaters. But the project will also provide significant help to rivers and streams currently impacted by transmountain diversions, including streams diverted to meet Boulder’s water supply (through the Windy Gap project). Under terms of their permit, Denver Water must undertake mitigation and enhancement measures that will actually improve the health of streams.

For instance, as part of its commitments, Denver Water will manage diversions to help provide needed flushing flows on the Fraser and its tributaries, complete habitat and native trout restoration work in the Williams Fork basin, and contribute funds toward projects like the Fraser Flats restoration project that is already underway to improve stream and riparian habitat.

Most significantly, Denver Water will participate in an ongoing adaptive management program called “Learning by Doing” through which Denver, Grand County, Trout Unlimited and other local stakeholders are cooperating to apply mitigation and enhancement resources, monitor river and watershed conditions and make adjustments to achieve the best results over time. These efforts were launched even before Denver received their federal approvals.

While my efforts have focused on Grand County, I know that Denver Water has looked for partnerships on the east slope as well. For example, as part of the project, they will provide 5,000 acre-feet of storage in the enlarged reservoir for Boulder and Lafayette to use in providing in-stream flows at critical times, to keep downstream stretches of South Boulder Creek healthy and flowing.

Denver Water’s plans to enlarge Gross Reservoir certainly will have significant impacts on Boulder County, including disruption to lives and property around the reservoir area during construction — but these are mostly temporary impacts. It’s important to look at the project’s long-term benefits to our rivers and streams as well as to our water security.

For years I saw Denver Water as my community’s public enemy number one. But in recent times Denver Water has demonstrated a willingness to work as a partner to keep the Upper Colorado River healthy. This collaboration among stakeholders represents the best opportunity to protect and preserve the Upper Colorado River into the future.

Indeed, it’s already working.

Army Corps of Engineers approves Gross Dam expansion — @DenverWater

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

Army Corps of Engineers issues record of decision and 404 Permit

Following 14 years of careful study, evaluation and deliberation, the Army Corps of Engineers has approved Denver Water’s request to raise Gross Dam in Boulder County. The additional water stored in Gross Reservoir will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system.

The approval comes in the form of a record of decision and 404 Permit — two documents required by the federal government as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Denver Water appreciates the Corps’ dedication and commitment to careful study of the anticipated impacts of this project,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “We will complete this project responsibly, as evidenced by our actions during the public process and the resulting robust environmental protections we’ve agreed to along the way. We’re proud to be doing the right thing.”

The existing dam was built in the early 1950s and was designed to be expanded in the future to increase water storage capacity. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project approval completes this original vision.

Expanding Gross Reservoir is a major part of Denver Water’s long-term plan to deliver safe, reliable water to the people it serves now and into the future. The project is part of Denver Water’s multi-pronged approach that includes conservation, reuse and responsibly sourcing new supply.

“Issuance of this permit will unlock significant resources that will allow us to do good things for the river and the environment,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited.

In accordance with existing agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and Grand County’s Learning By Doing, and conditions in the 404 Permit, Denver Water will provide millions of dollars to improve watershed health in the critical Colorado and South Platte River Basins. Lochhead said these commitments are one reason that last year Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that the project will have a “net environmental benefit” on the state.

The project has earned key endorsements from Gov. Hickenlooper, state and federal lawmakers, major environmental groups, local mayors and city councils, chambers of commerce and economic development corporations, county elected officials and water interests on both sides of the divide.

“The next milestone we anticipate is approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of Denver Water’s hydropower license amendment application at some point next year,” said Jeff Martin, Gross Reservoir Expansion program manager. “In the meantime, Denver Water continues to make significant investments in setting a firm foundation for the project’s overall success by recently hiring Black and Veatch as the owner’s representative. We are also in the process of procuring a design engineer.”

Preconstruction activities, including dam design and geotechnical work, are expected to begin in 2018. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2025.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterTAP.org for additional information.

From The Associated Press via The U.S. News & World Report:

The Army Corps of Engineers announced late Friday it granted the project a permit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The $380 million project involves Gross Dam in the foothills about 5 miles southwest of Boulder.

@Colorado_TU: Colorado River restoration project secures $7.75 million grant

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s the release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Drew Peternell, Matt Rice, Paul Bruchez):

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today announced $7.75 million in funding for an ambitious slate of projects to address the impacts on the Colorado River of trans-mountain diversions of water from the West Slope to the Front Range. Fisheries conservation group Trout Unlimited is the lead partner on the grant application.

The Colorado River Headwaters Project received $7,758,830 from the NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to improve irrigation systems and reverse the decline in water quality and fish habitat in the headwaters of the Colorado River.

Led by an array of partners representing conservation interests, agriculture, local government, water providers, state agencies, and landowners, the Headwaters Project will create a bypass channel to reconnect the Colorado River at Windy Gap Reservoir, make channel and habitat improvements downstream of the bypass near Kremmling, Colorado, and improve irrigation systems as well as soil and water quality.

When fully implemented, the Headwaters Project will directly benefit more than 30 miles of the Colorado River and 4,500 acres of irrigated lands that provide sage grouse habitat and make available up to 11,000 acre-feet of water to improve the river during low-flow conditions.

“This is a huge win for the Colorado River,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project. “We’re seeing an exciting and ambitious conservation vision for the upper Colorado become reality. With this funding, we’ll be able to put the ecosystem pieces of the upper Colorado River back together and restore the river and its trout fishery to health.”

“The Colorado River Headwaters Project is a great example of how municipal water providers, ranchers, conservation organizations and others can work together to restore an important reach the Colorado River for both the environment and agricultural operations with benefits downstream,” said Matt Rice, director of American River’s Colorado River Basin Program. “A collaboration like this would have been unheard of 10 years ago. It’s a win for everyone in Colorado.”

At present, transmountain diversions divert over 60 percent of the upper Colorado River’s native flows across the Continental Divide for use in the Front Range and northern Colorado. The resulting low flows in the river have seriously undermined the operations of irrigation systems and the health of the Colorado River in the project area. Low flows make it difficult for irrigators to divert water, especially during drought, and also raise water temperatures and hamper the river’s ability to transport sediment, leading to sediment buildup on the riverbed that degrades aquatic habitat.

Local ranchers wanted to address these irrigation problems as well as river health, said Paul Bruchez, a Kremmling-area rancher who organized his neighboring landowners into the Irrigators of Land in Vicinity of Kremmling (ILVK) group, a key project partner. The project will install several innovative instream structures designed to provide adequate water levels for irrigation while also improving critical fish habitat. This will be the first project in the country to demonstrate these stream engineering practices on a significant scale.

“This news is life-changing for the headwaters of the Colorado River and those who rely on it,” said Bruchez. “Years ago, water stakeholders in this region were at battle. Now, it is a collaboration that will create resiliency and sustainability for the health of the river and its agricultural producers. Healthy ranches need healthy rivers, and the RCPP funding will help sustain both.”

The Windy Gap Reservoir bypass and the Kremmling area river improvements address several pieces of the puzzle in a long-term, regional effort to restore the upper Colorado River. Other pieces include agreements that TU helped negotiate with Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water District that contained significant river protections as well as an innovative, long-term monitoring and adaptive management process (called “Learning by Doing”) that requires stakeholders to work together to ensure the future health of the river.

That progress and collaboration is all the more remarkable coming after years of conflict between West Slope interests and conservation groups concerned about the health of the river, and Front Range water providers seeking to divert more water across the Divide.

“What’s happening on the upper Colorado shows that water users can work together to ensure river health while meeting diverse uses,” said TU’s Peternell. “This project is a model of what cooperation and collaboration can achieve in meeting our water challenges in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin.”

Other Headwaters Project partners who will provide assistance include the ILVK, Northern Water Conservation District, Denver Water, Colorado River Conservation District, Middle Park Soil Conservation District, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Grand County, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“We’re kind of at the cliff right now in the Colorado River Basin” — Matt Rice

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathaniel Minor):

Colorado’s economy depends on water: where it is, where the people who need it live and work, who has rights to it. Fights over those needs are a core part of the state’s history, and they tend to follow a pattern. So in some ways, the fight over the Fraser River in Colorado’s Grand County is familiar.

Denver Water holds unused water rights on the river, which starts in the shadow of Berthoud Pass and courses down the western side of the Continental Divide past Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash to join the Colorado River outside of Granby.

Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.
Workers pose for a photo in the Moffat Water Tunnel in this 1930 photo.

The agency, looking at the booming population and economy in Denver, now wants to exercise those rights. That means taking more water from the river, piping it under the Indian Peaks and sending it into Gross Reservoir near Boulder.

Some conservationists and environmental groups are crying foul, saying that the river has already been overtaxed (about 60 percent of its existing flow is already diverted to slake Denver’s growing thirst) and it’s time to let the river alone.

But the fight’s pattern is taking some unfamiliar twists and turns. Influential groups like Trout Unlimited and American Rivers, who’ve historically fought diversion projects, support this one. In exchange, Denver Water says it will will help protect and enhance what’s left of the Fraser River.

That compromise has fractured traditional lines in Colorado’s conservation and environmental advocacy community, and fostered new alliances. While these organizations more or less agree on their ultimate goal — to protect and restore the environment — the strategies they use are very different. The big question that divides them: When to compromise?

Denver Water Extends An Olive Branch

stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

Decades ago, environmentalists were not at the top of list of Denver Water’s concerns when it would try to build dams and add capacity. In the 1980s, environmental groups pushed back on a huge proposed dam called Two Forks.

“[Denver Water] told us in so many words: ‘We’re the experts. You’re little environmentalists. Get out of the way,’ ” Dan Luecke, then head of Environmental Defense Fund’s Rocky Mountain office, told High Country News in 2000.

Then, in 1990, an EPA veto torpedoed the project at the last minute.

“That was really a turning point for our organization,” said Kevin Urie, a scientist who’s worked for Denver Water for nearly 30 years. “I think we realized with the veto of Two Forks that we needed to think about things differently.”

He believes that while Denver Water has long taken environmental impacts into consideration with its plans, it didn’t engage with local stakeholders — like conservation and environmental groups and Western Slope governments — until after the Two Forks project died.

There’s a demographic change underway as well: Many of the Denver metro area’s new residents also want to play in Western Slope rivers on the weekends. That has pushed Denver Water leadership to put a larger emphasis on environmental stewardship, Urie said.

But all those new residents still need water. Denver Water delivers water to about 1.4 million people across the metro, about double what it did some 60 years ago. Conservation efforts have kept overall demand relatively low in recent years. But with more people moving to Denver every day, Denver Water expects its demand to rise 37 percent by 2032 from 2002 levels.

The Fraser River is key to Denver Water’s plan to head off a shortfall in the relatively near future. The agency wants to divert half of the remaining flows from the Fraser and its tributaries through the Moffat Tunnel to Gross Reservoir near Boulder. (The proposed expansion of Gross has started its own fight, which CPR News’ Grace Hood chronicled last month.) It would be treated at the agency’s plant in Lakewood, and eventually delivered to customers across the metro.

The agency expects to have all of its necessary permits by 2018 and construction could begin in 2019 or 2020. But to get those permits, Denver Water has agreed to be part of a group that includes Grand County officials and environmentalists called “Learning by Doing.” These different players are often at odds when it comes to water issues.

Urie said Denver Water’s participation shows its desire to do right by the environment and local stakeholders. They’ve helped fund an ambitious project that will engineer the Fraser River’s flow on a nearly mile-long stretch between Fraser and Tabernash, squeezing it to make it narrower, deeper and colder — and thus healthier.

But is that what’s best for the river?

Urie thought about that question for a minute, and then chose his words carefully:

“Clearly the system would be better if we weren’t using the water resources for other uses. But that’s not the scenario we are dealing with,” Urie said.

Trout Unlimited Sees Opportunity

The Fraser River project’s biggest booster is Kirk Klancke, president of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. For him personally, it’s a way to help a river that he’s lived near and played in for 45 years.
“I can’t talk about it without getting all emotional. My life’s been spent on this river,” he said.

He sees it as a chance to restore a part of the river popular with anglers called the Fraser Flats. Here, the brush-lined river levels out after tumbling through the pine forests of Berthoud Pass.

His playground is popular with others, too. Grand County is a short one- to two-hour drive from Denver. From fly fishing to alpine and nordic skiing to snowmobiling, it’s a tourist-based economy. And in Klancke’s eyes, all of that rests on the health of its water.

He’s watched the river dwindle and get warmer as more water has been pulled out of it. And that’s changed how his family has used it. When his children were young, they could stay in the river for only a minute or two.

“They’d come out and their lips would be purple and they’d be squealing,” Klancke said. “Now I throw my grandchildren in the river and they’re not in a hurry to get out. We spend up to an hour in a pool in the river.”

He’s watched this river that means so much to him get sicker and sicker; warm, shallow channels aren’t suitable for native fish and bugs. For years, he blamed the deteriorating environment on the Front Range and its water managers.

“I was a little radical because I urinated in diversion ditches. It’s about all I knew to do. I’ve matured quite a bit since then,” he said.

His turning point came when he got involved with Trout Unlimited.

“I loved their approach,” he said. “They were able to look at it in someone else’s shoes, which is what all mature people do. And then, move forward with opening up conversation.”

Such conversations are what led to the Fraser Flats project, Klancke said. When flows are low, like they were this fall, the river is shallow as it stretches across its native bed. The new channel will allow the river to recede and stay deeper — and cooler.

Essentially, that stretch of river will be turned into a creek. On its face, downsizing a river doesn’t sound like a big victory for environmentalists. But that’s not how Klancke looks at it. During peak flows in the spring, Klancke points out, the river will be nearly just as wild as it is now.

And moreover, Denver Water has to stay involved in the Learning by Doing group. So if environmental issues arise down the road, Klancke said the agency will be there to help solve them.

Is it a compromise? Yes, Klancke admits. But water managers own water rights in the upper Colorado Basin that they’ll use — with or without his blessing. The right to divert water for “beneficial uses” is enshrined in the Colorado Constitution.

“We have to face reality here,” Klancke said. “There is no more mighty Upper Colorado. There’s only keeping what’s left healthy.” [ed. emphasis mine]

WildEarth Guardians Stakes Out Moral High Ground

Like Klancke, Jen Pelz, wild river program director for WildEarth Guardians, has had her own evolution in thought toward environmental causes. Earlier in her career, she was a water lawyer in Denver who represented clients like the city of Pueblo that were taking water from Western Slope rivers.

But eventually she felt a pull toward environmental advocacy. Pelz credits that with childhood days spent on the banks of a tributary to the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

“It was kind of the place that I could go just be myself,” she said. “I developed a really strong connection to the river there.”

She was drawn to the confrontational, no-holds-barred approach used by WildEarth Guardians. The group is known for its headline-grabbing lawsuits. Most recently they sued the federal government over haze in Western Colorado and leases to coal mines.

The approach seems to be working, at least by WildEarth Guardian’s measure. The haze lawsuit ended in an agreement where a coal mine and coal-fired power plant in Nucla, south of Grand Junction, will shut down in the next six years. A power plant in Craig, Colorado will shut down one of its units too.

“We’re willing to not be liked by the general public, or by particular industries,” Pelz said. “And I think it takes that kind of moral integrity and just knowing where you stand on the issues, to really push the envelope.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Pelz is not interested in compromise on the Fraser River. She faults Trout Unlimited for starting negotiations at the wrong place. In her view, the baseline shouldn’t be where the river is now with about 60 percent of it being diverted. The conversation needs to start with the river at its natural flows, she said.

“The harm has already been done,” Pelz said.

If the Fraser River is going to be saved, she says, it’ll happen by letting more water back into the river — not by taking more out. As the climate warms, she says the river will need all the help it can get.

“Let’s start dealing with it now. Let’s have that hard conversation now, not 50 years from now when there’s no water left to have a conversation about,” she says.

Pelz says her organization, and another group called Save the Colorado, are considering litigation once final permits are approved. That could happen in 2018.

Such tactics doesn’t make Pelz a lot of friends. She said she’s been ostracized from her former clique of water lawyers. It’s hard for her to get meetings with government regulators.

WildEarth Guardians’ relationship with the greater environmental community is similarly strained. She said Denver Water is more willing to meet with environmentalists now because they’ve softened. And she’s upset with what Trout Unlimited has become in the eyes of regulators.

“Trout Unlimited has been deemed by Denver Water and the state of Colorado as being the environmental voice,” Pelz said. “They get invited to the table because they have this role in communities, which I don’t think is a bad thing, but they don’t necessarily represent all of the different interests in the environmental community.”

As a result, she said, groups like hers are being left out of the conversation.

“They don’t talk to us. They don’t ask us what we think. And I’ve called them. And I’ve had meetings with them. I’ve asked them what they think. And they’ve told me they don’t like our approach. And I understand that. But I think that it works both ways.”

Pelz said it can be hard to be out “towing the left line.” Everybody likes to be liked, she said. But she’s decided that over the long run, her methods are what will make a difference. To do anything else would be surrender.

“I don’t want to have to explain to my kids that I gave up the fight for this river that is the namesake of our state, the state they were born in, because I was willing to compromise,” she said. “We may not win, but damn we are going to try.”

American Rivers Finds Room To Maneuver

When Matt Rice, Colorado River basin director for American Rivers took the job a few years ago, he made the decision to put aside his dreams for what he really wanted. Instead, he focuses on what he thinks he can actually pull off.

“In a perfect world, I’d like to see all the wild rivers in this country and in this state flowing freely and filled with fish, doing what rivers should do,” Rice said. “It’s not realistic.”

But he acknowledges that groups like WildEarth Guardians can make his job easier at times. When Guardians files a lawsuit and makes a bunch of people mad, a group like his can step in and talk with state regulators and businesses. Guardians essentially provides cover for groups closer to the political center, he said.

“Their advocacy pushes everybody, not just conservation organizations, kind of further to the left. And I think that’s good,” Rice said.

But there’s a downside. Lawsuits and sharply worded press releases can sting, and are not easily forgotten. And Rice worries that aggressive tactics from far-left groups lead to skeptical parties like ranchers or Front Range water managers lumping all environmentalists together.

“That has the potential to undermine the progress we’re making,” he said.

Looking To The Future

A screenshot from the website for Colorado's Water Plan.
A screenshot from the website for Colorado’s Water Plan.

With the publication of last year’s Colorado Water Plan, a first for the state, officials are trying to turn the page on Colorado’s long fight over water. The plan, which officials describe as a roadmap to sustainability, stresses collaboration between competing interests and conservation of the increasingly precious resource.

“Now is the time to rethink how we can be more efficient,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said at the water plan’s introduction in November 2015.

Diverting more water should be the last-possible solution, Hickenlooper said. That’s welcome news to environmentalists like Matt Rice of American Rivers.

Rice said they are supportive of the Fraser River diversion plan for the same reasons Trout Unlimited is, though they aren’t part of the Learning by Doing group. But he hopes the Fraser diversion, and another major project in the works called Windy Gap, are the last trans-mountain diversion projects.

There just isn’t enough water on the Western Slope, he said. And if another one comes up, Rice said they’ll fight it with everything they have.

“We’re kind of at the cliff right now in the Colorado River Basin,” he said.

Collaboration and compromise will certainly be part of environmentalism’s future in Colorado. But as groups like WildEarth Guardians continue to find success in the courts, the advocacy ecosystem has room for other strategies too.

#ColoradoRiver: Moffat Collection System Project update #COriver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Wall Street Journal (Jim Carlton):

Next year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to decide whether to issue a permit to triple the capacity of Gross Reservoir in the Rocky Mountain foothills, with additional shipments of about 18,000 acre feet of water a year from the Colorado River watershed. An acre foot is enough water to meet the annual needs of an average family of five.

That is one of the last regulatory barriers for utility Denver Water’s $380 million project, for which district officials say they hope to break ground in 2019 to help ensure local water supplies.

“We have an obligation to supply water,” said Jeff Martin, Denver Water’s manager of the project, as he stood recently atop a 340-foot concrete dam that is to be raised by 131 feet under the plan. “It’s not an option to not have water.”

[…]

The Corps of Engineers is expected to decide next year on a proposed new “Windy Gap” project in Colorado, which would divert up to another 30,000 acre feet a year to the Front Range, the heavily populated area where the Rocky Mountains rise up from the plains.

In addition, more than 200,000 acre feet would be diverted for proposed projects in Utah and Wyoming…

Water officials in California and other lower basin states say they aren’t overly concerned about more diversions upstream, because a 1922 compact requires the upper basin states to deliver them about 7.5 million acre feet a year, or one half the river flow set aside for human use north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of that water is stockpiled in Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border.

With the Colorado running much lower than when the compact was signed, water experts say there is less water to divert.

“So long as their development doesn’t impinge on their release to us, that is their business,” said Chuck Cullom, a program manager at the Central Arizona Project in Phoenix, which pulls from the river and stands to lose a fifth of its deliveries if a shortage is declared on the Colorado. “If it falls below that, then they would have to figure out how to manage their demand.”

Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, which oversees use of the river in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, agreed that new diversions increase the risk of shortages.

“The more you develop, the more a severe drought can affect you,” said Mr. Ostler. “But we are able to live with a certain amount of shortage.”

In Denver, water officials don’t feel they have much choice but to seek more Colorado water.

In 2002, tons of sediment from a forest fire clogged one of Denver Water’s reservoirs during a drought. “We came close to running out of water in the northern end of our system,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive officer of Denver Water, a utility that serves 1.4 million people.

That crisis helped prompt the district in 2003 to undertake the Gross Reservoir expansion, which would store more water from an existing tunnel that transfers Colorado River water from the west side of the Continental Divide.

Denver officials pledged to only take the water in wet years and release more into streams when it is dry—measures that drew praise from some conservationists…

Gov. John Hickenlooper in July gave the state’s approval, calling the dam’s expansion vital. “The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future,” the Democratic governor said at the time, “and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment.”

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: Doing more with less water — Allen Best #COriver

From Aspen Journalism (Allen Best) via The Aspen Daily News:

Denver Water implements ‘Learning By Doing’ program in the high country

A decade ago, Kirk Klancke had hard, cold feelings about Denver Water. A stonemason for 35 years who moved to the Fraser Valley in 1971, he was passionate about the outdoors, particularly fly-fishing, and was outraged by depleted flows of the Fraser River and tributary creeks below a network of transmountain diversions.

Listening to Denver Water’s plans to step up diversions from these Colorado River tributaries, Klancke would seethe.

Today, Klancke almost gushes with compliments.

“Denver has been a treat to work with,” Klancke said one day in August at his home near Tabernash, located eight miles from the Winter Park ski area.

Denver Water still intends to divert more spring runoff. But what has won Klancke’s support is the utility’s commitment to an adaptive management program called Learning By Doing.

Part of the program includes about 30 people conferring weekly to address water issues in the upper Colorado River basin upstream from Kremmling, where up to 80 percent of the water may soon be diverted to the arid side of Colorado along the Front Range.

The conference call is modeled on a similar weekly call used to coordinate water deliveries, including from Ruedi Reservoir, to protect endangered fish in the Colorado River in the Grand Junction area.

During those calls, information is exchanged by water managers, and sufficient deliveries are usually ascertained. And decisions are made by consensus.

So far in the Learning By Doing effort, Denver Water has shown a willingness to juggle its diversions in response to conditions on the once-pristine streams in Grand County.

For example, in late July, Klancke noted warm water and dying fish in Ranch Creek, a tributary of the Fraser River. He told Denver Water about the low flows, but he didn’t really expect a response. To his surprise, utility officials offered to rejigger its diversions to make the flows in Ranch Creek last longer.

“It really helped Ranch Creek a lot,” says Klancke, the president of the Colorado River headwaters chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Learning By Doing is partly about manipulating diversions in the most environmentally friendly way possible, Klancke says. In the past, that wasn’t a concern “because they have just been operated like plumbing.”

The program is now gaining some notice in other headwater valleys, including the Roaring Fork, which is also substantially dewatered by transmountain diversions built in the 1930s and 1960s.

Pitkin County Commissioner Rachel Richards, who has focused for years on water issues, says Learning By Doing “clearly is a sound concept, modifying approaches based on science and data feedback. But we’re not sure we’ve seen enough actual implementation to judge whether it’s a valid tool.”

As you go

Learning By Doing is like a river trip without a precise itinerary. It acknowledges broad impacts to water-dependent ecosystems from Denver Water’s existing transmountain diversions and those of others. However, it doesn’t presume to know exactly how to lessen the impacts of existing diversions, let alone impacts of new ones.

The Moffat Firming project, which sparked the Learning by Doing effort, is being proposed by Denver Water. The nearby Windy Gap Firming project, on the main stem of the Colorado River below Granby, is a proposal from Northern Water. Both projects are part of Learning By Doing, although Northern is not a signatory to the underlying agreement for the program, the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement.

Both firming, or expansion, projects were conceived many years ago, but they were pushed forward after the 2002 drought. The drought crystalized Denver Water’s worries that it couldn’t supply enough water to its northern service area.

As such, Denver Water has proposed to divert more water from tributaries of the Colorado River and send it through its existing Moffat Tunnel system to an expanded Gross Reservoir, which is in the mountains southwest of Boulder.

The two big transmountain diversion systems in Grand County managed by Denver Water and Northern Water, plus several smaller ones, have annually removed an average of 67 percent of the water in the Colorado River below Windy Gap, according to the final environmental impact statement on the Windy Gap firming project.

The two proposed expanded diversions would bump that up to a combined 80 percent. By comparison, about 40 percent of water in the upper Roaring Fork and Fryingpan headwaters goes east, not west. That’s significant, but the upper Colorado River has been hit even harder.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the final decision-maker on both the expanded Moffat and Windy Gap diversions, now expects to issue decisions on the proposals in 2017.

The political landscape

The agreement that yielded Learning By Doing is grounded in political realities.
Denver Water needed Western Slope support to get more water. But to get it, the utility had to acknowledge a moral responsibility to address the impacts of existing diversions. That responsibility is now reflected in a legal agreement.

Denver Water initially submitted models about the effects of its proposed increased diversions. Trout Unlimited and other environmental groups were skeptical.

“A lot of water has been taken out of these rivers,” says Mely Whiting, an attorney for Trout Unlimited. “We were not convinced any model was going to be able to predict what would happen [with increased diversions] or what will happen with climate change.”

The message to Denver Water, she says, was “if you want more water, you have to fix problems we already have, and you have to make sure we don’t have more problems. That’s what we believe Learning By Doing is all about.”

Will the Colorado River actually end up being better off after the diversions?

“I think so,” Whiting says. “That’s the goal. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

But the upper Colorado River basin may never be as pristine as it once was.

“The goal is not to make it natural,” says Whiting. Instead, Learning By Doing aims to “make it better.”

Other environmental advocates reject this reasoning.

“Grand County got bad legal advice,” says Gary Wockner, executive director of Fort Collins-based Save the Colorado. “The river is already drained and depleted, and climate change is just going to make it worse. When you’re heading for a cliff in your car, the first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator.”

Water conservation, Wockner contends, “is always cheaper, easier and faster than trying to build a massive new dam, as is buying and sharing water with farmers.”

Trout Unlimited sees things differently.

“We have said ‘yes, let’s conserve,’ and we do everything we can to really engage in pushing forward conservation,” Whiting said. “But we also need to figure out how to best protect the river with its projects moving forward.”

Might the parties that divert water from the Roaring Fork River watershed, which include Colorado Springs, Aurora and Pueblo, as well as irrigators in the Arkansas River Valley, ever feel a moral obligation to address the impacts of their diversions?

Chris Woodka, a former water reporter and the new issues management coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Pueblo,
was at least willing to consider the question last week.

Southeastern manages the Fry-Ark project, which diverts water from Hunter Creek and a string of tributaries in the upper Fryingpan River basin.

“We’re probably not going to suggest anything that would take less water,” Woodka says. “But if we are asked to do something, we would certainly look at it. But our primary obligation is to bring supplemental water to the Arkansas basin.”

And an important factor for the Roaring Fork watershed to consider may be this: Learning By Doing is the result of a proposal to increase transmountain diversions and is not simply born of a desire to better manage the streams already depleted by them.

Improving relations

Denver Water, the Western Slope, and environmental groups have long had an adversarial relationship.

And when the utility initiated the federal review process in 2003 for expansion of its transmountain diversions through the Moffat Tunnel, Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, sent a proposed “global settlement” to Denver Water.

Denver Water rejected the specific proposal, but not the idea and submitted a counter-proposal in what then became an extended negotiation.

Soon, headwaters counties — especially Grand, Summit, and Eagle — came to agree that there had to be a global agreement among the affected counties in response to Denver Water’s proposal. Mediated negotiations began in 2007 involving 43 parties, most of them located on the Western Slope.

A key figure representing Grand County in the process was Lurline Underbrink Curran, a county native who became a planner and then the Grand County manager, a position she recently stepped down from.

Working with Denver Water, Curran decided, could yield more benefits than a courtroom brawl. But developing trusting relationships took time.

Curran, known for being plain-spoken and direct, credits the directors that Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed to the Denver Water board when he was mayor of Denver. She said they were able to acknowledge an important truth.

They were “willing to step back and go, ‘Well, we have had a huge impact and if at all possible we need to improve the area that we take the water from,’” she said.

Denver Water, in turn, shared modeling studies with Grand County after securing a promise that the models wouldn’t be used against it legally.

‘A really big deal’

Grand County also commissioned its own expensive stream management plan that brought science to the argument.
Paul Daukas, environmental planning manager for Denver Water, was impressed by that plan.

“It givers them the science, so they can frame their needs and wants in a scientific way,” he said. “That plan became the foundation for Learning By Doing.”

Learning By Doing is included in the 2013 Colorado River Water Cooperative
Agreement, the result of the long negotiating process with Denver Water.
And Curran says Learning By Doing puts Grand County, with its multiple tasks, on par with Denver Water, an agency with a singular focus.

“That is a really big deal,” Curran says.

Denver Water and the Windy Gap sponsors aren’t legally required to participate in Learning By Doing until they get all their federal permits.

Nonetheless, in 2011, they joined the state, Grand County and other partners to begin to explore how to do more for rivers with less water.

Diminished flows distress the web of life found in rivers. Macroinvertebrates — bugs — live in the gaps between rocks in rivers. Reduced flow means less velocity, and sediments are not swept from between the rocks. Less room for bugs means fewer of them, and fewer bugs means fewer fish.

Klancke, the avid fly-fisherman, can point to reaches of river in Grand County where President Dwight Eisenhower snagged big trout during summer vacations in the 1950s.

But now he can also point to segments of the Fraser River where summer flows, depleted by diversions, are too shallow for the width of the channel, resulting in water dangerously warm for fish and the bugs they depend upon.

“They heat up in ways they never did before,” says Klancke of the tributaries in Grand County. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand.”

One recent response has been to narrow a section of the Fraser River’s channel for nine-tenths of a mile and add riffles and pools. The ongoing Fraser Flats project will cost $201,000, with various parties, including a private landowner, chipping in.

Denver Water’s portion of the Fraser Flats project is only $50,000, part of $2 million earmarked for aquatic habitat improvements under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement. The agreement says that Denver Water will provide $11 million to Grand County in all.

That agreement also obligates the utility to bypass 1,000 acre-feet that it could divert. The water is to be used for environmental purposes in the Fraser Valley.
After the work is done at Fraser Flats next year, stream temperatures and other indicators will be monitored for several years.

The procedure, explains Denver Water’s Daukus, is to see what benefit has occurred, “so that when we go to the next project, we can see what has worked and what won’t work.”

But Wockner of Save the Colorado thinks Grand County settled for a “terrible deal.”

“The two dam and diversion projects would take over a billion dollars of water over to the Front Range,” he says, referring to the Moffat and Windy Gap firming projects.

“Grand County settled for about one percent of that in mitigation costs, which is a fleecing of money as well as water.”

As for the “channel enhancement” at Fraser Flats, he sees only a narrowed irrigation ditch.

“The Fraser and Colorado rivers need more water, not less,” Wockner says.

Still, proponents say Learning By Doing provides a model. They say it requires commitment by people to be stewards of rivers in their backyards. It requires mechanisms for addressing problems. It requires cooperation among diverse partners. And it requires compromise.

Denver Water’s most important change, says Klancke, may be a new focus. Instead of a singular focus on delivering water to customers it may now have a broader focus that includes maintaining the health of the basin of origin, he says.

“That’s the culture they’re changing,” he said. “I won’t say it’s successful until the scientists say it’s healthier than it used to be. But we’re headed in the right direction.”
Richards, of Pitkin County, is still not sure Learning By Doing has sufficient teeth to compel change.

“It will depend,” Richards said, “on whether what is learned actually ends up changing what the water diverters do.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

#Colorado, #Wyoming Move Forward with #ColoradoRiver Diversions — Public News Service #COriver

Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY - USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.
Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY – USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.

From The Public News Service:

Wyoming has moved one step closer to getting more water for ranching, agriculture and industrial development.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources has advanced a bill that would allow the state to take an additional 125,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River at the Fontenelle Dam…

State officials say expanding the Fontenelle is necessary for farmers and ranchers who need a reliable water supply to keep crops and livestock healthy.

They feel the measure would also be an economic incentive for new businesses to grow and create jobs in southwestern Wyoming…

[Gary Wockner] notes Wyoming isn’t the only state trying to get more water from a shrinking source.

He points to a proposal by Denver Water to expand the Gross Dam that would remove an additional 5 billion gallons annually from the Colorado.

While upper-basin states may technically have rights to the water, Wockner says the challenges of a changing climate and 16 years of drought can’t be ignored.

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Fraser River: Union Pacific Railroad violating discharge permit?

westportalmoffattunnel

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

The discharge is occurring at a location very near the Moffat Tunnel and is derived from a culvert located beneath a set of metal stairs that descend right to the banks of the Fraser.

The UPRR has a permit from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officially allowing the discharge of the water, but correspondence between Grand County officials and representatives from the CDPHE indicates the current level of pollutants being released are not allowed under the existing permit.

In correspondence with state officials Grand County has stated the organic compounds found in the discharge are toxic and some are carcinogenic. Emails written by Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris to officials from the CDPHE states, “the Railroad has classically discharged these organics, without disclosure to the state, in high concentration pulses which escape routine sampling. The existing and proposed permits do not currently include any organics, let alone include limitations for these.”

Emails sent by Morris to officials from the CDPHE on Wednesday Sept. 28 state, “I hope the CDPHE will have the opportunity to investigate this case further and address this specific source of contamination.” Officials have also sent photographs to the CDPHE of the point of discharge that show dark, black, almost opaque water flowing from the discharge culvert into the Fraser. The photos appear to have been taken on Sept. 14, 2016.

Notably, a letter sent on Sept. 19 by Morris to the State’s Clean Water Enforcement Unit, a division within the CDPHE, states, “The Railroad curtailed the polluted discharge by 5:00 pm on the same day that that we were notified of the pollution.”

Correspondence between Morris and CDPHE officials indicates the permit allowing the discharge of water into the Fraser by the UPRR has been in existence since 2007. Additional email correspondence between Morris and State water officials states, “UPRR has stated that this discharge is associated with annual maintenance activities, and the Railroad has declined to report the discharge as a spill. However, nothing in the permit indicates that pollution of this level is permitted, and it would seem to be a violation of their permit.”

A water treatment plant, to treat the water discharged into the Fraser by the UPRR, is currently under construction, according to a letter sent to the CDPHE by Grand County in late June regarding a draft permit for the UPRR’s Moffat Tunnel West Portal.

The letter goes on to state, “To the best of Grand County’s knowledge, there is and has been no treatment of this discharge prior to release to the Fraser River.” The letter also points out that state regulations state, “state water shall be free from substances attributable to human-caused point source or nonpoint source discharge in amounts, concentrations or combinations which are harmful to beneficial uses or toxic to humans, animals, plants or aquatic life.”

The letter goes on to state that the County, East Grand Water Quality Board and the Town of Winter Park conducted sediment and aqueous testing in Oct. 2015 but that such testing occurred too late after the August cleaning operations to, “indicate the presence of more than one volatile organic carbon (toluene) or significant concentrations of suspended or dissolved contaminants in the aqueous samples.” Samples were collected at sites 287 feet upstream from the discharge point and 2,138 feet downstream.

The letter does state the downstream samples, “indicate the presence of several semi-volatile organic carbons (SVOCs) and diesel range organics (DROs) that are either not present in the upstream samples (SVOCs), or are present at significantly higher concentrations downstream compared to upstream (DROs) indicating that their presence is a direct result of the tunnel discharge.” The letter noted the lab that tested the samples indicated the existing sediment matrix downstream from the discharge point was, “complex and likely to have a number of interferences.”

Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.
Fish in the Fraser River have struggled because there was too little water for the riparian area that had been created by natural flows. Segments have now been mechanically manipulated to be more narrow. Photo/Allen Best.

#ColoradoRiver: The Plan to Strengthen Denver’s Water Supply — 5280.com #COriver

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From 5280.cm (Amy Thomson):

Considering the Denver region is growing by an average of 4,500 new residents per month, a large sector of the population likely doesn’t remember the catastrophic 2002 drought. The most severe water shortage since the Dust Bowl, snowpack and soil moisture were at all-time lows, and we remained in a dry period until 2006. Luckily, with water restrictions in place, we never actually ran out of water—we just got really close.

“We realized that we had an immediate need to correct a vulnerability in our system,” Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says. That’s when Denver Water started planning the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project, and after more than a decade of negotiations, the project (which was recently endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper) is underway.

But will it be enough? The short answer is yes—as long as Denverites work on strengthening their water conservation practices. Lochhead was pleased to note that when a storm comes through the Mile High City, there is a noticeable drop in outdoor water use, because well-informed residents are turning off their sprinkler systems. Denver residents have managed to reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent in the last 15 years, even with a 15 percent increase in population, according to Lochhead.

The decrease is not enough to mitigate the risk of drought, however. As Colorado’s largest water utility, the Denver Water system is made up of two collection systems—the Northern and the South Platte—and they are incredibly imbalanced. About 80 percent of the water comes from the south system, leaving the north very vulnerable to low rainfall or wildfires. During the notable dry years of 2002 and 2013, clients in the north end were lucky their taps continued to flow.

“We were literally only one drought away from a major problem in our system,” Lochhead says, noting that as recently as 2013, the system was virtually out of water in the north-end.

Denver Water digs into Vasquez Canal Project — The Sky-Hi Daily News

The south portal of the Vasquez Tunnel is shown in this 1957 photo. Via Denver Water.
The south portal of the Vasquez Tunnel is shown in this 1957 photo. Via Denver Water.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

The Vasquez Canal Project is a multi-year multi-million dollar project that continues efforts by Denver Water to improve existing water diversion infrastructure. Work on the Vasquez Canal Project focuses on removing sections of the existing Vasquez Canal and replacing removed sections with a 114-inch diameter concrete reinforced pipe.

Work on the project has occurred in previous year with Denver Water replacing between 5,000 and 6,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal over the past two decades. Officials from Denver Water say they plan to replace about 2,000 feet of the Vasquez Canal in 2016, leaving roughly 15,000 feet to be replaced in the future.

Officials from Denver Water did not provide an overall projected cost on the project pointing out that, “funding allocation for this project is reassessed annually”. In previous year the project averaged around $750,000 per year in costs. Future projected cost estimates on the Vasquez Canal Project total between two to three million dollars annually.

Monies used for the project come directly from Denver Water which is funding operation, as it does all operational and capital projects, through water rate fees, bond sales, cash reserves, hydropower sales and system development charges for new services.

Work on the Vasquez Canal Project consists primarily of excavation and earth moving to facilitate the canal upgrade. “Crews will demolish the old concrete liner and covers, excavate the area and install the new 114-inch pipe, piece by piece,” stated Denver Water Communication Specialist Jimmy Luthye. Luthye explained Denver Water plans to, “work aggressively to complete this project in the next few years in an effort to replace aging infrastructure and improve the safety and strength of the entire water system.”

Ames Construction is the contractor of record for the project. For the past 20 years though, as previous sections of the Vasquez Canal have been replaced, employees of Denver Water performed the upgrade work. According to Denver Water this is the first year work on the project has been contracted out.

The Arapaho National Forest prepared an environmental assessment of the Vasquez Canal Project. All construction work on the project is being conducted entirely on National Forest System Lands. According to Denver Water that environmental assessment determined, “there would be no significant environmental impacts.” Officials from Denver Water went on to state, “They approved the project along with required best management practices, design criteria and monitoring designed to protect the area during construction.”

The Vasquez Canal is part of Denver Water’s historic water diversion network that brings mountain runoff to the Front Range and Denver Metro area. The original canal was completed in the late 1930s. According to Denver Water, information on the original construction of the canal is fairly limited but officials from the municipal water supplier stated, “we suspect that some of it (Vasquez Canal) was originally dug by hand because the canal had to be cut into the side of a steep mountain… making it difficult for machines to access.”

In the late 1950s Denver Water covered the originally open Vasquez Canal, effectively creating a tunnel. A drought during the early 1950s prompted the action, which was intended to mitigate evaporation as water traveled through the diversion system.

Water utilized by the Denver Water’s diversion system follows a zigzagging path of infrastructure as it descends from snowmelt in the high Rockies to homes along the Front Range.

Diversion structures in the Upper Williams Fork River send water through the Gumlick Tunnel, formerly known as the Jones Pass Tunnel, where the water passes under the Continental Divide. From there water travels through the Vasquez Tunnel, which brings the water back through to the other side of the Continental Divide, where it enters into Grand County and Vasquez Creek. The water is then diverted through the Moffat Tunnel back under the Continental Divide for a final time and into South Boulder Creek, feeding into Gross Reservoir, a major water storage reservoir for Denver Water.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado
Colorado transmountain diversions via the University of Colorado

#ColoradoRiver: “..in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist” — Jim Pokrandt

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A proposal to divert Colorado River water to Denver recently has won the endorsement of Gov. John Hickenlooper and the approval of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

But Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir expansion project may be just as notable for its general lack of opposition west of the Continental Divide. That’s thanks to a wide-ranging agreement, effective in 2013, in which Denver Water obtained concessions including a promise that numerous Western Slope parties to the agreement wouldn’t oppose the expansion project. In return, Denver Water made a number of commitments to the Western Slope.

Now Western Slope interests are working on a similar agreement with Northern Water and others on what’s called the Windy Gap Firming Project, which would store Colorado River water in a proposed Boulder County reservoir.

These approaches represent a far cry from how the Western Slope used to respond to transmountain diversion proposals.

“This is the new paradigm. It’s not the old school. In the old school it was like … we’ll see you in court,” said Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River District, a party to the 2013 Denver Water deal.

For Denver Water, what’s called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provided greater certainty for its customers through means such as resolving longtime disputes regarding West Slope water. For the Western Slope, the deal meant dozens of obligations by Denver Water, such as millions of dollars in monetary payments to various entities, protections of Colorado River flows and water quality, a commitment to further water conservation and reuse efforts by Denver Water customers, and a provision aimed at helping assure maintenance of historic flows in the Colorado River even when the Shoshone Power Plant in Glenwood Canyon is not operating. That hydroelectric plant has a senior right helping control flows in the river.

Another key point in that deal is a promise that Denver Water and its customers won’t try to further develop Colorado River water without agreement from the river district and affected counties.

The cooperative agreement has 18 signatories but more than 40 partners, primarily West Slope governments, water conservation and irrigation districts, and utilities. Among them are the Ute Water Conservancy District and multiple irrigation districts in Mesa County.

Pokrandt said the 2013 deal is a win-win for both sides of the Continental Divide.

“That said, yes, more water would be moving east” if the Gross Reservoir project proceeds, he said.

The project, also sometimes called the Moffat Collection System Project, would nearly triple the capacity of the Boulder County reservoir. Denver Water is targeting water in the Fraser River, a tributary of the Colorado.

“Right now there are some periods of time when Gross Reservoir is full at its current size and their water rights are in priority but they can’t take any more water,” Pokrandt said.

The project has an estimated cost of $380 million, and Denver Water hopes to obtain the remaining major permits by the end of next year. CDPHE in June certified that the project complied with state water quality standards, and Hickenlooper endorsed it last week.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

That recently adopted plan in some respects took its lead from the Denver Water/Western Slope deal in seeking to address the state’s future water needs in a cooperative rather than confrontational manner statewide.

Pokrandt conceded that not everyone loves the Gross Reservoir proposal…

Trout Unlimited takes a more positive view of the Gross Reservoir project, pointing to its inclusion of a “Learning by Doing” program requiring monitoring of the health of the Fraser River and adjusting operations as needed. The Gross Reservoir proposal envisions drawing water from the Western Slope in wetter years and seasons, but providing the Colorado River watershed with extra water during low flow periods and investing in restoration projects.

“Moreover, Denver Water has entered into partnerships on the Front Range to ensure that the project alleviates chronic low-flow problems in South Boulder Creek. Both sides of the Divide benefit,” David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in a news release…

Denver Water Chief Executive Officer Jim Lochhead said in a news release, “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

Pokrandt said Western Slope water interests face the reality that under the state Constitution the right to appropriate water shall not be denied if the water can be put to beneficial use and a party can obtain the necessary financing and permitting.

“There’s not a legal stance to say no, so that’s why the river district was even formed in 1937, was to negotiate these things, because no is not an answer in the legal arena because of the Colorado Constitution,” he said.

When it comes to water rights, Pokrandt said, “in the Colorado Constitution, the Continental Divide doesn’t exist.”

#ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan: “Having this additional storage enables that flexibility” — Jim Lochhead #COriver

Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

This formal backing completes the state’s environmental reviews for the Moffat project, 13 years in the making, clearing the way for construction — if remaining federal permits are issued. Denver Water and opponents from Western Slope towns and nature groups reached a compromise aimed at enabling more population growth while off-setting environmental harm.

It is a key infrastructure project that will add reliability to public water supplies and protect the environment, Gov. John Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead.

It “aligns with the key elements of Colorado’s Water Plan,” Hickenlooper wrote. “Denver Water and its partners further our shared vision for a secure and sustainable water future while assuring a net environmental benefit in a new era of cooperation.”

Denver would siphon 10,000 acre-feet a year, on average, more water out of Colorado River headwaters, conveying it eastward under the Continental Divide through a tunnel for more than 20 miles to an expanded Gross Reservoir southwest of Boulder. By raising that reservoir’s existing 340-foot dam to 471 feet, the project would increase today’s 41,811 acre-feet storage capacity by 77,000 acre-feet — more than doubling the surface area of the reservoir…

For more than a decade, Denver Water has been seeking permits, including federal approval for construction affecting wetlands and to generate hydro-electricity at the dam.

“During dry years, we won’t be diverting water. It is a relatively small amount of water. … It is a water supply that Colorado is entitled to develop,” Lochhead said in an interview.

The increased storage capacity “allows us to take water in wet times and carry it over through drought periods. It gives us operational flexibility on the Western Slope. … Having this additional storage enables that flexibility.”

Colorado leaders’ formal endorsement follows a recent Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment decision to issue a water quality permit for the project, certifying no water quality standards will be violated. Hickenlooper has directed state officials to work with federal water and energy regulators to expedite issuance of other permits. Denver Water officials said they expect to have all permits by the end of 2017, start construction 2019 and finish by 2024…

…Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups call the project a realistic compromise considering the rapid population growth along Colorado’s Front Range.

“If the state needs to develop more water, they need to do it in a less-damaging, more responsible way — as opposed to going to the pristine headwaters of the South Platte River, which is what the Two Forks project was going to do,” TU attorney Mely Whiting said.

“We’ve put things in place that will make Denver Water be a steward of the river,” Whiting said. The agreement hashed out between Denver Water and conservationists “does not specifically say they have to tweak the flows to help the environment. It does say they have to monitor, for water temperature and macroinvertebrates. And if there’s a problem, they are responsible for figuring out why and they need to do something about it. It does not say exactly what they have to do but they have to fix any problem.”

Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water
Gross Dam enlargement concept graphic via Denver Water

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed a project to expand Boulder County’s Gross Reservoir, a move he hopes will improve Colorado’s water capacity for the next several decades.

The endorsement was considered a formality; Hickenlooper wrote to President Barack Obama four years ago, asking for the president’s help in speeding up the process for Gross and other water projects.

Colorado is predicted to face a gap of more than one million acre-feet of water by 2050, according to a 2010 estimate that many believe may be on the low end. One acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover the field at Mile High Stadium from endzone to endzone with one foot of water. That’s 325,851 gallons of water. The average family of four uses about half an acre–foot of water per year.

Hickenlooper couldn’t give his formal okay for the expansion of the reservoir, which is northwest of Eldorado Springs, until the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment had completed its review that certifies the project would comply with state water quality standards.

At 41,811 acre feet, Gross is among the state’s smallest reservoirs. It’s operated by Denver Water, supplied by water coming from the Fraser River on the west side of the Continental Divide through the Moffat Tunnel.

The expansion would allow the reservoir to collect another 18,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply 72,000 more households per year. The estimated cost is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.

The Gross expansion has been in the works for more than 13 years, with its first permits applied for in 2003. If all goes according to plan, the permitting process will be completed in 2017,with construction to begin in 2019 or 2020. The reservoir could be fully filled by 2025, according to Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson.

In his letter to Denver Water, Hickenlooper called the Gross project key to serving more than 25 percent of the state’s population. It will “add reliability to our public water supply, and provide environmental benefits to both the East and West Slopes of Colorado,” he said.

Aye, there’s the rub: the Western Slope, whose residents fear that anything that will divert more water from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope will cut into their water supplies. They also worry that more diversions of Colorado River water will make it more difficult to satisfy multi-state compacts with southwestern states that rely on water from the Colorado River, of which the Fraser is a tributary.

But Jim Lochhead, head of Denver Water, told The Colorado Independent that any further diversions will require buy-in from folks on the Western Slope.

It’s part of an arrangement between Denver Water and 17 Western Slope water providers that has been in development for the past six years, Lochhead said. “We’ve worked extensively with the West Slope to develop the Colorado River cooperative agreement,” which will make the environment and economy of Western Colorado better off, he said.

The agreement addresses impacts of Denver Water projects in Grand, Summit and other counties, all the way to the Colorado-Utah border.

Lochhead hopes the Gross Reservoir project will be a model for cooperation, with benefits for both sides of the Continental Divide.

And the cost? The budget for the agreement starts at $25 million and goes up from there. That first funding goes to Summit and Grand counties for enhancement projects, which includes improved water supply for Winter Park, Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. Lochhead said the locals will figure out exactly how to spend the money, and that Denver Water isn’t dictating what those counties will do with it beyond setting some parameters for protection of watersheds, the area of land that drains to a particular body of water.

Denver Water has also committed to making improvements to the Shoshone Power Plant on the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs, and improvements to wastewater treatment plants all the way to the western state line to enhance area water quality.

“We have an extensive list of commitments to partner with the Western Slope, to do the right thing,” Lochhead said.

The Gross Reservoir expansion is critical to Denver Water’s future needs, as Lochhead sees it, because its improved capacity will allow the water utility to operate its system with more flexibility. That’s most important for Denver Water’s attention to environmental concerns, both on the Western Slope and for South Boulder Creek, which flows out of Gross Reservoir.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” Hickenlooper said in a statement today. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

Added Lochhead in a statement Wednesday: “The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values.”

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: Gov. Hickenlooper endorses Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — @DenverWater #COriver

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has officially endorsed Denver Water’s proposed Gross Reservoir Expansion Project as a model for achieving a balanced approach to environmental protection and water supply development through an inclusive and collaborative public process.

The endorsement follows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s issuance of a Section 401 Water Quality Certification on June 23, 2016, which ensures compliance with state water quality standards. The certification confirms that Denver Water’s commitment to extensive mitigation and enhancement measures for the project will result in a net environmental benefit.

“The state’s responsibility is to ensure we do the right thing for Colorado’s future, and this project is vital infrastructure for our economy and the environment,” said Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The partnerships and collaboration between Denver Water, the West Slope and conservation organizations associated with this project are just what the Colorado Water Plan is all about.”

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project — also known as the Moffat Collection System Project — will strengthen Denver Water’s system against drought and climate change by nearly tripling the capacity of Gross Reservoir, located in Boulder County.

“Colorado is a growing and dynamic state,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead. “Denver Water has the critical responsibility to sustain over 25 percent of the state’s population and the majority of our economy for decades to come.”

Since 2003, Denver Water has been involved in federal, state and local permitting processes to evaluate the proposed project and develop ways to not only mitigate identified impacts, but also to enhance the aquatic environment and the economy of Colorado. The 401 certification — one of the major regulatory requirements — recognizes and builds upon other existing Denver Water agreements such as the landmark Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Learning by Doing cooperative effort and the Grand County Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan.

“The Denver metropolitan area is tied to the economic and environmental health of the rest of the state, and Denver Water is committed to undertake this project in a way that enhances Colorado’s values,” said Lochhead.

Denver Water expects to secure all of the major permits for the project by the end of 2017. The estimated cost of the project is about $380 million, which includes design, management, permitting, mitigation and construction.

Visit http://grossreservoir.org to read more about the project and http://denverwaterblog.org for videos with voices from a few of the many project supporters including, Gov. Hickenlooper, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Here’s a post from Brent Gardner-Smith (Aspen Journalism) dealing with the subject but with a West Slope angle.

#ColoradoRiver: Say hello to Grand County Learning by Doing #COriver

Here’s an introductory video.

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

The Grand County Learning By Doing Cooperative Effort (LBD) is a unique partnership of East and West Slope water stakeholders in Colorado.

LBD emerged from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, a five-year negotiation that became effective in 2013 and will be fully implemented with the successful construction of the Moffat Collection System and Windy Gap Firming Project. The agreement establishes a long-term partnership between Denver Water and Colorado’s West Slope, including several water utilities, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

A Governance Committee oversees the LBD activities, with one voting member from each of these organizations:

  • Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Colorado River District
  • Denver Water
  • Grand County
  • Middle Park Water Conservancy District
  • Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District
  • Trout Unlimited
  • A Technical Committee, made up of representatives from the Governance organizations, as well as government agencies, regional water utilities and other partners, advises on LBD efforts and activities.

    Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
    The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

    LOVELAND – Mike King, the new director of planning for Denver Water, said at a recent meeting that beyond additional transmountain diversions through the Moffatt Tunnel into an expanded Gross Reservoir near Boulder, Denver Water doesn’t have other Western Slope projects on its radar.

    King served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources from 2010 until January of this year, when he took the planning director job with Denver Water.

    After speaking to a luncheon crowd of close to 200 at the Northern Water Conservancy District’s spring water users meeting in Loveland on April 13, King was asked from the audience “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”

    “I think if we get Gross Reservoir approved, the answer is for the foreseeable future, you know, we need to do that first,” King said.

    King is a native of Montrose, son of a water attorney, and has a journalism degree from CU Boulder, a law degree from the University of Denver, a master’s in public administration from CU Denver and 23 years of state government experience.

    “And I can tell you that the reality is, whether it is from a permitting perspective or a regulatory perspective, the West Slope is going to be a very difficult place,” King continued. “If there is water available, it is going to be a last resort. And I so think that the answer is, that won’t be on our radar.”

    Denver Water is seeking federal approval to raise the dam that forms Gross Reservoir, in the mountains west of Boulder, by 131 feet. That would store an additional 77,000 acre-feet of water and bring the reservoir capacity to 118,811 acre-feet. Ruedi Reservoir, by comparison, holds 102,373 acre-feet.

    The $360 million project would provide 18,000 acre-feet of firm yield to Denver Water’s system and result in an additional 15,000 acre-feet of water being diverted from the West Slope each year. On average, Denver Water’s 1.3 million customers use about 125,000 acre-feet of West Slope water each year.

    The water to fill an expanded Gross Reservoir would mainly come from tributaries of the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers, via the Moffat Tunnel, near Winter Park.

    Beyond the Gross Reservoir project, King explained that any future Denver Water projects on the West Slope would need to fit within the confines of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed by Denver Water and 17 West Slope entities in 2013.

    The CRCA, says that “if there is more water, it only comes after the West Slope says they agree with it and it makes sense,” King said. “That sets the bar so incredibly high and gives them the ultimate ability to say, ‘This is good for the West Slope.’

    “And so I just don’t think Denver Water is going to be looking to the West Slope,” King continued. “I think anybody who manages natural resources, and water in particular, will never say ‘never’ to anything, but I think it is certainly not on our radar.”

    Not on Denver Water’s radar, perhaps, but it is worth noting that Denver Water is the only major Front Range water provider to have signed the cooperative agreement with the West Slope.

    When asked what he thought of King’s remarks about West Slope water, Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District said he thought the comments reflect “the concept that if Denver takes more water from the West Slope it could undermine the security/reliability of what they already take.”

    Kuhn’s comment relates to the possibility that if Denver Water diverts too much water from the Western Slope, it could help trigger a compact call from the lower basin states, which could pinch Denver’s transmountain supply of water.

    Editor’s note: Above is a recording of Mike King, the director of planning for Denver Water, speaking after lunch in front of about 200 people at Northern Water’s spring water users meeting, a public meeting held at The Ranch event center in Loveland on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. The recording, made by Aspen Journalism, begins shortly after King had begun his remarks. It is 26:34 in length. At 8:20, King discusses the development of the Colorado Water Plan. At 22:40, King answers a question about the governor’s endorsement of the Windy Gap project and another phrased as “How much more water does Denver Water need from the Western Slope?”)

    A buoyant crowd

    Earlier in the meeting engineers from Northern Water — which supplies water to cities and farms from Broomfield to Fort Collins — told the mix of water providers and water users from northeastern Colorado that they could expect an average spring runoff this year, both from the South Platte and the Colorado Rivers.

    They were also told that Northern Water was making progress on its two biggest projects: the Windy Gap Firming Project, which includes construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir near Berthoud; and NISP, the Northern Integrated Supply Project.

    NISP includes two new reservoirs, Glade and Galeton, to be filled with East Slope water from the Cache La Poudre River, which runs through Fort Collins and into the South Platte River.

    Just before lunch, John Stulp, the special policy advisor on water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, read a surprise letter from the governor endorsing the Windy Gap project, which would divert an additional 9,000 acre-feet of water each year, on average, from the upper Colorado River and send it through a tunnel toward Chimney Hollow.

    Windy Gap is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which diverts on average 260,000 acre-feet a year from the Western Slope.

    The Windy Gap project does include environmental mitigation measures for the sake of the Colorado River, and has approval from the required state agencies and Grand County, but it still needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    Looking east toward the Chimney Hollow Reservoir site, which is just this side of the red ridge. On the other side is Carter Lake Reservoir and beyond that, the Loveland area.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.
    A graphic from Northern Water showing the lay out of Windy Gap Firming Project.

    A political risk

    After lunch, King shared some insights from his old job as head of the state’s department of natural resources.

    “I think it’s important that you understand what the development of the state water plan looked like from the governor’s perspective and the state’s perspective,” King told his audience.

    As head of DNR, King had oversight over the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which was specifically tasked by the governor in late 2013 to produce the state’s first-ever water plan, and to do so in just two years.

    King said that he, Stulp and the governor knew that a water plan in Colorado could be “the place where political careers went to die.”

    “So the thing we had to make sure that came out of this, knowing that we weren’t going to solve the state’s water issues in two years, was that we had to do this in a manner that politically, this was viewed as a big win, and that future governors and future elected officials would say, ‘We need to do this again and we need to continue this discussion,’” King said.

    “Not because the governor needed a political win,” King added, “but because to have the next stage of the water plan, to have the discussion in five years, you can’t have an albatross around this, and I think we were able to do that, and so we’re very proud of that.

    “If we had a political mushroom cloud, no one would have ever touched the Colorado Water Plan again,” King continued. “That meant we aimed a little bit lower than maybe we would have liked, and I’ve gotten this at Denver Water, talking about lost opportunities in the Colorado Water Plan. Maybe we did aim just a little bit lower than we should have.”

    King said the state was not able to “reconcile the inherent conflicts” in the various basin implementation plans, or BIPs, that were put together by regional basin roundtables as part of the water planning process.

    And he acknowledged that the plan has been criticized for not including a specific list of water projects supported by the state, and for reading more like a statement of problems and values than a working plan.

    “One of things that has been driven home to me time and time again in the two months that I’ve been at Denver Water is that planning is not something you do every five or six years,” King said. “Planning is a continuous process.”

    King also said that there were some “tremendous successes” in the water plan, including the basin implantation plans, or BIPs, even though they sometimes conflicted.

    “We got BIPs from every single basin,” King said. “The basins turned over their cards and said ‘This is what we need.’ So now we have a major step forward.”

    The "wedge-wheel" graphic that summarizes the approach of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Other plan elements

    King said other successes in the Colorado Water Plan include the stated goal of conserving 400,000 acre-feet of water by 2050 and a nod to changing land use planning in Colorado.

    King said tying land use to water availability “was something we never discussed in Colorado because it infringed on local control and it was just kind of a boogieman in the room.”

    But he pointed out that “the vast majority of the basin implementation plans said, expressly, ‘We need to have this discussion’ and ‘We need to start tying land use to water availability,’” King said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a major step forward.”

    When it comes to land use and Denver Water, King said driving down the per capita use remained a high priority and that if Denver proper grows, it is going to grow up through taller buildings, not by sprawling outward.

    King also said Denver Water was working to manage, and plan for, the already apparent effects of climate change, especially as spring runoff is now coming earlier than it used to.

    “We know that the flows are coming earlier, we know that the runoff is coming earlier,” King said, noting that reality is causing Denver Water to plan for different scenarios and ask questions about storage and late summer deliveries of water.

    “For us, the most immediate thing is, is that we know it’s getting warmer,” King said. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen that, the way the [run offs] are coming earlier. We know we’ve had catastrophic events that are incredibly difficult for us to manage. And so we’re trying to work through that.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, April 20, 2016.

    Consultant recommends that the Town on Fraser stand pat of fee structure

    Fraser Colorado
    Fraser Colorado

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    A financial consulting firm has recommended that the Town of Fraser keep its current water fee structure.

    Ehler’s Inc. conducted a study on the town’s water fees to determine what rate structure would best suit the town’s goals of promoting attainable housing, providing affordable water to year round residents and maintaining a consistent source of income.

    Paul Wisor with Ehler’s, speaking at the Fraser Board of Trustees’ March 16 meeting, said his firm had examined at two possible alternatives to the town’s current structure, which comprises of a quarterly base fee of $153 and an additional $1.50 per every 1,000 gallons used.

    Because 92 percent of revenue from the current structure comes from the base fee, it’s more stable for the town and predictable for residents, Wisor said.

    #ColoradoRiver: Milestone decree protects environmental flows in Grand County — @DenverWater

    Here’s the release from Denver Water:

    A major milestone in implementing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was reached last week when the water court signed a decree to secure and preserve environmental water flows in the Fraser, Williams Fork and Colorado rivers.

    The decree protects releases of 2,000 acre-feet of water made available from Denver Water’s Moffat Collection System and Williams Fork Reservoir to preserve and improve the aquatic environment in the Fraser and Colorado rivers all the way through Grand County — a continuous stream reach of 73 miles — and beyond.

    “This is truly a unique transbasin collaborative and milestone that provides the additional environmental flows on the Fraser River as contemplated by the CRCA,” said Grand County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Jane Tollett.

    Once the Gross Reservoir Expansion Project is complete, Denver Water will be able to provide more water for county streams by delivering water to the Fraser River Basin at diversion points along its system, and by releasing water from Williams Fork Reservoir to the Colorado River.

    The decree also provides for the delivery of 375 acre-feet to a number of Grand County water users for municipal and snowmaking purposes. If the water is not needed for those purposes, it can be added to the water being provided for environmental benefit.

    The decree represents the most recent success in meeting the agreements outlined in the CRCA.

    “In only a few short years since the CRCA went into effect, we’re already seeing that through collaboration, we can help improve the health of the Fraser and Colorado rivers,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “This decree is another step in ensuring that we are prepared to fully implement the CRCA conditions as they become effective.”

    In 2014, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects. The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. And, the Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board will use the delivered water to preserve and improve the natural environment through its Instream Flow Program.

    “The CWCB is extremely pleased to be able to work with Grand County and Denver Water to implement this important agreement,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This is a great example of how effective the state’s Instream Flow Program can be in the context of multipurpose projects.”

    The CRCA ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water, West Slope entities and conservation groups to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources through “Learning By Doing,” a monitoring and adaptive management program with the goal of maintaining, and where possible, improving the health of Colorado River headwater streams in Grand County.

    “Thanks to the Learning by Doing framework, we’re finding ways to maintain healthy flows for fish and wildlife in the Upper Colorado,” said Mely Whiting, counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We’re learning — by doing — that collaboration and cooperation can help ensure the health of our rivers while meeting other diverse needs, like municipal water. These flows will make a real difference for the river and for Grand County’s important recreation economy.”

    Partner contact info:
    Grand County: Ed Moyer, emoyer@co.grand.us, 970-725-3102
    Denver Water: Travis Thompson, travis.thompson@denverwater.org, 303-628-6700
    Colorado Water Conservation Board: Linda Bassi, Linda.bassi@state.co.us, 303-866-3441 ext. 3204
    Trout Unlimited: Mely Whiting, MWhiting@tu.org, 720-375-3961

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    A state water judge has signed off on a deal between Denver Water and Grand County to leave 651 million gallons of water a year that otherwise would be diverted in headwaters of the Colorado River.

    That water would be left each year for the purpose of improving stream health — habitat for fish and other wildlife — once Denver completes its Moffat Project to divert more water under the Continental Divide to the heavily populated Front Range.

    Denver Water officials said the water, at least 2,000-acre feet, is enough to sustain 5,000 metro households each year.

    State water judge James Boyd signed the decree last week.

    The deal was done under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, finalized in 2013 between Denver and western slope communities, to try to balance growing urban demands with environmental needs.

    Colorado’s Water Conservation Board would protect the water left in streams and use it to preserve natural conditions.

    Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead said the deal shows Denver is prepared to fully implement the agreement.

    Grand County authorities could not be reached for comment.

    Under the agreement, Denver Water must conserve and recycle water and transfer up to 45,000 acre-feet a year in treated wastewater to suburbs on the condition that the suburbs agree not to pursue their own diversion projects and pay a surcharge. Western Slope communities, not including Grand County, would drop opposition to Denver’s Moffat Project.

    Trout Unlimited honors Denver Water with River Stewardship Award

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

    Trout Unlimited has awarded Denver Water, the Denver metro area’s largest water utility, its 2016 River Stewardship Award, recognizing the utility’s leadership in urban water conservation and its collaborative efforts with Trout Unlimited and other stakeholders to promote river health in the Upper Colorado River and South Platte basins. TU presented the award at its annual River Stewardship Gala http://coloradotu.org/2016/02/2016-river-stewardship-gala/ Thursday evening at Mile High Station in Denver.

    “We’re recognizing the fact that, 25 years after the divisive Two Forks Dam battle, Denver has engaged former adversaries as partners in a shared 21st Century effort for river stewardship,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “That’s a remarkable and encouraging sign of progress in protecting the rivers that help sustain Colorado’s wildlife, communities and recreation economy.”

    Denver Water provides water supply to approximately 25 percent of Colorado’s population with less than 2 percent of all the water used in the state and has been a leader in advancing water conservation, with customers reducing water use by more than 20 percent over the past 10 years, despite a 10 percent increase in population.

    Denver has also established new collaborative relationships with the West Slope and with conservation groups, including TU, to help improve river conditions in the Colorado River headwaters through “Learning By Doing https://denverwaterblog.org/2016/01/27/ending-a-rocky-mountain-family-feud/,” a monitoring and adaptive management program with the goal of maintaining, and where possible, improving the health of Colorado River headwater streams in Grand County http://coloradotu.org/2014/07/moffat-agreement-whats-in-it-for-the-river/. Under LBD, Denver has agreed to promote flexibility in their operations to deliver flows when and where they are most needed to minimize river impacts, as well as invest in restoration projects to help improve stream habitat and water quality.

    The LBD partnerships follow similar collaborative efforts in the South Platte River through the South Platte Protection Plan, which emerged as a locally developed alternative to Wild and Scenic designations being considered for segments on the South Platte River upstream of Denver. For nearly 12 years, the Plan has promoted collaboration among water suppliers, local governments, recreationists and conservationists – including flow management, an endowment to support investment in
    river-related values, and partnerships for water quality and watershed health. Development of the Plan also inspired the creation of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte, a group that has helped direct millions of dollars into watershed restoration efforts including post-Hayman fire recovery projects.

    stoptwoforksdampostcardfrontcirca1988

    “In the years since the Two Forks veto, Denver Water has truly changed its culture,” said Nickum. “Rather than looking at conservationists and the West Slope as enemies to be defeated, they have engaged those parties as allies in conserving the watersheds we all share. Colorado TU is pleased to recognize Denver Water for its leadership in promoting partnerships that not only supply water to Denver citizens, but also promote stewardship of Colorado’s rivers as well.”

    “Part of what makes Colorado an amazing state are our great cities, variety of recreational opportunities and beautiful natural environment. Denver Water is committed to continuing to collaboratively work together with partners from all sectors to keep our rivers healthy,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager. “We’re honored to receive the 2016 River Stewardship Award from Trout Unlimited and look forward to continuing our work with them in the future.”

    Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, left, receives award from CTU executive director David Nickum
    Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead, left, receives award from CTU executive
    director David Nickum

    The Upper Colorado River system and the Fraser/Williams Fork rivers
    provide important aquatic habitat and serve as a critical municipal,
    agricultural, recreational and industrial water supply for the state as
    a whole. A substantial percentage of the native flows of the Colorado,
    Fraser and Williams Fork rivers is currently diverted for Front Range
    water supply projects, and as a result, the health of the rivers has
    declined over the years. Two projects will divert additional native
    flows from these rivers across the Continental Divide to meet growing
    municipal needs of the Front Range: the Windy Gap Firming Project and
    the Moffat Collection System Project. Although these two projects
    triggered conflicts between West Slope and East Slope entities, years of
    negotiation produced the 2012 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement
    (CRCA), which establishes a long‐term partnership between Denver Water
    and the West Slope. The CRCA is a framework for numerous actions to
    benefit water supply, water quality, recreation, and the environment on
    both sides of the Continental Divide. The LBD Cooperative Effort emerged
    from the CRCA.

    Saving the Fraser River — Grand Water #ColoradoRiver

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

    Drive around Grand County for a little while and you’ll notice our profusion of bumper stickers with slogans admonishing you to “Save the Fraser River”.

    For many folks in the valley their bumper stickers are a sign of solidarity but for others such statements are more than mere words, they represents a visceral call to action. The issues and obstacles that confront the Fraser River are deeply rooted and solutions can be difficult to agree on, let alone implement. The Fraser River and its tributaries experience what is called an altered flow regime, meaning the natural stream flows of the river have been altered. According to Kirk Klancke, President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited located in Grand County, currently around 60 percent of the native flows of the Fraser River are diverted out of the valley.

    “One of the problems is the stream bed is native but the flows are not,” Klancke said. “Over half are diverted out of the Fraser valley. When you have diminished flows like that the stream loses its velocity. The river needs enough velocity to flush sediment out of the rocks on the bottom.That is where the macroinvertebrate life is.”

    Macroinvertebrate life, or bugs, live within the voids in the rocks on the bottom of the river, Klancke said. As the river loses its velocity the flows are not able to flush the sediment out from the rocks and the amount of bug habitat is diminished, which has a corresponding effect on the amount of bug life on the river. The amount of bug life on the river has a direct correlation to the amount of fish within the river.

    The reduced native stream flows also have a strong impact on the temperature levels within the streams and rivers. “When you have diminished flows the stream becomes wide and shallow and it heats up in ways it never did before,” said Klancke. “Seventy degrees is the limit trout can withstand. We are seeing temps in some places higher than that.”

    In an effort to address both of these issues several western slope interests along with eastern slope diverters such as Denver Water have partnered together to form a group called Learning by Doing. Learning by Doing is a cooperative group that seeks to address the environmental impact concerns of Grand County organizations while still providing sustained diversion of water to the Front Range. The group has been developing project ideas and in the fall of 2016 they expect to begin a large rechanneling project on the Fraser River called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project.

    Project organizers are planning to rechannel approximately half a mile of the Fraser River on the Fraser Flats, just outside of the Town of Fraser. The works is being done on a section of the river owned by Devil’s Thumb Ranch. So far around $100,000 have been raised to fund the project with roughly half of those funds coming from Denver Water and the other half coming from Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Trout Unlimited also has a $5,000 grant they will apply to the project, allowing for an additional 135 feet of rechanneling.

    “The idea of rechanneling is to match the stream bed to the stream flows,” said Klancke. “We create a channel within a channel.”

    In the simplest terms the rechanneling work is accomplished by physically digging a deeper channel within the center of the existing streambed where water can recede to at low flow times. The new channel provides a deeper and narrower pathway for the stream to follow, increasing the velocity of water while also decreasing temperatures. The work must be performed carefully so as not to damage the natural streambed either. The native streambed remains essential for allowing larger flows of water during spring runoff. Along with digging a new channel within the Fraser River workers will also move and adjust rocks to create a healthy ratio of riffles to pools within the river.

    The collaborative project is the first from the Learning by Doing group and represents a very exciting step forward for people like Klancke who spoke highly of Denver Water and that organizations willingness to engage in the process and work to further the proposed actions. Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead echoed his views.

    “The most exciting aspect to this project is that all the parties to Learning by Doing are beginning work before it is technically required under the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement,” Lochhead stated. “This is due in large part to the partnerships and relationships that have developed over the past few years, and the value we place on the environmental resources in Grand County. We don’t want to lose momentum, and the fact that Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Trout Unlimited and others in the county have stepped up to move this effort forward is a great indication of our common commitment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enhance the health of the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

    Learning by Doing plans to put the rechanneling project out for bidding in mid Jan. and hope to have a contractor chosen by the end of Feb. Work on the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2016.

    Denver Water selects new director of Planning

    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):

    Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has been selected as the new director of Planning for Denver Water.

    King will oversee Denver Water’s long-range planning for treated and raw water supply systems, demand and supply management, water rights, environmental compliance, watershed management, and climate change preparations. He will be a member of the executive team, reporting to the chief executive officer and the Denver Board of Water Commissioners.

    “We are very excited that Mike has accepted the position of director of Planning for Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO. “Colorado remains a highly desirable place to live. Growth and the uncertainties of climate change will continue to challenge not only Denver Water but also the entire state. Mike’s knowledge of water, his statewide leadership on environmental issues and his proven strategic skills are a perfect combination for this position.”

    As director of Planning, King will be responsible for helping guide Denver Water’s integrated resource planning (IRP) process. The IRP uses scenario analysis to inform Denver Water’s long-range capital replacement and expansion programs, including water collection, storage, treatment, distribution and recycling. The IRP further incorporates Denver Water’s commitment to conservation and water-use efficiency.

    His responsibilities also will include ensuring Denver Water continues to operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. He will be responsible for policy and regulatory issues, including developing watershed management plans and addressing endangered species issues.

    “I am very excited to join Denver Water at this time in the organization’s history,” said King. “Denver Water is a leader in resource management and is recognized as one of the most progressive water utilities in the nation. Denver Water’s mission to be a responsible steward of our natural resources aligns with my experience and skills, and perhaps most importantly with my core values. I will bring to Denver Water the same energy and commitment to public service that I have for the past 23 years to the State of Colorado.”

    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    Denver Water to host Gross Reservoir Expansion Project Public Availability Sessions — Wed and Thu

    From Denver Water via Twitter and Boulder County:

    Denver Water is hosting two Public Availability Sessions this week to encourage residents in the area of Gross Reservoir to come and meet with Denver Water staff to address questions about DW’s Gross Reservoir Expansion Project.

    PUBLIC AVAILABILITY SESSION
    Wednesday, Oct. 7, Noon – 8 p.m.
    Saturday, Oct. 10. 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

    Location: Coal Creek Canyon Community Center
    31528 CO-72, Golden, CO 80403

    While not sponsored by Boulder County, the county has offered to spread the word about the meetings as a way for county residents to come have their questions and concerns addressed by Denver Water staff. As one Denver Water official has stated, “We’re very hopeful that this availability session format allows us to talk more directly with individuals about their concerns.”

    Fraser: Dwight Eisenhower’s summer playground — Sky-Hi Daily News

    Eisenhower fishing “little boy falls” in 1955 in Maine.
    Eisenhower fishing “little boy falls” in 1955 in Maine.
    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Kristi Martens, Steve Sumrall and Ashley Trotter):

    At the Taste of History Champagne Brunch and Social, the Grand County Historical Association will offer guided tours of President Eisenhower’s summer playground at Byers Peak Ranch.

    Join us on Saturday, Sept. 12 ,for the Taste of History Champagne Brunch fundraiser, and purchase tickets ($40 – $50) online at http://www.grandcountyhistory.org.

    According to Charles Clayton, President Dwight Eisenhower is probably Fraser’s — if not Grand County’s — most famous visitor. From 1948 to 1955, and possibly as early as 1938, Eisenhower visited the Fraser Valley many times. During the early years of his presidency, from 1953-55, Eisenhower visited 26 days. He always stayed at one of the cabins on the 3,800 acre Byers Peak Ranch along St. Louis Creek, owned by his friends, Aksel Nielsen and Carl Norgren.

    For decades prior to his presidency (1953-1961), Eisenhower was quite familiar with Colorado. Then an up and coming military man, Ike married Mamie Doud in 1916 at her family home at 750 Lafayette Street in Denver, now a National Historic Register site. Ike was 25 and Mamie aged 19 then. Denver became their home base while on active military duty throughout the world.

    Research by Fraser historian Steve Sumrall shows that it was through Mamie’s father, John Doud, that “Ike” became acquainted with the Fraser Valley. Mr. Doud’s bookkeeper and financial advisor was young Aksel Nielsen. At the Doud home, Aksel met Ike probably circa 1925. Their friendship grew as they shared a passion for the great outdoors and fishing. Aksel introduced Ike to the Rocky Mountains as early as 1938, a trip which may have brought the future president to Byers Peak Ranch and Fraser’s famed fishing creeks.

    At the time, Aksel Nielsen, along with business partner Carl Norgren, began purchasing land in the Fraser Valley. They had a deep appreciation for Byers Peak Ranch for Boys, founded and operated by Jessie Arnold from 1932 to 1939. Their children attended the summer camp that for a few weeks each year even allowed girls. Norgren’s daughter, Gene, the future Mrs. Walter Koelbel, was a camp counselor. Arnold built the many log cabins that still exist on the property.

    When the camp went into default, Norgren and Nielsen stepped in and purchased the 160 acre Byers Peak Ranch in 1939. As part of the business and philanthropy corps of Denver, Nielsen and Norgren were involved with the National Western Stock Show and the gentlemanly occupation of cattle ranching. They purchased lands surrounding the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys, including Frank Carlsen’s property that had once belonged to the Gaskill’s.

    By the mid-1950s, the two investors owned over 3,800 acres including a 3-mile stretch of St. Louis Creek — prime trout fishing waters. Their goal was to turn the land from a youth summer camp into a working cattle ranch, with a little fishing on the side. They urged their friend Eisenhower to visit their new ranch.

    Growing up the third of seven brothers in Abilene, Kansas, Dwight Eisenhower loved to fish and hunt. Aksel realized that fishing at St. Louis Creek would be the salve that his buddy Ike craved as World War II loomed in the distance. Certainly after the war, when Eisenhower returned a true hero, Byers Peak Ranch offered the private escape for one of the leaders of the Free World.

    Correspondence about visits to Byers Peak Ranch shows that in June 1943, Aksel addressed then Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower: “I have gone up to the ranch, cleaned out the cabin and have everything ready for you … you can go up there and hide and nobody need know where you are … you may do a little fishing.”

    Writing from the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers Europe on April 3, 1952, and prior to his election as president, Ike wrote to Aksel, “In spite of the rush of events and some of the complicated possibilities, I do hope that you and I may be able to pick up a few rainbow at Saint Louis Creek.” (These letters and others are on display at Cozens Ranch Museum, Grand County Historical Association, in Fraser.)

    A few months later, upon receiving the Republican nomination for president in Chicago, Eisenhower picked the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver as his campaign headquarters. He was then off to Byers Peak Ranch to get to know his young running mate, Richard Nixon, plan their campaign strategy, and to fish and cook.

    In his autobiography, Mandate for Change, 1963, Dwight Eisenhower explained, “In the Fraser area, which I started to visit just after World War II, Aksel and I like to stay for several days at a time. The gatherings were always a small group of men, and I … always the cook … In simpler pre-presidential years, this meant cooking at the most, for three or four. But once I started traveling with Secret Service men, signal detachments, and staff assistants, our simple fishing expeditions became as elaborate as troop movements.”

    In August 1954, President Eisenhower invited former President Herbert Hoover to Byers Peak Ranch for a working vacation. Ike wrote to Hoover, “as to fishing: My own choice is to go over the Berthoud Pass to Fraser. The altitude of my friend’s little ranch there is under nine thousand feet. There is a small stream on which we catch ten and twelve inchers, and of course there is always the chance for the occasional big fellow of something on the order of sixteen or seventeen inches. I assure you that you don’t need to be especially terrified at the prospect of living on my cooking for a couple of days. My culinary reputation is pretty good … It is a grand place to loaf and we will have absolutely no one with us except my great friend who owns the place … I cannot tell you how delighted I am at the prospect of the two of us having a period together in such a quiet retreat,” wrote Eisenhower.

    Unfortunately, Eisenhower’s last trip to Byers Peak Ranch was a year later, in September 1955. Aksel built a new cabin for Ike, now an older president at age 65. Wrote Aksel,“We moved into the new house up at Fraser … I will tell you that is has a beautiful Youngstown kitchen in which you can practice your culinary arts. It has a nice dining section off the living room where you can feed your guests. It has a beautiful living room overlooking the Continental Divide and Byers Peak. … It has St. Louis creek where it always was but we have built a pond just off the corral … “

    Replied Ike, “I can’t wait until we get into the new house at Fraser. I suppose I shall be expected to produce something superlative on that beautiful new kitchen of yours.” Ike and his team visited the new cabin twice, and for the last time on Sept. 23, 1955 when they headed east, back to Denver over Berthoud Pass.

    The next day, on Sept. 24, Eisenhower’s life-changing heart attack occurred after a day of golf in Denver. It permanently ended Ike’s retreats to Byers Peak Ranch. Due to Fraser’s high altitude, doctors insisted that Eisenhower’s summer playground move East for the remainder of his presidency, and life.

    Today, a visit to Byers Peak Ranch, down a private dirt road, reveals a mix of refurbished structures along with many historic, log cabins. The “modern” 1955 modular house, with Ike’s fancy kitchen, is next door to the Gail Delaney property. Ike and Aksel’s first log cabins are further up the road, with one labeled, “Ike’s Cabin.”

    Join us at the Taste of History Champagne Brunch and Social on Saturday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., to experience the glory of Byers Peak Ranch and with guided tours of the Eisenhower Cabins. For tickets, go to http://www.grandcountyhistory.org.

    Granby: “State of the River” meeting recap #ColoradoRiver

    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs
    Historical Colorado River between Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    During the meeting, officials from the Upper Colorado River Basin’s biggest water interests including Northern Water, Denver Water and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spoke about some of the basin’s biggest issues, including the state of runoff and snowpack in the region and the movement at Ritschard Dam on Wolford Mountain Reservoir.

    Though snowpack seemed to falter during what proved to be a rather dry March, it’s been building steadily over the last three to four weeks, explained Don Meyer with the Colorado River District.

    The variations in snowpack have pushed the basin into “uncharted territory,” he said.

    “I think the message here is think 2010 in terms of snowpack,” Meyer said.

    Though he added that snowpack is not analogous to runoff, Meyer said 2015 “will likely eclipse 2010 in terms of stream flow.”

    Victor Lee with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation echoed Meyer, adding that recent cold temperatures across the region have allowed snowpack to persist.

    Though snowpack is currently below average, it could linger past the point at which the average snowpack tends to drop…

    If the current snowpack does translate into high runoff in Grand County, there may not be anywhere to put it, Lee said.

    Front Range reservoirs are full, and storage in Lake Granby is the highest it’s ever been for this time of year, according to Lee’s presentation…

    Though it could be a good runoff year for Grand County, Meyer said that snow-water equivalent above Lake Powell is still well below average, making it a dry year for the Upper Colorado River Basin overall.

    RITSCHARD DAM

    Officials aren’t sure when the settling and movement at Ritschard Dam will stop, but it poses no threat to safety, said John Currier with the Colorado River District.

    “We really are absolutely confident that we don’t have an imminent safety problem with this dam,” Currier said…

    ENDANGERED FISH

    The Bureau of Reclamation will increase flows from the Granby Dam to 1,500 CFS around May 29 and maintain those flows until around June 8, Lee said.

    The releases will be part of an endangered fish recovery program and will be coordinated with releases from other basin reservoirs to enhance peak flows in the Grand Valley where the plan is focused.

    Wolford Mountain Reservoir will also participate in the coordinated releases, Meyer said.

    The program hopes to re-establish bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and humpback chub populations to a 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River above Grand Junction.

    WINDY GAP FIRMING

    After receiving its Record of Decision last year, the Windy Gap Firming Project’s next major hurdle is acquiring a Section 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir, said Don Carlson with Northern Water.

    The permit regulates dredged or fill material into water as part of the Clean Water Act.

    Northern Water hopes to acquire the permit this year, with construction possibly beginning in 2016 or 2017, Carlson said.

    The project seeks to firm up the Windy Gap water right with a new Front Range reservoir. The project currently stores water in Lake Granby.

    Because it’s a junior water right, yield for the project is little to nothing in dry years.

    Northern Water also hopes to establish a free-flowing channel of the Colorado River beside the Windy Gap Reservoir as part of the Windy Gap Reservoir Bypass Project.

    The new channel would allow for fish migration and improve aquatic habitat along the Colorado River.

    That project still needs $6 million of its projected $10 million cost.

    MOFFAT TUNNEL FLOWS

    Moffat Tunnel flows are hovering around 15 CFS as Denver Water is getting high yield from its Boulder Creek water right, said Bob Steger with Denver Water.

    The increased yield from that junior water right means flows through Moffat Tunnel will remain low through early summer, Steger said.

    “The point is we’ll be taking a lot less water than we normally do,” he said.

    Denver Water expects its flows through the tunnel to increase in late summer as its yield from Boulder Creek drops, Steger said.

    Williams Fork Reservoir, which is used to fulfill Denver Water’s obligations on the Western Slope, is expected to fill in three to four weeks, Steger said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

    Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

    westportalmoffattunnel

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

    As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

    “It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

    The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

    “This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

    The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

    Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

    “Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

    Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

    Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

    More Fraser River watershed coverage here.

    Moffat Firming Project support absent at Boulder BOCC hearing — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

    Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS
    Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    “There were numerous data issues raised that might be worth flagging,” said Elise Jones, Boulder County commissioner. “Everything from the use of median versus average in the statistics to whether or not the cost estimates are accurate. There were numerous other examples but that seemed to be a theme.”[…]

    At the beginning of the meeting, Boulder County Commissioners’ staff voiced concerns about the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

    The 12,000-page Final Environmental Impact Statement is meant to reveal possible environmental impacts of the project.

    “There wasn’t a robust discussion of the need and purpose of the project,” said Michelle Krezek, the commissioners’ staff deputy. “Specifically, there wasn’t any analysis of water conservation measures that could be taken or other smaller projects that could be undertaken instead of this large project. So it was hard to determine whether this was the right alternative.”

    Other concerns included the absence of the Environmental Protection Agency from the process and the effect that expansion of the reservoir would have on Boulder County infrastructure.

    Though most of the discussion focused on the project’s impacts in Boulder County, Grand County arose multiple times during the discussion, from both Grand and Boulder county residents. Boulder County commissioners said that they would take into account testimony about the effects of the project on the Western Slope.

    “We would want to draw the Corps’ attention to those substantive comments even though they were outside Boulder County,” Jones said.

    More than 20 people spoke during the hearing, but only one speaker, Denver Water Planning Director David Little, was in favor of the project, though he did not present an argument to counter previous assertions.

    “The passion that the people in the audience have shown and some of the information that they’ve brought forward is important for you to consider in augmenting your comments to the corps,” said Little.

    The Boulder County Commissioners will now submit their new comments to the Army Corps of Engineers.

    More Moffat Collection System Project coverage here and here.

    Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions