Front Range water diverters offer to help West Slope | SkyHiNews.com

Front Range water diverters offer to help West Slope

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

A goody basket of river “mitigation and enhancements” has been offered to West Slope water proponents in an unprecedented gesture from Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Denver Water.

“This is a history-setting occurrence,” stated Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, referring to a meeting last Thursday during which Northern and Denver representatives rolled out a list of compromises that when added up, equates to at least 11,200 acre-feet of water that could be left in Grand County rivers, to be released as needed on an annual basis.

That adds up to roughly 3.6 billion gallons.

“It is reflective of Denver and Northern listening to some of the issues we had,” Underbrink Curran said.

Northern and Denver Water are under the watchful eye of West Slope water users as they work to achieve permitting on two separate projects that would firm up water rights to allow more water to be taken from both the Fraser and Colorado rivers.

Already, Northern has gone through its Draft Environmental Impact Statement public comment period for the Windy Gap Firming Project, and Denver is about to release its draft statement for the Moffat firming project.

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In comments on Northern’s DEIS in December, the Environmental Protection Agency came out against the project’s assessment, saying the environmental impact statement failed to weigh “secondary and cumulative effects of this and other reasonably foreseeable water projects within the Upper Colorado River Basin.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should “hold the (Northern) permit in abeyance,” the EPA letter read.

But representatives from both Northern and Denver are not saying DEIS comments led to Northern’s and Denver’s first joint effort to offer Grand County water solutions.

It is, however, the first time Colorado’s two largest water providers have “gone this far,” said Northern spokesperson Brian Werner.

“We came with a large proposal here, which hasn’t happened in the history of Colorado,” he said.

“The big moving force is our board’s commitment to go beyond mitigation and propose things that would enhance the environment,” said Denver Water’s Director of Planning Dave Little, “as well as address some of the critical issues Grand County has right now.”

But the offerings still needs to be weighed against the county’s stream management plan ” now in it’s third phase ” to see how what is being offered satisfies Grand County’s stream and river needs identified in the plan, according to Underbrink Curran.

“At first blush, it is a robust proposal,” she said.

First step

Among offers, Denver Water’s willingness to give up 1,000 acre feet of annual firm yield that would normally be delivered to the East Slope is considered rare.

“We’ve been very careful in all the things that we’ve done to preserve our yield because it’s very important to us,” Little said. “Yield replacement on the East Slope goes anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000 dollars an acre foot,” he said. “But In this instance, we thought of Grand County’s environmental issues.”

“We were encouraged for sure,” said Mike Wageck, district manager of the Winter Park Water and Sanitation District.

“There is a lot of stuff they’re putting out there that’s significant.”

To Wageck, Grand County water users would be better off with particulars in the proposal ” even with the firming projects ” than they would be without them.

But is it enough?

“There’s never enough,” Wageck said. “Never enough. But they have a right to it. It’s their water.”

Water and sanitation district representatives, town board members, ditch shareholders, members of the ag community and others are taking the time to digest Northern and Denver’s offer ” at the same time commending them for producing it.

“I think that this is a paradigm shift in the relations between the East Slope water diverters and the West Slope,” said Kirk Klancke, manager of the Winter Park West Water and Sanitation District.

Even so, there’s more work to be done, he said. “I would like to see the flushing flows well defined where they are not mentioned specifically in this proposal.”

Klancke would also be in favor of a funding mechanism to address any future impacts from proposed diversions, he said, a fund set up in perpetuity that is a tax based on the volume of water diverted.

“The effects of dewatering our rivers is permanent and this fund should be the same,” he said.

Both water providers are hoping negotiations can lead to West Slope support of upcoming project permitting.

“Delays cost money in projects,” Northern’s Werner said, “and we would just as soon put a package together. One that we think makes sense. It’s more than we’ve ever offered before.”

On behalf of Grand County, Underbrink Curran is not quite ready to make that definitive leap.

“This is the first step to negotiation,” she said. “There are a lot of details associated with each of these offerings.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@skyhidailynews.com.

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